Creating New Thanksgiving Traditions

Creating Thanksgiving TraditionsAs we approach the Thanksgiving holiday social media is a constant feed of traditional foods, stories of family tradition dating back to ‘as long as I can remember’, and reminders of open spaces at our tables. As a proud Jewish American family, Thanksgiving figured prominently when I was growing up. It was a time for family and close friends to gather at my grandparent’s house. And there were always new faces ever year, young people who were away from home. Strangers, one would say. But in my grandparent’s home, no one was a stranger. These were my Thanksgiving traditions.

There was no separate kids’ table. Everyone sat together. Formal dining table next to however many folding tables and chairs were needed. The good china and crystal gleamed on the table, for kids and adults alike. The kitchen table was overflowing with desserts of all types. Traditional Pumpkin Pie, check. Sweet Potato Pie, got that too. Cookies, there was a wide assortment. Candies and chocolates, both store-bought and homemade were carefully displayed on beautiful trays. My  grandma was an entertainment goddess. Didn’t matter if there were 10 or 300 (her biggest Passover Seder had over 300!), she made it look so effortless and made everyone feel welcome.

My grandma passed away in 2013. She was in the hospital on Thanksgiving of that year. I had begun prepping the night before, not knowing my grandmother wasn’t feeling well. On Thanksgiving morning, as I was organizing my cooking schedule I got a call telling me my grandma was in the hospital. You don’t simply drop a list-full of food and hope it magically is prepared when you return. Honestly, I don’t even know what we did for Thanksgiving dinner that year. All I remember is being at the hospital, talking to doctors about final plans, making decisions I didn’t want to make, and hoping that I wouldn’t be saying my final good-byes that day.

Thanksgiving 2014 came along, not quite a year after my Bubbe died. I wasn’t in the mood to make a big dinner and spend my entire day in the kitchen. There wasn’t going to be a house full of people. Maybe years ago, but not that year. There would be 5 of us because Grandpa Tommy was not close enough to join our family gatherings.

Long ago, when it was just CycleGuy and me, we decided to have Thanksgiving dinner at a local resort. It was more of a way not to hurt anyone’s feelings because back then, in our early 20s, we were a young couple and had been invited to various homes for the holiday. Rather than having to choose, we had dinner by ourselves then made the rounds to our friends’ homes to laugh, have dessert, play games, and, of course watch sports on TV.

In 2014, I felt like the tradition of a big family gathering wasn’t much of a tradition. I would spend two days cooking and many more cleaning, for what would be a fancy, but still not-too-long dinner. BabyGirl didn’t have expectations of any specific experience. For her, really, it was just another day. Her traditions were more connected to the morning hike with her dad and an evening of playing games and eating dessert. It didn’t help that my last Thanksgiving memory was filled with beeping machines and the smell of industrial cleaners.

CycleGuy suggested we go out for Thanksgiving. I can’t even tell you if anyone had invited us over, because I don’t remember. Thanksgiving 2014 was the first year my whole family was gone. No grandparents, no mom, no uncle. Of course I had CycleGuy and BabyGirl, AuntZoni and Grandpa Tommy. But if all the family you grew up with is gone, you understand. I hope you don’t, though.

This year we’re going out for Thanksgiving. It’s become our tradition. I make a few things, those favorites you want as leftovers. But instead of spending days in the kitchen we spend time together. There is the annual Daddy/Daughter hike, followed by the cajoling to practice violin. (Music moms, you know my pain!) We talk, we look at ads, we watch parades on TV. I cook and bake at leisure, knowing that dinner is going to be ready when we are.

I was talking with a friend, recently, about Thanksgiving traditions and mentioned that I wonder if our going out to dinner will leave BabyGirl feeling empty when she’s away at college and friends talk about their family Thanksgiving traditions. Will she feel like she missed out on a house full of people eating, talking, laughing? Will she feel like her experience of getting dressed up and going to a resort make her not fit in? I started wondering about the traditions I’m creating for her. My friend didn’t really offer much, other than to say that traditions are what you make of them. Some people’s big family Thanksgiving isn’t really a fond memory. A tradition. A memory. But not necessarily good.

I have great memories of Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s house. But those are my memories. It’s not for me to recreate those. It’s more about creating experiences around Thanksgiving, no matter what they are, that fill BabyGirl with joy, love, happiness, appreciation, and gratitude. And if going out for dinner on Thanksgiving does that, then there’s nothing wrong with creating this new tradition.

May your table be filled with your favorite foods and surrounded by your favorite people. However you celebrate, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

If you’d like to share how you celebrate, I’d love to know!

Sara

Dine Out to Help End Childhood Hunger in America #NoKidHungry

nokidhungry

When you think of childhood hunger, what comes to mind? For me, it’s usually those ads with kids in Africa with the distended tummies and some soft voice over about how for just pennies a day we can feed a starving child. I hate those ads. Not because I don’t support what they do, but because I feel like they’re preying on my kindness and desire to make the world better. As a kid, even though I didn’t have a lot of food, compared to those kids on TV I was eating like a queen.

A number of years ago I was at a conference and there was a booth about the No Kid Hungry program. I had never heard of the program and found out it was just a few years old, having rolled out as part of Share Our Strength in 2008. I knew exactly what they were trying to do. End child hunger in America.

It pains me that in this great country so many kids go to bed hungry every night. Even more kids deal with food insecurity, not knowing if they’ll have anything to take for lunch or to eat when they get home from school. We don’t think about kids in our own communities going without meals. Unlike many of the poorest countries in the world, as we go about our day the likelihood of encountering a child who deals with hunger or food insecurity isn’t something we see.

Yes, we know it exists. Yes, we donate to food pantries. Yes, we realize our kids go to school with students who get free or reduced meals. But it’s actually hard to really see and grasp.

Most people don’t know, but for almost all of elementary school I got free lunch. There were no snacks waiting for me when I got home. Meals were simple. Not as in simple because mom was busy. Simple as in “pretend tomato soup” made with ketchup and hot water, or half a sandwich because if I ate a whole one my mom would have nothing to eat. And meals were even more simple as the month wore on if my grandparents or my uncle didn’t “happen to stop by on their way home from the store.” I don’t think I ever went hungry in the sense that there was no food at all or that I went to school or to bed without eating something, but there was definitely a sense that if there was more food I would eat it.

I went to school early, usually leaving the house to catch the 6:45 a.m. bus so I could have breakfast. There were a lot of us, probably 10 kids, so it didn’t really seem all that weird. I wasn’t bullied or made fun of because I ate breakfast at school. In the summer, I rarely ate breakfast. Which is a habit born out of necessity that dies hard.

Every Monday my teacher would give me five lunch tickets. If I lost them, I wouldn’t have lunch. I diligently wrote my name on the back of each ticket, in case they got lost, and then put them in my pencil bag. I remember in 4th grade my lunch tickets were yellow. Some kids had blue tickets. Years later I understood why some kids were handed blue tickets and some kids yellow. It’s humbling to realize that my mother had to ask for help, yet she did everything so it wouldn’t affect me so much.

I know what food insecurity is. I understand how it can impact your ability to learn and pay attention in school. I have a great appreciation for the food that I am served because I often had a choice of eating food I didn’t care for or going hungry. When you’re 6 or 7 it’s a pretty easy choice.

Although we didn’t keep kosher – imaging trying to do that when you’re dependent on other people providing your food – there was a long list of food I couldn’t eat. I rarely ate meat, even at school. You don’t realize how often schools serve ham, or cheeseburgers, or sloppy joes until you have to trade your friends your main dish for their peas or carrots or corn. You don’t realize how few vegetables are actually served until you ask a number of the kids around you ‘are you going to eat that’ as you point to whatever vegetables they’ve pushed to the side just so you don’t feel hungry any more.

I don’t worry about if I will eat today. My daughter will never know a home without food, nutritious or otherwise. At nearly 50, I am still affected by the lack of food when I was a kid. Today, I have the privilege of choosing organic, nutritious, fresh foods. I also have the ability to be part of the solution to put an end to a situation I know too well.

Dine Out for No Kids Hungry is a month-long promotion in September to help end child hunger in America and get more people involved in solving this problem. There are thousands of restaurants participating across the country to help bring an end to child hunger and kids dealing with food insecurity. By dining out at a participating restaurant a portion of the profits from your meal will be donated to Share Our Strength. Go eat out!

With your change you can be the change. Kids should never have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Please learn more about No Kid Hungry by following them on Twitter, Like their Facebook page, and share your support of those restaurants and companies donating by tagging your photos with #NoKidHungry.

 

Note: It’s not easy to share stories like this, but as I get older I realize how important it is for me to shed the fear of sharing and do it to help kids like me. This is not a sponsored post.

Sara

5 Tips to End Distracted Driving Among Teens

Teen Distracted Driving

FTC Disclosure

Spring is in the air, and for many parents of high schoolers talk has turned toward prom and graduation parties. I look back on my experience in high school and better understand why my parents, and my friends’ parents, were worried about us driving. Like kids today, we weren’t bad drivers. But, like kids today, we often did stupid things after prom and at graduation parties. Today, though, every conversation seems to wind its way to the topic of distracted driving or texting and driving.

Distracted driving is nothing new when it comes to teen driving. Young people have faced distractions for decades. Today it’s texting, for my generation it was changing the radio or cassettes, for my mom’s generation it was radio stations and 8-track tapes. And, of course there is alcohol, shenanigans, and a host of other potential distractions. But when it comes to technology, we forget that every generation has their new thing that is problematic.

So what do we do? Obviously, teens are going to drive to prom and graduation parties and we can’t change that. What we can change, though, is their commitment to stay focused on their driving. And, honestly, that starts with us.

I’m not a big believer in having kids sign a ‘no texting while driving’ contract when the parents aren’t going to do the same thing. We’re their role models. If we do it, we’re giving them permission. Just like drinking and driving. We can tell our kids not to drink and drive, but we also demonstrate our commitment by not drinking and driving. It’s not different when it comes to other distractions.

Teens 15 to 19 have the highest incident of drivers involved in accidents while distracted. While they’re out celebrating the last thing we want is for any of them to get hurt or hurt someone else. So what can we do?

5 Tips For Helping to End Distracted Driving

Don’t drive distracted yourself. We set the example. If we’re picking up our phones, that mean they can too. I know there are important messages we need to see. But are those messages really that important to put the people you love most at risk? In March, 2016 the New Zealand Transport Agency released a video with a slightly different approach to the traditional horrifying texting and driving ad. It’s a new approach, and I think it could work better. While I’m still affected by the texting and driving crash videos, I think many kid are desensitized or don’t think it could really happen to them.

 

Know the law. If the law of mom and dad won’t work, maybe the state law will. Currently, in the US, 46 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, ban texting while driving. The fines can be hefty, and getting a ticket, even if that’s the worst that happens, can put a damper on the fun of prom or the graduation party. However, distractions don’t only come from picking up your own phone.

Have someone else navigate. As the driver, their job is to get themselves and their passengers to the destination safely. Since they’re not always experienced with driving around town, have the teen ask a passenger to put in the destination into the GPS or map. Have you ever tried to type in an address to Google Maps or the vehicle GPS while driving? I can barely figure out the navigation on a car I drive daily. Imagine how challenging it can be for a teen who’s not used to driving.

Use a blocking app. If you’re not sure you or your teen can break the urge to check your phone when you hear the notification or know that friends are posting cool things to social media, use an app to block texting while driving. Just like not having chips in the house because you have no willpower, remove the temptation to be distracted while driving. I often pull out my phone at a stop light, but more and more I’m realizing that even that small glance means I’m not paying attention to what’s going on around me.

Empower the passenger. Most of the focus is on getting the driver to avoid distractions. However, just like educating the kids about not getting in a car with their friend if the friend has been drinking the same goes for getting into a car with someone who’s not paying attention when they drive. I know there’s less risk of being the lame-o if you refuse to get in the car of a classmate who’s drunk or noticeably impaired than if you don’t go along with all the “fun” when it comes to distracted driving. It’s new territory for us as parents to let our kids know we’ll go pick them up if they choose not to get in a vehicle with someone texting and driving or engaging in other behaviors that put the passengers at risk. You’ve seen the videos. Maybe your kids have too. But it’s worth watching again.

The end to distracted driving starts with us. But we don’t know what other parents are modeling for their kids. And because we don’t know what other people are modeling and teaching their kids, we have to teach our kids not only that they don’t text and drive or drive while distracted but that they don’t get in a car with someone who doesn’t take seriously their obligation to protect their passengers.

Accidents happen. We can hope our kids always arrive safely, but there are other drivers out there and we don’t have any control over them. We may not have full control over what our kids do when they get behind the wheel or hop in the car with one of their friends. However, what we can do starts long before the engine starts.

 

Image Credit: Viktor Hanacek

Sara

Disney Park Tips From A Tween

For many years BabyGirl had a blog. While she still loves to write, it’s not her primary space so I’ve decided to share some of her posts. This is one she wrote awhile back, from the perspective of a pre-teen about spending time at a Disney park. I think she hits the highlights.

Disney Tips from a Tween

Here are a few things you SHOULD NOT do while at Disney:

Lunch:

Don’t go to eat lunch when everyone else is.  Not only will the restaurants be crowded, but you’ll be missing the opportunity to go on that attraction you wanted!  This can apply for basically all the parks, as long as the attractions normally have longer wait times.

Shoes:

Don’t wear any shoes you deem even slightly uncomfortable.  A lot of the time, I have seen people wearing uncomfortable-looking shoes, and they often complain and don’t have very much fun while they are at the parks.  Sneakers (tennis shoes, whatever you call them) are your best friend.  If you want to be a little more fashionable, you can go for sandals.  However, these sandals must be made for walking.  Any sandals won’t do, as some sandals aren’t made for long-term use.

Packing:

Don’t bring a huge bag with you in the park.  Only bring the necessities.  A phone, maybe an extra charger, a change of clothes (but really only if you go on a wet ride), ponchos, and a water bottle – it should be refillable, but if not that’s okay.  Not only will you have less weight on your back, you won’t annoy other guests by constantly banging into them!

Pictures:

Don’t take too many pictures.  A few pictures are okay; to capture the memories of going to Disney.  But if you are taking your phone out every five seconds to snap a photo of something, you need to stop.  Capture the important moments.  Don’t waste your memory on minuscule things that you won’t even care about in the long run.  And yes, I know that sounds harsh, but it’s easier on you if you don’t constantly feel pressured to take a picture of something.

Kids:

Don’t let your kids run wild and if you’re a kid reading this, listen to your parents.  Sure, this is Disney, so if they’re old enough to get food at a restaurant buffet, they can, but make sure you’re watching them.  I’ve heard a lot of website authors complaining about how parents at Disney let their kids run everywhere, and frankly, it’s annoying.  Don’t restrain them too much – let them have a chance to ‘capture all the Disney magic’, but you can’t let them just run around at risk of getting lost.

So, I hope these tips help you prepare for your trip to a Disney park. If you’re heading to Disney, take a moment to see one of the crazy things my family does when we go.

This article is a repost from BabyGirl’s no longer active blog.

Sara

Parental Controls and Alternatives to Monitoring Kids Online

Parental Control Alternative For Monitoring Kids Online

FTC Disclosure

As a Gen-Xer my digital footprint didn’t begin until I was well into adulthood. Initially there was a sense of anonymity because we were able to use screen names. Quickly, though, we came to realize that we could be identified. Even in the early days of the internet there were ways to find out who was hiding behind whatever goofy name we chose for our email, bulletin board, instant messenger, and other lame-in-comparison-to-today social networks.

For many of us, though, our kid have grown up around increasingly sophisticated technology. These digital natives have faced concerns that most of us never did.

I grew up in an analog age. The fanciest of technology came about in high school when the Apple IIe came out when I was a freshman. While that was a huge step forward, it really didn’t impact daily life like technology does today. There was no risk of anything I did going too far beyond my little community. That’s not the case today.

Parental controls when I was a teen came in the form of not getting dropped off at a friend’s house, being picked up earlier from a party than my friends, or having to sit with enough distance between us if a boy had come over to do homework together. Ah, good times!

Now, though, parental controls are more invasive than your mom walking in offering milk and cookies when you’re trying to hold hands with that boy who came over to study with you. While we still could make decisions back then, today there is technology that takes the decision-making out of our kids’ control. For most parents it’s like manna from heaven. But what if you’re like me and are not a big fan of parental controls? What are the options? Is it even possible to parent today without enabling some feature on a smartphone or tablet to make sure our kids aren’t exposed to “inappropriate” content or spend too much time online?

When BabyGirl was about 5 or 6 I installed parental control software on the computer she used. It was a desktop computer I had used but replaced. It was her computer for all intents and purposes. I was homeschooling her at the time and she’d spend time online doing schoolwork or playing. That was in 2007 or so. Seems like an eternity ago some times.

Anyway, back then you’d do a search on Google or Yahoo and, like today, pages of results would be presented for you to check out. Search engines were primitive compared to what we use today. Invariably she’d click on something that was inappropriate for a 5 or 6 year old. She’d close the window and come tell me. We’d talk about it, and she’d go on with her day.

There was a big push about that time for monitoring software. I installed some monitoring software and set the parameters. And then every 5 or 10 minutes I’d hear that the computer wasn’t working. Instead of filtering out what would be truly objectionable content, the software had so many keywords it was checking that nearly everything was filtered and nothing would get through. I go in to adjust the setting and make it less sensitive. Still, it wasn’t possible to get to a lot of legitimate content. That’s when I stopped using parental controls.

Fast forward to 2016 and the sophisticated monitoring software and built-in controls on computers, smartphones, tablets, and other types of mobile devices. BabyGirl is officially a teen and I have never used parental controls on any of her smartphones or tablets. Really. I know many people love them and I have friends who’ve written extensively about the benefits of parental controls for TV and mobile devices. For me, I’ve taken a different route since she got her first mobile device.

Talk Openly – Since she was very young, BabyGirl knew that sometimes there would be things on the internet that weren’t for kids to see. Just like in the “real” world, we can’t keep our kids blindfolded until we’ve had the opportunity to evaluate everything they see and hear, we can’t do that on the internet. And while there are filters that will prevent kids from gaining access to truly inappropriate information, for some it’s a false sense of security and doesn’t leave much room for open communication. As uncomfortable as these conversations can be for both of us, it has to be done.

Be Proactive – I’ve always been very up-front with BabyGirl about what she may see on the internet. No, I haven’t been graphic or given her information beyond what I thought she could understand. But I have worked with her one-on-one to learn how to use different search methods, what to look for in URL names and extensions, how to determine if she’s clicking on a reliable source, and things like that. Just like we role play for fire safety, we need to do the same thing when it comes to internet safety.

Follow the Rules – There’s a reason why most social networks have an age requirement. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a law created to protect the privacy of children under 13. Not that all of a sudden at age 13 they gain a magical sense of maturity and capability. Millions of kids under the age of 13 have social media accounts, despite it being a violation of the terms of service. A few years ago my friend Heather wrote about why kids under 13 shouldn’t be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the multitude of social networks available. If we allow our kids to start out their digital life with a lie, it’s hard to expect them not to lie about other things.

Know their Login Information – I’ve been told many times that asking BabyGirl for her login information shows that I don’t trust her and I should just use parental controls if I’m so concerned. I’ve always explained that they’re missing the point. I ask this information because I do trust her, but I don’t trust the people on the other side. Being able to get in to her device and the different programs isn’t about snooping and seeing what she’s talking about. I go in to make sure other people aren’t doing stupid things that whether or not there are parental controls they shouldn’t be doing. It’s also an opportunity to make sure her device is up-to-date, clear out apps she doesn’t use any more, and encourage her to continue to make good choice since her parents can check in at any time. It’s kind of the digital equivalent of mom offering milk and cookies right when you’re thinking of kissing the boy who came over to study with you.

Parental controls aren’t the be-all, end-all magic potion many like to believe they are. They are one tool, but there are “old-school” parental control we can use in addition to using tech-based parental controls or in place of relying on technology to do our job. There isn’t one right answer. As with most things related to parenting, you just have to do what works for you.

Sara

5 Tips For Getting Your Child Their First Smartphone

Tips for Kids First Phone

FTC Disclosure

As we approach the gift-giving season, I’m seeing many parents asking about “the best” smartphone for their child’s first phone. Most teens who’ve had a smartphone are very clear on which new device they want. When it comes to getting a first device for a child, or for the kids to share, there are many different opinions. And sometimes they have exactly what they have in mind.

While you may be decidedly in the iOS or Android camp, there is so much more to giving a child their first smartphone than picking out which device. While I do believe that there is such a thing as ‘too much phone’, the fact is you should choose a device that can grow with your child so you’re not needing to upgrade too soon. But there’s so much more to think about beyond which device to get. Sometimes I think picking out the device is the easiest part. Currently, I’m splitting my time between an iPhone 6 Plus and the new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus Verizon just sent me. I love them both, for different reasons. But my almost teen daughter isn’t a fan of either of them.

5 Helpful Tips For Parents Getting Their Child Their First Smartphone

Talk About Expectations Before You Give Them A Phone – This is not the time to treat the kids like the crazy animals they sometimes are. Don’t throw the phone at them and run for your life like you’re feeding a wild lion. I fully realize they may not hear but a fraction of the words you’re saying., but take a deep breath and set expectations. Even better, consider a written agreement so the expectations are very clear.

Teach Them About The Importance of Using WiFi When Possible – Certainly you’ve heard stories of parents getting huge cell phone bills because the kids have been using data 24/7. Not only is wifi often faster than the data service, it also keeps data usage in check. Even if you have ‘unlimited’ data, you’ll quickly see that it’s not as unlimited as you think it is. Of course, not all wifi is secure so that should be discussed as well.

Require Their Login Information – This isn’t about snooping, it’s about parenting. If you ever believe your child is in danger, at risk, or doing stupid stuff you should be able to access their accounts from anywhere. You should have the ability to shut down your child’s access by logging in from your device and changing the password. They may not like it, but when used correctly this is to protect them from themselves and others.

Explain Social Media Etiquette and Reality – Kids use social media differently than we do. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t rules, both universal as well as age-appropriate. Be very clear on the rules for using the device at school, taking photos of other people, sharing their location, giving out personal information, and other things that are of concern to you. In addition, make sure they understand that not everything they see on social media is reality. This last one is so important since they may not be aware that their favorite celebrities and Youtube or Instagram stars are posting photos that do not include any disclosure about being paid to post, it being staged, or that it’s really an ad.

Trust Them – I know this isn’t really a tip. And I know there are times when we need our kids to check in with us. Remember back when there was a time when we’d go to the movies, the mall, the beach, or just hanging out with our friends and our parents couldn’t get in touch with us. Yes, times have changed. But if you’ve laid the foundation and set the groundwork trust that they’ll do the right thing. Of course, you reserve the right to check in and to go all forensic scientist on their device while they’re asleep. So give them some freedom to grow and learn. And remember that talking about phone etiquette, the realities of social media, the risk of online predators, and other things about the online world will happen with or without our input. This is the time to make sure those lines of communication are open and free of judgement.

Bonus tip don’t surprise the kids with a phone you would want, get something they want. Sure, they’ll use it because the option of being without a phone isn’t really an option but their hands are smaller, they don’t usually carry a purse or bag to put it in, and wanting to be cool among their friends is important to them. You’d think BabyGirl would have the latest and greatest, but she doesn’t. She still has the Droid Ultra she got 2 years ago and she loves it. For her, it’s the perfect phone because it’s slim, lightweight, and very durable. It does everything she needs and she never worries about damaging it. And, ironically, it doesn’t have a case. Just a screen protector. There weren’t many cases made for it and she has chosen to be careful rather than have an ugly phone cover. Hard to argue with that, really.

If you’re thinking of passing on your phone to your child and upgrading, my newest obsession is the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. It’s beautiful, lightweight, has a sleek design, and a totally drool-worthy camera. And those Edge features? Super efficient and functional. Samsung has so many helpful features like Samsung Pay, wireless charging, reducing window size, opening multiple windows, and so much more. Whether it’s because you want a beautiful phone or need one to help keep your busy life organized, definitely take a look at the S6 Edge Plus.

And now that you’re likely getting a device for your child, or maybe you already have and just stopped by, what other tips do you recommend before getting the kids their first smartphone?

Sara

Back To School Tech Tips To Keep Parents Sane and Kids Safe

Back To School Tech Tips

FTC Disclosure

It’s back to school season and for many it means new tech and upgrades to existing tech, and not just for the kids. Parents are often introduced to new technology to help kids with homework, communicate with the school, or just stay connected in an increasingly connected world. Kids may be experiencing new technology at school, switching phones, or trying out different accessories. Whatever it is, back to school marks a time for transition.

Whether it’s the same routine or something new, when it comes to going online more and more young people are connecting through smartphones or tablets. This makes learning possible everywhere. That’s good. But with the good comes the bad. And that’s where it’s important to re-evaluate how you approach internet security. So, here are a few back to school tech tips for keeping your family in tip-top shape.

Back To School Tech Tips To Keep Parents Sane and Kids Safe

  1. Keep it charged – Many kids are given tablets at school and are responsible for bringing them to school every day fully charged. In addition to having a designated charging station at home, think about having a portable battery to help keep them connected throughout the day. Especially important with older kids, having an external battery will help them do their work without having to be tethered to a wall. Or, having to deal with running out of power just as they’re in the zone. You may even want to invest in a car charger just incase they realize on the way to school they don’t have much power.
  2. Protect the screen – whether it’s with a case or a separate screen protector, don’t leave the screen exposed. Tiny dirt and dust particles can scratch the screen, making it difficult to use over time. Many people worry about cracking the screen. And while that’s a real concern, the fact is a scratched screen is annoying and may impacts the quality of what you see on the screen.
  3. Individualize it with a case – Sure a case can protect the device, but why not sell it as a way to personalize their device. With so many kids having the same type of device it’s easy to get them mixed up. With smartphones there are so many case options and most of us show our personality through our cases and covers. For tablets, especially those issued by the school, if permitted, find a case your child likes to help them take a little more responsibility for their device. Not only does it protect the device, which many parents may not realize they are responsible for, but a cool case also gives the device some personality and helps differentiate it from the sea of black and silver tablets on a table.
  4. Talk about online safety – I know you’ve had the talk before. But just like having to remind your child to turn off the lights, not slam the car door, or take a shower (yes, every day!), talking to kids about online safety is an ongoing and continuous conversation. Kids may think they know everything about being online, but the fact is that many kids are vulnerable and need to be reminded that sometimes things aren’t as they seem. Making mistakes online in this day and age can have long-term and very serious consequences. Teens and tweens, especially, need to know that you’re ultimately responsible for what they do online.
  5. Don’t just talk, take action – As parents, we do a lot of talking. When it comes to online safety for our kids, though, we have to take action. Whether it’s checking their device daily, requiring an approved family member or friend to be friended on their social network, or adding parental controls to their devices, we can talk all we want but action is required. It’s not about not trusting our kids, it’s about not trusting the freaks out there. If you’ve never used IFTTT, or don’t use it for this purpose, here’s an easy way to keep on top of what’s going on. Check out these IFTTT recipes to help keep your kids safe online.
  6. Trust your gut – Too many times we second guess our gut when it comes to what our kids are doing online. This isn’t the time to worry about if our kids think we’re annoying (we are, we’re parents!), being the cool parent (we are the cool parents!), or respecting their privacy. If you’re not hovering over them 24/7, you’re likely giving your kids the privacy they’ve earned. Earned, that’s right. Privacy is not a right in the Kingdom of Mom and Dad. In Mom and Dad Ville, the right to search and seizure is without limits. In Momtopia, you may have the right to be silent but unreasonable search and seizure is a real possibility. Trust your parenting gut when it comes to the safety of your kids. You may need to tone down how you want to react, but if you get that feeling, don’t over-react, just act.

Back to school is filled with so many emotions. But those emotions don’t have to carry through the school year. With a keen eye and a kind heart, our amazing kids will make it through another year. And so will we!

What tips to do you to help keep everything in check during the school year?

Sara

What To Do If You Only Have One Day In Dublin

Visit Dublin

On the way back from Israel, in an effort to ease the transition back home, we stopped in Dublin. Neither CycleGuy nor I had ever been to Dublin, except for the several hours we spent in the airport on the way out to Israel. In planning the trip, I didn’t want to bypass the opportunity to visit Ireland even if it meant we’d only be there for a day.

I researched the city and discovered that is it very walkable and it’s home to a number of sites that would be interesting for kids and adults. There would be something for all of us and with summer temperatures in the 70s it would be perfect weather for us after the warmth of Israel.

While we arrived late and left early, spending two nights at the Doubletree on Burlington Road, we really only had one day to explore. What we quickly discovered, and heard time and again from our taxi drivers, was that we’d need to plan a return trip to explore Dublin a little more and get beyond the city to enjoy more of Ireland. Dublin offers everything you’d expect in a major modern European city, but, time and again I heard that the “real” Ireland could only be experienced by visiting the countryside and smaller cities and villages around the country.

The hotel I chose was more of a default because I used hotel points and the location I really wanted was booked. While not as convenient, the Doubletree on Burlington Road is an “American-style” business hotel and offers amenities you’d expect while traveling in the US. If you’re looking for something more of an “Irish experience” this is not the hotel for you. For us, though, it was acceptable. One major downside (and evidently common in many of Dublin’s hotels) is the lack of air conditioning in all the rooms. While you shouldn’t normally need a/c, when it’s unseasonably warm and humid and you’re not used to sleeping with the room temperature near 80°F having central air is important.

With a late arrival, our only desire was to find a place where CycleGuy could get a pint of Guinness. I don’t drink beer, and for the most part neither does CycleGuy. But Guinness is his beer of choice, and as I’ve been reminded many times Guinness is not beer. Thanks to Yelp I found that there was a well-rated, yet historic, eatery within about a 10-minute walk. Situated on Upper Baggot Street, Searsons has been in business since 1845. In Dublin, especially, you won’t last long if you’re not a place where locals dine. The historic building has been renovated and reflects a modern Irish charm with a pub-style front and a family friendly open-kitchen dining area in the back.

First order of business was to get CycleGuy his birthday Guinness. Just a few days earlier he spent his birthday partly in Jerusalem and partly in Paris. But this pint was what he was really looking forward to as his birthday gift to himself. Searsons did not disappoint. Great service, delicious food, and a relaxing atmosphere that was the perfect welcome to our short stay in Ireland.

Bright and early on our only full day in Dublin, we headed out of the hotel toward St. Stephen’s Green. About a 15 minute walk from the hotel, our cab driver from the airport told us that it’s an easy walk and given all the one-way streets probably just as quick to walk as it would be to drive. Being that the Doubletree is not in a heavy tourist area, it was a lovely walk in a more residential part of Dublin with plenty of  “Good Morning!” greetings from the locals.

St Stephens green

St. Stephen’s Green is the city center park in the heart of Dublin. Dating back to the mid 1600s, the park was originally the grounds of a church. Thanks to the generosity of Sir Arthur Guinness, in the late 1800s the park was deeded to the city for all to enjoy. The 22-acre park is home to beautiful gardens, parks, and memorial sculptures.  As we walked through there were people hurriedly walking to work, kids laughing at the playground, landscapers tending to the gardens, and the sounds of the city beyond the walls softened by all the trees. While we didn’t spend much time in the park, it’s definitely a place to visit while you’re in Dublin. It’s the largest of the many city-owned parks. And while some may argue whether it’s the nicest in town, it certainly is the place where the idea of public green space in Dublin originated.

From St. Stephen’s Green, we walked down Grafton Street, Ireland’s world-famous shopping area. Historic buildings line what is now a pedestrian area, but instead of old businesses or government offices you’re in the heart of the shopping district. With iconic Irish businesses tucked in between the newest and most popular international shops, Grafton Street could easily be in any major city around the world. We didn’t spend much time here since we only had one full day. However, we did stop in to the family run R & C McCormack jewelry shop to buy Aunt Zoni a souvenir.

Grafton Street

Our first destination was Trinity College, which is near the other end of Grafton Street. The historic college was top of our list because BabyGirl loves visiting libraries and I had read that Trinity College boasts one of the Top 10 libraries in the world. There’s not a lot to see at Trinity College, but it’s a destination for many who visit Dublin because it houses the famous Book of Kells. An active university, Trinity College, is like a page from Harry Potter with its historic buildings, lush green spaces, and beautiful Old Library. While the Book of Kells is the main reason visitors are at the College, for us it was the grandeur of the Old Library. For 26€ we signed up for the student-led guided tour, which includes admission to the Book of Kells at the end. The tour lasts about 40 minutes and is quite informative not just about the history but also about the student’s perspective on the current experiences.  Many people were bypassing the tour and heading straight to the Book of Kells. While the Book of Kells was interesting, for most kids it’s just an old book under glass in a darkened room. For us, our destination was the Long Room in the Old Library. Dating back to the early 1700s and lined with magnificent sculptures of the world’s most famous writers and philosophers, for our book-loving BabyGirl this 200,000 volume working library was heaven. While she enjoyed the Book of Kells exhibit and seeing the Book of Kells itself, the look on her face and sparkles in her eyes she had standing in the Long Room is what vacation memories are made of.

Dublin Trinity College Long Room

Dublin Trinity College Long Room Hawkins

Dublin Trinity College Hawkins

Trinity College

Next stop on our “Dublin in a Day” was lunch at The Pieman Cafe in the trendy Temple Bar section of the city. The brightly-colored storefront welcomes you to a small shop serving homemade savory pies. If you’re not into meat pies, they also have traditional Bangers and Mash (and from what the gal said they also do a vegetarian pie). For about €8, cash only, you can enjoy a traditional lunch with your choice of pie, a side, gravy, and a cold drink. It’s a hotspot for locals, who easily recognize the few tourists who stop in.

Once rested and nourished, it was off to CycleGuy’s choice of Dublin historical sites, the Guinness Storehouse. Said to be Dublin’s top tourist attraction, it was on our list because CycleGuy is a Guinness guy and loves history and this combines the two. The tour is self-guided and does not include any part of the working brewery. Children are welcome, and if you go up to the Gravity Bar there are soft drinks available. The tour was interesting and filled with history of the city, brewing, and the Guinness family. You can spend as much or as little time as you wish along the several floors of displays, but leave plenty of time to enjoy the Gravity Bar at the top. Besides having a much-needed cold drink, the view is extraordinary.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Cathedral

While quit a distance from the Temple Bar area, we chose to walk the nearly 2km to the Guinness Storehouse. Along the way, we stopped at the Dublin Castle, passed several wonderful public art sculptures, grabbed a pastry at a local shop, saw the oldest building in Dublin – Christ Church Cathedral, and enjoyed a sunny (and unusually warm to the locals) day in Dublin. It’s a very walkable city, so if the weather is nice enough put on your comfy shoes and walk along the picturesque streets of Dublin.

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Gravity Bar

We grabbed a cab back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner. We decided to stay nearby the hotel and find another place where the locals eat. Canal Bank Café was highly recommended by a number of locals we asked, and lucky for us it was just a few minutes walk from the hotel. With a focus on fresh ingredient, Canal Bank Café was a delicious end to what had already been a perfect day in Dublin. The wait staff was friendly and attentive, the seating cozy but not uncomfortably close, and the menu inviting and mouth-watering. I had a salad that was being featured and it was filled with fresh, local ingredients and tasted like it was just picked and made moments before being served. The restaurant is known for it’s Buffalo Chicken Wings, which may seem a bit odd for a local Dublin joint. We ordered some because it was something that reminded us of home and after three weeks of travel we were missing home. Let’s just say that if you stop in to Canal Bank Café make sure you get an order of the wings.

As we headed back to the hotel, we talked about wanting to come back and see more of Ireland. The people are warm and friendly, there’s an Irish pride that is shared freely, and so much history and beauty to explore. Stopping in Dublin was definitely a great way to end our trip, even if it was a short visit.

The next day CycleGuy headed to the airport for an early flight. Although it was colder and rainy, much more typical weather I was told, BabyGirl and I ventured out to the Natural History Museum. Free to the public, it was a fun way to spend our morning instead of being holed up in the hotel.  There were several floors filled with animals of Ireland, as well as many from nearby countries. It was quite fascinating to see animals that we’re not used to seeing.

Our flight home on Aer Lingus allowed us to enjoy a little more of the Irish hospitality. Can’t say enough good things about the flight attendants in Business Class. And what’s extra cool is that in Dublin, US Customs has a Preclearance program so you go through customs in Dublin and when you land in the US it’s just like any other domestic flight so you’re on your way quickly.

Dublin US Customs Preclearance

So, if you’re heading to Dublin I hope this gives you an idea of a few things you can do while you’re there. If you have the opportunity to do a one-day stopover, say “yes” and enjoy some of the highlights the city has to offer. Dublin is welcoming, friendly, offers wonderful historic sites and modern spaces, and a dining scene to enjoy.

Sara

Teens, Tweens, Tech Safety and Making Mistakes

Teen Tech Parenting Safety

FTC Disclosure

June is Internet Safety Month. Not a day goes by that BabyGirl isn’t online in some fashion. The interesting thing is that I’ve also seen October designated as Online Safety Month. As the parent of a tween, though, every month is Internet and Online Safety Month. Tech minefields are discovered every day and we can’t wait for one month to sit our kids down and talk about staying safe online.

In reality, it’s not easy to talk to kids about online safety. For many parents, the nuances of tech safety are more confusing than trying to learn a foreign language. Parents use tech differently than their children, regardless of age. When it comes to teens and tweens using tech, these digital natives are often the ones teaching their parents. Lessons about online safety are often just examples of where other kids have gone wrong. And, well, our kids would never to that.

Ask any parent of a tween or teen and they’ll tell you how happy they are that social media and the online world didn’t exists when they were a kid. When I was a kid, we made mistakes and did stupid things. Sometimes our friends were with us. But we had something our kids don’t have today – the ability to learn from their mistakes.

Kids today aren’t allowed to make mistakes. The consequences are so high, as parents we’re often more fearful of our kid making a mistake than they are. They’re just kids and may not see the horrible consequences mistakes have had on other young people. We certainly have, though. Then again, they probably have too.

The online world has removed the ability to make a mistake. Gone are the days of “learning from our mistakes”. That’s just impossible with technology. At the same time, though, we know that kids don’t listen to everything we say and glean the important message we’re trying to get across.

Every word, click, double-tap, like, share, retweet, and action is under constant scrutiny. Not only from us, their parents, but from their friends and strangers alike. For as much as we talk about online safety, there really is no such thing for our kids. It’s more like how can we make it less dangerous because safety is about being protected from harm or danger and in the online world today that’s next to impossible.

Throwing our hands up and doing nothing is not an option. And banning them from all things tech isn’t either. So what do we do to make the internet and mobile technology less dangerous for our tweens and teens?

1. Talk to them. Yes, just like teaching them about personal safety and safe touch we need to talk to them about safety with people we can’t see or touch. It’s not easy to talk about anonymity and people lying about their age or gender, but we have to do it. It’s uncomfortable talking about sex and often even more uncomfortable talking about virtual sex and porn. Unlike our parents, though, who often left it to books, magazines, or sex-ed we don’t have that luxury.

2. Trust them. The news if full of horrible things kids are doing online. But the truth is not all kids are doing those things. Not every kids is bullied or bullying. Not every girl is sending compromising pictures of herself to boys. Not every anonymous gamer is on the FBI most wanted list. If we are talking to our kids and having meaningful and helpful conversations, we have to trust that them when they say everything’s cool.

3. Create Offline Opportunities. Kids can’t get all their validation and conversation from in front of a screen. There is an entire world out there to explore and people to meet. When their friends come over, figure out things they can do that don’t have them sitting next to each other texting or watching crazy online videos. Hands-on crafts, cooking or baking, making, and creating are all things that we did that helped to shape us into the people we are today. Kids today are no different. It’s fun to hang out in the virtual world, but there’s so much more depth learned by being present in the physical world.

Yes, these 3 simple things can help our kids immensely when it comes to tech safety. Sure, there are parental controls to limit access to online content. That’s a limited solution, especially for teens and tweens who know how to bypass parental controls. You can forbid them to download certain apps, but there are many decoy apps kids download to hide things from parents.

Honestly, though, it comes down to open communication and trust when it comes to keeping our kids safe (or just safer) online. You don’t need to spend tons of money on apps or special wifi to block their access. We just need to talk to our kids. Although, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

How do you help your kids stay safe online? Have you talked to them about the consequences of making mistakes online?

Sara

Summer Snacks For The Whole Family

Easy Summer Snacks

Disclosure: I received several products from Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products Division of McNEIL-PPC, Inc. and The Motherhood as part of my participation in the LISTERINE® “Totally Take Care Of” campaign. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own. 

When summer rolls around, the last place I want to be is in the kitchen heating up the house or playing short-order cook to a house full of kids. I love that the grocery stores and farmer’s markets are stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables so I can have easy snacks available. Plus, CycleGuy is the master juicer in our home so delicious treats made with fresh juice are always on the menu.

With a busy schedule filled with camp, sleepovers, travel, and exploring the fun things around town, it’s nice to have easy, delicious, and healthy go-to snacks in the house. To help you get ready for summer and make sure your family is taken care when a “snack attack” sets in, I’ve put together some of my family’s favorite summer snacks. These are great for moms and dads, too, and when the kids have friends over too!

1. Frozen Grapes – one of my snack staples, frozen grapes are a great way to get liquid into the kids when they don’t want water and you don’t want them to have sugary drinks. Frozen grapes make for a fun alternative to ice cubes, too. You can also make frozen bananas by cutting bananas into rounds and freezing them in a single layer until firm. Blueberries work too, but I think they get mushy too quickly.

2. Rainbow Fruit Cups – instead of putting each fruit in a different bowl, use clear plastic cups and layer a bit of each fruit to make a rainbow. This is a great way to get the kids involved in making their own snacks. You can quickly and easily layer watermelon, mango, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, grapes (I usually cut them in half or quarters), and orange or tangerine segments. You can make them an extra-special treat with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

3. Frozen Juice Cubes – even if you rely on your ice maker, head to the dollar store and pick up a few ice cube trays to make your own ice cubes with fresh juice and fruit. Not only are they pretty, they’re a great way to add flavor to water and keep everyone hydrated as the mercury rises. Place a few pieces of fruit in each compartment of the ice cube tray, fill each with fresh juice, pop in the freezer, and now you have a tasty way to take care of that sweet tooth in a healthy and fresh way.

4. Quick and Easy Frozen Pudding Pops – I loved these when I was a kid. My mom would stick a spoon through the top of a pudding cup and stick it in the freezer for a few hours. These were so delicious! You can make your own pudding and pour them in to individual popsicle molds, but there’s something about those store-bought pudding cups that make these seem like such a special treat. Since they come in several flavors you can get whichever ones your family enjoys most. You can also do this with yogurt cups and have frozen yogurt pops, too!

5. Grilled Stone Fruit – while not exactly a quick snack, these are a wonderful dessert. I love grilled peaches, nectarines, and plums. Cut the fruit in half and remove the stone. Place them cut-side down on the grill until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Since every grill is different you’ll need to watch them the first few times you make them. Serve with ice cream, yogurt, or a drizzle of honey and you’ve got a quick and easy dessert everyone is sure to enjoy.

6. Graham Cracker Eclair Cake – this is not an everyday snack, but it’s a no-bake dessert that can be whipped up pretty quickly and is a great alternative to s’mores for a summer evening backyard cookout. When you know the kids are having healthy snacks throughout the day, you don’t feel guilty with this kid-friendly dessert.

And while you’re enjoying a summer evening outdoors, why not make sure you’ve got these 3 stargazing apps on your smartphone or tablet. I have fond memories of staying up late during the summer and looking at the stars. Today, technology makes it easier.

Don’t forget that good oral hygiene is especially important in the summer when the kids are snacking and maybe heading off to bed with a different routine. Walgreens has you totally taken care of on this with a range of wellness products, which includes Listerine Total Care products for the whole family.

With great snack options, fun desserts, and stargazing you’ll have this summer totally taken care of! And everyone will be smiling for the photos.

What summer memories do you remember most from your childhood?

Image Credit: Love From The Oven (edited with permission)

Sara