Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Find YOUR Park

A park can be many different things to many different people. Everyone finds their park in a different place and in a different way.  These stories just might inspire you to find yours. Visit findyourpark.com to watch inspiring and beautiful videos.  

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act creating the National Park Service (NPS), a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established (now there are 408 national parks!).

To celebrate the upcoming centennial of NPS in 2016, the National Park Foundation (NPF) launched their FIND YOUR PARK campaign to encourage everyone to get up, get out there and #FindYourPark - no matter your interest.

Click here for 99 ways to find YOUR park, so let's all celebrate NPS’ 99th birthday today, August 25, 2015 - Free Entry to ALL National Parks.

Get ready for NPS’ big 100th birthday next year.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kids Can Do: Five Pounds of Macaroni

What is Kids Can Do? We know that children get the most joy from simple things such as playing with empty cereal boxes or used wrapping paper.  That's why we share our "kid ideas" that are simple, educational, practical and easy. They are made with common household materials that you probably already have on hand and they don’t require much preparation or expense.  
This "Kids Can Do" activity is about sensory play using Vicky's Macaroni Bin!

At least 10 years old and still going strong ... our 5 pound macaroni bucket o' fun!  Aidan played with it and now Ellie, even at 4 years old!  We may be down to 4 3/4 pounds since the dog ate a few and I sucked up a few in the vacuum cleaner.  This is absolutely my favorite homemade toy ever!  I even gifted one to my nephew once.  The most expensive part is the type of bin you store it in.  Other than that - it's so cheap and long-lasting.  Find your macaroni on sale at it's lowest or buy in bulk at your local wholesale club, then venture to the dollar store for the props.  Now it's time to sift, pour, scoop, dig and stir for hours.  The key to success is a mat or thick table cloth to play on so when it's time to clean up, you curl up the mat and pour the spilled macaroni directly into the bin.  My kids love(d) it and I bet yours will too!

Possible containers:  

dishwashing pan, cookie sheet, cake pan, rubbermaid containers, shoe box, small bucket, shallow but large cardboard box

Items to fill bin with: 
rice, macaroni, packing peanuts, shredded paper, snow, oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, sand (recipe below), sudsy water, shaving cream, dry beans*, indian corn (the kids pick off the kernels), colored water, fall leaves.  
*Note: our dry pinto beans smelled like cat litter after one year! Ewww!

Recipe for Homemade Sand: Ingredients - 4 cups dried and used coffee grounds; 2 cups cornmeal; 1 cup flour; 1/2 cup salt.  Directions -  Dry the grounds in the sun or in your oven on low heat.  Make sure the grounds are extremely dry - otherwise they’ll mold.  Stir all ingredients together. 

Ways to minimize the mess: 

shower curtain liner, large bath towels, bed sheet, infant drop cloth, or a plastic blow up pool

Props to play with include:
funnels, bowls, cups, sieves, measuring spoons, measuring cups, spoons, ladles, combs, small rakes, scissors, kitchen gadgets, squirt bottles, magnify glasses, toy cars, objects to find in the material such as marbles or small animals, items that sink and float in water

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Meet this Fun Guy: Michael Phillip Cash

Have you met award-winning novelist and screenwriter Michael Phillip Cash?  Here’s your chance!  He’s witty, funny and talented and we would just love to meet him in person one day.  His latest book, The Witches Protection Program, brings you a little bit of everything: supernatural fun, science fiction, and even comedy.

Here’s what it’s about ... A disgraced law enforcement agent has one last chance to prove himself and save his career when he’s assigned to a 232 year old secret government organization.  His first assignment - uncover a billion dollar cosmetics company’s diabolical plan for global domination through witchcraft.

Now, on to this super fun e-Interview with author Michael Phillip Cash ...

Where did the idea for this book come from? 
This is a little embarrassing, but I was in the bathroom, and I was glancing at my wife’s trashy magazines. There was a caption called Wetless Protection Program, and I thought it said Witches Protection Program. Then I thought to myself, what a great idea for a script/book. Now we’re here, and WPP is a best-seller on Amazon.  Funny how ideas find you. 

Tell us briefly about the book family.  Do they reflect your family or a family you know? 
I really enjoyed beating out the relationship between Wes and his father, Alastair, Morgan and Bernadette. Without giving too much away, I will focus on Wes and his dad’s relationship.  Every son, or at least every son that I know, wants to impress his dad. He wants his approval. I know I still do. I wanted Wes to have this longing to ensure he got his dad’s approval, but I didn’t want him needy.  I wanted the conflict to be that all Wes was looking for his dad to say he was proud of him…and it doesn’t really come until the end.

Have you ever met a witch? 
I’m married to one.  I’M KIDDING!!  Sorry honey, didn’t mean that, you’re amazing. Anyway, I believe there are witches, and yes I feel that I’ve met them.  Most of the psychics I’ve been to (I’m a big psychic guy) admitted they were witches.  I 100% believe them.

You have written about ghosts and witches - what other supernatural topics do you want to write about in future books? 
Bigfoot.  Again KIDDING!  I’m right smack dab in the middle of my monster masterpiece, MONSTERLAND.  If Jurassic Park and Superbad had a baby, you’d have Monsterland.  A teen must save his date in a theme park whose main attractions – real vampires, werewolves and zombies – descend the place into chaos.  I’ve been having a BLAST writing this one.

Do you ever have bad dreams about any characters in your books? 
Nope, never, not once. I love each and every one of my characters like they were my children.  I’ve nurtured them, fed them and played with them.  No bad dreams whatsoever.

Should law enforcement work with the supernatural to solve crimes? 
Absolutely!  Actually, that sounds like a good novel idea.  I'm going to put that on the “future story list”.  Thanks!

Where did your interest in the supernatural come from? 
I’ve been watching supernatural movies my whole life. I firmly believe in an afterlife and writing about the supernatural just came supernaturally (ha!) to me. It’s hard to pinpoint one time when I got interested in the supernatural…the love for it has gone as far back as I can remember.

Is your house haunted? 
Um…yeah. I’ve been living with ghosts for ages.  I just moved into a new house about nine months ago. It’s insanely quiet here at night, I mean like you can just hear frogs and crickets and that’s it.  In the middle of the night I’ll hear ghostly conversations in my hallway.  I smile and just go back to sleep.  I think they’re awesome, whoever they are.

Do we have secret government organizations? 
Come on.  What kind of crazy question is that?!  Of course we do!!!  Something has to protect the aliens, monsters and witches. 

How do you write books so quickly - do they “come out” all at once? 
I actually start all my books as a screenplay. It gives me a great starting point and allows me to beat out my story & characters.  Then, after the script is done (which usually takes 2 to 3 weeks), I plow through the novel.  When I’m typing, and I know the course of where I have to go, it’s like my eyes roll back in my head and I go to this place where the characters talk to me.  The story plays in my mind and my fingers don’t stop for hours.  It takes me another couple weeks, sometimes three to complete a novel. I prefer writing in the evening hours, when the kids and wife are asleep. During the day, it’s all about research and development. Google...love it.

Why do you put humor in books that are science fiction and fantasy? 
Humor is the key to life. If you’re not laughing and having fun, even if you’re writing a fantasy book, you’re not loving life.  Fantasy is that…it’s fake, it’s fun, you make up your own world with characters.  It's important to have some funny quips in there.  I’m watching Lord of the Rings right this second with my son. This is the ultimate Fantasy story of all time. The writers brilliantly added in humor in the most perfect moments.  Like when Gimli and Legolas are competing how many Orcs they kill.  Genius. And very funny!

Reviewers want a part two - is it coming? 
Beating it out as we speak. I have some wickedly cool ideas for WPP Part II.  Don’t want to spoil anything, but I have some bigger, badder witches ready to wreak havoc on our beloved Witches Protection Program. But in the meantime, I gotta finish Monsterland.  My monsters want to meet my readers…

You like this guy already, don't ya?  Doesn't the book sound gripping? It really is and it’s ranking high on Amazon’s Best-Seller List right now.  Get it there (on Kindle for just $2.99) or through MichaelPhillipCash.com.  Other books: 


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Kids Can Do: Re-Purpose Stuff (and Learn!)

We've had fun with our "Kids Can Do" posts here on this blog and our kids love it too!  If you're new to it, the requirements are basic: 1. simple 2. fun and 3. inexpensive.  That's it!

This time around, we are re-purposing common household items into fun and educational activities. Should make for fun rainy days or "I'm bored" days this summer!   

Paper Plates

You can make a silly spinner with a paper plate and a straw!  Draw lots of colored circles around the paper plate.  Make a hole in the center of the plate and poke a straw through it so that the tips stick out a couple inches.  Spin the straw and watch the colors blend together for a cool effect!  

Play JUMBO Tic-Tac-Toe!  All you need is 9 pieces of letter-size paper and 10 small paper plates.  To create the game board, lay 9 sheets of paper in three rows of three.  Draw an “X” on the front of five paper plates and an “O” on the front of five others to create the game pieces. 

Cookie Sheets: 

Finger paint on a cookie sheet.  Rinse or wipe off and create again!  There are a lot of homemade recipes online like this one from Martha Stewart.  To capture a design, lay a piece of paper down on top of it, press down, and peel off.

Dollar Store Tablecloth

Write all the letter of the alphabet (evenly spaced) on a cheap vinyl tablecloth and large enough to been seen from a few feet away. Let children take turns tossing a beanbag onto the cloth. Ask them to say the letter they land on aloud and then a word that begins with that letter. This game is great for encouraging hand/eye coordination and letter/sound recognition.

Remaining Crepe Paper Roll
Got a partial roll of crepe paper?  They make beautiful moving mosaics!  Children dance and twirl with the streamers as they catch the wind outside.

Odd Puzzle Pieces
Glue magnets (found at any craft store) onto odd jigsaw wooden pieces and play with them on the fridge.

Unused Coupons
Occupy your little shoppers by giving them left over coupons.  Challenge them to find the pictured items during your trip .... a grocery store scavenger hunt!

The Comics

Using the "funnies" from your newsletter, help your child learn sequencing and order.  Cut apart a comic strip then put them in order to tell the story.  Another fun activity is letting your child tells his own story based on the pictures he’s just put in order.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Summer Vacations (at Home)

Summer vacations don't have to include a big extravagant trip to somewhere new and far away.  Not everyone can afford one.  Or let's say you do take a week vacation away from home - what about the rest of your long summer days?  Jen has her calendar marked for a trip to Winnipeg, Canada for the Women's World Cup and to Ormond-by-the-Sea for her traditional family Florida trip.  Me on the other hand, we've opted to get the exterior of our house painted and we'll be vacationing at home this summer.  Whatever is on your summer agenda, we hope these ideas will spark some fun for your family right in your home town - without breaking the bank and hearing the words "I'm bored!" come July.

Look how young they are Jen?!?! (Ormond-by-the Sea)

Schedule it.
Make it a true vacation and mark your calendar just like you would if you were leaving town. Designate a few days, a weekend or even a week for a "stay-cation".

Get ready to go on "vacation".
Separate yourself from daily duties like laundry, bills, heavy cooking, house cleaning, etc. just like you would if you were leaving out-of-town. Tidy up the house and do your errands or bills before your scheduled stay-cation.

Dress the part.
Pajama days.  No make-up.  Limit your time on your devices.  Pool time counts as bath time.  And whatever else you can do to make it feel the most relaxed.  Maybe your family has a special signal that indicates vacation time ... a certain hat or a specific treat that you take on car trips.  Wear that hat and buy that treat.  Most importantly, don't watch the clock.  Vacations often mean you lose track of the time and the day!

Choose things to do that ...
YOU NEVER DO.  Think like a tourist and see your hometown and surrounding areas in a new and exciting, but restful way.  Get brochures and check online tourist sites.  You might find coupons too.  I just picked up an annual guide to Cincinnati at the library and discovered there are two rock climbing parks and a Zipline adventure nearby.  (Something new for us that my 13 year old would love.)  Excursions don't have to be planned around the kids either.  Do something that Mom and Dad like or take adult friends.  Last summer we went to a BBQ Cook-Off and the kids ended up having just as much fun as we did once they got there.  Word of mouth on Facebook is always helpful if you are undecided.  I just saw a post going around about favorite state parks and day trips and jotted down several new ideas for my family this summer.

Spend time with each child.
Have daddy-daughter or mother-son dates.  Grandma watches the youngest while you take the oldest to the movies.  Play video games with your son or do a cooking project with your preschooler.  Break out those board games and puzzles. We've gotten a kick out of Charades! lately - a free phone app on iTunes.  You draw a new card by tilting your phone (rested on your forehead) up or down.  They even have a picture version so I can play with my 4-year old.  Lately my daughter is into homemade tents and picnics - something simple I'll do with her at home and it makes her so happy.  There's a million ideas here if you search your closets (in mine right now collecting dust - Shrinky Dinks, fusible beads, iron-on decals for t-shirts, a button maker). My son got a robot kit for Christmas that he hasn't opened yet.  I'm always a fan of using up what we have first. Make a list and choose one each day, even if  it's 30 minutes of one-on-one time.

Gather a group.
Plan a day with friends or family.  Bowling.  Museum.  Zoo. Tea party. Board games and appetizers.  Fire pit.  Last summer, we invited school friends over for a summer kick-off party.  I provided a few snacks and pizza and the kids took care of the rest (tossing baseball and playing tag).  A back-to-school grill out or potluck the last week of summer break would be fun too.  Jen throws one heck of a happy hour on her back patio.  Her friends bring an appetizer to share and the kids just play in the back yard.  She keeps it simple and whoever can come, comes.

Bucket lists.
Be spontaneous and not strict with your schedule.  (Certainly don't pack it in.)  But sometimes lists are helpful.  One year I printed out a calendar and spaced out weekly / daily treats .... going out for frozen yogurt, hike in our local park, movie day, pizza night, etc.  This year I just made a bucket list on my iPhone.  Brainstorm as a family.  This summer we want to visit friends we haven't seen in a while, go to the drive-in movies (there is just one left in our area!), and use that coupon for a free bucket of golf balls at the driving range.  My best advice - make it realistic and not too long.  At the end of summer it's nice to know you accomplished everything on your wish list versus wondering "where did the summer go?"

We even did a show once on vacationing at home with travel connoisseur and author, Lisa Oppenheimer.  Listen now to: Vacation at Home for even more ideas!  We also have Frugal Travel, Getting There (traveling by car and plane), and getting organized for a trip (The Big O: Travel).  

Have a Summer Load of Fun!  And feel free to share your summer ideas here!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How to Avoid Overbooking

5 Tips to Avoid Overbooking Your Kids and Find Life Balance

Thank you to the kidkind foundation for sharing this great article by Philip Brown, PhD, about the value of children being involved in community service activities.

1.  Let your kids know that you care about them for who they are, not just what they can do. Children need to know that your love is not contingent on their achievements.

2.  Remember that children do not have the same sense of time that you do. Part of growing up is being able to put things in perspective. There will likely be another friend, another team, another trip if this one does not work out.

3.  Working hard at something you love to do is one of the best parts of life. It takes some of us a lot of experimenting to find those things we love. Kids need that free time to try new things, as well as the permission to give them up and try something else.

4.  Some kids organize their time and find their interests with just a little exposure; other kids may need a bit of a push to try things that don't seem attractive or interesting (or may be threatening). The trick here is to be sensitive to individual needs and persistent in offering opportunities. If you need to be pushy, try to offer alternatives, so kids have a voice in what they will be doing. For example, some children thrive in competitive sports, and others may find their niche in hiking or dancing.

5.  Remember to include exposure to helping others in your family activities. One of the best ways of developing empathy in our children (and ourselves) is to feel the gratitude that is expressed when we help others. This doesn't happen if we don't have the opportunity of interacting with others in need or whom we help. This can happen within the context of the family itself, as well, and doesn't necessarily require a formal charity event. Create opportunities in which children can feel that they have meaningfully helped other family members or the whole family accomplish something. The combination of caring, responsibility, feeling respected, and gratitude is a powerful stew that nourishes the soul.

“When we're overprogrammed and feel we can't keep up, or are constantly running on empty, stress can lead to anxiety, depression and take a toll on our minds and bodies,” commented Dr. Brown. "For children, this can surface in many ways – trouble sleeping, frequent irritability, aggressiveness with siblings, trouble in school, moodiness or frequent illness are all common signs that something is not right and needs to be explored.”

To raise children of good character, a combination of guidance, freedom, and support in the context of shared values should be provided. Most 21st century parents in America experience tension between their roles as providers, parents and having adult lives, a phenomenon that is widespread and not limited to one class or location. Reflection may be valuable, even if parents are not sure if they are overbooking.

“For most parents, laying the groundwork for their children’s happiness and fulfillment is a top priority,” said Leigh Ann Errico, CEO and founder of Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation. “But it’s important that families step back and assess the hours being devoted to various activities on the never-ending list of possibilities. Downtime can be time well-spent.”

Errico built Wear the Cape (www.facebook.com/wearthecape) and established the foundation in 2013 after she came up short in her search for resources on kindness and character-building that would appeal to her own four children. The idea for the brand was sparked when Errico observed that the chance to wear a cape—the organization’s logo—motivates children to act like heroes, or “Cape Kids,” in order to live up to the symbol of honor.

Dr. Brown has partnered with Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation to help parents nationwide foster good character in their kids. For additional resources from Dr. Brown and to learn more about Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation, go to www.wearthecapekids.com.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mother's Day - Without Spending a Fortune!

Mother’s Day is this Sunday and if you’re not quite sure what to get mom or how to show her how much she means to you, Jacqueline Whitmore, an internationally-recognized etiquette expert, author and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, offers these nine tips to make your mom feel extra special without spending a fortune:

1.   Create a custom gift basket. You know what your mother loves. Think of all the things she’d never buy for herself. Create a goodie basket filled with gourmet coffees, teas and assorted snacks.

2.   Gift chore coupons. Create a handmade coupon book for your mom to use when she needs a break. Each voucher is good for a different chore. You could offer to do the dishes, vacuum, take the dog for a walk, wash her car, or make dinner.

3.   Call her via Skype. You can still connect even if you aren't able to visit your mom on Mother's Day. Use FaceTime or Skype to get some one-on-one time from far away. She'd love to catch up and see your smiling face.

4.   Make it a party. If your mom loves to socialize, throw a Mother’s Day party. Coordinate with friends or neighbors to celebrate their moms too. Your mom will be able to spend time with friends and enjoy her special day.

5.   Handwrite a Mother’s Day card. Store-bought cards lack the personalized emotion of a handwritten note. Write a letter to your mom and share picture and a special memory. Let her know how much you care and how much you love her.

6.   Make a family photo book. Gather photos of your entire family. If possible, reach out to extended family for their pictures. Then create a photo album or scrapbook filled with memories. Add your favorite quotes or family sayings for a personal touch.

7.   Gift personalized jewelry. Instead of generic earrings, have the names of all your mother’s children inscribed on a necklace or pendant. Or, create a charm bracelet. Handpick charms that represent memories from your childhood or your mom’s favorite hobbies. One year my siblings and I gave my mom a ring adorned with five sapphire stones. Each stone represented each of her five children.

8.   Make her breakfast. Whip up your favorite recipes and invite the entire family to spend a meal together. If you’re cooking skills are not up to par, host a potluck dinner or brunch or order takeout.

9.   Schedule time together. Give your mom the gift of time. Treat her to dinner at a nice restaurant, a cultural event like a ballet or play, or take her to the spa. The activity is less important than spending quality time together to talk and reconnect.

For more etiquette advice:

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Elegant Smiley-Face / Frowny-Face Chart

Here's a very helpful listener comment inspired from our interview with Jessica Turner on The Fringe Hours!  Thanks Brooke!  Your daughter is one smart cookie!

"I really appreciate Jessica's emphasis on balancing the stuff you've got to do with the stuff you want to do. Like Jessica, I am a scrapbooker but I never seem to be able to insert time for my hobby into the circular schedule of never-ending laundry, grocery, meals, etc. My 15 year old daughter had a simply elegant solution to this dilemma. One Saturday afternoon she announced that she had gotten everything done on both lists." I asked her "what lists?" and she said, "my smiley face list and my frowny face lists." She had listed the stuff she wanted to do in one column and the stuff she had to do in the other. By making sure she did things on both lists, she balanced her time and energy. Since then, I've been using a steno pad for my To Do lists. I use the two columns for Smiley Face and Frowny Face lists (see photo attached). This keeps me aware of how I schedule my own time and is a visual reminder to keep things balanced. When the Frowny Face list gets too long, I try to re-schedule some of those tasks for another day."

Tune into The Fringe Hours for an interesting take on self-imposed pressures, multi-tasking, unhealthy comparisons and more.  Here's to using our time more efficiently!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Smoothie Book (and Show!)

Drink your way to better health with Molly Morgan of Creative Nutrition Solutions!  On "The Smoothie Show", we talk about smoothies of all sorts: kid-friendly, immune boosting, breakfast-time, probiotic, nourishing, and even dessert-like.  We also cover smoothie basics such as best liquids, sweeteners and blending tips for success every time!

In honor of this week's show release, you can WIN 1 of 5 COPIES of Drink Your Way to Gut Health: 140 Delicious Probiotic Smoothies  & Other Drinks that Cleanse and Heal.  Simply leave a comment on our FB post sharing your favorite smoothie ingredient or anything else! (Contest ends 4-19-15 at midnight.)

And thanks Molly for sharing these delicious recipes with us from the book!

Mango Blue Smoothie
(immune boosting)

3/4 cup low-fat or non-fat plain Greek yogurt

1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup frozen mango slices
1 cup low-fat or non-fat milk
1 tablespoon honey (or less)

Combine all ingredients except honey in a blender and blend until smooth.  Taste and sweeten to taste with the honey.  Serves 2 (1 1/2 cups each)

Pineapple Cucumber Smoothie

1 cup low-fat or non-fat vanilla yogurt

1 cup sliced cucumber
1/2 cup cubed fresh pineapple

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  If needed, add water to thin the mixture to ease blending.

Extra Show Notes:

This is the drink Jen and Molly talked about:

Jen's Green Smoothie (Molly-Approved):

Monday, April 6, 2015

Kids Can Do: Be Science Geeks

Kids Can Do (KCD) ... SCIENCE plus more!  But it has to be fun, because it is part of our KCD series and the requirements are as follows: simple, fun, inexpensive.  In this case, it's more than Science.  There's a little math, exercise and language arts sprinkled in.  Give these easy activities a try ... 

Science Jars  

Fill identical clear jars with different materials such as sand, water, dirt, salt, popcorn kernals, cotton balls, rice and rocks.  Screw the lids on tightly.  Let your children hold and shake the jars.  Which jars are the lightest?  Which are the heaviest?  Which ones make sounds when they are shaken?  Put them in order from quiet to loud.  Estimate how many cotton balls are in the jar then count them.


Take photographs of your young children doing a simple step-by-step activity (putting on socks and shoes, putting a puzzle together, baking bread, etc.)  Print the photos and let your children put them in the correct order.  Encourage them to describe what is happening in each picture.

Will It Roll?  

Prop a piece of wood against a chair to make an inclined plane.  Collect two egg cartons and a variety of rolling objects (marble, ball, toy car, etc.) and non-rolling objects (paper clip, block, puzzle piece, etc.)  Label one of the egg cartons “rolling objects” and one of the egg cartons “non-rolling objects.”  Let your children select one of the objects and predict whether or not it will roll down the slide.  Then place it on the slide and watch it.  Did they guess right?  Have the children put the object in the appropriate egg carton.  After all of the objects have been tested, show your children the egg cartons.  Which carton has the most?  Which has the least?  The cartons are a simple kind of graph.  

Nature Bracelet  

This fun idea can be used in the fall or in the summer or whenever!  Take some masking tape and make a bracelet for your child sticky side out.  As you have your walk, encourage your child to gather leaves, flowers, acorns, twigs or whatever to stick on their wrists to create a wonderful bracelet!