Sunday Morning Shout Out

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Do you feel a little remorse after heaping the shopping cart with “toy of the moment” stuff from the big-box stores this holiday season? Are you already envisioning a yard sale in nine months, with much of the stuff you are buying right now?  Would you rather get your child some educational toys this holiday season, and find toys/experiences that will last more than a moment?  How about buying a toy that will help your little wonder and not so little wonder learn?

Now that I have asked these questions, I will point you in the direction of some sage advice.  Last year the folks at “Live Science” have come up a great list of toys that help children explore many science fundamentals.  From toys featuring old friends and familiar product s like Miss Frizzle and “The Magic School Bus,” and Lego sets, to toys that get at chemistry through cooking and exploration through a working microscope, there are a wide range of toys in every price range.  These toys offer toddlers through teens the chance to build robots, do chemistry, familiarize themselves with labs and lab equipment, and fit together gears.  As you shop for your family, picture the heap of toys gathering dust and taking up space in one corner, versus some great quality toys that will go far in encouraging them, to pursue science and find real learning satisfaction.  While there may some of that dusty heap, I am going to plan to offset it with quality items.


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Sunday Morning Shout Out

As the holidays quickly approach, does the thought of gift buying leave you uninspired?  Would you like to make your holiday more meaningful with your family?  Consider making presents with your children, for family and friends.

Before you accuse me of falling of my rocker, let me just say that these crafts are doable even for the un-crafty sort ( like me).  Sherry Osborn’s article, “100 Homemade Gift Ideas, at the “About Home” website, offers many ideas that appeal to different sensibilities.  They are sweet and often upcycled from common household items-buttons, pens, and even old cabinet doors. They make especially cute gifts for teachers, family, and friends who may have everything else already.

If crafting isn’t your thing, perhaps baking or cooking gifts for others is more appealing.  The article “Exceptional Homemade Edible Gifts,” by Carroll Pellegrinelli, at the “About Food,” website, lists some mouth watering delicious treat ideas for edible gift giving.  Let’s just say chocolate figures into many of the recipes that are listed.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

Whether homemade crafts or homemade treats for gifts, homemade anything shows a lot of heart.  Anyone can purchase a necktie, calendar, or gift card for a loved one.  But these ideas and their finished product possess that lovely and special quality that the standard mall gift does not.

With working together on these projects and giving from the heart, it may just lead you back to what’s essential about the holiday season.  And that is definitely another win-win!

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

Source: Ken Lauer, Nov. 2014

Source: Ken Lauer, Nov. 2014

Winter is coming to an end but is it too cold to go outside and play?  Are the roads super bad, preventing you from going anywhere?  Are you stuck home?  Is everyone sick with the sinus junk that’s been going around?  Has pure, pervasive cabin fever struck? Recently, “The Washington Post’s, On Parenting section, reposted a popular article, “10 Indoor Activities to Get You Through Winter,” by Lauren Knight, that might just be the solution.

1)  Cardboard playhouses, rockets, jets, cabins, etc: Build a cardboard playhouse or cardboard anything for your child. It is truly amazing to see how children imagine things when they are given a big box to play in for a day. If your house is anything like mine, a big box like this is not just a day, but multi-day piece of fun.

2 )  Make homemade play dough: There are a gazillion online recipes for making this kid favorite. While playing with it is good fun, making it is too. It is also a whole lot cheaper and less toxic than the stuff in the store.

3)  Sumo wrestle: Let me just say, I read this idea and laughed. The premise is to size up that perfect moment where your children need to blow off steam. Give them each a large overstuffed t-shirt, in which they can stuff pillows in the back and front. Let them wrestle and do their thing, while you laugh.

4)  Make marshmallow structures: With marshmallows and pasta, design possibilities and great geometry lessons are limitless.

5)  Cardboard monster feet: Make cardboard monster feet, with cardboard you have left over from the playhouse, rocket ship, fort, etc. Reduce, reuse, and roar!

6)  “Mad scientist bath”: Let your child take a “Mad Scientist” bath. With the aid of a plastic stool to set experiments on, measuring cups, soap and water, and containers, let your child play away in the water and see what she can “create.”

7)  Pool noodle racetracks: Make a marble race track (or one for cars) by cutting a pool noodle in half lengthwise. The idea is to have two of them. Children can race their marbles or racecars, and see which ones are the fastest.

8)Indoor scavenger hunt: Create an indoor scavenger hunt for your children. Hide clues, have them work as teams, and have a great find at the end.

9)  Build a tapestry table: I am not feeling this one, but the author says you can pick up an old coffee table at a secondhand store and staple a large piece of burlap material around the edges. With this, some scraps of yarn, string, large plastic children sewing needles, and some desperation, children can learn how to sew.

10)  Make a reading nook: Either collect a bunch of books from the library or around the house and create a special, most comfy corner, pile of pillows, or room, replete with even more pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals to read-away for an afternoon or snowstorm. (Now that sounds downright awesome to me!)

With these great ideas, cabin fever will be cured in no time and a greater appreciation for the season may just be.  Plus, Spring is just around the corner!


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Talking Proud…For Real!

As most of us born, raised and living in Western New York know we are a luck group of people despite the 50 years it has taken for the area to redefine itself from a rust-belt city into a new dynamic metropolis and region of the USA where young highly educated people want to go to live and thrive.  Katie Couric at Yahoo News has done a great job of capturing some of the cities rebirth in her series “Cities Rising: Rebuilding America.”  Ms Couric has certainly done the city proud…Thank you


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Sunday Morning Shout Out

Tonight, I missed an important talk at our children’s school.  School personnel discussed the rising crisis of prescription drug abuse among teens.  Knowing the importance of the issue I thought I would look at this growing problem myself.

The numbers and misguided perceptions about prescription drug abuse among teens speak loudly.  According to a 2012 study that was reported in the article “Prescription Drug Abuse Up Among Teens: Survey,” by Alan Mozes, more than 24 percent of high school student (more than 5 million young people) have abused prescription medications, marking a 33% increase from 2008.  Within this same cohort, 13% stated they had experimented with common ADHD medications Ritalin and Adderall that were not prescribed for them, and that 20% of teens who admitted to using prescription drugs, admitted doing so before age 14.

Of this specific group, 27% believed that prescription drugs were less harmful than street drugs. One third of teens stated they did not have a particular issue with taking someone else’s prescribed medication, to help them with health concerns.  One quarter of teens believed that their parents were more concerned with street drug use over prescription drug use.  Approximately four out of five teens said they had talked about alcohol and marijuana; about one third had discussed crack cocaine, and only 14 to 16% teens had discussed painkiller/prescription drug abuse.

There were also troubling numbers from the parents’ side.  One third of parents interviewed in the study believed that Ritalin or Adderal could boost their child’s school performance, even when there was not a diagnosis that warranted such drugs being taken.  Twenty percent of parents stated they freely gave their teens a prescription they had on hand that was theirs and not diagnosed for their child.  Sixteen percent of parents said they thought prescription drugs were safer than street drug.

These results were from a study that was done by the Partnership at, in conjunction with the Metlife Foundation in 2012. The sample population was a nationally representative groups of3,900 teens in grades 9-12, enrolled in public, private, and parochial schools, along with more than 800 parents, who completed home interviews

What’s the take away from such a study as reported in US News? The first one that jumps out to me is the steep increase from 2008. Five million teens abusing prescription drugs marks a 33% increase in such a short time! Also what stands out for me are the strong misconceptions among teens and parents alike.  There are significant numbers among both camps who do not see this behavior as dangerous, as the use of street drugs.  Steve Pasierb, president CEO at the Partnership Organization, who helped conduct the study states:

“The key here is that kids and often their parents are buying into the myth and misunderstanding that prescription drug abuse is a safer way to get high, a safer alternative to street drugs, and that they can control it.”

This of course is so dangerous on many fronts. Denial and ignorance on the topic are the road to nowhere.  This is occurring at an alarming and epidemic rate!  The point of access is also so troubling.  The study found that 56% of the prescription drugs teens are using came from their parent’s medicine cabinet, without any obstacles to access them.  The problems that can stem from prescription drug abuse can be incredibly injurious and deadly in their own right, leading to addiction, accidental overdose; and/or serving as the gateway to heroin and other street drugs as reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).  My note to self is that I need to be greater informed ; our teens need to be greater informed; and that medicine cabinets should be monitored/watched for proper use of medicines, supplies, etc.  It perhaps is also my note for you….

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

dinnerWe all know dinner together as a family is important.  But did you know it is the best predictor of how adolescence will go for our children?  In my favorite go- to place for professional advice about “Happy Familiying,” Dr. Laura Markham, Ph.D., at the “Aha Parenting” website, discusses why dinner and eating together are the glue that keep families strong.

Dinner is a protective factor for all family members and an extremely powerful one for adolescents, especially.  The more frequently teens eat with their families, the more likely they are: to do well in school, not do drugs, and become sexually active in high school, depressed, or suicidal.  They are many factors at play.  Families that regularly eat together, offer structure and routine to their children.  They offer oversight and supervision to teens and all children, in a world that can be utterly fast and risky for all.  Dinnertime offers children a sense of identity as a family, tradition, and stability.  In a world where a lot is changeable and stressful, regular dinner offers a family a constant.  Dinnertime is a place to check in with one another about each other’s day—the good, bad, and ugly.  It is a place to ask more questions about what occurred at school; what your children’s feelings and thoughts are about family events; and it is a place to weigh in, for all parties.  Most importantly, it is a place to belong, connect, and build better relationships.

As ideal as this sounds, life is not always conducive to sitting down together.  Many different schedules can exist in the same house.  If this is not happening at all, Markham says to aim for a few days a week.  The more times you can do this, the greater the effect! Perhaps it is a single parent home. Maybe, one spouse works later than another.  There is still great power in sitting down together regularly, as a family with a single parent or as a family where one parent is the regular one at dinner.  Markham suggests if one parent gets home later than the other, everyone could sit down and have a snack together.  Or, there could be special emphasis placed on weekend dinners together.  Weekends could then be kept sacred for dinner.  She also states that families may want to adjust dinner time to eat earlier or later, if it means everyone can eat together.

There are other practical things to keep in mind, according to Markham.  Do not get hung up on making an elaborate dinner, at the expense of energy, patience, and time! It is better to put all these ingredients into the actual activity of connecting with one another.  She also talks about creating a welcoming dinner atmosphere, and biting your tongue as a parent if needed.  The idea is build up one another and connect as a family, rather than tearing each down over a difference of opinion or behavioral critique.  She lists some creative resources for promoting dinner conversation, so it goes beyond, “How was your day?”  One classic approach is having everyone give their high and low points of the day-or their roses and thorns.  The point is to connect, converse, and feed more than just the appetite.  When we do this with our families, we do so much more than eat….

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New Years – Conversation Starters

So the end of our calendar year is upon us again as we say goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016. We have made another orbit around the sun and many cultures find this time of the year to be a time to reflect on the past, plan for the future and generally hope for more prosperity. It is also a great time to talk with and listen to your children about their thoughts about their year and what they hope for in the coming year.

Of course starting a meaningful conversation beyond ‘what do you want for dinner’, ‘do you have any homework…is it done?’ and/or ‘did you pick-up your toys?’ with a child or teen can seem a harrowing task.  Below you will find a few conversation starters you might try the next couple of days.  Remember you might be surprised by the response but you should try not to be negative nor judgemental. Should that surprise (which can actually be good) happen, a positive way to understand the response better is to ask ‘can you tell me more about that?’ or ‘what makes that important to you?’.  Digging a bit deeper just might bring a smile to your face and warmth to you heart.

New Years Conversation Starters

  • What word describes the last year for you?
  • What word do you think will describe the next year?
  • What is your educational goal for this year?
  • What are you most proud of in the past year?
  • If you had the power to change something in the past year what would it be? Why?
  • What was the best advice you had last year?
  • What you do in the new year that will help make the world a better place to live?
  • Did anything inspire you last year?
  • What was your favorite memory of last year?
  • What is one thing you really want to do in the coming year?

For a nice set of 220 free questions you can print on index cards visit the Balancing Beauty and Bedlam website.

Happy New Year!

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