Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Talking About YourSphere

Over the last couple months, I've written about my boys and the social network geared towards kids -- YourSphere.  During that time, I've spent time looking not only at the network, but also the people behind it.

Mary Kay Hoal has a passion for kids being safe online.  I've learned some new things at her blog, and admire her spirit and drive for sharing her message.  I thought it was so cool that she auditioned for her own show on Oprah's new network and then was disappointed when a combination of technical glitches and non-responsiveness from the network caused her video to be pulled from the competition.  You can still see it here, and maybe learn a couple things.

I admit that I worry about kids who aren't allowed online at all -- because they're not being given the tools they'll need to navigate that world when they're older.  I don't think my 3yo needs to spend any time online, but when kids are 8, 9, and 10 I think it's a good idea to start teaching them how to use the tools that are available and how to use them safely.  I also think it's imperative as a parent that I keep a close eye on what they're looking at online and know the sites they visit.

Mary Kay is working hard to spread her message to as many parents as possible.  Even if your kids aren't interested in YourSphere, I think it's worth your time as a parent to read her message and get some great tips and ideas on keeping your kids safe online.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Blog Tour: Summer Safety

I've mentioned before that we take pool safety seriously in our home. Owning a backyard pool increases our responsibility and makes us more vigilant when anyone is playing in our yard.  We have both an inground pool and a backyard play structure, so we have to make sure our kids and any visitors know all the rules for playing. 

Underwriters Laboratory (a leading product safety testing organization) and Disney teamed together to create some fun videos starring Timon & Pumba from Lion King fame to help kids learn about safety rules.  This video is funny at the same time it is informative.  There's even a song at the end, and Lydia loves singing the "No No No" part when they remind kids not to pee in the pool. 

My boys watched the video and said "We know these rules . . . "  I told them I was thrilled that they knew them, but it's never a bad idea to review them again.

Underwriters Laboratory released some great tips for pool safety in a recent press release.  I was glad to realize that we already have instituted all these rules and follow them faithfully. I hope you take a minute to read through these handy tips and use them to reinforce (or create) rules for summer safety in your home.
POOL SAFETY AT HOME
  • If you have a pool at home, install a fence. The fence should be at least four feet high and have a self-closing, self-latching gate that has a locking mechanism beyond a child's reach.
  • Cut overhanging tree limbs and remove chairs or ladders from the pool area to prevent children from climbing over the fence that surrounds the pool.
  • Keep grates and drain covers in good repair and secured in place. Alert your family and guests to stay away from these devices, as the suction from drain outlets can be strong enough to cause entrapment of hair or  body parts, which can potentially cause a person to drown.
  • Make sure you know infant and child CPR if you own a pool.
BE SAFETY SMART WHILE SWIMMING
  • Supervision is a must. Follow the 10/20 rule when you’re at the pool. The 10/20 rule states the supervising adult needs to position themselves to be able to scan the pool every 10 seconds, and reach the water within 20 seconds.
  • Always have rescue devices, such as UL-LISTED life preservers, nearby.
  • Flotation devices, toys and inflatable swimming aids are not safety devices. They are toys and can easily puncture and deflate.
  • Always drain wading pools after children are done playing. Infants can drown in just a few inches of water.
  • Have a telephone nearby and appropriate emergency numbers posted.
  • Remove all toys when you leave the pool. Toys may attract children to the unattended pool.
*Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Underwriters Laboratories. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.*

Travel with Kids: Camp Verde, AZ

A couple weeks ago, we finished up a busy week and headed to Camp Verde, AZ.  We have wanted to visit Out of Africa for a few years, and thought Lydia was finally old enough to enjoy it.  I wanted to get there Friday night so that we could head over early in the morning since I was expecting a hot, June day.  The drive was uneventful, and the kids were all excited to learn that the hotel had a pool.

We went to Out of Africa on Saturday and had a great time! The animals at the park are mostly (all?) rescued animals -- from the grizzly bears rescued from a house in NC to the rhinoceros rescued from being sent to a "canned hunt" camp in TX.  The day was perfect and we enjoyed getting close to the animals and watching the exciting Tiger Show where the tigers are encouraged to play and splash in a pool with some of their keepers. 

The weather was kind to us, and we enjoyed a full day at the park before heading back to the hotel. The kids again were great, and after a swim in the pool everyone was in bed and asleep before 10.  On Saturday, we enjoyed the continental breakfast (yea! for hotels that offer free breakfasts!  Although I need to remember to bring something for Colin that he will eat because he is picky.) I looked for geocaches on my iPhone geocaching app and we headed off to find one before we headed out of Camp Verde.  Bo & Colin did find it, but it was  bit of a steep hike so I stayed with the van.

Before leaving Camp Verde, we visited the Fort Verde State Park.  This park was one of the many scheduled for closure due to budget constraints, but thanks to donations and volunteers, they were able to remain open. This was my favorite part of this weekend trip.  The Fort was active in the late 1800's and contrary to what you may imagine from forts out east and the movies -- there are no tall walls.  For one thing, timber is a scarcity out here and also what military commander wants to hide behind walls?  The ranger on duty did a great job of talking about the Fort and all the different things we'd find and the history of the place.

The kids did their Junior Ranger program, which encourages them to fill out a small booklet so they learn more about the State Park. The Fort includes 3 buildings that are original -- they housed the commander's family, the officers and the surgeon.  The buildings were furnished as they would have been in the late 1800's, and the kids were very interested by the bathtubs and the chamber pots. It provided a wonderful glimpse of that time in our history, and I'm so glad the park was open for our visit!

After a couple hours there, we headed towards home.  I saw the signs for Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and we decided to stop.  Bo & I had visited many years ago (before kids) and thought they would enjoy the view.  Nate especially loves to sit and take in beautiful landscapes, and this park gave him plenty of opportunities.  We took a short (but steep) hike down to a place almost beneath a small waterfall, which was fun (even when Lydia tumbled down a few steps head-first.  She did just fine and only Mom's heart was racing)  The kids also completed their Junior Ranger badges here.

It was a busy weekend, and full of great times. I love the Junior Ranger program, as it really provides more information about the park and the kids enjoy working towards their badges.  We filled a cooler with drinks, which definitely saved us some money over the weekend as all we had to do was replace the ice.  I'm looking forward to our July trip -- which is extremely close to home but is going to be another fun weekend!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Fun

I've mentioned quite a bit a few times that this summer is leading into some major changes for our family.  Actually, many of those changes have begun and the stress of change is affecting some of us already.

There's some angst going on, and some feelings of doom, and while I try to respect those feelings as best I can, there are times when I want to say "Just suck it up!!!  Look at all that I'm trying to do!!"

But I know that won't help much.  Because the feelings are genuine.  Our routines and usual ways are definitely changing.  I know that it's hard and the unknown is probably the hardest of all.  Bo & I have made some decisions that we believe are the best for our family, even if they are causing some gnashing of teeth and some tears.

Last night, over at Mom of the Screaming Masses, Carmen posted her summer fun poster.  I thought it was such a great idea that I immediately tore off a piece of paper and created our own.  I added a few things, and then asked the boys to add some things today.

I almost fell over when Colin wrote "Open Gym"  I hope he remembers how quickly he adapted to that new routine when he is thrown by starting school in the fall.  He was extremely miserable the first week of Open Gym, and mostly miserable the second week, but I'm proud of him for sticking with it (and proud of me for not caving and letting him quit although he desperately wanted to and it broke my heart to see my boy so upset.) Now that he's in the 3rd week, he actually declared it fun enough to add to our poster.

I'm going to encourage them to continue adding to the poster.  I'm going to encourage them to read it and remember the things we write even if they don't have anything new to add.  This is going to be an awesome summer -- and the memories will carry us through the expected difficult early fall.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: Circus

See this cutie? Lydia is convinced he's her new boyfriend. She was quite impressed by his green hair, and has plans to dye her own green just for him.

We went to opening night of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus tonight in Phoenix. We had a wonderful time, and were duly impressed by the amazing athletic feats of the performers.  The kids were all amazed and entranced throughout the show.  This year's show was called FUNUNDRUM, and it was definitely packed with fun.

It is non-stop action, with so much happening on the stage sometimes that it's hard to watch everything (but it's good because no matter where you sit, you have a great seat and are able to watch amazing performers.


Along with the green-haired clown, Lydia also loved the stilt-walkers.  I was most impressed by the acrobats -- including these 2 brothers aptly named "The Bionic Brothers."  The boys said their favorite part was the motorcycles.  At one point, there were SEVEN motorcycles zooming around that small metal sphere.

We got there early enough for the pre-access show this year, and the boys got to watch an elephant paint, see clowns close-up and received some fun red clown noses.

I remember last year being amazed at how much fun was packed into the evening, and I was amazed again this year.  The action really never does stop, and it seems amazing that intermission means the show isn't  yet over. It's a completely new show this year, and each act is amazing and unique,

The only thing that disappointed Lydia was that there were no dolphins.  I'm not sure why she thought there would be dolphins, but she did express her disappointment after intermission when the dolphins still hadn't been seen.  She did think the baby elephant, Barack, was very cute, though and that seemed to lessen the dolphin disappointment.

I highly recommend the show, and if you're in Phoenix I encourage you to use the code "MOM" to buy tickets at a discounted price of 4 for $44 through www.ticketmaster.com. Additional tickets can be purchased for just $11 each.  They are performing until this Sunday, so hurry and have a great time this weekend at the circus.

*Disclosure: I received tickets for the show for my family from Feld Entertainment.  I was not compensated in any other way, and all thoughts & opinions are my own.*

Technology Girl

When I picked up Lydia at child care yesterday, they were settling in to watch a DVD.  The owner's husband was trying to get it to work, and I saw Lydia talking with him and pointing out the buttons.  He turned to the DVD player, pushed a button, and I heard him say "Thanks, Lydia!  That was the button!"

I called out to her just then, and she came running to meet me.  He turned and said "She just helped me out!  I had no idea which button to press to make this work, but she did!"

It made me chuckle, and wonder what the future holds for all the kids this age.  Lydia is proficient with so many different pieces of technology, that I am confident that they will seamlessly fit into her life throughout her life.  It also makes me wonder what we'll see in the next 40 years?!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ringling Barnum Bailey Circus in Phoenix! (Discount Code!)

It was going to be a surprise, but the boys heard me going over our schedule for next week and they were thrilled when they heard me mention the circus. Yes, we will be at the circus next Wednesday and I can't wait to watch the kids again this year.  Last year, they were so amazed at the show and I am eager to see this brand new show this summer.

If you want to join us next week for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey circus at the USAirways Center in Phoenix, I have some great codes to share with you.  When you head over to www.ticketmaster.com, you can use the code "MOM" and receive four tickets for only $44!  You can purchase additional tickets for only $11.

This code is good to all performances (Excludes Circus Celebrity, Front Row and VIP seats).

Opening night is Wednesday, June 23 and the show runs through Sunday, June 27, 2010.  I know we are looking forward to a fun evening, and hope you have the chance to check it out this year!

*Disclosure: We received tickets for opening night in exchange for posting.  All thoughts, opinions and words are strictly my own.*

Swamped

I have been swamped with life lately!  I've been training with a new client, which has meant long days.  The boys started basketball (which they love!) and I have about a dozen other things that I need to stay on top of in my "real" life.  Blogging has been hard to find time for, but I hope the next week I'm able to squeeze some time in because I have some neat things to share!!

  • Our recent weekend trip was tons of fun & I want to tell you all about it!
  • There are some products I want to tell you about that I love (and even bought with my own money)
  • More products that I've been sent that are pretty neat and I want to tell you about
  • Talk about how the boys are adjusting to Open Gym
  • Rooting for the USA in the World Cup
  • and more . . . which I just can't remember right now.
My break is almost over, and then I'm back to it.  This weekend I MUST catch up with laundry, go grocery shopping, get my hair cut, clean the pool (ok, I admit, Bo does that), and all those lovely household things.  I also want to shop for some things we need (like new blankets -- I ruined ours in our new washing machine a few weeks ago.)  I want to go with my sister to check out a new restaurant I heard about from a co-worker.

So, I'm busy.  Super busy. It's all good and I will be back to blogging more soon!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Suddenly . . .

it's almost Friday!  It's been a busy week around here, and while I had every intention of being ready to go away again this weekend, I'm scrambling tonight.  I did help the boys pack, so they are done!  I did do Lydia's laundry, so she's just a quick pack.  I still need to do laundry for me & Bo, and I confess I ran to the store and bought some undies rather than attempting laundry tonight.  It's been many years since I fell to that tactic, and it seems ridiculous considering my lovely new machines . . . but it's  8:30 and it was quicker to buy new ones rather than wash/dry what we have.

I taught Monday & Tuesday, and the rest of the week I've been in training.  It's been interesting, and the new company I'm working with is wonderful . . . but it's hard for me to be behind the desk instead of in front of it.  It's a very small training class, so it's even more difficult as I can't let my mind wander or work ahead or play catch up. 

The boys started their open gym program this week, and it's been a mixed bag.  It's tough to go into that type of setting, and we're working through hurt feelings and some overwhelming days.  It didn't help that today I got out of my training a few minutes late, and Bo was tied up with a client, and there was a terrible accident on the freeway.  The boys MUST be picked up by a certain time, and 10 minutes before that time I was stuck on the freeway 20 minutes away if there was NO traffic.  My sister was out of town, but thankfully a dear friend's sweet daughter ran over and checked them out and then waited for me to grab them.  And, then we had to backtrack to pick up Lydia from her child care.  And, I found out that some girl went out of her way to mimic Nate's stutter to the point he ended up in tears.  This, after Colin was insulted the 2 days prior and came home feeling very hurt.  On the plus side, it's a ton of physical activity and Nate is loving that.

It's been a long week for all of us.

We grabbed some fast food, did a little shopping, and the kids are all bathing now so they can collapse into their beds.  I am going to pack (we're headed to Camp Verde and Out of Africa this weekend) and then follow them to bed!  Another day of work tomorrow, then we're off!

What's up for you this weekend?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

SMART Love of Learning Blog Tour

As a technology trainer (I teach adults how to use software), I absolutely love SMART boards.  I don't always have the advantage of having a SMART board in the classrooms I use, but when I do, I am especially pleased.  SMART boards allow me to stay at the board and manipulate the computer through only the screen -- I can click, double-click, right-click, draw and use the keyboard all from the screen.  It makes it easy for my students to see what needs to be done and helps them learn more efficiently.

I was happy to join the blog tour for SMART to find stories of the best teachers!  Some lucky schools will receive SMART boards for their classrooms as a result of this tour, so I had to jump on board.  Even though I have been the primary teacher for my kids throughout the years, they are headed off to school next year and I know they will find dedicated and compassionate teachers to help them navigate their school year. They have been fortunate over the last few years to have wonderful teachers in their enrichment program, and Nate had the best speech pathologist last year helping him overcome his stutter.

You can share the story of your favorite teacher at their website here or visit their Facebook page for more information.  At their site, you can read other stories, and see some great ways that SMART boards are being used.  Telling your story will allow you to enter for a chance to win a board for a school of your choice.  One board will be given away to a U.S. school and another board will be given away to a Canadian school.

Check out this fun video about SMART boards!  After watching, don't forget to head over and share the story of your favorite teacher!



*Disclosure: This blog tour was organized by Mom Central, and I was provided a gift certificate in exchange for posting this information.  All words, thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.*

Monday, June 07, 2010

Something Local to Do!

I've written before how much we enjoy the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near our house! They offer so many wonderful learning opportunities, that we are unable to take advantage of them all.  I am bummed that we won't be able to sign the boys up for a kids' photography class they are running this weekend -- but maybe you have the time and want to attend?

On June 13, they are offering a Kids Photography Workshop (for kids 7 - 15) to learn a few simple camera functions and practice their new skills in the Children's Garden. Spaces are limited, and the cost is only $10!  (Digital cameras required)  The class runs from 9:30 - 11 and parents can explore the grounds while their children are in class.  Reserve your spot by calling 520-689-2723.

If you go, I'd love to hear about your experience! I'm watching their info to see the next offering as I know my boys would love a class like this.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

It's Summer!

Summer has officially begun for our family.  May was a long, long month full of illness for most of us -- and it really threw me down for the count! I haven't taught in weeks and have slept more in the last month than in 10 months prior. I'm so glad that I finally am healthy again!  On a positive note, I've read a ton of books and was able to watch many movies on Netflix Instant View while I was getting better.

I just finished up the Steig Larsson trilogy and thoroughly enjoyed them!  I felt that the beginnings of the books dragged a bit, but then when I was about 1/2 way through I found it hard to put them down.  I definitely loved my Kindle, since I simply ordered the next one when I was ready and waited less than a minute for it to download.  I read that Larsson had planned at least 10 books, and I'm sorry that he died before writing more.  I wasn't sure when I started The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but I'm glad I kept going.  There are some questionable parts (and evil) in all 3 books, but they are thrilling and kept me on the edge of my chair.

The boys start an "open gym" program this week, and I'm eager to hear about what they think! It works out well, as I'm back to teaching this week, as well as training with another company for a traveling trainer opportunity. 


I feel topsy-turvy as we're solidly moving into a new direction for our family.  I've worked, but we continued to homeschool.  As my work commitments have increased, we realized that something had to give.  The boys will begin full-time public school this fall, so I'm committed to doing my best to make some awesome memories this summer.  Not that we don't always want to make awesome memories -- but I am nervous about this new change.  I told Bo that it feels like I'm turning my universe upside down since I will no longer be a "homeschooling" mom.

This summer should be great, though!  We went to Vegas last week, and have at least 2 more trips planned this summer.  Nate just finished an awesome soccer camp and both boys started basketball yesterday.  We have been swimming for about a month, but the pool is finally warm (enough for me) so I envision many evenings after dinner in the pool.  My schedule is packed for the next couple weeks, but it won't be that way all summer, so I plan to make plenty of museum visits.

My sister and I also want to spend time trying out recipes (mainly sweets, I think) that avoid all of her allergies.  I had fully intended to make a cake for her birthday this week, but I ended up buying a vegan triple chocolate cake from Whole Foods.  They had 3 vegan options available -- which means that they meet the dairy-free requirement. Unfortunately, the other 2 flavors were banana (she's allergic to bananas) and carrot cake (which has orange juice in it and she's allergic to citrus.)  The cake was very good, though -- rich and chocolate-y and definitely yummy.

School starts early here, so we have about 2 months before a totally new schedule goes into place. What are your plans for the summer?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Travel with Kids: Las Vegas

April was a bust for traveling/exploring with kids, but we had a great month with visits from family.  We finally squeezed a trip in on the last weekend of May.  We headed out to Vegas to attend my cousin's wedding.

My kids are good travelers! I packed on Friday and Saturday morning found us in the car headed to Vegas.  The boys had a stomach bug the week prior, and Lydia was struck down Friday . . . but Saturday morning found her feeling better so we were on the road.  The boys' Nintendo DS's definitely help the trip go faster for them, as well the games on my iPhone for Lydia (we decided she needs an iPod Touch.  How crazy is that for a 3yo? But it would mean I could keep my phone . . . we're scouting Craigslist for an older model.)  We had a cooler full of drinks, and stopped briefly for lunch on the way.  We could have packed lunch, but Lydia getting sick made some of my plans fall away.

The Hoover Dam was crowded Saturday, so it took us 2.5 hours to cross the Dam.  That put us even further behind, but thankfully we were able to arrive at the wedding just in time for the ceremony.  It was a fun backyard wedding, with an Elvis impersonator showing up to wish the couple well.  I loved the chance to see my family -- it's been almost 20 years since I saw some of them, so of course they hadn't even met my children before!

There never seems to be enough time to hang out and visit, but we had a nice time and Lydia absolutely loved the chance to dance the night away with her Aunt Tess.

On Sunday, the boys went to the Titanic Exhibit at the Luxor (I went last summer with my sister, and didn't feel the need to spend the money again.)  They all thought it was pretty amazing, although Nate isn't so keen on taking a cruise any time soon.  Then, we headed over to the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay.  The boys thought it was great, but Lydia wasn't convinced the fish weren't going to suddenly get her.  She didn't understand the concept of glass between them and her and most of the time found her grabbing her brothers' shirts from behind so that she could pull them away from danger.  Then, the kids spent an hour or so in the pool.

We tried to hook up with family, but we always seemed to miss each other throughout the day.  We decided to buy the "eat all day" buffet option at the Luxor's buffet so we headed there for dinner.  As long as you eat 3 meals, it's not a bad deal at all.  I love buffets for the kids, since they can eat whatever strikes their fancy.  Nate even tried sushi for the first time (he didn't like it -- but he tried it!)

Around 8PM, the kids were beat so Bo stayed in the room with them while I went down and spent a few hours with my family in one of the hotel's bars.

Monday found me waking up feeling horrible, (and, no, it had nothing to do with the bar the night before, since I only drank Coca-Cola. LOL) and so the drive home was long (thankfully we had no delay at the Dam.)  Also, thankfully, we had a puke bucket in the car.  That's enough said about that!! 

I over-packed a bit, and that is something I will work on in the future. I need to streamline my cosmetics bag, since I somehow ended up bringing 2 on this trip. (and I'm not exactly Miss Make-up, so I'm not sure why) Each child has their own rolling bag, which is extremely helpful! They also each carry their own backpack.  The boys keep their games, chargers, and books in their backpacks. Lydia keeps a few toys and her favorite blanket.  I brought too many outfits for Lydia, but she's still at that age where she sometimes needs multiple outfits in a day.

I'm still on the outlook for the perfect gadget bag.  I need one that will help me keep the cords from getting tangled, that is big enough for all that we carry, but not TOO big.

We're traveling again in a couple weeks, and I have every intention of planning it a little better.  My main objective this next trip will be to have healthy, convenient foods to choose from while we're on the road.

Review: You're Not The Boss Of Me

The title "You're Not The Boss of Me" jumped out at me and made me want to read this book!  Betsy Brown Braun wrote a book chock-full of parenting situations and potential responses.  I really enjoyed this book, since I especially appreciate advice books that are specific and not wishy-washy.

One of my favorite parts of the book is her list of 100 ways to say "Good Job!" Sometimes, as a parent, I fall into a rut of saying the same phrases over and over again.  It was good to see a list of phrases that I could pull from to encourage my children.

Every chapter of the book includes "Tips and Scripts" for the different topics in the chapter.  Some of the tips even include scripts for different aged children, which I found useful for our home.

The book is an easy read, but even more useful is an extensive index that allows you to quickly grab the chapter that may be causing you grief right now.  Chores are a sticky point lately in our home, and it hasn't been helped by the fact that May has been a rotten health month for me. The very first tip in this chapter was that parents must do their chores . . . and I realized that I haven't been the best example this month.  We'll start again in June, and I'll try to keep some of her tips in mind.

You're Not The Boss of Me is one of the best parenting books I've read in a while.  I give it a "thumbs-up" rating!

Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Harper Collins and received a copy of You’re Not the Boss of Me to facilitate my review. Mom Central also sent me a gift certificate to thank me for taking the time to participate.
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