Category Archives: raising teens

White House Travel Bloggers Summit: A Year Later

White House Travel Blogger Summit A cold rain gently fell streaking the windows with of threads of color. I stood in the State Dinning room and looked above the mantel.  As I gazed at the portrait of Lincoln, I’d never felt smaller. How did this kid from a one-tumbleweed town end up as an invited guest, standing in the same State Dinning Room where world leaders have gathered?

White House Travel Bloggers Summit: A Year Later

Travel brought me to that moment of awe one year ago today. Attending the White House Travel Bloggers Summit was one of those surreal moments in life. I felt both humbled and emboldened.

We came from all walks of life; television personalities, editors of respected publications, thought leaders, government officials, entrepreneurs, creators, storytellers, each with stories as different as the pages of our dogeared travel journals. Yet here we were one. Each of us bonded by a shared passion for helping others understand the true power of travel as a force for change in the world.

The State Department hosted this event as a thunderclap announcement for the opening of the U.S. Study Abroad Office and to pose the question to the world… Study Abroad Because?

“…we want to ensure America’s future leaders have opportunities to experience the world beyond their border…” ~Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

In the year since the summit my family has chosen to take up the mantle of spreading the word on how travel can better the world. Be that study or volunteering abroad, connecting with the history and traditions of new places {far and near}, or welcoming others into our lives to share who we are.

My teen and I attended a virtual study abroad campus fair where we connected with educators and students from Australia to Georgia {the country not the state}, Italy to Russia. For her it was great to hear college students talk about their personal experiences, I felt bolstered by learning that these programs weren’t just about seeing the sights.

white house travel blogger summit As a family we visited the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, busting a few myths about Canada.  Immersed ourselves Georgian, Latvian, Turkish, and Jamaican cultural experiences … and food. Oh the food.

I even talked myself into being okay with the teen headed to Korea or Russia this summer to study language in an immersion program. Okay, if we’re being honest a small part of me still hopes she doesn’t get in… my baby alone in a foreign land?! Practicing what you preach is tough, yo!  

The best part of the last year though has been getting to know my fellow summit attendees and following along as they make the world a smaller place.

white house travel blogger summitCome join the journey…

Why Taking My Daughter to Haiti Was an Investment in Her Future as a Global Citizen – Leticia Barr

White House Travel Blogger Summit Miniseries – from Nathaniel Boyle’s Daily Travel Podcast

Finding the Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship at the Center of Dalí’s Universe – Brad Bernard

Life Coming Full Circle at the White House Travel Blogger Summit – Colleen Lanin

My Turkish Love Affair – Elena Sonnino

The Moment That Cuba Opened Its Secret To Me – Lillie Marshal

15 Lessons I Learned from Traveling Around the World – Angie Orth

Emotional Travel: Revisiting Places of Personal Importance in 2015 – Matt Long

New Year, New Life: You’re Never Too Old to Study Abroad – Jackie Laulainen (for Yahoo Travel)
Study Abroad Because… There are experiences out there that will totally change your life for the better – A Wandering Educators Student Interview
Why Your Teen High School Student Should Go Abroad (The Parent’s Guide) – Dr. Jessie Voights
 

“Travel can change you. It should change you.” ~ Brad Bernard MyWanderList

random acts of kindness apps

random acts of kindness there's an app for thatKindness is the the best investment. Think about it, how good do you feel right after you’ve done something – big or small-– for someone else? See, just thinking about it paid dividends in you feel good all over again. Right? Investing in kindness is even easier thanks to tech. Check out these ways random acts of kindness apps, websites and tech tools. 

Walk The Dog

I love this one because it has so many layers. Walking your dog is good for you and them. With Walk for a Dog, Woof Trax is making it your walk good for dogs living in shelters too.

Whether it’s a walk around the block or that epic hike you’ve been gearing up for, every walk counts. Download their app, and use it every time you grab for the leash, and Woof Trax donates to one of 6,000 shelters across the country!

Get Those Steps In

Sure, hitting your daily steps goal is great but it can do good for others too. Charity Miles partners with corporate sponsors to make those steps add up to cold hard cash for charity.  Just download the app, fill out your profile and get moving. Bikers earn up to 10¢ per mile; walkers and runners earn up to 25¢ per mile, and it all goes to the cause of your choosing from a long list of participating organizations.

So what charities can you help by getting in your daily workout? Organizations like; Habitat for Humanity, (red), Autism Speaks, Feeding America, Wounded Warrior Project, and lots more! 

Share the Moments in REAL Time

One of my favorite features of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus I’m test-driving as a part of the Verizon Wireless Buzz crew, is the live stream video ability. Most of my family lives on the west coast, I’m on the east. We miss out on sharing so many of the milestones and moments of life just because of geography.

This feature allows me to text a link to my parents and have them join in LIVE at the kiddo’s violin recital, in the kitchen while I’m trying to make one of my mom’s signature recipes, at the big game. Unlike Periscope, this is a private stream only shared with those that have the invite. I can also download the video to my private YouTube channel and keep it like a video scrapbook.

Share A Meal

A meal has always been my favorite way to connect with others. Somehow feeding the belly, can also feed the soul. Though the Meal Sharing isn’t an app or charity, it does bring people together.

Go to the website, sign up and then search for meals being prepared by gifted home cooks. Find one that appeal to you, pay on the site and then show up to eat. Maybe bring along gift for the host or ask if you can donate to a food bank in their area. 

Giving Tuesday

The UN Foundation has put kindness and giving back into the holiday season with their Giving Tuesday campaign. In a time where Cyber Monday and Black Friday dominate the season,

#GivingTuesday, is a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

It’s a simple idea and a powerful thing to do. Gather your family, community, coworkers and come together to give something more.  It can be something as simple as donating to your local homeless shelter or as big as hosting a day of community service where you get everyone involved. Tech plays a big role in Giving Tuesday, by connecting people, sharing plans, and getting others involved.

A rising tide floats all boats.

Text It

Remember when you were a kid and something unexpected came in the mail for you? That thrill was a powerful thing. In the busy lives we lead it may not be practical to sit down and write a note, find a stamp, and hit the post office. BUT  a random text out of the blue? That we can do!

Try it this week. Pick two new people a day to send a text to. Make it fun, happy, appreciative, silly, whatever fits your relationship with that person. I’d wager by the end of the week you’ll be smiling and so will a bunch of people you care about. 

How about that for the power of kindness when it meets tech?

Verizon gives some great ideas on how you can use tech to do random acts of kindness any day, for any reason. Join in using technology for good this month and spread the word using the hashtag #VZWBuzz, let’s make kindness a thing! Okay, an even bigger thing.

 

Disclosure: As member of a pretty cool team of influencers, I occasionally receive cool products to test drive and share my honest thoughts on. No additional compensation is provided, neither were any favorable comments promised.  All opinions are my own. 

Your Parenting Philosophy Is A Joke!

What is your parenting philosophy? Um, try not to get them killed and hope they don’t grow up to loathe me? When that blurry little plus sign materialized on the stick trembling in my hand I was wholly unprepared for what lay ahead.

Confession time; I never wanted kids. That biological yearning to mother another human, it just wasn’t a part of my makeup. Or so I thought. Turns out that you don’t have to declare a desire to rear children in order to conceive. Who knew?!

Only everybody. 

When my oldest “reality check” came along it was almost instantaneously obvious to me that I’d been living some deluded idiom.  The kid was {is} cool.  Cooler than I ever would or could be. I was totally into this parenting thing. Maybe even made for it.

Naturally this revelation also came with an instant, fully-formed, and completely correct in every possible way, parenting philosophy.

Fellow parents, you may roll your eyes now.

My son was singularly brilliant. I’d teach him to read before he could crawl. Yes, he was going to be multilingual by age five. Never would a commercially produced morsel of food find its way past his cherubic lips. He’d wear only the best, washed always in Dreft {also known as the precursor to organic, fragrance free, sustainably produced, vegan, non-gmo laundry detergent.}  A smudge of dirt had less than a thirty second life-span anywhere on him.

Is that the sound of rapidly spinning rotter blades I hear? 

And, like a Highlander… there could be only one. Then, two lines in the window.

When she came along, my first daughter turned my world on its ear. Sixteen years later I’ve yet to right things, and I like it that way.

Your Parenting Philosophy Is a Joke - Because They Have Thier Own PlansWhere my first child was in many ways shaped after the me I thought I was, she would march to her own beat from day one. In fact the first photo snapped of her – seconds after eviction from the womb- shows her with a graceful, long, perfectly-formed middle finger resting on her chubby little cheek. This kid would do things her way.

With all four of my kids {yeah, the “no kids” plan is shot to hell} I’ve tossed out that whole parenting philosophy thing. Instead I just try my best to help them find their place in the world. By world I mean exactly that. We work hard to teach them that there is a common thread that connects us all, no matter our geographic location, spiritual beliefs, or economic situation.

Sometimes those lessons come through our travels, or our “Travel Nights” – a fun family tradition that lets us “travel” without leaving home by bringing in food, music, and cultural information about places we long to explore. Other times it comes in helping them connect with people who don’t look or live like they do through work with organizations we adore – like the UN Foundation.

For as long as I can remember, my oldest daughter has been the most taken with the idea of Global Citizenship. Her personal mantra is, “I will go to all the places.” So I’ve always expected that she’d want to study abroad at some point. Like her senior year of college. But as a Junior in high school? Yeah, no.

Be careful what you ask for, right?

I’m not sure why I’m all that shocked that she is so ready to fly. People tell me she’s been asking to spend a summer abroad since middle school. Somehow, I didn’t hear that.  Ignore it, she’ll forget about it like she did One Direction. Much like my feelings for the boy band genre, I’m not cool with this.

Gas up the chopper! 

I was nineteen when I moved to Spain. It’s not like I went without a safety net – or even by choice– the Navy had that covered. My parents never had to find a host family, a reputable program, do background checks, take blood samples, and interrogate anyone that might possibly have contact with their daughter. I was an adult {legally speaking.} She is a baby {mostly.}

This whole give them roots and wings thing is a load of crap. Sappy copy for greeting cards and fridge magnets. How about we just give them that tentacled vine thing they kept beneath that trapdoor under the three headed dog at Hogwarts? Who says we have to equip them with life skills to help them grow into confident, responsible, self-reliant adults?  Bah! 

take the world with you whever you goThe globe has lots of citizens, I only have one KK.

 

 

 

 

Trying on The New Glass Slipper: Cinderella Movie Review

Cinderella Movie Romantic Secret GardenI like my espresso with lemon peel, my books… paper, and my Disney princesses animated. Call me old school, a traditionalist, or just plain old… I know what I like, and how I like it. Or, I did. Here is our review of the new Cinderella movie.

Being the diehard fan of classic Disney, Maleficent fell a bit short for me and I wasn’t in any rush to pay fifteen dollars to see Cinderella. Even my daughters weren’t particularly piqued by the previews. Though the teen was enamored by the elusive {s in out-of-stock-everywhere and going for a 300% markup on eBay} Cinderella themed line of cosmetics at MAC. 

Then a “Royal” invite from Disney hit my inbox and all that sticking to ideals stuff few out the window. What girl can resist a wax sealed invitation to the the ball – even a digital one? Not me. Or my daughters. So we pulled out the chest of party dress and headed out to a private screening of Cinderella.

Cinderella 2015 The Magic of Disney Returns

There was Footman, The glass slipper, even a royal Blue Carpet rolled out for the occasion.  All were pale in comparison to the story that unfolded on the screen.

We. Loved. It.

The expected magic of a Disney film comes to life in a story both familiar and new, with gorgeous sets and stunning costuming. Ella’s happy world, filled family, love and farmyard friends, comes to a tear jerking end when her mother takes ill.  Before her mother slips away she shares a secret with her daughter – one that really resonated with the mom in me.

“Have courage and be kind.”

Ella lives by these words, through the heartbreak of her father’s death and the trials of life to come with her Wicked Stepmother (portrayed to skin-crawling perfection by the indomitable Cate Blanchett – I really loathed her) and gaudy, obnoxious… hilarious, Stepsisters. She continues to be kind, have courage in the face of hardship, and believe in magic – as evidenced by her relationship with the house mice.

Stepmother-and-Stepsisters-Cinderella-Movie

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that Gus {Gus Gus} was still in the story. He was always my favorite! Sure they turned Jacques into Jaquelin, but even that worked to tie in the theme of a courageous and kind female character.  I missed Lucifer having a bigger role, but he was there too. Lucifie!

My girls and I laughed, and cried. We swooned over the handsome prince, cheered for the triumph of kindness over cruelty, fell in love with the wise King. There wasn’t a thing I could find to dislike – and believe me, I tried.  Nonso Anozie as The Captain was my absolute favorite. He was gallant, funny, and gave a performance that even eclipsed that of the amazing Helena Bonham Carter. {who can do no wrong, in my book}

Not one to bide with hyperbole – at least when it comes to movies… excuses for not working out, well that’s a different story – give Cinderella a full four pumpkins and an additional sprinkle of fairy dust for the stunning costuming. Do not wait for this one to come out on DVD, it must be seen in on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

Trust me, it’s well worth the $15 ticket and $20 small diet coke.

Some Princesses are tougher

 Disclosure: My family and I were invited guests of Disney for a private screening of the film as well as an event. I received no compensation for this review and all opinions are entirely my own – because you deserve nothing less!

Visiting The 9/11 Memorial with Kids

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with Kids Times Square. Central Park. The MET, MoMA, and Guggenheim. Manhattan certainly isn’t short on memorable landmarks and iconic attractions. Taking in a Broadway show might mean prepping the kids on theatre etiquette, but how does one prepare the family for a visit to the 9/11 Memorial? How young is too young? What do you tell them about that sunny day in September when the world came crashing down in a cloud of concrete dust and shattered aircraft?

Tough questions, all of them. Do I have the answers? No, not really. Only you can answer for your own family. What I can do is share what I know, and our family’s story in hopes that you’ll find some guidance in it. I will say that even if this post answers none but one question, it should be, “Go. When it’s right for you. Go.”

The first thing you should know is that visitors are admitted to the 9/11 Museum on a timed-entry. You may arrive at 10:00 a.m. and not be able to get a ticket that lets you in until two hours later. Plan for this. My advice is to stop at the memorial first, get your tickets to the museum, and then go explore the area. You’re within walking distance of Battery Park, always a great destination for families.

Once you enter the doors you’re shuttled through a TSA style entry process, complete with bag x-ray and metal detectors. There is a coat check area where you’re encouraged to leave bags and belongings that may get in the way of the crush of people joining you on the journey. Do this, you’ll be glad you did.

Visit the website before you go, they provide all sorts of resources and support for families visiting with children. There are also docents on-site who are happy to point you to resources housed at the memorial.

Steel remains of the girders that once held up one of the Twin Towers. Viewed from between the Freedom Tower rises like a Phoenix from the ashes.
Steel remains of the girders that once held up one of the Twin Towers. Viewed from between the Freedom Tower rises like a Phoenix from the ashes.

In the museum, there is one exhibit that clearly states it may not be appropriate for younger children. Here you’ll find first person audio recordings, see video (some graphic – these are tastefully hidden behind blinds), artifacts, and vignettes displaying everything from the dust covered clothing of a store front frozen in time on that day, to a recount of the first terrorist attempt on the building in 1993.

In that room is were our personal story begins.

My husband is a Native New Yorker, born and raised. His first real job out of college was working as an Import Specialist for the U.S. Customs Service at the World Trade Center.  He was at his desk in 1993 when a bomb detonated in parking garage.

For him this place is so much more than “Ground Zero”, it represents a chapter in his life. One he talks about often, remembering with fondness some of characters he worked with, his city as it was before, and after. With every trip to Manhattan, when we’d pass by the cordoned off remains of the twin towers, the kids would ask him to tell the stories.

I thought these stories would be enough for them, they’d understand when we went, know why it was important to go. I was wrong. Even I was unprepared. Honestly, I don’t believe anyone could ever be prepared for this place.

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with Kids
Steel support with “signatures” on it from first responders and recovery workers. To the left, one of the original foundational walls from the towers.

As you descend into museum itself the air starts to shift. An escalator moves visitors downward, passing below the remnants of steel girders that once held up one of the towers. You’re deposited into a concourse where a timeline of the events of September 11th, 2001 begin to unfold in a multimedia presentation. Never have I been in a space with so many people and so little noise.  It is both comforting and unnerving. 

Here is where the questions from the kids started. We find out that the two youngest haven’t learned much in school about 9/11 and we’ve failed as parents in educating them from our experiences.  Yet, I doubt that anything we could have told them, or showed them, would have had as much impact as standing next to a crushed fire engine.

NYFD Ladder 3 sits as a moving reminder of those who went in, giving all to save others.
NYFD Ladder 3 sits as a moving reminder of those who went in, giving all to save others.

The kids knew daddy had worked here, they even knew that his friend Bob – who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald – passed away here that day. They didn’t know so many other things -what Bob looked like, his picture is here on a wall. We just didn’t talk about 9/11 that much. I’m sure some part of me didn’t bring it up as much out of respect for what it meant to my husband on a personal level. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I’m the daughter of a fire chief and can’t help but cry thinking of all the children of firefighters who lost loved ones that day. No matter the reason, we just didn’t talk about it – as a family.

Coming to this place gave us reason – permission – to talk, to cry, to join with the kids in wondering why. Because honestly, who can answer that question, no matter how old we are?

I’ve always believed that travel has a power to educate in a way that no textbook or lecture ever could. Being in the moment, at the site where history occurred, seeing artifacts in person, hearing the story from those who lived it, that is how we learn. It is the gift that travel gives us, that this place gave to my children.

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial with Kids So if you ask me if you should take your kids to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, I’d have to say yes. Though I’d also tell you that you know your family best, share with them before you go. Find a way to have the hard conversations that will help you tell your own story.  Tell the story. Our children must know, we must never forget.