Category Archives: raising tweens

Follow Your NOLA (a love letter to New Orleans in pictures)

Follow Your NOLA

For some, there are places in this world that call to them even if they’ve never been. I’d always thought that was the truest definition of wanderlust, a need to go places we’ve never been. A recent trip to New Orleans changed my perspective. If ever there were a person in this word for whom the tagline Follow Your NOLA applied that would be my youngest daughter. 

From a very young age, maybe about six or seven, she’s been fascinated by New Orleans. One might think that came from tales of my travels, but no. Long before my first visit she’d seek out shows on the History Channel or Discovery that talked about the folklore, food, and stories that cling to this city like so much Spanish Moss. It was actually rather sweet to sit huddled on the sofa and shiver at the tales of The Myrtles Plantation. Frankly, I was nearly as enamored.  

After my first trip to NOLA when she was eight the fascination grew. I think she wore beads and a mask to school for a week. Her room began to take on a distinctly French Quarter vibe and by the time her ninth birthday rolled around it was clear the theme would be… Big Easy. 

 I’ve often wondered over the years if perhaps she was drawn to this city not by wanderlust, but by something deeper within her. In my travels, I’ve become certain that there exist in this world people who are simply old souls.

These people seem to have deeper connections to places, customs, and cultures than most of us do. They needn’t have grown up near or been raised within the places and things they love. They are simply a part of them no matter time or distance. My daughter is an old soul and New Orleans her muse. 

She recently celebrated her first double-digit birthday. How? With a trip to her city. 

Never have I seen such instant love. The child who is usually first to start fussing about long walks, couldn’t sit still. She nearly prowled the streets of the French Quarter. Night fell and she lit up like one of the gas lamps that dot the streets. She savored every spice (even tried alligator) lingered to look at every piece of art, got her cards read and sang Ella Fitzgerald songs on street corners with bands from around the globe. 

This is her city and she is its child. They belong together. Here is a short love letter to New Orleans in pictures that she chose. 

Stay tuned for full articles on food, music, history and the unique culture of New Orleans (penned by me) for A Cork, Fork & Passportand Skimbaco Lifestyle

Laissez les bons temps rouler, mon amis!  

 

Better (it really does matter)

If you’ve been around here a time or two you may know that I collaborate with Verizon. Most of the time that means testing out new products or services and sharing my honest thoughts here. While I always guarantee readers my unedited opinions, I also accept that not everyone buys the fact that they aren’t influenced, maybe just a little. I get it. Really, I do. I tend to wonder about “sponsored” content too.  I recently had an experience with Verizon Wireless that had nothing to do with my collaboration. It proved to me that their slogan, Better Matters really is a thing.  

The youngest of our Little Nuggets turned ten this summer. Here in the coop the traditional ten-year gift is a cell phone. Right around the same time the teen needed an upgrade (can’t have a smartphone without a functioning camera… oh the humanity!) and our household said goodbye to analog – so long answering machine, you served us well. Off to the Verizon store we went, with no little amount of trepidation.

In the past a visit to the store meant hours sucked out of our weekend. Help that was little to no help at all, and coming home with lighter pockets and befuddled brains. A few years back I even managed to get signed up for two insurance plans on the same phone.

Wait, we thought she was writing about why Verizon Wireless is, um… better.

I hear ya, and I am. I’ve since learned that not all Verizon stores are created equally. In fact, not all Verizon stores are even Verizon stores. What?!! 20160813_132532-01 Here is the deal, there are a lot of stores out there that are Verizon ‘authorized dealers’. Any number of them are great, I’m sure. I just didn’t find those. I found the one that made me dread the cellphone store. Then I found a Verizon store. (cue harp music and unicorn sparkles)

The Verizon store nearest us was a bit of a trek, but totally worth it. From the minute we walked into the store in Glen Burnie, Maryland it was evident things were going to be different. Starting with the warm welcome my phone gave me. Yep, the phone welcomed me to the store… hello, Kubrick!

Team members took our info, what we needed and gave us an actual estimate of how long it would be before we were helped. The doctor’s could take some lessons here! 

Just about everything in the store was hands-on with demos and clear pricing. That pricing thing was the teen’s least favorite feature. When mama knows not everything goes. We played, laughed and got tips from the welcome staff. It didn’t even feel like waiting.

Gerald, our Solutions Specialist (and new BFF) helped the kiddos look through phones, showed them features and put my mind at ease with some cool functions for parental controls. At no point did he push hard for upgrades or add-on items. He’d mention it once. Then accepted my answer like I actually was a human who knew what I did and didn’t want. WOW!

20160813_135510-01While we waiting for data transfers from our old to new phones, Gerald showed us some cool new products. The Nest Cam will be finding its new tree at our house sometime soon. Our current security system came with one camera that doesn’t have the motion-sensing tech an easy install that Nest features.  Plus, I can take my helicopter parenting to a whole new place with it – ha ha. 

Our new puppy doesn’t have a taste for shoes, but he did find my beloved Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones quite tasty. Gerald introduced me to the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones, which were pretty awesome – not Backbeat awesome but an option for sure. Again, he didn’t try to oversell.

Since that data transfer was taking a bit longer Gerald offered to put the Zagg screen protectors on our new phones. Okay, that was beyond awesome! I’ve never been able to get one on without it looking like bubble wrap on my screen. In fact I usually hate that so much I eventually take the damn thing off and live with the scratches and eventually the cracks.

In the space of less than an hour our family was fully outfitted with sweet new phones (yes, I got me an upgrade too!) some cool and useful accessories and a newfound adore for the Verizon store. Any place can sell you the phone, the ear buds, the cases and shields, but very few places bring the customer service like an actual  Verizon store and the humans that work there. 

20160813_144957-01(This is Gerald. Helpful and adorable too!)

It comes down to people in the end and that’s when better matters.

 

Even for Tech Savvy Kids…

Ah, the interwebs. What a wonderful world it can be. It can also be down right dangerous, even for tech savvy kids.
 
Today my youngest son {the 11 year-old} and his team of science guys are taking a video game they developed into competition. Listening to them rehearse their presentation the night before was one of those ‘Proud Parent’ moments that serve as reward for all the late nights, hectic days and endless hours of worry.   Raising a tech kid can be tough though.
 
The biggest challenge is the fact that nine times out of ten the kid speaks a foreign language.  Foreign to me that is.
 
Sometimes the look of pity on his face as he slows his speech and uses metaphors to explain to his mother what a particular line of code does, undoes me. Wait, I used to change your diapers child. When did you become smarter than me?!
 
With this latest project – he started writing simple code at age 8 – he and the team* are turning cyber safety for kids into a game. The team are all into basketball nearly as much as science, so that’s what the game is framed in. Play ball, get pointers on cyber safety. I sort of love it! 
 
What an amazing tool tech is for reaching kids, getting the message across. When I was growing up we had public service announcements – and that’s about it. Remember, “The More You Know?” The jingle more than the message got stuck in your head.
 
Even if they are getting the message though sometimes tech is such a big part of their daily life they may miss some things. A perfect example comes from a recent field trip both of my youngest kids went on.
 
We love the USA Science and Engineering Festival! The whole family went to the last one. How awesome to rock out with The Might Be Giants, listen to Bill Nye THE science guy speak, and remote-drive a rover across the ocean floor from the DC convention center?! Way, cool!
 
Science is the best idea humans have ever had. The more people who embrace that idea, the better.  ~Bill Nye
Sadly this year we couldn’t go as a family. Thankfully the kids made it there with their STEAM club from school. An epic field trip filled with some serious science. I so wished to be there that I let the boy take along my Droid Turbo 2. After all it’s pretty much unbreakable.
 
The phone performed like a dream. Check out the super cool shark pic he snapped.
 
Sadly it’s made from trash found in the ocean. Giant brains, rocket boosters, 3D printed prosthesis, he texted me tons of science awesome. Then he thought I might like to walk through with him.
 
Even for tech savvy kids
Since we’re Verizon customers, even the kid knew he’d be connected and could do that. What he didn’t do was ask permission. Smart kid that he is he just tapped open mom’s Periscope app and then texted me to watch. It never occurred to him that the settings on the app would allow his video to be viewed by anyone, anywhere, who was also on Periscope. Nor did the danger that could come from that occur to him.
even for tech savvy kids…
 
He didn’t know that those people watching would know exactly where he was, what he was doing, who was with him. I think it just really didn’t get, until that moment, how very big the world is and how small tech can make it. I quickly deleted the automatic Tweet sent out by the app, had him turn it off and uninstall it from the phone.
 
Once he was back home {and I could breath again} we had a long talk. I spent some time on the Verizon website’s Tips for Parents page and over at The Online Mom. Obviously this kid wasn’t the only one who was missing a few things about safety on the net. I needed to step up my game too.
 
How about you? Have you had any scary parent moments online? Better yet, got any tips for us?
 
 
* they call themselves the ‘Five Fists of Fury,’ in true nerd fashion. 
 
Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less! 
 
 
 
 

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. 

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!