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Thanksgivukkah 2014: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Celebration

Monday, November 25th, 2013

ThanksgivukkahIt is, quite literally, a once on a lifetime moment (unless scientists finally resolve that whole mortality): Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, two very wonderful events, happening simultaneously. The next time that the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving will be in 79,043 years. So, of course, this confluence has its own name: Thanksgivukkah.

At our house, we’re extra-super excited, because Thanksgiving/Hanukkah Eve, the night we light the first candle, is also my oldest daughter’s seventh birthday. Happiness abounds! Of course, she’s doubly thrilled because of the multiplicity of presents this brings. (Among the things I am thankful for this year: Thanksgiving is not a present-giving holiday.)

How to celebrate? Buzzfeed’s got a mouth-watering Thanksgivukkah menu, for starters, and this Thanksgivukkah Pinterest board can keep you occupied for hours. Here on Parents.com you can find these fun Hanukkah crafts and recipes, and a wealth of activities, crafts, and recipes for Thanksgiving. And don’t miss these Thanksgiving printables.

Personally, the double holiday doesn’t affect my family much–we’ll celebrate both as we always do. But I much prefer the mash-up of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah to the more routine lumping together of Christmas and Hanukkah. Giving thanks–for the miracles in our lives and the freedoms we enjoy–are central themes of Hanukkah, and of course, Thanksgiving. So perhaps the best celebration we can have on this day is to enjoy ourselves and take the message of these holidays seriously by giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives. I know that’s what I will be doing.

Still looking for great holiday-weekend activities? Find great around-the-house crafts.

How to Make a Thanksgiving Centerpiece
How to Make a Thanksgiving Centerpiece
How to Make a Thanksgiving Centerpiece

Image: candle and pumpkins via Shutterstock

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Experiencing the Disney Magic

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Disney World MagicWalt Disney World in the August heat. With my two girls, ages 6 and 2, and a wife who is seven months pregnant.

Friends questioned our sanity.

It was a blast.

Sure, it was hot, and rained almost every afternoon. And we had our (normal, everyday) challenges, including occasionally sluggish kids, disagreements over what to do next, and increasingly frequent tantrums from the younger one. But watching my normally reserved 6-year-old light up in excitement at her first glimpse of Cinderella’s castle and my 2-year-old give bear hugs to every character we encountered, there was no doubt we’d chosen wisely for our vacation.

I’d visited Disney several times as a child, but wow, has the place grown since I last went 20+ years ago! We stayed at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort—one of the newest and the biggest of Disney World’s now-25 hotels (up from the two or three that existed back then). We had a large one-bedroom suite, three swimming pools to choose from, and many fun movie-themed elements all around. It was a full 20-minute drive to the Magic Kingdom, but regular bus service made the comuting easy. (Full disclosure: Our trip was partly paid for by Disney, for which I am extremely grateful.)

My memories of visiting Disney World as a kid are all about rides, more rides, and the occasional parade or encounter with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.  And those are all still there, many of the rides virtually unchanged since then. But in four days, we went on only a handful of rides, instead spending our time with that newer Disney obsession: princesses!

Although I’d heard that the place was now thoroughly infused with princesses, I was still surprised at how much the, um, princess-industrial complex defined our experience. And thankfully so, considering my kids were not so excited about many of the rides. For my older one especially, finding ever-more princesses—even ones like Mulan, who she hardly knew of beforehand—was one of the most exciting parts of the trip. Despite the often-long lines, she’s wait her turn, collect their autographs, and take photos with them. We went to a couple of princess-themed meals, and she even had a “princess makeover” at, yes, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Princess Makeiver at Disney WorldI was continually surprised and thrilled at my older daughter’s eagerness to buy into the fiction (what we called in high-school English “willing suspension of disbelief”). If you ask her, she will tell you outright that these are actresses dressing up as princesses, that Rapunzel’s flowing hair is a wig, and that the woman playing Cinderella sleeps in a regular home at night and not in that impressive castle at the end of Main Street USA in Disney World.

And yet, there she was, hugging them and posing for pictures, eager to find the next one and the next one. She, who is usually too shy to speak to adults, would ask them whether they remembered her from an earlier encounter, and at one point expressed hope that Cinderella would recognize her because she was wearing the same clothes as she was earlier in the day.

Between princesses, we did manage to catch some rides and encounter Disney more like the way I did as a kid. My little one loved “it’s a small world,” as you can see in the video below, while the older one took to the calm of the PeopleMover. I’d worried that Epcot would be too older-child focused for them, but they both loved the Journey Into Imagination ride, after which we visited different “countries” in Epcot’s World Showcase .

And me? I loved the Main Street Electrical Parade, the after-dark procession of brilliantly lit up floats and dancers, as brilliant and festive as I remember it. I took my older daughter twice, returning with her to the park after we put her younger sister to sleep to buy snacks and get a curbside seat.

With all the change coming up in our lives—new school year, new baby, even new sleeping arrangements at home—we felt our kids needed a period of extra attention and fun. At Disney, we let them call the shots (more or less!), and mission accomplished.

While there, the  cynic in me kept rolling my eyes at the inescapable, constant invocations of the “magic of Disney.” (When my wife called housekeeping after our younger daughter vomited all over the older one’s bed, the receptionist, following Disney protocol, wished her, “Have a magical evening.”) But seeing my kids’ reactions to all they experienced, it was hard not to use the “m” word.

Yes, it was magical.

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Of Cars, Kids, and One Big Honkin’ Metaphor

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

I am not a car guy.

There are plenty of shiny, expensive objects I lust after, but I’ve never cared much what my ride looks like or what company’s insignia is on its rear. But as my family stands at the crossroads between old car and new car, I find myself feeling unusually emotional about the transition. I am going to miss the old buggy.

This, after all, is the car in which we brought home both of our babies. It’s the car in which I struggled and eventually learned to install a car seat. And it’s the car that suffered innumerable tire problems after a harrowing drive to the hospital through pothole-riddled streets to get there just in time for #2 to arrive. It’s the car for which I then waited at the shop as my wife cuddled that newborn on her first full day of life. And so on.

So yes, it’s just a hunk of steel and glass and other materials, which I will be glad to see driven away by a buyer who’s just handed me a check. But it’s also a pile of memories, our mobile home of sorts since before we even had kids. And so forgive me my wistfulness. Those tiny creatures whose first precious moments outside of the hospital were spent in that back seat are now on their second and third car seats. One is going to be a first grader, the other will start nursery school come September. Old enough to ask, incessantly, “Are we almost there?” and to seemingly drop more pretzels on the floor than were in the bag originally. Old enough to lobby for specific types of cars and colors and for where they will sit once we get it.

There’s nothing wrong with the old car, and it should have many years of good life ahead of it with its new owners. But as we look forward to a new member joining our family this fall, we’ll have a new tiny creature who will need his or her own seat and will need to find his or her own place—in the car and everywhere else—beside his or her bigger sisters. Bigger family, bigger car.

And so it’s not all sadness to see the old car go, not by a long shot. But as I learn to navigate a big honkin’ car unlike any other I’ve owned, I’ll also need to do the same with my big honkin’ family. Exciting, even thrilling, something I wouldn’t trade or surrender for anything. And also more than a little scary, a jump into the unknown.

Umpteen car salesman have promised me smooth rides and easy maintenance. May it be.

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Tags: , | Categories: Pregnancy, Your Life

Google’s Latest and Greatest

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Google Glass DemonstrationI’ve seen the future–maybe–and it is Google. But you knew that already, no?

I was among a group of journalists invited to an event yesterday in which Google showed off some of their latest and greatest products, including the much-discussed Google Glass (worn by a Google staffer in the photo at the right). In a space set up to simulate a household, they showed, room-by-room, the magic that Google applications can make.

The presenters kept reiterating that Google knows “everyone is on the go,” and has designed its products to cater to that busy lifestyle. That’s doubly true for us parents, whether we’re running after the little ones, or carpooling the older ones. To that end, here are some of the highlights of what  saw at the event:

Voice-Activated Search
Voice search has come a long way. Using the Google search app from your mobile device, click the microphone icon and speak your query. On Android devices, it will speak right back at you, but that isn’t available on my iPhone, where I have to settle for it following my commands silently. Its ability to understand what you’re saying is solid, and beyond just searching the web, you can ask for directions, add items to your calendar, and send emails, all without typing.

Nutritional Information
Food-related searches will now bring up full nutritional information on foods. So you’ll be able to say exactly how many calories that slice of pizza will set you back or how much protein that smoothie will give you. This just launched today, so it’s hot off the presses.

Google Glass
What would a look at Google and the future be without discussing Google Glass, that tiny, wearable computer that clips onto your eyeglass frame? I didn’t get to try it, but did watch a demonstration, which helped me understand both the “what” and “why” of this technology. Glass is an attempt to address two paradoxical problems: We tend to walk around with our faces glued to our phones, while at the same time, we’ve all wished we could get to our phones–the camera, especially–quicker, before missing that unique moment. Glass sits just above your field of vision and is controlled by a swipe or tap of your finger, and significantly, your voice. Record a video, snap a picture, get step-by-step directions as you walk, send an email, all without breaking stride or burying your face in a phone. Imagine being able to actually capture your child’s first steps on video–while also being there to catch her when she stumbles.

Will it catch on? Only time will tell. Now, how about the self-driving car?

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Tags: , | Categories: Shopping & Gear, Your Life

MyPlate on Pinterest: A New Way to Find Healthy Recipes

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Interviewing Joe Biden was only one reason I found myself in Washington, D.C., at the White House last week. Earlier that same day, I was among a group of digital editors there to discuss healthy eating and how people use the internet to find recipes for their families. We met with officials from the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), the Let’s Move! initiative that the First Lady launched, and other White House staffers who are involved in the effort to promote healthy eating habits (and feed the First Family).

The meeting marked the beginning of a partnership between Let’s Move!, PHA, and major magazine and web brands, including Parents and several of our sister brands at Meredith, such as Family Circle, Recipe.com, and AllRecipes.com. The aim is to grow awareness and use of the USDA’s MyPlate nutritional guidelines, and of course, to encourage families to eat healthier. As you may know, MyPlate replaced the classic Food Pyramid and offers a simple-to-use graphic depicting in clear terms the relative proportions of different food types that we should aim to eat. The message it–and this partnership–intends to send is that healthy eating doesn’t need to be more difficult, more expensive, or less delicious than eating unhealthily.

Through this collaboration, you’ll find many delicious, healthy Parents recipes pinned on MyPlate’s Pinterest boards, and you’ll soon see the MyPlate logo on some Parents.com slideshows, offering you an at-a-glance way to know that those recipes conform to these important guidelines for healthy eating.

While a handful of editors at the meeting got to continue the discussion directly with Michelle Obama afterward, the highlight of the event for the rest of us was a tour of the White House garden, conducted by the White House pastry chef, Bill Yosses. In the garden in back of the White House, the staff grows vegetables year-round, and in the middle of February it was amazing to see broccoli and spinach and other greens still growing.

Personally, I was most interested in the White House beehive–yep, their own natural honey machine. Yosses explained how eating locally produced honey can reduce allergies through its trace amounts of local pollen, which get your body accustomed to the allergens it faces in your area. It was also fun to pass by the Obama girls’ swing set!

See some photos from the day:

A shot of the White House garden

Bill Yosses, White House pastry chef

Bill Yosses, White House pastry chef, brings us on a tour of the White House garden.

 

A sign embedded in the garden, with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “…the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another; and instead of one harvest, a continued one throughout the year.”

 

The swing set on the White House lawn.

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Reflections: Joe Biden Speaks to Parents About Gun Safety

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I had the privilege of sitting down with Vice President Joe Biden last week at the White House (well, technically the Old Executive Office Building behind the president’s actual house). The topic was gun safety and reducing gun violence, the questions came from you, our readers and Facebook fans, and the venue was a live video feed carried on our Facebook page as well as the White House website.

As you can see from watching the video of the interview, Biden’s answers were thorough, substantive–and occasionally unexpected. He sparked a media frenzy with his advice to “buy a shotgun” instead of an assault weapon, a remark that was picked up and replayed on major news shows, political sites, and in newspapers nationwide.

But if all you know of the event is the shotgun remark, it’s worth watching or reading more of our discussion. The interview also addressed school safety, guns at home and on playdates, and the effects of violent video games. I found his comments about that last issue particularly interesting: He pointed out that the federal government is legally barred from funding research on gun violence, and so we simply don’t have enough data to make a judgment about the effects of violent media on spurring gun violence.

Biden and some members of the media expressed surprise that these questions came from Parents readers. But these are the questions you are interested in, and they deal with that most fundamental of needs–protecting our families. Some of you define this as the right to own whatever gun you want while others see it as restricting the types of guns that are allowed. But as Rachel Maddow astutely put it, when you have the ear of the Vice President, Americans (you, our readers) will ask “hard questions” about policy and public safety.

As for the substance of the shotgun remark, Biden has said similar things before, and he’s always made clear that he is an advocate for gun rights even as he pursues restrictions on certain types of weapons and ammunition. So it didn’t strike me immediately as big news, even as it did surprise me with the forwardness and bluntness of the advice. But within an hour or so, it had gone viral, and I spent much of my trip back home to N.Y. reading and watching the first wave of coverage.

I am grateful that the Vice President made time to speak with us about this essential issue. It’s not every day that the VP sits down with a representative from the parenthood-focused media. It is a sign of the power and influence that you, the moms and dads of America, wield. Your voices matter to those who are shaping our country’s policies, so keep making those voices heard.

See the whole interview with Joe Biden about gun safety and reducing gun violence.

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Reducing Gun Violence: Ask the Vice President Your Questions

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

The massacre in Newtown, Conn., shook us all and sparked a renewed national discussion about how to protect innocent Americans, especially our children, from the horrors of gun violence. Parents is honored to be holding a Facebook town hall on Tuesday with one of the leaders of that national debate, Vice President Joe Biden. The Vice President will be answering questions submitted in advance by you, our readers and Facebook fans.

Whatever your politics, this is a chance to engage in discussion with one of the leaders who is shaping the Administration’s policies on guns. We may all have different opinions on how to reduce violence, but let’s keep the discussion thoughtful, civil, and focused on the question of how best to prevent more senseless deaths. Submit your questions now on our Facebook page or in the comment section below, and we will ask the Vice President as many we can on Tuesday.

And, of course, watch the virtual town hall event live at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, Feb. 19, to hear Vice President Biden’s answers to your questions.

Photo:Vice President Joe Biden meets with sportsmen and rural group representatives as part of the Administration’s effort to develop policy proposals in response to the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., Jan. 10, 2013. Pictured at the table, from left, are: Steve Williams, President of the Wildlife Management Institute; the Vice President; Ron Regan, Executive Director of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar; and Kirk Bailey, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

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Tags: , , | Categories: GoodyBlog

Telling My Child About the Massacre of Children in Newtown

Monday, December 17th, 2012

We decided kind-of last minute to tell our 6-year-old about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. Since the horrific news broke on Friday, my wife and I had been in agreement that we’d do our best to shield Adira from the news. But a few things came together Sunday night to change our minds: a message from the school assuring us that teachers would be available to discuss the tragedy with the kids; my friends’ Facebook; this extremely helpful post from my colleague, Kara Corridan about talking to kids about Sandy Hook; and the dawning realization that Adira is at the age where we simply cannot shield her anymore. She was bound to hear–from a friend with an older sibling, from a snippet of conversation or radio news she may overhear, from a teacher answering another child’s questions.

We decided it was better for her to hear the news from us, and so this morning, while rushing to get dressed and out the door, we told her, hewing closely to the suggested script in Kara’s post. I told her that a bad man went into a school in a place called Connecticut and hurt some children with a gun, and some children and some teachers died. I assured her that her school was safe and that her teachers, principal, and the security guard are making double sure of that.

Her immediate reaction bordered on the comical, and was certainly unexpected. “What do you want me to do about it?” she asked. “I’m not a doctor or anything like that.”

Kind of funny, kind of sad that she immediately got defensive. I felt bad, like I’d presented it all wrong.

But before we could really respond to that, she shifted gears and asked some of the questions we’d expected. She quickly honed in on the shooter, asking what happened to him. When I said that he, too, died, she asked if a teacher killed him or if the police did. That question made me realize she was processing this thoughtfully and ruminating on the details. I told her that the man killed himself with his gun, and reiterated that her school is safe and that she could ask any questions. She soon moved on to other conversations, but picked it up again on the walk to school, asking how many kids and teachers died, focusing on whether it was “most of the school.”

I am sure we will talk more about it later, and I assume there will be discussion at school. The principal said in his message that the school would only discuss the tragedy with younger grades in response to questions (while they would proactively lead discussion with the older kids). All in all, I felt like it was a good start and I was glad we decided to discuss it with Adira.

I am wondering: Did you talk about the Sandy Hook tragedy with your young children? How did the conversations go? More broadly, I am wondering how school drop-off went this morning and what your kids’ schools are doing to address the news with children of different ages?

For more information on how to talk to your kids about tragedy, visit the following on Parents.com:

Image: Mother and her son via Shutterstock

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