Family Jen and John Speak

Category Archives: Family

Disney Can Do Better for Girls

Disney Can Do Better for GirlsThe other day I was sitting at the table with my upper-elementary school aged daughter. She started to tell me about how you knew it was time to break up with a boy, how hard long distance relationships were, how to choose a good boyfriend, etc. Now my daughter has never dated a boy (goodness no!) and I realized, these were all storylines from the Disney television shows she has been watching.

Now I have been tolerating a select few of the Disney shows because she really enjoys them and all her friends watch them. But after this conversation, John and I realized it’s time to put the brakes on. Almost every Disney show targeted towards girls my daughter’s age is based on the same formula…girl who can sing/dance/songwrite has situations in high school that often involve boys. They actually kind of make my head hurt.

But you know what? Disney can do better! Where are the shows about girl detectives, girl scientists, girl computer programmers, girl adventurers? Why does every show have to be about the same thing? Aren’t girls so much more than that? And haven’t the Disney writers proven themselves capable of writing about plenty of entertaining themes that have mass market appeal?

Now I understand that the Disney machine’s formula makes them a lot of money. Their little stars do a lot more than just act on the show…they go on tour, sell records, etc, and Disney gets a cut of everything.

But Disney owes our girls more. They are more than capable of making entertaining shows that don’t have 9 year old girls processing what makes a good boyfriend. There is more than enough time for that! Why not focus on showing girls the possibilities. All the many things they are capable of. Skipping the boyfriend conversation entirely. These are kids, after all!

What shows do you let your girls watch? Where are the shows that encourage girls to be all they can be and to embrace the possibilities? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments!

Smile For Success

My kids are growing up so fast. I find myself trying to put their childhood in slow motion sometimes. What I’ve noticed most lately is their unbridled laughter and joy.

Recently, while doing some research for work. I found a lot of data supporting the idea that highly successful people are positive people. Even more interesting is that they were positive people before acquiring material success, and that being positive helped them become more successful. It also showed that positive people had more passion, hope and worked harder overcoming challenges.

It all boils down to how one perceives the world and the concept of gratitude. In an effort to help my kids develop this skill, I have them write down three positive things that happened during the day, and then pick one thing to explain why it was positive and/or made them happy. This also helps them practice their writing skills during the summer.

It’s only been several weeks of doing this. And I can already see positive results. I think it’s common sense: I’ve asked my kids to look for positive things in their lives and now they seek out positive and happy events. I can see how over time they will view their world through a positive filter and feel more grateful for all they have, thus feeling happier and achieving success more quickly.

What are you doing to help your children succeed? Do you think it’s a skill you can teach? Please share your thoughts. I would love to get some feedback.

 

Survival Instincts

By John

I grew up in some pretty tough neighborhoods in New York City. By the time I graduated Elementary school I had dodged a bank robber, gotten away from muggers, lived through a riot during a blackout, and learned how to avoid drug dealers.

When I was ready to start a family, I wanted my kids to have the perfect suburban life. And they do. From time to time, like a kid again, I share in their wonderful, safe, carefree childhood that I didn’t have. It’s a wonderful feeling to laugh, be silly and live innocently in their world.

But now, as my oldest son is about to graduate from elementary school, I wonder what kind of survival instincts he possesses. Is he ready for middle school? Still to this day, I have my spider sense to alert me to danger. I’m really good at avoiding all kinds of trouble. I know how to walk down the street and not look like an easy target, and know when and how to puff up my chest when I’m confronted by a bully. My kids are peacemakers, something that the schools have taught them and a theme that’s reinforced at home. I don’t think my kids have the spider sense to warn them of danger.

So I decided to help my kids develop some survival skills. Yet as I began to develop my plan, I couldn’t stop smiling as I visualized my kids having fun and enjoying life. I realized that my kids have many friends, possess great social skills, have good manners, are very happy and love the world. They have their own set of survival skills.

• They may not know how to get away from muggers, but they know how to make friends and respect others.

• They may not know how to dodge a bank robber, but they know how to deal with a school bully and be involved in school.

• They may not know how to puff up their chest when confronted by a bully, but they know how to do well in their classes and help with the food bank.

• They may not have a spider sense to warn them of danger, but they’re kind, caring, helpful, and as one teacher described my oldest, he’s really comfortable in his own skin.

Yes, I learned how to survive in the big bad city, but my kids are developing instincts beyond fear that give them a future to engage in a world of hope, peace and justice. And even though usually I still have a plan, its much water-downed.

What kind of survival instincts do your kids possess? And what kind of survival skills are you teaching your kids? Please share your tips and thoughts. As a parent you know you’re always looking for a better way to help your family.

A Winter Weekend with the Kids in Historic Philadelphia

Hanging out with John Adams

My oldest son was recently assigned a “Patriot Report” to write for school. Each child in his class has a historical character to write about, and my son was assigned John Adams. Since we live in NJ, we thought it might be cool to drive the hour and a half to Philadelphia, and give him some hands on knowledge of the life that John Adams lived, where some important documents were debated and created, and essentially give him a greater understanding of the process of creating the system of government we know in the United States today. In fact, we decided to spend the weekend.

Now while I’ve been to Philadelphia before, I’ve never planned a weekend visiting the historic sites, so I of course first turned to my Facebook community for suggestions. And they had lots of great ones! The only challenge was that it was February, and so some of the suggestions were seasonal, for warmer months. One person, however, suggested the visityphilly.com website, which I HIGHLY recommend if you’re planning a trip to visit historic Philadelphia. It’s a great place to get a lot of information, find travel deals, and more. We essentially planned our entire itinerary using this site (it even recommended the same place for cheesesteaks that the locals did when I asked!)

In fact, it’s where I found our hotel. We wound up staying at the Omni Hotel which is on Chestnut Street. I can’t begin to say enough good things about this hotel. We chose it for its location…it’s practically across the street from the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc, and within walking distance of many attractions. But what really blew me away was the service. I could not get over how incredibly happy and helpful the staff was. I spend a LOT of time in hotels, and this was really exceptional. From the Front Desk to the Bell Staff who checked our bags when we arrived early to the Concierge who on her own initiative had typed up a list of kid friendly restaurants in the area, they just went above and beyond. They remembered my family after meeting us for the first time, and would ask us how we were enjoying the sites. They offered wonderful little backpacks of kids’ activities that kept my kids busy. The little indoor pool was just big enough for my kids to enjoy without being huge or hard to supervise. In short, it was just a lovely place to stay that I will always choose when we return to Philadelphia.

Some of the buildings at Independence Hall

We arrived on Saturday morning, checked our bags at the hotel, and immediately set out to check out the historic attractions. I basically planned 3 destinations for the weekend, and then figured we could see whatever else we wanted to as our days progressed. We started by heading over to Independence Hall. This is where both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted. (BTW, if you don’t do all the pre-planning I did, the Independence Visitor’s Center is really the best place to start. You can get tickets for anything in the area, watch a great free movie, get a taste of history, pick up some snacks, and check out the gift shop. There’s also free wireless internet in the visitor’s center.)

The room where John Adams was inaugurated

Now all the historic sites in Philadelphia are maintained by the National Park System. And the rangers are absolutely wonderful. Everyone was so friendly, and made a point of sharing the history of each of the places we visited. They also made sure we knew how to get where we needed to be on time, so we could take advantage of all the free tours. We got to see the ink well used to sign the Declaration of Independence, got to see the halls where the first and second Continental Congresses debated (and where John Adams was inaugurated as our 2nd president…the first peaceful transfer of power in our country under our system of government), and really enjoyed seeing the halls where Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, and many other men of great vision walked and shaped our country.

The chairs of George Washington (left) and Ben Franklin (right)

Did you know that George Washington sat in a chair that had a rising sun on the back? Benjamin Franklin said at one point that he didn’t know for a while whether that sun was rising or setting on our new country. But eventually he could tell that it was rising, and he was happy. And Benjamin Franklin had a special chair because by this time he was sick, and inmates would carry him daily to the hall for the congress, and then carry him home. Interesting facts.

We also found out that the Park Service has a set of trading cards that kids can collect of famous characters and landmarks. After visiting, and sometimes answering questions, the kids could get additional cards. They LOVED this part!

The Liberty Bell

After our visit to these historic sites, we headed over to the Liberty Bell. Yep, it’s got a big crack in it alright! 🙂 This is the bell that was used to call people to the square in front of Independence Hall for a public reading of the Declaration of Independence, and other important documents.

Then we headed over to the Bourse building where you can fuel up on snacks from a variety of vendors in the food court, and check out the various gift shops on the same level. Quick note though…we let the kids look at the gift shops on Saturday, planning to come back and make purchases on Sunday. That’s when we learned that the Bourse is closed on Sundays in the winter. Bummer.

Now if it had been summertime, we could have headed over to Franklin Square, which has all kinds of fun things like a carousel, mini-golf, etc. But none of that was open in the winter. So instead we took a 30 minute horse and carriage ride through historic Philadelphia. We were lucky…they don’t run all winter, but because it’s almost Valentine’s Day and President’s Weekend, they were starting to run again. It was a fun way to see a few sites that were beyond walking distance for little legs.

We enjoyed our carriage ride, pulled by the lovely horse Lucky

Since we were in Philly, my husband and I felt it was our patriotic duty to have an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. We asked a few shopkeepers where they would recommend, and it was unanimous: Sonny’s. We got the classic with Cheese Whiz and fried onions. The kids had chicken nuggets. They were REALLY good and we totally enjoyed them. Plus, it was only a few blocks down on Market Street, so we could walk there.

Then we headed back to the hotel and spent some time in the pool. The kids were pretty tired at that point, so it was good to relax a bit.

The harpist at the City Tavern

Then in the evening, I headed down to the wonderful concierge in the Omni Hotel and asked her what we could do with the kids that evening. Unfortunately in the winter, there’s not much. But she did suggest the City Tavern for dinner, and I’m SO glad we went there. Called the “most genteel tavern in America” by John Adams, this famed establishment served as the unofficial White House during the Revolution, and it’s where the Continental Congress gathered after long days of debate. The staff dresses in colonial costumes, the food is based on colonial times (there’s a kids’ menu!), and it’s so darn adorable. Lots of little rooms with tables in each, colonial decor, and music (there was a harpist that played in the hallway outside our room the whole time we were eating, and there was a violinist who entertained the upper floors of the restaurant.) You can sample Thomas Jefferson’s and General Washington’s original ales, although I opted for the Wassail, that was delicious. If you’re in historic Philadelphia, make a point of checking out the City Tavern. Kid friendly, and you’ll enjoy it!

The next day, we spent the morning at the hotel pool, and packed up. Then we headed out again. First we went back to the Independence Visitor’s Center for lunch. (We had planned to go to the Bourse building for lunch, which is when we discovered it was closed on Sunday.) If I did it again I’d probably go east on Market Street and eat at one of the restaurants there, but the kids were hungry and it was pretty cold, so we just stayed where we were. After eating, we caught the free movie in the visitor’s center, which was excellent, and then we let the kids make some purchases in the gift shop.

In Signer's Hall with Ben Franklin

Then we headed over to our last stop of the day…the Constitution Center. We had 1:30 tickets for their award-winning performance “Freedom Rising.” Be sure to check your coats when you arrive. It’s free, and saves you from having to carry them all over. We had a few minutes before the show started, so we started in Signer’s Hall, which contains bronze statues of all the signers of the Constitution. Unfortunately, John Adams was away at the time in England, so he wasn’t among them. But the kids took pictures with some of them, and got to sign the constitution themselves as part of the display. It was fun.

Signing the Constitution

Then we headed down to the performance, which was really excellent, and put the Constitution in a historical context that was as moving as it was fascinating. Finally, we exited the performance into the exhibit hall upstairs, which is highly interactive and super fun for the kids. So many ways the Constitution has shaped our country, and it’s fascinating to learn how important this document is.

When we were done, we headed back to the hotel to collect our bags and make the drive home. It was a great weekend to be together, learn some history, and take a step back in time. And because it was winter, I’m betting it wasn’t as crowded as it would be in warmer weather. If you get the chance to go, you should! We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Itinerary

"The Signer"...Viewing the future through the Declaration of Independence

Find lots of great itineraries at VisitPhilly.com. We planned our itinerary using their “A Weekend in Historic Philadelphia…with Kids” itinerary.

Saturday:

  • Check in
  • Independence Hall
  • Liberty Bell
  • Bourse Building
  • City Tavern

Sunday:

  • Independence Visitor’s Center
  • Constitution Hall

Resources

Review: Lego Friends for Girls

Note: This is an unsolicited review based on our personal experience with a product we purchased.

As the mother of 2 boys and 1 girl, I can’t tell you the number of times I wished they had more girl-focused Lego sets. Now I realize this may cause my feminist card to be revoked, but as the mom to a girl who appreciates both Star Wars AND playing Barbies, I am all over the concept of Legos targeted specifically towards girls.

I was a little disappointed when I saw the initial reviews come out of the Lego Friends line targeted towards girls. From what I saw, people felt that they were stereotyping what girls should play with. As a strong independent woman with the desire to raise another one, I was duly horrified.

Until I saw them today at Target. And I have to say, I love them (and so does my daughter.) They had the beauty salon set, the fashion designer set, and the veterinarian set. All stuff my daughter is into. Each one is built around a character (I would love to see more multi-cultural sets in the future.) We agreed to get one of the $10 sets, and so she chose the fashion designer set. It was a pretty natural choice for her. Her grandmother works in the fashion industry in NY, and she loves fashion.

When we got it home, I felt like it was comparable to Polly Pocket (as did my son, who voiced that opinion independently.) My daughter must have thought so too, because she went to get her Polly Pocket dolls (which were twice the size of the Lego girl.) The set came with a desk, a chest of drawers (that opened), a lego laptop, a lego camera, a lego sandwich, and a few other things.

My daughter put together the set in about 10 minutes, and then couldn’t wait to start playing. It was very similar to how she plays with her other dolls. She did lots of role-playing, and enjoyed the laptop and camera especially. She told me how her lego doll had just designed a new fashion and was going to blog about it. 🙂

Overall, I have to say I was really impressed with Lego’s first foray into the girls’ market (beyond some token pink legos that we got when my daughter was younger.) My daughter loved them, they were relevant to what she’s interested in, and I will definitely get her more sets as the opportunity arises. (I totally want to get her Olivia’s Inventor’s Workshop next: http://friends.lego.com/en-us/Products/Details/3933.aspx) Legos are awesome for intellectual development, and the social aspect of play is just an added bonus.

Have you seen the new Lego sets targeted at girls yet? (You can see the entire line here: http://friends.lego.com/en-us/Default.aspx) What do you think of them? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Communicating with the Working Parent

With all this technology, you'd think it would be easy to send messages to working parents.

Communication has changed drastically since we were kids, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of schools and kids’ after school activities failed to get the memo.

As a working parent, I feel the brunt of this on a weekly basis.

My husband is responsible for going through the backpacks and managing the paper so I don’t see everything. And as a result, I find out about things like the fact that it was Crazy Hat Day when we arrive at the bus stop in the morning. Without our crazy hats, of course.

And then of course you have after school activities like ballet, where the preferred mode of communication is pinning up notices on the bulletin board. Which of course only works if you are the one dropping your child off and picking them up.

It seems like the entire world of communication around kids is geared towards the stay-at-home mom sitting in that waiting room, and going through the backpack after school.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who would be completely on top of things if they would just send a damn email? Or a text? Or a Google Calendar invite?

Gen Y considers email passe, and the schools haven’t even caught up to that yet. How on earth are they going to communicate with parents as communication ever changes?

I am a working parent. PLEASE send me an email if I need to know. So my kid arrives with the crazy hat on Crazy Hat Day. Thank you.

What do you think?

This Thanksgiving, We Went Out for Chinese

Our family on Thanksgiving Day

This Thanksgiving we went out for Chinese food.

Now I can of course claim that part of the reason we did so is because half of our family heritage is Chinese.

But I have to tell you, as I was walking through the supermarket on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I felt a little smug that I was simply picking up essentials as I walked among the folks with the glazed eyes who were stressed out over preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal.

This year I only cooked little desserts because I wanted to.

This year we spent the day hanging out with each other and putting up the Christmas tree. Instead of spending quality time with my oven, I spent it with my kids. And it was sweet.

And I didn’t have to do dishes after dinner.

Don’t get me wrong…I love to cook. But I love that we avoided the whole “command performance” thing (and honestly, my kids don’t even LIKE turkey.) It was fun, when people asked the inevitable question: “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” to answer, “We’re going out for Chinese.”

Granted, it was good Chinese. It was the place where my husband and I celebrated our wedding banquet.

Sometimes it’s fun to buck tradition and do something different.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Family Update, and Managing the Holidays

Our Family Christmas Card Photo

So since I wrote my last post about the sweet potato ravioli, we had a major snowstorm in October which wreaked havoc on the trees and knocked power out for days. My brother’s family (with their baby twins & adorable dog) moved in with us for a few days because we at least had a gas fireplace (for heat) and a gas stovetop to cook with. And since the power was out for days, we had no refrigeration and I wound up having to toss the rest of the sweet potato ravioli (sob).

So it’s been quite a time.

But now we’re back to normal, thank heavens, and I can’t believe it’s going to be Thanksgiving next week! This year, bucking all tradition, we’re celebrating the Chinese side of our family heritage, and going out to eat at the same Chinese restaurant where we celebrated our wedding banquet. The food will be amazing, if not quite traditional. It’s good when you have parents that are pretty much up for anything! 🙂

We’re also planning for Christmas. Now in our house, the kids are allowed to ask Santa for one large gift that costs around $100. Nothing bigger than that, and only one thing. We do give them smaller gifts as well, but they’re only allowed to ask for one thing. I make my kids write their letter to Santa in early November. Once I tell them it’s sent, they’re committed. Then they can enjoy the rest of the holiday season dreaming about their big gift, instead of constantly trying to make up their minds.

I also have this “thing” where I like to be done with my Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving. I HATE the crowds in the mall, and so do all my shopping online, with regular speed shipping, and then I can enjoy making memories with my kids during the holidays instead of battling for parking spaces. So pretty much everything has been ordered and is either here, or on its way. And that makes life a LOT easier.

I am doing the “Small Business Saturday” thing sponsored by American Express (although I’m not doing it the Saturday after Thanksgiving.) I am trying to purchase just about all of our gifts from small, local businesses and direct sellers, instead of big box stores. It’s a way that I can help jump start the economy. It all starts with small business.

So that’s pretty much our holiday season in a nutshell. How do you keep the stress of the holidays to a minimum? Would love to read your tips in the comments below!

Fighting the Germ-Fest

With the cold weather comes the germies!

This is that time of year when we begin battling the school germs in earnest. One son has already battled bronchitis, the drips from fall allergies begin, and I shudder to think about what those little hands do before they touch the things my kids touch. After a couple of years of constant sickness in the house, I’ve started to get pretty serious about fighting the germs. Here is some of what we do:

  • Hands get washed the second they get home from school. They’re not allowed to do anything else before that happens.
  • I wipe down the shopping cart handles, sides, etc. I love it when supermarkets provide wipes. But when they don’t, I have my own in my purse. I focus on more than just the top and bottom of the handle…I wipe anything on the cart my kids might touch.
  • I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car. It’s in the pocket right behind the front passenger seat. That way I can reach it from the driver’s seat, and the kids can also reach it and pass it around. Whenever we’re out, the first thing we do when we get back in the car is sanitize.
  • All children have been trained to cough/sneeze into their elbows, NOT their hands.
  • Healthy diet. This is always, but especially during the cough/cold season, it helps.
  • Staying home. The second a child shows signs of illness, we pull them out of school. It doesn’t help their immune system or the rest of the kids at school to send my kids back as contributing members to the germ-fest. Instead, they stay home and get better first.

Do we avoid every illness floating around the school? No. But we definitely do better than if we didn’t take these steps. I never want that year of constant sickness again!

How do you avoid the germies passed around school this time of year? Would love to read your tips and hints in the comments below.

Healthy Halloween Treats

My most impressive 100% fruit juice gelatin jigglers from last year's class Halloween party

I’ve written before about how we’re Head Class Parents for 2 of our 3 kids’ classrooms. That means we’re in charge of organizing the annual Halloween Party for these classrooms. We’ve met with the parents and are in the midst of planning. But our school, like many others, has gotten really strict about the food.

There are a couple of reasons. First, allergies have become a big issue. We have to avoid all nuts, and in some classrooms dairy and wheat is an issue. (It stinks to be the kid who can’t snack on the good stuff!)

Then, there’s the “healthy food’ issue. The school wants to make sure the treats the kids have are healthy. That means sugar can’t be the 1st ingredient, avoiding fat, etc. Now while I’m on board with serving healthy food, I do feel like the school goes overboard on this. Particularly because the crap they serve on a regular basis in the lunchroom doesn’t fit the party requirements they require us to adhere to! (but I digress…)

Anyway, here are some healthy snack ideas that the parents in our classes have come up with. Would love to hear if you have any other healthy ideas to share!

  • Popcorn “Hands” – Fill plastic gloves with popped popcorn and serve!
  • Apple “Teeth” – Take apple slices, and cut a slit along the peel side. Add black raisins in the slit as teeth.
  • Fruit Kabobs – Black and orange fruit on skewers (oranges, blackberries, etc.) It’s color themed!
  • Spooky “Fingers” – Cut string cheese in half. Then cut green or red pepper pieces into triangles that are about 1/2 inch long and 1/4 inch wide at the base. Cut a small slit in the rounded end of the string cheese half, and insert the pepper triangle (which now looks like a pointy fingernail.) (Or make these.)
  • 100% Fruit Juice Jigglers – Boil 100% Fruit Juice and then add Knox unflavored gelatin (follow the directions on the back of the Knox packet.) Pour into a 13″ x 9″ pan and refrigerate to set. Then use Halloween-themed cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes. Serve on Halloween-themed cupcake liners.
So what other healthy Halloween treats do you serve at class parties, or with your kids at home? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!