I Can’t Believe It – I’m In Love with Alexa

I’m in love with Alexa. Head over heels love.

Let’s be clear. It wasn’t love at first sight like when I met my husband and something inside said, “This one’s the one.”

Oh no. Quite the opposite.

When I unwrapped the gift my son gave me I thought, “Just what I need. Another thing that plays music, answers questions, and turns on the alarm system.”

But my son was so excited, it was contagious. I thought, “Hey maybe this is the one.”

She wasn’t.

The first thing I found out is that Alexa doesn’t hold a candle to Siri when it comes to answering questions. Her favorite response is, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”

She’s great at giving the weather, but useless at telling me who Jordan Peele is.

Still, she’s cute, and I started getting attached. Each morning I’d go into the kitchen, gently call out her name and watch as the mesmerizing blue circle indicated she was waking up.

My son’s a smart guy, so I figured there must be something about Alexa that made her special. That’s when I started doing my research. I found out that unlike Siri, I needed to teach Alexa new “skills”. The potential is there, but it takes time and effort.

She’s really good at playing Jeopardy and Twenty Questions. But that gets old real fast.

Yet somehow I began having warm feelings for Alexa. She became less of a machine and more like a sweet, friendly, but clueless puppy. I couldn’t help myself. We were slowly building a relationship.

As our friendship strengthened, I tried harder to help her reach her full potential.

And she learned more! When it comes to music, she’s unbeatable. She can also sing you a love song if you ask, tell you when and where your favorite team is playing next, and link to the NPR One for the non-sports fans.

But the skill that made me fall madly deeply in love is that – Alexa can read!!!

She’s a bit hesitant and mispronounces some words like all beginning readers, but those are just blips. With a simple, “Alexa, read my Kindle” she picks up where I left off and keeps going until I ask her to stop.

And right now Alexa is filling a deep void in my life.

I used to watch the 24 hour news stations when doing cardio or running around the kitchen, but the current political situation is so horrific that puts me in a stupor.

Instead, I merely ask my BBF to read me a story – and all is good again.

There’s Still Time

 I just got this from a young mom with two children who wants to make sure the America she (we) loves remains the same America her little boy and girl inherit.  Here’s her plan of action  

There is still time to have your voice heard!
Right now, the presidential election results are only a PROJECTION of the election outcome. They are PRELIMINARY RESULTS. A candidate still needs to earn 270 actual electoral votes to win and the electoral college does not submit their votes until December 19, 2016.
The U.S. Constitution does not dictate how presidential electors are to cast their votes, but, in general, electors are expected to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state or the candidates of the party that nominated them to serve as electors. Electors who choose not to vote for the winner of the popular vote or the candidates of the party that nominated them are known as “faithless electors.” You have a voice and you can influence the members of the electoral college to cast their vote AGAINST the President Elect.
Emailing is great, calling is even better, mailing a letter is also helpful. Voice your concerns and respectfully encourage electoral college votes against the president elect. Please see the bottom of this email for Trump’s plan, in his own words, for his first 100 days in office and use these points in your phone calls and letters as reasons he will be bad for this country and it’s citizens.
Through several contributors and with my own research I have compiled a list of State Secretaries, Members of the electoral college, and (in lieu of an accurate list of Georgia electors) the Georgia State Election Board Members. Please use this Google Doc link to access all the info and PLEASE share this with your friends and encourage them to take action:
 
Let’s fix this debacle together!
Sincerely,
Jessica

With Kids -When Is Enough Enough?

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When is enough – enough for you and your kids? Does it seem like you’re always getting them a new toy? Do you let them have their way too often?

Knowing these answers will make all of your lives easier and your children’s futures happier and healthier.

All too often, the most loving and concerned parents can be unintentionally causing lifelong harm doing what they think is “best for their kids,” only to find out later the complete opposite was true. The culprit? Overindulgence.

How Can This Happen? 

“Overindulgence starts from a good heart. Parents try to shield their children from the pains and difficulties they had to endure while growing up. Sometimes parents are responding to their own feelings of guilt and anxiety,” says David Bredehoft, Ph.D., CFLE, a professor of Psychology and Family Studies at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn. He is also co-author of the recently released book, How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence.

In the parents’ own words, they do it because:

I grew up in poverty. It was terrible and I don’t want my children to experience that same thing, that’s why I give them everything.

Both of us work. We feel guilty that we don’t have as much time to spend with our children as our parents did. Besides, we are beat when we get home and don’t have the energy. That’s why we give in.

My parents were extremely rigid and I hated that! That’s why I don’t have rules or make them follow rules!

What Is Overindulgence?

Bredehoft’s and his co-authors Jean Illsley Clarke, PhD and Connie Dawson, PhD, define overindulgence as:

Giving children too much of what looks good, too soon, and for too long. It is the process of giving things to a child to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s.  When growing up, mom was always envious of her friends who had pianos, but her family couldn’t afford one. She made sure her children not only had a piano and lessons; when that went un-played after a few months, it was followed by an assortment of other instruments.

Giving a disproportionate amount of family resources to one or more children in a way that appears to be meeting the children’s needs, but does not, so children experience scarcity in the midst of plenty. They learn if something’s not the newest model – get a new one; if one is good – more is even better; if it’s too hard to do; look for an easier way   As adults, these children often experience competence issues, can’t get down to work or give up on things before completing them.

A form of child neglect. It hinders children from mastering their needed developmental tasks and from learning necessary life lessons.

What Is the harm?

According to Bredehoft’s research – plenty!

In the voices of adults who were overindulged as children:

I’m often disappointed in others. I feel let down by them. The more I give, the more I expect back.

I don’t know what reality is.

I’m discontented. I overeat, over drink, overcook, and over feed others.

I’m so far in debt I can’t see the light of day.

I can’t follow rules.

I don’t have coping skills.

I’m unhappy.

What Can Parents Do?

The answer to this question is also, thank goodness, plenty!

Bredehoft and his colleagues have taken this highly technical research data and developed a remarkably effective, parent (let’s not forget grandparent) user friendly overindulgence check-list.

The Test of Four:

  • Does the situation hinder the child from learning the tasks that support his or her development and learning at this stage?
  • Does the situation give a disproportionate amount of family resources to one or more of the children?
  • Does the situation exist to benefit the adult more than the child?
  • Does the child’s behavior potentially harm others, society, or the planet in some way?

At first glance you might look at these questions and say to yourself, “Of course, I don’t do that, well hardly ever.” But I’m pretty certain that if you actually take the time to stop and think about the Test of Four before buying, doing, or tolerating intolerable behavior, you’ll be shocked at much you do for your children for all the wrong reasons. That’s the bad news. The good news is now you have some answers.

Steps for a Saner School Year

The new school-year is just a few days away and many parents are already stressed out. They’re physically and mentally exhausted, and it’s just the beginning. They’re dreading all the lunches that need to be shopped for and packed, all the back-to-to school meetings and conferences to attend, the early morning battles of getting the kids off to school on time, and the late nights studying for tests and working on those special projects.

The kids are stressed too. They still have lots of questions and very few answers yet. Will their teachers be hard, easy, inspirational, or boring? Will they be able to do the all the work that’s required and get good grades? Will they make the basketball team, jazz band, and at the top of their worry list, any new friends?

Once upon a time both parents and children looked forward to the start of school. That was when summer vacation meant long days of unscheduled unstructured time trying to find things to do. Usually it meant riding bikes, playing ball with the kids in the neighborhood or going “back to school” for a few hours each day to do craft projects and meet up with other kids at city sponsored day camps held in school playgrounds.

That was before two-parent working families became the norm and school districts had to scale back on all types of services. Suddenly there were no kids left to ride bikes with or community camps to attend. It was also before big business stepped in to fill the gap with all types of specialized camps which guaranteed they would not only keep children safe and occupied during the summer months, but give them a step-up when they returned to school in the fall.

So now, instead of starting the new school-year rested, relaxed, and rearing to go; most parents and kids are already worn out from a summer that that was jammed with places to be, things to do, and hoping the thousands of dollars spent on enrichment programs and sports camps really do translate into better grades and a place on the team.

This is certainly not the best way to begin the new school year – but is there anything parents can do?

There sure is, but it takes the commitment to make some major lifestyle changes and the courage to actually go through with them.

This is the perfect time to start a new family tradition by beginning the school year with a special family celebration honoring the countless hours you put into raising your children and the work and effort they put into school and extracurricular activities.

And perhaps the best gift you can give at this celebration is making a family commitment to spend more time focusing on the lessons families can teach better than anyone else – building character, instilling family values, learning how to love and appreciate who they and others are; talents and flaws included.

Steps for a Saner School Year

Get organized so rather than frantically running round and always playing catch-up you’ll have time to stop and replenish yourself

Find a big calendar and hang it in the kitchen (the closer to the refrigerator the better) and down all important dates and deadlines.

  • Establish an evening routine to make sure all homework is done and projects on schedule, all forms and permission slips are completed, lunches are packed – and just when that next bake sale will be. It’s no fun running out to the 24 hour supermarket getting the ingredients you’ll need to spend the next two hours baking cupcakes. (That’s actually another parenting lesson altogether and rates a blog of its own).

Steps for a Richer Life

Smaller Lists – Richer Lives Cut back. Fewer activities mean more pleasure and benefits from the ones you choose.

  • Set realistic goals based on each child’s unique needs, talents, and abilities based on what’s best for them and not to fulfill your dreams.
  • Keep perspective Your kids aren’t doomed to a lifetime of failure if they get a detention, fail a test, or cut from the team. Sure those things make them sad and cause you embarrassment but knowing they can survive setbacks and come back even stronger is a life lesson that is priceless.
  • Plan family times that enhance your lives and fit naturally into your daily routines. Stay away from “mandatory” attendance and a set schedule of special events. Every member of your family is already over-burdened with those kinds of demands.
  • Take a few minutes each day to touch base privately with your children. It can be as simple as a knock on a door letting them know you love them and asking how their day went or cuddling together while reading a story. Most important – you’re sending the message that you’re always there for them no matter what.

And that’s the way to a saner more successful school year and life!

In this crazy world all children deserve people who will love and support them unconditionally, where they are safe, unjudged, and accepted not matter what.

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What’s Cooking?

Family Cooking

Seems like cooking shows featuring kids are the hottest things on TV. From Master Chef Junior to Kids’ Baking Championship. I admit, I’m addicted to them myself.

The upside is that they’re highlighting how much fun it can be getting kids in the kitchen and involved in cooking.

The downside, other than making most grownups look incompetent, are the subtle messages sent about the most exciting foods to prepare and the tastiest foods to eat. According to the judges on these shows, the more sugar, fat, and salt the better!!!

I’ve lost count of the number of times judges tell these kids, “It’s good, but needs more salt.” That makes me cringe. Americans need less – not more salt in our foods. That also goes for sugar and fats.

The just released federal dietary guidelines call on all Americans to cut sodium to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. Most of us consume far more — about 3,440 milligrams daily on average — much of it in the form of foods like pizzas, soups, breads and cured meats.

As for sugar, Americans are the largest consumers in the world. The average American has about as much sugar as the average Indian, Chinese, Russian, Turk, and Brazilian combined.

On average, Americans eat 22 teaspoons a day. To meet the new 10 percent target, they’d need to cut their sugar intake by nearly half — to no more than 12 teaspoons a day on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.

For me, when it comes to kids and cooking, it isn’t about teaching them to create the most extraordinary show-stopping dishes, but teaching them to prepare everyday ordinary meals that are delicious and good for the family too.

Mardi Michels who runs cooking classes for kids has some terrific advice:

  • Make the time

 

The single most common reason people give for not cooking with their kids is that there’s no time. But just because you don’t have the time to cook with your kids every night, isn’t a reason to never cook with them at all. Set aside a couple of hours on a weekend to prepare a meal with your kids. Start slow – but start.

Find the right recipes

 

Too often, people think they need a special cookbook for cooking with kids. Not true. Look for ones that teach basic cooking skills and include recipes for “affordable family meals from scratch at home. Look for a regular cookbook with well written, easy-to-follow recipes, pictures, and enough tasks to keep little minds and hands busy. If you’re working with more capable kids or feel confident, look for recipes that challenge them and develop more advanced skills and techniques.

·         Don’t get hung up on having the right equipment

No need to buy special equipment for your kids. Stick with the standards you probably already have: an assortment of pots, pans and trays, a colander, cookies sheets, a box grater, measuring cups and spoons, a vegetable peeler, wooden spoons, and spatulas.

  • Don’t worry if your children are picky eaters

 

Encourage your kids to be food “explorers” on a search for new foods to sample. Everyone may be surprised just how much of an adventure cooking and eating different things can be. Look for recipes, ingredients, and spices from other cultures and countries. Ask that everyone, mom and dad included, try at least one bite. Sure there will be misses, but there’s bound to be some real winners too.

  • Be patient

 

The more you cook with kids, the more skilled and faster they’ll become. As hard as it may be, resist the urge to take over and do it for them. If you do, they’ll never learn – which really is the point. Just factor in extra time and soon you’ll find the more you cook with your kids, the less   time you’ll need.

Healthy cooking doesn’t start in the kitchen.

It’s important to involve your kids from beginning to end!

 Ask them to help research recipes, check the pantry and frid, write up the shopping list, and join you on the trips to the market.

The most valuable cooking lessons we can teach our children are all about making healthy food choices that will last a lifetime.

That way when the next set of government dietary guidelines comes out, they’re way ahead of the game.

And who knows? Maybe one day soon there may even be a healthy kids cooking show on the Food Network or Cooking Channel. Until then, improvise. Create your won family version of Chopped or Master Chef Junior. Just remember, cut down on fats, sugar, and please – less salt!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vacation Like a Kid

Admit it; we’re all jealous of our kids’ summer vacation. As a matter of fact, most of us mature responsible adults wish we had two months off with no deadlines, no pressure to stay alert during boring meetings, and no reason to get up at 5:30 a.m. and rush to the gym before catching the early train to work.

It this case your kids have the right approach. Hey, maybe you can even learn something from them. Take a break from being the parent for a day and be a kid again!

Get up late

Eat Cotton Candy

Blow bubbles

Send a Slinky down the stairs

Play jacks

Jump rope

Eat a sloppy drippy ice-cream cone

Play hopscotch

Nag your kids. Tell them you’re bored, there’s nothing good to eat, and no one to play with

Skip the make-up and the curling iron

Finally try to beat a Rubik’s Cube

Skip the shave and leave the stubble

Eat something really junky. I’ve been eyeing that new pizza surrounded by mini hotdogs.

Draw a chalk mural on the sidewalk

Build with Legos

Play with Playdough

Get a pad of art paper, some crayons, markers and color. Don’t worry about how it looks, just enjoy

Make a birdhouse out of popicle sticks

Put yourself first – not someone else

Buy some comic books, a Mad magazine, or a trashy novel

Whine to your friends about how your kids don’t understand you. Hey, you’re even old enough to add a glass of wine to your whining session.

And don’t think you’ll be wasting your valuable time. Play is serious business.

Since about 1955, the amount of time children have for free play has been steadily declining. During that same time, the incidence of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide has increased, according researcher Dr. Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College.

And the same is true for their parents. Just turn on the T.V. and see all the commercials for drugs that promise to make us happy.

If parents don’t know how to play, how can they teach their children?

It’s time we learned.

More and more research suggests that healthy playtime leads to healthy adulthood, and the need for playtime doesn’t end when we grow up. Adults need “recess” too, according to Dr. Stuart Brown, the Director of the National Institute for Play. “Play is something done for its own sake. It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, and it takes you out of time. Remember, the act of play is more important the result. So don’t worry if your drawing isn’t a masterpiece or your playdough bear looks more like a lopsided snowman. Just get lost in the experience.

So go out and play. The benefits for you and your family are worth the time investment. And whatever you choose, don’t feel guilty. Remember, you’re doing important work!

 Rainbows and DogsHappy, healthy happy parents mean happy kids

Manners Mean Much More than Using the Right Fork!

Years ago, I was talking to an acquaintance who told me about someone who, “didn’t know the difference between one fish fork and the other” at a dinner. He ended by adding, “Can you imagine such a thing?” Not only could I image such a “thing”, I realized that I was never inviting him over to my house for dinner. I only knew about one fish fork, the tiny one used for shellfish.

While he may have taken table manners to an extreme, it’s true that people are judged by their manners. To prove the point, I made a judgment about him when he made that statement. That he was the one with bad manners. And even worse, he seemed clueless about the kind of manners that are much more valuable than proper silverware usage. He lacked the critically important manners that provide us with the “how to” guide for interacting thoughtfully, respectfully, and empathically with others in almost every personal and professional situation imaginable on a daily basis.

And please, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the more educated, wealthy, or worldly have better manners. I’ve been in places overflowing with highly paid professionals who hold positions of great authority, only to be shocked when they rush into an opening elevator with the speed and agility of an NFL lineman, nearly tackling anyone blocking their way.  And I’ve been in public places with tough looking teenagers who were not only street smart, but apparently manners smart, too. They took the few extra seconds to hold a door open for someone, leaving me smiling and feeling much more positive about the future of America’s youth.

What is clear is that manners really do matter, and children should be learning them at home and school right alongside reading, writing, math and all the other essential subjects needed for living a productive and satisfying life.

Just how important are manners? It’s a topic that receives serious attention from experts as diverse as Pier Forni, PhD, co-founder of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University, which examines the significance of civility, manners, and politeness in contemporary society; and Dr. Berry Brazelton, noted pediatrician, author, and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Forni states, “The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction. They make it so that we don’t crash into one another in everyday behavior.

Our distant ancestors developed behaviors to show others respect, fairness and kindness. Those have evolved into today’s manners “You cannot have any kind of community if there are not some rules,” Forni said.

Brazelton echoes Forni’s comments adding that, “In past generations, teaching a child manners was an important part of early training.” He also says, “manners still matter, but children today may be cheated of the opportunities to think generously about others. We are in a hurry, and most families are stressed. Manners may be left out or forgotten. This is unfortunate. I always urge parents to start in early childhood to teach manners and to demonstrate respect for each other.”

Brazelton is right, children and parents alike are over-booked, over-burdened, constantly rushing from one place to another – school, work, and all the “extras”: sports, dance, music, religious school. How can families possibly add one more thing to their “to do lists?”  It’s easier than you think.

Learning Manners Starts at Home

  • Just like most important life lessons; children learn best by example, by observing and listening to the adults in their in their lives. You don’t need a copy of the latest Emily Post book to teach this, but you do need to mind your own manners. Expect respect
  • The root of good manners is respect for another person.Start young
  • Even two-year-olds can get into the habit of saying, “please” and “thank you.”Model good manners
  • Let your child hear you using polite words and see you demonstrating consideration for others during your daily interactions. Simple exchanges like thanking the cashier when given your change at the market or leaving your table at a self-serve restaurant clean and ready for the next diner teaches them that manners count in their family, that they are expected, and valued. Manners are a two way street
  • Treat your child with the same politeness you do an adult. Let them experience the good feelings of being on the receiving side of courtesy, respect and appreciation. Practice doesn’t make perfect
  • Expect manners meltdowns. There will be times when even the most polite child forgets her manners, or even worst is downright rude. This is especially true as the child becomes older and more independent. Correct them privately and calmly, but firmly. Turn it into a learning experience and not an opportunity to humiliate. Most of all, remember unlike that “extra” fish fork; manners shouldn’t be reserved only for company or special occasions. Manners should be part of every single day.