Category Archives: parenting

A Summer Show Initiation —The Kid’s First Dave Matthew’s Band Concert

For Dave Matthews Band fans, the summer tour is ritual. It doesn’t matter if the band released a new album recently. There are no glitzy effects or troupes of scantily clad backup dancers—there’s just a prolific jam band playing their hearts out for you, and if you love DMB, you savor every second of the spectacle.

I’ve been going to DMB summer tour shows—eating, drinking, and being merry—for more years than I care to admit (long before cell phone cameras were popular, thank god). I’ve married, matured, become a parent since—but I still cherish my one night of everlasting freedom dancing to Dave under the stars. 

While this summer pilgrimage to Tampa or West Palm Beach has been an annual event for the hubby and I for well over a decade, this time it was different. This time we were bringing the kid. I almost wish we’d planned an initiation ceremony (although tamer than, say, Rocky Horror “sacrificing of the virgins”).

All bets were off. The adventure was on.

Traffic screeched to a halt before we even made it to the highway for our two hour drive to the show. Red and blue lights flashed, and though our senses were on high in anticipation of a night of technicolor glory, these lights were of the wrong variety.

The little one piped up from the backseat. “Looks like an accident.”

Turns out it was—AND the remnants of a police chase following a shooting. As we sat in the stalled traffic, cops cuffed the alleged perp and shoved into the back of a squad car.

We hadn’t even left the “safety” of our suburb. This was going to be one heck of a night.

The skies opened up just past Disney. My fingers practically hot glued themselves to the steering wheel, but the kid relaxed in the back, playing something on his Kindle. Lucky duck.

Yes, he’s wearing his DAD’s shirt. ::sniff sniff::

An hour and a half later, the amphitheater appeared. Our plans to arrive early to beat the always wicked concert parking debacle mostly worked.  We pulled into a swampy parking spot, set up the bag chairs, and popped our respective PBR, cider, and juice box. It was tailgating time.

Tailgating like a rock star. (must. finish. Harry. Potter.)

Now, normally, the DMB concert is the one night a year Hubby and I act like drunken dancing fools. We join 20,000 fans grooving in the dark (and often stormy) night to a three-hour marathon of music, sharing in a moment of consummate oneness with the happy hoard of fellow faithful enveloping us.

But this time, we had to behave. Instead of going as a wild and winsome twenty-something (as I did sixteen shows ago) I was going as  . . . one of those parents . . .

Respectable. Sober. On my best behavior. ::chills going up my spine::  My how times change.

Change can be good.

The amped up festival atmosphere hit us as soon as we approached the main gate. By arriving early, we staked out a prime piece of real estate. With our dollar store shower curtain spread across the soggy grass, we picnicked as the opening band played. We may have skipped our usual vodka-soaked watermelon, but we had hoagies, an unencumbered view, and an excited kid.

Though the clouds hung heavy, threatening to turn our field seats into a mud pit, someone up there had sympathy for us, and the rains held off.  I had visions of my  9-year-old  sliding down the sloped seating area like it was a giant mud-drenched slip-and-slide. (I’d seen it done by drunk frat boys before. Unfortunately, concert venues provide no showers.)

The crowd sat tamely this year, a trend I’ve noticed during other concerts in recent years. (Last time we saw NIN everyone SAT the entire show. Un-freaking-believable.) Those around us thought kiddo was adorable and they acted slightly more decorous than usual (meaning no one spilled beer on the kid, elbowed him, or blew smoke his way). They praised us for introducing him to the joys of live music. Seeing a real band live is a completely different experience than just listening on your device of choice—each one of your senses becomes immersed in the music, lighting you up from within.

This show was amazing, as always. And while kiddo enjoyed himself . . .

He grew a little tired being up past his bed time. (Let’s hope this trend continues well into his college years.) Never imagined I’d be holding Goldfish instead of a beer at a DMB show.

But at least he stayed awake the whole time, unlike his first concert. We introduced him to Paul McCartney at the ripe old age of six. (Figured we’d train him young—and we hoped he’d think we were cool parents someday. A mom can dream.)

He passed out cold as Sir Paul performed some of the most momentous songs in rock history. Not even the fireworks during Live and Let Die roused him—but we did wake him so he could sing along to Hey Jude.

Though DMB didn’t play his favorite song Funny the Way It Is (which will always be his theme song to our Costa Rica vacation back when he was just five), he sang along to the songs he’s been raised on.

We all grow up someday. Though the hubby and I felt almost our ages this time, we made memories the kiddo will hopefully remember. And we loved every moment of it.

Have you ever taken your kid(s) to a concert? Do you go yourself? Or do you think I’m just plain crazy?

Monarch Madness: Attracting & Raising Butterflies in Your Yard

If you buy milkweed, butterflies will come.

In droves. Or a flutter. {A group of monarchs is called a flutter. A group of butterflies can be called a swarm, flight, rabble, or my fav a kaleidoscope.}

Back in March, I innocently bought two milkweed (a.k.a. butterfly weed) plants at our favorite annual garden show. Why not? I like butterflies. Not only did the plants have cheerful yellow and orange flowers, they seemed like something I wouldn’t immediately kill. Butterflies showed up immediately, and I patted myself on the back.

On Father’s Day, I noticed the plants looked scraggly and bare. Upon closer investigation, I discovered why.

They were infested covered in Monarch caterpillars. 

I counted at least twenty brightly striped critters devouring our plants. Within a day, the two plants were stripped to their stems. Holy hungry caterpillars! Eric Carle knew what he was talking about. Not wanting our newest family members to starve, I hunted down more more milkweed for our very hungry caterpillars to munch. These rapidly growing little guys are extremely finicky—they ONLY eat milkweed. Luckily, our local Lowe’s had some in stock.



Quite by surprise, we had our own summer biology class. Not bad for a slacker parent who planned no educational enrichment for the summer. 

We researched how to keep our new pets alive. A few years back, my kiddo received a butterfly cage from Santa. I dug it out, dusted it off, carefully added a few of the largest caterpillars. He’d been begging me to order some online. It couldn’t get any more natural (or cheap) then just plucking them from the yard, right? 

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Mama Monarch lay her eggs (estimated 100 – 300 in her short lifetime)  on the milkweed plants yard.



 
 

When the eggs hatch in 3 – 4 days, the itsy-bitsy caterpillars (larvae) are only about 2-6 mm. 

Then they start eating. 

And eating.

And eating.

{and pooping, as you will discover, if you raise them in a cage}



After approx. 10 – 14 days, they reach the size of their final shed {about 2 inches}.  

 

They attach themselves to a stem or a leaf {or the top of the cage} with silk and start metamorphosis. After hanging upside down for a day or so, they shed their caterpillar skin to reveal a green cocoon. It happens in about a  minute —amazing!

   



Seven days later (although all the research says it takes 10-14 days) our butterflies emerge from their cocoons. You have to be quick if you want to catch it—the ones we watched this morning popped out in less than a minute.  The new butterflies unfurl their and dry their wings. 

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The first beauty to hatch didn’t want to fly away. We coaxed her onto flowers, tempted her with nectar and blooms, but she wouldn’t take to the air. After careful inspection, I noticed she had a broken wing. 

Guess she will be spending her short life cycle with us.

We’ll be kind.  


Want Monarchs in your yard?  In most areas, they follow a distinct migration pattern. Here in Florida, they seem to be around for a large chunk of the year, possibly even overwintering in some locals. 

Before the migration hits your area, BUY MILKWEED. These beauties are desperate for it. The caterpillars only eat milkweed, so if the female can’t find any, she won’t lay her eggs.

See—this guy was so enamored by it, he went after the flowers on the plant tag.

Too many Monarchs fell in love with our tiny milkweed patch. We don’t have enough plants to sustain all the caterpillars. I’ve already started milkweed seeds in pots, and I’m going to plant it all around the yard.

This time next year, I will oversee a mammoth butterfly colony.

Save the Monarchs. Buy some milkweed. Your kids will think you’re a hero. So will I.

For more information on how to raise butterflies, click here.  I followed the guide provided by My Monarch Guide. She even includes the simple household items you can use to create a Monarch habitat. It’s easy. You can do it. The Monarchs & your kids will thank you.

But, the pirates don’t eat the tourists…


While skimming my backlog of blog post this morning, I happened upon one about velociraptors and memory lane by the talented and wildly entertaining Joshilyn Jackson. {It’s hilarious. Go read it. And add her blog to your reader. For reals.} I ended up writing up an exceptionally long-winded comment, so I figured I might as well elaborate some more and share my Jurassic Park memory with y’all.

Unless you live under a non-fossilized rock, you must know Jurassic Park is back on the big screen IN  3D. As much as the original is one of my favorite movies of all time and certainly up there with best book-to-big screen adaptations, I think I’m far too lily-livered to handle it in 3D.  I need an airsick bag to sit through a 3D movie anyway, but all I can think about is:



That, and I still hear impact tremors on a regular basis. {*see below}

Flashback 1993:  It was a hell of a summer. I was a pirate by day, rebel by night. Okay, technically I was a  participant in the coveted Disney Internship Program. I worked 40 hours a week hocking plastic swords to tourists while dressed in an itchy and HOT polyester pirate costume. I was an 18-year-old minimum wage slave who knew everything and refused to appreciate the experience as much as I should have. (Please see the enlightening Hanging Mickey Mouse post.)


Don’t laugh too hard. Told you the pants were horrid.



After my shifts (which could run until well after midnight) I’d eek out a corner in my overcrowded apartment and read. I can vividly remember sitting on the smoke-crusted couch reading Jurassic Park while my five roommates were all miraculously absent (work? partying? bleeding the kegs at work dry?). I was a stranger in a world where I was brainwashed to believe in make-believe. And that book scared the crap out of me. It was riveting. It was terrifying. It was bloody brilliant.

And I’m allowed to use the English slang, as one of my roommates was a Brit. Two were from France, another from Mexico, and one from Lima, Ohio, which seemed as peculiar and far away as all of the others combined. FYI: All the cast members in EPOCT’s World Showcase are actually from the countries they represent on job internship programs (at least they were back then). If you participated in the restaurant management internship program, you sold Guiness at the U.K. beer stand. You looked cute and sounded authentic while spending the year in sunny Florida. What a deal.

I devoured that book faster than a velociraptor snarfed down a cow.  I dragged my roommates to the ginormous movie theater at Downtown Disney opening weekend. The house was packed—full of tourists mostly.

 Let me tell you, fear needs no translation.


I may still have some faint scars on my forearm from Ohio roommate’s fingernails. There’s something about hundreds of people from all over the world yelping and gasping in unison. It was like a perfectly composed symphony of screams, as if we just all flocked together like those veggie-eater dinosaurs running through the plains. Remember: this was in the days when we still felt safe in a crowded movie theater, when we believed the terror was all make-believe.

I know the moment I cried out the loudest, the quote that dug it’s claws into my psyche.

Nope, not when the T. rex tried to eat the kids in the car, or when the raptors chased down spunky Laura Dern, or even during the electric “must go faster” scene.

At one point, that sexy, snarky geek Jeff Goldblum might as well have pointed his finger to me in the audience and dragged me into the film:

John Hammond:All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!



Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.

I couldn’t escape my indentured servitude at Pirates of the Caribbean even during my brief periods of repreive. They knew I was there, watching. And if that much of my real life was invested in the story, well maybe, just maybe dinosaurs could be real too…

No. Not possible. Beyond even the most brilliant geneticists imaginations, right?  Right?

*Twenty years later, I live just close enough to the theme parks to occasionally hear a distant rumble. It’s barely audible, and I only notice it on spring or fall nights when the windows are open and the air fluctuates to just the right density to carry the deep rolling sound. Each time, my ears perk up, my book goes down, and force myself not to say aloud, “You hear that? Impact tremors.”*

As if somewhere in the wilds of suburbia, a T. rex roams in search of dinner. (Hey, wait a minute…didn’t they do that in Jurassic Park 2 or 3?  Ugh-oh.)  At some point my deluded sense of reality kicks in and I realize it’s just distant summer thunder or the faint booms of theme park fireworks.

But no one can say I have a bland imagination.




I’d say that book and movie left a lasting impression. Thank you Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg. Your creations will prowl the border of my suspension of disbelief forever.

Maybe Jurassic Park would be worth the nausea to watch in 3D. Should I take the kiddo? All kids need a complex, right?

Someone tell me about the BIRDS and the BEES…



The time is drawing near. 
I won’t be able to deflect the questions much longer. 
How did you approach THE TALK with your kid(s)?


Last weekend I was thrilled to meet up with an old high school/college friend when she came to town to do Disney. She met my “boys” and I met her darling son and hubby. Oh, and she was visibly pregnant with number two (yay!). Knowing I had gone through a rough patch dealing with secondary infertility a few years back, she broke her good news to me gently.  Exceptionally considerate of her, but while I am over the moon happy for her, I am beyond baby lust at this point. Way beyond. As in: that ship hasn’t just sailed, it was attacked by pirates and sunk. The thought of diapers and potty training and sleepless nights and…panic attack central.

I can’t imagine going back to the baby business because my thoughts speed towards standardized testing,  bullying, online safety, kids and cell phones, and…explaining sex to my 9-year-old.

Last night at the dinner table—immediately after my husband excused himself—my son popped the question. Technically questions.

Him:  Mama, your friend was pregnant, right?

Me: Yup.They’re so excited.

Him: (pause—fussing with napkin) So, how do women get pregnant? And how do women KEEP FROM getting pregnant?

Whoa! Panic! Panic! Sound the alarm. Call in the flying monkeys. Swoon? Am I raising a feminist or a Casanova? 

Somehow  I managed to just spear another bite of salad and play it cool. (All those years of acting paid off.)

Me: That’s an excellent question. But we don’t have time to answer that right now. Want a cookie? (crap, crap, crap, crap…where the hell is my husband…crap, crap…) How about two cookies?

Is nine (and a half)  too young? Should I keep pushing it off? Too old? Just right?

We forget sometimes how blissful it was to revel in that naivete. But this childhood innocence lasts for such a short time now. I mean, my kid’s favorite song (though I tried, so help me, I TRIED to deter it) is Gangnam Style. Yes, he and his little buddies dance around singing “Hey….SEXY lady…” at the bus stop. It’s like a runaway train. Once this this growing up business begins there’s no hand brake—we all just hold on for dear life and try to find a way to steer so we don’t crash too hard.

My kid is smart and perceptive, but he doesn’t question things too often. We watch the news together and I usually don’t get pummeled with questions when stories about gay rights or sexual abuse in the church or Zumba prostitution rings come up. Of course, I choose those moments to butt in with a question about school or Legos or the color of frog poop (as our friend says, “Look! A dirigible!”). But I actually have my answers prepped for those questions, so of course they haven’t come up. 

The sex talk is another story. I’m clueless.

So, parents…how did you break the news? Anyone have any advice? Books to buy? I could always just set him down in front of prime time TV and he’d figure it out pretty quick, but I’m thinking that’s not the right way to go…

I’ll  keep putting THE TALK off as long as possible, but I need to be prepared. The Girl Scout in me is in panic mode. Help?

 FLASHBACK: A little Salt-N-Pepa encouragement



 

 photo credit: oleyography via photopin cc

Happy Birthday (Juice Bottle) Jeff Kinney—A Diary of a Bottle Biography

biography book report, water bottle person, how to make a bottle person, soda bottle person, biography project, kid’s biography class project

 

Dear Jeff,


Happy Birthday! Since I spent all of President’s Day pouring over your biography for my son’s first book report, I figured we should be on a first name basis. And, well, since my son and I have now immortalized you with craft foam and an apple juice bottle, I feel like we’re kinda tight.

Out of the hundreds, maybe thousands of kid-appropriate biographies at the library, my son picked yours. This was no easy feat. He wandered the aisle scuffing his skate shoes, feigning no interest in sports heroes or dead politicians. We couldn’t find any books about the captain of the Titanic or the creator of Legos. Just before I thrust Sacajawea’s bio into his hands he said, “What about Jeff Kinney? He’s kinda cool.” 

Indeed.

And what do you know. . .your bio was just waiting there on the shelf for him. My kid who hates to write (yet thankfully loves to read and draw) picked an author as the one person in the world he wanted to lean more about. Zoo-wee, mama!

Now, getting him to read your biography was no problem. To a 9-year-old kid, you’re as cool as a video game character (with your own mack daddy turbo blasters).  I owe you a big chunk of thanks for writing books boys like to read. Apparently, reading to him since he was a blob of cells and watching his parents devour hundreds of books a year wasn’t enough to inspire him. I mean, we’re his parents. But your books hooked him. My kid ran out to buy The Third Wheel with his own birthday money the day it came out. Instead of Legos. There is no higher honor. I was so dang proud I nearly cried.

Book read: check. 

Report written. . .  Now, this child watches me write book reviews (essentially book reports, right?) and write rewrite edit work on my own novel for hours each day. But getting him to write a book report made pulling teeth seem like a beach vacation day. (Seriously. The kid’s had three oral surgeries. Boatloads more fun.) I suppose I should have tried threatening him with the cheese touch.


Then there was the whole decorate a two-liter bottle to look like a replica of your “Famous Person!” bit.  This will be fun for you AND YOUR FAMILY. Maybe for Martha Stewart’s family, but the crafty gene somehow slipped from our DNA strands.

But  I think we did a pretty decent job. It’s not Michelangelo’s David, but hey, it works. The head even rotates (I think our Jeff might do a few Linda Blair imitations—minus the pea soup—we’re talking 3rd grade boys here.) I think you’re going to be a hit come biography book report presentation day.

Once again, Happy Birthday. (And I only know this because it took a half hour of prodding to get my kid to write that first report sentence stating when and where you were born.) I’ll bet you’re the only guy you know who receives a picture of foamy juice bottle mini-me for his special day. Fame has its perks.

And  thanks again for writing books that somehow make reading cool for boys. The world needs more of them.

Cheers!




 


How To Make a Water Bottle Person
(our cheapo,uncrafty version)


I’m only providing a brief overview of how we cobbled this project together because I figure there must be other parents out there more clueless than me. Like my husband—if he had to figure this out.


  • 64 oz juice bottle — we used one with 2 flat sides so the glue adhered better
  • craft foam for clothes & skin
  • masking tape ring or bottom of an oatmeal canister (about 1-2 inches thick)
  • googly eyes (optional)
  • more foam or construction paper for hair
  • good old Elmer’s glue
  • 2 popsicle sticks
  • markers 
  • scissors 
  • props


Clean out the bottle. (We almost forgot that step.) Decide upon your “famous person’s” attire. I recommend using regular paper to make a pattern before you mess up your crafty foam. We wrapped a sheet of blue foam around the bottom half of the bottle and cut out a V to make jeans. For the shirt, we cut a hole in the center of our “shirt” foam and placed it over the top of the bottle. We cut slits in each side to wrap around the sides and make sleeves. Cut out foam arms to fit into sleeves. Cut out hands and fingers if you’re feeling so inspired. Slather foam with Elmer’s and push into place. (A few pieces of tape or clothes pins may help hold foam in place while it dries.) 

For the head: trace around your tape or oatmeal container circle on the foam. Cut out. Cut a strip wide enough for the sides. Slather strip with glue and wrap around. With a hole punch (or scissors), punch two holes in the bottom. Insert popsicle sticks about an inch. This makes your neck and attaches the head. Run glue around the edges of each side then attach the big circles for the front and back of head. Once dry, decorate however you like. (We used construction paper for hair, markers to draw face, and googly eyes.) 


Sorry if your head on sticks freaks you out, Jeff.


Don’t forget to add a few props for your person’s famous talent/skill/whatever. I printed out a picture of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and we glued it to some cardboard for strength. Kiddo made a pencil from a popsicle stick. We glued to the hands. Instant writer.




{An aside to all my homeschooling friends: this is why I could never, EVER, take on that responsibility. This one little project about killed me. This is also another example of why I’m thrilled to have one kid. Good luck to the rest of you…}

Rezoning: An Ode to my Neighborhood & School

My newspaper, local television stations, and Facebook feeds are flaming with irate parents throwing temper tantrums over our local elementary school rezoning proposals. It happens every few years, it’s just another round of shouting, fist pounding, and chest beating; in the past I’ve calmly turned my back on it just as I ignored my 2-year-old’s fits. Of course no one wants to shift their kids from the schools they love or move them to a bad school, but one of the schools they are outraged their kids may attend is…OUR school.

Why is my son’s elementary school worthy of such contempt and outrage? We’re not talking about a destitute inner-city facility. It’s just another highly-rated suburban neighborhood school. Most of us who send our kids there are not dirt poor, nor are we wealthy. We have a slightly higher percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunch. Some believe that means the education their precious babes might receive at our school would be inferior, and they fear their property values will nosedive if their children are forced to attend a slightly less affluent school.

I disagree.

And frankly, I’m insulted.

A large chunk of the kids come from my neighborhood. And I love my neighborhood. We painstakingly chose this place to be our forever home, the place where we’d settle and raise our family long before we began buying pregnancy tests and pacifiers.

The average home here has 3.5 bedrooms, a two-car garage, a Honda in the driveway, and a swing-set nestled beside an in-ground pool in the backyard. We have basketball hoops instead of tennis courts. Our homes are around my age—and like women my age, some have undergone extensive remodeling and look peppier than when they were twenty; some have let themselves go a bit.

It’s a neighborhood where I feel safe with my windows open and my glass door spread wide to let in the babble of the pool and the aroma of orange blossoms.

At the heart of this neighborhood sits a park, where I’m spread out on a blanked with a book in my lap on a gorgeous January afternoon. Sunlight filters through a canopy of oak leaves and shines a puzzle of shapes over the kids tearing up the slide during a fierce game of tag. Over on the baseball diamond, a father plays Frisbee with his kids; he calls out each toss and catch like a Mexican soccer announcer. Another father/son pair passes by wearing matching crisp golf tournament visors.

A toddler’s birthday party spills from the new pavilion. Festive balloons and streamers billow in the breeze, and the aroma of something slightly more exotic than hot dog carries on a drift of balmy air. Bratwurst? Chorizo? It smells like heaven.

The kids are as colorful as the party decor; smiles radiate from faces of every shade between marshmallow pale to an ebony rich as dark chocolate. You’re more likely to hear the kids calling out names like Aiden or Jack, but chances are you’ll  hear a Lashawn and a Jose, too. The kids don’t care. You are welcome as long as you know how to play freeze tag.

A girl striking enough to be on the cover of Teen Vogue (should she trade Nike trainers for heels) bickers with her mom in a sing-song Portuguese. Later, when she chats on her iPhone, every cadence of accent evaporates.

Yes, the teens and moms carry  far more Coach bags than Louis Vuittons. I myself am sporting a metal bike basket passed down from my Grandfather, now loaded down with picnic gear. No one has given it a second glance.

Families arrive pushing strollers and pulling wagons, by foot, by mini van, or on bicycles, like us. This park backs up to a 14-mile paved trail, and we’re still recovering from our 7-mile bike ride under its cathedral of trees. There’s nowhere I’d rather be on a Sunday afternoon than soaking in this tranquility.

During the sweltering summer months, day campers descend upon our park; my son and a few hundred other kids run wild over the four-square court and the kickball fields. It’s not a formally structured educational camp; the kid wranglers counselors are local teens. There are no equestrian lessons or overnight escapes to the mountains, but there are plenty of trips to the theme parks and Chuck E. Cheese. He loves it.

This park, this neighborhood, this school brims with good kids and hard-working families. More of us may be social workers than CEO’s, but we are good enough for you.

We  love our school, our teachers, our staff. They graciously receive more homemade cookie baskets than day spa certificates come Christmas, but they not only teach our kids, but love our kids just the same. Our PTA does not run the school with a bejeweled fist. I rather like it better that way.

I pity those parents who chose to hold themselves above us, who waste so much precious time fretting over how our school may be detrimental to their kids lives. It’s their loss.

If their PTA is better than ours—fine—please come share your success stories and help build our group up. We’ll listen. Volunteer here, share your time and knowledge; you’ll see you are no better or worse than us. You’ll be welcome—if you are kind, and if you care about your kids as much as we care about ours.

We all want our kids to succeed. But the people of this county voted for the elected officials who have gutted the education budget. The school system must adjust to the cuts whether we like it or not. Why cause our school board to spend any of its insufficient funds fighting these battles? Let’s take that time, that energy, and use it to help our kids instead of dividing them. Let’s keep that money in the classroom instead of the courthouse.

And if my kid somehow ends up shifting schools… Will I be “happy?” No. I’m sure many tears will fall. No one likes change. But we’ll accept our fate. We will support our child and his school no matter what.

Les Misérables: A {Parent} Review

This brief review of Les Misérables is  provided by a completely novice movie reviewer, but a Les Mis lover and a parent. I had a tough time deciding if the movie was appropriate for my 9-year-old, and I imagine there are others out there wondering the same thing.

I’ll start by admitting I’m a Les Mis junkie. I saw the musical on my seventeenth birthday in Chicago, and I’ve known all the lyrics by heart since. I’ve caught the touring Broadway show a couple time, and I wasn’t going to miss this celebrity studded tour de force for anything.

A quick movie summary (provided by the official  Les Miserables Film website):

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption—a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Hugh Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.

Initially, I planned on taking my 9-year-old son and husband to keep me company. I’ve been listening to the fabulous “Dream Cast” 10th Anniversary  and 25th Anniversary  concerts for weeks. I didn’t hear anything in there too offensive, and after introducing my son to musical theater last Spring with the amazing touring Lion King production, I thought it was time to broaden his horizons. Let him see just how hard life could be for those less fortunate, expose him to some poverty, some strife, some fighting for what is good and honest and true in this world. You know, let him appreciate how far society, at least here in the American suburbs, has come and just how darn lucky he is. Let him be moved by the music.

I had a hard time finding any actual parent’s reviews of the movie, and those few I did said it was appropriate for 15-and-up. But it’s PG-13? My kid watched his first PG-13 movie years ago (NOT my idea) and he is allowed to watch certain movies (usually involving superheroes, hobbits, or sinking ships) on a case by case basis. How rough could a movie musical really be?

The running theme implied Les Mis showed as much sex as a PG-13 movie allowed. Since that is the one thing I absolutely shelter him from, I decided to see the movie before I ended up having an exceptionally awkward conversation about the birds and the bees on the drive home.

I’m glad I did.

Les Miserables earned its PG-13 rating, and this parent thinks it should stick. Here’s why:

Sexual content: 

Prostitutes. They play up the whole “Lovely Ladies” scene, making it gritty and rough, causing the original Broadway version to look clean and Disneyfied. No saucy singing ladies of the night—these are gutter whores—there’s not much doubt what these raunchy, miserable women are selling and the hell their lives have turned into. Poor Fantine (the amazing Anne Hathaway) is abused, groped, and molested before she allows a man to throw up her skirt and have her way with him for a few coins. No nudity, but far too explicit for kids.

Tons of bawdy humor, sexual innuendo kids/tweens may or may not understand, and cleavage shoved up high and spilling from corsets.

And a man dressed as Santa gets it on with a prostitute. No nudity, but she’s on top of him and thrusting. (I can only imagine the gasp from my kid—don’t know if “they’re just wrestling” would explain it away.)

Language:

Some swearing, usually sung. Not enough to alarm me, but my Mother-in-Law would probably faint. My kid could tolerate it (as he knows not to repeat it).

Again, some “vulgar” and bawdy humor the kids probably wouldn’t get. (At least I hope.)

Drug and Alcohol Use:

It IS France. They drink wine. A lot of it. And of course, the perfectly cast Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen portray the Thénardiers, scoundrels who keep their patrons sloppy drunk so they can fleece them for every sou or two.

Violence:

Prison is bad. Prisoners are treated harshly.

Various people are slapped and beaten.

Lots of guns, swords, and knives.

A woman’s teeth are ripped out (for money).

Women (mostly prostitutes) are handled roughly by men. 

During the battle scene, many men and women (some we are rooting for) are shot and killed. More realistic than stylized (as in, say, comic book flicks). Not super graphic, but they bleed. Later, blood flows through the gutters and women must scrub it from the cobblestones.

**SPOILER** A child is shot and killed. (Much of the audience cried.)

**SPOILER** A man commits suicide (not graphic or violent, though may be disturbing).

Several characters we come to care about die. Yes, this happens in Disney movies, so I can’t say it’s inappropriate, but the whole audience clutched tissues and sniffled. Or flat out bawled.

If you made it all the way down here, I’m surprised you didn’t stop after the first mention of “prostitute.” They are hard to explain away to kids. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVED this movie. It should be nominated for Best Picture. I already bought the soundtrack. Hugh Jackman shines as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway…phenomenal. Perfect. I dare anyone not to tear up during her amazing “I Dreamed a Dream.”

Rating:
Drag your husbands and a box of tissues to this film, but leave the kids under 13 at home.

Once this comes out on DVD I will probably let my kid watch parts of it, so long as I can edit out some content I’m just not ready to explain. When he’s a teen, he’ll be forced to watch it. Maybe even learn the songs.

And next time I watch it,  I’ll remember to wear my 20-year-old T shirt, as well.

Sparking the imagination with science and Star Wars at the Orlando Science Center #CFLGood

My son dreams of becoming an engineer when he grows up. Technically, if you ask, he’ll just tell you he wants to build roads. And buildings. And ships. And robots. Maybe space ships. Definitely a bigger, safer Titanic. Fueled by books and educational TV shows (they do exist), ideas for new designs seem to burst from his imagination each day.  He breaks out his roll of paper or borrows reams from my office so he can carefully draw out his plans. With old wooden blocks or gallons of Legos he brings his visions to life like a modern day young DaVinci—if DaVinci built his models from colorful, interlocking plastic blocks.

My kid dreams big. Entire ports, ocean liners, cityscapes, and transportation systems seem to spring from his fingertips.  Transferring his enthusiasm, his passion into the classroom is challenging; multiplication tables and math factors just aren’t exciting, but he’ll need a strong background in math and science for his dreams to become his reality.

Education is the gateway to opportunity. That’s why one of our favorite places to visit in Central Florida is the Orlando Science Center.

 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is considered the cornerstone to our prosperity as a nation. As the world’s economy continues to be increasingly fueled by knowledge and innovation, it is vital that the workforce be well-educated in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. With that said, the United States is in the middle of a STEM crisis.

The Orlando Science Center is taking a stand in the efforts to revitalize STEM education in our community. Through informal science learning, kids can take interest in STEM fields through fun, engaging ways. By simply generating excitement for science everyone can win, as a child takes this new found appreciation and explores it at home and school.

The need for a strong, STEM-educated workforce is greater than it’s ever been. The percentage of science and engineering degrees awarded annually peaked in the 1960′s.

Locally, the problem is even more magnified: only 20% of the degrees awarded in Central Florida are based in STEM fields, compared to 30% nationally.

To put it in perspective, 60 percent of the new jobs created this century will require skills that only 20 percent of the current workforce possesses. Jobs now and in the future will depend on the bright minds of today’s youth in these subjects. In fact, 28 of the 30 fastest growing occupations projected for 2018 require strong proficiency in the skills of math and science.

Our ultimate goal at the Science Center is to create a STEM-centered community that paves the way towards excellence in science, technology, engineering and math. Exploring these critical areas in an informal way can be fun, exciting and even inspiring.

Our kids don’t want lectures. They thrive on interaction and entertainment. Hand-on, fun learning is vital to keep kids interested and intrigued. That’s why we love the Orlando Science Center.

OSC is one of the top hands-on science centers in the country. Featuring four floors of interactive exhibits and live programs, it provides a full day of entertainment and learning about everything from natural science to the high-tech world of simulation technology.

Kids (and parents) can build dams and channels at water tables (my kiddo’s fav), stare into the jaws of a T. rex, take to the air in F1-11  and F-16 flight simulators, get up close to native alligators and snakes, play a life-sized game of Operation, or control a Mars Rover.

The CineDome theater doesn’t just “show” movies. You can watch and experience the destructive power of a tornado at point blank range or take a visually explosive, sensory expanding voyage into space on its enormous screen (measuring 8,000 square feet!).

You can catch one of the planetarium shows, laser light shows, or view the cosmos via the Crosby Observatory, home to one of the state’s largest publicly accessible refractor telescopes.

AND coming soon. . .this has our family just buzzing with excitement:

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination
October 13, 2012 through April 7, 2013
May the Force be with you as you explore the blockbuster large scale exhibit celebrating the Star Wars® legacy and its impact on real-world science! It is the first exhibition to display costumes and props from all six Star Wars films with real-world technologies. The exhibit includes extensive video interviews with filmmakers, scientists and engineers; and hands-on components, including two large Engineering Design Labs, where visitors can build and test their own speeders and robots.
For more information on the exhibit, please visit: www.mos.org/starwars.
 Star Wars + science + kids = WIN

Not only is OSC an amazing resource for locals, but it should be on the itinerary of every family visiting Orlando. Need a day off from the hectic theme parks, some time to relax, hide from the heat or rain, or crowds and lines? Hit the Science Center. You will have fun.

The Orlando Science Center is a private non-profit organization with 501c(3) status. As part of the Blogging For Good Campaign, Central Florida bloggers are spreading the word about local charities and non-profits that benefit our community. Want to help? Buy a raffle ticket for this AMAZING Star Wars themed basket filled with:

  • 4 Open Guest Passes to the Orlando Science Center
  • Two tickets to the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination VIP Preview on Friday, October 12 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. (This VIP Preview is the first opportunity for anyone to experience the exhibit at the Science Center!)
  • Rubix Cube Stress Reliever
  • True Green Life in 100 Everyday Ways – Written by Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin
  • OSC Otronicon “Level Up” T-Shirt
  • OSC Coffee Mug/Beaker (it’s got measurements on it resembling a beaker – it’s awesome)
  • Command Line Mouse Pad
  • 2 Anakin Skywalker Lightsabers
  • Star Wars Minatures: Rebels and Imperials
  • Star Wars: STAR TOURS G2-9T
  • Star Wars: STAR TOURS SK-Z38
  • Star Wars 2007 Vintage Coin Set
  • Star Wars: STAR TOURS Boarding Party – STAR TOURS Officer, Kaink, Teek, Ree-Yees, Chewbacca (Set is Limited Edition of 15,000)
  • Star Wars Destroyer Droid
  • Star Wars Miniatures: Princess Leia – Attack on Endor

Any Star Wars fan (age 5 to 95) would be over the moon if they won those goodies. Maybe I’ll buy two tickets… Each raffle ticket is just $10 and can be obtained here. 100% of the money raised goes directly to the nonprofit, so it’s a win-win!

OSC website: http://www.osc.org/
OSC Twitter: https://twitter.com/orlandoscience
OSC Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/orlandosciencecenter
Blogging for Good: http://www.cflbloggingforgood.com/

**Please help spread the word about this important cause. Tweet, Facebook, Pin, and share this post. You can make a difference.

I am writing this as part of a contest for the CFL Blog Conference and the Rollins Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership Center.  I stand 100% behind the The Orlando Science Center.

Making Flossing Fun for the Family

When was the last time you tried to get your kids to floss their teeth? Last night? Last month? Last year? To say it can be a challenge is a gross understatement. Many parents pick their battles: we consider ourselves fortunate our kids brush their teeth regularly and without tears. And perhaps, like me, you push off the flossing for another night. Again.
But you know kids need to floss. The trick is making it fun. That was always a problem — until now.

When I was asked if I wanted to try the Waterpic Water Flosser for Kids I jumped at the chance. Early this summer we came home from the orthodontist with a whole “goodie bag” full of weird devices to help keep my kiddo’s new braces food-free. The bag has sat untouched under the bathroom sink. 
Kiddo’s eyes lit up the moment he saw his new Water Flosser. It comes with sheets of sticker-like clings, and he customized his Flosser with every last one. He couldn’t wait to test it out.  
I discovered shooting a stream of high pressure water between the teeth is very cool to a nearly 9-year-old boy. Traditional flossing—not so much. Luckily, the Water Flosser is 3x as effective as regular flossing and 1000x more fun. He can control the stream of water and adjust the stream on three levels. He actually wants to use it. And I totally wish I owned  a Water Flosser back when I had braces.
The adjustable water flow cleans not only the normal food stuck between teeth, but also helps get rid of the gunk that tends to cake around braces. In fact, it’s 5x more effective than just brushing alone for cleaning around braces.  And when you’re spending a fortune on braces, the last thing you need is a cavity. It’s all about prevention. You want those pearly whites to last for another 90 years or so.

Although I am not cavity prone (only two in my life—fingers crossed!) my dentist has strongly suggested I use a water flosser and sonic toothbrush if I want to prevent gum disease. For some of us with cranky gums, brushing and flossing are just not enough. Bad gums can lead to dentures and heart disease — no thanks.

This Waterpic Complete Care system not only cleans your teeth, but removes bacteria between teeth and below the gumline where brushing and regular flossing can’t reach. It massages the gums, improving circulation so they can grow stronger and healthier. It feels rather luxurious, and my teeth feel dentist-fresh each time I use it.

The system is up to 159% more effective than manual brushing. And, well, it’s more fun for adults, too.

My teeth and gums — and my oral hygienist — are going to be thrilled.

Want your kids to try out the system? Waterpic is offering


Or visit the Waterpic website for a printable $10 off coupon for the Waterrpic Complete Care System!



*This product was sent to me for review purposes. I did not receive any monetary compensation. The opinions expressed are my own.  I cannot guarantee a positive review for any product or services, but I can promise a review written with honesty and integrity. 

Our Dolphin Tale @ Clearwater Marine Aquarium

We all can use something cute and inspiring—what better than a spunky dolphin with a heartwarming story?

dolphin tale, winter, clearwater aquarium

 

Last week we visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. You know the place I’m talking about: it’s the home of Winter, the plucky, persevering dolphin who’s survival story enchanted millions when she starred in the movie Dolphin Tale.

If you’ve seen the movie (which I highly reccomend as one of the best family movies of the decade) you are familiar with Winter’s Hollywood story.  The real tale is slightly different, but just as remarkable.

At just three months old, Winter became entangled in a crab trap line in the Mosquito Lagoon (East coast of Florida near Kennedy Space Center). A team of marine rescue experts transported her to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  Winter made it, but her tail did not.

Harry Connick Jr. and Morgan Freeman did not swoop in to rescue her (as in the movie) but Dr. Mike Walsh and Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, Inc. did.  They created a prosthetic tale (several, actually) for the growing Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin, while the team of marine mammal trainers at CMA trained her how to swim. (For the complete story check out the CMA’s website.)

winter the dolphin, winter's tail, how winter's tale works
Visitors to the aquarium can view one of Winter’s physical therapy sessions. Trainers attach her tail, work with her in the main tank, and remove the tail.

Trainers put on a “sock,” a soft rubbery material called “Winter’s Gel” to reduce friction and help the tail stay put. (This material is now used to reduce pain/friction on human amputees as well.) It also looks like a giant condom.

Then comes the “cup” placed at the base of her peduncle, a suspension strap, a sleeve, and a rubber band.  Sounds like something my kiddo would make at home, right?

With her tale in place, the trainers run Winter through her therapy session, encouraging her to swim in a normal up-and-down manner instead of the side-to-side motion she adapted.

Then they take it all off and the other dolphins at the aquarium, Panama and Hope, come out to play.

Though Winter is the main draw today, the CMA  has grown as a marine education, rehabilitation, and research center over the decades. Over 250 volunteers care for the animals and the 100,000 guest per year who pass through the center. They provide experiences from dolphin interactions in the main facility to four-day adventures including shark tagging (I totally need to find out about this!).

 

Most families who visit the aquarium can plan on spending about a half-day exploring the facility. Besides Winter and the other dolphins, you can pet stingrays, check out rescued sea turtles, fondle sea urchins,  watch otters frolic, and gaze into the eyes of a nurse shark.  The focus is on education, and all exhibits have detailed information boards listing fun facts about the species and the particular animal’s rescue stories. I found the info much more interesting than my kiddo, and I would have loved to spend more time reading about the animals and fish.


If you want more Winter, there is a second facility, Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure, included with your admission. You can enjoy a complimentary trolley ride or a boat trip across the bay (take the boat!) to the Historic Downtown Clearwater’s Harborview Center. There you get a behind the scenes look at the making of the movie.

I’d say this area is more for older kids or adults — those familiar with the movie or intrigued by the story.  Displays feature many of the movie sets with movie trivia vs. facts.  This movie museum involves a lot of reading, so if your kids are young, expect to practice your oral skills. It also has a totally cool Hurricane Experience exhibit. The whipping rains, wild winds, and cracks of thunder freaked my kiddo out a bit (in a good, boy-thrill way). Or maybe it was the chair flying at him?

Tickets are $19.95 for adults, $14.95 kids. Discounts are available if you search online, but if you can afford full price, pay it. Your admission fee is not going line some corporate billionaire’s or stockholder’s pockets. It’s going to help save the lives of injured marine animals.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not fancy,  not a theme park attraction —  it’s a simple, working marine rescue facility run by amazing people dedicated to preserving wildlife and our delicate ecosystem. And it’s worth an afternoon if you’re ever in the Tampa area. Check it out.

*All opinions and photos in this article are my own and I was not compensated in any way for this post.