Category Archives: holidays

Parental Summer Survival Tips

Well, by now, if you have school-aged children, your family should be well into its summer vacation and all the chaos and boredom that comes with it.  The “get up, get ready for school, go to school, attend after-school activities, then eat dinner routine”, as Alice Cooper so eloquently put it, “has been blown to pieces.”  Now, your kids can stay up till 3:00 AM playing video games and getting into God knows what on social media, sleep in till noon and then start the whole process all over again.  It’s enough to drive a parent to turn to, as the Rolling Stones so eloquently put it, “Mother’s Little Helper.”

I’m guessing, by now, you’re more than ready to re-assert your parental authority before the inmates are running the asylum.  If that’s the case, then here are a few tips to restore that God-given parental authority (without constantly screaming “Respect my au-thor-e-tie!” ala Cartman from South Park) that has disappeared from your household during June and a few to simply make your and your children’s lives, less stressful.

  • Re-establish some sort of routine – with reasonable bed and wake up times. A household chore list can really help here, preferably on a white board where the kids can check off each chore as it’s completed.  You know, stuff like putting on a new roof, adding walk-in closets, and/or landscaping of the front and back yards…I jest, of course.  How about sweeping (with or without a vacuum), loading/unloading the dishwasher, tending to pets, folding clothes, dusting, taking out the garbage, etc.  In order to ensure these chores get completed you might want to incorporate a combination of the carrot and the stick…obviously I do not condone rewarding your kids with carrots, unless they place a great deal of value on them, or punishing them with a stick.  After all, the saying has to do with the best way to get a mule to haul a plow.  How about an allowance and the threat of losing devices for a period of time?  Yeah, those sound better than carrots and sticks.
  • Don’t over-schedule yourself or your kids – We all have limits, and running from clarinet lessons, to gymnastics, to the pool, to girl scouts, to a sleep over can wear out parent and child alike. In your and your kid’s busy schedules, be sure to schedule in some downtime on a daily basis.  Sit on the couch and eat Bon Bons while watching Judge Judy for a half hour every day while your kids play Minecraft if you have to. Play board games, or watch the kids playing outside with friends.
  • Day camps of any kind – Baseball, parkour (Google it), Webelos/Camp Fire Girls, swimming, Barbie/G.I. Joe, math…whatever. Any camp that gets the kids out of the house and doing something constructive is, well, constructive.  Consult with your children or simply drive to the camp location, get the kids out of the car, and then drive away at an unreasonable speed…it’s up to you.  You’ll be amazed how they’ll enjoy getting out of the house and how much you’ll enjoy having them out of the same house while you remain.
  • Have a freezer well-stocked with delicious, easy to prepare meals – from MagicKitchen.com, of course! It’s so nice, during those over-scheduled days, to pop a nutritious and great tasting meal from MagicKitchen.com into the microwave, serving it to your kids, and then laying the guilt trip on them about how you worked for hours preparing and cooking said meal.  Seriously, having frozen meals on-hand lessen stress levels by 76%…Ok, I just made that stat up, but even if it only reduces your stress level by 1.7%, isn’t that enough?
  • Have them create an “I’m bored” jar – with your assistance, if required. If you had a dollar for every time one of your kids whined, “I’m booooooored” you’d have several parental stand-ins to care for your kids.  Solution:  flush Swimmy McSwim the goldfish and use his former home to place slips of paper that have “I’m bored” ideas written on them and then have the kids pull one every time they utter that noxious phrase.

    Some ideas: various games (20 questions, board games for when they’re bored), compose your own comic strip, write a song that expresses your love for your siblings and parents (tongue-in-cheek, obviously), card games, make a time capsule and bury in the backyard, build a fort, bake cookies, have an OUTDOOR water fight, build a puzzle, plan your ideal (and realistic) vacation…the ideas are endless.

Summer can be, at times, even more stressful than the school year, but it doesn’t have to be if you do a bit of pre-planning…you know, just like your kids do.  Just remember to get creative and include them in developing the ideas that have such an impact on their lives.  Do this and you’ll find, as The Who so eloquently put it, “The Kids are Alright.”

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Often Overlooked Vacation Spots

When it comes to vacation spots within America, sure, you can look at Orlando, the beaches of Southern California, Washington D.C., various amusement parks like Six Flags and Cedar Point, or just about any major city, but those places can be overcrowded, expensive tourist traps.  What most of us desire (OK, maybe it’s just me) in a vacation is a place where there is plenty to do, but also plenty of opportunities to relax and recharge.  I’m a big believer in not needing a vacation after returning from a vacation and having some money left in my wallet as well.  With that in mind, I present 10 often overlooked, relatively inexpensive vaca spots you might want to check out this summer in no particular order.

  • Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina – Established in 1934 and encompassing over 500,000 acres, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is an ideal location for anyone with even a passing interest in getting back to nature. Its numerous accommodation options include camping, cabins, and various low-cost hotels located along its fringes.  As for activities, take your pick: hiking, biking, fishing, bird and wildlife watching, horseback riding, ranger-led tours and other activities, and auto and train tours.  Visit nps.gov/grsm for more details.
  • Key West, Florida — “But isn’t all of Florida a tourist trap?” you ask. The answer is usually a resounding yes.  However, Key West has such a laid-back atmosphere and hidden gems in terms of small hotels and rental properties, that it made the list.  The secret to avoiding the tourist crush is to simply avoid Duval Street, but why would you want to do that?  It offers some of the best bars in the country.  Key West also offers beaches and numerous water-based activities.  Finally, if you get the chance to grab a seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park, take it.  Its pristine beaches support some great snorkeling and the massive Ft. Jefferson is also worth the trip.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico – Founded in 1706 and occupied by Native Americans for centuries prior, this city of over half a million has plenty of history to offer visitors, such as the Petroglyph National Park and Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. It also has a variety of museums (to include the American International Rattlesnake Museum), a zoo, aquarium, Old Town Albuquerque, and the Sandia Peak Tramway which is the longest in the U.S., takes riders to a height of over 10,000-feet and offers panoramic views of the high desert.  As for accommodations, it offers everything from quaint B & Bs to trendy downtown hotels.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – No longer the Steel City, Pittsburgh has transformed itself into a hip, technologically-based city. Its downtown is home to both swanky and economical hotels, a vibrant cultural district that features top-end shows, and nightspots that range from dive to chic.  Its New World history dates back to the French and Indian War of the 1750s.  Thus, history-buffs will find plenty of museums and historical sites to visit.  And after all that, there’s always the city’s sports venues.  The Penguins just secured another Stanley Cup, the Steelers seem to truly be “America’s team” and PNC Park, home to the Pirates, is consistently ranked as one of MLB’s best parks to visit.
  • Salt Lake City, Utah – Yes, there is plenty of Mormon based history in Salt Lake City, but there’s also so much more. This highest of state capitals offers numerous year-round outdoor activities centered around its mountains, state and national parks and the Great Salt Lake.  It also gives tourists the option of visiting its various museums, an aviary, planetarium, water parks, amphitheaters, and concerts at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  As for accommodations, the city has quaint bed & breakfasts, lodges, resorts and traditional hotels from which to choose.
  • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – Yep, you read that correctly…Idaho! Coeur d’Alene is located in western Idaho, not too far from Spokane, Washington and it offers something for everyone, except an ocean view.  There are over 50 lakes within a few hours of this mid-sized town of about 50,000, but by far the most popular is the massive Lake Coeur d’Alene.  As one would expect, the town is known for its outdoor activities to include fishing, boating, golfing, hiking, biking and anything else you can think of to do out-of-doors.  The town also puts on numerous festivals and fairs throughout the year and has a surprising number of “artsy” venues and dining establishments.
  • Portland, Maine – The water’s a bit chilly on the shores of this southern Maine town, but the ocean views more than make up for the chill in the water. The surrounding area of Portland offers a myriad of inexpensive places to stay, such as cabins, rental homes, small resorts and traditional hotels.  And while Maine is best known for its rocky coast, the area offers plenty of sandy beaches to choose from.  Did I mention the seafood?  Its fresh, relatively inexpensive and abundant.  Portland is also large enough to offer a vibrant nightlife…if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • La Push, Washington – Ok, if you really want to get away from it all, La Push is the place for you. Located about as far west as you can get in the continental U.S., La Push is home to and managed by the Quileute Tribe which has occupied the area for centuries.  Known for its picturesque beaches and ocean fishing, La Push doesn’t push one to do much at all, except relax and unwind.  However, should you feel the need, the nearby Olympic National Park offers plenty of outdoor activities.  The surfing is purported to be quite good along the coast as is the whale watching too!
  • Mackinac Island, Michigan – If La Push is the get away place for the west coast, then Mackinac Island serves that purpose for the central part of the country. Located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, Mackinac Island sits close to where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet.  Firstly, there are no cars permitted on the island…yes, you read that correctly, no cars!  Next, there are no franchise hotels on the island.  It offers over 1,500 unique room options from small, family owned accommodations to resorts to a Grand Hotel.  Simply relax along a lake-front beach, visit Mackinac State Park, or rent a water craft and hit the lake.  It’s all up to you.
  • Kansas City, Missouri – Those who live in the center of the nation…so-called “fly-over” country, would do well to spend a few days in Kansas City. This mid-sized city is more cosmopolitan than mid-western and presents a myriad of tourist options.  It has some world-class museums devoted to World War I, American Jazz, and the negro baseball leagues…almost forgot, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library is in nearby Independence.  Its city center contains numerous street cafés and if barbeque is your thing, then KC is the place for you.  And depending on when you visit, you might want to check out a Chiefs football or Royals baseball game.

Now it’s up to you to get out there and check out one of these hidden vaca gems.  What the heck are you waiting for?  Live a little already!

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Awesome 4th of July Yard Decorating Ideas

Before we discuss these “awesome” decorating ideas, please allow me to pontificate for a moment.  It seems from my vantage point that our “patriotic” holidays (the Fourth, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day) have melded into a giant mélange of red, white and blue.  We seem to have forgotten their origins and why they were created.  So please indulge this former history teacher for just a moment.

Also known as Independence Day, this holiday commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the representatives of the thirteen American colonies.  This Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and on June 7, 1776 Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia, proposed that the colonies secede or declare their independence from Great Britain.  However, the vote was postponed until a formal document could be drafted which would explain to the world why the colonies felt it was necessary to take such drastic action.

The Congress then created the celebrated Committee of Five, comprised of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Roger Livingston to draft what would come to be known as the Declaration of Independence.  Written by Jefferson and primarily edited by Franklin, the document decreed, in no uncertain terms, that the colonies would be, henceforth, a free and independent nation.  It also went on to list the reasons why, or justifications for breaking from Britain, to include trade and expansion restrictions, the lack of self-governance and military occupation.

On July 2, Congress passed Richard Henry Lee’s resolution of independence 12-0 (New York abstained, but later changed their vote to the affirmative).  Then, on July 4, they officially adopted the Committee’s Declaration of Independence.  John Adams mistakenly thought the nation would celebrate its independence on July 2.  The next year, 1777, Philadelphia celebrated the Declaration’s anniversary on July 4 and as the years passed, more locations did the same until it became a paid federal holiday in 1938.

Just a little background for you to consider as you implement the following yard decorating ideas to celebrate the 241th anniversary of America’s independence.

Lawn stars – Take a large hunk of cardboard and cut out a five-pointed star for your template and if you’re feeling ambitious, cut out various sizes.  Place your newly fashioned template on your grass and paint as many red, white and blue stars as you require or desire.  And not to worry, the paint will NOT kill your grass and since grass grows relatively fast, you’ll chop the painted tips off the next time you mow. (photo courtesy of http://www.hometalk.com)

Red, white and blue centerpieces – Use mason jars rather than vases and fill them with bouquets of red, white and blue flowers and place them in a row down the center of your holiday picnic table.  Here are a few flower suggestions…red: chrysanthemums, tulips, gerbera daises, dahlias, or geraniums.  White: same as red, add daffodils.  Blue: forget-me-nots, bellflowers, cornflowers, or perennial geraniums.(photo courtesy of https://www.fiftyflowers.com)

American pallet flag – Simply find one of those ubiquitous wooden pallets lying around and paint an American flag on it.  Paint a blue background in the upper left corner and then add five-pointed stars.  And no, you don’t need to squeeze 50 of them on there unless that’s your thing, four offset rows of five is plenty.  Then paint alternate planks of the pallet red and white for the stripes.  And no, you don’t need thirteen stripes, that would be one big-ass pallet.(photo courtesy of: http://fourthofjulyblog.blogspot.mx)

Bouquets of red and blue Tootsie Pops – Find white jars, or paint a few, and place red and blue Tootsie Pops, stem down, into the jars to make a colorful and patriotic display…popular with kids and adults alike.

Patriotic cupcakes – Not necessarily a “yard decoration” unless you place them at strategic locations around your yard, these edible cakes of patriotic goodness are, none-the-less, quite popular.  For the cake part, simply use red batter.  As for the frosting…white, of course. And then top with blueberries…voila!

Now, as everyone admires your unique Fourth decorations, you can regal them with your knowledge of this country’s unique history.  Happy Fourth of July!

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A MagicKitchen.com Fourth of July Story

George and Martha were in no mood to host yet another Fourth of July barbecue at their suburban Virginia home they liked to call Mount Vermin (when they first moved in they had a slight mouse problem and the humorous name stuck).  The patriotic couple usually had a dozen friends and family members over for some steaks, sides, dessert and, of course, copious amounts of ale.  However, as the Fourth approached this year, George and Martha dreaded all the prep work required to host the gathering and they despaired.

George, a former military officer, and Martha, who had inherited a tidy sum of land and money from her first husband, discussed the issue after their dear friends, Alexander and John, inquired about their annual picnic.  Martha complained first.  It seems she was not looking forward to compiling a shopping list of all the necessary items, food and otherwise, required for the party and then making an hours-long visit to the market to purchase said items.  The thought of wandering up and down the endless aisles in search of steak, chicken, potatoes, vegetables, and various ingredients for her homemade desserts simply made her fantasize about living on a luxurious Southern plantation.

And she was just getting warmed-up.  She then had to haul it all home and then prepare all her signature dishes, like scalloped potatoes, rice pilaf, green bean casserole, cherry pie (George would provide the cherries from a local tree) and Dutch apple pie, among others.  After all the prep work, she then had to spend several more hours in a sweltering kitchen cooking it all.  George, in an effort to assuage her stress in times such as these, always referred to her as “the first lady of the kitchen,” but this year, she was having none of it.

George, not to be out done, then began whining about having to make his secret barbecue sauce for the meats as well as his ultra-super secret chili recipe that their guests, Abigail and Benjamin, so enjoyed.  He also bemoaned the fact that during most of the party he’d be tied to a hot grill, stirring the chili and flipping chicken breasts as Thomas and John’s cousin Sam, harangued him not to overcook their steaks.

Then, just as George was about to call Playicello (where Thomas lived and worked teaching kids how to play the cello) and cancel the whole thing, Martha, while surfing the net for frilly bonnets, came across a food delivery service called MagicKitchen.com and all was saved.  As she perused the site, she was amazed at all the delicious dishes they had to offer and it was all prepared and pre-cooked by certified chefs and then delivered right to Mount Vermin.  All they had to do was heat it up and serve, buffet-style.

She then quickly and easily ordered the hickory-smoked beef brisket, beef chili (which looked far better than that made by George), buffalo chicken artisan flatbread, crab cakes, and apple-smoked boneless pork and those were just the entrées.  For the sides she chose barley vegetable pilaf, French green beans with mushrooms and cream sauce, rosemary potatoes, and scalloped potatoes (which couldn’t possibly taste better than hers, could they?).

As for desserts, she selected Dutch apple pie, raspberry rhubarb pie, cinnamon-raisin bread pudding, and some gourmet cookies.  Voilà, done and done.  The food arrived just as promised and Martha simply placed it in the freezer until needed.  As for the party, Martha and George, for the first time, were true hosts rather than cook and wait staff and they were able to mingle with their guests and celebrate the Fourth of July as if they had something to do with the founding of the country.

Post-party, all their guests raved about the food and thoroughly enjoyed George’s tales of his military exploits, except for a few British guests who seemed oddly put-off.

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For the Mom Who Has Everything…

Yes, it’s coming, like a shark’s dorsal fin speeding through the water that can’t be stopped…duuuh-nah……..…..duuuuh-nah……………duuuh-nah, duuuh-nah…………….duh-nah, duh-nah, duh-nah, duh-nah………dunn, dunn, dunn, dunn, dunn, dunn (yes, that’s my poor attempt to put the theme to Jaws into words, sorry).  Of course, that dorsal fin represents Mother’s Day, which arrives on Sunday, May 14th.  But don’t panic, at least not yet, because here are some unique gift ideas for the mother that has everything, I mean, after all, she has you!

Something different – Now, of course these gifts are not for all moms as we all know, every mom is different.  But here’s a sampling of some interesting gift ideas.

  • Drunken owl wine bottle holder – I don’t know why, but every time I look at this thing it makes me smile. Maybe it’s because it’s such a random animal (I mean an owl?) and it looks like a baby drinking a bottle…is that creepy?  Hopefully it will make your mom smile too.  Check it out here: http://www.homewetbar.com/drunken-owl-wine-bottle-holder-p-4187.html
  • Dawn redwood Bonsai forest – Rather than flowers, why not get your mom something that will last quite a while and is perfect for a table center and conversation piece? And it looks really cool.  Here it is: http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/dawn-redwood-bonsai-forest

  • A personalized smart phone case – Wouldn’t you like your mom to always carry a picture of her favorite child (you) in the form of a smart phone case? Well, all you need to do is go here and design a case that’s perfect for your perfect mother: https://www.mycustomcase.com/

  • Literary candles – I think, genetically, once a woman becomes a mother they immediately become candle aficionados. I don’t question this strange phenomenon, I just cater to it.  That being the case, here are some unique scents for the candle and literature loving mom in your life that are linked to Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, and Pride and Prejudice (and zombies…yes, a book was written and a movie produced entitled “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I neither read the book nor viewed the movie).  Peruse them here: http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/literary-candles

  • Time saving and delicious meals from MagicKitchen.com – The last thing you want your mother doing on her day is cooking, or on any other special or non-special day for that matter. Have the Mother’s Day meal delivered to her (or your) door and save her (or you) a great deal of time and hassle.  MagicKitchen permits you to customize your meal and also offers delectable “bundles” to include Gourmet, Customer Favorites, Homestyle, and Top-Rated bundles.  Have your Pavlovian (you know, that Russian dude that conditioned a poor dog to salivate at the sound of a bell) moment here: http://www.magickitchen.com/menu/mothers-day.html

“Make” her something – And no, I’m not referring to like a dining room table or a back porch or something, unless she really needs either of those two things.  I was thinking of something a bit more personal, something that she wants rather than needs, something intimately linked to you, her and your family.

Here’s a quick example: last year I semi-learned how to play the guitar (no, I didn’t go so far as to write the music and lyrics to a sappy “I Love You Mom” type song).  My mother, as she constantly reminds me, was born in Ireland and we immigrated to the US back in 1968.  Anyway, despite becoming an American citizen, she has missed her homeland ever since.

So last year, I learned to play and sing (terribly, I might add) “Danny Boy” and I played and sang it for her on Mother’s Day.  Yes, I missed a few notes and sang REALLY off key.  However, by the time I was done, she had a tear on her cheek and a smile on her face.  She then exclaimed it was the most thoughtful Mother’s Day gift I had ever bestowed upon her in my 51 years on this earth.  I then asked her “why?” and she simply said, in her fading Irish accent, “Because you put some thought into the gift and “made” it just for me.  Nothing’s more personal than that.”

I firmly believe that you can do the same thing for your mother…not play and sing Danny Boy, but make her something with your mind and two hands.  Write her a poem, or a song, or a play, or a rap song, or a short story about you, her and your family.  Create a photo essay or a humorous, yet poignant power point presentation that you present to her and the whole family or montage with old family photos.

Draw or paint your family or an old house you all lived in, or her favorite place she likes to sit and think, or an old pet.  Throw (as on a pottery wheel, not literally “throw”) a flower pot or coffee mug for her.  Plant a tree for her, or her favorite plant, flowering bush, or perennial.  Create a short movie for her with your smart phone.  Just use your imagination, make the gift personal to her and try to make her laugh and cry at the same time.  She’ll love you even more for it, if that’s possible.

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