Piano Lessons: There’s an app for that too!

Most Lessons on Piano Marvel have a video to introduce new skills.

I am a geek, I know! I have been obsessed with all things educational & technological!
So what about Piano Lessons?  Yup, There’s an app for that too!

Most Lessons on Piano Marvel have a video to introduce new skills.
Most Lessons on Piano Marvel have a video to introduce new skills.

I have been using Piano Marvel for the last couple of months to brush up on my piano skills.  Lets face it, I was never that good.  I took classes with a kindly lady.  She made me do scales over and over and over and over and…… well, you get the idea.  I wonder sometimes if she is still around, I am pretty sure she was in her 70’s back when I took lessons in the late 70’s.  Yes, it’s been that long!

I came across Piano Marvel while searching some way to support lessons for my 8 year old, as well as spruce up my own skills. With music being left out more and more at school I wanted to encourage her to continue with lessons even when we can’t work them into our budget or schedule.  As it turns out, I am obsessed by it! It is more than an app, it is a fully interactive software that makes piano learning fast and fun.

Piano Marvel allows students to learn progressively through different levels.
Piano Marvel allows students to learn progressively through different levels.

Each level has a PDF Method Book with an over view of everything you will learn.  There are also videos on the lessons explaining the new concepts introduced in the lesson.  This system is so comprehensive.  It is being used not only by parents, but by piano teachers as another way to get their students engaged.
Each of the lessons have a backing track that plays with you so it doesn’t get so monotonous.

I love the instant feedback that the computer gives you too.  The design shows you where you went wrong in the piece and you can work to bring up your score.

Piano Marvel shows you what notes you played wrong, early or late.
Piano Marvel shows you what notes you played wrong, early or late.

You can also work on songs in the library, so you have a repertoire that you can play.  There is so much sheet music included in this program that I can’t image how much it would cost if you were to go out and buy it in books.  The Library works much like the lessons, the songs are broken up into smaller sections that start out slow, so the student can perfect each section before combining them at speed.

Piano Marvel lets you track your students, children or your own practice time and award levels.
Piano Marvel lets you track your students, children or your own practice time and award levels.

I love that the program allows you pull reports of how well your student is doing and how much they are practicing. These reports make it easy to reward your kids (or yourself) for doing such great work!

You can explore more about Piano Marvel, see some videos or take a tour by clicking here PIANO MARVEL  You can also get a free trial account by clicking here:  Free Account

Get a Discount

When you are ready to can sign up for the full benefits of being a Piano Marvel Student or perhaps you are already a Piano Teacher who would like to find out how to introduce this method into your own studio   you will get $3 off a month by using the Promo Code PianoCyndi at check out!

What you will need

You need a Midi Compatible keyboard and high speed internet.  We bought the Casio Privia px160 full size keyboard and I am so amazed by it!  It feels like a real piano and sounds amazing.  It has sorts of other sounds that my daughter likes to use while practicing just to keep things entertaining I guess, but for me the concert piano sound is perfect!  It was the perfect choice for us with small condo living (volume control).

However you can find great keyboards for less just make sure that it has a midi in it.  You can also start out with a mini keyboard, however keep in mind it won’t be long before you need the full size 88 key piano.


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Helpful Holiday Hack to end the chorus of -How many days are left?”

White Board Kids Count Down

Holiday Helpful Hack

White Board Kids Count Down
How much longer do I have to wait?

We had a few mishaps in the past with our advent calendars, you know the usual problems, bought it and can’t find it, ants ate it, Elf on the Shelf ate it or  I just plain forgot it, etc. All of these problems meant that it was time to Hack a solution!  Time is a tough concept for kids, and visual representation is a big help for them, it also keeps you from losing your mind answering the constant question of how many days are left until the big day.

Draw a picture of the upcoming event that your child is looking forward to, count how many days are left until said event and write the numbers in. You can use the dates or just do a countdown depending on the age of your munchkin.  The kiddo can color in each day, and just like the question “how many days left till……..” has ended.

We have used this trick for summer vacation countdowns, Grandparent visits, end of school, birthday’s etc.  When she was little I used to draw it for her, but now that she is bigger she draws it herself, and Boom!  This little trick turns into a learning experience as she helps me look at the calendar and figure out how many days she needs to place on the board.


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Diary of a Rogue House CatDiary of a Rogue House Cat

Have you ever had a pet that just seemed to cause havoc at every turn? Has your cat ever knocked over glasses, hidden your keys or generally created chaos for no apparent reason? Have you ever wondered what on earth your pet could be thinking? Baby Girl the Rogue House Cat explains all her crazy and funny actions in her new diary. Her journey to become a good house cat will help explain why cats do some of the things they do. I hope you enjoy her antics as much as I do.

Thank You for you support!

 Available on Amazon in Print and on Kindle

Amazon Kindle US

Amazon Kindle UK

How you can help keep this site running.

If you have found this site helpful and want to keep me writing please use the Donate Button on the right side of this page. This helps us pay for our domain, ip address and hosting, maybe even a cup of coffee as I sit at Panera searching for more free events. Some sites require membership fees in order to pay for their site. We really want this information to be free and available to all. Thanks for your support!

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The one book young readers must have.

Kindle -The One Book to Replace Them All

Kindle -The One Book to Replace Them AllWhy is the Kindle the one book every child should have?

Our kids are inundated with electronics, ipads, xbox, computers, toy dogs they have to train, heck even Barbie is becoming digital. So I get the reluctance to buy one more electronic item for my kid! This one is very different though. I bought my kindle before my daughter was born, so I am guessing at least 8-9 years ago. It was one of the first ones out there, it does nothing but let me read books. Mine doesn’t have a built in light (the newer ones do) so I can snuggle down in bed with a book light clip and read to my heart’s content. It is so light weight that I could take it to the beach, read for hours in the bright sunlight and never worry about it running out of batteries. (This was before I had a child and could do such frivolous things as read on the beach.)

When I first brought it home I was so excited. First I walked around the house with it, had a Geek moment and pretended it was a Star Trek Data Pad for awhile. Next I bought a cheap leather case for it so it felt like a book in my hands. Now don’t give me that line “I need the feel of a real book in my hands” because it simply an excuse. I get it to some extent, I have kept a few special books in print, but this Kindle -The One Book to Replace Them Allreally does feel like a real book to me – minus the germs that come with a library book. My cover is so worn and is as comfortable as an old shoe. It’s the cover that holds all of my favorite books. Every single book I love in one light weight book cover! I have read 100’s of books on it and it’s been one of my favorite things. I think I would give up my ipad before I would give up my Kindle! I have now handed it onto my daughter (unwillingly at first), and it’s the best thing I have ever done. Here is why:

1. Free Books:

You can borrow library books over the internet for free! Having a young reader starting on chapter books is a tough time. TheyFree Books for Kindle at your local Library have no idea what type of books they like. Before I thought of handing over my Kindle we bought books that she decided were not for her and we raced back and forth to the library with books. Nothing like spending money on things you don’t need.

The Kindle makes it easy to hop on your computer, go to your local library page, find the link to eLibrary and from there you search for ebooks (you will need to have your library card number). My kid can now try all types of stories -so can you- and if she decides she doesn’t like it……No Problem….Return them without leaving the house! If she loves them, we can buy them on amazon way cheaper than in a book store.

If you are a member of Amazon Prime you can borrow books from the Amazon Loan Library for free too!

2. No more Lost Library Books:

Kindle -The One Book to Replace Them All

Never worry again about or losing library books, leaving them in the car or under the couch and forgetting to return them. Well, your Kindle can be left in all those places too, but the library will never know because the book loans go back automatically.

Kindle -The One Book to Replace Them All3. Less Dusting:

Found a book your kid loves? You can buy it and it is forever yours, tucked neatly inside this one book. No dusty book shelf required. How many times have I had to rearrange the book shelf because the book she wanted was there, but she has to pull all the books out to find it? Easy, it’s all in the Kindle. It really is the One Book to Rule Them All….uh…eh hem, I mean replace them all.

3. Promotes Independent Reading: Kindle Dictionary

The Kindle comes with a Built in Dictionary with Phonetic Spelling. I remember hating to have to sit with the dictionary, stop reading my story in order to look up words. Frankly, I just didn’t do it. The dictionary comes with a touch of the screen and doesn’t interrupt reading time at all. My daughter has recently gotten into the Percy Jackson series. There are all kinds of names and words in it that she doesn’t know how to say or spell. She can tap and hold on the unknown word and the dictionary comes up with the definition and the phonetic spelling. I love the way it promotes independence for our young reader!

I forgot to mention that you can adjust the size of the words for easy reading. I like it slightly larger so I can read without my glasses on. My daughter likes it larger as well so that it’s not so easy to lose her place while reading, which is sometimes a problem for kids who are just getting the hang of reading chapter books.

On a side note: If your child is interested in Greek myths, I recommend the Percy Jackson series by Rick Rhiordan, I wish I had written these myself!


4. Easy Travel:

Have you ever had this conversation? Me: “Let see, we are going out of town for a week,what books do you think she will want to read? Husband: “No idea, but we can’t take too many the suitcases are already full.” This is no longer a problem, all our books are in the Kindle and if we get desperate we can always download a new one from the library or Amazon whenever / wherever we want.

No Distractions Just Reading5. No Distractions:

This is my favorite point. My daughter cannot play mine craft, watch youtube, surf on the internet, chat, facebook or anything else on this device. Did I mention no Mine Craft? If this device were handed to me as a kid I would have thought that it was simply a magic book giving me amazing library access wherever I was! (Yes the geek stuff started early for me.)

I was glad to see this statement right on the Kindle homepage. It sums up my feelings about it and there is no truer advertising statement.

“No distractions

By design, Kindle is purpose-built for reading and creates a sanctuary so you can lose yourself in a book. Unlike tablets and phones, Kindle doesn’t distract you with social media, emails, and text messages.”

I am off to replace the Kindle I gave to my daughter with the All-New Kindle Paperwhite, 6″ High-Resolution Display (300 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi – Includes Special Offers.


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Diary of a Rogue House CatDiary of a Rogue House Cat

Have you ever had a pet that just seemed to cause havoc at every turn? Has your cat ever knocked over glasses, hidden your keys or generally created chaos for no apparent reason? Have you ever wondered what on earth your pet could be thinking? Baby Girl the Rogue House Cat explains all her crazy and funny actions in her new diary. Her journey to become a good house cat will help explain why cats do some of the things they do. I hope you enjoy her antics as much as I do.

Thank You for you support!

Available on Amazon in Print and on Kindle

Amazon Kindle US

Amazon Kindle UK

How you can help keep this site running.

If you have found this site helpful and want to keep me writing please use the Donate Button on the right side of this page. This helps us pay for our domain, ip address and hosting, maybe even a cup of coffee as I sit at Panera searching for more free events. Some sites require membership fees in order to pay for their site. We really want this information to be free and available to all. Thanks for your support!

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Cyndi’s Top 5 Favorite Holiday Kids Websites Countdown

I wanted to share my Top 5 Favorite Holiday Kids Websites for the Holidays.  Hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

#5 Yes Virginia,There is a Santa Clause! 

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus
Kids and parents can read the original editorial for the story.  (Warning this may be for older kids as Virginia does question the idea of Santa!)


#4  Starfall Gingerbread Man  and the Snowman. 

Starfall Gingerbread Man
Starfall is an  incredible educational website that is available all year long.  It has great games and online activities that encourage reading skills.  What I love about this site is that the kids can click on each word in the Snowman Counting Activity on Starfalldirections to have them read aloud.  This site is wonderful for emergent readers.

One of my daughters favorites is the Gingerbread Man that allows kids to decorate it anyway they want.  It’s a great way to review or learn shapes for the little ones.  The bigger kids seem to like it just for fun!

I also like the Snowman activity here, it is a cute little Matching decked out in Holiday themes.

#3  Elf Yourself 

Elf Yourself Home Page

If you’ve never seen this (It’s been around for years!)  you will get a giggle and so will your family.  The kids think this is hilarious and watch it over and over again.  Simply place pictures of your family members on the elves and watch them do a jig.   You may wish it would get old, but it just doesn’t!

#2 NorthPole.com

NorthPole.com Home Page
This is site is a good time.  It has a nice countdown to Christmas and lots of little excerpts to read and loads of games all Santa’s Village.  You can visit Mrs. Clause’s kitchen, write Santa a letter, fill out a check list to find out if you are on the Nice or Naughty list, and so much more. There are cute stories to read and color.   You can sign up to save your progress, but you don’t have too.

If your little ones don’t read yet then they will need a little help from you.  It’s a great way to spend some time getting into the Holiday spirit with your child.

#1 is a tye!  My Two Favorite Sites are  Norad Tracks Santa.  and  Portable North Pole!

Norad Tracks Santa#1  Norad Tracks Santa. 
This is a close second for my favorite holiday site.  Really, it is a stalemate with Portable North Pole!  They have lots of fun games for the kids to play, even I got stuck playing a tetras like game the other night.  The best thing is that starting Christmas Eve, they “track” Santa’s flight around the world with cute little cartoon type videos, so your child can see where Santa is before they go to bed.  It’s lots of fun and the kids get a kick out of it.  It has become tradition in our family to see Santa over London where Nana and Papa are before we go to bed.  It looks like they have updated it this year, so I am looking forward to seeing what they have in store for us!

Portable North Pole#1 Portable North Pole! 
This is the most fun free thing you will do this year!! They have changed it a bit over the last few years, so you don’t get to put in so much information as you used to for the free version.  I am tempted to go ahead and get the paid version, considering that we have been using it every year and have always loved it.   You go to the website, answer a few questions about your child’s name and age and what they want for Christmas and upload pictures if you want.

Then Santa sends you a personalized video message for your child  Santa checks his file and shows pictures of your child and everything.  The first year my daughter went nuts when Santa showed a photo of her and her cousin on vacation (you don’t get this anymore with the free version) and mentioned how lucky she was to have gone on vacation this year.  She started yelling “Santa!  That is my cousin Santa!”  It was so wonderful!  Literally brought tears to my eyes!  We do it every year!

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If you have found this site helpful and want to keep me writing please use the Donate Button on the right side of this page. This helps us pay for our domain, ip address and hosting, maybe even a cup of coffee as I sit at Panera searching for more free events. Some sites require membership fees in order to pay for their site. We really want this information to be free and available to all. Thanks for your support!

If you would like to learn more about our partnership opportunities Contact Us today!

5 Tips for Hitting the Beach with Kids

Fort Lauderdale Beach with pier in distance

Child digging in sand in a Purple Hat at Beach With the Holidays in full swing, South Floridians, tourists and coastal dwellers everywhere will be spending more and more time at local beaches. It is important to make sure that this is a safe and fun event for the entire family.  By checking the warning flags and following these five tips beach goers will be able to make the most of a day at the beach with the family.

Tiip # 1:  Only swim at guarded beaches.  Chose a beach with a Life Guard and locate your family’s spot nFort Lauderdale Beach with Beach Comber Tracksear them.  Fort Lauderdale has two-miles of Ocean Rescue Tower Guarded beaches  from 1014 Seabreeze Boulevard to 1200 N. Atlantic Boulevard.  Palm Beach County has thirteen guarded oceanfront and inlet parks from Tequesta to Boca Raton. According to Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue “Most water-related fatalities occur in unsupervised settings distant from lifeguard towers.”

Tip # 2: Make sure to know what flags are flying.   Ocean Rescue fly flags at the beach to help beach goers avoid hazard.

GREEN FLAG – Low Hazard: Conditions are calm; normal care and caution should be exercised.
YELLOW FLAG – Moderately Hazardous Conditions: Moderate currents and/or surf are present; use extra care.
RED FLAG – Very Hazardous Conditions: Rough surf and/or strong currents exist; swimmers are strongly discouraged from entering the water.
DOUBLE-RED FLAG – Closed to the Public: The water and/or beach are closed to the public due to severe currents and/or surf, water pollution, the threat of lightning, or the presence of predatory fish.
PURPLE FLAG – Marine Pests: Jellyfish, man-of-wars, and/or sea lice are present. This flag may be flown along with any of the other flags

Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue page andPalm Beach County Ocean Rescue page will give you a detailed report on water condition and what flags are flying and be checked before leaving home.

In addition,  the Surf Report  can help you make sure that you will have a great day at the beach. The surf report will tell you the size of the waves hitting the beach so that you make sure that the waves are ones that your family can handle.

Tip # 3: Sun protection and hydration are key.  Drink plenty of water, slather on theToddlers having ice cream on the beach --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Toddlers having ice cream on the beach — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

sunscreen and wear a hat. In an article written by American Academy of Dermatology Amanda Friedrichs, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in Sycamore, IL states “People who get sunburned usually didn’t use enough sunscreen, didn’t reapply it after being in the sun, or used an expired product.”  The moral of the story here is not to be stingy with the slather, instead load it on!

Children are particularly susceptible to dehydration and will not always notice when they are thirsty so they must be reminded to drink often.  This is especially true when they are wet on the beach, they may not think about needing to drink the way we would..  There is some great swim gear that has built in SPF available now.  These suits are a little more expensive but are well worth it and they are an easy way to stay protected.   Don’t forget the hats.  Hats that tie under the chin are more likely to stay on the child’s head and can even be worn in the water, giving extra sun protection to those precious and sun sensitive eyes, face & ears.

Bringing umbrellas or small kids tents offer the kids a way to play in the sand and get out of the sun a little bit.  Staying out of the intense midday summer sun is also a good idea.  10:00  to 3:00 is the hottest part of the day so hitting the beach before 10:00 am or after 3:00 can go along way to keeping beach goers more comfortable and safer.

Tip # 4:  Know what to do in a rip current.  This is so important, most locals are familiar with rip currents.  However many people have no  idea of how dangerous they really are, especially vacationers.

Beach with child by KUWKA rip current is a powerful narrow current that can pull swimmers away from the beach.  Swimmers caught in one of these currents  can become exhausted trying to swim against it and drown in the process.  Experts recommend swimming parallel to the beach and out of the rip current.  The swimmer should then be able to swim back into the beach.

The United States Lifesaving Association estimates “that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches exceeds 100.   Rip currents account for over 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.”

I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand the power and danger that rip currents represent to swimmers. The combination of no lifeguard and rip currents makes things even more dangerous.  A 15 year old has already died this June (2013) when caught in a rip current at John U Lloyd State Park.  According to the Miami Herald red flags were flying, however the beach is unguarded.

To learn more about Rip Currents check out this article from the Miami Herald.

Fort Lauderdale Beach with pier in distance Tip # 5:  Be aware of Jelly fish.  Jellyfish can be a serious hazard for beach goers.  Jellyfish stings can be anything from uncomfortable to severe and can require immediate treatment.  So unless you are allergic they may not be deadly, but they will certainly take the joy out of a trip to the beach in a hurry. Anyone who has experienced a sting, knows that they are really not fun.

According to WebMD, victims of these floating menaces should rinse the inflicted area with ocean water not fresh water.  Fresh water can and will increase the pain caused by the sting.  Pour vinegar or rubbing alcohol on the inflicted area.   More severe reactions will include difficulty breathing and intense pain.  Ocean Rescue are trained to deal with emergencies like these and this is yet another reason for beach goers to visit a Guarded beach.  Remember that you can be stung long after the animal is dead, so where rubber soled water shoes while walking on the beach and use caution when digging in the sand near the water line.

Family outings to the beach in the summer are the part of our childhood, where we make memories for a lifetime.  With a little care, these memories are sure to be a little more idyllic for everyone.

Things I Wish I Knew Before my First (4) Hurricane(s)

Hurricane Wilma – Fort Lauderdale by LM Burton
Palm Beach Zoo - Hurricane Frances
Palm Beach Zoo – Hurricane Frances

Hurricane season is right at our doorstep.  I wanted to compile some of the things we learned in 2004 & 2005.  I wish I knew these things before the storms.

I worked in West Palm Beach at the time and lived in Fort Lauderdale and as anyone who was down here during these hurricane seasons will tell you it was a trying time.

In  September 2004 we were hit by Hurricane Frances which according to FPL left 1,715,400 addresses out of power in 6 counties. Frances had an eye that was reported to be 70 miles wide.  Hurricane Jeanne visited a little more than 2 weeks later, this time leaving 2.6 million homes and businesses in the dark, some had not gotten power restored from Frances yet.   The following August Hurricane Katrina found us as a Category 1 and went onto become disastrous for the Gulf Coast.  Last and certainly not least was Wilma which arrived in late October 2005. This huge storm affected virtually all of South Florida.  I hope that you find this information helpful, for us this was BC (Before Child), but I think much of what we learned will be helpful for families.

Below you can find the list that the National Hurricane Center website recommends.  Everyone of them is important so make sure you have them.

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape  Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

Okay so here are some things that we didn’t think about before 2004.  For some of the storms I mentioned above we went many weeks without power or water.

Make sure you have plenty of cash.  No power means no ATM’s and certainly no stores can use plastic either. Many gas stations and Publix Stores have generators, but there will still be no way to use credit or debit cards.  I remember after one of the storms  a local Duffy’s managed to open.  It was the best meal I had ever had. (We just ate whatever they served us). Of course, cash was required!

Hurricane Wilma – Fort Lauderdale by LM Burton
Hurricane Wilma – Fort Lauderdale by LM Burton

A Bathtub full of water and a bucket.  Scrub your bathtub out as well as you can and fill it with water. I forgot to do this during Wilma and boy was I sorry!  We had no water for about 2 weeks.  No water, means no way to flush the toilette.  If you have this extra water you can pour a small bucket of water into the toilet bowl and force it to flush itself.  You can also carry buckets of this water to the kitchen sink to wash dishes or use it for sponge baths.

Paper plates, paper cups and plastic utensils. Normally, we wouldn’t use these items, however if your water is out, you won’t want to waste what precious water you do have on dishes.  Also remember that after a storm there are often boil water orders because of flooding and contaminated water, so even if do have water, you may not want to use it on anything you eat off of anyway.

Freeze as much water as you can.  I didn’t figure this out till much too late!  You can fill Tupperware containers, bottled water, and even gallon jugs with water and freeze it to keep coolers cold.  A couple of frozen 1 gallon jugs set inside your fridge can help keep food for a bit longer.  You can also drink it as it melts.  Friends of mine say they even use zip lock bags.  If you lay them flat they freeze flat and take up less room.  I remember being so hot when the ice ran out that I would have given anything for an ice cold drink of water.  Bags of ice cubes melt quicker than blocks of ice do.

I know the guides all say 1 gallon per person per day, however I know that when it is hot we get through more than that. Don’t forget you will need to brush your teeth with it too!  The more water the better.

Hurricane Katrina - Pompano Beach by R. Mackenberg
Hurricane Katrina – Pompano Beach by R. Mackenberg

You need bug spray and sun screen.  It is usually desperately hot with clear sky’s after these storms and you will probably rather be outside in the shade than inside.  All the water from the storm means that the mosquitoes will be in full force, so be ready to protect yourself.


Get a battery operated Carbon Monoxide detector.  Sadly, there are always cases of fatal and non fatal carbon monoxide poisoning after hurricanes caused by generator fumes.  Even if you don’t have a generator, your neighbors might, so be careful and take precautions. The National Center for Environmental Health published a paper on the numbers in Florida for the 2004 storms.  These detectors are very inexpensive and can save lives.  Foundation like the Caitlin Brondolo Foundation are great resources for more information on this topic.  It is one that hits pretty close to home for me and our family friends the Brondolo Family.

Get the right food.  We were so desperate for fresh food and cold drinks.  The usual hurricane fare will keep you alive, but it won’t make you happy!  Peanut butter, crackers, Easy Cheese, trail mix and water get old fast.  A Camping Stove or a Barbeque Grill can be used to boil water for Mac & Cheese or heat canned soup.

Don’t forget that the heat outside can dehydrate you quickly, especially if you are out cleaning up the neighborhood.  Juice boxes  (can also be frozen ahead of time) and work well in conjunction with water to provide electrolytes. I like the ones that have veggies in them, just for a little extra nutrition.

Individual fruit and applesauce cups don’t have to be refrigerated and though we don’t normally eat these, they are extremely welcome after a storm.  Individual sized box milk and things like Earth’s Best Organic Fruit Yogurt Smoothies  do not require refrigeration and freeze well before the storm too.  (Again, these can be frozen ahead of time, are you getting the idea that I like frozen stuff?) A big bag of apples and oranges seem to last longer in the heat than any other fresh fruit, so I now make sure that they are on my supply list.

Shop early. Many years ago, I remember waiting to the last moment to shop for hurricane supplies. The only cans left on grocery store shelves were some sort of Dinosaur spaghetti, they were disgusting. When the storm missed us we were faced with giving them away or eating them ourselves. If you shop early, then you are guaranteed to get the kinds of things your family will actually eat.  In addition you will also avoid major long lines and frustrated people in parking lots.

Hurricane Shutters and candles do not mix. DisasterCenter.com advises to “Avoid using open flames (candles and kerosene lamps) as a source of light. Flashlights provide the safest emergency lighting source. Between 1984 and 1998, candle-related deaths from home fires following hurricanes were three times greater than the number of deaths related to the direct impact of the hurricane. Kerosene lamps require a great deal of ventilation and are not designed for indoor use.”  Remember to remove your hurricane shutters immediately following a storm because these shutters make emergency exit from home difficult, if not impossible.

Heat up water in your garden hose.  It sounds silly, but when it is so hot both outside and inside your house, the shower water (if you are lucky enough to have water) feels really cold and can be almost shocking. Coiling a water filled garden hose in the sun will give you enough water for a sponge bath that will still cool you off, but not give you the shivers.

Don’t expect to use the phone.  After both Francis and Wilma landlines did not work and cell towers were damaged so calling out was difficult at best.  What seemed to work best was to use text.  It sometimes took awhile, but texts seemed to get through eventually.

Fill it up.  Charge your phones, your laptops, Leap-Pads and Game Boy type devices, and well, anything you can before the storm. Make sure your cars are full of gas too.  After Francis and Jeanne gas was difficult to get, not because there wasn’t any, but because there was no power at the gas stations for the pumps to work.  We planned on recharging our phones with our cigarette lighter in the car, but as it turns out, our cigarette lighter port only works if the car is running (which uses up precious gas). Many gas stations have since put in generators, so hopefully that situation will be different in the future.

Fort Lauderdale-Hurricane Katrina - Lisa Magnes Burton
Fort Lauderdale – Hurricane Katrina – Lisa Magnes Burton

There may be a curfew.  After all the storms we had, driving was difficult and dangerous.  There were trees, poles and wires down everywhere.  Make sure that you do not drive over live wires, standing water (unless you are certain you know how deep it is) and be courteous to other drivers.  When lights at intersections don’t work they must be treated as 4 way stops.  All those lessons we had as preschoolers about taking turns really come into play in this situation.  Everyone is usually asked to stay off the streets after dark until the streets are completely cleared and power and lights are restored.

Backyard camping.  If you have a tent or a screen room, plan on sleeping outside in it.  With no fans or AC indoors, this is often the best way to get a good night’s sleep.  I talked to a few people who admitted to going and sleeping on the beach.  Not sure if I would recommend spending the whole night there, but the good news is when the lights are out all over the town, the stars are amazing!

Other things I like to have on hand:

    • A battery operated TV during the storm
    • Battery operated fans
    • Solar phone charger
  •  A couple of new games or toys to be strategically given to the kids during and after the storm.

For more information be sure to print out  your local Hurricane Guide and keep it with your supplies.

Printable Hurricane Guide: Broward County, Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade, Monroe County

The Be Red Cross Ready Power Outage Checklist is another great resource.


I Will Never Cut Off the Crust

crusts cut off of bread

crusts cut off of breadI am sure I am not the only one to announce to the world “I WILL NEVER CUT OFF THE CRUST” when my  child was born.  I can’t be the only one.  I managed very well with this decree for a very long time!  I figured if she didn’t know that not eating the crust was an option, she would eat it right?  Well, she did!  I was right!  Oh so right, and let me tell you it felt good to be right.  I am very lucky that my kid is a voracious eater.  I rarely made her something different from what we were eating for dinner, and if it was different then she wanted to try it!  Even demanding to try our Louisiana Hot Wings at age three.  She took a bite, calmly waited a moment, then grabbed her milk and chugged.  Her exact words were “that is kinda hot” said with mild surprise.  No tears, no fussing, no complaints.  I was totally impressed! I will admit, I was a bit smug about it.  I was doing it right and seeing as I rarely feel like that, I may have enjoyed it a bit too much.   If anyone within ear shot of my child  announced that they did not like a certain food, I smacked them in the back of the head.  Yes literally!  I forbid the words “I don’t like (insert food choice here)” in our home.  You know what? It worked, I couldn’t believe my good fortune, in the words of Charlie Sheen “I was winning” while my friends fretted, and begged their children to eat something that wasn’t in the shape of a nugget.   My plan was working.  Well, for awhile anyway.

I should have known it couldn’t last.  The whole crust cutting decree was derailed by my well meaning, sweet and loving partner in life.  One of the first times he was left responsible for making her lunch, he cut off the crusts of her bread and made a big too-do about how special it was, how it meant that he loved her and  blah blah blah blah blah blah.  Yes, just like that, my anti crust cutting days were over.  Suddenly, she wouldn’t eat the crust.  She would eat the center of her sandwich leaving 80% of the sandwich attached to the crust.  The more I insisted she eat it, the more she refused while looking at me like she thought I didn’t love her anymore because I refused to cut off her crusts.  So guess what?  I caved.  Sometimes I make a feeble stand and refuse to cut them off, but I always regret it when the sandwich is left on the table with a small hole eaten out of the middle.

What is more, the “I don’t like (insert food choice here)” ban has gone the wayside too.  I knew that she has never really cared for eggs.  No matter how I made them, she would take a few bites announce that they were good, but that she was full.  I never made a big deal  but did continue to serve them occasionally and in very small portions.  She clearly didn’t care for them, but would always have a few bites and I was perfectly happy with this being the extent of her food refusal.  I know now that I was lucky and I should have known that it could not continue, that I was living a fantasy, a dream that could not be imagined by other parents.  Don’t be jealous, because this too has ended.   My carefully crafted bubble has been popped at school where she watches other students refusing this or that.  Lately, she has been toying with the idea of disliking foods by suddenly refusing to eat meals that she has previously eaten with unabashed abandonment not to mention plenty of nom nom sounds to boot.

So now, here I stand making lunch and dutifully, if resentfully, cutting off the tiniest sliver of crust, painfully attempting to create as little waste as I can manage. While my daughter suddenly does not like what yesterday was her favorite meal.  I tried keeping the crusts and then drying them to make bread crumbs, but let’s face it.  My name is not Martha. I smile to myself as I imagine the reaction I would get if I served a giant pile of these saved up slivers of bread for dinner to the two people that I love most in this world.  It seemed that I was doing it right for awhile. I was so proud of myself for the way I handled the topic of food with my child, but now I am paying for my hubris as I announce to the world “I WILL ALWAYS CUT OFF THE CRUSTS!”



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5 Tips for Hitting the Beach with Kids (Rip Current Warnings)

Beach with child by KUWK

Fort Lauderdale Beach with pier in distanceI was greeted once again this morning with stories of lives lost due to rip currents. It breaks my heart every time I see it and it seems that it happens every holiday! With Spring Break in full swing, unfortunately it has happened again. I thought I would repost an older article about beach safety.

Please take a moment to read 5 Tips for Hitting the Beach with Kids and be sure to protect your family on the beach and keep your perfect day idyllic.  Make sure that if you have visitors over the holidays that they understand the seriousness of rip currents and what to do if they get caught in them.

5 Tips for Camping with Kids


Photo Credit: Lion Country Safari KOA

Tip #1:  Do a practice run.  The idea of sleeping in a tent can be so
exciting for kids that the over stimulation may keep everyone from having a good
night.  Families can build up a familiarity with camping by putting the tent up in their own back yard.  Start out slow allowing the kids to play in the tent during the day.   The next day
have dinner out in the backyard to prepare the kids for what it will be like to
have a campground dinner.  Last but not least, spend the night in the tent.  Do
this as many times as needed until everyone is comfortable with and can go to
sleep easily.

Tip #2:  Keep it close to home.  It is easy to forget that there are great campsites within an hour’s drive from Fort Lauderdale.  A first camping trip doesn’t have to be far away.
Smith Park, Markham Park, John Prince Park, and Miami Everglades Campgrounds all offer local opportunities for family camping. Camprate.com can help find a campground and give reviews of the grounds as well.
Tip #3:  Keep it short.  Don’t think a first camping trip should be a week long adventure.Smores Fort Wilderness Campgrounds at Disney World
Start out small and work up to longer trips.  Pick a campground with lots to do and just stay one night.  When the entire family learns how to work together and sleep well then make plans for that nice long camping vacation.  State parks also offer facilities like water and restrooms.  There is no reason to go completely rustic on the first trip out.
Tip #4: Be prepared with ActivitiesCB Smith Park in Pembroke Pines has lots to offer to entertain and wear out the kids. There is biking, hiking, boating, and in the summer there is even a water park.  Check out the local area surrounding your campground as well. Flamingo Gardens is a short 15 minute drive from CB Smith Park.  These built in activities can help reduce planning time.
Our Camp Site Fort Wilderness Campgrounds at Disney WorldAnother option is the Kampgrounds of America (KOA). We use the Kabins when we take road trips, check our KOA adventures in Asheville, NC and Savannah, GA.  A local South Florida option is Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach.  This campsite and zoo is an easy 40 minute drive from Fort Lauderdale and provides facilities that will keep the family happily entertained at all times. Lion Country Safari often offers specials for two free passes to the park with a night of camping, and it even has a pool.  Jennifer Berthume, PR/Marketing Director of Lion Country Safari says The thing I think is the
coolest about our campground is that you can sleep right next door to hundreds of animals from over 6 continents. You can hear lions and siamangs while camping!”
No one will be bored at campgrounds like these, and parents won’t
have to exhaust themselves planning activities in advance.
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground has  just about everything you could ever need while camping.  There is little need to even go into the parks at this campground there are so many built in activities!
Take along a few activities like crafts.  Kids love animals so camping is a great chance to introduce nature activities like birding.  Here is how you can get started with 5 Tips for Birding with Kids.
Tip #5: Check the weather. Florida weather can be extreme, so make sure that it is not going to be too hot, too cold or too wet.  There is nothing worse than a wet night in a tent. Especially if you are new to camping. Florida’s winter and fall generally have the mildest weather and are a great time of the year to camp.  With a little background practice families can be prepared for exciting camping adventures that will provide children with memories for a lifetime.
Check out our review of Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground.  It is the ultimate family camping experience!


5 Tips for Gardening with Kids

Sunflower & Ladybug

The truth about gardening is that is doesn’t have to be difficult!  Follow these 5 steps and you can’t go….well too wrong anyway.

1  Pick a Spot:  IfCommunity Gardens you have a back yard, pick a spot that gets a fair amount of sun.  If you live in a condo or apartment ask if you can take over an area to plant in.  (You have to make sure it is an area where they will not spray pesticides if you plan to plant veggies.) You can go the route we went and join a Community Garden.  It is a great way to meet people and the best thing is there are always experienced gardeners around to ask for help when things are not working as you think they should.

broccoli from the garden
We learned that those little green bumps in broccoli are actually flowers and if you don’t pick it right away it blooms into a beautiful head of yellow flowers!

2.  Dig Up the Dirt.  Once you have your spot, dig it up!  Don’t let those experienced gardeners worry you with their talk of soil pH and nitrates or whatever that was they keep telling me about.  It is mumble jumble to me.  I am sure if you learn all that, your garden will be better, but the point here is to get started.  If you want to grab some organic fertilizer and water it in every month or two, that can’t hurt!  You can learn more as you go, the important part of this is to get the kids out in the dirt, growing veggies and eating them! They will learn right alongside with you!

3  Choose Your Plants: Let the kids help you pick out what they want to grow.  My daughter loves to grow multicolored carrots and purple green beans!  I buy some plants already started and grow others from seed. (Beans grow like crazy and you really can’t go too wrong with them.)  Go the garden center and read the back of the packets of seeds.  They will tell you how much sun the plant needs Garden Plotso you can decide if you have a chance of growing them in your garden.   I usually use tomatoes and pepper plants from the garden center rather than seeds, others like sunflowers and green beans we start from seed.

Don’t make it hard on yourself.  We live in a condo and there is no way I can start growing from seed here and then transplant.  You guessed it, we just stick the seeds in the ground and hope for the best.  Again, your results will be better if you do it the way the Master Gardner tells you, but you will still get results this way.  Heck, it’s the way nature does it!  Why not?  If the seeds don’t work you are out 25¢, and you go back to the gardening center, buy a strawberry plant for $2 and replace it.

We also like to experiment with different foods.  Do you have some old potatoes, an avocado pit, or a pineapple top?  Plant them!  You will be amazed at what happens.  Hmmm I guess I will have to expand on those options in another post.

4.  Kids Love Bugs:  Every year we start to have problems with bugs.  My daughter actually Sunflower & Ladybugloves this!  Call around to your local gardening center and ask who has lady bugs, they run between $5 and $10.  Your kids will flip over this!  You can release the lady bugs in the evening (keep them refrigerated until you are ready to let them go).  Make sure you have your camera ready, so you can get pictures of the reactions as the lady bugs crawl on the kids. I got some of the best shots of our sunflowers and kids with lady bugs on them!

If you want to look like a super parent, look up the life cycle of a lady bug and let the kids see how nature and bugs work together.  A great site is Kids Growing Strong, they have a cute page about lady bugs.

5. Watering System: This is optional, but for me it is an essential.  Our community garden Auto Water Timerplot is far enough away from home that I can’t possibly make it over there everyday.  I thought it was going to be very complicated, but once I figured it out (with the help of the nice people at home depot), it was easy!  (Don’t forget to spray the kids with the hose!  Make it fun, and don’t be afraid to get everyone dirty!  Your making memories here, make them good ones!)

Seriously Ugly Home Grown Carrots
Seriously Ugly Home Grown Carrots

Remember, this is an experiment that you doing with your kids!  Last year our sunflowers were beyond amazing.  We also learned not to plant our carrots too close together because they come out like aliens!  This was not a failure, because we had so much fun eating and gawking at the crazy shapes our carrots came out in.
If you really want to get into the spirit, take a trip to the $1 store and pick up some decorations!  Fun is the name of the game here!