Written on March 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm , by Jonna Gallo
Here’s something to start your week right. Watch this display of admirable sportsmanship by the basketball team at Desert Chapel High School in Palm Springs, California. We tip our hats to these generous athletes and their terrific coach. #ftw
Written on March 6, 2014 at 10:45 am , by Jonna Gallo
Big news about the SAT was revealed today. Even though my oldest kid is just 9, quite a few years away from applying to college, I took note. According to the College Board, the company that administers the SAT, the exam is being majorly revamped for spring 2016. More specifics and extensive sample items for each section will be released on April 16 of this year, two years before students take the “new” test. Some highlights:
• The essay portion will be optional.
• The math section will focus on three essential areas: problem solving and data analysis, algebra and passport to advanced math.
• Students in need will receive four fee waivers to apply to college, eliminating a cost barrier faced by lower-income students.
• Print and digital versions will be offered. (At present, the test is given only on paper.)
But perhaps most newsworthy to bottom-line-oriented parents is that the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy, a well-respected education nonprofit, to provide free (yes, free!) test prep materials for the redesigned SAT. (Critics have long insisted that students whose parents were able to pay for pricey test prep had a large and unfair advantage over poorer kids.) And we’re not talking workbooks here—the College Board and Khan promise sophisticated interactive software for extensive practice, plus how-to videos. This coproduced material is scheduled for release in spring 2015.
Seems to me these new test prep materials—provided they live up to the hype—could really help level the playing field for kids in lower-income families. What do you think?
Written on March 5, 2014 at 10:00 am , by Jonna Gallo
One of my college sorority sisters has a 12-year-old son named Jack with autism. (She also has two younger sons, ages 9 and 7.) In the years following Jack’s diagnosis, Shannon has become an incredible advocate for special-needs families, from appealing to her Connecticut lawmakers to spearhead insurance reform to guarantee coverage for therapies to cofounding a tennis camp where special-needs kids can learn the sport in a social setting and develop confidence. She is terrific and tireless, and I am proud to know her.
Recently, she posted on Facebook that March is the official month of a campaign called R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word. Clicking on a link to the sponsoring organization, I learned that this important initiative was founded in 2009 by college students aiming to educate society about how hurtful and dehumanizing it is to casually refer to people with intellectual disabilities as “retarded.” Now, to those of us who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, that word can be more or less a synonym for “stupid” and isn’t meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’ve certainly used it that way unthinkingly over the years. I know better now, and I’ve pledged not to do it anymore. Interested in helping to spread the word to end the word in your community? Visit the website to learn more about why the r-word demeans and to take this online pledge:
“I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”
Bottom line: Language affects our attitudes, and attitudes impact our actions. Be part of the solution. I just joined over 420,000 in taking this pledge online. Will you?
Written on February 24, 2014 at 10:00 am , by Jonna Gallo
Disney’s Frozen—a haunting but happily-ending tale of sisters Elsa and Anna, one of whom possesses icy powers that have seemingly condemned the city of Arandel to a Forever Winter— has been the Big Thing in my house since the weekend it opened. We’ve seen it in 2D, 3D and, most recently, the Singalong version. (As if this were somehow inadequate, my kids, 9 and 6, ask regularly about getting the DVD, which isn’t even out until March 18.)
To get her daily Frozen fix, my daughter is loving Alex Boye’s tribal-inspired cover starring 11-year-old Lexi Walker, who seems poised to become a huge star. Her other current fave is ThePianoGuys’ amazing mash-up of music from Frozen with Vivaldi’s “Winter.“ Their obvious passion and the spectacularly icy setting make this a slam dunk. Watch and enjoy.
Tell me in the comments if your kid loves these as much as mine!
Written on February 14, 2014 at 10:43 am , by Jonna Gallo
Last August I wrote a feature about the best work-at-home jobs, because we know that interest in those types of opportunities continues to trend high. (The number of U.S. employees who telecommute multiple days per week grew 80% from 2005 to 2012, according to workplace strategy firm Global Workplace Analytics.) A good work-at-home gig can feel heaven-sent for a parent, who can contribute to the family financially but also be around to run a kid to sports practice or the dentist after school. Through my research and reporting I became acquainted with Sara Sutton Fell, the founder of job postings site FlexJobs, a terrific employment resource specializing in telecommuting, freelance and part-time positions. This week, FlexJobs released a list of the top 10 states for telecommuting jobs. Did yours make the cut? Drumroll, please…
3. New York
9. North Carolina
“Job seekers in these states interested in working from home have a bigger pool of jobs to choose from,” says Sara. “But it’s important to note that telecommuting jobs absolutely are available in all states.” For more info on the top states, companies and positions, visit the FlexJobs website.
Okay, let’s work it: Do you have a job that permits telecommuting? If not, do you wish you did? Would you consider switching jobs to be able to work from home at least some of the time? Tell me in the comments.
Written on January 15, 2014 at 10:07 am , by Jonna Gallo
Monday afternoon, in a wild swirl of hugs and kisses, I said goodbye to my kids for six days and nights to go on assignment in Chicago. I have to say, the emotions associated with work trips never fail to blindside me. On the one hand, frankly, it’s awesome to have a break from the day-to-day. Mine is a two-full-time-working-parents household, with a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old. My husband and I are both Scout troop leaders. The kids take gymnastics classes. If it’s not one thing going wrong in terms of maintaining our ’50s-era house, it’s another. Add in a nightly homework load that I personally find ridiculous, and most nights by 9:30 I’m wiped. Done. Finished.
So, comparatively speaking, a work trip should be a welcome break. Even something to look forward to. But somehow it never seems to play out that way for me. I can’t wait to get away. And then I feel guilty for feeling that way.
I think part of the issue may be that my trips are rare, maybe once or twice a year. Perhaps if I left a little more often we’d all get better accustomed to it. When my son’s eyes fill with tears, I get a lump in my throat I can’t swallow. I remind him that as an owner of an iPhone (his begged-for and gleefully received Christmas gift) he can text me as often as he wants, and we’ll catch up on FaceTime in the evenings. He’s still bummed and, therefore, so am I.
Do you take trips without your kids? If so, do you feel guilty? If not, for whatever reason, do you wish you could? Tell me in the comments.
Written on January 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm , by Jonna Gallo
Like many, I spent a good part of last weekend de-Christmas-ing my house. One task was to take down all the holiday cards that arrived throughout December, which I tape around the “window” in the wall between my kitchen and living room. I know some people say cards aren’t necessary in this day and age—”That’s what Facebook is for!”—but I definitely beg to differ. A snapshot on my Facebook newsfeed is here and gone in an instant. A paper card lasts the whole season and becomes part of our holiday decor. My kids (9 and 6) get excited when the envelopes start to arrive, and it quickly becomes a nightly ritual to ooh and aah over the photos. As for our own family card, we spent more than an hour looking at options on Tinyprints and Shutterfly, my hands-down favorite sites for high-quality cards and invites. (Tinyprints had the winner this year, but it was a tough call!) According to Hallmark, 85% of consumers surveyed said they send Christmas cards, letters or photos. I hope that number continues to hold up in our increasingly digitized world. To me, it’s a tradition worth preserving.
Do you send holiday cards in December, or is it not worth the effort or expense? Do you enjoy receiving them? Tell us in the comments.
Written on November 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm , by Jonna Gallo
A few weeks ago, I spent a memorable morning at the Mott Haven Academy Charter School in the South Bronx. Created in partnership with the New York Foundling, a well-respected social service agency, Haven Academy has a unique mission: to provide a comprehensive array of school-based services (medical care, dental checkups, counseling, you name it) to children in the child welfare system. The hope is that the school—the first of its kind in the nation—will become a nationwide model geared toward helping kids in foster care thrive despite their difficult family circumstances. I was unfamiliar with the school but fell instantly in love with its passionate principal and the cheerful, competent teachers I met in its immaculate halls and classrooms.
What brought me there specifically was a celebration of Food Day, a national movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food (think fewer sugary drinks, super-salty packaged foods and fatty meats, more fruits, vegetables and whole grains).
Two celebrity chefs, Food Network star Sunny Anderson and cookbook author Katie Lee, came to cook with nearly two dozen eager fourth-graders. (My oldest is in fourth grade, so these kids particularly touched my heart.) Katie offered up how-to’s for a flavorful bean-rich taco wrap, while Sunny shared a fantastic fruit concoction that I have made twice since. (Pineapple and coconut? Um, YES please.) Check out the recipes below and give them a try, preferably with a kid you love.
Meantime, with Thanksgiving right around the corner and plenty of reasons to be grateful, I just want to say that I’m honored to have met so many kind, concerned people at New York Foundling and Haven Academy working together to provide a brighter future for struggling kids. What a blessing.
Katie Lee’s Taco Wraps (serves 6)
You will need:
‧ 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
‧ 1 tsp olive oil
‧ 1 tbsp taco seasoning
‧ 6 whole wheat tortillas
‧ 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
‧ 1 cup baby spinach leaves or lettuce
1. In a small bowl, mash beans with olive oil and taco seasoning.
2. Spread a few tablespoons of beans on the center of each tortilla.
3. Top with cheese, spinach and a couple tablespoons of salsa.
4. Starting at the bottom, roll the sides of the tortilla over the filling. Fold edges in.
5. Wrap in a piece of wax paper and cut in half.
Sunny Anderson’s Cucumber and Orange Salad with Creamy Pineapple Dressing (serves 4 to 6)
You will need:
For the dressing
‧ ½ cup canned crushed pineapple, undrained
‧ ¼ cup sour cream
‧ 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
‧ 2 tsp sugar
‧ Kosher salt
For the salad
‧ 2 oranges
‧ 2 English cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise twice to quarter, then sliced ½ inch thick
‧ ½ cup finely chopped red onion
‧ 2 tbsp sweetened coconut flakes for garnish (optional)
1. Make the dressing. In a large bowl, combine pineapple, sour cream, apple cider vinegar and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves and is not gritty. Taste and season with a tiny pinch of salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (optional).
2. Prepare the oranges. Slice off the top and bottom of each orange to create a flat surface on both ends. With orange resting on one cut end, use a knife to cut between the flesh and the pith (white covering beneath peel), angling the knife to expose the flesh from top to bottom. Hold orange in one hand over a large bowl and carefully remove segments by sliding the knife between the flesh and the membrane that separates each segment. Repeat with second orange.
3. Toss the salad with dressing. Add cucumber, red onion and dressing to bowl with oranges. Gently toss, then serve chilled or at room temperature with a sprinkle of coconut (optional).
P.S. Don’t miss Sunny Anderson’s homemade Tomato Soup in the February 2014 issue of Family Circle, on sale January 7th!
Written on October 29, 2013 at 2:30 pm , by Jonna Gallo
With vampires and zombies in the midst of a major Pop Culture Moment, my money is on lots of teenagers dressing up as one or the other this Halloween. Many might be tempted to amp up a costume that seems only so-so with special-effects contact lenses, but should do so ONLY with adult oversight. (Pardon the pun.) Parents, please be aware that ALL contacts, even so-called novelty or theatrical types, are still considered medical devices by the FDA. They need to be prescribed and fitted by a licensed professional—yes, even if they’re just for “show” and not corrective. And it’s crucial that lenses be stored correctly between uses and never, ever shared. (Doing so could result in a serious infection, or worse.) For more info and a detailed Safety Checklist, go to allaboutvision.com.
Written on October 15, 2013 at 1:09 pm , by Jonna Gallo
Up until a couple days ago I had scrapes, bumps and bruises all over my legs from the Merrell Down & Dirty Obstacle Race on September 29. (Let me rewind: Earlier this year, I checked into a Biggest Loser Resort for a weeklong fitness immersion and loved it, which is what gave me the idea I could take this on too. To read that story, click here.)
The Merrell course offers 5K and 10K circuits with obstacles throughout—walls to scale, a 24-foot inflatable slide with a rope ladder, a multi-level climbing apparatus called The Monster—and several mud lagoons to low-crawl through. Similar adventure-type events include Tough Mudder, Spartan Beast and Warrior Dash, if any of those ring a bell. When an ad for the Merrell event popped up on my Facebook feed, I thought about it off and on for days, wondering if it should be my next “thing.” I emailed the link to one of my closest friends, an up-for-anything type with a strong competitive bent, with the note, “Considering this. Thoughts?” She wrote right away: “This looks insane and fun and of course we should do it.” Typical me, I got a little freaked out as the event approached and tried every which way to weasel out (yes, even though it had been my idea).
She was having none of it. Every texted potential excuse (there were many) was met with a quick, kind, “You’ll be fine. See you in the morning.” Day of, once we were moving and grooving on the course, I had a blast. Our agreed-upon motto, “slow and steady,” served us fine, and we crossed the finish line—filthy, unhurt and very happy—a little over an hour after we began.
Whipping on my Finisher’s Medal was a trip, and I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment for days. I could easily see why people are drawn to these events in rapidly growing numbers. (When Tough Mudder was founded in 2010, 20,000 entrants took part in 3 events. Just three years later, in 2012, over 460,000 participants joined 35 events.) Then last Tuesday night I happened across this New York Times article, A Growing Race with Big Risks, and learned that a 28-year-old man had died during a Tough Mudder event this past April. I was floored and so sad for his family—and, frankly, I also started wondering if I’d been really naive in trying the Merrell. I read (or at least skim) much of the Times daily, but somehow I’d missed this altogether.
Suddenly, my bragging rights were replaced with the uncomfortable feeling that I’d taken a totally unnecessary risk. As a mom of two kids, 9 and 5, that makes me feel reckless. I’m sure even baseline number-crunching would prove that doing a mud run is far less risky than, say, crossing a street or driving to work. But I have to cross streets and go to work. I didn’t have to do this. A Google search turned up some more recent press, including a piece in the New York Daily News that delves more into the psychology of the rise of these events and specifies who should probably steer clear. In the end, I’m glad I took part. It was fun to share with a great friend, and I think it gave my kids a glimpse of a different side of me. One of my most important takeaways from the Biggest Loser was that transformation can happen when you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone.
Still, I’m wondering: If you’re just a regular person—meaning, not a so-called extreme athlete—is doing one of these obstacle courses a bad idea? Tell me in the comments.
Written on October 10, 2013 at 2:10 pm , by Jonna Gallo
So we’re less than 24 hours out from hearing who gets the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. By numerous accounts, 16-year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousufzai—shot in the head by a Taliban gunman one year ago yesterday aboard her school bus—is a frontrunner. The miracle of her survival that terrible day and her slow but steady recovery over the ensuing months, cheered on the world over, provides as much inspiration now as it did then. And regardless of whether she wins tomorrow, Malala’s face should remind us all of the power of one purely determined individual who believes in herself and her cause. I just added her recent autobiography I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban to my short list and loved this clip from The Daily Show Tuesday night. If you missed it, by all means click—even the typically ascerbic Jon himself seemed humbled to be in the presence of such spirit. She’s 16 years old, people! Such poise, grace and heart. I read online that the Nobel committee received a record 259 nominations this year, and I’m sure every one of them did something amazing. I’m aware of the sentiment among some that at her age, she hasn’t yet “done enough.” Still, every fiber of my being is saying, “Go Malala go!” I hope she wins. We’ll all know tomorrow.
Written on August 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm , by Jonna Gallo
Well, I couldn’t put it off any longer—the time was nigh to bite the bullet and go school-supply shopping. Nearly two hours and $150 later, I have two sizable shopping bags (my kids are going into first and fourth grades) on the floor of my linen closet. Back-to-school is the second-biggest shopping season of the year after Christmas (natch), according to the D.C.-based National Retail Federation. Spending in 2013 was forecast at $635 on average for clothes and supplies, down slightly from $689 in 2012. Almost 26% of families will ask kids to reuse items from last year, a stat that speaks to me personally as I decide whether to spring for a new backpack for my daughter. (My son got one recently as a birthday gift, negating this as an issue with him.) The bag she got last year for kindergarten was used lightly and remains in perfectly fine shape, IMHO. It’s a pretty, somewhat standard Pottery Barn Kids pattern—which I offer by way of saying, it’s not like there’s a lame character from an outdated movie on it. It would be fine for first grade. But she’s asking, repeatedly, for something “new” and “different.” Practical Me wants to say, “Last year’s is fine” and have that be that. Yet there is absolutely a part of me that wants her to be excited about a new school year—and if a fresh backpack would help lessen the blow of saying so long to summer, so be it. Truth is, we’ve already dropped a substantial amount of money this month, between supplies and fall clothes, since both kids grew like weeds this summer, outgrowing most if not all of their stuff from spring. In other words, buying a backpack won’t make or break the budget. Normally I’m a decisive mom, but with this one I’m on the fence. Is it a not-great precedent to set, replacing something that doesn’t need replacing? Probably. But I always got a new school bag when I was growing up—seems like a nice tradition.
Do you request (or require) that your kids reuse school supplies whenever possible? Tell me and share your rationale in the comments, please.