Take a Holiday Tech Break with Downtown Bookworks

Guest post by Julie Merberg, founder of Downtown Bookworks
Because good, old-fashioned fun is just that.
As much as I’m looking forward to holing up in our little farmhouse upstate, working my way through my “Best Books of 2013” stack, making soup, snowy walks, and family board games over Christmas break, I’m also dreading the fights I know I’ll have with my kids over screen time. Here are a few of the things we’re planning to do to keep busy, happy, and engaged–without any tech:
FieldGuideKit-WOODS.jpgNature Adventures are a biggie, particularly for my 5-year-old. Armed with A WALK IN THE WOODS by Emily Laber-Warren, we will head outside and see what we can see. In the summer, we always bring a basket and make a mission out of collecting and identifying as many different wildflowers or berries as possible. In the winter, we look for animal tracks, gather as many different types of pine cones as we can, look for birds’ nests in naked trees, and generally spot whatever “treasures” we can: bright red winterberries, animal bones, or a hunk of tree bark dotted with woodpecker holes.
Nature Crafts are the perfect sequel to a treasure hunt. I’m busy testing projects for our upcoming PBS KIDS DO-IT-MYSELF CRAFT KIT: STICKS AND STONES. Acorn babies (in a milkweed pod cradle) are one of my favorite projects. Maccabee finds homes for them on the windowsills, the mantle, the dining table…It’s like a bunch of fairies have moved in.
BIRD-acious-finalcover-mockup-front.jpgAnd then there’s owl puke. My 10- and 12-year-olds both studied birds in school and became passionate birders. The colder months can actually be a great time to observe birds: Those that don’t migrate are easily visible, and happy to find birdfeeders full of treats. We will see who shows up to dine, and learn a thing or two about birds in BIRD-ACIOUS by Melissa Stewart. And (possibly best of all), BIRD-ACIOUS comes with an owl pellet–the vomited-up remains of a barn owl’s meal. It takes a good hour to properly dissect an owl pellet, digging out delicate bones and sorting them to determine what kind of creature they belong to. Yes, it’s fun.
Let them eat…whatever they want to make. I’ve already packed THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO COOKBOOK by Matthew Mead and I’m sure we’ll be pulling it out day after day. Because painting with icing = hours of fun, we will definitely make super hero cookies using the logo stencils that come with the book. We’ll have a DIY super hero pizza party using pre-made pizza crusts and cut-up vegetables. And so they won’t think I’m a horrible mother for hiding the iPad, I’ll let the boys make Indoor S’mores as well from THE DO IT MYSELF KIDS’ COOKBOOK by Laurie Wolf.
Everyone loves a fireplace. Since it’s dark by 4:30 but way too early to think about dinner then, we will also be doing a lot of reading by the fire. I’m always looking for books that will appeal to my three youngest boys (ages 5, 8, and 10) since I read to them together every night–and to me, since I’m selfish. Over the last year or so, some of our collective favorites were:
HATCHET by Gary Paulsen captured everyone’s imagination, and continues to spark many discussions of what they would each do to survive in the wild.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical fiction: CHAINS, FORGE, and FEVER were riveting, and made all of the boys very curious about the relevant time periods and events.
WONDER by R.J. Palacio was so moving for all of them–I think they were surprised and delighted to become so emotionally invested in a character.
They’re dog lovers and we adopted our own mutt, but I suspect they would have loved BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo anyhow.
And the cliffhanger chapter endings in THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY books by Trenton Lee Stewart meant many late nights to accommodate their demands for “just one more chapter.”
My 14-year-old son is a great source of recommendations, as is James Patterson’s site, readkiddoread.com so we’ll spend some time there making choices for the week.
As long as my kids get outside, do something creative, and use their brains a bit each day, I won’t mind if they watch a movie or 2, or 12 as well.
julie-and-books.jpgJuile Merberg is the founder of Downtown Bookworks whose mission is to raise a new generation of book lovers–with every one of their books carefully designed to engage, inspire, and feel good in small hands. Julie began her publishing career 25 years ago as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster–which now handles sales and distribution for Downtown Bookworks. Many years as an editor and then as a packager led her to launch Downtown Bookworks as a book packaging company in 2005. But it was her experience as a mother of 4 boys that compelled her to start a children’s publishing company with the mission of raising a new generation of book lovers. The list reflects her passions–science and nature, crafts, the arts (and her husband’s passion–super heroes). Her in-house focus group helps to insure that every book has major kid appeal and does double-duty–educating while entertaining. Julie lives in Tribeca with her husband and their boys, and spends her weekdays running around downtown between home, work, and the kids’ schools.

Netflix Stream Team Alert – Holiday Movies for the Entire Family

The clock is ticking and the holidays are right around the corner and you know what that means. For those of us who love to curl up under a warm blanket while it’s snowing outside so we can catch a classic flick with our kids, then Netflix has got you covered this season. Whether it’s comedy, or good old classic Charlie Brown, here are some of my favorite holiday films now showing on Netflix:
1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – Nothing says holiday mayhem like the Griswolds on yet another action packed vacation. Check out the holiday edition of their vacation antics and trust me, you’ll want to spend a day watching all the “Vacation” films. Personally, my favorite line ever in a “Vacation” movie when the family keeps going around the same roundabout over and over again — “Look! Big Ben, Parliament!…Look Big Ben, Parliament!”

2 The Polar Express – This one is a family classic — the animation is beautiful and if you have a son, this is the perfect film for them. The Polar Express tells the story of a young boy who boards on a powerful magical train that’s headed to the North Pole and Santa Claus’s home. Here’s a bonus — Tom Hanks is the train conductor — need I say more?
3. All I Want is a Dog for Christmas Charlie Brown – Since we just brought home a puppy this holiday season, this title is even more fitting for my family. But for those of us who grew up with Charlie Brown, it’s never too late to introduce your kids to all of these holiday classics.
4. Jingle All the Way – Interested in watching a silly movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger? Then this 90’s holiday family comedy will fit the bill.

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas – You can always count on Tim Burton to create an animated feature that can turn this holly jolly time of year into a creepy Christmas tale. Despite having recently presided over a very successful Halloween, Jack Skellington, aka the Pumpkin King, is bored with his job and feels that life in Halloweenland lacks meaning. Then he stumbles upon Christmastown and promptly decides to make the Yuletide his own.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix Stream team. While I have received a complimentary subscription to NetFlix, all opinions are my own.

A Priceless Evening with Wicked on Broadway

4.188716.jpgThere aren’t many Broadway shows I would ever see more than once. But truth be told — there is one show I can see over and over again and it truly never gets old. “Wicked” on Broadway is that musical. Now celebrating it’s 10th anniversary on Broadway, “Wicked” is one of those shows that literally has you smiling from ear to ear the moment the music starts.
“Wicked” has that perfect blend of humor, emotion, scenery, costumes and magical voices that literally blow audiences away with every performance. If you’ve never seen the show, then honestly, you don’t know what you’re missing. “Wicked” recounts the tale of the witches from Oz – Glinda, Elphaba and Nessa. If you’re a “Wizard of Oz” fan like me then you know that Glinda is the good witch who always seems to save the day while the witches of the East and West make life pretty miserable for the munchkins. But what would happen if the bad witches were actually quite good and Glinda was a narcissist who just wanted people to fawn over her even if she needs to step on a lot of toes and sell out her friends to get to the top. And that’s the story of “Wicked.”
The show started out more than a decade ago with Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in the title roles and their memorable voices captivated audiences the moment they appeared. These days, while the lead actresses playing Glinda and Elphaba aren’t household names (they are played by Alli Mauzey and Lindsay Mendez), it doesn’t matter. Their voices are still absolutely amazing and Glinda’s comic timing is sheer perfection.
If you haven’t yet been to the Gershwin theater, you’ll also be treated to a newly renovated theater complete with bathrooms with Toto toilets! Now if that’s not a nod to the show, I don’t know what is!
So if you’re visiting New York City this holiday season and are looking for a musical that your entire family will love, look no further than “Wicked” – it’s a classic that I’m sure will be be playing for decades to come! Take a look at one of my favorite songs…”Defying Gravity” and I’m sure once you do, you’ll be hooked just like me!

To purchase tickets, please visit the Wicked site today!
Disclosure: I was given two complimentary tickets to see “Wicked.” However, all opinions are totally my own.

Have You Hugged Your Teen Today? The Importance of Parental Touch

Written by Samantha Zabell from Your Teen Magazine
It was easy to cuddle your toddler. She cuddled you right back and often stayed for more. In elementary school, she still wanted a hug before you left her with the babysitter or before she headed to school. But, as your son or daughter turns into a teenager, navigating physical affection can be more difficult.
Dr. Laura Markham, editor of AhaParenting.com and mom to an 18-year-old girl and 22-year-old boy, advises parents to move past the discomfort and remember how integral hugs and other displays of affection are to a teenager’s development.
“Part of parenting is being physically connected with our kids when they’re little,” Markham says. “As kids get older, it’s not a matter of us separating from them; it’s a matter of us finding new, appropriate ways to connect with them.”
But for many parents, it can feel awkward to hug a child who is physically much more a man or woman–and perhaps snarly and snarky at that–than the boy or girl we once cuddled on our laps. “Parents should check in with themselves and note their own discomfort. Often it’s because they may not have gotten physical affection when they were teenagers, but don’t put that onto your child,” says Laurie A. Couture, author of  Instead of Medicating and Punishing and a licensed mental health counselor.
There’s a saying that claims a child needs four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance and 12 for growth. So, how do you give your teenager 12 hugs a day?
“Always hug your child when you first see him in the morning,” Markham advises. It didn’t matter if both parties were grumpy, but she always started her children’s days with hugs. She also hugged them before they left for school. “I would get up and go over to them if they were headed out the door and intercept them,” she remembers.
That brings the count to two. Markham also recommends another hug when you see them for the first time later that day and before bedtime. Still, those hugs only hit the “survival” level on the scale. To reach the remaining eight, Markham suggests discovering different ways to connect with your teenagers. “Find little excuses,” Markham says. “Give them a kiss on the top of the head. Hold hands at the dinner table. If your kid is having a hard time, sit next to them and put your arms around them.”
If you grew up in a home where physical affection wasn’t common, then this may not come easy. Start slow. “It can even be small gestures, like putting a hand on the child’s arm and leaning in and making eye contact when you’re talking,” Couture says. “Boys like to be talked to in the car, where they don’t have to make eye contact.” So, just reach out and touch them on the shoulder.”
These moments of physical connection should include an emotional component too, adds Couture, who makes it a point to hug her 19-year-old son every morning. “It’s not just giving your kids a mechanical hug. Start with a simple, ‘How was your day?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ These intimate times need to be focused on the moment.”
Although some teens, especially girls, will be physically affectionate with friends, it doesn’t make up for a lack of physical affection from their parents.
“Parental touch is safe, and therefore irreplaceable,” Markham says. “When kids don’t get enough parental touch, they go looking for love in all the wrong places.” That can include premature sexual relationships that teenagers aren’t ready for, as well as substance abuse.
“We have an unspoken fear that we’re crossing a boundary when we’re physically affectionate with our adolescents,” Couture says. “And, kids feel awkward, so they push the parents away. But, really, in the adolescent years, children are the most vulnerable and most in need of the parent’s affection. There is nothing wrong with it.”
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Visit www.yourteenmag.com for more great articles.

Take Back the Kitchen: Alma’s Magic Cookie Bars

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Hi everyone! Let’s face it, we all want the teens to hang out at our house so we can keep an eye on them. Yes, it’s noisy, yes, they drink all my organic milk, yes, I pray they won’t put their muddy shoes on my daughter’s white carpeted floor, yes, I smile politely when they leave a thousand chocolatey napkins on my table for the dog to attack but at least I can make sure they are not in the middle of town drinking and smoking.
Initially, I attempted to lure them with edamame dip and pita chips and my leftover egg strata but, although they said they liked it, I found it untouched IN THE GARBAGE!!! Oh, the horror.
When my daughter begged me to make the classic age old recipe for Magic Cookie Bars (you can find this classic on every website and cookbook), what could I say? Everything in moderation. It’s a sacrifice I must make.
How do you lure the teens to your house? If your homemade hummus and sprouts just ain’t doing the trick, try these and get back to me on your success.
Magic Cookie Bars:

2 packages graham crackers crushed in a food processor
1 stick of butter , melted
one 14 oz can condensed milk
2 cups chocolate chips (feel more virtuous by using fair trade ones from Costco)
1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
In a 9″X13″pan with sides like a pyrex, spray some cooking spray or rub some butter on the bottom
mix the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs together and press into the bottom of the prepared pan
pour the condensed milk all over the crumbs
sprinkle on the chocolate chips
sprinkle next layer with coconut
Place in the oven for 25 minutes and let cool
Serve room temperature or chill in the fridge-enjoy!
For more great recipes visit: takebackthekitchen.com

CBS’s “The Talk” in The Big Apple

104302_D1181 (1).jpg This week I attended a taping of CBS’s “The Talk” with some fabulous bloggers (Beth Feldman, Kim Orlando, Jennifer Wagner, Shari Von Holten, and Cristie Ritz King.) “The Talk” is taping in New York all week and we had an absolute blast! Besides all the awesome giveaways (they brought a sleigh full of goodies), we enjoyed fun conversations about the topics that have people buzzing, we all fell even more in love with the amazing Garth Brooks (who has sold more albums in the US than any other artist!), and learned how to make pork tenderloin and rich hot chocolate with celebrity chef Scott Conant. At the end of the show we were able to pose for a picture with the hosts who were all so lovely and sweet. (photo credit: CBS’s “The Talk”)
(photo credit: CBS’s “The Talk”) Garth Brooks announced his 2014 World Tour, woo hoo! He discussed Kiss as a musical influence and told us about performing at The Kennedy Center in a special tribute to Billy Joel. The Kennedy Center Honors airs Sunday, December 29th on the CBS Television Network.
*Tune in tomorrow, Friday, Dec. 13 to see Tony Award-winning actress Idina Menzel; Top Talker radio personality Elvis Duran; “THE TALK Home Cooked for the Holidays” series continues with celebrity chef Sandra Lee; Host Julie Chen presents her annual “Top Chen List” of holiday gift items. (CBS at 2 PM ET)
Official CBS Web site: http://www.cbs.com/shows/the_talk/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheTalkCBS
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/TheTalk_CBS or @TheTalk_CBS
CBS Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/CBSTweet or @CBSTweet

So…Your Kid Has Lice, Yuck! Now What?!

kapow-5469.jpg It’s inevitable. At some point most families have to deal with head lice. It may seem totally overwhelming and gross, but if you know what to do and how to handle the situation, all will be ok. Ilene Steinberg can help you manage and make it through with some simple tips.
Top 5 Things to Do When You Find Head Lice

1. Use an effective (preferably non-toxic) treatment to eliminate all live bugs.
2. Do a proper comb through and head check to remove all nits.
3. Remove all bedding and wash in hot water, run through dryer. Vacuum house and car thoroughly.
4. Call or email everyone in that you have been in contact with for the past two weeks and tell them to do head checks on themselves and all family members.
5. Continue doing head checks on a weekly basis until children are in high school!
About Ilene Steinberg:
Back in 2007 Ilene worked as a Supervisor at an overnight camp in rural Pennsylvania. She set out to enjoy days of sunshine and evenings by the campfire but the camp owner, who is also a pediatrician, had other plans for her. She had her tackle the camp’s pesticide-resistant lice outbreak and it was there that she learned that there was a need for a new way to defeat head lice.
When summer ended Ilene returned home victorious and word spread. There was a lice guru in town who knew how to decisively defeat head lice. Everyone from families to doctors to school administrators were calling her for help. She started her own lice service and did house calls.
She also guided people through the treatment process by phone. She was asked to visit schools, gyms and day care centers. After several years and helping hundreds of client-families, she opened the first head lice treatment center in the Philadelphia area. Word spread as quickly as the lice did and we expanded to 10 centers and successfully treated thousands of parents, grandparents, teachers and children.
Shortly after the success, Ilene took a step back and realized that to truly defeat lice, people need to think about prevention and detection of lice in a different way. Parents need to be prepared with accurate information and effective products before they are confronted with an infestation. That’s why The Center for Lice Control was born. The CLC’s mission is to change the way people think about head lice and to empower kids and parents to protect their heads and stop the spread. The CLC helps parents, schools, and camps with treatment plans and policy setting. Through small group meetings the CLC helps remove the negative stigma associated with lice and replace it with accurate information and open communication. They also research, test, and develop the most effective and safest products for defeating and preventing head lice. The Center For Lice Control is your go-to source for all things head lice-related. The KaPOW! product line , developed by Ilene, includes several vital non-toxic products including the Lice Battle Kit–a clever combination of mint spray to deter head lice, a nit comb for weekly head checks and a bottle of KaPOW! lice treatment in the event that head lice is discovered.

Take Back the Kitchen: Alma’s Red Lentil Soup with Turmeric and Cumin

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As it gets colder and colder, I have been making a variation of classic red lentil soup that I read in a friend’s school anniversary cookbook-you never know from where your cooking inspiration will come so keep your eyes open! Lentils are filled with protein and they are inexpensive, delicious and easy to prepare. You can make it thinner or thicker, depending on your preference. Enjoy!
Red Lentil Soup with Turmeric and Cumin

2 cups dry red lentils
8 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
one large or two medium sized diced onions
2 medium sized carrots, diced small
4 cloves peeled, minced garlic
2 TBS olive oil
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
juice of one lime or lemon
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
garnish: chopped fresh cilantro

In a large , heavy pot over a low flame, heat up the oil
Add in the onions and garlic and stir until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes
Add in the diced carrots and stir for a few more minutes
Add in all the spices and stir to combine
Add in the broth and the lentils, stir and bring to a simmer
Let simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until lentils are fully tender
Squeeze in the lime or lemon juice and stir
Puree with an immersion blender in the pot or carefully transfer to a blender and puree until smooth’
Serve with fresh, chopped cilantro sprinkled on top
For more great recipes, please visit Takebackthekitchen.com

Let’s Talk About Your Bum with Cottonelle

images-27.jpgWhile I typically rave about TV shows, clothes or must see movies, I’m usually not one to expound on the virtues of toilet paper. Well that is, until now.
About a month ago, I was asked to try Cottonelle’s latest creation, their Flushable Cleansing Cloths. Now available in a new, sleek dispenser, with moisture lock seals to keep cloths fresh longer, the new upright design has a smaller footprint so you can easily display it on any flat surface in the bathroom and keep cloths close at hand. The dispenser is made with durable materials so it can be refilled again and again.
When I first tried the cleansing cloths, I have to admit, I was pretty impressed. In fact, at one point, I even thought to myself, why has it taken me this long to go this route? As moms, we instantly wipe our infant’s bums with wipes but who would’ve thought that we’d finally discover that what’s good for a baby’s bottom is certainly great for their parents too.
Now here’s the best part about our new discovery – you know something is a must have in our house when it suddenly goes missing and winds up in another bathroom. Let’s take, my 11 year old son, who has overstuffed a number of toilets in his day, has fallen for Cottonelle’s Cleansing Cloths too. In fact, about two weeks ago, he swiped them from my bathroom and they’ve never been returned. That’s totally fine with me – I bought another dispenser for my boudoir and ever since he’s been using those fabulous cleansing wipes the downstairs bathroom hasn’t overflowed once!
cherry-main.pngBefore you get ready to toss your toilet paper out the window, please don’t do anything rash. The Cottonelle Cleansing cloths are made to work hand in hand or shall I say hand to bum with your favorite toilet tissue. Now, with the help of those cleansing cloths, we won’t run out of toilet paper as quickly as we normally do.
And for those of you who are constantly on the go, Cottonelle also offers cleansing cloths that’ll fit conveniently in your purse or luggage if you’re traveling or just in the office. No more accidents, no more tough toilet paper and your bum will definitely thank you for it.
Cottonelle has also partnered with documentary filmmaker Cherry Healy who shares her thoughts on how much fun she had recently talking about her bum. Take a look…

For more information about Cottonelle Cleansing Cloths, visit their Let’s Talk About Your Bum site now.