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August 30, 2010

Another birthday party option: Broward County's horse stables

Grassy plains, grazing horses, white wood fences. It almost looks like Kentucky. But it's Coconut Creek.

Tradewinds Park horse stable is on the north side of
Sample Road, west of I-95. It's directly across Sample from the
entrance to Butterfly World, which is on the south side of
Tradewinds Park.

I paid a visit last week to the horse stables at Tradewinds Park, a county government property, and came away with another option for kids' birthday parties. The county is in the birthday party package business, unbeknownst to me.

For $10 per child, with a minimum of 10 children, a maximum of 20, you can give your child a horse party.

You get a tent near the playground. Five picnic tables, a grill, two pony ride tickets per child (kids have to be 52 inches or shorter), a barn tour and party invitations.

Food costs extra. So do jumps in the bounce house.

But it's an option.

Check out Tradewinds Farms birthday party packages online by clicking here. The county's website is confusing on this issue, so here's what you need to know: There are two options -- one is for a county-run party, and another is for a party run by a private entity.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Entertainment (114)

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Mommy Rhapsody Video by Church on the Move

A very well produced response to the Dad's Life rap video

POSTED IN: Chris Tiedje (51), Music (22)

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August 27, 2010

Help wanted: Family friendly recipes

I'm trying a new thing this school year. Menu planning! Throwing a few chicken nuggets in the oven just doesn't cut it anymore, especially since my son eats at least five meals a day. He needs real food, and a lot of it.

This week I did pretty well. We had halfway decent dinners -- lasagna, tacos, chicken with pasta -- that were easy to fix after I rushed in the house from a long day at work. But I need more ideas. And please don't tell me to spend all day Sunday cooking and putting things in the freezer. I'll do that occasionally, but I just don't have time for that kind of preparation every week.

Another issue: By this morning, we were out of milk. Out of bananas. Out of after-school frozen pizza snacks. Looks like I'm going to have to make another grocery run midweek, which really annoys me. I've always done big shopping on Sunday for the week ahead, but I can't stay a step ahead of my voracious teenager anymore.

Help! I need ideas.

We ran some good crockpot recipes in the Food section on Thursday. I can vouch for
Barbara Stein Fleckman's shredded beef brisket. Everyone in my house really liked it, even though my husband has vowed to cut back on red meat.

And I'm definitely checking out our family dining reviews of South Florida restaurants.

But I need new ideas for next week. Do you have a tip worth sharing? Or a recipe? Send me a family-friendly recipe you love and I'll give it a try. We may even print it in the Food section -- giving you proper credit, of course!

Just add it to the comments section, or email it to me a Put "family friendly recipe" in the subject field.

Thanks for your help.


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August 26, 2010

A few things we experienced that our kids never will

Rafael Olmeda
We used to cook TV dinners in the oven. It took forever.

In our family, only one person could be on the phone at a time. That phone was in the living room. If you really stretched the cord, you could get it to the other side of the couch.

We had to leave the house with a pocketful of quarters to play video games.

I spent the last couple of days talking to colleagues, friends and Twitter users (#DadsTalking) about the things we experienced or enjoyed growing up that our kids will never experience quite the same way. Nothing exhaustive or authoritative about this list. Just a few things that came to mind.

1. Must see TV

No, I'm not talking about the NBC Thursday night lineup in the 1980s. I'm talking about the fact that if you missed a television show, you missed it. There was no such thing as taping it or "Tivo-ing" it or OnDemand TV or catching it on DVD just a week or two later. Sorry, if you wanted to watch a TV show, you had one option and one only: rush on home and watch it when it aired. Period.

While we're at it: There were three networks on television, a total of maybe six or seven channels, and there always seemed to be something interesting on. The network television premiere of a popular theatrical film was a big, big deal. Networks used to fight tooth and nail over the rights.

And TV Guide magazine was much, much smaller than, say People.

2. Jiffy Pop

Unless you had a popcorn popper, this was the only way to get hot popcorn at home. Sure, you could settle for a store-bought bag of popcorn, but it wasn't the same thing as Jiffy Pop. Here's what you'd do: turn on the stove (which usually involved actually igniting an actual flame - how primitive) hold onto the package and shake it like your hand is in an electrical socket until the foil and package resembles a gigantic silver mushroom. Your popcorn is now ready. You can still find it, but in this age of ease, tossing a bag in a microwave and pressing the button that says "popcorn" is too convenient to pass up for most families.

3. Contains sugar, and proud of it!

Once upon a time, we bought cereal that contained sugar. We knew it contained sugar because it said so, right there in the name. Super Sugar Crisp, with its mascot, Sugar Bear. Or Kellogg's Sugar Corn Pops. Mmmm-mmm.

Yes, these days they still sell cereal, and they still have more than a spoonful of sugar. But they're ashamed of it now. Super Sugar Crisp is now Super Golden Crisp, as if kids are drawn to the cereal's color. Kids, when we grew up, we weren't afraid of sugar. And we still have all our teeth. I'm just saying.

We also had Frankenberry, Count Chocula and Booberry. Anyone seen those guys lately?

4. "This is where I came in."

The first movie I remember seeing in theaters was Jaws. We walked in at the part when some lady dressed in black walked up to Roy Scheider and slapped him. We sat through the rest of the movie, watched the credits, stayed in the theater for about 15 minutes, and the movie started over again. At about the time that woman walked up to Brody and slapped him again, we got up. "Come on, this is where we came in," my mom said.

This could never happen today! No one walks into the middle of a movie anymore. They don't let you! Those who do probably sneak in and are likely to get chased out by ushers between screenings.

The moviegoing experience is a completely different thing these days. Remember when a movie theater had only one screen? You'd show up, and if the movie you wanted to see wasn't playing, you'd have to go somewhere else?

Our kids will never know that experience. Not like we did.

5. Waiting for your favorite song to play on the radio.

Thanks to Playground Dad of Palo Alto, Calif. for this entry: we all remember it well, don't we. The experience of listening to the radio began to erode with the expansion of audiocassettes and the invention of the Walkman, the portable CD player, mp3 players and the iPod. Who needs to wait for a song to come on the radio anymore?

6. Kick the Can.

Credit to Ryan Johnston of Portland, Oregon for this one. Actually, file this under lots of childhood games and activities that are in danger of being lost in the age of the XBox. When was the last time you saw a bunch of kids trying to guard a can in the middle of an open field? How about a game of stickball (the Chevy is first base, the pothole is second, the hydrant is third and the sewer cap is home)?

These days, leaving the kids to play outside until dark while you stay inside and cook, clean or unwind is considered child abuse in some circles.

As I said, not an exhaustive list. What would you put on it?

Keep up with Sun Sentinel writer Rafael Olmeda on Facebook and Twitter.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2010 (42)

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Dealing with separation anxiety

Every fall the scene repeats itself, a lone child screaming and inconsolable, every day for the first few weeks of school. Not only is that child deeply distressed, but he disrupts the teacher and increases the anxiety of all of his classmates as they too attempt to adjust to this new situation. For your child’s benefit and everyone else’s with whom he comes into contact with, please read and put into practice the following suggestions which make the transition from home to school much easier. By taking a few simple steps you can take control and relieve your child’s anxiety.

1. Understand that you and other family members may unknowingly feed your child’s anxiety. When family members are anxious about a child’s school situation, it will transfer to your child. Children naturally pick up on bits and pieces of adult conversations, so remain calm (or appear to be so) and choose your words carefully when discussing school within earshot of your child.

2. Try to have your child meet the teacher before school starts, or at a minimum, go to the school and take a tour or walk around. If you do get to meet his teacher, try to find something cool to point out about her. Perhaps she shares a common interest with your child. Discuss your child’s expectations of school and correct misconceptions by talking about what the school day will be like and reassure him that you’ll be there at dismissal.

3. In elementary school most teachers don’t allow toys or stuffed animals in class. Preschoolers can usually take a stuffed animal or blanket for self-comfort. To compensate, pack a surprise in your child’s lunch box or backpack. A note or a picture reminds your child that you love them and that school s just for the day.

4. If a friend or neighbor’s child has been a student of the teacher, ask that child’s parents if they will have their child speak to yours about the fun activities in that grade. Naturally, try to make sure that the other child had a positive experience in that classroom before speaking to your child.

5. When the first day of school arrives, it’s the parent’s job to be a help, not a hindrance to the teacher. Bring your child into the room, introduce yourselves to the teacher and then leave quietly without a fuss. Children will quickly pick up on a parent’s fear and apprehension.

maggiecary2.jpgMaggie Cary, a national board certified teacher has been an educator for more than 17 years. She is certified in secondary education and holds a master’s degree in early childhood education.

Over the years she has mentored countless teachers and advised hundreds of parents. Cary has taught children from preschool through high school. She also offers classroom advice on website Classroom Talk.


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August 25, 2010

Justice for missing child Pilar Rodriguez, but was this just a huge parenting fail?

There has finally been an arrest made in the 11-year-old disappearance of Pilar Rodriguez, who was only days away from her 4th birthday when she vanished. Pilar's father, Marco Rodriguez, let babysitter Melissa Cooper take the child from her home in Hollywood on a two-week vacation to Punta Gorda. For more background on the case, check out this video from Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers which was posted to YouTube earlier this year:

Police in Everett, Washington arrested the babysitter on Monday night. I'm glad for the family that they can hopefully get some justice for what I can only imagine to be the worst tragedy any parent could ever experience. However, I have one question that I just can't resist asking...


Pilar RodriguezOK, so maybe I'm a bit old-fashioned, but I wouldn't let my child go on a vacation with a babysitter overnight let alone for 14 days. What am I missing here? Am I alone in feeling this way? Keeping our kids safe is challenging enough, but the actions on the part of the father leave me seriously confused.

Rest in peace, little one.

POSTED IN: Child Care (26), Chris Tiedje (51), Safety (59)

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Should we get lawyer for kid's traffic citation?

Four months after getting her driver's license, my 16-year-old got a ticket for running a red light last week.ticket.jpg

She thought we'd be angry, but we weren't. Our neighborhood is surrounded by speed traps and it happens to everyone we know.

The debate in our household was how to resolve the ticket. In similar situations, my daughter's friends' parents have hired attorneys, who get the points off the kids' licenses.

But from what I can tell, working through the lawyer costs about the same as paying the ticket. And you can take the on-line drivers' ed course to get the points off your license. I'm not sure if hiring a lawyer to get the points off is teaching the right lesson.

Have you hired attorneys to resolve your traffic citations? Are you glad you did?

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211)

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August 23, 2010

Too much homework, or too much help?

Rafael Olmeda
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get a parent to confess to helping a kid "too much" with homework? By that I mean you're doing the work while the kid is off watching the latest episode of So You Think America's Next Top Model Has Talent.

I got one local parent ready to fess up to having done it in the past, but this parent pretty much backed out of an interview at the last minute [at least, I think that's what happened. I never got a return call or an explanation, so it could have had nothing to do with me].

I got another parent to confess, again relegating his actions to ancient history, but he was not local. So despite the fact that lots of parents struggle with where to draw the line, not many appear willing to discuss it.

We're discussing it plenty today. Check out this article on how to tell if you've gone too far (and what to do about it).

And if you're like many of our readers, you think the problem is not too much help, but too much homework to begin with. Check out our education blog for my personal thoughts on that argument. POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2010 (42), School Issues (135)

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Three tips for making your DMV appointment with your teen easier

You know you're in for a bad time at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you pull up, you see a line of people standing outside in 94 degree heat, and someone is selling Gatorade from the back of his truck.

I certainly didn't expect to have a pleasurable experience at the DMV when I took my son to get his learner's permit the other day. And I didn't. But it could have been a lot worse.ATT356808.jpg

My colleague Mike Clary has a story in today's newspaper about the Broward DMV offices, the average wait times and such. I'll post it on the jump.

It's worthy to note that one of the people in his story was there with her 15-year-old son getting his permit. It only took them FIVE HOURS!

Let me see if I can make it a tad easier for you, if you're taking your teen to get a learner's permit. You can do this when your teen turns 15. Click here to learn more about Florida teen driver licenses.

My tips:
First: Do NOT go to the DMV without first getting an appointment, which you can do online, even though you might not find an available slot until weeks in the future. Click here to get a DMV appointment for you and your teen.

Having an appointment allowed Creed and I to get in the shorter line at the Lauderdale Lakes office (maybe five people, 15 or 20 minutes) and go straight into the air-conditioned office to wait. Everyone else was in a longer line, (maybe 40 people, an hour or two wait time in 94 degree heat).

Second: Have your teen complete the written tests online. There are a variety of driving schools online whose testing is accepted by the state of Florida. Your teen must take a drug and alcohol test (the Traffic Law and Substance Abuse and Education Course) which can be completed online. And then your teen must take the written driving test, also available online. For the first test, you'll receive in the mail a certificate of completion to take to the DMV. For the second test, you'll receive a waiver number, which gets you out of taking the test at the DMV.

Third: Be sure to bring a ton of documents or you will have wasted your trip. You can get a checklist of documents to get a Florida driver's license here. Even though I thought I brought everything that was listed, I still was asked for two pieces of mail, to verify our address. I offered my son's FCAT scores, which had been mailed to our home in his name. That wasn't good enough. They said mail from the school doesn't count! Fortunately I also had two FPL bills and a water bill. I had my son's birth certificate, his social security card and his picture ID from school. All those were vital.

Here's my colleague's story about the DMV. Creed and I were in and out of the DMV in about an hour and a half. He's learning to drive now.

1. License renewal: It will drive you crazy

Date: Sunday, August 22, 2010
Edition: Broward Metro Section: News Page: 1A
Zone: SB
Byline: By Mike Clary Sun Sentinel
Memo: Informational box at end of text.
Illustration: Photo(s)

In an effort to ease the pain of what is widely considered one of life's least-pleasurable experiences - a visit to the motor vehicle department - Florida officials are trying to cut down on the time spent waiting by hiring staff, adjusting hours and using mobile office units.

There even was talk of using misting systems to cool the temperatures and the anger of those standing in long lines outside the office doors. When adding humidity to the South Florida air proved to be a bad idea, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles began to explore using fans.

Julie Jones, DMV executive director, told Gov. Charlie Crist and the state Cabinet recently that the department also had purchased benches and awnings in an effort to make people more comfortable as they wait - sometimes for several hours -- to obtain and renew licenses.

"But the idea is to get the wait time down," she said.

That wait time can be particularly long in Miami-Dade County and at the Pembroke Road office in Broward County, an area getting special attention under a plan called Project Miami CSI-Customer Service Initiative.

Whatever improvements might be coming, they will come too late for Tom Barry. With his license about to expire, he awoke in the dark and arrived at the Pembroke Road location 10 minutes before sunrise, more than an hour before the office even opened.

Not early enough.

"There must have been 50 or more people already there, lined up around two sides of the building," said Barry, a heavy equipment operator who showed up at 6:45 a.m. "Ridiculous."

Barry, 66, did get his license renewed that day, but not before he had to go back to his Hollywood home for more documents and investing more than four hours in an exercise that
state officials admit costs the public way too much in time and patience.

Barry completed his renewal in a mobile office, called a Flowmobile.

State officials acknowledge that many offices are understaffed, thanks in part to a $45 million budget cut over a two-year span. But Jones said the department now is hiring, filling 35 positions in the past quarter. More than 200 people have applied for another 30 vacancies expected to be filled soon, she said.

The DMV also is using Facebook to get information out about tough new document requirements, and even responding directly to comments on Twitter, sometimes sent by irritated customers standing in lines.

Still, a visit to the DMV will continue to be viewed by many as an experience only slightly less painful than a root canal.

"Very frustrating," said Lake Worth construction worker Jeffrey Williams, 48, after he spent more than three hours at the Lantana DMV office Friday to replace a lost license.

After two hours in line outside the office, he finally got to a counter inside and learned that he, too, would have to make a trip home for more documents.

There were no misting systems or fans in evidence at the Pembroke Road or Lantana offices this week.

"Hot, irritated, upset, people sweating, very uncomfortable, very agonizing, just miserable," said Angelique Henderson, who with her son Brandon, 15, was among about 125 people standing outside the Pembroke Road office in a line that snaked toward the front door. The line was in the shade, but temperatures were in the 90s and the air was August thick.

Inside the office were another 125 people who had made it to air conditioning. They waited in chairs and on their feet to hear their number called so they could meet with a clerk, take a written test on the computer, or go outside to drive the test course with an examiner.

Brandon Henderson was there to take the written driver's test, and he and his mother spent about five hours getting that done.

Angelique Henderson, 40, a Pembroke Pines resident and Miami-Dade police officer, also logged six hours at the DMV recently when she went to renew her driver's license. Like Barry and Williams, she also had to make a dash home for more documents.

As a police officer, Henderson is accustomed to checking IDs. She thinks the DMV now asks for too much documentation. Required are a passport, birth certificate or green card, a Social Security card or W-2 form, and two proofs of residency such as utility bills, bank statements or mailings from government agencies.

A married woman who has taken her husband's last name also must present a marriage certificate.

Henderson's critique echoes that of the National Motorists Association, a driver's advocacy group, which has described Florida's requirements as too burdensome.

In response, Jones said Florida is the first state to seek federal waivers so motorists can use more types of documents to verify their identification.

And, Jones told the Cabinet, the state has obtained a waiver for drivers who are over 75 and tentative approval to let other motorists submit expired passports, hospital-issued birth certificates and church-issued marriage certificates when other documents are not available.

DMV officials say they are just following federal law passed in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Since then Florida has issued 1.9 million driver's licenses that are certified as Real IDs.

But the tougher requirements for obtaining those IDs have increased wait times, said Jones. The annual DMV report for the 2009-10 budget year showed that 29 percent of customers waited more than 30 minutes for service, up from just 3 percent the prior year.

Waiting times in Palm Beach County are likely to shoot up beginning Wednesday, when the DMV's South County office at 14570 S. Military Trail closes, and before a new service center opens at 501 South Congress Ave. on Sept. 13.

During those two weeks, South County residents have the option of going to one of five tax collector's offices for everything except a road test, or getting in line at the already-busy DMV office at 1299 W. Lantana Road.

Wait times could be several hours, warned Palm Beach tax collector Anne Gannon, whose office is gradually taking over driver's license services from the DMV. (Eventually, the 64 Florida counties with elected tax collectors all will offer driver's licenses services. The DMV will continue to run the offices in Miami-Dade, Broward and Volusia counties, where tax collectors are appointed.)

At many offices, including the one on Pembroke Road, staffers now walk the line outside the offices to make sure applicants have with them the forms of identification they need. If they don't, they are advised to go home and get them, and told they can regain their place in line if they return by 3 p.m.

Hollywood resident Brian Fisher, 26, was prepared to renew his license. He had checked on line, and had the necessary documents. "But it's the people in front of me who are the problem," he said, indicating those who were gathered around a DMV worker who was screening those in line.

DMV officials emphasize that drivers need to go through the Real ID process once.

Once Floridians have an ID of driver's license with a gold star on the top right - eventually to be required for entry into airports and federal buildings, renewal every eight years can be done by mail or online.

DMV officials also urge applicants to make appointments to cut down on wait time.

Maybe this will help
Documents you need
Birth certificate; U.S. passport; certificate of naturalization; alien registration (green card)
Social Security:
Social Security card; W-2 form; paycheck with Social Security number; 1099 tax form
Residential address (two proofs required):
Deed, mortgage, payment book or rental agreement; Florida vehicle registration or title; utility bill
Note: Married women using husband's name or divorced women returning to their maiden name need original or certified copies of marriage certificate or divorce decree, respectively.
More details are on the DMV's website at
For information in Spanish, go to
For information in Creole, go to
Source: Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

Average wait times
State officials realize South Florida residents spend too much time trying to get a driver's license or renew one. They are trying to cut down on the time spent waiting. Here's how long people waited in Palm Beach and Broward counties in July 2010.
Broward County
Office No. of Transactions Average Transaction Time Average Wait Full-time Employees
Lauderdale Lakes 5,723 11 min 3 sec 35 min 23 sec 16
Fort Lauderdale 4,988 8 min 53 sec 48 min 33 sec 10
Lauderhill Oakbrook 4,655 10 min 3 sec 56 min 46 sec 11
Pompano Beach 3,185 7 min 34 sec 28 min 6 sec 8
Deerfield Beach 4,339 10 min 5 sec 41 min 6 sec 12
Margate 3,787 8 min 36 sec 52 min 57 sec 11
Pembroke Pines 8,055 9 min 33 sec 48 min 59 sec 17
Palm Beach County
Office No. of Transactions Average Transaction Time Average Wait Full-time Employees
West Palm Beach 5,878 9 min 1 sec 52 min 45 sec 19
Delray Beach* 6,505 11 min 13 sec 66 min 13 sec 9
Lantana 5,006 9 min 18 sec 53 min 38 sec 8
Palm Beach Gardens 5,215 8 min 52 sec 16 min 59 sec 10
Jupiter N/A
Note: Average wait times do not include time spent standing outside the office waiting to get in. * The Delray Beach office will close Aug. 25. Source: Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

Caption: Angelique Henderson waits in line with her son, Brandon, to get his learner's permit at the driver's license office in Pembroke Pines.
Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel
Florida's Department of Motor Vehicles is adding staff and using mobile offices like this one in Pembroke Pines.
Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel


All content herein is © 2010 The Sun-Sentinel and may not be republished without permission.

All content herein is © 2010 The Sun-Sentinel and may not be republished without permission.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Teen (158)

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August 20, 2010

Homework helpers: How much is too much?

It's only a matter of time before your kids have their bookbags filled with homework assignments. And we know most times they won't be doing it alone. You'll be there with a light or heavy hand.

If you've had a heavy hand in your child's homework, we want to hear from you. Only to learn how slippery that homework slope could be and how you've changed your ways. Or heck, even how pitching in helped your kid along.

POSTED IN: Joy Oglesby (134)

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Love the way you lie video and domestic violence

Rafael Olmeda
"Oh my God, turn it up!"

One of my stepdaughters gets frantic when she hears Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" come on the radio. Me? I think Eminem is a talented artist, though I'm clearly not in his target audience and wouldn't want to touch one of his CD's without a pair of HazMat gloves.
I know that for every "Real Slim Shady" and "Lose Yourself" there's another track laced not only with profanity but with profoundly disturbing imagery. He doesn't apologize for it, and I vote with my wallet: live and let live, right?

But just because I don't buy something doesn't mean it doesn't get into my house, or in my car, or in my family (as evidenced by the fact that at lease one daughter already knows the lyrics by heart and can recite them without notice, even knowing when to self-censor).

A friend recently asked on my Facebook page for my opinion of the the video for this song.

"How do you feel about this video?" my friend wrote. "Is it positive because teens are talking about dating violence or does it send a mixed msg? Let me know how you feel!"

The video features vocals by Eminem and singer Rihanna, famous not only for her talent but also for the violent turn taken in her relationship with Chris Brown. The actors in the central story are Dominic Monaghan (Lost, Lord of the Rings) and Megan Fox (Transformers). Monaghan and Fox portray lovers locked in a violent relationship. See it for yourself.

(Warning: this video is uncensored and contains a couple of f-bombs).

At first I agreed that the video does send a mixed message: The fact that the story is told by a lying piece of garbage was, I thought, just a hint too subtle for a teenage audience that is more likely to absorb the "violent relationships are smoking HOT" visuals that accompany the music.

But I give them credit for the ending: the lovers and their home are consumed in flames, an obvious metaphor showing that the violence will end up destroying them both.

Our kids are going to hear this song in their bedrooms, on their iPods, and at school: we're not going to shield them from it, no matter how hard we try. And they will see the video, just as easily. So we need to, as parents, take control of the conversation.

Take it as a given that your kid is going to HEAR the song, but implore them to go a step further: make sure they LISTEN to it. Make sure they understand that Eminem (the narrator) is the villain of the piece, that he's not cool, that he's a liar and that the heat of passion is no substitute for the warmth of love.

And make sure they understand that ending.

UPDATE: The same friend who brought this video to my attention let me know that Megan Fox donated her appearance fee for the video to a shelter for abused women. Kudos! Find Sun Sentinel writer Rafael Olmeda on Facebook and Twitter. POSTED IN: Entertainment (114), Rafael Olmeda 2010 (42), Teen (158)

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August 19, 2010

Our summer vacation... to Russia!

As one of the baby boomer generation, Russia is not a place I thought I'd ever actually visit. In fact, my first attempt to visit the then-USSR was unsuccessful in 1982 because of visa requirements. However, when my teenagers suggested St. Petersburg, Russia as our vacation destination, I decided to give it another try. This time I was more successful and as I sit on the plane back to the United States, my family can now say we've been to Russia. Although political times have changed since 1982, traveling to Russia remains somewhat of a challenge both in entering and touring the country. In order to help other families who perhaps will be convinced by their children to visit the home of the Kremlin, I've put together some tips to help you navigate the country.

1. File for your Russian Visa early. The paperwork will take you a full day to fill out, particularly if you are going with your family. The Russian Embassy requires you to use one of a few Visa services that require you to file all papers online. I used Travisa and they were very efficient and helpful. It isn't cheap to obtain visas so you should plan for this expense as well. All visas require Letters of Invitation that you can get from the major hotels in Russia or approved travel agencies.

2. Plan to go through passport control one at a time. This was a shocker to me as a mother and something that made me extremely uncomfortable. Passport agents in Russia require one person at a time enter the line for entry into the country. This means children as well. If you are traveling with another adult, my suggestion is for one adult to go through first, then send the children through. The second adult should be the last in the line, so no child is alone on either side as was the case with us. My 11-year-old daughter entered first and it made me nervous to have one of my children alone on the other side of Passport entry.

3. Take a copy of your passport with you, including a copy of the page with your visa. Keep it on your person at all times. There are passport police who will stop you just to check and sometimes demand extra money from you. Never go out in Russia without your passport and visa or a copy of it.

4. Don't expect to find people who speak English or people who want to attempt to communicate in anything other than Russian. It may come off rude, even mean, but Russians expect you to speak Russian.

5. If your children are picky eaters, you may be eating a lot of McDonald's or Italian. Typical meals include fish or game meats like bear, deer and elk. However, if you are a sushi lover, you are in luck. Russians LOVE sushi. It's everywhere. Although most hotels will allow you to include breakfast in the price of the room, I recommend opting out of this expense. Chances are you won't wake up the first few days in time to eat breakfast because of the time change. I often opt for visiting a grocery store and buying a few loaves of bread, lunchmeats and cheeses and keeping it cool in the hotel mini bar. For your sweet tooth, ice cream is available everywhere.

6. I always advise international travelers to exchange money before the trip…not so for Russia. You can only get Rubles once you land in Russia and ATM machines are few and far between. Take US Dollars to convert rather than depending on ATMS. Most tourist sites will take Visa and MasterCard, but only a few take cash.

7. If you plan on visiting the Kremlin, it is closed on Thursdays so you might want to plan your trip accordingly. You can go see Lenin in his tomb right in the middle of the Red Square, but you can't carry your cell phone or back pack inside. There is a bag check at the corner of the National Museum, which is right at the start of the line into the tomb but it is long. Most families have one member hold bags and tag team going through the tomb with the kids. No photos are allowed and guards make sure you don't break that law.

8. Russians overdress and shorts aren't allowed in most Orthodox churches. So pack a skirt or dress, however make sure the latter has sleeves.

9. Take your bathing suit even if it's winter. Kids love to swim and most Russian hotels have some sort of pool indoors for the enjoyment of guests. A dip in the pool was a great way for my kids to relax and cool down in the afternoon.

10. For a great adventure, take the historical red train from Moscow overnight to St. Petersburg but make sure you reserve a first class cabin for your family. It's fun for kids to experience sleeping on a train.

mariabailey100.jpgMaria Bailey, CEO of BSM Media, speaks to over 8 million moms a month in print,online and on radio. She is the author of “Marketing to Moms: Getting Your Share of the Trillion Dollar Market”, “Trillion Dollar Moms: Marketing to a New Generation of Mothers” and “Mom 3.0: Marketing with Today’s Mothers By Leveraging New Media and Technology”. Bailey also writes for several parenting publications such as OC Parent and Pregnancy Magazine. She has been featured in Business Week, Parenting, Child and O magazines as well on CNN, CNBC and World News Tonight. You can hear more from Maria at and

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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Laurence Fishburne's daughter makes a porno

Rafael Olmeda
In Boyz N the Hood, Laurence Fishburne plays a father trying to keep his son on a path of integrity even though they are surrounded by the violent subculture of South Central Los Angeles. In that fictional tale, despite their underprivileged surroundings, Fishburne was able to keep his son out of trouble by providing a strong and positive example, particularly at a critical moment in the young man's life.

Fishburne's daughter, Montana, was born in 1991, the same year that movie was released. And 19 years later, Fishburne would have to say to his daughter, "You embarrassed me." Because in the real world, he was not able to keep his daughter from making quite possibly the most foolish decision of her life, despite her privileged surroundings: Montana Fishburne has decided to become a porn star.

We're not talking about the pseudo-accidental "I made a sex tape but I had no idea it would be released" path traveled before by Pamela Anderson, the path that brought utterly unwarranted fame to the likes of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. We're talking about Montana Fishburne, 19, getting a contract with the adult film purveyors at Vivid Entertainment to make a bona fide porn video.

And she used her real name, which is supposedly the part that her father found embarrassing. Apparently no one uses their real name in porn (psst: half of them don't use their real body parts either, but that's another issue).

I suspect that Laurence Fishburne's embarrassment has less to do with the fact that his daughter abandoned wisdom by using her real name and more to do with the thought that she abandoned wisdom by pursuing her career choice.

Yes, she's 19. "Legal," according to the law -- side note: does it seem a bit silly, in this context, that she can't have a beer on the set?

"I've watched how successful Kim Kardashian became, and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape," Montana said in a statement through Vivid Entertainment, which is distributing the DVD. "I'm hoping the same magic will work for me."

I'm sorry, what? Magic? The 2006 movie "Akeelah and the Bee" was dedicated to you! Your dad is an Oscar nominee, a box office draw who headlines one of the most popular dramatic series on television. Surely he has a connection or two in Tinseltown. And you need an extra edge to become famous?

Cry me a river, kid. You already had one leg up in the entertainment world.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Darryl E. Owens put it better than I could when he asked this disturbing question in a recent column: "If Kardashian, Paris Hilton and others of dubious talent can influence someone who presumably already holds a golden ticket, what of the millions whose daddies aren't Hollywood A-listers?"


Find Sun Sentinel writer Rafael Olmeda on Facebook and Twitter. POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Rafael Olmeda 2010 (42), Sex (16)

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August 18, 2010

Can schools teach alcohol moderation?

My kids have taken the "Just Say No to Drugs and Alcohol" mantra to the extreme.drink.jpg

They don't understand moderation. They frown at my husband when he drinks the occasional beer. Now that he and I have been getting into wine-tasting, they continue to pound home their point.

"Alcohol is bad for you," my 11-year-old said last night.

I understand that the schools have to give black-and-white information to kids so their message is easily understood. But there are nuances with alcohol: Red wine is actually good for you, in moderation, of course. I wish there was a way for the schools to teach this balance.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211)

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August 17, 2010

Forget school - how busy will your kids really be?

With the new school year comes an increase in activities – sports, clubs, extra classes and more – all requiring commitment.

But commitment requires time and focus – often more than any of us – or our children have.

One thing my own parents have always stressed to me is to back off on over-booking my kids’ time. In fact, the more activities I’d say my kids were up to – the more concerned my dad would be.

“Are you sure it’s her that wants to do all those things?” he asks. I’d have my daughter booked in all kinds of activates so really his comment doubled as a warning. He’s right – Father [always] knows best!

A GeekDad blog post pleads with parents to let kids have kid-hang-out-doing-nothing-time. That’s what my dad always stresses.

My son who is entering 10th grade this year – he’s sticking to tae kwon do – it’s the single outside of school commitment. My dad approves of that.

It creates a focus – he’s not flitting about town rushing to do the next thing – and neither am I.

Scholastic offers up “12 Warning Signs That Your Child May Be Overscheduled.”

Whether it’s you or your kid that is clamoring for more things to do beyond their schooling - how will you balance providing “opportunities” for your child to grow into well-rounded leaders?

How do you manage your child’s time - which also means managing yours too.

Will you let your kid say enough is enough? Or will you be the one to push the too-much-is-too-much brakes?

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Cindy Kent (78), Elementary School (54), Entertainment (114), Family Issues (231), General (185), School Issues (135), Sports (29), Teen (158)

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Off to college? Cut the cord, already!

UPDATE: I should have made this clear from the outset: the headline on this post is intended to convey a viewpoint expressed in a letter I received, reprinted here in full. It does not convey my own views. For those interested in the documents that were signed by kids and parents at the Plan It Now party, the documents are available at no cost on the Web site of the law firm run by two of the parents I interviewed.

Rafael Olmeda
I spoke last week with some parents who participated in a "Plan it Now" party for their college-bound kids. Now, when I say "kids," that could be a bit misleading. The whole point of the party is that they're not kids anymore. They're all 18, and their parents were not comfortable with the idea that many of the rights they enjoy as parents disappear on that pivotal birthday.

In fairness to the parents I spoke to, they did not come off as overbearing tyrants who refuse to acknowledge their children's adulthood and independence. And their kids seemed to genuinely appreciate their parents' concern.

Still, what sounds like reasonable concern and involvement to some might sound to others like meddling or unwillingness to let go.

Case in point: this e-mail I received from a reader who was kind enough to allow me to share his views with you. His name is Kenneth Nejib, of Parkland, and he writes:

I read your article in the local section this morning. I live in Parkland and I have to tell you that it makes me SICK to listen to the parents in the area as well as the parents of my generation in general when it comes to our children. I have two girls myself, 20 and 23. When do our children get to grow up? I went in the service at 18 (1975) and my mom and dad lost all parental custody at that point. They didn’t call my Platoon Leader or Commanding Officer to make sure I was OK.

I was shocked to read at the end of the article that an 18 year old doesn’t know how to go to the doctor …. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!! Is this what the parents of my generation have done to our kids? I know that we as parents tried to teach our kids everything we thought they would need to become adults and 18 has been that age forever. Obviously our children as adults still make mistakes as we all did, but they have had the guidance to deal with it and know that they can come to us for help IF THEY DECIDE THEY NEED IT!

We still talk with our kids and try to help them get through issues that they are dealing with BUT giving advice and actually getting them to the doctor are at opposite ends of the spectrum. As far as being in control to the point that we need to be able to go online to see grades is RIDICULOUS! If we are paying for college we should see the grades before we pay the next tuition payment, and if our daughter has problems in a class she knows she can come to me -- which eliminates the need to check out her grades for myself.

Maybe my generation and the generation following us needs to reevaluate our parental procedures and look back at what our parents did and realize that they may have known better.


Kenneth Nejib – A parent that loves my children enough to let them grow up.

I get what Mr. Nejib is saying, but I can also see it from the other side. Something legal happens when a kid turns 18. But that's it: it's just something legal. Someone who's 18 years and one day old is no more mature than someone who's 17 years and 364 days old, but the law tells us that there's a profound difference.

I think I can agree that a parent who calls a drill sergeant or platoon leader to check on his kid is meddling. But I also agree that a parent who calls a kid's doctor in an emergency situation should be able to get some answers without being criticized for invoking rights no one would have questioned a few months earlier.

And I think most teenagers can probably be forgiven for not knowing, yet, that some things are much easier than they seem. Visiting a doctor, registering to vote, applying for a job, filling out basic tax forms... teens may think these things are difficult because they've never done them.

Is there an overall answer that makes sense? When do our kids stop being kids and start being independent adults? And just how significant is it, to you, that the law seeks to answer that question by setting adulthood at age 18? POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2010 (42)

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August 16, 2010

Parenting by poll question

I make my best parenting decisions when I'm facing a hypothetical situation involving someone else's child.

When it comes to my own kids, I find the biggest difficulty in parenting is making up my mind. Should I let Lily eat a snack an hour before dinner? Should I let Creed skip the family trip to the west coast and stay here with a friend? Most of the time, I just don't care. I don't care enough to feel strongly either way.

My parents handled these things with aplomb. They said no to everything, and you could tell that they passionately felt it. NO! AbsoLUTELY NOT! That must make parenting easy -- feeling that strongly about all the permissions your child aks for.

When I'm around other parents, we spend most of the time comparing notes on parenting. It's a big help. I'm thinking it'd be great to take that idea to the computer, and start Parenting by Poll Question.

I seriously thought about letting you readers make one of my parenting decisions last week. I must be missing that Parental Indignation gene. The poll after the jump contains one of my latest dilemmas.

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Don’t pump and drive.

I’m pro-breastfeeding like many others. But at some point we have to be careful about the measures we take to get this precious supplement to our babies.

A colleague, who is super busy and spends a lot of time on the road, shared with me that when she returned from maternity leave she would sometimes pump her breast in the car during heavy traffic.

How she managed to do this is still beyond me. While as busy moms we find ourselves multi-tasking like crazy, this can be dangerous. My advice to her was to at least pull over the next time around.

Anyways, hearing her story made me think about all the weird places I had to stop and pump during my day. I still remember trying to discreetly pump in a dark conference room once. That didn’t work out too well. Needless to say, I wasn’t inspired.

You would think in this day and age there would be more designated breast pumping stations, so we wouldn’t have to hideout to take care of something so basic.

POSTED IN: Georgia East (44)

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August 13, 2010

Talking to strangers: What's your rule?

It happens often. My 3-year-old will be spinning in an aisle or quietly playing with an iPhone game from her seat in the shopping cart when The Stranger starts to talk directly to her.

Then The Stranger gets ignored. And deep inside I start to beam.

I've told her she can't talk to strangers until she's an adult and has a job and a car and her own home. Of course she can't wait to be an adult.

I'm hoping this behavior stays with her when she's 9 and riding her bike in the neighborhood and The Stranger shows up with a puppy or candy or a friendly hello and she doesn't take the bait like these smart kids in Boynton Beach.

I usually offer The Stranger an explanation, which the 3-year-old has memorized: She can't talk to strangers. I know it seems rude but it's easier that way.

And the response I get is overwhemingly positive. Some Strangers have even told me that they've encouraged their child to have the same rule with the grandkid. And in my head I scream: Then why the heck are you talking to her?!!

But I know it's not only the strangers we have to worry about. So the 3-year-old does get reminders that she shouldn't go in the homes of our great neighbors without us. Ever.

How do you handle the stranger-danger talk with your kids?

POSTED IN: Joy Oglesby (134)

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August 12, 2010

Ask the Pediatrician: The doctor is your friend

Stupid mom confesion: When my firstborn was brand new, I discovered some suspicious crystals in his diaper. I immediately turned to my library of reference books -- otherwise known as my guides to paranoia -- and learned that he had some kind of horrible kidney problem.

Naturally, I rushed him to the pediatrician. As I explained the dire situation, the very kind and patient doctor looked intently at me and calmly said: "You just need to change his diaper more often. It's soaked, and that's the stuffing in the diaper."

What I learned from this is that the pediatrician is your friend. And 15 years later, I'm still asking questions. Most recently, when I was sure my second born had had swine flu for a couple days, the good doc called me back to assure me that, given the symptoms I relayed, she didn't.

Today, we're giving you the chance to ask any silly question you might have. Dr. Noel Alonso will be on hand at noon today for an online chat with readers about back-to-school health issues. Don't be shy!

Go to


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August 11, 2010

Open hearts, open homes

PasqualTrevisShawn2010%20%282%29.jpgThese handsome young men are waiting to be adopted by a loving family that has room for three. On first impression, Pasqual, age 17, may appear to be shy but he loves to socialize with his peers. He enjoys playing video games, watching TV and spending time with his siblings. Ten-year-old Trevis is the youngest of the boys. He is very attentive and loves to share. Like other boys his age, playing video games is one of his favorite past time. He also enjoys watching movies. Shawn, age 15, is the active boy of the bunch. He’s played on the flag football and basketball team for his city. He has boundless energy and loves hanging out with his friends. A loving, outgoing and understanding family who would nurture their special brotherly bond would be ideal for Pasqual, Trevis and Shawn.

For more information about Pasqual, Trevis and Shawn or to view other children available for adoption visit For more information about adopting contact ChildNet at (954) 414-6001.

Check out more photos and bios of local children available for adoption by visiting The Heart Gallery of Broward County's exhibit at The Northwest Regional Library in Coral Springs.

ChildNet is the private, not for profit organization created to manage the child welfare system in Broward County. Our mission is to protect Broward County’s abused, abandoned and neglected children. ChildNet directly provides case management, independent living and adoption services. We also ensure the delivery of a comprehensive local system of care by subcontracting with more than 30 social service agencies to provide a full array of child welfare services. For more information about fostering, adopting or helping abused children contact ChildNet at (954) 414-6000 or visit

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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Is it ok to question someone's parenting skills in public?

You have all probably read the hot story this week where a man was accused of punching the father of a disruptive child at an Olive Garden in Boynton Beach. Turns out the child was autistic, and I think it is safe to say that the attacker has anger issues. Time will tell. However, this story raises some interesting points I wanted to discuss. It is ok to question another parent's ability to control their children in public?

Obviously this is a hot topic. I have memories of my father leaning over to nearby tables at restaurants and asking, "At what point did your child start controlling your life?" when he felt they were disruptive. I'm not a fan of that approach, but I think it is safe to say that we've all wanted to, at some point, give the parent of an obnoxious child a piece of our mind. However, is it appropriate? I've included a poll after the jump to help with our discussion. Let me know your thoughts.

POSTED IN: Chris Tiedje (51), Family Issues (231)

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Should parents pay for textbooks?

I was jolted yesterday when my 16-year-old told me we needed to buy a textbook for her AP Chemistry class.textbook.jpg

Fortunately a used copy was only $5 at, plus $4 for shipping. But it was the first time we had been asked to buy our own textbook in our long public school career.

I know our South Florida school districts are experiencing severe budget problems. And we're not the only ones having to shell out money for public school costs. Parents in Chicago are spending several hundred dollars on their kids' texts. But this was the first time funding cuts like this have hit me personally.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), School Issues (135)

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August 10, 2010

Should Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt let their daughter dress like a boy?

Horrors of all horrors: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are letting one of their daughters dress like a boy.

shiloh-jolie-pitt.jpg The paparazzi-fueled magazine US Weekly brought this to light, I'm sure, so we can discuss the finer points of nature vs. nurture or how parents are letting their bratty kids rule them.

But I think it's fine that 4-year-old Shiloh wants to wear boys clothes. All the time.

There are things that are not up for debate in our household: The 3-year-old will eat vegetables and fruit, she'll brush her teeth, she'll clean up after herself.

But what she wears is pretty much determined by the one who doesn't work, doesn't have money, doesn't go shopping. Crazy, huh?

She wants to wear dresses. All the time. And not just any dress; it must have tulle or gem stones or rick-rack or bows. And so I indulge. I think it's great to allow her to make her own decisions on things that aren't critical to her safety or education.

I'm told this princess-dress phase will pass. That she will soon be into Hello Kitty and have nothing to do with dresses. So why stress over it now?

How do you handle the clothes battle with your child?

POSTED IN: Joy Oglesby (134)

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August 9, 2010

Handing car keys to a teen is like ... (fill in the blank with something terrible)

On Friday the Thirteenth, I have an appointment at the DMV.

The purpose of my visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles is even more frightening. My son belovedvolvo.jpg
is getting a learner's permit. To drive a car. My car. That I have to pay the insurance for. On streets where other people who have loved ones at home are driving.

News flash: Teen-age boys do not have good judgment. It's a fact that they have worse judgment than any other species with the dexterity to turn a steering wheel. Teen boys are bursting with life, driven by adventure and handicapped by a giant heap of stupidity.

As I sat in my bedroom last night working on my laptop, I received a reminder of this truism. I heard footsteps on the rooftop, and got to the sliding glass door in time to see one of my son's friends flying through the air into the swimming pool. Shortly thereafter, Creed, my 15-year-old, flew into the pool from the roof.

Do you see what I'm talking about?

"Do NOT!'' I warned them. And they burst out laughing. "Why?'' was Creed's automated response to everything that makes good sense. Later, when I gave him my sermon about the boy who slipped while jumping off the balcony into the pool and landed on the pool deck and died (I have true tragedies to go with every possible risk, thanks to working at a newspaper all my adult life), he scoffed.

"I could survive that fall with ease,'' he said, then stood up from a chair, jumped up and touched the ceiling with his finger, as proof that it isn't that high. "I could jump off the roof and do a cannon ball into the concrete and survive,'' he said.

This is the young man I'm trusting my Volvo with?

When I hand my son the keys to my car for the first time, I'll have the same mindset that I walk into airplanes with. I wear sneakers in case I have to jump out of the escape hatch, I thank God for life, and I look for the vomit bag.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Teen (158)

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This mom is skipping back to school shopping

I won’t be strolling through the aisles this year looking for composition notebooks. I have no plans to track down the perfect set of safety scissors and plastic folders.

My daughter’s PTA is handling it for me.

The PTA announced a few months ago that it would handle the feat of buying school supplies for elementary students, for an extra few bucks, as a fundraiser. Needless to say I signed up immediately.

All they basically needed to know was my child’s name, age and grade.

I think it’s a great idea. While it takes some coordinating more PTAs should try it. They charged between $35 and $40 depending on the grade. But the cost included everything on your child’s list and a school shirt.

I know there’s going to be some extra supplies needed when we get her teacher’s list but I’m OK with that. We still have uniforms, bookbag and the new lunch box to get. And I will report back on if things were as smooth as planned.

For now, the way I see it, it’s a win-win. I don’t walk out of Target with a whole bunch of stuff we don’t need but always seem to pickup when we go back-to school shopping and my daughter’s school will have a few extra bucks.

POSTED IN: Georgia East (44), Shopping (28)

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August 6, 2010

It's time for family-friendly workplaces

"The last three men nominated to the Supreme Court have all been married and, among them, have seven children. The last three women — Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Harriet Miers (who withdrew) — have all been single and without children."

It's time for family-friendly policies trumpets this New York Times story. The Times story focuses more on the walls working moms encounter and how tactics that feminists employed should be used today to force change in workplaces.

But I think the call-to-action should be broader. When I say family-friendly I'm talking about all the single ladies who have to schlepp Nana to Coral Springs, or see the doctor or prepare for their book-club meeting. I'm talking about the men with or without kids who have community and family obligations.

In my days without a child, I would hear the grumbling about so-and-so being able to take off because they have kids. And it would be tremendous if there was more latitude given to parents in the workplace to attend the midday recitals and graduations, to log back into work once the kids are in bed. (I'm fortunate to be in a workplace that supports parents.)

However, I'm a big believer that this same flexibility should be afforded to those who don't have kids.

The Times story puts the onus on businesses and policy-makers to incite change. But to corrupt a NRA saying: Businesses don't make the work-life balance. People make the work-life balance.

So what's the next step?

POSTED IN: Joy Oglesby (134)

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August 5, 2010

Summer fun: Poetry for kids

Looking for ways to build reading and writing skills over the summer? Poetry is the answer! Children of all ages love the magic, rhyme and silliness that often accompany poems written for children.

Many of my favorite children’s poems are written by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. Prelutsky books include "A Pizza the Size of the Sun" and "The Dragons Are Singing Tonight." Both are perfect for all ages of elementary school aged children. Silverstein’s "Falling Up," "The Missing Piece," and "Where the Sidewalk Ends," include many classics.

The best place to begin is by joining your child in reading poems aloud together. Once your child has developed an ear for poetry through listening, encourage him to write his own poetry. Poetry requires the writer to look at everyday things in new imaginative ways. Purchase a poet’s notebook and for older children, a calligraphy marker to add to the fun. Encourage them to experiment with line breaks, punctuation and describing ordinary objects in extraordinary ways.

Two good websites for kids are: and

maggiecary2.jpgMaggie Cary, a national board certified teacher has been an educator for more than 17 years. She is certified in secondary education and holds a master’s degree in early childhood education.

Over the years she has mentored countless teachers and advised hundreds of parents. Cary has taught children from preschool through high school. She also offers classroom advice on website Classroom Talk.


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Jusin Bieber and the tween who looked the other way


Pop prince Justin Bieber is in concert tonight at BankAtlantic Center, and I won't be there! Which is notable only because I have a 12 year old daughter --- who does not like Justin Bieber.

You read that right. We've been to several concerts together, she loves music, but has no interest in the Biebster.

Why would this chart-topper miss his mark with this small part of his target audience? I didn't quite get it, so I asked her what music she likes.

"I like the Beatles, U2 and Bruce." Who else? "Miley, Demi and Serena."

So you can see what's at work here: She likes the music her dad pumps into her head during their commute to school. And what Disney serves up on a continuous loop.

But what about the heartthrob factor? "I know of only one girl who likes him." Interesting.

Maybe it's because Erika still has puppy posters, but surely there's a pop star out there worthy of her bedroom wall. "Well, Zac Efron, but he doesn't count." (See, he's a movie star, not a pop star.)

I'm liking where this conversation is going. I'm appreciating her discerning taste. The fact that (Disney aside), the monster media hasn't gobbled her soul whole. That Justin Bieber doesn't have a hold on her.

But then there's this: "He has cool hair."

(Check out what my colleague Adam Eisenberg did with that 'do in our Justin Bieber photo gallery.)

Photo: Joshua C. Cruey, Orlando Sentinel


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August 4, 2010

Never take your eyes off of your child: Drowning prevention for kids

Sounds simple. Never take your eyes off of your kids near water, but drowning prevention for kids has to include education and training as well. In my opinion, every single child should take swimming lessons from the moment they can walk. Period.

We read these sad headlines multiple times every year. The common theme is always something like, "We only turned away for a minute". Broward has averaged 10 drownings a year of children younger than 5 from 2005 to 2009, with 88 percent of these taking place in backyard pools. Palm Beach County has averaged 6.5 from 1997 to 2009. Things are bad enough that even cash-strapped local governments are launching campaigns to fight the problem. Here is a video recently put together from the City of Coral Springs:

You can never be too careful. Even though my two oldest are excellent swimmers (thanks to an amazing teacher and early lessons) and we're very cautious, my wife and I have still had a few close calls. Nothing is more terrifying than looking around for your child only to find that they have fallen into the pool. Lucky for us we were very close and paying attention.

Common tips to keep in mind when you're with your kids near water:
• NEVER take your eyes off of your kids, and stay as close as possible at all times.
• Make sure children are in the pool only if an adult is present. Consider, if there is a party with several adults and children, alternating the duty of "water watcher" among adults.
• Teach children water safety and swimming skills as early as possible.
Learn CPR. Check out local community colleges and universities or the YMCA for classes.
• Have a fence around the pool and keep it closed. Install alarms on all doors leading to the pool and keep the doors locked.
• Avoid pools that have broken drain covers. New, safer drains are usually dome shaped.

In Palm Beach County, call the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Palm Beach County at 561-616-7068 or go to In Broward County, call Swim Central at 954-357-7946 or go to

Thanks to fellow bloggers Anne Vasquez, Nick Sortal, and Linda Trischitta for their stories which helped provide much of the information for this post. Stay safe out there.

POSTED IN: Chris Tiedje (51), Parks (12), Safety (59)

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Does every South Florida 16-year-old get a car?

My 16-year-old may be the only new driver in South Florida without her own car.teendrivingcar.jpg

I know there must be some of you out there, who, like us, either don't believe 16-year-olds should have their own cars, can't afford to buy them one or are telling the kids to buy it themselves. I would love to hear from you. Because all the kids I know are getting cars from their parents, some used and some new, as soon as they get their licenses.

I can see the value of kids having their own cars. Fewer family fights. Freedom to get a job, pursue extracurricular activities, go out with friends, etc. It is really hard to get around South Florida without a car.

At the same time, insurance, gas, maintenance and the car itself are super expensive, especially in these lean times. But I haven't seen anyone tell their kids, "Save up your money." The gift of a car seems to have become a rite of passage.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211)

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August 3, 2010

Let kids see South Park

Rafael Olmeda
It's been a while since I sat down and watched a full episode of South Park. One was on the other night. Stan's father, Randy, was on "Wheel of Fortune." The category was "People Who Annoy You." Only one letter was missing. The first letter was "N." The last five letters were "GGERS."

Unfortunately, Randy did not give the correct answer, which would have been "naggers."

The answer he did give prompted the dumbfounded looks that have become a trademark of the series. It also served as a springboard for a devastating assault on political correctness and the culture of offense, apology, victimization and demonization.

That's not why I kept watching. I kept watching because it was funny. Shockingly funny. "Oh-my-God-I-shouldn't-be-laughing-but-how-could-I-not" funny.

But should kids watch it?

Years ago, I refused to allow my nephew and niece to watch the South Park movie, despite the fact that I owned a copy and considered it a brilliant treatise on censorship and a powerful admonition aimed at parents who refuse to take responsibility for their children, instead finding blame in government, movies, television, society and Canada.

Their mom let them watch the movie anyway. And the kids lived. And I think part of it had to do with the fact that their mom was there. They were able to talk about what they saw. Personally, I think they were too young at the time (they were pre-teens). I'd have waited until they were teenagers. But that wasn't my call.

And it's not my call whether you let your kids watch it either. It's yours. And no one else's.

The point is moot in my household: I'm the only one who finds that particular brand of humor amusing, and even then it's only half the time. When it comes to this type of thing, I'm a committed member of the "if you don't like it, watch something else" camp. (Yes, you will catch me rumbling about the things that are said on certain news and commentary shows, but that's not what we're talking about here). I don't think South Park is always funny. That episode with Cartman's hand pretending to be Jennifer Lopez? Not funny. Towelie? Not funny. Tweak the caffeine addict and the Underpants Gnomes? Hysterical.

Disagree? Cool.

Honestly, I think we need to stop pretending that our teens and pre-teens are these innocent, fragile-eared cherubim and start recognizing that when our backs are turned, they hear everything we try to shield them from. And often, they're the ones saying these things. "Kids are not nice, innocent, flower-loving little rainbow children," co-creator Matt Stone said in a 1999 interview with the BBC. "Kids are all little bastards; they don't have any kind of social tact or etiquette."

So what does it all mean?

It means that, yes, we need to worry about what our kids are picking up from television. But more importantly, we need to be sure that we're the ones passing on the values we find important. No television show can do that for us, and if we do our jobs right, no television show can take it away.

By the way, do you like fishsticks?

POSTED IN: Entertainment (114), Rafael Olmeda 2010 (42)

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August 2, 2010

Should camp counselors be allowed to apply sunscreen?

When I signed my daughter up for summer camp last year, I was given a note that basically said it’s your child’s responsibility to apply sunscreen during the day.

At the time my daughter had just turned 6. I knew no matter how much I tried to drill the concept into her, there was no way she would remember to reapply her sunscreen. On really hot days when campers would go to the pool, my daughter would come home looking like a lobster.

Recently my friend’s daughter, who’s the same age as my daughter, got so badly sunburned on an outing during summer camp that her burns became blisters and she had to be taken to her doctor.

While I know it might be too time consuming for camp counselors to apply sun block to all of their campers— and some places forbid it because they don’t want to be liable for touching little girls and boys— there has to be a better way to keep our kids from getting badly burned.

When campers are going to water parks and other outdoor outings, it should be mandatory that counselors remind kids to apply their sunscreen and supervise them as they do it. If they notice a child is developing a burn, they should see to it the child is taken to a shaded area or indoors.

During these sizzling summer days, not doing more to prevent sunburn among these campers is like standing back and watching a child touch the stove without giving them a warning that it’s on.

POSTED IN: Georgia East (44)

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About the authors
Gretchen Day-Bryant has a son in high school and a daughter in middle school. She’s lived to tell about the struggles of juggling little kids and work.
Joy Oglesby has a preschooler...
Cindy Kent Fort Lauderdale mother of three. Her kids span in ages from teenager to 20s.
Rafael Olmeda and his wife welcomed their first son in Feb. 2009, and he's helping raise two teenage stepdaughters.
Lois Solomonlives with her husband and three daughters.
Georgia East is the parent of a five-year-old girl, who came into the world weighing 1 pound, 13 ounces.
Brittany Wallman is the mother of Creed, 15, and Lily, 7, and is married to a journalist, Bob Norman. She covers Broward County government, which is filled with almost as much drama as the Norman household. Almost.
Chris Tiedje is the Social Media Coordinator and the father of a 7-year-old girl, and two boys ages 4 and 3.
Kyara Lomer Camarena has a 2-year-old son, Copelan, and a brand new baby.

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