Saturday, April 19, 2014

How To Find Family-Friendly Trips In Your Area

Long before we had kids, my husband and I traveled our state looking for frugal stuff to do on weekends. So we researched and found tons of activities to do, many of them little-known even by long-time residents. This knowledge has served us well in the wake of having children and an even smaller budget. So let me share with you some of the resources I've gathered over the years which will help you find relatively low-cost destinations for you and your family:

  • The first place you'll want to search is ( It provides tourism websites for all 50 states plus links to historic places, the National Trails System run by the National Park Service, and more.
  • TripAdvisor ( is the premier site you visit when you go on vacation, but it's also a fantastic site for “staycations" and day trips. Plug in your state and find out where to go for some fun!
  • has a Cities And Towns Channel ( containing videos by guides that have plenty of ideas on what to see in various cities and towns.
  • Many factories give tours and they're a great way to show kids how some of the products they use are made. Visit FactoryToursUSA ( for a list.
  • Camping is a great, relatively low-cost way to spend quality family time. Visit ( for a list of some of the best with ratings by actual users. Similarly, ReserveAmerica ( will not only help you find a campground, but will guide you toward day use and picnic areas as well.

Lastly, check some of the kids booklets and magazines your local library most likely has. They can provide even more ideas for tourist spots in your area. Don't be like those people who live their whole lives near a famous landmark and never go! Get to know your own area!

Thank you for reading! Please come back again soon, won't you?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Took My Kids To Court Today

In a previous post, I wrote about how I was recently a spectator at our local municipal court ( Now, we're talking basic traffic court, not anything bloody or prurient. Well, given that it's Spring Break here and the kids are off, I took them to watch the Court.

The teen went reluctantly, since anything that takes away from his computer time annoys him, but the 8-year old jumped at the chance to do something out of the ordinary. The kids and I made a deal: they would not talk in the Court (a big no-no since everything recorded can be used in case of an appeal) and if they were antsy, we would leave after about an hour.

The first row in the courtroom is reserved for prisoners, a fact that excited my daughter with the prospect of seeing dangerous people. Thankfully, there were none, but before the session started, she and I had a discussion of why people might be in prison and why they might need to appear in Court. The judge was the same on who presided the last time I was there, and I was even more impressed by him this time. He started the session by announcing that in the courtroom were two lawyers-in-training and named my children; this made my daughter happy and embarrassed my son (thus, making me happy). This man does not strike me as someone so intoxicated by power that he abuses it. His judgments seemed fair. I especially loved his announcement to everyone that being summoned to Court does not make you a bad person – it just means that there's an allegation against you that needs to be heard.

Once again, most of the violations were minor, although we were surprised to learn that one man was given a ticket for not getting the snow off his car this past Winter. I know it's against the law and it's nice to hear that someone actually got called for not doing it. Also interesting were the many tickets against local businesses for everything from false burglar alarms to having uninspected vehicles on the road. The judge, who did not have a translator available, too great pains to make sure that anyone who did not speak English well understood the charges made against them and what their options were.

The kids got restless after about an hour (it was hot in there) and we left. I wish we hadn't because my friend who works at the Court had offered to introduce the kids to the judge. On the way out to the car, my daughter and I recalled the last time our family had been in Court – 7 years ago when we appeared before another judge when we re-adopted Diva. That was one of the happiest days of our lives.

I'm glad the kids got a chance to see our judicial system in action. They now know what a courtroom looks like and that appearing before a judge is not a scarey thing, like going before the Almighty Oz in the Wizard Of Oz. They saw him as a human being who is trying to make a correct judgment based on the facts given.

Municipal Court is a great, free place to take your kids that will make a permanent impression on them and give you wonderful opportunities to discuss a variety of topics (justice, government, whether laws apply to all, etc.). If you can, grab your kids and head to your town hall. You won't be sorry!


Thanks for reading!  Please check back in with me in a day or two and remember:  you can also find my words of non-wisdom over at The Geek Parent (  Namaste!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Embracing Easter & Passover – How Interfaith Geeks Do It

22 years ago I, a Catholic, married a man who is Jewish in an interfaith ceremony. Officiating was a cantor (Jewish) and a Unitarian minister. I nixed the idea of a priest and honestly, at the time, I doubted that any would have performed the ceremony. We were not the norm back then, as most people and family failed to understand how two such divergent traditions could meld. Nevertheless, combine we did as we raise our children Unitarian, the perfect mix of both traditions where participants are encouraged to find their own truths while being exposed to mainstream doctrines. Still, some people still wonder how, during this week in which Passover and Easter overlap, interfaith families celebrate these traditions, if at all.

In our home, it is important that our kids understand the various traditions and concepts of both holidays. Both know the meaning of the Seder and our Seder plate has had some rather interesting incarnations. While the traditional plate consists of the haroset (a mixture of apples, nuts, etc.), shankbone, egg, horseradish, parsley, and another bitter herb, the kids and I have gotten creative, substituting McDonald's apple slices for the haroset, a chicken bone for the shankbone, relish for the horseradish, and even an Easter egg as the egg. Does it matter that the platter is incorrect? No. It's our way of celebrating the tradition and to my husband, the important part is that his religion is carried on with his kids, at least in some form. Similarly, we've served matzoh and macaroons during Easter dinner.

Last night, at our Seder, my son said the traditional prayers and we left an empty chair, as Jewish tradition dictates, to symbolize those people who live in lands where they cannot celebrate Passover as a free people. On Easter, in addition to the egg hunt and dyed eggs, we'll read the Easter story about an amazing man who gave up his life and defied the grave. We'll point out the fact that Jesus' last supper was, indeed, a Passover Seder which drew people who loved each other together.

Families of different traditions know we have to compromise, picking and choosing carefully which traditions we embrace. InterfaithFamily, an group that promotes Jewish choices for interfaith couples, found in a survey of 327 respondents that while 58% say they will participate in Easter celebrations, only 5% will choose to tell the Easter story. And while 96% say they'll participate in Passover celebrations, only 66% expect to tell the Passover story. Interfaith families, as really all families do, adapt and change the people within them grow and develop.

How will your interfaith family celebrate Easter and Passover? For suggestions and perspectives, visit these links:

  • - Whereas most websites I've found have a slant toward one religious tradition over another (usually Jewish over Christian because more Jewish sects reach out towards interfaith families than the various Christian groups), this article provides a fairly balanced viewpoint with some delightful melding of traditions, for example, serving matzoh brie at Easter breakfast.

  • – The website of the Unitarian Universalist Association explains how this religious organization embraces and welcomes the beliefs of all.

No matter how you celebrate this wonderful season, what's important is that as parents, we cultivate a sense of who we are and what our families believe going forward. Those beliefs provide a safety net for our children as they grow into adults.

            2.  This article first appeared on the website The Geek Parent (

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What I Learned In Municipal Court

I spent the morning in my township's municipal court under the best possible circumstances: I was a guest of one of the Officers Of The Court. She'd invited me down to see what proceedings were going on and I went because, from what I'd heard, it could be quite entertaining. Here's what I learned:

  • This particular judge, rather than being scary, was a very reasonable man who, I believe, was merciful in his judgments. He advised most of the plaintiffs to go visit the prosecutor down the hall to see if their matters could be taken care of simply and possibly bargained down to a lesser infraction. I kept thinking that if I had to go before a judge, this is the guy I'd want to be in front of.
  • Many of the cases seen today were tickets given to people who illegally park in handicapped spots. That opened my eyes because so many times I've been tempted to park in those spaces, figuring I wouldn't get in trouble. Apparently people do.
  • A few of the cases were of motorists who were pulled over for not having their driver's licenses. It turned out that in at least two cases, the motorists had never had a driver's license, either in this country or in their country of origin. This reinforces for me the fact that we really have to be careful on the road – not only for texters and distracted drivers, but for those who get behind the wheel with very little training. How dangerous and nervy!
  • People do not dress well for court. Whereas Baby Boomers and older showed up in business attire, the 20 and 30-year olds showed up in jeans and sweatshirts. To me, this was sloppy and showed a lack of respect for the court. Do people really not know how to dress anymore?
  • EVERYTHING in court is videotaped and recorded to protect those involved. If you're in a courtroom, assume that everything you do and say is being recorded.
  • People who don't show up for court are in the most trouble. Those people really ticked the judge off and he issued many bench warrants imposed hefty fines on those people. I got the feeling that if those people had just called the Court, the repercussions would not have been as severe.

It was rather interesting to see our judicial system in action, but honestly, I think I would have been harsher on several people than the judge was. If you're going to be stupid enough to drive without a driver's license or if you roll your eyes at a judge and show disrespect for the Court, I think they should throw the book at you. I have to wonder if some law enforcement officials are so afraid of litigation against them that they don't use their power to the full extent that they could.

If you find yourself in court, here are some links on how to behave properly because how you present yourself can affect the outcome of your case:

Going to court offered me a quick glimpse into our judicial system and gave me a little insight into what's going on in my town. I will probably take the kids there on a morning that they're off from school because it would certainly be an educational experience. Call your local municipality and find out when the court is open to the public. You just might learn something about our legal structure and the people who test the limits of our judicial system.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Book Review: The Doctors Book Of Home Remedies For Children

Last week was one of those roller coaster mothering weeks I dread. Diva was sent home from school because she had a wonky tummy and a headache. A gymnastics competition was coming up, so I wasn't surprised, figuring she was just nervous, especially since she was bouncing around after school. Low and behold, that night she was lethargic and running a 102 degree temperature. The up-and-down symptoms persisted for two days with the fever breaking and a sore throat beginning. With our insurance rates having skyrocketed, I don't rush to the doctor every time a kid is sick, but I really wasn't sure what to do. Once the fever breaks, should I send her to school even if her throat is sore? If she's feeling better at night, do I send her to gymnastics' practice? Should I bit the bullet and take her to the doctor?

Enter a book I had bought years ago: The Doctors Book Of Home Remedies For Children from the editors of Prevention Magazine Health Books. I'd purchased this book on clearance from Barnes and Noble and have taken it out many times since. Obviously, as the title says, this is a medical-based book, not a purely holistic one. It does not shirk from recommending over-the-counter medicine or going to the doctor when things look serious. What it does do, however, is give parents some practical guidance as to easy home remedies that doctors recommend.

It advocates simple, non-medicinal treatments that even I, someone who thought she knew a lot about home remedies, found surprising. For example:

  • Lollipops and ice cream are great for soothing sore throats.
  • Antiperspirants, when applied to a bee sting, relieve the pain and itching.
  • Flat cola calms a queasy stomach.
  • Using a wet teabag to help with the discomfort of cold sores.
  • Making a paste of baking soda and water to help with sunburn.

Despite it's medical slant, I love the fact that the authors often caution against using over-the-counter medicines, explaining why they don't work. And the sections entitled “When To See The Doctor” alert you what to look for and when, specifically, you might want to at least call the doctor.

I eventually took Diva to the doctor to test for strep (which was negative), but the book reminded me that putting a straw in her liquids made them easier to drink and that giving her orange juice was a big no-no for sore throats (too acidic).

Will this be the only medical reference book you'll need? No, but it's a great one to have on your bookshelf for learning more about the symptoms your kid presents and how much you can do on your own. I recommend it for people with small children, although the authors do tackle behavior problems exhibited by older kids like complications from ear piercing, TV addiction, and video game addiction. I'm happy I bought it and you will be, too.

Thanks for reading! Please check back in with me and don't forget to visit me at The Geek Parent (