Creating New Thanksgiving Traditions

Creating Thanksgiving TraditionsAs we approach the Thanksgiving holiday social media is a constant feed of traditional foods, stories of family tradition dating back to ‘as long as I can remember’, and reminders of open spaces at our tables. As a proud Jewish American family, Thanksgiving figured prominently when I was growing up. It was a time for family and close friends to gather at my grandparent’s house. And there were always new faces ever year, young people who were away from home. Strangers, one would say. But in my grandparent’s home, no one was a stranger. These were my Thanksgiving traditions.

There was no separate kids’ table. Everyone sat together. Formal dining table next to however many folding tables and chairs were needed. The good china and crystal gleamed on the table, for kids and adults alike. The kitchen table was overflowing with desserts of all types. Traditional Pumpkin Pie, check. Sweet Potato Pie, got that too. Cookies, there was a wide assortment. Candies and chocolates, both store-bought and homemade were carefully displayed on beautiful trays. My  grandma was an entertainment goddess. Didn’t matter if there were 10 or 300 (her biggest Passover Seder had over 300!), she made it look so effortless and made everyone feel welcome.

My grandma passed away in 2013. She was in the hospital on Thanksgiving of that year. I had begun prepping the night before, not knowing my grandmother wasn’t feeling well. On Thanksgiving morning, as I was organizing my cooking schedule I got a call telling me my grandma was in the hospital. You don’t simply drop a list-full of food and hope it magically is prepared when you return. Honestly, I don’t even know what we did for Thanksgiving dinner that year. All I remember is being at the hospital, talking to doctors about final plans, making decisions I didn’t want to make, and hoping that I wouldn’t be saying my final good-byes that day.

Thanksgiving 2014 came along, not quite a year after my Bubbe died. I wasn’t in the mood to make a big dinner and spend my entire day in the kitchen. There wasn’t going to be a house full of people. Maybe years ago, but not that year. There would be 5 of us because Grandpa Tommy was not close enough to join our family gatherings.

Long ago, when it was just CycleGuy and me, we decided to have Thanksgiving dinner at a local resort. It was more of a way not to hurt anyone’s feelings because back then, in our early 20s, we were a young couple and had been invited to various homes for the holiday. Rather than having to choose, we had dinner by ourselves then made the rounds to our friends’ homes to laugh, have dessert, play games, and, of course watch sports on TV.

In 2014, I felt like the tradition of a big family gathering wasn’t much of a tradition. I would spend two days cooking and many more cleaning, for what would be a fancy, but still not-too-long dinner. BabyGirl didn’t have expectations of any specific experience. For her, really, it was just another day. Her traditions were more connected to the morning hike with her dad and an evening of playing games and eating dessert. It didn’t help that my last Thanksgiving memory was filled with beeping machines and the smell of industrial cleaners.

CycleGuy suggested we go out for Thanksgiving. I can’t even tell you if anyone had invited us over, because I don’t remember. Thanksgiving 2014 was the first year my whole family was gone. No grandparents, no mom, no uncle. Of course I had CycleGuy and BabyGirl, AuntZoni and Grandpa Tommy. But if all the family you grew up with is gone, you understand. I hope you don’t, though.

This year we’re going out for Thanksgiving. It’s become our tradition. I make a few things, those favorites you want as leftovers. But instead of spending days in the kitchen we spend time together. There is the annual Daddy/Daughter hike, followed by the cajoling to practice violin. (Music moms, you know my pain!) We talk, we look at ads, we watch parades on TV. I cook and bake at leisure, knowing that dinner is going to be ready when we are.

I was talking with a friend, recently, about Thanksgiving traditions and mentioned that I wonder if our going out to dinner will leave BabyGirl feeling empty when she’s away at college and friends talk about their family Thanksgiving traditions. Will she feel like she missed out on a house full of people eating, talking, laughing? Will she feel like her experience of getting dressed up and going to a resort make her not fit in? I started wondering about the traditions I’m creating for her. My friend didn’t really offer much, other than to say that traditions are what you make of them. Some people’s big family Thanksgiving isn’t really a fond memory. A tradition. A memory. But not necessarily good.

I have great memories of Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s house. But those are my memories. It’s not for me to recreate those. It’s more about creating experiences around Thanksgiving, no matter what they are, that fill BabyGirl with joy, love, happiness, appreciation, and gratitude. And if going out for dinner on Thanksgiving does that, then there’s nothing wrong with creating this new tradition.

May your table be filled with your favorite foods and surrounded by your favorite people. However you celebrate, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

If you’d like to share how you celebrate, I’d love to know!

Sara

My Love/Hate Relationship with STEM Education for Girls

STEM Girls

 

As a girl who grew up loving science and math, but eventually moved away from it, I have a love/hate relationship with the recent STEM and coding movements. I know math and science are important, especially for girls. Then again, the only female math or science teacher I had was my 10th grade Biology teacher, Mrs. Head. Even then, it wasn’t like it was so special because she was my aunt’s sister so I already knew her.

I always look back and say that I probably had one of the best STEM experiences in high school because almost all my classes were filled with other girls. If my memory serves me correctly, I’d say that the top 25 of my class (of which I was one!), half were girls. This is out of over 400 kids. Back then – 30 years ago, Class of ’87!! – it was unheard of for so many girls to be at the top of the class.

I’d say, for the most part, my teachers didn’t have issues with ‘the girls’. There was one (male) science teacher who would often put us in boy vs. girl teams, but I never saw it as a gender issue. For the most part the girls were equal to the boys, and we usually won, so I saw it as a way to tap down the testosterone surge of awkward high school boys. Maybe I was naive. And, if so, I’ll just keep it that way. Sure, that teacher had favorites – all of them boys. While  he made it very clear to me that he was never going to accept that I was as smart as the smartest boys, he had to pretend when every time he asked me to prove my worth I did. As a matter of fact, he didn’t want me to go to a state science competition because I was the only girl selected and we’d need a female chaperone. I was required to ask the female teachers if one would like to be my chaperone. Luckily I wasn’t asked to pay more to have my own hotel room, but he make it known that ‘his boys’ had to share a room while I got my own. At the end of the day, I won! None of ‘his boys’ won their divisions. I did. Not only did I win my division, my project and presentation were selected as one of the top three overall. Boom! Oh, and he had to present my award at the school assembly even though he didn’t want to.

I’ve looked back on that one incident and how, despite my hundreds of hours of work between 11pm and 3am having my mom drive me to the university two days a week for several months so I could work with a professor and his team of Ph.D. and Masters students, for me it was never trying to prove I was good enough. At that time, I didn’t see that he didn’t want any girls on his science teams and did everything he could to keep us off. Part of that was teen cockiness. But part of it was because my mom always told me that I if I did the work she’s make sure I had the same opportunities.

Then I went away to college. And the teen cockiness was knocked down quickly. I selected my program – constructional engineering – because it’s something I was really interested in learning and doing. I was one of about 6 girls in the program, and that included the graduate students and office staff. That should give you an idea of where I found myself. The professors were openly sexist. The teaching assistants had no time for me. In my advance physics class I was one of a few girls. I was the only girl in my physics lab. I was one of 3 girls in my Advanced Differential Calculus class, but the only freshman. I looked around, day after day, and saw few women. The women I saw were so busy keeping their place at the table there was no time left to make sure I even had a place in the room.

Now, as a mom to a girl who excels in math and science in a world where STEM education for girls has become a focus of education I’m not the advocate I once thought I would be. Yes, BabyGirl has been involved in robotics and science camps, often being the only girl. Yes, BabyGirl spent a summer in the NASAGirls program and has attended girl-only summer STEM camp at the local universities.

The push for STEM-everything, which is really coding-focused for the elementary and middle school ages, doesn’t seem genuine when it comes to girls, though. Sure, there are amazing organizations like Girls Who Code, but their local programs are connected to a school and if you don’t happen to go to that school you’re on your own. And what if you don’t want to code?

What if you don’t want to code? Can you tell me what’s out there for girls who don’t want to code but love science and technology and engineering and math? I can tell you. Not much. With all the great programs that use STEM as their basis, there is such a predominance of coding that kids are learning that STEM is coding. Girls are being taught that STEM equals coding.

So when they don’t like coding, they don’t like STEM. If they’re not good at coding they start to think they’re not good at STEM. They’re not good at science or math. And that’s where I have a problem.

I was fortunate. Up until about 10 years ago, education was about the various types of science – biology, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, and so many others – and math. It wasn’t about coding. I hated coding. It’s one of the reason I left my engineering program in college. It’s not that I wasn’t good at it, it’s that I hated staring at a screen with a bunch of nonsense to try and make some stupid design or have a series of number print out on a card. Science and math weren’t fun any more.

And that’s where I am today as a mom, trying to convince my daughter that math and science are fun. That they are used in real life. That there’s more to STEM than coding.

I believe that coding has its place in STEM. But it would be great if schools and the STEM movement would move beyond that focus and create programs that actually try to keep girls interested in science and math beyond elementary school. I say this because I know that there are awesome science and math programs and careers out there for girls, but they have to stay interested long enough to be able to see them as viable college and career options.

What are your thoughts about STEM education for girls? Has your experience been different?

Sara

How the Movie ‘Hidden Figures’ Sheds Light on Women in STEM to Give Young Girls More Role Models

Hidden Figures One Sheet

Based on the book of the same name, the movie Hidden Figures has grown from a small-budget, limited-release film to one that has expanded release and is receiving critical acclaim. The book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, written by Margot Lee Shetterly, brings to light several of the key African-American women who worked as ‘calculators’, and then mathematicians, at what is now NASA. Long before computers, people did the work of calculators. During their time, beginning in the 1940s, these young African-American women not only dealt with the sexism of the day but also were constantly reminded that ‘they’ were different. Regardless of the caliber of their work, it was several decades of being ‘colored’ and treated as third-class citizens that each of them had to contend with to do jobs where they could use their talents and pursue work that allowed them not only to contribute the space-race but also contribute to their self-satisfaction.

Although it was first released in select cities, I knew I wanted to see the movie and take BabyGirl to see it too. For decades young black girls never knew that there was a foundation in math and science careers set for them by the women portrayed in the movie and many others like them. As a bi-racial child, it is important to me that BabyGirl learn about her African-American history. Equally important is to teach her that while she’s grown up being told girls can do anything they set their mind to, sexism still may play a role. It’s easier to find stories of women who’ve overcome sexism in the workplace to become successful. But to have a story where even if they could overcome the sexism, the color of their skin was a constant reminder that they were ‘less than’ when it came to the type of work being done for the space program.

The theater was mostly empty, with BabyGirl significantly bringing down the average age. The movie moves along quickly and keeps you engaged. If you’ve never experienced racism first hand, there are a few uncomfortable situations that are even still pertinent today. The sexism can be brushed aside as something ‘of the time’. I think most of us are accustomed to women’s roles in the 50s and 60s. The music, the costumes, and the historical accuracy are so well done that you’re not distracted by something that doesn’t fit. The writers deserve a lot of credit for these because they could have easily left us trying to reconcile things on our own. Instead, they give us a truth that is closer to their reality and not one that we need to construct.

Now open nationwide, it’s very easy to encourage everyone to go see Hidden Figures. The reasons, though, are multi-faceted. It’s a story to encourage girls in STEM education. It’s a story that shows young black girls that despite thinking the path was only recently created this is a trail that was blazed a generation ago and has much deeper roots. It’s a story to remind us that thinking big and doing what seems impossible is a foundation of this country – for all people.

I think everyone who sees it can find their connection. As a parent, I feel connected to Katherine Johnson’s parents who were strong advocates for their gifted daughter. As a girl who loved math but felt pushed out by ‘the boys’, I know how difficult it must have been for these women to do this back in their time. As an American I see that we have come a long way, but still have room to improve.

Any time we have the opportunity to tell the stories of people whose stories were ignored, we need to do it. To think that major advances or events happened with only certain people perpetuates the misinformation that we’ve become conditioned to accept as fact. Today we have a platform to tell these stories. But we also have the responsibility to ensure that similar stories of today are told in real-time.

We can’t continue to tell stories like this as history. Girls of all color deserve to see themselves in women who are, every day, ensuring that this trail not only becomes smoother but also goes farther. In 2018, we will have the first African-American crew member on the International Space Station. Jeanette Epps, Ph.D., may not have set out to be the first but by telling her story in real-time we’re not left wondering if there is a place for girls in math and science.

History helps shape the future. Without stories like these kids, girls especially, grow up thinking they don’t belong. However, we can’t rely on history. Especially not when today we have amazing women of all color doing exceptional work in math and science, breaking down barriers that are remnants of an era we need to put behind us.

This isn’t just a story about black women who pushed “the system”. It’s a story about Jim Crow laws, feminism, self-respect, perseverance, love, and history. It’s all of these that are woven together to create a screenplay and bring to life the story of just three of the women who did the impossible. And helped their country do the impossible at the same time.

We need these movies. They give us hope and perspective, two things we need our children to have so they can go out on their journeys to do great things. And at the same time they show us that sometimes by just doing your job the way you think it should be done, you can make history.

Sara

Your Stuff Is Worth a Mint, Keep Track of it With Mynt Bluetooth Tracker

Bluetooth Tracking Device

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Slightech and includes affiliate links. If you purchase using my affiliate link I will earn a small commission.

One of the great things about tech is how it can help us in our daily lives. Bluetooth trackers are one of those small things that can make a big difference. Especially if you spend time looking for things like your keys, your phone, where you parked your car, your kid’s jacket, or even a purse or backpack.

There is so much stuff that we need to keep track of, it’s no wonder we walk out of the house without things. I’ve been a fan of bluetooth tracking devices since I first found them on crowdfunding sites a few years ago. Most though, are utilitarian and the size and design aesthetic is much more industrial than I’d like sometimes.

Recently, I was contacted by Slightech, the maker of the Mynt bluetooth tracker and offered one to tech drive. Because I’m a tech junkie and I was heading out of town for about 3 weeks I felt it would be a great time to check it out in comparison to the other trackers I use.

I’ll jump to the recommendation first and just say, GET ONE! Well, get more than one. While I like the others I have, the Mynt is nicer looking and doesn’t scream “I’m a tracker!”. For about 20 bucks you have such peace of mind of knowing where your stuff is at.

Mynt bills itself as a more than just a tracker. It’s an anti-loss device with finder capabilities, but it can also work as a remote for your smartphone camera shutter or as a “clicker” for music on your smartphone or, how cool is this, a remote for slide presentations on your Mac. And while the tracking is what I was focused on, it’s kind of nice that it’s capable of more than just that one thing.

The top things I liked about the Mynt bluetooth tracker that has me recommending this device:

  • Mynt BatteryReplaceable battery – seems like a little thing, but it’s nice to have that flexibility if you’re attaching it to your child’s lovey, tucking it into your luggage, or storing it in your car’s glove box. It’s an environmentally friendly aspect of this tracking device that doesn’t exist in others.
  • Size and design – it’s very flat  and is a smooth oval shape.  While I love my Tile Slim, which is flatter than the Mynt, the overall size moves the Mynt to my top choice. The design is well thought out too. It has the option of attaching to a key ring or other more permanent connector, you can stick it on with (provided) sticky dots, or you can use the low profile easy-attach string to keep the bulkiness to a minimum.
  • Color options – this is more of a preference and has nothing to do with functionality, but it’s nice to have choices. The blue device that I have is a very cool slate-like dark blue. When I show it to people I get lots of compliments on the color. If you want a color that will be more noticeable, you can get the gold one. If all  your tech is silver, grab a matching Mynt.
  • Alerts – if you’ve ever walked out of a movie or restaurant or dressing room at a store and a few minutes later realized you didn’t have your phone, you know that panic feeling that comes over you. But imagine being able to attach one to your child’s favorite toy or blanket so it’s not left on the plane. Or your keys. Replacing car or house keys is expensive! Being notified when you are separated from your tracker can keep the panic to a minimum and allow you to recover your valuables quickly. Almost a year ago my car key fell out of my purse on a flight and I didn’t realize it until I returned home and couldn’t get into my car. What I wouldn’t do to go back and attach a Mynt on my key fob. (In case you’re wondering, replacing electronic key fobs is expensive. Like designer shoes expensive!)

So, you need a bunch of these, right? I thought so! Because so do I. Recently BabyGirl was trying on dresses for her recital and left her phone on the bench in the little room. Luckily it was a week day at a smaller store and the associate cleared out the room and found the phone while we were still in the store. As a teen, I’m sure it was only a matter of seconds before BabyGirl noticed her phone was not on her. But had it not worked out so well, having the ability to check the Mynt app to find the phone would have kept the stress in check.

Mynt locatorIt was my Mynt that eased my mind when I nearly missed my connection because of a delayed flight. I was able to log into the app when we landed to see my bags were in DC at the airport, too. YAY! It was also Mynt that allowed me to keep an eye on my bags that arrived hours before me because I took a voluntary detour on a recent trip home from Washington.

While I got my Mynt bluetooth tracker free to facilitate my tech drive, I’ve since purchased them to give to a few people. These little gems have a great design and are great for people who travel with musical instruments, to toss into your suitcase like I did, to attach to your backpack or handbag (I do this!), or to anything you don’t want to worry about losing (even kids or grandma! Grandma would not have gotten run over by a reindeer if she had one of these!).

Works on Android, iOS, and Mac OSX desktop, and cost about $20. Available from the Sleightech store or on Amazon. Perfect for gift giving any time!

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Sara

Hanukkah Apps, Videos, and Favorite Tech Gifts

Hanukkah Apps

This post is part of an ongoing series of lifestyle tech as a participant in the Verizon Insider influencer group. I’m thrilled to be part of this group for the past several years and I hope you enjoy my unique perspective on tech for families and entrepreneurs. There are affiliate links in this post, which help me to run this site and buy cool tech I think you’d love to know about.

This year Hanukkah starts on December 24th. This is so exciting! No only do I have something fun to do on December 25th but I get to take advantage of all the sales. And though Hanukkah is a festival holiday and, traditionally, not a big gift-giving holiday, it’s become more and more a celebration that includes gifts. Gifts go well with latkes and pear sauce, right?

What I love about tech is that it allows everyone to get in on the games and fun smartphone apps. Even songs, lots of Hanukkah songs! So I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite Hanukkah tech, from apps to videos to small gifts to things that may qualify as ‘the big gift’ this year.

Fun Hanukkah Apps

Light My Fire (iOS, Andriod) – Created by The Jewish Museum in New York, this app allows you to select one of the many exquisite Hanukkiah from their collection. I love this, especially for college kids and young adults who may not be able to light actual candles where they live. It’s also great for little kids so they can participate in lighting candles. I think it would be a great option for seniors who may not feel comfortable with open flames in their homes or senior living apartments and for parents of kids with special needs that may not be able to light candles in a traditional way.

Menorah (iOS, Android) – This is a nice app, with music by Mo Kiss, that lets you light the candles and sing along. Again, great for those in need of a virtual menorah.

The Chanukkah App (iOS, Android) – With a virtual menorah, some history, and a virtual dreidel game it’s a mobile party! This app features the blessings in 7 languages as well as incorporates social sharing so you can celebrate with your friends all over the world.

‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah (iOS, Android) – An extension of the 2012 musical album of the same name, this app brings lots of fun holiday music to your smartphone with an epic musical battle between Christmas and the Festival of Lights. Something new and fun to give a tech/music spin to your celebration.

Match 8 Hanukkah Game (iOS, Android) – Tired of playing dreidel? Who isn’t! Here’s a fun little game to distract you from whatever it is you need distracting. This candle lighting game will test your skills at speed lighting. A great app for kids of all abilities to get involved in playing Hanukkah games.

Chai on Chanukkah (iOS) – A top app among Jewish families with special needs kids, everyone gets in on the festival fun!

Hanukkah Match Games (iOS, Android) – A Hanukkah twist on the traditional game of matching tiles. Fun for young kids and helps them make a Jewish connection.

Festive YouTube Videos

The Chanukah SongAdam Sandler Chanukah Song (3:55) – The original by Adam Sandler. In 1994, Adam Sandler wrote a Hanukkah song for SNL’s Weekend Update and it’s become a classic. Before this there really weren’t very many non-traditional Chanukah songs, so this is really the one by which all modern songs are measured. Most are parodies, but The Chanukah Song and it’s subsequent versions are all classics. Sandler’s Chanukah Song Part 4 was released in 2015, at a fundraiser with Judd Apatow. (Image Source: NBC)

Sesame Street: Hanukkah With Veronica Monica (2:43) – if your kids love Sesame Street, this is a fun little video of the Hanukkah story. If you like this one, check out Shalom Sesame.

The Maccabeats – Candlelight – Hanukkah (3:41) – Candlelight is a Jewish parody of Taio Cruz’s Dynamite. With over 11 million views, I find myself singing this all year ’round. Funny thing is that when this song came out BabyGirl had never heard Dynamite and months later when she did she thought it was a parody of Candlelight. True story!

The Maccabeat – All About That Nais (2:55) – Not as popular, but still fun, this parody of Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass is a nice little story about latkes, dreidels, bubbies, and presents.

Six13 – Chanukah (Shake It Off) (4:34) – New to the Jewish a Capella scene a few years ago, Six13 puts together a Festival of Lights parody of TayTays Shake It Off. It’s a fun little ditty!

The Story of Hanukkah (2:15) – This is a storybook video of the story of Hanukkah geared to help young readers. Perfect for kids!

Favorite Hanukkah Tech

OK, so there isn’t really such a thing as Hanukkah tech (other than the cool electronic Hanukah menorahs) but when it comes to gift giving, Chanukkah can present more challenges than just how to spell Channukkah. Since Hanukah is a festival holiday, many of us grew up with little emphasis on the gift-giving  part of the celebration. Some small gifts for each night (candy, puzzles, games, etc.) or maybe one “big” gift (a bike, designer jeans), but gift giving has only recently become associated with Hanukkah so it can be difficult to figure out the ‘right’ gift. And that’s why I’m taking the stress out of your holiday and giving you some suggestions for gift options for your Hanukkah-celebrating friends and family. [Note: Chanukah begins on Dec. 24th this year, so waiting for those after-Christmas sales is highly encouraged!]

Bluetooth Trackers – These little devices that attach to your keys, slide into your wallet, fit nicely in your center console of the car, attach to a zipper in your luggage, or connect to your child’s backpack, are awesome gifts. I’ve used the Tile, Tile Slim, and Mynt trackers and all have saved me from what could have been stressful moments. When I switched planes (and airports) to allow for a family to stay together, my Mynt tracker gave me peace of mind when I saw that my luggage had arrived to my destination. The Tile tracker was with me on a three week trip to DC this summer and when I left my luggage with the concierge I could see it was safe. And when I can’t find my phone, these little devices let me get an audible tracker even when my phone is on silent. Retail: about $20 each

Portable Speaker – When we went to Israel, we took the UE Boom with us so we could easily listen to music. We take it with us when we travel because it’s so easy to use and doesn’t take up much space. CycleGuy loves it for taking business calls because it turns his smartphone into a real speakerphone. The UE Boom 2 is shockproof and waterproof, making it even more versatile. The UE Roll is small, lightweight, and so easy to use for those with active lifestyles. These range in price, but are well worth the money!

External Smartphone Battery – Let’s face it, we’re busy people and don’t have time to worry about our smartphone running low. Sure, we can get a car charger or connect at home. But, with music and games, social media, and all the photos, those long-life batteries don’t always sync with our busy lives. I have 7 or 8 different powerbanks, each for different purposes. I have the ultra-thin charger for those times I’m going out and have a small evening bag. My original Mophie is always in my purse and CycleGuy has one in his messenger bag. I have a few larger Limefuel chargers with multiple ports so BabyGirl can always plug in with friends.

Multi-Port USB Charger – Seriously, you need one! Instead of plugging in all over the house or fighting for outlets at a hotel, a multi-port USB charger is a dream. I have three of these and they are the best! We have 7 smartphones, a Nexus, two iPads, wireless headphones, CycleGuy’s bike light, and quite a few other things that need to be charged and we can do it with such ease and convenience. A few brands I like are Anker, this value-priced Sabrent 4-port hub, this Photive 6-port rapid charger, as well as the more permanent option of changing out your outlet to a Top Greener Dual USB wall outlet.

Of course, who wouldn’t love a new phone? Sometimes that’s a very personal decision, but if you’re looking for a smartphone that is unique and has really cool add-on options, check out my experience with the Motorola Moto Z Force Droid. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge either.

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Sara

Moana Review: Familiar and New At the Same Time

Moana One Sheet

I think most of us can rattle of our top 5 Disney animated movies. Some go back to childhood – The Rescuers, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – while others are played on a loop in our minds from the many times our kids ask to watch it. I grew up in the 70s and 80s but had to wait until I was in college for the first big modern hit, The Little Mermaid, swim into my memory. While it may not make it into your all-time top 5, Moana is sure to become a classic.

This week we welcome another strong young woman in the ever-expanding lineup of princesses, Moana Waialiki (voiced by Hawaiian actress Auli’i Cravalho). We know she’s a princess because her back-story tells us so. But even if we’re not convinced, her soon-to-be friend, Maui (voice by Dwayne Johnson) clearly points out, “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” Hard to argue with that!

Academy Award-winning writer/director and New Zealand native Taika Waititi wrote Moana’s original script and the movie was directed by Disney veterans John Musker and Ron Clements, Moana is the first “Disney princess” movie not to give the leading lady a love interest. Compared to the now-classic modern Disney princess movies – The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahantas, Brave, and Frozen – Moana’s story joins that of warrior princess Mulan’s where it’s girl versus the world to save her family.

While her father, the chief, is in the movie, early on we get a strong sense that women are well-respected in her Polynesian culture. Moana’s grandmother is the chief storyteller in the beginning and sets the stage for the journey Moana will take. We learn about the disgraced demi-god Maui and are given an idea of how he will be part of her journey, but it’s not until Moana meets him that we’re treated to his humor. It was Maui, whose actions set the course for putting Moana’s people in peril, the set the stage for Moana’s grand adventure.

Moana HeiHei

Years prior, Maui took a mystical stone, “the heart of Te Fiti”, that causes Moana to set out on this open-ocean adventure. Like Pocahontas, Moana has two animal friends. However, only one, Heihei the clueless rooster, joins her on the water even though he should have stayed on the island. Nonetheless, he provides for comic relief among the few moments of tension.

While Moana means ‘ocean’ in Maori (the Polynesian people of New Zealand), Maui will likely evoke a sense of Hawaii among most moviegoers. A bit stereotypical, Maui is a large, hulking figure who knows the history of their ancestors, is covered in tattoos, and can shape-shift through the magical powers of his giant fish-hook sword alternative.

Moana and Maui

The plot is relatively simple – girl defies her father and sets out on an adventure to save her people and in the process makes a friend and defeats the enemy – but we’re taken along in a way that keeps you engaged and brings you back when you’re starting to feel like it’s becoming trite. Moana and Maui have to work together, but there is no romance that is brewing. Both are strong and have an appreciation of each other that does not need to be woven together with a love story.

Instead, the two join forces to return the stone so Maui can continue his journey through life and Moana and her people can, once again, live freely as their ancestors once did.

It wouldn’t be a Disney movie without great music, right? It’s the songs that keep us connected (along with all the merchandise!) to the movie. Moana doesn’t disappoint, but it’s no Frozen. With music by the renown Disney music writer Mark Mancina, we’re treated to a soundtrack that includes the lead singer of a South Pacific fusion band, Opetaia Foa’i, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. While you may not think the music would hold together with such an eclectic group, it’s that diversity that keeps you wondering what’s coming next.

The movie is adorable and I’m sure will be a big hit. Will it be “the next Frozen”, I highly doubt it. Will it make you want to plan your next trip to Disney’s Aulani Resort on O’ahu? I wouldn’t be surprised. I anticipate an interest in all-things Hawai’i from this movie. Partly because of the island-theme, but also because Moana and her people are portrayed with such authenticity and depth it’s hard not to love them and want to feel that spirit.

My first impression of the movie was that it felt like Brave meets Hamilton with a musical interlude by Flight of the Conchords. If you don’t know Flight of the Conchords you might not get my description, but I throw them in because of the giant crab (voice by Jemaine Clement of FotC) scene. Nonetheless, I stick by that characterization. I use Brave instead of Mulan, mainly because Brave is more recent, but it easily could be Mulan meets Hamilton with a musical interlude by FotC. I say this not as a slight to the movie. However, in the first few minutes of the movie the song(s) take on a very Hamilton-esque cadence and feel that Baby Girl whispered that the songs seemed really familiar but she couldn’t place it. That’s when I whispered back ‘Hamilton’.

Go see the movie! It’s a sweet story (just know there are very few slightly scary parts), there’s a connected plot, and just when you think it could start to get boring you’re jolted back with a song or humorous exchange between the characters. Plus the music! It’s beautiful music and well thought out. It might not replace “Let it Go”, but there is hope.

Moana is rated PG
Run time: 1 hour 53 minutes
In theaters: Nov. 23, 2016

Images: ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Sara

Teen Tech Travel Tips

Teen Tech Travel Tips

FTC Disclosure

This is a sponsored post.

When it comes to traveling with teens, I’m sure I’m not the only parent who stresses over what they pack and the rate at which they pack. While BabyGirl is diligent and usually creates a packing list, sometimes she begins to over think what she needs. I remember doing the same thing when I was a kid, so I give her some leeway. On the other hand, when it comes to packing her tech it becomes a game of ‘didja’ – ‘didja’ bring the backup battery, ‘didja’ pack extra earphones, ‘didja’ make sure you have the right cable?

It probably doesn’t make sense to have a tech ‘go bag’ for the kids if you don’t travel extensively, but I’ve found that it’s important to start good habits early. We need to get teens thinking about what they need to keep their tech useable on the go. They’re likely used to grabbing their phone and going since smartphones today tend to have 10+ hours of battery usage. And even if they’re running low they likely have a friend who has a charger or they’re at school and have access to a charger.

While we may have some of the extras to keep the phones charged, sometimes we don’t. And with families often having different types of devices it’s possible we don’t have everything for everyone.

  1. Provide them with a tech travel checklist – this is good for everyone in the household because even those of us who are experienced packers often forget something. If they’re responsible for packing their tech, helping them be successful and avoiding stress while the family is on vacation is a parenting win!
  2. Get them their own accessories – while this may not be possible for everyone, if parents have to share chargers, backup batteries, extra lenses, headphones, fitness trackers, or other basic accessories this can be stressful for everyone. This can eliminate the ‘I thought you packed it’ conversation when something can’t be found. It also means that when your phone is running low you don’t have to share your powerpack or give up the only power cord. I recently got a cable that works with both the Apple lightening and the micro USB cable, (affiliate) mainly because I have both Android and iOS devices. I can’t tell you how many times it’s come in handy to have a cable that can work for either device.
  3. Label their tech – It doesn’t have to be obvious and in-your-face, but if you have more than one of the same thing being able to tell them apart is important for everyone. Even something as basic as a phone cable can be personalized with tape or a dab of nail polish. Of course, this won’t help get the item back to you if it’s lost but to keep things that look alike sorted is one less headache. I like to get each person their own color or style of phone cable charger. While the ones that come with the device are always best, there are so many great color and style options to help personalize the tech. When it comes to labeling in case of loss, I like BoomerangIt. I’ve been using their labels for well over 10 years and while not everyone will think to return a lost item, if there is an easy way to return it the likelihood of getting it back increases. I’ve also used Mable’s Labels to add a name since kids tend to have very similar items.
  4. Clean their tech – When was the last time you cleaned your phone or the accessories? Yah, I don’t remember either. Which is what prompted me to list this here. We all know that sometimes when we travel we get sick or are near people who are sick. And we set down out devices on tables, or even the floor, that may not be the cleanest. With tech you need to make sure you use something that won’t ruin it. I like PhoneWipes (affiliate link) because they’re good for other things but I know they won’t mess with my tech. This is also a great time to clean up the device to free up room for photos and videos or new apps.
  5. Have a ‘go bag’ just for them – While it may seem easy to have them throw everything into their backpack or other carry-on, having a smaller ‘go bag’ will help them keep everything organized. With multiple cables, chargers, headphones, and accessories, if everything is in one place it helps not only to find things when you need them, but when it’s time to pack up at the hotel they know where everything goes and can become familiar with what’s supposed to be in there so they don’t leave things behind. Together with the checklist of what they should have, it’s a great habit to start. I’ve always used makeup bags for my tech, mainly because years ago they were one of the few non-black bags I could easily and inexpensively purchase. There are many other options now, but I still think makeup or dopp kit bags are a great size and come in great color and design options.
  6. Use a bluetooth tracker – This is kind of an extension of the ‘label it’ suggestion. I have used the Tile for quite some time, and I actually have several other brands of bluetooth trackers that I actively rotate. Even if the kids aren’t prone to losing or misplacing things, stuff happens when we travel.

So there you have it, 5 (ok, 6!) simple tips to help you help your teen manage their tech when you travel. What else would you recommend?

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Sara

Dine Out to Help End Childhood Hunger in America #NoKidHungry

nokidhungry

When you think of childhood hunger, what comes to mind? For me, it’s usually those ads with kids in Africa with the distended tummies and some soft voice over about how for just pennies a day we can feed a starving child. I hate those ads. Not because I don’t support what they do, but because I feel like they’re preying on my kindness and desire to make the world better. As a kid, even though I didn’t have a lot of food, compared to those kids on TV I was eating like a queen.

A number of years ago I was at a conference and there was a booth about the No Kid Hungry program. I had never heard of the program and found out it was just a few years old, having rolled out as part of Share Our Strength in 2008. I knew exactly what they were trying to do. End child hunger in America.

It pains me that in this great country so many kids go to bed hungry every night. Even more kids deal with food insecurity, not knowing if they’ll have anything to take for lunch or to eat when they get home from school. We don’t think about kids in our own communities going without meals. Unlike many of the poorest countries in the world, as we go about our day the likelihood of encountering a child who deals with hunger or food insecurity isn’t something we see.

Yes, we know it exists. Yes, we donate to food pantries. Yes, we realize our kids go to school with students who get free or reduced meals. But it’s actually hard to really see and grasp.

Most people don’t know, but for almost all of elementary school I got free lunch. There were no snacks waiting for me when I got home. Meals were simple. Not as in simple because mom was busy. Simple as in “pretend tomato soup” made with ketchup and hot water, or half a sandwich because if I ate a whole one my mom would have nothing to eat. And meals were even more simple as the month wore on if my grandparents or my uncle didn’t “happen to stop by on their way home from the store.” I don’t think I ever went hungry in the sense that there was no food at all or that I went to school or to bed without eating something, but there was definitely a sense that if there was more food I would eat it.

I went to school early, usually leaving the house to catch the 6:45 a.m. bus so I could have breakfast. There were a lot of us, probably 10 kids, so it didn’t really seem all that weird. I wasn’t bullied or made fun of because I ate breakfast at school. In the summer, I rarely ate breakfast. Which is a habit born out of necessity that dies hard.

Every Monday my teacher would give me five lunch tickets. If I lost them, I wouldn’t have lunch. I diligently wrote my name on the back of each ticket, in case they got lost, and then put them in my pencil bag. I remember in 4th grade my lunch tickets were yellow. Some kids had blue tickets. Years later I understood why some kids were handed blue tickets and some kids yellow. It’s humbling to realize that my mother had to ask for help, yet she did everything so it wouldn’t affect me so much.

I know what food insecurity is. I understand how it can impact your ability to learn and pay attention in school. I have a great appreciation for the food that I am served because I often had a choice of eating food I didn’t care for or going hungry. When you’re 6 or 7 it’s a pretty easy choice.

Although we didn’t keep kosher – imaging trying to do that when you’re dependent on other people providing your food – there was a long list of food I couldn’t eat. I rarely ate meat, even at school. You don’t realize how often schools serve ham, or cheeseburgers, or sloppy joes until you have to trade your friends your main dish for their peas or carrots or corn. You don’t realize how few vegetables are actually served until you ask a number of the kids around you ‘are you going to eat that’ as you point to whatever vegetables they’ve pushed to the side just so you don’t feel hungry any more.

I don’t worry about if I will eat today. My daughter will never know a home without food, nutritious or otherwise. At nearly 50, I am still affected by the lack of food when I was a kid. Today, I have the privilege of choosing organic, nutritious, fresh foods. I also have the ability to be part of the solution to put an end to a situation I know too well.

Dine Out for No Kids Hungry is a month-long promotion in September to help end child hunger in America and get more people involved in solving this problem. There are thousands of restaurants participating across the country to help bring an end to child hunger and kids dealing with food insecurity. By dining out at a participating restaurant a portion of the profits from your meal will be donated to Share Our Strength. Go eat out!

With your change you can be the change. Kids should never have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Please learn more about No Kid Hungry by following them on Twitter, Like their Facebook page, and share your support of those restaurants and companies donating by tagging your photos with #NoKidHungry.

 

Note: It’s not easy to share stories like this, but as I get older I realize how important it is for me to shed the fear of sharing and do it to help kids like me. This is not a sponsored post.

Sara

Add Productivity and Fun to Your Mobile Lifestyle with the MotoZ Force Smartphone

MotoZ Droid Smartphone

One of the newest and most versatile smartphones on the market is the Droid MotoZ Force from Motorola. As part of the Verizon influencer team I was given this revolutionary new smartphone and asked to use the it and share with you how this new modifiable smartphone can help busy moms and dads, as well as business professionals. It’s easily the coolest phone you can have.

From the front it’s just a regular looking phone. Sure, the MotoZ Force has a shatterproof and water resistant display, a 21mp camera, and up to 40 hours of battery life. But unlike every other phone, the MotoZ and the MotoZ Force (I have the MotoZ Force) are the first to have interchangable backs. You know how the first thing you usually do when you get a new phone is to get a case? With this smartphone there are no cases. With the ability to swap out the backs – whether it be for a chic designer back from Kate Spade, the Tumi woodgrain-look wireless charger, the JBL Soundboost speaker mod, the Moto Insta-Share Projector, or the other versatile mods – you can instantly transform a standard smartphone into an entertainment hub or productivity tool.

While the device comes with swapable backs in six different styles, it’s the ability to quickly change out the back that has me excited. Sure, a cool or cute case/cover is nice and allows you to personalize your phone, we rely on our devices to help us be more productive, more efficient, and so much more. How many times have we all been huddled around our or a friend’s phone trying to watch a funny video or photos from a trip? Countless, right? Have you ever been at a gathering, in your hotel room, in the back yard, beach, or park and wanted to listen to music with your family or friends but you don’t have portable speakers? I’m sure there have been times you would have loved to have that option.

 

A video posted by Sara Hawkins (@sarafhawkins) on

While I do have a great portable speaker, it’s not portable in the sense of tossing it in my bag. The JBL Soundboost mod, though, is one of the smallest and lightweight portable speakers. And to make it even better, this mod has a 10-hour battery built in! Bluetooth can use a lot of battery power, but with the integrated power with the stereo-quality JBL speakers your inner DJ will thank you. The interesting thing is that I never really knew I needed this mod until I got it and would leave without it and would want to listen to music or share something with sound and I’m searching for a cup or cupping my hand over the phone speaker to amplify the sound like some tech noob.

If you’re thinking that’s all fine and good to have a cool set of speakers, but how can it help me with my business or work, I’m here to tell you it’s even better. If you’re at a client meeting the speaker can act as a portable speakerphone to bring in a remote colleague in a professional way. With the JBL Soundboost any embedded audio in a presentation boosts that level of professionalism you’re going for in a business meeting. And, instead of having to connect via bluetooth to a separate device, just pop on the speaker mod and it’s a dance party! Or, you can listen to TED talks or  a conference livestream.

My favorite mod, though, is the Moto Insta-Share Projector. This is a game changer, folks! Besides being able to play movies, watch videos, or share photos directly from your phone for everyone to see the business uses for the projector will have your clients and colleagues amazed. The projector is a fun add-on, but let’s be real. As a $300 mod, it’s not for everyone. However, if you travel a lot and want to watch movies at the hotel or vacation rental, share photos with groups of friends and family, or even buy a movie screen and have backyard movie nights this projector mod is pretty awesome. As a business tool, $300 for a portable projector is an amazing price. It makes easy work of sharing presentations, showing what a design would look like on a specific surface, or sharing information with a group. I never thought I needed a portable projector; however, after having this one I found so many ways to use it for my business. And, of course, I’ve used it to project our summer travel slideshow.

There are a lot of different smartphone options on the market, but this is the first one that really takes portability to the max. The fact that the mods integrate seamlessly makes changing them out effortless. And with that ability to change how our phones work, business productivity and personal entertainment are taken to new heights.

The MotoZ and the MotoZ Force, along with the Moto Mods are available at your local Verizon store or online. With the best network come the best products!

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Sara

Fitbit Blaze Sweepstakes: Smart Fitness Has Never Looked Better #vzwbuzz #FitbitBlaze

Fitbit Blaze Sweeps Graphic

This is a sponsored conversation on behalf of Verizon and OM Media.

A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. ~ Chinese Proverb

Fitbit Blaze 3

As a reluctant exerciser, this phrase motivates me daily. And while I’m just working toward 10,000 steps each day, meeting that goal begins with just one step. Whether it’s walking in the neighborhood, pushing through the pre-set workout, or just being active around the house, seeing those steps add up on my fitness tracker is motivation to keep going.

With so many fitness trackers on the market it’s hard to know which one to choose. Well, I’ll make it easy! How about a Fitbit Blaze? One of the newer fitness trackers on the market, the Fitbit Blaze is a fitness watch that looks like a watch so you don’t look like you’re wearing a fitness tracker. Designed more like a watch, it allows you to see text and call notifications.

While I have a different fitness tracker, I love the sleek and versatile design and function of this smart fitness watch. And did you know that the Fitbit Blaze automatically recognizes and records your exercise for you, so you’ll get credit for a workout even if you forget to log it? My tracker has a similar feature, and I love it because at the end of the day when you’ve put in your steps you want to get credit for them, right.

One really important feature is the continuous heart rate monitoring. This will help maximize the benefits of your workout. I thought I was getting the most from my workout until I found out about the heart rate monitoring feature and now I can really focus on getting the best workout. Another feature I really like about the Fitbit Blaze is that it gives you music control so you don’t have to fool with your smartphone to get to the song you want!

A new feature from Fitbit is the FitStar workout, which can be used right on your screen. It’s like having a coach right on your wrist! You’ll get step-by-step instructions right on the screen so you don’t have to keep doing the same few exercises you’ve always been doing.

I know you’ll love the Fitbit Blaze as much as I love my fitness tracker. It’s stylish, versatile, and can likely help you reach your health and fitness goals. As always, before you start a new fitness program consult with your personal health professional. And always be careful if you’re outside with your earphones on. So, what are you waiting for?

  • No purchase necessary to enter.
  • Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.
  • Open to US Residents only.
  • Void where prohibited.
  • See Official Rules for details.

Enter now for a chance to win a Fitbit Blaze Smart Fitness Watch


Fitbit Blaze Sweepstakes

Official Rules

More Things You Could Win!

Verizon is working with a few of my friends to bring you other great tech. Check out their posts and enter for a chance to win.

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Sara