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Be Our Guest


We’ve all read the stories about those amazing people that adopt numerous kids and seem to have endless compassion and patience. We often wonder if they have super-human ability or if we could ever be that type of family. It is a major life commitment, not right for everyone.

The author's family with their Italian guest

The author’s family with their Italian guest

For families who have room in their homes and hearts, and want to test the waters before committing to foster parenting, there are lots of opportunities to do so.

Exchange programs are the most common way, with host families taking in a child from another country for an entire school year. Students and family members must sign a contract agreeing to specific rules, but generally, the family provides food and shelter and necessities. The students must abide by house rules and aren’t allowed to drive.

They key to finding a good fit is to look for accredited programs that work with your local school. Check with your school district’s administration office or the guidance council office of the nearest high school to see which programs are most compatible.

Alexandria, Virginia, resident Maria Filios is a six-time-and-counting exchange student host mom. “With every exchange student, we learn something new. We are certain that these are lifelong relationships that create further connections. Nothing makes your children more aware of the world than hosting an exchange student.” Filios says she keeps in touch with all of her “kids” and even had the opportunity to visit some in their native countries. Her son is currently studying in Italy.

Many sports programs, such as the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, need host families for players, and require a shorter time commitment but a big return for a budding athletes and host families. An amateur summer wooden bat baseball league in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, the CRCBL gives college players from around the country an opportunity to get a sense of professional baseball life. Players stay with the family from late May through July or early August and the host families provide a bed and access to a washer and dryer. Their assigned team provides the rest.

Your local recreation department should know of any other sports programs needing short-term hosts for athletes. Or check with the Chamber of Commerce to see if there is an International Business School that is looking for host families for adult students looking for business opportunities. Your city may even have a sister-city exchange program that needs hosts for different events.

Our family had the opportunity to host a young student from Italy this past summer. She wanted to experience life in the US and because she missed the school deadlines, we arranged for a month and a half visit. Admittedly, we had a brief moment of panic as we waited for the plane to arrive.  Letting a stranger into your house isn’t easy and should be never taken lightly.  But after a family vacation out West, plenty of laughs, great food and some competitive game nights, the house feels a bit empty now that she’s gone. We think of her often—when we set the table for three instead of four; when we drink milk at dinner instead of just breakfast (something Italians never do); whenever we see Oreo cheesecake (her newfound favorite), we know we’ve made a friend for life.  Ti voglio bene e mi manchi, Giulia!




The Making of a Classic


Great Pumpkin

There’s no real formula for what makes a TV show a classic. Baby boomer nostalgia may play a big part, but if was just all about the memories, how come “A Garfield Halloween” doesn’t run every year? Little did Lee Mendelson, Bill Melendez and Charles M. Schulz realize back in 1966 that “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” would be so embedded in our 21st century culture. Some would argue that this TV special is to Halloween what “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is to Christmas—it just isn’t the same without it. The animated classic remains a favorite across generations and has been something parents have been able to share with their own kids.

Harper Collins has just released a great companion book to the beloved TV special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic.” In it folks get a better idea of how this beloved show came to be – through scripts, illustrations, storyboards, interviews with the kid cast and even Vince Guaraldi’s original music scores.  The full script of the show alone could make for a fun afternoon read, should your October days turn rainy.  The only thing the book doesn’t include is a secret formula for lasting success—except for hard work. Sorry, Garfield.








Parents’ Choice Awards: Fall 2014 Toys and Games


We’re so pleased to announce the winners of the Fall 2014 Parents’ Choice Toy Awards! extraordinaires

Beginning with the New York Toy Fair in February, we see hundreds of toys and games throughout the year. We work hard to find toys and games that help kids think, question, tinker and play.

The 2014 Parents’ Choice Award winners underscore that –in bold.

As you may know by now, our Parents’ Choice Awards program panelists are as tough as they are fun. They read the instructions and put play to the test. The Parents’ Choice Award-winning products are the results of carefully considered formula:




From the classic Lincoln Logs set to the cutting edge Osmo “physical meets digital” gaming device, to the wildly creative toy/game hybrid of the Extraordinaires Design Studio, the list of Parents’ Choice Award winners offers games that challenge young minds and toys that enlist imaginations and encourage play.

Be sure and watch your screens for a variety of #parentschoiceaward lists tailor made for the upcoming and frenzied holiday shopping season.







Blaze aims to fire up STEM smarts


I was skeptical. I’m always skeptical when cartoon TV shows targeted at preschoolers promise to include a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum. Blaze_and_the_Monster_Machines

But Blaze does it.

Blaze is a monster truck, driven by A.J., who is 8. They’re the stars of new Nickelodeon show, Blaze and the Monster Machines, an animated series that premiered last week. The first episode started off with a lot of revved-up, colorful action.

Taking a page from the interactive Blue’s Clues model (probably because the co-creator of this show is Jeff Borkin, who began his career in 2000 as a writer on Blue’s Clues), young viewers are encouraged to talk to the TV. The monster truck is going to go “super fast” so we all need to say, “Let’s blaze!” (That wasn’t super impressive.)

But as the story zoomed along into the world of racing monster cars and trucks in the town of Axle City, it became impressive. We meet Gabby, a nine-year-old mechanic who’s fixing a race car’s spark plug. And she’s a bit of a spark plug herself. We also meet other trucks including Stripes, a tiger truck always ready for action, and Starla, a cowgirl monster machine.

As the racing storyline unfolded, there were numerous problem-solving opportunities, from the more simple task of finding a car on the screen to picking the right trajectory for a truck jump and choosing the right method for floating down the river, and more. Humor, social skills (one truck is a troublemaker cheater) and an original song about buoyancy add to the jam-packed show.

Nickelodeon hopes the series will give preschools the “building blocks to become STEM smart.” After seeing the first episode, I have to say it delivers. Introducing science and physics concepts early means that engineering ideas won’t be completely foreign concepts when introduced at school.

You can watch the hour-long premiere online now at Nick Jr., and look for new episodes weekdays at 12:30 p.m. on Nick Jr.





The War on Candy


halloween-candyHalloween will soon be upon us but the really scary action is all over the internet. We’re not talking horror movie clips or creepy yard decorations. It’s the fight over Halloween candy on social media and it’s been getting really ugly. Very little escapes controversy anymore, and while Halloween has had its fair share of issues, the latest is over the type of treats to hand out to kids. It’s enough to make people shut their doors, turn off their porch light and give up on the holiday tradition altogether.

Our country is indeed fighting a health crisis and childhood obesity is a serious problem. Many folks argue that Halloween only exacerbates it. Traditionalists don’t see the harm in one night a year of carefully monitored fun.

There’s also a whole other group of families who must contend with serious food allergies and are hoping to educate folks to have non-food alternatives available. They butt heads with those who find the manufacturing of cheap plastic goods just as offensive and wasteful. So what’s a Halloween lover to do?

In my day, it would have been sacrilege to second guess or request a specific trick or treat at a house on Halloween. Certainly, no one celebrating and offering candy or toys to trick-or-treaters wants to be lectured to by parents. Parents need to let the kids have fun and do their own due diligence afterward.

In my humble opinion, I have no problem having a little bit of everything on hand, including candy,  healthy alternatives and sensible non-candy items. Glow sticks have always been a win-win at our house and have been a big hit with the kids (not to mention useful while trick or treating).My adorable little neighbor has allergies, so I plan to make sure her family knows we are participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project by putting a sign on our door.

And as far as the candy problem, the intake at our house was always carefully monitored and, truth be told, once sorted by preference, there wasn’t that much to worry about. A week later, all of it went to the office reception desk. Still, there are now many more clever alternatives as to what to give out and what to do with leftover candy. Have you heard of the Switch Witch? This clever witch takes unwanted candy and puts it to good use. In exchange, she leaves kids a non-food treat.

Ask kids, and they will say Halloween is all about the candy. But they don’t spend all of their time planning what they’ll eat. They spend more time planning the decorations, the costumes and the fun. Put the emphasis on that everybody can have a good time.

What do you plan to give out on Halloween? Would you consider healthy or non-candy alternatives?  100 Days of Real Food offers some ideas for non-candy alternatives.