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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.


The Good Lie is a Good FIlm


With a movie poster that mostly focuses on Reese Witherspoon, The Good Lie is a bit of a lie.  The Good Lie

It’s not a light-hearted Reese Witherspoon film. It’s a heartbreaking, eye-opening powerful story that highlights the very serious issue of children and war. The first half of the PG-13 film (in theaters now) is focused on Sudan. Brave kids happily playing in the fields and climbing trees watch as their parents are suddenly gunned down. To avoid being killed themselves, they wind up walking hundreds of miles to a refugee camp; along the way the see their sibling die or taken away by soldiers. Their feet are cracked. Their lips are parched. They suffer loss; they brave danger at every turn; they fight to survive.

In 1983, these orphans of the brutal Sudan civil war became known as The Lost Boys (and girls). In the film, we follow Paul, Jeremiah, Mamere and their sister Abital — Sudanese actors Arnold Oceng (Mamere), Ger Duany (Jeremiah), Emmanuel Jal (Paul), and Kuoth Wiel (Abital) — who spend 13 years at the camp, essentially growing up there. Then one day they learn that as part of a humanitarian effort that brought 3,600 of these lost boys and girls to America, they are bound for Kansas City.

The story turns to the U.S.  Here, Witherspoon appears to help the young men, who get separated from their sister, land jobs and work to learn simple things – such as how to use a telephone. There’s just the right amount of humor and many challenges. Paul is introduced to pot and to the concept of not working quite so hard at the factory because he’s making the others look bad. Jeremiah isn’t allowed to give away food to a homeless woman but instead must dump it in the trash behind the grocery store where he works. He doesn’t understand that.

More than once the question arises: Are they really better off here than in their home country, where life (without war) is so beautiful and so simple?

Ultimately, The Good Lie is hopeful and educational, and teens should see it to understand that there’s so much more to life than the problems they’re facing. Not that any problems should be trivialized, but it’s hard not to come out of the film without feeling a little more grateful for all that we have in our country and  inspired to want to do something to help those in need. It’s valuable to be reminded that our way of life is not the only way of life.




Costume Conundrum


Baby Spaghetti CostumeHalloween season is upon us, and if you are anything like the estimated 158 million people who go all out for the fall festivities then you are probably well on your way to planning costumes. treats us to some historical and projected spending estimates; $2.6 billion on costumes (2013).  That’s a lot of black organza. If we’re going to spend this much on the Halloween, shouldn’t we at least take the time to really think about the kind of costumes we put on ourselves and our kids? We’re not even talking about scary or ghoulish; Halloween of late has turned into a wear-anything event that can offend taste and tact.  Many companies market classic Halloween costumes modified to be “sexy.” Search for a fireman costume and you may just get an eyeful. Worse, the news is filled with accounts of college students dressing up in costumes for parties with themes that are downright offensive. When I was a kid, a Hobo was the popular costume, complete with patchwork pants and bandana tied to a stick. But times have changed and homelessness is an issue that shouldn’t be diminished or exploited by a costume. Before you or your kids don an outfit this year, it’s worth it to stop and think about whether or not it reinforces cultural stereotypes. Ask yourself is it age appropriate? Is it offensive? Is it too revealing? And yes, too scary can be a problem. Isn’t the fun of Halloween in being creative? Isn’t it more empowering for kids to be able to feel good about their costumes?

The internet is filled with fun, creative DIY ideas. Fair warning: don’t be surprised if you can’t understand how you just spent two hours on Pinterest.




Songs can bring out the best – in all of us


Neon MusicWhen kids are engaged in an activity they’re actively learning. When children play with others, they learn how others use their bodies, how daring they are, what language they speak, and so forth; it’s how kids learn a lot about themselves, too.

Whether attending a concert, listening to a recording, or singing a song, young people take in, think about, feel about, and learn from music.  If the song is a nudge toward making good character choices, kids can learn to be honorable and exemplify honor’s many attributes: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship.

The best learning comes in doing. Songs succeed according to how listeners (children and adults) are changed for the better as they listen to, sing and share them.  For example, listeners will be more likely to have empathy for others after hearing Les Julian and Bill Pere’s song “Donkey in a Ditch,” the story of a donkey who can’t convince anyone to help him get out of a ditch, and who later has to decide whether or not to help a sheep in a similar situation.  Les and Bill leave it up to the song’s listeners to finish the story.  Will the donkey help the sheep?  You can bet kids are going to think about this.

Kids watch us.  If they see adults acting less than honorably (driving too fast, texting while driving, littering, disrespecting others), they pick up on it.  A well-written song about following the Golden Rule or believing in yourself or being kind and generous can be a wonderful force for good, even if the child who’s listening and singing has picked up on some unpleasant behavior from others.  I recently heard Jack Pearson’s song “To All Purple Tree Trunks,” which gives us all permission to be different, even weird, – in our own special way.  After listening to that song, I felt more comfortable with my personal brand of oddness.  It helps lift the burden of wondering if we should let the world change us or if we really are okay. I find myself singing the song and celebrating even more that which makes me, me.

Susan Salidor’s song “Peace In My Fingers” is as simple and catchy as it is inspiring.  “I’ve got peace, peace, peace in my fingers.  Watch what I can do.  I’ve got peace, peace, peace in my fingers. I’m gonna shake hands with you.”  It helps us take that deep breath we need to consider the consequences of our actions.  And Dave Heger’s song “Friendly Little Neighbors” about respecting worms and bugs and other little creatures helps plant the seed of taking the time to consider what’s important to others as we make our decisions. Judy Pancoast’s “Walk Away” about not letting mean people get you down is an anthem of inspiration and hope for a kid who’s been put down and disregarded.

These songs – and many others – aren’t just words and notes and productions; they are beacons of light. So listen and sing. And let these songs help bring out the best in all of us.


Time Shift Your TV – Linda Ellerbee’s ‘Coming Out’


You know that we love Linda Ellerbee and her Nick News work in telling timely, serious and relevant stories in a way that kids can easily understand. Linda Ellerbee

She’s been doing it since 1991. And now she’s doing it again with a half-hour special, Coming Out, airing Tuesday, Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. on Nickelodeon.

Tied to National Coming Out Day, which is Oct. 11, the special follows the lives of gay teens as they go through their days facing fear, bullying and isolation, along with encouragement and acceptance, from peers and friends and family.

As with all of Ellerbee’s television work, the picture is painted through the voices of those involved, which makes it all the more authentic and poignant.

“In elementary school, I knew I was different from the other guys,” says Bradley, 16.  “When I realized I was gay, the biggest problem I faced was wondering if my family would accept me or not.  I’d heard stereotypes about families kicking their kids out and I was wondering, ‘Oh gosh that might be me.’”

Christine, 14, decides to “take a chance …  I’ll say the words I’ve been meaning to say my whole life. I’m lesbian.”

Navigating tween and teen years is a difficult time, no matter what your particular circumstances may be. This special, which promises to be well worth watching with the kids in your family, shows the special challenges faced by gay kids each day.

“It takes bravery for a kid to come out,” says Ellerbee. “Being young and ‘different’ is not easy. This may be tough to talk about, or hear about, but this is important stuff.  Not addressing it doesn’t make it go away.”