PLAYguide: Lifestyle

Stay One Shot Ahead of Flu Season

Sponsored Content
Kids Urgent Care physicians know that children, especially those younger than 5, are much more vulnerable to flu-related complications. That’s why it’s so important to get vaccinated – not only will it help protect against the flu, it will lessen the severity of its symptoms.
Last flu season, our community, especially children, battled a very serious, even deadly flu epidemic. Thousands of people in our community suffered because they failed to get protected in advance.
“The first thing that people must understand is that influenza is a virus that directly affects the lungs and is transmitted as easily as breathing the same air of a sick person who coughs, sneezes or even speaks, causing droplets of moisture through the air,” says Kids Urgent Care Physician, Emeline Ramos.
In addition to the flu shot, here are additional steps to take to help prevent the flu:
  • Get kids into the habit of washing their hands with soap often.
  • Make sure kids are active and get a good night’s sleep to keep their immune system healthy.
  • Teach kids to cover their face when coughing or sneezing.
  • If kids do get sick, keep them home.
The flu is very contagious.
Parents should also be aware that children with the flu can also experience vomiting and diarrhea in addition to typical flu symptoms including: fever, chills, cough, sore throat, aches, headaches, tiredness, or a runny nose. Once vaccinated, it takes 2 weeks for the body to reach maximum immunity. There’s no reason to delay getting vaccinated because protection will last throughout the flu season.
For more information, visit
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Amazing Kid: Miles Newbold

Danielle and Miles Newbold

With a mission to “spread love one bag at a time,” 10-year-old Miles Newbold of Windermere inspired his family to form Miles To Go Charities to help support Central Florida’s homeless population.

Words by Cortney Thekan | Photos by Jessica Friend

When Miles Newbold (age 10) observed a person asking for cash at red light, he asked his mom, Danielle, some tough questions. After an honest conversation about homelessness in the Orlando area, Miles knew he wanted to help. That’s when he came up with the idea to give special bags filled with useful items to help make the day a little easier for individuals in need.

With the help of his family and volunteers, Miles stuffs drawstring backpacks with items like toothpaste, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, snack bars and other items. “I can pack a bag really fast,” says Miles. Miles thinks carefully about the needs of the people receiving the bags. When Florida’s rainy season kicked in, Miles thought including a rain poncho in each bag would be helpful. He explains, “I didn’t feel good that they [homeless individuals] have to sit outside in the rain.”

Once the bags are packed, Miles and his crew distribute the bags at various locations throughout Orlando. Lake Eola is a site that he visits frequently, and sometimes he sees the people he’s given bags to in the past. “We bring cold waters and a bunch of Miles To Go bags, and we hand them out to people. One guy has a little dog that’s really cute,” says Miles.

Since Miles came up with his idea in early 2018, the project has become an official charitable organization with 501(c)(3) status. To date, Miles To Go Charities has distributed approximately 425 bags to individuals throughout the Orlando area.

To broaden its reach, Miles To Go also partners with other local organizations to help support the communities those organizations serve. Recently, Miles To Go distributed 65 bags to the Covenant House of Orlando, which supports young adults ages 18–21. Miles To Go also developed a special edition of its bags called Violet Miles To Go for the Harbor House of Central Florida, which supports individuals affected by domestic violence. In addition to the standard items, these special purple bags, named for Miles’ sister, Violet (age 7), include feminine hygiene products, hair ties and small stuffed animals.

Danielle and Miles recently received big news: Bombas Socks, a company that donates one pair of socks for every pair of socks sold, approved Miles To Go Charities as a giving partner. Bombas Socks has donated over 8 million pairs of socks to charitable organizations, including donating 250 pairs of socks to Miles To Go.

Miles depends on volunteers of all ages to help support his mission. Even the littlest volunteers, like Miles’ brother, Reed (age 5), can help pack Miles To Go bags. Says Danielle, “It’s important to me to welcome any children into that process. There are not many charities that welcome little ones, and this is something that they can easily do.”

To volunteer, donate or participate in an event, visit

Guests at Miles To Go’s Taco & Ice Cream Party Packing Day event this past July.

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100 Women Strong

Avani Desai is leading by example. Through her work with 100 Women Strong, this Orlando mom is raising children who love to give back.

As moms, our job is to prepare our children to be responsible individuals. Part of that job is helping them understand how they fit into their community and what role they play.

That’s why I’ve made a conscious decision to get my children involved in service at a young age. Kids are givers by nature. We’re all born with empathy and the potential to cultivate great compassion; therefore, it is important to give them firsthand, age-appropriate exposure to our community’s needs. Things like serving meals to the homeless, visiting sick children in the hospital or spending time with homebound seniors can make a lasting and impactful impression on kids. These experiences foster empathy and teach children that sometimes the simplest gestures are the most profound.

Another thing I’m doing is teaching my children that there is strength in numbers — that while one person alone may not end homelessness or hunger, a team of people working together most definitely can. Collective giving and providing help to those who need help is a practice that can never be initiated too early in life.

That is the guiding principle behind 100 Women Strong, a “giving circle” that I co-chair for Central Florida Foundation. Each member of 100 Women Strong donates $1,100 a year. We then analyze, research and consult with experts to identify initiatives that will help improve the lives of women and children in Central Florida. By pooling our funds, we can achieve collective impact that spans far beyond our individual contributions.

Since 2006, 100 Women Strong has invested more than $550,000 in local initiatives, including partnerships with the Foundation for Foster Children and Harbor House of Central Florida.

Recently, 100 Women Strong issued a grant that’s especially close to my heart. In partnership with the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, we’ll be helping expand a pilot program to address the social and emotional needs of children at two childcare centers in Pine Hills.

The program is focused on implementing the Circle of Security Model, which prepares caregivers with skills that foster feelings of attachment and security in the children. These interactions create the foundation for a healthy and productive life.

Talking with my kids about the “strength in numbers” principle has inspired us all to think bigger about ways we can help our community. Now, we often brainstorm our next charitable contributions together as a family.

So many of us want to shield our children from the tough realities of the world. But it’s during these early years that they’re most influenced by what they see and hear — and when they learn lifelong habits. Just know, you’re investing in your child’s character, direction and future — and that of the world.

Avani Desai is a mom of two, executive vice president at Schellman & Company, member of board of directors at Central Florida Foundation and co-chair of 100 Women Strong, a collective giving initiative of the Central Florida Foundation that inspires women in Central Florida to help improve the lives of women and children through strategic philanthropy.

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Laura Haftel: Tugging Along 15 Years Strong

Do you have a list of places that you consider classic Winter Park? If so, chances are Tugboat & the Bird is pretty high up there.

Words by Dana Nichols |  Photo by Jessica Friend

This Park Avenue gem is owned by Laura Haftel. Almost 20 years ago, Laura was a buyer for Macy’s and later ran 10–15 stores for the Gap. When her husband, Matt, was admitted to Stetson University for law school, they packed up and moved to Orlando. Not long after, Matt and Laura had two children, William and Gracie.

When her children were ages 2 and 4, Laura decided the travel for work was just too much. She realized that she needed a schedule that worked better for her family. When she found out that a children’s boutique in Winter Park was for sale, Laura knew she could put all her skills to work. The Haftels purchased Tugboat & the Bird (, which they have owned for 15 years.

Tugboat & the Bird sells perfectly curated kids clothing, toys and gifts. Through the years, they’ve expanded from just special occasion and traditional clothing to include everyday outfits for little ones. There’s a variety of pricing and styles, but one thing is true for every clothing item in the store: they must pass the touch test. Laura doesn’t purchase anything she hasn’t seen and felt in person to ensure that all the clothes are comfortable for little ones.

For Laura, being part of the community is one of the biggest joys of owning the store. “I love working with our customers; they are the heart of our brand, and they’re amazing.”

Though running a business was more work than she expected, it afforded Laura the flexibility she needed to be more present with her family. When her kids were young, Laura would leave every day to pick them up from school. She credits a fantastic sales team with giving her the freedom to leave the shop in their hands each afternoon.

Now that they’re older, Laura’s kids are part of the business too. When she was a fashion-focused tween, Gracie was the inspiration for Tugboat & the Bird’s sister brand, Pink Oranges, a shop for older kids. Today, Gracie handles all of Tugboat & the Bird’s social media, helps with buying and has a hand in the paperwork and accounting. She’ll be heading to Rollins College after high school. William is a computer engineering major at George Washington University, but he still handles much of the store’s website programming.

Laura acknowledges that it’s hard when your kids move away, but also sees it as a positive. “If you raise your kids well — they’re happy, and they find a good environment — then you’ve done your job.”

And of course, Laura’s husband, Matt, is a part of the Tugboat team too. In addition to all he does as a father and lawyer, he can be seen on the weekends at the store unpacking boxes, fixing lights and even plunging a toilet or two.

What’s next for Laura? Now that she’s got more time on her hands, Laura plans to write a children’s book about a little tugboat and a bird, of course!

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4 Tips for Cheap Family Dining in Orlando

While eating out every night is a luxury few families can afford, there are ways to eat out on the cheap and find a happy balance. Let someone else do the shopping, prep work, cooking and cleanup. Here are four tips for making that possible on a limited budget.

Words by Christina Katz

  1. Set a monthly dining budget. If you don’t have much money to put toward dining out, start with a small amount like $20 and get creative.
  2. Consider kid-friendly happy hours. Sometimes you don’t need a full meal with multiple courses and boxes of leftovers. Many sports bars — like Duffy’s Sports Grill (four locations in Central Florida, — offer happy hour menus in their dining rooms, and prices rival those in fast-food restaurants.
  3. Try buffet style. If you have growing tweens with voracious appetites, an all-you-can-eat buffet may be ideal. Try Sweet Tomatoes (three locations in Central Florida, or Golden Corral (17 locations in Central Florida,!
  4. Eat at a specialty grocery store. Fresh Market (six locations in Central Florida,, Whole Foods (three locations in Central Florida, and Lucky’s Market (East Orlando, offer to-go meals that rival any restaurant. Pull together an eclectic in-store meal, and get a taste of the good life without the extra costs of restaurant eating.

CHRISTINA KATZ is an author and writing coach and the queen of eating out for less.

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Simplify Your Schedule

Don’t Let A Busy Schedule Wear Your Family Down

Words by Christina Katz

Stress, short-tempers and the seeming inability of the household to function smoothly are typical signals that you may have slightly overdone it in the commitments department.

So, you overscheduled your family. This does not make you a bad person or a poor parent. Your family simply has a voracious appetite for participation. However, it may be time to pull the plug if you’re exhausted or your family is cranky, that’s perfectly OK. There are some specific strategies you can take as a family that will help you slay the activity-overwhelm dragon before anyone gets burned.

Make scheduling a weekly event. Gather the whole family for a weekly snack break to discuss the activities for the upcoming week. Tell everyone to bring their calendars and scheduling tools, if they are old enough to manage their own. Figure out carpooling, play dates, class schedules, cooking/meal planning and whether it is humanly possible to squeeze everything in. Soon, you’ll be kicking each week off strong using the power of good, old-fashioned communication. Listen to your children. If they’re not enjoying a particular after-school class or sport anymore, have them finish out the commitment then allow them to explore other interests. Better yet, allow them to take a break from scheduled after-school activities for a few months.

Create a master calendar. Every person in the family who is old enough to write should have his or her own calendar. Assign one parent as the keeper of the master plan and update it daily. Without a master plan, you are going to lose track of the big picture. Put all your critical to-dos on it. Glance at it in the morning and before bed. Much stress will disappear once one person takes on the role of family dispatcher.

Expect everyone to be responsible. Just because you are the dispatcher, does not mean you should manage schedules for kids who are old enough to do it themselves. Taking responsibilities off your children’s shoulders does not serve them or the family. Who is the weakest link in this scheduling arrangement? Let them know how important good communication is, and then help them figure out a system that works well for them.

Keep priorities straight. If you are following these suggestions and meeting your family commitments still feels unmanageable, then some things are going to have to give. Don’t be afraid to say no to others and yes to yourself. Here’s a suggested priority list by level of importance to your overall happiness: 1. Health (exercise, doctor appointments, nutrition) should come first; 2. Family and friendships should come next; 3. Education and work should come second; 4. Special interest, activities and family outtings should come next.

Let the extraneous go. Here’s the secret to a happy life for you and your family: Don’t do what you think is expected of you. Do what you want to do. Although peer pressure may still be challenging for your kids, it should be a no-brainer for you. You don’t need to do what the Jones family does. You need to do what your family does. Period. The world needs the unique contributions of every member of your family, and no one is going to blossom if everyone is running around like a bunch of followers. So lead by example, and live the life you want to live. Steer your own course, and teach your kids to steer theirs. If you do, your kids will follow your lead and be engaged and happy no matter how busy they are.

Books to Help Simplify Family Life
In your down time, if you have any, you can dream up ways to streamline family life by checking out these books:

Author, journalist and writing coach CHRISTINA KATZ is a mother who has given up the unconscious tendency to mother the whole world around the clock.

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Fighting the Good Fight, 9 Rounds at a Time

Johanna Signori reminds us that even busy moms can lead a healthy lifestyle.

Words by Dana Nichols | Photos by Jessica Friend Photography

It was faith that called Johanna and Damien Signori to move across the world from their home in France to sunny Orlando. Just a year ago, through their church, they made a big journey to the United States. Looking for new opportunities and experiences, they decided to open a gym. This past May, they opened 9Round, a cardio fitness studio in Baldwin Park.

9Round offers a unique blend of cardio kickboxing and personal training. There are no classes. Members come and get their 30-minute workout in when it fits their schedule. Workouts are new each day to keep things interesting.

As long time devotees of a health and fitness lifestyle, Johanna and Damien loved the concept of 9Round. Johanna is a former professional dancer, and Damien is a professional football player turned personal trainer. They live and breathe the concepts at the gym: an active fitness regimen and a commitment to healthy eating. But as parents to two daughters, Naomi (5) and Tahïssa(12), they know how busy life can be and how difficult it can be to maintain a balance.

Johanna knows firsthand how hard it can be, especially for moms. Johanna tells of the advice her mom gave her when she became a mother: You must fight for yourself. She knows if she is making time for herself, her family will be happy because she’s able to do more when she’s less stressed and feeling good. Carving out time for things like getting her nails done, going for a walk or even going to the grocery store alone are all ways Johanna makes time for herself. And of course, working out at the gym is key. Though she gets some workout time in while demonstrating the moves for members, Johanna still makes time to complete a full workout for herself.

For Johanna, one of her favorite parts of owning the gym is seeing how it builds in family bonding time. Couples come and work out with their spouse. She loves to see members bringing their kids (10 years old and up) to work out alongside them.

Throughout our conversation, people wave hello and stop to talk to Johanna. Johanna and her family have only been in Orlando for a year, but they’ve already made themselves right at home, finding community, friendship and a thriving business in Baldwin Park.

DANA NICHOLS is an exhausted mommy of two, but she’s enjoying every moment. She loves mom life, shopping, eating, taking photos and exploring Central Florida. Dana catalogs all of these things on


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9 Tips For Drama-Free Dentist Visit

Taking your child to the dentist shouldn’t be, well, like pulling teeth. Here are nine tips for drama-free dental appointments.

Words by Dr. Mandana Nabizadeh, DDS

You child’s first dental exam is an important first step in ensuring your child’s overall dental health. How parents frame that first exam makes all the difference when it comes to how much anxiety your child may have when it comes to future visits.

Parents should schedule that first dentist appointment by the time their child turns 1 year old. Creating that early relationship allows a dentist to grow with the child and allows parents to learn about the habits and diet essential for good oral hygiene.

Here are MY tips:

  1. Find a smile. Visit a few pediatric dental offices to find the best fit for your child. The office should be friendly and soothing to your child.
  2. Attitude matters. Parents, if you’re anxious about the visit, your children will be anxious too. Project confidence and a feeling that this is a positive event. Doing so is contagious and soothing to your children.
  3. Talk to the older siblings. Speak with older siblings about how to frame a visit to the dentist. Don’t allow them to offer unnecessary information to the younger ones.
  4. Keep chatter to a minimum. Many parents make the mistake of overselling the dentist. Don’t talk about it too much. Be casual about it. At the same time, prepare your child by telling them a few things that will happen, such as, “The dentist will count your teeth and show you how to brush.”
  5. Don’t make promises. Don’t make any promises about shots or pain. That sets children up for a lifetime of dental distrust and unrealistic expectations. A first visit should not be painful or require shots; however, what children find painful is subjective.
  6. Start early. Start daily dental hygiene early. Teach children the parts of the mouth when you’re teaching them about the body.
  7. Be comfortable. On the day of the appointment, dress children in comfortable clothing. One idea: have your child pick out a “going to the dentist” outfit that he or she is excited to wear.
  8. Schedule appropriately. One mistake I see happening all the time is that parents schedule dental appointments right before lunch or during nap time. If you can avoid that, I recommend it. Tired children equal cranky children, and the appointment will be more difficult for everyone.
  9. Read and play. There are several books you can read to your child before the appointment. Some good ones are “Just Going to the Dentist,” by Mercer Mayer; “Peppa Pig Dentist Trip,” Scholastic Readers; “Going to the Dentist” by Anne Civardi; and “Brush, Brush, Brush,” by Alicia Padron. Or, try the Monster Mouth DDS smartphone app that’s super funny (and a little yucky!) and offers comical lessons in dental hygiene.

Remember, children mirror your behavior. If you’re anxious, they’ll be anxious. If you just relax and make brushing a part of your children’s everyday schedule, your child’s first dental appointment will be a breeze — for both of you!

Dr. Mandana Nabizadeh, DDS, known to her patients as Dr. Nabi, attended the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned her D.D.S. degree in general dentistry. Since then, she’s earned two certificates from the prestigious mini-residency programs at the University of Florida and the University of Indiana. She has also completed a two-year course in the orthodontics field and familiarized herself with the detailed aspects of early orthodontic treatment.

Working with children is her passion, and she loves putting smiles on their faces. She specializes in working with pediatric dental patients in the downtown Orlando-based pediatric practice Your Downtown Dentistry. Dr. Nabi is married to Dr. Ali Behzadi and has a young daughter, Melody.

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Mompreneur: Holly Lesnick

Words by Lisa A. Beach  |  Photo by Erin Monroe

In 2005, with a 6-week-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, Orlando mom Holly Lesnick kept a busy schedule packed with naptimes, feedings and playdates. You’d think launching a new business wouldn’t be a high priority for this new mom. But Holly’s kids, Aiden and Anna, were instrumental in her decision to launch Grow and Sing Studios in Orlando that year.

Holly had been going to a local Kindermusik studio where she fell in love with this research-based music-and-movement program for early learners. Understanding the connection between music and learning, Holly loved this program’s whole-child development approach.

So, Holly was thrilled when, in 2002, the studio owner offered her a position as a Kindermusik educator. Holly aced the training and taught for three years, finding joy in the weekly sessions that helped families bond over singing, dancing and playing musical instruments together.

But in 2005, the studio owner moved and closed up shop, which gave Holly the blues (these music puns are just too easy!). Instead of lamenting the loss of a great music program, Holly decided to fill the void by launching Grow & Sing Studios. “I selfishly started the company because I had nowhere else to take my kids,” explains Holly, an early childhood specialist with a degree in music therapy.

 “You’ve got to balance family, work and self. Self has to go into the equation”

Without the power of social media back then, Holly relied on word-of-mouth to get families jazzed about her new business. Initially, she offered two sold-out classes to 24 families. Her husband, Will, eventually came on board, along with four other licensed educators. Together, these traveling minstrels took Kindermusik to malls, churches and community groups throughout the area.

“We wanted to serve the community and go where the need was,” Holly says. This philosophy served her well, especially during the recession. When other brick-and-mortar shops were closing, her program grew because it wasn’t tied to a physical location.

Flash forward to 2017, when Grow & Sing Studios just earned the Conductor’s Circle Maestro Award for the 10th year in a row. This prestigious award recognizes Holly’s program as one of the top 1 percent of Kindermusik programs among 5,000 programs worldwide. Now in nine locations across Central Florida, Grow & Sing Studios has served nearly 3,000 families since 2005.

With growth comes the delicate act of balancing it all. “You have to know when to stop and say, ‘That’s enough. I’m done with this today, and now it’s family time’,” Holly points out. “You’ve got to balance family, work and self. Self has to go into the equation.” Following her own advice, Holly created a meditation room in her house where she practices yoga, meditates and journals.

Ending on a high note, Holly reflects, “Do what fills you up with joy.”

Visit for details about Holly’s Kindermusik programs and for more information about a free preview class.

LISA BEACH is a freelance journalist, content marketing specialist and copywriter.
Check out her writer’s website at

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What Mom Wants for Mother’s Day

Words by Lisa A. Beach

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, kids and husbands everywhere are scrambling (often last-minute) to find just the right gift for Mom, trying to show their love and appreciation for the best woman on earth.

I laugh when I see those jewelry commercials peddling gold charms and diamonds for Mother’s Day. Beautiful? Yes. Coveted? Not so much—at least not compared to a few other practical gifts most moms really want.

The truth is, most moms I know don’t want gifts that you can buy in a store. Instead, they want the simple things in life, like sleep, privacy, peace, cleanliness, harmony, and cooperation. The best part? These mostly no-cost gifts fit every budget.

Gift #1: Let Mom sleep in.

Seriously, this is not the day to cut the grass at 8 a.m., slam the bathroom door, blare the soccer game that you recorded on ESPN last night, practice your armpit farts, stand next to Mom and stare at her to see if she’s really sleeping, or loudly whisper outside Mom’s bedroom door, “SHHHHH! MOM IS SLEEPING!” No, Mom was sleeping before you all woke her up.

Gift #2: Buy breakfast and make lunch and dinner.

If you’re going to treat Mom to any meal today, feed her addiction to Panera Bread and make an early-morning coffee run. More importantly, do this before Mom wakes up because she’s a bit of a grouch if she’s got to wait 20 minutes for some caffeine. While you’re at Panera getting Mom an extra-large travel mug of hazelnut coffee, grab bagels for the whole family and enjoy breakfast. (NOTE: Do NOT wake Mom to tell her that breakfast is ready. This is counter-productive to Gift #1.) For lunch, keep it simple and just make a big salad or some sandwiches. For dinner, skip the raucous restaurant filled with lots of other noisy families. Just work together and make dinner while you bring Mom a glass of wine and a good book to enjoy on the back porch. (It wouldn’t hurt to give her a five-minute shoulder rub either.)

Gift #3: Adopt a WMW philosophy.

Mom is bone-tired from making hundreds of family decisions every day, so don’t burden her with even one choice today other than “do you want another glass of wine?” (And of course, you already know the answer to this, so keep pouring.) Instead, adopt a “What Mom Wants” (WMW) philosophy when you stumble into a decision-making quandary. For example, not only does Mom not want to cook any meals on Mother’s Day, she doesn’t even want to think about what to cook—even if you’re doing the cooking. (Frankly, after all these years, you should know a few of Mom’s favorite foods. Dip into your memory bank, think of what Mom orders when the family goes out to eat, and BOOM, there’s your answer. It’s not rocket-science, people.)

Gift #4: Maintain a conflict-free day.

No fighting over chores, video games, whose turn it is to do something, who put the six-inch scratch on the side of dad’s car, who gets to eat the leftover Chinese food, who broke the sprinkler head again, who left the bag of pretzels open from last night, or who used the TV remote last because now no one can find it. If you absolutely cannot help yourself (which is very likely), know that Mom can still hear you if you try to whisper-fight in the next room. Instead, retreat to the car with dad, lock yourselves inside, and let dad referee your verbal battles so Mom doesn’t even have to hear it.

Note to kids: It doesn’t make Mom feel good when you fight about whose turn it is to do something nice, as in, “I just got her a glass of water, so you take the newspaper to her.” “No, it’s your turn. I just ran upstairs for her reading glasses.” “That’s not fair, why do I have to do everything?” Mom now feels like a big fat burden, so let’s not fight about not wanting to do more than your fair share of nice things. Kinda kills the moment.

Gift #5: Pick up the slack.

When Mom takes even one day off, the state of the house takes a quick nosedive. The sheer volume of daily messes that Mom needs to pick up, step over, or avert her eyes from overwhelms her. Would it kill you to throw in a load of laundry, hang up your towel, replace the toilet paper roll, unload the dishwasher, put away your soccer cleats, throw away the empty bag of tortilla chips, wipe up the milk you spilled on the counter, cap the toothpaste, or rinse out the sink after you spit? It’s all in the details, people.

Bonus Gift Idea: With all that being said, Mom wouldn’t refuse a Massage Envy gift card or an exquisitely good bar of sea-salt-caramel-filled dark chocolate that she doesn’t have to share. Just sayin’.

Author’s Bio: Lisa Beach is a freelance writer, humor blogger, and recovering homeschool Mom who lived to write about it. Check out her writer’s website at and visit her humor blog at

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Gender Creative Kids

Coloring outside the gender lines.

Words by Cortney Thekan | Artwork by Erin Stork

When my first child was born, I didn’t give gender much thought. He was a boy, and it was the late ’90s, so I dressed him in a hideous navy onesie emblazoned with “Little Slugger” or something equally conventional. I painted his room blue. I bought him Thomas the Tank Engine toys. A few years later, my second child was born. She was a girl, so I dressed her in lavender seersucker sundresses. I painted her room pink and bought her Care Bears toys.

As it turned out, my daughter loved her Care Bears toys. But by age 3, she was dead set against seersucker sundresses, bellowing, “But I feel so uncomfortable!” while stomping around that pink room with her arms crossed defensively. For nearly a year, she insisted on wearing a baseball cap and a tie wherever she went. My son loved those Thomas the Tank Engine toys with a passion; he memorized the entire catalog at age 2. As a preschooler, he had an equal fervor for The Little Mermaid and Star Wars, running through the house wielding a lightsaber with a red scarf tied around his head (Ariel’s hair, of course). A few years after that, he was Hannah Montana’s biggest fan.

Gender is far more complex than toys and clothes (although that’s part of it), but neither of my kids fit neatly into society’s expectations of what it means to be a boy or a girl. Family members asked questions like, “She won’t wear a dress? Who’s the boss — you or her?” or, “Do you really think you should let him wear that? It’s for girls!” I worried about my kids being teased, or worse, harmed for not following society’s gender rules. I wondered: What does this mean? What will people think? What should I do? What if my child colors outside the gender lines?

What Is Gender?

First, it’s important to understand the distinction between sex and gender. According to Gender Spectrum (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens, sex refers to the physical and biological sex characteristics a person is born with, including genitalia, chromosomes and hormones. Gender is the intricate web that weaves together a person’s biological sex (gender biology); a person’s sense of themselves as being male, female, both or neither (gender identity); and a person’s expressions to the outside world related to their perception of themselves (gender expression).

Most of the time, things work out as we expect. This is a simplification, but it usually works like this: A baby is born. The baby’s sex is determined based on the baby’s external genitals, the world assigns the corresponding gender, and the baby is raised as that gender. So, if a baby is born with a penis, the birth certificate is marked male, the parents raise the baby as a boy, their extended circles of family and friends treat the child as a boy, and most importantly, the child thinks of himself as a boy. He expresses himself (behaviors, clothing, preferences, etc.) the way society expects boys to express themselves. That’s that, right? Not for everyone.

What Our Society Tells Us About Gender

We usually don’t even notice, but society’s gender messages and expectations bombard us constantly. Almost everything in our society is slapped with either a pink or blue sticker — clothes, toys, colors, behaviors — even toilets in some states. Society tells us that we have two choices: You can be a boy, or you can be a girl. This is the binary gender construct. Within this construct, society has specific expectations of how to be a boy or a girl. To be a boy means A, B and C, but never X, Y or Z. If a person strays from these expectations, other people may become uncomfortable or even afraid.

What Does Gender Creative Mean?

So what if a child doesn’t fit into society’s defined gender boxes? What about the boy with a passion for princesses? Or the girl who insists on wearing a Batman costume wherever she goes? What about the child whose biological sex is female but who has insisted since she could talk that the world has it all wrong, and she is actually a boy?

Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, a developmental and clinical psychologist and an expert on children and gender, invented a term to describe such children that I think is perfect: gender creative (similar terms include gender nonconforming, gender expansive and gender variant). In her book, Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender Non-Conforming Children, Ehrensaft explains gender creative as, “a developmental position in which the child transcends the culture’s normative definitions of male/female to creatively interweave a sense of gender that comes neither totally from the inside (the body, the psyche), nor totally from the outside (culture, others’ perceptions), but resides somewhere in between.” These kids skip over being squished into society’s defined male or female boxes and instead invent their own sense of gender that comes from their bodies, their minds, and the world they live in.

Dr. Carol Mikulka, a board-certified psychiatrist and founder and director of the Walden Community School in Winter Park, explains, “As with most pioneers and explorers, it is only with time that the rest of the world accepts novel ideas, discoveries and facts that challenge their preconceptions of gender identity and expression. Gender creative children are breaking the bounds of convention, questioning the status quo and showing the determination and courage to experiment and explore all of who they are, want to be and decide to be.”

People who know gender creative children — the children’s parents included — have so many questions (I know I did!). Are these children transgender? Some are. And some children know this from a very young age; others discover this in time. Will these kids grow up to be gay? Some will. Gender identity and sexual identity are not the same thing, and like gender identity, sexual identity is far more complex than the binary construct of just straight or gay. What exactly is this child’s gender? Well, we have to wait and see. It’s our nature to want to classify people right away, but we have to give these children time to figure out who they are on their own.

What I’ve Learned from My Kids

As children often do, my kids challenged me to think differently and consider things I hadn’t before, including my ideas and misconceptions about gender and the prejudice and unfairness in the treatment of gender creative people — especially kids.

See, my daughter rejected most things our society labels “girl stuff.” But people think it’s cute to see a little girl in Vans sneakers and pigtails on a skateboard. Our culture is OK with tomboys — as long as they’re not too masculine, yet another of society’s unwritten gender rules. It was different for my son. People don’t think it’s so cute to see a 5-year-old boy playing dress-up. It was fine for my daughter to wear a tie — adorable, even! — but if my son tied a dishtowel around his waist to fashion a skirt? No way. This made many people uncomfortable. A family friend once chuckled, “What’s he got on? Must be a kilt, right?” My son spun around and responded unequivocally, “No. It’s not a kilt. It’s my skirt.” My friend looked shocked. I stumbled over what to say next, “Umm … yep. That’s his skirt.” But I learned so much watching my son at that moment.

Over time, from the things I got right and from the things I got so, so wrong, I learned the answers to my three biggest questions about raising gender creative kids:

  1. What does this mean? The only person who knows the answer to this question is your child. You may wonder if your child will grow up to identify as LGBTQ+. Maybe. You may wonder if your child is transgender. Maybe. But there is only one way to find the answers to your questions: Listen to your child. Your child is working on figuring out who they are. And if they feel your love and acceptance, they will show you in time.
  2. What will people think? The look of shock on my friend’s face when my son told him he was wearing a skirt and not a kilt? It was the look most people have when they first encounter a gender creative child. Parents of gender creative kids should remember that there was a time when they weren’t sure quite what to say or do either. Most people aren’t intentionally cruel or intolerant; they just don’t understand — at least not yet. Give them a chance. There are people in your child’s life who will do whatever they can to understand your child. Sadly, there will be others who will not, and you will have to accept that they may never change their perspective. You’ll have to decide whether to keep these people in your child’s life or walk away. But if you ask your child to to hide who they are — even if you think you’re protecting them — you perpetuate the message that you and your child have something to hide. You don’t.
  3. What should I do? Find support. Learn more. Speak up. Fear less. Listen closely. Love fiercely. It’s not easy to be a kid — heck, it’s not easy to be an adult. Sometimes it’s difficult to be yourself. Gender creative kids — they just want to be themselves — their true, individual, colorful, beautiful little selves. What should you do? You should help them.
Support Organizations
Recommended Reading
  • The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes by Diane Ehrensaft, PhD
  • Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender Non-Conforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft, PhD
  • My Kid Is Gay: A Question and Answer Guide to Everyday Life by Dannielle Owens and Kristin Russo
  • Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
  • Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son by Lori Duron

Cortney Thekan lives in Orlando and is the mother of two brilliant, quirky teens. She is a professional writer and editor and serves as PLAYGROUND Magazine’s copy editor.

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Kids Eat Free in Orlando

Going out to eat with the whole family doesn’t have to break the bank. Tons of local restaurants let kids eat cheap — or even free — on certain days of the week! Take advantage of these ongoing deals.

Words by Anna Karasik

All-Day Meals:

The Coop, Winter Park – Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Denny’s, various locations – Tuesdays from 4-10 p.m.

Firehouse Subs, various locations – Wednesdays.


Burger 21, Orlando – Kids 10 and under eat for half-off on Wednesdays.

Graffiti Junktion, various locations –Tuesdays.

Steak n’ Shake, various locations – All day, every day with every $9 spent.


IKEA, Orlando – Tuesdays after 1 p.m. story time. Must be an IKEA Family card holder.

Kobe Steakhouse, various locations –Tuesdays. Must be a reward member.

Grills, Pubs & more:

TJ’s Seafood Shack, Oviedo and Orlando – Mondays.

Gator’s Dockside, various locations – Tuesdays from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Liam Fitzpatrick’s, Lake Mary, Oviedo & Orlando – Tuesdays from 4-10 p.m.

Duffy’s Sports Grill, various locations – Wednesdays.

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DIY: All Natural Cleaner

Words by Luna Jauregui, Doulas of Orlando

Did you realize that with a few items from your pantry, you can mix your own kitchen and bathroom spray cleaners? Bonus: They’re a lot cheaper and healthier for your little one! Exposure to chemicals in our environment could affect your baby, even in the womb. After all, we absorb these chemicals through our skin and cleaners like bleach may penetrate your lungs and enter into your blood stream. So, eliminate your toxic household cleaners and replace them with white vinegar, baking soda and essential oils. It’s cheaper and healthier for you and baby!

STEP 1: Organize supplies over the kitchen sink. Be sure to use a glass spray bottle because vinegar can warp a plastic container unless it’s a food-grade spray bottle.

STEP 2: Mix water and vinegar together in glass spray bottle. You should always mix half water and half vinegar, so adjust portions appropriately.

STEP 3: Drop in 3 to 5 drops of essential oil. Lemongrass has disinfectant properties and a fresh, clean scent that is perfect for kitchen and bathroom counters. To ward off mold and bacteria in the shower or toilet, choose tea tree oil. For tough mold, put a little baking soda and white vinegar on the stain, let it sit for 5 minutes and then wipe clean. The mold comes right off.

Bonus: Fresh, Stain-free Laundry Cleaner

Stop using expensive and potentially toxic stain cleaners and go all natural! After trying several different variations, I’ve discovered that the following combination can take out the toughest stains and keep clothing looking and smelling fresh.

Mix an organic laundry detergent (I use Mrs. Meyers for the scent) with ½ cup baking soda and ½ cup white vinegar for each load of laundry. Cut a piece of lemon, wrap it in a cheesecloth bag and throw it in your washer. Take it out before putting the clothing in the dryer.

It’s like magic: no stains, bright colors and a fresh scent!

LUNA JAUREGUI is an Orlando-based certifi ed doula with Doulas of Orlando ( and mom to two daughters. Her journey to becoming a doula began when she realized there was such a large gap between couples’ expectations and the reality of current birth practices. Luna, who speaks both English and Spanish, prepares parents to help them achieve their vision of an ideal birth. She also works with families after baby, offering lactation support and other services.

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Dress Up. Play Hard. Stand Out.

Words by Lisa A. Beach | Photo by Jessica Friend

With a company slogan of “Dress Up, Play Hard, Stand Out!,” mompreneur Tracey Currey of Winter Park is a force in giving back to the community and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Currey’s company, PonyTail Bows, caters to the equestrian market (with expansion plans in the works), providing handcrafted bows to horse riders of all ages.

Tapping into her love of horses, Currey started the company in 2013 when a friend asked her to create a set of hair bows for her daughter to wear in a horse show. Currey’s daughters, Anna (9) and Ella (12), also compete, so she understood the dilemma of finding durable, classic bows to complement a rider’s outfit. Happy to help, Currey handcrafted a precision-made, high-quality bow that not only wowed her friend, but also caught the attention of other equestrians. Soon, the requests poured in. After researching the market, Currey developed a proprietary method of hand-made bow craftsmanship that now sets the gold standard.

While her friend’s request jumpstarted the bow-making idea, Currey’s inspiration to launch a business hits closer to home.

“I began riding at age five and competing at nine,” says Currey. “When I got my horse Z, no one believed we could compete because Z suffered from a movement illness. I refused to listen to the naysayers! I had faith that we could work hard and overcome the odds. We ended up competing at the advanced level!”

She lost Z to cancer in 2014, but he still serves as her inspiration today. “I wanted to honor Z’s journey through the success of PonyTail Bows, and I wanted to build a company that would serve others.”

Currey makes good on her promise, as PonyTail Bows generously gives back. Through the sale of specialty bows, the company raises funds locally for breast cancer awareness, child abuse awareness and pediatric cancer. Nationally, PonyTail Bows gives a portion of equestrian bow sales to the USHJA Foundation, the charitable arm of the U.S. Equestrian Federation. Currey also launched the Blue Ribbon Project, a leadership program that connects girls from across the country and focuses on sportsmanship, philanthropy and integrity.

“Joining with these causes brought me into alignment with our purpose,” points out Currey. “I wanted to build a company based on inspiration and service but do it in a high-end, beautiful way.”

As she grows her company (in both profit and service), Currey deals with the challenges of juggling her work and family life. “I’m a wife first, a parent second and a business owner third. It’s a balance,” she says. “But the coolest thing is my girls have watched me grow. They’ve seen it’s not always easy. Our family motto is: Never give up!”

PonyTail Bows recently launched new product lines, including athletic bows that can be customized with players’ names, numbers, and positions — perfect for girls who want to dress up, play hard and stand out.

You can find PonyTail Bows locally at Chloe Lane Boutique in Winter Park, The Tack Boutique in Winter Garden and Stockman’s Harness and Saddle Shop in Orlando.

    PonyTail Bows sells three specialty “cause bows” to raise funds for the following local charities:

  1. Pink Out Winter Park, which benefits the Winter Park Memorial Hospital Mammography Scholarship Fund
  2. Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families, which benefits Central Florida’s at-risk children and their families
  3. Pediatric Runway to Hope, which benefits children with cancer and their families

Lisa Beach is a freelance journalist, copywriter, humor blogger and recovering homeschool mom who lived to write about it. Check out her writer’s website at and visit her humor blog at

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8 Ways to Raise Healthy, Active Kids

Words by Dr. Sharon DiChristafaro, First Choice Pediatrics

Hectic sports and school schedules, heavy use of electronics and perceived safety risks of allowing children to play outside unsupervised have created consequences to our children that are frightening and life-long.

One in three children and teens is obese, according to the American Heart Association. Even children who are considered normal weight are often not getting enough activity.

With sunny, year-round weather, there’s no excuse for kids to stay inside. Even a walk around Disney World or Lake Eola provides healthy activity for children—and what kid would say no to that? Here’s a list of eight ways to raise healthy and active kids.

Scroll through the pictures below to learn more:

Dr. Sharon DiCristofaro, mom to three children, is a graduate of Marshall University School of Medicine, where she also completed her residency. She brings 15 years of experience in private practice and a true love for children with her to First Choice Pediatrics. She is board-certified and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Mia Muniz Has the Write Stuff

Words by Lisa A. Beach – Photos by Jessica Friend
Many writers spend their entire lives trying to break into the big leagues, aiming to snag a byline in Time magazine or The Washington Post. But Lake Nona grade schooler Mia Muniz, age 10, can already add that feather to her cap, as she recently became a Time for Kids reporter.

Mia, a fifth grader at Eagle Creek Elementary, beat out over 300 applicants from across the country to be selected as one of 12 reporters to write for Time for Kids, a weekly classroom news magazine published by Time magazine.

What set Mia apart in this competitive field of kid journalism? “I think it’s because I’m very imaginative, and I have a sparkling personality!,” Mia declares without hesitation. She credits her mom, also a writer, and her teachers for inspiring her love of writing. “They’ve been really encouraging to me and have been my strength-builders,” says Mia.

Mia has been writing stories for years and has quite the imagination, according to mom Amanda. Fueled by her love of reading, Mia offers this advice for other would-be writers, “I think it’s important to read a lot of books and never to give up.”

On Mia’s Time for Kids reporter profile, she lists her top three dream interviews: Serena Williams, Michelle Obama and Taylor Swift. In the meantime, she’s tackling assignments about the new U.S. Tennis Association, which aligns with her passion for tennis, and a community outreach center where disadvantaged people go to shop for groceries. She also interviewed author Robert Hoge, discussing his memoir Ugly: A Beautiful Story About One Ugly Kid, and author Wendelin Van Draanen, who wrote The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones. Although she’s been interviewing nationally acclaimed writers lately, Mia also set her sights on some local stories, as she’s made a couple pitches about Universal Studios.

With some national writing clips already under her belt before middle school, Mia could be headed toward a long and highly successful career in journalism. Or theater. Or sports. When asked what she wants be when she grows up, Mia says, “I’m leaning toward a performer on Broadway, an anchor on the Today show or a career in sports, such as tennis or swimming.”

Regardless of where she’s headed, she’ll be taking her own advice on how to achieve your dreams, “Work hard, never give up, and it’s OK to make mistakes.”

Wise words spoken like a seasoned reporter.

Lisa Beach is a freelance journalist, copywriter, humor blogger and recovering homeschool mom who lived to write about it. Check out her writer’s website at and visit her humor blog at

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Having “The Talk”

When is the right age to talk to your kids about sex?

Words by Angelique Luna

I know what some of you are thinking: Talk about sex with my kid? Never! However, in today’s tech-driven society, we don’t have the luxury of putting off “the talk.” Still, there are suggested guidelines about how much information parents should give at each age.

I thought the ideal age to talk to my daughter about sex was between 13 and 15 years old. In hindsight, I needed to start talking about sex with her when she was 2! From a young age, children need to know about their bodies, boundaries and body image. Not only will this help them develop healthy sexual relationships, but it will also transition over to having healthy relationships in business and with family and friends.

Here are some guidelines on how to handle talking to children about sex. Be prepared; you never know when it will come up! You should have a game plan so you don’t miss a teachable moment. While there are many books and resources out there, be sure you have an actual conversation with your child rather than just handing them a book. Try to make the conversation as natural as possible. And remember, even when you don’t think they’re listening, they are.

Infancy: Up to 2 Years Old

Toddlers should know the proper scientific names of all the body parts. Vagina and penis are not dirty words! Use them often and without hesitation. A very natural time to talk about body parts is during bathing. Try taking turns with the washcloth. Say, “I’ll clean your feet and hands, and you wash your face and vagina.” There — you said “vagina.” See? It’s no big deal!

Early Childhood: 2 to 5 Years Old

Children should understand the basics of reproduction: a man and a woman make a baby together, and the baby grows in the woman’s uterus. Again, use correct scientific names.

This is a perfect time to teach children that their body is their own. Teach them the difference between a good touch and bad touch. Never force them to do something they are uncomfortable with, like hug Aunt Marie who smells like cigarettes. By teaching them that they have a voice about their bodies, they feel more comfortable to tell an adult if someone is doing something bad to them.

Book Resources

  • Everyone Has a Bottom by Tess Rowley
  • Let’s Talk About You and Me Series by Robie H. Harris
  • The Feelings Book by Todd Parr

Middle Childhood: 5 to 8 Years Old

Children should be taught the basics about their body and all its parts. They will begin puberty toward the end of this age span. A number of children will experience some pubertal development before age 10. Their bodies will slowly begin to change, and they need to know how and why. This give kids the foundation of sex education that will naturally build into what their body parts are used for.

Children’s understanding of human reproduction should continue. This may include the role of sexual intercourse. It’s best to stick to the science of the matter at this age. They can start to connect the dots by learning why women and men have different body parts.

    Book Resources

  • What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg
  • It’s Not the Stork by Robie H. Harris
  • What’s the Big Secret? Talking About Sex with Girls and Boys by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown

Tween Years: 9 to 12 Years Old

This stage is a challenge because tweens’ maturity levels vary greatly. As their parent, you will need to decide the best age to teach your tween about safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. Before your child finishes eighth grade, you can begin the conversation about the emotions involved in a sexual encounter. They should understand what makes a positive relationship and what makes a negative one, especially during the middle school years when many of them begin “dating.”

Parents should watch the documentary Miss Representation. This excellent documentary provides critical information about how sex and sexuality are portrayed in the media. Use this information to teach your tweens about whether the images they see in the media are true/false, realistic/unrealistic, or positive/negative. Emphasize consent and boundaries, which are critical for safety.

    Book Resources

  • Sex Is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
  • Sex, Puberty and All That Stuff: A Guide to Growing Up by Jacqui Bailey
  • It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris

It’s a lot to take in. The key is to remember that it’s best that children learn about sex from a parent. It’s even better if that parent has a healthy sexual relationship and body image themselves. If you don’t, you have your own work to do to be a good role model for your child. Take charge for a happier, healthier child today!

Angelique Luna is a sex education advocate, coach, educator and entertainer. She is mom to her daughter, Diva (a nickname), and believes that education is essential in keeping our children safe. Visit her at

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Speed and Agility Trainers for Kids In Orlando

Words by Tracey C. Velt

Want to improve your child’s speed and strength? Consider speed and agility training for children 10 years and older. Here are some places around town:

1. Atlas Speed

Former Olympian sprinter Ernest Wiggins works with kids from age 8 to college-age, offering training for speed, agility and explosiveness. His focus is on the total athlete, including leadership, character, strength training through body-weight exercises, plyometric training, core strength and flexibility.

2. Camp 9 Fitness

Sanford, Orlando
Run by Orlando Predators’ football player Marlon Moye-Moore, Camp 9 offers football-specific training along with camps.

3. D1 Sports

Lake Mary
D1 Sports offers customized athlete training for kids from age 7 to adults. Training includes core strength and flexibility, development of motor skills, strength training through body-weight exercises, plyometric training and conditioning.

4. Total Athlete Training

Total Athlete Training helps youth and adults reach their athletic potential through speed, strength and agility training.

5. Core Speed Training

Orlando (near Mall at Millenia)
At Core Speed Training, they believe that to produce a great athlete you must become faster and stronger than your competition.

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Making Exercise a Family Affair

Words by Tracey C. Velt

When my son, Jake (21), was small, he would ride his bike alongside me during my runs, often veering off into the park and forcing me to chase after him. As he got older, he started running along with my husband and me (complaining all the way!). Running wasn’t his thing but the idea that exercise should be a daily to-do stuck with him. He played a variety of sports throughout high school and is now a football collegiate athlete. My daughter, Sofia (11), runs with me every once in a while. However, volleyball and tennis are her sports of choice, and both keep her busy five days a week. She tells me she loves the way she feels after a workout or practice—strong and healthy.

We are a sports family. We love watching sports (Florida State and UCF!), participating in sports (tennis and running), and encouraging our children as they learn and grow through the sports they play.

However, you don’t have to be a sports family to raise healthy kids. Family walks, bike rides and fun at the park all qualify as exercise. Of course, being healthy mentally and physically requires more than just exercise. So, think good food choices, appropriate portions and limited screen time.

Raising a healthy, happy family can be difficult in an age where the pressure and expectations placed on our children are high. It’s our job as parents to find the balance.

Cheers to a wonderful 2017!

From the January/February 2017 issue of PLAYGROUND Magazine. Read it here.

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5 Secretly Healthy Recipes

Make a New Year’s Resolution to fill your family up with healthy fruits and veggies! Ready to get started? Try these five easy snack recipes from Produce for Kids and Power Your Lunchbox.

1. Flourless Rasberry Banana Pancakes

(Pictured above)
Packed with three kinds of fruit, these gluten-free pancakes are a sweet delight! Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to make the perfect Valentine’s Day breakfast.
Read the recipe

Brown Bear Bento Box

2. Brown Bear Bento Box

It’ll be hard for your kids to decide whether to play with this fun bento box lunch, or gobble it up immediately! Make little graham cracker bears, and lay out a colorful array of fruit & veggie munchies!
Read the recipe

Butterfly Bento Box

3. Butterfly Bento Box

Fill your kid’s lunchbox with goodies so sweet, they’ll feel like they’re outside at recess. Cut peanut butter banana sandwiches into cute little butterflies, and pack the side compartments with more healthy goodies!
Read the recipe

Simple Fruit Yogurt Parfaits

4. Simple Fruit Yogurt Parfaits

Yes– dessert can be healthy, too! Simply stack fruit and yogurt in a cup or bowl to make this fancy-looking delight. Bonus: cut the fruit into heart shapes for a sweet Valentine’s Day treat!
Read the recipe

Healthy Apple Donuts

5. Healthy Apple Donuts

At first they’ll think they’re eating a coconut-covered caramel donut… but with one bite, they’ll realize it’s a yummy fruit snack! Sprinkle with chocolate chips for a hint of sweetness to balance out the apple.
Read the recipe

Recipes from and

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Star Wars Celebration at Florida Hospital For Children


The Force was strong at Florida Hospital for Children on December 15, where staff and volunteers “trained” the next generation of Jedi with fun, games, and of course costumes.

Disney and Lucasfilm sponsored the afternoon of excitement: the hospital’s young patients got to do Star Wars activities, take photos with characters, and take part in special “Jedi training.” It was all ahead of the newest Star Wars Movie, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

Costumed volunteers went room to room for private patient visits, so no child was left out of the fun.


“I think this is the first time he’s smiled since he got here,” said Nadia Datoo of her son, a patient in the hospital. “It’s absolutely wonderful to see how they’re interacting with all the kids, all the activities that they have. I think it’s really great.”

Members of the 501st Legion— a collection of Star Wars fans who dress as Stormtroopers and other Star Wars characters to promote interest in the movie series— also made a special visit for the afternoon.

“Disney is a longstanding supporter and partner of our organization, and we are honored that they, along with Lucasfilm, selected for Florida Hospital for Children for this very special day,” said Marla Silliman, the hospital’s senior executive officer. “Having their very own Jedi training and unique Star Wars activities will provide these children and their families with wonderful memories.”


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8 Tips for Holiday Sanity

By Kerrie McLoughlin

Remember when you didn’t have to worry about being in three or four places at once during the holidays? The dilemma of where to go seemed to be so easily worked out by our parents and extended family. Now that we are grown-ups, by the time the new year rolls around most of us seem to end up totally frazzled from celebrating the holidays several times with many sets of relatives.

Adding your own kids to the mix can make situations even more crazy, leaving them – and you – feeling like the rope in a game of Human Tug-of-War. Below are some fixes that can hopefully help you and your family enjoy more holiday cheer this year.

  1. Combine family events. Instead of running to your parents’ house and then to see each of your siblings separately, consider having just one shin-dig at one location when most everyone can attend. To make life even easier, forego the sit-down dinner and choose to go the potluck route. Some people choose to throw a small party at their house every year on the second Friday in December, for example, and have things for the kids to do, like building a gingerbread house or painting ornaments.
  2. Consider an Open House. Choose a location (like your uncle’s house), a date, and a convenient time frame when family members can come and go as they please without the pressure of being on time for a meal. Serve finger foods and other easy fare to make it easy on the hostess.
  3. Attend the far-away celebrations only every other year or when you can afford it. Sometimes people marry someone from another state or move out of town due to a job change or other circumstance. This can leave many families feeling pulled in too many directions when the holidays roll around. It can be difficult to decide how to come together, so work out the details in advance.
  4. Negotiate annually. All families are different so it can be practically impossible to please everybody every year. One year your cousin may need to leave early to spend the rest of the day with her husband’s family. Another year it may just work out best to hold the event on a completely different day of the month. Which brings me to …
  5. Help your extended family realize that, for example, Christmas can be even nicer when spent on a day other than December 25th. You could get together with your grandparents a couple of weeks before or after Christmas Day for a much more relaxed mood. You would get to take your time opening gifts while enjoying each other’s company. What a time to treasure and look forward to every year!
  6. Do drop in. Elaine St. James, author of Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays, only visits her sister and her family to raise a toast but not to eat. She takes no food for the meal, no gifts, and says to her family, “We’re bringing ourselves and our best wishes for the season.”
  7. Just stay home. Some make the choice to celebrate Christmas Day at their own home every year. The decision may not popular, and you might have to defend it every year, but it could be the most relaxing and fun day of your entire year. Just imagine yourself hanging out in comfy sweatpants all day long while you play with your kids and their new toys, games and other gifts.
  8. If tensions get high between family members, think of others who may not have any family, or even a home. Consider serving food at a homeless shelter sometime around the holiday or being a bell-ringer for The Salvation Army for a couple of hours. Elaine St. James has another great idea: Make a paper bag lunch with a sandwich, cookies, fruit and juice drink and pass it out to the homeless in your area. These are great opportunities to take your kids along and teach them the true meaning of the holidays.

To ensure no feelings are hurt, make sure your family knows they are always welcome to spend holidays at your home (with some notice, of course!) With a little understanding and communication, everyone in your family can have a peaceful holiday season.

Kerrie McLoughlin is just a regular mom who writes about parenting 5 kids at

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5 Healthy Holiday Snack Ideas

Sometimes it’s hard to fill your kids up with the fruits and veggies they need. It’s a lot easier when they don’t even know they’re eating something that’s good for them! Try out these healthy and insanely easy-to-make snack recipes from Produce for Kids:

Fruit Cornucopias

Fruit Cornucopias

  1. Fruit Cornucopias

    The Cornucopia is a symbol of plenty during the holiday season; so let’s fill this one up with plenty of sweet fruits, like mandarin oranges! The best part– this recipe is so easy, even younger kids can help you prepare (and eat) them!

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

  2. Thanksgiving Turkey Fruit Tray

    Thanksgiving Turkey Fruit Tray

  3. Thanksgiving Turkey Fruit Tray

    Spice up your typical ol’ fruit platter by giving it a fun Thanksgiving spin! This recipe is simple enough for kids to help you assemble. At the very end, you’ll have a colorful turkey tray with everything from kiwi to apples to carrots. Great for parties!

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

  4. Holiday Avocado Toast

    Holiday Avocado Toast

  5. Holiday Avocado Toast

    A great day starts with a great breakfast! With 7g of fiber, this holiday-themed avocado toast will keep your family fuller longer. You can surprise your kids with a fun and festive design, or let them create their own yummy toast-art using pomegranate arils.

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

  6. Snowman Fruit Kebobs

    Snowman Fruit Kebobs

  7. Snowman Fruit Kebobs

    These snowman kebobs are a great on-the-go way to fill up on fruit. (The problem is, they’re so cute that you won’t want to eat them!) All you need are skewers– and maybe a little assistant to help decorate each snowman! The snow underneath makes for even more good food to nibble on.

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

  8. Christmas Tree Veggie Platter

    Christmas Tree Veggie Platter

  9. Christmas Tree Veggie Platter

    Who would have thought a vegetable platter could become a party decoration? Wow your guests with this broccoli Christmas tree, decked out in bright cherry tomato ornaments. Bonus: the trunk is edible, too!

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

About Produce for Kids
Produce for Kids® believes in creating a healthier generation through cause marketing campaigns that provide easy, fun and inspiring recipes. Produce for Kids has been helping families and children by giving back since 2002. Through produce and grocery retail partner programs, Produce for Kids has donated more than $6 million charities that benefit children and families nationwide.

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Science of Parenthood : The Book for Parents who Love to Laugh

dr-oz-header-3 Author Norine Dworkin-McDaniel has parenting down to a science– a funny science. From her own experience and that of others comes Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations, a book that highlights the moments that just about any parent can relate to. Dworkin-McDaniel spoke to PLAYGROUND Magazine about the book ahead of her live reading at Orlando Science Center on November 7th (more info on that below!) Here is what she had to say about her work:

PLAYGROUND: What sparked the idea for Science of Parenthood?
Dworkin-McDaniel: That was actually my son Fletcher. He’s 10 now and in middle school, but when he was in second grade, he came home from school talking about one of Newton’s laws of force and motion. As he explained over dinner that An object at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an external force, that instantly made me think about him with his video games. He’d sit on the couch and play Minecraft all day if I let him. I quickly jotted down, Newton’s First Law of Parenting: A child at rest will remain at rest until you want your iPad back. A little while later I posted that on Facebook. It got a good laugh from my friends, so I started posting other parenting “observations,” giving them a math or science twist, like Sleep Geometry Theorem: A child will always sleep perpendicular to any adult sleeping next to them.

Newton's Law

Friends were telling me that they really liked the posts. But I knew that these “observations” would be even more fun if they were illustrated. At the same time, I was dialing back my magazine writing and looking for something else to do. I called my friend Jessica Ziegler in Denver and asked if she wanted to illustrate a book of these science-y observations. Now when Jessica tells this story, she says she spent much of that phone call trying to figure out how to say No way because it sounded like a lot of free work and no actual money. But as we talked, she says, she could see the cartoons in her head. And by the end of the call, not only was she was all in, but she’d secured our URL, our Facebook page and Twitter account. In fact, it was Jessica’s idea to start a blog and Facebook page first, and then come out with a book. Which is exactly what we did. We developed our material and built an audience for our humor on our blog and Facebook page. And four years later, here we are. And we’ve been blown away by the response. We love it when people see one of our cartoons or read one of our satires, and say, “Are you in my house? Because that just happened to me!”

P: Who is this book written for?
D: Parents: Expecting parents. New parents. Veteran parents. Step-parents. Single parents. Grandparents. Our humor really resonates with parents of every stripe. If you’ve ever changed a sodden diaper or despaired of ever sleeping, showering or digging your living room out from layers of plastic toys again, you’ll find a lot to laugh about in our book. It’s also great for teens. Research shows our book is 99% effective as a contraceptive.

P: This is not your average parenting manual. How is Science of Parenthood unique?
D: We didn’t actually set out to write a parenting how-to manual. We set out to write a book that would make parents laugh, but in the process we created what several reviewers described as one of the most honest parenting guides out there.

Our humor lives in the pretty sizable gap between what our expectations about parenting are (think about those lovely Pampers commercials) … and the brutal, smack-you-in-the-face reality that parenting actually is. But what makes our book, our humor, unique is our spin — we use math and science concepts to “explain” the ridiculous situations otherwise capable adults find themselves in as a result of having kids. And, like our blog, our book is heavily illustrated. Interspersed with the writing are our trademark cartoons along with flowcharts, pie charts, Venn diagrams, crazy-looking algebraic equations that calculate things like when you’ll get your grownup social life back and bar graphs. My favorite graph is the Beverage-To-TV Index that illustrates how much booze it takes to get through various preschool TV shows and movies. For instance, you can get through anything by Pixar with a glass of water. But by the time you’re watching Caillou, you’re pounding tequila shots.

P: How is the book laid out?
D: We had so much fun with this. The book is laid out like a snarky textbook of sorts. We have four sections, representing the core sciences — biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics — and within each section we cover the parenting topics that appropriate for that particular science. So, in our Biology section, for instance, we’ve got satirical pieces on the “evolution” of Mom’s Sex Drive and the “classification” of different types of moms while in our Physics section, we’ve got humor on explosive toddler tantrums and our Math section is filled with humor about all the money parents spend on kids. One of the nice things about the book — and this was absolutely intentional — is that it’s filled with quick reads, quick hits of humor, that you can pick up and put down and not have to worry about reading in order. We know moms and dads don’t have a lot of time for themselves. Everything can be read in the time it takes to quickly pee, before the kids come banging on the bathroom door.

P: What do you want readers to take away from Science of Parenthood?
D: Look, we love our kids, we love being moms. Parenting can be wondrous and exciting and delightful and awe-inspiring. But it also comes with graduate level frustration and hefty doses of public humiliation. One of my son’s favorite stories about when he was a baby happened when he was about 9 months old, and I was trying to make like I had it all together as a new mom while we were in California for a cousin’s wedding. We’d gone down to the pool at the hotel, and I had him in a swim diaper to take him in the pool. That’s when I discovered that swim diapers are not absorbent — at all. I went to lift him out of the stroller and he was sitting in a puddle of pee. Then when I went to change his diaper, he peed all over me, spraying like a firehose. I was waving my arms, trying to block the spray. All around me, my cousins are dying, they think this is so funny. At the time, I did not. But now, it’s a hilarious story, one that my son loves to hear and I love to tell.

Toxic Shock

They say comedy is tragedy plus time. For parents, I’d change that to comedy is humiliation plus time. So why does this matter? Because there’s a lot of anxiety for this generation of parents. Parents are afraid that they’re doing it all wrong, that they’re screwing up their kids and, at least for moms, we hear a lot of anxiety that everyone else has it all figured out while they are failing miserably. And it’s just not so. Some days we all have it figured out. And some days we all are failing miserably. But we’re none of us alone. We’re all going through the same things and we have the same self-doubts and fears and frustrations. When we can share those things, parenting becomes less daunting. Every parent is pretty much in the same boat, and knowing that can help us take some of the stress off ourselves. And being able to find the humor in the frustration makes it a lot easier to get through. We have a cartoon in the book called Toxic Shock Syndrome: A parents psychological state on discovering that her tot has gotten his diaper off and smeared the walls, crib, bedding and himself with poop. That actually happened to me — twice. In one day. In the moment, it was an absolutely disgusting mess. Now, I can riff on my son’s “artistry.” “Look at those bold strokes! We call this his Brown Period,” I say when I’m reading. It always gets the biggest laughs.

See a live reading of Science of Parenthood!

  • When: November 7th, 6 p.m.
  • Where: Orlando Science Center – Digital Adventure Theater
    777 E. Princeton Street, Orlando
  • What: Live reading of Science of Parenthood with co-author Norine Dworkin-McDaniel.
  • Event is open only to Science Center members. Not a member? Click Here for info.

About the Author:

ndm_solo-0292_reduced Longtime freelance writer turned “parenting snarkologist,” Norine Dworkin-McDaniel has written for just about every women’s magazine you can buy at the newsstand. She is co-creator of the blog Science of Parenthood and co-author of Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations (She Writes Press), winner of the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Gold Benjamin Franklin Award for Parenting & Family and Foreword Reviews’ Silver IndieFab Award for Humor. Named one of TODAYParents Funniest Parents of the Year, Norine’s humor is routinely featured on Huffington Post as well as on Upworthy, Bored Panda, POPSUGARMoms and She’s a contributor to several humor anthologies, including Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures In Breastfeeding (Demeter Press). She lives in Winter Garden with her husband and son. Follow her on Science of Parenthood, Facebook and Twitter.

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Mompreneur: Colleen Gonzalez


Colleen Gonzalez

Founder of G.R.O.W. Central Florida Inc., a nonprofit that partners with unfunded elementary school health and wellness programs in Seminole County


Growing up, Colleen Gonzalez was the youngest of four children. “We were a middle-income family, but money was tight, so my siblings and I never participated in any sports. My family was heavy, so in my head, I assumed we would be heavy,” says Gonzalez, founder of G.R.O.W. Central Florida Inc., a nonprofit that partners with unfunded elementary school heath and wellness programs in Seminole County, such as the elementary school cross country running program. It took one adult to tell Gonzalez that she didn’t have to be like her parents, and her whole life changed. “I realized that if I put my body in motion by being active, I could change my life,” she says. Gonzalez took up running, which helped her deal with stress and anxiety.

When Gonzalez had children of her own (Morgan is 15 years old, and Isaac is 12 years old), she knew she wanted them to be active. “My son tends to be a very active child. When he was in pre-K, I was committed to walking and biking him to school daily as a way to release his energy and keep our family healthy,” she says. “During that time (2009), I read an article in Family Fun magazine about the Walk and Roll program, which encourages students to walk and bike to schools.” She decided to put her time and talent to work bringing the program to her kids’ school. “I formed partnerships with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and other local entities.”

From there, she started a weekly Starting Line Friday Fun Run to encourage kids to run before school. After taking some time away to help care for her sick mother-in-law, Gonzalez found that the program was evolving. “When my mother-in-law passed away, my husband Luis encouraged me to start up G.R.O.W. (which stands for Grass Roots Outreach Within) as an official nonprofit,” she says. The program’s focus has narrowed a bit to support unfunded elementary school health and wellness programs in Seminole County. However, Gonzalez would like to see it adopted by other countries as well.

“The middle and high schools have boosters and funding for sports programs, but the elementary schools rarely do,” she says. In the Seminole County school district, 38 schools have volunteer-led cross country running teams. “There isn’t any funding for the team, so each coach must raise money. I’m filling the gap and providing the durable goods they need, such as awards and t-shirts,” says Gonzalez.

In January 2015, G.R.O.W. organized and funded the Seminole County District Cross Country Meet at Seminole State College. “We had over 1,700 elementary school runners,” she says. This past January, Gonzalez partnered with her child’s ninth grade teacher, Fred Finke, to host a district cross country meet at Lyman High School. “A record 1,744 elementary students ran the event,” she says.

Through this program, Gonzalez says she hopes to “inspire other parents like myself, who went from a professional career to being a stay-at-home mom, to start this in other countries. I have resources and contacts. I’m here to support!”

For more information on G.R.O.W. Central Florida, go to


Words by Tracey C. Velt
Photos by Jessica Friend 

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Saying Goodbye

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Saying Goodbye
The Dreaded School Drop-Off 

Words by Amy Zolessi 

School’s here, and it is time to say goodbye to summer. For some families, school drop-off can be daunting. Are the crying, pleading and tears too much to handle?

The key to peaceful and happy drop-offs is to build a routine. The brain is pattern-seeking, and routines are patterns. Routines soothe the lower centers of the brain and reduce unwanted behaviors. The more patterns (routines) you provide, the better your child can focus his or her brain energy on new learning instead of worrying about what will happen next.

Here are some tips for building a routine for a stress-free drop-off: 

  • Explain how it will go down
    As you drive to school, lay out exactly what your child will do when he gets out of the car. For example, say, “You’ll put your bag away, say hi to the teacher, give mommy a kiss and a hug, and wave to me when I drive away.”
  • Hold Hands
    Hold your child’s hand and walk into school rather than carry her. It’s one less step you’ll need to make to detach your anxious child. If you carry her, hand her to the caregiver while you leave to easy the transition.
  • Use the same words every day
    Make your goodbye connection a ritual so it is the same goodbye kiss, hug and words each day.
  • Find familiar faces
    If possible, leave your child with the same teacher each morning and say, “(Teachers name) will keep you safe today!”
  • Don’t sneak out
    No one likes to be ditched at the door. Plus, doing this will leave your kiddo feeling abandoned and unsure if or when you’ll come back. Instead, let your child know when you will return (after snack, nap, etc.)

Remember: Kids feed off your energy, your confidence and your calmness. Your babies are in safe hands, so breath. You’ve got this! Just follow these tips, and soon your child will be skipping into class, and you’ll be skipping into Starbucks!


Interested in learning more?
Upcoming fall parent workshops begin at the end of August at these Winter Park schools:
First Congregational Preschool
Methodist School of Early Education
Walden Community School
Register for the workshops at


AMY ZOLESSI is a mom to three young boys and a national certified instructor for Conscious Discipline. She travels around the country and the state offering parents and schools workshops. Conscious Discipline is a registered trademark of Loving Guidance Inc. Concepts adapted from the Conscious Discipline program with permission. 


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Pro Pokemon Players


Meet: Tanner and Parker Hurley
Pro Pokemon Players

Five years ago, Tanner Hurley (12) found his older sister’s Pokemon  (a Japanese card game and video game) cards in the attic. “Morgan (now 25 years old) didn’t realize it was a game. She would just trade the cards,” says mom Shannon Hurley, from downtown Orlando. The cards piqued Tanner’s interest, so his dad, Rex, sought out a Pokemon league.

“They thought they were going to trade cards. They then learned it was a game,” laughs Shannon.

Flash forward to today, and it’s a family affair. Both Tanner and his sister Parker (9)  play Pokemon on a world stage. Rex plays in an adult league. “It’s a complex game,” says Shannon. “what is cool about Rex playing is that it adds an extra element to his relationship with his children. It gives them a connection.”

Both Tanner and Parker compete locally in tournaments. They also travel around Florida, the nation and the world to compete in tournaments, where prizes include college scholarships, paid expenses to tournaments and more. “You get championship points based on how well you do,” says Tanner. “If you have enough points, you get to go to the world championship.”

At the end of last season, Tanner, who plays the card game version, was ranked No. 1 in the world in the senior category (ages 12-16). He’s won a $1,500 college scholarship and gets his expenses paid to play in tournaments all over the world. Parker, who plays the video game version, was ranked No. 3 in North America in the junior category (ages 11 and under).

“If you’re in the top 16, you get free trips,” says Shannon. “they pay airfare, hotel and travel costs for the child and parent.” Those trips have taken the family to Italy, Scotland and throughout the United States.  “We’re going to Lima, Peru this year,” says Shannon.

The best part, says mom, is that the game complements their education. “Pokemon is strategic; when you put your cards your deck, you need to know the odds of winning against someone else’s deck,” says Tanner. “It helped me with my math and thinking strategically.” The game has helped Parker get ahead in math. “When I was  5 years old, I had to learn how to multiply to play the game,” says Parker. “In Pokemon you have to calculate which Pokemon is [the fastest], and you have to analyze your cards against your opponents,” says Shannon. “There is a lot of math and strategy, and it helps the kids to think analytically.”

Lest you think the Hurley children are obsessed with Pokemon (which is only half correct), they are also both involved in sports. Tanner plays tennis, and Parker competes in gymnastics, a sport she prefers to playing Pokemon. “I like the [uneven parallel] bars the best,” she says.

All members of the Hurley family agree that Pokemon has brought them closer as a family and has given them the opportunity to visit places they may not have visited otherwise. “When we travel, we take the opportunity to learn about the city or country we are in. It’s great for family bonding.”

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Want to learn the game? 
Tanner and Parker Hurley, along with mom Shannon, will be hosting a Pokemon Camp, July 18-22, from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at The Parke House Academy in Winter Park. “We teach them how to play the game. One of the kids we taught to play last year at our camp  competed all year and received an invitation to play at the Pokemon World Championship this year,” says Shannon. For more info, email Shannon at

Where To PLAY:
The Game Academy Orlando
10077 University Blvd., Orlando, Fl 32817

Campus Cards and Games
12226 Corporate Blvd., Ste. 130, Orlando, Fl 32817

Gathering Place Games
953 State Road 436, Casselberry, Fl 32707

Cool Stuff Games
Three locations:
– 8550 S. US Hwy 17-92, Maitland, Fl 32751
– 504 N. Alafaya Trail, Ste. 115, Orlando, Fl 32828
– 12720 Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, Fl 32837


Words by Tracey C. Velt
Photo by Jessica Friend 

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Date Night: Take Your Child Out on a Date Night




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For six years my husband and I have worked with a parenting coach. Among her many gems of advice, one that truly stands out as a game-changer for us is the concept of time in. The idea is that when kids are being less than angelic, parents should swap time out for a time in- bring them closer, love them more, hold boundaries but without alienation. It’s a method that’s worked well for us even though our daughters, now 5 and 7 years old, have long left the tumultuous toddler years behind.

Time in is about the moments where each child gets dedicated one-on-one attention with each parent, such as bedtime. It also includes a regular date night. Think about it: kids derive as much satisfaction as mom and dad do on their date night. When interactions are free from the distraction of siblings, social media and grown-up conversation, a child swells with delight.

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  1. Winter Park
    Grab a bite at The Cheesecake Factory ( in Winter Park Village. Afterward, take a ride up the street, to Park Ave’s Rocket Fizz ( where you can grab a gourmet soda and a handful of retro candy. It’s sure to bring back memories from your childhood. Or, hit Rome’s Flavors, a hidden gem on Morse Blvd., for some homemade gelato.

    Up the fun: SunRail has a station in the heart of Winter Park on Park Ave. Consider riding the rail if your date night is planned during the week.

  2. Thornton Park 
    Soco ( will win over your child’s petite palette with southern-style comfort foods, such as crispy macaroni and cheese croquets and Florida sweet corn bisque. After this scrumptious dinner, wander west about a block to The Pop Parlour (, where you will find artisan ice pops in flavors such as Lavender Lemonade and Pomegranate Plum.

    Up the fun: Lake Eola’s swan paddleboats are available to rent Sunday through Tuesday until 7 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday until 10 p.m. Cost is $15 for a half hour, no reservations needed.

  3. I-Drive 360 
    Take your pick from several terrific eateries at I-Drive 360 (, the new entertainment and dining hub on International Drive. Choices include Tapa Toro, a fabulous tapas restaurant; Sugar Factory, and MTV-meets-Willy Wonka dining concept; and classic options such as Carrabba’s and Outback Steakhouse, which are nearby.

    Up the fun: After dinner, check out I-Drive 360’s attractions, including the Orlando Eye, SEA LIFE Aquarium and Madama Tussauds Orlando. 

PLAY Tips: Plan Small, kids don’t need an extravagant date night. They’re just as happy to head to the local pizzeria followed by a frozen treat from a favorite fro-yo spot.

Create Build Up, start talking about the date night a few days before. This will get them excited and give you the chance to share how much you’re looking forward to it, too!

Completely Unplug, all your efforts will be in vain if you check your phone all night. Don’t send the message that you’d rather be somewhere else.

Reminisce, talk about the date night afterward when you’re alone with your child, such as bedtime. Share with them how much you enjoyed the one-on-one time.

Words by Kristen Manieri
KRISTEN MANIERI is a Longwood-based mom of Elizabeth (7) and Aly (5). She is the founder and editor of the Orlando Date Night Guide, which houses hundreds of ideas and recommendations for sharing fun and meaningful quality time together in Orlando. From cooking classes to hidden gem restaurants to unique and exciting things to do, you’ll find the best of Orlando’s date night offerings inside the pages of this comprehensive online guide. 


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Date Night: Globe Trotting

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Wouldn’t it be lovely to hop on a plane with your sweetie and land in an exotic place far from the ups and downs of modern parenting? When such a getaway is out of reach, consider recreating the experience locally. We’ve uncovered five Orlando spots that will take you around the world on your next date night.

Advertising Resorts Shoot at Loew's Portofino Bay Hotel  at Universal Orlando Resort UOR PBH

Designed to model an Italian seaside village complete with cobblestone streets and an expansive harbor piazza, the Loews Portofi no Bay Hotel ( no-bay-hotel) transports couples to the charm of Mediterranean Italy. Reserve a table at Mama Della’s Ristorante, where strolling musicians soulfully serenade while diners enjoy antipasto, bruschetta caprese, Mama’s veal sorrentina and tiramisu. Wander to the piazza for Musica Della Notte (Music of the Night), a nightly musical performance on one of the balconies overlooking the harbor piazza.

Downtown Disney guests (L-R) Brenda Sievert, from Nova Scotia, Canada, and Dean and Lisa Nicholson, from New Brunswick, Canada, make a spirited toast at Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant in Downtown Disney in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 'Mighty St. Patrick's Festival' runs March 13-17 and features Irish bands and pro dancers, beers on tap, specially crafted food, face painting and plenty of St. Patrick's Day memorabilia. (Gene Duncan, photographer)

With its location at Disney Springs, you may expect Raglan Road ( to be a kitschy, Americanized version of Ireland’s famed pubs. Prepare to be surprised. Raglan Road feels like someone plucked a watering hole from Dublin and plopped it in the midst of mouse ears and roller coasters. Adorned with dark wood and stained glass, Raglan Road serves classic Irish cuisine inspired by Master Chef Kevin Dundon, an Irish native. Expect dishes like shepherd’s pie and fish and chips for lunch and dinner as well as a full Irish breakfast with black and white pudding at the Rollicking Raglan Weekend Brunch. Toss in a few pints of Guinness, a live Irish band and award-winning Irish dancers, and you’re in for quite an Irish party.

Tucked in a plaza on International Drive, Nile Ethiopian Restaurant ( will celebrate its 10th anniversary this years. Servers dressed in customary Ethiopian attire treat guests to a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony lasting as long as two hours, where coffee beans are roasted at your table, ground by hand and then served in a clay pot known as a jabena. Another surprise at Nile is the lack of cutlery; you’ll be using bread to scoop up stewed and sautéed dishes such as kik alicha (split peas) and doro wat (chicken). Opt to sit at a straw table with stools instead of a traditional table. Those willing to channel their inner traveler will find this gem to be a delight.

Cuba Libre

It will feel as though you’ve just discovered a Cuban cafe hidden down a bricked Havana side street when you arrive at Cuba Libre (, a dining and night life spot at Pointe Orlando. Authentic Cuban food (including more than a dozen varieties of mojitos) dominates the menu, which is why the 15 Tastes of Cuba experience is ideal. Guests choosing this option are treated to small plate versions of the restaurant’s signature dishes, including ceviche, plantains and empanadas. After dinner, this elaborately designed locale turns into Orlando’s hottest Latin dance club with DJs and salsa dancers spinning indoors and outside on the patio.

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Tucked inside the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel, the Mandara Spa ( is the closest most of us will come to a Balinese getaway. Thankfully, this 12,000-square-foot ancient Asian-inspired retreat truly immerses guests in the spirit of the tiny Indonesian island that is world renowned for its healing and restorative traditions. Book the Coconut Poultice Massage, a 75-minute signature service using heated and scented coconut poultices with a blend of coconut and sweet almond oils, lotus flower milk and yogurt. After this epic pampering, sip a fresh juice or tea in the meditation garden, both spectacularly crafted with Balinese-inspired design to inspire serenity and calmness.

Words by Kristen Manieri
KRISTEN MANIERI is a Longwood-based mom of Elizabeth (7) and Aly (5). She is the founder and editor of the Orlando Date Night Guide, which houses hundreds of ideas and recommendations for sharing fun and meaningful quality time together in Orlando. From cooking classes to hidden gem restaurants to unique and exciting things to do, you’ll fi nd the best of Orlando’s date night offerings inside the pages of this comprehensive online guide.
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Date Night: Get Schooled by Local Chefs

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If you’re tasked with the monotonous chore of cooking every day (pasta again?), learning a shortcut or delicious flavor combination can be a breath of fresh air. You can spend hours watching Food Network or taking cooking classes, but we’ve got a better idea. Turn your date night into a culinary education via a chef’s table at one of Orlando’s best restaurants. You’ll get to pepper the chef and sommelier with questions throughout this multi-course dining experience designed to give you a personalized epicurean escape.

Sushi Pop Chef Chau by Manieri

Sushi Pop 
Chef Chau, Sushi Pop’s revered culinary star and owner, becomes your personal guide through eight spectacular courses during his Omakase tasting experience. Plate after beautifully designed plate will arrive at your table, each paying homage to the world’s most delicious Asian cuisines.
$95 per person; optional wine pairing is $45 per person.


Luma on The Park
You won’t fi nd a closer spot to watch the inner workings of this much-loved Park Avenue restaurant. Perched at your kitchen-side table, you’ll watch as your dishes are created by a culinary perfectionist, Chef Brandon McGlamery, who will craft nine petite courses during a feast that lasts for hours.
$75 per person; optional wine pairing is $30 to $50 per person.

Season’s 52
Offered at the Altamonte Springs and Orlando locations, the Season’s 52 chef’s table dinner experience features a seven-course (including an amuse-bouche and dessert) journey into fresh and seasonal cuisine. Guests can be seated in a private room or order the chef’s table menu from anywhere in the main dining room.
Prices vary by location.
407-767-1252 (Altamonte Springs) or 407-354-5212 (Orlando);

Hamilton’s Kitchen
Chef Jason Klingensmith takes his guests on an eight-course expedition at Hamilton’s Kitchen inside The Alfond Inn, where guests sit at an enormous wood table overlooking the exhibition kitchen as courses are presented by the chef throughout the evening.
$125 per person; minimum of four guests.

Highball & Harvest
Chefs dole out fi ve delectable courses steeped in local fare with a passion for culinary ingenuity. Courses, which are fi nished and plated at the chef’s side table as guests look on, are paired with wine from H&H’s expansive cask wine collection.
$185 per person, including wine pairings.

Words by Kristen Manieri
Kristen Manieri is a Longwood-based mom of Elizabeth (7) and Aly (5). She is the founder and editor of the Orlando Date Night Guide, which houses hundreds of ideas and recommendations for sharing fun and meaningful quality time together in Orlando. From cooking classes to hidden gem restaurants to unique and exciting things to do, you’ll find the best of Orlando’s date night offerings inside the pages of this comprehensive online guide. 

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Summer Love

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Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of Playground Magazine.
Words by Jennifer Jones, MS, NCC/NCSC

Parenting 101: FIRST CRUSH

Ahh… your first crush. Maybe it was on a schoolmate; perhaps it was on a celebrity or rock star. Or maybe, like my son, it was on a teacher. Yep, a teacher. For my 5 year old son, it all started with an obsession with music class. He started talking about this class constantly, which was out of character for him. The proverbial “School was fine, Mom” was his usual response after school pickup. Soon after I noticed this, I also spotted other changes in his behavior. Instead of asking how many more days until Friday, he asked how many more days until Tuesday. He had his older brother help him comb his hair, but only on Tuesdays. He also wore a belt (although not required by school uniform policies for kindergartners).

Finally, I decided to clear the air and ask him why he was so interested in music class. His eyes opened wide, he clenched his lips, and he clammed up! He hid under a chair and very irritably responded, “I don’t want to tell you, and I don’t want to talk about it!” It was crystal clear that my son had his first official crush- on his music teacher!


So what is a crush? Crushes are a very common occurrence among boys and girls alike and can happen very early in a child’s life. According to Dr. John Chirban, crushes can be a child’s first “introduction to their feelings that are a part of every healthy relationship.” Crushes seem to affect their whole body, emotions, feelings and desires. Dr. Chirban also explains in his book How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex that crushes are often not grounded in reality. This aspect really hit home for me. I, like many girls my age, hung life-sized posters of John Stamos, Bruce Springsteen, or even New Kids on the Block (ouch, that one hurts) on my bedroom wall. I spent hours daydreaming about meeting them and falling in love. Then, one day, it hit me. These stars weren’t going to fall in love with me, but it felt very real. It was real for you when you were a child, and it’s real for your child now.


Crushes can be very overwhelming to your child; after all, this may be the first time he or she has felt this way toward another person. Your response to your child’s first crush will impact how your child approaches conversations with you regarding feelings and interactions on future relationships. In the case of my son, who was hiding under the chair, I said, “It looks as if you feel embarrassed about liking your music teacher in this way. Did I get that right?” Quietly, with his head down, tears welling up in his eyes, he said, “Yes.” He continued in a sharp manner, still under the chair, ‘I think she’s pretty. I just like her, but I don’t want anyone to know, and I don’t know why this happened.” As you can see by his response, he was totally confused about why he feels this way. It was causing some roller-coaster emotions for him. Part of me wanted to say, “Really?” Yet, I knew I needed to be intentional with my response.

How do you respond? What does your child need from you? Put down the phone, get up from the computer, turn off the TV, and give your child undivided attention. What he or she is feeling is real. Your child needs to know you care enough to not be distracted. The child also needs to know that it’s OK and normal to feel this way. If siblings come in unexpectedly, ask for privacy. Remember, these are pure, raw and real feelings. These feelings range from fear and confusion to disappointment and excitement. Your child needs to know that you won’t judge and ridicule him or her for feeling this way. This will help build trust for any future conversations.

Next, you must be empathetic. You must be able to understand the child’s perspective, whether he or she is 5 years old or 14 years old. Think about how it may feel to have these strange, new feelings toward another person. It’s perfectly OK to share an appropriate, positive and personal experience with your child to let him or her know that it is completely normal to have these feelings. Your experiences do affect your responses, so be conscious of and intentional with your person story. Finally, offer your support and guidance. Let your child know that you are willing to talk about his or her feelings, as well as offer guidance on how to handle them when around this person. Dr. Chirban suggests shapes the understanding of realistic relationships. Crushes can, and often do, go on for a long time. They usually involve investment of real emotions. Your child deserves a well-intentioned and sincere response from a parent.


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War Stories

Originally published in the Summer 2008 issue of Playground Magazine.

Kanagawa, Japan

I’m writing to you from our bomb shelter, or at least that’s what is feels like since we never leave the house anymore. I am documenting the battle in hopes that other new parents can take solace in knowing they are not in the trenches alone.
Written by Jason Skipper. 

Torture Chamber                         21 January 2008, 0300 HRS
Operation ‘Desert Parenthood’ is no more than 48 hours old and we have officially lost the battle. We’ve dug in for a long war. The responsibilities of a newborn have hit us hard and fast. Wide-eyed and shell-shocked, we are up at 3 a.m. swaying back and forth with our crying baby. “Medic! We need some sleep here, STAT!” If we make it out of this, I am writing Senator Mel Martinez to insist that sleep deprivation officially be listed as an unlawful ac of torture.


Code Violation                              24 February 2008, 0400 HRS
I am beginning to think we should have packed more food. Earlier, I decided to call in reinforcements- my buddy Steve. But things weren’t right; he was fidgety and avoiding eye contact. Then I had a moment of clarity. I was sitting next to my wife while my infant son was “eating dinner.” Occasionally, there was a flesh-flash that would make the FCC knock down my door. Turns out, my buddy was doing everything in his power to keep from violating “Military Code Section IV, Paragraph II” – Though shalt not look at thy brother’s wife’s naked breast. It seems my son is not only sucking milk, he’s also sucking the fun right out of the room.


Battle Wounds                              5 March 2008, 0245 HRS
The scars of these battles may not be as dramatic as missing limbs, but trust me… they exist. I always thought a ‘tick’ was something you pulled off a dog. Well it turns out anyone can grow a ‘tic’ of their own. Combine a total lack of sleep, an abundance of loud crying, then mix is some fiscal fallout and BAM! My eyelid moves on its own, as though it were trying to drag the rest of my body to bed. (Without much luck, might I add)


Days of Yore                                  12 March 2008, 1900 HRS
As the battles grind on, I long for the days of lounging in Longwood outside of Tijuana Flats with endless time on my hands. I used to think the only thing I could fit into 30 minutes was vegging in front of the TV. With 30 minutes free now? My drill sergeant (wife) kicks into high gear and I can change a diaper, clean the kitchen, have sex, and take a nap. Please spare what is left of my manhood while considering which activity takes the most time.


Mutiny                                              20 March 2008, 1100 HRS
We are starting to feel the effects of long-term exposure to ware. When you’re pushed this far, your nerves are fried and then re-fired. A simple comment like “Honey, the diapers go on the second shelf…” descends into a sleep-deprived frenzy of foul-mouthed insanity. “Wait! We’re letting it get to us…” Like our baby is some foreign agent breaking us down. Huddled in the corner of his room, we make incoherent plans for escape, “You sneak first, if he cries, don’t look back for me, just RUN!” No amount of technology can help us; battery powered swings, vibrating bouncers, event the best 007 gadgets are all rendered useless when confronted with the crying baby.


On rare occasions when I do escape the bomb shelter, you can spot me carrying my son down Park Ave., and you’ll see my new found strength in action. Women swoon to his coos, they cannot resist his tiny toes and fingers. His giggle is like some sort of primordial woman-call. Although I am sworn to use my powers for good, I wear him like a badge of honor. This little guy is worth every backbreaking, eye-twitching minute.

The battle rages on… in my home, and in the home of new parents everywhere. However, the future of our children is worth the fight.


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Unsolicited Advice (From Your Non-Breeding Friends)

Originally published in the Summer 2008 issue of Playground Magazine.

Top view of happy young pregnant woman holding baby booties on her abdomen and smiling while two friends sitting close to her and making selfie

They have been by your side through the pivotal turning points in your adult life, but what happens when that pivotal moment lasts nine months and consists of raging hormones and a baby growing inside you? PLAYGROUND’s childless friends off their unsolicited advice on your big life change. Written by Julie Caruso & Danielle Stults 

Too Much Information 
We have to go through pregnancy, but might someday want to. With that said, the explicit details scare us. We were shocked to hear the strange places yo had hair growing and the fancy maneuvering you and your hubby mastered in order to do the wild thing. Love you to pieces, but TMI.

The Fetus Chronicles 
We were excited to hear about the baby’s development in-utero, but the weekly emails comparing the baby with edible objects (a peanut we get, but a chicken breast?) were slightly disturbing. We would prefer not to get hungry when picturing your precious cargo.

Ovulation Interrogation 
We don’t even know when we’re ovulating, and we involuntarily began marking our calendars when you were. We do want to know how “Project Pregnancy” is going, but spare us the details on your internal temperature.

Stop Judging 
Just because you are with child, doesn’t mean we can’t keep up with our happy hours and after-hours parties. Right now you are more focused on Gerber bottles than wine bottles, but we truly believe you’ll be ready to toast to a girls’ night after 10 hours of labor and three sleepless months.

Beg, Borrow or Steal 
Billy Ray Cyrus called, and he wants his overalls back. You are a hip and chic mommy-to-be, and the fashion world has embraced you. Don’t get sucked into those baggy t-shirts and mu-mu gowns. Comfort is key, but fashion comes first! Maybe we’ll feel differently once we’re pregnant, but if so, feel free to repeat our own advice back to us.

Fat or Not Fat? 
You are not fat – you are just pregnant, so stop asking! Unless you are Victoria Beckham, you will gain more than 15 pounds during pregnancy; even we know that. Eat healthy and take care of your baby the way your one gazillion how-to books instruct you, and you’ll continue to look fabulous.

All joking aside, nothing makes us smile more than picturing your bundle of joy… except maybe picturing our future bundles of joy playing with yours.


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Fun St. Patrick’s Day Treats for Kids

As originally published on

Screenshot 2016-03-09 11.29.32

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner! We all know this holiday is loaded up with lots of green and the dream of finding that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  We are excited to share two new St. Patrick’s Day themed creations straight from the Produce for Kids test kitchen.

  • Pot ‘O Gold Veggies & Dip: Green bell peppers make the perfect shamrock while yellow sweet peppers and hummus are ideal stand-ins for a pot of gold. Parents can slice while the kiddos put together this snack perfect for any little leprechaun.
  • Rainbow Parfait: Let the kids get creative by setting up an array of options (strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, pineapple, oranges, apples, etc.) to build their own rainbow parfait. Here we used Greek vanilla yogurt and built our layers on top. We capped off with a sprinkle of granola for crunch and a star fruit for flair.

Be sure to check out Produce For Kids’ other St. Patrick’s Day worthy recipes:

Produce for Kids® encourages healthy eating among families by providing simple, healthy meal solutions and resources for parents, while raising funds for local children’s non-profit organizations. Since its creation in 2002 Produce for Kids has raised more than $5.7 million to benefit kids. To learn more about Produce for Kids and healthy eating, visit www.produceforkids.comFacebookTwitterPinterest or Instagram.

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Sport & Social Kids

Orlando Sports and Social Club Kids
Sport and Social Kids offers flag football leagues for boys and girls ages 5-14. With over 15 years of league management experience here in Central Florida, our goal is simple: To provide organized and well run youth sports leagues so your child can develop both athletically and socially.

We want your child to develop a love for sports, so they can build a foundation for a healthy, active lifestyle. Competition is very important, however there is a way to compete that builds self esteem, teaches teamwork, builds confidence and develops respect for teammates and opponents alike. We believe that everyone should be encouraged and given the opportunity to make the most of their abilities.

We believe in SPORT:

  • Competition – Competition is healthy. We believe in building self esteem by learning the benefits of hard work and commitment.
  • Sportsmanship – Learning to play the game the right way is the only way to play the game. The value of teamwork, fair play and good sportsmanship helps develop positive character.
  • Teamwork – Every player is part of the team. No child will ever be excluded or made to feel like they aren’t good enough. Every child will play at least half of every game. Now is the time for us to build confidence in our children.

We believe in SOCIAL:

  • Confidence – Nothing is better than seeing a child’s face light up when they have applied a new skill they have learned. That smile is their confidence starting to shine!
  • Lifestyle – By experiencing sports and physical activity in a positive atmosphere we hope to build a foundation for a healthy active lifestyle.
  • FUN – Kids love to be social, make new friends, learn new skills and compete. This is the foundation of our league – not the outcome of the game.

You can reach us in the office at 407-896-9510 or email us at


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Free Flu Shots This Fall

Kids Urgent Care, Free Flu Shots, Orlando, Daytona, Sanford, Windermere, Florida Hospital

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Family-Friendly Volunteer Opportunities

(This is an excerpt from Philanthropy Does a Family Good; originally published in PLAYGROUND Magazine’s Winter 2008 issue)

It’s time to get your family out into the community for a hands-on, site-based volunteer experience. We are very excited about this dynamic Central Florida volunteer resource: Hands On Orlando

Screenshot 2015-07-27 12.47.55

Written by Cris Phillips-Georg

Hands On Orlando takes all the stress out of finding family-friendly volunteer opportunities. This organization is a unique nonprofit that plans, manages and leads a ton of one-time volunteer opportunities each month, serving a broad range of local charities. Each project only takes about three hours to complete and Hands On Orlando provides all of the materials and tools needed to get each task done, at no charge to the volunteer or to the agency receiving assistance. (Translation: That means you can connect to multiple charities through this one organization, and they set up the volunteer opportunities. Sweet!)

Though Hands On Orlando welcomes volunteers of all ages, they are particularly passionate about engaging families in community service and only take on volunteer projects that welcome youth of an appropriate age. Each opportunity is hands-on and short-term, making this an ideal solution for families with sporadic schedules who still want to make a real impact.

What we love most about Hands On Orlando is that they are equally focused on volunteers having a positive experience as they are on local charities receiving support. That means that you are greeted with a smile and provided with a thorough orientation before you begin your assignment. Hands On Orlando makes each experience fun (they even provide snacks), and they never fail to help you and your children make a clear connection between the task you are completing and the powerful way it will benefit the cause.

Ready to lend a helping hand? Visit and peruse the current volunteer calendar to find a volunteer opportunity that fits the interests and ages of your family (minimum ages vary per project0. Then email your commitment via the online form or contact Executive Director Chris Allen at 407-740-8652 for more information. Hands On Orlando will let you know exactly what you’ll need for your specific volunteer assignments.

“Unless someone like you cares an awful whole lot.
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

~ Dr. Suess, The Lorax


  1. Charities need support all year long. Make volunteering a year-long resolution, rather than a one-time holiday event. Many non-profits are inundated with volunteer requests between November and December, but hear nothing but crickets the rest of the year. Remember, need has no season.
  2. Good neighbors make strong communities. While helping the stranger across town, don’t forget the neighbor next door. Is there a single mom who needs help with her lawn? And elderly neighbor who needs a friendly visit? A resident i crisis who would appreciate a home-cooked meal? Even a smile can make a positive difference.
  3. Set your family up for success. Developing a service ethic takes time. Children (and adults) can sometimes be fearful or find it hard to relate to the people they are trying to help. Talk about what you m right encounter before volunteering. Get the conversation started by reading Chicken Soup for Little Souls: the Braids Girl by Lisa McCourt and Tim Ludwig. This charming picture book (appropriate for ages 4-9) is a great reminder that what people need most is not money, but respect and compassion.
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Moms Making Six Figures

(Sponsored post)

Bringing Women Home To Their Lives

Work From Home • No Selling • No Inventory • No Party Plan • No Risk

Karee and daughters at Oak Haven Farms in Sorrento, FL

Karee and daughters at Oak Haven Farms in Sorrento, FL

After 3 & 1/2 years of fertility treatments and then blessed with the gift of twin girls, I was bound and determined to be home with them to enjoy every little moment. With that came the financial stress of cutting back, coupon shopping and praying at the end of the month that we had made ends meet. Which was a far cry from the plentiful days of medical sales. I missed having the freedom of money but was not willing to go back to the stress. I knew I needed something flexible and that would work around my girls’ nap schedules.

I went out to California to visit my sister and she introduced me to Mom’s Making Six Figures. It is a group of woman who all support each other to do the impossible, be the mom you want to be and still work hard on your own schedule. It sounded too good to be true. The more I looked into it the more I was intrigued, so I decided to give it a try and it has exceeded my expectations.

Photo by Pam Neff Photography

Photo by Pam Neff Photography

We are partnered with a US based manufacturing company of products that are safer for the home and the environment at a price people can afford. My job is to just simply help people. Educating people on the sneaky toxins in the home and then simply providing a solution. I do not sell anything, I do not have a inventory or have a huge overhead. It really has become the perfect fit for my family.

If you are interested in learning more feel free to go to our website at

Earn Full or Part-time Income
Call me today: 307-802-3982

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Love Your Lawn (Sponsored)

Learn How to Care for Your Landscaping

This post is brought to you by Scotts


Spring is coming, which means it’s time to spruce up your surroundings and get your lawn back to looking lush and gorgeous, while helping our environment.

The benefits of having a great, green lawn go beyond providing you and your family with outdoor enjoyment during warmer months. A responsibly maintained lawn can also help the environment:

  • Lawns oxygenate the air, filter groundwater and absorb nutrients.
  • They help contain soil erosion and absorb more carbon dioxide than trees.
  • Well-fed lawns also contribute to a cooler surrounding environment.
  • Lawns reduce heat in and around your home by cooling the air and reduce traffic noise by dampening sound.

Florida residents, visit to learn backyard tips and techniques for keeping a healthy lawn and find out what Scotts is doing to help protect our natural waterways.

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Your 2015 Parenting Checklist


17 Resolutions to Make This the Year of Conscious Parenting

We have the best intentions, but most of us parent on autopilot more than we’d like. Here, Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, shares 17 resolutions that will help you to bring consciousness to your parenting in 2015.

As parents most of us have the right intentions, but in the hustle and bustle of daily life, it’s difficult to parent positively. As a result, a lot of our interactions with our kids are reactive. According to Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, it’s important to become more aware of our parenting behaviors.

“Just like professional development and getting your finances in order, becoming a more conscious parent involves identifying areas in which you need to improve and keeping those goals at the front of your mind,” says Klebanov, coauthor of The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development. “As we enter into a new year, it’s the perfect time to become more intentional about how we do and don’t want to be when we’re with our children.”

Here, she shares a list of 17 things you can do to parent more consciously in 2015. (“Remember, no parent is perfect, and we all make mistakes,” she reminds. “These items are meant to be gentle reminders, not indictments! You might even find it helpful to print this list out and post it on the fridge or bathroom mirror as a daily tickler.”)

In 2015, I resolve to:

  1. Stop spanking. Many of us grew up being spanked, and it’s an easy response when a child is misbehaving. “While spanking can get the desired results in the short term, the truth is, there are no long-term benefits, and it can lead to quite a few issues down the road, including adversely impacting cognitive development and behavior,” Klebanov comments.
  2. Stop fighting in front of the kids. To be clear, Klebanov isn’t referring to basic constructive arguing, which can serve as a good lesson to youngsters, but to arguments that involve put-downs, name-calling, insults, or threats. “This is a negative, destructive communication pattern you don’t want to model to your children,” Klebanov comments. “Seeing parents fight is incredibly stressful to kids and can spark feelings of fear and anxiety that last long after Mom and Dad have made up.”
  3. Model kindness and compassion. We all say we want to raise kids who are kind and compassionate—but be honest: How often do you demonstrate those values in action? “Kids notice things like whether you’re nice or rude to the cashier, whether you help or ignore others who are less fortunate, and how you respond when someone makes a mistake,” Klebanov notes. “The values that stick will be the ones you live, not the ones you preach about.
  4. Back away from teasing, yelling, and threatening. To your child, these behaviors are demeaning and sometimes frightening. And long-term, they negatively affect kids’ self-esteem, social skills, and even academic skills. “It’s important to limit your expressions of anger toward your kids, especially for behaviors that are developmentally appropriate—even if they make you feel frustrated or angry,” Klebanov says. “Go to therapy if necessary.”
  5. Promptly and lovingly respond to my baby’s cries. Science has shown that a caregiver’s signals and availability are critical in infancy because they directly impact the child’s healthy emotional and psychological development. “Even if you’re tired, busy, or frustrated, it’s very important to promptly respond to your baby’s distress in a positive, supportive, understanding, and compassionate way. Don’t leave infants to cry.”
  6. Criticize less. Parental criticism comes from a good place. We want our children to learn, improve, develop good habits, avoid mistakes, and generally be the best they can be. But we don’t always stop to consider the impact our criticism has on their self-image and confidence. “This year, strive to be more sensitive of what you’re criticizing, how often you’re criticizing, and whether or not it’s constructive or destructive,” Klebanov advises.
  7. Hug and kiss more. When parents are affectionate and loving, it positively affects children’s mental health, as well as their social and emotional development. “So hug and kiss your children as much as possible, as long as they’ll let you,” comments Klebanov.
  8. Give them the responsibilities and freedoms they’ve earned. You may want your kids to stay little forever, but they’re growing physically, emotionally, and psychologically every day. Even if it’s bittersweet for you, give them privileges and responsibilities that are appropriate for their ages and maturity levels.
  9. Spend more time with family members—even those I don’t particularly like. Children deserve positive and meaningful relationships with their family members—even those you’d rather not spend time with. (For instance, if you’re divorced, allow your children to spend time with your ex and your ex’s family, if your kids so desire.)
  10. To improve behavior, use rewards more and punishments less. Rewards create positive connections in a child’s mind because they link good behavior with happiness, unlike punishment-based discipline, which instead trains them to behave out of fear. “Remember that parental praise is an important reward, too,” Klebanov says.
  11. Spend more positive time with my kids on their terms. Don’t forget that your kids are unique human beings with their own interests, abilities, and strengths—many of which may differ from yours! “Help your kids develop their interests and compliment them frequently for their efforts and successes,” Klebanov recommends. “Care about and support your kids’ friendships, too, and their happiness in general.”
  12. Think about my own childhood more. Take a mental journey back in time. What was happening during your childhood when you were the age your child is now? Are you acting or sounding just like your parent in a way you aren’t proud of? Are proud of? Are you projecting your childhood experiences onto your own child? “Address your own childhood problems and traumas in therapy,” Klebanov instructs.
  13. Be more aware of the example I’m setting. “Pay closer attention to the example you’re setting when you’re actively parenting and when your attention is on other things,” Klebanov notes. “Be the best role model possible. Always look in the mirror before judging your kids’ behaviors.”
  14. Read, read, and read some more. “Read to your kids often when they are young and model reading as they get older,” Klebanov recommends. “Share your favorite stories with them and allow them to explore their reading interests. Reading together will boost their brain development and strengthen your bond.”
  15. Parent with a better understanding of my child’s stage in life. Children’s behavior can sometimes be baffling and frustrating to their parents. That’s why it’s important to have a basic understanding of each of your kids’ developmental stages and to be understanding. “Be grateful for their curiosity, not impatient with it,” Klebanov advises. “Understand the significance of their learning and brain development. Encourage and support their efforts to talk, walk, learn, and develop—yes, even after the 500th question of the day!”
  16. Spoil them more. Within the structure of appropriate limits, give your kids a sense of plenty. “Don’t be afraid of spoiling your kids,” Klebanov says. “Love begets love.”
  17. Share my interests with my children. If you love tennis, take your kids to the court and teach them how to play. If you enjoy painting, create a masterpiece with your little ones. “Teaching your kids about things in a positive manner and exposing them to your interests is a very important and positive part of being a parent. And who knows? You may spark a lifelong passion or hobby in them!”

“Always remember that the goal of parenting is to create happy, healthy, moral, successful, positively contributing adults—not to have a convenient child for you in the present,” Klebanov concludes. “If you keep this principle in mind as you consciously parent in 2015, you’ll find that the best path to take becomes much clearer.”

# # #

About Marianna Klebanov:
Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, is the coauthor of The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development. She works as an attorney with a specialty in matters relating to child welfare and family violence. She writes a column for on issues relating to parenting, child abuse prevention, and brain development. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors and on the Executive Committee of Family and Children Services, a large nonprofit organization focusing on mental health services. Klebanov chairs the organization’s Program Committee, overseeing the board’s relationship with the organization’s mental health and counseling programs. She is the legislative liaison to the Board of Supervisors for the Juvenile Justice Commission and serves on the Child Abuse Prevention Council. Klebanov graduated with honors from Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and earned her JD from the University of California at Hastings, where she served as a journal editor.

To learn more, please visit

About the Book:
The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development (Routledge, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-138-02513-4, $46.95, is available for purchase through Routledge, on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and through a number of additional booksellers.

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The Dance Happy Project


Georgia Bernbaum, age 11, had to come up with a community service project for her bat mitzvah. That’s how The Dance Happy Project was born.

Words by Tracey C. Velt  Photos by Lisbet Photography

When it came time to develop a community service project, Georgia, a sixth-grader at Maitland Middle School, knew she wanted to create a project that would incorporate the nonprofit dance studio she attends for classes. Over time, her idea took shape, and she decided to bring dance classes to children living in homeless shelters. A quick call to the Coalition for the Homeless, and Elizabeth Bernbaum, Georgia’s mom, discovered a program called Art by Coalition Children (ABC). “They bring in artists for different programs offering everything from movie-making to puppetry,” says Elizabeth.

What Georgia liked so much about the idea is a dance class was something the children could always use. “All you need to dance is you, not paints, paper, clay or anything else. I hope the dance lessons will give the children confidence so that no matter where they are, they can feel powerful,” says Georgia.

As a dancer with The Center for Contemporary Dance (CCD) in Winter Park, Georgia immediately decided to meet with Dario Moore, the artistic director of the dance studio, to find out how to bring the classes to the homeless. “The CCD has a history of working with Title One schools and loved the idea,” says Elizabeth. With the idea and execution in place, Georgia needed to get working on fundraising. “We named it The Dance Happy Project, and a friend of ours designed the logo,” says Georgia. “I came up with The Dance Happy Project [name] because I want people to feel happy when they dance. This is why I wanted the logo to be smiley-face yellow.”


Raising Money
After brainstorming with mom, Georgia decided to do a project asking designers from dance and Broadway to donate their artwork, which would be sold at an auction. “Georgia wrote the letters on her own; I just corrected the grammar,” laughs Elizabeth.

“One of my favorite pieces is the costume design for Glinda the Good in Wicked. It is the original sketch, signed by the designer, Susan Hilferty. She won the Tony that year. I cannot believe that she sent this to me!” says Georgia. “It is exciting when a new piece arrives. I cannot believe how many donations I have received from artists all around the world. Some of them have sent me personal notes, which I will save forever.”

With artwork pouring in, Georgia and Elizabeth continued to research ways to earn money for the project. “Our goal is to fund this class for three years,” says Elizabeth. They discovered The Pollination Project, an organization that provides thousand-dollar seed grants to “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Georgia wrote the narrative. “I made sure the tax information was correct,” says Elizabeth. At the same time, Donna Dowless, Orlando’s official Ambassador of Love, told Elizabeth about The Awesome Foundation, which provides thousand-dollar grants to fund small projects that make the area a better place. Georgia’s Dance Happy Project won both grants. The auction fundraiser will be held February 9 at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Moira from the Philips Phile will be the emcee. “I am looking forward to my fundraiser because it is going to be really exciting to see art and dance come together on stage,” Georgia adds.


Bodies in Motion
Thankfully, with the two grants, Georgia didn’t have to wait for the auction to start the dance classes. “The intention is to do it four times a year—every three months. Each time, it will run for four consecutive weeks,” says Elizabeth. “Georgia has the funding for it to be held three times this year, plus to rent the space for the auction.”

While the dance classes take place when she’s at school, Georgia recently took an afternoon off to see the fruits of her labor. “I was moved by the dance class. Mr. Dario was teaching the children how to choreograph their own dance, using their ideas, and I could tell that The Dance Happy Project was already successful!”

Dance Happy
The size of the classes depends on the number of children at the center. “There could be up to 200 children staying at the shelter at one time,” says Elizabeth. “Although, the first class had 20 kids.” Says Moore, who was hired to teach the classes, “I like to say that I have a 12-year-old boss. It is amazing what this young lady is accomplishing. This is an important project for reasons that extend beyond the technical aspects of dance education. The classes at the coalition teach young people, quite literally, how to take control of their movement through time and space. Through dance, students learn to see that they can create choices and that their choices have both value and consequences.”

Says Elizabeth, “I’m so proud of Georgia. She’s worked really hard on this. I’ve helped, but I’m staff. I do what she can’t do, like sign contracts and checks.” The whole experience has been rewarding for Georgia as well. “When I go to college, I want to major in nonprofit management,” she says. It’s obvious Georgia’s heart and head are in the right place.

Take a sneak peek at the art to be auctioned off for The Dance Happy Project:
If you click on a piece of art on the website, you can read about its origin.


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5 Tips to Avoid the Holiday Mommy Meltdown

Holiday Mommy Meltdown

Surviving the Holiday Mommy Meltdown

Turkey’s, Gift Wrap and End-of-Year Results—Oh My!

Words by Teresa Taylor

The holidays are upon us, and there is magic in the air. As a mom, you would think this would be a fun time of year – for family traditions and making memories. As a working mom, you think of the disorder encroaching on the household.  Right?

In fact, it is the beginning of a two-month long meltdown that I unaffectionately call the “Holiday Meltdown.” Once a year, like clockwork, I fail to keep it together when the simultaneous pressures of fourth-quarter work and holiday pressures collide.

At work, by November, we are always behind in our financial commitments. In order to close out the fourth quarter in line, we needed to make expense cuts. The pressure is unbelievable and unpleasant. How was I supposed to figure out how to reduce my budget with two weeks’ notice? Why did we have to go through this exercise every year? How am I supposed to forecast the next year’s results when I can’t even figure out next week?

At home, the upcoming holidays bring another form of pressure. Costumes, school party supplies, family commitments, extra baking (wait, I don’t bake!), the perfect presents, formalwear, coupons, sales, and new tradition expectations – everything at once!  On top of all that, the winter sports begin with a heavy game schedule as January dawns, gotta think about that now, too. More paperwork and registrations.

Yes, work and family schedules are busier than ever during this time of year.

The following five “meltdown” tips will help you survive the holiday adventure and the fourth-quarter pressures at work. They are written from my personal and professional experiences and shared in my book, The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success.

1. Wear the game face. It is not necessary to let everyone know how miserable you are. It is not productive and only creates more chaos. It is ok to cry but find a place that you can cry alone – mine was the women’s bathroom in my office.

2. Third grade only comes once.  Each school grade comes with unique characteristics that shape your children. Try to rise above the details and look at the bigger picture.  Treasure – don’t dread — this busy holiday-at-school time.

3. Manage your time more efficiently. Be present in what you’re doing, finish it and move on. I have my list of things to do, and I’ll assign time slots to it. If I have one hour to work on a presentation at work or one hour to wrap presents, I do the best I can for that one hour.

4. Combine your work and family schedules. I used to keep two different calendars – one for home and one for work; but, I was missing work deadlines, my kids’ activities and other events. So I combined the calendars, which caused me to start talking about my family at work and integrating my two lives. It’s one life and one calendar! And,now, I don’t miss a thing. More than ever, the holidays are the right time for combining.

5. Stay in the moment. When you’re at work or in a meeting, be there. When you’re at home, be there. If you’re in a business meeting, don’t be wishing to be somewhere else. Be present where you are, and don’t feel guilty about where you’re not.

At the end of the day – or at least every time the holidays came around – all over again, I learned a valuable lesson about adversity, setbacks, disappointment, difficulties and everything else that came rolling down the pike. It takes faith that things will work out, and they always do.

So enjoy and savor the holidays with your kids and family while still surviving at work and leave the “mommy meltdowns” behind.

About the Author: Teresa Taylor is a nationally recognized, Fortune 200 executive who brings integrity, focus, vision and agility to corporate leadership, while advising companies, government agencies and others on a successful business model.  Her book, The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success, is inspiring women to succeed professionally and personally.

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10 Best Towns For Families

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Family Circle announces the results of its exclusive survey to identify America’s 10 Best Towns for Families. The brand’s eighth annual list reveals the country’s top towns that provide affordable housing options, strong sense of community and exemplary school systems. Lake Mary, known for its small-town feel and family-friendly events, makes this year’s 10 Best Towns for Families list and is featured in the August 2014 issue of Family Circle, on newsstands July 8 and online at

Family Circle reveals the 10 Best Towns for Families (in alphabetical order):

  • Apex, North Carolina: With historic buildings, a diverse population and a bevy of community events, this town is the pinnacle of quaintness.
  • Boerne, Texas: Top-ranked schools andrandom acts of kindness are the norm in this San Antonio suburb.
  • Brecksville, Ohio: Top-rated schools and ample green space provide a family-friendly setting where there is an equal emphasis on achievement and giving back.
  • Camas, Washington: Simple pleasures like hiking along the Columbia River Gorge or catching a summertime parade add charm to this picturesque Portland suburb.
  • Elmhurst, Illinois: A pedestrian-friendly downtown and opportunities for volunteering make this Chicago suburb a dream destination for families.
  • Franklin, Tennessee: Residents in this Nashville suburb revel in year-round events with an emphasis on the outdoors.
  • Lake Mary, Florida: Bursting with restaurants, stores and high-tech jobs, this Orlando suburb maintains a small town-feel with farmer’s markets, outdoor fairs and family-friendly events.
  • Westborough, Massachusetts: People love to mingle in this leafy Boston suburb where there’s a special connection across generations young and old.
  • Westfield, Indiana: Housing is affordable, the schools are stellar, but it’s Westfield’s sense of community that folks love most about this town.
  • Woodbury, Minnesota: Over two-fifths of households in this Twin Cities suburb have children, making Woodbury an attractive destination to raise a family.

With the help of Onboard Informatics, a New York City research firm that provides real estate, demographic and other data, Family Circle initially assembled a list of 4,200 cities and towns with populations between 10,000 and 150,000. From that, nearly 1,400 localities having a high concentration of households with median incomes between $55,000 and $100,000 were selected. The editors then assessed which places best met its family-friendly criteria—including affordable homes, quality schools, access to health care, green space, low crime rate and financial stability—and ranked them from top to bottom. Family Circle selected the 10 winners from among the highest-rated towns.

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Donate, Shop, Save & Create

Donations RESIZED

Donate, Shop, Save and Create

Goodwill Industries of Central Florida is encouraging local parents to pull off the quadruple play this summer! It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4:

1. Donate last year’s school clothes to Goodwill.
Start by going through your closet and dresser drawers, and looking for items you no longer need. Gather that stuff, and take it to Goodwill.

2. Pick up some fresh threads for the upcoming school year.
After you’ve dropped off your donation, take a few minutes to do some back-to-school shopping. If you haven’t shopped at a Goodwill store in a while, you might be surprised at some of the great bargains and cool clothes you can find.

3. Keep your wallet happy by not spending a lot.
At the checkout, you’ll realize your wallet didn’t take the hit it usually does during back-to-school shopping—saving you cash for more important things. You’ll also realize that your acts of donation and purchasing have helped the Central Florida community.

4. Help create a job for someone in your community.
The money raised through the sale of donated goods goes to fund Goodwill’s main mission—providing job training and career services to help people gain job skills, earn employment and advance in their careers. For more than a century, Goodwill has been meeting the needs of job seekers with programs for those with disabilities and other barriers to employment.

“Summer is the time of year for getting the most things accomplished with the fewest moves,” said Bill Oakley, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Florida. “When it comes to back-to-school shopping, you can get four things done at our retail stores and Donation Xpress locations.”

Last year alone, Goodwill Industries of Central Florida helped more than 32,500 people prepare for careers in such fields as banking, IT and health care. It all stems from Goodwill’s belief in the power of work to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families—and it all starts when you donate items that can be sold in Goodwill’s retail stores and online.


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Hipster Father’s Day Card

Download this free printable Hipster Father’s Day Card compliments of PLAYGROUND.

CLICK HERE to download a PDF to print.

Hipster vintage trendy look quotes: Beards over everything


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Hipster Father's Day Card

Download this free printable Hipster Father’s Day Card compliments of PLAYGROUND.

CLICK HERE to download a PDF to print.

Hipster vintage trendy look quotes: Beards over everything


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Implant Surgery On Ten-Year-Old Boy


Cardiologists at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children performed Florida’s first pediatric implant of a new device to prevent sudden cardiac arrest.

The device, called a subcutaneous defibrillator, protects patients from sudden cardiac arrest by providing an electrical impulse to muscles surrounding the heart. It is the world’s first device to provide protection from sudden cardiac arrest while not touching the heart or blood vessels.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. The condition usually causes death if not treated within minutes.

Cardiologists at the hospital implanted the subcutaneous defibrillator into Jose Ramos, a ten-year-old Kissimmee boy who went into sudden cardiac arrest in February 2014 and received cardiopulmonary resuscitation from his father to save his life.

“With the subcutaneous defibrillator, we now have a way to prevent sudden cardiac arrest in pediatric patients without having wires running through their veins and into the heart,” says Dr. Rodrigo Nehgme, electrophysiologist and cardiologist at Arnold Palmer Hospital. “It is a less invasive solution with fewer risks and will save the lives of young patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.”

The subcutaneous defibrillator is about the size of a deck of cards and is implanted just beneath the skin below the armpit. Cardiologists then run a wire, also beneath the skin, from the device to the front of the chest and up toward the neck. Whereas older technology monitored individual heart beats, this new device actually analyzes heart rhythm and provides an electrical impulse when the heart goes into a dangerous rhythm.

Approximately 2,000 of the subcutaneous defibrillators have been implanted in the United States, with Jose being only the fifth pediatric case.

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A Nutritional Guide For The Expecting Mother



By: Karen Cowan

In a typical mom-to-be, the news of a pregnancy is met with excitement, anxiety and a frantic desire to learn everything needed to ensure that her child is born healthy. Consuming a healthful, nutrient-dense diet throughout pregnancy and while nursing can help set the stage for an optimal birth and postnatal experience. With that said, all the recommendations and guidelines women are bombarded with can be overwhelming to moms-to-be. A healthy nutrition plan in pregnancy begins with eating small, frequent meals. Those traditional “three square meals a day” are best replaced by five small meals—breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner and a bedtime snack. Pregnant women should avoid fasting (>13 hours) and should never skip breakfast, as doing so can increase the risk of a dangerous condition called ketosis, which is an increased acidity of the blood that can increase the risk of preterm delivery. Pregnant women are encouraged to eat an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high-calcium foods during the entire gestation period. Other nutrition recommendations are more specific to the exact stage of fetal growth and development, which by convention is divided into pregnancy trimesters and postpartum lactation. Remember to always consult your physician before changing your diet if you have specific medical requirements. The next time you feel tempted to indulge on those cravings during your pregnancy, try one of these healthier, tasty substitutions:

Ice cream- Frozen low-fat yogurt topped with granola, sliced berries and a few dark chocolate shreds

Potato chips- Baked potato chips or low-fat soy crisps or veggie chips

Chocolate- Trail mix with equal portions of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and a few chocolate-covered raisins

Cheeseburger- Low-fat turkey or veggie burger, topped with avocado, tomato, and lettuce on a thin whole-wheat bun

Karen is an AFPA Certified Nutritionist, Wellness Specialist, and Certified Pre & Post Natal Exercise Specialist, having received certification through the American Fitness Professional & Associates. Karen is currently studying towards her Masters of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. She is also a member of the American Nutrition Association, IDEA Health & Fitness Association, and the American Fitness Professional & Associates. Additional CEC’s in Adolescent Fitness, Weight Training for Women, Nutrition & Dining Out, Stress Resilience, Research & Senior Fitness, Kid’s Health. Visit or the Central Florida Nutrition facebook page, for more info.

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The 2013 Hillman Report Has Been Released

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Each year the president of Fannie Hillman + Associates, Scott Hillman, releases his annual Hillman Report. This is a comprehensive look at the 2013 Real Estate market in specific areas throughout Orange and parts of Seminole counties. It is a great resource for those interested in evaluating our market’s past performance to truly gain perspective as to where we are headed in 2014. Below is an overview of the report. To read the entire report click here.

Overall a positive year for area existing homes

The 2013 existing homes market in Orange and Seminole counties weathered the worst of a challenging economy over the past five years by posting some very positive numbers, and should continue to see gradual improvement in 2014, according to the just published 2013 Hillman Report.

“I wouldn’t say 2013 was a breakout year, but it certainly was a very good year, unquestionably the best one we’ve had in Orange and Seminole counties since 2007 in terms of transactions and median price increases which were both up in almost every category,” said Scott Hillman, president of Fannie Hillman + Associates, the 33-year-old Winter Park firm that twice a year publishes The Hillman Report which takes a comprehensive look at Winter Park, Maitland, College Park, Baldwin Park, and downtown Orlando housing and condominium markets.

“I think we can expect to see an appreciation of 4-6 percent in home values this year while prices will remain relatively stable through the first quarter before gathering some momentum in the second and third quarters,” Hillman noted.

The Hillman Report showed 2013 transactions for all single family homes up 5.7 percent over 2012, with biggest gainers in the $500,001-$750,000 price range, up 49 percent, followed by sales of homes in the $300,001-$500,000 million price category, up 43 percent.

The best performing neighborhood for single-family home transactions was Baldwin Park (32814) which saw sales jump 305 percent, while transactions for lakefront homes in Winter Park (32789) were up a collective 147 percent. Non-lakefront homes in the same zip code were up a healthy 21 percent.

Transactions for homes on and off area lakes also performed well in Orlando (32801 and 32806), increasing a combined 37.3 percent, while sales of lakefront and non-lakefront homes in Orlando (32803) were up a collective 27 percent.

Median prices for single-family homes were up anywhere from one percent for homes in the $300,001-$500,000 category to as much as16 percent for homes priced $300,000 and under.

Condominium sales, while down slightly overall, did post appreciable gains in the mid- and higher-priced ranges. Transactions were up 80 percent for condos in the $200,001-$500,000 price range, and climbed 10 percent for units priced over $500,001, even though the median price for those condos was up six percent over the previous year.

College Park (32804) was the pacesetter in condo transactions with an increase of 31 percent, despite a median price increase of 43 percent. The biggest jump in median price was 105 percent for condos in Winter Park (32792).

To learn more about The 2013 Hillman Report, or to download a copy, log onto the company’s website at 

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Kids Nutrition: Simple Changes = Big Rewards


By: Merilee Kern

A wise man – or woman – once said that “it’s the small things in life that matter.” This philosophy could not ring more true than when applied to the health and well-being of our nation’s children. There is no one thing that, no matter how consistently done, will assure good health. Rather, it’s the culmination of many single, relatively small behaviors that, altogether and over time, will help children foster a healthy body.

When asked what choices ‘my’ family makes relative to nutrition and fitness that keeps us all healthy and fit, a specific answer often varies, but it always simply conveys easy ways to make healthy options the norm in a family’s daily routine rather than the exception – and without the family feeling any sense of loss or deprivation.

With this in mind, here are a few sure-fire, yet simple, success strategies to help children eat more nutritiously:

  • First and foremost, require that your child finish his or her healthy meal before any “treat” type foods are made available. Simply put, the child can NOT have that even occasional cupcake if (s)he has not eaten those veggies! End of story.
  • We live in an age where food manufacturers are the most health-conscious in history. Take full advantage of these healthy alternatives. It’s simply not an option to choose those refined sugar-loaded gummy bears when dried fruit and trail mix snacks of every sort are a mere aisle or two away.
  • Make fresh fruit an exciting dessert. Yes, dessert. Low-fat and low-calorie whipped cream with just a touch of colorful sprinkles atop sliced strawberries or other berries can make children squeal with delight. Rainbow Jell-O jam packed with citrus fruit is always a crowd pleaser. When it comes to nature’s dessert, get creative, build the anticipation in advance, and offer it up with as much excitement and reverence as you would a chocolate cake.
  • Don’t expect utter perfection of yourself as you work toward your family’s collective health goal. Do what you can to make healthy changes, as dong “something” is better than doing nothing. No time to make homemade oatmeal? Go for those instant bags instead! Any oatmeal is better than no oatmeal, and it’s certainly better than skipping breakfast or opting for any of those sugary cereals. You can’t get all the way there if you never get out of the starting gate!
  • Don’t ask if your family wants a certain veggie or fruit with dinner. Make an executive [chef] decision and just serve it up! Knowing that such choices are not an option per se removes the possibility that your family may choose to eat a given healthy items or not. Praise the child who enthusiastically eats his or her healthy fare or at least tries it and does “well enough.” And, leverage your kid’s competitive spirit. Offer an eating challenge that he or she simply cannot resist, such as “I bet you can’t eat all of your peas in the next 10 minutes. You’ll be surprised how far this will take you.
  • Be willing to concede for the greater good. My son will only eat a healthy tuna fish sandwich with low-fat mayonnaise in a wheat pita if it has about four potato chips placed inside the pocket, too. I figure 2 or 3 potato chips is a fair concession to make for a wheat pita full of Omega-3 fatty acid-packed tuna. With kids, all or nothing doesn’t work – be willing to find that middle ground!

Ensuring a child eats nutritiously is not about denial which, especially with the younger set, will surely prove self-defeating. Rather, it’s about strategy, systems, consistency and moderation to establish a balance of what is, and is not, health-promoting. It’s not rocket science…it just takes some forethought and some good old common sense.

  MAIN RT HI Tight 2

Children’s health advocate, health industry veteran, and two-time fitness champion Merilee Kern is the author of the award-winning, ground-breaking illustrated fictional children’s book, “Making Healthy Choices – A Story to Inspire Fit, Weight-Wise Kids.” She may be reached online at


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5 Car Seat Cleaning Tips by Clek

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Spring is just around the corner. Clek, the award-winning car seat manufacturer known for its ease-of-use and modern design, has shared with us a few of their simple suggestions for how to clean and refresh your child’s car seat.

1.    When it comes to your child’s car seat, safety is always first, so be sure not to use any harsh chemical cleaning products, soaps or scrubs.
2.    Avoid disassembling the seat itself and do not wash any straps or detachable devices in the washing machine (this can cause deterioration, and potentially damage your car seat). A damp cloth may be used on the straps.
3.    Mix two cups of warm water with one teaspoon of enzyme laundry detergent (e.g. Nature Clean or Tide Free) to form a mixture that works well on most stains.
4.    Follow these simple steps to spot cleaning your messy seat:
        Remove excess soil (can use a soft brush or a vacuum)
        Apply the soap mixture to the stained area
        Agitate stain with a soft brush
        Allow solution to remain on stain for one minute
        Blot up the stain with a dry, white towel
        Thoroughly rinse any remaining soap (can use a spray bottle with water to do this) and blot the area     again
        Repeat if necessary
5.    Go the extra mile with a do-it-yourself, organic, fabric refresher spray:
        Fill a spray bottle with a diluted vinegar and water solution
       Add half a teaspoon of essential oil (whichever your preference, can even mix them to create a custom scent)
       Add half a teaspoon of vegetable glycerin, to help emulsify the essential oil(s)
       Move harness straps to the side so as not spray them
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Cook With Your Kids

The Importance of Family Dinners & KidsCookMonday Twitter Party

The Importance of Family Dinners & #KidsCookMonday Twitter Party

Written by Amanda Keefer
Originally posted on

Our friends at Produce for Kids have teamed up with The Kids Cook Monday and Oviedo mom Christine Pittman of Cook the Story to host the #KidsCookMonday Twitter party on January 27 at 9 p.m. EST. Parents can ask questions and get tips about cooking with kids and the importance of eating together as a family. Gearing up for the Twitter party, Diana K. Rice, registered dietitian at The Monday Campaigns, shared her take on family dinners:

1. Why is it important for families to cook together?

Life is so fast-paced these days, and cooking together provides a wonderful opportunity to slow down and spend quality time together as a family. It’s also a great opportunity for children to learn the basic cooking skills they’ll need later in life so they won’t have to rely on fast food, and of course, meals you cook from scratch are almost always more nutritious than anything pre-prepared.

2. What are a few easy way to get kids involved in cooking?

I always say to start at the grocery store. Head to the produce section and tell the kids they can pick out any item they want! Then, check out a site like Produce for Kids or The Kids Cook Monday for a simple dinner recipe featuring that item. Kids are so much more likely to enjoy cooking and trying healthy foods when they’re given some ownership over the meal. Once you’re in the kitchen, give your kids tasks according to their ages and motor skills. For little kids, tasks can be as simple as pushing the button on a food processor or tearing up some leafy greens with their hands. We have more information on tasks appropriate for different age groups on

3. Are there safety tips you can share that parents should keep in mind when cooking with kids?

Parents may be afraid to let their kids handle knives, but there are ways to make it perfectly safe. Plastic or metal butter knives can cut lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados…almost anything except tough squashes and root vegetables, really. But it’s important to teach kids how to properly hold the knife so they’ll be ready to use a real knife when they’re older. I like the “bear claw” method. Make a claw with the fingers of the hand you’re using to hold the food, which keeps little fingertips away from the blade. Then, hold the knife in your dominant hand, place the tip firmly on the cutting board above the food and “chomp” down in a lever-like motion. Repeat!

Cooking is also a great time to learn the importance of handwashing. I always have kids wash their hands well before beginning any recipe, and again whenever a little finger finds its way into a mouth or nose (which can be often!)

4. Why is it important for families to sit down to dinner together and how can busy families make this happen?

Sitting down to a meal together is true, quality family time. It’s a chance to check in with each other, laugh, and hear about everyone’s days. No screens allowed, of course! Parents who often eat with their kids report feeling more connected to their children’s lives, and kids report feeling less stressed. As for how to make it happen, I’m a big fan of the prep-in-advance concept. Use the weekend to map out your meals, go shopping, and get a lot of the washing and chopping out of the way so that it’s easy to toss a few ingredients together for a weeknight meal. Cook up a big batch of beans and use them for tacos one night and soup the next. There’s no rule that says home cooking has to be complicated or take a lot of time. In my opinion, the simpler, the better!

5. Obviously we love fruits and veggies. Do you have any tips on how to incorporate more fruits and veggies into meals?

If you buy them…they will be eaten! Parents are often reluctant to buy much produce out of fear that it will go bad before they get a chance to use it. I say use that fear to your advantage! If it’s in your fridge and threatening to go to waste, you will find a way to use it. Seeking out plant-based recipes and being flexible in your cooking are also important tips. Say a pasta recipe only calls for onions and tomatoes, but you also have mushrooms on hand. Throw them right on in there! And if you really don’t think you’ll use what you bought, you can almost always just chop it up and toss it in the freezer for later use in a soup or stew. Or just buy frozen items in the first place, they’re just as nutritious.

Don’t forget to RSVP for the #KidsCookMonday Twitter party here.

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PFK_final_logos About Produce for Kids
Produce for Kids® encourages healthy eating among families by providing simple, healthy meal solutions and resources for parents, while raising funds for local children’s non-profit organizations. Since its creation in 2002 by Shuman Produce Inc., Produce for Kids has raised more than $4.2 million to benefit kids. To learn more about Produce for Kids and healthy eating, visit, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

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Antarctic Wedding (in Central Florida)


Antarctica Explorers Wed at SeaWorld Orlando’s Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin

A true “white wedding” was held on Friday, January 10, 2014 at SeaWorld Orlando as two Antarctic explorers shared their vows at Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, the park’s cool rendition of the icy continent. Heart-warming and bone-chilling extremes could be felt as the couple, who met in 2012 while working in Antarctica for the New Zealand government, was married in the 32-degree, snowy penguin habitat.

Just inches from the bride and groom were 250 members of the bridal party – a colony of king, Adélie, gentoo and rockhopper penguins – all dressed in their black and white “tuxedos” fit for the occasion.

“Antarctica is such a beautiful and intense environment. When you experience that with someone, the bond you create is rare. Having our wedding here at SeaWorld in this realm that so perfectly captures the essence of the continent brought me right back to the day Jeff and I met,” said the bride, Susanne Grieve.

The couple “wintered” together in 2012, braving average temperatures of minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Fresh produce and mail were two of the many conveniences the couple went without during their time in Antarctica.

Grieve, who now teaches conservation, preservation and archaeology courses at East Carolina University, hopes to one day return to the frigid continent where she had previously worked with the Antarctic Heritage Trust to protect late 1800s explorers’ legacy, including the bases and the artifacts they left behind. The groom, Jeff Rawson, still works for the New Zealand government and just recently returned from Antarctica. Rawson’s work focuses on supporting scientific research on climate studies and ice core sampling.


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Community Based Care of Central Florida

diaz family


In courthouses across Central Florida on Friday, 30 children were officially united with their new parents during adoption ceremonies in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. Ranging in age from infants to teens, the children were among nearly 4,500 kids who participated in National Adoption Day celebrations taking place across the country this month. Eighteen children were adopted in Orange County.

“This is a day to celebrate as kids with bad pasts get bright futures,” said Glen Casel, CEO and president of Community Based Care of Central Florida, the lead agency overseeing foster care and adoption services locally. “As we enter the holiday season, these children and parents will experience the blessing of family in an even more meaningful way.”

Community Based Care of Central Florida is hoping to raise awareness of the number of children needing permanent, loving homes. In the tri-county area, over 60 are available for adoption – among more than 100,000 nationally.

“These are good kids longing for a family to bring them stability, safety and love,” said Casel. “The need is great, but the benefits of opening your home are even greater.”

Florida First Lady Ann Scott, who attended the ceremony in Osceola County, was among the dignitaries and community leaders who lent their support to the cause.

Orlando residents Maritza and Kenneth Diaz, parents of an adopted son and daughter, adopted another baby daughter Friday. “When we met her, it was love at first sight,” Maritza recalls. “Now, we get to love her for life!”

“As an adoptive father myself, National Adoption Day has always been close to my heart,” said Judge Robert M. Evans, who presided over the ceremony in Orange County. “If you want to see a judge cry, this is the time. There’s nothing more powerful than witnessing the creation of a new family.”

To learn more about foster parenting or adoption, prospective families should visit

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Hanukah Heshie


Local dad creates Hanukah alternative to Elf on the Shelf

Written by Tracey Velt

As an animator who worked at Disney for 10 years, Jason Peltz with Peltz Productions knows a thing or two about creating characters. So, when his daughters, Jadyn (7) and Jennavieve (4), begged for an Elf on the Shelf, Peltz convinced them that a plush Hanukah Mickey Mouse Ty Beanie Baby was a great alternative. “It worked for awhile. Our Hanukah Mickey would show up in places throughout the house. Mickey didn’t report back to Santa like the Elf on the Shelf, instead he reported back to mom and dad,” laughs Peltz.

Peltz says that Hanukah Mickey set his creative wheels in motion. “I wanted to develop a character that was educational and fun,” he says. Thus was born Hanukah Heshie and a book about Jewish holiday traditions. The book features Heshie, a lovable little guy who is feeling overshadowed by the “jolly man in red.” Heshie sits in a driedel-shaped sleigh that is pulled by candles from the Menorah. “Heshie teaches the traditions of the Jewish faith that not everyone knows about,” he says.

While there is no plush Hanukah Heshie yet, Peltz hopes to expand on the story and create a plush figure that is similar to the popular Elf on the Shelf.


Hanukah Heshie creator, Jason Peltz, and family.

The book is a hit at home and characters in the book are modeled after his children. “My kids love it. They come into my home office and take turns learning how to draw Hanukah Heshie,” he says.

The book is currently available as an ebook (for iPad or Tablets) on However, a print book will soon be available to purchase through Peltz’ website:

“I’d love to see Hanukah Heshie sitting right next to the Elf on the Shelf in all the major stores.”



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Locals Only Gift Guide

In support of #SmallBusinessSaturday we’ve come up with a local’s only gift guide to make supporting your community, and conquering your holiday shopping list a little easier. Check out these PLAYGROUND-approved, locally owned businesses and the gifts we think are definitely worth giving.


Learning Express: Iliana and Vik Mavinkurve opened Learning Express in Ocoee earlier this year. This specialty toy store breaks the mold of big-box toy stores with its wide array of unique toys and gifts, along with customized services like free gift wrapping, complimentary personalization of select items, birthday registries and even a curb-side gift pick-up for those extra busy days. A hot buy for the holidays is the Mini Ogodisk Set — perfect for outdoor fun.


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Leisa Lovely Designs: Five years ago, mom Leisa Covelli started Leisa Lovely designs out of her Central Florida home. She now operates out of a Fern Lake storefront where she specializes in unique gifts and monogrammed items. Need a gift for someone with team spirit? Leisa Lovely will create custom embroidery orders with that person’s favorite team logo.



Liapela: Owner and founder Alejandra Salazar opened her first Liapela store in 2007, expanding to Orlando in late 2012. The Millenia-area location features high-end baby products and a kid-friendly show room. Standout item this holiday season: Prince Lionheart’s Balance Bike. The bike teaches children balance and steering, helping in the transition to pedal bikes. Check out the website for even more options.

8141151_fpx.tif Macrobaby: Macrobaby is Central Florida’s one-stop-shop for all of your baby needs. The Florida Mall-area store offers a wide array of products, in-store 3D and 4D ultrasounds, a photo studio, limo service and more. Florida residents with valid ID get 10 percent off their entire order (some exclusions may apply). The item they’re most excited about this season—the Bugaboo Stroller. Suitable for a newborn or toddler, the multi-terrain Bugaboo Cameleon³ can seamlessly adapt to your journey, whether that’s through the city, woods, sand or snow.

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Pigtails and Crewcuts: This Dr. Phillips-based shop is as cute as its name. With an inviting décor, video games and an exceptional staff of stylists, the children’s-only salon has turned haircut time into party time. Check out the line of organic hair care products by Original Sprout. They are 100 percent vegan, free of parabens and sulfates and designed to be safe for all members of the family. Plus: Pig Tails & Crewcuts offers superior ear piercing services, and for the month of December they are offering their fashion earrings for just $10! 


Qubits: As seen on NBC’s Shark Tank, Qubits, the toy that teaches modular design and geometric shapes is brought to you by Orlando locals, Mark and Lisa Burginger. This toy makes a great gift for curious kids who love to build, and can be purchased online at Want to check it out in person, ask for it by name at the Orlando Science Center, or any of the Orange County Libraries.


slide2 The Sacred Olive: The Sacred Olive is the creation of Carolyn Hill whose passion for cooking came from spending time in the kitchen with her mother from a very young age. The Sacred Olive provides specialty olive oils and vinegars in a variety of flavors, perfect for the foodie on your list this season. Oils and vinegars can be purchased online at or in person at the tasting room in downtown Winter Garden.


Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 10.00.50 AM Simply Shelby: Shelby Finkelstein, owner of Simply Shelby, is an on-location photographer specializing in modern lifestyle baby, children, family and maternity photography. Shelby is located in Central Florida and offers sessions on weekdays and weekends. If you can swing it, a shoot during the week will save you $75. Set up a photo shoot for the New Year at and tell Shelby that PLAYGROUND sent you to get 10 percent off!


Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 4.41.12 PM Tugboat & the Bird: This adorable Park Ave. boutique features classic children’s brands like Florence Eiseman, Amanda Remembered, and Vive La Fete, as well as their own private label. Owner Laura Haftel opened Tugboat & the Bird in September 2001 and has been filling our children’s closets ever since. Any new mommies on your shopping list? Tugboat & the Bird carries the Sweet Seraphina line of bib and cloth sets that are functional, yet stylish.


Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 10.03.04 AM Walk on Water: Orlando-based business guru Roxane Mann opened her first Walk on Water store in Lake Mary in 2004. Three years later, she opened her second location in the Winter Park Village shopping center. The sophisticated boutiques bring you all of the best brands in women’s clothing, accessories, jewelry and gifts. For the leading lady in your life, pick up an Alex and Ani bangle set with personalized charms that match her personality.

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Tips for Teaching Children to be Thankful this Holiday



The holidays are such a festive time of year, with many opportunities to entertain, enjoy good food and friends and celebrate the season. However, it’s easy to be swept up in those activities and forget the meaning behind the holidays, in particular Thanksgiving.

As parents, we strive every day to instill good values in our children and provide teachings that will help them grow to be well-rounded, self-sufficient, happy adults. With Thanksgiving upon us, the spotlight is on thankfulness and appreciating all we have in our lives. As adults we can comprehend this, take time to reflect upon it, but how do we teach our young children to be happy for the clothes on their backs, the food on the table and the love that surrounds them?

Christina Fecio, education director for Doodle Bugs! Children’s Centers, provides some of the little things parents can do to help foster thankfulness in their children.

Ages 1 – 2: Thankfulness is an abstract concept for toddlers, but they are certainly capable of learning about and beginning to demonstrate empathy and good manners.

  • Model good manners, drawing attention to the fact that we are always “feeling thankful” for being surrounded by our families and friends. Good manners will draw attention to the fact that we can show friends we feel thankful and happy by being kind and polite.
  • Turn common songs into thankful songs, such as:

I’m Thankful (to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”)

I’m thankful for my friends and for my family

I’m thankful for the food I eat

I’m happy to be me!

Ages 3: Preschoolers have the ability to say “thank you” and know basic manners. Parents can guide conversations that encourage them to share what they are thankful for.

  • Talk to your child about Thanksgiving and what it represents. Focus on what it means to be “thankful” and the things you are thankful for in your life.
  • During the Thanksgiving celebration start a tradition: have each attendee finish the sentence “I am thankful for…” and write it on a paper feather. Place all the feathers on a large turkey cut-out and read the feathers aloud after it’s finished.

Ages 4-5: As children prepare for kindergarten and beyond, they are more aware of their actions and able to vocalize their emotions better than ever. Continue conversations about what it means to be thankful and things you are thankful for.

  • Use books as a means to further articulate the thankfulness concept, such as: Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks by Margaret Sutherland.
  • Create thank you cards. Show your child how to fold a piece of paper so that the edges match. Have a conversation with him about who he is most thankful for in his life. Write down his words, exactly, and let him decorate his card.

Ages 5+: Older children can comprehend the meaning of friendship, kindness and generosity, as well as point it out when they observe it. Parents can identify fun activities to be done at home that focus on the true “gifts” of the holiday season.

  • Update the paper chain idea from school to be focused on meaningful acts. Have a stack of colorful precut paper to be used for the loops. Whenever you or your child observe an act of kindness, thankfulness, generosity or friendship, write it on the strip and add the loop to the chain. At the end of the holidays, you’ll have a lovely chain to reflect upon.

Doodle Bugs! is a leader in educational child care and offers programs for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years. Visit  for more information on Doodle Bugs! and their BRAVO! Curriculum. Doodle Bugs! will be opening a Lake Worth, FL location early 2014, with more Florida locations to follow. 

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Sealed by Santa

You know how I know you’re nice?
There is finally an answer to all of those letters to Santa! Check out these one-of-a-kind authentic letters direct from Santa’s workshop, complete with Santa’s wax seal! There are 12 different letters designs, each personalized just for your child. They also come with two free Santa videos from and Magical Reindeer Food. If ordered by December 1, the letters will be postmarked from the North Pole!
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 Talk about a cloud-based business — Wondermade is producing clouds of fluffy goodness in the form of marshmallows. It all started one Christmas when Nathan Clark was at a loss for what to get his wife, Jenn. “Every Christmas we come up with a creative gift for each other, and I was stumped,” says Clark, who is also a pastor at Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood. “The gift is never about dollars; it’s about intent. It’s a week before Christmas, and I don’t have a gift for the person I love the most.”

Googling for Gifts
Clark decided to hit Google for inspiration. In the process of searching for candy recipes, he realized that he had everything except a candy thermometer in order to make marshmallows. So, he bought a thermometer and put together a stack of marshmallow recipes. “I wasn’t quite sure she would be impressed with a bundle of recipes as a present,” he says. But she was impressed, and they quickly got to work making a batch. They were fabulous. “When you make marshmallows, you can’t just make a few. Each batch produces hundreds,” he says. The Clarks, parents to four children — Sebastian (9), Harper (7), Arden (4) and Augustin (2) — shared them with friends from church and school. “Soon we had people asking us to make them a batch for Teacher Appreciation Week, as gifts and more,” says Clark.

A Marshmallow Is Born
Thus, Wondermade was born. That was in 2010; by 2011, the Clarks officially started the business. “We realized there was an opportunity to do what we loved, and it also made people feel special, so we spent a year designing our logo and developing a business plan. We wanted to do it in a way that communicated that sense of love and wonder that we had experienced along the way,” says Clark, whose title is marshmallow agent. Jenn’s title is marshmallow maker.

Wondermade now has a “magical marshmallow workshop” in downtown Sanford and employs anywhere from six to 40 people depending on the season. There you may even catch the Clarks’ older children putting together boxes while the younger children conduct taste tests. After all, says Clark, “It is a family business.”

At the workshop, the Clarks create and test recipes for flavored marshmallows, such as lavender, orangesicle, lemon, root beer and even adult faves, such as Guinness (yes, the beer) and bourbon. Plus, the Clarks have seasonal specialties, such as pumpkin pie and maple bacon flavors for fall. “We use real ingredients — no fake coloring,” he says. A box of 16 marshmallows will run you $7.50, and the adorable packaging is delightful for gift-giving.

Growing a Business, Growing a Family
Clark says the growth of Wondermade has been a blessing. “When you’re doing something well, people notice, and they ask you to do it well often. We thought we prepared for the business by setting sales goals, but we hit them, and it was surprising to us,” he says. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Growing a business parallels so well with growing a family. There’s a constant level of surprise. You can’t plan for everything that will come along, so you just hope and trust you built a solid foundation so things will continue to run smoothly.”

Check out all the Wondermade marshmallow flavors at

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Buddy's Brick Bunch Ambassadors


Three Central Florida kiddos were selected to be special ambassadors for Florida’s newest theme park.

Imagine having unlimited (free!) access to Legoland Florida and the chance to go on camera promoting super fun rides. We talked to the three Central Florida kids who were chosen from more than 400 applicants to be part of the first ever Buddy’s Brick Bunch, a panel of six children from around the state who are serving as ambassadors and kid reporters of Legoland Florida for one year. It’s easy to see why they were selected. These kids are amazing!

Alek Schoneck, Age 11, of Sanford (pictured above)
When Alek Schoneck was only 6 years old, he built the Lego Galactic Enforcer set in one morning. “I’ve been building with Lego bricks ever since I saw them when I was 18 months old,” says Schoneck, who is in sixth grade. Schoneck says his mom saw the call for Buddy’s Brick Bunch applicants on the Legoland Facebook page. “It was my birthday, and she asked if I wanted to apply. Of course, I said yes,” says Schoneck. “I like going behind the scenes, seeing the Lego stuff that’s coming!”

  • Number of times at Legoland: “I lost count!”
  • Favorite ride: Quest for Chi
  • Coolest perk: “They gave me an Ambassador package that lets me into any Legoland in the world for free — forever!”

Alexander Rodriguez, Age 9, of Orlando
Alexander Rodriguez’s passion for Legos is obvious. “I’ve been playing with them since I was little. I just kept getting better and better at building,” says Rodriguez, who is in fourth grade. His favorite Lego set is the Marvel Super Heroes Hulk’s Helicarrier Breakout. Once Rodriguez was selected, he says, “I got to go to Legoland and meet the other kids who were chosen. I was so surprised to get picked.” So far, he’s gotten to ride the World of Chima rides and talk to reporters about the newest section of Legoland Florida.

  • Number of times at Legoland: “About eight times.”
  • Favorite ride: Quest for Chi
  • Favorite activities: Swimming and playing video games

Angela Winiewicz, Age 9, of Orlando
After getting the call from Legoland that she was selected as a member of Buddy’s Brick Bunch, Angela Winiewicz says she “ran outside and screamed. I was so excited!” The fourth-grader says she plays with Legos because “I want to be an architect when I grow up.” Participating in her first ever media day was a little nerve-racking for Winiewicz, who says, “I was kind of nervous, but I was selected to put the chi in the chi stand. That was my special moment. The chi stand is where the energy comes from, and it powers the whole ride.”

  • Favorite Lego set: Lego Friends: Olivia’s Tree House
  • Favorite activities: Dancing, singing, climbing and building forts
  • Favorite Legoland activity: Island in the Sky
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Family-Friendly Hiking Trails



Enjoy the cool Fall weather by hitting the trails with the kiddos. With hundreds of local hikes to choose from, these are some of the best to enjoy with the family.

Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake
3401 S. Hiawassee Road, Orlando 32835
Walk as little or as much of the loop as you like, as the trail is part sand and part paved. Watch for gopher tortoises, ducks and turtles. Then, run around on the big playground by Turkey Lake.

  • GPS: 28.500772, -81.475042
  • Best for: Spotting wildlife
  • Bonus: There’s a children’s farm along the trail.

Lyonia Preserve
2150 Eustace Ave., Deltona 32725
The best place to see Florida scrub jays is right in your backyard. Pretend you’re Snow White in this teeny, tiny forest, where these colorful and curious birds often will come out to greet you.

  • GPS: 28.930217, -81.225438
  • Best for: Florida scrub jays
  • Bonus: There’s an interactive nature center and café at the trailhead.

Oakland Nature Preserve
747 Machete Trail, Oakland 34760
A stroller-friendly boardwalk leads through marshes to the shores of Lake Apopka. Visit the nature center, and walk the gentle trails on the hills behind it.

  • GPS: 28.554992, -81.639834
  • Best for: Swamp creatures
  • Bonus: Antelope graze next door.

Shingle Creek Regional Park’s Historic Babb Landing
2491 Babb Road, Kissimmee 34746
Paved trails lead past a historic homestead and playground to a landing along Shingle Creek. Wide-open spaces let the kids pedal fast while you keep an eye on them.

  • GPS: 28.318133, -81.457217
  • Best for: Biking
  • Bonus: Twistee Treat ice cream is less than a mile away.

Trimble Park
5802 Trimble Park Road, Mount Dora 32757
Broad boardwalks parallel two lakes on this breezy peninsula. With a big playground beneath ancient live oaks, this is also a great picnic spot.

  • GPS: 28.765659, -81.652135
  • Best for: Bird watching
  • Bonus: Families can camp in the shady campground.
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MamaBear App 2.0

The app MamaBear is designed to make keeping track of the little ones a little easier. The updated 2.0 version has been released, just in time for Halloween!
MamaBear App works in three steps:
1.  Parents or guardians install and register for MamaBear on their smart phones and tablets for family monitoring view.
2. Kids install MamaBear and log in with credentials set by the parent displaying the kid’s view of the app.
3. Parents can see their kids on a map and customize their alert settings to get the precise information they want among:
·    Safe place arrival and departure alerts
·    Restricted place alert
·    Facebook and Instagram monitoring for new friends and followers, photo upload, photo or post tags, as well a restricted words.  Parents set their preferred list of restricted words to receive notifications.
·    Driving speed alert
For more information, visit or download the app in Google Play or Itunes.
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Back To Your Regular Time-Sharing Schedule


Extending the Season: Adjusting Smoothly from Summer to Fall Time-Sharing

By Sarah Kinbar,

Over the summer, we spent a lot of time at the beach, in the pool and on the lake–loose, silly, unstructured time. Thanks to the vacation clause in our time-sharing agreements with our exes, our four children (Todd’s two and my two) spend two vacation weeks with us in addition to the regular time-sharing schedule. These stretches of summer together time breed intimacy that we all cherish: the hugs and “I love yous” increase many times over. But once the kids go back to school and the normal schedule kicks in, it’s harder to maintain that closeness because we just don’t have as much time together.

As we get closer to the first day of school, I’ve been thinking about the issue of diminished impact that most blended family parents deal with. You can teach, guide, love and support your children when they are with you, but the rest of the time, when they are with their other family, your parenting shifts from hands-on and active to something more nebulous (unless you are the type to frequently call them when they are with their other parent!). You can pray for your children, plan ahead for their return home and practice self-care (and those are all good things) yet the parental instinct inside you wants to be sure your positive influence is instilled in their hearts so they feel your support every day, wherever they are.

If you share custody with your ex, how do you keep ties strong once you’re back on your regular time-sharing schedule? Nothing can replace time spent together, but some of these tips can help.

 1. Create a summer memory book or photo album.

Last year I uploaded images to my Shutterfly account throughout the summer. One night per week I would harvest the pics from my phone and Todd’s camera and choose the cutest ones to upload. When the kids went back to school and I wanted to make an album that portrayed our summer together, it was easy because the images were already uploaded–procrastination was not an issue. All I had to do was select which images would go where in one of the site’s photo album templates. It was inexpensive to print and I made extra copies for relatives. The album not only reminds our family of the fun we had, it also cultivates togetherness for our extended family who have been supportive of our blending.

 2. Choose summer activities that can extend into the fall.

Because we live in Florida, in many cases there’s no distinguishing between our summer activities and our year-round activities. Swimming and boating continue well into the fall, so there isn’t an abrupt shift in our our free time shapes out. But even if we lived up north, there are things we do year-round that translate across seasons, like family outings to the science center and YMCA, and playing favorite board games. Over the past year we’ve made church a more regular part of our lives. The continuity helps keep us strong.

 3. Feel out your involvement at your step kids’ school(s).

Some schools are great about communicating information and volunteer opportunities with both households a student lives at, but let’s be honest: most aren’t. There’s a mom culture that tends to exclude not just stepmoms, but even dads. Since schools rely so heavily on moms to support their programs through volunteer efforts, they are going to support them politically and show favoritism, so you’ll have to make a special effort to get even basic information. This year, my partner hasn’t received basic information directly from the school about his daughter’s enrollment there, and my ex hasn’t gotten any messages from our daughter’s new school either. The best way for this to be corrected is for the child’s mom to clearly and kindly inform the school that dad and stepmom should be fully informed, and to provide their contact information. The second best approach is for dad to contact the school and ask for direct communication. The third avenue–and this is the path of most resistance, unfortunately–is for the stepmom (or blended family mom) to seek interaction with the school.

Once you’ve found a way to connect, though, volunteering at all your family’s children’s schools, including your stepkids, is a great way to support the kids and maintain your relationships with them even if they aren’t staying over at your house as frequently. If being involved at school isn’t possible due to your work schedule or the school’s resistance, make an effort to track their curriculum and know what they’re learning from week to week. That approach is less intimate than physically showing up at their schools, but it’s something.




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Gluten Free Lactation Cookies


Being a new mother means nine months of prepping for many challenges – from diaper duty to sleepless nights. But one often under-discussed trial is how difficult breast feeding can be. Kelapo Coconut partnered with Jennifer Saleem, Blogger of, to create a delicious gluten free lactation cookie recipe to give moms a little extra help. Using lactation cookies can not only help promote more breast milk but also increase the nutrients passed on to the baby.

Why coconut oil? The medium-chain triglyceride known as lauric acid is only found in two places. “The ratio of lauric acid to other medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in human milk is IDENTICAL to that in coconut oil,” explains Saleem. “The MCFAs in coconut oil improve the absorption of nutrients already existing in the mother’s diet. These nutrients are of course passed onto the nursing infant through the breast milk. For these reasons, it is important that a mother’s breast milk contain as much medium chain fatty acids as possible,” says Saleem.

Coconut oil, because of the lauric acid, is also anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral, all of which may help support the baby’s immune system. Because of the moisturizing properties, coconut oil may also be used to soothe cracked nipples mothers can get from breast feeding.

Gluten Free Lactation Cookie
Created by Jennifer at


  • 1 tablespoons fenugreek to make 4 T brewed fenugreek tea
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
  • 1 cup Kelapo Coconut Oil, melted
  • 3/4 cup raw honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter or other nut/seed butter (I really like sunflower seed butter in these)
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour, sifted OR 2 cups gluten free all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 1/2 cups gluten free oats
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Brew fenugreek in 8 ounces of hot water until grains are soft.
  3. Mix flaxseed and 4 tablespoons fenugreek tea and let sit for 3-5 minutes. DO NOT DISCARD THE GRAINS!
  4. Beat coconut oil and honey.
  5. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
  6. Fold in the peanut butter/nut or seed butter until well combined.
  7. Add flaxseed mix and fenugreek grains and mix well.
  8. Add flour, nutritional yeast, baking powder, and salt. Mix and if using coconut flour see ingredient notes below.*
  9. Mix in oats until well combined.
  10. If using raisins or cranberries and/or chocolate chips, slowly fold these in.
  11. Round off a large tablespoon of dough and place on cookie sheet. Press it down slightly.
  12. Bake for 15 minutes then check cookies. Continue baking (checking every 3 minutes) until the outside is a bit brown with crispy edges. The inside should still be slightly moist and soft.
  13. Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes and transfer to a cooling rack.

Ingredient Notes:
1. Coconut flour has the tendency to soak up a ton of liquid. Every brand varies. If your batter seems dry at this point, add in a tablespoon at a time of coconut milk or your other favorite milk until the consistency is more doughy and moist. If you overdo it, add in sifted coconut flour in 2 teaspoon increments.

2. This batter is really sticky! Do not try to form dough balls with your hands. It will be a mess. A yummy mess at least! I like to grease my spoon with a little coconut oil. It helps the dough slide right off!

3. This recipe is not incredibly sweet although if you use the dried fruit or chocolate chips it does sweeten up! If you prefer a really sweet cookie, add some additional honey and/or vanilla. For every 1/4 cup of honey you add, you will need to increase the coconut flour by 2 tablespoons and the oats by 2 tablespoons.

4. The reason that honey is used and not sugar is because honey has tremendous health properties which a mother can pass on to her breastfeeding infant. Unless you are allergic to honey, please do not substitute the honey with sugar.

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Skin Cancer Awareness Infographic


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The 10 Best Family Cars for 2013

2013 List Features a Vehicle for Every Budget, Including Crossovers, SUVs and Hybrid

Parents Magazine and, the premier online resource for car shopping, today revealed their list of 2013’s 10 Best Family Cars. For the sixth consecutive year, car experts from both organizations examined hundreds of vehicles to offer a list of best-in-class vehicles.

“With summer road trips on the horizon, we are thrilled to present this comprehensive list,” said Parents magazine Editor-in-Chief Dana Points. “Given the amount of time that American families spend in their car, we feel it’s important to highlight the safest, most affordable and family-friendliest that the industry has to offer.”

In 2013, the panel of judges focused on safety; each car on the list excels in crash tests and comes equipped with at least six airbags, as well as electronic stability control. The judges also considered updated fuel-efficiency technology, in addition to next-generation dashboards that allow consumers to customize infotainment options on the go. In addition, The 10 Best Family Cars for 2013 includes several stylish rides that young parents will be proud to show off.

“As a father who loves to drive, I can appreciate all the variables that parents take into account when shopping for a new car,” said Editor-in-Chief Scott Oldham. “This list shows off some of the year’s best choices for the everyday carpool and the family road trip.”

According to Parents and, the 10 Best Family Cars of 2013 (including starting prices) are:


Toyota Prius C ($19,080)

Subaru Impreza ($17,895)

Honda Civic ($18,165)



Ford Fusion ($21,900)


Honda Accord ($21,680)



Hyundai Santa Fe Sport ($24,700)

Honda CR-V ($22,795)



Chevrolet Traverse ($30,510)

Nissan Pathfinder ($28,650)


Toyota Sienna ($26,585)


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Boys Trip


Father-Son Bonding in Montreal

Written by Brant Muekeley

The birth of my baby girl left me contemplating just how much our family dynamic had changed. I spent more than a few sleep-deprived hours thinking about our new normal — for what was previously a family of three was forever changed as we became a family of four. My 6-year-old son, Kai, soon realized that he would have to compete for mom’s and dad’s attention. Our dance parties and Lego builds, and his comedy routines would now be interrupted by “little sissy’s” diaper changes and feedings.

I wanted to do something special for my little man, who had just gone from being numero uno to the older brother. It’s tough on those older siblings, as they can quickly begin to feel as obsolete as a VHS tape at the Blockbuster store. A boys trip could provide us the chance to explore together and enjoy each other’s company, but where to go? We needed a destination that would be fun, safe and new to both of us.

Timing couldn’t have been better when I was invited on a kid-centric media tour to the French-speaking metropolis of Montreal by the Ministère du Tourisme Quebec. A boys trip out of the country would be a great adventure. Mom gave us her blessing, and we were off to an exciting foreign land. This was just the opportunity to place my son in the captain’s chair and have him decide on our excursion options.


While I’d be happiest in a downtown hostel, I was well aware that Mom’s taste for the finer things in life had taken root within my young son. So, he was very happy with our modern accommodations at the Delta Montréal hotel. It was obvious that our hosts were showing us the best they had to offer. Delta Montréal is located in the downtown entertainment district. That was a definite plus, as we explored the surrounding streets several times during our stay and found surprises on each trek.

Summer in Montreal means festivals. Our trip coincided with the Juste pour Rire (or Just for Laughs) annual comedy festival. A walk through the Quartier des Spectacles placed us in the middle of the interactive laugh-out-loud comedy acts. Most of the street performances needed no interpretation because despite the fact that they spoke French, the slapstick humor was international. Did I mention it was free? Trying to explain this festival would be like trying to tell you about a dream. There was everything from art projected onto buildings and trapeze acrobatics to a live band walking through the festival dressed in alien costumes. It was a unique experience.

The next day, we took the Montréal Métro (subway) north and explored the Biodôme de Montréal (four separate ecosystems and the flora and fauna all under one roof) and the Montréal Insectarium. We marveled at the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 summer Olympics, and walked through residential neighborhoods and Chinatown. We admired the fantastic graffiti art throughout the city. I was impressed by the amount of art everywhere. From large landscape paintings that scaled entire apartment buildings to video wall art installations in the underground city, Montreal has successfully fused art into daily life.


A highlight of the trip came on the third day when we rented a bicycle-built-for-two to tour the St. Lawrence Riverside. The bicycle ride inspired my son to lose those training wheels as soon as we got home. We finished the day with a visit to La Ronde, a Six Flags-style amusement park located along the waterfront and close to downtown.
Since our daily activities were unplanned and proceeded based on my son’s interests, I must admit that I was surprised by some of his choices. He declined to visit the riverfront at night to watch the annual international fireworks competition and instead wanted to stay in the hotel and lounge in the cushiony bed, exhausted from the day’s events. Also surprising to me was that he opted to swim in the hotel pool instead of shooting the rapids of the St. Lawrence on a jet boat.

This trip created memories that I will keep with me forever. Yes, we missed Mom and baby, but it was worth it.


Day 1: Arrive at the Delta Montréal hotel. Dinner in the Quartier des Spectacles and after-dinner laughs at the Juste pour Rire festival.
Day 2: Subway ride to the Olympic Stadium. Tour the Biodôme. Tour the Insectarium. Fancy French lunch at Le Valois near the Joliette station. Walking tour of residential and downtown neighborhoods. Souvenir shopping.
Day 3: Bike rental and tour of the St. Lawrence Riverside. Lunch on Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montréal. Hotel pool time. Rides and games at La Ronde amusement park.
Day 4: Graffiti art walk. Travel home.

Because what kind of boys trip would it be without getting to learn some fun little facts?

• Montreal is the world’s second-largest French-speaking city, after Paris. Bonjour!
• Montreal is built around Mount Royal (hence its name) and is located on an island in the St. Lawrence River.
• The French word for “states,” as in the United States, is “etats,” or the word “state” backward.
• Montreal is the capital of the Quebec province and home to approximately 1.6 million people.




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Local Mom Anne Rue On HGTV

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We know Central Florida’s got talent, and here’s validation that we are correct.

Lake Mary mom and business owner Anne Rue was selected, out of applicants from around the country, as one of the top 10 finalists to compete on HGTV Star (formerly HGTV Design Star), whose season premiers Sunday, June 9, at 8 p.m.

If you’ve ever met Anne Rue, then you already know why they chose this charismatic woman to be a contestant. Her star has been shining brightly in the Central Florida area for years. Anne, whose expertise is interior design, spent six weeks with nine other creative finalists to display her star quality on camera …. And man, she’s got a lot of it! The HGTV Star contestants are competing for a product featured in One Kings Lane, a feature in HGTV Magazine and their own show on HGTV.

Of course, Anne’s lips are sealed when it comes to who won, but we’re looking forward to watching this season and cheering on this local mom every step of the way. We’re team Anne Rue!


  Anne’s website

  Anne’s Blog

Anne’s Facebook Fan Page

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Volunteer Vixens


This local mom’s giving circle offers inspiration to mothers and children.

With her headphones over her ears and her hoodie pulled up over her head, the young girl made it clear she wanted to be left alone while attending an empowerment workshop for women and young girls at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, hosted by the Volunteer Vixens. “She was very private and didn’t want to share her personal details,” says Christina Bolling, cofounder of the Volunteer Vixens, a Central Florida-based sharing circle of women who do a monthly local charitable event. “Throughout the session, young girls would ask her to be their partner or join the activity. After 30 minutes, the hoodie came down. By the end of the evening, she opened up like a flower,” says Bolling. “It was literally a jaw-dropping-to-the-floor moment.” That, says Bolling, is what Volunteer Vixens is all about.

Forging Ahead
Bolling and her cousin, Katy Leach, founded Volunteer Vixens in January 2011. “I have an extensive background in philanthropy in Central Florida,” says Bolling, who is stepmom to son Jordan, age 12. “What I found is that the more you move up in an organization or the greater exposure [the organization] gets, the easier it is to get disconnected with the root cause you’re supporting. It’s easy to get burned out.” Bolling and Leach, mom to Gavin, age 7, Caden, age 2, and a third child due in February, wanted to offer women an opportunity to get involved with something that wouldn’t burn them out. “After all, our volunteers have families, young children, but they want to be involved. They want to make a difference,” she says. In addition, she wanted to support the relationship women have with one another in a positive environment. “We want women to have a chance to build relationships with one another without getting together over cocktails, or with a MOMS or MOPs group — someplace they can come to socialize but also include their families and make a difference,” she says. That’s not to say she isn’t a strong supporter of those social groups. In fact, the Volunteer Vixens get together for one social meeting each month in addition to one charitable event. “We do a yoga class or happy hour, and one or two philanthropy projects are also scheduled each month,” says Bolling. “We want to give back, but we also want to focus on forming new friendships and having a social network outside our jobs or kids.”

Grassroots Philanthropy
Volunteer Vixens is not an official nonprofit. “We don’t want it to be about managing money,” says Bolling. “We remain a grassroots concept called a giving circle, a small group of individuals supporting multiple causes and supporting existing organizations.” The group has two chapters — one in Central Florida, with 18 active members, and another in Rhode Island, recently formed by a former Central Florida Volunteer Vixens member who moved to that state. While the Central Florida chapter has 18 active members, they get upwards of 45 volunteers out to each project, including husbands, significant others, children and friends.

The group supports many different causes, including Dress for Success, the Orlando Union Rescue Mission and Beta Center. “We gravitate toward charities that uplift and support women and children,” says Bolling. Whom the group supports is decided democratically. Members come forward and make suggestions, and the group votes on which ones to take on. However, one organization close to both Bolling’s and Leach’s hearts is the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Katy and I both lost a grandfather to pancreatic cancer, so that is our pet organization,” says Bolling. November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, so the group participates in the PurpleStride Orlando 5K Run/Walk (November 18 at UCF’s main campus), working the registration tables and participating in the run/walk. In December, the group will adopt a family with young children and provide it with food, presents and decorations.

One of Bolling’s most memorable events was a carnival the group held at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission. “We’ve been working with them since they were founded, and we did a family fun night at the shelter,” says Bolling. About 55 Volunteer Vixens showed up to work booths, paint faces and mingle with the 155 residents of the shelter, many of whom are women and children. “Our goal was to have a carefree, fun day for the kids. At the end of the night, the residents and children were asking for photos with us, kids came up to hug us. People shared their stories. Our members left feeling like they made a difference that night,” she says.

Expanding Quickly
Bolling says the group has expanded organically. “We put the word out on our social networks. I have a lot of corporate contacts [her full-time job is with Winning Work Teams, a human resources consulting business], and Katy is active in her MOPs group,” says Bolling. However, she says many of the new women come via the Facebook page. “People share [our page] a lot, and we do some events with the arts community where we’ll have a table about our group,” says Bolling. But overall, says Bolling, she just wants the group to be fun, be positive and allow local women to participate as much as they choose.

Even husbands and children were among the 55 Volunteer Vixens who created a carnival event at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission.

Even husbands and children were among the 55 Volunteer Vixens who created a carnival event at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission.

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Breast Milk Depot


Florida Hospital officially opened the first Milk depot in Central Florida today.

In an effort to help women and babies in Central Florida, Florida Hospital officially opened the first Milk Depot in Central Florida. The Florida Hospital Milk Depot will serve as a convenient drop off location to moms who are looking to donate breast milk to help other babies, especially at-risk preemies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), receive crucial nutrition. The opening of the Milk Depot is part of Florida Hospital’s continued commitment to providing women and babies with the most comprehensive medical resources available.

“In the United States, there is a critical shortage of donor human milk,” said Kari Vargas, assistant vice president at Florida Hospital Orlando. “Donating breast milk is truly a labor of love, and the opening of the Milk Depot will hopefully remove some of the barriers from the donation process and make it more convenient for moms to donate this precious gift.”

Local moms throughout Central Florida have already been rallying around this cause.

“My daughter was born two and a half months early so I know how scary it can be to have a premature infant,” said Bethany Bergen, mom to daughter Piper, now 8 months old. “I knew I wanted to breastfeed and it was easy for me. I cannot imagine the stress that moms who are unable to breastfeed go through. I was able to donate my extra breast milk, and it was so rewarding to know there was something I could do to help other babies in need.”

The Academy of Pediatrics recommends pasteurized donor human milk to premature infants when a mother’s own milk is not available. Research shows that human milk is especially important for preterm and sick babies who are at a much greater risk of infections. Human milk helps babies build strong immune systems and is easier on the digestive system than formula. In 2012, Florida Hospital required the use of nearly 10,000 ounces of donor milk.
“In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Florida Hospital, we instituted a protocol several years ago to give breast milk to babies who were born at 29 weeks or less or weighing less than 1500 grams. As a result, we have seen a tremendous reduction in the number of infections and life-threatening diseases,” said Dr. Raj Wadhawan, medical director of the NICU at Florida Hospital for Children. “Donor human milk is a great option for moms who are unable to breastfeed since it provides critical nutrition for the baby and can truly be a lifesaving part of their treatment.”

All mothers who donate at the Milk Depot will be pre-screened and tested through an intensive process to ensure that they are healthy and their own child’s wellbeing is not being compromised. Since there are only 11 Milk Banks in the United States and none in Florida, Florida Hospital is affiliated with the Mother’s Milk Bank in Denver. Once a mom brings her donation to the Milk Depot, Florida Hospital will store the milk in a deep freeze and then package and ship the donation to Denver for processing. The donor milk is pasteurized and tested prior to bottling to ensure that it is safe for the baby and is also nutritionally sound. The Milk Bank then distributes the donor human milk based on need to the most at risk infants.

The opening of the Milk Depot is just one way Florida Hospital is continuing to provide comprehensive resources and medical care to women and babies. The Milk Depot will be located in the Lactation Center across the street from Florida Hospital Orlando. Florida Hospital Orlando is currently building a new 12-story Women’s Hospital that will provide comprehensive care for women of all ages. The hospital is expected to open in 2015.

To find out more information on becoming a donor, please call 407-303-2599.



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Martha Sugalski's Lake Mary Home For Sale


With triplets on the way, WESH-TV news anchor, Martha Sugalski, needs a bigger home! So she’s turned to her best friend, and one of Fannie Hillman + Associates top agents, to help her find the perfect place for her growing family.

How would you like to watch the evening news, in the comfort of a living room, formally owned by one of Orlando’s top news anchors? Well now’s your chance!

WESH-TV anchor Martha Sugalski has recently entrusted Fannie Hillman + Associates with the sale of her gorgeous Wingfield Reserve home. This four bedroom, three bathroom home has brought years of enjoyment to Ms. Sugalski, her husband and children, but as recently announced, that family is rapidly growing. Ms. Sugalski expects to deliver triplets this summer so finding a bigger home locally has become a priority!

“For so many years this home has been my safe haven. Because of the intense exposure of my job, this community has provided much needed privacy to me and my family. Watching my children run around our large yard or watching a movie during a ‘date night’ with my husband in our theatre room are all happy memories I will take with me wherever we go.” said Ms. Sugalski.

Wingfield Reserve is located in Lake Mary and offers a variety of features including tennis courts, private security patrols and A+ rated Lake Mary schools, all while being close to I-4, shopping, restaurants and bike trails.

For a private tour of Ms. Sugalski’s home or for more information about the property, please contact Fannie Hillman Realtor Glad Messeroff at 407.497.0132.

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Rocco's Nursery


We think Rocco’s nursery in Windermere is adorbs! It’s the epitome of today’s modern nurseries. Mom Shannon Gunn did a super job putting all of the elements together. From vintage family heirlooms to new sentimental accents, Shannon personalized the room with panache.

Photos by Amy Smith

Don’t take our word for it. We asked the team at Anne Rue Interiors in Lake Mary to give us the dish on new trends in nurseries, with Rocco’s leading by example.

Gray Is the New Blue, Pink and Yellow
Gender-neutral paint colors, such as gray and beige, are on trend right now. Bring in a pop of color with accessories. We love lemon yellow, teal and orange. Use the color in small doses, like Rocco’s mom did, for maximum impact. We love how she put it in unexpected places, such as the picture frame, Buddha statue, stone floor cushion and ottoman.

No Theme Like Ice Cream
Sorry, Pooh Bear; today’s nursery is all about texture, color and patterns rather than theme. Mixing prints gives a room personality and depth. These horizontal paint stripes are current and interesting. It’s an easy way to get impact without a huge price tag. Rocco’s bedding is a perfect mixture of stripes, chevron and circles. A definite “do.”

Personal Touch
Show your personal style with knickknacks, such as the elements on Rocco’s wall. Display Mom’s favorite grade school record. Hang sentimental items, such as the headphones that Rocco wore for his newborn photo session. Or, create a photo transfer of your family pet on a wood frame.

Design Consultation
Mom Shannon wants to know … What should I do for window coverings?
Whether for a boy or girl, this is ultimately a baby’s room. Mom can bring some softness to the room by adding a full-length drapery valance in a solid fabric. Charcoal gray (or a darker color) to contrast the wall would be fab for Rocco’s space. Or, bring in your third color by having draperies in a lemon yellow or orange.

Anne Rue Interiors Recommends:
Love the art grouping; it’s kitchy, modern and fresh. However, you may want to scale it down to the size of the dresser. A grouping, picture or mirror shouldn’t be wider than what it’s grounded by. Move the guitar to a different wall, and bring the other items in a bit.

When you have stripes on the wall, keep the furniture simple and solid. The color-blocked painted pieces compete with the walls. When you upgrade Rocco into a regular bed, bring in some dark wood tones.

Anne Rue Interiors offers complete interior design services, including space planning, furniture layout, specifications and model merchandising. Whether you are building a custom home, remodeling or simply redecorating, Anne Rue Interiors welcomes the opportunity.





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Apps to Educate


Kick your kid’s Angry Birds habit, and try these educational apps on for size.

Take a break from the same addictive games and fun-for-a-minute coloring apps. Sure, Temple Run and Dora the Explorer Coloring Adventures! can be fun, but the apps below will keep your kid’s curious mind engaged in learning in a super fun way!

Written by Hap Aziz

As parents, we understand the challenge for our children in mastering the abstract concept of time — sometimes I still have difficulty with it! The Tick Tock Clock app teaches the kiddos how to read analog clocks by showing the passage of time connected to real-life activities. The app even encourages parents and kids’ learning together. It’s available for iOS (iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone) and $2.99 to download
from iTunes.

Combining math and geography, the Bubble Combo app offers unique play for learners 10 and up. Travel bubble by bubble around the world, learning about cultures, places, history and music. The blend of arcade style provides action, while the Factoids highlight 99 different locations around the world. Like a delicious ice cream sundae, this app keeps the learner interested with a variety of flavors. It’s available for iOS. Download it from iTunes for free.

Easy peasy even for a toddler, Alphabet Car Lite helps your little one learn how to spell by choosing the right letters. Using their smart device as a steering wheel (easily mastered even by younger children), players match letters to words. It’s the only safe way to text while driving. Have your kiddo do it! The app is available for iOS and Android, and is free to download from iTunes.

It’s all about monkeying around with this super fab app! With a name like Monkey Preschool Lunchbox, it’ll make you want to play it as much as the 2- to 5-year-olds the app targets do. It teaches skills via six different games. Your little one will master counting, pattern matching and identifying colors by using the food found in a monkey’s lunch box. The app is available for iOS and Android. Find it on iTunes for 99 cents.

Does your little one run screaming when it’s bath time? Sick of reminding the kids (ad nauseam) to wash their hands? Pepi Bath is a charming game that lets young children learn personal hygiene through different situations: Pepi (as a boy or girl) standing at the sink, washing clothes, going to a toilet and taking a bath. These activities can be played in any sequence, and the humorous possibilities keep children coming back for more. It’s good, clean fun! It’s available for iOS and Android. Download it for $1.99 from iTunes.

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Symptom Checker App

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Be the First to Have the Florida Hospital for Children iPhone App!

Health problems and parenting issues can arise at any time. What should you do if your child develops a fever, cough, rash or sore throat? From bee stings to potty training, Docs2Go from Florida Hospital for Children is designed to address these and other challenging issues, even at crucial times when your doctor’s office may be closed.

Consult the Pediatric Symptom Checker when you’re on the go, to learn more about illness and injury, and turn to the First Aid Helper to help make quick, smart decisions about your child’s care. Along with a wealth of parenting advice and medication guides, the answers are all there, at the touch of a button.

Health problems and parenting issues can arise at any time. What should you do if your child develops a fever, cough, rash or sore throat? Docs2Go iPhone app from Florida Hospital for Children is designed to address these and other challenging issues.

Download Now:

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Chocolate Kingdom


Orlando’s new chocolate factory tour.

Want to know what heaven smells like? One visit to Chocolate Kingdom, and it’s pretty clear. It’s a family affair for the Schaked family, who just developed the royally fun, interactive family tour in Kissimmee.

This chocolate adventure got started when Edgar’s father announced that he was retiring and selling his chocolate shop in South Florida. Third-generation chocolatier Edgar, determined to keep the family`s passion alive, scrapped his engineering career to continue the family legacy. In 1995, the first Schakolad retail store opened in Winter Park. “We wanted to make it special,” says Schaked, who is married to Aileen and is dad to Max (9) and Sophie (7).

In addition to the Schakolad retail stores, the Schakeds also produce the annual Festival of Chocolate. From there came the idea for Chocolate Kingdom, an interactive chocolate factory tour. “We noticed the eagerness from people to learn more about how chocolate is made,” says Edgar. That’s when Edgar packed up his family and the group traveled to Germany and France and throughout Europe visiting chocolate museums. “I wanted to see how my children would react to the museums,” says Edgar. The reaction? Not good. “They were bored. There was a lot of reading,” he says.

Upon their return, the Schakeds developed a story that would make the Chocolate Kingdom tour entertaining for both adults and children. As a former Disney producer, Aileen created three characters, modeled after her own children, who help tell the story of chocolate. “Prince George the Good Looking is my son (complete with different-colored eyes), Princess Chocolina is my daughter, and the silly dragon is modeled after our dog, Lucy,” says Aileen.

The adorable story line follows Princess Chocolina on her 21st birthday. “Princes from around the land are coming to the castle to bring her a gift in hopes that she will choose one to marry,” says Edgar. The animated story comes replete with a dragon, a dashing prince and a fairy tale ending. “The dragon melts the prince’s gift of chocolate shoes, so the poor prince has to create a new pair,” says Edgar. The animated prince interacts with the audience throughout the 45-minute tour as tour goers learn how chocolate is made. Of course, the prince makes the chocolate shoes, and he gets the girl. Never fear, the audience gets a piece of the fairy tale action by receiving a pair of yummy chocolate shoes.

Tours run daily from 1  to 7 p.m. The cost is $15 for adults and $12 for children 4 to 12 years old.

Chocolate Overload
If you find your kiddo wanting more after the tour, good news! Chocolate Kingdom offers customized birthday parties, private group tours and even summer camps.

Summer camps will run one to three days. The children will learn how to make things with chocolate. We can’t think of a better way to get your chocolate fix!

For more information, call 407-705-3475 or go to

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No Parent is Perfect: Forgive Yourself


When life’s normal challenges weigh you down and make you grouchy, parenting a blended family can be harder than usual. If you lose your cool with your spouse or kids, acknowledge it, forgive yourself, and move on! Being lovably imperfect doesn’t make you a bad person.

Usually when I get home from work, I am thoroughly excited to have fun with my family, make dinner and hang out. I love cooking, and we have a big upholstered chair in the kitchen where the kids sometimes pile up and talk to me while I prepare our meal. Once in a while, they chip in with the prep work.

But sometimes an unreal story deadline, a bi-polar customer at the flower shop or Orlando’s hideous commuting traffic will put me in a bad mood. One day not too long ago, I arrived home to children who needed my patience and understanding, and I had none to give, or at least I thought I didn’t. I barked at one and made her cry, and then marched off to the kitchen to begin my nightly routine in front of the stove.

Todd gave me the stink-eye, but he didn’t need to. I already felt bad, and I went on to feel bad for a week. My own behavior really bummed me out. Long after everyone else had forgotten about it, I was still feeling guilty. I had to let go of that nagging weight, and the only way to do so was to apologize. Forgiveness comes readily from our kids, and what a relief it is. When I told our little sweetie I was sorry for losing my temper, she thought about it for a minute and then said, “Oh, I weememboo dat. You were mad. But dat’s okay.” And she reached out her hands to me.

Forgiveness is good for the forgiver and the forgivee. It heals the soul for both.

Our kids are small, and so eager to please and stay connected. When children get older, they can hold grudges, taking longer to forgive. As parents, we have to continue to parent in confidence and not get caught in the guilt trap when our teens hold our mistakes over us. It takes strength and maturity to guide your family even as you and they bear with your human flaws. That’s a bigger topic for another day, but what’s equally relevant to parents of children of any age is this: forgiving ourselves is the first step to moving forward, however small or large our blunders are.

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From Tension to Triumph: Two Families Co-Parenting Successfully


Meet Trish Eklund, a mom who has graciously opened up about her life. She is telling her story to help those of us who see co-parenting as an uphill battle that perhaps can’t be won. If Trish’s story is any indication, it is possible and entirely worth the effort.

A little over three years ago, my husband of twelve years left. I was completely devastated. I lived in limbo for a few months, before I finally realized that our relationship was beyond repair. We settled our affairs amicably, and were extremely careful not to badmouth one another in front of our daughters, Ali and Cami. This was not easy by any means, and took an enormous amount of self-control. I kept telling myself it was for our daughters. We decided joint custody would be best for our girls.

Since our divorce, Jeff and I both found new relationships, and we both remarried. My husband Bob has no children from a previous marriage, and Jeff’s wife Molly didn’t bring any children into their relationship either.

Meeting the Challenge

The self-control required to keep negative opinions about one’s ex completely private from the kids is easily matched by the discipline you must have to maintain composure when a new woman gets involved with your children.

Everyone who has gone through a divorce and worked at blending new spouses into your children’s lives knows how difficult it can be. Bitterness and unresolved anger can easily cloud your judgment. The only way I was able to move forward was to forgive my ex-husband, and to forgive myself. I felt like a failure, and the hardest part was letting go of that feeling and accepting that sometimes things just don’t work out.

There was one day in particular that tested me on the co-parenting front. Jeff and I had been separated for a few months. Ali and Cami had been with their dad for the day and came back to me that evening with fresh pedicures. Here they were with pretty pink toes and huge smiles. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I smiled back at my daughters. They had gotten their very first pedicures with Molly.

Pedicures, like hair cuts and clothes shopping, are very personal, and any other mother figure getting involved in grooming can seem like an infringement to their loving, protective mom. As soon as they went to their rooms, I slipped away to the bathroom and cried softly to myself unbeknownst to the girls. When I thought it through, I realized that Molly had no idea that she had taken Ali and Cami for their first pedicure. She was trying to bond with my daughters by treating them to something fun because she wanted the girls to like and accept her. And it worked: I could see that the girls genuinely enjoyed getting pedicures with Molly.

I could have let jealousy get the best of me and made an angry phone call to my ex-husband or Molly. I could have had a let’s-see-who-can-outdo-one-another-battle. Both of those options would only hurt my daughters in the long-run, and would have added more stress to my life. I was tired of being miserable from my divorce, so I let it go. This would not be my last test.

Sorting Out Miscommunication

One morning when she was getting ready to leave for the day, Ali, my oldest, asked if she could have a Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Cream Pie. I told her she could, but she needed to make sure she ate a real breakfast at school. The snack would hold her over as she waited for the bus at her dad’s house–that’s where I took her each morning since my home was not on the bus route. I thought to myself, I’d rather give her a snack now than expect her dad to feed her, since it’s my day.

Ali arrived at her dad’s house having eaten her Little Debbie. Not much time passed before Molly sent me an angry text. We texted back and forth for hours, and I finally called my ex to unload my frustration. We soon untangled the miscommunication.

Here’s what had happened:

1. Molly was not fully looped in as to why Ali would be getting the bus at Jeff and Molly’s house.

2. Ali had told Molly that I had given her the Little Debbie for breakfast so that she wouldn’t have to eat at Jeff’s.

3. Molly thought I didn’t want Ali eating at their house.

Our argument never would have taken place if we were in direct communication. I wouldn’t wonder if Jeff relayed the details of practical things like the bussing arrangement. Molly wouldn’t feel offended that I seemed to be overly controlling about the girls’ food. The void could be filled with conversations between the two of us.

Workable Solutions

From that day on, we started communicating. The relationship I have with my daughters’ stepmother requires honesty, compromise, patience, and a since of humor. It requires work, just like any other relationship worth cultivating

In our society, people believe that mothers and stepmothers should not get along. That’s the relational template that we’re working with. People are almost always shocked when I describe our blended family and tell them that Molly and I speak every day. We talk about the girls, changes in each household, and are completely honest with one another about what is happening in each household. When we started our open communication, it was awkward, and most of the time we both had to fake it. Eventually, we got to the point where we no longer had to fake it. Now we actually consider one another friends. It is so sad to me that divorced parents who do not cooperate with one another are considered the norm.

After three years of working at it, all four parents in our two families agree on every decision for the girls. We don’t always see eye to eye, but we discuss each issue until we can all come to an agreement. We all sit together at events for the girls, we have co-birthday parties, and we all try to go to school conferences together.


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Co-parenting: It's Not All About the Kids


When you’re divorced and things are going smoothly with your ex in the co-parenting department, you can’t take anything for granted. The lack of gratitude you may have felt in your marriage gives way to thankfulness for how he (or she) has stepped up as a co-parent. If you’re like me, you also feel a huge sense of accomplishment that you and your ex have been able to coordinate for everyone’s benefit–not just for the kids but for each other and eachother’s families.

Everybody counts

There’s a popular notion in in circulation that when it comes to co-parenting, “it’s all about the kids.” Actually, happy, healthy family systems on both sides should be the goal; and yes, the kids are a very important part of that. But the well-being of both parents should not be forgotten. Each parent should respect the other’s right to experience the joys of parenting and to influence and shape the child. A flourishing family life for both homes the child participates in is ultimately best for you, too–even if you don’t like your ex or think your ex doesn’t deserve it.

Co-parenting with an ex is a delicate matter, and to say that all decisions need to be made to put the children first is an oversimplification. I liken co-parenting to core strengthening. You can do 200 standard sit-ups a day and get a reasonably strong stomach, although you might hurt your back. Or you can do ten different kinds of core exercises (muscle confusion) that work your muscles in nuanced ways. You’ll get a much stronger core (and better definition) all around. Similarly, children benefit from the different parenting styles each parent brings to their lives.

Co-parenting is not all about the kids. It involves considerations for your children, your ex, your extended family, your ex’s extended family, your blended family (if you have one), your ex’s blended family…you get my drift. There’s just a whole heck of a lot to consider, and you have to be a magnanimous person to take all this on. You have to grow exponentially. And you absolutely can–you’ve already begun.

Jolted into co-parenting

I have a friend who wondered why evolution has allowed the newborn stage to be so challenging for first-time parents. “You aren’t getting any sleep. You have no clue what you’re doing. Your baby needs you for every little thing. Disaster seems more likely than not.” Why isn’t the human condition such that new babies break their parents in gently?

My theory is that we need to be jolted into parenthood, shaken up by the demands of our  infant, because nothing short of a transformation will usher us into the state of mind of a connected, attentive parent. Never before have we been entirely responsible for the life of another.

Divorce is another big shake-up, and I have a theory about that, too. Divorce flattens you. It really levels you, and forces you to totally re-group. It’s an opportunity to rethink your life and start fresh. It’s an opportunity for growth. Divorce opens you up to life’s possibilities, and if you have children, divorce delivers you into the hands of a co-parenting relationship. Could it be that the upheaval of divorce is what allows you to be the kind of person who can deal with complexity and thereby become a competent co-parent?

Who’s to say what’s best?

I find it suspect when I hear a divorced parent say about their ex that he/she “is so selfish and doesn’t think of the kids first.” Really? Or do you have a different idea of what’s best for the child and therefore reject your ex’s ideas and plans? Have you gotten so caught up in what you believe is best that you’ve transferred that to your child and convinced both yourself and the child of what is best, to the exclusion of the other parent? Then you’re dancing dangerously close to the parental alienation zone. Don’t do it! Step away from the parental alienation zone.

There’s no one way that’s best for a child. Mom might think certain schools, friendships and activities are best based on her subjective view of the world; dad could have an entirely different perspective. To co-parent effectively, parents have to be willing to let go to some of their parenting agendas, however deeply ingrained they are, and try to coordinate with one another to create a life for their kids. A whole new agenda emerges: one where working with the ex to build a set of values and plans to raise the children takes priority over individual preferences. This applies to choosing schools, cultivating relationships, encouraging activities and fostering religious beliefs. You might even consider accepting your ex’s leadership sometimes. Be willing to view your ex as a person bursting with valid ideas, whose vision for your child’s life is every bit as justified as yours is. ~by Sarah Kinbar

Side-note: I recognize that there are some situations where healthy co-parenting is not possible because there is a parent in the mix who is not committed to child-rearing; one parent is very ill or incarcerated; one parent is an abuser or addict; or one or both parents are hard-headed extremists who are incapable of being flexible. If any of these describe your situation, my heart goes out to you. 

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5 Free Apps for Kids

All kids love animals — whether it’s looking at them at the zoo or playing with their own pets, sometimes it’s good to learn responsibility before actually going to the pet store or animal shelter. These fun apps teach children about dealing with pets and the love and care that must go into having one!

Here are the five best free kids animal apps for iPhone and Android:



Puppy Dog Sitter (by TabTale)
Calling all dog lovers! In Puppy Dog Sitter, kids can choose their own puppy to dress and take care of. Pick from a wide variety of outfits to take your dog out for a day of fun. Kids learn how to take care of their dog along the way as they feed, clean, and pick up after their pup. Young kids will love having a puppy of their own and parents will love the lessons in responsibility!


My Horse (by Natural Motion)
Now kids can finally get the horse they’ve always wanted! In this app, kids are given a lifelike horse to take care of and love. Young equine enthusiasts will have to feed, and train their horse to keep him healthy and win competitions. This horse is so realistic; you might never hear your child ask for a pony again.


Fish Farm – (by raiX UG)
In this fun app, children can customize their own unique aquarium. With beautiful backgrounds and even more beautiful fish, this app is guaranteed to keep your kids entertained for hours. Feed your fish, observe them as you play, and even annoy them by tapping on the aquarium glass (your touchscreen!). This app lets kids learn their creativity by making their own special aquatic habitats — even better than the ones in the dentist’s office.


Pet Home (by TOPGAME)
This app lets kids take in all of those stray animals that break your heart. Kids can save little animals from the rainy streets and give them a warm and cozy home. As children keep playing this fun game, they can make even bigger pet families as they breed their animals. Kids will love being able to create a unique home for all their little pets.


Clumsy Cat (by Dingo Games Inc.)
This app is guaranteed to be a hit with young kids. For the first time ever, kids are supposed to do as much damage as possible. In order to win this game, this clumsy kitty must destroy as many items before its owners return. Kids will love wreaking havoc with their new feline friends.

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Mother Runners


These local moms have taken running to the “chi” level.

Nikki and Zak are moms (and sisters-in-law) who created a running blog that has bloomed into something very spiritual and inspirational. They have become certified ChiRunning instructors. ChiRunning comes from the tai chi concept of allowing your body to work with the forces in nature. Yes, there is a “right” way to run, and most of you are probably doing it wrong. Both Nikki and Zak went through a nine-month training program with Danny Dreyer (author of ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury‑Free Running) to bring ChiRunning workshops to Central Florida. Runners (and wanna-be runners) from all over the state come to their workshops throughout Central Florida. Their message is to LIVE REAL (real food, real conversation), to LOVE MORE (honor yourself, open your heart, serve others) and to MOVE YOUR BODY (walk, run, do yoga, connect with nature). We just can’t get enough of these girls. Check out their blog for recipes, a (free) 30-day Sole Survival program and a ChiRunning Workshop schedule.

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Listening to Autism

One mom’s struggle to get the help she needs for her autistic son.

The Stadler family of Oviedo, photographed by Virginia Bogert Photography. L to R: Lena, Ed, Fran, Jack and Daniel Stadler

The Stadler family of Oviedo, photographed by Virginia Bogert Photography. L to R: Lena, Ed, Fran, Jack and Daniel Stadler

“Is autism good or bad?” My son Jack was 9 years old at the time he posed this question to me. I hesitated while I searched my mind for the best way to answer his question — it wasn’t an easy answer.

After all, in Jack’s world, things are good or bad, up or down, friend or foe, and nothing in between. He also has a very literal understanding of language, so I had to choose my words carefully. My son has Asperger’s syndrome, or high-functioning autism. He was aware enough to recognize that he was different from other children. We had just told him that he has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). And now he wanted to know if that was good or bad. I didn’t want my son to think he was bad. But I couldn’t say autism was good, either.

Early Intervention is Key
Some traits of Asperger’s syndrome could be considered good, including an almost photographic memory, the ability to retain vast amounts of detailed information on certain topics. But certainly there were plenty of bad traits I could list: the tantrums, the struggle to communicate, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, repetitive language, difficulties in social situations and difficulty sleeping. However, Jack is a different child today than when he was diagnosed. Early intervention was the key.

By the time Jack was 18 months old, we knew something wasn’t right. He was our second child and suffered compared with an older brother who was textbook in every way regarding early childhood milestones. It wasn’t that Jack wasn’t talking at the age children typically begin to put words together. Jack wasn’t communicating. He wasn’t gesturing or making back-and-forth exchanges of any kind. But God placed me in a circle of friends where three of my closest confidants were a pediatric occupational therapist (OT), another OT specializing in traumatic brain injury and a pediatric speech pathologist specializing in children with ASD. I turned to them, and they set us on a path that has made all the difference in the life of a special needs child.

Our Journey Through Treatment
We started at The Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families. There we tapped into The Developmental Center for Infants and Children/Early Steps. This is an early intervention program that sees children up to age 3 who have (or who are at risk for) developmental delays or disabilities. At the Developmental Center, Jack was evaluated by a team of experts that included a developmental pediatrician, psychologists, speech and language pathologists, audiologists, and occupational and physical therapists. They prescribed a combination of occupational, speech and behavior therapies, which filled four days of every week for the next year and a half.

At the age of 3, Jack was no longer eligible for services through the Early Steps program, so he transitioned over to the pre-K program for exceptional student education (ESE) in Seminole County Public Schools. Here he was able to continue to receive speech and language and occupational therapy services through the school system. Because Jack was high functioning, we enrolled him in a typical preschool as well as the ESE pre-K.

Forget the Label
This is the point at which many parents struggle with the label. I know I did. Every parent fears something in his or her child’s “permanent record,” a label that may follow the child for the rest of his or her life. Perhaps it’s denial or that deep-rooted fear that we somehow failed as parents. However, I can’t emphasize enough — don’t be afraid of the label! The label can be your friend. The sooner a child receives therapy, the quicker and larger the gains can be. A recent study in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that children diagnosed with autism early in childhood reach “optimal outcomes” with levels of function similar to their typical peers. An accurate diagnosis will allow your child to receive the proper therapies that will target his or her special needs, as well as the necessary accommodations in the classroom, providing a pathway to success in school and life.

Today, Jack is in sixth grade. He’s fully mainstreamed, in typical classes at his middle school, but still receives needed services and accommodations in the classroom. His favorite classes are band and physical education, and he’s earned straight A’s in all subjects. The transition to middle school has not been without adversity, but he meets each challenge as it arises.

After pondering for a moment, I answered Jack’s question, “Is autism good or bad?” I explained to him that autism isn’t good or bad. It’s just different. We all have something with which we struggle. But the one thing we all have in common, regardless of our abilities, is our feelings. If we can’t have compassion for a special needs child who experiences these emotions, who will feel compassion for us? How we, as a society, treat the most vulnerable of our population speaks volumes about who we are. Autism speaks. Are we listening?

Autism Is an Epidemic
According to the latest CDC numbers, 1 in 88 children is diagnosed with autism today (1 in 54 boys). These numbers represent a 78 percent increase in autism over the previous five years. This is stunning. If your family isn’t directly touched by autism, the odds are you know a family that is.

APRIL: Autism Awareness Month
April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 is Worldwide Autism Awareness Day. Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, is encouraging everyone to LIGHT UP BLUE to shine a light on autism. Iconic landmarks around the world will light up blue to help raise awareness (
What you can do:
• Change your porch light to blue.
• Wear blue on April 2 to help raise awareness.
• Join the Autism Society of Greater Orlando’s Annual Walk and Family Fun Day on May 25 at the Orange County Convention Center ( 100 percent of the proceeds from this event will stay in the Central Florida area.
• Join the annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks, November 9 at Cranes Roost Park. Visit the website to find out how you can support this cause (

Where to Get Help
Most parents feel that something just isn’t right with their child during his or her first three years. What can you do? Here are some valuable websites and local programs:

The Autism Society of Florida serves as a centralized point for Florida autism information, with links to existing resources, including information from Florida’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), state agency websites and the Dan Marino Foundation.

Autism Speaks is an autism science and advocacy organization dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention and treatments of, and a cure for, autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities provides information about the Department of Education’s Part C program, which provides early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities.

Orange County Public Schools website provides information about support services, programs and resources for parents of children who have autism.

Seminole County Public Schools‘ exceptional student support services offer support services and a wealth of information for parents of children who have disabilities.

The Developmental Center for Infants and Children/Early Steps is an early intervention program that sees children from birth to age 3 who have or who are at risk for any kind of developmental delay or disability.

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Strange Brew: Parenting by Way of Home Brewing

home brewing parenting

Hey, don’t be a hoser; what dad doesn’t love beer? We don’t even need to write an intro here because we’ve already referenced the classic Americana film and refered to beer in the title, we know you’re hooked. So, read on … we’ll show you the zen between home brewing and raising your pint-sized kids.

Written by Brant Muekeley

Having beer choices makes us happy. You can brew many different ways. Once you pick the style you want, you have to do it right — or else your beer is going to taste like crap. Same goes for parenting. No, you can’t pick your kids. Nice try. But you can pick how you’re going to raise them. Visualizing your little nose-picking toddler as a literary savant leads us to the path that paves our mentorship and guidance style as dads.

Four Main Ingredients
In brewing, no matter what style you make, there are only four main ingredients: water, barley, hops and yeast. To keep it pure in parenting, we can keep it simple with four ingredients of our own: confident parent(s), love, patience and consistent discipline.

The “cooking” stage is where all of your hard efforts stew. Here, the artistry comes into the flavor of your brew. Of course, parenting is really more an art form than a science too, so this analogy is an easy stretch. The everyday guidance you give, the consistency of the day-to-day — this is where you brew your child’s outlook on life.

Ha. I bet you think we’re going to tell you the secret to being patient. No one knows that. We can tell you, if you want your beer to turn out great, you have to wait several days for the yeast to work its magic. As for parenting, we lay the groundwork. Then we have to sit back and watch kids make their own choices (and mistakes) as they grow into adulthood.

Enjoy Responsibly
We know we gotta “know when to say when.” With kids you gotta give them the space to be their own person, but know when to step in to guide and center them.

Brant Muekeley is a PLAYGROUND Dad, Environmental Engineer, local business owner, home brewer, gardener (currently growing his own hops) and avid hobbyist but by no means a writer. Him and his wife are raising two kids in Oviedo, Florida. When he mentioned the similarities between brewing and parenting, his wife pressured him to write this article. 

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For the App-Obsessed (New) Parent

These apps can help you organize and track everything from contractions to baby’s first tooth.

Normal Child, Contraction Master, Eat Sleep app If you’re like me, you will love to document every aspect of your kids’ lives. I’m constantly in Evernote (free; iPhone, iPad, Web, Android) journaling about my son’s sports and my daughter’s funny quips. And in the olden days when I was pregnant (seven years ago), I would’ve been all over an app that allows me to snap a photo of my child and document how much she weighs and how many inches she is. Instead, I have a bunch of slips of paper in a memory box. So, consider yourself lucky.

Normal Child
If you can get over the odd name of this app (who names an app Normal Child?), you’ll be tickled pink with all it does. Keep a detailed record of your child from birth to adulthood (if you so choose, although children get a little ornery by the teenage years). Assign an image to each record; then record your child’s weight, height, head circumference, photos, sizes, diseases, vaccines, allergies and milestones development. We love the image slideshow that shows you exactly how big your child has gotten through the months and years. Plus, it’s easy to record multiple children and email those updates to interested parties (read: grandparents).
Cost: $2
iPhone and iPad
Others to try: Baby Connect ($5: iPhone, iPad, Android, Web) and Baby Log ($5: iPhone, iPad, Black Berry, Android.)

Contraction Master
If you’re a first-time mom, the stress of timing contractions and knowing when to go to the hospital can be brutal. This app allows you to accurately time labor contractions and record your opinion of the strength of the contractions. Plus, it gives you notice that your contractions are close enough and strong enough that you should get to the hospital—pronto! The app even gives you a bar graph so you know your contraction history and can track trends
Cost: $2
iPhone, Android
Others to try: Contraction Monitor (free; iPhone, iPad) and Labor and Contraction Monitor ($2; iPhone, iPad)

Eat Sleep
Does it feel like your newborn is constantly attached to your breast? Are you worried your baby isn’t getting enough? Whether bottle or breast, feeding baby is never without worry. Some days I felt like my baby never stopped eating; other days she didn’t seem interested in food.
This app allows you to record your baby’s eating, sleeping and diaper habits. Plus, its super easy one-finger tap allows you to multitask without having to type in any information. As a work-from-home mom, tracking my baby’s sleep habits helped me plan my schedule. The best part? It keeps a history, so you can view trends week to week or month to month.
Cost: Free
iPhone, iPad
Others to try: Baby Feeding Log (free; iPhone, iPad) andiBaby FeedTimer ($3; iPhone, iPad)

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Sit. Stay. Give.


Independence is one of the best gifts you can give someone. As a family, volunteer to train a puppy to be a service dog for someone in need. Jessica Leon, a local teen, gives her firsthand experience of the pure joy of giving back.

Written by Jessica Leon (17) of Orlando, volunteer for eight years

I love that my family raises service dogs because we learn something new from each dog. Although we often find it hard to identify which black lab is in what picture, they each had contrasting personalities, making it great to know them. In many ways, I believe that we benefit just as much as the clients who get to receive these animals. The experience is rewarding.

Service dogs in training are puppies that are raised by volunteers who take them to puppy classes and teach them house manners and public etiquette. When they are around 16 to 19 months, the dogs are returned to the organization and begin their formal training. The service dogs aid adults and kids with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Not only do we get to have puppies, typically around eight weeks old, there is a feeling of accomplishment when one of our dogs gets placed. We cried when our first dog, Tribute, left, but we had a new ball of fur at our feet that needed our attention and desperately desired it.

During a puppy outing, we got to hear Bill, a client, express the value in what we do. He described how much his companion had changed his life, how he had regained his independence. Of course, that’s what every volunteering family hopes to hear. We’d assumed Bill had been paralyzed his entire life. We were shocked when his wife later told us that he’d been a fireman just a couple of years ago. While on top of the truck, a hose was turned on, and the immense pressure of it knocked him to the ground. His dog that he talked so much about was born on the very day of his accident. We had goose bumps. We still get goose bumps whenever we tell this story of a man who went from helping people every day of his life to needing help himself. And it wasn’t the accident that he talked about — it was the dog. Whenever I am missing one of our dogs, I think about Bill and his story. I couldn’t imagine life without a service dog in training.

We take for granted the independence our bodies provide, and this is a way a family can come together and work to help others. Locally, Canine Companions for Independence is always seeking volunteer puppy raisers. Visit the organization at or call 407-522-3300 and give someone his independence.



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Escape Orlando in 90 Minutes or Less


Hop in the car, crank the tunes and take a trip back to your dating years when getaways were simpler and required much less “baggage.” Road trips are the perfect escape from the everyday (and who are we kidding … the kids). Orlando is surrounded by many quaint and quirky towns just waiting to be explored. So book Grandma, tank up and hit the highway.

Written by Kristen Manieri of Great Dates Orlando

Eccentric Excursion: Cassadaga . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ETA: 40 minutes
Did you know we live in very close proximity to the “Psychic Center of the World?” Cassadaga’s old-world streets are where you’ll find more than 40 mediums, psychics and healers. With roads named Séance Circle and Metaphysical Street, this is a very interesting corner of the world to get lost in.

MUST DO  Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you’ve been wondering what the future might hold (or what your stock portfolio might do), perhaps it’s time to consult the experts at the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp. Check out their website ahead of time to pre-book a session with one of their world-renowned spiritual healers and psychic mediums.

MUST SEE Legend has it that spirits can reveal themselves to us as glowing balls of light called “orbs.” Experience this phenomenon during the 90-minute Orb Photography Tour, each Saturday beginning at 8 p.m. $25/person. RSVP by calling 386-228-2880.

MUST EAT  If your psychic experiences put you in the mood for some food and liquid enlightenment, head over to the Lost in Time Cafe (located in the Cassadaga Hotel) for some “Spirit” burgers and real-life characters sure to entertain you.

MAKE IT SPECIAL Arrange a couple’s astrology consultation through the Cassadaga Hotel and Psychic Center. In this one-hour session, local astrologists will consult the stars to chart out your fate. Uh oh… is that another bambino on the horizon?

Rural Ride: Clermont . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ETA: 35 minutes
In the heart of Lake County amidst (yup, you guessed it) more than 1,000 lakes, Clermont might seem like an unlikely destination for us city slickers. But we think you’ll be surprised to find a ton of delightful day trip diversions on and off the water.

MUST DO  Ever dream about hitting the open road on a Harley? Stormy Hill Harley in Clermont runs a weekend motorcycle course in this ideal locale, thanks to its hilly terrain and lack of traffic. Once certified, easy riders can rent gear and bikes onsite. Class is $250/person.

MUST SEE  If you do one thing this summer, take a trip to Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards on the weekend of August 22 and 23, when you can squash grapes between your toes at the annual August Stomp. Also enjoy complimentary tours and wine tastings at this 77-acre vineyard.

MUST EAT Shop the huge gift boutique at Lakeridge Winery for your gourmet picnic provisions, then sip your freshly purchased Pink Cresendo sparkling wine at a picnic table or shady spot amidst the vines.

MAKE IT SPECIAL  If wine isn’t your thing, you can enjoy some peace and quiet on one of the area’s namesake lakes on your very own pontoon boat. Half-day rentals are $129 and a full day will cost you $199, including fuel.

Old World Outing: St. Augustine . . . . . . . . . ETA: 90 minutes
Discover America’s oldest city during one of the many popular tours offered in this historic community. The cute cafés, artisan shops and character of St. Augustine’s Colonial Spanish neighborhoods have been luring romantics for centuries.

MUST DO Don’t miss the hilarious (and informative) St. Augustine Haunted Pub Tour departing every day at 8:30 p.m. Although you’re not likely to see any actual ghosts, bartenders will be serving up plenty of spirits.

MUST SEE  Take a self-guided wander through Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine’s most notable historic landmark. Ancient dungeons with cavernous corners provide ideal secret make-out spots.

MUST EAT  Catch your breath at one of St. Augustine’s famous bakeries such as the Bunnery Bakery & Café on St. George Street, where notorious sticky buns are finger lickin’ good. 904-829-6166

MAKE IT SPECIAL  Schedule your trip to take part in the First Friday Art Walk. Evening tours begin at Rembrantz on King Street, and you can stroll hand-in-hand enjoying art exhibits, music, entertainment and great food.

Small Town Spin: Mount Dora . . . . . . . . . . . . ETA: 45 minutes
Cafés, antiquing and nature walks are all great reasons to visit Mount Dora, a small town dripping with charm. Thousands of people visit each year during its many famed festivals, like the Old Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration.

MUST DO Sail Lake Dora’s pristine waters with Captain Doolittle’s Eco Tours offering day and sunset cruises (352-434-8040), or explore Mount Dora’s picturesque downtown streets, historic B&Bs and scenic nature trails during a 60-minute Segway tour.

MUST SEE Anyone with the slightest interest in antiquing needs to check out Renningers Antiques & Farmers Market, open Saturdays and Sundays. Make a game of it by deciding on one particular item to seek out at more than 180 shops.

MUST EAT  Lake views and live music make Pisces Rising a popular dining option. Do not – we repeat – do not leave Mount Dora without devouring a frozen key lime pie-on-a-stick, found at Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.

MAKE IT SPECIAL  Snuggle up with your honey in the back of a horse-drawn carriage ride through Mount Dora’s scenic streets. Departing from the corner of 4th and Alexander, private rides are available. Don’t forget your bottle of bubbly.

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Central Florida Camping With Kids


Getting down and dirty with Mother Nature requires a little bit of guts and a lot of gusto, resulting in pure glory for those granola munchers in your back seat. Whether you’re a grizzly bear or a teddy bear when it comes to the great outdoors, Central Florida has just the right fit for your wilderness excursions.

Written by Jenny Fauser
Photography by Abby Liga
Modeled by Justin, Angela, Jake and Gracie of Orlando
Shot on location at Wekiva Island


You prefer to traverse the jungle via the beaten path. Making friends with the forest is a priority to you, but you’re not quite ready to take Pocahontas and her little sidekick paddling over any waterfalls. Take camping up a notch. Put away the preschool pop-up tent in her room and grab the inflatable air mattress; it’s time to welcome her to the woods.

CAMPING Well, more like “glamping” (glamour + camping)
If you’re nervous about those lions and tigers and bears, Disney’s Fort Wilderness provides quality time with Mother Nature without getting the mother of all meltdowns from your kids. Boat rides, bike paths, an outdoor movie, Chip ‘n’ Dale, sing-alongs, fireworks from the boat dock, campfires, a fabulous kiddie pool, playgrounds galore, ponies to peer at and, oh yes, great campsites (with clean restrooms always nearby) make this place a five-star destination. Forget grilling your meals; hit the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue for dinner and a good ol’-fashioned jamboree instead. Even in the woods, the Disney magic works!

Nestled along State Road 535 near Windermere, the Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve is the place to take your novice nature lovers. Pine needle-covered paths, a bridge over a swamp and a lush forest surround you as you hike with your tots (or older kids). Afterward, visit the hands-on nature center to learn about the plants and animals you’ve discovered. Plan to peruse the preserve any day of the week except Monday and Tuesday, when it’s closed for maintenance. 8777 S.R. 535, Shore of Lake Tibet-Butler, Orlando 407-876-6696

Sing with me, “Just a boy and a girl in a little canoe …” The Wekiwa Springs State Park canoe trip is easy breezy for your tiny Indian braves. You’ve got your choice of tooling around the open area (likened to a lake-filled swimming pool) near the marina or voyaging further down the waterway to catch a peek at the wildlife. Keep in mind, this is an up and back trip. Be sure to account for that as you sing your way down the river.
1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka 407-884-4311



You want your kids to love the outdoors and realize the practicality of having a portable potty and your minivan within walking distance. Short trips, helpful gear and new challenges are just what your tree huggers need. Grab the sunscreen and battery-powered Coleman lantern, and let’s explore our environment.

Surveys show that Trimble Park has the best and prettiest campgrounds. With natural amenities and wildlife viewing, and not too far away in Mount Dora, this is the place to take the family. 5802 Trimble Park Rd., Mt. Dora 352-383-1993

Come on, now, is anyone surprised that Disney is the sponsor of The Nature Conservancy in Florida? Check this out; take your hikers on a 2.5-mile looped adventure in hopes of spying bald eagles, bobcats, deer and, well, perhaps our favorite lizard friend — the gator. Spur off the beaten path out to Lake Russell, one of Florida’s few untouched pristine lakes. Be sure to wear lots of sunscreen and a hat; the path can get warm without a lot of shade to cool you off. 2700 Scrub Jay Trail, Kissimmee, 407-935-0002

The all new Wekiva Island was conceived as an environmentally responsible oasis, a gathering spot, a place that through its natural splendor brings people together. Rent a canoe or launch your own for a quick run to Wekiwa Springs State Park. Or, make a day of it and take the river route to Rock Springs, and enjoy the sparkling scenery and wildlife as you paddle down the river. When you’re bored with the oars, rent a river-bana and chill a while as you sip grown-up drinks from the on-site bar, The Tooting Otter. Seriously, Tooting Otter. Wekiva Island has officially made canoeing posh.
1014 Miami Springs Rd., Longwood, 407-862-1500



You think the term “car camping” is ridiculous. Your summer project with the tykes was carving your own canoe out of the tree in your neighbor’s backyard, and last Christmas Santa brought everyone hiking boots and a compass. Watch out, wilderness, hear you rrroooarRRR!

Warning: Your Ocala National Forest trip will be hard-core. The challenge will bond you and your troopers. You’ve got to hike into the forest, bring your own supplies and use leaves as toilet paper. Okay, maybe not that extreme; you can bring your own roll of Charmin. Also, bring your camera, as bald eagles are particularly common around Lake George. Hopkins Prairie is reputed to be good for observing scrub jays and sandhill cranes. There are many black bears in the forest as well. From Ocala, take Florida Highway 40 east to the visitor center. 352-625-2520

You’ll feel a million miles away from it all on the Barr Street trailhead segment of the Florida Trail, located outside of downtown Oviedo. You’ll enjoy following orange trail blazes through shady trails and riverfront views as you hike along the Econ River discovering animal footprints and native birds. Escape to this special retreat as you slowly wind back and forth throughout the Little Big Econ State Forest. The kids will love the bridge over the Econlockhatchee River. It’s a 4.9-mile hike until you hit the Snow Hill Road trailhead. Be sure to pack a snack and your camera — you’ll want to see what’s around the next curve on this not-to-miss trail. Don’t forget to bring your mosquito repellent; you will be using it often.

The Little Big Econ State Forest canoe run is an eight-mile BYOC (canoe) event. Alligators, river otters, migratory waterfowl, wood storks, limpkins and herons will be your mates for this voyage. The site is located in Seminole County, 3.3 miles east of Oviedo. We recommend launching at the intersection of County Road 419 and Willingham Road. A small paved lot is available for parking where there’s a sign indicating canoe/kayak launch. The river runs north from County Road 419 and enters the Little Big Econ State Forest turning east. The take-out spot is at Snow Hill Road. Ideally, if you’re ready to brave a canoe adventure of this caliber, you should have two cars. Drop one off at the Snow Hill Road lot, and take the other one with the boats up to the 419 put-in. 407-971-3500


• Plan your location and route.
• Create meal menus and only purchase food items you need.
• Check equipment to make sure it’s in good condition with all parts intact.

Packing & PLAYing
• Freeze all the food and liquid possible so perishables last longer.
• Flip-flops are a necessity. Middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks are much easier when you can just slip on shoes quickly.
• Don’t forget s’mores, a fun and tasty treat the whole family can enjoy (especially for the reluctant campers).
• Essentials: trash bags to keep your campsite clean and the critters away.
• Leave behind the daily toys. Instead, bring a ball, kites, his bike and perhaps a deck of cards.

• Establish boundaries as soon as you arrive. Fire pits are off-limits to kids. Create an imaginary perimeter around the fire pits.
• Know where the nearest ranger station is in relation to your campsite.
• Bring a first aid kit.

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Thiago: My Miracle Preemie


One Cool Little Dude – Thiago’s Story

Written by Aixa Acevado, Thiago’s mom

I was 24 weeks pregnant when David and I got the horrific news from a maternal specialist that I would have to deliver my firstborn son within 48 hours. I remember desperately asking, “Why? What’s wrong? How is he going to survive?” According to my week-by-week pregnancy book, his lungs weren’t even developed yet. How was he going to breathe? The doctor just said, “You need to check into the hospital right now.” I was suffering from severe preeclampsia. Delivery of the baby, or bad placenta, is the only cure.

David and I walked quietly to the car, where I called my mother to give her the news. I began to sob, and so did David. Several hours after my arrival at Winnie Palmer Hospital, the doctor explained that the pregnancy would be induced. A C-section was going to be avoided at all costs due to the risk it posed on my life and the high possibility of not being able to have children in the future. The doctor explained that the baby would not survive the labor and delivery due to his size (less than one pound) and fragile state. He even said that if by some miracle the baby survived delivery, his lungs were too underdeveloped and his health was too poor to be able to survive on the outside, on his own. It was likely the baby would be dead before labor even began. We were emotionally drained.

I began to feel a little better and was able to hold off on the inducing for a few days in hopes that the baby could have that time to develop more. Every hour was crucial. I was given steroid shots to help his lungs grow. All too soon, my health got worse, and the doctor said they really should focus on my health because the baby’s chances for survival were slim. After five days of an emotional roller coaster, to say the least, I was induced, and Thiago Gabriel Torres was born — still in the sack, completely unscathed by the labor and delivery and alive. He weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces.

Although Thiago was born alive, that didn’t mean he would ever come home with us. Preemies sometimes die within a few hours of being born and as far out as two months later. Our story is one with a good ending, but an emotional and tough journey. Throughout Thiago’s stay, there were many people (my mother and sister specifically) and organizations that offered help and prayers. David became a solid rock and foundation for me, and Thiago’s biggest fan. I personally turned to the March of Dimes website for support and to read other preemie stories. I found comfort there. Thiago received a blood donation from Florida’s Blood Centers, and the Ronald McDonald House offered us a room to stay in while Thiago was in the NICU. We were blessed to have Dr. David A. Auerbach and the amazing staff at Winnie Palmer’s NICU. Three months and one week after Thiago was born — 99 days exactly — I got a call from Dr. Auerbach informing me that we could take him home.

Today Thiago is completely healthy. Most preemies are born with countless hurdles to overcome. Thiago only gets occupational therapy once a week because of minor residual effects from the intubation. Other than that, he is our amazing little miracle — he’s healthy, walking and talking. He is one cool little dude.



Winnie Palmer Hospital
Donate Items
Knitter and crafter volunteers donate preemie hats and blankets to be used and enjoyed by babies, children and their families. If you enjoy knitting or crocheting and would like to donate your items, please contact volunteer services at 321-841-5932.

Florida’s Blood Centers
Donate Blood
One single blood donation can save up to three lives, lives like Thiago’s. Blood is always needed. The minimum age to donate blood is 16 years old. You can host a blood drive or visit one of the blood donation centers near you and save lives.

March of Dimes
Donate Money
It’s estimated that $10.5 billion in loose change is sitting idle in American households. Imagine how far that would go in helping babies be born healthy. Donate your loose change to the March of Dimes.

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Date Night: Dad’s Turn To Drive


Guys, this night is for YOU. You’ve done your duty and seen every chick flick out there. It’s time you put your big boy pants back on and take control. Skip the couples pedicure (btw, you totally got your man card revoked for that one) and do something you really want to do.

Golf Season
Even if she’s not a golf enthusiast, she’s still going to have a good time at the new golf-inspired entertainment centers like Top Golf and Drive Shack. There’s tons of fun to be had for golfers and non-golfers alike. Work on your game while also building new connections in your relationship.

Gamblin’ Man
Need to get away from your adult responsibilities for a while? The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa is the perfect place to go and relive those carefree, kid-free days. Consider this the perfect playground for a play date with your wife. With everything from comedy shows and casinos to amazing food, there’s something to do every night of the week. You can leave the minivan at home and hop aboard the Hard Rock bus instead to get you there.

Hmmm … Beer
When’s the last time you and your significant other went to happy hour … together? Grab the Central Florida Ale Trail map and set a date once a month for you both to visit all the breweries — from DeBary to Orlando, Sanford to Clermont. There are 18 to choose from so that’s over a years worth of date nights right there. You can even get a gift if you collect the stamps from each location.

Indoor War
If you’re into games, this fast-paced, high-action venue is Orlando’s best video gaming spot. At Hard Knocks’ huge urban-themed laser tag combat area and intense simulation arenas, you’ll be able to show off your tough guy skills to your sweetie. Remember, though, shooting her does not score you any points in the bedroom. So, take it easy, Rambo.

Rockin’ Party
Show your main squeeze how a cocktail party should be done at Orlando’s only rock ‘n’ roll cocktail party. A ticket to Velvet Sessions at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando includes themed cocktails, finger foods and a killer concert from groups such as Joan Jett, The Fixx, and The Psychedelic Furs. Velvet Sessions are held the last Thursday of the month.

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Meatless Mondays

Meatless Monday Is vegetarianism or veganism too much to ask of your meat-loving family? Try Flexitarianism – a growing trend of people with a loose loyalty to meat-free eating. This semi-vegetarian diet focuses on a vegetarian diet while allowing for occasional meat eating too. It is this concept, along with the well-known health and environmental benefits that lead to Meatless Monday – a nonprofit with a mission to reduce meat consumption by 15% (one day a week) in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.

If you are interested in learning more about Meatless Monday, visit for recipe ideas and to join the movement.

Not into cooking Monday? Check out these local vegetarian and vegan restaurants:

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More Than Cookies


The Girl Scouts have gotten a facelift.

Written by Jenny Fauser | Photo by Brittany Miller | Styled by Tammara Kohler

Girl Scouts are known for cookies and camping, but this green-centered, earth-loving philanthropy is way more than tents and Thin Mints. It’s influencing this country’s finest young women.

With a recent national restructure, Girl Scouts of the USA is breaking their stagnant stereotype and becoming more relatable to modern kids and their interests. We like that each troop is completely unique and the young members drive the activities and interests they pursue. Today, scouts go rock climbing, swim with dolphins in the Florida Keys, go white water rafting and even travel abroad through troop or council programs.

Depending on their interests, girls are given the opportunity to gain knowledge and acquire skills in: dance, drama, math, biology, poetry, fashion, problem solving, leadership and handling peer pressure — among countless other relevant topics. A favorite among the tween crowd is a program called “Mean Chicks.” Nope, they’re not being taught to be “ugly,” but rather addressing the rampant problem of gossiping and manipulating at school. The “Couch Potato” interest project gets girls exploring how youth and women are portrayed in
the media.

This organization focuses on personal pride. Its mission: Building girls of courage, confidence and character. The Scouting program encompasses every aspect required to build a well-rounded, dynamic and vibrant woman out of your sassy little diva. Check out for more info on how to get your daughter (age 5 – 17) in on the fun.

A Few Famous Girl Scouts:
• Dakota Fanning
• Sheryl Crow
• Vanessa Hudgens
• Martha Stewart
• Barbara Walters

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Calling All Players


It’s time to play, giggle and do anything BUT act your age. There’s a reason why your kids are so happy and carefree. They play almost all the time. Now, surely you can find a few hours this week to do the same at one of these great locations around town.

Written by Kristen Manieri

Board Games Over Mind Games
What do you get when you mix Monopoly and martinis? You get a night you’ll both be talking about for months. Described as Orlando’s alternative to the typical night out, PlayDate Orlando takes place monthly in swanky nightclubs transformed into epicenters of fun. This fall, events are hosted by Rix Lounge at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. Classic games like Trouble, Jenga, Connect Four and Yahtzee grace the tables around the club, with the dance floor reserved for rowdy Twister matches and musical chairs.

Useless Information Wanted
Unleash your inner know-it-all during a round of Earth Trivia at various Orlando venues, such as One Eyed Jacks, Gator’s Dockside and Scruffy Murphy’s. This live trivial pursuit for couples or groups is divided into rounds of 10 questions, each featuring categories like movies, music, TV, science, sports and geography. The top smarties win prizes, like restaurant gift certificates. Warning: Fact-checking with KGB (text 542-542) is strongly frowned upon, but peeking at your partner’s answers is A-OK.

College Days Flashback
Check out ICEBAR Orlando on Monday nights starting at 9 p.m. for a major trip back to your college years. Their weekly Beer Pong tournaments invite teams of two to face off for one of the most inane, yet hilarious, bar games ever invented. Oh, you’re going to act like you’ve never played? (OK, we’ll play along.) Players throw a Ping-Pong ball across a table with the hopes of landing it in a cup of beer lined up at the other end. A ball in the cup means the opposing team must drink their cup of beer. Winning teams go on to face off against their next contender. Dumb, we know, but so much fun—whether you’re winning or losing.

Cordial Competition
Grown-ups do have their own playground, ya know; it’s called Firkin & Kegler, an entertainment mega-center in Waterford Lakes. Share your time between the pub-style restaurant, 32 lanes of bowling, golf simulator and arcade (where air hockey matches become the ideal way to gamble for that evening’s late-night back massage). You’ll love the ample outdoor seating, perfect for enjoying pints of ale and the return to saner Orlando temperatures. Got a late-night pass from Grandma? Get down at Firkin’s nightclub and lounge, called “The Loft,” where great music always takes center stage.

Get your mind out of the gutter—we’re talking bingo, but with a twist. Led by local drag legends Miss Sammy and Carol Lee, Tuesday Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s offers the chance to “eat, drink and be Mary” while enjoying an effortless pastime peppered with spirited songs and feisty comedy. This flamboyant eatery, known for its ’50s flair and colorful customers, boasts 11 burger varieties with names that denote Mary’s naughty and nice personalities. We loved the slightly X-rated drink list packed with enticing libations, like the Juicy Screw and Screaming Orgasm.

DIY Play Time
No sitter? No problem. Tuck the kiddies into bed and then sneak off to your own bedroom for some private play. Your covert couple time can include sexy Scrabble (dirty words only), naked hide-and-seek, or strip Monopoly (pay rent with clothing). Of course, a classic round of Truth or Dare is always a sure bet when it comes to adding some sugar and spice to your liaison.

“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”
E.E. Cummings

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The Godfather of Wakeboarding

The Byerly family was photographed at their home on Lake Georgia in Winter Park. Photo by Katie Meehan

The Byerly family was photographed at their home on Lake Georgia in Winter Park. Photo by Katie Meehan

Scott Byerly is idolized in his industry.
But at home, the man behind the name is known simply as Dad.

Intro by Sabrina James Interview by Jana Waring Family Portraits by Katie Meehan Artwork by Son Duong


The Godfather of Wakeboarding

The wakeboarding industry has affectionately dubbed Scott Byerly the Godfather. The founder. The innovator. The star. Featured on FUSE TV and ESPN and having graced countless magazine covers (covered in tattoos and sporting an entire wardrobe of board shorts and oversized t-shirts), this 36-year-old looks like a kid himself. But behind his bad boy image is a down-to-earth family man.

It is no coincidence that Central Florida is now known as the Mecca of wakeboarding – after all, the Godfather grew up here. Living on a lake, right here in Casselberry, spending time doing water sports with his family,  cultivated Scott’s talent. From the age of four, he found his calling on the water, surfing and waterskiing.  Scott may not get the local credit that Walt Disney does for creating an industry, but he should. Now, talented riders from all over the world move here to pursue their dreams on the countless lakes and waterways that fill our area.

The Godfather of Wakeboarding Nestled in the midst of this “scene” is the Byerly’s home on Lake Georgia in Winter Park. Scott shares his home with his wife Kim and three daughters: Chelsea (15), Kirra (8) and Raina (2). Scott met Kim in 1996 and was immediately smitten. He asked her on a date and Kim politely declined. Later he courageously asked her out again. Kim wasn’t used to guys like Scott. At the time, his hair was dyed fire engine red. “He had this crazy colored hair and tattoos. I didn’t date guys like him,” Kim explains. She finally agreed, on one condition: That he dye his hair a different color. Scott obliged, and dyed it dark blue. “It looked black to me,” laughs Kim. “We got pizza, went to Rocky’s Arcade and have been together ever since. I married my best friend.”

Scott and Kim have turned the Byerly name into an empire. With the Byerly Toe Jam (an annual wakeskating contest in Central Florida) and the 2009 Byerly Bus Tour, Scott is increasing the awareness of wakeboarding and wakeskating across the country. He’s had his hand in designing signature Byerly versions of board shorts, t-shirts, wakeboards and shoes for well-known brands like O’Neill and Reef. In 2005 he took it one step further with the creation of his own board company – Byerly Boards. Scott has successfully evolved from star rider with raw talent, to hard-core, respected businessman.

The Godfather of Wakeboarding

Scott may seem like an unlikely parent, but it only takes a moment to realize that wakeboarding is not the only thing that comes naturally to him. He was meant to be a dad. And his girls are his most important achievements. Even though he is living a life that every teenaged boy would envy, the legacy this Godfather will leave is happy children who grew up as he did: On a lake, together as a family … living the dream.

PLAYGROUND’S Jana Waring sat down with Scott and Kim to find out what the Byerly family is all about.

Tell me about your life growing up here in Central Florida?
I really just remember being outside all the time with my family – especially on the lake. That is what I did my whole life.

Where did you go to high school?
I went to Lyman. School wasn’t my passion. My “education” was being on the water. That is how I learned to be successful. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had gone to college.

What is the significance behind your tattoos?
I have my kids’ names on me, and my name tattooed on my back. Those are the most significant. Oh yeah, and I have my wedding ring tattooed on my finger-that’s meaningful, too. [Laughs] My girls are pretty used to the tattoos because I have always had them, but the other kids at their private school always stare at me when I drop my kids off. Whatever.

Tell us about your girls… what are they like?
Kirra has so much energy and is really athletic. She is on the volleyball team and wakeskates a lot. Chelsea is in high school. She likes hanging out with her friends and her boyfriend. She is almost 16 and is doing what high school kids do. She is the most like a girly girl, even though she likes to wakeboard. She always has her nails and hair done and looks really nice. The little one, Raina, is much more of a handful than the other girls were at her age, for sure. But she’s only two.


The Godfather of Wakeboarding “I want to be remembered as someone who put everything into a sport he believed in and who was a good father and role model.”


So you’re the only guy stuck in a house full of girls?
I guess technically I am, but a lot of my team riders come and ride at the house. We’re always riding, filming or doing something here. And my 5-year-old English Bulldog Deuce is the other guy in the house. He loves the water. He’s a really good dog.

What is the hardest part of being a parent for you?
Trying to tell my kids what to do, like the whole, “Don’t do what I did” thing. I wasn’t always the best kid. I also think the boyfriend thing is tough. I know exactly what the guys are thinking and I really want to teach my daughters to respect themselves. I don’t want to be that super strict dad, but … I guess it’s all about finding that balance. I am just going to take it one daughter at a time. Sometimes I feel though, that by having three girls, I am somehow getting paid back for something I did when I was younger.

Do you think any of your girls will follow in your footsteps?
I want them to be involved in the company, Byerly Boards, for sure. But not like what I did with contests and stuff like that. They should focus on education and doing something they are passionate about. But I do want them out there on the water enjoying it.

The 2009 Byerly Bus Tour started in May, promoting wakeboarding, wakeskating and Byerly Boards across the country. What’s it like?
You wake up to being in a new place every day, new lake, different people. Everyone wants to ride behind the boat, try all the new products and hang with the team and me. That’s pretty much the typical day. Just being out on the water all day. It’s cool to wake up in a new city, new lake, new atmosphere, and everyone’s there for the same reason.

What age groups are coming out to ride with you?
Last year, we had younger kids, from the age of 7, to guys in their fifties come out. Anyone can do the sport. There are people who have been following me since I first started. They hear that I’m coming to town and turn out just to see me. Then there are people who don’t know who I am. They have a Byerly board because it was at the shop. You get all different types of people.

With the creation of Byerly Boards with Scott Bouchard in 2005, your name has become a brand. How does that feel?
It feels really good. I have been in the industry a long time as a rider, and this was the next step for me. It makes me feel good that people still like to see me out there in their towns and in the magazines. Now I am trying to make the best boards and have the best team. It just feels really cool to see my stuff all over the world everywhere I go. I never would have dreamt that I would have all of this.

The Godfather of Wakeboarding

Your wife helps runs the business. What is it like mixing business with pleasure?
In marriage, you are partners in everything you do, so it’s only natural to partner with her on the business side.

Another event you have coming up is the 2009 Toe Jam right here in Orlando. Can you tell us about that?
I used to wakeboard a lot, wakeskating was something I did on the side. Then I started wakeskating a lot more and got into it. So, Sean Dishman and I started The Toe Jam. It’s a wakeskate-only contest that started out at The Projects [a privately-owned lake in Bithlo]. This is our sixth year coming up. It’s grown larger every year, with more and more people riding in it. More tricks are getting landed. It’s even on FUEL TV now. It’s been really good.

Kevin Michael, Editor of Wakeboarding Magazine, dishes on why Scott is known as “The Godfather” of Wakeboarding:
“Scott stormed onto the scene In the early 90s with a relaxed “wakeboarding” style that resembled what was happening in skateboarding and snowboarding. He was really focused on grabbing his board while in the air and tweaking his moves into a true art form. That, combined with his long hair and tattoos, created an industry image that drew a lot of people to the sport. As time went on, Scott’s style became universally accepted as the most appealing way to ride and he invented moves that are still some of the most respected. That’s when people started to look at him as a type of ‘Godfather to wakeboarding. Outside of his celebrity status and contributions to the industry, Scott’s reputation as a loyal and genuine person has transcended the sport and really added to his legend.”

How did wakeskating evolve from wakeboarding?
You ride on a wakeboard strapped in all the time. It kind of got repetitive. I started wakeskating to get away from it. We always kind of copied skateboarding stuff when we wakeboarded and now wakeskating is more like skateboarding, but in the water. I enjoy wakeskating more, I think. I used to skateboard when I was kid. Wakeskating is more free form. You do fall more, and it requires more practice, but it’s a nice change.

Are families welcome to come out and watch The Toe Jam?
It’s definitely a family-oriented contest. All of my kids will be there. Half of the kids entered in the contest are under 18 years old.

The Godfather of Wakeboarding

What direction do you see these sports heading?
With the economy like it is, people are doing more family stuff. I think we’re going to see a lot more people going on the boat with their kids, which is a good thing since the kids are the future, especially in wakeboarding and wakeskating. As for me, I just want to keep doing the contest, keep it simple, and keep it to the roots. I want to progress the sport and the awareness of it.

What is the legacy you hope to leave?
I want to be remembered as someone who put everything into a sport he believed in and who was a good father and role model.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
No way. I like my life just the way it is. If I didn’t have kids, I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without my wife, that’s for sure.

Kim: You’re sweet.

[Scott laughs] I’m serious.


Local Byerly Favorites

Places to shop: Home Depot and Publix. I don’t have to shop for clothing because I get clothes and accessories from my sponsors. We usually wear O’Neill clothing, the whole family does. I’ll go to the mall, but I don’t really like to.

Date Night Spots: We go to the Orlando Magic games a lot for our nights out. The last place we went to dinner alone was the Ravenous Pig, and it was for Valentine’s Day.

Family Dinner Spots: Fujiyama Sushi on University Boulevard. The girls love sushi. We don’t go out to dinner very much with our toddler, but we do a lot of take out from Outback and Thai Villa. Kirra loves Kobe Steakhouse.

Places to go as a family: We enjoy going to Lake Eola. Chelsea really likes to go shopping at the mall. And Raina loves Sea World.

Theme Park: We like to go to the Not So Scary Halloween and the Mickey’s Very Christmas at Disney. It is great to go to the park when the crowds are so much smaller. But the rest of the year, we love Sea World.

Place to go unwind: I unwind at home and on the lake with my family, but the beach is probably the only other place that I get to unwind.

Family Travel Destination: We love the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Texas. But we also went snowboarding a couple of years ago in North Carolina and had such a great time getting the kids to try and ride.

The Godfather of Wakeboarding

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Get High


Everyone knows that Cloud Nine is where the best connections are made. These aeronautic adventures will make your “date night” rise to the top. And by the way … it’s not too late to join the mile-high club.

Written by Kristen Manieri of Great Dates Orlando

Hot Air Balloon Ride
Topping our list for th emost rantic sky-high exploit is a champagne hot air balloon flight with ou rpartner. While this daybreak date will certainly have you missing a few ZZZs (balloons ascend at dawn), this tranquil trip with stunning sunrise views will be well worth it. Bob’s Balloons offers daily flights 365 days a year for $175 per person including nibbles and bubbly upon landing. For $475 you can book your own private basket for this hour-long jaunt over the picturesque landscape near Diseny. Be sure to book a sitter for an extra couple of hours so you have time to take a post-flight afternoon nap.

Orlando’s Largest Roller Coaster
Much like the “butterflies” you had when you first fell in love, roller coasters provide a glee that is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Play hookie with your spouse and take an impromptu ride on the Kraken at SeaWorld (sans the kids). This roller coaster will take you higher and faster than anywhere else in Orlando. There’s nothing like adrenaline and a theme park to make you two feel like kids again. Of course, if you’d rather save the jostling and bumping for when you get home, the 400-foot Skytower is a harmless alternative. C’mon, you have those yearly passes anyway.

Open-Air Biplane Ride
For something very unique try Fantasy of Flight’s vintage bi-plane rides complete with a cute hat and goggles. Up to 4 people of any age sit up front for the ride of their lives ($69/person). We recommend making an afternoon of it and having lunch at their air-side café, where you can enjoy a great view of the daily aerial demonstrations while noshing. Besides the world’s largest private collection of classic aircraft, guys will L-O-V-E the fighter jet simulators. Hang glider and hot air balloon simulators are super fun too. You will be surprised at how much you’ll enjoy this experience.

Treetop Zipline Excursion
Joining their Horseback and Eco-Safaris, the Zipline Safari is the newest and most exhilarating attraction at Forever Florida in St. Cloud. Safely strapped into your harness and snapped onto a fifty-foot-high, mile-long trail, this tree-top rendezvous will have you soaring at speeds as fast as 20 mph. Expect a bird’s eye view of the Florida wilderness including sightings of gators, bears and white tail deer. Amp up the romance by reserving a Moonlight Zipline Safari, scheduled on select evenings each month ($85/person). Watch out for that tree!

Adrenaline junkie couples know it takes a lot more heart-pounding action to take their breath away. Thse extremists head to Skydive Deland where tandem flights offer sixty seconds of freefall followed by a five-minute float. Technically, you and your honey will be strapped to someone else for your dive, but the heart-stopping thrill you’ll share together will be yours to remember forever. Set aside $179 per person and about three hours for instruction and flight time. On the fence about it? Go grab a bite at The Perfect Spot (the on-site restaurant), where burgers and cold beer are enjoyed along with excellent views of other divers making their landing right in front of you.

Indoor Skydiving
Even the faint of heart can experience the weightless thrill of skydiving without the risk, thanks to Sky Venture on I-Drive. This indoor simulator blasts wind up its tunnel with such force that divers are suspecded in air for a 40-second flight. This uber-realistic experience is used by professional divers looking to practive turns and spins without dropping form an airplane. Couples can opt for the “Two-fer” package which includes training and flight gear, two minutes of flight rotation, two DVD copies and two photo CDs for $124.95.

Hang Gliding
For those couples that prefer to glide through the sky rather than fall from it, sunrise and sunset hang gliding flights are a local alternative at Wallaby Ranch, south of Kissimmee. Once your instructor-piloted glider is released from the tug about 2,000 feet in the air, you’ll enjoy a breathtaking 15-20 minute free-fly before softly returning to the ground. This is probably the closest you will get to the feeling of actually flying on your own. You can enjoy the experience together, since couples can be in-flight at the same time (in separate gliders) at a cost of $120 per person.

Helicopter Ride
Probably the most romantic way to “get high” is a helicopter tour like the Fireworks Flight offered by Orlando Helicenter. This ride soars about 1,000 feet in the air, boasting an unsurpassed view of Epcot’s nightly illuminations fireworks show. Orlando Helicenter offers a variety of chopper tours over theme parks and multi-million dollar neighborhoods starting at $20 per person, all of which can be taken at night for an extra $50. These flexible flyers will even let you bring your own champagne for a post-flight toast. Cheers to that!

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Breakfast Cookies

If your house is anything like mine, breakfast is very rushed and frenetic. Its hard enough to remember backpacks, tooth and hair brushing, what to bring for show and tell and field trip forms – who has time to make a healthy and fulfilling meal?

Written by Samantha Gotlib of Wholesome Tummies

Breakfast Cookie

I have been so tempted by things like Pop Tarts (yes, there are even organic ones now!) but it just doesn’t seem like a great way to send them off for the day.

We all know how important breakfast is for our kids.  It helps sustain them all the way thru lunchtime. They need protein and fiber to keep going and the right mix of carbs to keep their energy levels up. In a perfect world, we would make them an omelet, some whole grain toast and maybe a little yogurt smoothie – but we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? ☺

So, last year I started making these breakfast cookies that I found in the Sneaky Chef Cookbook. Over the last several months I have made changes and additions to get them “just right”. They are an overwhelming hit in our house and since they freeze so well, just as convenient as a Pop Tart (without the fat, sugar and chemicals).

You can easily double the batch for freezing. Once frozen, microwave the cookie for about 15-20 seconds before eating.  Your kids, (and the grownups too) will inhale these and you can exhale knowing you sent them off with a pretty good breakfast.

(Adapted from The Sneaky Chef, by Missy Chase Lapine)

Nutrition Highlights: whole grains, calcium, and protein. Rich in vitamins B and E, iron, potassium, folic acid, calcium, tryptophan protein, and fiber.

• 2 cups whole grain cereal flakes (such as Wheaties or Total)
• 3/4 cup Flour Blend (1/4 cup white flour, 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, and 1/4 cup wheat germ)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 large egg
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 1/8 cup canola oil
• 1/8 cup applesauce (unsweetened)
• 3 tbl Orange Juice
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 3/4 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
• Cinnamon sugar for dusting*

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray with oil).
2. Using a rolling pin, gently crush the cereal (in a sealed plastic bag) into coarsely crushed flakes. Alternatively, you can quickly pulse the cereal in a food processor.
3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together Flour Blend, crushed cereal, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together egg, sugar, oil, applesauce, orange juice, vanilla, and ricotta cheese. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just enough to moisten dry ingredients. Drop single tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about an inch between cookies. Flatten cookies with the back of a fork and then sprinkle tops generously with cinnamon sugar (or just sugar if your kids don’t like the cinnamon flavor). Bake about 18 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned and crispy around the edges.

Makes 16 to 18 large cookies.

Also posted in Healthy Living | 3 Responses

Thank God Our Kids Are Being Raised in a Bad Economy!

Thank God!

Buh-bye overindulged snotty brats.
Adiós cell phones for toddlers.
And see ya’ later overstocked playrooms.

Written by Jason Skipper

In case you haven’t been watching the news, there is a nasty little rumor circulating that our nation is choking on a financial crisis, meltdown, recession, tsunami (take your pick). You can blame the “evil” banks or your neighbors foreclosing on homes “they couldn’t afford in the first place,” but realistically there is only one reason: Greed. And we are all guilty. We are the generation of excess.

Don’t want to include yourself as a member of our little group? Go ahead and count the number of digital screens in your household. (Yes, cell phone screens count… Yes, Gameboys count … And the portable DVD player … and the iPods … the GPS … and the TVs!) Got a number yet? We’re not bad people, we just have (well, had ) more than our parents. And even if we don’t, many of us still spend like we do. How is that a bad thing when it comes to our kids? Well, thanks to Dr. Bredehoft of Concordia University, we may have an answer. In a recent study, spanning numerous countries, he found that overindulgence, including giving too much, over-nurturing, and too little structure, has negative effects on children, which last into adulthood. Oops.

Our ability to provide children with luxuries like designer denim (KaChing!), cell phones (KaChing!), and over-the-top birthday parties (KaChing! KaChing!) has kept their heads firmly located in the clouds. “We have gone a little overboard on spending for our kids,” explains Christina M. Pinto, Certified Financial Planner at Moreno, Peelen, Ruggie, Pinto and Clark. “Think back to your birthday parties. Mine consisted of a group of friends with a birthday cake, balloons, and a piñata! Not catered champagne-filled kid soirées. This type of extravagance has long-term negative effects on your family’s finances.”

What possible benefit could there be for a family that cuts back? Whether you drop the cell phone, a few extra-curricular activities or your high-speed Internet, you might actually be left with some extra time. Time to linger at dinner and enjoy an actual family conversation. Time to teach your kids to save money and shop wisely. Time to open that lemonade stand and watch your kid work his tail off for five hours just to earn $15. Time to take him to the store to see just what five hours of his time can buy (after you subtract the 10% for his piggy bank savings). That’s right, Diesel jeans cost money, and earning money requires a lot of hard work. You’ll know the light bulb went off when he asks, “You mean I don’t get an allowance for just being alive?” That’s called starting the process of raising a financially responsible adult.

All of this reminds me of a fantastic quote from my Grandpa, who said, “Son, the Universe will never tire of hitting you over the head … start ducking.” THANK GOD OUR KIDS ARE BEING RAISED IN A BAD ECONOMY! Hard times are forcing us into a financial “duck” that just might result in a happy medium between spoiled and spurned.


Read more of what Jason has to say on his blog at
Also posted in Parenting Skills 101 | 1 Response

Queen of Versailles

Jacqueline Siegel

In a town known for making “Dreams Come True,” it should come as no surprise that just outside the Disney gates a real-life fairytale exists, complete with a castle, king and queen. Jacqueline Siegel, well-known socialite, wife to David Siegel (the Westgate Resort timeshare mogul), and mother to eight children is building the largest home in America, right here in Windermere.

Written by Jana Waring
Portraits by Katie Meehan

It seems hard to define what is normal in the world today. For example, I asked for and received a $130 electric toothbrush for Christmas. The Triumph, as it is appropriately titled, comes equipped with a video timer that tells me where to brush again and when I’m brushing correctly. I can never go back to a regular brush. I know I don’t actually need the Triumph, but now that my perception of reality has changed, I believe I do. This is what I imagine it’s like to be the wife of a billionaire. Because as Jacqueline Siegel tells me about her life, I am not sure she knows how extraordinary it sounds and how different it is from my life.

“Even though we are building the biggest house in America,” she tells me as we are touring her “temporary” home in Isleworth, “We want it to be a home.” Jacqueline didn’t set out to break any record; her good friend Robin Leach (of “Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams” fame) was the one to tell her first. The Siegels broke ground on the 90,000 square foot “Versailles” a couple of years ago. It sits adjacent to Lake Butler and is named after the French palace that inspired its design.

The digitally-created rendering gives a sneek peek of the front of the largest house in America.

The digitally-created rendering gives a sneek peek of the front of the largest house in America.

It wasn’t always palaces and champagne for Jackie (as her friends call her). She grew up in Binghamton, a tiny town in upstate New York, in a modest home with two hardworking parents and three siblings. The entire family shared one bathroom during her childhood and she remembers the inconvenience of having to wait in line to use it. Perhaps that is the reason “Versailles” will boast 30 bathrooms. Jackie will never have to wait in line again.

Looking to escape her small town and make something of her life, Jackie put herself through college and received a Computer Engineering degree. She landed a job at IBM. Her dream of owning a home valued at $100,000 was well on its way to becoming a reality. But when she noticed her cube-dwelling office peers were counting down the days to retirement, she was motivated to move to Manhattan to model. After finding success there, she moved to Florida to compete in the Mrs. Florida pageant (and won). Then, as David explains, when Jacqueline walked into a party hosted by a mutual friend, it was love at first sight. David romanced Jackie and whisked her into his world: The world of a billionaire.

Coming home to a house full of at least fifteen people is typical for the Siegel family. After all, there are eight children and five nannies that roam the marble floors there. As we tour the backyard complete with a lakefront custom pool, three of her dogs, all of them with white fur, are jumping all over her. “We like white animals. See our peacocks over there? They’re white. We used to have a white tiger too, as a pet, but not anymore.” She talks of her peacocks and pet tiger in the same way that most American families talk about their family dog.

Top to Bottom Row, Left to Right: Jonquil, Debbie, Jacqueline, Daniel, Victoria, David, Jacqueline, Jordan, Drew

Top to Bottom Row, Left to Right: Jonquil, Debbie, Jacqueline, Daniel, Victoria, David, Jacqueline, Jordan, Drew

It’s not until I am driving her to the site of “Versailles” or what she describes as her new home (and I describe as a potential Disney resort) that it dawns on me that I am responsible for a beautiful billion-dollar commodity sitting in my van. This unsettling realization makes me want to floor it to our lunch destination as quickly as possible, although I am driving more slowly and carefully than ever before. It gives us time to make conversation.

“David and I did not exchange Christmas gifts this year,” she says, “We decided not to, you know, since times are tough.” For one second, I am rushed with guilt for selfishly wanting a luxury toothbrush. “How sweet … and normal,” I think. Then, I see “Versailles” and think again. Perhaps there is no such thing as normal.

The following interview with Jacqueline Siegel was conducted during a tour of her current home in Isleworth, while visiting Versailles and over lunch at Bravo on Sand Lake Road with her mother Debbie Mallery and friends Nita Bass and Shari Crabtree.

What are the names and ages of your eight children? I’ll start with the twin girls, Jacqueline and Jordan, who are two years old. Then we have Drew, who is a boy and five. Then we have Debbie who is seven, Daniel who is eight, David who is nine, Victoria who is 12 and Jonquil, who is 15 [and actually an adopted niece]. Everyone’s name begins with a D or J, named after one of us. All three boys have the same birthday and were born on Memorial Day … conceived on Labor Day.

Wow, how did you do it? That is a lot of kids in a short period of time. I was the most fearful for the first one. I didn’t start having kids until my thirties. I was afraid because I was a model. I thought it would ruin my figure. But after the first one, I got my figure back pretty quick. I went to the beach and was wearing a bikini, like, a week later. So for the rest of them, I went into auto-pilot.

Nita: And she had them all naturally.

Yeah there were no c-sections. We love having a big family. Even though we are building the biggest house in America, we want it to be a home. Sometimes you hear fighting and screaming but other times you hear laughter. I think that when the day comes that I don’t have that anymore, I’ll really miss it.


A digital rendering of what will be the exquisite ballroom inside the biggest home in America.

Did you set out to build the biggest house in America? No, not at all. We were just building the house that we wanted for our family. Then we kept adding things to it, so it slowly started getting bigger. Robin Leach was actually the person who told us. We’re friends with him and he used to have that show, you know, about those big homes. [She is nonchalantly referring to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. ] Then other people starting approaching us to sell us things like security systems and they would tell us, too. It turns out it’s the biggest house under one roof that will be resided in. The Biltmore in North Carolina is bigger, but it’s a museum now, not a residence.

Do you have an estimated time of completion for the house? No, it will probably take a few more years. My husband was originally pushing to get it done so we could throw his mother’s 100th birthday party at the house, but then she passed away. So, now there is less of a sense of urgency. Then all this stuff with the economy hit and the banks are in trouble. We’re still doing stuff slowly, but we are also using a lot of our personal money to fund my husband’s business and the Westgate Foundation that provides money for David’s employees who are going through financial hardships. It is really important to us that we help these families who have helped us so much. They have children and we want to take care of them, too. So the home building process has slowed down, but we are still working on it.

What is going in your house that you are most excited about? We are looking forward to all the fireplaces and cozy bedrooms. There are so many different sections, so the home will not feel as large as it is. There will be two movie theaters, one for us and one for the children. Ours will look like the Paris Opera House and will have those private balconies on the second floor. I think my husband is most excited about that room. He just got me Gone With the Wind and the Godfather series. I have never seen those movies. The whole reason I am waiting, is to experience the movies in the new theater. My husband wants me to see them there. I am also pretty excited about the water slide for the kids and the ballroom. I am so looking forward to throwing some amazing parties there.

How many people do you have on staff in your home? We have five nannies right now. They each have their own assignments, with one specifically for the twins. One of the nannies is considered the driver and takes the kids to school, lessons and friends’ houses. We also have a housekeeper. We used to have more, but my husband thought we should cut back because of the bad economy and the layoffs he had to make at his company. He thought we should suffer too. We even have our kids doing chores now. They take out the garbage and stuff like that. We explained that the whole country is going through a hard time right now and they have to pitch in. They understand.

What do the nannies provide that you cannot? For one thing, they provide safety for our children. Living in a big home, with two-year-old twins, it’s difficult. One twin starts running down one hall and the other twin runs down the other. As one person, you don’t know which one to go get. Or sometimes they can even get lost in the house. We have a big pool and we live on a lake. I wouldn’t tolerate it for one minute if they were not being watched and ended up floating in the pool or something. They also provide love. For me, nannies are employees. But for the children—and I talked to a pediatrician about this—they are like extended family.

What is a typical day like in the life of Jacqueline Siegel? Every day is a new day—I have no regular routine. My day usually starts off with three of the four dogs jumping on me. One of the nannies will be cooking breakfast and that will wake the dogs up and they’ll come find me. That’s at around 5:30 a.m. Then I have breakfast with the kids, ride to school with them, exercise and get my husband off to work. And then I usually have a lunch meeting for charity, social obligations, the Mrs. Florida Pageant or TravelHost Orlando Magazine . [She is the producer of the pageant and a partner in J&S Media which publishes the magazine.] But then my day can change. My husband can call and tell me, “Hey, we have to go to Las Vegas this afternoon.” We have our own private plane. In an instant we can take off to go look at a property in Cancun or meet with a banker in New York.

Has having so much money affected the people you choose to surround yourself with? I remember when I had my 20-year high school reunion. One of the friends I reconnected with started emailing me all the time. She wanted me to buy her a new car. I told her that I didn’t earn the money and didn’t have the right to do that. She never called me again. Some people are moochers – others are true friends. I have closed down my huge circle of friends. Now I focus more on my family and have a smaller handful of friends that I enjoy more.

Some people may think it’s easier to raise kids having money. Would you agree with that? Money certainly helps. The kids need clothes and a nice pair of sneakers. [Jackie asks her friend Shari what she thinks.]

Shari: I would say no. Raising kids is difficult no matter what.

Both David and I came from modest beginnings. He was raised in a one-room apartment in Miami Beach. His parents would hang a sheet to separate the room so they could have some privacy. We never forget where we came from and that helps us to not spoil our kids.

Do your kids know that your financial situation is not like everyone else’s? They do know there is a difference. They see it when they go to their friends’ homes. They are not spoiled by any means. I do remember a funny story though. One time, we flew commercial for some reason, and one of the younger kids asked, “Mommy, what are all these strangers doing on our plane?” They are used to traveling on our private jet.

Do you think having money changes the way you must parent your children? It doesn’t for us, because my husband is very careful about how he spends money and doesn’t spoil the kids. We have to shut the lights off every time we leave a room. We drive regular cars and keep them for a long time. The only reason we own a plane, we actually own two, is so that David can run his business efficiently and easily visit his resorts. Before he owned all of the resorts, he could have had a plane, but didn’t. It’s not a luxury for us; it’s more of a necessity. We believe in hand-me-downs for the kids’ clothes. And if you look at our current house—to go through the whole tour it takes about 45 minutes—we use every single inch of it. It’s very lived in.

How do you set rules and boundaries in your household? I’m not a super strict mom. I think I use my husband, like, “If you don’t listen I’m going to tell Dad.” I don’t know if that’s the best way to do it but it seems to work. I put the fear of Dad … or God. [Laughs]

Were there things in your upbringing that you felt necessary to incorporate into your children’s lives? Show the children a lot of love. Give them hugs. Give them praise. Something may not be that important to you, but it’s important to them and you have to acknowledge it. Even if they pick a flower and give it to you and you’re really busy, you have to take the time and say, “Thank you so much.” My twins did that. They picked some flowers and I stuck them in my hair to show it meant something to me. [During the photo shoot, little Debbie Siegel did pick a flower for her mom and you could see Jackie’s face light up.]

You’ve mentioned that you think Central Florida is a great place to raise a family. Where do you and your family spend time outside the home? We ride our bikes down trails and through Isleworth. My kids love having me around. We play kickball. Just last weekend, we went out on a field and had chicken fights and played Ring Around the Rosie. We enjoy the water parks and theme parks: SeaWorld, Universal and Disney. We can see the Disney fireworks from our backyard. We don’t overdo it with the parks, but we go a few times a year to each one. After all, we live where every child in the country dreams about.

Is there ever a time when you take a moment to realize how different your life is from what you imagined as a child? My biggest wish for myself, as a child, was to find love. I remember thinking on our wedding day that I couldn’t believe it took me 30 years to find my true love. David is the man of my dreams. I sat back and took a moment to thank God for that. I do feel like I have to pinch myself sometimes. My life is like a fairytale in so many ways.



Exactly what does it take to be the largest home in America?

90,000 Square Feet
30 Bathrooms
15 Bedrooms
11 Kitchens
6 Pools
2 Movie Theaters
8,000 Square Foot Master Suite
Two-story Front Door (weighing more than a ton)
3.7 Million Dollar Custom Windows
Full-service Health Spa (with massage rooms)
Indoor Roller Skating Rink
Two-lane Bowling Alley
Stadium Tennis Court (seating 200 spectators)
Full-sized Baseball Diamond
Underground Parking for 30 Cars
Wine Cellar (holds more than 20,000 bottles of wine)

Information provided by Joe Bathalter, Project Manager for Versailles
Also posted in Local People | 33 Responses

Anti-Aging Skin Care Regimen


by Dr. Dimitry Palceski of Reflections Dermatology

Psychologists have often said that women like to avoid conflict. Apparently they are unaware of the war that’s been waged against the visible signs of aging. Over the past decade, it has become increasingly clear that women (and some men) are no longer willing to just sit back and let nature run its course. In fact, the question these days isn’t so much whether you’re going to act, but rather how and when.

As you age, your skin’s natural ability to keep itself looking radiant and youthful diminishes. Everything from the platform that the skin sits on to the collagen in your skin begins to decrease and the cumulative effects of sun exposure and other environmental factors are revealed in the form of fine lines and wrinkles, loss of facial volume, and uneven skin tone and texture. In a nutshell, your skin simply begins to lose its luster. Luckily, science has provided us with many powerful weapons designed to combat the unwelcome signs of aging.

As a Dermatologist, I work with patients every day to help them select which weapons will be most effective in their quest to win the battle with the clock. Although there are many highly effective non-surgical cosmetic procedures now available including Botox, fillers and laser treatments, the first line of defense should be a healthy lifestyle and a good skincare regimen.

A good skincare regimen is like food for your skin and can provide a visibly deteriorating complexion with the resources it needs to repair and rejuvenate itself. To get started “stopping the clock” you’ll need to incorporate four key components into your skincare routine 1) cleanse 2) exfoliate 3) hydrate and 4)protect. With this four point system, the use of high quality products, and a commitment to your new regimen, you can begin to turn back the hands of time by encouraging collagen production, neutralizing skin damaging free-radicals, and improving your skin’s overall moisture content and ability to protect itself. The result… simply beautiful skin at any age.

4 Key Components of an Anti-Aging Skin Care Regimen

1. Cleanse
Be sure to cleanse your skin at least twice a day to remove dirt and makeup and to help to keep blemishes at bay.

2. Exfoliate
Exfoliating your skin on a regular basis will help keep your skin looking radiant. Exfoliating is a process that can be accomplished in two ways – mechanically or chemically. Mechanical exfoliation includes micro-dermabrasion or the use of an exfoliating brush such as the Clarisonic. Chemical exfoliation is usually done through the use of chemical peels or by cleansing with products containing alpha or beta-hydroxy acids. Exfoliation works by eliminating the outermost layer of the skin thereby promoting the production of new skin cells.

3. Hydrate
Moisturizing not only hydrates the skin, but locks in your skin’s own natural moisture and helps diminish the appearance of fine lines. When selecting moisturizers, try to pick one with active anti-aging ingredients such as a retiniod or DNA repair for added benefit.

4. Protect
The success of your anti-aging regimen will largely rest on how well you protect your skin from this point forward. The best protection will be a combination that includes both antioxidants and sunscreens. Antioxidants such as vitamins C & E, coffeeberry and other plant extracts have been proven to be highly effective in protecting the skin, repairing damaged cells, and preventing further damage from free-radicals. Unfortunately, antioxidants can not protect your skin alone. They need the assistance of sunscreens that provide broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays with a sun-protection-factor (SPF) of at least 15.

Also posted in Healthy Living | Tagged , , | 1 Response

Tricks For Parents of Picky Eaters

Wholesome Tummies Anyone who has ever used the expression “parenting isn’t easy” probably had a child who was a picky eater.

As the owner of Wholesome Tummies a local kids’ lunch catering business, I get parents calling, e-mailing and stopping me on the street to tell me that THEIR child is the pickiest eater in the world. It’s a common problem, more common than one might think.

In our business, we serve hundreds of kids each day, many of whom are picky eaters. We are not dieticians, but our experience has taught us a few tricks, which might help.

  • If you do not want your child to eat a particular food (i.e. Chicken Fingers or Hot Dogs), stop buying it. “What!? But what will my child eat?” Perhaps nothing and that is Okay. Your child will not starve. By continuing to buy the foods that are unhealthy, you are allowing the behavior to continue. You are the CEO of your kitchen and you can decide what comes in and out of it.
  • Offer it, but don’t force it. Keep putting the green beans on his plate. Just the exposure to it is important. If you throw in the towel and give up, he learns that it is ok to not have vegetables in his diet. One day, he might surprise you and try a bite.
  • Limit snacks. Let their tummies get a little empty and hungry before a meal. Then do what my business partner does with her kids (genius), give them appetizers. Put out a plate of carrots and yummy ranch dressing for them to dip. How about some celery with PB and raisins to start with? The combination of hunger and available snacks might entice them to give it a try.
  • Do not be a short order cook.  Your child should eat what you are eating for dinner, when you are eating dinner. Family dinners are key. Kids that eat as a family are far more likely to try new foods than those kids that are isolated from the family unit.
  • Be a good example. It goes without saying that if you are eating burgers, fries and a Coke, how can you expect your child to eat healthily? Practicing what you preach goes a long way.
  • Make mealtime a relaxed and fun time for your picky eater. Forcing, bribing and pleading will only create more stress and a power struggle. Try putting healthy foods in a positive light. Try not to label foods as “good” and “bad.”
  • Exposure, Exposure, Exposure. It can take 10-15 times for a child to finally try something new. Don’t give up hope! Keep making those healthy meals and one day, your child might just surprise you.
  • If all else fails, take a tip from recent bestseller cookbooks and “sneak” those veggies in. Pureed veggies are practically unnoticeable in soups, casseroles, spaghetti sauces and even desserts.

Implementing these ideas takes patience. Fussy eaters will not be turned around over night, but in time with some hard work and creativity, your child can learn to like and even love more healthful foods.

Also posted in Healthy Living | Tagged , , | 7 Responses

5 Steps To Sell Your Home

Save-up & Fix-up! Don’t just sit there waiting for change – make it happen. If you are even just thinking about selling next week or even next year, start now! Set your goals and do your “vision board” (whatever it takes), but follow it up with some serious action today!

Written by Jamie Sharon

#1 Get an idea of what your home would actually sell for (not what you hope it will sell for) and stick to the facts, not your emotions. Look at what homes close to the same square footage and within a mile radius to your home have sold for. You should use numbers from the last 60 days. Visit my website to find the numbers you need or email me ( and I will prepare you a detailed Market Analysis, for FREE.

#2 Get an idea of what you can afford and what you can get approved for. There is a difference. Your lender may approve you for FAR more than you can actually afford. The lender does not know that you spend too many weekends at the Ritz, pay a nanny large sums of cash and have a huge sushi and Amy Smith addiction (maybe that’s just me). Not to mention the money you’ll need to furnish and accessorize your new home. Only you can be honest about what you spend and how you live (and what you are ready to live without).

#3 The loan process is going to be a lot more detailed this time around, and most people will be required to put down much more than they have in the past. Cash is going to be king. Some of you are going to need it, not only for a down payment but also to pay off your current loan. The better your credit score, the better your rate, so fix that up anyway you can. This is a great article and resource I found on Read it, print it and use it!

#4 On the home front, start TODAY to enrich the appearance of your home. Time to paint over the crayon on the wall, organize the closets, de-clutter (this means toys, too); you know the list that is just getting longer. If you still have a backsplash that looks like a 1980s shower, it needs to go. Don’t over-invest and buy products you want in your “forever” house. Re-do with cost effective, neutral and updated materials. There are plenty out there. Don’t underestimate what you can do on your own without the help of pricey subcontractors.

#5 Curb appeal IS important. Don’t be fooled, this IS a beauty contest. You don’t want people to drive by … you want them to slow down, gawk and hope to see the inside. You will get so much more bang-for-your-buck if you plant landscaping the first week of March and get some serious growing months in, as opposed to any other time of the year. Send the kids to Grandma’s for the weekend and get busy. Your forever home is waiting for you.

Also posted in Home | Tagged | 1 Response

Get Your "Move" On

Get Your "Move" On Many of us bought homes in the past five years (yes, by us I mean me too) that we had no intention of staying in forever. With a growing family, your house is no longer a “home,” but instead has become a holding station until you can afford your “forever” house.  In this market, this five-year home might actually COST you money to sell but your “forever” home is such a great deal now. What to do?

Sell Now! What you have to gain is so much more than what you have to lose. If you are waiting for the market to recover enough for you to make more money you could be losing money in the long run. Let’s say in two years your $200,000 home finally appreciates 15% ($30,000) then, in turn, your $450,000 “forever” home appreciates 15% ($67,500). So, you are waiting to make $30,000 so you can spend $67,500. (Remember taxes, closing costs and rates will go up as well.)

The current low prices combined with today’s low rates are where you will really see the long-term savings. So, if you are looking to sell in the near future … The time is now! For more specifics, my friend and colleague (as well as one of the mortgage good guys) Fred Guitton, Sales Manager for National City Mortgage, breaks down the info in more detail on my website:

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(Not Your) Typical Momma

Written by SuZ Besecker

PLAYGROUND introduces SuZ Besecker, a local mommy blogger.

Not Your Typical Mommy I do not know it all. I am not a star parent or a model parent, but I am a parent. Better yet, I’m a mommy. I’m the oddball in the playgroup. I still breastfeed my 19-month-old, spoil her endlessly and co-sleep with her. Judge me if you want, I love my daughter too much to care.

Dear Boobs,

I know it’s been awhile since we’ve spoken. You truly have been busy. But I simply must tell you how much I miss you … how much I miss the old yous. I miss how small and pert you used to be. I miss how graceful and perfectly proportioned you once were. I miss how I could once go without a bra. Now, I dare not attempt it since you tend to leak and sag in the worst way.

Not Your Typical Mommy Now you’re nothing but milk jugs to a hungry child who insists you belong to her. 🙁

Will you ever return to your former glory? Will we ever again have braless days in thin, trendy tank tops? Will we ever go back to one sports bra, instead of two? Sadly, unless you meet a fabulous surgeon with skilled, steady hands, I doubt it. I do not think you will ever again be even a mere shadow of your former selves. No offense.

Maybe all of this is payback because I took you for granted in my youth. Perhaps in my glory days, I wasn’t as respectful of you as I should have been. If so, will you accept my apology and allow the girls to point dead center again? If I apologize and promise never to jog without added support, will you guarantee to stop your descent towards my stomach?

I really do love you for all the hard work you’ve done and the overtime you’ve put in. I know I told you it would only be for a year, but I appreciate your handling the unexpected delay like the dignified ladies you are. I swear up and down, that two years will be your maximum output. I promise that we will try everything to perk up your outlook on life. Hey, at least you’re two sizes bigger than you used to be! That’s good, isn’t it? My husband is always staring longingly at you; he loves your new look, he really does. He is looking forward to the day when you are not so exhausted and can hang out with him again.

Until then, thanks for everything!   ~ SuZ

An excerpt from SuZ’s blog:

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