Last Minute Family Day Trips For the Dog Days of Summer

By Ilene Miller

My two boys, age 10 and 13, love to spend summer “chillaxing” and getting away from the grind of the school year. But typically, by the end of July, we are all burned out on the pool and looking for some family fun in the sun that doesn’t involve a three hour car ride to the beach or the lakes.

Luckily for us, metro DC has an abundance of activities that make for great family day trips. But no matter what age your kids are—and no matter what city you live in—zoos and other places that house animals are a surefire hit. If you live in DC, check out the Leesburg Animal Park in Northern Virginia. My son Max has taken selfies with a goat, a chicken, and a donkey and hopes to cover all farm animals by summer’s end.

The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve & Zoo in Thurmont, MD offers unique animal encounters where you can touch an exotic animal and learn all about it through their terrific education program. To make a day of it, we like to visit the Cunningham Falls for a short hike and picnic. And of course, in the middle of the nation’s capital we have the star gem of the Smithsonian in the National Zoo. Admission is free and you can literally spend an entire day exploring all of the exhibits!  Once you’re tuckered out, be sure to stop by Baked by Yael’s Cake Pops, a newly-opened, woman-founded cake poppery right across the street and tell her Urban Family and Activity Rocket sent you!

New Yorkers can make the drive (or take a scenic Hudson River train ride) to the Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills. A center for food and agriculture that’s built on part of the old Rockefeller estate, its 80 rolling acres of wood- and farmland are idyllic for families, even if you’ve got your dog in tow (Fido must be kept leashed at all times, though). You can sign up to collect eggs from the farm’s chickens, visit the pigs, the sheep, and the greenhouse, or just stroll around and take in a breath of fresh air. For lunch, sandwiches, salads and baked good made with the products from the farm are available in the Blue Hill Café. Or, if you feel like getting fancy, make a dinner reservation at Chef Dan Barber’s award-winning Blue Hill restaurant (you’ll also have to tote some snazzy duds—no shorts allowed in the dining room!).

In Chicago’s Brookfield suburb, the Chicago Zoological Park has been a Mecca for families for over 80 years. Built on 216 acres, and housing about 450 species of animals, this is an easy place to wile away the day. If you live in the LA area, the Santa Barbara Zoo is just 90 miles north of the city and is considered one of the most beautiful zoos in the world. Where else can you see more than 500 animals while overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and Santa Ynez Mountains? It’s right by the beach so it’s typically chilly—a bonus on a hot summer day. Not to miss: feeding the giraffes and riding the train, which goes all around the zoo.

When it’s downright boiling outside, we head for some water-bound relief. Harper’s Ferry is another short drive from downtown DC, and a great place to go whitewater rafting or tubing. Last summer, we had a blast leisurely tubing down the river and exploring the riverbeds, and the kids got a huge kick out of the floating cooler and waterproof camera.  In the District, at Key Bridge Boathouse, you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes. Afterwards, it’s fun to walk around Georgetown or people watch on the waterfront. We also love to rent sailboats at the Washington Sailing Marina and classes are available for kids, adults, and even families.

Across the country, on the San Diego Coast, San Elijo State Beach provides all the thrills of camping and a day at the beach, rolled into one easy-to-reach location. By day, families can build sand castles and play in the reef-protected waters. When the sun goes down, build a bonfire, roast marshmallows, and teach your kids some camp songs. If you need a break from nature, Wan Pizza has delicious pizzas and the waiters bring kids dough instead of crayons to play with while you wait for your food. If you’re looking for watery adventure from Los Angeles, try a kayaking daytrip with LA River Kayak Safari, led by local guides and featuring wildlife galore.

Both San Franciscans and Angelenos can take a family road trip on Highway 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco to piddle around the tidal pools at Montaña de Oro State Park, and watch the gray whales migrate north from lookouts along the steep cliffs of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

This summer, my family adventure bucket list includes Trapeze School New York in Washington and the zip line at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring. I have done both with my girlfriends but have not experienced them with my sons and husband yet. I can’t wait to settle once and for all who is our family’s biggest daredevil! Adventure parks are hot right now and you’ll have no trouble locating one within striking distance of your own city.

My kids would shoot me if I didn’t mention amusement parks. We try to end every summer with a trip to one that’s nearby. We are a huge rollercoaster family and dare each other to sit in the front seat, not hold on, keep our eyes open.  It’s a great way to celebrate the end of summer and for us, it’s a short drive to Kings DominionHershey ParkDutch Wonderland, and Idlewild from the metro DC area.

New Yorkers with little kids in tow will find rides for tots at the world-famous Luna Park at Brooklyn’s Coney Island; and north of the city, in Westchester, historic Rye Playland on the Long Island Sound has something for all ages—including Kiddyland, with rides galore for the just-walking set. Knott’s Berry Farm is a great destination for families in SoCal looking for an alternative to Disney.

So, rather than sit at home in the air conditioning as the summer starts to feel like it’s overstayed its welcome, hop in the car and drive off to a little adventure!

Ilene Miller is co-founder of Activity Rocket in metro DC. 

Crafty Kids: Floating Container Ship

By Chris Barnardo

A super quick and easy model to put together, this floating container ship is made from a couple of old dishwasher or washing machine liquid bottles, along with a few other bits and pieces. There’s plenty of fun to be had both making and playing with it—kids love naming their ship, writing its name on it in permanent marker, and then sailing it across the great Bath (or Swimming Pool) Ocean.

What you’ll need:

  • Glue gun
  • Marker
  • Craft knife
  • Large dishwasher soap bottle
  • Small dishwasher soap bottle
  • Piece of cardboard
  • A few small stones
  • Shower gel bottle
  • Milk carton cap
  • Liquid detergent bottle cap
  • Yogurt cup base

1.     To make a floating ship, you’ll need a plastic bottle for the hull, and another, smaller bottle for the cabin. Mark lines around the bottles following the diagram above, using a permanent marker. Use your craft knife to cut.

2.     Place the hull part upside down on a piece of thick cardboard and draw around it with a marker.

3.     Cut out the deck slightly inside the line so that the cardboard will just fit inside the hull.

4.     Cut some small supports out of cardboard, at the right height to allow the deck to be slightly recessed. Glue these to the underside of the deck. Glue around the edge of the deck and slide in. Glue the milk bottle top into the detergent bottle opening. To prevent your ship from being top heavy, glue a few small stones inside the hull before you glue the deck into position.

5.     With deck in place, glue around its seams to make sure it’s waterproof.

6.     Glue the cabin upside down to the deck, then glue the yogurt cup end to the deck.

7.     Cut the end off a shower gel pack and glue to the front of the cabin to make the bridge. Glue a detergent bottle top to the top of the bridge to make a funnel.

8.     Decorate with marker, then get ready to launch your ship!

Excerpted from Made with Dad by Chris Barnardo, (c) 2015 Skyhorse Publishing.

Crafty Kids: Nifty Back-To-School Projects– with Tape!

Duct tape crafts have been hot for the past couple of years because a) they’re easy to put together and b) pretty much every child loves tape! You can help boost the excitement for back-to-school in your kids and tweens with these two fun (and useful) crafts from our friends at Duck Brand Tape.

Chalk Circle Calendar

You will need:

  • Cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Duck brand chalkboard tap
  • Duck tape

1. Make a 1-1/2-inch template for your day-of-the-week circles out of cardstock, then trace the template on the back of the chalkboard tape, 42 times, at cut each circle out.

2. Trace letters for the days of the week on the back of the Duck tape, then cut out and stick one of each to 7 of the circles.

3. Now, piece by piece, stick your calendar to your wall, inside your closet, wherever it’s handy!

Desk Organizer

You will need:

  • 12 empty Duck tape rolls
  • Duck tape
  • Scissors

1. Tape 2 empty Duck tape rolls together to get a double-long tube. Fold over any excess tape. Then, cover the inside of the roll with Duck tape, too. Repeat 5 times.

2. Using thin strips of Duck tape, attach the tubes to make a pyramid shape. Now you’re ready to load your organizer up with all your pens and pencils for the school year!

Crafty Kids: Straw Rockets

This sweet, summer-celebratory craft from our friends at Kiwi Crate is great fun when you’re wrangling a whole group of neighborhood kids who could use a little (but not a lot!) of structured activity. It’s super quick and easy to pull together, and gets (and keeps) the whole gang outside.

What you’ll need:

  • Several pieces of origami paper, or any other square-shaped paper
  • Straws (fat ones from bubble tea stores work best)
  • Tape (used here: long pieces of metallic tape to seal the side, as well as shorter tape squares to close the top)
  • Curling ribbon (optional)

1. With the “nice” side of the paper facing up, place a long strip of tape, sticky side down, along one edge of the paper.  Half the tape should hang over the edge of the paper.

2. Flip the paper over. Starting opposite the tape, roll the paper loosely around the straw.  Seal with tape to make a tube.

3. Fold one end of the tube over and tape it closed. Make sure the tube is completely sealed so no air can get out.

4. If you’d like, decorate your rocket by taping on pieces of ribbon.

5. Blow into the straw to launch your rocket. Blast off!

New Grill Classics the Whole Family will Devour

By David Guas

Just in time for summer come these grilled treats from David Guas, host of Travel Channel’s “American Grilled.” Whether your lighting the coals to feed a whole crowd, or keeping it a low-key family affair, these two mouthwatering recipes will have everyone clamoring for seconds—and thirds!

Grilled Smoked Bologna with Yellow Mustard Slaw
Serves 8

I grew up just a few blocks from the Bunny Bread factory in New Orleans. The irresistible smells of freshly baked bread filled the neighborhood, taunting me because white bread was strictly forbidden in my house. My bologna sandwiches—which I frequently traded at school lunch—were stacked on slices of fiber-rich whole wheat. Now, I get to make my own rules, and sometimes I just want grilled bologna on extra-thick white bread.

1 head green cabbage, quartered
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. yellow mustard
½ tsp. celery seeds
¼ tsp. ground red pepper
½ cup grated Vidalia onion
8 (½-inch-thick) slices bologna
Wood chips
16 slices Texas toast
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted

1. Light 1 side of charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to 350° to 400° (medium-high); leave other side unlit. Drizzle cabbage with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place cabbage, cut sides down, on cooking grate; grill, turning occasionally, 7 minutes or until grill marks appear on all cut edges. Using a serrated knife, thinly slice the cabbage.

2. Combine mayonnaise, mustard, celery seeds, and red pepper in a large bowl, and mix until smooth. Add onion, and blend well; add sliced cabbage, and blend until thoroughly coated with dressing. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper; refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Place bologna slices on cooking grate on lit side of grill, and grill 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until grill marks appear. Sprinkle wood chips over lit charcoal. Move bologna slices to unlit side of grill; cover with grill lid, and smoke for 10 minutes.

4. Brush 1 side of each slice of bread with melted butter, and place on cooking grate on lit side of grill; grill 45 seconds to 1 minute or until grill marks appear. Remove from grill (do not toast other side). Place 1 bologna slice on untoasted side of each of 8 bread slices; top each with ½ cup slaw and another bread slice, toasted side up.

South-of-the-Border Barbecue Chicken

It’s a Mexican fiesta in your mouth! This easy grilled chicken recipe is a crowd-pleaser you’ll turn to again and again. Serve zesty Southwestern-flavored chicken over a bed of Mexican rice, or slice it to use in soft tacos.
Serves 4

1½ cups fresh lime juice
1 cup olive oil
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. seasoned salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. ancho chile powder (optional)
8 garlic cloves, minced
4 skinned and boned chicken breasts (about 2 lb.)

1. Whisk together first 7 ingredients in a small bowl; reserve 1 cup marinade for basting, and chill. Place remaining marinade in a large shallow dish or zip-top plastic freezer bag; add chicken, turning to coat. Cover or seal, and chill 24 hours, turning once.

2. Light charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to 300° to 350° (medium). Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Grill chicken, covered with grill lid, 12 to 13 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 165°, basting frequently with reserved 1 cup marinade.

Excerpted from Grill Nation: 200 Surefire Recipes, Tips, and Techniques to Grill Like a Pro. Copyright © 2015 Time Inc. Books. Reprinted with permission from Oxmoor House, an imprint of Time Inc. Books. All Rights Reserved.

6 Must-Pack Must-Haves for Your Sleepaway Camper

By Julie Cole

If you’re sending your kids to sleepaway camp this summer, you’ve probably already received the standard camp packing list. But there are a few other essentials that probably didn’t make it onto that list, that newby campers especially will be thrilled to have on hand.

1. Glow Bracelets. These are a great solution for campers who are afraid of the dark—and that can include tweens as well as younger children. Once it’s “lights out” in the bunk, some kids may be left a bit afraid. Send them off with a pack of 50 (just to be on the safe side! And also to provide enough to share). They’re bright enough to give comfort, without being so bright that they’ll bother light-sensitive bunkmates.

2. Spare sleeping bag. Do you have a bed wetter? Camps can actually set up an arrangement that will ensure your child’s privacy around this issue—if you give them some advance warning. Send your child off with two identical sleeping bags, one of which will be kept in the camp office. Each morning when campers head off for breakfast, a staff member can inspect the sleeping bag that’s on your child’s bed. If there’s been an accident, he can replace the wet bag with the dry one. It’s a simple and respectful solution to a potentially embarrassing issue.

3. A notebook. Pack a special notebook that your camper can use at the end of the summer, for jotting down the contact details for new camp friends, and for collecting autographs and messages. This makes a tangible souvenir that your child will enjoy using and reminiscing over for years to come.

4. Spare glasses and/or contact lenses. Yes, these things have a tendency to get lost or misplaced for prolonged periods, and since camps can’t rush your kid out to the nearest optometrist for replacements, spares are the obvious solution. Also be sure to get your kid’s eyes checked before she leaves for camp, so she can enjoy her time away with the clearest possible vision.

5. A headlamp. If you have a kid who likes to read in bed, a headlamp beats any old flashlight by providing hands-free light for your little page-turner. It’s easier to focus on the words on the page if she’s not trying to hold a flashlight at the same time. And it’s a whole lot cooler than your average book light. Spelunking, anyone?

6. Odds and Sods. Don’t forget the bits and pieces that kids think they won’t need at camp—until they get there: nail clippers, safety pins, sticky tape, craft supplies, and a deck of cards. These will come in handy more often than you know!

Julie Cole is a co-founding Mom entrepreneur of Mabel’s Labels Inc. and the mother of six.

Summertime Siblings: What’ll It Take to Stop the Bickering?

by Lela Nargi

You’ve spent the better part of the school year taking deep, cleansing breaths as your kids nagged and picked at each other. You sipped (or guzzled) wine in a search for calm as they battled for supremacy over who would get the coveted first shower after soccer practice. You intervened gently—and sometimes not so gently—as they attempted to strangle each other on the living room floor. And now summer is almost upon you: two months in which you hope against hope for peace and quiet and tolerance. Can it be done? Do you dare to dream? And what’s it going to take to get there?

The answer might very well be signing your kids up for separate camp activities—even if it means extra time and effort on your part to shuttle them around. “In an ideal world,” says Kimberly Lemke, a Chicago-based licensed clinical psychologist specializing in children and adolescents and author of I Just Don’t Get My Parents’ Rules, “you’ll put them onto a summer sports team together and they’ll become the best of friends. In reality, that’s not how it goes. First and foremost, you need to ask yourself what each child needs.”

Siblings fight for all kinds of reasons, a big one of which is to assert their individuality. For example, says Lemke, “You might have one child who has self-esteem issues, who compares herself to her sibling and says, ‘She’s always better, I’m going to fail.’” This, she maintains, is a perfect example of when siblings might benefit from time spent apart. “It limits comparisons,” she says, and as a result, conflict. Which in turn leads to less stress for you.

Separating kids in the summertime can lead to enhanced self-esteem in more ways than one. Lemke, who is mother to 4-1/2 year old twins who are always together in school and afterschool classes—and actually like it that way—concedes that sometimes, it’s better to push kids to do things away from each other. “It can be uncomfortable for them to be separated, but a little anxiety is good,” she says. “It lets them practice social skills rather than parenting each other.” But she also warns that separating kids who really want to be together can lead to a power struggle, between them and you.

In this instance, it’s important to let children know the situation is temporary—one month spent apart doing separate activities they’re each good at or have expressed interest in, one month together. “This is a more manageable strategy than just forcing them to do things without each other,” says Lemke. “Tell them, ‘I think it’s wonderful for you to want to share your time with your brother. And I also think this art class looks really cool. Let’s give it a shot, then we can go back to doing something together.’”

Got kids who squabble but don’t have the time or energy to split them up? It’s not always necessary. Some scuffling siblings know inherently what they like and are good at and fight, not for validation, but to get your attention, for example. Remove you from the equation and the squabbling becomes a non-issue, which means kids like these can benefit from being signed up for the same activity—and you score a carefree, one drop-off suits all scenario. Says Lemke, “Individual players know how to engage on their own, and how to enjoy activities on their own. So when you sign them up together,” they’re perfectly comfortable going off to their separate corners to read or talk to other kids. When group activities force them together, without you around they can learn to problem-solve their own conflicts, and this “actually helps to build their relationship,” says Lemke.

Don’t expect the miracle of temporary sibling detente to seep into the pre- and post-camp hours, though; as soon as you and your partner are back in the picture, conflicts are likely to rear up all over again. To counteract this, Los Angeles mom Abbie Schiller, founder of the parenting site The Mother Company, which produces The Siblings Show, recommends attempting to minimize power struggles before they even get off the ground. And to figure out what role you might be unconsciously playing that keeps them going. “One of the things our generation was told was that our parents loved us the same,” Schiller says. “That’s a mixed message. Children are inherently different and when you tell them you love them the same, you set them up to constantly try to catch their parent in an inequity: ‘You gave him two hugs!’ But if you set it up that you love them differently, they stop looking for a-tit-for-a-tat; you eliminate competition.”

Lemke says you can downplay siblings’ inherent competitiveness by getting them to work together to reach a common objective. Each time you see them engage appropriately in a shared activity, reward them with something like a marble. After they’ve accumulated 20 marbles, the whole family gets to go out for a special dinner, or a trip to a water park. “Having a goal helps you direct their behavior, rather than just crossing your fingers they’ll act appropriately,” says Lemke. “But I tell parents, for this to be successful, they’re going to have to be very creative and catch the small behaviors. If your kids are walking through the door screaming at each other but one holds the door for the other, and the other one walks through calmly, ignore for a moment the bickering and say, ‘That was really kind of you to hold the door for your brother like that, and great job walking through the door without shoving.’ Once you start rewarding them both, they realize they can get attention that way, and they have a common mission.”

Much as you might all desire it, working parents don’t always have the luxury of taking time off in the summer months. But this doesn’t mean quality family time is out of the question. Says Schiller, after a day of work and camp, “You can combat the attention needs of your kids by giving them special time as often as possible.” Adds Lemke, five minutes of concerted, present time without you checking your phone for messages, is preferable to 20 minutes of distracted time. Let your child decide how to use your minutes together—snuggling, reading a book, doing a puzzle; then do the same for your other children. Says Schiller, “This makes them feel secure and lets them know you have enough love in your heart to go around.”

Lemke asserts, those concentrated minutes of together time will really add up: to a summer in which each child is reinforced, and reassured, and successful—positive feelings that will hopefully see you well past Labor Day, into autumn and beyond.

Photograph via Creative Commons

Keeping the Nursery Cool in Summer

photo via creative commons


Even new parents quickly realize that an uncomfortable baby is an unhappy baby. When homes start to heat up in summer, letting young children run around in nothing more than a diaper can keep them comfortable during the day. But nighttime and nap-time coolness requires making a few adjustments to the nursery, to ensure that baby sleeps well.

For starters, block direct sunlight from streaming into the room. This is particularly important if the nursery is on the west side of your home, or otherwise receives direct sunlight for the majority of the day. Hang black out curtains, which will reduce heat transfer from windows.

Another way to reduce the amount of heat coming through is to install specialty sunscreens on the exterior of the nursery windows. This type of screen can block up to 95 percent of sunlight, and can be easily removed and stored when winter comes.

Maximizing airflow is also a must. And while cribs filled with teddy bears, blankets, and crib bumpers might look cute and cozy, all that extra fluff blocks airflow (it can also be a suffocation risk). Instead, choose a crib guard that leaves space for air to move freely into the crib through the rails. And swap out blankets for a lightweight swaddler or sleep sack. Put everything else away.

Also remember that during the summer months, ceiling fans should be set to rotate counter-clockwise. This pushes air straight down to cool the room, rather than pulling it up, to warm it. The hotter it gets, the higher the speed of your fan should be.

Clogged and dirty air ducts can reduce the flow of A/C into the nursery, especially if the room is far from the central unit. Hire a pro at an HVAC company, who can measure airflow coming from vents in the nursery and help determine if a duct cleaning is needed, or if the A/C unit needs servicing.

For more nursery tips, visit Go Mama Go.

What Happened To The Stars?


By Justin and Le-Anne Noble

Have you seen the greatest show on earth? It boggles the mind and will leave you in awe. You won’t see this show in any theater, on any TV, or in any arena. It’s a show that has taken billions of years to produce. It will send you through time, and take your imagination to amazing heights. It’s a show that is free to us all, yet most of us don’t take the time to tune in. It’s a huge part of us, and yet we neglect it more and more every passing day. This amazing show is the night sky, and it’s more important to you and your child’s health than you think.

Every clear night, not too long after the sun sets, we are all offered front row seats to the wondrous spectacle that is our universe. Humankind has tuned in to this show for as long as we have existed. It’s been the source of legends and myths. It has inspired some of the most breathtaking works of art ever created. It was an instrumental tool in helping us navigate the seas and explore our own planet. It was the subject of our earliest forms of science and philosophy. It has been the launching pad of dreams. And it continues to provide perspective on humanity and our place in the universe.

So, why don’t we look up at the night sky anymore? What happened to the stars? There are a few reasons. First, we are so distracted by TV shows, movies, video games, sports, and other kinds of man-made entertainment that we rarely take the time to go outside and look up. We are so bombarded by fast-paced special effects and 10-second trending video clips that something like the night sky seems boring. Second, light pollution. We simply can’t see the stars, even if we do take the time to look up. In many large cities, you can only see about a dozen stars in the sky due to the pollution created by the city lights. Two-thirds of the global population suffers from light pollution. Third, we live in a bubble: the “me” bubble. If I don’t get Johnny to soccer practice, do the laundry, make dinner, get to work on time, pay this bill, then my bubble could burst. We are so wrapped up in our own little universes that we forget to look up at the actual universe.

How does all of this affect your child’s health? Light pollution does more damage than you think. Naturally, at night, we should see pitch darkness highlighted by the dim light of the moon and stars. Instead, most of us are surrounded by bright electric lights the minute the sun sets. Studies show that nighttime light can disrupt circadian rhythms, which can be a contributing factor to depression, insomnia, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

A more direct health concern associated with not seeing the stars is the unnecessary stress that comes from a lack of perspective. When you look up at the stars you realize how insignificant some of the things that we stress out about actually are. Billions of stars separated by billions of miles. This vast expanse and I exist in a tiny corner of an even more expansive universe. So, maybe the F on my history test or the strikeout in my championship baseball game isn’t that big of a deal. Do not underestimate the power of stress. It can have as large an impact on health as diet and exercise.

Negative stress is a major contributing factor to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure and can lead to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, sleep problems, and weight gain, as well as memory and concentration impairment. Reducing these unnecessary stressors from your child’s life now will have a huge impact on their overall health later in life. An easy way to reduce some stress is to expose your child to things such as nature and the stars.

A fun way to get the family out there and excited about the sky is to make a night of it! On the next clear night, turn off the TV, the video games, and your mobile devices. If you live away from city light, turn off all the lights in your house and go out in your yard. If you live in the city, pile into the car, and drive an hour or so out into the country. Lie down a blanket and tune in.

At first, simply lie there and take it all in. Then, if you’d like, start exploring together. Locate Orion’s Belt in the sky, and tell your child the story behind the Orion constellation. In Greek mythology, Orion was the greatest hunter in the world, but his ego led him to boast that he could best any wild animal—only to have a single sting from a tiny scorpion kill him. This might lead you to search for the Scorpius (Scorpio) constellation together. You can search for other constellations, or create your own constellations and make up your own stories. As you gaze at the stars, sharing stories and creating your own myths, you and your child will join the great philosophers, storytellers, dreamers, artists, scientists, and earliest humans who came before you.

Seeing the stars in the sky allows you to better understand your place in the universe and this place we call home. Earth is just one planet in the Milky Way. There are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and there are 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. That’s hundreds of billions. To put it in perspective, there are roughly 7 billion people on earth. Looking up at the stars reminds us that we are on this tiny rock floating in space, with all these other people, and we’re all doing the best we can. No matter how bad things may get, you are not alone. You are among the stars.

So, what happened to the stars? They’re there—waiting for you to see them.

Justin Noble is a certified nutrition coach, children’s book author, and long time lover of children’s stories. Le-Anne Noble has a BA in creative writing and a BA in theatre performance from Western Michigan University. For more information visit them at MyBodyVillage.

Photograph by Guillaume, via

How to Have Actual Fun on the Family Road Trip

Cars stuck in traffic

By Meghan Khaitan,

Pretty much every family takes a road trip by car with their kids during the  holidays. And whether those kids are toddlers or teens, the actual trip itself  can be a wonderful bonding and learning experience for the entire family.  With a little forethought and preparation, you can sidestep the dreaded travel  fiascos and keep everyone content through through those stretches of  highway!

1. Make it a Fun History Lesson. Build some excitement around your trip by getting together as a family a  couple of weeks beforehand to plan your road trip path with an old-school paper map. Talk to kids about  the different cities and states you’ll be driving through. Then jump online together and do a little research  on a few that look interesting. Learn about their history and pick some prime sightseeing destinations.  This opens your trip into a journey of exploration—all the more inspiring if you give kids a disposable  camera they can later use to make a trip scrapbook.

2. Expect the Unexpected. Keeping a first-aid kit and tools for a flat tire in your car is a no-brainer, but also be sure to bring along items like a flashlight, garbage bags, paper towels, big pack of wet wipes, and cell phone car charger. If you have young children that are new to potty training, it’s a smart idea to also pack a portable plastic potty in case your little one can’t wait for the next rest stop. Kids also tend to rest better with a few items from home, like a stuffed animal and blanket. You can also pick up an inexpensive travel pillow to make car-sleeping more comfortable.

3. Pack Healthy Snacks & Drinks. Truck stops, gas stations and fast food joints are okay in a pinch, but if you bring a cooler filled with your own healthy foods, you will save time and money on the road. Think granola bars, sandwiches, fruit and nuts, yogurt tubes, pretzels, cheese and crackers, baby carrots, packs of sliced apples, cereal bars, and any of the (non-sticky) foods your family usually likes to nosh on.

4. Create a Road Trip Adventure. Instead of just looking at the trip in terms of its end destination, make the whole trip an adventure. This will give the kids something to look forward to and break up the travel time. Take a family selfie in each city or state in front of a sign with its name or something it’s famous for. Also look for rest stops with playgrounds where kids that can burn off some pent-up energy.

5. Make Each Child a Travel Activity Kit. To help pass the time, buy inexpensive totes and pack them with things like new crayons, coloring books, story books, white boards, magnetic travel and card games, and other small games or toys, like Matchbox Cars and small dolls. Anything that’s inexpensive and new to your kids is sure to please—both of you.

6. Check Out At Your Local Library. Before you embark,  head to your local library and check out DVDs, books on CD, and chapter book collections for your older reader. They’re free! You’ll have new movies to watch that your kids haven’t seen yet, and when quiet time becomes mandatory for saving your sanity, put in a book on CD for the entire family to enjoy.

7. Don’t Forget the Electronics. If ever there was a perfect time to bust out the electronics, the  car trip is it. Load up iPads and Kindles with new apps, books, and movies, making sure you put different apps on each child’s device so they can swap with for more options. And whatever you do, don’t forget the headphones! A few of my family-favorite apps: Waze (the superhero of navigation apps for parents), RoadsideAmerica (find the weird and wonderful across the U.S.), (the Netflix of audio books), MadLibs (old school road trip fun meets the digital age), and VisitedStates (kids can mark the states they’ve been to and upload photos they’ve taken).

8. Pack Classic Travel Games. Electronic games are fun, but don’t forget about the old school travel games to help fight boredom on the road: I Spy, 20 Questions, The Alphabet Game (work together as a family to find things along the road that start with each letter of the alphabet), Who Am I? (take turns trying to guess the famous person in history or pop culture), and the good old License Plate Game.

9. Pick Mile Marker Treats. If you’re okay with a little bribery, plot a few places on the map for the kids to get special surprise treats. Among other things, this will encourage them to learn to read a map. The treat can be something small, like sweets or a little something they can play with in the car. The only requirement to earning them is that kids be kind, get along with each other, and be patient for the trip. You might be handing out fewer of these than you’d feared!

10. Consider an Overnight Stay. If the trip is long enough, consider an overnight stay halfway through at an affordable hotel with a pool. If you book the stay right before you leave or on the way, you’ll find the best deals.

Photograph by Nabeel Syed, via Unsplash