Category Archives: Holidays

Apple TV: bringing families together

So you might know that I’m not a big TV watcher. You might also know that I’m not keen on my kids spending too much time in front of the TV. You’ve probably read somewhere on this blog that I canceled my family’s cable last May and signed up for Netflix as a compromise. You’re probably then also aware that we canceled Netflix before the trial period was over because we never used it.

You may then be wondering why I’m now writing about how TV can bring families together.

Here’s something you won’t hear me admit very often: I like watching TV. (I really do.)

(I try hard to make this not true, but the reality of a busy life sometimes demands mental downtime. And watching a good sitcom is like medicine for my brain.)

I also feel that, now that smartphones and tablets and computers are the new digital bad guys, liking TV is no longer such a terrible thing. There’s something worse out there.

Despite cancelling Netflix, we did not reactivate our cable. We were doing fine without it. Then we got an Apple TV from Staples.

Apple TV

We signed up for Netflix again to get a more complete experience from our Apple TV since we don’t have iPhones or an iPad and can’t do all the fancy syncing with those devices.

But there are plenty of other things to do on Apple TV, like:

  • Rent from the largest selection of HD movies, buy commercial-free HD TV shows, browse and play YouTube and Vimeo videos, access online Flickr photos, watch HD podcasts, and listen to Internet radio
  • Watch live and archived MLB and NHL games in HD ← Hubby’s pastime
  • iTunes Match subscription allows you to listen to all your favourite songs in your iCloud library from your HDTV
  • Enjoy all the photos, music and videos on your computer on the best TV and speakers in the house ← Agreed!
  • Stream everything you watch over 802.11n Wi-Fi
  • Simple setup with a single HDMI cable for both audio and video
  • Sleek design that’s small, quiet and energy efficient ← Apple can’t be beat in my opinion for design. This is one nifty little device.

We are now regular subscribers to Netflix because Apple TV makes it work so nicely. Our previous streaming device was clunky (if one can describe it that way) compared to the Apple device. Apples makes Netflix loads faster, runs smoothly and doesn’t freeze anymore.

So, now, as the holidays get closer and the rush of holiday preparation dies down and turns into family time, we can make hot cocoa, pop some popcorn, switch on Apple TV and snuggle up under a blanket together to watch family movies at the end of a long, busy day. And this is what I love about TV (and particularly Apple TV). It gives us that opportunity to sit down and be close. No one argues over whose turn it is to roll the dice. No one gets mad because they lost the game again. We all agree on which movies to watch. We all love the time to just sit together and flake out. And my husband and I enjoy the time we get, snuggled up together as we watch our shows after the kids go to bed (without commercials thanks to Apple TV!). It’s fantastic! Apple TV has given us that time together this holiday season.

Would you like some of that together-time this holiday season?

Thanks to Staples Canada you have a chance at it. The fantastic people at Staples have kindly offered an Apple TV to one of my readers.

All you have to do to enter to win is leave a comment telling me what your favourite family movie is around the holidays.

And tweet this to receive an additional ballot.

A winner will be drawn on Monday, December 16, 2013.

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Disclaimer: I received an Apple TV on review from Staples. The opinions stated above are entirely my own. I was not compensated in any other way.

The contest is open to Canadian readers only. Good luck!

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‘Tis the season for family learning!

I’m a book worm. I have always loved reading. I wish I had more time for reading in my life. But I have two young kids, so the reading I do involves them. I would read all the time if I could. I’m terrible at getting my kids to put their books away at the dinner table because I’d be just as happy to sit there and eat and read along with them. But someone has to teach them that it’s rude to read at the table. So I sacrifice.

With the Christmas holidays upon us, we’ll have more time to snuggle up and read. I can’t wait!

This article from ABC Life Literacy Canada pretty much outlines how I’d like to spend our holidays:

The winter holidays are here—kids off school plus adults off work adds up to family time for learning new things and practicing literacy skills together. ABC Life Literacy Canada offers these holly jolly holiday family literacy tips to make your season “bright!”

  • Family book snuggle: Gather the family together with a favourite holiday book. Get the fire going if you’ve got a fireplace. Then snuggle in and take turns reading aloud to one another. A little hot chocolate is always welcome!
  • Come a-carolling! Invite family and friends for an evening of singing carols—or singing other songs. Singing encourages learning patterns of words, rhymes and rhythms.
  • Bake-off: Get the whole family involved in baking—cookies are a perfect choice because everyone can participate. Following a recipe is a great way to practice reading and comprehension skills. Measuring ingredients and following baking times are practical (and delicious!) applications of math skills.
  • Out on the town: Take in a holiday musical or visit a museum. Family outings offer fun learning opportunities—and make sure to read the theatre program and the exhibit descriptions.
  • Make a list and check it twice: Grocery shopping is easily adaptable for family literacy activities. Your child can write the holiday food shopping list, read signs and labels as you make your way through the aisles, and count items as they go into the shopping cart.
  • Choose your own ABC: For each letter of the alphabet, take turns thinking of holiday things that begin with that letter. Things beginning with C could include candles, cookies and cousins. No need to keep score – just move on to the next letter when no one can think of anything else.
  • Looking for a gift idea? Encourage reading by giving books, magazine subscriptions and bookstore gift cards—gifts they’ll keep opening throughout the year!

When you include fun learning activities in your family’s holiday time, everyone stays sharp and ready for the New Year. For more family literacy tips and activities, visit www.FamilyLiteracyDay.ca.

Ho, Ho, No! Why iPads and iPhones Are Not Kids’ Toys

Wanted to share with you something that I feel strongly about. I’m not against all the devices that we can get our hands on nowadays, but I believe they have their place. And I think most people (parents, educators, etc.) are letting these devices into the lives of children without a thought to the harm they can cause. Sometimes, in certain settings, a tablet can be a useful learning tool. But I’ve seen too many kids so tuned into a device that they miss the world around them. Not good. And that’s just from the point of view of what these devices do to our attention span and ability to connect with the world. Never mind the actual, physical harm they might cause.

Call me old fashioned, but I find nothing engaging about reading on an iPad. I’d take a book over an e-reader any day. Especially when reading with my children. It’s like so many people have said about all the plastic toys we have: children don’t connect the same way to plastic toys as they do to wooden toys. And the only toys that have stood the test of time in our house are the wooden puzzles and the wooden blocks. My kids are devastated if I suggest that maybe it’s time to get rid of either. But the plastic stuff comes into the house on one occasion and is tossed by the next occasion, usually without a second thought.

AmbitionsNot1

I’d much rather see my kids reading than playing on a device. And that’s why there are no devices for children at my house. I have, on occasion, allowed them to use my phone to play an educational game. But regular use of my phone is strictly forbidden and they know that. I’ve seen people hand their phones to their children the way that not too long ago we flipped the TV on for them…to babysit them. It’s doing more harm than good. I’d much rather talk to my children and teach them about human connection rather than make sure they have all the necessary high technology skills they need to survive in tomorrow’s world. See, the thing is, tomorrow’s world won’t exist unless people continue to connect with other people, and devices, despite being billed as “social media”, don’t do that. Read on for what the Environmental Health Trust has to say on the subject…

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Teton Village, WY — (SBWIRE) — 12/03/2013 — Good news for parents: the annual tradition involving a mad rush on one hot toy is over. In its place, parents are scurrying to find the coolest electronic devices. Those clamoring to stuff their kids’ holiday stockings with the latest electronic gadgets would do well to ponder experts’ warnings first, advises Environmental Health Trust (EHT), a group promoting safer phone use.

“We all need to “#PracticeSafeTech,” advises Dr. Devra Davis, President of EHT.”What may be appropriate for adults may not be at all suitable for toddlers with their more rapidly growing brains and bodies.” Would you give your child the keys to the car or a shot of whiskey just because she really wanted it?

Credit: Environmental Health Trust

Credit: Environmental Health Trust

Should you get your young child that chillin’ shiny tablet, or buy your teen her own mobile phone in her favorite color? After all, mobile phone prices have dropped, making them easier to gift. “What harm could it do to youngsters to have such a cool, hot gadget—especially if they can use it to learn to read, see movies, or just play Angry Birds? The answer is: plenty,” advises EHT founder Dr. Davis.

“Every parent needs to read the important messages offered by Raffi, the renowned children’s advocate, in his new book, LIGHTWEB DARKWEB: THREE REASONS TO REFORM SOCIAL MEDIA B4 IT RE-FORMS US,” Dr. Davis advises. “These devices can short circuit childhood and easily become tools for cyber bullying.”

Few people appreciate that all of these wireless electronic devices come with manufacturers’ fine print warnings to not hold them next to an adult body, or that controlled studies show that microwave radiation emitted by mobile phones weakens the brain’s protective barrier and male users produce fewer and more damaged offspring and sperm. The kicker is this: All safety warnings for mobile phones (e.g., “keep 0.98 inches from the body”) were never designed with children in mind, but in order to protect a large adult man with a big head who talks on his phone for less than 30 minutes per day. Even fewer realize that iPads contain 4 or more microwave radiating antennas that are never to be held directly on the body.

According to a published scientific report from EHT, children’s heads absorb twice as much microwave radiation from mobile phones as adults’ heads. Radiation emissions from mobile phones carried in shirts or pants pockets of adults are four to seven times higher than the guidelines set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. For the smaller bodies of children, of course, radiation exposure levels would be greater both because of relative size and keeping in mind that children are not simply small adults.

The reason for the discrepancy, EHT says, is that the process to determine radiation exposures from mobile phones is modeled on a 6-foot 2-inch tall, 220-pound man, with an 11-pound head. Because this large skull represents only about three percent of the population, the test cannot accurately predict the radiation exposure of the other 97 percent, including children, nor does it even try to estimate exposures from pocket use.

“The standard for mobile devices was developed based on old science, old models and old assumptions about how we use mobile phones, and that’s why standards must change to protect our children and grandchildren,” said Dr. Davis.

Read the Fine Print
EHT urges parents to make sure they read the phone/tablet/device safety manual to find the minimum distance that the device must be kept away whenever it is in use and also when it is in stand-by mode. Keeping it closer than the designated distance can result in a violation of the FCC Exposure Limit. “Whenever you must give your child a device to play with, keep it on airplane mode. It’s important to safeguard your children whenever they use these devices. Aside from radiation exposure, keep in mind that child experts recommend no more than two hours of daily screen time. The goal is to protect our children’s growing brains and bodies from harm,” advises Dr. Davis.

Dr. Davis also calls parents’ attention to another iPad fine print warning that states, “a small percentage of people may be susceptible to blackouts or seizures (even if they have never had one before) when exposed to flashing lights or light patterns such as when playing games or watching videos. Discontinue use of iPad and consult a physician if you experience headaches, blackouts, seizures, convulsion, eye or muscle twitching, loss of awareness, involuntary movement, or disorientation. To reduce risk of headaches, blackouts, seizures and eyestrain, avoid prolonged use, hold iPad some distance from your eyes, use iPad in a well-lit room, and take frequent breaks.”

Consumers can find this and more in the iPad safety pamphlet. “Whoever wrote this probably had in mind the adult who can fork over $400 to $500 for an iPad,” advises Dr. Davis. “Yet nowadays, even babies and toddlers are learning to read from wireless devices and falling asleep to white noise played from phones placed under their pillows. A child’s brain, healthy or otherwise, is cased in a thinner skull; that’s why they absorb more microwave radiation. The brains of children with learning problems, autism or other neurological disorders may be more vulnerable to damage than those of their healthy friends and family members.”

The iPad safety advice doesn’t consider these issues, but does include information about exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy. The pamphlet notes, “If you are…concerned about exposure to RF energy, you can further limit your exposure by limiting the amount of time using iPad Wi-Fi +3G in wireless mode…and by placing more distance between your body and iPad Wi-Fi +3G.” Children simply cannot keep “more distance” between themselves and these devices; their arms are too short.

Power Down in 2014 – Reduce WiFi Gadget Use in Children
If parents do decide to engage their children with electronic gadgets, the new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urge parents to ban electronic media during mealtimes and after bedtime as part of a comprehensive “family media use plan.” The influential new guidelines recognize the need to protect the young brain from round-the-clock use of digital devices and electronic media, which includes everything from television to texting and other social and anti-social activities.

Under the AAP power down policy: children should limit screen time for entertainment to less than two hours per day; children younger than 2 should have no TV and no Internet exposure. Also, televisions and Internet-accessible devices should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms. According to Dr. Davis, along with gifts, parents should also set family rules covering the use of mobile phones and texting. “Many parents do not realize that tablets, mobile phones, laptops and other wireless gear send and receive microwave radiation, unless they are set on airplane mode or disconnected from the Internet or wifi systems. We protect our children’s brains when they ride in cars or on bikes. We also need to protect their rapidly growing brains from wireless radiation.”

“The best present a parent can give their child is the gift of safety,” says Dr. Davis. “That’s why I’m urging each and every parent on our list to access and share the potentially life-saving tips we offer on cell phone safety.”

About Environmental Health Trust
Environmental Health Trust (EHT) educates individuals, health professionals and communities about controllable environmental health risks and policy changes needed to reduce those risks. A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore and his team in 2007, EHT President and Founder, Dr. Devra Davis has authored a number of popular books, including WHEN SMOKE RAN LIKE WATER, a National Book Award Finalist, THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WAR ON CANCER, and DISCONNECT: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What The Industry Is Doing To Hide It, And How To Protect Your Family, which was awarded the Nautilus silver medal award for investigative reporting. The foundation’s website is the go-to place for clear, science-based information to prevent environmentally based disease and promote health, and will have portals for the general public, children, and health professionals. For more information or to get involved in the numerous special projects spearheaded by EHT, please visit http://www.ehtrust.org and find EHT on Facebook

No commercials, but everything we need

Last year, we had cable. This year, we don’t. We still have shows for the kids, but it’s not commercial programming.

That’s my Christmas gift to me.

I have been enjoying the peace in our house without the background noise of the TV and the gimmies from my kids following every commercial break.

And my heart swelled when I asked my daughter if she wanted to write her letter to Santa in time for the Toronto Santa Claus parade and she said, “Sure!” then proceeded to ask me how to spell C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S  T-R-E-E and B-E-L-L.

I asked her why those words and she said, “Because that’s what I’m asking Santa to bring me for Christmas. I want a toy tree to go in my room and I want a bell like I got from Madame when I was the Étoile de la Semaine at school.”

Without the influence of commercials, my daughter wants her own tree, just like the big one we put up in our living room and she wants a bell. She asked for no toys, no clothes, no games. I was curious, so I asked her, “Why a tree and a bell?” Continue reading

My Handy Little Health Journal

A short while ago, I was lamenting the fact that I had a health file that was about three inches thick with papers and cards spilling out everywhere. Definitely not a convenient package to be carting to the doctor. Although the information it contained was vital at some of my appointments.

It got me thinking about these two notebooks I kept when I was pregnant with both my kids. I wrote down all my appointments, kept notes about things my OBGYN (first kid) and midwife (second kid) said, and generally jotted down things related to my pregnancies and questions to ask the next time I had an appointment.

But these notebooks had no structure. They were just Dollar Store books that served the purpose when nothing else was available.

Recently, I received My Handy Little Health Journal to review. Wished I’d had this neat little book when I was pregnant. But I’m glad I have it now.

healthjournal

It has some great features like tips on eating smarter, reducing stress and sleeping better. It has sections to fill in your family medical history, record important medical information, prepare questions in advance for your doctor, document prescriptions, keep track of appointments, record comments or recommendations from your doctors and more. Continue reading

Fill a Sparkle Box this Christmas

Christmas is coming! Faster than we may want.

Don’t take that the wrong way. I love Christmas. I love the season, the music, the decorations, the giving, the visiting, the food, the family get-togethers, the commercialization, the screaming spoiled kids…OK, maybe not the last two.

But that’s the thing, right? It’s November 21; a little over a month to Christmas and it has already started. The stores have been decorated since November 12th (officially, decorating the day after Remembrance Day is the respectful thing to do). The commercials for kids toys, games, gadgets, you name it have been on the air since the beginning of November. And all that gives us is the “gimmies”.

At one time, December 1st was the acceptable beginning to decorating, Christmas music, advertising, etc. Every year, I swear, it gets earlier. Continue reading

Leprechauns at our house

I’m not Irish. At least I don’t think I am. I’m Canadian with no particular cultural affiliation. My family is from the east coast of Canada, so I suppose there is a possibility that, far enough back, there might be a bit of Irish blood mixed with whatever other ancestry there is in my family.

Nevertheless, on St. Patrick’s Day we are all Irish.

And this year, I don’t know what got into me. Maybe a bit of leprechaun magic? But I wasn’t going to let this holiday pass me by. It’s not a commercialized holiday, so there’s very little pressure to achieve a certain standard of celebration. It’s just about magic and mischief. Continue reading