local ethnic restaurants: a family food adventure

ethnic restaurant family food adventure

Before kids, my husband and I talked a good game. We had big plans. ethnic restaurant family food adventure

We’ll pack up everything!

We’ll move across the world!

We’ll teach at an Amerian school abroad!

Yeah! Life is too short!

Let’s live this adventure!

But then came coaching jobs, teaching jobs, activities, all of those years of friends’ weddings, and then. . .  babies.

And we were stuck here. Not stuck, but stuck.

So we stayed—and it looks like we’ll stay for a while. But that doesn’t erase our love of food and love of adventure—we just have to find more creative and at-home ways of filling those holes.

And we’ll teach the kids a little something along the way.

We do a lot of new-restaurant and new-food trying over here, and we believe that local ethnic restaurants are a hidden gem–a trip away from home but at home.

A few days ago, while my husband was on his yearly man-adventure—his golf trip—I grabbed my fearless, 8-and-a half-month-pregnant sister and dragged her on the kids’ and my latest food adventure: a local ethnic restaurant.  An Ethiopian restaurant.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Local Ethnic Restaurants– A Family Food Adventure:  This I love Ethiopian food, but more than the food, I love the experience of eating at an Ethiopian restaurant.

Lucky for us, here in the DC Metro area, there are tons of really amazing ethnic restaurants, and Ethiopian restaurants here are some of the best.

ethiopian with kids bread


I scored a coupon for our restaurant and was sure to take it along—you never know how these food adventures will go, so you might as well make sure to keep it as cost-effective as possible.   I know my kids are pretty food-brave, but again, you never really know until you get there.

I had prepped Maddy, Owen, and Cora for this adventure just in conversation:

You, Aunt Katie, and I are going on a food adventure while Daddy’s away. We’re trying a new restaurant–with totally new-for-us-food, and I think you’ll love it. Oh, but you can’t use utensils.

ethiopian with kids juice


ethiopian with kids apps


Huh? Whaaaa? was about all I got.

You heard me–food adventure. Can’t wait!! It’s Ethiopian food–one of Daddy and my favorites. You’ll love it–chicken, lamb, veggies. . .

But what did you say about the utensil thing? Can you repeat that? The ‘no utensils’–

Oh yeah, you eat everything by scooping it up with bread–it’s a flat bread, and oh man you’ll love it.

From that point on, the kids were hooked. Hooked.


ethiopian with kids main course


ethiopian with kids maddy


I told them about the food adventure on Wednesday when my husband left town, and they talked about it until Friday.  I didn’t want to show them pictures–though I know I could have found them with a quick click of the mouse–because I wanted to leave a lot up to their imaginations. I wanted to prep them in a fun and cool way.

Because I really wasn’t sure how the no utensil thing would go.

By the time 5pm on Friday rolled around, they were getting anxious. And they were tired from a 5 full-day week. Note to self: new restaurants, 30 minutes away should be reserved for a weekend or early, early dinner, especially when there’s a tired 5 year old involved.

It was an adventure.

We all searched for the proper address, found the restaurant and popped in–and immediately felt like we had stepped into a new city, somewhere totally different from what we were used to.  Everything was a learning experience, from the seating options to the menus, to the decor.


ethiopian with kids decor


We relied heavily on our waitress’s recommendations, and they were right on spot. We tried:

  • guava juice & mango juice
  • sambusas: triangular shaped pasteries filled with beef, green peppers, onions, and peppers and lentil-filled
  • doro alitcha, key fitfit, fasolia bekarot, cabbage for four: a mix separate dishes consisting of chicken, eggs, lamb, potatoes, greens, and cabbage, served on top of injera, the Ethiopian flat, spongy bread
  • popcorn: free and Owen totally took advantage of it

The food. Was. Amazing.  And the only rule was that you had to try the food twice before you wrote it off.

Maddy ate her little face off. Owen tried everything, tried it a second time, but didn’t love it. And though Cora was pretty tired and rather cranky, she toughed it out.  For the most part.

ethiopian with kids decor 2


And though I wish everyone loved it as much as Katie, Maddy, and me, Owen scarfed the popcorn and Cora ate enough of everything though she wasn’t the most pleasant dinner company.  In fact, our littlest one walked herself up to bed the minute we got into the door but woke up the next day asking to go back. Maybe it wasn’t in the cards for her that night.

But to know that the kids were able to step out of their comfort zones for a night, give it a good, ole try, and live to tell about it ranks it as a win in my book.

It’s cool when you can pick from a wide range of ethnic restaurants in a close proximity from your house on any given night. We’re lucky to have that option, and I know we don’t take advantage of it as often as we should.  

I know this kind of local ethnic family food adventure can’t be an every month thing–it’s too expensive, and we’re too busy. But it made me more excited to keep an eye out for new ethnic restaurants, and I am going to make it a goal to try at least one restaurant–or one ethnic dish we can cook at home–each season. Now on our list? Jamaican, Thai, Vietnamese, Salvadorian, French. We’re on a mission.

That’s do-able, right?

What do you think? What ethnic restaurants have been big scores for your family, and what have been your flops? Do tell! I’d love to hear!

alphabet and reading on the road

alphabet and reading on the road

alphabet and reading on the roadThe kids and I spent the weekend in Pennsylvania, showering my baby sister and her husband with love for their soon-to-be baby boy.

Though we experienced a little more excitement than we had planned (more on that later!), our trip back to Maryland was totally uneventful–and we spent the 3 1/2 hour ride unplugged, chatting, kids dozing, and playing some old school roadtrip games.

We brought back some oldies but goodies and did a wee bit o’ alphabet playing and reading on the road.

Silly stuff that got Maddy, Owen, and Cora’s brains moving and eyes hunting for letters, words, numbers, and more.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Alphabet and Reading on the Road: This was a simple throwback games with a bit of a new twist.

Our goal was to find the whole alphabet, similar to the days of our Alphabet Hunt on the road, but this time when we found a letter, the person who found it had to call out the word it was a part of.

So our focus wasn’t to find a word that began with each letter of the alphabet.  Rather, it was to locate each letter of the alphabet on the environmental print we encountered on the road–street signs, billboards, trucks, buildings, etc–and to read the word in which that letter was located.

And the really funny part is that between Pennsylvania and Maryland, there are a whole lot of towns, roads, highways, and the like with names that are heavily influenced by its rich Native American history.  We encountered lots of words that were really tough to pronounce, but they forced everyone–each one of us!–to slow down and do some serious stretching of the words.

alphabet and reading on the road

Sure, along the way we heard a lot of:

  • E! I see an ‘E’ and it’s in ‘Allentown!’
  • Got it! Found the ‘O’ in ‘Road’!
  • Ooooh, I found a fancy ‘L’ and it’s in ‘Cab-el-las’ –Cabellas!
  • Oh my gosh! Double ‘X’ in ‘next exit’! Doubles!!

But there was also a lot of

  • Uh, there’s an ‘M’ and it’s in uh. .  .Kroomsvale. No, Krums. Krums-ville. Krumsville. I think that’s it.
  • Hey! I found an ‘R’ and it’s Len- Lenhart-Lenharts-Lenhartsville! Lenhartsville!

It was cool–and it was a really fun ‘next step’ for the alphabet hunts we’ve done while on the road.

What I loved most was the kids’ excitement over finding letters in the environment–we were really, truly playing with environmental print but also using it for some reading work as well.   There were no winners.  There were no losers. We were just working together, on the hunt for the alphabet and reading along the way.

Though we played about three rounds, we took breaks in between for snacks or restroom stops.  And each time, they’d be all in it to win it–to find every last letter. I think we skipped ‘Q’ the second time around, but who’s really keeping track?

Jennifer Prior and Maureen Gerard, in Environmental Print in the Classroom: Meaningful Connections for Learning to Read, (2004, International Reading Association) cite the importance of environmental print in early literacy education. Though their research and resources are more directed toward using environmental print in classrooms, their findings hold true for at-home learning.  The authors state:

Our research suggests that the adult is the key element to effectively using environmental print to teach beginning reading skills. When an adult draws attention to the letters and sounds in environmental print words, children are more likely to transfer this knowledge to decontextualized print—text without color and graphics.

I truly believe that the adult who first brings environmental print into focus for kiddos–at home or on the road–should be the parent.  It’s all about creating word conscious kids, kids who love, appreciate, and celebrate language, appreciate it, right?  

So let’s get on the alphabet hunt–and start reading along with it!


huge thanks to the following for points of reference:

Prior, J., & Gerard, M.R. (2004). Implementing an Environmental Print Curriculum. In Environmental Print in the Classroom (pp. 25-74). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

keeping families safe while driving: safely go

keep families safe while driving with safely go

keep families safe while driving with safelyThough our number one priority as parents is to keep our kids safe–all of the time–it boggles my mind the number of people I see looking at their phones while driving.

With kids in the car.

Two hands texting or searching or whatever.

Way back when Oprah was promoting her No Cell Phones While Driving campaign, you better believe I signed that baby.  It was, and is, still incredibly important that anyone driving my kids around does not even think about texting while behind the wheel.

It’s not legal. It’s not safe. And it’s insane to think that that is even an option for people anyway.

But with Bluetooth technology, I do chat while driving–as long as it’s hands-free.

Gulp. There. I said it. I know I am not alone.  And I try try try not to, but sometimes, it’s the only time I’m sitting down, and it’s the only time I have to chat with my sisters, parents, or girlfriends.

This New For Us Friday, I’m psyched to share something that a good friend of mine recently let me know about–an app that helps keep families safe while driving. It’s cool. It’s free.

I’ve been using it for weeks now.  And it’s helping me to stay focused on what’s important while driving.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Keeping Families Safe While Driving–Safely Go: Safely Go is a little app that does big things.

It keeps your family safe on the road.  And it’s free. (Who doesn’t love free? And how can you not want safe?)


keep families safe while driving with safely

The Safely Go app is right there under my clock. Ready to go, safely!

The concept behind Safely Go is simple: you put your phone in ‘driving mode’ when you get in the car, and you’re ready to drive safely, focusing on the road like we all should be, while you’re behind the wheel.

When you activate Safely Go, you put your phone in ‘lock mode’ so anyone who texts you gets an auto reply message, and your phone will only accept calls from three designated VIP Contacts.

I love it because it reminds me to stay focused on the road. And yes, I’m embarrassed to say it, but if I’m alone and stuck in traffic, yes, I grab for my phone.  And even then, it’s not a smart idea.


keeping familes safe while driving with safely go

my Safely Go driving mode screen: my VIP Contacts and two driving apps

While you’re in driving mode with Safely Go, you’ll only have access to your top 3 ‘driving apps’ on your screen, like your navigation or maps.  Of course, at any time, you can make an emergency call with the click of one button.

It’s more than cool. While you’re in the car, you move into driving mode. You’re focusing on the road and putting your phone aside.

This fancy little happy app is available for any android user–so everyone android wins here. It’s made by Location Labs who has a long history (more than a decade) of creating apps to promote families’ and kids’ safety and “digital wellness,” and these apps are available as subscription services, in partnership with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.  In fact, you may have been using these apps without knowing they were Safely products–AT&T FamilyMap, T-Mobile FamilyWhere, Sprint Mobile Controls, to name just a few.

So it’s a great company with a really great focus. I’ll take it.

That’s it–just a little New For Us Friday app that I think is totally worth sharing with parents, teachers, caregivers, any and every family out there.

fyi: This post is part of a sponsored campaign with Safely Go. Though I was compensated for my time in reviewing and sharing the Safely Go love, as always, my thoughts are completely my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and the three crazy cool kids I try to keep safe. 

beach learning: hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, ghost crabs, sand crabs & more

beach learning hermit crabs

beach learningThe beach can be difficult vacation for families with young children, there’s no doubt about it.

Beyond even getting there–the packing, the long drive, the daily to-and-from the beach with a million trillion supplies–being there is sometimes hard, too.

Even with a ton of hands on deck, by the end of the week, the sand, the over-tired kids, the sun, the sand, the sand–everywhere!–is enough to make even the most relaxed parent a little edgy.  However, I have to say that once we passed the diaper stage, things got a lot easier.

This year, we could really have fun at the beach–jumping waves, building sand structures, and learning.

The shore is a science class at your fingertips, and for those of us who don’t get to the beach but once a year, there’s so much exploring to do, that it’s nuts.  The beach is an ideal time to really focus on raising curious kids–kids who observe, who question, who wonder, and who want to learn more.

At the Delaware beach we visited–Bethany Beach–we had the opportunity to do some serious firsthand discovering; long walks, quiet hunts, a whole lot of digging, and an equal part of being still allowed us to find some real treasures: horseshoe crabs, ghost crabs (our first!), sand crabs, and more.

And the really cool thing is that no matter what beach you hit this summer–or any time of the year–you can do the same and find treasures of your own.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Beach Learning — Horseshoe Crabs, Ghost Crabs, Sand Crabs & More: Don’t get me wrong–we didn’t make our vay-cay one long research session, that’s for sure.

We spent hours and hours in the water.  We rode waves and jumped waves and boogie boarded and floated and floated some more.  We dug and played and dug and played some more.

But what we did throughout the trip was simple:

  • We really looked at what was around us.
  • We took long walks–with a bucket–so we could save our treasures.
  • We asked questions about the things we didn’t know or didn’t understand.
  • We were really excited to share with others all of the new things we were learning.

And what we couldn’t figure out on the trip, we figured out when we got home–or on the way home.  Specifically, we learned about crazy amounts of crabs.  Horseshoe crabs, sand crabs, ghost crabs, and hermit crabs.  And we learned about manta ray egg sac and a little bit about the ocean waves and tides.

beach learning horseshoe crab

Yes, that guy was alive. And yes I wanted to scream.

Here’s what we found:

  • Sand Fleas (we’ve always called them ‘sand crabs’):But these are the little guys we dig up right where the water breaks.  Maddy, Owen, and Cora love to find them and then let them tickle the palms of their hands. You can tell where they are by the air bubbles that come up through the wet sand.
    • Sand Fleas site — everything you ever wanted to know about sand fleas and so much more. Seriously.


beach learning: curious kids

Those little holes were everywhere–lucky us to catch a glimpse of the ghost crab!

  • Ghost Crabs: These are totally new to us–I have never seen them at the beach ever–and I’ve been going to the Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey beaches my whole life.    We came across one on an afternoon when Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I were taking a long walk. Cora screamed, MOMMY!! IT’S A SPIDER!! MOOOMMMMY!!And by the time I got there, all that remained was a tiny hole in the sand.

    beach learning: manta ray egg pouch

Thanks to the Wild Kratts, Maddy and Owen knew exactly how this egg sac worked!

  • Skate or Ray Egg Sac: Seriously! Maddy found something totally strange and unusual, and she asked a lifeguard what it was.  He said it was a manta ray egg sac, and then immediately, Maddy and Owen started spewing off facts about what it was and how it worked.  Thank you, Wild Kratts!

    beach learning hermit crabs

Hermie, chillin in her condo while Maddy and I learn about how to k

  • Hermit Crabs:We’re thrilled to welcome ‘Hermione’ or  ‘Hermie’ for short, into our family! Maddy decided to use her allowance money to buy a new sister, and we’re totally excited.  But we’ve never had a hermit crab before, so we’ve had to do a bit o’ learning. . .


In Turn Your Family Vacation into a Real Education, on Mom’s Homeroom, Susan Perry, a Los Angeles-based social psychologist and author of Playing Smart: The Family Guide to Offbeat, Enriching Learning Activities for Ages 4-14, is quoted as saying that “Non-school times are wonderful for showing your child that learning happens anywhere and everywhere, and is, in fact, an integral part of life that can be fun, and can be shared.”

She goes on to say that parents shouldn’t “over-structure the learning, rather let it happen naturally.”  And I couldn’t agree more, especially on vacation.

But I can’t stress enough that it has to start early! Curiosity about the world starts with our littlest guys when they are still teeny, and we, as parents and teachers, must continue it with modeling and supported learning from here on out.  Happy beach learning!


fyi: This blog post is part of an incentivized online influencer network for Mom’s Homeroom. Mom’s Homeroom is brought to you by Frosted Mini-Wheats.

make family road trips FUN: the box girls conversation starters (& giveaway!)

make family road trips fun

make family road trips fun with conversation startersRoad trips are not always the easiest on families, but with a little preparation on busy parents’ part, road trips can be memorable, relaxing, and fun.

Believe it.  Fun.

All you need are a few pre-planned road trip games and simple activities to keep kids busy.

And I’m not talking about throwing in six movies back to back to back so the kids are glued to the screen the whole time or allowing the kids to play on their Leapsters or DS or GameBoy for ten hours.

And, though I remember very fondly singing my heart out to Debbie Gibson’s Out of the Blue (You know it–Shake your love, I just can’t shake your love. . . ) tape over and over and over and over with my three sisters on a unexpected 7-hour drive to the shore when I was younger, I’m not talking about organizing a family sing-along that will cause most parents’ brains to explode by the end of the trip.

For this New For Us Friday, what we found–and what we used on our way to the Delaware beach this past week–is something that made all of us smile.  This simple road trip game got us talking and laughing and really–get this–actually enjoying the ride and our time together in an over-packed mini-van.

We had so much fun that the kids wanted to play again when we took a short excursion to visit friends in Ocean City, and they could barely wait to play until we reached the highway on our return trip home.

And thanks to Melissa & Doug, one lucky teachmama.com reader can win one part of this road-trip fun–a set of the Box Girls Family Road Trip Conversation Starters to take on their own end-of-summer road trip!

Be forewarned–it’s not just for girls (my two favorite guys loved it, too!)–and you may end up taking some last-minute road trips just so you can play it a little more.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Make Family Road Trips FUN– We’ve always had to plan out our road trips, especially since oftentimes I was taking three very young children on a 3+ hour drive to and from my parents’ home.

So it’s normal for me to think pretty hard about what we’re bringing in our activity bags to keep the kids occupied.

family road trip

The Family Road Trip Conversation Starters kept us chatting. . .

But the Box Girls Family Road Trip set got everyone involved, everyone occupied, and everyone thinking and chatting.  At first we were not sure how they’d work, since the box says the game is for children 8 years and older, but our kids–5, 6, and 8 years old–loved it and were totally able to participate.

The Box Girls is a line of products from Melissa & Doug geared toward helping groups of people–girlfriends, family, classes, camps, you name it–talk to one another.  That’s it. Talk, laugh, think, question, share, and laugh.

Each box contains cards with questions, conversation starters.  And you can ‘play’ the game as loosely as you’d like, requiring each person to share his or her response for every question, taking turns, or participating as they feel comfortable.family road trip --license plate map

We used the Family Road Trip set which includes 45 conversation starters, 25 quiz cards, 10 game instruction cards (just reminders of the classics many of us know), and 6 paper maps of the US that kids can use to check off license plates for the license plate game.  It was really so simple–but so fun.

The cards covered questions like:

  • What three things do you want to do or see on this trip?
  • Complete this sentence: I brake for. . .
  • Have you ever been lost?
  • What favorite souvenir have you brought back from vacation?
  • If you were a travel agent and booking your family’s vacation, where would you send your family?

The Quiz Cards were a little tough for my crew, who have yet to learn geography, but they covered cool topics like Which state is known as the ‘beaver state’? and Name the only state in which the first two letters are vowels.  Right up my husband’s alley.

I liked the Game Cards because they were quick, concise reminders of great games to play in the car. 20 Questions, Travel Scavenger Hunt, and Counting Games along with others were there to keep things moving along smoothly.

We will definitely keep the Family Road Trip Cards in the car to use for any time–long waits, unexpected trips, and of course, our next road trip. . . which very well may be sooner than we’ve planned, since road trips are rockin’ when you’ve got a few cool things to do.

family road trip

. . . thinking, and smiling for our whole trip to the shore! Woot!

The great thing about the Box Girls Conversation Starters? You don’t need to go on a road trip to use them.  There’s a Box Girls Family Dinner set of conversation starters, a Box Girls Family Dinner Faith Set , a Passover set, a Christmastime set, a Thanksgiving set, a Birthday set, a BFF set, and more.

I’m looking forward to picking up a set for Maddy’s next buddy’s birthday and the Thanksgiving or Christmas set during holiday time with family.  I know that as the kids get older, talking may get more difficult for so many reasons; I really believe that something small like this will help us to keep an open, engaged, comfortable line of communication with our kids from here on out. And if family and friends can be involved, the more, the merrier in my book!


GIVEAWAY: a Box Girls Family Road Trip Conversation Starter Set from Melissa & Doug

Do you want to win a Box Girls Family Road Trip Conversation Starter Set from Melissa & Doug?!

  • All you have to do is leave a comment here sharing when your family would use the Family Road Trip Conversation Starter Set!

For extra entries:

  • Tweet this: Make your next Family Road Trip FUN with help from @MelissaandDoug on @teachmama  http://wp.me/p1NAxy-21z  #weteach
  • Share this post on your Facebook page–very easy!
  • Share this post with a friend (just tell me who you shared it with!)
  • Pin this post on Pinterest! (Use ‘pin it!’ button below post!)melissa and doug blog ambassador

By entering this giveaway, you are demonstrating your understanding of and compliance with the Official Sweepstakes Rules.

This contest ends Saturday, August 4, 2012 at midnight ET. Winner will be chosen by ‘And the Winner is. . .’ and will be notified on or around 8/04/12.  Winner must respond within three (3) days of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.

fyi: This is an unsponsored post; as a Melissa & Doug Blog Ambassador, I was given this set of Box Girls Family Road Trip Conversation Starters and one teachmama.com reader will receive one for the giveaway.  Affiliate links are used within the post, so if you’re interested in buying one for yourself, please consider clicking on the links!  Opinions here are all my own, influenced only by my three little travelers and our road-trip driver. 

summer fun cards: making the most of our summer

making summer fun cards 2012 - 6

summer fun cardsOne of our most favorite parts of summer is making our Summer Fun Cards.

We’ve made them for the past three years, and each year I’m thrilled that each year the kids really seem to get into it. Summer Fun Cards are like our Christmas wish list for summer.

So when Maddy saw it on our calendar for last Friday, she asked every. Single. Day. if we could make them.

We ended up not waiting until Friday and rather doing them here and there Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Monday.  And they’re filled with ideas new–and old–and we cannot wait to get to them.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Summer Fun Cards: We don’t make these fancy.  They’re certainly not a beautiful work of art like my dear friend MaryLea’s.

But ours are pretty, and they do make a super-colorful hanging along our railing.

summer fun cards

Cora works on the roller coaster in the picture for Dutch Wonderland. . .

summer fun cards

. . . and Maddy draws a shark and a dolphin. (Huh?)

We started making them after lunch last Wednesday, much to Maddy’s prodding, and because the kids are already familiar with what they are, our Summer Fun Cards didn’t need much of an intro from me.

summer fun cards

This year, our cards included some oldies but goodies:

  • ice-cream from Jimmie Cone
  • go to the beach
  • eat crabs
  • make s’mores
  • go berry picking
  • see July 4th fireworks
  • catch lightening bugs
  • eat breakfast outside
  • sleep at Nanny & Pap’s

But they also included some new-for-us ideas, some of which are just a tad bit silly:

  • go on a ropes course
  • swim with sharks and dolphins (and live)
  • see MA (something) 4! (translation: see Madagascar 3 at the movies)
  • go to the aquarium
  • swim in a new pool
  • go geocaching


summer fun cards

Our Summer Fun Cards finished–

summer fun cards

–and hung up so we see them every day!

And that’s it! Just a quickie, fun start to the summer–a sure-fire way that we make time for all of our favorite summertime things!

Happy Summer, all!

digital family summit: conference for tweens, teens, and parents (with full pass giveaway!)


digital family summit: conferenceI am totally over the moon about a family-friendly, tech-happy conference coming to the Keystone State.

It’s an event that is the first of its kind–new, exciting, and cutting edge.  When I heard about it, I literally danced.

It’s the first-ever conference for tweens, teens, and parent bloggers, vloggers, writers, and online content creators, and I am thrilled to have been asked to be a media partner and speaker. And am I happy about the fact that it’s in Philadelphia, PA, only minutes away from where I grew up? Oh, yeah!

But I am even more excited that I have been asked to do a giveaway for family conference passes to the summit–an amazing prize that includes full conference passes for five family members, admission to all sessions and the welcome reception, six meals during the conference, and more.

The Summit is June 29th through July 1, right after school lets out so families have the whole summer to practice what they’ve learned.

So totally exciting, I know.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Digital Family Summit– Conference for tweens, teens, and parents: Though Maddy, Owen, and Cora are not ‘out there’ on the web, they are, I believe, tech-savvy kids.

Though they do not write their own blogs, upload vlogs to YouTube, or Skype on a daily basis, they are aware of the fact that I am a blogger and writer and that’s ‘just mom’s job’.  For a long time, when I’d take the kids to blogger events, they thought that all the women present were ‘teachmamas’, that everyone had a blog called ‘teach mama’ and that everyone wrote a blog about fun learning with their kids.


digital family summit: conference

What does Owen need? Food. . . What does he want? A computer.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I took the kiddos on a ‘blog tour’ of sorts, showing them the blogs of all of my pals that they knew (and the kids they play with at local events): Jessica,Leticia, Stacey, Elena, Kim, Sandie, Robin, Jean, Stephanie, Amanda, J.J., Kristen, Susan, and more, as well as many of other of the bloggers I chat with on a regular basis: Allie, Valerie, MaryLea, Stacy, and Zina, that they realized the scope and range of blogs and bloggers out there.

Then when we launched the teachmama.com channel, they became even more interested in the social media space because, as they explained, their ‘mom was on tv’.  (They didn’t realize that it was their mom who recorded it, their mom who uploaded it, and their mom who promoted it, but that’s fine, right?)

digital family summit: conference

What Owen wants to be when he grows up. . . a blogger.  Awwwwh.

Even though my children are on the younger end of the audience for whom the Digital Family Summit is directed, I am totally excited to take them to this event because I love that kids will learn and connect, be inspired, and get engaged in blogging, entrepreneurship and social media. I want them to more fully understand the space and to know the wide world of options, ideas, and adventure that lie ahead. I want them to know that there are a boatload of cool careers out there and that they are no longer boxed into the standards: doctor, lawyer, or teacher.  So exciting.

The conference plans to have workshops on food blogging, travel blogging, video, photography, and gaming and animation that impart hands-on skills, and other sessions feature tween and teen bloggers and entrepreneurs as well as adults on topics including:

• The 21st Century Paper Route: How to Make Money From Your Blog or Videos
• Safety First: What Every Kid (and Parent) Needs to Know About Internet Security
• Social Media You Need for College
• Becoming an Overnight Sensation
• Secrets of Professional Blog Design
I will be speaking on the Parenting Digital Kids panel with Leticia Barr of Tech Savvy Mama, Sandie Angulo Chen of Urban Mama, and Grace Duffy of Formerly Gracie, which will be an hour-long session packed with information on safety, managing screen time, education and technology, digital etiquette, and more.  I do hope to see you!
The list of speakers has just been announced, and it includes amazing tweens/teens Adora Svitak and Tori Molnar; professors and professionals Ricarose RoqueSree Sreenivasan and Abby West; and parent bloggers you may know including Sheila Dowd and Michele McGraw.
They’ve got a ton of sponsors lined up, including Microsoft, Scholastic and Ubisoft – they’re cooking up amazing activities and engagements for youdigital family summit: conference and your kids.
Bring the whole family this June 29-July 1 in Philadelphia, PA, a fantastic family-friendly city, to grow together and have fun!  Conference registration includes all meals, parties and snacks for everyone in your family.
Use promo code WETEACH for 20% off your registration; early-bird pricing ends May 31, so register today!



GIVEAWAY: One Digital Family Summit Conference Family Pack Ticket (up to 5 people, value $879)

Includes all conference workshops, sessions and keynotes; 6 meals, 3 snacks, plus a welcome reception; Visits with our sponsors in our Expo Hall and in activity-filled Sponsor Suites

Do you want to win Digital Family Summit Conference Family Pack Ticket?!

  • digital family summit: conferenceAll you have to do is leave a comment here telling me WHY your family needs to go to the Digital Family Summit!

For extra entries, get creative!!:

  • Tweet this: 
  • Win a family pass to Digital Family Summit on @teachmama http://wp.me/p1NAxy-1UT @DigiFam #weteach #giveaway
  • Tech-savvy tweens, teens, and parents: win family pass to @DigiFam on @teachmama http://wp.me/p1NAxy-1UT #giveaway
  • hey #bloggers! Learn, share, grow at Digital Family Summit! Win family conf pass on @teachmama http://wp.me/p1NAxy-1UT
  • Share this post on your Facebook page–very easy!
  • Share this post with a friend (just tell me who you shared it with!)
  • Pin this post on Pinterest! (Use ‘pin it!’ button below post!)
  • Create a short (less than ONE minute!) vlog and upload it to YouTube with a link to this post and a link to the teachmama.com YouTube Channel (teachmama1)–explaining why your family needs to attend the Digital Family Summit!

By entering this giveaway, you are demonstrating your understanding of and compliance with the Official Sweepstakes Rules.

This giveaway ends Thursday, May 31, 2012 at midnight ET. Winner will be chosen by ‘And the Winner is. . .’ and will be notified on or around 5/31/12.  Winner must respond within three (3) days of notification or forfeit the prize, in which case an alternate winner will be selected.  All Official Sweepstakes Rules apply.

fyi: This is an unsponsored post, which I wrote as a media partner and conference speaker.  I received conference passes for myself and my family because of the nature of my relationship with Digital Family Summit, but all other opinions are my own, influenced only by my three kiddos.

disney social media moms celebration: 5 life lessons learned

disney social media moms:  - 499

disney social media moms celebrationI am over the moon to share all that I learned at the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, but it just cannot be done in a single post.

So today, I’m going big.

I’m looking at the big picture, the umbrella ideas, the big take-aways.

And it hasn’t been easy to narrow all that awesomeness into a few big ideas, but I’ve tried.  Because I know for me, simpler is better.

And with a whole lot of Disney magic, a bit o’ pixie dust, and a spoonful of sugar, I’ve managed to squeeze five full days of Disney awesomeness and an incredible conference into 5 simple life lessons.

I’d love to share them with you.  I’d love to shout them from a mountaintop.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Disney Social Media Moms Celebration–5 Life Lessons Learned: With a combined reach of 15 million impressions each week (via Meg Crofton, President of Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts), the Disney Social Media Moms attendees were a captive, ready-to-tweet and eager to learn group.

I am honored and flattered beyond belief to have been invited to attend this celebration with such an amazing bunch of women and men.

disney social media moms celebration

Disney’s Yacht Club was an absolute dream, inside. . .


disney social media moms celebration

. . . and out.

disney social media moms celebration

The Yacht Club pool and pirate ship slide? Awesome.

A diverse, talented, and totally amazing group of about 175 bloggers, along with crazy-inspiring speakers and incredibly worthwhile workshops all seated at the breath-taking Disney Yacht Club, everywhere I turned was something or someone worthy of a whole blog post.  Someone I wanted to spend an entire day with, chatting, learning, sharing.  A place I wanted to spend a day, a week, a month–or longer.

A message I wanted on repeat until it became a part of my being.

An image I wanted seared into my memory for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.

disney social media moms celebration

It. Was. Awesome.

And here’s what I learned:


disney social media moms celebration

1.  Live Intentionally.

  • If you take time to plan, you can have it all.  You just have to have it mapped out; you can–and should–design your every day because work, family, and self can be a part of your life if you really want them to be. . . &

. . . Figure out your why: why are you doing what you’re doing, what are your core values, and how can you connect with people who share your core beliefs and values?   – Amy Jo Martin, CEO & Founder, Digital Royalty (@AmyJoMartin)

  • Retrain your brain because success begets success. Meditate each day to set each day’s focus.  Take a GRIP on your life: Grow every day in some sort of measurable way; Recharge for ten minutes a day in any way that recharges you; find Inspiration to move you; and Plan every step, from big ideas to the baby steps it takes to get there.  – Lisa Druxman, CEO & Chief Founding Mom, Stroller Strides (@LisaDruxman)


2.  Make your message heard.

  • Loud and clear, make your message heard if you really believe in it and believe you can inspire others.  Trust your instincts and use the available social media tools to share your message. . .

These are tools you can use in addition to your core business plan, but they are not a means to replace that plan.  And don’t be boring.  Ramon DeLeon, Marketing Mind, Dominos Pizza / Chicago (@Ramon_DeLeon )


disney social media moms celebration

Ramon held a captive audience with his energy and enthusiasm. . .

disney social media moms celebration

. . . and he was such a joy to meet.

  • Give everything away for free that you can, without giving away your biggest secrets.  Give your readers one call to action in every email, and remember that each week of the year is the first day of school for many readers, so every so often start from the beginning. Chris Brogan, Human Business Works (@ChrisBrogan)


3.  Be a weed.

disney social media moms celebration

Clearly no weeds at Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival (which just happened to be going on while we were there). . .

disney social media moms celebration

 . . . perhaps they missed the message?

  • Weeds have mastered every survival technique so they still stick around.  They don’t go away.  They’re tough, even though no one likes them.  In life, if you don’t have haters, you’re not doing enough to change the status quo, so be transparent and make sure you know how to write–and even if you do have haters, you won’t give them ammunition.  And if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.  Peter Shankman, founder of HARO and CEO of The Geek Factory


4.  Make time for people–and fun.

disney social media moms celebration

The Magic Carpet ride. . .


disney social media moms celebration

. . . and teacups are two of our favorite, most fun rides!

  • Fun is a precious resource.  There are 18 summers to have children at home for family vacations, so it’s important we use those 18 summers to their fullest.  Disney strives to create experiences–not vacations–experiences that act as glue keeping families together.  – Amy Foster, Disney Destinations & Disney Parks Consumer Insights

disney social media moms celebration

Gary Buchanan shares an important point: don’t get stuck on an idea.

  • Design fun and unique ways of sharing your stories.  You have to be able to t ell a great story, even though you may not have the resources you need to do so.  Think creatively and you can do it. . . There’s not a whole lot in this world that’s original, but you can take things and make them your own, finding creative ways of doing it. People connect with people, not brands. — Tom Smith, Social Media Director and Disney Parks Chief Blogger & Gary “Wacky Gary” Buchanan, Social Media Managing Editor (@disneyparks)
  • The conference planners made sure to include ample time for family–and serious fun–each day of the event.  From the Swashbuckler Soiree to the DinoLand Party to the “Under the Sea” dinner at the brand-new Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, family time and fun was around every corner.

disney social media moms celebration

Our welcome at the Art of Animation Resort “Under the Sea” dinner. . .

disney social media moms celebration

. . . and the kids had a first-go at the resort’s water and play area.

disney social media moms celebration

The food, the atmosphere, and the company–

disney social media moms celebration

were absolutely amazing. We will definitely return to this new, family-friendly resort.


5. Breathe.

  • Amy Jo Martin told us that she includes a Ready, Set, Pause in each of her days–8-10 minutes away from work, from everything where she listens to about two songs, takes a walk, does something to give herself a breather, and Lisa Druxman meditates each day.
  • Several speakers believe in the power of nature, the importance of even working outside–if possible–or even stepping away from electronics and writing (yep–using a good, old fashioned pen and paper!) instead.
  • Throughout the conference, drawings were held for mini-‘getaways': the Disney Wild Africa Trek, VIP Tours and Experiences, a Specialty Cruise around the resort, a night in the Cinderella’s Castle suite.  My lucky pal Jessica McFadden won a 3-hour cruise in the Grand 1 and invited my crazy crew as five of the 16 friends she could bring along. I had no idea Disney had this type of excursion, and the afternoon was spent relaxing, breathing, enjoying the view, and catching up with Jessica, Leticia, Jodi, and their beautiful families.  Thanks, Jess!  (And thanks, Disney for creating these types of ‘time-outs’ for families!)

disney social media moms celebration

Our view from the Grand I cruise. . .


disney social media moms celebration

. . . snacks that made everyone so very, very happy. . .


disney social media moms celebration

. . . and a super time to ‘breathe’ with Jodi, Jessica, and Letica–three of my fave people ever.


Here are all of our photos from the event and conference:

Our Disney Social Media Moms Celebration photos (there are a lot!)

Many, many thanks to the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration planners for extending an invitation my way for this awesome event.  I look forward to sharing a few more posts down the line: Disney non-fiction reading; Quick Trick: What to do when you have sick kids in Disney; New For Us Friday: Making Our Favorite Disney Dessert, and more.

fyi: As a participant in the 2012 Disney Social Media Moms Conference, I paid for my conference passes and was given hotel accommodations, park tickets, invitations to special park events, and some gift items.  I was not required to write about my experiences, and my opinions here are all my own, influenced only by my three little park-h0ppers and Disney-loving husband. 

disney word searches: getting kids ready for the trip!

disney word searches: getting kids ready for the trip!

We were on a major word search kick a while back, but we’ve taken a good long rest from them.disney word searches  teachmama.com

So in honor of our upcoming Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, I decided to bring back this oldie but goodie for Maddy, Owen, and Cora.  Word Searches!! What fun! Letter recognition! Fine motor practice! Reading! Talking! LOVE!

What a super way of activating a little schema, getting their brains ready for what they’ll see in the Happiest Place on Earth, for getting three already-crazy kids even more excited for a totally exciting event?!

I haven’t shown them their Disney Word Searches yet–they’re a surprise for the plane, for those inevitable waits during travel, for whenever we need them.  I think they’ll even be a good down-time activity in the hotel between trips to the pool, the park, or conference events.

Or for those Disney-lovers out there, they may be just what the doctor ordered between those yearly vay-cays.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Disney Word Searches: There are four word searches, all basically the same format but with four different themes:

word search disney characters –with all of our favorite characters, princesses, and movie stars

word search magic kingdom –with park highlights, rides, and features

word search epcot –with EPCOT highlights, rides, and shows

word search animal kingdom – with Animal Kingdom park highlights, rides, themes, animals

* new *

word search disneyland-- with Disneyland lands, rides, attractions, & more

disney word search | teachmama.comThe word search packets–ready to go!

disney word search | teachmama.com

All I did was print out one copy of each word search for Maddy, Owen, and Cora, and I stapled them together–one happy little packet for each of them.

And I’ll throw a ‘teacher pen’– one of those thin-tipped red or purple pens that I always used for grading–along with several highlighters, which my kids love to use for word searches into my bag.  And when the time is right, I’ll pull it all out.

My hope is that it will give the kids a chance to read the words–words they’ll hear and see and experience–in Disney so when they actually hear, see, and experience them, it’ll be that much more exciting.

disney word search | teachmama.com

But if we don’t get to them? No worries–they only took a second to create, and I think they’ll be a great way of ‘remembering’ our trip when we return!

And that’s it–just a little, sneaky learning in the name of (eeeeeee!) Disney and all things wonderful.

I used Discovery Education’s Free Puzzlemaker for these (and all) of our word searches.  Thanks, Discovery Education, and happy word-search creating, my friends!  Also check out the great game-creating resources on readwritethink.org — I LOVE the crossword creator!

Here are a few other ways to countdown or celebrate your own Disney vacation: 


fyi: affilliate links used below

disney fun fact lunchbox notes

disney world fun fact lunchbox notes | teachmama.com

disney world fun fact lunchbox notes | teachmama.com

We are big into lunchbox love notes around here, so why on earth would I have not thought earlier to make Disney Lunchbox Notes?

Be still my heart.

It’s the perfect combination: a captive audience, early readers, a topic that totally interests them–and a place I know they LOVE?  Add to the mix that they’ll be there very shortly, and it’s a complete win. 

At least in this teacher-mama’s book.

Even if they read a handful before we go and then the rest when we return, I think the continued lunchtime Disney love will prolong the Disney magic.

I am so over the moon excited about these, that I can barely contain myself.

Though Owen’s last request was for math fact lunchbox notes (not joking), he’s going to have to settle for these super fun Disney-themed lunchbox notes.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • disney fun fact lunchbox notes: They range from facts about characters to facts about the theme park to facts about the big man–Walt Disney–himself.

And each little lunchbox note has a cute little Disney photo along with it.

disney world fun fact lunchbox notes | teachmama.com

One sheet of the disney fun fact lunchbox notes, ready to be cut and added to lunchboxes!

Love, love, love.

The disney fun fact lunchbox notes can be downloaded as a pdf here.  Feel free to share with a link back or a pin–I’d love it!

Some fun fact teasers:

  • How many people work at Walt Disney World?
  • Every day an average of 210 pairs of sunglasses are turned in to the Disney World Lost & Found. . . .
  • How many stones are there in Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom?
  • What was the strangest thing ever brought to Lost and Found at Disney World?
  • What does EPCOT stand for?

disney world fun fact lunchbox notes | teachmama.com

Eight notes on a page, three pages total.  Twenty-four notes may take us pretty close through to the end of the school year.  Yay! What a way to go out!

And that’s it–just a quickie, super-sneaky way to throw in a teeny bit o’ learning and reading in the every day.  Okay, at lunchtime.  But that counts. . .and with an ‘I love you!’ or a ‘Have a great day!’ written by Mom or Dad, it’s sure to throw a smile on any Disney-loving kiddo!

Here are a few other ways to countdown or celebrate your own Disney vacation: 


fyi: Many thanks to the following sources for providing images and/or facts: disney.go.com; www.statesman.com



homemade disney autograph books

homemade disney autograph books teachmama.com

post contains affiliate links



homemade disney autograph books | teachmama.comWe are so very, very, very, very excited that we’re heading to the Happiest Place on earth in just a few days!

As part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, our schedule will be packed, and it will surely be an incredible event!

The kids are elated, my husband is elated, I am elated, and though Brady doesn’t know it yet, I’m sure he’ll be elated to be a spoiled grand-dog for a bit.

The last time we went to Disney, Maddy was 5 years old, Owen was 4, and Cora was days away from turning 3.  So things were a wee bit different.

Now that the kids are 8, 6, and 5, what we’re doing to prepare–and what we plan to do while we’re there–have taken more of a ‘big-kid’ spin.  And a little bit o’ preparation–and activating the ole schema–makes sense so that everyone makes the most of this awesome opportunity!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Homemade Autograph Books: Last time, our kids barely knew how to write their names.

Now, they’re totally into writing, into collecting, and into challenges–so having them make a homemade, just-for-Disney Autograph Book was the perfect idea.

Inspired by my sweet, totally smart friend Julie, of Just Precious, Cora and I hit the craft store and bought three inexpensive, hardcover blank books.

 homemade disney autograph books | teachmama.com

And then we covered that little ladybug (though she certainly was cute!) with an over-sized white label sticker, and Maddy, Owen, and Cora each decorated the cover of their books. 

They used Disney stickers I bought at the craft store and that we had here at home.  They also used letter stickers for their names, though Owen was totally cool just writing his in with pencil.


 homemade disney autograph books | teachmama.com

Finally, the kids made a page for each character they thought they would see.  Actually, Maddy and Owen made a page for each character, and Cora just put her stickers anywhere she wanted, grouping the princesses together and the Minnie and Mickey’s together, and doing pretty much anything she pleased.

I’m not sure she understood the concept of the Autograph Book, but that’s fine with me.  She was happy, so I was happy.


homemade disney autograph books | teachmama.com

Maddy went a little fancy with her pages, adding the character’s name and ‘sign here’, but Owen just slapped on a sticker of each character, and he was good to go.

We decided that it would be way too hard for Maddy to do this for every single character, so she plans to stamp the letters for about half of them. I thought it was a smart substitute!

homemade disney autograph books | teachmama.comOwen makes his autograph book pages!

homemade disney autograph books | teachmama.comCora works on her cover.

homemade disney autograph books | teachmama.comCora’s princess pages. . .

homemade disney autograph books | teachmama.com. . . and our home-made stickers on the jumbo labels.


We had a few packs of stickers from the craft store, like I said, but we realized we were missing many of our favorite characters.  So Maddy and I hit the internet for some characters, and I formatted a page that matched our jumbo, over-sized labels, and we printed those puppies out! Yay!

One really important thing I reminded the kids as we worked was that they needed to leave the characters enough space to sign.  Often their gloves were big, so signing may be difficult.

Another thing we talked about–that Maddy remembered from last time–was that many characters cannot speak; they wave, they move their bodies, but Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, all of the big fuzzy guys don’t talk.  Just something good to remember so the kids aren’t broken-hearted when Mickey doesn’t say, Hello, CORA!! I’ve waited my life to meet you!! (Though she’ll expect that from the princesses, I’m sure. .. . )

And that’s it! Just a quickie, inexpensive activity that (I think!) will add a bit of excitement to our trip, will get our kids super-excited to meet their favorite Disney characters, and will give them a real hand in memory-making!

Thank you, thank you, Julie, for the inspiration and idea, and please check out Julie’s Just Precious for other fabulous kid-happy, mom-happy ideas!


Here are a few other ways to countdown or celebrate your own Disney vacation: 


fyi: affiliate links are used in this post