via familyvacationcritic: With so many size restrictions and federal regulations, what we can bring on a plane is confusing enough, aside from worrying about the right gear to bring for kids. Here’s a guide for what to pack in a carry-on bag for the kids.

What to Pack in a Carry-On Bag
Every person with a seat gets one carry-on bag, while mom and dad also get to bring one laptop bag, one purse, or one diaper bag. Now, what do you bring?

For Infants. Pack your standard diaper bag complete with all the items you pack up for an outing: diapers, a changing pad, wipes, diaper cream, plastic bags for soiled clothes, blankets, tissues, pacifiers, teeth toys, extra change of clothes (two, just to be safe), a hat to keep baby’s head warm when the plane gets cold, bibs, bottles, breastmilk or formula, nursing pads for mom, baby food, infant feeding set, snacks, and a few of baby’s favorite toys. If your baby has any medications or you’re concerned about illness, bring medicines in your carry-on bag for the kids, including infant pain and fever reducers, teething relief and gas relief.

For Toddlers. Pack a backpack (preferably one your toddler can carry) with your essentials, as well as toys, including a change of clothes for an accident, diapers or pull-ups, plastic bags for soiled clothes, diaper cream, snacks (plenty if the flight is long and your child won’t eat the meal served), drinks purchased after security, small books, favorite toys and your child’s “lovey” that helps them keep calm and sleep. Stash a small first aid kit with bandages, motion sickness relief, fever reducers, pain reducers and any prescribed medications in this carry-on, or your own.

For School-Aged Kids. At this age, kids can definitely carry their own backpack or rollaway carry-on. Put your cell phone number and your name somewhere visible on the outside of the backpack, in case you become separated. Inside the backpack, allow your child to bring some favorite toys, such as crafts, video games and books to keep him occupied on the plane. Pack a sweater in case the flight gets chilly. Bring some snacks and purchase some beverages after security, as well as gum to help reduce ear pressure. Stash a small first aid kit with bandages, motion sickness relief, fever reducers, pain reducers and any prescribed medications in this carry-on, or your own.

For Teens. Teens can and will pack a carry-on for themselves, but be sure to make sure the essentials are there, and that the rule-breakers are not. Teens should have their IDs and passports on them, and their wallets with cash. Let them carry their own ticket and have a copy of the itinerary, in the event you get separated, as well as their cell phone. Put a copy of your insurance information in your teen’s carry-on as well. Teens should also carry their own prescribed medicines, but have on hand aspirin and other basics in case they need it. Glasses and/or a spare set of contacts should also be carried on.

For Yourself. Be sure you have a bag with your wallet, IDs, passport, credit cards, at least some small cash, tickets, itineraries, insurance information, membership cards, prescription medicines, glasses and/or a spare set of contacts, jewelry, camera, cell phone, charger, book/magazine, laptop and charger, and anything you couldn’t bear to lose if your luggage is lost. If you’re traveling with an infant or small child, you may want to bring a change of clothes, or at least a shirt, in the event of a spit up or accident.

For more ideas on what to pack the kids in a carry-on bag, be sure to check out our interactive family packing list.

What You Are Allowed to Bring In a Carry-On
Different airlines have different size standards they permit as a carry-on, and more and more airlines are grabbing passengers’ carry-ons at the gate for being too large or when the overhead bulkhead is full (a common occurrence in winter, when everyone has coats and extra gear). Some airlines are beginning to charge an extra fee if your carry-on gets gate checked. A good rule of thumb: Keep the carry-on size small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. As long as it’s that small, and you do not mind losing the legroom, you will always be able to bring the carry-on with you.

The 3-1-1 rule still applies for all carry-on baggage. This TSA regulation states that you cannot bring any liquid or gel that’s more than three ounces, and you are permitted one quart-sized clear, zip-lock baggie per person in which to store them. Parents traveling with infants are permitted to break the three-ounce rule when packing breastmilk, formula and baby food, but remove them from your carry-on before going through security, and alert security personnel.

Due to the 3-1-1 rule, it’s best not to bring any juice, water or other items you may typically have on hand for the tots. Instead, purchase the items once you are through security, and store them in your carry-on to have them handy for thirsty kids who are impatient for beverage service.

Infant carriers, car seats and strollers can be brought through security to make traveling with small children less taxing at the airport. It is recommended that although infants and children under 2 can be held in the lap of a parent, a separate seat be purchased for the child and the infant carrier or a car seat be installed in the seat to keep the child secure during take-off, landing and during the flight. Strollers will have to be gate checked, but if you have a family of four traveling through the airport, it may make it easier to maneuver through an airport if holding a young child and a few carry-on pieces.

That said, you may find it more cumbersome to travel with bulky gear and prefer to check strollers and car seats. Better yet, rent these items at your final destination. Rental car companies provide car seats with advanced reservations, and some companies partner with hotels to provide stroller and car seat rentals. Inquire ahead and avoid the extra trouble when you can.


via Endangered1. Learn about endangered species in your area. 
Teach your friends and family about the wonderful wildlife, birds, fish and plants that live near you. The first step to protecting endangered species is learning about how interesting and important they are. Our natural world provides us with many indispensable services including clean air and water, food and medicinal sources, commercial, aesthetic and recreational benefits. For more information about endangered species, visit endangered.fws.gov and join our activist network to receive updates and action alerts.

2. Visit a national wildlife refuge, park or other open space
. These protected lands provide habitat to many native wildlife, birds, fish and plants. Scientists tell us the best way to protect endangered species is to protect the places where they live. Get involved by volunteering at your local nature center or wildlife refuge. Go wildlife or bird watching in nearby parks. Wildlife related recreation creates millions of jobs and supports local businesses. To find a wildlife refuge near you, visit www.fws.gov/refuges/ To find a park near you, visit www.nps.gov To find a zoo near you, visit www.aza.org

3. Make your home wildlife friendly. 
Secure garbage in shelters or cans with locking lids, feed pets indoors and lock pet doors at night to avoid attracting wild animals into your home. Reduce your use of water in your home and garden so that animals that live in or near water can have a better chance of survival. Disinfect bird baths often to avoid disease transmission. Place decals on windows to deter bird collisions. Millions of birds die every year because of collisions with windows. You can help reduce the number of collisions simply by placing decals on the windows in your home and office. For more information on what you can do, check out these tips from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

4. Native plants provide food and shelter for native wildlife. Attracting native insects like bees and butterflies can help pollinate your plants. The spread of non-native species has greatly impacted native populations around the world. Invasive species compete with native species for resources and habitat. They can even prey on native species directly, forcing native species towards extinction. For more information about native plants, visit http://www.plantsocieties.org.

5. Herbicides and pesticides may keep yards looking nice but they are in fact hazardous pollutants that affect wildlife at many levels. Many herbicides and pesticides take a long time to degrade and build up in the soils or throughout the food chain. Predators such as hawks, owls and coyotes can be harmed if they eat poisoned animals. Some groups of animals such as amphibians are particularly vulnerable to these chemical pollutants and suffer greatly as a result of the high levels of herbicides and pesticides in their habitat. For alternatives to pesticides, visit http://www.beyondpesticides.org.

6. Slow down when driving. 
Many animals live in developed areas and this means they must navigate a landscape full of human hazards. One of the biggest obstacles to wildlife living in developed areas is roads. Roads divide habitat and present a constant hazard to any animal attempting to cross from one side to the other. So when you’re out and about, slow down and keep an eye out for wildlife.

7. Recycle and buy sustainable products. 
Buy recycled paper, sustainable products like bamboo and Forest Stewardship Council wood products to protect forest species. Never buy furniture made from wood from rainforests. Recycle your cell phones, because a mineral used in cell phones and other electronics is mined in gorilla habitat. Minimize your use of palm oil because forests where tigers live are being cut down to plant palm plantations.

8. Never purchase products made from threatened or endangered species.
Overseas trips can be exciting and fun, and everyone wants a souvenir. But sometimes the souvenirs are made from species nearing extinction. Avoid supporting the market in illegal wildlife including: tortoise-shell, ivory, coral. Also, be careful of products including fur from tigers, polar bears, sea otters and other endangered wildlife, crocodile skin, live monkeys or apes, most live birds including parrots, macaws, cockatoos and finches, some live snakes, turtles and lizards, some orchids, cacti and cycads, medicinal products made from rhinos, tiger or Asiatic black bear.

9. Harassing wildlife is cruel and illegal. Shooting, trapping, or forcing a threatened or endangered animal into captivity is also illegal and can lead to their extinction. Don’t participate in this activity, and report it as soon as you see it to your local state or federal wildlife enforcement office. You can find a list of state wildlife departments at http://www.fws.gov/offices/statelinks.html.

10. Protect wildlife habitat. 
Perhaps the greatest threat that faces many species is the widespread destruction of habitat. Scientists tell us the best way to protect endangered species is to protect the special places where they live. Wildlife must have places to find food, shelter and raise their young. Logging, oil and gas drilling, over-grazing and development all result habitat destruction. Endangered species habitat should be protected and these impacts minimized.

By protecting habitat, entire communities of animals and plants can be protected together. Parks, wildlife refuges, and other open space should be protected near your community. Open space also provides us with great places to visit and enjoy. Support wildlife habitat and open space protection in your community. When you are buying a house, consider your impact on wildlife habitat.

Source: Endangered | 10 Easy Things You Can Do to Save Endangered Species


via Seeker: Ezra Frech is not an average 9 year old. After overcoming physical disabilities, Ezra has risen to be a top athlete in his age range.

Ezra Frech has been through a lot in his short life. Due to a congenital abnormality, he was born with a dramatically curved left leg and only one finger on his left hand. Doctors had to amputate his leg when he was just 11 months old, replacing it with a prosthetic limb. They then attached the big toe from the foot of his amputated leg onto his left hand to serve as a thumb, giving him partial functionality of his hand.

Ezra says that sometimes it can be difficult to feel the same as other kids. It’s hurts when he notices them staring and whispering. But he also knows he’s just as capable of doing anything other kids his age can do if he tries hard enough. One thing Ezra loves to do is play sports. He plays soccer, football, basketball, and runs track. When he’s playing sports he doesn’t feel different at all. His mind is totally absorbed in the game, and he feels just like every other kid.

Follow and Support Team Ezra on Facebook

Playing sports has become a ritual for Ezra. If he goes even a single day without playing, he doesn’t feel like himself. Even though he would never give it up, Ezra does have to spend extra effort to be able to play sports as often as he does. His body has to work really hard to keep up with other kids his age. At the end of every day it’s crucial for him to spend a lot of time stretching, because his back is forced to work so hard to move his prosthetic leg while he’s running. But all the extra time and effort is totally worth it. Ezra wouldn’t be himself if he couldn’t play sports.

Sometimes Ezra wonders why he was born this way. Why was he born with these abnormalities instead of someone else? He never lingers on these thoughts for long though. He thinks of everything he has and remembers how lucky he is in other ways. He has a loving and supportive family, a great school, lots of friends, and the ability to play sports. Having all of these things is much more important to him than wishing he had been born differently, and he tries to share this philosophy with other kids, and adults too, as often as he can. It’s okay to be different because we’re all human and that’s what really matters in the end.


via MC: At the turn of the century, Cyber Monday wasn’t even a gleam in the eye of the retail PR team that would create it, and the person commonly credited with coining the phrase was still in college.

Today, Cyber Monday is the United States’ biggest online shopping holiday. Every year, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, tens of millions of deal-hungry holiday shoppers converge on retail websites big and small to take advantage of time- and quantity-limited sales.

It’s no accident that Cyber Monday comes on the heels of Black Friday, its older, brick-and-mortar counterpart. The twin shopping holidays complement each other perfectly. In recent years, the lines between the two have blurred. Many Black Friday discounts are available online, though in-store-only opportunities persist; Cyber Monday is frequently an extension of marathon “Black Friday week” or “Cyber week” promotions. Shoppers have more choice – and more chances to save – than ever before.

Capturing the best Cyber Monday deals takes work though. In this post, I’ll outline some tips to help you plan for your big Cyber Monday shopping bonanza. I’ll share some expert-level secrets that can help you snag great deals before sales end or supplies run out – while staying safe during the worst time of year for identity theft and computer fraud.

How to Prepare for Cyber Monday
You can get started on some of these items weeks or months before Cyber Monday. The earlier, the better.

1. Look to Past Years’ Sales for Guidance
Retailers don’t exactly recycle Cyber Monday deals from year to year, largely because consumers are so fickle and product life cycles are too short. But you can reliably predict the types of products on which you’ll find the best deals. Electronics, clothing and apparel, and cosmetics are all Cyber Monday stalwarts.

For more specific guidance on retailers’ wheelhouses, check out prior-year Cyber Monday flyers. Just Google the retailer’s name and “Cyber Monday [year] flyer.” Look for flyers on retailers’ official websites. Screenshotted flyers on shopping blogs and discount aggregators are more likely to have errors or inaccuracies, as retailers sometimes release multiple versions of flyers before Cyber Monday hits.

With access to prior-year flyers, you can begin to compile a tentative Cyber Monday shopping list. More on that below.

2. Bookmark Your Favorite Retailers’ Websites
Bookmark each useful retail website as you go. If you’re shopping for multiple people, you’ll probably accumulate a pretty long list of options. Create a separate Cyber Monday or “online shopping” folder to sequester your retailer bookmarks.

For memory’s sake, I customize my bookmarks’ names with words or phrases reminding me why they’re useful – for instance, my Fry’s Electronics bookmark says, “PC accessories and home entertainment.”

3. Follow Your Favorite Retailers on Social Media
The best way to stay up-to-date on late-breaking retail promotions at any time of year is to follow your favorite retailers on social media.

This strategy is especially fruitful during the holiday shopping season and just after, when clearance sales are common. (Fun fact: The best time of year to shop for a new TV is actually January, when retailers rush to offload their remaining stock of prior-year models that didn’t sell during the holidays.)

Twitter is probably the best venue for information about time-limited deals and sales on specific products or product categories. I recommend creating a Twitter list specifically for the retailers you follow. It’ll help you filter through the noise and stick to business.

Facebook is better for highly targeted, hopefully relevant offers. Once you follow a retailer’s Facebook page and browse their website with cookies enabled, you’ll likely begin to see promoted Facebook ads for products similar or identical to the ones you’ve already scanned through. If you’ve never experienced this phenomenon, it’s a bit off-putting at first, and it can really threaten your shopping budget if you don’t maintain discipline. But it’s also an amazing time-saver that might just curry favor with your gift recipients.

Pinterest and Instagram are great for visual shoppers who want to see certain types of products in context before they buy, but I don’t use them much for deal-hunting. They’re better for generating useful ideas to pass along to recipients.

4. Sign Up for Retail Newsletters
This old-fashioned strategy is no less useful than following your favorite retailers’ social media profiles.

It costs nothing and takes five seconds of your time to sign up for an email newsletter. Do it for every retailer you’re seriously considering patronizing this holiday season.

Being a newsletter junkie has an obvious downside: lots of promotional emails, especially around the holidays. Your email client probably allows you to create a special folder to keep them sequestered, though, or uses an automatic filter anyway. Gmail shunts all emails deemed promotional into its Promo folder, keeping them out of your main inbox. Set aside a few minutes every couple of days to sort through your promotional emails en masse.

As Cyber Monday approaches, your newsletters will begin touting this year’s top deals. Some newsletters include or link to actual Cyber Monday flyers, so they’re a good centralized planning resource.

5. Make Your Holiday Gift List as Early as Possible
Use your social follows, newsletter memberships, and old-fashioned research skills to build your holiday gift list as early as possible.

Rather than manually monitor websites for updates, you can use an app that automatically alerts you when a specific page’s content changes. App quality varies, and they’re sometimes harder to work with than they sound, so do your research before you select one. The best apps generally aren’t free, though they may follow freemium models that allow a limited number of alerts before the pricing structure kicks in.

However you build your list, make sure you have alternatives in place for popular products. If the exact item you want is out of stock or beyond your price range, you’ll want to have a Plan B. Ditto for retailers: You’ll want to know which retailers sell which products, so that you can easily switch if it’s out of stock at your preferred vendor.

6. Stock Up on Discounted Gift Cards
Don’t wait until the holiday shopping season kicks off to start stocking up on discounted gift cards.

The best places to find cut-rate gift cards from your favorite retailers (rather than paying full price in the grocery store checkout line) are online clearinghouses like Raise and CardCash. Both stock physical gift cards and online coupon codes from hundreds of popular retailers, including some of the biggest names in the business. DealsPlus focuses more on online coupon codes, again for some of the biggest U.S. retailers around.

Discount rates generally increase in proportion to the retailer’s popularity. Major home improvement and electronics retailers typically have lower discount rates than niche apparel retailers, for instance. If you’re planning to patronize smaller outlets on Cyber Monday, you can probably find excellent deals on cards from low-key retailers – upwards of 20%, in many cases.

Before you lock in your gift card purchases, make sure you’re allowed to use them in combination with other offers and that there aren’t any other onerous restrictions to worry about (like prohibitions on using your discounts on Cyber Monday). Coupon stacking, or combining multiple gift cards or coupons to magnify discounts on the same item, is a fantastic and simple way to stretch your holiday shopping budget further. Plus, you don’t want to make it all the way through the checkout process only to discover that your discounted coupon code doesn’t apply.

If you realize at some future point that you’ve gone overboard with your gift card buys, check out our article on what to do with unwanted gift cards and learn how to cut your losses.

7. Research Shipping Policies and Fees
Many retailers offer free shipping on Cyber Monday, even if they don’t at other times of year – “free shipping on all orders” is a very powerful temporary selling point. Unless you’re shopping for products that aren’t available on free-shipping sites, I’d recommend avoiding retailers that charge for shipping on most or all orders.

If your preferred retailer offers free shipping on orders above a certain size, determine whether it’s feasible to spend that much (meaning, whether you would have spent that much anyway) before you place your order.

8. Research Return Policies and Fees
Before you buy, look into retailers’ return policies and fees. Most clearly state their return policies on their websites, but it’s worth calling customer support if there’s any confusion at all.

Return shipping charges and restocking fees really eat into refunds or store credits, leaving less left over to rectify the mistake and fund the rest of your holiday shopping.

They also distort consumers’ decision-making processes. I recently purchased several pairs of bike shorts from a New York State bike shop’s online store in preparation for a long-distance bike ride. Two pairs were a size too large; I saw chafing and discomfort in my future. I looked up the shop’s return policy for online sales and, lo and behold, I’d be responsible for return shipping charges – just under half the total cost of each pair. I decided the added expense wasn’t worth it and held onto the shorts.

Nothing disastrous happened, but I definitely felt the difference by day four. Had return shipping been free, returning the shorts would have been a no-brainer.

Shopping on Cyber Monday
Once your favorite retailers announce the year’s Cyber Monday deals, set these strategies in motion.

9. Set a Firm Budget
The first rule of Cyber Monday shopping is simple: Stick to your budget.

Figuring out how that budget should look in the first place is another matter. The L.A. Times offers some general guidelines on holiday spending: $20 and up for siblings and cousins, $25 and up for nieces and nephews, $20 and up for parents and in-laws. But there’s obviously a big difference between spending $25 on a nice new tableware set for your mother-in-law and shelling out $200 (or more) for a new table.

Your broader financial picture plays a crucial role too. As the Times itself notes, paraphrasing consumer spending blogger Leah Ingram, “A surgeon earning six figures will have a different budget than an elementary school teacher.”

Speaking with The Street, finance executive Elle Kaplan recommends sticking to the 20-30-50 rule: investing 20% of your net take-home pay “in yourself,” reserving 50% for essentials (like groceries), and spending the remaining 30% on “fun” discretionary purchases – including holiday shopping.

Whatever you decide you can spend, keep your actual holiday shopping budget on the conservative side. Try as you might, there’s a good chance you’ll overshoot your projected spending. That hurts less when you have room to spare in your budget.

10. Use a Price Comparison Tool
Don’t pull the trigger on a Cyber Monday purchase until you’re (reasonably) sure you’re getting the best possible deal.

Use a price comparison app or toolbar (if you’re shopping on a desktop) to see which retailers are offering the lowest prices on the big shopping day. Shopify has a good roundup of legitimate price comparison apps, including some free options. (The article is written for merchants, but the same rules apply to shoppers.) One of the best-regarded is PriceGrabber.

You can also check consumer blogs and deal aggregation websites. Remember that these sites aren’t necessarily updated instantaneously when new sales hit or old sales go away – you always want to confirm with the retailer itself, especially when deals seem too good to be true.

11. Create a Spreadsheet With Sale Information and Links
If you’re a “spreadsheet person,” this is an evergreen strategy that can save you serious money on online shopping throughout the year.

Create a spreadsheet with site descriptions, links to interesting products (or examples thereof), price ranges and comparisons with competing retailers, discounts and promotions (including Cyber Monday sales), shipping policies, and other pertinent information. Update it whenever you come across a new retail website. In no time, you’ll have an encyclopedic resource customized to your online shopping preferences (and your holiday gift recipients’).

12. Avoid Sites With Poor Security Practices
Don’t gamble with your identity. Stay away from retail sites with lackadaisical security practices. Two key practices stand out in particular: SSL certificates and Verisign domain protection.

SSL is an encryption protocol that renders it much more difficult (though not impossible) for bad actors to steal payment card information and other personal data during the payment process. Look for “https” at the beginning of the site’s URL. You should never enter payment card information on non-“https” pages, period.

Verisign provides site administrators with a modicum of protection against hacking attacks and malware. Like SSL, it’s not foolproof, but it helps. Sites without Verisign protection are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, spoofing, and other types of cybercrime.

If you don’t already, consider using a web browser that can identify potentially compromised websites. This protection isn’t foolproof – my Chrome browser is overzealous, occasionally returning false positives that prevent me from accessing legitimate sites. But better safe than sorry.

If you’re shopping on a mobile device, download your favorite retailers’ verified apps too. Apps downloaded from a legitimate source, such as the Google Play Store, are much less likely to be compromised.

13. Rise Early or Stay Up Late the Night Before
Most retailers run Cyber Monday sales for at least 24 hours. Many begin them before Cyber Monday itself, or fold them into longer “cyber weeks” or Black Friday weekend sales.

If you’re shopping for common products for which demand is measured, you probably don’t have to get up at (or stay up until) 1am to snag the best deals. However, if you’re worried about items running out of stock – a common problem on the weekend after Thanksgiving – then you’ll want to shop as early as practically possible.

When you shop at inconvenient times, you may also capture deals that you’d otherwise miss. Some retailers are famous for running hourly Cyber Monday sales, each focusing on a different, deeply discounted product category. Want 50% off the latest Sony UHDTV? You might find yourself groggily entering your credit card information at 3:15am on Cyber Monday. The good news is that most retailers release their hourly shopping lists in advance of Cyber Monday, so you can plan accordingly (and hopefully stock up on sleep).

14. Shop in Incognito or Private Mode
Do your actual shopping anonymously(ish) using your browser’s private or incognito mode. This isn’t a foolproof way to mask your identity to retailers, but it can render you eligible for deals not available to someone with your browsing or purchasing history. (Yes, retailers know way more about you than you realize.)

Using your browser’s private mode reduces your exposure when you shop at inappropriate times – like, ahem, at work. Even if it doesn’t directly save you money, avoiding your boss’s ire (and potential disciplinary consequences) is obviously a good thing in the long-term.

If you’re really concerned about privacy, opt for a virtual private network (VPN) or torrenting platform instead. You may have to pay for it (my VPN costs about $70 per year), but it’s well worth the cost for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here. You can learn more about the benefits of VPNs in our post on the subject

15. Resist Upsells and Add-Ons
Remember your budget. Always remember your budget.

Successful Cyber Monday shopping requires discipline in spades. No matter where you shop, it’s inevitable that you’ll be swamped by offers to add complementary products to your order or upsold to premium versions – for a premium price, of course.

Unless you were planning to purchase add-on or upsold products anyway, ignore these entreaties, tempting though they may be. This is the single easiest way to avoid exceeding your preset holiday shopping budget.

16. Use a Rewards Credit Card
The right rewards credit card can significantly reduce the cost of your holiday shopping campaign.

I usually recommend flat-rate cash back credit cards, such as Chase Freedom Unlimited (unlimited 1.5% cash back) or the Citi Double Cash Card (unlimited 2% cash back).

In this instance, though, cards with rotating rewards categories really shine. Every quarter, Chase Freedom and Discover it pay 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in net purchases in one or two rotating categories – up to $75 in bonus cash back per quarter. Department stores routinely appear in the mix, and the category is broad enough to encompass many of Cyber Monday’s most popular retailers.

I keep a Chase Freedom card on standby for eventualities like this. With no annual fee, there’s no downside to letting months go by with little to no account activity, then spending aggressively on favored purchases while the 5% deal is in effect.

17. Monitor Your Bank Accounts, Credit Cards, and Credit Profile for Suspicious Activity
The holiday shopping season is the busiest time of year for credit card fraudsters and identity thieves. If you avoid sites with poor security practices and keep your eyes peeled for potential scams, you’ll reduce your likelihood of victimization, but it’s impossible to cut your chances down to zero. As long as you shop online, the risk is there.

What you can do is proactively monitor your financial profile for red flags. If you haven’t already, start reviewing your account statements and between-statement activity (accessible through your online account dashboards) for unfamiliar purchases and charges. It sounds like overkill, but credit card issuers’ built-in fraud detectors still don’t catch everything.

This is also a good time to review your issuers’ fine print and confirm that you’re protected by “zero fraud liability” (the nomenclature varies by issuer). Credit card companies are required by law to limit cardholder liability for unauthorized purchases to $50 per event, but many waive even that small limit as part of their standard benefits packages. Why part with $50 when you don’t have to?

I recommend using a receipt organizer as well. You can buy physical organizers for a few dollars on Etsy or Amazon, but for online purchases, a digital version is a better bet. Shoeboxed is a good product; other options abound. If you’re in business for yourself, you’ll want to prioritize this step, as a receipt organizer is a great way to reduce business expenses at tax time. Some digital organizers have built-in mileage trackers too – essential for business owners and professionals who need to travel for work.

Finally, consider enrolling in a free credit monitoring service like CreditKarma. I’m a converted skeptic: I resisted signing up for CreditKarma for a long time because I didn’t like the idea of tailored sales pitches and frequent email blasts, but the service has been relatively unobtrusive. Around the holidays, it’s a useful way to stay on top of changes to your credit profile without actually running reports yourself.

Final Word
As I mentioned up top, the lines between Black Friday and Cyber Monday blur a little bit more each year. But it’s not accurate to say that all the tips that apply to Cyber Monday shoppers apply on Black Friday (or during Black Friday weeks) as well.

If you’re planning to take advantage of the best Black Friday sales and deals this year, check out our companion post on the top Black Friday shopping tips for frugal consumers. And remember to stay sane during this reliably hectic time of year. Happy shopping!

What’s your top Cyber Monday shopping tip?


via The Natural Child Project: 1. Remember that children have limits.

If you are shopping with children, be alert to their needs: are they tired, hungry, overexcited by the noise and confusion, or simply in need of fresh air and exercise, or a reassuring hug?

2. Remember that children are naturally curious.

Children are naturally curious; this is how they learn about the world around them. If they want to examine an attractive item, please don’t scold them. Instead, help them to hold the item safely, or let them know that it can be viewed but not touched. You might say “This is breakable, so let’s just look at it together.” Even if an item cannot be purchased, it can be helpful to share the child’s enthusiasm and interest in it.

3. Shopping with infants…

Shopping with an infant will be far easier if the trip is made after they are rested and have been fed. Babies and small children can become dehydrated in the dry air of shopping malls, so be sure to take frequent nursing or juice breaks.

Babies are almost always happier when carried. A sling or carrier worn by the parent provides far more comfort and emotional security than a stroller or grocery cart. A small child-proof toy can help a baby to cope with the inevitably lessened attention from the parent, but remember to stop as often as possible and take a moment for gentle words, eye contact, and hugs.

4. Shopping with toddlers…

Toddlers can begin to be included in shopping decisions. Involving the child with questions such as “which of these peaches looks better to you?” can turn a boring, frustrating experience into a more pleasurable one, for both parent and child. Children of all ages enjoy and appreciate being able to make some of the product choices themselves. Bringing along juice, a favorite snack, and a well-loved picture book, or a newly-borrowed one from the library, can also be very helpful.

Being surrounded by a crowd of adults can be intimidating to small children, especially when stores are busy. Using a backpack can be one way of bringing toddlers up to a height where they are more contented. It can also prevent the common, frightening experience of losing a toddler in a crowd.

5. Shopping with older children…

An older child can be a great help in shopping, if approached in a spirit of fun and appreciation. If the parent brings along clipped-out pictures of food from the newspaper grocery ads, the child can help to locate the item. Children mature enough to shop by themselves can help shorten the trip by finding items alone, returning periodically to put items into the cart.

6. Avoid the crowds.

Shopping just before dinner, when stores are crowded, and parents and children are tired and hungry, can be very stressful. Try shopping in the morning or early afternoon on weekdays, or move dinner up and shop during the quiet early-evening time between 6 and 7 PM. When we can avoid the stress of crowded stores and long check-out lines, we can have more energy and creativity for responding to our child’s needs.

7. The check-out lane can be a challenge…

Check-out lanes which have colorful, enticing gum and candy packages can be a real challenge, especially as they are encountered at the end of shopping, when both parent and child are most fatigued and hungry. Bringing a favorite healthful snack from home can allow an easy alternative: “That package looks pretty, but candy isn’t very nutritious. Here’s the oatmeal cookie and juice we brought.” Shopping at stores which have “child-proof” check-outs without candy can be well worth a longer drive. If there is no local store with such a check-out, you might suggest this feature to a store manager, promising to shop regularly if this option is made available.

8. When you need to say “no”…

The most important part of saying “no” is conveying to the child that we are on his or her side, even if we can’t satisfy all desires immediately. It might help to say, “That is nice, isn’t it? Take a good look and when we get home, we’ll add it to your wish list.” As the educator John Holt once said, “There is no reason why we cannot say ‘No’ to children in just as kind a way as we say ‘Yes’.” And remember that smiles, hugs, and cuddles are all free!

9. If you reach your limit…

If you reach the limit of your patience and energy, try to show by example positive ways of handling anger and fatigue. You might try saying, “I’m starting to lose my patience. I think I need a break from shopping for a bit. Let’s go outside for a few minutes so we can both get refreshed.” Even a few moments of fresh air away from the crowds can make a big difference for both parent and child.

10. If your children reach their limit…

If, after trying some of the above suggestions, your children have simply reached the end of their ability to handle any more errands, please respect that. Shopping can wait; an exhausted, hungry, or overly-excited child cannot.

Remember that all children behave as well as they are treated. A child who is regularly given our time, undivided attention, patience, and understanding will have more tolerance for a shopping trip – and any other challenging situation – than the child who must face stressful situations without this emotional support.


via njfamily: It’s winter… which means you probably spend 20 minutes in the morning searching for the left mitten that’s lost in a snowdrift somewhere. Here are tips to keep them from getting separated.

Mitten Clips
One easy solution is to buy those handy little clips, where one end clips to their jacket and the other to the mittens. More precocious kids may pull them off, but its a good option for babies and toddlers. These are surprisingly hard to find once the snow starts falling, so check amazon for the best variety.

A String
All you need is a long piece of string (twine, ribbon, yarn) that you match to the length of your kid’s wingspan. Tie the string to both mittens (you may need to make a small hole and a knot, but it is worth it in the long run). Then run one mitten and the string through both sleeves of the coat. The mittens will then just hang out the bottom of the sleeves and you’ll save your sanity.

Velcro
Grab some adhesive Velcro and cut a piece as long as the cuff of her jacket. Then separate (aka un-velcro) the halves, remove the adhesive backing and stick one piece to the outside of his jacket cuff. Then press firmly. Next, turn his mitten inside out and press the other piece to the inside of the mitten cuff. When you velcro the pieces together, they’ll create an extra barrier against snow, as well as increase his chances of returning home with a complete pair. Check out motherhood.modernmom.com for more detailed instructions.

Buy Multiple Pairs
If you’ve got a favorite pair of gloves or mittens you like, buy two pairs, so they can be mixed or matched as needed. It will cost you a little more at the outset, but save you a headache in the long run. As an alternative, Lands End will actually sell you a single kids glove throughout the season if you lose one of your pair.

Keep a Stash of Stretchy Gloves
Those little stretchy gloves aren’t the warmest outerwear you can buy, but for a dollar most places, you can stockpile a bunch of them and keep them handy as a backup for when your kid inevitably loses their “good” gloves. The best part is that they can fit many sizes, great if you lose your own gloves. Check dollar stores and the dollar bin at Target, they always seem to have them there.

Put Them in the Sleeve
It’s a simple fix, but if you put the gloves inside the hat and stuff them all in the sleeve of a coat, they should actually be there when you get back. Not ideal for wet items, but works well, especially at crowded places like schools.

Buttons and Elastic
If you can sew, try a more permanent solution. Stitch a piece of elastic to the inside of the coat sleeve. Then attach a button to the edge of the mitten. Cut a small hole in the elastic (just about the size of the button), put the button through the hole and you’re ready to attach them together.


via Wela: It’s a one of the most iconic board games of all time. Well, technically, the most iconic since its release in 1935. Aside from being a great way to enjoy a game night in, it can also teach us a lot about personal finance and investing. While these concepts might feel exclusive to adults, there are some basic principles for which you can use Monopoly to teach your kids. The great thing about this game is a lot of the situations below will arise naturally during game play (teaching moment!). So pick your game piece, choose a banker, and get your learning on.

  1. Basic Financial Math SkillsWhether playing as the banker or as a regular player kids will be responsible for making financial transactions like purchasing and making change. This is great for practicing basic math skills but also getting comfortable with different denominations of currency. 
  2. The Importance of Keeping Cash On HandIf your kid is anything like my goddaughter (who’s 5), they like quantity. She wants to buy up everything she can as quickly as she can and have more ownership of the board. However, she quickly learned she couldn’t meet her financial obligations because she was spending money faster than she made it. Game over kiddo. This is a great time to encourage your kids to think about the future and plan accordingly. 
  3. Managing Cash Flow by Earning IncomeI saw this lesson on a blog post called “5 Educational Board Games for Money Management” over at Money Crashers. When you “Pass Go” you’re earning your salary. It’s basically your paycheck. Use this to talk about the value of living within your means, how to avoid “living” paycheck to paycheck, and income tax. You don’t have to use all the high-level adult words; the concept will stick.Related: How Your Children Benefit When You Pay Them To Do Chores 
  4. Life is Full of SurprisesDouble whammy! Money lesson AND life lesson. Everyone starts off with the same amount of money but from there anything can happen. Player’s can experience some rough patches by being dealt a bad hand (literally) with chance cards and dice rolls but they can also have some strokes of luck. It’s important to encourage your kids to take advantage of opportunities that come their way and not to get discouraged when things go awry.
  5. Everyone Needs an Emergency FundSpeaking of chance cards–you can find yourself in quite a pickle if you haven’t stashed away some cash. Teach your kids to put some of their earnings in a different pile for those game “emergencies.” If you don’t have cash to pay for something like hotel repairs, or railroad rent you are forced to sell off some of your assets at a steep discount.
  6. BudgetingAs your kids start accruing assets on the board the game is going to get more complicated (ahh mid-20s, I remember you well). They must think about how much cash they need to have to make it around the board (ie to their next paycheck) without running out, plan ahead for taxes and income, make payments as they land on other player’s properties, etc.
  7. The Art of NegotiationThe game offers opportunities to negotiate with other players to sell or secure properties and even get out of jail (you can hold onto the Get Out Of Jail Free card and sell it to another player). Here they can explore their ability to reach a mutually beneficial deal. This is also a good time for you to figure out if your older kid has learned how to start manipulating your younger one into totally unfruitful deals (not saying I ever did this to my younger brother or anything…).

Money management is one of those life skills that often gets forgotten or overlooked because it feels like such a grown-ups-only topic. The fact is, the earlier you start establishing some basic principles with your children the better they will understand money as they start to earn their own. Plus board games are fun.


via Matador Network: I STRONGLY BELIEVE THAT if we want to make the world a more understanding place, we need to start with children. They are the impressionable ones that are still forming their perceptions of the world, and it’s so important for them to have positive role models and good influences in their lives. Not just in reference to religious and racial differences, promoting tolerance applies to gender, physical/intellectual disabilities, size, shape, and everything in between.

1. Promote openness and respect by demonstrating empathy and compassion through your words and actions. Besides not letting your child bully or tease someone else, watch what you say yourself! Treat others with respect, and your child will, too. Even comments about your own body (I feel fat, my brown/red/blonde hair is so ugly) can lead a child to make judgments about people in the world around him or her.

2. Encourage self-confidence. A child who is confident about him/herself will be more likely to embrace differences and see the value in others.

3. Honor traditions and learn about others’ traditions. Celebrate your family’s traditions and explore other holiday and religious celebrations that are outside of your own traditions and comfort zone.

4. Give them experiences with diverse populations. Sign your child up for summer camp, a workshop, or child care with a diverse group of kids. In my school district, we have a peer model program in our special education preschool classes so that typically developing 4 year olds in the community have the opportunity to go to preschool with children with special needs. Both the typically developing and the children with special needs can learn acceptance.

5. Travel with your kids (or move to another state or country). Allowing your children to grow experience a new and different environment will at the very least broaden their worldview and help them understand that people around the world are different. For more on this, check out Karen Banes’ article about the educational value of long term travel with kids.

6. Talk about differences respectfully. Talk about the differences among your family and friends (hair color, skin color, personal likes and dislikes), and use the opportunity to talk about how it’s good that people are different. You could also discuss how people are the same as well (i.e. you have blonde hair and your friend has brown hair, but you are both girls and you both have two eyes, two ears, one mouth, etc.).

7. Respond to children’s questions, even if you don’t have a “good” answer. Kids can ask hard questions, but your silence can teach a child that it’s not okay to talk about differences or “uncomfortable” topics. Even if you don’t know what to say, tell him or her that you will get back to them later with an answer. And be sure that you do.

Websites:

Tolerance4kids.com – Informational site for parents and caregivers.
Tolerance.org – Teaching Tolerance is focused on reducing prejudice and creating tolerance in school. They were founded in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and provide free materials to teachers in the U.S. and abroad. Many of the resources are good for parents as well.

Do you have any suggestions for teaching children tolerance and acceptance?


via Psychology Today: Adoption is not without controversy, as evidenced by many reports of microaggressions directed toward adoptive family members from those outside the adoption community. These may include intrusive and insensitive questions that doubt the authenticity of the family and negative stereotypes associated with adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents, and the process of adoption. These sometimes harsh, biased, and hostile views often result in behaviors that stigmatize and have negative effects on both domestically and internationally adopted children and their families.

But a study published in the September 1, 2017 issue of The British Journal of Social Work found that even within the family unit, conflicts and complications unique to the adoptive status of some members often have negative effects on the relationships between everyone involved. One very important family relationship that can be altered by adoption in both positive and negative ways is the sibling relationship. These researchers looked at the unique and various ways sibling relationships require support in an adoptive family and brought out the following points:

  • Adoptive children that are part of a sibling group could lose contact with their brothers and sisters related by birth; maintaining birth family contact requires agreement on the part of everyone involved.

  • Both the adoptive children placed in a family with existing children, and the existing children, must adjust to new sibling relationships.

  • Adoptive parents may feel closer to their birth children and, even when this is not the case, the child who was adopted may perceive it as true.

  • A child’s developmental stage plays a role in how well he or she adjusts to adoption.

  • Children who are adopted as part of a sibling group often provide positive companionship, comfort, protection and support for each other throughout the adjust period. But in some cases, there may be intense jealousy and competition for attention from the adoptive parent(s). One child may feel that the other has developed a closer bond than they have with the parent or, for instance, that a younger child is receiving preferential treatment that they themselves never experienced at the same age. These problems often surface among children who struggle with interpersonal relationships in general.
  • When a child is adopted to provide a sibling for a birth child, the chances that the birth child would display feelings of jealousy, confusion, and displacement were about equal to the chances of a smooth, harmonious adjustment.

The goal of good mental health care for adoptive families, both pre- and post-adoption, is always to provide the families with support and help the children thrive. But questions need to be answered before solutions, both preventative and remedial, can be found. For instance, what is typical sibling behavior and what is behavior that is a direct result of the adoptive family’s and adopted child’s circumstances? These researchers recommend that practitioners rely on systems theory, and a family systems framework, when attempting to understand sibling relationships within the adoptive family. They also suggest that some adopted children may require a long-term counseling relationship, even into early adulthood, in order to succeed within the context of an adoptive family.


via Psychology Today: This article was originally written for PediaStaff, a provider of pediatric therapy services.

A friend of mine, and fellow music therapist, Kat Fulton shared a story with me recently:

I utilized drumming at a camp for kids who have parents with cancer. We sang, chanted, and drummed. At the end of it all, I invited each child one by one to come to the center whenever they wanted. When they got to the center, they could cut off the drumming and share something they are thankful for. Then we’d continue drumming. After drumming and singing, and playing rhythm games for an hour, you can imagine how supported and safe these kids felt among their peers. One little 6-year-old girl came to the center and said “That my mom can still be happy.” Her father had passed from cancer.

This little girl experienced what many other children and adolescents have experienced before: group support and the feeling of safety that allowed her to share a big feeling. All facilitated through drumming.

Drumming isn’t an experience that “only” music therapists can use. In fact, many professionals with a little bit of training can use drum and percussion experiences to help children with special needs in the areas of motor strength and control, speech and communication, social skills, emotional expression, and cognition.

But what exactly is drumming? And how can it help children with special needs? Let’s explore…

What is Drumming?

When I first approached Kalani, a professional percussionist, Orff-certified music educator, and music therapist, and asked “how do you see group drumming used as a therapeutic tool?”, he responded with “how are we defining the term ‘drumming’?”

Kalani then shared with me an article he wrote with music therapist Bill Matney called “A Taxonomy of Drumming Experiences.” This article outlines various type of drum-based experiences: Drum Play, Traditional Drumming, Guided Interactive Drumming, Drum Circle, Musical Improvisation, Clinical Improvisation, and Technique-Oriented Play.

Whew!

When they envision “drumming,” most people think of the Drum Circle, which the taxonomy on the Music Therapy Drumming (MTD) website describes as an interactive group process that utilizes a variety of drums and percussion instruments. Although drum circles can be used for recreational purposes, they can also be used to target other goals. The drum circle facilitator, or leader, need not be a formally trained musician, but s/he should have some musical skills and some sort of training in drum circle facilitation.

However, “drumming” can include any number of experiences, from traditional playing to improvisation to “drum play.” For the purposes of this article, “drumming” will refer to any type of group drumming experience–the exact type of which will depend on the goals of the group.

Does Drumming Work?
The evidence seems to say “yes.” In December 2010, a research study was published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This study looked into the effectiveness of a drumming program in LA called “Beat the Odds”

What did the study find? That participating in drumming activities led to significant social and emotional improvements for the students involved.

This wasn’t the first study to look into how drumming helps children. One of the earliest studies, published in 1976 in the Journal of Music Therapy, investigated how a percussion “game” improved social behaviors for children with mental retardation.

Since then, research has provided support for the positive effect of drumming experiences on social behaviors, grief, self-expression, self-esteem, group cohesion, depression, behavioral issues, bimanual coordination, and learning for children and adults both with and without disabilities (you can find a short bibliography at the end of this article).

How Does Drumming Help Children?

This is all well and good, but what exactly can drumming do? And, more specifically, how can it help children with special needs?

Music therapist Bill Matney shares that there are many reasons why drumming can be useful as a therapeutic tool. Drums and percussion instruments are progressively accessible, physical, sensory, portable, socially interactive, expressive, cultural, and offer a unique aesthetic experience. Someone who has never played a musical instrument in his/her life can pick up a shaker and participate in a drumming experience.

For children with special needs, drumming can be a powerful tool to help them address:

  • Social Needs. Drumming often occurs as a collaborative, interactive process. If facilitated correctly, participating in drumming experiences can help a child work on skills such as turn-taking and sharing, as well as help them feel they are part of a group contributing towards a group process.

  • Communication Needs. Playing a drum or percussion instrument can be a useful way to communicate nonverbally and to “listen” to another person’s nonverbal communication.

  • Fine and Gross Motor Skills. This may almost seem self-evident, but different playing techniques can be used to help work on different fine and gross motor skills. This can even be true for developing lower extremity strength (e.g. imagine standing and playing a large conga drum).

  • Emotional Needs. As with the girl Kat Fulton worked with, participating in a drumming activity can help a child feel safe enough to express his/her feelings. Additionally–and speaking from experience–there’s nothing much better for releasing anger than banging on a drum.

  • Cognitive Needs. By participating in a drumming experience, children can be working on attention, impulse control, and decision-making skills.

As with many interventions, there are contraindications involved. Kalani notes that too loud a volume, playing with poor technique, and using instruments with a high vibrotactile response can potentially pose problems. This is why getting trained as a facilitator is important.

What Training is Required?
One of the benefits of utilizing drumming experiences is that trained leaders or facilitators do not have to be trained musicians (a pre-requisite for becoming a board-certified music therapist). There are various training programs and resources around the country that offer training for future drumming facilitators.