Jun 10

The U.S. travel industry is predicting that slightly more families will be traveling for summer vacation this year, but significantly more will be taking the frugal route, looking for cheap and affordable family trip alternatives. Barring any additional extraordinary environmental or economic events, parents will be doing lots of advance planning, using vacation deals and discounts, and looking for tips about how to substitute cost for creativity when creating memorable family vacation fun in the 2010 summer months.

A 2.3% increase in summer vacation travel in 2010 has been predicted by the U.S. Travel Association, compared to the Great Recession summer of 2009. According to the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, 51% of Americans plan to take a summer vacation this year, and 80% of those vacationing families will be consciously working to save money during their vacation travels.

Despite the cataclysmic Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that the price of gas will remain fairly steady in the summer months, at an average of $2.98 per gallon, which is 4% higher than last summer’s average of $2.86 per gallon. In comparison, airline industry domestic fares are expected to be 21% higher than they were in the 2009 summer vacation season.

All of these numbers can be boiled down to three things that will describe most American family summer vacations this year:

1) Road trips
2) Frugality
3) The need for tips and tools to create road trips that are more frugal, but not less fun.

Frugal family fun, whether on vacation or not, is a matter of substituting creativity for cost, according to Robyn Spizman and Evelyn Sacks, the authors of “Eat, Nap, Play.”

“Our vision of a less money-dependent lifestyle does not mean a ban on spending for entertainment or satisfaction,” Spizman and Sacks say in their book. It means just saying no to ‘everybody’s doing it’ or ‘everybody’s buying it,’ and relying on your own creativity and innate parenting skills instead.

Creativity that cuts costs is something that American families are going to have to look for if they want to spend less than the $1,000 per person average that American Express estimates the average vacation will cost this year. That is a high price tag for the 54% of Americans who are still cutting back on discretionary spending, and the 39% who are still worried about the economy and their jobs, according to the “Portrait of American Travelers” study.

Spending twice as much time and half as much money on a family vacation is something that is a reasonable family vacation goal, Spizman and Sacks say. “It’s easy to spend money on our kids,” Spizman and Sacks say. “But when special memories are made, not purchased, the entire family wins.”

Replacing vacation costs with vacation creativity requires some preparation, and Spizman and Sacks have these ideas about how to plan for frugal family fun:

How to Save on Meals – Before you leave on your trip, find restaurant and hotel deals for kids. There are a good number of kids-eat-free deals at local and national restaurant chains in this post-recessionary economy. And often you will receive food freebies and discounts by joining e-clubs on restaurant and hotel websites. Marriott, Omni, Hilton, and Kimpton hotel chains have announced special amenities and freebies specifically targeted at children and families this summer, for example. Consider the amount of money you will save by staying at a hotel with free breakfast or free kids meals when deciding where to stay.

How to save on Souvenirs – Instead of spending lots of money on vacation souvenirs, get your children excited about creating a scrapbook as the souvenir of your vacation instead. Instead of focusing on buying things, your children can be focused on taking photos of things they want to remember, collecting napkins, matchbooks, postcards, flowers, brochures, and other vacation memorabilia instead. Have an envelope for each child to put their own scrapbook stuff into so they can each create their own pages. If you bring inexpensive scrapbooking supplies, creating the scrapbook can be the primary activity that keeps children entertained during the car trip home.

How to Save On Hotels – Most Americans live less than a day’s drive from a national park and don’t even know it. Go to nps.gov/parks and nps.gov/kidszone for destination ideas close to home that will require fewer nights in a hotel.

The Vacation Journey, Not Just the Vacation Destination

One of the important things to remember about a family road trip vacation, Spizman and Sacks say, is remembering that the vacation is about the entire journey, not just the destination. The time spent together in the car on a road trip is a significant part of the entire adventure. Your travel time can be magic, or it can be tragic, depending on how you well prepare themselves and their children for it. Spizman and Sacks have these tips for putting fun into the are-we-there-yet part of your family vacation:

To Each His Own – Forced sharing in a small space is a setup for squabbles. Make sure each child has their own pillow, their own blanket, their own favorite game, their own cup, their own backpack, etc.

Seek and We Shall Find – Don’t forget the value of the good old-fashioned car games that families used to play together before handheld videogames and DVD players were invented. One game that can be started in the car, and carried throughout the entire vacation trip is the “Countdown Game.”

The object of “The Countdown Game” is to look for and find numbers everywhere you go on your trip. Start with the number “1,” and find the numbers in order and see how high the family can get in its number search. Make this a family activity that everyone contributes to, rather than a competition. You can even keep a list of where and how the numbers were spotted and include that as part of the trip scrapbook. It can become a family tradition to try to break the previous “countdown” record with each family outing.

Good Behavior Is Its Own Reward – Create a “Star of the Car” award and give points when children exhibit desirable behaviors like sharing, using a quiet voice, or saying please or thank-you. Periodically throughout the trip, you can give rewards to whoever has the most points. Rewards could be choosing the next movie, picking the next car game, or even an extra special snack that is reserved only for the “star of the car.”

Get Out and Wear Out – Plan plenty of stops in your travel itinerary, and make sure your children expend energy every time they’re out of the car. Making time for walking, cartwheels, skipping, races throwing a frisbee, playing catch, running with the dog, etc. will help children be less antsy, and more likely to nap when the car ride resumes.

Keep Their Eyes on the Prize – You can stage mini contests throughout the trip to see who can be quietest the longest, who can keep their mouth or eyes shut the longest, who can write the name of your vacation destination the most times in a minute, etc. Give out points for the winners, and translate those points into special privileges during vacation or when you get home.

Redefining “Family Time”

“A more authentic, easygoing approach to life with kids starts with the universal wisdom that it’s all about keeping it simple,” Spizman and Sacks say. This is a mental adjustment for parents who have become accustomed to buying entertainment and children who have become accustomed to getting satisfaction from stuff. But a summer family vacation adventure is a great way to start new family interaction patterns.

“That happy, tired feeling at the end of the day can come from interacting in ways that are about spending time, not money,” Spizman and Sacks say in “Eat, Nap, Play.” And isn’t that happy feeling what a summer family road trip vacation is all about?

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Dec 23

Super Saturday snow storms, general financial worries, and a standoff between discount-hungry consumers and discount-adverse retailers have created an American holiday season that is seemingly being thrown together in the last of the last minutes. For millions of Americans who are running short of last minutes, but running long on to-do’s, Jeanne Bice of QVC Quacker Factory fame has two quickie cookie recipes that can be made in the last of last minutes without making you “quackers.” According to Jeanne, there’s no good reason to “get your tinsel in a tangle,” even if you find yourself in a last-minute holiday dash.

Quickie Cookies for Last-Minute Holiday Parties

Office parties, family gatherings, open houses, potlucks, cookie exchanges, tree trimmings, gift swaps, chimney drop-ins and general festive folderol can drive even the most organized baker “quackers” during the holiday season. With some basic baking ingredients, though, stressed-out holiday bakers can arrive at any last-minute, forgotten, or spontaneous holiday gathering with treats that are festive, fun, and, most importantly, fret-free if they follow a couple of simple Jeanne Bice holiday recipes.

Last-Minute Quickie Christmas Cookie Recipes From QVC Quacker Factory's Jeanne Bice Are Stress FreeThe quickie cookie recipes below are part of the “simple recipes to put sparkle, not stress into your season” that Jeanne put together for her Quacker Factory fans in her book, “Jeanne Bice’s Quacker Factory Christmas.” Just like her clothes and her personality, her recipes are home-spun and infectiously appealing. In fact, these two cookie recipes are so easy that they may become new holiday easy bake favorites for many people. According to Jeanne, the best recipes are the ones that are the most hassle-free because “You don’t want to be too pooped to party!”

Seven Layer Quickie Cookie Recipe

RECIPE INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup graham crackers, crushed
1 cup coconut
1 cup butterscotch chips, optional
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts
One 15-oz. can sweetened condensed milk

RECIPE DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine melted butter with graham cracker crumbs in 9 x13-inch pan. Press firmly into pan. Layer in order: the coconut, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips and nuts. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over all ingredients.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Cookie Baking Is Creative When There’s No Baking Involved

Admittedly, when there’s no oven involved, it’s not technically cookie “baking,” but these next cookies are so creative that nobody with a fun-loving spirit will care. These quickie cookies are all about decorating, which is the best part of holiday baking anyway.

No-Bake Snowmen Quickie Cookie Recipe

Last-Minute Quickie Snowman Christmas Cookie Recipe From QVC Quacker Factory's Jeanne Bice Are Stress FreeRECIPE INGREDIENTS:

1 package 16-oz. Nutter Butter cookies
1 1/4 pounds white candy coating, melted
Miniature chocolate chips
M&Ms miniature baking bits
Pretzel sticks, halved
Orange and red decorating gel or frosting

RECIPE DIRECTIONS:

Using tongs, dip cookies in candy coating; shake off excess. Place on waxed paper.

Place two chocolate chips on one end of cookies for eyes. Place baking bits down the middle of the cookie for buttons. For arms, dip the ends of two pretzel stick halves into coating; attach one to each side.

Let stand until hardened. Pipe the nose and scarf with gel or frosting.

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Aug 21

A federal lawsuit has been filed in Pittsburgh which alleges that an 11 year-old girl was bullied so much by her classmates that it caused her to become anorexic. The lawsuit further alleges that the principle and other employees at the girl’s middle school knew about the bullying and didn’t do enough to stop it.

The girl, “B.G.,” was allegedly taunted about her weight and harassed daily during lunch periods about what she was eating. Eventually “B.G.” discarded her lunch instead of eating it in an attempt to stop the harassment. She dropped down to 96 pounds, was hospitalized, and had to finish her seventh grade year from home.

Hannah Friedman knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of this kind of adolescent bullying. One of the nicknames given to her by her classmates in middle school was “Flat Monkey-Girl Freak.” She was teased mercilessly about her hair and her clothes by the girls in her class who came from families with higher social and economic status. Hannah even had carrot sticks thrown at her daily in the lunchroom.

Like “B.G.,” Hannah developed an eating disorder because she thought it would help her to fit in, be accepted, and change her enemies into friends. In what Hannah calls her “quest for cool,” she traded public school for a private prep school, straightened her hair, started wearing designer clothes, got straight A’s, became bulimic, developed a cocaine habit, started smoking and ended up slicing her arm with a razor blade when all of her extreme attempts to fit in pushed her to the brink of insanity.

Hannah chronicles her extreme high school experiences in her new book, “Everything Sucks, Losing My Mind and Finding Myself in a High School Quest for Cool” because she made a promise to “the Universe” that if she could get some help figuring things out, she would spread the word in any way that she could.

“This is all the stuff I wish I had been able to hear from a big-sister type figure when I was going through all that stuff,” she said recently in an interview with LoHud.com. After being the target of bullies, Hannah concluded that who she was obviously wasn’t good enough, and that she needed to be more like the people who taunted her. They were obviously acceptable and she wasn’t.

“When you’re trying to be someone else, that really colors every facet of your life, so everything does suck as a result,” Hannah told LoHud. “Because your entire existence is dedicated to keeping up the façade, and making sure you appear a certain way. And that really comes at a cost.”

The price that is paid for teenage bullying these days is higher than most adults are willing to imagine. Some teens, like Hannah, are able to deal with the abuse of their peers and survive their own path of teenage self-destruction without adult intervention. Others do not have the same internal fortitude or physical strength.

In March, another federal lawsuit was filed alleging that bullying was the cause of 17 year-old Eric Mohat’s suicide in Mentor, Ohio. According to the suit, Eric was bullied not because he was fat, like “B.G.”, but because he was too skinny. His spindly physical appearance, and his participation in theater and music were used as evidence by some of his classmates that he was gay. Besides nicknaming him “Twiggy,” bullies allegedly openly called Eric “fag,” “queer,” and “homo,” and shoved and hit him regularly. Reportedly these abuses took place in front of teachers, and reportedly, school officials didn’t do anything about it.

Nine weeks before the end of the school year, Eric shot himself in the head with his father’s revolver. Three of Eric’s classmates also committed suicide that same year, and it is suspected that bullying played a significant part in those deaths as well. The lawsuit filed by Eric’s parents seeks no financial compensation, but instead seeks acknowledgement from the school district that these deaths were “bullicides.” The Mohats also want effective anti-bullying programs and policies to be put into place throughout the school district.

It’s not like it was in the 1950’s when one really big kid was the schoolyard bully, or one small group of kids was the “bad crowd.” These days it is estimated that nearly 30% of the children in America are either bullying, or being bullied at school, according to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that today – and every day – 160,000 children will either go home early or stay home from school completely because they are afraid to be bullied. The Yale School of Medicine has also found that children who are bullied may be nine times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Yale, by the way, is the college that Hannah Friedman was able to attend as a result of her neurotic overachievement in prep school. She was published in Newsweek magazine while still in that prep school, and she won both the Yale Playwrights Festival and the New York Television Festival before she graduated college.

Friedman’s accomplishments at such a young age definitely do not help her to fit in with her peers. The candid and shocking truths that she shares in her book probably won’t make her the most popular person at the high school reunions either.

Come to find out, though, not fitting in is not always such a bad thing. Because when you’re a 22 year-old published author who’s found your voice, you don’t have to spend the rest of your life on the quest for cool. You’ve already found it.

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