The Ultimate Punishment for Teenagers

I came up with the ultimate punishment for teenagers when my daughter was 14 years old.

I must confess that I was not able to implement it since my wife thought it was just too mean. In hindsight, I think I should have fought for it harder. Because, really, what most of us want our children to learn is to analyze the consequences of their actions, and I feel this punishment does exactly that!

We all think (or hope) our children are angels and don’t do anything seriously wrong. Of course, I thought this way when my oldest was 12. Then the teenage years hit and I learned how naive I was. My daughter is now a sophomore in college, doing great and by most standards did very little wrong (she was also pretty easy to catch when she did something wrong, so that helped.)

But, when she was 14 she did something we could not believe. My wife caught her smoking a hookah with some friends. For those of you who do not know what this is (like me at the time), it is a form of flavored tobacco frequently used in bongs and is legal for adults. We were relieved she wasn’t smoking pot, however, we were still NOT happy.

After the incredulousness of catching my angel doing something I thought was inconceivable wore off, it was time to come up with the appropriate punishment. That’s when a lightbulb went off in my head.

What I proposed was the following:

1. My wife and I would secretly write down what we thought was an appropriate punishment for the offense.

2. My daughter would secretly write down what she thought was the appropriate punishment for the offense.

3. Final punishment would be determined as follows:

– If our daughter’s punishment was more severe than what we wrote down, then that would be her punishment.

– If our daughter’s punishment was less severe than what we wrote down, then the punishments would be added together.

Of course, my daughter’s reaction was, “You can’t do that!” and my wife said, “That is too mean!” But I, on the other hand, thought there was no better way for her to understand and really think about the consequences of actions. I hoped that this process would make her think before doing something wrong the next time.

Hopefully one of the parents reading this blog can use my ultimate punishment and give me feedback on whether it’s a brilliant or dumb idea. It certainly wouldn’t be the first dumb idea I had!


Five Must-Read Fall Picture Books


On a cool autumn day, nothing is better than cuddling up with a stack of picture books, a warm fire and a cup of tea. Get in the spirit of the season with a few of our favorite fall picture books.

1. Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White
Rebecca Estelle, the main character in this charming Halloween story, hates pumpkins after eating nothing but pumpkin dishes during her poor childhood. When one of the festive orange globes accidentally falls off a truck and into her yard, she tries to bury it and forget about it. The following autumn, however, she is surprised to find a huge crop of pumpkins in her yard. Rebecca learns to overcome her bias against pumpkins and becomes closer to her neighbors in the process.

2. Barn Dance! by Bill Martin
A small boy wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of a voice calling, “Listen to the night… There’s music in the air…” He sneaks outside to the barn where he stumbles upon a scarecrow playing fiddle and the farm animals dancing up a storm. The rhythmic words and the colorful pictures will make you want to join this barn dance.

3. Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
Leaf Man, with a body made from vivid fallen autumn leaves, takes off on adventures wherever the wind blows him—past farm animals, over meadows and through different scenes in nature. The gorgeous illustrations are collages made from leaves, which are sure to inspire your children to create their own autumn art projects.

4. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
There are many fall picture books that have a Halloween theme, but this one puts a silly spin on the traditional spooky witch story. A friendly witch finds “room on the broom” for a group of animal companions—a cat, a dog, a parrot, even a frog— to join her in flight. Together, they battle a dragon and learn the value of friendship. It’s a funny, goofy take on Halloween that is acceptable even for small children.

5. In the Leaves by Huy Voun Lee
Xiao Ming and his friends take a fall excursion to a farm, and he delights in showing them the Mandarin Chinese characters he knows by drawing them in the dirt. The beautiful illustrations bring the words to life, from “fire” to “family,” and a pronunciation guide helps readers learn along with Xiao Ming’s friends.

What are your favorite fall picture books? Share your suggestions in the comments.


Fun Football Activities for Kids


Football season is in full swing, and this popular American sport is entertaining for more than just the adults. While moms and dads are watching the Sunday NFL game, kids can get in on the action by heading outside and playing these fun football activities.

Three Flies Up
Three Flies Up is a simple, low-competition game that can be played with three or more people (the more the merrier). It’s a great activity if children are too young to play a full flag football game or have limited players and space.

One person, the “flier,” stands apart from the rest of the group, the “catchers,” and throws the football high in the air. Each individual catcher attempts to run and catch the “flies” while they are still in the air. Once a single person catches three flies, he or she becomes the new flier and the game starts over. If the ball hits the ground before a player catches it, or if a catcher fumbles it, no points are awarded.

This is a variation of Three Flies Up that makes it more of a challenge for older kids (and exercises math skills as well as the body!). When the flier passes the ball to the catchers, he or she yells out a random number anywhere between 1 and 500. The catcher who receives the ball earns that number of points, and whoever reaches a score of 500 first becomes the winner and next flier. Three Flies Up and 500 are fun football activities that can be played for as many rounds as the players want, providing hours of entertainment.

Flag Football
If there are enough kids to put together two equal teams (of four or more players on each), play a simplified flag football game in the backyard. Use dish towels, rags or bandanas as your flags, and teach kids a few easy plays to get them started. Make sure everyone knows the basic rules so it’s fair and safe, then let them go wild!

NFL Play 60 Super Bowl Contest
NFL Play 60 is a campaign designed to get kids active and fight childhood obesity by encouraging them to play for 60 minutes a day. This football season, Play 60 is hosting a contest where kids can enter to win tickets to Super Bowl XLV (with parental permission) by pledging to play 60 minutes a day and answering a couple of questions. Enjoy fun football activities for an hour a day, and be eligible to win Super Bowl tickets!

Need a playbook for the season? The Frecklebox personalized football notebook is perfect for the job.


Four Easy Starter Pets for Kids

Chances are, if you have small children, they have begged you for a pet (or 10!) on more than one occasion. Taking care of pets is a great way for kids to learn responsibility, self-confidence, patience and kindness, but you might not yet be ready to add a large pet like a dog or cat to your family. Consider one of these easy starter pets instead, and make your children happy without taking on too much extra work.

1.     Sea-Monkeys

These mini scientific wonders are the ultimate starter pets for kids. Sea-Monkeys are a hybrid species of brine shrimp that exist in suspended animation in egg form until you add them to purified water and they begin to hatch. A small, colorful aquarium with all the accessories needed to care for your tiny pets costs around $10 to $20, and if properly cared for, they can live up to two years and grow to about ½ to ¾ an inch in length. Sea-Monkeys never need to have their water changed and only require regular feedings, so they are great pets for small children interested in science.

2.     Rat or Mouse

OK, now hear us out. You may not be too keen on the idea of having a rodent as a pet, but rats and mice actually make excellent starter pets for kids. They are small, playful, affectionate, intelligent and relatively easy to care for.

It takes minimal effort to set up a home for your new rat or mouse; all you need is a simple plastic or glass aquarium or wire cage, absorbent bedding, food, water and toys. Rodents are very smart and curious and love to explore their surroundings. Placing ropes, ladders, exercise wheels or tunnels (cardboard toilet paper tubes work well) in the cage allows them to play and get exercise. Rats and mice also generally like to be held and played with outside of their cage (as long as you keep an eye on them so they don’t get lost in the house).

3.     Guppies

If your kids have graduated past the brine shrimp phase, they might be ready to take care of a small aquarium of fish. Guppies, fresh water fish, are inexpensive, low-maintenance and fun to watch. Buy a five or 10-gallon fish tank, an aquarium water pump (to circulate air to the fish and keep the tank clean), a treatment solution (to make tap water safe for the fish) and a few pretty accessories for visual appeal. Children can gradually learn responsibility by feeding their guppies every day and changing the water in the tank every week.

4.     Ants

Though you may spend a fair amount of time trying to keep them out of your kitchen, ants are the quintessential low-maintenance starter pets for kids. They are economical, silent and require extremely little space or attention to survive. Uncle Milton sells a few simple ant farms, including the live ants, for  $11 to $25.  Sand ant farms require occasional watering and feeding, but gel farms are completely self-sustaining. Just sit back and watch the industrious little guys go to work!

As the animals grow, encourage your children to record the progress in their journals. How have they changed since you first got them? What do they do that is most interesting?


Five Easy, No-Sew Halloween Costumes


Uh-oh! Is it October already? Halloween is just around the corner, and you’re running out of time to put together costumes for your kids.

If you aren’t thrilled about the idea of spending big bucks on store-bought costumes, but you’re not exactly Martha Stewart with a sewing machine, have no fear. We have five fantastic last-minute Halloween costumes that you can throw together without sewing a stitch. Whew… with all that extra time, you can relax and indulge in a few of those tiny candy bars.

1.     Colorful Clown
This costume is a blast to make because the crazier you make it, the better it works. Find a combination of mismatched, oversized, brightly colored clothes from the closet or the thrift store, and don’t be afraid to use layers (great for chilly October weather). Add wild accessories—a wig, bow tie, ruffled socks, suspenders, gloves, hats, scarves and slippers—for the full effect. Top with face paint and a bright red nose, and the clown is ready to make people laugh.

2.     Swashbuckling Pirate
Yarrrrgh! Kids of all ages get excited about pirate ships, buried treasure and making people walk the plank. Cut up loose-fitting old clothes to make them appear older. Cut pants or a skirt in a zigzag pattern at the hem, and add a baggy white peasant blouse and vest. Throw in the perfect accessories: a bandana or tri-cornered hat, a rope belt, gold hoop earrings, boots and a sword for a fearsome result.

3.     Twisted Twister Mat
Buy a used Twister game at the thrift store. Take the spinner and punch two holes on either end of it. String a ribbon through the holes and tie under the chin to make a hat. Cut a hole in the middle of the Twister mat and make a simple poncho. Everyone will want to take a turn playing!

4.     Sugar Cereal Killer
This is one of the funnier (and punnier) last-minute Halloween costumes. Empty a bunch of mini cereal boxes and glue them closed. Poke plastic knives through each box and douse with a generous helping of fake blood. Glue or pin boxes to a solid-colored sweatshirt (black or white work well) and add extra blood as needed.

5.     Disco Queen or King
Who says disco is dead? Pair bellbottoms with a loud polyester shirt, then add funky accessories—big earrings, platform shoes, fake gold chain necklaces, huge sunglasses, glitter makeup and an Afro wig.

What are the best last-minute Halloween costumes you’ve ever put together?


Pumpkins Are Everywhere!


Pumpkins can be used as more than just decoration this Halloween. As you and your children are carving jack-o-lanterns this year, put an extra pumpkin to use in festive fall recipes. Cooking with fresh pumpkin is easy, delicious and versatile.

Start with a quick pumpkin puree and use it in any recipe where you would normally use canned pumpkin. A 5-pound pumpkin will give you around 4 ½ cups of mashed, cooked pumpkin (compared to about 2 cups from a can).

Pumpkin Puree Recipe
Cut the pumpkin in half, and remove the seeds, pulp and stringy inside bits. Cut the pumpkin into small pieces and peel. Put in a large pot and cover with slightly salted water. Boil for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. Mash and puree in a blender or food processor. Once it has cooled, use it immediately or freeze it for future use.

Seasoned & Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Don’t toss those pumpkin seeds just yet! Rinse them well, coat with a tablespoon or two of melted butter and sprinkle with Italian or Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper and a little brown sugar. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes or until crunchy and browned.

Pumpkin-Walnut Pancakes or Waffles
Add a cup of fresh pumpkin puree, a cup of chopped walnuts, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a sprinkling of ground cinnamon and nutmeg to your regular pancake or waffle batter for a new spin on breakfast. Serve with syrup and a glass of milk, and you might believe it’s as good as pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Dip
This subtle sweet and spicy dip is perfect served with graham crackers, gingersnaps or vanilla wafers.

Mix the following together with a hand mixer or food processor:

  • 2 cups of fresh pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 8 ounces cream cheese

What are your favorite pumpkin recipes?