Five Reasons to Celebrate National Siblings Day on April 10

BroDayTomorrow is National Siblings Day, a day for the 80% of Americans who have siblings to celebrate their brothers and sisters. Celebrating Siblings Day can be as easy as sending a card, sharing a meal or doing a favor for a sibling. Almost three years ago, I had a healthy reminder of why it is important to say “Te amo! I love you!” to your siblings, as my little brother was diagnosed with lymphoma. It took my breath away, BUT we grew closer because of it. We talked more. We hung out more – in the hospital (hey, he was always on-the-go, so I met him wherever he was). We hugged more. And, we made a point of saying that we loved each other more. So, on this Siblings Day, I tell the world that the world is a better place with my brother and I am a better person because of the lessons that he had taught me. 🙂LLS2012“There is no relationship like the ones we have with our siblings,” said Montclair State University Family and Child Studies Professor Dr. Jonathan Caspi. He has identified five reasons to celebrate Siblings Day:

  1. Siblings may have a greater influence on who we are or who we become than our parents and peers do, according to a growing body of research. Sibling relationships are intense relationships involving support, love, competition and conflict. Like it or not, so much of the way we handle relationships, closeness, competition, give support, argue, resolve conflicts and play we learned from our interactions with our siblings.
  2. Recent research is showing how important sibling support is for bolstering resilience and coping with difficult life experiences.
  3. Sibling relationships are the longest-lasting relationships most people have – and more people have siblings than they have children or spouses.
  4. Only with a sibling can you authentically commiserate about mom and dad and the crazy things families do! 😉
  5. Siblings are who we confide in. They know our deepest secrets and share in family experiences – both the good and the bad. Witnesses to our most embarrassing and proud moments, they are the keepers of shared memories and personal histories.

Created by Claudia Evart, the Siblings Day Foundation established a National Siblings Day, celebrated on April 10, the birthday of Evart’s late sister, Lisette. President George W. Bush signed a presidential message recognizing April 10 as National Siblings Day in 2008, and President Bill Clinton did the same in 2000. Since 1998, 88 governors have signed Siblings Day proclamations in 49 states.IMG_0299Don’t worry if you are an only child! For the roughly 20% of Americans who are only children or “singletons,” there is National Only Child Day, which is celebrated on April 12.

“The advantage of being a singleton is that there is no competition for parental resources,” said Caspi. “This is often an explanation for reported high achievement of only children, who tend to be high achievers like first-borns.”

The downside? “The lack of sibling support, which is so important in resilience and coping.”

How will you be celebrating this holiday?

Review: Microsoft Band Smartens Wearable Tech

A couple of months ago I attended the grand opening of the Microsoft store in Dallas. It is the largest one they’ve opened, and so of course the biggest would have to be in Texas. The manager and staff were enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the many Microsoft products that are now available for you to test drive in-store. While there, the one that caught my attention was the Microsoft Band. They generously gave me one to try and to see how my husband and I would like it. This is Microsoft’s entry into the smart-watch, Fitness band market. It is aptly just called the Band because it turns out that it’s a bit of both.the-bandThe Microsoft Band can connect via Bluetooth with either your Android, or Apple smart phone and displays your texts, tweets, messages, and even the weather. If you happen to have a Microsoft windows phone, you can do even more with it. It’s limited to just display when used with my iPhone, but still convenient when my phone is in my pocket. For me, it serves mostly as a fitness monitor. When used in tandem with the Microsoft Health Cloud app that I down loaded on my phone, there’s quite a bit I can keep track of. It costs $199 and packs an impressive list of sensors. There’s an optical heart rate sensor, accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, galvanic skin response sensor, and a microphone. It measures common metrics like steps and heart rate, and calculates some second order metrics like sleep quality and calories burned.Microsoft_Band_LifestyleMonitoring my activity and sleep provide me the best opportunity to fight the effects of the aging process which most of us worry about. Last night, I slept for 6.5 hours and awakened 4 times. This is only an 85% sleep effectiveness rating. I am feeling a little tired today, and tonight, I will be making a conscious effort to get more sleep. With the feedback gained, I can also try different sleeping positions and room temperatures to reach a more optimal rest pattern. These are things that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t think of doing if I didn’t have the great feedback I get from my Band. I have also begun setting goals for how many steps I walk in a day, and I am more likely to take the stairs just because I know I’m monitoring steps.microsoft-bandThe Band is a sleek looking device and I get comments from people all the time about it. It’s comfortable to wear, and over time, I don’t even notice it’s there until I feel the vibration alerting me to a new message. It has taken a little getting used to wearing it with the face on the underside of my wrist, but it is easier to read due to the horizontal display. I wish the battery lasted longer between charging, and I wish I did not have to take it off to charge it. Other than that, I really like everything about it. Personal health tracking is only getting more and more popular, and it seems everyone is getting into the market. With my Band, I have both smart watch and fitness capabilities, and I love it. I have to go walk now, or I won’t reach my 7,000 steps today!

30 Hours in Avalon, Catalina

Catalina HeaderThe island of Santa Catalina has taunted me from 22 miles off the coast of California since I first visited Laguna Beach in 2009.  Sometimes completely shrouded by the marine layer, often appearing only as a silhouette on the horizon at sunset, and occasionally giving us glimpses of glowing rocks on the east end when the morning sun reflects back through a clear sky, Catalina is an intriguing presence when you live along the coast of Southern California. My family, in celebration of our wedding anniversary and my husband’s birthday on the same weekend, finally visited for a short one-night stay to get a taste of what the island has to offer.

Blog Catalina - 05Inhabited for at least 8000 years, the island is thought to have once been called Pimu by the natives, who greeted its first European visitors in 1542. On the eve of St. Catherine’s Day in 1602, a Spanish explorer renamed the island Santa Catalina. In years following, the island hosted hunters, smugglers, ranching, mining, and military operations, was awarded in 1846 as a Mexican land grant, and purchased in 1894 by The Banning Brothers who developed roads and attractions until a fire destroyed the city of Avalon in 1915. William Wrigley, Jr. (yes, that Wrigley) bought the island in 1919 and developed Avalon as a resort destination, bringing his Chicago Cubs baseball team to the Island for spring training in the 1930-1950’s. In 1972 Wrigley deeded 88% of the island to the non-profit Catalina Island Conservancy to protect and restore the land and its wildlife, keeping it undeveloped and wild.  The island holds a unique place in the history of motion picture production as Hollywood’s exotic back lot, beginning as early as 1911. Production crews and sets could be sent to the Island by barge and the vast mountains and beaches could be transformed into almost any place in the world, from the coast of North Africa, Tahiti, the American frontier, the lost continent of Atlantis and the home of Jaws. Although closed to tourism and filming during World War II, it picked up again afterwards and was once again an exotic yet convenient location for Hollywood in the 1950’s, and continues to be so today.

Friends with their own boats go back and forth as their lucky hearts’ desire, but for most us the options are the frequent Blog Catalina - 01
departures from Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point, Newport Beach, and San Diego on vessels operated by Catalina Express and Catalina Flyer. These modern boats offer comfortable airline-style seating for the hour-long trips to and from the island. For a special experience, however, nothing beats arriving by air. Given the special occasions for our visit, we chose to spend a little more and travel via Island Express helicopter, a thrilling 15-minute ride departing from Long Beach and soaring over the ocean before landing in Avalon. Our pilot entertained us during the brief journey with facts about the water depth and whale watching, and pointed out our hotel as we hovered over the town before landing. It was a truly wonderful way to get our bearings before we started exploring!

Blog Catalina - 04A short cab ride through the town of 3500 permanent inhabitants brought us to Hotel Catalina’s Courtyard Garden Suites, our home base for the short visit. Booked last minute with requirements including a bed for the munchkin in our room and a jacuzzi on the property, it was  a charming choice in the center of town. After quickly checking in we walked around the quiet and glistening streets, enjoying the off-season coolness and bright beautiful colors all around us. We lunched at El Galleon with views of the beach and harbor from our table, and then walked along the water until the drizzle started falling again. We ducked into Three Palms Avalon Arcade for mini bowling, air hockey and arcade games that resulted in handfuls of prize tickets for our daughter. As the sky cleared we walked to the 40-year-old Catalina Island’s Golf Gardens, known as one of the world’s most beautiful and challenging mini-golf courses. Given the off-season rainy weekend, we had most of the course to ourselves, surrounded by gardens and educational signs explaining the story behind each of the holes’ themes. After another leisurely walk along the waterfront, we returned to our hotel for some jacuzzi time before dinner. I had booked a table at The Avalon Grille, an upscale yet island-casual restaurant along the waterfront that I knew would be perfect for my husband’s birthday dinner on Saturday night. The staff could not have been nicer to us, and the 6-year-old was as impressed as we were with the food, ambiance and service. Back at the hotel we returned to the jacuzzi, and then sat by the courtyard fire pit playing cards until the chill chased us back into our room.

Sunday morning we had time for breakfast, a short tour and lunch before boarding our boat back to the coast. My Wrigley Botanic Garden Catalinahusband had hoped to start his birthday with a stand up paddle along the coastline but the choppy sea was not ideal, and island tour times wouldn’t work with our early afternoon transportation reservations. So after breakfast at The Pancake Cottage we walked around The Catalina Casino to Descano Beach to inquire about kayak and paddle board rentals and campground facilities for future visits, chatted with a group of scuba divers, took a self-guided tour of the Catalina Island Museum, and took a cab up to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden. The garden, originally supervised by the late Ada Wrigley, places a special emphasis on plants that grow naturally on one or more of the California islands, but nowhere else in the world. After $2 trolley ride back to town we stopped for lobster rolls at the Bluewater Grill on the waterfront before it was time to leave.

Although the intention of our short visit was to relax and get acquainted with the island, my one regret is not getting a chance to see the buffalo. A herd of North American Bison has been roaming the hills of Catalina since 1924, when 14 were transferred over for the filming of The Vanishing American. By the 1980’s, the herd had grown to as many as 500, far more than the island could support. Since then the conservancy has taken control of the population, for the good of the animals and the island’s vegetation, shipping some to land reservations in South Dakota. Bus and jeep eco-tours of Catalina that give guests the opportunity to see the roaming animals will be at the top of my to-do list when we return.

Blog Catalina - 03Getting back to Long Beach was a comfortable and easy hour-long ocean journey on the Catalina Express as we had upgraded to the Commodore Lounge for priority boarding, wide reclining leather trimmed seats, and a complimentary beverage in a lounge environment with great ocean views. Although they neglected to tell us to arrive early so that we could sit together (seats in the lounge are first come – first serve), we moved about and were able to enjoy the view of our new California home as never before: from the sea.

Special notes:

Plan to visit on your birthday and get lots of special discounts! With proof of your birth date you travel free on the Catalina Express boat, get 20% off a helicopter ride, get a complimentary ice cream cone at the candy shop Lloyd’s of Avalon, discounts on hotel rooms, tours, massages, and more! We even got a discount for our anniversary. For more about the promotions, visit http://www.catalinachamber.com/specials/birthdaycatexp.

Catalina is in a constant state of drought, and unlike other parts of California, they can’t simply pipe water in. At restaurants you will have to ask for a bottle of water, and hotels will request that you not have your linens washed every night. To do our part, we bathed at home before leaving the coast on Saturday morning and carried bottles of water with us on our trip. We suggest that you do the same. 

GoodbyeCatalina

 

5 Myths about Gifted Kids

MythsAboutGiftedKidsThis past week has been a hard week. You have heard it time and time again that parenting is hard, but you never really understand this until you are in the thick of it. This week was one of those weeks. This week, my child has been misunderstood. This week, my child has been bullied. This week, my strong child has cried, and I, too, cried. I cried with him. I cried for him, and now I cry through my words in hopes to help others know that their child is not “weird.”

This past summer, I met a wonderful woman who has a Masters in Education, specializing in gifted children. Oh, she was breath of fresh air. Just hanging out with my child for an hour, she told me that “you have a special child, a gifted child.” I have known this since he was the age of 2, when he could read the letters off my husband’s sweatshirt. I was hesitant to call him “gifted” because of the weight that I thought it would place on him and also how it would make me sound by call him “gifted,” BUT I am here to proudly say that I have a gifted child. I was wrong in my assumptions, and I want to share with you the myths that I have believed or heard over the years about “gifted kids.”

Myth 1. Gifted kids don’t need help; they’ll do fine on their own.
Truth 1. Would you send a star athlete to train for the Olympics without a coach? Gifted students need guidance from well-trained teachers who challenge and support them in order to fully develop their abilities. Many gifted students may be so far ahead of their same-age peers that they know more than half of the grade-level curriculum before the school year begins. Their resulting boredom and frustration can lead to low achievement, despondency or unhealthy work habits. The role of the teacher is crucial for spotting and nurturing talents in school.

Myth 2. That kid can’t be gifted because he is receiving poor grades.
Truth 2. Underachievement describes a discrepancy between a student’s performance and his actual ability. The roots of this problem differ, based on each child’s experiences. Gifted students may become bored or frustrated in an unchallenging classroom situation causing them to lose interest, learn bad study habits or distrust the school environment. Other students may mask their abilities to try to fit in socially with their same-age peers and still others may have a learning disability that masks their giftedness. No matter the cause, it is imperative that parents help gifted learners break the cycle of underachievement in order to achieve their full potential. This is one of the hardest parts of parenting a gifted child, especially if you do not have the resources. I recommend National Association for Gifted Children.

Myth 3. Gifted kids are happy, popular and well-behaved in school.
Truth 3. Many gifted students flourish in their community and school environment. However, some gifted children differ in terms of their emotional and moral intensity, sensitivity to expectations and feelings, perfectionism and deep concerns about societal problems. Others do not share interests with their classmates, resulting in isolation or being labeled unfavorably as a “nerd.” Because of these difficulties, the school experience is one to be endured rather than celebrated.

Myth 4. You’re child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He cannot stay still.
Truth 4. The gifted child’s characteristics of intensity, sensitivity, impatience and high motor activity can easily be mistaken for ADHD. Some gifted children may suffer from ADHD, and thus have a dual diagnosis of gifted and ADHD; but with my child, he was not, and he was misdiagnosed at school. Fortunately, I found great health care professionals, who clearly understood my child. They have suggested some techniques for him to use in the classroom to help him focus on the teacher.

Myth 5. There is something psychologically wrong with your child because he likes to be alone and doesn’t play with the other kids.
Truth 5. Most gifted children do feel different from kids their age and like to spend some time alone. However, when presented with “true” peers, gifted children often prefer spending time with them rather than being alone. In childhood, gifted children often do go through periods of depression related to their disappointed idealism and their feelings of aloneness and alienation develop in a feeling of depression. However, it is not at all clear that this kind of depression warrants such a major diagnosis.

Real Posh Society Presents: #MEDay

MeDay2015Do you make time just for you? If you’re like most Americans, the answer is no. In an informal survey by Domain.me (the .me domain provider), 70% said they did not spending enough time on themselves. And so, Domain.me is proclaiming March 16 as International “ME Day,” and encouraging busy people to honor the day by taking some time to do something nice for themselves. They invite people who are celebrating ME Day to “join the conversation” by posting their ME Day thoughts and activities on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #MEDay.

Here are some thoughts from the Real Posh Society on how you might celebrate #MEDay:

JENNIFER, OWNER OF REAL POSH MOM
Doing Nothing.

As a mom with active family and an entrepreneur, some of my best days are those where I am stay in my PJs all-day and order in while watching Netflix. I rarely have the opportunity to “do nothing,” so these days are dreamy to me. I am learning to give myself permission to be lazy for a ME Day celebration.

Volunteer.
Spending part of a day volunteering is a great way to honor a ME day. There is no greater joy for me to see the faces of those who I can help or places that I can clean up. Unfortunately, I do not get to volunteer as much as I would like , but it is something that I truly enjoy. It is why I volunteered for many years with the Junior League and other great organizations helping women and children in our community. Today is a great day for you to make a difference in someone else’s life!MeDayVolunteerCall a Friend.
Since I work from home, one of the best ways I know to take care of myself is to call up a friend for a long chat over coffee or a get-together at a posh restaurant. There is something about getting around positive people that recharges and empowers me to be a better woman. 🙂MeDayLaugh
JAYNE, WRITER AT REAL POSH MOM
Enjoy a Coffee Break.

After a class at my gym, I love going to the coffee shop next door for 20 minutes to recharge. It’s on Pacific Coast Highway with little tables out front, where I take my iced coffee and sit with a beautiful view of the ocean, noticing all the same people who come by and anybody new. It reminds me how lucky I am to live in a picturesque little beach town, and after a great workout I feel healthy and strong (although usually sore). The days that I can’t do this, I tend to forget about the simple blessings all around me, so I know that it’s with it when I can make the time.MEDayCoffeeLearn a New Language.
My other favorite “me time” is in the evenings after I put my daughter to bed and clean up the kitchen. If I’m not too exhausted, I sit down at my computer with a glass of wine and take a short lesson or two from Rosetta Stone: Mandarin. I’ve always wanted to learn but I’ve had a hard time finding the time, so when I’m able to it gives me a sense of accomplishment and confidence in all of my other projects.MEDayLanguage
JACQUELINE, CONTRIBUTOR AT REAL POSH MOM
Read Books and Magazines.
I love to curl up with some good fiction, or dive into a the latest interior design magazine.

Go Shopping.
For a real “ME Day” challenge, I will try shopping only for myself; indulge in a present just for me. This may seem easier than it is, as I like to buy gifts for others.

Watch a Movie.
The simple pleasure of sitting down and enjoying a movie in a dark theatre with surround sound is simply divine. Add my husband next to me and some popcorn, and the scene is perfection.

Enjoy a Spa Day.
Escaping to a spa provides mental relaxation and physical pampering that every woman needs to be rejuvenated back to life. 🙂

You’ll have a more enjoyable life if you make yourself a priority! The important thing is to do something that you choose, that takes you outside your normal routine and that you truly enjoy.

How will you enjoy a #MEDay?

30 Hours in San Diego

USS Midway Museum

Vacations don’t always require long flights and big budgets. Since moving to Southern California, I set a goal for my family to take short trips exploring our new state. Follow along as we find the best places for both family and romantic getaways close to our new home.

San Diego, California’s second largest city, is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Laguna Mountains to the east, and Mexico to the south. Its diverse neighborhoods are spread out over 4,200 square miles and nestled along 70 miles of sunny Southern California coastline, with a gentle Mediterranean climate and a welcoming vibe. Consistently rated one of the top family destinations in North America, San Diego is the ideal destination for children of all ages offering a variety of family friendly activities and world-class attractions throughout the year. And luckily for us, it’s only a little over an hour south of our home in Laguna Beach.

Elephants at the San Diego ZooOur first priority for the weekend was the San Diego Zoo, first opened in 1916 and now encompassing 100 acres in Balboa Park. Pioneering the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that re-create natural animal habitats, the zoo is home to 4,000 animals of 800 rare and exotic species. We knew we would have to commit our entire first day there, and even then we couldn’t see it all! We started the day with the 35-minute narrated tour on a double-decked bus to learn the layout and pick our favorite spots to return to and explore in detail. Some of our favorite parts were the Chinese Giant Panda cub Xiao Liwu,  the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge with a mock polar bear snow den and Arctic research helicopter, and The Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey, where a herd of eight elephants roam a 2.5-acre exhibit that includes a 120,000-gallon pool and gentle rolling hills surrounded by a replica tar pit, fossil dig and children’s play area. Our 6-year old daughter Inara is still talking about the adorable koalas in the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback, and we were all amazed that we got to see the 3-month old baby gorilla riding around on its mother’s back and later breastfeeding right in front of the viewing window. As a parent who who is very concerned about the future of our planet, I was also appreciative of the exhibits addressing the threats animals are facing due to climate change, and providing guests with suggestions for reducing our carbon footprint.

San Diego Zoo

As it was a last minute trip, we waited until after our day at the zoo to decide where we would stay that night. After a quick search on Expedia, we settled on the Hotel Solamar, a stylish boutique Kimpton Hotel in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Deigo. The neighborhood is a historic 16.5-block district founded in 1867 when it was the Wild West complete with Wyatt Earp running three gambling halls, and now housing a thriving dining, shopping, and nightlife scene. It was a bit too chilly to enjoy the hotel’s rooftop pool but that didn’t stop us from trying, and we hope to get back again to fully experience that option. For dinner we rode Uber to The Fish Market, a seafood restaurant on the harbor founded in 1976 by fishermen, and had fun posing by “Unconditional Surrender,” a statue of the famous WWII sailor kissing a nurse.

Day 2 started with a big breakfast at Broken Yolk Cafe (but not as big as the one Adam Unconditional Surrender San DiegoRichman finished to win the Iron Man Challenge there in 2010, on Man vs. Food) and then set out once again for the harbor. We entered a floating city at sea and walked in the footsteps of 225,000 sailors who served our country aboard the USS Midway Museum. Part of the Navy fleet for 47 years and active during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, the USS Midway was one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers and the museum highlights the city’s rich military history. We listened to passionate docents everywhere on the ship, and Inara loved climbing on the aircraft all around us.

USS Midway Museum

A narrated Hornblower Cruises harbor tour gave us a different view of the city, passing by Shelter Island, ship-building and dry-docking facilities, Coronado Island, and under the 2-mile-long San Diego- Coronado Bridge. With a large sightseeing deck and full snack bar, it was a perfect way to pass an hour or two on a beautiful afternoon before getting ice cream in Seaport Village to enjoy while walking along the water towards the last stop of our visit.

With so many museums to choose from Hornblower Harbor Cruise SD and limited time, we decided to let Inara have some fun at the New Children’s Museum downtown across from the San Diego Convention Center before heading home. A highly-engaging, multi-sensory experience, it was a wonderful opportunity for her to work off some energy, and for us to build and play with her. The museum offers opportunities for children to experience the arts in ways that are meaningful to them, like climbing, sculpting, painting, and banging “drums” with kitchen utensils-turned-instruments. The current exhibit, FEAST, features 13 artist installations and 8 other projects centered around food in unexpected ways.

San Diego WWII

We were sad to leave the city that afternoon, knowing there was still so much left to experience! We left with albums of photos, homemade clay bowls, and the comfort in knowing that San Diego is close enough to visit again soon. Suffice it to say that 30 hours is not a long enough time to see this beautiful city! There seem to be special events every weekend, which means plenty of excuses to return. A few that caught my eye happening in the coming months include:

  • Celebrating all things Irish at the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival, held March 14 at the corner of 6th Avenue and Juniper Street near Balboa Park. The day includes a 10:30 a.m. parade and an all-day Irish festival featuring food, beer gardens, musical entertainment and more.
  • On April 19, EarthFair in Balboa Park celebrates a range of eco-friendly practices and environmental causes. Offerings include earth-friendly and organic foods, wildlife preservation education, displays of alternative energy vehicles, pet adoption services and more.
  • From May 7-10, knee-slapping good times abound during the San Diego Annual Gator by the Bay Zydeco, Blues & Crawfish Festival, held at Spanish Landing on Harbor Island. The event features 25 bands on five stages along with dance lessons, food and Cajun cooking demonstrations.

For more information on San Diego’s offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at www.sandiego.org or call 619-236-1212.

What is International Women’s Day?

Today (March 8th) is International Women’s Day! When I lived in the US, I had heard only of this holiday maybe 5 years ago. Out of curiosity, I did some research to see if this was new holiday or something that I had never heard about until I started using social media. Wow! How could I have missed such an important day…but let me slow down, and start from the beginning.

International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time on March 18, 1911, a year after the International Women’s Conference adopted a proposal by Clara Zetkin to establish an annual event promoting equal rights for both sexes. At the time, women were marching in around the world, demanding the right to vote and to hold public office. After the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, Lenin agreed to a proposal of the woman Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai to have International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8 as an official holiday in the Soviet Union. After World War II, other countries made International Women’s Day a popular holiday. International Women’s Day began regaining its importance in the West in the late 1970s, after the UN urged member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace in 1977. This year’s UN theme is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!”UN-Women
In the Balkans, International Women’s Day (8th of March) is less celebrated about its political significance and more a blend of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. See, in the Balkans, there is no Mother’s Day. I know, I know. This is quite devastating to me (just kidding…really, I am.) Valentine’s Day has recently begun to be recognized by fancy restaurant and posh hotels, but it is nothing like it is in the States. You see flower sellers on almost every street corner as March 8th approaches. Carnations, orchids and roses are popular along with chocolates. Although most people are vaguely aware of its social and political background, they usually see it as just a day to express appreciation for the women in their lives. My kids are bringing chocolate to their teachers, along with special postcards they drew in schools. Almost every man on the street is carrying a bouquet in his hands on his way back home from work. Everywhere you go, women are reminded that the day is dedicated to them.

This year, there is even a #DearMe youtube campaign with advice that you would tell your younger self. I absolutely love this because this is a perfect blend of how people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day – empower girls to be the most that God designed them to be by the women who have the greatest influence on them – their moms, grandmothers and teachers. 🙂

Getty Images Lean In Collection: Women, Family, Business

There is something beautiful rising among women—we are hungry to be united and empowered to be who God created them to be. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead Author Sheryl Sandberg champions women as capable of all that men can achieve. She also sees the value of community and empowerment of women. I applaud Sandberg for opening up the conversation.

Getty Images, the world’s leader in visual communication, and LeanIn.Org, the women’s non-profit founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, are celebrating one year of partnership with the anniversary of the Getty Images Lean In Collection – a curation of images devoted to the powerful depiction of women, girls and the communities who support them. Thousands of images have been licensed through the collection to over 65 countries across a wide variety of industries, with two of the biggest sectors being financial and tech organizations – industries which are actively trying to attract more women. Admire some of the most successful images globally below.GettyImage1 GettyImages2 GettyImages3

Getty Images Co-Founder and CEO Jonathan Klein said: “From the creation of Getty Images 20 years ago, we have been guided by the belief that imagery can change the world. Getty Images partnership with Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org to break down stereotypes and kill the clichĂ© is changing the conversation about the depiction of women in visual communications and has delivered impressive bottom line results.”

“Men and women should be equally represented at the boardroom table and at the kitchen table. To get there we need reform of our policies, we need to encourage women to fulfil their ambitions and we need to encourage men to do their part in the home – but we also need to address how women and men are depicted, because you can’t be what you can’t see,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, author of Lean In and founder of LeanIn.Org. “We are thrilled to be able to partner with Getty Images on this project and our shared commitment to literally repicture women, men and equality.”

The success of the partnership with Lean In has inspired Getty Images to address how other key concepts are communicated visually through the company’s RePicture movement calling for content that breaks down stereotypes and celebrates the world in its raw and authentic form. Lean in and change the status quo!

Getty Images & Lean In celebrate the one year anniversary of the Lean In image collection.

4 Tricks to Learning a New Language

NewLanguageTricksOne of the reasons that my husband and I wanted to move abroad was learning new languages. Learning a new language, you learn a lot about another culture. You leave your comfort bubble and open your mind to new people and ways around life. By learning, you exercise your brain, and like exercise, the trick to learning a new language is consistency.

Today, I just turned my first language journal for a graduate class that I am taking. Yes, I am back in school. I am a lifelong learner, and classes keep me accountable to stay focused and disciplined in my education and learning. I have a habit of starting projects and not finishing because I can get easily distracted on something just as exciting. 😉 I write this not only for others, but for myself as a reminder of what I need to do while I am learning Montenegrin.

USE technology!
In today’s modern world, it is now easier than ever to learn a new language with software and websites available. RPM’s Jayne loves using Rosetta Stone as she is learning Mandarin. I have used Rocket Language in teaching my daughter Spanish. And, Google Translate is another resource, BUT I would not trust it completely, as it speaks like a robot not a person. 😉 As I have learned the language and grammar, it has been more useful when I cannot figure out the correct word when writing a paper or talking to professional. Lastly, watch TV and movies in the language or with subtitles. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn in pronunciation and vocabulary.

Work on it DAILY!
Make learning a new language a priority, by making it a daily habit. I don’t have language class everyday, BUT I take time to work on it at least for 30 minutes. Whether its minutes or hours, be sure to set aside a small amount of time each day to study your new language.

Don’t be afraid to SPEAK!
This is my biggest obstacle: FEAR. I allow fear of what others may think of me or saying the wrong thing hinder my language development. Fortunately, daily I remind myself that I learn from mistakes and so can you! Having someone correct you doesn’t make you dumb, not allowing yourself to be helped does. Locals will appreciate the effort, even if they don’t quite understand you at first! Some of the greatest times of laughter have been when I have stumbled over the language. 🙂

PRACTICE, practice, practice!
Consistency requires practice…everywhere! Like earlier mentioned, watching TV and movies is practice. Greeting the people in the new language, reading foreign websites or finding people in your community that speak the language are great ways to practice. Take every chance you can to practice speaking, reading and writing!

Any tricks that helped you in learning a new language?

Why Not Travel to Colombia?

Cartagena, Colombia It was as if I had declared my intention to walk through Times Square in 1975 alone and unarmed. “Colombia? Why?” was the response almost every single time I shared the holiday travel plans I had with my husband. And my response in turn? A defiant “Why not?” of course.

In truth, situations came together that gave us the option to fly off somewhere for a week, including that my daughter would be spending the break with her father and his family in Florida. We only had  a week to travel, so our bucket list spots that would require longer (meaning a day or more each way spent in transit and more than a 3-hour jetlag) were off the table. As we are in the middle of home renovations, spending a bunch of money was out of the question too. What to do? Log on to the American Airlines website, plug in our miles and see where they take us. BogotĂĄ! 1. It was the cheapest miles ticket over the holidays. 2. Neither of us have been to Colombia (a huge plus). 3. Cartagena, the glamorous Caribbean city only an hour and a half from the capital by air, has been popping up on countless “Best of” travel lists from over the last year and for 2015. And the best part? It’s not crawling with Americans in fanny packs and white sneakers yet. Done. (Note: My Spanish is terrible. My husband, a gringo from Texas, fares much better but is far from fluent.) DSCN1610

We arrived in BogotĂĄ at midnight, crashed at the airport Aloft Hotel for a few hours, then hopped an early flight out to Cartagena on the coast. BogotĂĄ was cold, so stepping off the plane after such a short flight and getting hit with the hot tropical air was a welcome shock. Most of the people we encountered were tourists as well, mostly from other South American countries, and the security and cabs were all accustomed to people who had no idea where they were going and were very helpful. We got to our hotel, the Hilton Cartagena (using points from previous travels), checked in without incident, and were soon lounging at the pool with fruity cocktails and a beautiful view of the Caribbean. It was Christmas Eve but you would never know it aside from the decorations. We weren’t far from the Old Town, about 10 minutes by cab (a consistent equivalent of about US$3) so for our three days we spent evening hours there after afternoons by the beach or pool. The old city was much like New Orleans with its architecture and party spirit, music, food and pedestrian streets, and it truly came alive at night. We cocktailed at the elegant Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena, formerly a convent and now a favorite of part-time neighbor Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with live music, roaring fans, English-speaking staff, and air-conditioned bathrooms (more on that later), and dined at little cafĂ©s around the town. The top spots were booked up weeks and months in advance, long before we’d booked our trip, but we ate well and imbibed even better. In Cartagena you can’t beat the Caribbean favorites ceviche, local cerveza, and rum cocktails.

Why Not Colombia?And we walked. We traced out the paths of the characters in Love in the Time of Cholera, scoped out the beautiful cathedrals, and took dozens of pictures of the gorgeous architecture and the walls of the old fortress.  During the day we needed frequent breaks from the heat, so returning to the cool and fragrant halls of the Santa Clara was invaluable for rest and a cold drink or two. Other favorite places in Cartagena included Café del Mar, an open air restaurant/club on the walls of the old city (pricey but worth it for the view- go for at least a glass of wine at sunset), Demente Tapas Bar in the trendy (and more local) Getsemani neighborhood adjacent to the old city (chat up well-traveled owner Nicolas as he puffs his cigar and plays American blues on his computer behind the bar- he gave us great recommendations for Bogotå), and Café Havana, where we listened to live Cuban music and attempted to salsa dance after midnight when the party finally started.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria

BogotĂĄ was something completely different, as only an hour and a half flight took us from 7 ft elevation to 8660 ft. elevation. In Love in the Time of Cholera the city was described as like Paris: often grey, rainy, and cold, but rich in culture.  Although the high altitude was noticeable, we got really lucky and arrived for some sunny and warm days, perfect for exploring the city by foot.  The first element of BogotĂĄ that grabbed our attention was the prevalent graffiti; even statues and monuments are tagged. But much of the street art works are gorgeous murals taking up entire buildings, and there were clearly significant styles. I wanted to know more, and my online searching turned up a website for BogotĂĄ Graffiti tours, Colorful BogotĂĄ Street Artdone in English by an Australian street artist who is now a resident of BogotĂĄ. We were intrigued and signed up for the next day, not knowing at all what to expect. It turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve made while traveling. While our first day exploring the city was lovely and informative,

BogotĂĄ Street Artincluding the absolute MUSTS- the Botero Museum,  Museo del Oro (Gold Museum), and Museo HistĂłrico PolicĂ­a (dedicated mostly to the country’s wars with drug lord Pablo Escobar and guerrilla groups M-19 and FARC), the most interesting and informative part of our Colombia adventure was this two and a half hour tour. Our guide explained the battles and the partnerships between the artists and the authorities, the reasoning for the art and the legality of it. We started to notice the different styles and tags, and came to understand the messages that they conveyed and why. In Bogota Graffiti Tour a country where the media is still tightly controlled and individual rights are limited, this art is a necessary form of communication. In order to truly understand the culture and history of Colombians, learning about their struggles from different sides is essential (including the role that the U.S. has played) and we are truly glad that we got the opportunity during our time in their country.

Our nightlife experiences in BogotĂĄ were quite different than Cartagena and other cities around the world, because it was very clear that this is a place where caution is key. Of course that’s the case everywhere when traveling, but here there are still powerful groups of people with political points to make, and they control large parts of the country. Safety is stressed by guidebooks, hotels, and locals alike, especially when it comes to what neighborhoods you go to and how you get there. This is one of the only cities I’ve spent time in where I didn’t use public transportation. When leaving the Hilton BogotĂĄ, the staff walked us to a car, noted who we left with and where we went. Leaving a museum, the front desk called a car for us, gave us the license place of the car that would come, and gave us a code to give the driver so that our route could be tracked.  At one point on our way to the historic La Candelaria district our driver got stuck in standstill traffic because of a protest, and it was evident we would be late to our destination. Being seasoned travelers, we offered to pay up and walk the rest of the way but driver  would not allow it, even calling the hotel to have one of their representatives talk to us. He explained that the two remaining blocks might look safe but were not for us, which was unnerving. A fellow American who was staying at our hotel had grown up in Colombia and had a teaching job in another city, but the day we met she had just been robbed by a cab driver. So suffice it to say, our evenings were early and nightcaps were in the hotel bar. Boring, maybe, but thankfully we now have no bad stories to tell.AndrĂ©s Carne de Res Bogota

Highlights of BogotĂĄ included the restaurants Black Bear (swanky New York vibe and modern dishes, a recommendation from Nicolas in Cartagena) and Andres DC (we went to the one in the city but the BIG one is 45 minutes away; I would describe it as a House of Blues on, well, when in Colombia), and the cable car trip up the mountain to the breathtaking views from Montserrate at 10,341 ft. If you are lucky enough to get a sunny day, like we were, drop everything else you had planned and get up there then. I’ve met many travelers who never got the opportunity to see a view other than fog, sadly.

Overall, the country is certainly not the backwards and scary Romancing the Stone version that Americans seem to envision still. For the most part we felt very safe and cared for, and the people really wanted us to have a good time. Many said “You will come back, right? And tellJayne Overlooking BogotĂĄ your friends to come!” as we left. If you, like us, prefer to travel to places that will challenge you, where you will not be surrounded by other American tourists, it’s worth it to travel to Colombia. Knowledge of the language is a good idea no matter where you go in the world, but here it’s more important as English isn’t as prevalent. If we’d been fluent we likely would have taken more risks and had more fun, frankly. We did leave with beautiful memories though, and thanks to utilizing miles and points, it was a very inexpensive trip that we are glad we took. But Colombia has quite a ways to go before we would recommend it to everyone, and after meeting the people and seeing some of the beautiful country, we sincerely hope that they can get there.