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December 2015

Your sex life: How to keep it going when you have little kids Page 16




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What’s the deal with Snapchat? Page 20

Will, 1, Minneapolis

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30 Making sense of Minecraft Learn how to understand, embrace — and perhaps someday master — the sensational video game your kid loves.


Apps for families Get organized and stay connected with a wide array of creative technologies for kids and parents — including apps invented by Minnesota moms and dads!

About our cover kid Name: Will Age: 14 months City: Minneapolis Parents: Adam Boyadjis and Elizabeth Roelke Personality so far: Curious and talkative Favorite toy: Any ball Favorite book: Little Gorilla Favorite activities: Pointing out new things and yelling the word, “Ball!” Favorite foods: Garlic hummus Photos by Tracy Walsh Photography / 


December 2015 •

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Leverage the power of family-oriented apps to stay organized, connected.

Is it normal for a 3-year-old to poop only every three to five days?

Don’t unplug

Constipated kid


Whip smart St. Paul author Geoffrey Saign wins big with a middle-grade gem, WhipEye.


Saving kid art You can’t keep it all, but you can’t toss every single creation either. Here’s help.


Keep your cool How to stay calm when your child isn’t.


Home for the holidays You’re the one who decides if you should traipse across the country for Christmas. 16 TODDLER TIME

Sex drive

Finding intimacy during the early years of parenting isn’t impossible, but it’s tricky.



Snapchat 101

Holiday classics

Mobile apps for teens are a way of life. Here are five to know and learn.

These books showcase kindness, winter fun and a bit of Christmas humor.



Setting up a trust

Apps for toddlers

If you have a child with special needs, consider this unique type of savings.

Our readers and fans share their favorite apps, plus their Photos of the Month.

Holiday events Out & About 46


December 2015 •



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ow could it possibly be December? Minnesota’s weather has been so dreamy — so delightfully mild this fall! There’s no possible way I’m going to be prepared for the holidays in time (not that I ever am). And, yet, I have no regrets: When you get a chance to pick apples in late October, take bike rides in November and skip wearing hats and mittens for most of autumn, you just have to go for it. Now, however, I need to get organized. It’s time to give gifts, bake cookies and send cards. Fortunately, parents today have access to a host of new and powerful, organizational tools — right in Photo by Tracy Walsh / their pockets. I’m talking, of course, about technology. Yes, yes, yes, we all need to unplug. But before you throw your smartphone into the fireplace in an effort to simplify, check out our story in this edition — our annual Tech Issue — on apps for families. I was surprised to learn how helpful apps can be for parents who want to be more organized (think grocery lists, chore logs and activities schedulers). And, thanks to digital innovators in Minnesota and beyond, we can also use apps to make deeper connections with our kids (think family messaging apps, video-chat tools and family websites). One of the coolest apps featured in this issue is based on a conversation-starter strategy created by a St. Paul mom. Stephanie Ross started using her “high, low, glitter” technique with her daughters when they were preschoolers to get their talks to go beyond: “How was your day?” “Fine.” She asked them to share the best (high), worst (low) and most interesting (glitter) parts of their days. Today, Ross — whose girls (twins!) are now seniors in college — has turned the concept into a free “micro social network” ( that allows families to stay in touch. Ross admits the app could never replace real conversations, but the high-low-glitter snippets she gets from her daughters on the app tide her over until they’re able to have long talks. It’s just one example of parents learning to harness (rather than resist) the power of technology in parenting. And that’s a good thing. Because, as parents of digital natives, we need all the help we can get! Happy holidays!

Sarah Dorison, Editor


December 2015 •

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PUBLISHER Janis Hall SALES MANAGER AND CO-PUBLISHER Terry Gahan EDITOR Sarah Dorison 612-436-4385 • CONTRIBUTORS Eric Braun, Dr. Kimara Gustafson, Megan Devine, Maura Keller, Shannon Keough, Christina Majaski, The PACER Center, Jen Wittes, Tracy Ann Walsh, Jennifer Wizbowski CREATIVE DIRECTOR Dana Croatt SENIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER Valerie Moe

Are you currently pregnant or had a baby during the previous month and interested in participating in a telephone-based health and wellness program? The University of Minnesota is seeking women who are currently pregnant or less than 6 weeks postpartum to participate in a research study examining the effect of exercise and wellness on mood following childbirth • Participants receive a motivational exercise program or a health and wellness program, which begins after the birth of your baby (participants can sign up for the program during pregnancy) • Program delivered to you via the mail and phone • Must be 18 years of age or older; must not currently exercise regularly • Must not take antidepressants • Must have a history of depression • You will receive $100 for your time

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ADVERTISING 612-436-4360 • 55,000 copies of Minnesota Parent are printed monthly, available at news stands statewide. Get Minnesota Parent mailed to your home for just $12 a year. Call 612-825-9205 for more information.

Minnesota Parent (ISSN 0740 3437) is published monthly by Minnesota Premier Publications. POSTMASTER send address changes to: MINNESOTA PARENT, 1115 Hennepin Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55403. Minnesota Parent is copyright 2015 by Minnesota Premier Publications. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is prohibited. Address all material to address above. • December 2015




Local author honored St. Paul author Geoffrey Saign has hit the jackpot with his 2014 book, WhipEye. Not only are teachers, kids and reviewers raving about his middle-grade urban fantasy thriller (the first in a series), it’s also received two pretty big literary honors this year — first place in children’s fiction from the 2015 International Book Awards and a Book of the Year nod in outstanding children’s fiction from the Independent Author Network. Recommended for ages 10 and older, WhipEye ($13.95 paperback) follows the adventures of 12-yearold Samantha, an animal enthusiast struggling to recover from her mother’s death while also dealing with the antics of a 1,000-year-old wise-cracking parrot, who convinces her (and her sidekick buddy, Jake, from across the street) to fight monstrous animals that threaten their world and a world beyond. Saign (pronounced “sign,” as in stop sign) says the book is ideal for reluctant readers who are interested in nature and wildlife. Overriding themes include the power of love, helping others and trusting your intuition. Saign is also the author of Green Essentials: What You Need to Know About the Environment, as well as the eduational non-fiction books for middle graders — African Cats and Great Apes. Saign, who teaches special-education classes for kids and adults, is thrilled with his novel’s recent acclaim: “It’s always great, as a writer, to get validation that you’ve done something right, and maybe even wonderful.” Book 2 in Saign’s WhipEye Chronicles series — Gorgon — was released in September. Download the first chapters of WhipEye and Gorgon for free at


December 2015 •

How do these deals sound to you? Take $2 off each admission ticket at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. Get $5 off a purchase of $25 or more at the Hard Rock Café at the Mall of America. Enjoy two-for-one admission at any of the four Pump It Up locations in the Twin Cities. These are just a few of the local discounts members of the new Twin Cities Kids Club can receive with their $12 monthly memberships. Twin Cities mommy bloggers and Kids Club co-owners Lisa Baker (Twin Cities Frugal Mom) and Aimee Farley (Why I Left My Job) founded the site to help parents potentially save money every month at museums, indoor play places, restaurants, retail stores and more. All are listed in the everchanging discount directory at “We have so much fun experiencing local attractions and businesses with our own kids. We love to share our experiences with other families,” Lisa Baker said. The site’s event calendar features low-cost and free activities for all ages including live performances, community festivals and story times. Families can also sign up for a weekly e-newsletter highlighting the best upcoming events and offers. Deals with Twin Cities Kids Club may be used multiple times and can often be used to cover an entire family. Learn more at twincitieskidsclub.

Bouquets: Simplified! Need a quick, super-last-minute hostess gift or holiday greeting? The Bouqs Co., a floral-delivery service, has arrived in Minneapolis, offering same-day bouquets with free delivery. Thanks to a partnership with Lake Harriet Florist, you can order flowers to be delivered in as little as two hours in select areas of the Twin Cities. Bouqs puts an emphasis on hip, contemporary designs with “no hidden fees, no cheesy, cheap fillers.” Most arrangements come wrapped in simple but elegant brown paper and cost $60. You can double the quantity of flowers for $10 more. Check out some of the bouquet examples at or instagram. com/thebouqs.

Pizza with Santa presented by Sbarro Pizza Friday, December 4 from 5–8 p.m. in the food court. Kids can make their own mini pizza for $5, which includes a breadstick and drink. Plus, a make and take craft and special meet and greet with Santa from 6–7 p.m. Teddy Bear Band Concert Saturday, Dec. 19 from 2:30–3:15 p.m. in East Court. Perfect show for the little ones! The Resistors Holiday Concert Sunday, Dec. 20 from 2–3 p.m. in East Court. Perfect holiday show for the entire family! Twin Cities Road Crew Noon Year’s Eve Party Thursday, Dec. 31 from 11 a.m.–Noon in East Court. Family friendly New Year’s Eve Event featuring a kids dance party, prizes and of course, an apple juice toast at Noon.

Santa has arrived! Visit us in Herberger’s Court (lower level) Now–Thursday, December 24th. Santa Hours: Monday–Saturday 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Sunday 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Christmas Eve 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Santa Breaks: Monday–Saturday 1–2 p.m. & 5–6 p.m. Sunday 2–3 p.m. Packages start at $22 and digital downloads are available for purchase.

For holiday hours, Santa hours, and a complete event listing, visit us at

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Home for the holidays? “O

f course I’m going home for the holidays!” said my friend with a look of disbelief. Not travel back east to visit her parents and extended family? Never! How could I even imply such a thing? Hats off to her for being so committed to the traditions of her family. However, I wondered if she’d factored in the reality of traveling with her brandnew baby, just 2 months old at the time of this conversation. “Oh, but everyone is just dying to meet her!” she said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

⊲⊲More planning, preparation The addition of a new baby is always a bit disorienting. If you’re in a partnership, the cozy duo is suddenly triangulated by the addition of a third — sweet and cuddly, perhaps, but also incontinent and insomniatic — who requires around-the-clock care. Life as you once knew it has changed overnight. In the psychedelic weeks following the arrival of your baby, a trip to the drugstore may seem like an event that requires planning. In fact, it is an event that requires planning: Will the baby be asleep? Or hungry? And do you really need to put her in a snowsuit if you’re just running her out to the car? So many details! The planning and preparation involved with baby care becomes even more complex when you approach the topic of “the holidays.” Often fraught with meaning and obligation, the

holiday season can be a difficult time to manage for parents with a new baby on the scene.

⊲⊲A baby walks onto a plane … “Traveling with a baby is totally not a big deal,” I told myself prior to my first plane trip to visit my husband’s family, baby in tow. I was wrong. Although the flight was completed with no major incidents, I hadn’t fully considered what came next: Frantic middle-of-the-night baby bouncing in a vain attempt to not wake up the entire house of visiting family. Or using my supplemental nursing system in front of my mother-in-law. “Why don’t you let me give her a bottle?” she asked as she eyed the contraption attached to my exposed breast.

⊲⊲Obligations and expectations Before I had a baby, I just kind of coasted along during the holiday season. Company holiday party? Yeah, I better go. Poorly timed bridal shower? I’d look like a jerk not showing up. Boozy baking party? Who am I, Scrooge?


Portable Play Mat ⊲⊲The SassyPop Play Pod features gorgeous bright colors, five detachable toys and an especially large base with double padding and high sides to corral your kid. But what really sets it apart is that it twists and collapses down, arches and all, into a convenient travel/storage bag so you can take in on the go — maybe to grandma’s house for Christmas? Also, once your kid can sit up, you can remove the arches and use it as a play mat. $59.99 •


December 2015 •

After the arrival of my first child, I realized I had to become more discerning about my social commitments, or face almost certain peril. Too much spiked cider on a Friday could destroy an entire weekend. Too many random invites from distant acquaintances could equal weeks of resentment as I calculated all the time spent making forced conversation over a wheel of Brie. When we become parents, many of us find ourselves at a crossroads when it comes to holiday commitments (or any commitments, really). Do you really have to drag your family across the country for the holidays? Or does it just feel that way? I would like to encourage all of you to at least consider the possibility of another way. Perhaps you could agree as a group to buy gifts only for the kids. Or blow off the elaborate dinner and have it catered instead. Or maybe just stay home and create some traditions of your own.

⊲⊲The way forward I saw the friend I mentioned earlier a few weeks after she returned from her trip home. “It was … intense,” she said, when I asked how it had gone. “I mean, it was great! But intense.” We all have to weigh the costs and benefits of our various decisions. But whenever I start feeling like I’m being pulled in different directions to satisfy the expectations of others, I try to step back and get some perspective. And no matter what the situation, I often go back to one of my mantras — stolen from Pamela Druckerman in her book, Bringing up Bebe — “I’m the one who decides.” I would like to suggest that you are the one who decides, too.

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9/14/15 2:49 PM • December 2015


Let’s talk about sex That’s right: You’ve whittled the entire experience — from wink to foreplay to postcoital sigh — down to 23.5 minutes, the exact length of one episode of Peppa Pig.


he new-mom cliche “touched out” means something different to each individual. For some, it’s something like, “I’m nursing twins, damn it, and if you even look at my boobs, I will find a way to muster up a pair of laser eyes … and I will burn you.” For others, it’s straightforward and simple: “Sleep is the only thing that’s happening in our bed. And no, that doesn’t mean I want to do it on the kitchen floor. Are you insane?” Even for the overachievers who “go for it” after the proverbial six-week post-birth checkup, sex after Baby is milky, self-conscious, tiring and (at least sometimes) second best to Netflix. Around month six or seven, something shifts. Naps become predictable. Flashbacks of whatever went down between the labor and delivery nurse and Mom’s perineum start to fade. And glory of all glories, the little one is sleeping AT LEAST six hours in a stretch, if not (breathless, magnificent wonder) NINE. Sex is back, baby! What’s more, it’s better than ever! Childbirth knocked an inhibition or two out of the way. Let the good times roll.

⊲⊲But then … You blink and Baby is 1. Blink again and she’s 2. Walking, talking, needing, climbing. Though she sleeps, she is one of few “chosen ones” who knows how to climb out of her crib the second she even considers the option. Thud. You’re surprisingly more tired than in the newborn days — after putting back every book on the bookshelf

five times because pulling them off keeps her happy and entertained, running around the park to tire her out, making oatmeal and cutting grapes, reading 10,000 stories, wrestling with the winter clothes and gritting teeth through 15 glorious tantrums … per hour. One top of all that, she can find you. She’s a moving, breathing, demanding BEAST who — yes, OK — smells like love and makes you want to have a dozen more just like her.

⊲⊲Sex during Dora What of the sex life, now, Toddler Parent? It’s one eye and two ears wide open in anticipation of being “caught,” which almost happened on that Sunday morning when you took a chance because she stayed up late watching Rudolph with Grandma. It’s a new experience to hide from a small child under the blanket while your husband piles pillows and blankets on his lap and stutters through, “I don’t know where Mommy is.” “But I heawd Mommy. And she pwomised to make pancakes today…Wemember?” Touched out takes on a whole new meaning when you’re forced to so quickly flip the switch, when the little hands touching you have been digging into food and maple syrup and the litter box and who knows what else. Your “sex life,” after perhaps enjoying a brief second honeymoon between super tiny baby and toddler, has become afternoon delight (without even taking off your socks or sweaters because the heating bill was high last month and besides, time is limited). That’s right: You’ve whittled the entire experience


Ouch-friendly animals ⊲⊲When your child suffers a bump on the head or body, there’s nothing quite so unappealing as a hard, blue freezing cold ice pack. Fortunately, there’s now a better way to bring your kid relief and show some TLC. Thermal-Aid zoo animals are filled with specially milled, de-germinated corn that can hold hot and cold temperatures (yes, without getting moist or moldy). Simply freeze or microwave the animals as directed and hand wash as needed. $14.95 for two, plus $7.95 in shipping and handling for each animal •


December 2015 •

— from wink to foreplay to post-coital sigh — down to 23.5 minutes, the exact length of one episode of Peppa Pig, which you keep on high volume for the dual purpose of making sure you stay on schedule as well as drowning out any sounds that might bring about the question, “What’s wrong with Daddy?” So sexy time happens not to the dulcet tones of Marvin Gaye, but to that lunatic Dora and her creepy backpack singing, “We did it!” All of this mood-killing nonsense can feel grim, even without the realization that SEX is what brought you here in the first place. Absolutely NOT ready for another one? Add that bucket of water to the already dim flame of passion.

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⊲⊲Tip the scales when you can Is there a way to get your groove back that doesn’t involve running off to Tahiti? Well, keep doing it for one. Closeness and warmth and intimacy slip away swiftly and it can be hard to find your way back to the bedroom (or basement or shower, depending on your particular toddler-avoidance plan). So you have to try. When you’re truly 100 percent not in the mood for sex, don’t force it. But if you’re 50 percent Downton Abbey, 50 percent Let’s Get It On, tip in the favor of sex. Every time. The mood and opportunity seldom strike during these lean, mean parenting years. And you’ll be pregnant again in two seconds, especially if you weren’t planning on having another one. It’ll be time to start all over and you’ll be right back to 23.5 minutes of sock-footed get ‘er done — only now, there are TWO toddlers, who might argue over whether to watch Peppa or Dora or — wild card! — Daniel Tiger. So choose sex. Choose love. Jen Wittes lives in St. Paul and is a mother of two. Write her at • December 2015


anticipated and we might want to keep something that our children might not find as meaningful. Some of my favorite keepsakes have been drawings and pieces of my children’s writing. I love their invented spellings and the ideas they express from their perspectives as young children. You may want to select some projects to keep at home and others to give to grandparents or other loved ones. Some projects might be great to repurpose into cards or gift labels. And some of the materials (such as beads) may be reused and transformed into different creations.

⊲⊲Display, but minimize clutter It can be helpful to designate some areas in your home to temporarily display your child’s work. In our family, we display the overflow of projects from our refrigerator on the inside doors of our kitchen cabinets, which keeps a feeling of tidiness while still presenting a lot of surface area for display. You may want to purchase some inexpensive frames or a wire clothesline to display your child’s creations and occasionally change out the projects.

The art of saving kid art A

s a mom of four school-age kids I’m finding it necessary to put some thought into how I manage and store the abundance of kid-made goodness that is starting to accumulate in our life. My husband and I encourage creativity at home and so our children’s art table is often overflowing, and our kids come home from school daily with unique and special projects, crafts and writing that they (and we as parents) are proud of. Kids can get upset if we toss their projects, and we may experience some feelings of guilt in the process. But the reality is that we can’t keep and display everything! However, we can be intentional and creative as we select, display, save and store our children’s hand-made goods. Here’s how:

⊲⊲Select the best We can involve our children in the process of selecting which projects to save and display. Our kids may have an attachment to something that we may not have


December 2015 •

⊲⊲Use technology I do want to keep some hard copies of my children’s creations, but the piles and binders I’ve set aside for this job take time to keep organized. I’m still figuring that out. In the meantime, however, I’ve also been experimenting with some time-saving ideas for creative solutions using technology, too: Cozi offers a free download of a photo-collage screensaver for PCs. Cozi also offers many practical organizational tools and services for families. Apps like Artkive, Canvasly and Keepy allow you to take, tag, store and share images of your child’s work and turn it into a book, gifts or keepsakes. Keepy even lets you record audio and video to share anecdotes behind each piece of art. Plumprint or Artkive Concierge offer to send a prepaid mailing label to your home; then you pack up the projects that you want digitized and they take professional photos and create options for a hardcover book that can be delivered to your door.


Zip-up bedding ⊲⊲OK, it’s time your kid took some responsibility for making his own bed. Get him started on the Operation Tidy Kid with a ZippySack. This seen-on-TV zippered fleece blanket, available in a variety of styles, fits snuggly over a mattress ( just like a fitted sheet). It includes a storage pocket for must-have nighttime items. When it’s time to make the bed, it’s just a matter of flipping up the sheet and zipping it up. Bonus: Your kid’s covers won’t fall off or untuck during bedtime, so maybe he’ll stay warm and sleep longer. Retailers include Walgreens, Walmart, Toys ‘R’ Us and Bed Bath & Beyond. $29.99 for twin, $39.99 for full

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Spoonflower lets you turn photos of your kids’ art into custom fabric, wrapping paper or even wallpaper. Snaptotes has some unique products, such as lunch totes, quilt blocks, wallets and journals that you can embellish with images of your child’s art or photos. There are so many creative ideas for managing, sharing and storing the artifacts of childhood. If we take the initiative to organize and save some of our favorites, it might make it easier for us to hold to on to some memories to savor as our children grow up. Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four children in Northeastern Minnesota. Write her at and check out her blog at

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5 apps my teen uses M

y 15-year-old son, like most modern American teenagers, spends a good deal of time on his

phone. It’s easy to be one of two things as a parent: I can be tired of keeping up — and just forget trying to understand what Snapchat is — or I can try to keep up. I admit I’ve done a little of both. The first option is much easier.

⊲⊲You need what? It’s hard for me to understand why he “needs” any given app. I’ve gone most of my life without them. I’m perfectly fine in my world of sending emails and updating Facebook periodically. I don’t mind the “wait” of either one. In fact, I find it a bit charming. The world is moving fast. And I don’t like fast, generally speaking; I like taking my time. But I want to keep up with my kids and understand them. I don’t want my slowness to be interpreted as not caring or not communicating just because the world is moving, for them, at a different pace. While I did (begrudgingly) give in to using Snapchat a few months ago, I didn’t understand why it was necessary when I could just send texts. I decided to ask him to teach me why. “Why do you like it? Why is it better? Would you recommend I let your 12-year-old sister have it?” I asked him to name the mobile apps he most commonly uses and to give me a brief description of how he uses them. Keep in mind, this is from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy; it isn’t an analyst’s perspective, so please take it for what it’s worth. Maybe it will just give you enough info to start a conversation with your own teen. Snapchat: According to my son, this is the end-allbe-all app for teens. “Snaps” can be photos, videos or texts. The app also allows live video chatting. My son says the app is a creative way to send fun


December 2015 •

messages to friends. For him, it usually involves a selfie and bubble statement of some kind that he writes directly on the photo. Note: Common Sense Media recommends the app for ages 16 and older. You can choose one friend or several and determine the amount of time — 1 to 10 seconds — until each Snap disappears. Though Snapchat gained notoriety as the first disappearing-selfie app (including inappropriate selfies), the app has moved beyond that and now even allows users to post “stories,” which can be viewed repeatedly for 24 hours (at which point they disappear). Stories are collections of photos and short videos that users — including many mainstream media outlets such as CNN — publish to the app. Snapchat’s ephemeral nature encourages users to check in compulsively or miss their friends’ (or the world’s) stories. See and to learn more. Instagram: My son’s followers on this photo- and video-sharing app aren’t just close friends. It’s a broader community — and sounds a bit like a kidfriendly version of Facebook. But it’s much more image-driven and it’s free of what he calls “the cheesy highlights of how I’m feeling that day.” Users can also post photos to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr through Instagram. ooVoo: This app lets you jump onto a live video call with up to 12 friends. You also can send texts, pictures and video messages. My son uses it for group conversations.

I want to keep up with my kids and understand them. I don’t want my slowness to be interpreted as not caring or not communicating when the world is moving, for them, at a different pace.

GroupMe: This app facilitates largegroup text chats. There’s an ongoing GroupMe group for my son’s high school choir. Sometimes he uses it to share silly comments; other times it’s a way to organize social events. He and his friends used this app to coordinate an apple-picking outing this past fall. Twitter: My son follows politicians, celebrities and friends on Twitter. He says he feels connected to the world this way. He likes hearing about topics outside of school and his friends. He also uses it to catch up on a lot of Vines — six-second video loops created by users in yet another mobile app, Vine.

⊲⊲A source for news, too What I found most intriguing about all this is how he depends on these apps for communication. It’s how he takes in news — whether it’s what’s going on with friends or the world in general. While I might depend on TV or a website for this sort of info, he looks for it in the quick blast that social media sends him. While he does watch the news with me in the morning, he comes home at the end of the day and says: “Did you hear what Trump said about this?!” While it’s called a phone, its phone function is rarely used. My son’s apps give him the tools he needs to communicate — with everyone except for dear ol’ Mom and Dad. I require a call now and then. When I asked him if he thought he could live without his phone, he responded, “It’s entertaining, but I wouldn’t die without it.” And as for Snapchat being OK for his tweenage sister to use: “No”, he said. “She needs to wait ’til high school for that.” Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior. Send comments, questions and story ideas to • December 2015


Should you set up a trust for your child with special needs? T

he responsibilities and choices that come with parenting a child with a severe disability or developmental delay are intense, immediate and pressing. Saving for your young child’s future may seem like one thing you can put off for now. Unfortunately, it isn’t something you should ignore: Someday your child with special needs is going to be an adult with financial needs. And while it’s true that adults with disabilities (that prevent them from holding a job or living independently) will likely qualify for government benefits, it’s also true that in order to qualify for those benefits, the recipient has to demonstrate extremely limited wealth. If he or she inherits money — or property, a business or anything with monetary value — he or she can get kicked off those benefits. If you have a child who you expect to go to college, you can easily start saving for that expense with a 529 account. But how do you plan financially for a child who probably won’t be able to live independently?

⊲⊲Protecting your gift A good answer for many is a special-needs trust — known in Minnesota as a supplemental-needs trust. This is essentially a


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vehicle for leaving money to a loved one in a trust instead of directly in his or her possession. Money in a trust is controlled by a designated trustee, such as a family member, who is responsible for distributing payments to the recipient. Since the recipient never actually takes possession of the money, Social Security and Medicaid administrators will ignore it when determining eligibility for programs. As Matt Shea, an estate-planning attorney with Minneapolisbased Gray Plant Mooty, put it: “A special-needs trust allows somebody who is disabled or is entitled to government benefits to have assets and still be eligible for the government programs that they’re on.”

⊲⊲Beyond housing, food Simple enough. But there are rules. The big one, according to Shea, is that funds from the trust usually need to be spent on supplemental needs, not core needs such as housing and food. Government benefits are meant to cover the latter. A special-needs trust can pay for things like entertainment and lifestyle improvements. For example, many people with disabilities are very sensitive to particular textiles.

A special-needs trust can pay for particular clothing that the recipient is comfortable with. Here’s another example: Imagine a disabled adult who is living in a group home. Government benefits might provide him a double room with a roommate. A supplemental needs trust can pay for an upgrade to a single unit.

⊲⊲Is a trust right for your child? If your child is disabled to the extent that she won’t be able to live on her own or earn her own income, then it’s a very good idea. According to certified financial planner James Knapp, president of Heritage Wealth Architects of St. Paul, you still may want to start one even if your child is mildly disabled. “You might not want them to have access to all the money right away if they’re not very good with money,” he said. Parents aren’t the only ones who can provide for a loved one through specialneeds trusts. Many times, they’re started for children (and even adults) by grandparents, other relatives and friends.

⊲⊲Finding balance We all need to save for retirement and pay off debts. If we have multiple children, we may be saving for college, too. So how does a parent prioritize? Knapp and Shea agree retirement has to come first. After that, save for college and pay off debts. The special-needs trust should be last. But the planning starts as soon as possible. In fact, for most people it amounts to little more than a few sentences in their will that direct an inheritance to be put into a specialneeds trust. Eric Braun is a Minneapolis-based writer, editor and dad of two boys. He’s currently working on a financial literacy book for young readers. Send comments or questions to

You can get there. We can help.

Visit or call Chris McLeod 952-830-3127

Kids and constipation Our daughter is having a hard time potty training. Is it normal for a 3-year-old to poop only every three to five days? Stooling frequency varies from person to person. Some children can go two or three days without having a bowel movement and not be constipated. And some children can have small bowel movements daily, but still be, to some degree, constipated. Typically children (and adults) who go three or four days without passing a bowel movement are at higher risk of being constipated. They’re likely to have stools that are hard and compact. Passage of the stool may be associated with pain, either at the rectum or abdomen or both. Children who become constipated or experience painful passage of stools will likely start to withhold to avoid having regular bowel movements. This can start a frustrating and painful cycle, which can result in worsening constipation.  This can be especially difficult to manage if it’s occurring around the same time as toilet training. Though, as adults, we most often take going to the bathroom for granted, the process of successfully becoming toilet trained is a very complex process. Children need to develop body awareness, wherein they can anticipate when the need to void. Then they need to be able to plan ahead and be able to carry out that plan before having an accident.  There are many differing opinions on how to best toilet train your toddler. I believe that toilet-training success depends on how your child learns best, which depends on his or her personality, temperament and readiness for toilet training. Also know that regression is very common around times of major changes, such

as moving, birth of a new baby, a major illness or a death in the family. And as many parents can attest, toilet training is most successful when it’s done when the child is ready to be trained. This unfortunately may not always be at the same time as when a school wants your child to be trained or when older siblings were trained or when parents wants or expects a child to be trained. In terms of treating constipation, you should try to add more high-fiber foods into the diet, such as prunes, apricots, plums, beans and broccoli. You can also add high-fiber whole-grain cereals and bread products. Some foods can worsen constipation and these should be minimized or avoided until stooling regularity is improved. These are rice or rice products, bananas,cereals and breads that don’t contain high amounts of whole grains (such as white bread). Also make sure your child is drinking enough water, as insufficient daily water intake can also worsen constipation.  If dietary changes aren’t enough to help resolve constipation, there are medications that can be used to help symptoms. Before starting any of these medications, it’s best to discuss your concerns with your pediatrician or child’s health-care provider so he or she can recommend or prescribe the best one.  Also, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or have other questions about toilet training your child, your pediatrician can help you determine what might be the best training method and help to make recommendations tailored to your child and family.

What do you recommend for vitamins for kids? Gummies? Flintstones? And at what age should we start? For children older than 1, in general, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend vitamin supplements. It’s thought that if otherwise healthy children are eating a normal, well-balanced diet, they’re receiving what they need of required vitamins and minerals. I know that at times you may wonder if your child is getting a normal, wellbalanced diet. Especially as toddlers transition out of the infant stage, their appetites can become much more erratic. It’s always good to remember that their growth is changing from a


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stage of more rapid, constant growth to one that progresses more in spurts. Because of this, their appetites will seem to fluctuate in spurts as well. It’s quite common that a toddler will seem to eat voraciously for a whole day and then not seem to need any food the next. The key is to continue to offer healthy, well-balanced options and over time your child will continue to eat a wellbalanced diet. If you think your child is a very picky eater or has abnormal eating habits, I would definitely recommend you discuss these concerns with your pediatrician. There can be instances where children are on such selective diets — either through their own limited choices or family preferences (such as vegetarian or vegan) — that vitamin supplementation may be needed to help support proper growth and development.  A very important thing to remember about vitamins is that they are drugs. There is such thing as too much of a good thing. It’s possible to overdose on vitamins. Some contain iron, which can be toxic in high doses. Vitamin overdose effects can include nausea, rashes, headaches or even more severe, potentially non-reversible ill effects. I caution this especially with vitamins made for children, such as gummies or Flintstones. These are manufactured to taste good to children, so the child may think of them as candy. They may attempt to eat as many as they can. If you do decide to have supplemental vitamins in the house, I would recommend storing them in the same childproof location as you store your other medications. Dr. Kimara Gustafson is a Minneapolis mother who works as a pediatrician at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. Send your questions to

How to stay calm when your child isn’t Rebekah knew instinctively that there must be a better way to manage Jackson’s behavior, but she was embarrassed and upset.


t was Matt’s 7th birthday party and everyone was having fun. The gifts had been opened, the kids were playing games, and it was almost time for cake. That’s when Jackson yanked a shiny toy truck away from Matt and shoved him into a nearby table. Matt started to cry and Jackson’s mom, Rebekah, was mortified by her son’s aggressive behavior. “Stop it, Jackson! Don’t do that! That truck was a birthday present for Matt,” she said loudly. Rebekah darted across the living room and snatched the toy away from her son, handing it back to the birthday boy. “I’m so sorry,” she said to Matt’s mom. “I don’t know what has gotten into him.” Jackson ran to the table of opened gifts and grabbed another of Matt’s birthday presents, throwing it across the room. Rebekah took Jackson firmly by the arm, practically dragging him into the other room, while apologizing to the other moms along the way. Jackson screamed and did his best to get away from his mother, but she held on tight. “I’m so sorry,” Rebekah said to Matt’s mom on her way toward the front door, “But I think we need to go home.” Most parents have been through similar situations, and it’s hard not to get angry and frustrated. Like any parent, Rebekah just wasn’t sure what to do. Here are some tips for parents to deal with out of control behavior, without losing their cool:

⊲⊲Stay calm and positive but firm Use a soothing voice and a calm demeanor. Be firm, but at the same time try to keep from engaging in angry or intimidating behavior. Make statements like, “I know this is hard for you, Jackson, but that’s Matt’s new toy. If you want to play with it, you need to ask Matt first.” State the behavior you want to see.


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⊲⊲Reassure your child When kids are engaging in challenging behavior, they may be trying to get what they want. Jackson certainly captured everyone’s attention with his actions at the birthday party. The important thing is to reassure the child that you understand and are trying to help. For young children like Jackson, a simple “I understand” lets the child know you’re there to help.

⊲⊲Use as few words as possible Unless your child is doing something dangerous that could harm him or others, this isn’t a good time to try

and convince him that his behavior is out of line. If you verbally engage in an agitated way, you’re probably going to make the situation worse. Saying less is better.

⊲⊲Don’t threaten Try not to be threatening toward your child. Although you might be tempted to say your son or daughter is being “bad,” or deliver some form of swift punishment, this isn’t likely to work in your favor. By acknowledging that you hear what your child’s trying to say and you understand his or her unhappiness, you will be more likely to de-escalate the situation.

We Specialize in Moms. The Postpartum Counseling Center

⊲⊲Offer immediate support Tell your child calmly what it is you want him to do, not what he’s doing wrong. Providing choices can be really helpful. “I know you want the toy, but it belongs to Matt,” his mother could say. “If you give it back to Matt now, we can have a piece of birthday cake together, or we can go home. Which would you rather do?”

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⊲⊲Remove your child If you have taken these steps and the child has still not calmed down, it’s probably time to leave the situation. Returning to the home environment, a place where the child feels safe, can help de-escalate the behavior. Every child reacts differently when they’re in a stressful situation. As a parent, it’s up to you to respond in the ways you know are most effective for your child. By offering immediate support, you’ll be able to decrease your child’s stress level without raising yours at the same time. © Disney. Reprinted with permission from Disney Online. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeared on and was published in partnership with The PACER Center, a nonprofit organization based in the Twin Cities that helps families with children with disabilities and also runs the National Bullying Prevention Center. Learn more at

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11/2/15 2:31 PM • December 2015



Holiday cheer! By Sarah Dorison

Christmas can truly be a magical time for our kids. As parents, we get to relive the wonder of it all, while also imparting — and often inventing — family traditions. One of the rituals in my family is reading holiday books together. I don’t keep holiday books in rotation during the rest of the year, however. They get put away with the tree and the lights. That way, when we break them out and start decorating, they become new and special all over again. Here are three new, super-fun ones I’ll be adding to our holiday stash this year!

The Night Before Christmas Clement C. Moore’s classic story is made fresh — yet again — this time by illustrator David Ercolini, whose over-the-top drawings will delight kids and parents alike, we think. Marked by a cartoonish flair and sense of humor vaguely reminiscent of both Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers, each page is packed with intricate objects and silly jokes (including a multi-page gag in which the family dog and cat engage with Santa). And its shiny foil cover, makes it a fun gift, too. Ages 3–5 $16.99


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The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas

Sugar White Snow and Evergreens

Get in the spirit of giving with a sweet little gingerbread man — who happens to live in an elementary school classroom — in this latest in a series by author Laura Murray and illustrator Mike Lowery. Themes of kindness, perseverance amid the holiday hustle and bustle and, best of all, holiday gratitude abound in this graphic-novel style book. A poster inside the book includes crafts and other activities on the back.

Maple-sugaring season is the perfect time to visit a local farm, as seen in this book, which follows a family of four on a series of surprisingly colorful winter adventures, including a snowball fight, a sleigh ride, maple-syrup making and even a bit of bird watching. And each of the collage-like illustrations — by mixed-media artist Susan Swan — are works of art, alive with color, contrast and whimsy. Who knew winter could be so colorful? It almost makes us excited for the long winter. Almost.

Ages 3–5

Ages 4–7


$16.99 • December 2015



December 2015 •

By Christina Majaski


If you’ve been around any children old enough to use a computer or tablet, you’ve likely heard mention of Minecraft. While the attraction and sometimes obsession with the game leaves many parents scratching their heads and asking each other how a bunch of computerized blocks can be entertaining, consider this: More than 100 million users — and almost 13,000 Mac and PC purchases daily — indicate that this game has made it past fad status. If you’ve found yourself confused about Minecraft, or maybe even slightly interested, it may be time to get in on the craze yourself. Besides, many of us grew up with The Oregon Trail. Minecraft can’t be much more complicated, right? Right!

Features vary by version Minecraft was created in 2009 by the Swedish videogame programmer Markus Persson. And, although the current craze might make Minecraft seem new, the game actually celebrated its sixth anniversary this year as one of the most popular video games ever. Minecraft comes from Mojang AB, a game studio based in Stockholm, Sweden. (In 2014, Mojang was bought by Microsoft.) In the world of Minecraft, you use blocks of brick, stone and sand to build and go on adventures anywhere in the world. This includes building shelters and structures such as libraries, roller coasters, towers, mine shafts or anything else you feel like creating, limited solely by your imagination. Players can create, build and fight zombies alone or add other players and family members who are on the same Wi-Fi connection— or even use the Internet to build or battle with friends in other locations, depending on the version and game mode.


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Various versions of Minecraft are available for different platforms: You can download the PC or Mac versions for playing on a desktop; you can download the app for phones and tablets (Android or iTunes); or you can play the game on Xbox and PlayStation game consoles. It’s important to note, however, that the platform you choose often has different features than the others. For example, the pocket edition, popular on tablets and smartphones, is the least expensive ($6.99) and includes only the most basic features.


Modes and mobs There are five game modes — Survival, Creative, Adventure, Hardcore and Spectator. The pocket edition of the game includes only Survival and Creative. These modes provide different options and experiences when playing the game. For example, in Survival mode, you can build and earn experience points, and there are health, hunger, inventory and armor bars you need to manage. In Creative mode, you’re invulnerable and there are no health or hunger bars. You can also fly in this mode and there are different items available, such as spawn eggs, which allow you to create mobs. A mob is virtually any living creature in the game. Some mobs are passive, such as horses and chickens, whereas others can be hostile, such as creepers.

Enderman, creepers, zombies Minecraft isn’t just about building and creating. It’s also about outsmarting and survival. There are other characters you’ll encounter and battle, depending on the version of Minecraft you’re playing. Here’s a brief rundown of characters you might meet (or try to avoid) in the world of Minecraft. Blazes: These characters can fly and swim in lava. They’re difficult to fight because they’re the embodiment of fire and can shoot fireballs. They’re found in Nether (underworld) fortresses and can be fought with elements typically used to fight fire — snowballs, ice, water and beyond. Cave spiders: These spiders grow hostile in darkness and neutralize in light. They can climb walls and leap, and are unaffected by cobwebs or poison.

They’re spawned in abandoned mine shafts, and can inject you with poison if you’re bitten by one. Creepers: These guys look like walking towers of greenery. They make hissing noises, flash, inflate and explode. They have a reputation for hurting players and destroying structures and can be killed with a skeleton arrow. They’ll flee from ocelots and cats. It’s recommended, when fighting creepers, that you keep in mind they usually walk in a straight line until reaching their detonation zone. Then they attack a target to the left. Enderman: This type of Minecraft character can teleport and is damaged by rain and water. They’re relatively neutral monsters and won’t attack unless you provoke them or look at their bodies or upper legs from as far as 64 blocks away. Ideally then, you want to avoid looking at them or, if you must, peer through a transparent block from a boat, mine cart or with a pumpkin on your head. Zombies: Up to 20 zombies can be spawned if it’s midnight and you happen to be in a village with at least 10 doors and at least 20 villagers. Similar to real-life zombies, Minecraft zombies are undead and hostile. In the world of Minecraft, however, you can cure a zombie with a golden apple, which takes two to five minutes.

My child seems obsessed There’s always a concern when something comes along that keeps the busy minds of children enchanted and quiet for ridiculously long periods of time. As with any interest, especially when dealing with electronics, it’s best to enforce time limitations and common sense. But even if you sometimes fail at this, fear not: Your

“There’s always a concern when something comes along that keeps the busy minds of children enchanted and quiet for ridiculously long periods of time.”

child is most likely not losing brain cells because of Minecraft, and a keen interest in the game doesn’t necessarily mean your child will end up growing into an adult-sized basement zombie. Minecraft — according to a 2014 article in The Atlantic ( — not only inspires creativity, but also teaches children problemsolving skills and visuospatial reasoning. Both can help children to learn how to manipulate objects to create dynamic structures. It could be argued that just these two benefits alone exceed the value provided by other forms of entertainment, including almost anything on TV, for instance. Yes, there are monsters in Minecraft — and your character can actually die, but neither is any more traumatic than, say, a game in which you have a good chance of dying from dysentery (a common fate of pioneers of all ages, in fact, in The Oregon Trail).

LEARN MORE Check ratings: Check the ratings of various video games at All versions of Minecraft are ESRB-rated E for Everyone, with instances of “fantasy violence” in all versions (recommended for age 8 and older) and, in the story-mode versions (recommended for age 10 and older), “mild language.” Despite the recommended ages, legions of Minecraft players are younger than 8. Get the skinny: Common Sense Media, a not-for-profit organization that rates media for families and schools, says the game is easy to play and includes mild scariness. Minecraft, according to the site, encourages thinking, reasoning, creativity and collaboration. Critics of the game say its components of killing and violence are unacceptable and may result in a decrease in empathy in children. Learn all about Minecraft (and all other sorts of media) at Reap the benefits? To read The Atlantic’s story — Beyond ‘Screen Time:’ What Minecraft Teaches Kids — see • December 2015




WITH THESE TIPS AND TRICKS One of the primary benefits of Minecraft is that the whole family can actually participate in the game, including parents. If possible, you should create your own account, so your children can’t go in and wreck your worlds, or you theirs.

While it may take a second to catch on, you’ll find yourself an experienced Minecrafter in no time. And if you want to impress your kids — although that may be difficult if they already have a couple years of playing under their belts — see if you can wow them with these tricks (or at least your knowledge of Minecraft lingo).

STAMPY VIDEOS A popular gaming YouTuber, Stampylonghead (aka Stampylongnose), posts daily Minecraft videos of his own gaming exploits. It’s quite entertaining. His videos are a good way to get ideas for your own games, and they’re almost as addictive as the game itself.

KNOW YOUR TOOLS When creating your structures, you can break up sand gravel with a wide range of tools, including saplings, flowers, mushrooms, torches, string and fence gates. Pro tip: You can’t make glass by breaking glass. You have to smelt sand in a furnace.

UTILIZE BUCKETS Water buckets don’t just hold water in Minecraft. You can also use them to mow the lawn, get rid of cobwebs, survive lava and break your fall when you jump from a high location. When you’re underwater and running out of air, you can use a bucket to create a temporary air pocket for survival by right clicking (left trigger, L2). (Find even more tricks from IGN at

PIG SMARTS You can make a cooked pork chop if you kill a pig with fire. If a pig is struck by lightning, however, it will turn into a zombie pigman.

It’s important to note that Minecraft can be far more complicated than just moving a bunch of pixelated blocks around your screen, and this guide comes nowhere close to covering everything. You do, however, have a fairly decent start. Before you know it, you’ll be farming sheep and defeating creepers and endermen, right alongside your 4-year-old.

Christina Majaski is a freelance writer for parenting, personal finance and social-media publications. She lives in central Minnesota with her 12-year old daughter Chloe, and their dog, Monty. Most of the time, you can find her wasting time on Twitter @cmajaski.


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Get organized and stay connected with a wide array of creative technologies for kids and parents By Maura Keller Many parents today have made a habit of feeling guilty about the hours of screen time their kids are exposed to every day. But it’s not just entertainment that our electronics are providing. In fact, devices — an average of more than five per household in the U.S., according to a report from Ericsson — are increasingly being used for productive endeavors. That includes homework, keeping track of kids’ and parents’ schedules, video chats with grandparents and other family members and even virtual daily conversations to help parents and kids connect. In the Twin Cities, families are embracing — and, in some cases, creating their own —technology to get organized and stay close.

GETTING COZY WITH COZI David Hlavac, a dad to a 12-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son, is an account director at Bellmont Partners, a public relations firm in Minneapolis. Every day, he and his wife, Michael, use an app called Cozi (, to keep life organized in their busy Edina home. They started using the app (billed as the “must-have app for the modern family”) a year ago at their daughter’s suggestion. Though the app is free, they’ve upgraded to the paid version to enjoy more features. “We love it,” Hlavac said. Cozi features a scheduling tool that allows families to share appointments and reminders with specific family members, or with the entire family, depending on who needs to know. “The scheduling feature alone has saved us a flurry of texts and emails: ‘What’s going on tonight? What time do I need to pick up kids? What’s for dinner?’ “We have trash-day reminders, doctor/dentist appointments, sports and extracurricular.” Hlavac said the content-rich app also features shopping lists that are updated in real time. Cozi’s paid version allows users to make multiple lists for topic areas such as groceries, pharmacy and home improvement. “You can easily check and uncheck things you buy every week, so you don’t need to create a brand new list every time you shop,” Hlavac said. “It’s also got a recipe box where you can store popular meals and create instant shopping lists, so we don’t have to use Epicurious or other apps to do it.”


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OUTINGS MADE EASIER When you have young kids, leaving the house — for a Target run, a trip to grandma’s house for the holidays or even a date night — can feel like a monumental task. Karla Lemmon, a Plymouth mother and travel enthusiast, feels your pain. That’s why Lemmon, whose background is in software product management, created the personal-assistant app known as Little Peanut on the Go. It helps parents build packing lists and to-do lists, create care schedules (think mealtimes, naptimes, bedtimes and other activities) and share emergency contacts and medical information with caregivers. Caregivers can share updates and pictures. Planning tools in the ↑↑Karla Lemmon, a Plymouth mother and travel enthusiast, created the Little app help parents craft Peanut on the Go app to help families plans for scenarios, get organized and stay connected when out and about or traveling. Her son, Jack including “a Lueder, is 5.  sitter,” “an overnight,” “an outing,” “a getaway” or childcare. Though the app is free to download, there is a one-time fee of $3.99 required to enable plan sharing.

SUPPORT FOR SEPARATED FAMILIES Divorced or separated parents are flocking to SupportPay, a free, financial-platform app that allows parents to in separate households to communicate about shared child expenses (such as ballet classes, soccer gear purchases and dentist visits) and their monthly base support payments. A parent can easily enter an expense, attach a receipt and submit a transaction to the other parent directly through the app. The other parent can then quickly review the item, confirm instantly that the expense is for their child, then make a payment. The app handles all of the calculations and tracking, communications and document storage — so parents have the transparency they need, without the stress or arguments around money in front of kids. Another option is, which offers similar features.

↑↑Stephanie Ross of St. Paul started engaging her daughters, Emily and Heather Upin, with the “high-low-glitter” conversation starter when they were preschoolers.

HIGH LOW GLITTER Another example of how modern parents are using technology to improve family life is a new website and app — called High Low Glitter — created by St. Paul mom Stephanie Ross. It all started as a dinnertime game in which she asked her preschooler girls to note: No. 1: A high (the best part of their day), No. 2: A low (the worst part of their day) and No. 3: A glitter (a fun, sparkly, unexpected, delightful or funny moment in the day). Ross turned the concept into a free “micro social network” ( when her girls went away to college to ensure the lines of communication stayed open. Users can invite up to seven people to be a part of their network. The initial purpose of High Low Glitter was to instill a value of reflection, as well as illustrate the power of perspective. More than 15 years after creating the idea of High Low Glitter, Ross said, the three small words prompt celebration, acknowledgment, appreciation and insight. She recommends using the app to stay connected with family members who are in the military, grandparents who live in another state and more. If Facebook is a cyber-cocktail party, High Low Glitter is a cyber family dinner — a place to be yourself and share your day with the people who know you best, Ross said. Ross, a professional development coach, also has used the site as a tool for her clients. • December 2015


APPS FOR FAMILIES FAMILY WEB SITES Another communication tool that’s becoming popular with families are family websites. They’re allowing families to share news, including milestones such as preschool and high school graduations, promotions, sports honors, dance recitals, children’s artwork and more. So why create a family website rather than updating a Facebook page? Quite simply, the answer is privacy. A family site can be password-protected to allow access only to family members. is a popular site that allows users to create a family site that includes blogs, photos, videos and reunion planning features. You can include as many family members as you’d like. It costs about $150 a year. — another family site to check out — costs $39 a year., and also offer family-website tools, including some free options.

MORE APPS TO TRY ⊲⊲ This site make chores fun by engaging kids with rewards. Gamelike features include chances to win and collect virtual monsters. ⊲⊲ This “private place to plan, share and stay connected with family” offers private family messaging, location sharing, reminders and more. ⊲⊲ and These sites offer technologymonitoring software for parents who want to track their children’s online and mobile activities. ⊲⊲ This private social network for families lets users organize and assign tasks and chores as well as create and share grocery lists. Incentives are built into the app to encourage participation, reward positive behaviors and decrease nagging.

SIMPLIFYING GIFTING What should you get your sister’s kids for Christmas? What will you and your siblings buy for Mom and Dad this holiday season? Families can make answering these questions much easier with the help of a free, locally developed gift-coordination app and website called Giftster. Giftster — the brainchild of longtime Arden Hills technology entrepreneur Ron Reimann — helps families and close friend set up gift lists. That means you don’t have to constantly ask people what they want. Lists are shared so everyone can see when a gift is “reserved” or “purchased.” Web links can be included with each gift for easy shopping, and there’s even an Add-to-Giftster browser button to help you add items to your lists while you’re looking around online. There’s also a Secret Santa option to help you organize anonymous group gifting.

⊲⊲ ILY is a device ($199) as well as a smartphone and desktop service that families can use to video chat and send messages, too. Billed as the new “family phone” and an alternative to Skype and FaceTime, it can replace a family’s landline. ⊲⊲ This private sharing app for families looks like a love child of Facebook and Apple’s Photo Stream. It comes with a guarantee that content won’t ever end up on search engines. ⊲⊲ This app (at right) helps parents reward their children for reading. Parents assign a book; kids accept the assignment on their smart phones. After the book is read, the child/student takes a brief reading comprehension quiz via the app. If the child passes the test, they receive an electronic gift card to Target, Starbuck’s, GameStop or more than 50 other retail outlets.

Maura Keller is a Plymouth-based contributing writer for many local and regional publications. When she’s not busy writing, Keller helps collect books for her 15-year-old daughter’s nonprofit, Read Indeed.


December 2015 •


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ⊲⊲C.S. Lewis’s beloved allegorical tale of the life and death struggle for control of Narnia follows four children, who stumble into a magical wardrobe that transports them into a snowy world of talking animals, mythical creatures and a battle for their lives. Performed by professional actors, this holiday offering features an invitation for children to meet Father Christmas after the show and receive a small gift. When: 7:45 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. show times Dec. 4–30 Where: Open Window Theatre, Minneapolis

A Charlie Brown Christmas ⊲⊲Join Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the whole Peanuts gang as they discover the real meaning of Christmas. Visitors to the theater, which is housed in the Hopkins Center for the Arts, will also be treated to a special exhibit offered in conjunction with the show: Home for the Holidays: A Celebration of Charles M. Schultz. This interactive display of history and trivia includes a Snoopy’s Doghouse statue,


December 2015 •

Cost: $16-$30 Info:

a Christmas tree display modeled after scenes from the beloved TV special and memorabilia recently discovered by a local family. When: Through Dec. 29 Where: Stages Theatre Company, Hopkins Cost: $23 for adults, $20 for ages 60 and older and $16 for ages 5 to 17. Lap passes are available for ages 4 and younger. Info: or 952-979-1111

Making Spirits Bright ⊲⊲Enjoy live music, visits with Santa, story times, outdoor lights, a 20-foot live poinsettia tree, decorated evergreens, a Land of Gingerbread exhibit, breakfast with Santa, holidays teas, art sales, classes, workshops, guided walks and more. When: Nov. 27–Jan. 3 Where: Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, with many events in the Oswald Visitor Center

Cost: Events are free with gate admission ($12 for ages 13 and older). Admission is free every Thursday, November through March. Info:

Santa’s Magical Music ⊲⊲Santa and his elf friend, Albert, celebrate the holidays with 20-minute theatrical performances for families at 10 and 11:30 a.m., 1 and 3:30 p.m. All ages are welcome. Seating is first come, first serve. Guests are encouraged to participate in a sing-along of holiday carols at the end and to take pictures with Santa and Albert. Bring your own camera. Vendors will offer live demonstrations and tastings throughout the store. Kids can also visit a corral of live reindeer and stop by the craft counter for children’s activities. When: Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 21–Dec. 20 Where: Bachman’s on Lyndale, Minneapolis Cost: FREE Info:

Holidazzle ⊲⊲This year’s all-ages holiday celebration, organized by the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, is free and happening in a new venue, Loring Park, which will be home to another new feature — a free seasonal ice-skating rink. Minneapolis-centric vendors will provide prepared and packaged food, beverages, unique gift and craft items. Other highlights include visits from Santa, music from bands and choirs, weekly movies and more. When: 5–9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 27–Dec. 20. Opening ceremonies will be at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 27 and will include a musical performance by MN Chorale, comments from local leaders and fireworks. Where: Loring Park, Minneapolis Cost: FREE Info:

SO MUCH STORE SO MUCH MORE We are the largest and most complete hobby store in the Midwest, with more than 30 years experience serving the Twin Cities. In that time, we’ve expanded to include everything in traditional hobbies as well as toys, games, puzzles, science kits, and so much more! It’s a truly unique experience and the perfect place to start (and finish) your holiday shopping. Come on in. You’ll be amazed. Two locations 6410 Penn Ave S., Richfield 612-866-9575 82 Minnesota Ave, Little Canada 651-490-1675 Hub Hobby MNP 1215 2-3 Page.indd 1

Hours M-F 10 am – 9 pm Sat 9:30 am – 5:30 pm Sun 11 am – 5 pm Check website or Facebook for holiday hours. 11/19/15 9:51 AM • December 2015


Out & About DEC. 3–5

Old Fashioned Holiday Bazaar ⊲⊲Browse 75 booths of handcrafted gift items from local artisans, including jewelry, wreaths, paintings, lotions and soaps. Enjoy live music and treats while you shop. When: 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Dec. 3–4, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Dec. 5 Where: Landmark Center, St. Paul Cost: $5 for ages 12 and older, free for ages 11 and younger Info:

DEC. 4–13

Holiday Fun at the Union Depot ⊲⊲Celebrate the holiday season with a European Christmas Market, a treelighting ceremony, live music with the 1950s-inspired Holy Rocka Rollaz, a bake sale, fireworks, a North Pole Express train and a series of free holiday movie nights. When: Dec. 4–13 Where: Union Depot, downtown St. Paul Cost: Most events are FREE. Info:

DEC. 13

Santa’s Workshop ⊲⊲Get ready for the holidays with a Santa’s Workshop celebration, courtesy of Sundays at Landmark, a series of cultural and art events (most of them free) designed to entertain, enrich and educate an all-ages audience. When: 1 p.m. Dec. 13 Where: Landmark Center, St. Paul Cost: FREE Info: sundays.htm


December 2015 •

Macy’s SantaLand ⊲⊲Walk through an animated story of Santa’s elves preparing for Christmas at the North Pole. Meet Santa for a chat and a photo. Visit Mrs. Claus’ bakery and Santa’s toyshop. Other activities will include a new Build-A-Bear workshop, breakfasts with Santa (also available at Ridgedale and Southdale) and dinner with Santa. When: Nov. 21–Dec. 24 Where: Macy’s, Minneapolis Cost: Free. Photo packages range from $14.99 to $24.99.

Info:, and 877-55-MACYS (877-556-2297).

Nutcracker Clinic

DEC. 18–22

⊲⊲Each year, La Danse Fatale dancers host a ballet clinic to raise money for their dance company’s season. Open to ages 3 to 10, the clinic begins with the story of The Nutcracker. Dancers are then grouped by age to learn the production’s choreography. No prior dance experience is required.

Nutcracker Fantasy

When: 1 p.m. Dec. 13. Family and friends are invited to enjoy a performance at 3 p.m. Where: Dance Arts Centre, Chanhassen Cost: $30 Info:

⊲⊲Minnesota Dance Theatre presents beautiful choreography, lavish sets and costumes along with a multitude of scenic transformations with more than 150 dancers, artists and behind-thescenes production professionals, plus a 44-piece orchestra. When: 7 p.m. Dec. 18, 19 and 22; 2 p.m. Dec. 19; and 3 p.m. Dec. 20 Where: State Theatre, Minneapolis Cost: $20-$75 Info: and

DEC. 31 AND JAN. 1

Noon Year’s Party ⊲⊲Ring in the zoo year during a special celebration with craft making, animalenrichment activities, giveaways and a countdown to noon, when hundreds of beach balls will fall from the ceiling. When: 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 Where: Como Zoo Park and Conservatory, St. Paul Cost: FREE Info:

Give a gift of Adventure Peak!

New Year’s Eve Party Ring in the New Year with your family at this very popular annual event at Edinborough Park! We celebrate “kid style” by offering dancing (Kidsdance D.J.), face painting, noise makers, hats and, of course, full access to Adventure Peak. Tickets may be purchased online or in-person at Edinborough Park. Date: Thursday, Dec. 31 | Time: 6–9 p.m. Cost: $9/child (plus tax); adults free with paying child.

10 Admission Passes just $60 + tax. Hours: Mon-Sat, 9 a.m. –9 p.m.; Sun, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. See our website for holiday hours.

952-833-9540 • Edinborough Park • 7700 York Ave. S. • Edina, MN City of Edina MNP 1215 H6.indd 1

11/13/15 1:05 PM

DEC. 31

New Year’s Eve Party ⊲⊲Ring in the new year — and celebrate the last — with a family-friendly celebration, complete with multigenerational crafts and games. When: 5–8 p.m. Dec. 31 Where: Hennepin History Museum, Minneapolis Cost: Free with museum admission ($5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, free for ages 11 and younger) Info:

Pre-register $ /person At the door $ /person




Holiday Lights in the Park ⊲⊲View more than 60 holiday light sculptures and animated displays as you drive through St. Paul’s Phalen Park. When: 5:30–10 p.m. Nov. 24–Jan. 1 Where: 1615 Phalen Drive E., St. Paul Cost: $10 per car Info:

Pre-register by Dec. 30 for $8/person or at the door for $10/person Ages 5 and younger free Free parking and shuttle Hot concessions

MORE ONLINE! ⊲⊲Want to learn about even more local events? Check out Minnesota Parent’s Out&About calendar at mnparent. com/calendar. Click on any day of the month and find things to do! ⊲⊲Have a cool family-friendly event coming up? Send all the details (plus photos) to at least six weeks in advance.

Bring your own sled, ice skates and snowshoes or rent our snowshoes, search New Year’s Eve Dakota County Parks MNP 1215 S3.indd 1

11/18/15 3:09 PM • December 2015


Out & About DECEMBER

Photo by Dan Norman


The Wizard of Oz ⊲⊲This all-ages production of the beloved L. Frank Baum story features a cast of munchkins, monkeys and four friends (Toto, too) in the pursuit of courage, a brain, a heart and a home. Traci Allen Shannon, a member of Children’s Theatre Company’s resident acting company, plays Dorothy. Traci has performed at theaters in the Twin Cities, Chicago, Washington D.C., and in the national tour of The Color Purple. When: Through Jan. 10 Where: Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis Cost: Tickets start at $10.

NOV. 17–DEC. 31

Cinderella ⊲⊲Excelsior Entertainment presents a new adaptation of the classic fable in which Cinderella shows her beloved, handsome prince that the truth in beauty is not what we see with our eyes only, but what we see with our hearts. When: Nov. 17–Dec. 31 Where: Old Log Theatre, Excelsior


December 2015 •

Info: or 612-874-0400

Cost: $16 Info:


The Sound of Music ⊲⊲Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical features classic songs such as My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi and Edelweiss in this timeless story of Maria and the musical Von Trapp family.

When: Dec. 10–Jan. 2 Where: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul Cost: Tickets start at $30. Info:

DEC. 11–21

Between the Worlds ⊲⊲Celebrate the songs of dark and light with this Ivey award-winning winter

solstice show, featuring a capella choral pieces, haunting cello and guitar, lively accordion music, balafon, marimbas and flute, along with puppetry and masked dance. A reception with warming beverages and home-baked cookies will follow each performance. When: Dec. 11–21 Where: In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, Minneapolis Cost: $20 Info:

DEC. 12

Nature Crafts ⊲⊲Ages 8 and older are invited to select natural materials to make unique holiday ornaments and crafts — and unleash their creativity. When: 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Dec. 12. Cleanup starts at 3 p.m. Registration is required by Dec. 9. Where: Eastman Nature Center, Dayton Cost: $10. Ages 17 years and younger must be accompanied by a registered adult. Info:

DEC. 29

Snow and Ice Sculpting Day ⊲⊲Bring your coats, hats and gloves and use winter’s gifts of snow and ice to learn about Hennepin County history. No snow or ice that day? Learn the rich history of figure skating through the museum’s exhibit Figures and Follies: Hennepin County’s Figure Skating History. When: 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Dec. 29 Where: Hennepin History Museum, Minneapolis Cost: Free with museum admission ($5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, free for ages 11 and younger) Info: • December 2015



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↑↑Maxwell Prod, 6 months, of Minneapolis, dressed in the style of Where the Wild Things Are, plots to become king of Minneapolis.

↑↑Seven-year-old Kieran Quinlan of Minneapolis catches some air at Cornelia School Park in Edina. ←←Jamison Smith, 19 months, of Hopkins, takes a break from playing with trains to flash a toothy grin.

←←Brayden and Brooklynn in Lakeville, age 6 and 4, explore their neighborhood, a planned, nature-focused community known as Spirit of Brandtjen Farm.

TODDLER APPS YOU LOVE! My daughter and nephews LOVE Preschool Arcade. They enjoy the arcade-like games that help teach alphabet recognition (both uppercase and lowercase letters) and basic counting. — Troy Johnson, Hudson, Wis.

Little Dentist: It helps them have fun before their first visit! — Andrea Ruby, Golden Valley

The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Friends because it’s calm and soothing. — Erin Ludowese, Eden Prairie

We love ABC Mouse and PBS Kids. — Lori Spahn, Coon Rapids

Endless ABC! — Stacy Gianino, St. Paul

WordWorld Tales — Shawn Egli, St. Anthony Village

Want to see your kid on this page? Send photos with your child’s first/last name, age and city to


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Come turn your memories into physical prints and posters! With the help of a photo specialist, you can also turn pictures into gifts like puzzles or coffee mugs!

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December 2015  
December 2015