Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I can't believe it (and neither can my mom). I have become one of those people. I bought my dog a Halloween costume.

And then I bought him another one--they totally go on sale if you wait long enough. I only spent about $10 per costume if you average them out. Which is to say, I spent more than $20 on Halloween costumes for my dog.

Who am I?!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Round-Up

Realm of the Mad God Pumpkin
I've written a few Halloween-themed posts that I thought I'd share here. It's not too late to incorporate these ideas into your Halloween celebration, especially if you still have to make one more trip to the store tonight because you ate all the candy you planned to give out buy your candy yet.

At Sylvan Learning's Mom-Minded blog I shared a bunch of fun ideas for adding excitement and science to your party with dry ice.

I also posted on ideas to add STEAM (STEM + Arts) to your celebration with a few simple activities.

And look, I finally made something! A DIY Meme-friendly Portable Photobooth! )That's Veronica from Viva La Feminista and her "partner in mime" below.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BlogHer 2013 Hits and Misses

BlogHer 2013
BlogHer13. All that and more.
Somebody has to be the last person to post a BlogHer recap. Right? I'll save someone else from the bloggy version of the walk of shame.

But I will offer a few excuses. First I was catching up from the conference, then my mom had a medical mishap and then as memory of this post, put in draft on 7/27, began to fade my dad had knee replacement followed by a few eventful weeks in a rehab facility where he died and was brought back to life (but the staff later decided maybe he just fainted and they kinda rubbed his chest instead of doing full-on CPR to revive him) and then I was madly preparing for one of the best vacations of my life, then I took that vacation, caught up from that and now I don't have any more excuses.

So here are my hits and misses of BlogHer13 as first recorded on July 27, 2013 in a rather loose manner.

I was invited to an official pre-conference event from Wilton. It was a fun day and I will write about that soon.

Misses. The big miss was my friends! A lot of them skipped this year. However, it was wonderful seeing the friends that were at the conference.

I attended a lovely brand lunch with US Cellular featuring a panel with Melisa Wells, Donna Mills and Jenna Hatfield where we talking about cell phones and technology bringing families together.

I was part of a private dinner with Boks, a before-school program designed to gets kids physically active and get their bodies and brains ready for a day of learning.

It was disappointing walking the expo floor with most brand reps looking at me blankly when I said that I mainly blog about STEM or science and technology for families. 0_0

However, a man at the canned food booth mentioned that one of his agency's other clients might be a fit for me. So then I was all, hey everyone go to the Cans Get You Cooking booth to get your face on a can. It was a cute promo. My promo can is still sitting on my window sill. (Note to self: it probably needs to be dusted at this point.)

The two brands I was most looking forward to meeting, Intel and Petsmart, both listed on the BlogHer sponsor page (also both brands I tweeted to prior to the event who never responded to me), hosted private events and had no presence at the expo.

Note to BlogHer: it's great that companies are officially partnering with you for these special events, but please let attendees know not to expect them at the expo. "Meh, it's not like they were giving out computers," said one friend of Intel. I don't need any more computers, I just wanted to talk about #STEMchat or maybe connect with some people to interview for my video series when Geeks Grow Up.

As for Petsmart, well, I've spent a fortune for puppy toys that sometimes last for as few as 15 minutes (true story), so yeah, I was just grasping fro bones there.


Big time miss: Who thought it would be a good idea to include approximately 5 pounds of liquid products in the swag bag? No really, who? Most Many Everyone I know, dumped the 32 oz. red Gatorade-like liquid before they even hit the expo floor. Who wants to carry around all that weight?

Admittedly, my memory is a bit fuzzy on some of this, but the full-value coupon from Kozy Shack was pure awesome, even the cashier commented on it when I redeemed it. We still use the mug from that brand, too and miraculously we can still locate the accompanying little spoon and it's in one piece.

My memory needs to be jogged on the other stuff. (I'm trying to forget the Jockey Bra fitting thing. I know they must've focus-grouped the hell out of that thing before bringing it to market but no. Just no. My friend Jen sums it up.). July feels like it was so long ago.

I also enjoyed a post-BlogHer event with Virtual Piggy.

And that's why you don't wait three months to recap a conference.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Could the Goblin Valley State Park Incident Have Been Prevented?

Goblin Valley State Park
After hearing the news that a small stupid group of men not only toppled an ancient rock formation at Utah's Goblin Valley State Park, but also videotaped their actions and posted the incident to YouTube (and by the way the two adults in the group are Boy Scout leaders for a church-based group), I felt compelled to write a letter to Fred Hayes, Utah State Parks director.

Dear Mr. Hayes,

What a month you're having! First you're dealing with capacity crowds due to the masses of people rerouting from national parks and now these guys, toppling a goblin at Goblin Valley State Park. Sheesh. I hope you catch a break in November.

My husband and I were among the rerouted tourists and I want to compliment you on your fabulous state parks. Although Kodachrome Basin was always part of our itinerary, we count our detours to Goblin Valley, Pink Coral Sands, Escalante Petrified Forest, and Snow Canyon as the silver lining of the dark cloud of the national parks closure. (You can read the highlights here.)

Each one of these parks offered something (often many things) that amazed or delighted us including wide open spaces, stunning views, and a new appreciation for geology and the forces of nature.

Capitol Reef National Park on 10/1. We we up earlier than the ranger.
We'd read about the otherworldly rock formations of Goblin Valley and since we'd been kicked out of Capitol Reef National Park, we decided to make the drive out there (with a little nudge from the owner of Luna Mesa Cafe, who makes a mighty fine BLT sandwich, by the way).

As noted on the Goblin Valley website:
Goblin Valley State Park is a showcase of geologic history. Exposed cliffs reveal parallel layers of rock bared by erosion. Because of the uneven hardness of sandstone, some patches resist erosion much better than others. The softer material is removed by wind and water, leaving thousands of unique, geologic goblins. Water erosion and the smoothing action of windblown dust work together to shape the goblins.
Bedrock is exposed because of the thin soil and lack of vegetation. When rain does fall, there are few plant roots and little soil to capture and hold the water, which quickly disappears, in muddy streams without penetrating the bedrock.
Precariously balanced boulder at Goblin Valley State Park

As we walked by formations like the one pictured above, my husband and I discussed how long it would take for the top piece to fall off; it appears to be so precariously perched! And yet, I'd give another 10,000 years or so. Or who knows, maybe the winds and rains will shape that top bit into sometime more delicate and spire-like?

I certainly didn't feel like it was in danger of falling on me. And I can't believe that someone as familiar with the outdoors as a Boy Scout leader would think otherwise about a similar looking stone.

What those men did was wrong and I hope they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

They say they knew the rock was loose because the boys in the Scout group had been playing lava, "You see who can get the farthest in the park leaping from top of rock to top of rock without touching the ground..."

Apparently he didn't read the same signs I did requesting that visitors not touch or climb on the rocks.

In fact, I'd think a Scout leader would encourage his group to stick to the trail. In a nature preserve, the trail area is sacrificed, trod and beaten upon to provide the visitors with a path to access the wonders of that piece of land. When people go off the trail, additional flora and fauna are damaged or killed. A "leave no trace" Scout leader should know this without having to read a warning sign. For the record, there are warning signs at the park, but not in in the actual Valley of Goblins, from what I saw.

I can't help but wonder if their actions would have been prevented if there had been tighter controls. In many of the desert parks we visited, at some point during a hike we had trouble differentiating the actual trail from so-called social trails that are created when people head off the main trail, leaving sets of sandy footprints behind that lead others to believe the new side path is the actual trail.

According to my guidebook, we'd be taking a short hike through the Valley of the Goblins. In reality, there was no clear trail and people wandered about as they pleased. That made it a bit more interesting in some respects, but I was all, "What about that microscopic life on the desert floor that we're constantly being told is disrupted by humans tromping over the delicate ground? A single footstep can kill 10,000 years of growth that's barely visible to our eyes. How can they allow this?"

Think of the microbes!

My husband reminded me of how un-fun I can be at times.

Goblin Valley State Park Does lack of a clear path lead to vandalism?

I have to think that freewheeling visitors are just that. Without the confines of a trail, folks might be more inclined to touch the rocks, scratch their names into the sandstone (vandals are a huge problem in state and national parks), or, as in the case of these Boy Scouts, hop from rock to rock, despite warnings against doing so.

If those troop leaders were concerned about the safety of their boys, perhaps jumping on sandstone rock formations is ill-advised. I have two sons. I know their energy and understand that they like to flirt with danger as much as they do with girls (sometimes even more), but if the adults sensed a danger in the area, why not call off the rock-jumping that shouldn't have been going on in the first place?

And again, trouncing over delicate formations hardly fits into BOA's Leave No Trace philosophy.

Mr. Hayes, your own park literature noted that you are examining the long-term effect of visitors on these natural wonders. I feel like you have your answer now and it's an unfortunate one.

I sense that you'll be reigning in the crowds at Goblin Valley now. Hopefully they won't be confined to viewing the crazy hoodoos from the parking lot with a pair of binoculars, but maybe the valley needs to be set up more like an art museum than a school playground. It stinks when the whole class loses recess privileges because a student or two can't play nicely. The well behaved among us want to play in the state parks.

Thanks again for an amazing park system. Utah is full of natural wonders, plenty of which can be experienced outside the national parksl.

I wish you patience and wisdom in your quest to preserve and protect some truly special areas of your state.


Kim Moldofsky

Friday, October 18, 2013

Confession of a Surface Area Abuser

Don't be fooled by his innocent look.
Funny how our issues catch up with us. Although I don't share the most personal ones on this blog, on January 15, 2006(!), I did come clean as a surface area abuser. Which is to say that I found a name, or diagnosis if you will, for my bad habit of cluttering up every horizontal surface within reach in my office in my house that I have access to. Here I am almost 9 years later to say, well, I still have the same problem. 

Only now I have the clutter problem and a curious pup who is now tall enough to reach the top of every table and filing cabinet (I have short ones) in my office. And they're all piled with papers along with other odds and ends.

When Tesla is ready for a walk or wants attention, he'll grab something from my office and run off to his playpen to gnaw at it. At least he's pretty obvious in his approach. It's become something of a game for him. He loves to take papers and though he doesn't eat them, he very much enjoys shredding them to messy bits that stick on the rug in his pen. 

Did I mention I'm also the type of person who write down notes on scraps of paper and leaves them about?

Things really hit critical mass the other day. This weekend I've got to find a place for everything and put everything in it's place. That also means taking a stack of books and a few (unreviewed) review items I've sitting around and getting them off my to-do list, so I can store or give those items away.

Wish me luck. And if you see a slew of reviews on The Maker Mom, you'll know why.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month

October is National Medicine Abuse Month Stop medicine Abuse
October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. I was asked to share my thoughts along with information and resources in this sponsored post from Stop Medicine Abuse.

Parenting babies and toddlers is hard work. Man, I get tired just thinking about those early years. But that saying, "little people have little problems and big people have big problems" is true. It's not that my boys didn't get into trouble or have problems when they were younger, it's just that as they gain independence and near adulthood, the stakes are higher, the consequences graver. Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart.

Moving into the high school years, your former little people change. Whereas physical development occurs in a linear fashion (they get taller for example), their emotional growth is more like a roller coaster. There is a whole lot going on in their brains. Indeed, brain studies indicate that the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps us think before we act, may not mature until the mid-twenties.

Heaven help us parents of teens.

This roller coaster of emotional growth and developing decision-making skills can lead to experimentation in everything from hairstyles to dress to drugs. Thanks to Miley Cyrus a lot of us old fogies recently learned about molly, a dangerous new form of ecstasy. And, of course, most parents are aware of alcohol and drugs like marijuana. However, most of us don't give a second thought to things like prescription and over the counter (OTC) drugs sitting around our house, but those can be a danger as well.

Teens abusing cough medicine is a thing. Yeah, about 1 in 3 teens knows someone who has abused cough medicine, with about 1 in 20 teens report abusing cough medicine to get high through the ingredient DXM or dextromethorphan. ("Dextromethorphan? What's that?" you think if you're older enough to recall circa 1978 commercial.)  DXM is a cough suppressant found in many OTC cough medicines. Though safe under normal, recommended use, when abused DXM can lead to side effects like vomiting, stomach pain, slurred speech distortions of color and sound, hallucinations, and loss of motor control.

The Stop Medicine Abuse website shares additional information like slang terms for DXM (robo, skittling, velvet syrup, to name a few), and helpful resources for parents. It'd good to be aware of warning signs like finding empty cough medicine boxes or bottles in your child's backpack, the trash, or for those with sneakier children, just sitting in the medicine cabinet. Some warning signs are trickier. For example, "hostile or uncooperative attitude" is part of the daily existence of many teens I know.

Communication is key when it comes to preventing any kind of drug abuse. Part of that communication include the talk, sitting down with your kids to see what they know or are hearing from their peers and sharing information and your concerns despite their eye rolls. Seriously, research indicates that teens who learn about the risks of drug use from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs.

But ongoing conversation is also key. Open communication can be tricky with teens when a lot of conversation is brief and to the point, centering around the teen's needs (like more money, a ride to the movies or the mall) and your teen's attention span moves as quickly as his fingers do when he texts his friends.

Dear parents, persevere!

Whether it's insisting on a technology-free family meal a few times a week, arranging 1:1 time with your child, or sharing a hobby (or trying to), taking time to connect and create a space for conversation is key even if the conversation doesn't go as planned. Keep in mind that the big conversations are going to happen with they're ready, not when you hope to have them.

The really cool thing about raising teens is that every now and then you get glimpses of the fabulous, sharp young adults they're becoming and as a parent, you know you want to do your best to get them there.

Stop medicine abuse information for parents

Connect with @StopMedAbuse #NotMyTeen on Twitter and Facebook.

This post and Stop Medicine Abuse are sponsored by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. By the way, because I've been alive long enough not to have a digital footprint of my entire life, I think only about 10 people who know me online are aware that a gazillion years ago I was professional drug prevention specialist leading leadership and life skills development programs with teenagers. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Dream Trip to Utah to (Not) See the National Parks

Utah state parks overview
Oh, the wide open spaces!
Twenty years in the making, on September 29, DH and I left home for the trip of a lifetime. Thanks to my parents, who watched the boys and pup, and several friends who helped with carpools back home, DH and I set out to explore the national parks of Southwest Utah- Capitol Reef, Escalante, Bryce and Zion. When our plane took off, I turned to DH with amazement, admitting I hadn't been sure our trip was actually going to happen due to some family issues. I confessed that since 9/11/01 I've never really felt anything was certain anymore. And yet, here we were headed on a trip for out 20th anniversary! It was time to start believing again.

Erm, sort of. You've probably heard that on October 1, major components of the federal government, including the national parks, shut down. So although my general outlook remains cynical, that didn't stop me, us, from having a fantastic time in Utah. It was an amazing trip and thanks to the state park system and other federally managed lands that didn't lock their doors (though they did lock their bathrooms) we got up close and personal with a variety of the Utah's geological gems, just not on the grand scale of the national parks.

It's no surprise that Utah's state parks have been hosting record crowds since the federal government closed. In fact, I just read that they will currently honor national park passes, though their typical state park entry fee is only $6 per car.

The government shutdown stinks on so many levels. I'm not going to get into here, but I will say that there are thousands and thousands of international tourists who come to see the area stretching from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Arches National Park up in Utah. We were disappointed after traveling just a few hundred miles. Can you imagine booking a two to three week trip from halfway around the world only to find out your tour was cancelled? We talked with a handful of such tourists, apologizing for and embarrassed by our government.

We also talked with locals concerned about what the shutdown means for an area thick with services catering to such tourists, not to mention the number of folks who work directly with the federal lands in some capacity. We're talking rural towns too small for stoplights in some cases, let alone a McDonald's or Starbucks. (We saw more stoplights than fast food joints, for the record.) These communities lost on out the last weeks of their big tourist season and they're hurting.

On a related note, if you're planning on touring this area of the country either make sure you have Verizon phone service or a plan that includes roaming allowances. Out in the country, our Sprint phones wavered between roaming service and no. service. at. all. It was kinda nice in some ways, but I did miss texting my boys, which I couldn't do in roaming mode (thank goodness we didn't bring the children with us; can you imagine the horror of no texting to internet service?).

I did grab some photos on my phone, though, so it had some use. DH got some shots on his, too, and we brought a camera, but I don't have access to those photos right now. Still, this gives you a taste of the trip.

We arrived at Capitol Reef National Park around 4:40 PM on 9/30/13. We didn't realize we'd lose an hour driving from Nevada. We stopped in the visitors center where rangers warned us about the likely shut down. We had about 15 minutes to explore the exhibits before the park center closed its doors OR to run down the park's scenic road to the Gifford Homestead and grab some pie. Pie from the homestead was on my bucket list of this bucket-list trip. It's a testimony of my husband's love that we hurried into the car to pick up a pastry.

Only two or three pies from the day's supply remained when we got there. I bought a small pumpkin pie and, honestly, it wasn't spectacular, but the view while eating it couldn't be beat. We drove along the scenic route during sundown as the light reflected beautifully on the walls of the water pocket fold.

Indeed, on October 1, the pie shop, the visitor's center and the scenic drive were all closed. However, an early morning drive indicated that some of the hiking trails off the state highway remained open. DH and I pulled into the Chimney Rock Trail parking lot around 8:15 AM and hoped that the rumor we'd heard about trails near public roads staying open would be true. Alas, from our view atop Chimney Rock, we saw a park ranger blockading the parking lot.

After our hike we returned to our car, a fellow traveller moving the barricade for us. While debating Plan B, we drove through Capitol Reef, passing the eastern boundary without realizing it. We were so mesmerized by the scenery that we didn't care. Also, with the park closed, we had spare time on our hands. We stopped in at the Mesa Luna Cafe, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere (seriously, Google it). The site apparently sees its share of international travelers, and to hear the proprietor tell it, some intergalactic ones, too. She convinced us to head out the 1/2 hour or so (wound up being close to an hour) it would take to get to Goblin Valley State Park. We took a short, hot, walk among the red "goblin" rocks, formed by erosion surrounded by international tourists who also followed their Plan B routes.

 Little Wild Horse Canyon is just outside of Goblin Valley State Park. Despite the sign, the parking lot was packed and we encountered several sets of hikers during our short journey into the slot canyon. We were later told that federal lands under the Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction were open for hiking, but that amenities like visitor centers and restrooms were closed. I think the restrooms at LWH Canyon were among the few that were actually unlocked.

LWH Canyon. Always eager to reach our next destination before sundown on the dark twisty state highways, we only hiked about a mile in. Most excitement was at the beginning of the hike as we had to scramble over rocks in order to avoid soaking our boots in the large puddles on the path.

The view from our front porch at Red Stone Cabins on property at Kodachrome Basin State Park. We did three challenging hikes here (see one below), saw a coyote, and ogled an amazing sky full of stars at night. We counted three shooting stars, a satellite and the cloud-like Milky Way in the night sky.

Similar to Bryce, but not gated off, was Cedar Breaks National Monument. Perhaps the ranger didn't lock the front gate out of sympathy for anyone who'd bother driving out to the isolated spot in 28-degree weather with light flurries. That said, the park ranger wasn't totally sympathetic; the bathrooms were locked and the ranger station was closed. Did I mention we visited after lunch and the bathrooms were locked and it was snowing and we were in the middle of nowhere?

Red Canyon provided a Bryce Canyon-like setting in which to hike. It's one of several sites in the area favored as a hideout by Butch Cassidy and his gang back in the day.

After stopping at a rock shop (one of three) in the town of Orderville, we headed out to a nearby slot canyon at Red Hollow. The hike was recommended by a friendly, sympathetic rock shop owner. We saw a small group of hikers leave as we started our hike. They advised us which fork of the dry river bed led to the canyon. As we finished our hike, we ran into another pair of hikers and passed on the same advice.

We loved hiking in relative isolation, and near complete silence, two things that are hard to find in the suburbs of a major city. Our hikes were exciting and invigorating, except when I mentally paused to imagine what would happen if one of us twisted an ankle--or worse-- out in these isolated areas with few others (and no rangers), spottily marked trails and, at times, no cell phone service.

On a related note, remember the movie 127 Hours? As my boys say, if you watch the film in reverse, it's an uplifting story about a guy who finds his hand in a Utah canyon. The real-life story behind the movie took place about an hour or so from Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Due to our national park detours, we visited sites that we'd previously considered touring, but didn't make it onto our official itinerary like the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (and Goblin Valley above)

To reach Springdale, Utah, we had to drive though Zion National Park. The brief car tour made me wistful. The park is magnificent. (By contrast, the peek into Bryce Canyon from private land on the rim left me cold. Literally. Snowflakes were falling and winds were blowing hard at around 10,000 feet above sea level.) 

The scenery along Route 9 was just so grand, the scale so very large. Driving along, cars stopped to view wildlife and the scenic vistas, despite warnings from the rangers. At one point, a ranger driving the road stopped, flashing the police-like lights on his car instructing people to move along. There were rumors of written warnings, license plates being photographed for ticketing and even $75 per person fines for hiking or illegal parking, but we didn't meet anyone who had been served one.

We stayed in Springdale, a touristy, but charming town just east of Zion, at a surprisingly nice La Quinta Inn. It was new, modern, and clean with a stunning view from our window. Nestled by mountains on either side of town, I think every hotel in Springdale offers its guests a lovely view. The town has restaurants, shops and galleries that stayed open late (as in 9 PM) keeping the bustle of tourism going well past sundown.

The folks at La Quinta preempted their guests' disappointment over the park closure by handing out a list of alternate hikes just outside of Zion. We took an old wagon route near a 19th century cemetery. The printed information we were given said the trail has not been maintained for nearly a century. The trail was so rocky and steep, it was hard to believe an wooden-wheeled wagon powered by a team of mules or horses could possibly navigate the route. Or maybe we took a wrong turn? It was another fairly isolated hike, with the only glimpse of other people being a group up on the mesa. That said, the route is known as one of the premiere area trails for technical mountain biking and we saw plenty of tire tracks (400 or more vertical feet up on the trail!) to prove it. I'm pretty sure that sport is more dangerous than skydiving.

Our last stop in Utah was Snow Canyon State Park on the outskirts of St. George, near the Arizona border. We visited on a Sunday and it was quite crowded, at least compared to our earlier hikes. Snow Canyon has it all- volcanic rocks (which we also saw on our drive out to Cedar Breaks), red hoodoos and spires, pink sand, scenic view points, and a couple of slot canyons, to boot. What the park lacked in isolation, it made up for in variety.

All in all, it was a fantastic, memorable trip! These photos don't do the scenery justice. The sense of scale is lost, the colors not as vibrant, etc. I've love to visit Yellowstone and Glacier National Park next, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to plan a trip around national parks after this experience. Would you?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Life Lessons and Bongo Lessons

I'm on a social media hiatus for the next week(ish), so I'm bringing in one of the loves of my life to entertain you with his skills on the bongo drums. My husband bought me these for my birthday (on request) a long, long time ago. I still haven't gotten around to taking lessons. But I'm hoping that by immersing myself in the present in real life (which sounds more pleasant and less zombie-like than, say, the flesh and bones world), I can think a bit more about my plans and goals instead of getting distracted by emails, tweets and status updates.

What a concept.

Maybe I'll finally sign up for bongo drum lessons or the yoga class I planned to take the year I turned 40, a number that is now a distant memory, or get organized because I'll be able to reflect without the many and constant distractions that are always just a tempting click away.

Wish me luck.

In the meantime, enjoy the crazy cool beats.