Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sun-screen & coral reefs - protecting kids & the environment

Last year, a scientific study released last year showed that oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreen, can damage coral reefs. To quote a report on the study:
The researchers found that oxybenzone, a common UV-filtering compound, is in high concentrations in the waters around the more popular coral reefs in Hawaii, and the Caribbean. The chemical not only kills the coral, it causes DNA damage in adults and deforms the DNA in coral in the larval stage, making it unlikely they can develop properly. The highest concentrations of oxybenzone were found in reefs most popular with tourists.
Cells from seven species of corals were killed by oxybenzone at concentrations similar to those detected in ocean water samples. Three of the species that the researchers tested are currently listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act.
This is bad news for the environment. Coral reefs around the world are threatened by many things: development, fishing practices, and pollution - including, it seems, oxybenzone.

Anyone who has gone swimming, snorkeling or diving with or without kids in places like Hawaii, the Caribbean, Australia, and elsewhere knows that coral reefs are home to a mind-boggling number and variety of sea-life. Protecting coral reefs, while also protecting ourselves and our kids from the sun, is an important task. 

So what do you do if you want to enjoy the ocean, and the coral reefs, without killing or damaging them?

1. Use clothing to cover up, even in the water.
Rashguards are a great for both kids and adults to wear at the beach. For my kids, I like the ones that are long-sleeved, or at least 3/4 sleeves, and preferably with a little collar around the neck for extra protection.

2. Use sun-screens without oxybenzone.
Sunscreens with titanium oxide or zinc oxide do not damage coral, and I'm thinking there will be a lot more "coral friendly" sunscreens on the market soon.

3. Find some shade
Even if you're not going in the water, sun-screen residue can still end up in the water, through run-off and sewers. This means that avoiding sunscreen products with oxybenzone even if you're just hanging on the beach is probably a good idea. Some ways to reduce the need for sunscreen is to use hats, cover-ups, parasols, beach umbrellas and beach-tents for shade and sun-protection.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings... all the best to you.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday. Here's to more wonderful travel and adventures and experiences with friends and family in the future!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Three bookish gift-ideas for traveling (and non-traveling) kids

Books always make lovely gifts, no matter what the occasion, and they also make great travel companions. Whether you bring along one or more paperbacks or hardcovers for a long trip, or whether you load up your e-reader or tablet with some bookish enjoyment, it's always a good way to pass the time: on board the airplane, at the airport, at the hotel, on the train, or wherever else you find yourself.

There are so many good books out there for children, but here are three that have really caught my eye lately, and have also received a stamp of approval from my kids.

The Fox and the Star, by Coralie Bickford-Smith

About the book:
"From the award-winning designer of the iconic Penguin Hardcover Classics comes a beautifully illustrated fable about loss, friendship, and courage."

My take:
This is an absolutely gorgeous book that should definitely be judged by its cover. The illustrations by Coralie Bickford-Smith are strikingly beautiful, and the story itself is touching, heart-warming, and wistful. This books is available in both ebook format, and as a hardcover, and it would make an amazing gift in any format, but the hardcover might be the way to go for this one: illustrations of this quality and caliber do look their best in actual paper-format. Its a book that would work well for kids who are reading by themselves or with some help, and it would also make a lovely book for reading out loud.

Wings of Fire Boxset, Books 1-5, by Tui T. Sutherland

About the book:
"A war has been raging between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia for years. According to a prophecy, five dragonets will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen. But not every dragonet wants a destiny. And when Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny discover the truth about their unusual, secret upbringing, they might choose freedom over fate -- and find a way to save their world in their own way."

My take:
I've just started reading this series of books with my 8 year old, and she absolutely loves them. At this point, she could read them herself (they are listed as being for kids 8-12 years old), but she still enjoys having her bedtime read-out-loud stories, and I'm not going to argue with that. The books are engaging, easy to read, and very well written: the dragons talk and behave much like human tweens and teens, but their struggles and their adventures all take place in the fantasy world of Pyrrhia, where dragons are the main characters and humans are only mentioned in passing as "scavengers". I would highly recommend these books to any and all young readers with an interest in fantasy, and especially for dragon-lovers! The box set contains the first five books: there are two more available right now, and an 8th one being published in early 2016.

Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older

About the book:
"Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears... Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one -- and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family's past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come."

My take:
This young adult fantasy novel set in present-day Brooklyn is a terrific read for both young readers and adults. Daniel José Older weaves in some amazing magic into this tale as the young and talented high-school student and mural painter Sierra Santiago begins to realize that she has some extraordinary powers. There are good and bad spirits on the loose, and also good and bad human beings: determining who is good and who is not so good isn't always easy for Sierra, but she has to learn fast or the entire city is in peril. The book is full of real and likable characters that are also complex, the dialogue is often fast and funny, and the relationships - friendships, family ties, and some romance - are all written in a way that feels real and true to life. Shadowshaper pulls you in from the first page and moves at a very quick pace: some of the scenes here are rather breathtaking. It would make a great gift for any young reader on your list. Or pick it up for yourself: I hugely enjoyed this story and will be checking out more books by Older.

For some more reading- and book-tips, check out these posts:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Flying with kids - a collection of travel tips for the holidays

The holiday season is upon us, and anyone who has traveled by plane - with or without kids - during this busy season knows it can be a challenge. Long lineups, weather related delays, and security concerns can all end up turning your holidays into a stressful ordeal. I'm sharing several links to some of my gathered travel advice and travel experiences over the years, but my number one tip is this:
  • Give yourself enough time. Arrive earlier than you think necessary at the airport. It's a lot better to be bored and have to spend time at the gate or sitting in a play area in the airport, than to run frantically to make it to your departure gate!

And in case you're looking for a way to brighten up your time on board:
And if you're looking for some gifts for the traveling people in your life:

And in case you end up delayed at the airport, here are a couple of posts with tips and advice:
Finally, whatever happens on board or at the airport, if your kids are driving you nuts, or if you're driving your kids nuts, or if your flight is stuck on the tarmac, or indefinitely delayed because of snow, fog, ice, rain, strikes, technical problems, or whatever else... try to take care of yourself and your family and not stress yourself out too much. Remember:

 Happy travels this holiday season, and may all your flights be on time!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Gorgeous kittens in Rismyrliden, Sweden

Going through my travel photos from our visit this past summer in Sweden, I came across these kitten pictures from Rismyrliden, Sweden. It's an old-time farm in the woods of northern Sweden, where visitors can see how people used to live in this part of the country, once upon a time.

My kids love visiting this place, and it's pretty easy to see why.

We also saw this absolutely beautiful cow:

I just feel that she's the supermodel of cows. Just look at that face!

Find out more about Rismyrliden on the official website!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

7 tips for flying with kids & electronics

When I first started traveling (sometime in the pterodactyl-era), I didn't even own a cell-phone: no one I knew did. These days, things are very different: when I step on a plane these days, I usually bring not only my cell-phone, but my Kindle and probably my laptop, and my kids bring their tablets, too. Which is a good thing: technology helps us all stay in touch with friends and family, and can definitely help keep kids (and adults) entertained on long flights.

If you're flying with electronic devices, and especially if you're traveling abroad, there are some things to think about: here are 7 of my tips.

1. Check your data plan before you leave
Most people know about this these days, but it is still good to think about ahead of time. Check with your provider how much it will cost you to use mobile data when you're traveling, just so you don't end up with an astronomical bill when you return home. Use wifi when possible (it's available for free in so many places these days, including many hotels, airports and restaurants), and also make sure you've turned off any automatic updates on your device that might cost you.

2. Fully charge all devices before you leave
Seems obvious, but in the stressed-out mayhem that can reign before you go on a trip with your kids, it can be easy to forget charging your devices. Plug them in, and pack them fully-charged. You might still run out of battery power along the way, but at least you're as prepared as you can be. I know from experience that kids can really use up a lot of battery power if you experience a flight delay, or if you're on a long-haul flight.

3. Bring your cables with you - in your hand luggage
While it's usually pretty easy to remember our actual devices, is can be easy to forget the cables that go with those devices: bring them all, and keep them close. You might need them to recharge your phone or tablet during your trip, for example, if you get stuck at an airport because of a flight delay. There are some very nifty cable- and electronics organizers for travel - some hold hard drives and USB memory-sticks, as well as cables.

4. Bring converters and adapters
If you're traveling abroad, you might need to bring power converters or adapters in order to plug in all your various devices. I travel with several, and two of them allow for USB-charging as well. North American travelers: if your device (usually it's the laptop) has a three-pronged plug, make sure that you bring an adapter that allows for three prongs. Some converters and adapters only allow for a two-pronged plug.

5. Bring a power strip
This is something I hadn't really considered bringing until recently, but it makes sense and I will be bringing one on our next trip. Bring a power strip so that you can recharge several devices at once, using just one outlet. This can even be useful at airports: I've noticed people congregating around any and all power outlets at airports. At Keflavik Airport in Iceland, this meant a person sitting on the floor in the bathroom (of all places) to recharge her phone. If you bring a power strip, you might even make some new friends by offering others a chance to recharge their devices (if you have some extra space, that is).

6. Get a good cover for your device
It's an unfortunate reality that things you pack in your hand luggage might get squashed on a flight. Whether your bag goes in the overhead compartment, or under the seat in front of you, that bag might very well get flattened, crushed, and otherwise mauled. A good cover will protect your phone, tablet, laptop, or e-reader from damage. I have some nice and cheap travel covers for the kids' tablets, a neoprene sleeve for my laptop, and a little "cell-phone wallet" that protects my phone, and also holds a couple of credit cards.

7. Be ready to unpack your devices at security
When you go through security at the airport, you will usually be asked to remove any "large" electronic devices from your bag. In my experience, this always includes laptops, usually includes tablets, and sometimes includes cell-phones as well. The devices are then sent through the x-ray machine separately from the rest of your hand-luggage. Just be ready to remove them all, and keep them readily accessible in your bag. A backpack or bag with a separate compartment for your laptop or tablet can really help speed up the process at security. It also helps keep your device safe, so it's a win-win.

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