Monthly Archives: November 2014

thrively giveaway

What do you get the kid who has everything? [+giveaway]


Seriously. Between tech gadgets, LEGOs, video games, and clothing, what do you get the kid who has everything?

Or a better question may be… do kids really need more stuff?

I’m not saying don’t give any gifts. I’m saying consider the fact that our kids might not need more stuff just for stuff’s sake. For a minute, consider incorporating a new kind of gift: an experience.

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You know what they say… Give a toy, play for a day; Give an experience, make a memory that lasts a lifetime.

OK so I just made that up. But it’s true, right? My daughter will not be able to list the number of dolls she’s outgrown since she was younger. But she will most definitely be able to describe every piece of clothing she created in her Fashion Design camp last summer. My son only wears one of the five pairs of sneakers he owns, but he can recall every pitch he threw to help bring his baseball team to the playoffs last year. Of course they enjoyed the dolls and the sneakers at the time, so it’s not like I’d go back in time and deprive them, but I’m just thinking about how all the experiences they’ve had are the things that have really settled into their hearts. I want to give them more of those.

But… what if those two things could come together in perfect harmony?

This year we are doing something different. The kids’ “big” gifts are going to be activities. My daughter wants to take an immersion Spanish course this summer, my son wants to do some kind of outdoor adventure, and my youngest daughter – well she wants to do everything under the sun :)

I use Thrively to get recommendations for them. Thrively is a strength-based activity finder for kids. It helps me find unique and highly rated activities, plus filters for what’s going to be a good fit for both their strengths and interests. I entered “Backpacking” as an interest for him, and “Spanish” as an interest for her. Thrively then scans the thousands of activities in the directory to find the ones that match those interests as well as their strengths from their Strength Profile.

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Here’s the recommendation that popped up for my son (umm can I go too?):

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 1.33.43 PM



Perfect. Now don’t tell my kid. Here’s where the “stuff” comes in. I went to and found:

The “stuff” here is not the experience in itself; but it facilitates the experience. My son may not remember the shoes themselves when he gets older. But he will remember the way they stood up to mud, he’ll remember cinching them tight at the start of a long day on the trail, and he’ll remember taking them off after a week of exploring the outdoors and looking at stars.

I plan to print a little framed card of the camp and tie it with a ribbon to his new boots. I can’t wait until he opens it :)

Join us on this adventure. 

Sign up for and find that perfect adventure for your kids, whether it’s a class or a camp. Then enter to win one of eight $50 Gift Cards from, so you can get the right gear to match the perfect activity you find through Thrively.

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Fine print: giveaway ends 12/14 at 11:59pm. Open to United States residents only, age 13 or up. No purchase necessary. 


Movie night! 7 movies to keep your family thinking

Looking for a way to enjoy the calm before the holiday storm this weekend with your family?

Here are seven movies to get your family thinking and talking. As a bonus, they’re all available right on Netflix, though not all in the kids section. All of these are appropriate for tweens and up.  Fire up the popcorn!

 7 movies

  1. The Iron Giant – This movie is a great conversation starter about the role of government and standing up for what you believe in.
  2. First Position – Follow dancers training for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions, where the stakes are high. This documentary is compelling and thrilling, and not just for girls.
  3. Duck Soup – The classic Marx Brother’s comedy that’s both hilarious and wonderful conversation starter. A warning – you have to be silent and pay really close attention to get many of the jokes. Fantastic, must see film.
  4. Super Size Me – This one is a real challenge to watch with your kids, but worth watching and all of the conversations that it brings. It might just cause your whole family to rethink a healthy lifestyle.
  5. Stand By Me – A warning that this film is rated R and contains some more adult content that is really only appropriate for older kids or teens. That being said, you’ll have a hard time finding a movie that will push your children more. A wonderful way to engage with your kids.
  6. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec – This is a true kids movie, but one that will get you talking about gender roles and how women can make their way in the world. Fun and frolicking, a great film!
  7. Remember the Titans – This thought provoking film is more than just a football movie. A PG rating means that it’s perfect for the whole family, and it’s a great place to begin a dialogue about race relations.

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Fear and statistics – taming the ebola monster

A lot of people are concerned about ebola right now. It’s on the tip of seemingly everyone’s tongue, from lawmakers to the folks in line at the grocery store. We have people refusing quarantine, town meetings being held and one of the hottest Halloween costumes this year is a hazmat suit. I must admit, I briefly considered how many gallons of water we could store in our basement. If your kids aren’t the “ah, whatever” type, they may be just as susceptible to the panic as adults, and its important that you know how to calm those fears.

Here are some reminders/facts to calm your child’s fears and head off any uneasiness that might be setting in. Kids don’t have to be afraid! And um, neither do parents.

Acknowledge the Fear

  • If your child is freaked out, don’t fuel the fire by feeding into their fear. Acknowledge their fear, even if it seems irrational to you. Then help them break it down.
  • Turn it into a lesson! Research the origins of the disease, what led to the spread of past outbreaks, how it spreads and prevention methods. A little bit of knowledge can ease the tension of uncertainty.


  • Only two people have died in the United States from Ebola. Two. Though nearly a dozen have been treated domestically, the only casualty as of this writing has been the man from Liberia who came to Texas with the disease already growing inside his body, and a doctor who died in Nebraska who also came directly from west Africa. Their treatment came unfortunately late in the cycle of the disease, and is often cited as the reason they did not survive.
  • U.S. medical care, for all of the problems that it has, is still among the best in the world. A large part of the reason that the disease is so deadly in West Africa is because of the dire lack of good care.
  • Standard medical care like oxygen, fluids, blood pressure monitoring and treatment of secondary infections have been the most effective treatment for the disease – even more than super drugs. That standard of care is easily available here in the U.S.


  • No one has gotten the disease in the United States who wasn’t a healthcare worker who had direct contact with a patient. So unless your child is a healthcare provider in an Ebola ward, they’re unlikely to be at risk.
  • West Africa is far away. It just is, and the disease isn’t coming from the sky – it comes from contact with things like vomit and human waste. Those are gross facts, but will help your child to understand the reality of the spread of the disease.

Things that are more likely than getting Ebola:

  • Winning the lottery
  • Getting hit by a baseball
  • Slipping on the soap in the shower
  • Being cast on Survivor
  • Catching dysentery
  • An IRS audit
  • Getting struck by lightning
  • Marrying a prince or a princess
  • Being attacked by ninjas



It took a village… And my mother

When I work with child actors in Los Angeles, I marvel at how different my youth was in some ways.  Although I was working professionally in the business by the time I was 11, my foundation was built in a teeny, rural town in Massachusetts.

The musical genes were in place — my mother taught piano, my father could play by ear.  My sister was an accomplished flutist and my brother a talented drummer.  But no one in my family had ever been in show business.  Our family tree was made up of scientists, teachers and business folks – all creative people but “civilians,” as show folks sometimes call them.

So, as the song goes, how did I end up here?


At our public school was a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Gates who loved music. She played disco tunes while we zoomed through our multiplication tables and staged a Christmas play every year with elaborate musical numbers.  One year she gave me a solo: I don’t know why she did, I had never sung publicly that I remember.  But one of the other mothers in the audience that day suggested to my mom that I try out for the town’s production of “A Sound of Music.” The theatre bug bit hard. The camaraderie of the cast, the late night rehearsals, the attention – oh the attention – what a heady concoction for a young girl.  Thus began my trajectory into the world of showbiz that has included Broadway, film and television.  Had Mrs. Gates not brought her creativity into our school, who knows?

Shirley Benjamin was my first ballet teacher, a kind but no nonsense woman who laid my physical foundation: chin up, shoulders down, turn out. And then Denise Day taught me tap and jazz dance, working hard to get me not to turn out! The dance classes of my youth were not mere preparations for a big splashy recital replete with sparkly costumes that many schools have today, although I did have some of those costumes.  The focus was on learning the steps and technique.  Today I still love learning steps one at a time, mastering the technique and then watching myself emerge in a beautiful dance – part me, part someone else’s design.  The process works in any field.

Alongside all this dance, my mother hounded me to practice my singing.  My teacher was Kathy Ludt, who taught out of her unassuming house in the next town over.  She and her husband Dave loved performing and had a little theatre group called Calliope Productions.  Soon after I started working with her, she cast me in the title role of the opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” She believed in me and installed in me a faith in good technique, a formidable combination.

Jan Fuller was the lady who had told my mother I should audition for “The Sound of Music.”  Every year our town put on a show to raise money for the high school’s scholarship fund, and for years Jan produced and directed it.  I was one of many performers in this show each year – she cast lots of children in order to get their parents to buy tickets!  Jan’s energy and joy onstage and off brought fun to the process.

But mostly, there was my mother.  My mother is a musician in her own right.  She loves show tunes.  The musical soundtrack of my childhood was papered with Sondheim, Styne, Bernstein, Gershwin and Porter –  peppered with her own practice sessions of Mozart and Chopin.  Though to my current chagrin I refused to take piano lessons from her, she taught me to read music, a skill which has proven invaluable and for which I am grateful.

My mother taught me to practice – that’s a big one.  I learned to do something even when I wasn’t in the mood, for the purpose of getting better.

My mother sought out opportunities for me to perform.  She brought me to an old folks home to sing for invalids.  She bought the trade papers and found auditions for any community theater around, then expanded into Boston, where I commuted three nights a week to perform Moliere at a professional theatre.

Then there were the competitions she sought out, one of which took me to New York City where I secured an agent at the age of 14.  When I was 15, I was living in New York City performing in the original Broadway cast of “Into the Woods” and commuting home on the train for two nights after the matinee on Sundays.  The discipline I learned in dance class and those afternoons practicing my vocal exercises at home surely held me in good stead as I waited outside for an hour and a half at my callback to meet John Hughes for the feature film “Uncle Buck.”  I stayed focused the entire time – an exhausting feat for anyone, much less a 16 year old.

I am sure the discipline and persistence I learned as a harness for my gifts have fostered my success.  Paradoxically, that discipline, those tools, those rules needed to be solid enough in me that I can now throw them away and fly creatively.

Now that I have children of my own, I understand the pride and excitement that seeing your child excelling at something can engender.  It was thrilling to my mother, and my young eyes saw her excitement and made me strive even more.  My father also threw the weight of his love and support behind my childhood career.  My brother and sister gave up “normalcy” many times throughout our childhood as my career took center stage.

I would never have had the career I’ve had were it not for those sacrifices, and all that early childhood joy and experience in the Arts.  The support of my teachers and family, those lessons, all those moments listening to “Sweeney Todd” and “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Applause” in the car on my way to ballet – all of that has served to make me the entertainer I am today.



Jean Louisa Kelly is an actress/singer/dancer best known for her role as Kim Warner on the long running sitcom “Yes, Dear.” Other well known roles include Tia opposite John Candy in the John Hughes hit “Uncle Buck,” Rowena Morgan opposite Richard Dreyfuss in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and Luisa in Michael Ritchie’s film of the long-running Off-Broadway musical “The Fantasticks.” She composed and performed all the songs in her album “Color of Your Heart,” which was inspired by the record “Free to Be… You and Me.” She acted in and composed the single “Don’t Give Up” for the soon to be released movie, “1000 to 1, the Corey Weissman Story.”


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Lessons from Malala


Malala Yousafzai is a breathtaking example of what we look for as inspiration. When you read her story or hear her speak, you’re reminded of the great social change figures of the last century – Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. It feels like we’re witnessing history, a greatness that is so immense that it’s almost too much to imagine.

Here’s an interview with Malala you can sit and share with your kids. I dare you not to get goosebumps.

In case you don’t know Malala’s story, here’s the short version. Malala was born in Pakistan and grew up in the Swat Valley, an area in the northwest part of the country not far from the border of Afghanistan. This area was controlled by a local version of the Taliban, and this group imposed heavy and often brutal restrictions on the education of girls. Her family owned and operated a chain of schools, and Malala became an activist early on, writing articles and blogs about her experiences under the strict rule of the Taliban. She was only a tween when she wrote for the BBC and was the subject of a New York Times documentary. She was even nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

On October 9, 2012, Malala climbed onto the bus to go to school, in the same way that millions of other children do every day all over the world. A stranger came aboard the bus and asked for her. He then pointed a gun at her and shot three times. A bullet went into her forehead, through her face and down into her shoulder. She was in critical condition for several days and was then flown to England for care. She was just 15 years old.

The aftermath of the attack brought worldwide attention to Malala during her recovery, strengthening both her resolve and also dramatically strengthening her cause.

Her story seems so impossible, unreachable to us. We are inspired by it and yet in order to fulfill her dreams and the promise of what she offers to the world, we get this itchy feeling like we can’t just sit here reading about her! We’ve got to take action.

Here are five things that we’ve learned from Malala.

  1. Kids matter – Children can make a difference. Malala’s difference began with the simple act of going to school.
  2. Education is valuable – In our society, where education is free for the taking, we sometimes lose the value of the classroom. Malala reminds us that education is not to be taken for granted.
  3. Be fearless – In the aftermath of the shooting, Malala could have very easily gone home to anonymity. But she didn’t. She fearlessly faced the people who sought her destruction, and she’s winning.
  4. Seek support – Malala is the first to say that she’s not done this alone. She has sought out support in her battle for accessible education. Making allies is one of her most impressive qualities.
  5. Speak out – Kids today have an incredible ability to speak out. WordPress and other outlets offer easy, free web platforms for kids to blog about issues and share their opinions. The web isn’t just for selfies. Malala harnessed it as a tool and so can we.

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