Easing In to Summer Vacation

Easing In to Summer Vacation

 Many of us hear the words “summer vacation” and immediately think of carefree days with ice cream, lemonade stands, and tire swings, bare feet and picnics, but the reality is, that’s not how those months or weeks play out for most families.

For some, the end of the school year brings significant change to their routine. Not every kid transitions into camps, daycare, or summer school, and for children who crave that structure, the end of the year can be very unsettling as they search for their new “normal.” They miss their friends, the consistency of knowing what each day looks like, or maybe even the familiarity of Taco Tuesdays in the lunchroom.

For these children, the thought of endless days with the freedom to choose how to spend their time can be overwhelming. Use these tips to help your child make the transition from school to summer as smooth as an ice cream cone.

Give them a heads up. My friend Brenda’s son has autism. Brady loves a lot of things – his family, Sprite, ketchup, his iPad, football, and his church. He does not like milk, loud noises, or cats, but what he dislikes are surprises. Brady lives for structure and order and can tell you what’s happening every hour of every day. That’s not to say he can’t handle change, but it’s all in how it’s presented. His mother starts talking through what summer will look like weeks before the last day of school. As a result, when he gets off the bus that last time, he’s ready because he knows what to expect. They follow the same routine at the end of the summer as he transitions back to school.

Celebrate change. Our children pick up our attitudes, and if you’re dreading the end of the school year, your child will likely see that and begin to dread it too. The ability to adapt and change is part of the maturing process, so give your child the tools they’ll use the rest of their lives. One way is to celebrate the transition with a special lunch, trip to the zoo or movies, a picnic in the backyard, or a playdate with the friends they’re worried they won’t see all summer.

Don’t completely give up on your routine. If your child is an early riser and used to being out of bed ready to roll by 8 am, let them stick to that schedule. It may not work every day, but it will also put you in good stead at the end of the summer when you need to get back into your routine. Put a few events on the calendar – day trips to the zoo or the park, play dates or shopping trips, or even something as simple as “Wednesday evening we’re going out for ice cream!” For a child who loves structure, seeing there’s a plan – even a very loose one – can ease much anxiety.

Add a little structure of your own. If your child is a do-er and loves to be busy, the National Education Association has tools like math worksheets, STEM resources, and reading activities, many of which are free. Don’t forget your local library. They often host summer reading challenges, events, and book sales to motivate and inspire young readers.

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Remove or Reduce Your Digital Footprint

By Tracey Dowdy

I recently took a break from Facebook. Not because I have concerns about privacy – I do – and not because I take issue with the amount of fake news disseminated on the site – I do – but because it had become too much of a distraction and for the sake of my ever-shrinking attention span, it was time to step away.

However, if you’re like a growing number of Americans concerned with their internet footprint, you may be considering stepping off the grid altogether. Though you can’t really completely erase yourself from the web, there are ways to reduce your online presence significantly. Full disclosure, it’s going to be a lot of work, but these tips and tools can help.

  • Start with social media. How many social media profiles do you have? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr? Alignable? Don’t stop there – what about the oldies like MySpace and Friendster? Did you have a blog back in the day? Move on to e-commerce. Are you an Amazon Prime shopper? Zulily? Gap? To delete your profile, go to Settings, and search for terms like “deactivate,” “remove,” or “close your account.” If you can’t figure out how to delete the account, either Google “How to delete (MySpace) account or, as Eric Franklin from CNET suggests, replace your actual information with a fake profile.
  • Check with your landline or cell phone company and make sure you’re not listed on their White Pages. If you are, request they remove your listing.
  • Data collection companies – or data brokers – make a living collecting information about you on everything from what brand of coffee you like to your favorite moisturizer. They then sell this data to companies who themselves use the information for targeted advertising. StopDataMiningMe has a master list of most of the biggest collection companies, and you can use their site as a hub to search and remove yourself from each record individually. Another option is to use a site like DeleteMe or OneRep to do the work for you. For an annual fee, DeleteMe and OneRep go through and remove your information from websites and lists and will follow up after a few months to be sure you haven’t been re-added to sites.
  • Think about the sites you’ve created profiles and subscribed to. Do you read the New York Times online? Time Magazine? Buzzfeed? Reddit? See? I warned you this was going to take a while.
  • If someone has posted your personal information online without your consent, and the pagemaster won’t take down the data, you can submit a legal request to Google to have it removed. There’s no guarantee they’ll honor your request, but it’s a start, and just because you’ve been denied once doesn’t mean a second or even third request will be rejected.
  • Remove yourself from outdated search results. Sometimes your name or personal information may still show up in a Google search even after it’s been removed from the site. That’s because it’s cached on one of Google’s servers. At this point in the game, your only recourse is to submit the URL to Google and request they update their server, but they may or may not agree to remove it.

Erasing your online presence is a daunting task, and even though eradicating yourself isn’t an option, it is possible to reduce your online footprint significantly. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How to Block Spoilers in Your Newsfeed

By Tracey Dowdy

 It’s a first-world problem for sure, but there are few things more frustrating for fans of a long-running TV show or movie series than being hit with spoilers before you’ve been able to watch the show yourself.

With the series finale of Game of Thrones set to air this Sunday night, “the mood is dark, and the internet is full of spoilers” to poorly paraphrase Melisandre, may she rest in peace.

But there is hope, not just for avoiding GoT spoilers, but spoilers for any television or movie you’ve yet to see. Follow these steps to block spoilers on your phone, laptop, and tablet, though there’s not much we can do about that guy from the office who can’t keep his spoiler-spilling mouth shut – you know who you are dude.

One option is to download an app or extension that will screen and block spoiler content for you. For Chrome, choose an extension like Spoiler Prevention 2.0 that will prevent specific content from appearing on Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even on news sites like CNN. iPhone and Android users can download Spoiler Block, and Android users have the additional option of using Spoilers Blocker. Just type in the keywords you want to be blocked, and the app will filter any related content.

Twitter: The trick here is to mute keywords and accounts tied to the content.

  • Tap the notifications icon in the app. On a desktop, click Settings > privacy.
  • On an Android and desktop, select Muted Words. On an iPhone, choose Muted > Muted words.
  • Tap Add on iPhone and desktop, or the +icon on an Android. Select the words you know will lead to spoilers – e.g., Game of Thrones, Danaerys, Jon Snow, etc., and any accounts for the show or movie, e.g., HBO
  • Select to mute these words from your Timeline, Notifications and anyone posting content to you. You can choose how long you want the content muted to mute content from 24 hours up to indefinitely.
  • Tap Save

Facebook: You can temporarily snooze Friends or Groups on Facebook. Simply locate the person or Group you want to block. On your phone or computer, tap the three dots in the corner. Select Snooze (person’s name/group) for 30 days. You can always go back and un-snooze if you don’t need the full 30 days. If you’re really serious, you can temporarily deactivate your account. Go to Settings > Manage Account > Deactivate your Account. You’ll be asked to give a reason, and if this is just short-term, choose “This is temporary, I’ll be back.” 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Reporting Cyber-Abuse on Social Media

By Tracey Dowdy

For as long as there has been life on the planet, there have been those who find pleasure in tormenting others or demonstrate their perceived authority by denigrating those they see as weak or vulnerable. With the advent of social media, those abusive behaviors moved from the real world to the digital world. It’s become nearly impossible for victims to escape. Through social media, the bullying follows you into the privacy of your home, making it seem like there are no safe places.

According to DoSomething.org, nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online, and 1 in 4 have experienced it more than once, yet only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse. A study by the Universities of Oxford, Swansea, and Birmingham found that youth who have been cyberbullied are twice as likely to commit self-harm or attempt suicide than their non-bullied peers. Unfortunately, when those bullies grow up, they often continue their behavior. Pew Research Center found that 73% of adults state they’ve witnessed online harassment and 40% reporting being the target themselves. It’s not just individuals being bullied. Hate groups often utilize platforms like Facebook and Twitter to disseminate their message, and as a result, online hate speech often incites real-world violence.

The message, “If you see something, say something,” is more than a catchy slogan. It’s your responsibility if you see abusive or hate-fueled messages and images online. Here’s how to report offensive content.

Twitter clearly maps out how to report abusive behavior. You can include multiple Tweets in your report which provide context and may aid in getting the content removed more quickly. If you receive a direct threat, Twitter recommends contacting local law enforcement. They can assess the validity of the threat and take the appropriate action. For tweet reports, you can get a copy of your report of a violent threat to share with law enforcement by clicking Email report on the We have received your report screen.

Facebook also have clear instructions on how to report abusive posts, photos, comments, or Messages, and how to report someone who has threatened you.  Reporting doesn’t mean the content will automatically be removed as it has to violate Facebook’s Community Standards. Offensive doesn’t necessarily equate to abusive.

You can report inappropriate  Instagram posts, comments or people that aren’t following Community Guidelines or Terms of Use.

Users can report abuse, spam or any other content that doesn’t follow TikTok’s Community Guidelines from within the app.

According to Snapchat support, they review every report, often within 24 hours.

If you or someone close to you is the victim of harassment, and bullying, you have options. If the abuse is online, submit your report as soon as you see the content. If it’s in the real world, take it to school administration, Human Resources, or the police, particularly if there is a direct threat to your safety.

Finally, if you’re having suicidal thoughts due to bullying or for any other reason, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or call 1-800-273-8255 for help.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Get Free eBooks from the Library

By Tracey Dowdy

 One of your library’s best kept-secrets – though I doubt it’s on purpose – is that most local public libraries have a partnership with one or more digital-lending services. That means with nothing more than a library card, and a compatible eReader, phone, or tablet, thousands of books are available for you to download.

You can easily download ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, or even music, comics, movies and TV shows depending on which third-party service your library has partnered with.

To get started, go to your library’s web site and log in with your library card.  Next, search for a menu titled “eLibrary” or “Downloads,” or something similar. It will connect you with either Hoopla Digital or OverDrive, again, depending on which resource they’ve partnered with.

OverDrive allows you to borrow ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines from your library using your phone or tablet. Choose from New York Times Bestsellers or Marvel Comics and everything in between. There’s also a section of Rachel Kray’s recommendations. Kray, a Librarian and Collection Development Analyst with OverDrive, has suggestions in fun categories like “Desert Island Reads,” and “Books the Cats of Overdrive Recommend.” If there’s a wait list at your library for a specific title, you can add your name to the waiting list and OverDrive will alert you when the title becomes available. You can even set up an automatic checkout once it becomes available.

OverDrive also has Sora – a student reading app. Students can download the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, or go to soraapp.com. Once you’ve created your account, search for your school (or enter your school’s setup code), and sign in. From here, students can browse the Explore tab and choose a book to borrow. It downloads immediately and is added to the user’s “Shelf” that lists all downloaded books and assignments, making it easy to browse titles.

Hoopla Digital allows you to borrow movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics, and TV shows to enjoy on your computer, tablet, phone, or smart TV. There are thousands of titles available with no waiting list, and you’re never charged a late fee for the items that you borrow from Hoopla as items are automatically checked back in at the end of the lending period (72 hours for TV and movies, and seven days for music). Users are allowed up to five Hoopla checkouts per month. And best of all for parents, anyone with a Juvenile library card is barred from checking out R-rated content. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Tips for Shopping on Amazon

Once upon a time, big-box and department stores ruled the earth like gentle retail behemoths, and the thought of purchasing an item online, sight unseen, was madness. Who in their right mind would share their credit card information, home address, or shipping details like “leave package under the mat on the porch?” Then along came Amazon, and everything changed. Through my Amazon Prime membership, I’ve purchased everything from patio furniture to my Mother of the bride dress, and the possibility of never having to walk inside a mall again fills my heart with such happiness it brings a tear to my eye.

And before you condemn me for the collapse of the American small business economy, I buy local when I can. But, there are times when the convenience of Amazon collides with the time constraints of my life making it my go-to option in those moments. There’s a lot more to a Prime Membership than just free two-day shipping on many items, including Amazon Prime Music, Pantry, and Video. Make the most of your membership by taking advantage of these lesser-known features.

When you shop through Amazon Smile, The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the charity of your choice. There are over one million charities to choose from, so no matter the cause near and dear to your heart, there’s certain to be a charity that resonates with you.

Pay attention to your stage of life. Are you a student? If so, through Prime Student you’re eligible for six months of Prime for free, and a half-price discount going forward (only $59 per year). If you’re a parent, sign up for Amazon Family to get a 20% discount on items like diapers and baby food, a free Baby Registry Welcome Box, an emailed newsletter with parenting tips, product reviews, and exclusive deals. Plus, you get a 15% Baby Registry completion discount.

If you’re in the market for furniture, Amazon’s Ar View lets you view products in your home before you buy them. To use it, open the Amazon app on your smartphone, tap the camera icon in the search bar, and then scroll “view in your room” and select a product.

Make sure you’re getting the best price by paying attention to three things:

  • If you don’t need the item right away, check to see if a third party seller is offering it at a lower price. Many offer free shipping, and if you’re willing to wait a day or two longer, you may get a better deal. Just make sure you review their return policy as their terms may differ from Amazon’s.   
  • Check out Amazon Warehouse deals. These are products that have been returned by customers like you and me, so many are open-box but still quality products, often deeply discounted. For example, currently, there are Sony WH-CH500 Wireless On-Ear Headphones for just $14.12.  
  • Amazon’s Outlet offers closeouts, markdowns, and overstock deals for Prime members. Items are discounted anywhere from 10-70% off list prices.

While we’re talking savings, take advantage of Subscribe & Save to save up to 15% on items you frequently purchase like paper towels, pet food, baby wipes, and pretty much anything else you use regularly. There’s no long-term commitment, and you can cancel any time. You can also take advantage of ordering through Alexa Prime-eligible physical products. On supported devices, you can also ask Alexa to place orders for music.

Finally, take heart if you’re one of the 26 million Americans who’ve lost packages to porch pirates, Amazon may replace that package for you at no additional cost. To make your case to Customer Service, you’ll need to have purchased directly from Amazon, not a third-party seller, and include your tracking numbers. Don’t expect to be compensated if this is a recurring issue – Amazon tracks who reports stolen items – and in future, consider using an Amazon locker or Amazon Hub to protect your purchases.

Best Tech For Mother’s Day

 By Tracey Dowdy

 Mother’s Day is fast approaching – are you ready? I’m guessing not if you’re checking out an article with suggestions for gifts. Not to worry, whether mom is tech savvy or the clock is blinking on the microwave because she doesn’t know how to reset it, we’ve got suggestions for you.

Give the gift of endless entertainment. Both the Amazon Fire Stick and Roku Streaming Stick Plus are easy, plug-and-play style media streaming devices. The Fire Stick is a solid option if your mom is an Amazon Prime subscriber while the Roku Streaming Stick is a great option for anyone.

Give the gift of time. Though the term is a bit of a misnomer – you have to allow time for pressure to build and release along with actual cooking time – an Instant Pot is more than just a pressure cooker. The Duo 7-in-1 series combines the functions of a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice/porridge maker, steamer, sauté/browning, yogurt maker and warmer. You can cook food from frozen, like this 30 Minute Chicken Cacciatore.

Give her back her sanity. Well, that may be a stretch, but if your mom is constantly losing her keys, the remote, her phone, or your dad, a Tile may be the answer. These little Bluetooth trackers can be paired with your phone to track items within a range of 300 ft/90 m. And right now, Target has a four-pack Tile Mate, featuring a rechargeable battery, and a bonus gift of a Google Home Mini (a $40 value) for just $60.

Put happiness in her hands. If you’re shopping for a mom of little ones, other than an all expense paid vacation, there’s no better gift than the Ember Mug designed to keep her beverage of choice at the perfect temperature for an hour, upping the odds that she’ll get to drink it while it’s still hot despite endless interruptions by roughly a million percent. Once paired with the Ember app on her smartphone, mom can choose her ideal temperature between 120-145° and Ember will wake up and maintain that temperature all day on its coaster (or an hour off).

Give her her own Rosie the Robot Maid. Okay, well maybe not an actual Rosie, but a robot vacuum cleaner is the next best thing. There are a lot of robot vacuums on the market, but PC Magazine breaks down your best options at a variety of price points.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Tuesday, May 7: Social Events & Celebrations

Social Events & Celebrations

When:  Tuesday, May 7, 2018
8:00 – 9:00 pm ET
5:00 – 6:00 pm PT
Join host Lara DiPaola (@dipaolamomma) and the #VZMilitaryMom team at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT) on Tuesday, May 7 as we chat about Social Events & Celebrations!
Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day are all just around the corner! Join us as we honor our moms and military, and share tips on how to use our mobile devices to make the most of these special occasions and other upcoming social events and celebrations!
RSVP and attend the chat for a chance to win a brand new iPad!
Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. (You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)
To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: VZMilitaryMom) indicating your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: https://bit.ly/2ZPp4hk
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VZMilitaryMom) on Tuesday, May 7 between 8:00 – 9:00 pm ET.
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!