Monday, December 17, 2012

Talking to your kids about Sandy Hook shootings

By Rex Robinson

      When Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage, killing 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., December 14 the news traveled throughout the nation, and world, quickly. The incident impacted both adults and children.
      In the end, a total of 28 were dead, including the shooter and his mother, whom he had shot in the family home prior to coming to the school, according to published reports.
      When tragedies like this occur, parents are sometimes at a loss as to what to say to their own children.
      Lisa Pisha, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a columnist for Family Time Magazine, offered five tips on how parents should talk to their children about the school shootings in Newtown.
     1.) Don’t avoid talking with your kids about the tragedy. It’s likely they’ve heard bits and pieces at school, through social media, and have caught glimpses of news flashes on TV. Avoiding a conversation with them about this significant event can build levels of anxiety for both you and your children.
     2.) Address what they know and have them lead the conversation with their questions. It’s important that children are allowed to speak openly and as often as necessary in times of stress and trauma. But, it can be difficult to balance what they know with what they should know. Keep your conversations with your children developmentally appropriate, fact-oriented whenever possible and leave the horrific details out of the picture.

     3.) Talk to them about what makes their school, their playground – their world – safe.  It’s important to emphasize on the how’s and why’s of safety to give both children and adults a sense of relief. Talk to your children about your job as a parent in helping to keep them safe as well. Children need to be able to count on us as adults; they look to us for answers even when it can be a struggle to find them.
     4.) Keep your normal routine going as much as possible. Talk to your children about their school day, sports, Girl and Boy Scout events. Talk about their day-to-day activities and the exciting things they may have coming up.
     5.) Finally, empathize with their worries, fears, and all of the emotions that can be present or not. Don’t dismiss their feelings of worry and concern by telling them “not to worry.” Instead, tell them how you understand their worry, and their fear. Some kids are more emotional than others, just like adults. Regardless of whether or not their emotion is presenting outwardly, it’s still there. Sometimes the best conversation starters can include self-disclosures from a grown-up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top 12 amusement parks for the holidays

Nationally acclaimed roller coaster and amusement park expert Pete Trabucco has released his 2012 list of the world's top 12 amusement parks to visit during the holidays.

The list is topped by perennial favorites Disney World and Disneyland.

1-Disney World/Disneyland's Magic Kingdom Park and Hollywood Studios, Orlando Florida and Anaheim California. 'Mickey's Very Merry Christmas' Celebrate the magic of the holiday season with your family at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, a special event held select nights in December at Magic Kingdom and if in Orlando, Fla., don't miss the Osborne Lights show at Disney's Hollywood Studios. You will be glad you didn't. More information is at

2- Silver Dollar City?Branson Missouri, An Old Time Christmas through Dec. 30. Weather permitting; many of the park's rides are open for the event and they are one of the best around when it comes to getting you in the holiday mood.  Special for the season, Silver Dollar City features 4 million lights, the Christmas on Main Street tree-lighting presentation, the Gifts of Christmas Holiday Lights parade, musical performances, and a presentation of "A Christmas Carol." New for 2012 is the musical show, "Its A Wonderful Life," based on the classic film. Santa holds court in Kringle's Krossing. Special holiday treats include hot wassail and ginger cookies. as shows such as the Mother Goose Guild and a Nativity Pageant. More information is at

3- Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure ?Orlando, Fla.  It's not Christmas until you visit here? The Grinch  makes personal appearances throughout the day, and you will love the show in Dr Seuss land. You can also ride 'Cat in the Hat' while you're there and you will truly have a great experience in this park especially for the holidays. More information is at

4- Hershey Park Christmas Candylane and Hershey Sweet Lights Hershey, Pa., 2012 is open most days through Dec. 31. The park will scrape off the ice and open some of its rides (weather permitting) for hardy souls to enjoy. Shows include the musical, "A Rockin' Music Box Christmas." Hershey also offers a drive-through holiday light display. Called Hershey Sweet Lights, it features 2 miles of trails with over 1 million lights on more than 500 animated tableaux. Hershey offers hotel packages and other holiday promotions as well.  More information is at

5- Dollywood?Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival Pigeon Forge (near Knoxville) 2012 will be open on select days through Dec. 30. Weather permitting; many of Dollywood's rides will be operating during the festival. If they are running, you could check out the park's 3.5 million twinkling lights from the top of one of the coasters. Lights are synchronized to holiday tunes. The park will also feature an ambitious production of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and other holiday shows" The park also presents The Polar Express 4-D Experience, a ride film based on the popular Christmas film. At Santa's Workshop, children will be able to make their own holiday craft projects. More information is at

6- Busch Gardens Williamsburg?Christmas Town Williamsburg 2012  will be open on select days through Dec. 31. Busch Gardens will transform its European hamlets, including Ireland and England into Old World Christmas villages. New for 2012, the park will present Retro lane, an old-school Christmas light display. Always well regarded for its shows, the Christmas Town productions of "Miracles," "Gloria!," "Deck the Halls," "O Tannenbaum," and "A Sesame Street Christmas," should be top-notch. Weather permitting, the park's rides, including Mach Tower and DaVinci's Cradle, will be operating. Delicious holiday-themed food and a dining experience with Santa there as well.  More information is at

7- Lake Compounce  Bristol CT Holiday Lights ?Holiday Lights Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through December 22. Includes North Pole Railway train ride, cookie decorating, storytelling, carolers, a selection of kiddie and family rides (weather permitting), Santa (naturally!), and lots of festive lights of course. More information is at

8- Dutch Wonderland?Dutch Winter Wonderland, Lancaster, Pa., 2012 through Dec 30 on select dates. Dutch Wonderland will also have several rides for the holidays. The Princess of Dutch Wonderland will be offering some Christmas stories. Santa will be on hand to see who's been naughty or nice. And the Dutch Winter Wonderland Royal Light Show will feature colorful lights synchronized to holiday music. More information is at

9- Kennywood?Holiday Lights West Mifflin PA(near Pittsburgh) 2012 dates: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, through Dec. 30, plus Dec. 26 and 27. For its second holiday celebration, the park will be hanging loads of twinkling lights, offering carolers, and opening some of its rides, weather permitting. Last year, the first year that Kennywood presented Holiday Lights, it is fantastic! For more information, visit

10- Six Flags over Texas ?Holiday in the Park, Arlington. Texas (near Dallas) Everything you need to get into the holiday spirit can be found at Six Flags Over Texas during Holiday in the Park. From more than a million twinkling lights, holiday shows, toasty campfires, delicious hot cocoa, and roller coasters, to the nearly 60 foot Holiday Tree of Trees, Santa Land and of course Santa Claus. Special moments and thrills await you at North Texas' largest holiday festival. More information is at

11- Sea World San Antonio?SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration San Antonio 2012 through Dec. 31 on select dates. See official site for details. Shamu Claus, as well as Santa Claus, will be on hand to greet guests. Special shows will include "Clyde & Seamore's Countdown To Christmas," featuring the park's sea lions, as well as "A Sesame Street Christmas." Candy Cane Forest will be decked out with over 100,000 lights.  More information is at

12- Sesame Place?A Very Furry Christmas Langhorne (near Philadelphia) 2012 on select days through Dec. 31. The event will include a parade, shows such as "Elmo's Christmas Wish," loads of decorated trees, and some of the park's rides (if the weather cooperates). More information is at

In his book, "America's Top Roller Coasters and Amusement Parks,"Trabucco teaches people how to overcome their fear of roller coasters and lists the best roller coasters and amusement parks around North America. He is currently on tour promoting his book and has appeared on hundreds of media outlets and National TV. All profits from the book are going to selected charities.

Free mobile app to keep family safe

AlertID, working with The National Crime Prevention Council (McGruff the Crime Dog), urges you to protect your children and family during this Holiday Season.  Whether attending holiday events, holiday shopping or traveling with family, AlertID provides a free app that helps protect your family.

My Family Wallet, which is one part of AlertID’s mobile app, provides parents with a secure, convenient way to store current information and photos of their children and other family members, including pets, directly on their smart phones.  In the event that a parent needs to report a missing child or family member, AlertID gives them the ability to send this critical information to law enforcement or other security officials in seconds with the push of a button.
My Family Wallet is easy to use and takes less than five minutes to input the necessary information (basic demographic and contact information) and a current photo of the child can either be taken with the phone or added from existing photos.  The information remains securely on your phone and can be sent quickly to authorities in case you ever become separated.

“The US Department of Justice has reported that nearly 800,000 children become missing each year. Most families will admit that they are not armed with the most current information about their child, and for every minute a child is missing, they are potentially another mile away from safety. AlertID is a free and simple way for parents to be proactive and have this information at their fingertips should they need to contact authorities,” said Keli Wilson, AlertID’s Founder.

AlertID also provides its members with alerts from state sex offender databases in 23 states, representing more than 224 million people, with more states being added each month.

In addition, AlertID’s mobile applications also allow you to send pictures and other information about potential crimes or threats directly to law enforcement quickly and easily.

“AlertID is an important resource and every parent should be prepared for an emergency”, said Stephanie Parker, Chairperson Nevada Amber Alert Committee.  “The app is free and easy to use, and we strongly recommend that every parent sign up for this service at”

To sign up for a free account, or for more information, visit

Monday, December 3, 2012

See the lights

No place like decorated homes for the holidays

By Vickie Jurkowski

       If parental warnings of “Don’t use the hair dryer while your brother’s running the microwave!” were a normal part of your childhood, you know all about the interior hazards of oodles of outdoor lights during the holidays.
       Two things may have happened since: You got enough of the lights and ensuing fiascos as a kid and now leave the extreme decorating to others; or you caught the family bug for the Christmas crazies and spend October and November lining the perimeter with soldiers and candy canes, dotting the rooftop, gutters and trees with lights, and filling the yard with a party of penguins, snowmen, elves, Santa, his sleigh and nine reindeer to rival the North Pole.
       Whether you fall into category A or B, looking at the lights and other holiday décor likely is an undeniable treat for you and your family year after year.
       Those who take on the task of keeping the tradition alive say LED lights have made their “fun hobby” more simple and economical. Technology enabling displays to be synchronized to music and showcased on YouTube has brought the tradition a long way, too.
       But for many, the classics are still keepers.
       Nostalgic plastic blow molds – those hollow snowmen, Santas, elves and penguins you see on folks’ front lawns – and handmade designs are popular as ever this holiday season.
       “I’d say I have one of everything,” said Rick Tarulis, whose home at 827 Morven Court in Naperville has been featured on HGTV and the Naperville Trolley Holiday Lights Tour since it started 17 years ago. “If I see a new Santa or elf or candy cane, I buy it.”
Original ideas shine at the Tarulis residence (top and above) in Naperville. Rick Tarulis designed the 17-foot steel snowman on side of house on a piece of notebook paper and had it fabricated at a welding shop. He sawed, drilled and painted pegboard and incorporated drop-ceiling light covers to make stockings and candy canes for the front of the house, located at 827 Morven Court.          (Photo courtesy Rick Tarulis)
       Plastic Santas, elves and candy canes are joined on his lawn by Mickey, Minnie and Snoopy.
“The nostalgic blow molds are still one of our most popular items,” said Rick Septoski, marketing manager for Tinley Park-based retailer American Sale, where the plastic figures range from $14 to $200.
An animatronic plastic blow-mold Santa in a handmade chimney has been the centerpiece of Bill Christoffel’s display for 25 years, from Des Plaines to his current residence at 1622 Clarence Ave. in Arlington Heights.
       “Santa comes out of the chimney whenever a car goes by and music comes on,” said Christoffel, who is also slowly converting some 6,000 lights to LEDs. He used his electrical engineering skills to create a chain-driven assembly and also hid a motion sensor and FM radio transmitter inside the chimney.
       The Pop-Up Santa action triggers a nearby blow-mold snowman to spin on its saucer sled. Tarulis, an attorney and grandfather, also incorporates homespun ingenuity into his holiday décor. He designed the 17-foot steel snowman on the side of his house on a piece of notebook paper and had it fabricated at a welding shop. He sawed, drilled and painted pegboard and incorporated drop ceiling light covers to make four-foot stockings and candy canes for the front of the house.
       LED lights have improved his 30-year decorating tradition.
       “About four years ago I maxed out all the power” and an electrician recommended a new meter, subpanels, etc.,” Tarulis said. “Instead I switched to all LED. They use one-tenth of the power and last forever. It’s very economical.”
       Modern also meets nostalgic and handmade at the Frohn residence in Bolingbrook.
The house itself is almost invisible amid 52,000 lights and 20 plastic soldiers outlining the corner property at 1443 W. Briarcliff Road.
       Jack Frohn, a letter carrier, and his wife Laura Frohn, a former letter carrier now in management, add plenty of homespun ideas to the store-bought décor. They designed their own flashing 14-inch snowflakes, which used to be sold at grocery and hardware stores, and 110 snowflakes are on display from the rooftop down.

 The Frohn residence at 1443 W. Briarcliff Road in Bolingbrook features 52,000 lights, 100 flashing snowflakes, 20 blow-mold soldiers, 30 ball ornaments made from Solo cups and filled with 100 lights, four large inflatables, a wooden sleigh and reindeer, candy cane tree, a train and an airplane. (Photo Courtesy of Jack Frohn)

       The couple modified a friend’s idea for ball ornaments made from Solo cups and filled with 100 lights, and gave him some snowflakes in exchange.
       “It’s quite a task” to make 30-plus ball ornaments, Jack Frohn said, “and each year our trees get bigger so we have to make more and add more lights.”
       Family members and friends also have contributed handmade décor. Hanging in trees and on the North Pole are elves created by the Frohns’ nephew, Garret Popek, who also made a video of the display ( His late father Bart Popek made a wooden sleigh and reindeer for the Frohns’ front lawn.
     Neighbor Peggy McMillan did the elves’ hair and clothed them thanks to Goodwill.
     The handmade décor has another way of bringing people together. Laura Frohn has a tradition of hiding small elves in the snowflakes for kids to find.
     The couple handed out 1,600 candy canes to onlookers last year. Santa even makes an appearance at the Frohn residence, with this year’s visit set for 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 8.
       “It’s … um … big,” Jack Frohn said about their holiday display, which Annette Wehrli of Naperville Trolley & Tours Ltd. ( calls “the largest of them all.”
       While it’s a given that the Frohn and Tarulis homes will be featured on the tours, Wehrli said residents call her to request being on the tour and don’t always make the cut, even with four trolleys operating every single night in December.

 Neighbor Peggy McMillan (from left), Laura Frohn and Frohn’s nephew Garret Popek ready the elves, which he created and McMillan dressed with clothes from Goodwill. Many residents incorporate décor into an annual tradition, from trimming the tree to touring the lights. Frohn has a tradition of hiding small elves in the snowflakes for kids to find. (Photo Courtesy of Jack Frohn)

       “More and more people are decorating and synchronizing displays to music and LED lights,” said Wehrli, also known as the Trolley Chick. “Now there are enough homes that we do a north tour and a south tour. Going around looking at lights brings friends and family together.”
       “We used to do it for them,” Jack Frohn said of decorating for the couple’s three children, who have grown up and moved away. “Now it’s a tradition for the trolleys and literally thousands of people who come by and we get to meet them. There’s a group of au pairs from all over the world who come and it’s amazing to see the shock on their faces as they take pictures and send them instantly to their (native) homes.”

What’s inside?
       For those of us content to just spruce up the inside of our homes, here are some of the hot items this season.
       At American Sale, big sellers include a revolving tree stand and the Carrington Color Changing Tree, which is pre-lit and can be set to clear lights, multi-color or both.
“It gives the customer flexibility year after year,” Septoski said.
       For indoors and out, LED battery-operated wreaths, garland and candles “are becoming popular because of the brightness of the LED, the low energy of LED, which makes the batteries last all season, and the flexibility to put them anywhere in your house or outside your house,” he said. “They also have convenient timers that can help them light only when you want them lit.”
Beyond the trees and LEDs, mirrors and floral mesh wrap are popular products at Michaels, the nation’s largest arts and crafts retailer.
       “Floral mesh wrap is a new product that has a huge impact on decorating,” said Michaels Creative Expert Jo Pearson. “It can easily transform a Christmas tree or a wreath and Michaels carries a wide variety of colors.
       “Mirrored items have also become very popular, which is a theme throughout our Crystal Elegance holiday line,” she said. “Michaels even has a mirrored glass molding in our custom framing department which is great for adding holiday sparkle to family photos or prints.”
Holiday Decorating: A Family Tradition
       Whether you have a family of two or 20, decorating the house for the holidays can be a family affair, year after year.
     Here are a few suggestions for starting your own traditions.

Take a tour! Gather the family for a tour of decorated homes to start a new tradition or inspire your own décor. Pack the minivan or leave the driving to a professional so you can focus on the sights.

       For starters, call your local village or city hall for possible tours. In Darien, for example, the city provides free bus tours of winning displays. Tours will be Dec. 20 and 26, with reservations on a first come, first serve basis. Call (630) 852-5000 for other details.
     Elsewhere, tours are by trolleys for hire. Naperville Trolley & Tours Ltd. offers public and private trolley tours; call (630) 420-2223 or visit For double-decker trolley tours of the lights in downtown Chicago, visit or call (773) 648-5000.

       Don’t feel like leaving the comfort of home? Take a virtual tour of homes throughout Illinois (counties including Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Iroquois, Kane, Kankakee, Lake, McHenry, Will and Winnebago) by visiting
      Climb a tree! Seriously, do kids even know how to climb a tree these days? Motivate the kids to take a break from technology and get outside by seeing who can create the most unusual lighting design amid the branches.
     Get crafty! Store-bought decor looks magical, but homemade stuff might mean so much more. Spend an afternoon creating holiday décor - and memories - with the kids. Make it up on your own, take a class, buy a project kit or watch a video or in-store demo.

       “Michaels has lots of free and low-cost holiday events throughout the month of December,” said Michaels Creative Expert Jo Pearson. Check for local schedules.
       “One holiday tradition that I love sharing with my family is making new ornaments every year and looking back on what the kids create each year,” she said. “Whether it’s using plastic ornaments to decorate with stickers or wooden ornaments that you can easily paint, has tons of different do-it-yourself ornament ideas.”
       Endless DIY projects can be jumpstarted with a quick Internet search.
Felt, ribbon and glue are all about that’s needed to make this Hanukkah banner:
For pointers on decorating a room for Karamu, the Kwanzaa feast, visit:
     Throw a party! Invite family, friends and neighbors to help decorate your tree and return the favor. Make it a daylong affair or progressive dinner. Gift one another with memorable ornaments. Make popcorn and show kids how to string it for garland.
     Pick a theme! If turning tree-trimming into a big party sounds daunting, keep it simple with your own immediate family and decorate the tree together. Get the kids involved by choosing a theme for the tree each year. Purple and silver this year? Why not?! Birds and big feathers next year? Sure!