Traveling Tips: iPod Touch and Headphones for Kids

This Creative Solution explains which gadgets we use for our kids while traveling – and why.  We live a-ways from family: a minimum of a 3 1/2 hour car ride or a 3 1/2 plane ride.  When my boys (now 6 1/2 and 8) got to be of the age where we would consider a video gaming system or a portable DVD player (or both), we opted for iPod Touches.


  1. The adults in the house have iPhones that the boys love to play with, so this would give them their own version of the gadgets we use
  2. The iPod Touch is versatile: movies/shows, games, interactive aps
  3. The newer iPods allows them to FaceTime and iMessage their Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Grandparents (who have iGadgets)
  4. It also has a camera
  5. Rugged cases

The longevity of application and versatility won the cost analysis.

So, first is the iPod itself.  We originally got each kiddo an 8GB iPod 4th Generation (now available refurbished).  New, they are now only offering iPod 5th Generation 16GB.

Honestly, in cost analysis today, I can’t say I’d choose an iPod Touch over an iPad Mini…

Anyhow, when purchasing gadgets for kids, a rugged case is a must!  Given the choice, I’d usually choose (and recommend) an Otterbox because of their guarantee.  When purchasing cases for my own kids, however, I found that my older child’s neurotic preferences for color combinations was strong enough to sway me to a non-Otterbox brand that promised kid-safe ruggedness.  Two years in and no problems!

    Multi Color Hybrid Hard Plastic Silicone Case For Apple iPod Touch 4 4th,Rugged Hybrid Case for iPod 4G (Blue+Green)

OtterBox Defender Series Case for iPod touch 5G

Child friendly headphones are another must in my book.  You don’t want to have to listen to that-noise.  Please don’t subject your traveling neighbors to listening to that-noise.  While my older one has been satisfied with random ear buds, my younger one has a sensitivity.  He prefers over-the-head.  I have found that the kids version of the Uprock Skullcandy Headphones works really, really well.  They’re definitely rugged (in case your kid might be like mine and leave them in a walking path to be trampled upon).  Unfortunately, Amazon tells me that the Uprock headphones are discontinued by the manufacturer.  I’ll update this post if I hear any more, but we have been really pleased with the quality and durability and comfort of these.

Skullcandy Uprock Headphones Athletic Red (2012 Color), One Size

So an iPod, a rugged case, and headphones.  A must in our Creative Solution traveling tips!


Traveling Tips: Portable External Battery USB Charger

After traveling with my two boys, ages 8 and 6 1/2, over the course of four weeks, from Houston to the Adirondacks, to New England, to China, to Malaysia, and then finally home, I have a lot of Creative Solutions that I want to share.

My kids each have an iPod Touch and a Kindle (e-ink), my husband and I each have an iPhone, an iPad, and a Kindle.  When we fly, my husband and I tend to read, and the kids tend to play games or watch movies.  One of the gadgets that really helped is a Portable External Battery USB Charger.

You charge it at home, and it packs a ton of portable power.  There are little LEDs that tell you how much juice is left.  It has multiple USB ports to charge multiple gadgets at once.  The Portable External Battery USB Charger was especially handy during international travel or long days out when I planned to use my iPhone as a camera.

Monster Jeans

My boy are rough on the knees of jeans, wearing through them far before they outgrow them.  I’ve seen cute ideas on Pinterest (like this one) for patching holey knees, but in reality, my sewing skills are mediocre at best.  And I detest hand sewing.  So here’s a Creative Solution is for a boy-friendly No-Sew Patch that we affectionately call Monster Jeans.


Materials Needed:

  • Heat-N-Bond (iron-on adhesive) which can be found in the Notions aisle of a fabric store
  • Red material for the patch; I use felt because it’s inexpensive, thick(ish) and feels soft(ish) on the kids’ knees.
  • Fabric paint (or Acrylic paint plus a fabric medium) – white and black
  • Iron
  • Holey Pants/Jeans
  • (optional) Fray Check


1.  Turn the jeans or pants inside out.


2.  Cut a square-ish fabric patch that has at least a 1″ perimeter larger than the hole.  (Why?  Look at step 3.)


3.  Cut enough Heat-N-Bond to create a perimeter around the patch.  Pro Tip: You don’t want the glue from the Heat-N-Bond to be on top of the hole… only around it.  Otherwise it gets messy, since the glue will stick through the hole to the “right side” of the jeans.

I can usually find Heat-N-Bond in two widths… I didn’t have any of the thinner 3/8″ width handy, so I just cut the 7/8″ in half when I made my perimeter.


4.  Flip the patch, carefully placing the Heat-n-Bond strips around the hole, and iron.  The Heat-n-Bond directions say to use your iron on the steam setting.  Do that.


5. Let the patch cool… I usually do several pairs of pants at once, so this is the time to repeat steps 1-4 with the other pairs.

6.  Turn the pants/jeans right side out and use either a small scissors or seam ripper to cut away the white fringe… possibly making the hole a little bit bigger so that the red is exposed.



7.  Paint the whites of the eyes.  If you don’t have fabric paint, you can just use acrylic… it may fade/chip over time, or it may not.  I have the fabric paint handy, so it was no big deal to use that.


8. Let the white paint dry.  Don’t be impatient; they will smudge if they aren’t dry (don’t ask me how I know this).  Then go back and dot your eyes in black or blue or whatever color your Monster wants to have.



9.  The first time I did these, I used Fray Check around the mouth so it wouldn’t get all frayed… but the whites of the jeans end up looking like Monster teeth, and they really don’t fray all that horribly… so don’t worry about it.  Use it or don’t… it’s optional!


10. Let the paint fully dry (overnight is best, so it sets really well) before letting your kid wear it.  Wash the jeans as you normally would.  Feel free to add more patches as needed.


Aren’t these Monster Jeans just adorable?!


Letter Picture Signs

Photo Letter Art is a crafty Creative Solution where you take pictures of letters and spell-out a word or name.  I recently decided to try doing this using letters in my neighborhood to spell out our last name.


I biked around my community and snapped photos of street signs, businesses, parks, etc., using my iPhone 5s camera.

It took me three separate trips because some letters didn’t come out in focus, especially when I wanted to obtain a letter from a specific place and that sign wasn’t cooperative.  For instance, I really wanted a letter from my Church… but none of the signs were cooperating and the images weren’t working.  Finally I got the idea to take a pic of the cross in the stained glass for the “T,” which worked really well.

If you want to try this, I’d suggest:

  • Write down the letters in the word/name you’re trying to spell out (somehow I forgot to account for the two “E’s” in my last name).
  • Take at least 5 different photos of the different letters (again, the out-of-focus problem).

I printed the letters at my neighborhood CVS on 4×6 paper.  With 8 letters in my last name, that meant I’d need a board to be more than 32 inches long (8 prints x 4″ wide prints = 32″ + board).

My husband cut a 1×8 board 35″ and routed the edges.  I painted the background in the color of our exterior trim, mod podged the letters on to the board (with a homemade 50-50 water and glue solution), coated with poly, and screwed eye-holes into the top for hanging.  It hangs on our back patio (and I love it!).

It turned out so well that the kids each asked to have their first names done for a name plate on their bedroom doors.  They helped find the letter “X” for each of their names by biking around the neighborhood with me, which they loved.


IMG_0965For these, I decided to make the letters smaller.  Using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, I “printed” two 4×3 images on each 4×6 print, cut, and assembled.  For the boys’ Letter Art signs, I used scrap wood that I painted with leftover latex paint from their bedrooms. Then mod podged and poly as before.  I mounted their signs on their bedroom doors using Command 3M strips.

IMG_0967When I made the boys signs, I also created a second Family Name sign for our front porch, which hangs above the mailbox.  This is also the smaller 4×3 size letters, so it’s a smaller board.

IMG_0969This is a pretty versatile craft, since you can spell out any word or name by using the signs you see in your neighborhood every day.

Working with Teens

At different points over the past few years, several friends have asked about (or expressed frustration with) hiring teens or working with teens in various dimensions.  In this post, I hope to offer Creative Solutions for adults who want to work more effectively with teens. I hope to offer suggestions in a way that respects the growing, developing teen, so please read these less as “solutions for teens” and more like helping adults with their “stance” or “approach” to the situation.

Let me explain: I spent nine years teaching high school; the last five of those years were spent directing a high school service learning program and teaching morality to 16 year old girls (and I loved it!).  My own kids are 7 1/2 and 6; I offer these insights more as an educator than as a parent.

It Takes A Village

Think of yourself more as an educator working with a student than as an adult that wants to hire an employee; an apprentice, if you will.  That kid’s parents and (paid professional) teachers are doing the best they can.  The rest of us need to help.  It takes a village to raise a child?  It takes a village to teach teens how to be the kind of responsible, proactive workers we would all like to hire.

Teens are still learning and growing.  When you hire them for a job, understand that you are teaching them how to be an employee.  We need to both inform them as well as form them:


  • Inform them – on what you need to have done
  • Form them – into the kind of person you want to employ

I’ll talk more about “informing” teens in a moment, but first a word about “forming.”  It’s this second piece–forming character–that kids need the whole community of adults to take seriously.  Form them, mold them, mentor them, and you will do the world a service.  Bonus: you’ll get the employee you seek!

Formation with Mutual Respect

Yes, form and mold them, but do it respectfully.  Although they might not always be able to cognitively express it, teens are very emotionally intuitive.  They know when they are being patronized.  Or used.  There’s a thousand clichés that encourage kindness and love over judgment.

I often encounter adults who get annoyed with a teen who is not performing a given job as expected.  But rather than talking to the teen, they’ll just opt to not hire them again.  I encourage you to talk with the kid.  Sometimes they need more information.  Sometimes they need more formation.

In reality, teens (like all kids… and all of us, honestly) make mistakes.  Some of them careless or negligent (where they should have known better), other mistakes are honest and innocent.  Work from the presumption that the teen you’re working with really wants to do the right thing.  They need you to teach them.  And remember it’s not just about you: the whole world will benefit if you can help in the formation of this kid.

I find that Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (as well as Sean Covey’s Seven Habits for Highly Effective Teens) offers some great guiding insights here.

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive – Take “being responsible” to the next level.  Instead of responding to problems, think ahead and prevent a situation from becoming a problem.
    • Explicitly tell teens that you value this characteristic.
  • Habit 4: Think Win-Win – Rather than thinking about a situation having a winner and a loser pitted against each other, think of the situation in a way that is mutually beneficial for all.
    • Try to approach every conversation with teens with this mindset.
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood – First listen.  Don’t presume you know why something did (or didn’t) happen.
    • Ask (non-threatening) questions with the honest intention of understanding.  Once the teen is assured that you understand his/her position, then they will be more likely to listen and understand you.

I won’t say that I practice these insights perfectly every time, but they make a huge difference.

For example: I currently use a 14 year old neighbor “Gary” as my babysitter.  Last summer I hired Gary to watch my boys while I worked at home in my office for a few days here and there.  He had watched the kids several times before, but just for an hour or two before bedtime.  This was for a 4-5 hour mid-day block.  I needed him to feed them lunch and watch them all afternoon, while I worked.  His first summer-sitting day was on a Friday.  He was a little on the “passive” side and my kids got bored.  After five hours, it bordered on disaster for everyone.

I took the weekend to think it through and asked him to come by the following Tuesday evening (before I needed him to babysit again).  It helped that several days had passed; we were able to talk more objectively about the situation and less emotionally.  I suspected that he was babysitting because his mom thought it was a good idea, and I wanted to give him an out.  But rather than accuse or assume, I asked:

Do you really want this job?

To my surprise, he said “Yes.”  So I continued: “I’m glad to hear you say that, but as I’m sure you know, the way things ended on Friday did not work for anyone.  Let’s talk about what we can do differently.”  For starters, I explained that I need a proactive sitter so that my kids don’t get bored.  He didn’t need to be an entertainer, but he did need to direct, oversee, and suggest (as well as supervise cleanup).  I gave him a list of all the games and activities they could do.   The next summer-sitting-session was a thousand times better.

Information: Be Clear On Expectations

When hiring a teen, one of the first things adults want to know is how much to pay.  Regional costs of babysitting, for example, will vary greatly.  Most kids have a hard time discussing pay.  They will say “I don’t know; whatever.”

In reality, the teen needs a chance to size up the scope of the job.  For instance, with babysitting, teens want to know :

  • How many kids?
  • How well-behaved are the kids?
  • What does the teen actually need to do while they are there?

Still, teens often have a hard time figuring out a number.  In addition to always asking the teen what their rate is, I would suggest:

  • Know the regional going rate for babysitting.  As with any job, the more inexperienced teens will be paid less (and will need you to form and inform them a little more).  Be able to suggest a fair rate if the teen waivers.
  • Clearly articulate your priorities

When it comes to priorities, be explicit.  In babysitting, the safety of the kids is the #1 priority.  Be overt; say it aloud.  That way if you ask the teen to do anything else, they can be assured that nothing matters as much as your kid’s safety, and are encouraged to make decisions accordingly.

Then consider what else you’d like to see happen:  Would you like the teen to feed them dinner?  Would you like them to clean up afterwards?  Consider whether or not you would be willing to pay a sitter an extra $1 or $2 an hour to come home to a clean house.  Explicitly tell the teen this.

If you can clean up after dinner and make sure the kids’ toys are picked up, I’d be happy to pay you ___ (more).  If you’d rather not, we can keep the rate at ___.

If you expect certain things to be done, the teen needs to know it.  If you are willing to pay more money for more work, the teen needs to know it.  If you would be open to the teen suggesting “extra” jobs that he/she could do, the teen needs to know it.

Part of forming teens means helping them make informed decisions (even if the informed decision involves the realization that a certain job isn’t working out).

I welcome your comments and questions.  Let’s help each other form and inform teens.  The whole world will benefit.

Travel Mugs

I am an avid hot-tea drinker, averaging 4-6+ cups a day (a tea snob, really, but that’s another post).  I’m also a frugal problem-solver.  I’ve been making (and carrying) my own tea in travel mugs for a while.  But I’m also a little on the clumsy side.  And I spill things A LOT.  So I needed a Creative Solution for a Spill-Proof Travel Mug.  


The Contigo Travel Mug is truly one of my favorite things.  People who have them rave about them in cult-like fashion.  I have four of the 16 ounce travel mugs; my husband has two.  I drink twice as much tea as he drinks coffee.

Why I love Contigo Travel Mugs:

  • They do not leakIMG_0623
  • They are dishwasher safe.
    • The lid is 100% dishwasher safe.  No valve to clean or gasket to worry about ruining.
    • It’s recommended that you hand wash the bottom so that the color doesn’t chip off the mug.  Notice the chipped paint on the red mug?  That’s from 2 or 3 years in the dishwasher, which doesn’t bother me at all.  So putting the whole thing in the dishwasher may affect its aesthetic beauty, but not its function.
  • They keep hot stuff hot for a really long time.
  • They also keep cold stuff cold.
  • Sometimes we like to bring an adult beverage to the pool in the summer… or the park… or wherever… and in the Contigo travel mug offers a multi-faceted Creative Solution on this front.

Amazon has them in a variety of colors, so when I prepare my different varieties of tea, I know which flavor is in which mug.  And/or (gasp!) how to tell the difference between my tea and my husband’s coffee.  The lids are also color coded, so his coffee stained lid doesn’t ever touch my lips.  

Amazon offers single 16oz mugs for $20, single 20 oz mugs for $22   or a two-pack of the 16 oz for $38.95.

Tea Caddy

IMG_0620So because I’m me, I have a designated little tote to carry all my tea mugs.

I use a cute, fun, and functional “Littles Carry-All Caddy” from ThirtyOne for $12 (plus shipping; and you can get it monogrammed if you’d like).

If you’re interested in this handy little tote, may I recommend my friend Stephanie, who is a ThirtyOne consultant.


I have a few of these Carry-All Caddies… One hangs on a hook by my back door with all the sunscreen and bug spray bottles.  When we went camping, we used one to hold the toilet paper, towel, and handsoap as a “bathroom caddy.”  They’re just the perfect size and shape.

Responsibility Charts

Here’s a Creative Solution that attempts to decrease nagging and yelling by using Responsibility Charts.

My oldest has a lot of ADD (ADHD-inattentive) tendencies, so remembering to follow directions (or follow through… or focus…) is an ongoing struggle.

We have the expectation that everyone in our home contributes to the responsibility of maintaining the home, and we also want to raise self-sufficient kids.  For a kid who can’t-gotta-wanna focus, this is very hard.  For his Mom, this involves a lot of yelling.  My basic problem was that too much of my interaction with a kid I love involved yelling–just to remind him to do the things he knows he needs to do.

I needed a Creative Solution to help remind my focus-challenged kid.  Writing down a list helps tremendously.  It focuses attention on the things that need to be done with clarity.  Thus was born the Responsibility Charts.

Basically, I…

  • brainstormed a list of the things I need each kid to do,
    • in different rooms,
    • at different times of the day,
  • printed them up (with words and a small clipart image to act as a visual prompt),
  • laminated them, and
  • hung them throughout the house using Command 3M hooks.

And it worked.  Kind of.  In a better-than-before-but-not-perfect kind of way.  It helps remove my nagging voice from what needs to be done.  Both kids have a better grasp on what needs to be done.  I do still need to remind them to check their lists, but it all involves significantly less negativity.

Brainstorm a List

Think through your day with the beloved kiddo; what are the things he/she needs to do (that you end up having to remind him/her to do)?

To get you started, here’s a look at mine.  Use them as your baseline.  If you’d like a copy of any chart, contact me and I can send you either a PDF or a Word doc that you can edit and come up with your own Creative Solution.

In the bedrooms, one side has “Morning/Bedtime Responsibilities” and on the other is “How to Clean Your Room.”

IMG_1443  IMG_1444

For the bathroom…

IMG_1447 IMG_1446

In the Playroom, one side walks the boys through every thing that needs to be picked up, and the other side includes a list of jobs the boys could do (to earn extra money).

IMG_1438  IMG_1439

In the Kitchen, I post their mealtime responsibilities as well as what they need to do before they are allowed to play.

IMG_1437  IMG_1436

Recently, I created a new variable responsibilities chart, for things that they may or may not need to do in the morning.  Instead of me leaving a note, this is reusable.  Sometimes they need to shower in the morning; sometimes they shower at night.  And at this moment in their lives, they need every reminder to hang the gosh darn towel.

IMG_1441  IMG_1442

Laminate & Hang

Because I am an office supply geek, I have a laminator (which is technically called a laminating machine and sounds much less super-hero).  I got mine on a super-amazing deal on Amazon and paid $17.49.  Currently it’s $30.  I also buy the generic laminator sheets from Amazon… 100 sheets for $9.78.  If you are not an office supply geek, it’s ok.  You don’t need the laminator.  Mine makes me happy.  Live and let live.  (If you live close by, I’m happy to lend you mine!)

If you want a sign that can have two sides, a laminator is helpful.  Other options include using a sheet protector or simply stapling/taping it to the wall.

Once I laminated it, I punch a couple of holes in the top, loop some ribbon or yarn through, and hang it on a 3M Command hook.