From Foster Child to Child Advocate

When Nina Hoyte was six months old, she and her then two-year-old brother were placed in foster care.  Young Nina’s mom had been neglecting her and her brother.

Nina and her brother continued to visit her mother for years,  and Nina remembers wanting to be with her. But then a foster family adopted Nina and her brother. It was the first foster family that they had lived with. Despite the initial struggles, Nina said they were lucky.

“I was fortunate,” she said. “Not everyone has that same experience, but I was fortunate to only have one foster home.”

Nina Hoyte

Nina’s experience as a foster child is why she wanted to bring that unique perspective to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Rochester. Nina, who is now an accounts services consultant at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in Rochester, helps at CASA by using her own experience to help foster kids who are going through what she has already dealt with.

A connection with the kids

CASA trains and supervises a diverse group of volunteers, such as Nina, to advocate for children who have been abused and/or neglected.

Liz Caldwell, Director at CASA, notes that the advocate role brings the best interests of the children to the forefront of the discussion in Family Court, foster homes, visits, schools, and with community providers. The overall goal is for all children to have a safe, permanent home, as soon as possible.

When Nina is assigned a case, she meets with all the parties involved in the foster child’s situation. This can include the child, the biological parents, the attorneys, the caseworkers, the foster parents, and the school’s caseworkers.

She learns about the child’s well-being and history. She also observes how they’re doing with the visits with their biological parents, and how they’re doing in foster care. Then, she reports this information to the Family Court Judge. This helps the judge make an informed decision about the child’s future. If the judge rules that the home environment is safe, the child remains with their biological parents. However, if it isn’t safe, the child will be permanently moved into a safer home.

“I felt as though I could relate to these children and I could help them on a level that some people would not be able to because they couldn’t truly understand what it was like to go through that experience,” Nina said.

“CASA will train eligible volunteers to do the advocacy work,” says Liz Caldwell. “Clearly when you have an individual like Nina, with her background, she can relate to the feelings, anticipate barriers for our CASA children, and provide real heartfelt advocacy for them. She has proven herself to be very effective.”

More eyes are watching

When she was growing up as a foster child, CASA didn’t exist, so there wasn’t an advocate to protect her. Nina first learned about CASA through another volunteer. Then, after seeing a news segment about the number of foster children in the United States, she knew she had to get involved.

A young Nina Hoyte.

Nina said her foster parents took great care of her. But she remembered another child she knew who didn’t have a positive experience with her foster family.  Nina’s friend was removed from her home because her biological mother wasn’t mentally fit to be a mother. Unfortunately, her foster parents were unkind to her. For several years in other foster homes, the foster parents didn’t properly feed her, stole from her, and lied to social workers. They fostered for the paycheck, said Nina.

“When I hear bad stories of kids placed in bad homes, it’s not usually a case in which CASA is involved,” Nina said.

When CASA is involved, Nina said, “There are more eyes watching so there are more good stories happening”. The volunteers insert themselves into every part of the child’s life. That way they can see if the child is unsafe or experiencing a toxic environment. Their involvement allows the child to have the chance to experience the love and joy that a good family can give.

Getting help

It can be difficult for young children to recognize they are in a bad situation when their biological parent is all they know, Nina said. They may have never experienced what a healthy, loving family is like. When children enter the foster care system and are in a foster home, they can start to see how kids are supposed to be treated.

They start being fed on a regular basis, going to school, and having parents who take care of them. This change encourages them to better connect with their foster parents. Nina admitted that she has no idea where the children’s’ lives would head without CASA—continuing the cycle of abuse, joining gangs, doing drugs, etc.—but “they are given a chance to have a productive life.”

Not all of the cases end with the separation of children from their biological parents. “Our immediate thought is to blame the parent,” Nina said. “But CASA teaches us that we can’t just blame the parent, because some of these parents never experienced what it is to be a parent.”

Being an advocate means figuring out what the best possible situation is for the child. Sometimes that means getting help for the parent so that the children can return home. “I have learned to be more understanding of people’s situation, and not immediately judge everybody’s house,” Nina said. CASA works with the parents to help them get the classes they need, just like they work with the children to get the home that they need.

It’s not their fault

Nina wants children in the foster system to know that “it’s not their fault that they’re in this situation and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And they’re not alone. It’s not the end of the story. They can make a difference, and they can still do and be whatever they want”. Nina added, “They can finally feel the love that they haven’t felt and they can be positive people even though the beginning of their story wasn’t so great. They can make a huge difference.”

Nina shared that volunteering with CASA Rochester is incredibly rewarding, but has its challenges. You have to be open to all different kinds of stories that will pass in front of you. However, added Nina, these stories motivate you to keep advocating for these children.

If you’re interested in joining Nina as a volunteer with CASA Rochester, click here.

Click here to donate to CASA Rochester.

15 Tips for Avoiding the Freshman 15

Welcome to college: don’t forget to throw your health out the window and get ready for a stressful ride!

Isn’t that what a realistic college greeting would sound like? You move into your dorm and have piles of homework thrown at you while feeling the need to attend all the social events. You no longer have your parents monitoring your health and you don’t have time to do it yourself. This universal experience has created the myth of the “freshman 15,” which is the belief that college students gain 15 pounds during their freshman year. According to Kids Health, not all students gain the full 15 pounds. Which may seem like a good thing, but this gradual weight gain may lead to a pattern of weight gain that could lead to future problems.

Although the freshman 15 isn’t a necessary truth for everyone, it isn’t uncommon for students to gain a little weight during their four years in college and sometimes it leads to further weight gain after those four years.

Most college students don’t want to gain 15, or any, pounds their first year of college. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to. Have no fear, I have found 15 solid tips to avoiding the freshman 15.

1. Get enough sleep

You may be tempted to stay up all night to work on a big project or finish that Netflix series, but it’s important for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. This will increase your energy during the day and help you avoid late-night snacking. Plus, did you know that 6 hours of sleep a night can be like not sleeping at all?

2. Take advantage of the gym

You can help keep your weight down by getting some exercise. Chances are your school has some sort of recreation center that you can use to work out or play some sports. Take advantage of those facilities while they’re available to you. Mix up what you do so you don’t get bored.

3. Drink water

One simple idea is to follow the “8 x 8 rule” and try to drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Some people may need to drink more, and some may need less. Most healthy people will get enough water if they just drink when thirsty.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, water helps keep your body healthy and happy. Also, often when you want a soda or a snack, drinking a glass of water first may fill you up and prevent you from filling up on sugar and calories, which can lead to weight gain.

Not a fan of water? Add flavor to tap water with slices of cucumber, cinnamon sticks, apples, fresh cranberries or a sprig of mint.

4. Choose healthy snacks

There are lots of healthy alternatives to the typical dorm room snacks. Instead of those fatty potato chips, try a different finger food like grapes, cut up veggies, unsalted nuts, pita bread or whole grain crackers. Ditch the calorie-filled soda and go with water instead. Replace ice cream with a bowl of yogurt with some granola and fruit. Or, invest $20 or so in a popcorn popper and pop healthy treats to get you through that marathon study session.

5. Eat in moderation

ChooseMyPlate tells us that it’s important to have a balanced diet. Now that you’re in college, there’s nobody around to tell you not to eat the entire box of cookies, but that doesn’t mean you should. Eating healthy doesn’t mean completely depriving yourself of the wonderful things in life, like cookies or cake; it just means choosing to eat those things in smaller amounts along with healthy options to balance it out.

One quick trick? For meals, fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. The rest should be filled with whole grains (whole grain pasta, brown rice, etc.) and healthy proteins (fish, chicken, beans, etc.).

6. Eat when you’re hungry

This one may seem obvious, but there are many times when we eat because we’re bored or stressed or our friends are eating. If your body isn’t hungry, then you don’t need to fill it up with more food. Whenever you’re going to eat something, stop and think, “Why am I eating this?” If your answer is something other than you’re hungry, then put it back. If you’re really feeling stressed or bored, try going for a quick walk or calling up a friend for a chat.

7. Be intentionally active

Having a car on campus is great, but it doesn’t mean you need to drive to every class. That empties your wallet and keeps you from being active. Walk or ride your bike to class. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Being active doesn’t always mean joining the track team. You can be active throughout the day by creating little habits during your everyday activities.

8. Schedule your meals

College life is a little chaotic and it’s easy to miss a meal here and there. If you schedule three meals each day, every five or six hours, it’ll make it a lot easier on you. Fit the schedule into your normal routine, even if that means breakfast isn’t until noon and dinner is at 9 pm. ChooseMyPlate has some great tips for planning your meals.

9. Join active clubs

Your college likely has numerous clubs for you to join. There are the well-known sports, but there are probably other options, too. You could join a club that goes hiking, dog-walking, kayaking, etc. There are lots of people who don’t like the traditional sports, so if you’d rather do something else, there’s probably a club for it. If there isn’t one already, start one!

10. Get college credit for being healthy

Most colleges have elective classes that allow you to be active, like these classes offered by Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). You could take a workout class or class that involves a specific sport. A nutrition class would also be a good idea. This way, you can get college credit for being healthy!

11. Track your calories and know what you’re eating

When you’re eating in the dining hall, you never really know what went into the chicken surprise. Instead of blinding eating it, trying asking the dining hall staff for help. Maybe ask about the ingredients in a meal, or what else was used, as a way to determine calories.

Keeping track of your calories helps you to know what’s going into your body and how many calories you should actually be consuming. The MyFitnessPal app can be a great tool for helping you keep track of calories.

12. Drink your coffee black

College students are famous for relying on coffee to get through all their classes and activities. However, instead of loading it up with sugar, cream, and other flavors, take it black. It’s healthier and still caffeinated.

13. Manage your stress

We all know that between classes and social activities and sports and everything else; college can get a little stressful. This stress can have a negative effect on your mental and physical health. Pat Salzer, registered dietitian at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield said, “Eating well and exercising often is great, but chronic high stress can harm your health and cause weight gain.” If you work to manage your stress, it can benefit your health in so many ways, including your weight. You can work to manage stress by taking time to exercise, meditate or spend time with friends. Or, here are 15 ways to stop stress now.

14. Don’t drink or drink less

In case you didn’t know, alcohol contains calories and calories contribute to weight gain. An average 12-ounce can of beer can have about 150 calories. If you drink one beer per night, you are drinking around 1000 extra calories each week. According to Mayo Clinic, 3,500 calories equals about one pound of fat. Plus, when you spend a night drinking, the next morning’s hangover will probably land you on the couch instead of the gym. You can use this alcohol calorie calculator to figure out how many calories you are drinking and how that affects your weight.

15. Meet with your school’s health and wellness center

Colleges care about their students’ health and therefore usually have some sort of health and wellness center, like this one at RIT. Take advantage of this resource and meet with the staff there. They will help you figure out some steps to take to live healthier. They are there to help YOU. The information they supply you with will help you in and outside of college.

Hidden Gems: Upstate N.Y. Spray Parks

Baby, it’s hot outside. This summer, we’ve had so many heat waves that kids can barely play outdoors before they get hot and want to retreat to the AC. But how can they release the energy they build up indoors?  Head to a spray park!

As a Corning native, I remember countless heat wave days of packing up our sunscreen and snacks and heading to “The Fountain” in Centennial Park. If you grew up in the Corning/Elmira area, you probably have similar memories. The Fountain was a huge hotspot for kids in my small town.

The Fountain was basically a huge spout in the middle of a park that kids would play in during the summer. I can still remember the feeling of water pounding on my back and the squishy rubber under my feet. The Fountain provided a relatively clean, free, and fun way to cool off during the summer.

“The Fountain” in Corning, NY

Little did I know that Corning was a little ahead of its time.  Spray parks, also known as splash pads, are popping up all over the country. A spray park is basically an area with a non-slip surface, and various nozzles and features that provide refreshing water in exciting ways.

Spray parks are a great place to take your kids. If my brother and I could spend hours under one water fountain, your kids are sure to avoid boredom in the captivating intricacy of modern spray parks. Here are some you can find in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Binghamton.

Rochester

There are so many spray parks in Rochester; you can almost certainly get to one easily from wherever you live. From Chili to Webster to the city of Rochester, there’s one in almost every pocket of Monroe County.  Most are free, and a couple even have fun themes your kids are sure to love, such as firetruck and pirate themes.

For an interactive map and exact locations of the spray parks check out this link from Rochester Kids Out and About.

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Buffalo

If you’re in the Buffalo region and suffering in this heat wave, you’re in luck. There are accessible spray parks all over the Buffalo region. There are 10 in the city of Buffalo alone, and even more all over Western New York.

For info about all other splash pad locations in WNY, click this link from Fun for Kids Buffalo.

Syracuse, utica and Binghamton

Picking where to go to get your spray on is less complicated in Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton. In Syracuse, a popular destination is Camillus Park. The splash pad is pretty new, and is open until Labor Day. The great thing about this park is that if you do get bored of the spray park, there are so many other things to keep you busy at Camillus Park, like a playground and hiking trails.

If you are a Binghamton local looking for a place for the kids to cool off, look no further than Columbus Park.  The spray pad was installed in 2014 and is sure to be a refreshing place to visit.

There’s also the splash pad at  Donovan Memorial Park in Chadwicks, which is outside of Utica.

So the next time your kids are roasting and you still want time outside, pack up some sunscreen and snacks and head to a spray park!

Empty Nest Syndrome: A Kid’s Perspective

Many of us think of empty nest syndrome as something only parents go through, but the idea of leaving our parents is scary to us kids too.

A little background about me is that I’m the oldest of two to a single mom. I didn’t have a hard time leaving home my freshman year of college because my mom still had my brother to worry about, and they even got a lot closer. However, this year is going to be tougher to go back to school because my brother is moving out to start his freshman year of college, making my mom an empty nester.

The fact that my brother and I will both be leaving home this year is freaking me out. My mom has had kids in the house for over 20 years; does she know what to do without us?! The idea of my mom being lonely or having no one to eat dinner with every day puts a pit in my stomach, but, I’m trying to look at it on the bright side and think of all the positive changes my mom will go through becoming an empty nester.

There will be A LOT less laundry

My brother is an athlete so he wore several outfits per day. Honestly, whenever I’m home and fold laundry, the majority of a load is my brother’s clothes. Not only will the water bill be significantly less, my mom will have more time to do things she actually enjoys, since I don’t think laundry is a hobby she really wants.

She can take up a hobby

I don’t think my mom will become a knitter, but she could! She will now have free time in place of the time spent at cold baseball games, award ceremonies, or at school events. Maybe she’ll become an avid painter, coin collector, or yoga guru. Who knows! The hobby world is her oyster.

A cheaper grocery bill

As a teenage boy, my brother definitely hikes up the costs of groceries during the week. That boy could eat 4 sandwiches for a snack. When both my brother and I would be gone visiting our dad, my mom would joke that she could make one steak and a sweet potato and eat it all week.

A cleaner house

It’s no secret that kids are messy, and teenagers aren’t any better. They might even be worse. With both my brother and I out of the house, there will definitely be fewer messes made.

She can focus on herself

My mom has always put us first, and now she can focus a lot more on herself and figuring out what she really likes. It’ll be so good for her to be able to decide what she wants to do without worrying about where my brother or I need to be for once.  She can make the dinner she likes, and do things her way, which I think is really exciting.

Empty nest syndrome is definitely common, and happens to tons of parents every year. It will definitely be an adjustment for my mom, but I think she’ll grow to love her one steak and one load of laundry per week.

How to Get Teens Away from Video Games and Outside

Video games like Fortnite are becoming more and more popular by the day. It doesn’t help the fact that they are played inside on a screen.

Olivia Belter is a mother of three teenage boys, ages 18, 15 and 13. She has had to master the art of getting her boys to look forward to outdoor, family time, rather than Fortnite time. During the school year, her kids have busy lives full of sports, school, and activities. That’s why summer is the perfect time to squeeze in family time outside. But how do you get three teenage boys to enjoy a walk with their mom?

Now that we are getting settled into the summer, Olivia has found some helpful tips to get teens outside and away from video games.

Have a purpose

Olivia said, “this past weekend we went to Panama Rocks and went hiking there and had lunch afterward and that’s kind of been our thing.” Whether it’s Panama Rocks, the gorge, or the eternal flame, all the locations they’ve visited have a purpose to it that her boys can look forward to i.e. waterfall, swimming hole, caves.

Make it “insta worthy”

Going along with the last tip, Olivia suggests the trip be “insta worthy.” “Since they are so addicted to their phones,” Olivia added, “they could also post about it on social media. It’s an opportunity for them to go somewhere cool and show their friends.” All of a sudden, a walk with your mom turns into a viral Instagram post.

Give them a choice

“Give them a list of places to choose from,” Olivia said. Giving teens a choice makes them feel involved and more excited about what they’re doing. Olivia mentioned that she’ll search for new things to do, and let her boys pick from there.

Occasionally let them bring a friend

Bringing a friend along will only make the trip seem cooler to your child. “When their friend has a good time with you and your teen, they’re going to tell their friends and parents, and also make your teen feel better about family time,” Olivia said.

Be prepared with food

It’s no secret that growing teenagers love food. “I am known as the ‘cooler mom’ because I always have a cooler with healthy snacks,” Olivia said. She also mentioned that it alleviates the need to stop, and her boys have something to look forward to. Olivia also added that stopping for ice cream or cookies could also make for a fun treat they look forward to after a day of hiking and healthy snacks.

Alleviate the fear of the unknown

Olivia shared that much of the reason teens are reluctant is the fear of the unknown, being embarrassed, or bored. “After they realize that you are trying to make it a fun for everyone, they will get over that,” Olivia said.

Olivia explained why getting outdoors family time with your teenagers is so important. “So much of their time is scheduled with something else. You have to make an effort to be outside and be outdoors when you can,” Olivia said. It is rare for the whole family to get time to just talk and laugh together.

Using these tips, hopefully your teen will also look forward to family time, especially time spent in the outdoors.

Yes – Your kid can give it a tri! Empowering Kids with the Rochester Youth Triathlon

Do you want to empower kids to be active? The Rochester Triathletes do this through the Rochester Youth Triathlon on Saturday, July 28, 2018 at Genesee Valley Park. This eighth annual event is for kids ages six to 17 years old and features the only Teen Super Sprint in New York State. Any youth who can swim, ride a bike, and run (or walk) are encouraged to “come out and give it a tri!”

What is a Youth Triathlon?

The kids will swim in the park’s 50-meter outdoor pool, ride along the Genesee River paved bike trails, and run on the park’s trails and sidewalks. It starts at 8:30 a.m. and has three distances for the kids to choose from:

Short Course: 50 meter swim, 2.2 mile bike, 0.5 mile run

Long Course: 100 meter swim, 4.3 mile bike, 1.0 mile run

Teen Super Sprint: 300 meter swim, 6.4 mile bike, 1.8 mile run

All participants get a finisher’s medal. The top three finishers for boys and girls in the Teen Super Sprint will receive awards.

Cynthia Childs is the founder and former race director of the Rochester Youth Triathlon and a Workplace Wellness & Telemedicine Consultant at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. She is passionate about the youth triathlon and kids’ wellness in general. “I became involved because I have a passion for the city, the sport of triathlon, and empowering people—kids in particular—to be active,” said Childs. Although she stepped down as race director, she plans to stay involved with the Rochester Youth Triathlon.

“Everyone’s just really happy”

Maplewood YMCA offers a Kids Triathlon program to help train the boys and girls for participation in the event. Thirteen-year-old Leilani Hernandez is a member of the program and this year will be her fourth youth triathlon. “I think it’s a really fun event because it encourages kids to become healthier and there’s so many people supporting each other,” said Hernandez. “Everyone’s just really happy and it’s a good environment for kids to be around.” She plans to participate in the triathlon every year until she turns eighteen. She loves the event and enjoys being active with other kids.

Leilani Hernandez gets ready for her fourth youth triathlon.

While sponsors like the City of Rochester, Enterprise, Wegmans Food Marker, Inc. and Excellus BlueCross BlueShield make this event possible, the event coordinators and volunteers make it happen. They are there through the entire event, encouraging the kids and taking care of all the details.

“It makes it all worthwhile when you see the smiles and looks of determination and accomplishment on the kids’ faces!”

Long-time Youth Tri volunteer Gordy Whitaker took over after Childs stepped down as race director last year. “We have a great team of coordinators that dedicate a lot of time and effort to make this a fun event for all,” said Whitaker. “It makes it all worthwhile when you see the smiles and looks of determination and accomplishment on the kids’ faces!”

If you’d like to join the group of volunteers that create this happy, healthy, and active environment for kids, please e-mail the Volunteer Coordinator at kidsvolunteer@RochesterTriathletes.com.

Click here to find out all the details about the Rochester Youth Triathlon and register your kids to participate!

5 Firework Safety Tips for Summer

As we approach the Fourth of July, I can’t help but notice the increase in road-side tents, filled to the edges with boxes and bags. And I don’t mean the garage sales. The tents are filled with fireworks.

You might be wondering about fireworks safety? If so, remember that the best way to stay safe with fireworks is to not use them at home. Watching a public fireworks display is much safer!

“Children should never play with fireworks and even sparklers should be discouraged,” said LouAnne Giangreco, M.D., Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “It is better for everyone to leave fireworks to the professionals.”

Staying safe this holiday could even include starting other fun traditions, she added, with safer toys such as glow sticks, necklaces, fun hats and wind spinners!

But if fireworks are legal in your area, and you want to use them, here are five tips to help keep you and your loved ones safe.

1. Sparklers are Still Fireworks

You may think sparklers are safe for kids. But they do get very hot – hot enough to even burn some metals! – and can cause injury. Sparklers cause 19 percent of firework injuries, according to the  U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. If using sparklers, be sure to follow the directions, use proper eye protection and maintain a safe distance. If a child is burned, remove clothing from the burned area and call your doctor immediately.

2. Reign in the Troops

With the excitement of the holidays, kids tend to goof off. Make sure the kids know the dangers of fireworks. Stress the importance of safety. Even pointing fireworks at others as a joke is dangerous. Establish “firework rules,” such as steering clear of the adults as they set off the fireworks. If an eye injury occurs, do not touch or rub it or flush the eye out with water. Get medical care right away.

3. Don’t Buy Illegal Fireworks

If you’re buying fireworks, make sure you’re buying the legal kind.  Legal fireworks show labels with the manufacturer’s name, as well as clear directions. Unlabeled fireworks are illegal, according to KidsHealth.org, and don’t be fooled by names like M-80, M100, blockbuster, or quarter-pounder.

4. Be Safe, Not Sorry

Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper, this tends to be a sign it was made for a professional display, not a small backyard celebration.

Also, check that it is legal to purchase fireworks in your area. If you live in upstate New York, here’s more information from some local newspapers:

5. Don’t Skip the Small Stuff

Store fireworks in a cool, dry place. A wet firework could be harder to light, which can cause irregular explosions.

Never relight a firework. It can be disappointing not to see your favorite explosion go off, but it’s not worth the risk of a random explosion during an attempted relight.

Also, keep a bucket of water and a hose nearby, just in case.

The Last Word

But remember: 280 people visit the emergency room every day with firework-related issues in the month around July 4th, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

So as you consider the types of fun you can have on July 4th, don’t forget to check out local fireworks shows for a safer – and just as enjoyable – holiday alternative.

For more safety tips, visit the following sites:

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

KidsHealth.org

American Academy of Pediatrics

Hidden Gems: Tinker Nature Park

Tinker Nature Park is magical! As a nanny, this is one of my favorite spots for the kids. It’s beautiful and the trails are wheelchair and stroller accessible so the baby can come along and enjoy the sun. The trails are well maintained and feature hidden treasures alongside every turn!

Among the trees and rocks along the trail, you and your kids can discover detailed and intricate fairy houses! Carved into trees, on top of stumps, between branches, everywhere you look there are tiny little houses. The homes are so detailed you just might have to knock to see if someone is home.

The look on a child’s face when they discover the charming little houses will make your world feel just as magical as theirs. My favorite part is when they ask me all about the magic of the forest. Seeing a child connecting with nature is just so heartwarming.

Take a closer look

Within the park, there is a small nature museum complete with rotating nature exhibits that display some of the animals that live within the park.

Each fairy house is unique and has an intricate design. Each one offers a great place to stop and take in the beautiful artistry that is perfectly integrated with the beautiful forest all around you. Make sure to stop at each fairy house along the trail to see the creative ways the artists crafted the nature around them into the tiny magical houses.

Don’t forget to stop at the nearby playground. There’s also a wildflower meadow and an observation blind to sit and see all the animals that walk by. Kids love the enchanting forest as well as the nature they can observe all around them (instead of being stuck indoors)!

Details

  • Location: 1525 Calkins Road, Pittsford, NY 14534
  • Hours: 7 am – Sunset
  • Price: FREE

For more information:

https://sites.google.com/view/tinkerpark

https://exploringupstate.com/the-fairy-houses-of-tinker-nature-park/

 

10 Pool Safety Tips for Summer

I find a reason every year to delay the opening of our backyard pool.

I declared last spring, for example, that the pool was to stay closed until we finished cleaning up the yard and mulching. Since I live on a big lot with too many gardens, the pool remained closed until mid-July.

I’ll continue with the rule this year. Maybe I can think of a way to delay until August?

Why am I so reluctant to jump into a quintessential part of summer? The reason is named Matthew. He’s a feistily independent 3-year-old whom I fear will find a way into the pool one day when I’m not looking.

Pool safety tips

In case I run out of excuses, and we do open our pool before fall, I did a little research on pool safety tips to help lessen my neurosis. Here’s what I found:

  1. An adult should always watch the child when he’s in the pool. But I have a preschooler who climbs bookshelves or runs out of buildings when you turn your back for like three seconds.  What if he tries to get into the pool when I’m not looking? If that happens, hopefully, this pool safety checklist will prevent anything bad from happening:
  2. Teach children how to swim. I’m one for two on this one. The big brother can swim, but the little 3-year-old can’t. Your local YMCA and/or Parks and Recreation department may offer swim lessons. Remember: Just because a kid can swim doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch them in the pool.
  3. Install a fence around the pool that is at least four feet in height. It shouldn’t be climbable and there shouldn’t be more than 4 inches between the vertical slats. In addition to installing a non-climbable fence, there should not be anything alongside the fence, like lawn furniture, that could be used to climb it. Kids are very good problem solvers.
  4. Have a self-closing, self-latching gateAnd for those with above ground pools, when the pool is not in use, lock or remove ladders and steps to prevent access.
  5. Keep pool covers in working order. Hmmm. Need to check this one. Our cover is looking a little shabby.
  6. Know how to perform CPR on children and adults. I took a CPR class last year for this very reason. But I’m not good in emergencies. I’m doubtful I’ll be any help if my worst fears come true.
  7. Establish pool “rules” – such as “no running on the pool deck” and “no diving in a pool that’s not deep enough.” Another suggested rule is to keep toys away from the pool when the pool is not in use, so kids aren’t tempted to go play with them. I like the rules. I’ll adopt them immediately.
  8. Pool alarms. I want one. Now. I’m adding this to the list of “requirements” needed to open the pool. A pool alarm may offer some benefit, but keep in mind that it’s not to replace proper fencing.
  9. Make pool safety interesting. Try showing your child this video:

    Or have them interact with this app. Get the app in the app store or google play.

  10. Convey to your child that the wrath of mom and dad will reign down on him if he’s found in the pool area without an adult. This is my very own rule. Maybe it’s a bit extreme.

But I’m hoping my threats, combined with these tips, will help me keep my sometimes disobedient son safe this summer.

Life after College: How to Ease a Graduate’s Biggest Fear

I’m graduating.

I’ve been saying those words a lot lately…mostly in my head. For the past couple of months, it’s been difficult to wrap my head around that concept. I’ve been a student for the past 16 years; I’m not quite sure I know how to be anything else.

The Fears of a Graduate

Like most college seniors, I’ve gone through the appropriate motions. I’m on the home stretch to graduate, I’m trying not to get a bad case of senioritis and I’m applying for jobs. With a lot of hard work and pleasant persistence, I hope to land a job—but what if I don’t?

Most, if not all 22-year-olds are impatient to hit the ground running with a job related to their college major. We want it and we want it now.

As I fight my impatience to snag my first real job, my family has my back 100 percent of the time. Still, that doesn’t mean I won’t obsess over these questions:

When will I have a job?   Where will it be? What will I be doing? Do I want to live in my hometown or move away? When I get a job, will I be able to have a nice place to live, pay off student loans, afford a car?

“We’ll always be here if you need us”

As I ponder what could happen, I took the direct approach and asked my mom and dad how they’re feeling about another child venturing into the adult world. After all, they’ve raised four children over a span of 36 years—each with their own trials and tribulations after college.

Sophia with her parents.

What my parents said provided me with the confidence needed to take the next step. Susan Morris, my mother, possibly the toughest woman I know, has never doubted her children.

“You kids never worried us. Your dad and I are reminded every day how great you all are” she said.

I’ve always envisioned myself in a big city after college; I’ve made it a point to let my parents know this. Not because I want to get away from my hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., but because my parents have raised me to feel confident enough to tackle anything.

“If you want to stay here, that’s great. If you want to move halfway across the world, that’s your decision, but we’ll always be here if you need us,” Mom said.

At this point in the conversation, I had to fight back the tears.

For my dad, Kevin Morris, having his children move away is hard for him to accept. My sister, who is married with two kids, lives on Long Island. One brother lives locally; the other is still in college.

“You say you’ve been a student for 16 years, but we’ve been parents for double that time. We’re never going to stop being your parents,” he said. “As you move onto this chapter of your life, we have to let go and let you take the reins.”

Disappointed? OK. Discouraged? No Way!

From as early as I can remember, my parents have drilled this piece of advice into their children’s heads:

“It is OK to be disappointed—but it’s never OK to be discouraged.”

If the last four years of college taught me anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. But I’m ready to take the reins. I don’t know if it’s college, or my parents’ confidence in me or life, in general, that’s taught me:

In life, you can work the hardest you’ve ever worked and still not get what you want, but you keep trying anyway. That’s the point.