Question of the Week – New Feature

We have recently uploaded a new feature called “Question of the Week”. The feature is designed to encourage more interaction between your family members. It is a semi-automated processes that will allow you to either select from standard questions (like how was your Fourth of July) or create your own and then pre-schedule the questions to be deliverable by email to your family members.

Each family member can click the link and respond with a suitable answer. The next step is to publish the answers to your family site. The whole process takes only a few minutes to get a year’s worth of questions into the Familycrossings system.


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Easy Ways to Better Your Community

Easy Ways to Better Your Community

Small town, big city, the suburbs or the country – no matter where you live, you’re part of a local community. Without realizing it, you can have a big impact on your community by the everyday choices that you make. And a thriving local community is good for everyone who lives there.

Why You Should Go Local

Local First, a Grand Rapids, Michigan based organization that encourages sustainable, locally-based economies, states that when you purchase at locally owned businesses rather than nationally owned, more money is kept in the community because locally-owned businesses often purchase from other local businesses, service providers and farms. Local First estimates that for every $100 you spend with local businesses, $73 remains in the community. Only $57 remains in the local economy when you buy from a national chain store.

Most new jobs are provided by local businesses as well, and local business owners donate more to local charities than non-local owners. This means that your support of local businesses has a farther-reaching effect than you might realize. You’re helping people find and keep jobs, and you’re helping make it possible for charitable organizations to continue doing much-needed work.

How You Can Go Local

Start Subscribing. Get a subscription to your community newspapers and local magazines. Not only will they keep you informed about what’s happening in your community, but you’ll help support local business.

Shop Locally. There are plenty of locally owned businesses and service providers in your neighborhood. One easy way to find them is through, a social network of about 1 million local businesses. By signing up for a free account, you can easily search out and follow nearby businesses and service providers such as jewelers, plumbers, grocers, and accountants,  to get coupons and find out about special events and offers. MerchantCircle’s “Answers” lets you get expert advice from local businesses in your area and across the country on virtually any topic for free. Car mechanics, veterinarians and professionals in every industry will quickly respond, saving you time and often money.

Get Involved. Many communities have volunteer advisory councils for local governments – everything from city planning committees to arts councils. Check out your town’s web site to find out how you can impact the development and character of your community.

Visit Local Attractions. Parks, arboretums, museums, parades, festivals, theatres – there plenty of ways to have a good time without leaving town. A staycation or weekend getaway at home is less expensive for you than heading out of town, and you get to enjoy local treasures.

Volunteer. Local schools, community centers, libraries, museums and charities often need people like you. Check the local paper, community bulletin boards and web sites such as to find out what you can do to make your community stronger.

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Don’t Let Winter Drafts Get You Down

(Family Features) – Are you shivering and bundling up inside your house? If your thermostat is set at the desired temperature, your furnace runs continuously, your utility bills are ridiculously high, but you are still cold, it is probably because energy is escaping your house.

As it gets colder outside, here are some clues that will indicate if your home has air leaks:

  • You feel drafts or air moving even when all of your windows and doors are closed.
  • The floor directly in front of the sink feels colder than the rest of the floor.
  • There is a drastic temperature difference between levels in your house.
  • You find bugs in the same room over and over again.

Outside air typically enters the home where building materials meet and where wires and pipes penetrate through the walls.

The EPA estimates that homeowners can typically save up to 20 percent of heating and cooling costs by air sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces, and accessible basement rim joists. Sealing and insulating these areas add up to an average of $200 worth of savings a year on energy costs. 

There are several easy and cost-effective ways to eliminate drafts.

  • Replace weather-stripping around doors, including the garage door.
  • Add extra insulation in your attic.
  • Insulate perimeter walls in your basement.
  • Insure that the chimney flue is closed.

Filling gaps and cracks with an insulating foam sealant is an easy, fast solution that anyone can undertake. Sealants such as Great Stuff form an airtight, water-resistant seal that cures rigid. The foam is sandable, paintable, and can be trimmed with a utility knife afterwards.

Some common and effective places to seal include the holes where the HVAC ductwork enters the living space from the basement and attic, the attic hatch frame, plumbing stacks and shafts, and pipe, wire and conduit penetrations.

For a full list of places to use foam sealant, visit

Great Stuff

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Craft Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

(Family Features) – Handmade holiday items bring a unique and personal touch to the season, making the giver and receiver feel special. This year, millions of families will be spending more time together creating low or no-cost crafts such as gifts, cards and decorations. In fact, the Craft & Hobby Association (CHA) estimates that in almost 43 million U.S. households will create handcrafted holiday gifts and decorations this year.

“Crafting provides an opportunity to spend time with friends and family while creating unique, one-of-a-kind gifts that don’t need to cost a lot of money,” said CHA President and CEO Steve Berger.

To inspire you, here’s an idea to get you crafting this holiday season.

Swirl Place Setting

Courtesy of

Aleene’s Fabric Fusion
Aleene’s Fast Grab Tacky Glue
Tulip 3D Fashion Paint
65088 Gold Glitter
65408 Gold Metallics
Red placemats and napkins
Gold fabric – 1/4 yard
Cardstock paper
Buttons – gold (4)
Bulky yarn – red
Eyelash yarn – red
1-inch low tack masking tape
Scratch paper
Paper towels


  1. Use tape to mask off around edge of placemats and across one corner of napkin. Start the flow of the Gold Metallic paint on a paper towel using an even pressure on the bottle. Squeeze thin lines of gold in assorted sizes of swirls on placemat. Immediately and carefully place scratch paper over paint then lightly rub over paper. Remove paper and tape. Let dry. Continue with remainder of placemats and napkins.
  2. Add a Gold Metallic line around edge of pattern and across the diagonal on the napkin. Let dry.
  3. Squeeze a thin line of Gold Glitter to all swirls and let dry.
  4. Squeeze a thin line of Fabric Fusion next to edge on the top of placemat. Press bulky yarn into glue. When dry, flip placemats over, apply a bead of glue to edge then press in eyelash yarn, twisting yarn so fibers show around edge. Let dry.

Napkin Rings

  1. Measure and cut a strip of cardstock 2 x 7 inches. Apply Fast Grab to one end of strip, overlap and hold with tape until dry. Continue with desired amount of napkin rings.
  2. Cut strips of gold fabric 4 x 7 1/2 inches. Apply a thin even coating of Fast Grab to the ring; press on fabric then smooth with fingers. Apply glue to the fabric edges then fold to the inside and press to secure. Let dry.
  3. Cut a 12-inch piece of both yarns then wrap together. Tie around napkin ring and knot on top. Add a dot of glue to the back of the knot to hold in place. Trim ends.
  4. Cut the shank from the back of button; add glue and press in place over the knot.

For votive and place card instructions, visit

Family Holiday Wreath

Courtesy of


Words of inspiration (K&Co.)
Rub-ons (K&Co.)
Favorite photos or seasonal stock photographs from
Heavy cardboard
Metal saying
Wire cutter
Glue gun

  1. Attach metal saying with wire to center of wreath.
  2. Print or download photos. The ones in this craft were printed in sepia.
  3. Adhere photos to heavy cardboard to fit the size of photo.
  4. Add rub-ons to photos.
  5. Glue words to wreath.

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Tips to Find Great Deals Online at Holiday Time

(Family Features) – Bar·gain [bahr-guhn] – noun: an advantageous purchase, a great deal, especially one acquired at less than the usual cost.

These days, people are getting more creative with how they spend. When it comes to shopping, many are turning to the Internet for great deals on seasonal items, trendy fashions and the latest in tech gear.

One popular shopping resource is eBay. With over 88 million worldwide users each month, it has long been known as a place to find deals on new and used items.

Three eBay insiders – Constance White, style director, Cat Schwartz, gadget and toy director and Karen Bard, pop culture expert – have some tips to help deal hunters in their quest for the hottest items and the best bargains this year.

“The key is in the keyword search,” says White. “To find the best deals, be specific with your search terms. Instead of searching for shoes in general, try searching by designer, style, trend or even intentionally misspell the brand name to unearth hidden gems.”

Schwartz advises, “Consider searching pre-owned, re-furbished or used products, as well. Buying these goods eliminates waste going to landfills and scores you a great deal on a unique find.”
Bidding and buying strategies also play a key role in how much you’ll pay and how soon you’ll get the item. The basic strategies are:

  • Daily Deals. Follow eBay’s Daily Deals, hot items at steep discounts. Visit to sign up for the Daily Deals e-mail, and information about the freshest deals will be delivered directly to your inbox every day.
  • Buy It Now. Buy the item at a fixed price, and forgo the auction process.  “Buy It Now is an easy way to make a quick purchase without bidding,” said Schwartz. “Use this option to purchase the item at a guaranteed low price.” 
  • Bid Early. In auction-style listings, bidding early with the absolute highest price you are willing to pay (a true maximum bid) allows eBay’s Automatic Bidding to do the work for you.
  • Watch, Wait, Bid Late. “Another approach to auction-style listings is to watch the listing,” says Bard, “most bidding takes place at the end of the auction. Bide your time; you’ll get alerts when items you are watching are ending soon so you don’t miss out.”

Whether you’re an eco-conscious fashionista or are trying to keep up with the latest tech trends, being a savvy shopper can get you what you want without breaking the bank.

For more information and to find great deals on must-have items, visit

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Your Family Can Help Change The World While On Vacation

OK, we realize you’re going to want to take a vacation for more than 15 minutes (even with that pesky recession on!). But making the decision to take the family on a trip that involves helping others or respecting the environment instead of lounging at the beach can be made relatively quickly. There are a number of Eco tours and activist travel or work exchange programs that might even cost you less than that trip to Disneyworld and leave you or your family feeling more fulfilled upon your return home. – Listing thousands of options for a more sustainable vacation respecting the environments and local inhabitants, Responsible Travel is searchable by budget level, region, country, and even type of holiday and activities you’d like to do. Travelers are encouraged to review the tours they take, so you can also see others’ feedback on the trips you might be interested in.

Ecotour Directory – This site currently lists 95 different eco holiday and responsible travel options, searchable by continent.

TrekAmerica – TrekAmerica hosts tour programs focusing on appreciating and respecting the natural environment throughout North America. You get the opportunity to experience some unique environments while simultaneously having a positive impact on the land.

Volunteer Vacations – Instead of taking ad nauseum “I was here” photos in front of tourist traps on your next vacation, you could use your next trip to volunteer abroad. This site offers a number of 1-4 week vacation options from helping at children’s clinics to preserving wilderness trails to teaching math to kids in developing countries.

Global Volunteers – A clearinghouse of volunteer international service programs, Global Volunteers typically requires you front your own travel costs. They do however offer assistance qualifying for discounts or fundraising the cost of your service program fee.

Do you have other great world-changing ideas that don’t necessarily require an enormous time commitment? Let us know in the comments!

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Caught in the Middle – Help for the Sandwich Generation

Twenty million American adults are caring for aging parents at the same time they’re raising young children. Known as the Sandwich Generation, they are feeling the stress.

A recent study of “sandwichers” reports that:

  • 53 percent feel forced to choose between caring for their children or caring for their parents at least once a week
  • 20 percent feel they must choose to care for one or the other every day of the week

The American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America survey found that mothers in the sandwich generation, ages 35 – 54, feel more stress than any other age group as they try to manage caring for growing children and aging parents.

The pressures of taking care of family members, as well as the worry over parents’ health, putting children through college and saving for retirement takes a big toll. So what’s a sandwicher to do?

Involve the whole family

It’s common for one family member to assume responsibility for older parents. But even the most take-charge, organized person will need help.

Getting siblings and other immediate family involved lightens the burden for everyone, and gives them a chance to show their love for parents, too.

Establish regular family meetings for those involved in providing care. Those that can’t be there in person can participate by phone or Web-cam.

  • Keep a list of updates and concerns about health, finances, legal or housing issues.
  • Talk about problems that may have come up with giving or getting help. Discussing such issues helps avoid hurt feelings and gets problems solved.
  • Focus on the task of caring for the parent, not dealing with old family hurts.

Find a job for everyone. A brother who lives far away can still help with paying bills, researching agencies, or just calling regularly. A sister who lives nearby but who can’t give regular care may be the designated back-up for the primary care giver.

It’s important to get your spouse and children involved, too.

  • Be specific about how your spouse can help, and make sure that you ask for help, not demand it.
  • Check in with your spouse about his or her feelings and encourage them to talk.
  • Be honest with your children about the situation. Answer their questions.
  • Ask them how they’d like to help out. Perhaps they’d like to make cards or show off their newest treasures.

Get outside help 

  • Community groups and churches often have volunteers who can help with home repair, transportation, meals and companionship.
  • Talk to those who see your parents regularly – delivery people, beauticians, barbers or neighbors – and ask them to call you if anything seems out of the ordinary.
  • Look to professional care services when your parent’s physical needs are too much for you to handle.

It’s also important to take care of yourself. Make time to rest, eat right and relax. You’re no good to anyone in your family if you’re exhausted and stressed out.

Caring for two generations at the same time isn’t easy, but it can be managed – if you get some help.

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Keeping Kids Safe Online

(Family Features) – For anyone with children or teenagers in the house, it’s no surprise that being online is the in thing to do. According to research studies conducted by The Nielson Company, approximately 16 million U.S. children ages two to 11 are active online. This shows an 18 percent increase over the past five years, while the overall Internet population only increased usage by 10 percent. Furthermore, the amount of time children spend online is 63 percent higher than just five years ago.

One problem that falls under the umbrella of Internet safety that children may face when they’re online, is cyberbullying. A cyberbully is a minor who uses the Internet, phone or other digital device to post hurtful messages or images to another minor.

Parry Aftab, executive director of the charity that runs says, “They do it by posing as each other, stealing or misusing their passwords, stealing points in online games. They call each other names, or send offensive messages to their friends while impersonating them. They even take embarrassing pictures of others and post them online.”

Cyberbullying affects children as young as seven and up through high school. According to a yearlong survey of students in the U.S. and Canada conducted by Aftab, results showed that:

  • Cyberbullying starts as early as third grade, peaks in fourth grade and again in seventh and eighth grade.
  • 75 percent of teens reported cyberbullying someone else and 85 percent of students reported they had been targeted at least once in the past year. 

When kids are still in grammar school, the direct attacks usually consist of making fun of each other and testing limits. In middle school, cyberbullies attack classmates’ reputations and it can escalate from there as children move into high school.

What Can Parents Do?

Aftab recommends open communication between parents and children. “Encourage discussions about what they enjoy online,” she says. “This way you can direct your children to safe sites that fit their interests and it helps your children know you want an active role in their life.”

It’s important to make sure that your children feel comfortable coming to you with questions. This should apply to all situations including the computer. If your children feel they can trust you, they are more likely to come to you with tough problems and questions. A survey by WiredSafety found that only 5 percent of middle schoolers would tell their parents if they were cyberbullied, and that they have identified more than 50 different reasons not to tell their parents.

If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, the most important thing parents can do, says Aftab, is to give them a hug. “Tell them you love them and how sorry you are that they were hurt. Let them know that the cyberbully is not the boss of them. And promise not to overreact and take away the technology or call the school, the other parents or the media and make things worse.”

The most important thing parents can do to protect children is to monitor computer and Internet usage. “Knowing you are watching, kids are less likely to put themselves in risky situations and you can safely oversee negative or dangerous behaviors,” says Aftab.

What Should Kids Do?

As part of its online community at, Build-A-Bear Workshop promotes safety tips for kids that can be applied to any online experience.

Stop, Block and Tell

If someone is cyberbullying or trying to get personal information, Stop talking to them, Block them from talking to you and Tell a trusted adult.

Aftab also says, “To help them keep a healthy perspective they should ‘Take 5’ when something or someone upsets them online. That means they should do something they love offline for five minutes to help calm down and not do anything they will regret.”

Password Protection

  • Passwords should be easy to remember, hard to guess. If your kids have to write it down, it’s too hard to remember. If it’s a pet’s name, their middle name, their favorite sports team, etc., it’s too easy to guess. Sit down with your kids and talk about ideas for a password, and remember a combination of numbers and letters is always best.
  • Don’t allow kids to give out their password to others. 85 percent of elementary school students and 70 percent of teens polled said they shared their password with at least one friend. That’s one friend too many!
  • Friends can be cyberbullies too, signing onto your child’s account, impersonating them and possibly embarrassing them. They can also change your child’s password, locking them out of their account.

For more cybersafety tips, visit or For a fun and safe place for kids to play online, visit

Get Involved

Build-A-Bear Workshop encourages kids and adults to get involved in making the Internet a safer place. Build-A-Bearville recently became one of the first to earn the Socially Safe Kids Seal, reserved for the sites whose moderators and game designers have all been trained on Internet safety and cyberbullying.

In addition to having suggested tips and resources for parents and kids available at, the company has also incorporated the importance of safe play into their online play experience. Citizens of Build-A-Bearville are encouraged to take an Online Safety Quiz to receive a special hat for their avatar. They are also reminded of online safety tips in the Bearville Times, the site’s weekly newspaper.

Build-A-Bear Workshop also recognizes kids for being good citizens in the online world. Their Jr. CyBearGuide program allows qualified kid citizens of Build-A-Bearville to act as guides by answering questions, providing information and even giving tours. If you or your child is interested in becoming a Jr. CyBearGuide member, visit Bear University in Build-A-Bearville. Click the paw under the big Jr. CyBearGuide blue star to learn more about the program.

Online Safety Guidelines for Parents

Parry Aftab of has additional tips to help keep kids safe online.

  • Personal information stays personal. While this is an important rule for children it’s also an important rule for parents. Giving information on your family and your children to the wrong person can be dangerous.
  • Make sure your child doesn’t spend all of his or her time on the computer. Other kids, not computers, should be their best friends and companions.
  • Remember to monitor their compliance with safety rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time children spend on the computer.
  • Warn them that people may not be what they seem to be. The Internet provides a cover for people to put on whatever personas they desire.

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Say ‘I Don’t’ To Wedding Stress

(Family Crossings) – Stomach aches, headaches, sleep problems, poor concentration, moodiness, irritability, racing thoughts…Getting married is supposed to be a happy time, right? So why are so many brides-to-be completely stressed out?

Having to take care of endless details, manage vendors, handle family demands and meet the emotional needs of the groom – and fitting it all into an already busy schedule – can turn any sweet-natured woman into either a blubbering mess or the dreaded bridezilla.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. Wedding consultants and planning experts agree that there are some ways to manage the stress and make the planning process more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Expect stress. If you accept the fact that this is a stressful time, you can let go of guilt about it and take some precautionary measures to deal with it. Talk with your fiancé and a close friend about helping you chill out when things get too tense. Come up with a non-judgmental code word they can say to let you know it’s time for a break. When you hear the code word, stop, take a deep breath and then set the planning aside for a while and do something non-wedding related.

Be realistic. A lot of brides set their expectations so high that they drive themselves (and everyone around them) crazy trying to meet them. But unless you have unlimited access to money, you’re going to have to adjust some of your plans. There are a lot of resources (Web sites, books, magazines, friends) that can help you pull off a lovely wedding on whatever budget you have.

Don’t try to please everyone. It’s just not possible. Nor is it reasonable to try. The wedding is about the bride and groom. You two need to decide what is meaningful to you and what will express who you are. If his mother wants Cousin Jennie to play her bagpipe as you march down the aisle and you don’t care for the idea, it’s ok to say no. Come up with a polite response such as, “Thanks for your suggestion, but we’re going in a different direction with the plans.” Feelings may get bruised, but ultimately it’s your day and it only has to please you and your fiancé.

Delegate, delegate, delegate. No matter how capable you are, no matter how nifty your organizer is, you can’t do everything by yourself. Nor should you, so stop feeling guilty. It’s ok to ask friends, family and the groom for help – as long as you do it nicely. Some churches or reception halls have a wedding coordinator available to help with details. They’ve done this hundreds of times – you haven’t. Use them!

Take care of yourself. It’s always important to eat right, get enough sleep and exercise, but it’s especially important during times of stress. You’ll feel more energized, you’ll be able to think more clearly and make better decisions. Besides, who wants to see a bride with dark circles under her eyes drag herself down the aisle?

Keep things in perspective. The most important thing to remember is that the wedding is only a one-day event. It’s just a party to celebrate the beginning of a life together. Too many brides feel enormous pressure to make the wedding perfect and they forget about building a solid marriage. Don’t lose yourself in the details of this one day. You have a lifetime of new memories to create, this is only one of them.

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Brides on a Budget

How to Have a Fabulous Wedding for Less(Family Crossings) – The average wedding in America costs around $29,000, according to The Wedding Report, Inc., a wedding industry research company. Not surprisingly, couples are looking for ways to save money on their special day.

Here are some ideas to help you have a wonderful wedding on a budget.

The Date. Having a wedding on off-peak months and days can be a bargain. November through April are slower months for weddings, so many halls, caterers and other service providers give discounts because they have fewer bookings. Some will also have discounts for weddings held on any day other than Saturday.

Continue reading Brides on a Budget

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