Saving money on electricity – dad tips to get kids involved

Paul Banas

We’ve been in France this week and I’ve been chasing my kids around in the house where we’re staying to get them to turn off the lights as they go in and out of rooms. While French kids, like kids everywhere, are lazy about recycling and other conservation moves, for some reason, everyone here treats electricity like a running faucet. They just wouldn’t leave a room without turning the light off. My kids keep all the lights on everywhere as if we were in the middle of a night game at Yankee Stadium.Recycle

No amount of haranguing to them, or my wife, seems to make any difference. They just say, “yes, Dad” and move on to the next brilliantly lit room.

Here’s an idea some PR flack sent me this morning though and it’s a good enough idea to pass on, playing as it does on dad’s desire to cut back on costs and energy waste, teach good habits, and involve the kids.

“Moolah Maker” is the name of website with a tool to help you set a family goal for energy savings. By entering your energy bills, the site sets a family goal and creates a contract between you and your kids. Apparently, the kids/parents interface is a little hokey with a lot of “hey dude” lingo, but the idea is a good one since kids always want to earn some cash and this doesn’t take a lot of energy they could be using to swing the Wii controller. This project might make getting the monthly utility bill a family bonding experience.

[From the Energy Circle Moolah Maker website:

Kids are the greatest power source on the planet.
Unleash that force, save the earth and reap some profit. It’s easier than you think, and more important than ever. Together, kids and parents across North America are making a deal to use less and save more. Go ahead, shake on it.

The site lists a bunch of tips for energy savings:

Tips for Saving (and making more $) fast:

   * Get an Electricity Monitor. There’s no better way to save than to see your usage in real time.

   * Use smart strips. Slay the entertainment center and computer vampires. Smart Strips rock.

   * Ditch your incandescent bulbs (say it isn’t so… still have some? Not good.)

   * Hang a clothesline. (big savings, and excellent fodder for neighbors). Dryers eat Benjamins.

   * Use low-flow showerheads. Hot water takes heat. Kids like long showers. Use less.

   * Fill up the dishwasher. (Hallelujah! It uses less hot water than hand-washing)

   * Chill out with fans, not the AC. A little breeze makes it feel 4-8 degrees cooler.

Tips for Going Deeper

   * Figure out your baseload—the stuff that’s on 24/7. Does it all need to be? Find out.

   * Hire a Certified Professional Energy Auditor. And take notes. Find out how to lower energy costs quickly and efficiently.

   * Get programmable thermostats and compromise a degree or two (way easy, double smart)

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Holiday gifts for star gazing dads

Paul Banas

Astronomy and star-gazing has always been a great dad and child experience. Nothing beats lying on the grass on a warm August evening staring up in the sky and conveying the majesty and mystery of the heavens to a small child. This is a completely free activity, there are also plenty of accessories around if you’re so inclined. Here are a few of our favorites this year:

Moon in my room – $39 – This light up moon hangs on your wall and shows the moon in 12 different settings, controlled by an infrared remote control. An audio CD tells more about the moon.

Planisphere watch – $59.95 – This watch glows in the dark for 2-3 hours. It’s a great present for the astronomy geek who always wants to take advantage of a dark night sky. The watch shows northern constellations only.

Celestron Skyscout – $199 (50% cheaper than in 2007) – The Skyscout uses GPS to ID and 8000 starts and planets and then will even tell you about via audio or text. All the astronomer has to do is point this gadget into the night sky and it actually finds constellations for you. As one reviewer on Amazon says, “This is the astronomy device I’ve been waiting for all my life.”

4. Orion Star Target Planisphere ” target=”_blank”>Orion Star Target Planishere – $11.00 – This stargazing the old fashioned way, with a map of the heavens you hold up in the night sky. You’ll also need a red flashlight to read the map in the dark.

Barska Travel Telescope – 59.95 – Savings priced telescope for aspiring astronomers with 300X magnification and a 5×24 finder scope. Don’t expect the world, but this is a good intro telescope. Minor to major inconvenience is the table level telescope. It’s perfect for setting up on a picnic table and taking turns looking from there, but impossible to use at ground level.

Happy stargazing!

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San Francisco model trains in the Conservatory of Flowers.

Paul Banas

Perfect excursion for dad and kids!

All aboard The Golden Gate Express™ for a San Francisco holiday experience like no other!

This winter, Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers
premieres its first garden railway exhibition. It’s a celebration of the
city of San Francisco as model G-gauge trains wend their way through a lush
landscape of dwarf plants and steam past mini versions of the city’s
landmark buildings. From Mission Dolores to the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit
Tower to Chinatown’s dragon gate, replicas of San Francisco’s most famous
places are set amongst miniature gardens and parks to create a magical
setting for this special holiday attraction. Visitors will also enjoy a
vintage train station seating area, appearances by costumed conductors and
interpretive materials about the development of San Francisco and its
railways. So, gather the family and get on track. The Conservatory of
Flowers’ Golden Gate Express™ is a must see destination for the holidays!

The Golden Gate Express™ – a garden railway exhibition featuring model
G-gauge trains, a landscape of dwarf plants and replicas of San Francisco’s
landmark buildings

November 20, 2008 — April 19, 2009. Closed Mondays and on Thanksgiving,
Christmas and New Year’s Days.

9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays – Sundays

Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

$5 general; $3 youth 12-17, seniors and students with ID; $1.50 children
5-11; children 4 and under FREE


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Why you teach them to read

Paul Banas

We are starting a ten day summer vacation and, like millions ofnpther families, we’re spend the first day in the plane. My daughter, age eight, is happy though. She has four books and is just discovering Lemoney Snicket.

She’s been asking for a Nintendp DS, but we are holding fast against that. I did give in, finally to Wii, but only because we can play that as a family. The only activity I want her doing that envelops her in her own private world is reading, at this age. Even now, reading for her is a communal activity. She stops every few pages to read me a particularly funny sentence.


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Ten trips for dads traveling with teenagers

Paul Banas

Traveling can be very stressful, and traveling with teens doubly so, for reasons that are completely different than for traveling with smaller children. Teens are developing their own interests and more than ever, you have to plan around how best to incorporate their needs, however exotic or seemingly selfish into the program. Here are ten ideas to help the trip go smoother this time.

  1. Remember who your fellow travelers are. Just as you wouldn’t take your sports-ambivalent wife to a week of baseball training camp, try to figure out destinations the whole family can enjoy. That doesn’t mean it has to be Disneyland or the least common denominator. Think instead, of places that will have real highlights for all members of the family. New York City for example, can satisfy many many different types of people with museums, sports legends, nightlife, theatre, and even great parks. But pick a single-interest destination, like say, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the entire family better be into rocking out, or have other reasons for being in Cleveland.
  2. Ask your teen to help plan. We like the City Walks cards series because you can spread them out and deal them like cards. Easier for everyone to see than passing out a book, the cards give everyone a chance to pick an itinerary and there will still likely be things of interest for the whole group. They also come in a more limited series for kids. Either way, have everyone look through the guide books or websites and choose at least one thing they really want to do, so no one feels like they are being dragged along an entire holiday.
  3. Try to stay near the center of your destination and activities. Nothing aggravates family dynamics and the fatigue factor like long car trips or transit. Even if it means cutting back elsewhere, a great location can really ease a lot of tension when a trip back to the hotel is easy.
  4. Consider an apartment rental or hotel apartment. Nowadays, there are many more options than having the whole family stay in a single room. That’s not a vacation for you or your teeen. Short stay apartment rentals give you more space for your dollar and feature a kitchen for more casual meals (pizza!) and cheaper breakfasts.
  5. Let your teen choose things “you didn’t come all this way to do.” Even if you’re in National Park and your teen wants to spend an hour in the hotel arcade, let him have a little break from the stuff you “should” do.
  6. Set up a vacation budget. It’s better to give out a fixed amount for souvenirs and extras before the trip starts. If you say that the money is theirs to spend as they see fit and they keep whatever they don’t spend, you’ll create a strong lesson in budgeting, but you’ll also be amazed at how many things now seem unnecessary for them.
  7. Let them bring a friend. Obviously this isn’t a possibility on all trips, but when it’s possible, it might make for a great solution for you to get some downtime. Of course, now you’re responsible not only for yours, but someone else’s, so take this advice with a grain of salt based on the personality of your child and his or her friend.
  8. Go easy on the “no iPod/no video games” rule. While you may not let your kids be constantly plugged in at home, vacation may the time to let them escape into their own little world during long car, train, or plane rides. It gives them a little privacy and a little down time that might make everyone a little less stressed out than if you make them interact with you at close quarters during the entire holiday.
  9. Check yourself before you speak. It’s easy to get caught up in slights and disappointments during a tirp and to keep bringing them up. Small little fights are likely inevitable, but you can short circuit a lot of longer fights by counting to ten or just saying to yourself what you’re tempted to say out loud.
  10. Pack light. With airlines finding new ways to charge for previously free services, a large added expense may be checked bags, which, at $15 each one way, can add up very fast for a small family. Packing simply will also save a lot on back-breaking lifting, which usually is dad’s job.

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