Apr 02, 2014

Calling all BEATLES fans!

Ringo Star has written a children’s book and it includes a song and read-aloud CD! Octopus’s Garden is a darling book written by Ringo Starr and illustrated by Ben Cort. It’s based on the world-famous Beatles song and follows five children on a magical journey through the octopus’s garden.

The colorful illustrations show the happy children on their underwater adventure, and you can sing the words with your child. What fun! Perfect for children ages 4-8.


Mar 27, 2014

I started this blog in 2006 and at the time I titled it “Pass the Torch” with the sincere commitment to use it to focus on how to build character in my kids and put them out into the world someday as adults I’m proud to have had influence upon. While they are not yet adults, every once in a while I start to see the results of the efforts of so many who have had an impact on my kids. And it’s very gratifying:)


Mar 02, 2014

In the book,Zoom! Zoom!: Sounds of Things That Go in the City, by Robert Burleigh and Tad Carpenter, children get to celebrate the sights and sounds of the city. With fast-moving rhyming words that are fun to say with their “onomatopoeia”, readers see a “day in the life” of a city, from dawn until nighttime. While city kids will relate to the sounds and sights in the book, children from rural cities and suburbs can be introduced to city culture, opening a whole new world to those who have never visited the big city before.

The illustrations with subdued primary colors are pleasing to the eye and fun in the way that each car, bus and train become characters themselves. They are the reason for the Zoom! Zoom!

This book is great for readers ages 3-7 and I can’t wait to give this one to a little boy I know!


Feb 07, 2014

Here are a few more tips from our South African Adventure:

Check the exchange rate
When we visited South Africa in the summer of 2013 the exchange rate was 10 to 1, meaning we had a strong purchasing power with US dollars. While South Africans experience an expensive standard of living, with high costs for gas and utilities, as travelers we could take advantage of a significantly cheaper cost on lodging, gas, etc. Artisan products were very affordable too, so it can be worthwhile to plan to buy a lot to bring home, if the exchange rate is still the same. Locals told us that the US dollar was even with the Rand in 1994 at the end of apartheid. While the social issues have certainly improved since this change, the economy has struggled.

Watch for political unrest
In Summer 2013, Nelson Mandela was very ill and there was a concern that there might be civil unrest when he died. Now that he has passed away, I don’t know that this concern came to fruition, but this fear speaks to the deep divides that still exist in South African society. While we encountered wonderful people from all races and backgrounds, and we did not experience violence while we visited, we heard about it a lot, especially in the Johannesburg. Security is ubiquitous and every place of business had electric fencing, bars and/or security guards or guard dogs. The politics are corrupted and because of this the ANC is no longer endorsed by those who started it, like Desmond Tutu. We heard that election years can be especially troubling, so consider this when you go.

Meet the People

Above all, spend time getting to meet the wonderful people of South Africa. Wherever you go, you’ll have a chance to connect with people working in restaurants or resorts, selling artwork, giving tours and cleaning your room. While it’s important to speak carefully if the topic is politics or social issues, do get to know the diverse residents of this beautiful country. You’ll come away with a better understanding of the country and the many universal issues faced by South Africa.

South African Adventure
South Africa – Tips Part II


Jan 12, 2014


This past summer our family traveled to South Africa and this is a list of tips that helped to make this a great adventure!

Don’t assume the flights are too expensive
We traveled in June-July and the roundtrip flight from Chicago to Johannesburg was just over $950. Flights to Capetown were significantly more expensive. We had a layover in Amsterdam, and flights directly to Amsterdam were actually more expensive than to Johannesburg. It was a very long pair of flights – 8 and 10 hours.

Go on safari like the South Africans do
Most likely “South Africa Safari” as a Google search will result in numerous hits for private safari companies that cater to your every whim to the tune of $500 per person, per day. Instead, do it like the South Africans do – simply book a rondavel at Kruger National Park for about $100 per night, and stay in the park. It’s much like Americans would visit Yellowstone. You drive on paved roads throughout the park and look for the Big Five. We saw every animal we were looking for, except wild dogs, which are very endangered.

Visit Soweto with a professional guide
We used Pieter Strydom from Big Six Tour Safaris and he was fabulous. A guide like this can give you amazing insight to the culture in South Africa, and Pieter was able to answer many questions about the history, economics and current turmoil.

Buy tire insurance, but reconsider the four-wheel drive
We had booked a four-wheel drive vehicle, which cost an extra $500 per week, but in our first bed and breakfast stay, our hosts said we really didn’t need it, since the clearance was no better on the Honda CRV than it would be in a sedan, and June/July is the dry season. So we took the car back to First Car Rental and they made a simple switch which resulted in a huge discount. The sedan worked as well as the CRV would have – the low clearance was a little tight a few times on unpaved roads, but there was never a reason for 4-wheel drive in the dry season.

Be prepared with a few Rands to tip the gas station attendants
Every gas station is full service, and it can be startling to have men surround your car as soon as you drive up. They will fill up, wash your windows, and bring the credit card machine to your car so you don’t have to let go of the card. It is customary to tip the attendant 2-5 Rands, which is a very small tip in dollars. Unfortunately, we didn’t have cash when we first filled up, and when we returned to the car, the tire was flat… The attendants helped us to switch to the spare and we drove to the next town. A local got the station owner to open up the store on a Sunday afternoon to take care of our tire. Tire insurance came in handy!


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