Screen-time stats, household hacks for a Camas SAHM-blogger and Operation Full Belly.

Take Five: Margot Black
Getaway: Salem, Ore.
Apps We Love: Say Cheese
TOP 5…Places to Sit with Santa
Bookmark This: Mom Smarts
Good Deeds: No Belly Left Behind
Pay Attention: New Year. New Laws.
Chalkboard: Screen Scene
Playlist: Home is Where the Heart Is
We Recommend

Take Five: Margot Black

Play Room - Take dec15When Margot Black and her family faced a no-cause eviction she resolved to take action for renters’ rights. With housing costs rising wildly in Portland and tenants facing unplanned moves, she started a Facebook group called PDX Renters Unite! and now sits on the Portland City Club’s Affordable Housing Research Committee. Black, a mathematics and quantitative reasoning instructor at Lewis & Clark College, is now working to start a Portland tenants’ union.

Q: What are your concerns about the skyrocketing housing costs?

A: I’m concerned that the financial and emotional impacts of unpredictable housing expenses and involuntary displacement are so devastating they are hard to rebound from. A family that might have been able to buy a house may never be able to, given that they are paying more than a mortgage in rent and have nothing left to save, or because their savings have been depleted by involuntary displacement. I’m concerned that a family that was living on the edge will now be homeless.

Q: What impact can an unplanned move have on a family?

A: Best case scenario: You find a new unit in your same neighborhood/school district. In this case you just have to deal with the expenses associated with application fees, security deposits, moving supplies, and time off work spent searching for housing, filling out applications, packing, cleaning, and unpacking. This alone can cost a family $7,000. A more realistic scenario is that you can’t find anywhere to live in your current neighborhood so you also have to deal with helping your kids say goodbye to their friends and the familiarity of the neighborhood, and find (and pay start-up fees for) new, quality childcare, sign the kids up at new schools, and then manage a new (probably longer) commute to work. I know families living in cars right now that were responsible, rent-paying tenants a couple of months ago.

Q: What are you trying to achieve for Portland’s families?

A: I think that we need more affordable housing, some form of rent control, and measures to mitigate the impacts of involuntary displacement. Essentially I want to make sure that everyone has safe and secure housing they can afford.

Q: Have you had any successes for far?

A: I’d say that the biggest success is just drawing awareness to the issue. When Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) declared their Renter State of Emergency, they got an unprecedented response from the city the next day. This led to some moderately improved renter protections (longer notice periods on rent increases and no-cause terminations).

Q: How can other PDX parents get involved?

A: Join CAT (it’s only $10 a year), attend neighborhood association meetings and demand that they make affordable housing and tenants’ rights a neighborhood issue, and follow Portland Tenants United FB page for announcements on how to get involved with Portland’s metro-wide union.

— Denise Castañon

Getaway: Salem, Ore.

Play Room - Getaway-dec15No matter if your politics are red, blue or purple, Oregon’s capitol city features plenty of attractions to keep you and the kids busy. Drop by the Gilbert House Children’s Museum (116 Marion St. NE) to let the littles build tracks, forts and big blue foam structures to their heart’s content. The Riverfront Carousel (101 Front St. NE) is a six-minute walk from the Gilbert House through Riverfront City Park. (Rides are free on Christmas and New Year’s Day!) The Salem Public Library has an all-ages family storytime at 11 am on Saturdays. If you’re visiting Tuesday through Friday, grab breakfast or lunch at Stone Soup in the library’s lower plaza level. Be sure to take a tour of the state Capitol building (900 Court St. NE), with or without a guide, and climb the 121 steps to the observation deck at the base of the “gold man” that sits atop the building. For dinner swing by Donatello’s Pizza (3981 Commercial St SE) for thin crust pizza and a lots of old school video games and pinball machines. Rest up in the Grand Hotel in Salem’s Grand Family Suite, which offers two queen beds in a main room with a king (and another TV) in another bedroom, (201 Liberty Street SE).

— D.C.

Apps We Love: Say Cheese

Let’s face it: One way or another, your kids are going to get ahold of your phone, and when they do, they’ll inevitably shoot some selfies. What’s that you say? You don’t WANT a burst of 50 photos of your kid’s chin? Fix them up with these kid-friendly photography apps, and they might just snap a keeper or three this holiday season.

Playroom-AppsWeLove-Kidomatic-dec152Kidomatic Camera: The height of hilarity for the early reader set. Kids can embellish their photos by adding everything from mustaches to tiaras to unicorn horns, and even put their shots into decorative frames. Just be careful of the frequent pop-ups urging in-app purchases (or shell out for the $2.99 version, which is free from the come-ons). For iPhone and iPad.

Playroom-AppsWeLove-ToonCamera-dec152ToonCamera: This is the app for the kids in your life who can’t get enough graphic novels. The editing tool gives all their photos a cool, hand-drawn cartoon effect — it’s like their life, filtered through a TinTin lens. $1.99 for iPhone and iPad.

Playroom-AppsWeLove-PicCollage-dec152PicCollage: For budding tweens who want to delve a little more deeply into digital photo editing — in another era, they might have been scrapbookers. This fun app lets kids create yearbook-style photo collages; they can choose from a wide array of embellishments, too, with kid-appropriate emoji. Free for iPhone and iPad.

– Julia Silverman

TOP 5…Places to Sit with Santa

Play_Room_-_Top_5-dec15Macy’s Santaland in downtown. Drop a letter to Santa in the red mailbox and Macy’s will donate a dollar to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Christmas in Dairyville at the Alpenrose Dairy — a Portland tradition!
Lloyd Center — there’s nothing like the classic mall Santa experience.
Dennis’ Seven Dees Garden Centers host Santa and his reindeer, it’s BYO-camera and free! Dec. 4 at Lake Oswego, Dec. 5 at SE Portland and Dec. 6 at Cedar Hills.
➎ Santa gives out a small gift to kiddos who visit him at Bridgeport Village.

Bookmark This: Mom Smarts

PLay_Room_-_Bookmark_This-dec15Play_Room_-_Bookmark_This-dec15On her new blog, thepicklednipple.com, Jen Grosman of Camas, Washington, offers up handy hacks to get stuff done simply — from recommending time-saving gadgets for your home (install electrical outlets with built-in USB ports — genius!) to decorating cupcakes like a boss (just roll that frosted top in sprinkles). Grosman left her job in sporting goods product merchandising and sales to stay home with her kids. Other stay-at-home parents looking for fun projects to keep the kiddos entertained will also find nifty ideas. Our favorite tip from this mom of 3-year-old and 1-year-old boys: homemade yogurt teethers! Just plop your kiddo’s favorite yogurt in a medallion-shaped silicone ice mold, pop in the freezer until firm, unmold and hand to cranky, teething child.

— D.C.

Good Deeds: No Belly Left Behind

Play_Room_-_Good_Deeds-dec15Portland mom Rachael Yost was searching for a way to help the homeless with her young children in tow when it hit her: She should start with lunch. She posted her idea on Facebook and in June 2015 distributed 125 lunches with the help of other local families. In September, her group — now named Operation Full Belly — distributed even more lunches and additional packs of toiletry items. Helping the homeless is a cause important to Yost, an accountant at Dave’s Killer Bread (which donates loaves), because her brother lived on the streets of downtown Portland for several years before getting back into stable housing. Now, her 4-year-old daughter goes along when they give the lunch packs away. “There was a young girl who she gave a toothbrush and toothpaste to and the girl gave her a picture she had colored. My daughter held it the rest of the day and still has it because of how special it is to her,” says Yost, “Sometimes the act of helping and showing the homeless respect is more of a gift to them than the actual sandwich.”

Operation Full Belly will distribute more lunches and toiletries on December 12. To donate food, high-quality socks or toiletries, or help prepare or distribute lunches visit facebook.com/operationfullbelly for more information.

— D.C.

Pay Attention: New Year. New Laws.

A new year means new laws in Oregon. Starting January 1, a number of the laws passed in the 2015 legislative session will go into effect. And some of them will have an immediate impact on families throughout the state. Here’s a few to watch for in the new year:

  • SalemCapitol-dec15Before the next round of state standardized testing starts in the spring, expect to get a letter in the mail from your public school, giving you concrete information about how much time the tests will take and what they cover. You’ll also be told you can opt your kids out of the tests if you like, which could push up the numbers of kids statewide who sit out testing day. Need more info? Look up HB 2655.
  • Birth control refills just got a whole lot easier. Under House Bill 2879, you won’t have to make an appointment with your doctor to get a prescription anymore — pharmacists will be allowed to write the scrip. And a companion bill, House Bill 3343, will require insurers to pay for a 12-month supply of birth control all at once — so your trips to the pharmacist will be much less frequent.
  • The results of Oregon’s new, first-in-the-nation, motor-voter law will get their first real test during this spring’s primary elections. Under the law, Oregonians who get a driver’s license will be automatically registered to vote. That could mean an influx of thousands of new voters in a presidential election year.

– J.S.

Chalkboard: Screen Scene

Chalkboard_August14_Oregon_BabyNames2Modern kids are all digital natives — we might be able to remember a time before there was a smartphone in every pocket, but they won’t. And increasingly, groups like the respected American Academy of Pediatrics are adapting their screen time recommendations to the realities of 2015. Yes, screen time is still discouraged for kids under the age of 2, but even then, there are some gray areas. FaceTime or Skype with a grandparent who lives far away, for instance, can be terrific for kids, even toddlers. And the AAP says that well-made, educational videos and apps can help bridge the achievement gap for kids over the age of 2. (Need help tracking down apps that will fit that bill? We love the smart picks at commonsensemedia.org) Still, this evolution comes with caveats: Leaving the TV on all day as background noise doesn’t help kids, and neither does parental overuse of media. (Translation: there’s no shame about checking Facebook while you’re at the playground, but if you’ve been playing Candy Crush on your phone for 30 minutes straight, it’s probably time to go push your kid on the swing.) Another hot tip: Try to create tech-free zones at home. Dinnertime is a good time to put away all devices; and to ensure a good night’s sleep for everyone, turn off the screens at bedtime.

— J. S.

Playlist: Home is Where the Heart Is

Play_Room_-_Playlist-dec15With his charming, youthful voice, Tim Kubart of the Sprout Channel’s Sunny Side Up Show offers up Home, a pure polished pop album for kids. Press play when your kids are in the mood for joyful hooks and lyrics. The tracks on Home, especially Sunday Crafternoon and Backyard Swinging, capture little snapshots from an idyllic, suburban childhood. Other tasty tracks include Dancing in the Kitchen and Breakfast Club.

— D.C.

We Recommend:

Youtubing British comedian Michael McIntyre’s side-splitting take on the difficulties of leaving the house when you have children. (“PUT YOUR SHOES ON! Where did you see them last?” In kid’s voice: “Um, on my feet?”)  … People with no kids don’t know

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