Review of the Quilted North South Overnight LUG Bag


The Quilted North-South Overnight Lug Bag is a useful accessory to carry-on luggage for families and solo travelers. With its multiple compartments and pockets, it has become a welcome addition to our family arsenal of luggage.

lug pinkOff the bat, I’d like to mention how this is NOT a paid post or advertisement of any sort.
In fact, I purchased all four of these bags on QVC and paid full price.
I chose a different color for of each family member to make it easy for each of us to identify our bags quickly. The bag is suitable for kids and adults with its easy to handle zippers and velcro closures.The beauty of the multiple pockets is the fact that everything we pack has its place so we can find it quickly and retrieve it as needed;  whether we are waiting in a busy TSA line or during a flight.After having tried various bags over the years, this product soon became a favorite with its stylish looks and sturdy build.


Started in 2005, the company’s founders Ami and Jason met at a trade show in Las Vegas in 2004. They started LUG, headquartered in Ontario, Canada by making luggage belts and luggage tags in bright colors and then, as they say, necessity led to invention. Having to commute to visit each other, they began to design bags to meet the needs of consumers just like themselves.
Sticking to its signature bright colors, the company expanded into manufacturing bags with organizational features that are now patented.

The Quilted North/South Overnight bag Puddle Jumper 2.0  that we own is the upgraded version of the 1/0. I got the hot pink one while my sons and husband chose the more muted masculine dark colors.
It is 100% polyester and 15″W x 16″H x 7″ D in size which makes it a perfect size to fit either the airplane overhead bin or under the seat depending on the occasion.The has the option of tote handles or the crossbody strap; my son with autism slikes to use the backpack option while I prefer the shoulder strap. Best of all it attaches to my carry-on suitcase with a unique handle on the side.

I appreciate details the bag offers like the detachable mirror, the ventilated shoe compartment, pockets on the outside that fit my phone, water bottles , even a pocket for my business cards. Moreover, I can fit my laptop as well as my purse inside with plenty of room to spare for additional things I need to ‘shlep’ around.
This year,I have used it countless times on my travels and can testify it is not only sturdy but surprisingly enough even  machine washable!

Like any other travel products the bag does have some cons as well.
The product is currently priced at over 100 dollars which is on the high side for a  fabric travel bag .
Furthermore, because of its padded design, it is heavier than many of its competitors which might be a challenge when luggage weight is a consideration.

The  Lug Quilted North/South Overnight Bag – Puddle Jumper bag , available in over a dozen colors, retails for  $97.50 and can be purchased on the   LUG website or on  QVC where we bought ours.


Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops


As a Parent of two sons, one of which has Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops pinactivities that would help my son’s overall fine motor coordination.

One of the biggest challenges that we faced as a family was that we traveled quite often, and our son with autism naturally joined us. We noticed that he was very enthusiastic about touching various textures and surfaces in nearly every place we’ve traveled to. We were not always in an environment where touching was possible or safe, so in an effort to give him a tactile outlet, I turned to food as a motivator. I have to say that it worked like a charm.

Our son even’ let go’ off his sensory defenses and agreed to touch all sorts of things that under normal circumstances he would refuse to. We were amazed to see that anything; even the sticky and gooey messes didn’t deter him, as long as he could enjoy the end product as something edible later.

How our tradition started.

The very first recipe that we tried in our family was actually in a self-catering Timeshare apartment in Hawaii over a decade ago. On a rainy afternoon when the kids were bored and getting antsy, I decided to try out my friend’s recipe for non-bake granola pops to see how my son would do after purchasing a family sized box at our local Walmart store.

As he is an avid fan of Lucky Charms Cereal because of the marshmallows and shapes, and peanut butter we always made sure we had an extra box and jar with us. My friend’s recipe originally called for dates, but I substituted the granola and dates for my son’s favorite cereal and peanut butter; which seemed would be perfect for my experiment.

The afternoon turned out to be a huge success because both of our kids tried their hands at it.

They loved mixing the sticky mess made by warm peanut butter and sugar, then adding the cereal in, molding the balls, dipping them in chocolate and of course eating them.
They didn’t even mind the waiting time for the pops to set in the fridge.

It was so successful in fact that this became somewhat of a family tradition with us.To this day, we still carry a Family sized Lucky Charms box with us every time we go on a road trip together or know we will stay in a timeshare.

This week  El Día de Los Niños, which is The Day of the Child, is celebrated in Mexico and in honor of this special day, I’m sharing this recipe with you so in turn your family can create wonderful memories with your family. If you are looking for additional inspiration there are delicious recipes on  the quericavida  website and on this Día de Los Niños Pinterest Board you can try.

Recipe for Lucky Charm No-bake Pops

*You will need a working stove top and refrigerator for this recipe.

The ingredients:

1 cup light corn syrup

1 cup sugar

1 ¼ cups peanut butter 

6 cups Lucky Charms cereal 

1 bag (12 oz) white chocolate chips (2 cups),

1 bag (12 oz ) dark chocolate chips 2 cups

32 Lollipop sticks




Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops peanut butter


 In a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven, heat corn syrup and sugar to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
Cook until sugar is dissolved; remove from heat. Add 1 cup of the peanut butter; stir until smooth.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops clusters

When it is cold to the touch, add Lucky Charm cereal; mix well. Grease a baking tray.
Break off walnut-sized portions of the Lucky Charm mixture, roll into a ball and place on the baking tray.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops balls

Have water in a saucer to prevent your hands from getting sticky while working with the mix.
Place a lollipop stick upright into the middle of each ball. Place the tray in the fridge for half an hour.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops sticks

 In a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, melt the white chocolate chips with remaining 1/4 cup peanut butter, stirring constantly.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops chocolate chips


Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops melted chocolate

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops dark chocolate

Dip each Lucky Charm Pop into the mixture and return to the greased baking sheet.
Refrigerate about 30 minutes or cool completely at room temperature until chocolate is set.
Repeat steps for the dark colocate.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops final pops

For this post; I made two batches of this recipe substituting dark chocolate for white in the 2nd batch just for some variety, but you can use just one type if you want to speed up the process.
Once these are set, they should be kept cool.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops diagonal cut

I have to say that this recipe is incredibly easy and after ten years of making it, my sons still love to help roll out the pops.
It is budget-friendly with few ingredients and suitable for children of all ages. I even have to hide these from my husband who can eat several in one sitting.
Clean up is a breeze so parents need not  stress over kids messing up the kitchen, and as long as there is an adult to supervise the stove-top, it is completely safe too.
This makes it a great treat to take camping or on road trips.They travel exceptionally well if kept in  Ziplocs in a thermal bag with ice packs.

Do you have any unique recipes that you enjoy making with your kids? Share with us.

This is a sponsored post by General Mills Big G Cereals via Acorn Influence.  All opinions are my own.   

Review of the Ricardo Elite Roxbury 2.0 Carry-On Suitcase

Review of the Ricardo Elite Roxbury 2.0 Carry-On Suitcase collage

With college graduations fast approaching and summer in full swing many parents, myself including, are in search of new luggage. 

For years, we’ve traveled with matching flower patterned suitcases, but I needed a more businesslike look for our son to use during his summer internship in Northern California.
So I was excited to get the Ricardo Elite Roxbury 2.0,21-inch expandable carry-on suitcase and test to see how it would measure up using my own top tips for buying luggage.

Features I liked

This range of suitcase comes in three great colors: Cherry, Mulberry and Brushed Silver.
They stand out among all the black bags everyone uses and are gender-neutral making them suitable for male and female travelers alike.
I received the Cherry that shows damage quickly so if you are one of those travelers who cares how their luggage looks after a flight or two, go with the lighter colors that show scratches less.

Hard Shell
The Ricardo Elite Roxbury 2.0 is made of hard-shelled plastic which makes it stain and weather proof.
The lined texture on the front and back add visual interest and help mask any scratches that otherwise would be visible had they been a shiny flat surface.

The carry-on comes with an extra zipper that expands the width of the suitcase by an inch and a half which is helpful when you return home with more items than originally packed.

Self-Healing Zippers
The superior quality is evident here in comparison with many suitcases I’ve tested in the past. The zippers are metal tipped, hollow, so you can attach ribbons to mark your bag, and longer in size making them a lot more user-friendly than most other suitcase zippers.

The Handles
A suitcase should have at least two handles to make it easier to grab off carousels and overhead bins, and this one fits the bill with a total of three; two on the top and a  one on the side.
The top telescopic double handle has a comfortable, ergonomic shape that makes it easy to roll from any position, and the height is appropriate for taller travelers too. The other two handles made out of non-slip rubber are very comfortable to grab.

The Wheels
The wide, sturdy wheels spin 360° without any difficulty and are very user-friendly when carried on carpeted areas, which some airports still have.

 Internal Organization
Unlike many of the carry-on bags, this one is intelligently built out of a durable fabric and comes with an additional zipped divider pocket making it perfect for storing electronic devices and cords. Also, it has a built-in loop to hold a suit in place.

What could be improved

The Weight
Though the suitcase is advertised as lightweight, it is still heavier than many of its competitors being sold on the market today. While it may be true that a pound might not be a concern for those traveling domestically, it can be quite important when traveling internationally on airlines that have a strict carry-on weight policy.

The TSA Lock
The TSA lock turned out to be a challenge to figure out and cumbersome to use so we almost gave up on both after the first flight.
Overall, the suitcase performed surprisingly better than expected and it is evident that the company stands firmly behind their product offering a ten-year warranty.

For my son’s and even my purposes, I would check the 19-inch hard face EZ access mobile office, which is smaller but comes with a useful outside pocket that can accommodate a 15-inch laptop or l full sized tablet.
The Roxbury 2.0 by Ricardo is sold for $149.99 at major department stores and internet retailers.

Disclaimer I received a Richardo Roxbury 2.0 suitcase for review purposes with no other compensation.All opinions expressed are my own and can’t be swayed or bought.


Review of AT&T Unite for GoPhone by NETGEAR

As a professional blogger and mother to a son with autism, it seems I’m always in search of working Wi-Fi. For several years, I’ve been sitting on the fence on whether I should get my personal Wi-Fi hotspot device or run around looking for free Wi-Fi in coffee shops and libraries.

I finally caved in and decided to try one, and it couldn’t have come at a better time! My elderly mother broke her hip, and I had to take my son with autism with me to attend to her; spending days on end in the hospital and doctors’ offices.

That’s when the AT&T’s  GoPhone prepaid Unite mobile hotspot truly became like my ‘mommy’s little helper’. My son was kept engaged playing games or movies on his tablet while I was able to continue working and keep connected to my important social media activities.Review of AT&T Unite for GoPhone by NETGEAR

What is it?

The AT&T  Unite for GoPhone by Netgear is the size of a deck of cards and is a good option to obtain data when going places where you can’t connect to free service.The mobile hotspot boasts 4G LTE data speed and allows you to tether up to ten devices, so you don’t have to choose whose or which device uses it first.

The GoPhone mobile hotspot turns on quite fast and works by connecting itself to the nearest cellular tower thereby permitting you to stream on-the-go. Reportedly it battery can last up to ten hours! It is useful while traveling as well as in everyday life for paying bills, keeping kids entertained, respond to e-mails or even to Skype with loved ones. I’ve used it in the States, but colleagues have told me that the Unite Pro version works abroad as well; its speed depending on the country you are in.

How to use it?

Set-up was a breeze and the touch screen made it easy to navigate between all the settings. This qualifies as user-friendly; even my 90-year-old mom learned to use it! All one needs to remember is to activate the device and data card from a laptop or phone that they are connected to WiFi before starting to use it.

Where to find it and pricing options?

The AT&T  GoPhone prepaid Unite hotspot is priced at $79.99 at AT&T stores but can also be purchased at other retailers like  BestBuy, Walmart, and Amazon.There are several different plan options, so you need to assess which one suits your needs best.AT&T offers a weekly 15$ for 250MB  and three monthly plans 2GB at 25$ and 5GB for 50$ and 8GB for 75$.
Be advised these plans don’t rollover, so the data plan expires at 7 or 30 days exactly.

What I Liked about it

The security!
As a blogger, I liked the fact that I was able to access my social media accounts without worrying about entering my password, and everything was secure as opposed to using an open network.

The flexibility!
Being able to buy data as needed without being bound to a monthly or yearly contract and not being tied to the house is so convenient. I can go for weeks away from home; at times using the device for hours on daily basis.

The efficiency!
The fact that there is a reminder message on how much-purchased data is left so I know whether I needed to purchase more and when.The company even has a data usage calculator to help customers determine what plan they require.
I was impressed with the guest setting that enabled me to help out another mom while we were waiting for own mom to get out of surgery.

So, what could be improved?

What I’d like to see most is a lower price. I’m sure that more customers would jump in at a lower price or a larger gigabyte option for the same price. The 5G a month was tight for us since my son with autism loves to stream movies, and I needed to be on social media on a continuous basis. I would like to see AT&T bring 10 and 15G affordable options so more customers would find the plan that suits them best.Overall, the unit performed better than I expected and soon became an integral part of my device arsenal in my purse along with the phone, tablet, and laptop.

Disclaimer: AT&T supplied a product and a 5Gig data plan for review purposes, but no other form of compensation was received. Opinions in the post reflect my personal and honest opinions.



Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks

My son and I came across Speed Stacks® last week at the TradeWinds resort during our visit to the NAC 2014 conference in St Pete, Florida.
In fact, what brought the toy to my attention was that while I was walking around and networking, my son who has never shown any aptitude when it comes to manual dexterity was sitting and using both hands to stack the cups!
In additional, the kid that hates standing up for almost anything spent over two hours standing and stacking the cups!
And perhaps the most surprising of all, he was talking to peers and taking turns playing the game, something he hadn’t done in years.
I figured three reasons would be enough to make me want to investigate this phenomenon further!


Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks TABLE
What is speed stacking?

Sports stacking first appeared in Southern California and is now a popular school sport thanks to Speed Stacks® founder Bob Fox; a former school teacher turned entrepreneur from Colorado, who we had the pleasure of meeting at the conference.
In fact, there are more than 4 thousand schools worldwide that have successfully incorporated the sport into their PE program.
The sport has evolved into a huge trend and now has clubs, competitions around the world and even holds a Guinness World Book record.
The game involves timed stacking and restacking of multiple cups in geometric patterns in pre-established sequences.
In today’s internet world, newbies to the game can learn tricks from youtube videos as well as compare scores on different forums dedicated to the favorite topic.

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks OWNER
The product

The primary Speed Stack® kit made by Bob Fox’s company comes with a dozen indestructible cups that stack and attach themselves to a plastic stem, a mat, and a stopwatch to encourage gamers to time themselves.
There are also school kits that contain cups in different colors for multiple players, and they even market a miniature set that is perfect for traveling with.
You can learn the technique and rules relatively fast by reading the attached manual or watching the company’s videos on YouTube. You can just access the information by scanning the barcode on the stem of cups. My son picked up the essential skill in the first 20 minutes and has been continuously practicing his moves for the past few weeks.

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks GAME

Why should you buy it for your child with autism?

As a parent in a family that travels a lot, I loved the product for multiple reasons.

Speed Stacks® is great not only for occupying children on planes and in airport settings, but it promotes problem-solving and understanding of geometrical patterns.
Moreover, it enhances connections between right and left-brain, which are crucial for those with autism.

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks KIDS

Another encouraging quality I noticed about the Speed Stacks® was its ability to help gamers connect with peers through play.
This is vital for children with autism. Our son who is usually shy and doesn’t interact with others played against several teens he met at the conference and had a great time.

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks HALL
Where to purchase.

You can get your set by ordering online or at specialty retail stores that are listed on their website.

Disclaimer: Special thanks to Speedstackers for providing us with a complimentary sample of the game for the review. However, the tips and opinions shared are always our own.



Panasonic’s Lumix ZS40 Perfect to Capture Disney Moments


As a traveling mom with special-needs kids, I’m on the continuous lookout for products that cannot only enhance my travel experience but help me save time and effort.

For some time now I been searching for my ‘perfect’ camera after systematically having gone through multiple point and shoots and DSLR’s –the first being too flimsy with a short battery life and the latter too bulky and cumbersome to carry around the Disney theme parks.

Like many other travelers, I turned to my I-phone and I-pad for the solution.
The main advantage, as I saw it was that I was already carrying the devices for my son with autism, but the downside (I soon discovered) was that though most pictures looked passable on small screens, they ended up too grainy to print or use when enlarged.

Panasonic's Lumix ZS40 Perfect to Capture Disney Moments PAN .

This spring I was introduced to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 camera at the Travelingmom conference in Walt Disney World, Orlando, where I had the opportunity to assess its performance in various park settings under the different weather(including pouring rain) and lighting conditions.

And I have to admit I was captivated.

When it comes to photography, this nifty gadget presents a distinct advantage in comparison to smartphones and tablets with helpful features that make it a user-friendly option for most.


The  Lumix Panasonic has a creative settings mode that allows you to chose the filter you are going to photograph in before you take the picture. This, of course, is a huge time saver that was only available in the past only when you edited your images in Adobe Photoshop or  Aviary.
My son loves playing around with the feature and creating new images.

Sturdy Case

Off the bat, I knew I needed a camera that doesn’t break easily.The ZS40, though quite compact and lightweight has a sturdy plastic case and is easy to hold onto (unlike I phone that can easily slip out of your hands) because of its design as well as the two nubs that hold the neck band securely in place.

This is a camera I could let my teen borrow to take on a roller coaster ride and not have to worry whether it would come back damaged in any way.


Panasonic's Lumix ZS40 Perfect to Capture Disney Moments EPCOT

Powerful Zoom lens

The 30x lens on the camera may not be the best zoom lens I have ever worked with but certainly is a huge step up from any I -phone and  I- pad, providing a good range for such a small-sized gadget.
Best of all it works well on video too, like you can see on my video of Epcot’s Illuminations shot at nighttime in the pouring rain.

Battery life

Another issue I experienced when working on my I -phone and I-Pad was their short battery life.
I would have to recharge them after an hour or two, depending on how many pictures and videos I would take.
The battery on this camera has decent battery power that can last at least half the day with a minimum of 350 pictures.




Good video quality

Hands down the quality of video this camera shoots is superior to any I -phone, or I -pad especially in low lighting or nighttime settings. Here’s a video shot on my first try after having the camera for a few hours.


Panasonic's Lumix ZS40 Perfect to Capture Disney Moments CAMERA

Extra features that I -phones, I-pads (and point shoot cameras)  don’t have


  • A separate electronic viewfinder (EVF)
    The I -phone, iPad and all point and shoot cameras use an LCD screen that may be user-friendly but is rendered useless when you try to take a picture facing direct sunlight. That’s when you need a separate viewfinder!
    The viewfinder can also help with keeping the camera steady and allows for optical correction, which my entire family found particularly helpful since we all wear glasses.
  • Manual setting capacity
    The camera’s manual settings enable the user to take his/her photography to the next level.
    You can adjust the light, exposure and focus to shoot the shots you have always wanted. Moreover, the camera allows you to customize the C1 and C2 settings to the ones you regularly use akin to programming your favorite channels on your car radio. I have my C1 set to the sports mode perfect for capturing my snapshots when I’m on the  Magic Kingdom roller coasters.
  • Exposure bracketing
    This ZS40 can take many shots in rapid sequence so you can go back later and pick the best one and never miss that particular moment your kid touches the finish line or scores that incredible touchdown in a game.
  • Saving raw format
    This is a more advanced feature that many won’t necessarily use but nonetheless a nice one to have on such a small camera.
    The raw feature allows users to capture the entire information on a photograph, download the data into a computer and manipulate it to create the perfect JPG image.


Panasonic's Lumix ZS40 Perfect to Capture Disney Moments GEAR

But don’t ditch that I -phone or I -pad just yet.
The z40 is meant to work in tandem with your smart or tablet especially when it comes to WI-FI connectivity

The camera uses the free Panasonic Imaging app that enables users to share pictures and videos on social media.
It also comes with a GPS function that is helpful to use to pinpoint where particular pictures were taken.
What you do need to remember is to put your GPS on airplane mode when you are not traveling since the GPS  stays on even when your camera is turned off and will drain the battery!

The ZS40 also gives the user the option of controlling the camera remotely by using the Panasonic application on the I-phone or I-pad. You can change the zoom, focus point, and shutter speed before taking that selfie at Cinderella’s Castle or photographing the wildlife at the Animal Kingdom.

Bottom line, the ZS40 is a  user-friendly camera that can be used by people of all ages.You should consider purchasing one for your family and travel needs if you are looking for a way to upgrade your basic I-phone photography.
For additional conveniences buy a cheap $8 mini tripod( extra video stabilization) along with a spare battery and an external charger on to complete your ZS40 travel kit.


Discloser: I received the Panasonic Lumix ZS40 camera to review at the TravelingMom retreat in Walt Disney World, but all opinions are my own.


Q&A with Jesemine Jones of ‘Starbrite Kids’


Q&A with Jesemine Jones of Starbrite Kids' fair


What is your personal connection to the special needs community?

We are founders of the Starbrite Kids Program and Starry Night Travel, LLC, a travel agency that specializes in planning travel for families with a child with special needs. We have fifty years of combined experience educating children with a broad spectrum of disabilities.

What is Starbrite and how did the concept come to be?

Starbrite is a program that provides parents the help and supports needed to make travel not only possible but a rewarding and enriching experience.

Throughout the years, we had repeatedly heard how difficult it was for parents to go anywhere with their child with special needs. Hearing this along with our belief that every child should be afforded the same opportunity to travel led us to open our travel agency and write books for our parents. Starbrite Kids’ Travel, LLC donates a portion of the proceeds from our books and travel agency to children’s charities.

Would you advise first time traveling parents to plan their vacation or use a travel agent?

Our resource book is an extensive, well-organized, step-by-step resource. It is parent-friendly and includes questionnaires, timelines, family planners, and evidence-based strategies, and activities. However, if your child has a significant medical history or mobility issues, you may want to use this book in conjunction with a special needs travel agent to ensure all accommodations and special provisions are put in place before travel.


Q&A with Jesemine Jones of 'Starbrite Kids' airport rules

What is it and what is the difference between the fun and the W.A.I.T bag?

The  W.A.I.T Box is put together by the parent with their child’s interests and abilities in mind. It is portable and provides a distraction for your child when required to wait.

What are your best packing tips for families with autism?

Give your child his suitcase. Include him in the process of getting ready for the trip by giving him choices of what to wear. For example, you can lay out five shirts and tops and have him pick 4 of them. When packing, place your child’s clothing in the order they will need to put on while dressing. For example, top to bottom – place underwear, shirt, pants, and socks and tie each outfit together with a ribbon to secure. Place items you will be using first on the trip. Giving your child choices will give him a sense of independence.

How can parents prepare for unexpected issued during the trip?

For those unexpected situations when your child may be feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious relaxation techniques will help him cope/calm down. In our resource book, we provide several relaxation techniques that can be adjusted to your child’s age and cognitive level. Also, a “safe and quiet spot” is usually identified on the attraction Web site. Another useful technique is to use distractors to redirect inappropriate behaviors. Use positive reinforcers when child complies.

What tools can parents who want to practice at home for going through the TSA checkpoint use?

Create a visual story for your child about going through security, set up a mock security checkpoint in your home using a doorway or trellis. For an interactive Internet game, “Eric Goes to the Airport” visit

What would be your best advice for traveling parents?

Try to be prepared as much as possible before going on vacation.
Do this by:
Talking to your child about the family vacation.
Pick a quiet time when your child is calm. Sit together. Utilize visual aids such as brochures, maps, videos, magazines, and the Internet to give your child a picture of what to expect, where you are going, and what you may see.
Reflect on other trips or outings
Remember how he reacted when faced with challenging situations in the past either on a prior vacation or other outings.
Listen and observe how your child reacts. Both positively and negatively will give you insight into how he is feeling.
The goal is to identify trigger(s) and the obstacle(s) that need to be addressed before you trip.

In your book you recommend video-modeling and social stories as tools; which do you like better?

Video modeling and Carol Gray’s Social Stories are two examples of visual supports. Both are excellent visual aids that utilize visual items to communicate with children who have difficulty understanding language. Video modeling gives children the opportunity to view, practice, and imitate new behaviors. We have found many children love seeing themselves on the screen.

What are the top five safety tips parents should remember and implement?

First of all, think about the interventions that you use in your everyday life to deal with this behavior. Modify them to the parameters of your trip.

 Secure identification system

There are a variety of methods on the market.
You can use an ID bracelet, clothing with identification markings, or non-permanent tattoos, and GPS high-tech systems, to name a few.

 Safeguard your child and surroundings

Alert kits are available at some hotels.
If not available purchase a portable battery operated Motion Detector Alarm system to be placed on doors and windows in your cabin or hotel room.

 Identify  & Teach Safety Rules

Determine the safety rules you need to address with your child. Phrase rules regarding what your child should do and be sure to consider your child’s abilities and age.
The rules you identify will reflect where you are traveling.Teach your child safety rules, reinforce the rule on a regular basis. Look for teachable moments to reinforce safety rules so your child will know what to do in a real life setting.

Q&A with Jesemine Jones of Starbrite Kids' books

 Reinforce Safety Rules Using Interactive Activities

Our resource book provides interactive safety activities and games.

 Refer to available resources

A resource such as ‘The Big Red Safety Tool Kit’ is an excellent resource for parents offered by the National Autism Association.
The FBI also provides a free app for parents for I-Phones and Android operating systems.

 In your book, you mention theme parks sensory ratings; where can parents find them? 

Many parks offer accessibility guides on their Web site outlining the special provisions and sensory ratings for rides and shows.

 How would you encourage parents who have had a bad vacation experience to travel again?

It is important to identify the problematic issues before your next trip.
Our “Dry Run” chapter in our resource book offers strategies to address common travel concerns: Getting Ready for Vacation, Transportation, Vacation Expectations, Interacting with Others, and Staying Safe. The benefits of travel outweigh the downside.
The more practice your child has going places, the easier it will become.

Are there any plans to expand Starbrite; to videos or more books?

We are currently working on our third book, Starbrite Traveler: Destinations for Kids with Special Needs – West Coast Edition.

Q&A with Jesemine Jones of Starbrite Kids' list

Jesemine Jones earned a Masters of Social Work from Rutgers University and holds a certificate as a Teacher of the Handicapped. She is currently a social worker in the New Jersey public school system.



Q&A with Tony Gross of ‘TalkRocketGo’ mobile app

TalkRocket Go, the product of Canadian based company MyVoice, is an innovative mobile application for i-Pads and i-Phones that utilize voice synthesis technology to allow verbal communication for people with autism and brain injuries.
Some of the app’s unique features include: “locabularies”–location (GPS) based phrases—and an interactive “support studio” that enables family members or teachers to pre-program and add phrases as needed via Wi-Fi.
We chatted with MyVoice community director Tony Gross—who is a parent of a special needs child himself—to hear more about how the app can help travelers with autism.

Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' vacation

How did your company come up with the product?

TalkRocket Go was inspired by a lack of affordable speech aid options with personal and age-appropriate customization.
TRG harnesses GPS technology to create “location aware” vocabularies as well as enabling family members and therapists to program it remotely from any computer.

TalkRocket Go is the most accessible AAC application for physical disabilities and is used by thousands of people worldwide (both in English and in French) in all age groups (with our largest group being individuals with autism.)

photo 2Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' pack

What are the benefits of using TalkRocket Go for travelers with special needs?.

TalkRocket Go’ can be used to express basic or complex needs, make choices, and even engage in meaningful conversation.The result is inclusion in all aspects of life from education to employment to travel.
With the right tools and preparation, there is no reason families shouldn’t travel with family members with autism.

The behaviors and unforeseen circumstances most parents fear, usually stem from an inability to express oneself or cope with a situation the special -needs person feels outside their control. The app provides a voice for individuals with autism to self-advocate and to develop a greater sense of independence.

Furthermore, its vocabulary can be customized to include the person’s particular trip details such as itinerary, various addresses and phone numbers, favorite foods, and how to communicate in an emergency (or if lost).
Additionally, actual (personal or online) photos of airports, hotels or attractions can be added to the personal profile to help the special needs traveler identify the places he or she will be visiting.

photo -Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' essentials

Going through airports checks can be stressful for people with autism. How can the app help?

Details are important to those with autism so having every step of a trip documented, from taxi rides, check in at terminals, security, and customs, to in-flight experiences and what to do when things go wrong can be incredibly reassuring for travelers with autism.
The ease of programming on an i-Phone or i-Pad allows for the addition of digital pictures and new words in real time over Wi-Fi to address any unforeseen events.


photo 4-Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' flying

How can the app help with travel?

All they would need to do is pre-program details and photos of the person’s destination, home address, family or friends’ phone numbers, and phrases to ask for help.
The location awareness feature (GPS) of the i-Phone or i-Pad device can assist the travelers to navigate while TalkRocket Go’s ‘locabularies’ can offer words related to closest places. For example, while near or at your hotel, a folder of “hotel” words like a room, key, and passport will appear at the top of a list.

Can parents use the app to create social stories for traveling kids?

With the application, every picture with words can become a full-screen image.
One can tap to speak or swipe through like a digital book (which is easy, especially for younger kids).


Supporter-StudioTony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' screen

What sets your product apart from your competitors?

Every feature of TalkRocket Go pioneered something new or more sophisticated than other alternatives.
Introducing the use of any images, ‘locabularies’, and an appearance tailored to young, teenage, or adult users are the top features.

The online studio lets any supporter add content from anywhere that syncs instantly with a user’s device and is automatically backed up. This “cloud” design can also let you access your words across multiple different devices, whether it is an i-Pad in one setting, an i-Pod for portability in another, or even on a parent’s i-Phone as a reassuring backup. It’s sophisticated, easy to use and not technologically intimidating to families.

 Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo'

“Rachael Gross, age 17, lives with CP as a result of an acquired brain injury that happened while traveling around the world at age 5.
Despite many challenges, Rachael, and her family have resumed their travels; visiting Florida twice and Paris once. Their next destination will be New York City and hopefully a return visit to Paris, their all-time favorite.” Rachael already has her French TalkRocket Go AAC app ready to go.



Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID

Ask any parent and they will tell you that losing their child in a crowd is probably one of their biggest fears.
It can happen in an instant when you take your eyes off your child: in an airport, theme park even the local market.

When my kids were younger, I admit I was one of those moms writing my cell number with a sharpie on my kids’ arms before heading out almost anywhere. Over the years, I’ve met many parents to kids with autism( some non-verbal )who have expressed their concern not only for their children wandering off unsupervised but of their child’s ability to ask for help once they feel lost.
Enter the QR Code ID!
Created by Erin Wilson mother to a son with autism, the QR Code ID is a bar code that can be a applied to any item kids wear and can be easily scanned to obtain immediate medical and personal information when needed.

Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID hill top

Photo credit: Erin Wilson



What is QR Code ID?

QR Code ID provides information for those who are unable to communicate during critical moments.
It can be a lifesaver for people with Autism, Down Syndrome, Dementia and Alzheimer’s who may wander and not be able to ask for help.
It is also a useful tool for law enforcement and first responders in that it helps not only identify the person but understand the person’s behaviors and needs better.
The QR code information can either be scanned with a smartphone or accessed by manually entering a unique number associated with each profile on QR code’s website. Each profile contains emergency contact and behavioral information. This information can also be changed in real time, and parents have the capability to post messages like “We are on Main street looking for him-Please take him to the security gate.” or “My asthma inhaler is in the front pocket of my purse.” when needed.

What made you come up with the idea?

It started on a lunch date with my husband and I brainstorming about different options on the market that could be helpful for him if and when he ever got lost.
Our son Jay has moderate – severe autism with very limited language ability and has gotten lost before.
And then it dawned on me – we needed a way to relay his information that will always be with him.
That’s how I  first thought of using a QR code.
It’s funny, I had seen codes many times on grocery products before but never thought of using one to store personal information.
My husband, Bruce and I have been developing the concept since April 2012 and had a patent pending.
It’s true been a labor of love, a way for us to help families like ours first, and a business second.

Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID boy

Photo credit: Erin Wilson

What can QR code ID be printed on?

Some people have particular tactile concerns; others have items they carry with them, so we’re always looking for ways to address individual preferences.
Our company offers a line of clothing that was designed by special -needs’ artists button down shirts, polos, and T-shirts as well as hoodies.
For people preferring to use their clothing, we have the options printing the code bar on vinyl heat transfers.
Also, these codes can also be put on pins, clips, business cards, backpacks even suitcases.
We are currently testing temporary tattoos and hope to start offering that as an option soon too.

Is it available in other countries and other languages?

We’ve received many calls from places like Australia and the UK, so we’re working hard to make the site compatible on a global scale and hope to be offering our product in other languages shortly.

Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID fair

Photo credit: Erin Wilson


How does the code work and how user-friendly is it?

Our product is extremely user-friendly for both families and first responders.
All caregivers need to do is set up the person’s profile and keep the information current.
Each membership also has a password-protected secure site where relevant information such as diagnosis, allergies and medications can be stored and retrieved in an emergency.
I need to emphasize the importance for the person with the disability to wear their code at all times, which is why we have created so many product options.
QR is helpful for first responders since the subscriber’s profile page can be either scanned on any smartphone or tablet or manually entered on the website with a unique code.


How can it help traveling families?

When a family is traveling, they are out more than they may normally be, and in unfamiliar surroundings, which can present more opportunities for a person to become disoriented and lost.
We have a friend whose Dad was visiting from out of town. They went to the mall and lost Dad coming out of the bathroom.They think he turned the wrong way coming out of the restroom, and he was lost for several long hours.
It’s so stressful for the families, for both the person who is lost and individuals who are looking for them.Our hope is that QR code ID can turn those hours of stress and worry into a quick and happy reunion.


Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID charactrs

Photo credit: Erin Wilson


Erin Wilson used to be a carefree world traveler backpack style on a shoestring budget.
These days she is married to super involved husband Bruce and Mom to Grace and Jay.
Also, advocate, scheduler, caregiver and driver for 11-year-old son Jay who has moderate to severe Autism.  He has issues with waiting in lines and eating at sit down restaurants.
They try their best to have him be part of the community and enjoy travel while not embarrassing sister too much.  They have been able to do a couple of Vegas trips and many day trips around southern California.




Nancy Sathre-Vogel’s Book “Changing Gears”


I admit I was surprised when I was asked to review Nancy Sathre-Vogel’s current book “Changing Gears: A Family’s Odyssey to the End of the World”  that chronicles her family‘s biking journey.
By any standard, I am not the outdoorsy type—I can’t even ride a bike. Nevertheless, I have to say I’m happy I agreed since the book is a definite ‘must read.’


Review of Nancy Sathre-Vogel's "Changing Gears book family

Nancy is a natural-born storyteller who created quite the page-turner. She engages her readers from the start, and even the skeptics find themselves rooting for this family by the end of the first chapter.

She does not shy away from describing feeling beaten and wanting to give up—“…Sometimes you’ve had enough…you reach the end of your rope and can fight no longer…”— And portrays her adventure with brutal honesty that most parents with special-needs children will find refreshing.

Similarly, her stories of people writing disparaging remarks on her blog to criticize her parenting skills leaving her feeling hurt and second guessing her decisions will strike a cord with many exasperated parents.

Her recollections reminded me of the times I have had to endure school officials’ and family members’ criticism when making decisions concerning my child.

Changing Gears’ message to parents

Changing Gears is one of these books that once you start you just can’t put down. At first glance, the book seems to be a story of a riveting adventure; after all, very few of us have biked halfway around the world, let alone with two elementary school kids.

The trip they plan is so complicated that any incident carried the potential of derailing them from small events like a missing helmet or rainy days to more defining ones like bike thefts and severe sickness.

Nevertheless, as the story unfolds the readers start to understand the extent to which this fraught-filled journey helped shape and bond the Vogel family.

In the book’s finale,  Nancy’s recollection of how she reaches her destination is an extraordinarily touching moment that should resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to complete their goals.

As a parent to a special needs child, I can identify with her ‘ completion fatigue’ – the feeling of fighting for a goal for so long that you cannot thoroughly enjoy it when the moment finally happens.

However, the book’s deeper message is about encouraging families to pursue their dreams despite seemingly major setbacks: “…Living your dream won’t always be easy or fun…you’ll forge ahead even in the hard times…”

In many ways, the Vogel family’s completion of their mission is a milestone worthy of celebration for all of us parents.
It signifies how important it 
is for parents not only to “grab life by the horns,” and to live life to the fullest but to set an example for their kids to follow!

That simple but powerful message should inspire many families, especially those struggling with medical or mental issues, and remind them that sticking to their dreams together as a family should be their top priority.

Review of Nancy Sathre-Vogel's "Changing Gears' book book



After 21 years of classroom teaching, Nancy Sathre-Vogel made the decision to leave her teaching career behind to travel the world on a bicycle.

Together with her husband and twin sons, she cycled 27,000 miles throughout the Americas, including traveling from Alaska to Argentina. She currently lives in Idaho, with her family and pursues her passions of writing and bead work.



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