Wednesday's Child: Willie & Willene

Every Wednesday I feature a child recently highlighted by a local Wednesday's Child newscast to share the stories of children from around the country who are waiting for a family. My hope is that this can broaden exposure for the children highlighted, but also serve as a reminder that these children represent thousands of children currently in the foster-care system. Perhaps their stories will inspire you to consider opening your home to a child needing a family. For more information and to learn about other waiting children, visit AdoptUsKids


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A look at the Secrets and Dreams Resorts in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

A few weeks ago, my kids had plans to spend a week in Yosemite with their dad. I needed to get some writing done, and I also needed an escape from my house. Sweltering temperatures, no AC, and some construction being done have made my house a miserable place to be. I needed a getaway.

I'd been dreaming of returning to a Dreams Resort. I stayed at their property in Tulum a few years ago and immediately fell in love with their whole vibe. They call it "unlimited luxury" and it basically means that everything is taken care of. From food to drinks to little details, they've thought of everything and it's all included.

I reached out to the good folks at Dreams and they invited me to spend a few days at their resort in Cabo, but they also invited me to check out their sister resort in Cabo called Secrets Resort so I could do a little compare and contrast of the properties. I was thrilled because I've always wanted to stay at a Secrets Resort as well. It's their adults-only sister resort, so it's all of the unlimited luxury, without kids. A two-hour flight from LA and I was on my way.

I spent my first few nights at Dreams. It's a gorgeous beachfront property in Cabo, away from the party scene of downtown. 

They have two pools at the property, a big pool with fun activities all day for people of all ages, and a quiet pool. Since I was introverting on this trip, I spent most of my time there. Both pools were gorgeous, and overlooking the beach.

Oh - and to make the pool experience even more relaxing, there were servers coming by constantly offering drinks (all included). The hardest decision I had to make each day was whether to go for a mojito or a pina colada. (I did both.)

I know some people have hesitations about the food quality at an all-inclusive, but I'm happy to report that the food was AMAZING. Dreams had several restaurants, from formal to casual, as well as a buffet. I hit the buffet most mornings, but tried a different restaurant each evening. I was particularly fond of their Italian restaurant.

This was my view from breakfast every morning. The buffet was insane, and offered everything from a mimosa bar, fresh green juice, custom-made omelets, and traditional Mexican fair.

I made two daily goals for myself: eat at a new restaurant every evening, and watch the sunset every night. I'm proud to say I met this goal with gusto. The sunsets at Dreams were absolutely stunning.

I had a great time at Dreams and can’t wait to go back with my kids. It’s an ideal place for family vacations or reunions because there is something for everyone. There is a kids’ club that keeps children entertained all day, and the main pool had fun activities happening all day as well. I know my kids would love all of the options in terms of food – and I love that I don’t have to make any decisions.

 When my time at Dreams was up, I had mixed feelings. I didn’t want to leave. I loved the vibe, the view, and the serenity. But I was also excited to experience an adults-only resort.

My sadness at leaving Dreams was quickly abated once I got to Secrets. Everything I loved about Dreams was present at Secrets: the beach views, the well-appointed rooms, the amazing food, the flowing cocktails. The only thing missing was the kids. Which . . . I mean. Clearly I love kids. But when I'm not traveling with them, it was nice to be somewhere with all adults.

I wasn't sure what to expect of an "adults only" resort. I wasn't interested in a party scene and was a tad bit worried I'd arrive to find wet t-shirts contests or a pickup scene at the pool, and I was relieved to find that wasn't the case at all. It was a diverse crowd . . .  lots of honeymooners, lots of older couples, and everything in between. People from all over the world, and even a few groups of girlfriends on a weekend getaway. The vibe was classy and not at all a frat party. The main pool had a fun party vibe with loud music and entertainment. I enjoyed it but spent a majority of my time at the quiet pool once again. I tend to introvert on vacations and spending most of my time lazing, reading, and writing.

Curious about the name Secrets? Here's a virtual tour of the room where I explain some of those fun details.

They've taken a great deal of care in the design at Secrets. There are incredible details at every turn. And at night, the lighting makes everything feel even more special. Most of the restaurants are more formal, so it was fun to walk around at night seeing everyone dressed up.

Once again, the sunsets were stunning, and I made it a point to watch them every night. It's amazing how a week of sunset watching can set the reset button on life. I truly had such a relaxing experience at Secrets and can't wait to go back again. It was therapeutic in so many ways.

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A visit to the edge of ISIS's terror

This past week I had the chance to visit Iraq and Lebanon with World Vision.  The only thing I knew, prior to the trip, was that we would be visiting with families living in refugee camps who had fled ISIS. I’ve seen footage of the violence and destruction that ISIS has wreaked on families in Syria and, like most who have seen the stories of these traumatized and desperate people, I am devastated for the Syrian people.

I wanted to go on this trip because I think that their stories desperately need to be told. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to what is happening to both the Iraqi and Syrian people because it’s happening so far away. It’s also so incredibly painful that I think it’s hard to even process it, especially for Americans who have never lived under occupation or experienced sustained violent conflict in our home country.

I also think that people tend to ignore it because to be honest, I think that it’s easy to distance ourselves from people who are culturally different. And this is all the more true when it comes to Muslim people. The media images we see of Muslims are of violent extremist, and the result is that xenophobia abounds. But while there are certainly Muslim people behind these atrocities it’s vital to remember that the majority of Muslims are victims to ISIS’s actions, and desperately want peace.

In spending time in the homes of both Iraqi and Syrian families, I was reminded again of how similar we really are. I met kids who could make a toy out of anything . . . even a piece of string. I met mothers who were desperately concerned for their children’s future. I met grandmothers who just wanted to keep their family together. I met teenagers who asked me to take a selfie. And I met people with incredible faith, strength, and determination in the midst of unfathomable grief and trauma.

Over the next few days, I will be sharing stories of the people I met, as well as some of the hard observations about refugee life and the future of the Syrian people. I will also share some of the ways World Vision is helping to meet the needs of these people, in ways that are both practical and hope-infusing. I was incredibly impressed with the work World Vision is doing, especially as a Christian organization serving a predominantly Muslim population with no agenda but love. (Literally, it is against policy for them to proselyte.) I’m hoping to share stories that bring a human connection to the crisis in the middle east, and some practical ideas for how you can help.

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How to monitor your family's internet use at the source

This post is sponsored by Best Buy

I've got three tweens in my hose these days, and one who thinks she's a tween. They are obsessed with texting friends and checking Musically and watching youtube. All of the kids have older iphones available to play on when they earn screen time.  In addition to this, we’ve also got three ipads in the home, and Jafta has a chromebook he uses for school.

I'm not totally against kids and online devices. love the educational apps that are available on the ipad and iphone platform. My school-aged kids attend a technology-enthused school and with the help of apps like Spelling City and Lexia, they can even do some of their homework assignments on the ipads. I also love that they are learning to be computer literate.

At the same time, devices without a filter can pose serious risks for kids. I’ve been witness to therapy clients, friends, and even family members discover, much to their horror, that their kids had been looking at inappropriate content online.  And guys? OF COURSE THEY ARE.  Kids searching for taboo content is not about “what kind of kids they are” but more about natural curiosity and access to the internet. It’s naive to assume that our special kids will never do something like that. We wouldn’t leave a playboy next to the toilet in the bathroom and tell our kids not to look at it when they go to the bathroom. Nor should we hand our kids a smartphone that hasn’t been secured.

Previously, we monitored each device individually. This meant that on some devices, we were using a browser filter, and on others, using the filters on iOS. It was hard to keep track of and meant that we had to configure each device separately.

Recently, we had a chance to try CUJO in our home. CUJO is a smart firewall for the home, designed to bring business-level security to the family network. This one device will secure all devices connecting to the WiFi router. CUJO detects and blocks malicious sites, viruses, and hacks . . . kind of like an antivirus babysitter for your entire network.

This has been a game changer for us. First of all, it is so simple. You plug it in, you set it up to your wifi, and it takes over from there. There is an easy to use app that allows you to control and monitor all of the devices on your home wifi. You can receive instant threat notifications and it allows you to control internet access for select devices (so you can shut off the internet for the kids, but keep it on for yourself.) You can customize CUJO to allow certain sites to be blocked, or even designate certain words to cause a block. In addition, you can manually override any blocks automated by CUJO so you’re in full control all the time.

The thing I like most about CUJO , though, is that it can act as a time enforcer. You can set up user profiles so that each child is allowed online only for a certain amount of time. As a parent, you can use the app to see exactly what everyone in the house is doing. You can see what sites they’ve visited, how much time they’ve been online, and where they are spending most of their time online.

I have been sincerely impressed with the CUJO filtering system. I think it’s a perfect solution for families because it addresses all of your devices at once, and it addresses both malware and browsing. And I love that I can monitor the whole thing from my phone, and even pause the internet altogether in my home.

If you have kids and don’t yet have a filter on your router, I definitely recommend CUJO !

The reviewer has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card and/or received the product/service at a reduced price or for free.

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Friday Finds

1. Clear Molded Evie Chairs (Set of Two) | World Market 
2. Translucent Bubble Vases | Anthropologie 
3. Translucent Block Frame | Zulily 
4. Casetify Scripted Monogram iPhone 6/7 Case | Anthropologie 
5. Acrylic Faux Fur Stool | All Modern 
6. Looker Storage Box | Urban Outfitters 
7. Hannah Translucent Sunglasses | Urban Outfitters 
8. Small, Round Glass Trinket Box | H&M
9. Eva Colored Glass Table Lamp | Pottery Barn 

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