HomeTeam: Keeping Families Connected

hometeam Grandparents2Life can get pretty crazy around here. Typical weekdays start at about six with me rolling out of bed and giving my 12-year old daughter a gentle wakeup nudge. I take the dog for a walk, and 20 minutes later, it’s time for a second nudge—this one somewhat less gentle. Then it’s down to the kitchen where I make breakfast and lunch. At this point, my daughter swoops in, wolfs down a waffle or some eggs, mutters an unintelligible complaint about the lunch menu, and spends a few minutes scrambling around trying to find her shoes and homework, and brush her teeth. Then we slip into the car and it’s off to school. During the ride she’s either frantically trying to finish an assignment that’s due in an hour or snoozing. By the time I drop her off, we’ve probably exchanged 15 words.

Afternoons aren’t much chattier, between picking her up, schlepping her to the extracurricular du jour, driving home (although at least 10 minutes of dad-daughter conversation is mandatory during these after-school rides), and trying to pull something together for dinner while she goes to her room to do her homework. Next thing I know, it’s off to bed.

I know that what I’m describing is pretty typical for today’s busy families—especially the part about the challenge of finding quality (let along quantity) family time. And if it’s this hard to stay connected to kids you see every day, imagine how hard it is to stay connected to children when you’re a parent on a business trip, a military servicemember on deployment, or a grandparent who lives hundreds of miles away.

Having done a lot of work with military families and hearing firsthand how painful it is to be separated from the folks back home for months at a time, I was thrilled when the folks at Panasonic asked me to explore their new HomeTeam app, which is designed to keep families connected across time and distance. In a word, it’s wonderful.

hometeam dan and sonHomeTeam, which was developed by Panasonic Health & Wellness Solutions, gives families three ways to connect, the most obvious being video chat. But anyone who’s ever tried to have an actual conversation with a young child on Skype or some other platform will tell you that the phrase “awkward silence” is more appropriate than “chat.” That’s where HomeTeam’s other features really shine.

With HomeTeam, the kids and mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, or anyone else can read stories or play games together—and by together I actually mean together. (It’s possible for people in up to five locations to be online at the same time.) The HomeTeam app includes nearly 2,000 classic and new digital books, including a number of recently added ones from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel. Books are sorted by age group or category (adventure, animals, biography, fiction, non-fiction, folk tales, sports, and more). Pick a story, figure out who’s doing the reading, and you’re off.

hometeam gamesThere are also more than a dozen interactive games, again, sorted by age or category. These include matching games, puzzles, classics like Go Fish and chess, and even educational selections that focus on word play, math, and science.

Whether reading a story or playing a game, kids and adults are doing it together, with the game or book on part of the screen, and the smiling faces on another part. Of course, there’s nothing like snuggling up on the couch together and reading or playing a game while sitting at the same table. But when that’s not possible, HomeTeam gets you about as close as possible.

The service is aimed at kids 3-12, and the interface is sleek, attractive, and extremely easy to use. You can download HomeTeam in the App Store, Google Play, or at MyHomeTeam.com. Give it a whirl for 30 days for free (you don’t even need a credit card to get started). After that, HomeTeam costs $8.99 per month and can be shared with up to five family members.

You can connect with Panasonic on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.

Disclosure: I received an extended trial and some compensation to facilitate this review. However, it would take a lot more that that to make me give something a thumbs up that I don’t honestly believe it deserves.

Military Family Friday – Changing Roles after Deployment + Acing Your Performance Review

Photo credit: Daniel Bendjy/Getty Images

Photo credit: Daniel Bendjy/Getty Images

When mom or dad comes home from a deployment, everything changes. In some cases, families adapt to their role reassignment relatively easily, while for others it can be a little—or a lot—more challenging. Depending on the couple and family dynamic when the soldier deployed, a number of issues may come up when you or a loved one returns. Striking a balance, avoiding power struggles, and learning how to relinquish some of the responsibility can be quite difficult on the military spouse, regardless of gender.
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jacke with medals

Photo credit: Brad Wilson/Getty Images

Each service has its own system for assessing which servicemembers deserve to be promoted and remain in the service. Those who score below average could potentially be involuntarily separated.
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Military Family Friday: Positive Relationships with Kids + Reserves is More Than One Weekend Per Month

Photo credit: Catherine Lechner/Getty Images

Photo credit: Catherine Lechner/Getty Images

Taking the time and effort to prepare yourself and your children for the upcoming separation will be a challenge; there’s no question that we’re talking about one of the most stressful times of your lives. But as hard as it is, it can help you grow as a family.
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Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Reserves and the National Guard are a great way for those who would like to serve in the military, but aren’t ready for full time enlistment. Some of your Reserve training will transfer directly to your civilian career and will make you a more valuable employee. The education benefits, which may include partial reimbursement for tuition and fees, can help you advance in your civilian career. And, of course, the extra pay helps with the household budget. Everything seems to make perfect sense. But, is there a catch?
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#MilitaryFamilyFriday: Saving Money + Being an Absentee Landlord

At one time or another, most of us run into some tight financial times. Being on a military salary—which, as we all know, isn’t the greatest in the world—doesn’t help. But, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to save money, whether you’re trying to build your retirement fund or just socking away a few extra bucks for a rainy day. Here are nine tips that will help you save money, even on a military salary. Read the rest of this article on my about.com minisite.

If you’ve been living off base in a property you own, it also means that you have to figure out what to do with your current home. The most obvious choice is to simply sell the house. But what if the housing market is down or you’re underwater? Should you keep the house and become an absentee landlord? Read the rest of this artilce on my about.com minisite.

I’m always looking for great organizations, programs, and other resources to help the men and women who serve our country. If you’ve got a suggestion or referral, please drop an email to armin [at] mrdad [dot] com.

#MilitaryFamilyFriday: Acing the Military PFT

Throughout your military tenure—starting possibly even before you get to boot camp–you’ll be required to pass the standard PFT (physical fitness test) and meet basic weight standards. Here’s everything you need to know to totally crush the PFT. Read the rest of this article on my about.com minisite.

I’m always looking for great organizations, programs, and other resources to help the men and women who serve our country. If you’ve got a suggestion or referral, please drop an email to armin [at] mrdad [dot] com.

Playmobil and the U.S. Coast Guard

playmobil rescue boatCity Action Rescue Boat
The Coast Guard has a bit of an identity crisis. It started off as part of the Department of Treasury, then got transferred over to the Department of Transportation, and is now under the Department of Homeland Security. They’re also considered a branch of the military. But whoever they are, they do a great job of protecting our coasts and waterways. With the City Action Rescue Boat, your child can give the Coast Guard the respect they deserve, honoring them as they rescue drowning swimmers, battle pirates, and take on other rescue operations. They can even put out fires (or squirt the cat) with the included plunger. The set includes the boat itself, three figures, first aid kit, hoses, rescue ring, and more. $52.95. Ages 4-10.

playmobil coast guard stationCity Action Coast Guard Station with Lighthouse
Those Coast Guard heroes need to go somewhere at the end of a long, danger-filled day, right? And nothing could be better than their own station, complete with a functioning lighthouse and an observation room where the duty officers can keep a close eye on the coast and dispatch rescue crews as needed. The set comes with everything you and the kids need to create amazing adventures together: a boat, five Playmobil figures (who love to wait in line for the Ferris wheel on their day off), rescue rings, a full set of scuba gear, loads of medical and safety equipment, a cable winch to haul boats out of the water, and more. $79.95. Ages 4-10. http://www.playmobil.us/