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MomTalk: The Top Websites and Apps for Busy Parents

What websites do you like? What app can you not live without? Share your comments with us!

Melissa Schools
As a follow up to my earlier tribute to my iPhone and its  , including Waze (interactive gps), Facebook (duh) and Kindle Reader (too cheap to buy a real Kindle?), I offer for your reading enjoyment, a few more of my favorite things:

  • Mmmmm, Google! Love you SO MUCH! You are the poor man’s Siri. I have NEVER plugged something into Google and NOT received a more-than-satisfactory answer/result. I do not hesitate to repeat that using Google to play “dinner-ingredient-roulette” saves dinnertime for me regularly. Simply plug in two or three food items and put the word “recipe” afterwards and prepare to be wowed when you hit that search button.
  • PeerTrainer.com – “buddy up. slim down,” is their tag line. I like this website as a place of accountability when trying to be more conscientious about my eating/exercising habits. It has a personal log to update both food and exercise. It has tons of resources for healthy living: articles, groups and teams you can join and inspirational success stories.
  • www.dornob.com – Going to this site makes me think of those “House-of-Tomorrow” cartoons from my childhood, except that at dornob, all the posts you see already, really exist! My alter ego lives in dornob world. Sigh.
  • Find Me Gluten Free. This free app is responsible for us finding the BEST gluten free pizza I’ve had in my whole gluten-free life! It also happened to be obscenely cheap. You can search by town or zip code or use the “near me” function. Not only do you get a list and links to directions, it also includes reviews. All in one place. Oh: the restaurant? Kaboodle Pizza in Spencer, MA.
  • Slickfillers. The cheapie in me loves this app. Trying to get free uperSaver shipping at Amazon.com but falling short of the requisite $25? This app finds eligible items on Amazon that will get you as close to the $25 minimum without going over. What a clever gap-filler!
  • Band of the Day used with Spotify. This one-two punch of apps comes as a suggestion from my uber-cool husband, who likes to be current on the latest grooves. Find your Band of the Day and then go listen to their whole album on Spotify. Totally free, dudes!
  • And now, a little something for the gentlemen (although, I find this site to be an  endless source of amusement and fascination, as well)…Also compliments of my husband comes, The Art of Manliness. He likes this blog because it addresses “everything from how to make a shotgun for the Zombie Apocalypse to how to dress and what to bring to a dinner party.” That just about covers it!
  • I Have to Sit Down. Simcha Fisher has a talent- that I have yet to see elsewhere- for writing in a compelling way on such a wide range of topics that I can’t wait to read any post she writes. She also has a great sense of humor which I am sure is at least partially responsible for her letting her husband guest-post occasional movie “reviews” on her blog. He calls himself, “The Jerk.” It pleases me greatly to say that I knew her first as my sister’s somewhat disaffected roommate from college; not from any weird sense of schadenfreude, but instead because I think she’s a perfect example of not having any idea what a person is capable of, whether it’s from what we know of her (or him) or what she shows of herself publicly. Free will is always the wild card. Plus, she has a way of generating a mind-boggling number of comments on many of her posts. I just love that!
  • Momastery. Oh, Glennon. I am in awe of you! Yes, it’s sensational that you overcame bulimia and drug addiction, but what is truly amazing and compelling to me is how you have built such a strong online community that helps itself/each other/others. You are also wicked funny. Glennon recently spearheaded what she calls a Love Flash Mob in which over 5000 individual donors from all over the world donated a max of $25 each, with the intent to buy brand new, fully-equipped, vans for two families in which the moms suffer life-threatening, debilitating illness. In 50+ hours, donors gave $83K and achieved their goal. Momastery’s motto is a perfect benediction, celebration, reminder: “Love Wins. Every Time.”
  • And yes, my final blog recommendation for a blog is yet another “mommy blog,” but Crappy Pictures just cracks me up! Please do yourself a favor and check it out, but not with coffee in your mouth, if you are prone to snarfing.

So,in the end analysis, if you follow my suggestions, you may start by feeling you’ve wasted a lot of time, but in reality, you’ll become an inspired, witty, modern-living, smarty-pants philanthropist! 

Tasha Schlake Festel
In this electronic age, we hear a lot about how the Internet and all of its related distractions are ruining our interpersonal communication, making our kids fat, and . Granted, I like to escape to my own online fantasy world and ignore my children as much as the next girl, but I’d like to think there are also numerous benefits to our obsession with websites and apps.

Oh, electronic age, how I love thee. Let me count the ways:

  • Facebook - I love Facebook, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Call me hedonistic. Call me egocentric. Call me an attention-seeker. I won’t argue with you. All of those things are true. Facebook may be everything that is wrong with society, but in many ways, it is also the perfect combination of community, technology and simplicity. It harnesses the power of the Internet and allows for connections, conversations and change. It has provided me with a way to feel less isolated, to make, find and keep friends from all over the world, to express myself, to get help, to find information and given me new professional and personal opportunities of all kinds. In fact, Facebook is the way I got to know many of the Patch Mamas and asked to contribute to this panel. Long live Facebook!
  •  MapMyRun - Running the lake is lovely, but after a few years it becomes a bit like running the track in gym class. Eventually you know every leaf, every sidewalk crack, every rock (well, almost every rock… as anyone who has seen my terribly skinned knees from my spill while running the lake last week can attest to). MapMyRun lets you see routes other runners or walkers have found in your area or lets you map out your own. No more lake track!
  •  EliseRD - If you’re looking for realistic, non-judgmental nutrition advice, my friend Elise “The Hammer” Reitshamer is the woman to talk to. She is all about real food, real advice and real life. And she takes pretty pictures of yummy foods too!
  • Dictionary.com  - I hate to misspell or misuse a word – especially online – so I always check Dictionary.com (or its related Thesaurus.com) before writing or posti g. I wish more people did. A public service announcement: misspellings and misused words impact your message and credibility. True story.
  • For kids: GoAnimate, Crayola, Starfall - My kids go through their phases of using the computer and not. When they are online, there are a few that they like. GoAnimate is a little advanced for younger kids but a fairly simple way to make quick videos (and fun for om too!). Crayola has a bunch of coloring pages and ideas for crafts. They also have some great little games you can access when you have a code from a purchased product. I have always just tossed out those annoying little  cards that come in the packages, but recently allowed my daughter to check it out. Totally worth it! Starfall is a great site for reading. Lots of phonics fun for all reading levels. 

Websites are one thing, but I would be remiss if I left out all of my little friends that I carry in my pocket.

  • Starbucks - Anyone that knows me knows I have a Starbucks obsession. I love it there. I love everything about it from the coffee, to the atmosphere, to the baristas, to the regulars with whom I spend my M-F mornings. I love chatting with Hank, Thomas, Donald and Norma. I love having Terry and Sandy make my Venti Whole Milk Decaf Latte. I love parking myself at the corner table, working and people-watching. And I love the Starbucks app. Get yourself a Starbucks card, register it, and download the app to your phone. In all honesty, it doesn't do much but let me pay with my phone and not my card. But let me repeat: I can pay with my phone! That's just plain cool. 
  • iBooks - If you have kids and let them play on your phone and happen to be reading Fifty Shades of Grey on your iBooks app, be very careful: you may have some age-inappropriate conversations. To prevent myself from having to discuss the “Red Room of Pain” or what a “sub” is when it doesn’t actually mean “substitute teacher,” I have hidden this app in the “Productivity” directory in the hopes that my children will assume this is Mom’s Work Stuff, and Mom’s Work = Boring. I laugh every time I tap the Productivity icon to read my terribly written but oddly compelling smut because the iBooks app is not in any way related to my productivity. I like this app because I always have my phone with me and it gives me something to do while I kill a few minutes waiting for Kindergarten to get out or Jujitsu to be over. Having just one device (and not toting around a separate eReader) makes up for the fact that I have to turn the page every 2-3 seconds.
  • Hipstamatic - I love the funky old-fashioned photos I get from using the Hipstamatic app. It’s like the pictures our parents took of us when we were kids… but instant! The colors and lighting are really interesting and the pictures are just a little off-center, no matter how you try to frame them.
  • SoundHound  - I know the lyrics to just about every song I’ve ever heard. It’s my super power. I hear a song once and I’ll know it forever. But I never know who sings it or what it’s called. Hello, SoundHound! Now I can just point my phone in the general direction of a speaker and it will tell me! And with just one touch, I can buy it on iTunes. I no longer have any excuses for not having killer playlists for running, lifting, baking or working.
  • Flashlight - It’s a flashlight! On your phone! And it’s free! How cool is that? I use this more than I ever thought I would. Just download it. Trust me. The next time you’re at the NinetyNine and your kids drop their crayons under the table, no one has to crawl around in the crumbs from years of customers who have come before. Just turn on the light! You can thank me later.

So, while all of the complaints and criticisms of screen time and unengaged mothers may be true, I will continue my love affair with technology and use it to be a better mother. It is my outlet, my connection, my resource, my entertainment. You’ll need to pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

Regina Martine
I am online all the live long day. I am a freelance designer, so when I am working, I’m working at a computer. I’m often checking Craigslist, looking for more work, but usually not finding much, unfortunately. Graphic design is very visual, so I can listen to a lot of talk and not get too distracted from the project I am working on. I am also a bit of a news junkie and I spend a lot of my day listening to any (or all) of the MSNBC political shows online as I work. I have Facebook open, too, either on the desktop computer whilst I work or on my laptop on the kitchen counter pretty much any other time. It is always at the ready, you know, just in case someone says something that I need to make a brilliant and/or snarky comment about. And also, because I am a nosy Nellie and I want to know what everyone is doing all day.

I started a blog a few months ago and now I obsessively check the statistics at blogger.com to see who is reading it. I have readers in Russia, Germany, Malaysia, and Latvia. Why? I have no idea. But I keep looking to see who is reading and who isn’t. I read a lot of other blogs, as well— one of my favorites is Catherine Newman’s Ben & Birdy Blog. She has
written for years on a lot of websites on a lot of parenting issues and I feel
like I know her and her kids, even though we have never met. I also have a “store” on Etsy.com where I try to sell some of the artsy things I make. I love Etsy, mostly because I love the idea of a community of artists and craftspeople who all have something beautiful and unique to sell. There, too, I am always compulsively checking the stats to see who is looking at my items for sale. I think I might have a problem …

My kids aren’t too interested in the computer, yet. They never got too into all the Webkins stuff or any of the online community games for kids, and I am glad for that. My son likes to play chess against the computer at Chess.com, mostly because my husband is the only other person in the house who knows how to play, so he doesn’t always get to play against a real live person. My kids also like the games on Nick Jr. and Edheads, where a kid can perform brain surgery or investigate a virtual crash scene. Pretty cool stuff, even for the grownups. My daughters are at the age where they need to use the computer to do research for school, which can sometimes get a little hairy. I don’t want them to just start Googling various topics because any number of things could go wrong.

My son uses far more of the apps on my phone than I do. I really only use my phone for texting, Internet, and of course, Facebook. I actually rarely use it to make phone calls. My husband has loaded a variety of kid games on my phone that I really know very little about. I know there are lots of apps I should be using to simplify my life, but so far, I haven’t done that. I’m sure my fellow Patch Mamas will have plenty of suggestions for me!

Laurie Hunt
Being a Realtor, the website I use the most is MLS and my own website Angie’s Home Team.  My favorite website for sure is Facebook as I find it a great way to keep in touch with people and keep on top of local happenings.  In addition to keeping up with friends and community goings on many of our local businesses are great about posting updates to their inventory and sales on the site.  Another favorite of mine is Pinterest – consider yourself warned it is really easy to lose track of time there! I definitely use google a lot too – I really find it the best search engine.

For news, in addition to the Patch, I like Fox 25 Boston’s website and msn.  Sometimes I live stream the Fox morning news on my computer while I work and have even done so on my phone so I can listen to it in the car.

I used to do a lot of shopping online, especially when my girls were young as it is definitely convenient.  Now I try really hard not to shop online much at all – I prefer to spend my dollars locally at brick and mortar businesses when I can so I don’t really have a lot of favorite shopping sites anymore.  I do like Etsy as there are many unique handmade items for sale.  Patch Mama Gina Martine has an Etsy shop called Little Tree where she sells paintings and Kindle covers.  (My favorite painting is November Moon – be sure to check it out!)

One website I wish more people would get to know is Snopes – this site describes itself as “the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.”  Before you hit that forward button on an email or share a facebook status warning people about the latest urban legend take a minute to search it on Snopes to see if it is really true. 

My girls' favorite website, hands down, is an online game called Wizard 101. They also enjoy you tube, poptropica and webkinz.

As far as apps go, my favorite is the flashlight app where my phone uses its flash. This has come in handy many times when I am with clients in a dark basement! The calculator app is also a must.  I have the Kindle and Nook apps on my ipad which is fun.  My girls like minecraft, pocket God and office jerk (yes, my husband and I like this one too!).  These apps are also on my ipad as, I’ll admit, they come in handy if I need something for the kids to keep them busy. 

Jillian Sallee
During the day, I don’t have much time to get onto the computer.  We have a daycare out of our home and if there is a free moment, then there must be a toy to be cleaned up or a child to be played with.  I mostly get onto the computer at night after the kids have gone to bed.  

If I’m not checking my Gmail or commenting on one of Tasha’s many status
updates on Facebook, then I’m probably doing some sort of online shopping.  I can’t seem to find the time to make it to the stores, unless I am really lucky, so I do what I can online.  I’m a sucker for a good deal, so
I don’t pay full price for anything.  I have become an expert at finding
online coupons and my favorite website for coupons is retailmenot.com.
I’m mostly buying clothes or shoes for the kids and if I can’t find what I want at gymboree.comlandsend.com, or gap.com, then I turn my attention to amazon.com.  Rarely a week goes by when an Amazon box doesn’t show up at my door, either with toys, books, or shoes.  Other than online shopping, my time on the computer is spent on Google Docs, writing my Patch article!

My kids love to play on the computer. Of course, it counts as screen
time, so their time to play is limited but when they do choose the computer
they stick to a few main websites.  Lily right now has fallen in love with
the Fresh Beat Band music.  I am not a huge fan of the show, but I do
think the music is catchy.  They have a few games that are appropriate on nickjr.com and that is her favorite choice...this week.  Ryan’s favorite website is lego.com where he can play a myriad of Star Wars and Harry Potter games.  Some of the games can get a little too violent for our family, so we have to watch and make sure he’s choosing correct games, but overall the website is age appropriate and actually pretty cool.  There are a few websites that they bounce around on, disneyjr.com and pbskids.org. All these websites have different games for different levels and almost all have some sort of educational component.  Juliet is just getting interested in the computer, mostly because she wants to be just like her brother and sister, and she can play a few games on sesamestreet.com.  It’s amazing to see a one and a half year old take control of a complex piece of technology and make her way through it.  

Speaking of kids taking hold of technology, they use my iPhone more than I do! Juliet loves to play any sort of peekaboo game, Peek Wild, Old
Macdonald
, and Peekaboo are amongst her favorites. That and my
iPod app!  As long as I get her to a playlist, she can bounce around and
show off her dance moves to her favorite songs, most recently anything Wiggles or Mamma Mia.  Lily pretty much sticks to a few apps on my phone, CakeDoodle and CandyDoodle.  These are really fun apps where they actually make cakes, cupcakes, and candy.  They add the ingredients, decorate, and then eat!  There are so many choices, it’s a never ending app, different every time.  Lily also loves to take pictures and videos, and she loves the funny manipulations of Camwow.  Taking pictures and then
changing them to make the faces look weird and stretched, make her laugh every time!  Ryan used to be an Angry Bird junkie but has since switched
to Leapin’ Leprechaun.  Having never played it myself, I feel like it’s the same game except with little green men instead, but maybe I’m not giving it enough credit. I try not to get sucked into these games. I prefer to get sucked into apps like Instagram.  Much more productive to take pictures of my beautiful kids and post them where people can compliment me on how cute they are! The other app I use the most is GooCal.  It holds all our family events and Tom and I can update it from our phones or computers and it automatically updates for each other. I refer to it all the time and now we never have an excuse to miss one of the other’s activities!  My phone just beeped at me, looks like GooCal is telling me it’s time for the Bachelorette!

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