Parents dreaming of reining in birthday party insanity now have an intriguing option. ECHOage.com is a party-planning website that promotes giving instead of receiving. But don't panic, kids! You still get one special present and learn about charity in the process. Here's how it works: Parents and the birthday child pick from a variety of online invitations offered by Echoage. They then choose a beneficiary from one of the site's screened charities, all benefiting children or the environment. Instead of bringing a gift, guests make an online donation of $10 to $30. After an administrative fee of 15 percent is deducted, half the proceeds benefit the charity and half is returned to the host family to buy a special group gift for the birthday child. In the three months since the site was launched, more than 15,000 children have participated, said co-founder Alison Smith of Toronto. The goal, she said, is to raise $500,000 by the end of the year, "one birthday party at a time." Now, that's something to celebrate.

Honoring the troops

Homecoming should be joyful for military families, but it is often a time of upheaval and challenges, as troops face traumatic aftereffects of war, and families are unsure of how to help. After the War Zone: A Practical Guide for Returning Troops and Their Families (Da Capo Press, $14.95) was written by Laurie B. Slone and Matthew J. Friedman, two experts from the Veterans Administration National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The book offers guidance for families and veterans as they navigate the often rocky months of reentry.

For troops still away, a small online greeting card company has created a set of thank-you cards to let them know they are thought of daily. The set of five cards includes one with three dog tags on the cover (honor, bravery, loyalty) and the inside message: "It's great to have a soldier to lean on." $14.95/set at www.bridgingtheuniverse.com.

Don't wait! Date!

Want to go out soon? Like, within the next few hours? If you're heading to Chicago, Boston, New York City or a few other major U.S. cities, a new dating site will make that happen faster than a speeding wingman.

The creators of OKCupid.com have launched CrazyBlindDate.com, which matches you up on quick dates with strangers at public places, such as bars and coffee shops. You're not allowed to see a picture or communicate beforehand. Sound like fun? If so, log on and answer a few questions, such as what time works, solo or double date and your preferred venue. (The Twin Cities aren't on the list yet). And if you're not happy, don't blame the creators. They admit that the site, which has had about 20,000 date requests since its November launch, is "about immediacy, not compatibility."

Who knew airports are fun?

Flying with children is not at the top of most parents' list of favorite experiences. But chasing after them in airports because of canceled flights or long delays is even less appealing. Greatdad.com, an online resource for fathers, has compiled a terrific list of kid-friendly airports that feature play spaces and diversions. Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport made the list with its two 1,000-square-foot play areas featuring mock airplanes and control towers, located in the Lindbergh and Humphrey terminals. Check out the list at www.greatdad.com/travel.

Be safe 12 months a year

June is Home Safety Month, but the Home Safety Council has created a comprehensive website to keep your family safe all year. MySafeHome.org takes users on a virtual tour of a home from top to bottom, pointing out danger spots and solutions with user-friendly language and visual demonstrations.

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350