Tag Archives: children

Camping in the Village

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Last week a woman who was just starting out on her entrepreneurial journey asked a group of seasoned mompreneurs what their Number One Challenge was when launching a business.  Nearly without exception, each mom replied: “Reliable childcare.”

For many women (myself included), starting her own business was fueled by the desire to have a flexible schedule.  Rather than working in a traditional job with traditional hours, the flexibility can (ideally) allow women to have more satisfying work-life balance.

You know, that old unicorn you’ve heard so much about.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes every single villager to get the moms through Summer vacation.  While many of us designed our work lives with the intentional benefit of having more time with our children, school holidays throw a real wrench into the finely-tuned works.  It’s impossible to keep the work side of life moving forward and be a full-time parent and 24/7 entertainer, referee, chef, chauffeur, and snuggler to each child. As someone with three kids at three very different stages (preschool, elementary, and adolescent), I kind of want to tear my hair out trying to do the algebra of how I can keep them all safe, happy, and motivated in the summer while I’m working my odd-hours job.

Enter Nurture My Child, and Austin-based resource that presents a single site to help families find options for all of their child-related camp, class, and childcare needs.  The database is updated consistently and is the only place where a large majority of camps in Austin and the surrounding areas are listed and families can search by multiple criteria like activities, schedule, location, or ages.  The ease of use and reliability of information takes a lot of the investigative drudgery out of the parents’ hands.

If you’re in my village of Austin, put Sunday, February 28, 1-5pm  on your calendar.  Nurture My Child will host the annual Austin Summer Camp Fair at Norris Conference Center in north-central Austin.  Come by and meet representatives from Austin’s “best of” camps, including The Thinkery, Kidventure, Creative Action, Ballet Austin, and the Art Garage— there’s something for every kid!

This kid-friendly event will include booths from over 70 local camps, arranged by location of venue.  Two thumbs up from this mom who is more than willing to give her kid any great opportunity….so long as it doesn’t require a soul-beating, traffic-laden commute.

So as you’re pulling together your summer plans (I know it’s only January, but you can’t say you aren’t already starting to plan….), know that Nurture My Child can make your life easier.  Invite them in to your village, and let your kids go camping.

I was invited to attend a blogger’s launch of Nurture My Child.  I received no compensation for my time, and all opinions are my own.

 

Active Kids Reap Life-Long Benefits

I’ll be honest. I am a fan of Title IX legislation. I benefitted from it as a teenager, participating in small-scale sports of cross-country and track. Certainly without the push to equalize opportunites for girls and boys, there would not have been funding for the sports I loved. And my interest in fitness has obviously carried over into adulthood, becoming an integral part of who I am.

Several years ago, the New York Times published an article about the benefits of participating in sports as youths. The article cites a study that rigorously assessed the socio-economic backgrounds of youths across the US and linked their success to participation in organized sports. Sure, we have long touted the intangible benefits of being part of a sports team– character building, teamwork, and feeling part of a something larger than the individual– but the study takes things a step further to demonstrate that kids who participate in sports also go on to higher education, have fewer incidences of negative life-changing events like drug use or teen pregnancy, and higher levels of meaningful employment.

It was timely for me to re-read this article, as I volunteered recently in my son’s elementary PE class. Not only was I impressed by the coach’s arsenal of activities to keep the kids moving, but he worked hard to really educate the children at the same time. For example, rather than just playing a simple game of tag, the kids played “muscle group tag”: when a child was tagged (by me or the other parent volunteer), s/he had to freeze and take a pose to show off a particular muscle group. To be unfrozen and join the game again, a classmate had to stop in front of the frozen child, make the same pose, and name the muscle group the frozen child was demonstrating. In the course of the 6-8 minutes the kids played the game, there were shouts of biceps, triceps, pectoralis, quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus. What a great way to get kids moving, teach them about their bodies, and have a blast while doing it.

As a personal trainer, I know that having fun with fitness is the key to adhering to an exercise program. I applaud our school’s coach– and the thousands of others like him around the country– who work hard every day to educate and encourage our children to a fit lifestyle.  With news reports that frequently remind us that recess and PE are being slashed from the school day, it’s important for parents to know what is happening at their child’s school.  Does your child’s PE program have an Open Door policy?  Encourage one!

After 45 minutes of fun-filled, fast-paced physical education the kids recited a poem (with motions, of course) in unison. It was awesome to hear and watch 22 kids so enthusiastically deliver a lesson that we can all benefit from, whether our fitness journey started as a child, a teen, or an adult:

Eat right. Stay fit.

Work hard. Never quit!

Brain wise. Safety smart.

Live strong for a healthy heart!

Polar Bear Plunge 2016

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I am a water person.  I am a water person through and through.  I love teaching swim lessons.  I love teaching aqua yoga.  I love taking a break from the summer heat and running in the pool.  Water simply makes me happy.

That said, one of my mottos is: Life’s too short to swim in cold water.

I am a wimp.  I seriously dislike being cold.  And because I love water so much, being in cold water is especially unpleasant.  I just don’t do it.

Let me put it to you this way: I haven’t swum in the Austin landmark Barton Springs Pool in over ten years because the water is too cold for me.  It’s a cool 64 degrees year-round thanks to the natural spring that fills the pool.  Even when we have out-of-town guests who want to visit this Austin gem, I tell them I’m happy to take them, but there’s no way I’m getting in.

However, I am all about facing my fears.  I am all about teaching my kids that just because you’re a little bit scared of being uncomfortable, you shouldn’t let your limiting thoughts prevent you from having fun.  I’m all about identifying my goals and then going about and smashing them.

In the last days of December, I asked my family if they wanted to join me for the 2016 Polar Bear Plunge at Barton Springs Pool.  The community event supports the Save Our Springs Alliance, a non-profit which works to keep the local ecosystem in balance.  A good cause, right?!

My husband and oldest son had no interest in taking the plunge– “Are you nuts?” they asked.  But they wanted to go along, and they served as our Official Event Photographers.  (Hey, everyone has a role to play in this life.  Find one that makes you happy.)

My middle kid– aka The Monkey– was ALL IN.  This is exactly his kind of thing.

The Stowaway will do anything The Monkey wants to do.

So we packed up and headed to the pool on New Year’s morning.  It was a cool 47 degrees outside.  (That’s cold for us Texans.)  Bring it on!

Once we arrived and The Stowaway felt how cold it was outside, she started having doubts.  “I don’t want to jump in,” she said.

“Let’s just take a picture, and then we’ll see,” I told her.

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“I can do it!”

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We lined up, toes on the edge, and counted 1-2-3 JUMP!

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Wheeeeeeee!

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And we did it!

 

In the end, it was all smiles:

 

Here’s my advice for 2016:

When you’re a little scared, hold hands with someone you trust, take a deep breath, and then jump on in.  You’ll love it!

Good health and great happiness to you!

 

 

 

 

Yoga Club: Where Small Bodies Learn to Take Big Breaths

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I’ve bragged about my kids’ elementary school before, noting the creativity of the PE program and its focus on finding ways for every child to develop an interest in a life-long sport. New this year is a parent-led Yoga Club, which meets each Tuesday from 7-7.30am. The group is open to students, parents, and teachers….no yoga experience required!
I volunteered to teach one meeting per month, and I brought my fourth grader along to the first class. He’s my super physical kid, The Monkey, the one who has never done anything with his body that he hasn’t enjoyed. I wasn’t so sure yoga would be his thing, though.
My class plan included asana that mimic animals. I wanted kids to think about how the spines (or lack thereof!) of animals align with their movement patterns. We were able to move through the invertebrates—fish and cobra—to the small animals—rabbit and frog—to bigger creatures like camel and horse. We finished with the pranayama of the lion.
As it turns out, I was wrong about The Monkey. He didn’t say much after the class while I walked him to his classroom, but after school he told me that the yoga helped him wake up and feel ready for the day. I explained to him that breathing deeply and thinking about how he moved his body with intention was a great way to fire up the brain/body connection.
Fast forward to the next week, when I wasn’t going to be the Yoga Club leader: Monday night at dinner, The Monkey says, “Don’t forget, Mom. Yoga Club is in the morning.”

So, there we were again—this time with The Stowaway in tow. She wants to do anything her big brother does, and she’s the one I often find having stolen my aqua yoga class plans trying to mimic the postures.

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The mom who lead this class had a deck of yoga cards and let each kid pick a card to determine the flow of the class. The kids got really excited about choosing each new posture. We finished the class with a game of “yoga freeze”—a variation of freeze tag in which the tagged person had to hold one of the yoga poses we’d done earlier in the class until they were tagged again by a free player. As you might imagine, this was a big hit with the kids.

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If you’re interested in starting a Yoga Club at your local elementary school, I highly recommend it. It’s a great way for kids to be introduced to yoga in a familiar setting; furthermore, the inclusivity of yoga allows kids to practice alongside their parents and teachers. Kids love anything that makes them feel part of a group, and Yoga Club does that without any of the pressure or expectation of competition.
Namaste!

Giveaway: The Trail of Lights

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When I was in grad school at The University of Texas in the mid-1990s, I let my roommate talk me in to going to the Trail of Lights.  I remember being grouchy most of the night, smooshed in a heaving mass of humanity shuffling slowly through the cold winter night.  It wasn’t my favorite thing ever.  I kind of wondered why everyone else in Austin loved the Trail of Lights so much.

This Austin holiday tradition in the heart of the city started in 1965 and has grown into a much-beloved event by generations of Austinites.  The annual transformation of Zilker Park into the illuminated trail is as must-do for some families each December as any other holiday tradition.  Despite my family calling Austin home for the last 11 years, we had never been to The Trail of Lights.  Truth be told: my disdain for cold and crowds had kept us away.

Until this year….

With a glorious weather forecast (mid-50s) and an invitation to a blogger’s preview night, I decided it was time to make my long-awaited return and introduce my family to the Trail of Lights.

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That photo was taken by a volunteer, whose job is to be a “photo helper.”  How great is that?  (But how sad is it that this is one of only two photos of our family of five from ALL YEAR?!)  I was impressed by the friendly, helpful, and festively dressed volunteers throughout the Trail.

All it took was that one opening tunnel for my kids to decide this was going to be cooooool!  They loved the freedom of being outside and able to run from scene to scene.  I was thankful we were having a festive night out that didn’t involve eating sugary treats (and we even got some exercise!).

As a family, we were impressed by the bursts of color, the wrapped trees, and the creative displays.  Each vignette was sponsored by a business or organization, such as:

UT Austin (What starts here changes the world):

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Travis County EMS:

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Maudie’s Tex-Mex’s Jackalope:

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Our family’s favorite stretch of the trail was the City of Austin’s Bat Cave:

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There were also some fun giveaways along The Trail, which is something rare (but appreciated) at events like this.

Big Top Candy Shop had some cute candy machines the delivered peppermints and were staffed by sweet high school students:

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And HEB had a super cute book train where each child received an age-appropriate book from a friendly HEB employee:

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The food vendors weren’t open during our preview, but the token machines were humming with folks who wanted to ride the rides.  We didn’t ride the ferris wheel or carousel.  Honestly, the kids were enjoying the lights so much they didn’t even beg or complain.  Score!

And now I must admit something:  I was wrong about the Trail of Lights!  I now understand why so many Austinites love the Trail.  It is an honest-to-goodness fun family night out.  We enjoyed a beautiful, festive evening.  The Trail was just the right length– even The Stowaway (age 4) walked the whole thing (including to and from the car) without complaining.  What a treat to have a family activity that people of all ability levels can enjoy.

Mea culpa! If the good people of Austin Parks & Recreation and Trail of Lights Foundation and the presenting-sponsor HEB will forgive me for staying away so long, I’d love to come back with my family again next year.

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How about you?  Want to go to the Trail of Lights?

GIVEAWAY (NOW CLOSED):  Congratulations, Amy!  You are the winner!

I have one FREE ZiP Fast Pass entry into the Trail of Lights, good for any night of the 2015 Trail of Lights.  The ZiP Fast Pass allows access to the trail starting at 6pm (before regular entry at 7pm) and access to the Home Away VIP lounge with cookies and hot cocoa.

If you’d like to be entered into the GIVEAWAY for the ZiP Fast Pass, leave a comment telling me what your favorite part of the Trail is, or what looks like the most fun to you.

This giveaway is open through Tuesday at 9am Austin time.  I’ll contact the winner and arrange delivery of the ZiP Fast Pass to you.  Good luck!

Thanks to HomeAway for sponsoring the giveaway and the blogger preview event I attended last night.

 

 

Comrades Update: Taper Crazies

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I’m twelve days out from my Comrades qualifier, the Dallas Marathon. The taper always makes me crazy.  That means I’m trying to find ways to spend all of my running time since I’m not running much. I’m also trying not to drive my family crazy with my thoughts, about 80% of which are marathon-related right now.

Luckily for me, I have a middle schooler who has a jazz band dinner concert fundraiser next week, and it just so happens I got volunteered volunteered myself to make the decorations.

I have been knee-deep in donated vintage sheet music, trying to papercraft as many of the decorations as possible in an effort to keep costs to a minimum.  Once I decided on a “star” theme, I scoured Pinterest for inspiration.  None of these ideas is original.  I’m not a true creator, but I sure can execute other peoples’ ideas!

For dinner table decor, I have two different centerpieces: one with greenery and one with an LED tealight.  I hope it will be a nice balance of color and light.

One of the benefits of having a preschooler at the same time as a middle schooler is that I still have friends who have babies.  I’ve dressed up baby food jars with sheet music and die-punched gold stars plus a little twine.  My local Christmas tree lot donated the cuttings.

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I learned how to make paper bags, and used the sheet music to make luminarias.  I’ll be dropping a LED tealight into the bottom of the bag, and it looks so pretty coming out of the star-punched holes.

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For the serving and drinks tables, I have about 200 meters of paper chains.  And I still have more to make.  This is a great project for The Stowaway (age 4) to help with.

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We’ll hang these super cool 3D stars from the ceiling.  Add some white fairy lights around the room, and I think it’s going to be a stunning look.

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While I love running, I’m glad that the timing of my Comrades-qualifier taper has freed up some time right now.  Making these decorations has been a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see how fantastic it all looks at the dinner concert next week.  I’m grateful I can support The Bear and his amazing band of talented musicians– did I mention they were voted the top middle school jazz band in the country by the National Music Educators Association?– by spending my taper time getting my crafty on.

Good health and great happiness to you!

OnBalance Off-Balance

I recently met up with an old friend in London.  She’s one of those women I don’t see very often (you know, on account of our living on different continents), and I don’t even communicate with very often, but I always make sure we get together when I’m in London.  We first met in the late stages of pregnancy with our firstborns, and her son was born just one day after mine.  The boys are two peas in a pod, finding the same camaraderie and contented friendship that we mamas share.

I’m so grateful for my friend.  She’s also an awesome example of a person leading a fully-engaged life, enjoying the offerings of London while raising her two kids and working as a physician.  She has zero pretense and welcomes discussions about the challenges of balancing the many realities of life.  Anyone would admire her.

This lengthy (but heartfelt) preamble is necessary, as I need you to understand how surprised I was when she told me that she used to be a loyal OnBalance reader, but then the posts started making her feel inadequate.

Ummmmm, what?!?!?

Let’s review:

  • Super nice, absolutely genuine woman
  • Two bright, articulate, and entertaining children
  • Husband who is interesting and a delightful conversationalist
  • Medical doctor, committed to the well-being her patients in a way all of our doctors should be
  • Community advocate who volunteers in multiple capacities in her neighborhood and schools

What on earth does she have to feel inadequate about?

NOTHING!

Look, y’all.  We’re all different.  The way we choose to spend our time is all different.  If you are happy with what you’re doing, ROCK ON.  If you’re not, find someone who will support your efforts to make changes.  It’s worth it.

You’re worth it!

In the interest of full disclosure, there’s always another side to my stories.  There are usually multiple other sides to my stories.  Here are some of the “other sides” I can think of off the top of my head:

  • My husband, while he is mostly brilliantly supportive of my running, can sometimes feel marginalized by it.
  • My kids, who I try to raise with a spirit of curiosity and sense of mind-body balance, screw up and have meltdowns.  A lot.
  • I’m a yeller.  I can go foreeeeevvvveeeerrr being patient with my kids until WHAMMO I am no longer patient, and I start yelling.  I’m not proud of this.
  • My house is not a museum.  My house, while tidy, is not usually very clean.  And I don’t particularly care.
  • We often eat very simple meals.  Think “picnic.”  (That’s my fancy, parent-marketing way of saying “random leftovers and other stuff I pull out of the fridge.”)
  • Someone is always not getting enough attention.  Sometimes it’s me.

What I share here at OnBalance I choose because I like to focus on the positive.  I like to provide stories that may inspire others to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle.  I like to offer tips for creating family wellness.

But please know that me and my family are very much a work in progress, too.

If you’re ever in Austin, you’re welcome to come over for a gourmet dinner of baby carrots, string cheese, apple slices, and almonds.  I’ll even clear all the homework papers off the table so we can sit and eat together.  You’ll have to pretend I don’t stink because I ran in the morning but haven’t been able to take a shower all day.  NBD.

Good health and great happiness to you.