Tag Archives: community

Giveaway: The Trail of Lights


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.


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):


Travis County EMS:


Maudie’s Tex-Mex’s Jackalope:


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


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:


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


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.


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.




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?


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.


Find a New Path

find a new path

For most of the last eight years, I’ve had a child in preschool.  Fortunately for me, the fantastic preschool my children have attended is close enough to our home that I can run.  Granted, it’s not really a very interesting route, and it has a lot of bumpy curbcuts, uneven sidewalks, turning traffic to be aware of, and there’s some significant maneuvering required on garbage day.

But we get it done.

I freely admit that I’ve always been proud of this efficiency.   One of the hallmarks of my personal training philosophy is helping people find ways to insert exercise into their days when they feel so pressed for time that it’s easy to squeeze exercise out.  Modeling this healthy behavior through the running commute has always been a way I demonstrate that I walk-the-talk.

So, eight years I’ve been patting myself on the back for my boring but efficient run.  This is my final year of having a preschooler, and after the hundreds—thousands, likely—of trips with the BabyJogger to preschool, I made a realization.  If, after the first half-mile, I make a right turn and jog one block, I can run parallel to my old, unpleasant route for most of the way to preschool.  Doing this adds only about a half-mile to my overall distance, but it completely changes the experience.

But what do I get by veering off my well-trod route?

A wide open street with little traffic.


Homes that are seasonally decorated, giving The Stowaway fun scenes to observe and comment on.



The neighbors who are in their front yards or driveways  proffer a friendly “good morning.”  (This is much nicer than the cars who would honk at me when I would cross the side streets– despite pedestrians having the right of way.)

It’s really unbelievable how this little change has added so much happiness to our commute. 

As I was running home a few days ago, I got to thinking: what other things do I do out of habit that I could change ever so slightly and increase the gentleness and pleasure in my day?  In what ways am I stuck in patterns that, while necessary to get the stuff of life accomplished, aren’t adding joy?  Can I tweak them a bit?

My mind is racing with ideas. 

Most people think running is about strong legs and a solid cardiovascular system.  But this revelation demonstrates what I’ve always loved about running: it’s so much more than what’s happening in your body.  Whether you’re able to see an old idea in a new way or you have a wildly productive brainstorming session on the run, running stimulates creative juices in a way that nothing else does for me.

Hop off the well-trod path.  Hang a right and see what new—and improved!—path is waiting for you right around the corner.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Health at Every Size


I received an inquiry from a potential client a few months ago asking if my personal training philosophy was aligned with the Health at Every Size movement.  I had to admit that I had never heard of HAES, but I would investigate it and get back to her.

According to the website:

Health at Every Size® principles help us be at peace in our bodies, supporting people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves. It includes the following basic components:

  • Respect, including respect for body diversity.
  • Compassionate Self-care
    • Eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite;
    • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and being physically active.
  • Critical Awareness
    • Challenges scientific and cultural assumptions;
    • Values body knowledge and people’s lived experiences.

— An edited excerpt from Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Leave out, Get Wrong and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, by Linda Bacon, PhD., and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD.

As far as making peace with body size and developing compassionate approaches to thinking about how we view and treat people of various body sizes, I wholeheartedly embrace the pro-tolerance message that recognizes that weight is not an indication of personal value any more than it is the sole contributor to a person’s health matrix.  Just like there are plenty of people who are considered “normal weight” who lack fitness, people with larger than socially-accepted body sizes can have a positive health profile.

As a personal trainer, my job is to support people on their wellness journey. Fitness is one of the components of a healthy lifestyle, but it is only part of the puzzle.  Sound nutrition, quality sleep, and maintaining a low-stress outlook on life also contribute to overall wellness and good health.  Knowing that my primary role is to help people build healthy habits through meaningful exercise, I want to support people of any size.

I’m pleased to say that I have been working with the woman who introduced me to HAES since May, and she is determined to create a healthier lifestyle for herself.  Incorporating regular exercise into her week and intentional movement into each day, these habits are building blocks to greater wellness.  Like anyone beginning a new exercise program, she is reaping internal health benefits through the increased workload on her body.  Whether or not this translates into a change in body size isn’t the point– it’s that going up and down stairs and taking the dog for a walk are now pleasurable activities that help her to feel vital and strong.

Fat shaming may be popular– particularly in the media– and even seen as en vogue in certain social circles.  But if we truly care about people as individuals, we must see them for who they are and value their health, just as we do our own.

I urge you to read through the Health at Every Size website and sign the pledge!

Good health and great happiness to you.

For Student Safety

I was with my daughter at an elementary school playground recently.  She’s not-quite-three, so some of the equipment was a little challenging for her.  I hung back, watching her try to figure out how to use her muscles to allow her to climb, crawl through small spaces, and make some of the equipment work.  When she asked for help, I offered verbal suggestions about how she could move her body to achieve her goal.  She played very happily for quite a while.

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As we were leaving, I noticed the sign pictured above posted on the side of a building adjacent to the playground.  At first, I laughed.  I also felt grateful that some sympatico someone tried to cross out rule #7.  But when I really started thinking about it, I felt bummed and more than a little irritated.

Let’s be clear: I’m all for child safety.  As the parent of an extremely active and extremely injury-prone kid, I understand that accidents happen.  I also understand that having basic rules to keep order is important when dealing with large groups of kids.

But when you’re talking about the context of an elementary school where kids are inside for nearly 7 hours a day, to have a NO RUNNING rule on the playground seems ludicrous.  Kids need time to run, not just for their physical development but also to settle their bodies so they can think better during class.  Kids also need time to run and play and develop their own games, free of adult direction.  If recess isn’t for playing on the playground and running around, what is it for?

On the way home from the playground that day, The Stowaway and I talked about her problem solving and how her body works.  She was filled with a sense of pride that she was able to ‘play like the big kids’.  I assured her that trying her hardest is always the best course of action.

I continue to work at my own kids’ school to advocate for free play recess.  To let the kids do their own thing for 30 minutes has value, and I will work hard to protect that for them.

Do your kids get recess or other free play time in their school day?  What’s the norm in your area?

Water at the Source

To an outsider, it was an unlikely stop on my recent trip to the Bay Area: The Southwest YMCA in Saratoga, CA.

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But I went with purpose, to go to the source of the Aqua Kriya Yoga movement that infused so much meaning into my life and work last year.  This is where Camella Nair, swami in the Kriya lineage and the guru of Aqua Yoga, took yoga off the mat and opened up the practice to people in the pool.

Although Camella was on holiday during my visit, I took a class taught by one of the first people Camella trained to teach aqua yoga.  Rosie is a 60-something woman who has suffered from fibromyalgia, and taking Camella’s aqua yoga classes gave her a rejuvenated body.  I had heard Rosie’s story during my own Aqua Kriya Yoga teaching certification course, and it was a joy to meet her in person.

Rosie led a 50-minute class that was both relaxing and invigorating.  We did a series of planks and twists, and it felt wonderful to energize my spine.  Rosie used some of Camella’s favorite phrases that I’ve also adopted for my teaching; it made me feel like part of a community of teachers that is infused with a rare but valuable positivism.  Taking the time to breathe deeply throughout the class and during floating savasana was just what I needed. Both my body and my mind knew it was such a treat to be the student for a change!

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I was also fortunate enough to finally meet in person Nancy Britton, Camella’s office manager.  Nancy and I have been exchanging a lot of emails as I’ve been (slowly) progressing through the Prenatal Kriya Yoga Teacher Training home certification course.  Nancy is radiant– her passion for supporting Camella’s work and the desire to bring about more goodness in the world is evident.  We had a lovely conversation easily meandering from personal philosophies to business practices.  I look forward to seeing her again at my summation retreat later this year.

If you’re interested in spending time basking in the positive energy of Camella and Nancy, treat yourself to their upcoming yoga retreat in Mazatlan!  I can’t make it this year, but I can only imagine the excellent quality of instruction, superior companionship, and full sense of contentment and peace those who attend will enjoy.

I am grateful for the friendship and support of Camella, Nancy, and Rosie– and the whole Aqua Kriya Yoga community.  You women make my job no work and all play.


2014 Goals

I use goal-setting regularly for both personal and professional development.  I’ve described goal setting strategies before, so today I wanted to publicly state my top 5 goals for 2014.

1. Surf less, sew more.  When the kids go to bed, I get 30 minutes of internet time.  No more checking email endlessly, thinking of ‘one more thing’ to do, or wondering how it got to be 10pm so soon.  Instead, my work time during the day needs to be more efficient, and my ‘time off’ in the evenings is mine for creative development and chatting with my husband.  Sewing projects, here I come!

2. Run a marathon.  It’s been nearly 10 years since I ran a marathon.  (I did run two ultras a few years ago.)  I’ve been training towards a marathon in early March.   I’ll decide in the next few weeks whether that is a go or not.  I’ve also applied to run the NYC Marathon in November.  Wish me luck that I get in via the lottery!

3. Three Kids Weekly photo project.  I want to take at least one photo a week that has all three of my kids in it.  I’ll write a short (like 1-2 sentences short) blurb about the image and catalog the collection.  This seems doable to me in a way that putting together an annual photo book has proven not to be……

4. Find answers.  I have some very small health issues that have annoyed me for several years.  I’m ready to dig a little deeper to see if there is anything I can do to treat my body more nicely and resolve some of the annoyances these issues create.

5. Bring Balance to more people.  2013 was a year of great growth for Balance Personal Fitness Training, and I’m excited to grow Balance Virtual Bootcamp this year.  I’m also searching for a place to hold Aqua Kriya Yoga classes in the winter months.  Walking the fitness journey with others gives me a great sense of satisfaction.


What about you?  What are your plans for health and happiness in the new year?