Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Take A Lap

A family bike ride can be a great way to spend time together and get some exercise, but with younger children, you often alternate between worrying about their safety on city streets and waiting for them to catch up. It can put a real damper on the whole event and ruin the outing. But before you scrap your plans, consider riding your bikes at a local school. We love to ride our bikes on the high school track a few blocks from our house. Always check to make sure there aren’t any rules against riding your bikes on the track, and that there are no events scheduled. And be extra courteous to anyone there to run/walk on the track. Our rule is that we give runners "two lanes" on either side, and always say "on your right" (or left) when we pass. The track is usually softer than the street—excellent if you have inexperienced riders who might wipe out—plus, there are no cars to worry about, and everyone can go safely at their own pace. You can make it even more fun by breaking into pairs and racing each other, even do a relay. It’s easy to keep track of how far you’ve gone, since four laps equal a mile. An added bonus of using the track is that it usually surrounds a football field. If the younger kids get tired of riding, they can run around on the football field or bleachers and you can still keep an eye on them. Be sure to pack plenty of water, load up on sunscreen, and of course, ALWAYS wear your helmet!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


When the weather warms up, we love to barbecue. One of the challenges I face is that I love the taste of it all so much that I have a hard time controlling myself. I just want to eat everything! Recently, I started making mini burgers instead of regular sized burgers. I take two pounds of lean ground beef and add a little Montreal Steak Seasoning and some bread crumbs. I get about 16 mini burgers out of this. Not only is it built-in portion control, but they cook a lot faster. And you can eat two without feeling like you have to unzip your pants! My daughter is not a big meat eater and will rarely finish a regular sized burger. So these are perfect for her. (She still doesn't finish a whole one, but at least she doesn't waste as much!) For buns, I use dinner rolls. I set out the usual fixin's: cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and red onion. They are delicious and everyone loves them. It's a great way to save a little money when you're having a party, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Games & Grooves

Looking for something fun to do this Friday or Saturday night? Maybe you’d like to plan a get-together but are feeling the pinch in this economy. You’re not alone. One of our favorite activities is to hold a Games & Grooves party. It’s fun with just the four of us, but even more fun with friends over. The format is really simple: food, games, dancing.

We start with dinner, usually a selection of cold cuts and cheeses, a sliced baguette, and loads of fresh fruit and veggies. Everyone can bring something to share, just make sure it’s simple. If you want to be decadent, add dessert. I like to make truffles—I know, wait! They’re high fat and high calorie, BUT, they’re small and I only make a few. Just enough for that little something sweet at the end of the meal, but not the same as eating a giant slab of three-layer chocolate cake! It usually comes out to one or two per person and no leftovers to wolf down after the party.

The great thing about this type of “dinner” is that you can grab a little something and then go back to the main activities: games and grooves. If we have a crowd, there’s usually a football game going on outside. Or baseball. Or Frisbee. In cold weather, we might skip this part and gather for dominoes or cards. But one of the highlights of Games & Grooves is the old school Atari that I grew up with. We love to play arcade games, and they’re fun for all ages.
Again, I know—wait! No, it’s not just an excuse to sit and play video games. Only two people can play Atari at the same time, so I also put on some mix CDs and if you’re not playing Atari, you’re dancing to the music. Hence, the Grooves part.

See how it all works together? This is a really fun way for everyone to come together, enjoy each other’s company, burn off some energy and just have a good time. I use a lot of music from when I taught aerobics and I love trying to teach my kids the steps. (Seriously, is any song better than Madonna’s “Holiday” for doing the Grapevine? My kids hear it come on and line up behind me.) And I love watching them to see their dance moves.

Now, most people don’t have an old Atari gaming system lying around. A lot of you might have a PlayStation, Nintendo or a Wii. And that’s fine. You can still integrate those games into your healthier lifestyle with no problem, especially Rock Band or Wii Fit. Just make sure you’re still getting plenty of physical activity and everyone keeps moving.

I almost forgot to mention the BEST part of Games & Grooves: you will spend most of the night LAUGHING your head off. They say it’s the best medicine. In any economy. So make some memories this weekend and have fun with your own Games & Grooves party!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Safety First!!

The weather is finally warm and you’re ready to head outdoors and have some family fun. Did you lock the house before you left? Turn off the stove? Buckle up when you got in the car? Great, but before you head out to the park or a nature trail, you’ll also want to make sure that everyone has the proper safety equipment for whatever activities you’re planning to do. So plan a trip to your local sporting goods store first to check out what’s new.

If you’re looking to save some money and don’t mind buying something used, try http://www.playitagainsports.com/, or look online at http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites or http://www.freecycle.org/.

Safety equipment includes helmets if you’re going to be cycling or skateboarding, knee and elbow pads for skating, shin guards for soccer, life vests and water wings for aquatic activities, mouth guards for various sports, and don’t forget a cup for your boy if he’s playing contact sports. (Pretty sure you’ll want to buy mouth guards and cups new, though!)

You can always ask the sales staff about each product to ensure that you’re getting the proper equipment for each family member. But in case you’re looking to save a little money and buy something used, some good general guidelines include choosing equipment that fits snugly, but not so tight that it is uncomfortable, and replacing equipment as it is outgrown or begins to show signs of wear.

With bike helmets, look for a seal of approval from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), or American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Be sure they sit flat on your head and don’t scoot back, and that you have proper visibility. You can adjust the fit with the foam sizing pads that come with the helmet. And parents: be a good example and make sure you wear your helmet, too!

Just a little preparation ahead of time can save you a lot of hurt down the road and keep everyone in the game.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Let It Grow

I started out last week with a flurry of new ideas for blog posts, and then mid-week I came down with a case of the cruds: sore throat, achy head and neck, fatigue. With a busy schedule, blog posts had to wait until I could recover. But it’s a new week and I’m feeling much better, so here we go.

My first topic this week is the physical and nutritional benefits of gardening. Now that most of us are enjoying spring weather, the time is right to think about planting a garden. You don’t have to sacrifice a large portion of your yard. Even if you live in an apartment or condo, you can still use containers to grow your plants, or look for a community garden in your area. Tending a garden as a family accomplishes several things: First, it provides wholesome food to feed your family, which can also save time, money and gas, since you don’t have to make that trip to the store when you need a few tomatoes for a recipe. Second, it can be a great workout. Pulling weeds and digging in the soil can increase your heart rate and strengthen yoru arms and back. And finally, it gives each member of the family a chance to contribute to a group project.

Homegrown produce always tastes best! By growing your own, you will know exactly which products were used on your fruits and vegetables. Kids love to “get dirty” and can help by putting plants in the ground and watering. And don't forget the physical benefits: A 150-pound person can burn 286 calories by gardening for an hour.

A garden can also be a source of pride. Even young children can literally see the fruits (or veggies, or even flowers) of their labors and say, “I helped create that!” Taking care of something and watching it grow and prosper carries over to other lessons in life. Besides, at the end of a warm summer day, there is nothing like sitting on the back porch and enjoying a bowl of homegrown strawberries with your family.