close

Family

DecorEat & DrinkFamilyLifestyleOutdoorsRestaurantsShoppingThe Eastern SeaboardTravel

Making family memories to last for generations at the Greenbrier

20180304_160019145_iOS

A visit to the indelible resort steeped in tradition, where families come together to enjoy the grandest things in life

Our Greenbrier adventure began with a bit more excitement than our family had anticipated, when we voyaged to the world-renowned resort on a dark and blustery night.

We decided it was best to travel a day earlier than scheduled, since weather forecasters were predicting a windstorm with 50 mph gusts on the day we had planned to drive. Luckily, the Greenbrier was able to accommodate our request for a day-early arrival, so we headed out at 8:30 PM on a three-and-a-half-hour journey through the Allegheny mountains, from Northern Virginia to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The route past my alma mater James Madison University on Interstate 81 and over the alpine thoroughfares was a bit treacherous, with the gale-force winds pushing our car out of our lane several times, but even more frightening was the caravan of 18-wheeler big rigs passing us, swerving on the verge of tipping from the gusts.

A welcoming to remember

After our harrowing drive, the small quiet town of Sulfur Springs was a welcome sight. As we pulled into the gated entrance to the Greenbrier, the magic began. It was the first day of March, but still the resort was dressed in its winter splendor.

Tree branches aligning the gardens in front of the hotel were adorned with tiny sparkling white lights, giving the hotel the appearance of an enchanted palace. As we cruised into the front roundabout, road-weary and wind-battered, we were greeted warmly by the valet, whose energy seemed unaffected by the squall and the late hour.

The check-in staff facilitated a quick registration and off we went, following the valet’s Lincoln Town Car as he led us through the village of white wooden cottages to our accommodations. Upon entering the cottage, we could not contain our oohs and ahhs. The Legacy Florida Cottage, one of the original guest villas on the perimeter of the main resort building, was a spacious and stately yet an inviting home-away-from-home.

Our intergenerational party, spanning eight decades, from two pre-teen boys to an octogenarian grandmother, all found something – in fact many somethings – of delight.

The housekeeping staff had prepared for our arrival by warming the home to a comfortable temperature and turning on lamps in every room, illuminating the charm and hominess of the residence. After the boys did a quick survey of rooms to pick their favorite — a corner king suite with wild jungle-like draperies with a matching bedspread and upholstered chairs, the adults choose their rooms.

Each of the rooms was distinct in its decor, with vibrant colors, like carpets in hues of fairway-green, velvety purple and royal red, paired with bold and bright stripped, plaid and floral bedding and lounge chairs, each with its own strong character and unique appeal.

 

Worth the drive

Even though it was approaching 1 AM by the time we settled in our cottage, the family sat down at the green-lacquered dining room table for a late-night snack of kettle corn and brownies, that my mom had brought along.

The sugar boost was a guarantee the boys would not be going to sleep anytime soon, so despite the night slipping into early morning hours, we sat and chatted at the table, reliving our treacherous trek to the hotel, relieved now that the storm was in our rearview mirror.  We sat up talking and laughing, relating stories of other memorable road trips, and marveling at our surroundings. It was the kind of stuff that family memories are made of, and the preciousness of those moments did not escape me.

The Greenbrier symbolizes this to me, and I’m sure to many. It is a place that families go to spend quality time, to bond, relax, dine out, play, and just be together, sharing and creating  memories in a beautiful and elegant-yet-approachable environment.

Everywhere around the hotel are sitting spaces that encourage gathering and socializing. These lounge spots come in every variety, from sunny alcoves with floral high-back chairs to dimly lit nooks where masculine leather club chairs surround backgammon tables and chessboards.

 

Strolling the grounds and exploring the massive corridors, elegant parlors and ubiquitous lounges and sitting areas of this old-school resort, built in 1778, one feels transported to another time and place.  Here it would not seem out of the ordinary to see a princess ambling in the garden or strolling the hallowed halls, as in fact Princess Grace of Monaco did, when she visited for an impromptu summer vacation, commemorated by a portrait of her in one of the many great rooms of the hotel.

 

The active life

While the Greenbrier is drenched in opulence, it still presents a relaxing environment for its guests, especially for families. As a place where wellness seekers once flocked to bathe in and imbibe the area’s natural mineral springs, believed to contain healing properties, the resort, while giving way to modest modernization, retains its intention to provide a setting for restoration of mind and body.

The activities around the hotel are designed to promote recreation and enjoyment, from the spa, salon and shopping plaza to the seasonal ice skating rink, bowling alley and arcade.

As an ex-pat from Los Angeles, where many ultramodern hotels are steeled in chrome and glass, exuding a hardness and coolness that pervades even the people that inhabit them, I relished the aura of the Greenbrier, where a soul can meld with its beauty and feel at ease, in laid-back luxury.

The small gymnasium overlooking the indoor swimming pool was a place I keenly felt this sense of ease. There a person could exercise and watch children play in the pool, as parents with averagely toned bodies walked comfortably in their swim suits, in a tranquil setting, without the bombardment of loud music and the intimidation of hard-bodied models parading about in bikinis; but, perhaps I am extrapolating too much from my last Palm Springs vacation.

 

Living history

As a historic landmark, there is plenty to see at the Greenbrier, from galleries of fine artwork and portraits of presidents, royalty, celebrities, sports stars and other distinguished Greenbrier guests, to salons designed by the legendary Dorothy Draper and remnants of political and social history, including a cold-war bunker, which is the subject of one of the most popular tours on the property.

On the Bunker Tour, guests can explore the once top-secret fall-out shelter under a wing of the hotel, comprised of spartan barracks and living quarters created for Congress in the 1950s, in the case of a nuclear attack on the nation’s capital.

Among the most popular activities and a Greenbrier tradition since the 1930s is afternoon tea, served daily in the grand upper lobby, where guests can enjoy a sophisticated tête-à-tête while nibbling gourmet pastries and listening to the soft strains of live classical piano music.

Other favorite experiences include rides in a horse-drawn carriage around the property, cooking, painting and knitting workshops, or, for the athletic, sporting activities at world-class facilities for golf and tennis – which have hosted sports greats such as tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams and the late golf legend Sam Sneed, who served at the pro emeritus in his last years.

Other resort activities include adventure offerings, such as horseback riding, falconry, skeet shooting, fishing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. For those who want to try their luck at gaming, the resort hosts the world-class Casino Club, where guests are treated to a champagne toast and a choreographed waltz performance at 10 pm nightly, and guests and bust a move themselves at the 42 Below dance club.

For kids, there’s a plethora of activities, from laser tag in the Bunker space to family friendly movies in the on-property cinema. The Adventure Zone center provides a number of experiences, such as an Alpine Tower for climbing and an Aerial Adventure Course, which we braved as a family activity, tight-rope walking and crossing a series of swinging and dangling challenges 60-feet in the air, with safety harnesses, of course.

In all, there are about 55 activities at the Greenbrier, so it would be hard to find yourself doing nothing at all, unless that is what you choose, which is also a popular option at the resort.

Dining to celebrate

Of course, one of the most celebrated activities at the Greenbrier is dining. The resort features six restaurants and three seasonal restaurants and cafés and five bars and lounges, along with 24-hour room service.

Each day of our visit we enjoyed the lavish breakfast buffet, which included omelet and Belgian waffle stations and just about every breakfast entrée imaginable, from the basics of fruit and yogurt to egg casseroles, keeping trays of bacon and sausage, and a good southern standby of chipped beef gravy and biscuits.

The former Main Dining Room, for which guests must adhere to the resort’s dress code, i.e., jackets and ties for the gentlemen and cocktail attire for the ladies, is known for its exquisite service and menu.  Certainly, the five-star service and the famed Prime Filet of Beef Tenderloin should not be missed in the Main Dining Room, though several other restaurants on the property have outstanding fare.

Our party was most impressed with our delectable meal at Prime 44 West, the high-end sports restaurant and steakhouse named after the legendary West Virginian NBA player Jerry West, who wore the namesake’s number on his uniform. The atmosphere, service and our meal at 44 West was extraordinary from start to end, beginning with the Seafood Platter, progressing to the perfectly cooked Bone-in Rib-Eye and Lobster Mash Potatoes, to the big finish of the flaming Dark Cherry Flambé with Kirsh, prepared tableside.

 

The kids loved the causal Draper’s cafe, not just for the generous frozen scoops of heaven at the ice cream bar, but also because they serve the best Fried Green Tomato Sandwich and Creamy Chicken Pot Pie this side of anywhere. There’s plenty excellent offerings there for adults as well, like the signature Dorothy’s Chicken Salad and the comforting Country Shrimp and Grits. Besides the food, the atmosphere and décor is pure fun, featuring high-backed pink-and-white-striped booths, an homage to Dorothy Draper, the designer whose audacious color schemes give the resort its distinctive flair.

Service with a smile

At the restaurants and at every venue within the resort, the service was exceptional, attentive and friendly. In speaking to the staff, many voluntarily expressed their pleasure to work at the Greenbrier, where they said they were treated like family.

One of the maîtres told us she had been with the Greenbrier just three months, which made her a “embryo” compared to the staff who had been there for decades, some for generations, following in the footsteps of their parents, and their parents before them.

I told her the Greenbrier reminded me of Downton Abbey, the fictitious British castle featured in one of my favorite TV shows, in which the loyal employees-for-life were an intrinsic part of the estate. The analogy made her smile widely.  “I love that comparison,” she said. “The people who work here feel that same kind of love for the Greenbrier.”

A few days at the Greenbrier is not enough to fully explore and appreciate all that the destination called “America’s Resort” has to offer, but it was a good start.

Our last night, after a wonderful, leisurely dinner in the Main Dining Room, at nearly 10 pm, we called up the porter to help light our fireplace. It was late to start a fire, which we would have to stay awake to tend until it burned out, but we wanted to make the night last.  And so, we did.  We stayed up all night, relaxing by the hearth, retelling stories of our adventures of the past days, into the next day.

As we were checking out the next day, I picked up brochure in the lobby.  It described the Greenbrier, as “Life as few know it.” I would have to agree that the splendid experience of a Greenbrier getaway is not something that everyone can do all the time, just as we cannot, and would not want to, eat caviar every day, or it would lose its specialness; but it is an extraordinary treat. 

A visit to the Greenbrier is among those experiences that one can truly call marvelous, and one that our family will always remember, and hopefully come back to enjoy, again, and again.

read more
Eat & DrinkFamilyLifestyleOutdoorsShoppingTravel

Ogden’s small-town charm and big-time skiing

20150304-PowderMountain-LightningRidge-FY1A3683_full

The amiable Utah city that never stops making a name for itself hosts an epic spring snow sports season

There’s no equivalent to “Indian summer” for a winter that lingers into the next season, but mountain resorts in Utah would be using that phrase a lot this year. Spring skiing, usually when the snow pack melts and ski conditions are marginal, is anything but typical in 2018; in fact, it’s quite a phenom. With heaps of powdery snow amounting in several weeks to the total of what the entire winter season produced, Utah’s ski slopes are experiencing peak conditions that promise to continue through at least late spring.

In order to enjoy this wondrous windfall, ushering in a spring break of epic proportions, I headed to the slopes-less-traveled, in Ogden, the best-kept secret of Utah ski country. This tiny town 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, borders a trio of local ski areas that offer everything Park City, Deer Valley, Sundance and their other better-known neighbors do, and they do it in a charming and humble way.

How now, Pow Wow

My first stop was Powder Mountain, also known as “Pow Mow,” the apt-named high-altitude playground that owns no snowmaking machines and relies completely on nature’s precipitation. The quaint Sun Down Lodge, with only one ticket window, looks more like a family cabin on the mountainside than a lodge, and the staff there treat you like an old friend. Because Powder Mountain limits lift tickets to 1,500 per day, even on a busy day, there is never a crowd or a long wait at their nine chairlifts. And because fewer skiers and boarders means less stress on the terrain, the runs stay preserved long after a dump of snow.

Purists favor Powder Mountain for its dedication to providing a next-to-natural experience, down to its use of CAT snowmobiles to transport skiers and riders to areas of the mountain where chairlifts are inaccessible. Powder Mountain is the place that many of the locals go, because of its mom-and-pop feel, and it’s known for its family friendly atmosphere, where people are courteous to each other, especially the staff, just like a small town where everyone knows each other.

In keeping with their reputation as a family ski destination, Powder Mountain has lots of mellow runs over their approximately 8,500 acres of terrain, with 167 runs with a variety of slopes for learners and skiers and riders of all levels, with 25 percent beginner runs, 40 percent intermediate and 35 percent advanced.

Laid back luxury at Snowbasin

For those who enjoy a more extravagant ski vacation experience, the Ogden area offers Snowbasin. While some of the local mountains are distinguished as ski areas, Snowbasin is unmistakably a resort, and the difference is notable from the moment you drive up. The large luxury Earl’s Lodge resembles an alpine country club, with a flagstone exterior, giant hearths in the entryway, floral wallpaper worthy of a ballroom, and large padded leather chairs under massive chandeliers.

Like its decor, Snowbasin’s service appeals to the luxury-loving crowd, with such amenities as bins for guests to check in their belongings, versus the lockers found at most ski venues. These handy receptacles not only add an element of convenience for visitors, they keep the lounge areas uncluttered with ski jackets, boots and other accoutrement that guests tend to pile up while they are unwinding in the lodge.

Another popular amenity that speaks to Snowbasin’s service orientation is their cell phone recharging service, which allows guests to securely leave behind their smartphones to get a quick battery boost, since most guests don’t come equipped with a chargers or spare batteries. All around, the staff is eager to serve, making everything easier for guests, with full-services touches like loading guest’s’ skis for them on the gondola.

Snowbasin is also renowned for its chef-driven culinary excellence. A far cry from the standards of chili, burgers and fries of many ski lodges, the resort features a plethora of restaurant options, and each cafeteria has their own signature gourmet burger. During my visit to the Needles Lodge, 9,000 feet up at the top of the Needles Gondola, I tried the “Bum Burger,” loaded with corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The burger was a satisfying meal by itself, but I was persuaded to also try an oversized chocolate chip cookie, made with a family recipe of the resort owners, which was well worth the calories.

All the extraordinary service aside, Snowbasin is most famous for its world-class skiing, literally, as the site of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games men’s and women’s downhill, super G and combined races. For Olympics enthusiasts, the gondolas are each named after an Olympic competitor, which can make the ride to the summit a fun game of name spotting.

While there’s plenty of Olympic-level double-black-diamond territory for the brave, for the rest of us, the 3,000 acres of terrain incorporates 106 trails with breakdown of 10% beginner and 60% intermediate runs, with the remainder of 30% designated as advanced trails, covering every level of skier and rider.

Third’s a charm

During my trip out to the Ogden area, the region’s third ski area, Nordic Valley, also known as Wolf Mountain, had called the season early, but this little recreational oasis, renowned for its quaintness and family-friendly atmosphere, along with its legendary night skiing and cross-country ski experiences, is definitely on my list to visit on my next trip to Utah ski country. It’s tiny, with approximately hundred 120 acres of terrain, with just a few chairlifts, but it’s big on heart. It’s also big on accommodating skiers at the intermediate level, with about 50% of its 22 runs designated as blue; but they have plenty of terrain for all levels, with approximately 20 percent of the mountain designed as appropriate for beginners and 20 percent for advanced skill levels.

In town

Ogden may seem like a small town, but there’s plenty of après ski options for those who like to come off the mountain and warm up with a cold beer or a cocktail. And for those who don’t hit the slopes, there’s lots of other exploits in Ogden, for those with a taste for adventure or just those with taste.

For a quick history tour combined with good food and shopping, there’s the 25th Street strip.

The architecture of this artsy area has been well preserved, giving the place the look of an old-style western film set, where one can easily imagine the town’s former gun slinging inhabitants raising a ruckus in the saloons and brothels where now stand fashionable boutiques, restaurants, galleries, bookstores and coffee shops.

Our lunch party stopped into Roosters, which we found was all that Yelpers crow about. Housed in the former Eccles Lumber Company building, this bustling brewhouse offers their own home-brewed beer and root beer and features inventive appetizers, like Beehive Cheese Curds, a variety of hearty Mexican entrees, generously portioned salads and stacked sandwiches, along with pizzas and some signature dishes, like Roosters Beer Battered Fish and Chips. In addition to the flavorsome food, the upper floor offers a great view into the windows of the historic Belle London building, now an ice cream shop, where in Ogden’s early days women of the night tossed beans onto passersby below to get their attention, and maybe their patronage.

For authentic Italian, Rovali’s Restorante Italiano on 25th Street offers homemade pastas, a vast drink selection and homemade desserts from their own bakery. They also feature live music every weekend, with local and national musicians.

Guns and cowboys

The 25th Street district is flanked by Union Station, a landmark holdover from the days when Ogden was frequented by railroad carloads of bankers from all over the US, who flocked there for the liberal lending laws, which made Ogden once notable as the city with the most millionaires per capita.

The old train depot now houses four museums, chock full of exhibits commemorating the town’s history as a hub for gun making, trains, cars and cowboys. The cavernous hall recently began hosting a winters farmer’s market with local sellers offering crafts, foodstuff, collectables and gift items amid a festive atmosphere with entertainment and art displays.

Another notable venue in town is the Eccles Conference Center, a modern and impressive complex that hosts large events, such as a jazz dinner that I attended, where I was served a fabulous steak and lobster dinner that rivaled any five-star restaurant and which was absolutely the best meal I’ve ever had at a convention hall.

Indoor adventure

Ogden’s just the right size town to get around in on foot, if the weather’s decent, or by taking a quick Lyft around to explore its sights. In a small metro area, Ogden is dense with some exciting attractions, all grouped within a radius of a few blocks. The Solomon Center in the middle of town features indoor skydiving at iFly, wave pool surfing at Flowrider, indoor rock climbing at iRock, and an arcade full of activities at Fat Cats, including bowling, billiards and miniature golf.

One local attraction that I was thrilled to discover was Social Axe Throwing, which is everything its name promises. Similar to a bowling alley, but with chain-link cages with a huge target painted on plywood at one end of each lane, this venue offers patrons the opportunity to sling sharp metal hatchets into a wall. With a short lesson in safety and technique, within minutes I was nailing it with a satisfying slice into the wood bullseye.

I was intrigued to learn that patrons are permitted to bring their own alcoholic beverages, which they can imbibe behind the saloon doors in the back of the establishment, but because the range resides within 600 feet of a Mormon temple, serving alcohol is prohibited. This got me thinking that maybe it’s just as well that booze is tightly managed when it comes to hurling razor-sharp implements across a room.

The real deal

If retail therapy is what gets your adrenaline pumping, there are some adorable independent shops along 25th Street downtown as well as the 85-store Newgate Mall and some big box stores in town. Determined to get a fitting Ogden souvenir, I scouted every outdoors clothing store in town for a flannel shirt when I stumbled upon Recreation Outlet, a mammoth discount outdoor war and gear warehouse.

Crammed with surplus goods, including a basement wall-to-wall with boxes brimming with merchandise, on the shelves, tables and floors, this clearinghouse could overwhelm even the most seasoned bargain shopper. Here I finally found a pink plaid women’s flannel shirt, along with a few things I didn’t really need, like four pairs of premium ski socks, a couple face guards, and my best bargain, pliers and a screwdriver for $0.89 apiece.

Another find for bargain hunters, particularly those renting ski equipment is the Outdoor Equipment Rental Center at Weber State University. If you can locate the unassuming shed-like building on the college’s campus, you can get great deals on ski gear packages, for as little as $25 a day, or less if you are a student. The staff is friendly and helpful, though you won’t find experienced professionals like you might get at a resort or a sporting goods rental shop; but if you know what you need, you can save some bucks.

Stay around

Where to stay in Ogden will not be a decision that takes you long to make, because options are limited, but there is some variety in the handful of inns. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, in the heart of downtown Ogden, directly across from the Solomon Center. The hotel has all the amenities a short-term traveler needs, and if you book early you might be lucky enough to reserve one of the seven suites with a fireplace and jacuzzi. Other options for accommodations include the only luxury property in town, the Bigelow Hotel, as well as many offerings of bed and breakfasts, vacation homes, and when in season, RV parks and campgrounds.

Ogden Culture

The town once known as a den of gunslingers and card players has evolved over the last century to its current cosmopolitan state, and as someone who had not traveled to the Salt Lake City region in a while, I was amazed to see how much the culture has transformed.

The Mormon church still has a strong influence on the area, though unlike many years ago, there are now very few restrictions on alcohol consumption. One leftover of the old days however is that on Sundays most establishments are closed. Our party was fortunate to find Sonora Grill downtown was serving dinner on a Sunday night, or else we might have gone hungry.

Besides the remnant blue laws, Ogden resembles and feels like any other small town, where the folks are friendly, and visitors are welcomed warmly. By the end of my five-day stint in the town, I knew my way around, and I walked the streets in the evening without a worry. I got on a first-name basis with some of the shopkeepers and hospitality hosts, and even some of their family members. It was no wonder to me that many of the locals told me they had never wandered far from Ogden, nor did they need to or want to.

For some the appeal of Ogden is the fresh air, the outdoors attractions, and of course the epic skiing and snowboarding. For others, it’s the close-knit community and the low-key, laid-back lifestyle.

It’s a place with a lot of history and a lot of progressive changes, yet it’s a place that very much wants to stay the same. It’s the kind of place where you can leave your front door unlocked and trust thy neighbor, and where the robberies and crimes you read about in Ogden are those in the history books.

 

read more
FamilyLifestyleShopping

EasyKicks a shoo-in for parents who are always buying kids footwear

created-for-busy-parents-8ec0614d39484ac4db4a9d4fcf703ffa

If the shoe fits, wear it; if it doesn’t click on another pair, with EasyKicks shoe club for kids

Finally, a subscription service that is easy for me and a real kick for my kid. EasyKicks is a monthly service where subscribers pay a $20 monthly fee and get to pick and have shipped a new pair of Nike or Converse shoes, as they need them.

One of the most interesting elements of this subscription service is that the shoes come delivered to your door in a personalized box, decorated with kid-friendly graphics to boot, and when you take out the new pair of shoes, you put in an old pair of shoes and ship them back In a prepaid envelope for donation or recycling.

You can even put a couple pairs or more in the box, to go to a good cause. Either way, if your gently used shoes find their way to foster kids in need or if they are recycled through Nike grind, they go to a good cause and are kept out of landfills. They may even become materials to make playground surfaces.

The program allows you to swap out your “kicks,” as they call shoes, as often as you need to, at no extra cost. They send along a guide for measuring feet, with instructions, so you’re sure you get the right size. They even include a shoe-print shaped magnet that resembles those old-fashioned measuring devices in shoe stores, so you can slap it on the fridge and always have it handy.

The on-demand subscription concept came about as a way to end the stress of shopping for kids shoes, and the frustration of buying new shoes for kids to only have them wear them out or outgrow them in a month.

Once you ship off a pair of shoes to swap, you can go to your online account and order a new pair. Your membership allows you to keep one pair at a time, but you can order a new pair before you send your old pair back. But if you try to order another pair, a note on the website will let you know you need to first swap out a pair to get a new pair. You can swap out shoes as often as you need to, but measure often, as pediatricians recommend measuring kids feet for resizing every 90 days. Sure enough, at the third month of my membership, my son had already gone up a half size.

If you ever decide to end your membership, they ask that you send back your old EasyKicks, unless you’ve had them for at least 90 days, in which case they are yours to keep.

The shoes selections are a little limited, with only Nike and Converse brands, but considering those are pretty much the only brands my son wears, it was a good match for us. When I last checked the selection, for my son size, there were more than 40 styles from which to choose.
My son loves to look through the styles himself, and he much prefers to tap on a picture online then for me to drag him to a shoe store to try on the shoes.

For families with many kids, you can set up a profile for each child, which includes the child’s name, age and shoe size. They don’t have a discount for multiple kids in a family at this time, but they do often have promotions to save money, like $5 off the first month of membership with a three-month commitment; and they have a gift membership for a year that is $200.

It figures it took busy parents to come up with this idea of a kids show club, and ironically the founders are shoe industry veterans who happened to notice how quickly their own kids outgrew shoes, and they decided to do something to give busy parents a break and to give worn-out shoes a second life.

 

EasyKicks is backed by Nike, which is why the service get access to the latest sneaker styles and gets the best deals in the market. When I did the math, not only did the cost come out to be a steal, the time and energy I saved was priceless.

 

read more
FamilyHealthLifestyleParenting

Kids that can’t keep still build better brains

2018-02-16 (3)

Research shows physical activity fuels kids brains

A new study found that kids who get extra physical activity tend to pay more attention in school and perform better in subjects like reading and math. It’s important that parents find fun physical activities that kids will want to put down the controller and get off the couch to participate in, especially during the colder months when kids are developing cabin fever from staying indoors all day.

Kilian Saekel, CEO of A-Champs, an interactive gaming system that encourages kids to move and play, offers the following ideas on physical activities that kids can do in the comfort of their living room to fuel their brains:

  • Throw a dance party– Kids love dancing and they tend not to think of it as a physical activity, but it does raise your heart rate a significant amount if you throw yourself into it! Crank up some music and let kids create their own dance routines, have dance-off contests, or put on classics like the Macarena and the Electric Slide for choreographed fun.
  • Living room obstacle course– Set up an obstacle course in your living room with stations such as crawling under a sheet or through a tunnel, hopscotch using hula hoops, carrying a ping pong ball on a spoon from one side of the room to the other and rolling up towels to use as a balance beam. You can also have kids use their imagination to create their own stations.
  • Creative twist on reading– Read a book aloud together with your child and when they want to pass the reading duties along to another person they have to do an exercise move such as a jumping jack, sit up or push up.
  • Set the stage– Have kids make up a play or reenact an existing story that involves them acting out different motions such as swimming across an ocean, climbing up a tree or running a marathon. Parents can also shout out different actions that the children have to incorporate into their stories.
  • Put on a video– Introduce kids to new forms of exercise by putting on instructional videos for yoga poses or Zumba and Tae Bo moves. Introduce at least one new pose or move every week and have kids do reps of each one every day.
  • Stick to what kids love – Kids love technology and there are various apps and games that aim to get kids off the couch and participating in physical activities. NFL Play 60 and ROXs are both great options to expose kids to tech without sitting in front of a television.

 

 

 

read more
Automobiles

Living large in a Lincoln Navigator, and loving it

cq5dam.web.881.495

Family Size Matters

By golly, bigger is better, at least when it comes to the Lincoln navigator. I’ve been driving an SUV for the past 11 years, but driving the Navigator was a first-time experience, and a great one — a great, great big one.

I was recently given the opportunity to drive around in a Lincoln Navigator for five days in Los Angeles, and riding in such a large vehicle was at first outside my comfort zone, and then I realized, I actually stepped into a new, enormously comfortable zone.
Getting behind the wheel and looking over the hood from a perspective of what seemed like 10 feet up, I felt powerful.

I know it’s cliché, but I understood instantly why the Paul Bunyan-esque big country boys from my home state of Virginia were so enamored of luxe-size vehicles. The front compartment resembles first-class accommodations in a 747. The large and roomy seats are like lazy boy loungers, complete with a side table with cup holders. Of course, all the wood trim and finishes of lacquer and chrome are of high quality and bespoke materials.

The backseat, or I should say backseats, are equally spacious, and the first row even features its own controls for the stereo system.

The interior of this car hollers comfort, and taken as a whole, the undeniably loud statement this car makes is “power.” Not that this luxury SUV is made for a monster truck rally or racing, but it puts forth through it’s prodigious presence an aura of superiority and strength. This is, I am sure, the allure for many drivers, though in my case, I also was endowed with the feeling of safety.

Driving a car this size made me feel protected on the road. Driving around Los Angeles, occasionally through questionable neighborhood and sidestreets, I felt like no one could touch me, and they wouldn’t dare. I also thought that, heaven for bid, if I got into an accident, I would not be the one who had to worry about being crunched.

This car gave me a feeling of confidence and calm, which is a great feeling for a mom carting around her kids. It may not be totally PC to say, but it was a secure feeling to know that I was the biggest, baddest most intimidating vehicle sitting at the traffic light, and my vehicle was saying to others, “Don’t mess with us.”

Other features that gave me peace of mind about safety including the driving aids like a back up beeper, warning alerts when you drive too close to the curb or the car in front or back when parking, and I appreciated the projection onto the front windshield of navigation directional signs, my current speed, the speed limit, and the time of day, so that I never had to take my eyes off the road.

It’s also a gratifying feeling to drive into a place and get instant respect and attention, like when I pulled into the valet at the H Hotel near LAX, and the valets were tussling over who would get to take my vehicle.

Besides the psychological benefits of driving this vehicle, the amenities are nothing to overlook. You name it, it’s got it. Full-size screen navigation, check. Kick-butt sound system, check. Reclining and fold-down seats that are like a bed, check. The design of this car is all about luxury, comfort and making it easy for the driver to relax and enjoy the ride. The details are also all about providing a VIP experience for everyone, driving or riding, down to the sideboards that automatically slide out from under the car when a door is opened, as soft purple lights illuminate the step and the ground. Is the feeling of someone taking your hand and guiding you as you step down out of the car.

I would be remiss not to mention the actual mechanics and the driver of the car. It should go out without saying, that this car has an engine to match it’s muscular exterior. Though it is a sizable vehicle, the acceleration is quick, so if the mere size of the vehicle alone doesn’t make other drivers let you in when you try to pass, then the speed of it will get you out front, or wherever you need to be.

Needless to say, kids love this car. It is an indoor playground. Kids of all ages, i.e., those in their 20s, 30s and beyond, love this car, because it is a party on wheels. It is easy to see in my mind’s eye a bachelor party, or a bridal shower, or a weekender with the girls or the guys, on-the-go in this vehicle. It’s not just a pleasure to drive, it is a treat to ride in, from any vantage, including the rear third row, which has space behind it for shopping bags, sports gear or a couple carry-ons.

For sure, this is the ultimate road-trip vehicle, loaded with luxury features and prestige to make the ride incredible, with the caveat that you might not want to get out once you reach your destination.

read more
FamilyLifestyleParentingTech

Osmo adds STEAM to kids’ coding with new music creator system

2017-10-03 (21)

Coding Jam is the latest gameplay system that teaches kids to code while they play

The other day my son commanded Google Home to play a custom playlist he had created on a Pandora. Two things occurred to me about this. First, wow. The digitally connected future vision of the The Jetsons was coming true; and then, my more mundane thought was, “That music is awful. My 10-year-old child could write better arrangements,” and thanks to Osmo, he can.

Like many other kids who love video games, my son craves leveling up and learning how to improve his skills, and Osmo has harnessed this excitement in a new technology experience, Coding Jam, that allows kids to create music through basic coding. Using colored building blocks and a system that interacts with an iPad or iPhone, kids can arrange and play musical notes in strings and sequences to write their own tunes.

The coding system, designed for kids 5-12, was created by former Google techs as the next generation of award-winning Osmo STEAM-fueled hand-on gameplay that helps children learn valuable coding skills that they can build upon to understand more complex coding, i.e., become the next genius engineers to save the world, or at least they can have fun and create some cool music.

The system works by helping kids learn music fundamentals such as chord progressions, leading into patterns and sequences. As they get to know coding’s creative side, they develop an ear for rhythm, melody and harmony. And more good news for parents: new research finds that high-school students who studied music appreciation scored 61 points better on their verbal SATs and 42 points better on their math SATs.

Once their arrangements are composed, kids can safely share their jammer mixes with family and friends. As they build the system with more blocks, they can create literally millions of combinations and programming options.

Here’s a short glimpse at what the experience is like: https://youtu.be/E9eAMARTnAk.

Osmo system are available at Amazon, Target, ToysRUs and online at the Osmo store.

 

read more
EducationFamilyLifestyleParenting

Five Back-to-School Body Language Tips to Fight off Bullies

bullies

Expert gives tips for children on posture to express confidence and strength

Going back to school should be an exciting time in every child’s or teen’s life. They get to see their friends after the summer break and make new ones. However, a lot of students are faced with severe anxiety and stress when a new school year comes around. Whether it’s facing the school bully, not having the confidence to raise their hand and participate in class or even just trying to make friends, a student’s body language can become a tool to turn the social and scholastic experience of school into a positive one. Body language and image expert, Yana German, shares tips for students on how to pass the school year with flying colors.

German’s personal story inspired her to help other children who are bullied. After relocating to the US during her teenage years due to anti- semitism in her native Belarus, German became an easy target for bullies at school. “ My parents couldn’t afford much, so most of my clothing came from refugee charities,” explains German. “Kids would make fun of me because I wasn’t dressed well and would throw food at me during lunch,” continues German. The bullying got to the point where German had to drop out of school for a year in order to get her confidence back and continue her education. Today, German is a mother to two daughters and shares her body language tips to ward off bullies.

One of the most important tips is to keep an open posture. “Parents should always encourage their kids to stand up straight with their head and chin up,” says Yana. “Having great posture will instantly boost your confidence. Pulling your shoulders back and opening your chest is one quick fix that works wonders. Not only does it make you taller it boosts your inner confidence,” explains German.

When a student is talking to another child he/she should always look them in the eye. “Nothing gives away your fear more than not looking at the person you are speaking to.” says German. “Looking someone in the eye and maintaining that contact for as long as you can is a great non-verbal way of expressing your confidence,” adds German.

When someone is bullied it’s really hard, if not impossible to respond with empathy. “Shy and vulnerable kids are usually easy targets for bullies. That’s why it’s really important to smile,” suggests German. “Smiling serves as your barrier towards any negativity, and bullies rarely target children who seem to be happy, calm and radiate good energy,” adds German. When a student rarely smiles, it can be a warning sign of low self-esteem.

When we are feeling self-conscious, we naturally tend to become “smaller.” We want to shrink away into the room so that nobody notices us. This means  we may hunch over, hide in a corner and cross our arms and legs until we almost disappear. German says the best way to gain confidence is to physically take up more space than usual. “If you are standing, take a wider stance than usual, put your arms on your hips. If you are sitting with a desk in front of you, use your arms on the desk to take up space.”German says. “This will make you feel more powerful and instantly give you more confidence.”

Relax your arms and open up your shoulders. “When a child or teen crosses his/her arms, it sends out a defensive signal that they want to be left alone,” explains German.  “He can put his hands in his pockets if he feels awkward holding his arms by his side. What’s important is that he keeps his torso open.  When the child’s arms at their side and they face the other child heart to heart it shows others he’d like to make new friends.”

read more
AutomobilesFamilyLifestyleParenting

Auto maker address deadly mistake of kids left in cars

kids-in-cars-480×366

More children get left in cars during back-to-school season

GMC has announced a new vehicle feature to help prevent caregivers from accidentally leaving children in cars, which can be a fatal mistake in hot weather. GMC’s “Rear Seat Reminder” is an industry-first technology intended to help remind the driver to look in the rear seat before exiting the vehicle under certain circumstances.

GMC’s protective feature will be standard in the new 2018 GMC Terrain.  The technology does not actually detect objects or people in the rear seat but monitors rear door usage for up to 10 minutes before or during a trip, and when the driver turns off the vehicle.  An alarm sounds five chimes and displays a warning on the driver information center screen, prompting a second look in the back seat. A GMC staff engineer and mother of two, Tricia Morrow, led the development of the technology.

It is as tragic statistic that about half of the heatstroke deaths of children under age 14 occur because caregivers mistakenly leave children in cars. Since 1998, more than 660 children across the United States have died from heatstroke when unattended in a vehicle. During September’s back-to-school season and Baby Safety Month, Safe Kids Worldwide warns that changes in caregivers’ routines can lead to children being forgotten in cars.

Young children are particularly at risk as their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s.  When a child’s internal temperature gets to 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down. And when that child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child can die.

Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization of 400 coalitions across the U.S. and funded by General Motors, developed a system called ACT to help remind caregivers not to leave children in cars.  The acronym focuses on avoiding heatstroke by never leaving a child in a car, creating reminders that a child is riding in the car, and taking action by calling 911 if a child is left alone in a car.

Safe Kids warns that children get left behind by loving, caring parents simply because they become distracted, and that these accidences are more common with new parents who are sleep-deprived or when a parent’s routine is disrupted.

read more
FamilyLifestyle

Tie up your bored kids with string, and other summer crafts for kids

Bored-kids

String up your kids with this crafty decorative string sculpture wall hanging, with their own initials

This craft, designed for fifth graders, will introduce kids to the irresistible fun of string art.  They can start off with this quick and cool project using just a few nails and some string to create letter boards to feature their own initials.

What You Need:

  • Wooden board
  • Paint
  • Paint brush
  • Scrap paper
  • Pencil
  • Small nails
  • Small hammer
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Heavy string
  • White glue
  • Scissors

What You Do:

  1. Have your child paint one side of her board. Make sure she uses a color that contrasts sharply with the color of her string.
  2. Let her use a pencil and paper to practice drawing the outline of her chosen letter.
  3. Once she’s perfected her letter and the paint on the board has dried, have her set the paper on top of the board. Help her position the paper just right so that the letter is exactly where she’ll want her string letter to be.
  4. Working from the center of the letter out, have her carefully hammer nails into the board along her paper penciled outline.  The nails should be spaced about 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch apart.
  5. If the nail tends to wobble as your child tries to nail them in place, show her how to use needle-nose pliers to keep each nail steady.
  6. When all of the nails are in place, have her gently tear away the paper pattern.
  7. Let her then use tweezers to remove any bits of paper that remain.
  8. Help her attempt to wiggle each nail. If any nail moves, help her hammer it more securely into the board.
  9. Have your child tie her string around one of the nails
  10. Let her stretch the string to a nail on the other side of the letter.
  11. Help her wrap the string around that nail before stretching the string back to the first nail.
  12. This time, she should wrap the string around a nail next to the first string.
  13. Have her continue to weave her string back and forth until every nail has been wrapped. There’s no specific pattern of science that needs to be followed. The goal is just to color in the nail outlined letter with string.
  14. When she is done, help her tie off and cut the string.
  15. Apply a dot of glue to the knot at the beginning of the letter and to the knot at the end of the letter.
  16. When the glue has dried, have your child trim the extra string.

Additional panels can be made to spell out your child’s last name.  Or she could make everyone’s first initial.  Soon she can have a gallery of string art to show off just like a professional artist.

Find this and other activities — like reading, at www.education.com.

read more
Eat & DrinkFamily

Chill out and bowl away the summer with season passes

20170430_162708346_iOS

BOWLMOR AMF offers bowling all summer for one price

bowling boy

If you think finding something for the kids to do over spring break was a challenge, get ready, summer is right around the corner. How about treating them to an affordable activity that is good exercise, in a climate-controlled environment, with kid-friendly food they love, that is excellent fun with friends and family? If that sounds good to you, slip into some bowling shoes and join in the Summer Games at a Bowlmor AMF bowling alley near you.

Bowlmor AMF, which includes the brands Bowlero, Brunswick Zone, AMF and Bowlmor Lanes, is offering a Summer Games Passport that allows guests to bowl up to three games every day, show rental included, all summer long, at any of the more than 300 participating locations across the nation. If you opt for bowling at just one location, a slightly less expensive standard Summer Games pass will do.

20170430_163531684_iOS

At Bowlmor AMF lanes, bowling is half the fun of a visit to the bowling alley. During a recent visit with my son and a friend, the music, food, and of course arcade games were an equal entertainment draw. I was pleased to find some healthy options on the menu, such as wraps and salads, alongside the delicious and decadent fare of burgers, seasoned fries, and nachos, and treats like fried pickle “frickles,” a gigantic salty pretzel to share, and a real party pleaser, the Monster Cookie Melt, a huge warm cookie in a skillet adorned with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.

 

bowling - food

bowling - cookieEntertainment aside, note to parents, bowling may even help prevent “learning loss” over the summer break, as kids can use their math skills to add up their scores and compete against themselves and their friends, though common-core-challenged parents will be glad to know that today’s modern bowling alleys have electronic scorekeeping that requires little more than entering each player’s name on the leaderboard.

score board

Speaking of sharpening addition and multiplication skills, for those who are math-minded, the savings of using a Summer Games pass would amount to about $2,800 for someone who bowled every day – or 300 games– over summer!

bowling boysbowling toss

 

Summer games passes can be purchased for kids (under 15) and adults at a participating bowling alleys or at https://bowlsummergames.com/. Pricing varies by region, but start as low at $29.95 for kids.  At my local Bolero, the cost was $34.99 for kids and $39.95 for adults for the standard passes and $39.99 and $44.95 for the Passport level passes.  The Passport was the best value for our family, as we will be traveling over summer, and we look forward to visiting other bowling alleys over our vacation.

20170430_162708346_iOS

Passes are available for purchase now through Labor Day, and can be used from May 22 until September 4.

20170430_162945991_iOS

read more