Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2

The San Francisco Bay Area is a special place throughout the year, and no time more so than at holiday time. But, let’s face it­–when the holidays get crazy, stress levels tend to get high.

Fortunately, there are many ways to take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

There’s a holiday activity for every budget. From live reindeer to lighted trains, something magical is probably happening somewhere in December around the Bay.

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Public Destinations and Events

My family loves San Francisco’s Union Square at holiday time. Enjoy the lighted tree in the square, outdoor ice skating at the Union Square Ice Rink, decorated store windows at Macy’s, photos with Santa at the Westfield Shopping Center, the 12-foot-high Enchanted Sugar Castle at the St. Francis Hotel, a cable car ride, and assorted other only-in-San Francisco attractions.

Did you know that reindeer antlers are among the fastest growing bones? Take in the science behind the season at California Academy of Sciences’ exhibit, Tis the Season for Science. Meet live reindeer and learn how they adapt to harsh Arctic winters, see how snowflakes form inside the interactive Snowflake Theater, and enjoy exploring holiday-themed and other exhibits.

Hometown Holidays in Redwood City offers an extravaganza featuring a parade, Santa, ice sculptures, entertainment, a special effects light show, and a visit from the CalTrain Holiday Train, December 5.

Benicia’s charming Main Street hosts Santa and others at the Benicia Christmas Parade and Holiday Market, December 12.

Holiday on the Farm at Forest Home Farms in San Ramon features old-fashioned holiday activities and entertainment and a visit from Victorian Santa and his reindeer, December 12. (Enjoy other programs, such as Candy Cane History and crafts and a Nature’s Decorations scavenger hunt, December 5 and 19.)

Ring in the New Year at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum by taking a turn at striking the 2,100-pound, 16th-century Japanese temple bell. The reverend-led event includes a ceremony and the bell-ringing, to leave behind last year’s regrets and bad luck, December 31.

Little ones will enjoy Noon Year’s Eve at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Dance outdoors, make a crown, and watch the ball drop on Festival Plaza, December 31.

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San Francisco’s railway cars hail from all over the world.

Holiday Performances

Cities and hamlets all around the Bay Area offer plenty of options for holiday entertainment.

Traditionalists will want to head to San Francisco Ballet’s The Nutcracker, which made its debut on Christmas Eve, 1944. The Velveteen Rabbit,  ODC/Dance Company’s colorful and long-running holiday adaptation of Margery Williams’ classic children’s book about a beloved nursery rabbit that becomes real, plays at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. San Francisco Symphony offers multiple musical holiday shows, including Peter and the Wolf and A Charlie Brown Christmas–Live.

There are more than two dozen performances of The Nutcracker all around the Bay Area. The above link shares those, in addition to multiple holiday performances, Santa visits and other fun holiday happenings around the Bay.

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Gingerbread House Displays

Gingerbread houses are another wonderful holiday tradition, dating back more than 1,000 years of gingerbread history to a time when gingerbread was used to make religious creations. We’ve made some fun DIY gingerbread houses over the years (orange peel satellite dish, anyone?) and for inspiration, there’s nothing like the beautiful and astounding displays created by the pastry chefs at some of San Francisco’s finest hotels.

The Fairmont San Francisco Gingerbread House must be seen to be believed. The two-story (!) house is than 22 feet high and 23 feet wide and features thousands of gingerbread bricks. The Fairmont Hotel is also beautifully decorated, with lit trees and a model railroad. While there, enjoy the Fairmont’s Gingerbread Holiday Tea.

Gingerbread enthusiasts won’t want to miss the St. Francis Enchanted Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Each item on the 12-foot-high replica of a medieval French castle and village is intricately handcrafted through sugar art techniques. Begun in 2005, the castle gets larger and more detailed each year.

The Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco showcases a large and imaginative gingerbread holiday village. Have fun exploring all around it before or after tea (above), or simply by popping into the lobby.

Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel Gingerbread House is an extensive replica of the Gold Rush-era hotel.

Join the Gingerbread House Competition and Tour in Sausalito. Pick up a map, hunt for decorated houses, at local businesses, and vote for your favorites in this delightful town tradition.

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Holiday Teas

One of my family’s favorite traditions is holiday high tea. We love dressing up and going to a city hotel that’s beautifully decorated to enjoy exquisite sandwiches and desserts. San Francisco’s Sheraton Palace Hotel offers a holiday tea in its beautiful Victorian Garden Court that features delightful children’s sandwiches, as well as crowns and scepters for small visitors and Santa Visits on Mondays. While you’re there, visit the hotel’s beautiful decorated trees and the large and delightful gingerbread village in the lobby. Here are lots of other terrific San Francisco holiday teas.

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Still seeking more holiday lights, sights and decorations? See these from San Francisco Travel Magazine.

Read Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1: Holiday Light Displays, Parades and Ice Skating.

Between all the holiday entertaining and buying gifts, your wallet definitely feels the pinch. On the upside, if you use the right credit card, you can earn rewards points to get something back for all that spending. I use the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which earns Membership Rewards points for every dollar I spend –and for no annual fee.

Plus it bonuses you 20% extra Membership Rewards points after making 20 or more purchases in a billing period. That’s music to my ears at holiday time!

Enjoy your magical San Francisco holiday!

This post was sponsored by the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which rewards multi-tasking parents so we can take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Fairmont Hotel

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Winter Inspiration: Photos and Poetry

Make this a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House

 

 

 

Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1

I never fail to find the holiday season completely magical, and revel in the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area offers so many opportunities for families and others to experience that magic. Many of my family’s warmest memories are holiday memories–and many of those are low-cost or free, offering experiences as an antidote or addition to gifts and holiday shopping.

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The best things in life are often free–like family time decorating for the holidays, setting the dinner table, making cookies for holiday guests, or enjoying the Bay Area’s special light and other displays. We cherish these holiday #EveryDayMoments that add up to profound memories and traditions.

Holiday Light Displays

Winter holidays call for glorious lights brightening the long nights, just as candles and bonfires did for centuries before the invention of Christmas lights. Here are some of the best Bay Area light displays.

Residential Neighborhoods

The San Francisco Peninsula is a hotbed of holiday light activity. Whole neighborhoods get into the spirit, with holiday characters, musically synchronized lights and more on Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos, Fulton Avenue in Palo Alto, and Dewey Street in Redwood City, among other individual spectacular houses.

Marin County is home to some fabulous light displays, including the Rombeiro House, a 25-year tradition, which features stunning holiday decorations, outside the home as well as in multiple rooms inside! The Rombeiros graciously and cheerily greet all visitors throughout the season. See my walk-through of the Rombeiro House and learn about other great Marin County light displays. A horse-drawn Holiday Light carriage ride through Novato features the Rombeiro and other decorated homes.

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In the East Bay, Widmer World in Pleasanton has been going, and growing, since 1980. Widmer World, a home Santa visits, will be featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight in December. While you’re in the area, check out the other “must see” houses in Pleasanton and Livermore, according to California Christmas Lights, or take in the glow of Thompson Street in Alameda.

A traditional holiday highlight in San Francisco is the Tom and Jerry Christmas Tree in Noe Valley, which features a 65-foot decorated tree and Santa visits. The Chestnut Christmas Lit Houses in South San Francisco are another fan favorite.

California Christmas Lights is a fantastic resource for holiday light displays all around California. Search by county and city, or narrow your search to “must see” houses or houses that have been verified for 2015, and then create a driving map to view your picks.

Not in the San Francisco Bay Area? This is a terrific resource for the best Christmas lights around the U.S.

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Public Destinations

San Francisco Zoo Lights offers reindeer visits, nightly shows, and rides on the Little Puffer steam train. Don’t forget to bundle up–rumor has it there are snow flurries, too.

Oakland ZooLights features a Candy Cane Lane with themed rides, a light show, and rides on the Outback Express train, which will be lit up with thousands of lights.

At Gilroy Gardens, the sweet nature-themed park dons thousands of holiday lights to become a winter wonderland, featuring multiple holiday shows and attractions, including a Candy Cane Lane and a laser light show over Coyote Lake.

Want to enjoy lights on an urbane shopping street? San Francisco’s Union Street hosts a Festival of Lights Celebration December 5th, in addition to a week-long elf hunt, and lighted decorations all season.

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Enjoy these other lighted trees and menorahs around the Bay Area, including festive Union and Ghirardelli Squares.

Take a ride on one of these other Bay Area lighted holiday trains.

This is a great list of tree lightings and holiday light events in San Francisco and Marin County.

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Lighted Parades

Whether on land or sea, by vehicle or foot, holiday light parades are especially delightful–and usually free! Bundle up, grab a mug of hot cocoa, and enjoy one of the Bay Area’s upcoming light parades.

Lighted yachts will sail in the 39th annual Alameda Lighted Yacht Parade, December 5.

The Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting in Morgan Hill features an indoor show and a visit from Santa’s magic ship, December 5.

At San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, you can see the sights, including the lighted trees at Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square, and then enjoy the San Francisco Lighted Boat Parade, the largest lighted holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay, with more than 75 boats, December 11.

Sausalito’s waterfront is home to the Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade, featuring fireworks and more than 40 decorated boats, December 12.

The Parol Lantern Festival and Parade, hosted by San Francisco’s Filipino-American Development Foundation, starts at Yerba Buena Gardens and features lighted parol lanterns, the Filipino symbol of hope, blessings, luck, peace, and light, December 12.

The San Rafael Lighted Boat Parade lights up the San Rafael Canal with cheery decorated boats from four local yacht clubs, December 19.

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Holiday Ice Skating

Ice skating is particularly delightful at holiday time, when some of the Bay Area’s public parks and workaday spaces transform for the season. Perfect your double salchows and triple toe loops at these frosty spots. Check the web sites for schedules, fees and details.

A 25+ year tradition, Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center in San Francisco provides a large outdoor rink conveniently located near the Ferry Building. After skating, hop on a cable car and head to Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf. Or let San Francisco’s Union Square Ice Rink be the center of a fun holiday outing. See various Union Square activities, above.

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In the East Bay, The Little Ice Rink is a sweet rink at Alameda’s South Shore Center. Popular Walnut Creek on Ice is back for a festive run in a smaller, festively decorated rink. New kid on the block, Downtown Holiday Ice in Martinez, offers lessons on Saturdays.

San José’s Downtown Ice boasts the South Bay’s largest outdoor rink, which is ringed by lighted palm trees. Head to San Mateo’s Central Park for the large San Mateo on Ice rink. Families will especially enjoy Winter Lodge in Palo Alto, a small three-season rink (September – April) that is perfect for beginners.

In the North Bay, Marin on Ice in San Rafael features a large outdoor rink next to the Northgate Mall.

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The Bay Area is home to some beautiful year-round indoor rinks, too. Redwood Empire Ice Arena, or Snoopy’s Home Ice, in Santa Rosa, is a gorgeous Swiss-chalet style rink that was built by cartoonist Charles Schulz in 1969. While you’re there, visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Snoopy’s Gift Shop. Oakland Ice Center and Sharks Ice at San José offer large, well-equipped rinks. Still more skating can be found at Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center (conveniently located by the Children’s Creativity Museum).

Still seeking more holiday lights, sights and decorations? See these from San Francisco Travel Magazine.

Read: Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2: Holiday Events, Performances, Gingerbread Houses and Teas.

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Between holiday experiences and entertaining, and buying gifts, your wallet definitely feels the pinch. On the upside, if you use the right credit card, you can earn rewards points to get something back for all that spending. I use the the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which earns Membership Rewards points for every dollar I spend –and for no annual fee. That will really help when enjoying our #EverydayMoments now and next year.

Enjoy your magical San Francisco holiday!

This post was sponsored by the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which rewards multi-tasking parents so we can take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Winter Inspiration: Photos and Poetry

Make this a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Lives of Animals: Book Review

On the heels of their highly successful and informative books, The Truth About Nature and The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, authors Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer are back with another delightful and fact-filled book that illuminates nature, The Secret Lives of Animals: 1,001 Tidbits, Oddities & Amazing Facts about North America’s Coolest Animals. Also returning for the third book is talented illustrator Rachel Riordan.

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Like their other titles, The Secret Lives of Animals is colorful, easy to use, and appealing from start to finish. Animals are helpfully grouped by category, and each gets its moment in the sun, with illustrations, details and little-known facts.

Kids who are curious about animals will learn a lot about their favorites, as well as some creatures they’ve never heard of. Those who want to get outside to experience animals directly will find plenty of ideas. There is also terrific general science information to help explain concepts like migrations, taxonomies, the continental shelf, anadromous fish (I had never heard that term either), metamorphosis, keystone species, and how to tell a horn from an antler.

Inspired by the book, my family and I returned to some of our favorite activities, like crabbing, tidepooling, and making a bird feeder to attract and feed and local birds. We also took a walk to identify squirrel nests, looked at a spider web with a magnifying glass, and listened for animal sounds at night.

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In addition, we learned a lot of fun facts about our animal friends and devised a quiz based on the tidbits in the book. See how well you do! (answers below.)

               Secret Lives of Animals Unofficial Quiz

  1. How do prairie dogs help their local grass?
  2. Are caribou and reindeer the same species?
  3. Do sockeye salmon change color after they spawn?
  4. What are baby mice sometimes called?
  5. Which animal dates back more than 300 million years and had a wingspan of up to 2 feet?
  6. Can you tell how old a rattlesnake is by counting the number of rattles?
  7. The Giant Pacific species of what animal weighs more than 600 pounds?
  8. How many species of fly are there?
  9. Can a sponge grow to be bigger than a human?
  10. What animal did Benjamin Franklin propose as America’s national bird, rather than the Bald Eagle?

                Quiz Answers

  1. They keep it trimmed.
  2. Yes.
  3. Yes.
  4. Pinkies.
  5. Dragonfly.
  6. No.
  7. Giant Octopus.
  8. 150,000.
  9. Yes.
  10. Turkey.

If you enjoyed playing along, you will enjoy The Secret Lives of Animals! I have one copy to give away. To enter, leave a comment below, listing either your favorite animal or one you want to learn more about. I’ll choose a winner using a random generator by Midnight, PST, Weds, Nov. 4. The winner will be notified by email.

Give Your Child a Great Start with First 5 California’s Talk Read Sing ®

Did you know that 90% of our brains are formed by the age of 5?  Recent research on brain development from First 5 California also reveals that more than 80% of a child’s brain is formed by age 3.

This means that most of children’s vital early learning takes place with parents or caregivers, before elementary school even starts. What’s the best way to ensure children’s crucial learning and brain development in those early years? According to First 5 California, Talk Read Sing ®. It Changes Everything.

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What’s great about talking, reading and singing?

  • It teaches language skills that last a lifetime.
  • It’s natural – every culture around the world does it.
  • It helps secure parent-child bonding.
  • It’s free!
  • Even if we don’t think we’re good singers, our children don’t care! They just love the sound of our voices.

How to get more talking, reading and singing into your child’s life

As vital as it is to use language with our kids, sometimes we feel silly having what feels like a one-way monologue with our little ones. First 5 California has tons of fun activities on their site that help kids learn creativity, language and problem solving. We like this Alphabet House activity because it’s a way of utilizing the body and the senses to learn language. Here are 6 other ways to add talking, reading and singing into your lives:

Look for “Readable” Moments

Books aren’t the only places where kids learn to read. Reading opportunities are all around us! When you’re walking with your child, point out letters and read signs out loud. My daughter loved to make a game of this by searching for certain letters and words (this is a good travel game as well).

We found these letters on local mailboxes! (Of course, letters appear on store signs, billboards, street signs, food packages, and more.)

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Chat Through Your Chores

When your baby or toddler is playing or when you’re performing chores at home, narrate what you or they are doing. “You’re building with blocks.” “I’m washing the dishes.” It might seem silly at first, but they’ll love it, and you’ll be helping them learn those language skills.

Make Lists

Kids often enjoy making lists. Even if the “words” consist of scribbles and lines, that’s the way they begin to read and write. Lists can be used to make menus for playing restaurant or receipts for playing store. Have older preschoolers watch you make your own shopping lists to make the connections between letters, words and items.

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Hit the Library

There’s a lot going on at the local library! We love our library’s sing-a-long and other programs. Many libraries offer an array of early literacy programs to support parents’ role as their children’s first teachers. They also serve as community hubs and help bring families together. Most libraries have expanded to programming far beyond books, and yet they initiate and foster a lifelong love of reading.

Our library hosted a paper boat making session and a race, based on the one in the book, Curious George Rides a Bike.

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Set a Great Example

One of the most effective tools for encouraging kids to read is to be readers ourselves. Try to set aside time for your own reading where your children can see you (and read side-by-side with them when they’re older). Make a habit of reading to your kids as often as possible. Some of my family’s fondest memories involve bonding over childhood books. Bedtime is a natural time for winding down and cuddling through reading, but some kids enjoy bath time so much that that can be an ideal time to share a book.

Sing Throughout the Day

In traditional cultures, people appreciated and expressed the rhythms of their bodies and the days and seasons with dancing and song. We do that today when we sing lullabies to help lull our babies to sleep. Most kids love sweet singing rituals, and those habits help them feel calm and secure. There are many other times throughout the day that are good for singing. I used to sing my favorite childhood camp songs to bond with Anna and make her bath time more fun.

Please note: I am not a great singer! I sing off-key and have a tiny range. Still, I ended up being a song leader for our local Girl Scout unit – perhaps enthusiasm outweighed ability. My teen wasn’t always so happy about my voice, but as a baby she loved mama’s singing, and I loved singing with her.

There are also some wonderful songs that can help kids feel more secure and have more fun during chores and transitions. Here are a few of our favorites:

Cleanup Song

Clean up, clean up,
Everybody, everywhere.
Clean up, clean up,
Everybody do your share.

Let’s Clean Up (to the Tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”)

Let’s clean up today.
Let’s clean up today.
We’ve had our fun.
Our day is done.
So, let’s clean up today.

A helper I will be.
A helper I will be.
There’s work to do.
There’s work to do.
A helper I will be.

This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands (to the Tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush)

This is the way we wash our hands,
Wash our hands,
Wash our hands.
This is the way we wash our hands,
Early in the morning.

(If you like, substitute a day of the week, such as “On a Tuesday morning” or substitute an activity, such as “Brush our teeth”, “Put on clothes”, etc.)

Read more fun, singing ideas from Bailey at Feng Shui Mommy.

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If you have musician friends, all the better, but this is not a prerequisite!

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Don’t forget to check out all the great activities and resources from First 5 California about the importance of talking, reading and singing and how to bring more of them into your and your child’s life.

Please share this great information with others and let me know how you’re talking, reading and singing.

#TalkReadSing #First5CA #First5California

The songs were featured in Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain (first photo)

 

 

Enter the Bright Schools Competition and Learn About the Links Between Light, Sleep and Health

Seven tips for healthy sleep habits

 

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Sleep is vital for our brains, perhaps especially for the brains of growing teens. Lack of sleep can limit our ability to learn and concentrate, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Drowsiness affects every aspect of our health, from our propensity for illness and our ability to manage stress to our food choices, behavior, and driver safety. At the same time, natural light during the day has been shown to positively impact students’ sleep, health and school performance.

So, what can we do to ensure that the children and teens in our lives get the sleep their bodies and minds need? Here are seven habits that have helped my family with sleep.

Establish and stick to a bedtime routine

Many children appreciate predictability in their schedules. Saying good-bye to the day in a peaceful and consistent way can set the tone for restful and rejuvenating sleep.

Try to enact a predictable bedtime with routinized, calming activities, such as a warm bath, transitional songs, lullabies, bedtime stories, or a special and consistent way of tucking your children in. It’s never too late to start a new routine, and you may be surprised at how comforting this habit remains into the teen years. Of course, we allowed for occasional late nights, but we found that having a routine helped us all with sleep as well as family bonding.

Allow enough transition time at bedtime

Transitions are harder for some kids than for others. Be sure to include enough time to wind down and enough time to sleep.

Older children need time for transitions, too. Try to have them stop their homework, turn off technology and leave a half hour for quiet reading, reflecting or family sharing before bed.

Get enough hours of sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get approximately 8-10 hours of sleep. Most teens not only fail to get the recommended amount of sleep, but tax themselves with a full slate of academics and extra-curricular activities, which requires extra sleep. If your kids seem tired during the day, consider saying “no” to more activities, in favor of getting adequate sleep.

Don’t neglect to lead by example – be sure to get enough sleep yourself.

Follow the patterns of natural light

In traditional cultures, people’s daily rhythms matched those in nature, and it’s still best to imitate this as closely as possible. Bedrooms should be dark and quiet in the evenings. Use eye shades and ear plugs if necessary. Likewise, natural light in the morning signals your body to wake up.

This is something we’ve always done in our house, but through the Bright Schools Competition, I also learned that natural light is especially important for mental alertness during the day. One study showed that natural light in the classroom improved students’ test scores by as much as 26%.

Ensure that bedrooms are technology-free

For most kids, computers and phones in bedrooms are so tempting that they’ll pass up sleep in order to stay on their devices. Even if they’re not in use, the blue light from computer and other screens can prevent the body’s release of melatonin, which is crucial for sleep. Keep the devices outside of the bedrooms, to charge up overnight as you do. Consider using inexpensive travel alarm clocks instead of phone alarms.

Tackle your problems before going to bed

Give some thought before bedtime to your to-do list and anything that’s bothering you, to prevent those thoughts from keeping you awake. Jot notes on a pad to read in the morning. Likewise, try to prepare as best you can for the morning – have backpacks packed and permission slips signed. Lay out kids’ clothes. Make ahead what you can for lunch.

Advocate for later school start times

Between their natural circadian rhythms, which keep them up late, and early school start times, teens are perpetually sleep-deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation. We can help them by ensuring that they get all the sleep they can in the time allotted by their schedules and by teaching them to budget their time to prevent as many late-night homework sessions as possible.

Read more tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Read more about teens and sleep.

Learn more about how light effects sleep.

Learn more about and enter the Bright Schools Competition for students in grades 6-8. Winning teams will be awarded as much as $5,000 per team member, and teachers of winning teams will be awarded as much as $3,000 in prize value.

Bright Schools Competition materials have been created by the National Sleep Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association and include lesson plans to help students explore the effect of light on sleep and circadian rhythms, while participating in important STEM education. Teams can engage in original research to create videos, reports or advocacy campaigns.

Put together a team and spread the word about the Bright Schools Competition today!

The Bright Schools Competition is designed for students in grades 6-8. Registration is now open and the submission deadline is January 29, 2016. For more information on the competition, including eligibility requirements, visit www.BrightSchoolsCompetition.org.

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This content was made possible by Volunteer Spot and the Bright Schools Competition. Views expressed are my own.

 

Small Moments Can Add Up to a Rich, Hands Free Life

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Do you have 10 minutes? You can spend that time worrying or tending to your to-do list, or you can spend that time thanking a friend or family member for their kindness or noticing the changing features on your daughter’s face.

That’s the underlying premise behind much of Rachel Macy Stafford’s heartfelt and thoughtful new book, Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More. Stafford had introduced readers to some of her gentle ideas and the aha moments that had led her to greater clarity in her earlier book, Hands Free Mama. Now, she gives us more concrete and thought-provoking ideas and exercises to truly make the most of our time with family, community and ourselves.

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Stafford touches eloquently on a topic I’ve written about, which is that we often miss opportunities for closeness when we think only about the peak experiences, the vacations and large events. She writes, “There are moments in between life’s obligations when we are in the presence of our loved ones that can be made sacred.” These small moments–singing to the car radio, walking around the block, sharing meals, helping with music practice–offer multiple daily opportunities to be present and to experience joy.

Children are naturals at this, and Stafford shares multiple wise offerings that her children say and teach by example. But we can learn, too, to turn off the distractions–whether that means literally turning off a technological device or turning off the marching thoughts in our heads–and choose to be truly present in the seemingly small, everyday moments of our lives before they drift away.

Another gift Stafford gives parents is to truly see life through the eyes of our children. When we do this, we can’t help but release some of our adult standards of perfection, which are largely responsible for the voices in our heads that cause us to pressure ourselves or hold ourselves back. To use two of Stafford’s examples, our children don’t see our “fossilized college T-shirt and sleep deprived eyes” when we soothe away their bad dreams in the middle of the night. They don’t notice that our favorite bed pillow could use a laundering. They notice, with love, that the pillow “smells like mama.”

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The book is divided into nine chapters: “Fill the Spaces,” “Surrender Control,” “Build a Foundation,” “Take the Pressure Off,” “See What Is Good,” “Give What Matters,” “Establish Boundaries,” “Leave a Legacy” and “Change Someone’s Story”. Each of these is broken into inspiring and thought-provoking chunks, with personal stories and habit builders to help readers gain perspective, forge meaningful connections, remove judgment of ourselves and others, and be present for and attentive to the small moments that make up our days.

If you have 10 minutes, you can tuck a kind note into a lunchbox, learn something new about a family member, listen to a friend without distraction, or say yes to one more bedtime story. What might you do with your 10 minutes? With your distraction-free, love-filled life?

 

 

 

Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 2

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In celebration of summer’s wonderful #EverydayMoments and the National Park Service Centennial Year, which begins August 25th, we decided to spend some time this summer in the beautiful Golden National Recreation Area, one of the largest urban parks in the world at more than 80,000 acres, and home to some of the National Park Service’s most beloved spots, such as Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore (above), and the San Francisco Presidio.

After spending a full day at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf (see Part 1), we visited the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

Like Maritime Park, the Marin Headlands, home of the lighthouse, is another large parcel within GGNRA. We began our journey at the Visitor Center, where interactive exhibits showed aspects of the Headlands’ natural and human history. In the 1970s, the Headlands were saved from a massive housing development to become public land for all to enjoy. We listened to recorded stories in a Coast Miwok dwelling, explored the bones of animals, sniffed the aromas of various native plants and read early lighthouse keepers’ diaries.

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The rangers helped us identify some great hikes. We chose a short trail through a tunnel and out to the lighthouse (check the web site for limited lighthouse hours.) Our walk offered beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, where we saw seagulls and other birds and heard, but didn’t see, harbor seals and other sea creatures.

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We learned a lot about lighthouse history from our knowledgeable ranger, Jim. Built in 1855, Point Bonita Lighthouse was the third lighthouse built on the west coast and the last to be manned, rather than to run on electricity. Each lighthouse and foghorn up and down the coast operates on a different pattern to help sailors navigate San Francisco’s treacherous waters. We learned about various shipwrecks (one of which is the namesake for GGNRA’s Tennessee Valley) and lighthouse operations and equipment. We listened to more great information through a cell phone system that GGNRA uses in many of its parks. Afterward we visited the pre-WWI Battery Mendell, one of the area’s military forts and saw the foundation for the old lighthouse keeper’s house around the bend of the bay (last photo, below).

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Family Activities

GGNRA offers lots of great family activities throughout the year at many of its sites. Our interest piqued about the park, we decided to join Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for a morning of crabbing at Fort Baker Pier. We were greeted by our ranger, Al, who quickly showed us how easy it is to toss a crab basket, frisbee-style and containing a pouch with raw chicken for bait, into the bay.

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We learned about the various species of crabs in San Francisco Bay. These include Dungeness crabs–which are popular for eating, but which we weren’t allowed to keep if caught; yellow crabs; rock crabs; red crabs and slender crabs. We learned about the markings on a crab’s belly, which is one good way to distinguish male crabs from female crabs. Below is a male, noted for the triangle shape on the belly.

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Unlike fishing, there’s no tug on the line to alert you that you’ve caught a crab. Once you’ve lowered the net into the water, you just have to wait 10 minutes or more before checking to see if anything swam into your basket to take the bait.

After a time, I pulled up my basket. I had caught a crab! This was very exciting. I pulled it up to the pier. On closer inspection, the basket contained a large rock crab and a smaller red crab.

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My crab was measured and deemed too large to keep. (There are a lot of other rules about types and sizes of crabs, and even genders, that can be kept. If you go crabbing independently, you’ll want to know the rules and obey posted signs.)

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We explored our crabs a bit before tossing them back into the sea.

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One of our new friends caught a fish.

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Crabbing is a slow activity that provides a lot of delight (and perhaps dinner), as well as a chance to explore and learn a little more about the bay and its inhabitants. A couple of hours is plenty of time for crabbing. GGNRA offers crabbing at multiple locations. As a bonus, Fort Point is adjacent to a small beach that’s perfect for toddlers, and the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where you can continue to learn about crabs and fish (and even establish your own pretend fishery in the San Francisco Bay Room), as well as explore the many natural elements and exhibits that the award-winning hands-on museum has to offer.

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Here are some other piers throughout California where you can go crabbing.

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Road Trip Tips

If you’re traveling to visit a national park, there are ways to make your travel smoother and more delightful and memorable. Sometimes half the fun of family travel is “getting there”. Road trips have provided some of our family’s most treasured #EverydayMoments.

  • Involve kids in the planning or have them follow the trip’s progress on a map. If you’re an AAA member, maps are free. Some kids may want to keep a trip journal and add photos when they get home.
  • Have food and drinks on hand, if possible, and take frequent breaks to eat, use restrooms, or just stretch your bodies.
  • Remind children who are on screens to take breaks, to play a game or look around.
  • Pack along a few portable games for outdoor breaks and quiet times, such as cards, Mad Libs, a jump rope or jacks.
  • Play some of these tried-and-true road trip games that don’t require any equipment. They help make family memories when you’re driving, flying, or waiting in line.

Tried-and-True Road Trip Games

What I See From A to Z

Players try to find letters in license plates, billboards, road signs, or objects and must call out “I see an A,” or “I see something that starts with B,” when they spot a letter.

The first person to complete the alphabet wins. A variation for younger children is to pick one letter and have everyone look for that.

Semi Search

If you’re traveling on the interstate, you will probably have a lot of trucks for company, and this fun game makes use of that.

Each player chooses a different color. That color will be the color of truck trailer that the player is then searching for. Players announce when they see a semi on the road in their color, and they get one point for each.

A scorekeeper can be appointed to keep count, or everyone can keep their own score. The game is played until one person reaches 25 points, or another agreed-upon number.

Travel Scavenger Hunt (also known as Travel Olympics)

You’ll need: Pencil and paper for each player

Players all contribute to one list of 10-20 things they can see from or do in the car. For example, a list might include passing a cow pasture, seeing a gas station that has the color red in its logo, holding one’s breath through a tunnel, spotting two yellow license plates, or passing an RV.

The first person to accomplish everything on the list wins.

License Plate Scramble

The first player calls out all the letters, in order, that appear on a passing license plate.

All players try to create a word using those letters, in the same order. The first person to do so gets a point. For example, a player might call out ARN, and he, she, or any other player might come up with “arachnid” or “yarn”.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 25. The first player to reach that total wins.

O.S.L.P.

Players search passing cars for “out of state” license plates (out of the state they are currently traveling in.)

When such a plate is spotted, the player yells, “O.S.L.P.!” If they are the first to see a particular plate, they score a point.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 10. The first player to reach that total wins.

What Animal Am I?

One player thinks of an animal. Other players ask “yes” or “no” questions to determine what animal the first player is. Players might ask, “Do you live in the ocean?” or “Do you have four legs?”

There is no limit to the number of questions. Players can simply give up when stumped and choose who gets to be the animal next. Otherwise, the player who guessed the animal gets to be the next up.

 

This is part of a larger American Express initiative that will help encourage volunteering in America’s National Parks.

On July 30th, Amex EveryDay kicked off a contest that encourages people to share a photo and caption of their own #EveryDayMoments, taken at any park, for a chance to win one of three trips to some spectacular National Parks: National Mall and Memorial Parks (Washington, DC), Yosemite National Park (California) and Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Click Here to Enter between July 30th and August 31st: http://bit.ly/1elJ6qC; terms apply.

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Be sure to see Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 1.

I am an Amex EveryDay CardMember and Ambassador for this program. However, all opinions about the Card are my own.

Road trip activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains more travel games in addition to 300+ fun family activities.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman and Wood for the Trees

 

 

 

 

Help National Park Trust Get More Kids to National Parks

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What if you could give a child a national park experience for the price of a latté? You can! National Park Trust recently learned that their youth programs were selected as a National Park Service Centennial Challenge Project in honor of the National Park Service Centennial Year, which begins August 25, 2015. ​T​he National Park Service selected​ National Park Trust (NPT) for a one-to-one match of $450,000 that will result ​​in a total of $900,000 specifically designated for the expansion of their school programs (Buddy Bison Environmental Education Program and Kids to Parks Day National School Contest). As we approach the new school year, NPT is asking for our help to raise resources for the Buddy Bison School Program.

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The Centennial Challenge will allow NPT to be able to work with up to 60 Title 1 schools to provide multiple park experiences — at least one to a national park unit — throughout the school year, plus classroom toolkits full of resources and so much more! ​Your $5 will become $10, which provides bus transportation for one child for one park trip. There are more than 400 national park units across the country!

For just $5, you can be part of a grassroots movement and help children have a park experience who wouldn’t otherwise have one. Click to Donate to NPT’s Centennial Challenge.

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My family loves the U.S. National Parks. We have visited many and are fortunate to live near the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which at more than 80,000 acres, is one of the largest urban parks in the world and the most-visited park in the U.S. National Park system. Rather than one park, it’s a group of parks spanning three counties. It includes five lighthouses, a famous prison, numerous museums and visitor centers, 91 miles of shoreline, 1,287 plant and animal species in 19 separate ecosystems, and 370 archeological sites that reveal the area’s history from the Native Americans through the Gold Rush and the present day.

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Read about our recent trip to Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the highlight of which was San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Like many national park units, Maritime Park features more history and science than nature, with historic ships, hands-on activities and elaborate displays.

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While we’ve hiked and biked in stunning national parks, such as Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake and Acadia National Park (above), we’ve also discovered that some of the lesser known national park units (which include seashores, museums and monuments) provide fascination for kids who are interested in the outdoors, and also in history, anthropology, sociology, botany, earth science, literature and art. The great thing about our national parks is that they allow people to enter them through all different interests and enjoy them in many different ways.

More and more children are discovering our national parks, thanks to the National Park Service’s promotion of its Centennial Year and the National Park Trust’s work through their school programs. One more thing to celebrate? The National Park Service Centennial Year coincides with President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park Initiative, which will allow every 4th grader in the U.S., and their families to have a park experience during the 2015-16 school year. (The above link explains the program’s logistics.)

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National Park Trust is the nation’s only non-profit dedicated to supporting America’s parks through both land acquisition and preservation and youth education programs and initiatives that connect children with their local, state and national parks. I’m thrilled to help spread the word about their Centennial Challenge and hope you’ll join me in supporting them.

 

I was invited by National Park Trust to participate in their Centennial Challenge Campaign, however the views expressed are my own.

Photos by National Park Trust and Susan Sachs Lipman

 

 

How to Enjoy the Perseid Meteor Shower

You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any. — EarthSky Magazine

The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming our way. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up. This year’s show is expected to be especially good as it coincides with a new moon, resulting in a darker sky in which to see the stars.

The Perseids are debris from a wandering comet that appears as shooting stars each August. (Records of this light show go back to 36 A.D., though the Swift-Tuttle Comet was discovered much later.) They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full.

The Perseid Meteor Shower is expected to be best on Tuesday, August 11 through Thursday, August 13, with a peak late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. Sometimes meteors can be seen up to a week before and after a shower’s peak. Astronomers are predicting as many as 70 meteors an hour for those who are able to see the Perseids. (That said, we always see fewer meteors than these predicted numbers, so don’t be disappointed. One fantastic shooting star blazing through the sky can produce lifelong memories and awe.)

You won’t need any special equipment to see the Perseids. The naked eye is actually best. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. And hope for a good show! Here are more tips for viewing the Perseids.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers more information about the Perseids, along with some good viewing tips and a sky map.

If you like, you can even be a citizen scientist and help NASA count meteors! Download a free app for iphones and androids and join the meteor count. (Here are more citizen science projects you might be interested in.)

Some of my family’s most relaxed and memorable moments have occurred while gazing at the stars together. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos. It’s natural to share those feelings with those around us, as we use the stars to try to look back through distance and time.

My family remembers one especially wonderful August, when we went to the top of our nearest mountain to see the Perseid meteor shower. Lying in the grass in the dark, we could hear choruses of “oohs” and “aahs” coming from all around the mountain,

Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 1

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For most families like ours, summer is the season when time seems to expand. School’s out, days are long and family members visit from around the country to create fond memories and #EveryDayMoments at our treasured local sites.

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The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the Golden National Recreation Area, which at more than 80,000 acres, is one of the largest urban parks in the world and the most-visited park in the entire U.S. National Park system. Rather than one park, it’s a group of parks, ranging from Point Reyes National Seashore in the north to the Pfleger Estate in the south. It spans three counties and includes five lighthouses, a famous prison, numerous museums and visitor centers, 91 miles of shoreline, 1,287 plant and animal species in 19 separate ecosystems, 370 archeological sites that reveal the area’s history from the Native Americans through the Gold Rush and the present day, and such iconic areas as Muir Woods National Monument and Stinson Beach (above), Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco Presidio, home of the Walt Disney Family Museum.

It would take many trips to discover all that GGNRA has to offer. For this trip we decided to focus on exploring San Francisco’s maritime past.

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Anna and her cousin Jake started their nautical exploration at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Because the park is conveniently located in Fisherman’s Wharf, we combined our visit with a ride on our favorite cable car and enjoyed fresh crab, sourdough bread and other local treats.

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We boarded the historic Balclutha cargo ship, where Anna and Jake imagined they were 19th century sailors. This was easy to do – the guide for the daily tour shared fascinating information about the sailors’ tight quarters and grim conditions as they sailed around Cape Horn and up to Alaska to transport salmon, lumber and other goods. Furnished kitchens and sleeping quarters; equipment and rigging; maps, diaries, photos and displays, including the impressive Cargo is King exhibit, which took up the whole cargo hold of the ship, brought the captain and crew to life.

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We went aboard other ships as well, including The Cottage, which had been a Marin County summer home. We practiced knot tying and saw on-site ship repair.

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We thought we’d quickly stop into the National Park Visitor Center across the street. We had no idea that inside an old cannery building was housed a very thorough exhibit that allowed us to walk through centuries of history of the San Francisco waterfront. Displays and sounds brought to life the Yelamu Natives, the discovery of gold, the raucous Barbary Coast, the Italian and other merchants, and the influx of pre-fab houses which were built south of Market Street, and which we learned came from China by ship.  There was even a display of items that had been recovered from Gold Rush -era ships as new waves of construction unearthed them.

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We continued our amazing maritime odyssey down the street at the Maritime Museum, where we saw more items from centuries of seafaring and enjoyed the building’s beautifully restored WPA murals. One of the most amazing things about the day was that, as a national park, Maritime Park is completely free, save the $5 adult price to board the historic ships. The park also offers lots of special programs, including sailing adventures and sea chantey singalongs.

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We had such a great time on our maritime adventure. We can’t wait to explore more of GGNRA and our bounty of national parks. In addition to the GGNRA site, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy offers information about activities in the various parks. We’re eager to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park Service, which begins August 25th.

On July 30th, Amex EveryDay is kicking off a contest that encourages people to share a photo and caption of their own #EveryDayMoments, taken at any park, for a chance to win one of three trips to some spectacular National Parks: Lincoln Memorial Park (Washington, DC), Yosemite National Park (California) and Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Click Here to Enter between July 30th and August 31st: FindYourEveryDayPark; terms apply.

This is part of a larger American Express initiative that will help encourage volunteering in America’s National Parks.

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Our adventures will continue in Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 2.

I am an Amex EveryDay CardMember and Ambassador for this program. However, all opinions about the Card are my own.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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