Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fun in the Sun: Rules and Tips

Fun in the Sun: Rules and Tips

Summer is back in Santa Barbara!  While our Summer is nowhere near as hot as it is elsewhere in the state, it’s nice to keep cool and have a good time.  If your kids are ready for some fun in the sun, water play is common.  Graduating from their water lab, my children received their first water guns this year as well as a quick trial with water balloons.  It became clear that we needed rules to avoid some unnecessary tears.

Rule 1) No spraying the face.  This seems obvious, but perhaps only in retrospect.

Rule 2) No spraying someone that is unarmed.  An important corollary to the rule – if one is armed but out of ammunition, they are essentially unarmed.

Rule 3) No spraying someone filling their gun/balloon.  Similar to Rule 2, it is important to clarify for optimum fairness and fun.

Now that you have the rules out of the way, be ready with several buckets about the yard for easy-filling.  If you have made water balloons, take note of some additional tips:

Tip 1) Fill up as many balloons as possible.  Once you get throwing, it really ruins the pace to have to refill every three minutes.

Tip 2) Fill into several buckets.  Place these buckets around the yard for strategic toss and grab.

Tip 3) As you are filling up the balloons, bill your bucket with water as well.  This prevents the balloons from spontaneous explosion while filling and playing.

Tip 4) Use a small-head nozzle at the end of a hose for fill-up.  A number of water balloon-filling devices have come onto the market recently.  While I have had high hopes, they have yet to meet expectations.

Tip 5) Consider filling up a water balloon half-way and fully filling a regular balloon in order to keep everyone on their toes.

Most important of all, stay safe and have fun.  The summer is never long enough, so make every day count.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

How to Disappear the Candy

How to Disappear the Candy

Easter has come and gone in Santa Barbara.  There are still lingering signs that it was here, but mostly at grocery stores in the form of half-deflated mylar balloons and discounted peeps.  In my home were two Easter baskets still full with uneaten candy.  Each year, my wife and I find ourselves buying too much candy.  If it doesn’t end up in the baskets, it ends up in a zip bag in our pantry (usually on a high shelf such that it cannot be found easily by small hands).  With a surplus of this sort comes the dilemma of what to do with all of this candy.

Step 1) Take a careful audit – determine how much of each type of candy you have remaining.  If it can be used elsewhere in other projects later in the year, then keep it with your other baked good ingredients.  Jelly beans scream “Easter leftovers” but they also make good cupcake or cake decorations later.

Step 2) Bring what you can to work.  Chances are that your place of employment has some sort of candy dish somewhere.  It’s high time that you made a large deposit after so many small withdrawals.  The perfect type of candies here are individually wrapped like small licorice, Starburst or Nerds.

Step 3) Candy Shake!  If the kids are being difficult at dinner, announce a special dessert if they finish their meal.  Assuming that this has convinced them, get out the blender, some ice cream and milk.  It won’t take long to build the excitement.  Now, have them collect their uneaten chocolate candies.  Let them know that they must contribute to make the candy shake.  Those familiar of the story of stone soup might have thought it only to be a fable.  Have the kids shuck the pastel foils that surround any candies covered by them.  With all of their candy tossed into the blender, it’s time to blend and pour.  In one fail swoop, all of your remaining candy is gone!

My daughter wisely saw right through my ploy this year.  I was disappointed (mostly in myself) but told her that she could opt out of handing over her candy but that she wouldn’t be able to participate in a cup of the candy shake.  She still held out until the pouring of the shakes began.  After a quick surrender of her remaining candy, we all had a great dessert and the candy has disappeared.

If you’re stuck with a stockpile of delicious and tempting sugar that you don’t feel comfortable throwing away outright, consider this post and get out your blender!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Grazing: A New Trend in Healthy Living

Grazing: A New Trend in Healthy Living

Santa Barbara has long held an open mind to residents and tourists with a healthier diet. As vegetarians have given way to vegans, we have seen more fruit and vegetable restaurants and blended-food establishments sprout up all over town. Our residents are so hooked on produce that we have no fewer than seven farmers markets each week. It is no surprise that the most recent trend in healthy eating has risen above the rest: Grazing.

I first heard about the Grazer movement while eating lunch with a friend of mine. While my vegetarian burrito was delicious, I will admit feeling self-conscious sitting across the table from the empty plate of a Grazer-convert. Grazers prefer not only to eat locally-grown organic produce, but to eat it while it is still attached to its original plant. An apple may be delicious, but only if it is still attached to the tree it is growing from. The second that fruits and vegetables detach from their host, they begin to lose their nutrients. The only way to truly lock in their precious vitamins (and flavor) is to eat straight off of the vine. This can be particularly difficult for fruit like tangerines and pineapple.

My friend, Andrew West, Grazing

It wasn’t until I was at the Siam Elephant in Carpinteria a few months ago that I grazed for the first time. I ate outside, where my salad was growing. The cilantro and lettuce were amazing – unlike any I had purchased at Trader Joes or the Farmer’s Market. I also left feeling good knowing that my lunch was sustainable and would grow back for another patron in only a few days. Since eating there, I have learned that it wasn’t true Grazing since I didn’t cultivate and grow the meal myself, but I still had a good time.

The life of a Grazer is not an easy one. For a few weeks before finally closing their doors, Fairview Gardens offered $5 grazing in their field near the Goleta Public Library as part of their honor system. The biggest hang-out for Grazers, though, has been the famous fig tree near the train station. Grazers need not cross the chains to partake in the deliciousness hanging from low-hanging branches.

While it may not be an easy lifestyle, Grazing brings us all a little closer to nature and provides a humbling experience. We are not so different from cows, sheep and goats. Why should our eating habits be? I welcome my readers to post their Grazing experiences and pictures on this site so that others might become more familiar and tolerant.

My friend, Eric Engmyr, Grazing for breakfast in his back yard

My friend, Jana Johnston, Grazing in her garden

Friday, March 2, 2012

TV that is good for the whole family - Part 2

TV that is good for the whole family - Part 2

In Part 1 of “TV that is good for the whole family” I reviewed current shows that might be running and streaming to your TV as you read this. In order to provide my children with a full understanding of pop-culture, I find it important to keep them up to speed on classic cartoons as well. It would be unacceptable to me for my children to know Mickey Mouse only as a computer generated 3D character (though, hats off to They Might Be Giants for their excellent theme songs). Watching the classic cartoons of my youth with my children has become more difficult than I would have anticipated.

Some of my earliest memories include watching classic Disney cartoons beamed to us on the rustic 12-foot satellite that my dad constructed in our back yard. It is only natural that I should want the same for my children now (though, sans giant safety hazard). Donald and Mickey can offer countless hours of entertainment to those who have access to them. I was surprised and confused that so few of these cartoon shorts are available for quick purchase on DVD. As it turns out, Disney has developed their “Disney Vault,” a process by which they release only certain movies or cartoons as they determine will be most profitable. From the standpoint of a dad who wants his cartoons, it is a terrible system. Still, to go about obtaining legal and high-quality Disney cartoons, we have little recourse. The shorts no longer have a show, even late at night, for viewing or recording.

Warner Brothers cartoons are quite a different story. Volume after volume of the classic Bugs, Daffy and other Looney Tunes characters are available for purchase. These cartoons are perhaps even more entertaining to watch as an adult as they are for children. Now that I’m a little older, I can appreciate the classical music with timed animated action. It is an excellent introduction to a child’s musical education. Tom and Jerry has begun to release DVDs as well, though if purchasing, read the label and be wary of anything produced in the last 30 years. These rounded and cleaned up cat and mouse duo have had been cleansed of violence and nearly all of their entertainment value.

Superhero cartoons, on the other hand, have gone from good to great – and all available on DVD and streaming. Superfriends was entertaining for the time created, and to a certain extent continues to be fun. Substitute the kitch and weak writing for deep story lines and deeper characters and you have the Justice League series or the animated Batman and Superman. These have even recently given way to newer cartoons that are rounder and simpler but appeal to a younger audience. I enjoy watching the new Batman Brave and the Bold alongside the animated Avengers and Young Justice.

I may be criticized for the amount of TV that I watch or allow my children to watch. It has also been said that TV programming stifles the imagination and limits children. I couldn’t disagree more. Anyone who has read any of my other articles will know that my family does our best to enjoy all that Santa Barbara has to offer. If anything, the characters that my children identify with allows them to imagine a world different from their own – one where human flight or talking pets might be possible. It’s this sense of wonder and enhanced imagination that I hope for my children and those of the world to bring to solve the problems of the future. It is by watching the TV box that I believe my kids will learn to think outside of the box.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Art and Kids

Art and Kids

Reprinted from Edhat : Mar 06, 2010, 9:00 AM

By Mike Shinn
One of the greatest gifts a parent can receive is artwork from their child. When our daughter creates drawings or art projects, we are very excited, but months later our excitement continues to turn to our daughter's newest project. All parents must eventually make a decision: to keep or not to keep.
There is an appropriate time to part with Thanksgiving hand-turkey drawings and that time is not in May. Admittedly, my wife and I are both packrats. I continue to save my own schoolwork from kindergarten, in our attic. Still, real estate in Santa Barbara is not cheap, despite the recent economic slump. Every square foot counts, and there's only so much room in the attic for extra fire hazards. It's simply unrealistic to try and keep all of your child's original work in perpetuity.
Unfortunately, children are not born with as strong a sense of practicality as they are with emotional attachment. It only takes one art project found in the garbage beneath discarded pudding cups to cause attachment and trust problems that can last a lifetime. I've heard of parents sneaking out to their garbage at night with expired artwork so that their kids will not know. It's only a matter of time before other psychological issues are passed down as a result of this type of behavior.

The ultimate problem is that as parents, we want to save the work of our kids for a number of reasons, but logistically it is far too difficult. The good news is that we live in a digital age. My wife and I have discovered that taking a quick digital picture of the artwork as we receive it preserves it forever. Then, when it is eventually destroyed by a pet or accidentally torn up or thrown away intentionally, we continue to have the gift. It costs nothing, as we already have the camera - no need to print a hard copy. If you set your computer's screensaver to scroll through these images, I would like to believe that you show your kids that you value their work even though it is gone from the physical world.
Quick tip: if the artwork you are photographing is laminated or shiny, avoid lighting problems by taking the picture at a slightly-off angle or turning off your flash and photographing with a lot of natural light. Take several pictures at different angles - extras cost nothing to go back and delete later!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Earthquake Guide for Kids

When I was 12, studying at home alone on afternoon, my hometown was struck by a 5.5 earthquake. The shaking lasted for a solid 30 seconds, which was about 25 seconds more than I needed to realize what was going on. I got into a duck, cover and hold position under my desk where I stayed until the shaking stopped. Without injury I walked about the house inspecting for any damage and smelling for natural gas. I was very fortunate – no harm had come to me, my family or my home. Chris, a friend of mine who lived nearby, was a little less lucky. His water heater had a gas leak that sparked an explosion and fire. Despite the damage done to personal property, no one was injured as the family was out of the house at the time.

Aside from still having a home, I felt fortunate most of all to have lived in a community that had prepared me for this natural disaster. Talking with my friends, there were similar experiences all around. Shake, duck, cover, hold, wait, check. Living in California, earthquake preparedness is part of our upbringing and part of our culture. Unfortunately, earthquake readiness is not included in your welcome wagon when you move to Santa Barbara.

Notable Santa Barbara Earthquakes:1812 - 7.1 with Tsunami
1925 - 6.3
1978 - 5.1

Just 2 weeks ago Santa Barbara was struck by a 3.0 earthquake. Earlier in the week I had discussed earthquakes with a coworker who recently moved here from Connecticut. I had joked that if the quake was 3 or below, he might not even feel it. Sure enough, the small shock hit and went unnoticed by most. I used the tremor as an opportunity to review earthquake procedures with my family.

Whether you believe in duck and cover, brace in a doorway or the triangle of life, it’s best to know your options. Everyone seems to have anecdotal evidence or a forwarded email from someone about how best to survive. Knowing these methods, practicing and then having the wherewithal to actually use one of them in the grip of terror are all different things. When teaching kids about earthquakes, it’s important to leave them with the confidence that in an emergency they will have the potential to make it through safely.

After showing my daughter how to protect herself from falling debris, we shook her bed and pretended that there were earthquakes throughout the house. After the novelty had worn off, I walked the house looking for anything that might fall on my family during an earthquake. When we moved in, I quake-strapped anything large like bookshelves. Sure enough, I had missed one. Worse still, I discovered that an iron tortilla-maker was moved out of the way onto a shelf in my daughter’s room. In the past, we have used this for play dough. Now, it stood as a hidden threat over my kids. I went to work, first removing the heavy toy and then securing the shelf.

When it comes to safety, I can sometimes get a little overcautious. Still, I believe in preparedness. There are things that we can all do as parents, especially in Santa Barbara, to be prepared. If we do, our children might be as lucky was I was during a large earthquake.

Get prepared for the family:

-- Teach duck, cover & hold

-- Shake the bed and practice a simulated quake with children

-- Discuss the danger of concrete overhangs after a quake

-- Help children identify what natural gas smells like in advance of a leak

-- If you have a tank water heater, get the brace kit and secure it properly

--Buy and install quake straps throughout the house and workplace as needed

--Move heavy items overhead that might fall when shaken

--Buy or prepare an emergency kit with food and water for a minimum of 3 days for the family

--Discuss a safe meeting space in your neighborhood and another in another part of town

--Determine an out-of-state point of contact for post-quake updates (local lines are more likely to be down than long-distance)

--Point out emergency exits at movie theaters or public places (make it into a game)