Saturday, January 31, 2009

Plant a Seed and Watch It Grow

I was intrigued when I saw the title in my in-box...Frosted Flakes Plant-a-Seed. At first I thought...another tree-planting initiative...sigh. Not that they aren't extremely important; they're just not ground-breaking. (Okay, Okay, I know that in the most technical sense, they are ground-breaking, but you get my point.)

Then I read further. The Plant-a-Seed program aims to help boost America's children by rebuilding America's playing fields. In times of economic crisis, the first thing to go in education funding dollars always seem to be athletics and the arts which results in the same amount of hardship, if not as immediate, as when funding is cut for social services.

I remember a very passionate school-board meeting when I was in high school that revolved around the cutting of athletics from the budget completely. Where I grew up participation in sports was widespread. We had a four day school-week in part because the athlete to student population ratio was such that, in our small school, game-days resulted in the inability to meet the percentage of students present to 'count' as a school day. Thus, games on Fridays and Saturdays only were the compromise.

We had a scraggly football field surrounded by a pea gravel track that wasn't even regulation size. After I graduated, the football coach and several others organized fundraising of mammoth proportions in order to build a 'real' stadium and track.

One of the sports that I participated in was Cross-Country. If you looked at me then, or now, you would definitely not say "wow, she's a runner!" But that didn't matter. Because of the benefits (both physically, emotionally and socially) that I got from being a member of that team (a state-championship team, no less), I know that I'm a better, stronger person. For that reason, I was really excited about the Girls on the Run program that is a link from the Kellogg's site.

I have always felt that you can't down-play the importance of organized sports in building esteem, communication, and the ability to be a 'team player', something that even law enforcement officials recognize. Here in Worcester, the Police Department's Gang and Vice Unit was nominated for a 2007 Project Safe Neighborhood Award after their boxing program has proven to be successful in engaging at-risk youth.

Encouraging kids to work hard, eat right, believe in themselves and to have at least 60 minutes of active play everyday will help them to 'earn their stripes.' The field renovation initiative will make over approximately 50 fields across the United States to help provide better places for families to stay active. So, if you know of a field you want to nominate that is in need of repair, would like to help support the repair of a field or if you know of someone who has a passion for athletics and might know of one, forward them this link and get those seeds planted!

(Watch for it on the Superbowl!)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stop N Shop's Healthy Ideas

From Meatless Mondays (or Soy Sundays, whichever day my meal-planning falls on) to cutting out ground meat, me and mine have been making an effort to get more nutritional value from each meal I make. It has been such a fun endeavor to research, plan and shop for meals that will satisfy the nutritional pyramid, but are also really good. No matter how health conscious I become, if what I'm eating doesn't taste good, I won't be able to continue for any length of time.

The Weight Watchers Pure Comfort cookbook has been a staple in my repertoire, and I was excited to see that Stop n Shop, which is conveniently located about 2 miles from my house, has added an online resource called Healthy Ideas which provides recipe makeovers of all your family's favorites, using the FDA and USDA guidelines. The recipes provided on the website range from "Holiday" to "Vegetarian" and everything in between.

In addition to the database of recipes, there are images of dishes featured that allow you to click on the various icons to see what ingredient they've swapped and what it saves you fat and calorie-wise. For example, making a classic lasagna with extra-lean ground turkey, no salt added tomato sauce and fat-free ricotta cheese is a great and tasty alternative to sausage or beef, full-fat cheese and otherwise sodium packed sauce.

Taking simple steps is what will allow people to 'walk the walk' of healthy living.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Park City Mountain Resort

Christmas is over, the tree is gone and your house again resembles some semblance of normalcy, right? Right? If you're like me, and live in an area with lots of snow, you may be thinking when will this ever be gone? I like having four seasons, but it seems like winter always lasts just a touch too long. That is, until I went snow-shoeing for my first time. Now I'm excited to start exploring all that winter has to offer when you step outside the comfort zone (and warmth) of your home.

I was a little uncertain what to expect, and how to prep my kids for the cold. Park City Mountain Resort, located in Park City, Utah has put together an Insider's Guide filled with tips and ideas for vacationing in the snow. The holiday breaks may be behind you, but in Massachusetts they have February break designed to help break up the germ fest that is the cold and flu season. Want to get away from it all that week? Check out Park City Mountain Resort's Interactive Vacation Planner which helps you "get the most out of your visit to Park City. It’s easy to use and allows every member of your family or group to explore exciting activities, dining, shopping, spas and more. When you’re finished, you can download and print a master calendar, ensuring you’ll get the most out of your Park City Mountain Resort vacation."

If you're really lucky, you could win this package:

* Three nights lodging for four (2 adults and 2 kids (ages 12 and under)
* Lift tickets for four days to Park City Mountain Resort for 2 adults and 2 kids (ages 12 and under)
* Three days of lessons for the kids in our Kids Signature Program
* Transportation to and from the Salt Lake International Airport to Park City, Utah

What are you waiting for? You have to enter the contest by January 30th, but even if you don't win the drawing, when you book certain vacation packages now, you get a third night FREE!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

DC 24

I had posted on Inauguration Day that I left the TV on the inauguration coverage most of the afternoon so that the kids would at least be exposed to the goings-on of their world, even if they aren't old enough to really grasp it. I was excited to hear about a group of 24 Chicago inner-city fifth and six graders who traveled to DC to witness the inauguration, and were sponsored by the McCormick Foundation. The DC24 Kids were in the crowd of over one million people that flooded the Washington Mall on January 20th at Obama took his Oath of Office.

This isn't just a randomly selected group of kids, they were chosen based on a written essay, grades, test scores, an oral interview, but most importantly, citizenship. They then participated in a weekly civics course where they learned more about the Constitution, our election process and African-American history.

During their four-day journey to Washington, D.C., the students visited landmarks such as the Capitol Building and the Smithsonian and got to attend the inaugural ball. When they return to Chicago, the DC 24 will publish a newspaper describing their experience and deliver a presentation about their trip to parents, faculty and peers.

A major goal of the McCormick Foundation as well as the DC 24’s principal and their teachers, is to inspire and enable a lifetime of giving back to community and country.

What an amzing experience! The kids attend Frazier Preparatory Academy in downtown Chicago and this trip to Washington D.C. was the first time many of them had traveled outside their neighborhood. These kids were so excited to be there, and to be able to experience everything from attending a dance in the hotel to talking with a Naval Glee Club member in the crowds outside the White House.

Watching the clips they created and reading the sentiments they shared just further exemplified the kind of excitement that has been a long time coming in the arena of politics. People who hadn't been involved before, or were involved only out of a sense of obligation (myself included) got swept up in the excitement, hope and emotion that resulted from Obama's win and entrance into office.

Be sure you look at the site that's being kept with the DC 24 kids thoughts, videos and adventures

Monday, January 12, 2009

Welcome to the (Windows Mobile) Jungle

Just the other day, I was talking to J about what people would think if they came to visit us from, say, 1890. When you visit an English-speaking foreign country, there are bound to be words that are familiar, but do not mean the same thing.

Imagine the puzzled looks on their faces if we were talking about Blackjack, Blackberry, Palm, Apple and then pulled out our smartphones and started tapping away. I am definitely a pen and paper girl, so hesitated to get an electronic organizer. In fact, as part of J's residency they were all given a nice Palm, but he already had guess who got his?...yep, me.

After about 6 months of being unused, one of his classmates lost theirs and mine was passed on to them. Fast forward another 6 months and I was tired of getting the last slot at the doctor's office because I had to go home to check my schedule before making my next appointment, and bringing my big kitchen calendar to the planning meeting for my mom's group? Not so hip looking.

For mother's day, I asked for the most basic version of the Palm, the z22, so that I could try it for a year to see if I really use it or not. And use it, I do. It has been the most amazing tool! I input J's work schedule, the kids' doctor appointments, book club, movie nights, meetings, family outings; all color-coded and tres legible (as opposed to the tiny square on the calendar being scratched out and written over).

Now, I'm lusting over the newest iPhone, the Palm Treo and my friends' Blackberries. Described as "your own personal command center" Windows Mobile takes all of the features people love about their smartphones that extra step further by allowing them to download software that lets the user access their same old email accounts, view text and voicemail from their PC, use multiple windows functions or even just play games...choose your poison. And when I say games, I'm not talking solitaire, they have a version of Guitar Hero for Windows Mobile!

For my 30th this summer, I'll be asking for a smartphone...and then look out Slash, I'll be right on your tail!

American Wife

I just finished reading the book American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, and just can't say enough good things about it. Not only is Sittenfeld an amazing writer who's character development draws you quickly into the world she's created, but she also took a really interesting idea and went far beyond the Law and Order 'ripped from the headlines' style that would have been so easy.

A fictionalization of the life of Laura Bush, this book was enthralling. The 'George' character is named Charlie, and I was amazed how endearing I found him. He's this alcoholic f-up, who genuinely loves 'Alice' and his family, but just lacks in maturity in so many ways. I found myself several times throughout the book glancing up as the sickening realization would again strike me that, even though this is a fictionalized characterization, he's our president!

I have to admit that, while I'm really not a fan of W, I do like and respect our First Lady. I remember being completely disgusted during the '04 campaign when Theresa Heinz-Kerry made snide comments about her. 'Teresa Heinz Kerry told a newspaper she doesn't know if Laura Bush has ever had "a real job." She apologized Wednesday for having forgotten about the first lady's 10-year stint as a schoolteacher and librarian.' (USA Today)

While it's clear it's a novel, I can hear their voices in my head so distinctly that I found myself googling small facts throughout the book. Sittenfeld nailed this family while still taking plenty of artistic licence and creating a storyline that kept me turning the pages to the very end. How close she is on some of the points, I guess only the 'Blackwells' will ever know.

I've got Sittenfeld's other books in my 'to-read' queue on goodreads, and also enjoyed this article she wrote after interviewing Michelle Obama.

(This review cross-posted at Sex and the Knitty and Goodreads)