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Simple Ideas for Creating Family Volunteering Traditions

Many busy families wish they had more time to volunteer for causes they believe in or to give something back to their communities. This desire can be instilled in children, even from an early age. To make volunteering a part of your family life, create a tradition by making it a regularly scheduled event, whether once a week, month or once a year. The key is finding a cause that stirs everyone’s passions.

Here are some ideas:

Choose one cause to get behind:

One Florida family chose a food pantry, The Cooperative Feeding Program, to focus on. For many years, they have volunteered in tandem, stocking shelves and serving food. They take part in an annual food drive called the Postal Carrier’s Food Drive, taking place each Mother’s Day weekend. They help collect and pack tons of food that people have put in their mail boxes. The boxes were then delivered to the food pantry they work with. By focusing on one charity, and staying  involved over a number of years, this family has built a tradition of which they can be truly proud. Enlist the kids in helping to choose a cause. A good resource is A Kid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference by Barbara Lewis (Free Spirit Press).

Consider walkathons or other yearly events:

If your family can choose but one big event each year to participate in, consider a walkathon. In many communities, charitable organizations sponsor walkathons to raise money for various causes, from raising money for disease prevention or hunger to raising awareness of human and animal rights issues. Another worthy annual event to consider is participating in the cleanup of a public place, especially ecologically sensitive areas. Inquire with environmental organizations in your area.

Creative fundraising:

In our family, we’ve always liked to raise and donate money for our favorite causes, and this caught on with our younger son. He makes beautiful cards from his photography, sells them at craft shows and other events, and donates the profits to his favorite charities. Similarities, kids can sell crafts and baked goods and school or other community functions, letting their customers know that the profits are earmarked for donation.

Help your community by creating community:

At our local high school, there is a popular club called “Operation Donation.” It’s simple—members bring in supermarket coupon pages, then chat and clip. The group’s leader has contracted with area supermarkets to match the value of the coupons, and all the funds are used to buy food for local food pantries. To date, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised! These days, another popular form of community is knitting groups. Many of these now use the time spent together to make hats, blankets, and other items to donate to nursing homes and women’s shelters. A teenage friend of our family teamed with other teens to fix up deteriorating homes of low-income seniors. If you can’t find the motivation to do charitable work alone, team with other friends and family and work together, doing good while having fun.

Go beyond the obvious:

The Busy Family’s Guide to Volunteering by Jenny Friedman (Robin’s Lane Press) is a fantastic resource with dozens of ideas that may not immediately come to mind when you think of volunteering. These include working for human rights and peace, helping your local library, enhancing arts and culture, supporting the rights of animals, donating “stuff,” and lot more. You’ll also find many ideas at her website, www.doinggoodtogether.org.

Think small:

You do not need lots of time or money to be a volunteer. Just one small act a day can take minutes but make a world of difference. For these kinds of bite-sized ideas, check out The Difference a Day Makes by Karen Jones (New World Library).

Participate in Make a Difference Day and Family Volunteer Day: To jump-start  volunteerism, The Points of Light Foundation sponsors two annual events. The first is Make a Difference Day, falling on the fourth Saturday each October. Visit www.makeadifferenceday.com. Next, National Family Volunteer Day takes place on on the Saturday before each Thanksgiving. This event is “designed to showcase the benefits of families working together, to introduce community service, and encourage those who haven’t yet made the commitment to volunteer as a family.” Visit www.pointsoflight.org to find out more.

Show your kids that it’s amazingly easy to make a difference. Cement volunteerism into your family’s values by making it a tradition, whether one day a year, or a half day per month, or an hour a week.

Summer Fitness for Busy Women

It’s summertime, and the living is easy—except when you have to think about putting on an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini! But don’t worry, there’s still time to get in shape to strut your stuff on the beach or the boardwalk!

These tried-and-tested exercises can give you quick results with just 10 minute focused workouts every other day. (If you’re on a serious mission and feeling really motivated, feel free to go for it every day!) And don’t forget to mix up these moves with some cardio work, even if it’s a game of soccer with the kids or a brisk walk to the park. Take advantage of the extra quality time you’re spending with the kids, family or friends this summer—whether at home or on vacation—and put the fun things you do to work to stay active. Every calorie counts!

And after a few weeks with these exercises, you can look your best in the season’s latest teeny-weeny bikini fashions! Have fun in the sun—but don’t forget the sunscreen!!

Dolphin Kicks

For this exercise you want to balance your weight on your forearms with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders. Make sure to pull your shoulder blades down towards the hips (away from your ears)—this will keep the stress off your shoulders. Extend your hips and spine, pull in your abs (this supports your torso) and bend your right knee slightly off the floor for more support. First Inhale, and then as you exhale extend your left leg straight out to hip height, contracting the glutes and hamstrings. Your hips should be facing forward at all times. With a slight bend, return the left leg to meet the opposite supporting leg.

Reps:
Repeat up to 20 repetitions, keeping the torso still, then switch to the other side.

Muscle Focus:
Glutes, hamstrings, abs, and lats.


Super Butt Kicks

Lay down on your back, placing your arms down by your side. Lift your hips off the floor in a bridge position. Your right knee should be bent with the heel in line with your sit bone, and your left leg should be extended straight up. As you inhale, lower your left leg to the floor. Be sure to keep your hips still and maintain the bridge position. Exhale and bring the leg back up to the start position

Reps:
Repeat up to 20 reps, then lower your left leg to the floor in the same bent position as the right. Lower your butt to the floor, rest, and change over to the other leg.

Muscle Focus:
Glutes, hamstrings, abs


Dead Bug

Lay down on your back with knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Head, neck and shoulders should be off the floor and hands resting on your knees. On an exhale, draw in your abs and simultaneously extend your left leg out and your right hand over your head. Repeat this move, alternating your arms and legs. Keep your eyes focused on your belly button at all times, and if you start to feel tension in your neck, lower your head down to the floor. (This will get easier as you build more strength in the abs.)

Reps:
Build up to 20 repetitions completed twice with a 30-second to 1-minute break. Make sure not to sacrifice form.

Muscle Focus:
Abs


Side Plank Leg Lifts

Lay down on your side, balancing on your right hip and resting on your right forearm. Your right elbow should be directly underneath your shoulder and your knees bent and stacked on top of each other. While exhaling, contract your abs, and lift your hips off the floor. At the same time, extend your left arm and leg out to the side of your body, making sure to keep the knee and toe facing forward.

Reps:
Try for 10-15 reps, then turn over onto your other side and repeat.

Muscle Focus:
Glutes, abs

Design a Blissful Bedroom

After reading a snippet about feng shui in a teen magazine, my daughter entered her bedroom with the dictum she had read in mind: Keep only what you love. She systematically removed everything she didn’t love! The result is a gem of a room — all her own and perfect in every way for her unique self.

Ask yourself:

What do you love? What do you want to keep in your bedroom? What brings you a sense of calm? Which fabrics feel good to you? How do you want to decorate?

Including earth’s elements in the bedroom environment enhances the space considerably. Do you like to sleep with fresh air? There is a joke in my family that my mother can’t sleep unless she has a gale-force wind blowing through her bedroom. She could never sleep with closed windows. For many of us, stuffy rooms don’t feel as good as rooms full of fresh air, so provide as much fresh air as you can and as the weather permits.

The earth element in the bedroom is a key component of restful sleep. I like having all natural bedding that comes from the land and not from a factory, and I want my bed to rest on a wooden floor. It makes me feel like I am grounded when I sleep. The emotional watery element of dreams and intuition has a place in the bedroom too, and dream journals help to foster a connection to this world. And fire, of course, represents passion, light, and heat. Be sure to have all four elements included in your bedroom for the most peaceful rest and restorative sleep.

Pleasing the Senses

The general premise of the bedroom is that you want as little in it as possible, and you want what you have there to be natural and clean. Renovate or paint only when you can have the windows open for enough time to fully air out the room from paint and chemical smells, and sleep elsewhere in the meantime. You’ll spend one-third of your life in your bedroom, so focus your attention on making the room pleasurable.

Smell:

What yousmell when you sleep really matters. It makes the difference between rest and restlessness. Most synthetic chemicals intrude on your sleep by stimulating the central nervous system, often interrupting your rest with tension and agitation. It’s better to have a tranquil sleep with soothing smells, such as fresh air from an open window or pure air from a clean, simply furnished room accented with natural materials.

Smells to avoid in the bedroom can include synthetic mattresses; carpet, paint, or stain; cleaning products such as furniture polish; clothes that have been dry-cleaned; moth balls; and anything else with a strong smell. Synthetic smells from mattresses can be subtle, but they can have a powerful impact with their blend of fire retardants, stain-resistant solvents, and pesticides.

Dry-cleaned clothes can be a serious hazard in the bedroom. The cleaning solvents used can waft through your bedroom, exposing you to powerful neurotoxins while you sleep. My advice is to purchase natural-fiber clothing that doesn’t require dry-cleaning, of course. That may not always be possible though, so switch to having your clothes wet cleaned, or hang the newly dry-cleaned clothes outside for a few days before bringing them into a bedroom closet. If you’d like to be especially vigilant, never bring dry-cleaned clothes into a bedroom; hang them, instead, in a closet far away from the sleeping areas. I personally never dry-clean anything; the solvents are terrible for the earth, for those who work in dry-cleaning establishments, and for humans and pets.

Even the natural materials in your bedroom are best if they are as inert as possible. For example, fresh pine has a smell that could interfere with restful sleep, as can a houseplant if the soil is a bit mildewed or waterlogged. Smells that interfere with a relaxing sleep may seem so commonplace that you may not think about them, like the fragrance from a perfume bottle or the scented detergent that lingers on your sheets. It’s best to wash laundry with an unscented detergent. The less you smell when you sleep, the better.

Some smells in the bedroom don’t originate there. For example, fumes in the air may be a result of pesticides used elsewhere or may mean your oil burner needs tuning. Take the appropriate steps to avoid or clear away sources of pollution.

Sound:

Natural noises are welcome to many of us. Going to sleep in August with the racket of crickets or waking up at dawn to the call of a wood thrush is something that’s comforting to me, but it may bother you. The bird song before dawn in the summer in New York’s Hudson Valley is enough to wake the dead, and many complain about it. One family I know has fans in each room so the entire family can drown out nature. “It sounds like a jet engine going through the house,” the father of four noted to me. Each to their own choices! Even fans whirling or sirens and traffic in New York City can be harmonious if it is what you like and are used to.

I feel that you should turn off technological noise (white noise) when you go to sleep. White noise is any random noise that contains an equal amount of energy per frequency band and is generated by computers, TVs, and even white noisemakers. In simple terms, you could identify white noise as a drone or hum. Turn off the TV or the computer if either is in your bedroom. White noise can entrain your own rhythms, and that is not what you would want for deep, restful, healing sleep.

I like surrounding my sleeping environment with as much natural sound as I can manage. An indoor water fountain is one way to add harmonious, soothing, natural sounds to your nights. Water falling is a medley of tone colors and natural harmonies, and it can keep out unwelcome sounds, such as traffic and pedestrian noise. Compare that with a computer droning incessantly with no variation in tone or pitch.

The sound of your alarm clock is often the first sound you hear in the morning. I have been looking for a mellow-sounding alarm clock — something that will wake me up with crashing ocean waves or quiet music; instead, I have one that sounds as if the fire alarm is going off. A pleasant-sounding alarm clock can help start off your day with more equilibrium. A radio alarm clock that awakens me to the news is not for me simply because the news is so often sensationalist and geared toward provoking fear. That’s not a way that I want to start my day.

Sight:

Our natural circadian body rhythm is determined by the light of day and the dark of night. Some people have trouble sleeping because they don’t receive enough natural light during the day, and consequently, their systems don’t turn off at night. Others don’t get enough true darkness at night to fully activate their body rhythms, an increasing problem for those who live in well-lit cities like New York.

Managing these light issues, as well as coordinating the light we receive with the sleep we need, is something most of us have to think through at some point. What parent of a young child hasn’t contemplated long and hard the value of window shades when their young child wakes up with the first light of dawn? When you invest in window treatments, find a type that doesn’t collect dust (like swags), and choose a simple, clean look with materials that are easily cleaned. Blinds are now made from untreated natural products, such as natural grasses, bamboo, and woods, and can be cleaned easily with a damp cloth. Natural-fiber curtains may appeal to you. Just make sure your window treatments don’t have an odor. I live in the country, without streetlights or surrounding buildings, and I find that I get the sleep I need regardless of the natural light. As a result, I don’t have any curtains at all because I don’t need them for privacy. This minimalist approach works even for my teenage daughter.

Color is a treat for the eye, and the color of your bedroom should feel restful and conducive to harmony and quiet. The bedroom is also an intimate room, and you want it to be pleasing. Blue is often chosen for bedrooms and meditation rooms because blue’s cool energy is calming, restful, peaceful, and spiritual. Blue helps inspire quiet meditation and soothes you to sleep. Color therapy with blue has been found to reduce blood pressure.

Green might be a good second choice for a bedroom color because it is naturally restful (imagine the landscape in early spring as the trees are budding). It also has a vibrancy about it, so if you go with green, make sure it is a light green. Some red touches add sensuality, but don’t overdo red in the bedroom because it can be exhausting and too energizing. I recommend white ceilings because they reflect light and brighten any room.

Lighting has a few important purposes in the bedroom — for reading in bed, for finding clothes in a closet, and for giving you a sense of safety and security. I like sleeping in the deep dark, my daughter likes to have her door open and the bathroom light on to banish any images from her imagination, and my elderly mother always needs a night light to help her feel confident that she won’t fall. While light for sleeping is an individual matter, be sure there is good lighting for reading in bed. Reading before sleep is a genuine pleasure, and good lighting lessens the strain on your eyes.

Touch:

The amount of enjoyment we get from our skin touching the covers is determined by the sensual, soft feel of our bedding fabrics. Clean, soft, and even silky sheets are as seductive against the skin as anything man-made could ever be. Feather beds — cloudlike cushions that are placed on the mattress under the bottom sheet — are heavenly.

The ideal bedroom temperature for deep sleep is between 55º and 68ºF. During the winter, place hot water bottles in the bed before crawling under the covers to make the bed a welcoming, cozy place. My friend Pat places a hot water bottle in her kids’ beds when they’re sick. To me, that one small gesture shows how loving and nurturing a mother she is!

Being cool in the summer is just as important as being warm in the winter. Sleeping with moisture-absorbing sheets in the summer helps to keep you from feeling clammy from perspiration during the night. Light flax linen is a particularly cool and inviting fabric for summer, although it is expensive (try saving money by finding used linen sheets at estate sales).

How important is your choice of fabric for bedding? Very important! I recall reading about a study that compared the heart rates of those sleeping under wool versus polyester, and they reported that the heart rate is lower when sleeping under wool. On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being wonderful), rate how you feel in the morning when you wake up. Keep improving your bedroom environment until you have a full 10.

Your Sixth Sense:

Once you have accomplished many of the tasks required to have a nontoxic and uncluttered bedroom, take some time to sit in there and absorb how it feels. Open your intuitive mind to give you information about the room’s comfort level.

Reprinted from: Home Enlightenment: Practical, Earth-Friendly Advice for Creating a Nurturing, Healthy, and Toxin-Free Home and Lifestyle  by Annie B. Bond. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098.

The Healthy Baby Nursery

It is heartbreaking for me to see well-meaning and excited new parents decorating their new baby’s nursery by painting it, installing new carpeting, and buying a crib with a brand-new foam or synthetic mattress. I did some of these things when I was pregnant; I knew better, but I wanted to be “normal” (and not chemically sensitive) and provide standard things for my baby like everybody else did. I bought a new foam crib mattress, discarding it when my daughter spent her first night there after sleeping in a bassinet for a few months.

That first night in her new crib, she tossed and turned all night long, exposed to the neurotoxic fumes outgassing from the foam. Fortunately for her, I knew the symptoms of central nervous system agitation, and I removed the offending fumes from her life the next day. Often, a mother-to-be paints the nursery, first exposing her baby to the fumes in utero and then from the outgassing paint when the baby sleeps in the room after birth.

The nesting impulse is powerful before the birth of a baby, and I am not advocating that parents squelch this natural desire. Instead, they should be aware of chemical exposure and put their decorating efforts into nontoxic approaches (for example, non-VOC paint, natural carpet, and organic bed linens), which won’t increase their baby’s burden of chemical exposure. Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet: Guide to Natural Baby Care by Mindy Pennybacker and Aisha Ikramuddin is a good book on the subject and is full of ideas and resources.

Paint and Carpeting

Want to take the first step in ensuring a healthy nursery? Find out whether there is lead paint on the walls! Lead paint was not sold after 1978, but the walls of any home built prior to 1978 could be problematic.

As cozy as carpeting may appear to be for a nursery, it can be a reservoir of dust mites, mold, mildew, and VOCs. If there is old carpeting in the nursery, pull it up and replace it with untreated hardwood floors or floors treated with a water-based, low-VOC finish. If carpet is a must for the nursery, choose completely untreated carpeting with natural latex or jute backing.

Much of today’s furniture is made of pressed wood, something to avoid because of the formaldehyde in the glues that will continually outgas for the entire life of the piece. Choose real wooden furniture instead. Yard sales offer abundant supplies of simple furniture for very little cost. And what about a changing table? If it is going to be covered with any kind of plastic, the older the better, and the more used the better, as long as it is still safe and sturdy. You want the plastic to be completely outgassed before putting it in the nursery.

Toxic Crib Mattresses

In a study of six brands of crib-size waterproof mattress covers conducted by Anderson Laboratories, all were found to emit toxic fumes in various degrees, and some caused acute toxicity to the respiratory tract of male mice. Five of the mattress covers were made of polyvinyl chloride covered with cotton or polyester layers. The remaining cover was made of polyolefin. Chemical emissions included suspected carcinogens.

Crib and bassinet mattresses made of organic, natural materials are now widely available online, through catalogs, or in natural product stores. For the largest selection, go to your favorite online search engine and type “organic baby.” Retailers who are likely to sell organic bedding for babies are also likely to offer safe accessories, including nontoxic toys.

If buying an organic mattress isn’t feasible, enclose a standard crib mattress with a cotton barrier cloth. Avoid plastic or polyurethane encasements. To prevent moisture from seeping onto the mattress from leaking diapers, invest in an absorbent “wool puddle pad,” designed to insert between the sheet and mattress. Avoid pillows until the baby is at least 1 year old, and after that, invest in a natural fiber, organic pillow.

Reprinted from: Home Enlightenment: Practical, Earth-Friendly Advice for Creating a Nurturing, Healthy, and Toxin-Free Home and Lifestyle  by Annie B. Bond. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098.

Outdoor Adventures in Boulder

Boulder might be a small city, but it’s loaded with huge outdoor adventure opportunities. The city is home to a little under 100,000 residents but in the area’s 27 square mile borders are over 200 miles of hiking trails as well as 41,000 acres of open space. The city lies at the foot of the Rock Mountains and has an extensive park system not only within its boundaries but is also surrounded by national and state parks. The city also receives about 300 days of sunshine a year, providing ample conditions to enjoy these surroundings. With credentials like these, it’s easy to see why this city was recently named the “ Best Place to be an Uberjock” by Outside Magazine.

Here are a few of the outdoor adventures the city has to offer your inner uberjock:

Hiking

Many prime hiking can be found in Boulder as the area was one of the first cities in the U.S to establish an open space program in 1964. A popular and nearby destination is Chautauqua Park, where paths lead hikers into the foothills of the Flatirons, a mountain whose three primary formations stand out as a signature emblem for the city. There are miles upon miles of hiking paths in the park and a good place to start researching for specific trail paths in the area as well as in surrounding parks is at the City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks website. Here information on topics such as popular trailheads, basic trail information, regulations, hiking guides, and an overall summary of the Boulder Mountain Parks trail system can be found.

Biking

Riding up Flagstaff Mountain is a true test of endurance, challenging both heart and legs to the extent. The route is infamous for it’s rapid rise in elevation and might be painful going up, but riders will be rewarded with the journey back down.

Another option is Boulder Creek Path. This 16 mile path goes right through the middle of town so is a great opportunity to see the city, as well as local cyclists going about their business. With 35 miles of bike lanes, biking is a popular alternative to driving and many residents opt to get around the city by pedal power.

A good spot to start research on local routes is the Colorado Mountain Bike Web Search site, which gives descriptive information on biking trails around the Boulder and Longmont area. Also check out the Boulder Off Road Alliance site for additional options.

Rock Climbing

About 8 miles southwest of Boulder is Eldorado Canyon State Park: in short a climber’s paradise. The park offers some 500 technical rock climbing routes and is a mecca for enthusiasts around the world. Aside from climbing, the park is also overflowing with hiking and biking trails.

Both bouldering and rock climbing ventures can be based from the Flatirons. The mountain is divided into three sections north, south, and central and diverse climbing opportunities can be found in each area. A great place to practice sport or lead climbing is at Flatirons south.

For detailed information on routes available at both Eldorado Canyon State Park ,the Flatirons, and other nearby areas, check out Climbing Boulder.com. This site is an invaluable route database collection and provides up-to-date information on climbing areas and routes from around the state of Colorado.

Kayaking

Boulder Creek runs through Eben G. Fine Park, and kayakers can take on the 20 slalom gate kayak course west of the park all year round. Other areas to check out include Clear Creek as well as South Boulder Creek.

Kayaks can be rented from a variety of outlets including the Boulder Outdoor Center. This site also includes useful information such as drop in and take out points for river runs on South Boulder Creek, Boulder Creek, and Upper Boulder Creek.

Snowshoeing

When conditions are right, this sport can be enjoyed on basically any hiking trail. A great place to check out though is the Eldora Nordic Center, which is located at the county’s only ski resort, Eldora Mountain. On average, the mountain receives about 300 inches of snow a year.

The center has 37 miles of trails to cross-country ski and snowshoe on and is only about 20 miles from Boulder. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the week and 8:30 a.m. to 4.p.m. on weekends and holidays. Trail maps and directions can be found at www.eldora.com.

Outdoor enthusiasts should have plenty to do in the Boulder, but just in case you might be looking for more terrain to conquer, Estes Park, which is Rocky Mountain National Park’s eastern gateway, is only around 30 miles away.