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Things to Do in Austin Over Winter Break

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Things to Do in Austin Over Winter Break

Laura Standefer, Senior Holiday Correspondent

December 16, 2019

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Seriously. The weather has cooled down and it’s time to gather with our family and friends and participate in all of the winter fun that Austin area has to offer. My son just turned five and I feel like this is the perfect age to do all of the holiday activities. My husband, who often lacks Christmas spirit, doesn’t understand why I insist on attending so many events. I have to remind him that we only really get 18 holiday seasons with our sons while they are still children. Before we know it, they’ll be grown and too old to sit on Santa’s lap. It won’t be long until they prefer to do all the fun stuff with their friends instead of their parents. If you’re like me and are looking to maximize this holiday season with events and activities with your family, here is a list of our top picks for Austin area holiday fun.

December 10-29- Austin Trail of Lights: Believe it or not, I’ve lived in Austin long enough to remember when the Trail of Lights was a chill, not-terribly-crowded, citywide event. Unfortunately, that has changed, but its amazing displays and fun activities still make the Austin Trail of Lights a holiday must-do if you live in the area.

Daily Through January 5th- Mozart’s Light Show: Every year for the past 10 years, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters puts on a spectacular light show for Austinites to enjoy with their loved ones. This event starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m. Mozart’s Light Show features over a million lights and a show consisting of your favorite tunes to get you into the holiday spirit. 

Wednesdays through Sundays until January 4th- 2019 Holiday Model Train Exhibit: Located in downtown Round Rock, these model trains are a fascinating spectacle for people of all ages to enjoy. The best part is that admission is free! There is no excuse for missing this beautifully intricate holiday exhibit.

December 14 through the New Year- 37th Street Lights: Self-proclaimed as, “The weirdest lights you will see this holiday season.” This one of Austin’s most iconic holiday displays. 

Through December 24th- Santa’s Jingle House: This is the perfect place to take pictures with Santa, decorate crafts or cookies, and even participate in special scavenger hunts. Visit their website for tickets and a full list of activities. 

Through December 29th- A Christmas Carol: Zach Theater is one of my favorite venues in Austin for live performances. The cozy, yet ample establishment is the perfect place to enjoy a holiday play such as A Christmas Carol, so come enjoy the famous works of Charles Dickens this winter with your family. The show is recommended for everyone ages six and up.

Holiday Traditions and Rituals

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Holiday Traditions and Rituals

Laura Standefer, Senior Holiday Correspondent

December 9, 2019

You may have holiday traditions and rituals that are passed down from your childhood or you may be looking to start new ones with your own family. The holidays are an amazing time to spend time with family and friends, and traditions and rituals make this season even more memorable. My son just turned five and I started realizing that we should implement our own customs to make the holidays special each year. We family are considering starting Elf on a Shelf, but I’m worried I’ll regret it. Therefore, I asked a group of local moms about their holiday traditions and rituals and here is what they had to say!

“We put out our shoes the night before December 6th, since that is St. Nicholas’ feast day, and we put our Christmas lists in the shoes. Santa takes the lists and leaves a couple treats. Traditionally, he leaves us a chocolate orange.” -Cat K.

“Does drinking to survive my in-laws count?!” -Melaina W.

“The kids each get an advent calendar which I fill with some candy and little gifts, but also activities we will do during the Advent season.” -Julia M.

“We open one gift on Christmas Eve and it’s usually pajamas and a Christmas book or movie. We also make cookies on Christmas Eve for Santa. Then, during the holidays in general we watch Polar Express.” – Nichole R.

“I have a collection of Christmas/holiday books that I keep put away all year. When we are getting ready for bed Thanksgiving night, I pull out the bin and we read 2-3 Christmas books each night ending with T’was the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.” -Lindsay E.

“We have Christmas Crackers and table prizes on the table Christmas Eve – and on Christmas Day we make brunch, open presents and play games.” -Christine S.

“Christmas Vacation, Charlie Brown, Die Hard and a Christmas Story movies are watched while we trim the tree. Every. Single. Year. After they’ve been watched, it’s on to listening to Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Mariah Carey while the rest of the house gets decorated. On Christmas eve (sometimes a day or two earlier) we leave out carrots and oats for Santa’s reindeer, open gifts from family members, eat tamales and bake cookies for Santa […]” -Laura L.

Growing up, I spent every Christmas with my extended family in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is known to have a Christmas longer than any other place in the world. We would spend it in the mountains and we would eat slow roasted pork with rice and fried plantains. We would also sing traditional Puerto Rican songs and run around in the 75 degree whether chasing our cousins. That being said, learning about other customs such as the Christmas Pickle, or spending the holidays in the actual snow is absolutely fascinating to me. While, unfortunately, I won’t be able to spend my Christmases in Puerto Rico now that I have a child of my own, and one on the way, I wonder which customs I should implement in my own home. Feel free to share your holiday traditions and rituals in the comments below! 

When a Family Outing Goes Wrong

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When a Family Outing Goes Wrong

Laura Standefer, Senior Family Outing Correspondent

November 25, 2019

A few months ago, my husband had the day off and we decided to finally visit the botanical gardens near Zilker Park. We grew up in Austin and had visited as children, but we had never been with our kid. We hopped in the minivan and drove downtown, excited about getting out of the suburbs to explore and discover. Everything was going well…for the first thirty minutes. While we were crossing one of the ponds, my four year-old mistook a pile of brush for a stepping stone. In an instant, his entire body was submerged in pond water. My husband instantly reached in and pulled him out. My son was smelly and crying. People were staring. The three of us were too shocked to really decide what to do next. We could have left and called it a day, but we kept going and I’m so glad we did. Here are some tips to help you turn things around when a family outing goes wrong. 

Stay positive. I know, I know. It’s easier said than done. You’re not instantly going to go from frustrated to Mary Poppins by just telling yourself to be positive. But, by intentionally looking for the positive in a frustrating situation, you could gradually improve your mood and influence those around you. When my son fell into the pond, we, of course, had brought no other change of clothes. We ended up having to buy him an outfit at the gift shop. Seeing him excited about picking out a “present” from the shop when we had intentionally not planned on buying him anything cheered all of us up a bit. This encouraged us to keep going on our adventure despite what had happened so far. 

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Get creative.  After my son fell in the pond, we changed his clothes and proceeded with our outing. We live way up north so we were struggling with the idea of just giving up. We were starting to enjoy ourselves again, when the sunshine was slowly starting to disappear behind unprecedented dark clouds. Then, you guessed it, the skies opened and blessed us with a torrential downpour. When does this happen in Austin? (The answer is never). I was ready to call it quits, until I realized that my son was playing in the rain and excited because it was “just like the rainforest.” So we pretended like we were in the rainforest. My husband put on his very best Nigel Thornberry voice and began telling us about every plant and creature we encountered, even though he had no clue what he was talking about. We accepted the fact that we wouldn’t be wearing dry clothes that day and continued on with our wet and wild “rainforest adventure” in central Austin. 

Laugh. Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep yourself from crying. If your outing is just a sequence of unfortunate events after another, why not try to find the humor in it? While wrapping up our day at the botanical gardens, I was walking behind my son and immediately started cracking up. Remember the “present” he was able to get from the gift shop? Well, it was a onesie that was way too small for him. When I looked closely, you could clearly see the outline of his little booty. I pointed it out to my husband, and we just laughed and laughed. Now we look back at our botanical garden adventure and consider it one of the most memorable family outings we’ve ever had. 

Four Tips for Blended Families During the Holidays

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Four Tips for Blended Families During the Holidays

Katherine Granberry, Guest Blogger

November 11, 2019

As a child psychotherapist and as a child of a large blended family, I am aware of how important it is to thoughtfully plan the holidays when arranging time spent between two parents and often extended family as well. My childhood, from age two onward, involved holiday time with both parents, multiple sets of grandparents, and aunts, uncles, and friends. I was fortunate to have parents and step-parents that arranged holidays in an amicable, seamless way. Years of holiday seasons that could have been unpredictable and chaotic instead evolved into expected traditions. Here are a few tips to help other blended families make the holidays positive and enjoyable for all.

  1. Come up with as much of a plan as possible, and do the planning behind the scenes. As a therapist, I cannot stress enough how important it is to protect children from witnessing any stress and tension between parents. Holiday planning can be very stressful, and that stress can be magnified when trying to determine how to share time with each other and other family and friends. If parents can work out an equitable balance of time, perhaps that alternates each year, then children can know what to expect, and they will feel a sense of balance and structure.

  1. Do not contrast, compare and grill for information about the other parent. Allow children to enjoy the holiday time without having to ‘report back’ on their experiences. Every holiday set up is going to be very different. If one parent heads to fast food instead of cooking, it is important to allow that to be ok. If children come home reporting those type of differences, allow them to vent, but also make sure that they know that you are ok with those differences. Sometimes children report back because they think the other parent needs or wants to hear the information based on past conflicts. It is important to allow them to be freed of that responsibility and to be able to relax and enjoy holiday time no matter what it looks like. 

If parents can work out an equitable balance of time, perhaps that alternates each year, then children can know what to expect, and they will feel a sense of balance and structure.

3. Stick to the plan as much as possible each year. Plans can change, and some people are better at structure than others. If one parent tends to be more spontaneous, make attempts to discuss the value of structure and consistency with that parent (perhaps with the help of a third party). Ideally, that parent will learn the importance of planning and sticking to it for the sake of the children. In the meantime, the more reliable parent can work to set boundaries to protect the children from instability and disappointment. Let the children know the predictable plans and allow the other plans to be more open-ended. For example, do not tell the children the other parent is going to take them ice skating if the other parent often changes plans last minute. Instead, let them know that parent likes to decide things closer to the scheduled time, and that you will help them get ready appropriately when you know the plans.

4. Finally, engage in self-care. The holidays can be exhausting. Make sure to relax and enjoy them too. Self-care may look like sitting by a fire with a book and a cup of tea, or it may mean letting something go like not cooking one night or not going to every party. It is important to find ways to refuel and recharge in order to operate from your best self and to be the parent and co-parent that you want to be. 

Katherine Granberry, MA, LPC

 

Halloween Family Fun

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Halloween Family Fun

Laura Standefer, Senior Halloween Correspondent

October 7, 2019

The weather is getting cooler and Halloween is just around the corner. Halloween is probably the best holiday ever. There’s no obligation to make a fancy dinner or buy each other presents. You can dress up as your favorite character or food condiment, and guess what? No judgement. And if that wasn’t enough, there is free candy everywhere. If you love Halloween as much as I do, then there are plenty of activities in the Austin area to celebrate. Here’s a list of frightfully wonderful Halloween activities for everyone in your family.

Select Dates from 10/4-10/26: Boo at the Zoo at the Austin Zoo. A spooky train ride, a haunted mansion, and silly shows for the kiddos can all be found at this amazing event. Make sure to call and grab your tickets before they sell out! 

Weekends through 11/3: Barton Hills Farm in Bastrop will be holding their fall festival and pumpkin patch all month long. With corn mazes, a giant jumping pillow, and, of course, so many pumpkins to choose from, this is an amazingly traditional way to celebrate the fall/Halloween season.

10/19: Little Land Play Gym’s 5th Halloween Spooktacular will be held at their north Austin location. Are you a member? If so, then this event is free! Call or check back on their Facebook event page for additional information on everything this spooktacular event will entail. 

10/20: Halloween Monster Mash at The COOP, presented by Keep Austin Young. Come for spooky arts, crafts, and treats. Make sure you get your tickets beforehand!

10/26: Fable Fest at Elizabeth Milburn Park. Come in your favorite costume to one of the best parks in town for magical events and storytelling. 

10/26: Halloween Hootenanny at the Thinkery. We all know that the Thinkery knows how to put on fun events for adults and kids alike. Get your costume and buy your tickets for some Thinkery-style Halloween fun. 

10/27: The Halloween Children’s Concert at the Long Center. Enjoy music from the majestically talented Austin symphony. The fun starts at 3pm. 

10/31: Fall Fun Fest at Old Settlers Park. If you’re looking for an event specifically for preschoolers and toddlers, head to Old Settlers Park in Round Rock for a free event put on by the Parks and Recreation Department. 

Talking to Kids about Growing Bodies & Puberty

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Talking to Kids about Growing Bodies & Puberty

Alison Macklin, Guest Blogger

September 23, 2019

You want to know what? Being a sex educator, I had these fantasies about how I would have conversations about sex and sexuality with my kids. They would go something like this: My son and I would be reading an age-appropriate book about sex and sexuality and we would go through the book while he sat quietly in my lap asking questions and me, explaining, in my educator language, the scripted “perfect” response. He would nod in understanding and we would snuggle in and he would know everything, and I would pat myself on the back and…” then I woke up. I had my children and with all things that comes with having children, what you imagine when having children isn’t quite the reality.

Instead of my dream scenario, I’m having conversations about sex in-between ordering food at the fast-food restaurant drive-thru in-between chauffeuring my kids between after-school activities, while trying to referee a disagreement between which Pokémon would win in a battle, and instead of answering my question about whether they want combo number 1 or number 3, my 8 year old son asks me, “mom, auntie didn’t choose to be gay, right?” Now, this scenario might phase me, if I didn’t remind myself that talking about sex, especially with young kids, is actually pretty easy. 

I know, I know. You are probably thinking I am being ridiculous but stay with me here. Young children are curious and not ashamed of their bodies and they don’t pass judgement. We are teaching them all sorts of rules for how to be in the world, this is a great time to teach them some rules that have to do with sex too (in an age-appropriate way). Use simple language. Use short answers. If there are follow-up questions answer them again using short basic simple language. Once the kiddo has heard enough they are going to let you know. Here’s the thing, it’s usually us, the parents who get embarrassed. Our kids are the ones running around naked without a care in the world. If you don’t make it a thing, it’s not a thing.

So, what does that even mean? 

  • When kids ask about what their body parts are, use anatomical language. Call a vulva a vulva (or at least use the word vagina) and a penis a penis. They aren’t bad words, don’t make them bad words. If a kiddo says, “look! There is a baby in that person’s tummy!” Gently correct them and tell them it is in the person’s uterus, not the tummy. Depending on the age and the kiddo, some will take that answer and you are done. Others will want to see the organs and understand what the uterus is and how the egg grows. All of that is fine! You can say something like, the sperm come from a penis and the egg comes from the ovary. Remember, keep it basic!

  • Remind kiddos that no one can touch their private parts without their permission and this is called consent. Practice consent in your house when it comes to bodily autonomy. Did grandma come over and want a hug and your child wasn’t in the mood? Respect your child’s wishes and don’t make them give a hug if they don’t want to. They are the boss of their body and make sure they know that.

  • If there is a parent in the house who has a uterus and has a menstrual cycle, don’t hide it. It’s OK to explain that you get a period once a month and that it doesn’t mean that you are hurt, but it means that your body doesn’t need the egg anymore. Also, make sure that kids understand the blood comes out of a different hole than the pee. And here’s an idea, if you are in a heterosexual, two-parent household, push gender-roles and have dad purchase period gear for mom. 

  • If you see a same gender couple, explain how people are attracted to different kinds of people and that love is love and that’s OK and that different families look different.

  • If you see a person who is transgender, and you child asks about them, talk about how that person maybe has a penis but didn’t feel like a boy on the inside so they decided they wanted to be a girl and now they feel much better and are much happier. So, we are going to respect her and help her to be happy because we love our friends and want them to be happy.

So, Alison, what happened in the drive-thru? “We’ll take two number 3’s, Charizard will definitely beat Digglet, and yes, Auntie was born gay.” My son’s response? “I KNEW Charizard would win!”

Alison Macklin is the author of Making Sense of “It”: A Guide to Sex for Teens (and Their Parents, Too!) and has been working in sex education for over 15 years and believes that all people deserve to have honest and accurate information about their bodies and sex so that they can make the best decisions for their life. She believes that all people deserve to have healthy, consensual and pleasurable sex when they are ready free from stigmatization and shame. Alison also believes that life is best lived with sarcasm and heavy intakes of coffee.

Currently the Vice President of Education and Innovation at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, Alison lives in Denver, Colorado and is the mother of two children, 3 dogs and a cat that believes he is a dog.