Friday, August 29, 2014

Must-Haves for the Perfect Hotel Stay

It's been a whirlwind of travel this spring and summer.  I’ve stayed in a lot a lot of hotels for various reasons between sorority, PTA, and family vacation.  With all the stays, I’ve whittled down a list of must-haves for a great stay.

Bed in Banyan Tree Mayakoba may be the best bed ever. But the hammock just outside is competition.
Great bed. Well, of course, that’s the whole point of staying in a hotel, right? Climbing into a perfectly, expertly made bed with a pile of pillows and more linen than you would even know what to do with at home.  Enough said.

In-room coffee maker. Because it’s really quite an effort early in the morning to get dressed and go downstairs to the coffee bar/breakfast area (because that also is a requirement), get a cup of coffee and then go way back to your room. It’s just too much to ask for. And we don’t want to start a trend where people come down to the requisite coffee bar/breakfast area in whatever they slept in. No. Don’t.  Now, the hotels that really get an extra star are the ones that provide those little teeny containers of liquid coffee creamer, not the packets of powdery stuff that never dissolve right and leave floating flour-y lumps floating in your coffee.

DoubleTree Cookies & Chupa Chups at Springhill Suites in Mystic, CT
A sweet greeting upon arrival.  Of course, Doubletree has their famous delicious chocolate chip nutty cookies.  In fact, that is one of the reasons you would pick a Doubletree over the hotel next door, isn’t it, just for a cookie?  On our roadtrip this summer, the kids were excited to see that other hotels offer a sweet little “hello,” too in candy bowls.   Granted, the challenge is then to keep the kids from raiding the candy bowls every time you pass the front desk.

The view from the rooftop of the Fairfield Inn, Brooklyn NY
A great view. No one likes to wake up in the morning, open those big heavy curtains and look at the back of another building or a parking garage.  The beautiful view, be it city skyline, rolling waves, or hazy mountains, is a wonderful thing to remind you “look, you’re away from home!”

Indoor pool at Hampton Inn, S Kingston, RI (there's a whirlpool nearby so you can keep an eye on the kids)

A private pool right off your door isn't too much to ask for either; Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Exercise facility and/or swimming pool.  Because there’s nothing that takes you out of your exercise routine than being away from home.  I’ve gotten a little bit better though; I generally pack sneakers and a workout outfit with the intention of running or getting to the gym.  Depending on the neighborhood and how comfortable I feel about not getting lost, I’ll go out and run.  I’ve found a few hotels that will even offer you a map of a good walking or running route.  The pool is not only for exercise, but the rainy day when the outside activity plans are cancelled, those couple hours before dinner, or even an after dinner family swim.

Breakfast included.  This isn’t as important when traveling alone, but when traveling with kids – getting them all up, dressed, piled in the car, to a restaurant somewhere in town, waiting for a table, ordering, eating, and spending $50 before the day is even started? Ugh.  If you can manage the getting them up, dressed, and down the elevator part you’re off to a good start. Plus – the breakfast included option usually ends by 10 am so you’ve got a built in incentive to get up!  My kids know that if they miss the hotel breakfast, oh, well – instead of make-your-own-waffles, they’ll have pick-out-a-cereal-bar.  And that extra money in your pocket for the ice cream later on is a nice feeling.

Hotel bar.  At the end of a long day, with or without kids, what a great way to end the day.  Have a drink and some salty snacks. Ride the elevator home, no charges for drinking & pushing “up.”  One night on vacation, my husband and I went to the bar and it had just closed, the bartender was cleaning up.  He looked at us and asked, “aren’t you the family with the four kids?” We nodded rather sheepishly wondering what commotion had they witnessed.  The bartender wiped off his hands and said, “What would you like to drink?”

What have I left off? Any other must-haves for your hotel stay?

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

5 Tips for Moms Breastfeeding in Public

I’m about eight years removed from breastfeeding, so although some things may have changed (those much cuter cover-ups that are now out), the basics have stayed the same.
  • Some folks get breastfeeding, some don’t.  There are people who are pro-breastfeeding/it’s the only way, there’s formula is best folks, and there’s others who haven’t given it any thought until they saw your boobs at the store.
  • Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to see you do it. Insert any other natural function in place of “breastfeeding” for emphasis.
  • You do have the right to choose how you want to feed your kid.
  • You do not need to be fully exposed for your child to get the full nutritional value of your breastmilk.

So, while you can do whatever you want at home – nurse naked doing a headstand in your living room if you want to - here’s a few tips that hopefully will make your public breastfeeding days a bit easier.

  • Dress for the occasion and the task.  When my first daughter was born, nursing-wear was limited to what amounted to super-large t-shirts with a slit cut across the middle. I had two and hated them both.  But nursing-wear has progressively gotten less ugly and more like “normal” clothes.  But if you don’t want to go through the expense of buying clothing specifically for nursing, then wear clothes that make the task easier. Button down shirts, shirts that can comfortably lifted up from the waist, even a spaghetti-strap sundress or a stretchy v-neck t-shirt. It depends on your comfort and to an extent, your body and breast size. Do not, as I made the hurried mistake with my first-born, wear a full dress in which the only way you can nurse your child is to either unzip the dress and disrobe from the shoulders down or pull up the entire length of the skirt to your breasts.
  • Be discreet.  See tip #1 and/or get yourself one of those pretty little coverups or baby blankets.  As much as we want to scream that people shouldn’t look at breasts as sexual appendages, exposed nude body parts do make some people nervous, anxious, annoyed, and even feel as if they are invading your privacy.  That quickly turned head isn’t always a “yuck, how dare she nurse in public” sometimes it’s a “oh my goodness, I probably embarrassed that mom by looking at her breast.”  Now, if you want to have both boobs hanging out, then face it – you might get ogled or folks might roll their eyes and make rude comments.  But if you want to avoid all that, be discreet. 

  • Find a private place.  My babies weren’t always so great at being discreet or even focusing on nursing when there was a lot going on. They may have been hungry, but they wanted to observe the world while enjoying their meal, like many of us do.  Or they were so terribly cranky hungry that it took a while to settle and soothe them to nurse. I found a (relatively) quiet and private place worked better in both of these situations rather than a chair in the middle of a department store or a busy restaurant.  Dressing rooms, the lounge area of a ladies room (I’m not mentioning any names, but some of those upscale department stores are kinda nice), even a tucked away alcove in your favorite restaurant.  It’s not to hide your nursing, but to make your child more comfortable.
  • Say “No, thank you.” When the store clerk comes to offer you a more private place in the bathroom, give her the benefit of the doubt – if she hasn’t breastfed, she may not be thinking “eww, she should go sit on the toilet and feed her baby,” she might be thinking “maybe she wants some privacy and the bathroom is the best option I can offer her.”  Just say “I appreciate your concern, I’m fine right here” and stay seated on your chair in the back of the store.  If the waitress says you and your baby got to go, kindly say, “Thank you, as soon as we are done our meal, we’ll be on our way.” And if they really really insist that you move? Really, I’m always of the mindset that if you don’t want me here, I don’t want to be here either. So your other option is to pack up your stuff, leave behind any items you would’ve purchased and be satisfied with the extra money in your pocket and find a new spot.
  • Educate people. This is a big picture task.  Everybody is not pro-breastfeeding. That’s that. Some don’t get it, don’t understand why you would do it, tout the health benefits of formula or soymilk or goat’s milk or whatever. Whether it’s your own mother, your girlfriend, your baby’s daddy, the nosy neighbor, or the lady staring at you at the store - take a minute and let them know why you’ve chosen breastfeeding. 
And one more thing – Make eye contact only with your baby. Don’t look at those people rolling their eyes at you, tsk-tsk-ing your breastfeeding.  Look away from the store manager who is about to break her neck shaking her head at you to make your go away. Lean back in your seat and close your eyes to your mother holding out a bottle.  Just look into the getting-sleepy eyes of your happy baby and ignore everyone else.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting Back into the School Routine (for Moms)

It's going to take a couple days to get back into the school routine.  Waking up, getting out the door - with lunch and homework. Doing homework.

Yesterday was the first day of school and we did well getting going in the morning. But the first day usually is a good one - the excitement of the new year, the new outfit, seeing friends again. Even getting up early is kinda easy for one day.  But, getting through that day and having to do it all over again the next day? How exhausting.  Even for the kids.

Back-to-school is a mom adjustment, too. At least it is for me. After months of only having to get two kids to the pool in the morning and one kid to basketball in the afternoon, each for a couple hours, and then a relatively open (lazy) schedule after that, the school year routine takes getting used to again.  Now, I have to return to - or reinvent - a productive day schedule.  While the kids are gone and the house is relatively empty (just me and the dog, sometimes my work-at-home husband), I like to get some writing done in the quiet.  But I also need to do my housekeeping, get some groceries, follow up on my sorority and PTA tasks, and - oh, yeah - that dinner before 7:30 p.m. thing. And back to an exercise routine (read about our vacation ice cream tour on to understand why.)

I estimate it will take me this week to get myself settled.  Catch up on laundry. Restock the pantry and fridge with lunch stuff.  Dust off the crock-pot. Clean the house without people in it.  Then next week, I'll be ready to get back into a productive routine.

How do you readjust to the school year?

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

5 Reasons to Encourage Girls about Diet and Exercise

Girls aren’t supposed to want to be pretty and attractive. At least that’s the new message that seems to be out.  There's a hashtag movement to shy away from telling our girls that they are pretty, only smart - but why not both?  There’s a social message that we don't want our girls to think that exercising is for our own self-image, but only strictly to be healthy and because we enjoy it. More girl-focused campaigns are trying to downplay the truth of wanting to look good and be attractive.  And yes, as a woman and mom of three beautiful girls, I get that there's a lot of over-sexualization in girl-targeted ads and media and clothing; trust me, I struggle with that when clothes shopping, pushing my girls past the make-up counter and push-up bras in the junior sections.  But part of teaching them to walk past all of that superficial-ness and not be too grown, is to teach them to love their own image.

I workout, in a good week, three to four times.  Running, swimming, weightlifting, playing tennis – some combination of those.  And in a real good week, I limit the amount of ice cream and chocolate cake I eat to only 1 or 2 servings.  Like most women, I have a goal weight and a preferred dress size.

This all goes hand-in-hand, doesn’t it?  Exercise, diet, body size. Along with body image and satisfaction with that image. It's an important balance, aligning a workout schedule, a proper diet, and a reasonable desired body image.

So, it's not a secret that I workout and sometimes watch what I eat, partly (mainly) because of self-image. My daughters (and my son, too) know that I try to balance all of this to look how I want to look, or at least something close to it.  And here's why I've never really thought of this as something to deny because there’s a few things I want my kids to understand.

Physical fitness and good health is a choice. Exercise is something that fits into a lifestyle, it’s not just about going to the gym at a scheduled time to jump around, especially for children.  We can decide to sit on the couch and watch TV for 10 hours a day or go out and ride bikes or run around with the dog and be active.  It’s a choice and that choice will affect your health.

Your diet is a choice. And I don’t mean diet as in the all-grapefruit kind of diet, but “diet” in the sense of everything you eat.  We can eat pizza and fries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week (not good) or for one meal of the week, balanced with a salad and fruit, and other healthy meals.  We can’t eat ice cream three times every day, but we can enjoy a sweet scoop on a Saturday afternoon.  We can always enjoy the good things in life.

You should love who you are and what you look like.  There is nothing wrong with looking at yourself in the mirror and liking what you see.  There is also nothing wrong with wanting to be a better you and figuring out how to be that better self.  With proper nurturing and encouragement, that can result into healthier eating and exercise rather than quick weight-reduction tactics, starving oneself, and artificial beauty.  Maybe it will translate into appreciating their intelligence and talents, building their confidence.  We want our children to love their own natural selves.

You have some control over your life and your health.  Granted, there are some health-issues that we have no control over.  But the complications of being over-weight and not having a proper diet – that is within our own decision making power.  Along with that, hopefully the kids will begin to understand that who they are as people is also up to them – how they act, how they present themselves, what they become.  They have to decide who they want to be and be proud of that person.

It’s all about balance and moderation. Yes, you can exercise too little, as well as too much. You can overeat, undereat, consume the proper amount of calories but they might not be all “healthy.” It’s not about being rail thin to show off your ribs, but being a good correlation of height (which you can’t control) and weight (which you can) and eventually, age.  Like a lot of things in life, you have to find the proper balance of “enough” and moderate your intake and output.

And I will admit, it is a fine line between making children conscious of a healthy body size and being overly concerned about it, but that’s all part of the learning process – for all of us.

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