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Children’s Authors from Houston

Childrens-Authors-from-HoustonIt’s likely your children have a favorite book that they want to read or have you read over and over again. While enjoying the rhymes, illustrations and story plots, what your children may not know is that many of these authors hail from the same city – Houston.

For your reading enjoyment, check out the publications of these Houston authors – known for delivering insightful stories, lessons and illustrations to delight readers young and old.

Crystal Allen

As an author dedicated to writing books for middle-school children, Houston’s own Crystal Allen delivers.

Her book “The Laura Line” explores the life of 13-year old Laura Dyson who wants to be accepted by her classmates and more importantly, to be noticed by the school’s baseball star. Throughout the book, Laura is faced with decisions to figure out what is truly important to her. Crystal Allen offers a funny and touching story of Laura’s path in figuring out who she is and what she wants out of life.

Also the author of “How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba Sized Trophy,” Allen depicts the story of 13-year old Lamar Washington, who is an expert bowler, yet not so keen with the girls. During this middle school tale, Lamar spends his summer trying to change his image while making mistakes he can learn from every step of the way.

Varsha Bajaj

Houston-based author Varsha Bajaj knows what it is like to be far away from home, hailing from Mumbai, India. As a counselor turned author, Bajaj turned her experiences traveling to the United States into lessons for young readers to enjoy with a variety of books for children and teens.

Her book, “How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight?” explores the previous story of baby animals anticipating good-night kisses as nighttime falls. Each creature counts the number of kisses from the parents and show the beauty of bedtime rituals.

“T is for Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet” showcases the exotic treasures of India – from the grandeur of the Himalaya Mountains to the urban city of Calcutta. The book explores cultural differences and showcases traditional meals and customs throughout the streets of Mumbai.

In her debut teen novel “Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood,” Bajaj focuses on one teenager’s quest for excitement and search for her father. While struggling with loyalty to her family, the main character realizes that something in her life is missing. When Abby discovers her father lives in India, her mom decides it is time for the teen to meet her father and the adventure begins.

Deborah Blumenthal

A former resident of Houston who now lives in New York City, Deborah Blumenthal has published a variety of young adult and children’s books with creative illustrations and lessons for your children.

Among the most popular of her children’s books is “The Blue House Dog.” The book explores the journey and struggles of a stray dog who wanders the streets after his owner has died. A young boy takes an interest in the dog and begins to care for him, ultimately forming a bond between the boy and the dog known as “Bones.”

“Black Diamond and Blake” is another popular children’s book by Blumenthal. In this story, a prize racehorse is sold to a prison horse-care program after suffering an injury that eliminates him from competition. Black Diamond gets a second chance at happiness when he forms a bond with an inmate who cares for him. The story focuses on defining the meaning of home for this horse and the inmate.

Randy Cecil

Houston-based author Randy Cecil has been writing since he can remember. After sending off his first manuscript at the age of eight, Cecil has since published several children’s books with illustrations that delight both the young and old.

“Horsefly and Honeybee” was written and illustrated by Cecil. This children’s book explores the trouble that ensues when Honeybee decides to take a nap in the same flower as Horsefly. After quarrels about sharing and a separation, the two soon meet again and must find a way to work together when caught in a dangerous situation.

“One Dark and Dreadful Night” is a mysterious and comical tale of Maestro Von Haughty’s quest to directs a theater company consisting of ragtag orphans uninterested in the gloomy play he is tasked to direct. When the spirited orphans take over the stage on a quest to find happiness in a dark tale, mayhem ensues.

Kathy Duval

Houston-based author Kathy Duval shows her love of Texas in her children’s book “Take Me to Your BBQ.” The funny tale showcases the best of Texas by detailing the experiences of aliens who have landed on Willy’s farm. The rhyming book takes readers through square dances, fiddle performances and of course, a barbecue.

Also the author of “The Three Bears’ Christmas,” Duval unravels the mystery of who has eaten the gingerbread cookies, sat in their chairs and slept in their beds, too. The follow-up children’s book, “The Three Bears’ Halloween,” takes the bears on an adventure into a scary house while trick-or-treating. Baby Bear is in for a Halloween trick with this cute tale.

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Minimizing Car Seat Misuse for Parents and Nannies

Minimizing-Car-Seat-Misuse-for-Parents-and-NanniesWith statistics ranging from 70 to 90 percent, it’s safe to say that a majority of car seats are incorrectly installed or misused.

For parents and nannies who often share the responsibility of transporting the children, it’s essential that there is a clear mutual understanding of state laws governing car seat use as well as best practices for safely transporting the children in their care. It’s important to note, however, that state laws and best practices aren’t always equivalent. While the law may state that  children can be turned forward facing once they reach age 1 and 20 pounds, for example, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ride rear-facing until age 2 or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their car seat. With a number of rear-facing seats having higher height and weight limits, children can ride rear-facing even longer, with the gold standard being keeping kids rear-facing as long as possible.

To ensure that children are transported safely every time they ride, parents and nannies should work together to ensure that they are using the best car seat possible. The best car seat is the seat that fits the child best based on age, height, weight and developmental level, fits the vehicle properly, and is used correctly each and every time.

What are some ways parents and nannies can work together to minimize car seat misuse?

1. Opt of Rear Facing Only Infant Seats with Removable Bases.

When transporting newborns and infants, choose rear-facing only car seats with removable bases. Purchase an additional base for the nanny’s vehicle. Ensure all bases are properly installed. This includes being installed in an acceptable location in the vehicle using an approved method of installation for that location as outlined in the vehicle manual.  Review the car seat manual together to ensure proper use and to determine  the weight and height limits of the seat.

2. Install a Convertible Seat in Each Car.

Once a child has outgrown his rear-facing only seat, a convertible seat can be used in the rear-facing position. When a child has outgrown the seat limits for rear-facing the seat can be used forward-facing. Properly installing a convertible seat in both the parent’s and nanny’s vehicles can prevent installation errors during the daily transition between caregivers. Having a convertible seat  in each vehicle can also ensure that the child always has an appropriate car seat available.

3. Opt for Easy to Install Combination Seats.

A combination seat is a forward-facing seat that transitions from a 5 point harness to a booster seat. When parents and nannies are sharing a car seat, or when the car seat will be uninstalled and reinstalled regularly and by several caregivers,  ensuring that the seat is easy to install properly  for all caregivers is critical. The Britax Frontier 90 is a combination seat for children who are at least 2 years old and 25 pounds that has the ClickTight installation system. This system takes the guess work out of car seat installation and makes getting a proper install easy for everyone. With Britax’s ClickTight Installation System you simply squeeze your thumb and finger to expose the ClickTight Technology, thread the vehicle seatbelt over the armrest and under the seat opening, buckle the seat belt, then push close, eliminating the need to fight with the vehicle seat belt in an attempt to get a tight install. Another pro of this seat is that it allows for extended forward-facing with harness, accommodating children up to 90 pounds and 58 inches and booster riders from 40 to 120 pounds and 45 to 62 inches. And if you’re worried about your seat getting ruined from accidents during potty training, spills or wet bathing suits, check out Britax’s Seat Saver Insert. It’s approved for use for Britax seats.

4. Use Easy to Transport Boosters.

For elementary school aged children, in addition to their primary caregivers, their friends parents’ may  be responsible for occasionally transporting the children to and from school,  playdates and activities. While it’s essential that parents and nannies ensure that their children are being transported safety in others’ vehicles, it’s also important that they transport the children of others safely. For children ages 4 to 11 and between 40 and 100 pounds and up to 57 inches, the Bubble Bum is a super solution. Inflatable (in less than 20 seconds) and weighing less than one pound, it’s compact and easy to transport and store making it great for sending along with the kids, traveling and taxi riding too. Since the Bubble Bum is narrow, fitting an additional friend or two safely in your vehicle can help to ensure that there is an appropriate car seat for everyone, every time.

5. Meet with a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Together.

Safe Kids Worldwide is home to the National Child Passenger Safety Certification Program. Through this program individuals – including nannies and parents-  can take courses and become nationally certified child passenger safety technicians (CPST). Technicians are also required to participate in continuing education to keep their certification current. Parents and nannies can find a local certified CPST or car seat checkup event in their area.  When meeting with a CPST or attending an event parents and nannies can learn to properly select, install and use an appropriate car seat.

When it comes to safely transporting children, parents and nannies should communicate often and discuss their transportation practices in detail. Including information relating to transporting the children in a nanny and family work agreement can help to ensure that there is no miscommunication when it comes  to the expectations and safety standards surrounding transporting the children in their care.

Michelle LaRowe is the executive director of Morningside Nannies and a nationally certified child passenger safety technician.  The Britax Frontier 90 and Bubble Bum seat were provided at no cost for editorial consideration. Michelle is not affiliated with either company and no payment for this post or guarantee of inclusion was made. Michelle has personally used the Britax car seats since 1999 and believes Bubble Bum offers parents and nannies of booster appropriate children a simple solution to common transportation dilemmas. 

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Tips for Beating the Heat in Houston

Tips-for-Beating-the-Heat-in-HoustonWhen the sun is shining and your children are eager to play outside, fun in the sun is inevitable. Whether your family is ready to splash around at a local waterpark, enjoy a jaunt to the park or launch a sporting event in the backyard, a sunny day is the perfect setup.

Safety, though, is a concern when the Houston heats up. Summer safety in the heat of the summer involves preparing yourself and your little ones so you can all enjoy those sunny days and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat exhaustion is one of the most common heat-related illnesses that can affect both the young and old. According to the Houston Fire Department, heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive los of water and salt contained in sweat.

Signs of heat exhaustion include the following:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weak-but-rapid pulse
  • Fainting

If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can progress to a heat stroke, warns the Houston Fire Department. “Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating system fails, and the body is unable to cool down,” according to the professionals at the Houston Fire Department.

It’s also important to remember to NEVER leave a child in a car unattended. Children can overheat very quickly – even when the temperature outside isn’t what you’d consider dangerous. The inside of the car heats up quickly, raising the child’s body temperature, which can result in heatstroke or too often, even death.

Heat cramps are another cause for concern with the heat of Houston. Typically, heat cramps will cause muscle pains or spasms in the abdomen, arm or legs during strenuous activities.

With any heat-related illness, the Houston Fire Department recommends the following precautionary steps:

  • Stop all activity, and sit quietly in a cool place
  • Drink clear juice or a sport drink
  • Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours until after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or stroke.
  • Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in one hour.

Learning how to safeguard your family from heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke is crucial when the temperature warms up.

Fuel Up and Cool Down

Before heading into the sun and engaging in outdoor activities, fuel up your family with plenty of water and electrolyte-replacement beverages, such as Gatorade, Powerade and Propel Fitness Water.

Avoid beverages with large amounts of sugar or caffeine, such as soda or coffee, as these can speed up the process of losing fluid, warns the Houston Fire Department.

It is also best to avoid strenuous activities during the hottest times of the day, typically between 12 and 4 p.m. If you have a day planned of outdoor work or exercise, take advantage of the early morning or evening cooler temps. “Individuals unaccustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment need to start slowly and gradually increase heat exposure over several weeks,” suggests the Houston Fire Department.

Take breaks often and find a shaded area or air-conditioned area to cool off several times throughout the day.

Protect Your Skin

The risk of sun poisoning and burns is significant when Houston heats up during the summer months. Protect your skin and your overall health with some preparation.

Shield your little ones from too much sun exposure by covering them in loosely fitting, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat that allows for ventilation. Lather them up with sunscreen, too, and reapply every two hours throughout the day.

Water Safety

There is nothing more refreshing than jumping into a cool pool of water when the Houston heat is bearing down on your body. Knowing the basics of water safety, though, is crucial so the heat does not get the best of you.

Lather up with sunscreen before, during and after each swimming session and rehydrate everyone with plenty of water throughout the day. Your little one may not feel the need to drink water when he is surrounded by pools of it, but looks can be deceiving. The heat can zap the liquids from his body quickly during the heat of the day.

Pool Safety during hot days should also be a top priority. The Houston Fire Department recommends the following when accompanying your children to the pool:

  • Never leave a child alone near water and always watch your children around swimming pools
  • Use approved flotation devices
  • Bring a cell phone to the pool in case of emergency
  • Make sure there is no standing water on the pool deck. Standing water is the No. 1 cause of slips and falls around a pool.
  • Always have a first aid kit and emergency contacts handy
  • Watch for dangerous “TOOs”- Too Tired, Too Cold, Too Far from Safety, Too Much Sun, Too Much Strenuous Activity
  • Pay attention to local weather conditions and forecasts. If lightning and thunder are nearby, get out until the storm has passed.

While there is bound to be fun in the sun, safeguarding your family from the heat of Houston will ensure that the smiles and giggles continue into the hottest days of the year.

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10 Best Places to Get Ice Cream in Houston

10-Best-Places-to-Get-Ice-Cream-in-HoustonIf you’re in the mood for a tasty, cool treat this summer, fall or even on those warmer Houston winter days, the city has a variety of hot spots to pick up a cone, shake or banana split.

Whether you are taking the kids for an afternoon snack or packing up the family for an evening treat, don’t miss out on the 10 best places to get ice cream in Houston.

1. The Chocolate Bar

Chocolate lovers will be in heaven when visiting Houston’s Chocolate Bar, located at 1835 W. Alabama. Although you can pick up a variety of flavors, this ice cream shop specializes in all things cocoa. Some of the fan favorites include the Texas Frito Brittle and novelty ice cream cakes.

For more information, contact The Chocolate Bar at 713.520.8599 or log on to the website at www.theoriginalchocolatebar.com.

2. Amy’s Ice Cream

Located at 3816 Farnham in Houston, Amy’s Ice Cream has been delighting Houston visitors and residents since the early 90s. The local favorite I equipped with seven regular flavors and seasonal bonus flavors of ice cream. With specialty cones, non-dairy favorites and candy-coated mix-ins, your family can’t go wrong with this tasty and nostalgic shop in Houston.

For more information, contact Amy’s Ice Cream at 713-526-2697 or log on to the website at www.amysicecreams.com.

3. Cloud 10 Creamery

If variety with a heavenly taste is what you’re craving during the heat of the summer, then Cloud 10 Creamery will leave you on Cloud Nine. This classic Houston creamery features hand-crafted sorbets and ice creams with 10 new flavors added to the menu each season – in addition to the 10 original flavors. Customers can custom order flavors, too, at the creamery located at 5216 Morningside Drive, in addition to divulging in desserts, candies and frozen treats.

For more information, contact Cloud 10 Creamery at 713-434-6129 or log on to the website at www.cloud10creamery.com.

4. La King’s Confectionery

Just a hop and a skip away from Houston, a confectionery filled with ice cream galore can be found at 2323 Strand Street in Galveston. Beyond popular milkshakes and malts, this confectionery features old-fashioned treats such as peanut brittle, fudge and saltwater taffy. As a fixture on Galveston’s High Street, La King’s Confectionery has been satisfying customers since the 1920s.

For more information, contact La King’s Confectionery at 409-762-6100 or log on to the website at www.lakingsconfectionery.com.

5. Fat Cat Creamery

Located at 1910 N. Shepherd Drive in Houston, Fat Cat Creamery serves up unique flavors using local ingredients. The creamery uses only the finest flavorings and supports Texas dairy farmers by using whole milk from Mill-King and eggs from The Barry Farm. From the Cat’s Meow Mexican Vanilla to the Strawberry Buttermilk, your family will surely find a flavor to suit everyone.

For more information, contact Fat Cat Creamery at 713-869-1080 or log on to the website at www.fatcatcreamery.com.

6. Hank’s Ice Cream Parlor

For an authentic, old-fashioned trip to an ice cream parlor, Hank’s Ice Cream Parlor at 9291 S. Main Street in Houston, offers tasty treats and a walk back into time. The hand-made ice cream is produced slowly with fresh ingredients to enhance each customer’s ice cream experience. With 16 fan favorite flavors, including raisin rum, black walnut and strawberry cheesecake, your taste buds will enjoy the experience from start to finish.

For more information, contact Hank’s Ice Cream Parlor at 713-665-5103 or log on to the website at www.hanksicecream.com.

7. Eatsie Boys

Located at 4100 Montrose Boulevard in Houston, Eatsie Boys doubles as an ice cream confectionery and a full-service café. Grab a bite for breakfast, lunch or dinner and top off your meal with a scoop of a frozen treat in a variety of flavors. With patio seating, this pet-friendly café is the perfect spot for a stop with the kids and your furry friends.

For more information, contact Eatsie Boys at 713-524-3737 or log on to the website at www.eatsieboys.com.

8. Connie’s Frozen Custard

For a scoop of chocolate or vanilla with fresh fruit and sweet candy toppings, Connie’s Frozen Custard, located at 12545 Jones Road in Houston, is the place to be. This historic ice cream shop boasts a 65-year old recipe for smooth and creamy custard using only natural ingredients.

For more information, contact Connie’s Frozen Custard at 281-469-3444 or log on to the website at www.conniesfrozencustard.com.

9. Indika

For Indian cuisine and a frozen dessert, Indika, located at 516 Westheimer in Houston, delivers both. Serving up saffron ice cream, this full-service restaurant offers more than just an exotic meal. Try the fan favorite – a combo plate of saffron-pistachio and chicoo ice cream – to top off your meal.

For more information, contact Indika at 713-524-2170 or log on to the website at www.indikausa.com.

10. CreamWorx

Your sweet tooth will be satisfied with syrup-flavored custard from CreamWorx, located at 8817 Highway 6 in Missouri City. This creamery features a flavorizing machine, waffle cones and a variety of custard flavors to top with crushed pecans.

For more information, contact CreamWorx at 281-778-2732 or log on to the website.

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10 Family Memberships to Have in Houston

10-Family-Memberships-to-Have-in-HoustonSince there are so many family-friendly attractions in the Houston area, it can wreak havoc on your weekly budget to indulge in the sights and scenes around town. However, family memberships can give you more bang for your buck and allow your family to take in the sights without breaking the bank.

Check out these 10 must-have family memberships in Houston that offer a variety of entertainment and fun-filled days for both you and your little ones.<

1. The Houston Zoo

Become a member of the Houston Zoo and your family will have access to lions, tigers and bears for free. You can come and go as you please with a yearly family membership. The Houston Zoo, located at 6200 Hermann Park Drive, offers several tiers of memberships and many include exclusive breakfasts with the animals along with insight from the zookeepers, special animal training and enrichment activities.

Family memberships begin at $96 a year. For more information and detailed pricing updates, call 713-533-6500 or visit the Houston Zoo’s website at www.houstonzoo.org.

2. The Museum of Fine Arts

Add some culture and art into your family’s repertoire with a family membership to The Museum of Fine Arts, located at 1001 Bissonnet in Houston. An exclusive membership includes free general admission for the entire family to the museum, discounts on purchases in the gift shop, a subscription to a bimonthly publication and invitations to preview parties and special programming.

The price of a family membership begins at $95 a year and your donation helps The Museum of Fine Arts to present exhibitions, community outreach programs and build art collections. For more information and updated membership pricing, contact the museum at 713-639-7300 or visit the website at www.mfah.org.

3. Children’s Museum of Houston

For an entire year of unlimited visits to the Children’s Museum of Houston and hands on fun that will challenge your child’s mind, a family membership offers both educational and entertainment rewards for young and old. In addition to unlimited free admission, members can host a birthday party, take advantage of express lines, receive a weekly e-newsletter and receive invitations to members only events.

A basic family membership begins at only $85 a year, with options to upgrade. For more information and updated pricing, contact the museum at 713-522-1138 or visit the website at www.cmhouston.org.

4. The Houston Museum of Natural Science

If your kids are entranced by dinosaurs and science experiments, then a family membership to the Houston Museum of Natural Science might be just what they need to quench their educational thirst all year long. A family membership will allow you and your children to visit exclusive previews of exhibitions, unlimited free admission to permanent exhibit halls, receive discounted admission for special museum tickets throughout the year and notice of upcoming events through the museum’s bi-monthly magazine.

If your children are interested in one of the many science camps available at the museum, members receive early and discounted registration for hands-on camps that vary from topics such as dinosaurs, rockets, computers, insects and robots.

For more information and updated pricing, contact the Houston Museum of Natural Science at 713-639-4629 or visit the museum’s website at www.hmns.org.

5. Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

Expose your family to the natural environment of native plants and animals and support a non-profit organization with a membership that boasts benefits all year long. A family membership to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, located at 4501 Woodway Drive, offers free admission to the nature center and special events, discounts on classes, lectures and events, advance notice of upcoming events, and discounts on plant sales and purchases in the nature shop.

A family membership card will also give your family discounts at the center’s sister museums and local businesses. For more information about memberships and pricing, call 713-681-8433 or visit the Nature Center’s website at www.houstonarboretum.org.

6. Space Center Houston

If your children love the sight of space shuttles, the feel of walking on air and stellar science shows, then a family membership to Space Center Houston is the perfect opportunity for education and entertainment. An annual membership will cost you only $3 more than a regularly priced adult admission ticket or approximately $95 for a family of four.

Annual members at Space Center Houston receive free admission and parking for a full year, discounts on food and souvenirs and a chance to bypass long lines for daily attractions. For more information and updated pricing, contact Space Center Houston at 281-244-2100 or visit the center’s website at www.spacecenter.org.

7. Houston YMCA

If you think a membership at the YMCA is reserved for fitness enthusiasts, think again. The Houston YMCA offers not only a fully-equipped workout center and indoor pool, the many locations in the Houston area feature camps, special events and sporting activities designed for families of all shapes and sizes. From adventure guides who can show your family the best of nature and fitness to teen organizations that focus on physical and mental well-being, your family can benefit from the positive atmosphere available at the Houston YMCA.

For more information about family memberships and pricing, contact the Houston YMCA at 713-659-5566 or visit the website at www.ymcahouston.org.

8. Houston Maritime Museum

For a glimpse of history and preservation of the marine industry with focus on the development of Houston, the state of Texas and the Texas Gulf Coast, a family membership to the Houston Maritime Museum will provide your family with education programs, interactive exhibits and special events throughout the year. Complete with galleries of model ships, commercial fleets, vessels and battleships, the Maritime Heritage is supported through the memberships that give young visitors the opportunity to steer the captain’s wheel, shift the engine telegraph and practice Morse code.

For more information about memberships and pricing, contact the Houston Maritime Museum, located at 2204 Dorrington, at 713-666-1910 or visit the website at www.houstonmaritimemuseum.org

9. The Fire Museum of Houston

A day of learning and experimenting isn’t complete without a visit to The Fire Museum of Houston, boasting exhibits and displays of artifacts used over time by the Houston Fire Department. Your children can learn about fire prevention and prepare an escape plan in the children’s corner of the museum.

A family membership to The Fire Museum of Houston provides your family with unlimited free museum admission, discounts on gift shop purchases, free passes for friends, special invitations to members-only parties and a newsletter subscription.

For more information about memberships and pricing, contact The Fire Museum of Houston, located at 2403 Milam Street, at 713-524-2526 or visit the museum’s website at www.houstonfiremuseum.org.

10. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

An exclusive family membership to the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston provides you and your children with an insider look at some of the most innovative art over time. With access to exclusive exhibitions and programs, a membership to the museum also helps support the arts in the Houston area.

For more information about memberships and pricing, contact the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, located at 5216 Montrose Boulevard, at 713-284-8250 or visit the museum’s website at www.camh.org.

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Paint Palaces: Houston’s Best Pottery and Paint Bars

Paint-Palaces-Houstons-Best-Pottery-and-Paint-BarsOften times, kids are natural artists. Their imagination runs wild and they create characters, crafts and works of art with ease. From finger painting a picture for mom or crafting a stick figure of their loved nanny, your little one has the world at her fingertips when immersed in art.

A child who wants to express herself through art, though, does not need boundaries. Children have an amazing innate ability to be creative when they play freely on their own, and unfortunately, the act of overparenting dampens or even wipes out that innate ability,” according to Mike Lanza of Playborhood.com and author of Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood into a Place for Play.

It’s important to figure out how to facilitate your child’s creativity without managing it, he says. Pottery is one outlet that can help your child cope with struggles or pain and help her to develop confidence and social skills.

Luckily, the Houston area has many pottery and paint bars designed to enrich the creativity of the entire family. Check out these local hot spots and allow your child’s imagination to run wild.

The Painted Potter

The Painted Potter, located at 1259 West Bay Area Blvd. in Webster, Texas, offers a crafty studio for your child to create a masterpiece. The day begins with your child choosing her own pottery and then selecting paints and decorative tools. The studio is equipped with sponges, brushes and idea books to spark her imagination.
Once she is ready to begin, her only task is to paint. Once the masterpiece is finished, the studio will glaze and fire your child’s work of art and you can pick it up within 10 days to two weeks. The fees are per person, not per piece and your child can paint an unlimited number of pottery pieces.

Pottery pieces range from $6 to $60 and children under 12 only pay a $6 fee to paint whereas adults 13 and up pay $8. The Painted Potter can also host birthdays and special occasions with parties of six or more. Reservations are required.

For more information, contact The Painted Potter at 281-338-1213  or visit the website at www.thepaintedpotterstudio.com.

Glazed Over Ceramics

Glazed Over Ceramics, located at 14627-B Memorial Drive in Houston, features paint our own pottery and ceramics and glass fusing for the entire family. The studio features a fun and welcoming environment for beginners with walk ins welcome at anytime.

Beyond painting your own raw piece of pottery, you and your children can also pick out a glass base and decorate it with cut, colored glass that will be melted into a functional piece.

The studio features soda and juice bar and lively music that entertains while your children while they paint, stencil and brush on colors of their choice. Bring a few friends or book a private party to explore your child’s creativity. Price will vary with daily specials.

For more information, call 281-497-7272 or visit the website at www.glazedoverceramics.com.

The Mad Potter

If variety is what you are looking for, paint your way to one of the many pottery locations in Houston offered by The Mad Potter. Three studios offer paint and fun with pre-made ceramic pieces ranging from coffee mugs and plates to pet bowls and figurines.

With locations in River Oaks, Woodway and Voss and Bellaire in Houston, The Mad Potter offers creativity for both children and adults, hosting kiddie pottery camps, adult and corporate parties and specialty paint days for the entire family. Your child’s school or a private organization can also host a fundraising event, complete with paints and pottery.

For more information, contact the corporate office at 713-664-6640 or visit the website at www.themadpotter.com.

The key to a successful day of pottery making is to keep it simple for your child, says Pam Allyn, executive director of Lit World and Lit Life and the author of many books, including Your Child’s Writing Life: How to Inspire Confidence, Creativity, and Skill at Every Age. “It’s important to give your child unstructured time, Allyn said.

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Changes to the IRS Mileage Reimbursement
Rate for 2014

Changes-to-the-IRS-Mileage-Reimbursement-Rate-for-2014As a nanny, it’s crucial to keep track of expenses you incur that can be deducted from your taxes. With ever-changing tax laws and policies, knowledge is key to ensure you are reimbursed by your employer.

One of the most costly work-related expenses nannies incur is automobile expenses. When using your own vehicle to transport children and complete work-related errands, you will need to use the mileage allocation stipulated by the IRS standard mileage reimbursement rate.

Before transporting children in your vehicle, it is imperative that you check with your automobile insurance provider to ensure that the policy covers transporting children for work. It may be necessary to modify your policy so you can continue using your vehicle for work. Make sure that you are aware of the safety laws regarding child restraints, car seats and air bags.

Standard Mileage Rates

As of January 2014, the IRS standard mileage reimbursement rate was set at 56 cents per mile for business miles driven. This amount is a half cent less than the 2013 allocation.

In addition, the IRS has stipulated the following IRS standard rates:

  • 56 cents per mile for business miles driven
  • 23.5 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

This rate is designed to cover transportation costs that include the following:

  • Gas
  • Vehicle Maintenance
  • Vehicle Wear and Tear during work hours

Please note that, according to the Internal Revenue Service, nannies are not allowed to use commutes to and from work as a tax deductable expense.

Tracking Your Mileage

Careful record keeping will help you breeze through requests for reimbursement at the end of the year. Morningside Nannies suggests nannies keep track of work-related mileage by:

  • Keeping a log book in the vehicle and tracking the starting and ending mileage.
  • Purchase and use a notepad especially designed to track mileage.
  • Use an iPhone app like MileTracker, Track My Mileage, MileIQ, Trip Cubby, or a variety of other available applications.

Finalizing the Paperwork

After tracking your work-related mileage for the year, begin by tallying up the miles, multiplying them by the 2014 rate of .56 cents and turn in a reimbursement request to your employers. The request should provide a detailed account of the number of miles driven, the IRS reimbursement rate and the total requested.

Be sure to keep copies of all paperwork and mileage for your own records.

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Things to Talk About in an Annual Nanny Review

Things-to-Talk-About-in-an-Annual-Nanny-ReviewIn order to sustain a healthy and productive relationship with your nanny, it’s important to evaluate and meet for a performance review at least once a year. Even though you may be offering praise and tips along the way, a formal meeting with your nanny can help clarify expectations and provide feedback for both the nanny and parents on how to maintain a healthy parenting partnership.

Before you begin the review, consider the topics you want to discuss. From an evaluation of your nanny’s techniques as a childcare provider and caregiver to salary and benefits, prepare yourself before the review by determining your preferences and what is ultimately the best for your family.

Getting Started

Before meeting with your nanny, review the job description to make sure you are reviewing the criteria that was agreed upon when his or her contract began.

It’s also important to provide your nanny with advance notice of when the performance evaluation will take place. This will give the nanny time to prepare and review his or her own performance in your home.

It may also help to type out a formal evaluation form so that your nanny has documented comments and feedback based on his or her performance throughout the year. You can add categories such as childcare and work habits and offer a rating system to help your nanny see areas where he or she is succeeding and areas that need improvement.

What to Discuss

Although your nanny may be viewed as a member of your family, an annual review should offer a mix of both formal and informal discussions. There may be some differences in thought, so be prepared to approach delicate topics with a professional approach.

The following topics of discussion may be appropriate for the annual review:

  • Childcare/Parenting Strategies – Launch a discussion that pertains to how your children are cared for with the nanny. This discussion may touch on child safety, child hygiene, appropriate play and activities, effective discipline strategies and preparation of nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Work Habits – As an employee in your home, your nanny likely has responsibilities outlined in the initial contract. A discussion of work habits may include punctuality, reliability and dependability, examples of initiative, communication habits, judgment calls and whether or not the nanny demonstrates trustworthiness by keeping the confidentiality of your family matters. You may also want to address how the nanny handles stressful situations and his or her overall cooperation with your wishes when caring for the children.
  • Housekeeping Responsibilities – If your nanny’s contract stipulates that she will also provide housekeeping for your family, this should be a topic of discussion during the annual review. Review her performance with straightening up, laundry, meal preparation or general housekeeping such as mopping and vacuuming. If you have preferences for any of these activities or want to initiate any changes, now is the time to discuss this with your nanny.
  • Wages – An annual review is the perfect opportunity to discuss your nanny’s wages and benefits. Typically, when considering a raise, it is important for employers to consider merit and the cost of living. Think about the benefits your nanny receives and make a fair decision based on the responsibilities and comparable wages in your area. Allow your nanny to also have some input on the fairness of her wages, but know that the final decision rests with you and your family’s needs.
  • Contract Changes – If you would like to make any changes to the nanny’s contract, these will need to be negotiated during the annual review. You may wish to add in responsibilities such as transportation of your children to and from activities or overnight stays. Construct a clear schedule and set realistic expectations that are agreed upon by both you and the nanny.

Final Recommendations

An annual review does not have to be a negative experience for you or the nanny. In fact, a performance review should not yield any surprises if you have been communicating feedback and concerns throughout the year. The key to a successful evaluation meeting relies on communicating how your nanny is excelling and also communicating any areas needing improvement.

Remember to keep your conversation friendly yet professional and allow your nanny the opportunity to express any concerns he or she is experiencing so you can both work out a plan to resolve any issues.

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Houston Kid’s Party Entertainers

Houston-Kids-Party-EntertainersPlanning a party for a child’s birthday or special occasion can be a huge undertaking for a nanny or parent. Beyond preparing snacks, meals, goodie bags and games and activities, it’s crucial to provide entertainment for the party goers.

Kids’ party entertainers have gained popularity in recent years because they bring the fun with them and relieve parents and nannies from having to plan multiple activities that will keep little ones engaged and giggling.

The Houston area has a wide variety of kids’ party entertainers who can offer entertainment ranging from magic and clowning around to puppet shows and plays. Check out our list of must-have entertainment perfect for a kids party in the Houston area.

All Star Entertainment

Mary Morris, featured magician and owner of All Star Entertainment can offer variety for your child’s next party. Choose from a variety of family-friendly characters such as Tinkerbell, Elmo, Spiderman and Cinderella to drop in and surprise your child.

The entertainment company also offers magic shows, clowns, face painters, balloon artists, jugglers, caricature artists, fortune tellers and DJs for your special occasion. If you are looking for rides and inflatables, All Star Entertainment delivers.

For more information, call 281-734-6974 or visit www.allstarentertainment-houston.com.

Texas Snakes & More

If your child is intrigued by sneaky, slimy reptiles, including Texas Snakes to the party agenda will definitely enhance the kids party. A reptile birthday party hosted by Texas Snakes & More offers a fun and educational option for any occasion. The reptile experts will educate party goers about the importance of reptiles to the environment and offer instruction on how to react when spotting a snake in its natural habitat. The program is interactive and allows your little ones to hold, handle and touch all animals at the party.

Presenters will also help parents and children tackle any fears they may have of reptiles and offer tips on how to care for reptiles. The reptiles from Texas Snakes & More are non-aggressive, non-venomous and safe. Your child will also get the opportunity to have his or her picture taken with a snake around her shoulders.

For more information, call 713-934-7668 or visit the company’s website at www.texassnakes.net.

Incredible Events

For an incredible experience for your child’s party, consider coordinating the entertainment through Incredible Events, a full event planning company based in the Houston area. From live music, DJ parties, animal rentals and library shows, these party entertainers can offer an incredible experience for your family and party guests.

In addition to costumed characters and clowns, Incredible Events also provides ride rentals, such as inflatable bounce houses, obstacle courses, waterslides and arcade games.

For more information, call 281-412-5200 or visit the company’s website at http://www.incredibleevents.com.

Sutherland Farms Pony Rides

If you can’t bring the party to the petting zoo, why not bring the petting zoo to the party? Sutherland Farms hosts private parties complete with pony rides and a petting zoo. The animal-friendly party entertainers offer theme parties, too, that focus on barnyards and ponies.

With more than 35 years of experience working with horses and animals, Sutherland Farms can bring one to five ponies to your area so your little ones can wrangle in a pony ride before devouring into presents and cake.

For more information, call 713-851-2215 or visit the website at http://www.ponyride-sutherlandfarms.com.

Houston Magician Curt Miller

Engage your child’s guests with a little magic on a special occasion with Houston magician Curt Miller. Miller is a magician, illusionist and entertain who combines magic, family-friendly comedy routines and audience interaction to ensure each child is entertained.

As the party host, you can choose from a traditional magic show, close up walk-around magic stations or an illusion show with smoke and fire.

For more information, call 713-721-6618 or visit his website at http://www.curtmiller.com.

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6 Places to Visit for Free Story Times in Houston

6-Places-to-Visit-for-Free-Story-Times-in-HoustonAs a parent or nanny, one of the most important things you can do to enhance your child’s development is to read to him or her. A bedtime story about princesses and fairies or an afternoon story session with adventures of spotted dinosaurs will help develop your child’s imagination and create a bond between the two of you.

According to the Early Moments Book Club organization, reading to a child offers many benefits that span from academic excellence and improved speech skills to better communication skills and a mastery of language. Your child’s concentration and discipline is also improved through story telling.

“Toddlers may initially squirm and become distracted during story time, but eventually they’ll learn to stay put for the duration of the book,” says the experts at Early Moments. “Along with reading comprehension comes a stronger self-discipline, longer attention span, and better memory retention, all of which will serve your child well when she enters school.”

Take your story time and your child’s development to a new level by involving him or her in one of the many free story times available in Houston. From art museums and public libraries to local bookstores and restaurants, many Houston organizations offer interactive book readings the entire family can enjoy.

1. Houston Public Library

It seems only natural to host a story time at Houston’s Public Library where thousands of books are available to engage your child’s mind. The Heights Neighborhood library campus at 1302 Heights Boulevard in Houston features several free story time sessions for toddlers 18 months to 3 years of age and pre-K. Baby time sessions for your little ones 6 months to 18 months is also offered throughout the week. This interactive story time features books, songs and finger plays with free play after the story telling session.

For specific story times, contact the Houston Public Library’s Heights Neighborhood campus at 832-393-1810 or visit the library’s website at

2. Nature Discovery Center

In addition to offering your child free science-related activities, the Nature Discovery Center at 7112 Newcastle Street, in Bellaire, also features Nature Story Time and Craft for preschoolers ages 2 to 5 each week. Your little one can learn about critters, birds, shells and minerals through interactive books and story time sessions.

The center is open Tuesday – Sunday from 12-5:30 p.m. For more information about story time dates and times, call 713-667-6550 or visit the Nature Discovery Center’s website at www.naturediscoverycenter.org.

3. Children’s Museum of Houston

Experience the excitement of the Children’s Museum and expose your children to interactive story telling sessions at the Children’s Museum of Houston, located at 1500 Binz in Houston. The museum hosts free family nights from 5-8 p.m. on Thursdays, complete with access to hands-on exhibits, a spotlight performance and story times.

For more information about hours and story time sessions, contact the Children’s Museum of Houston at 713-522-1138 or visit the museum’s website at www.cmhouston.org.

4. Merry Makers & Local Restaurants

The Children’s Entertainment Specialists of Merry Makers offers several free story time events throughout the Houston Area. Sponsored by local restaurant chains, story tellers from Merry Makers, Inc. offer kids the opportunity to listen to stories, play games, complete arts and crafts, create balloon animals and receive free face painting.

The creative team hosts free story times on Saturday mornings from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. at McDonald’s, located at 5888 Richmond Avenue in Houston and from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at Chick-Fil-A at 5005 Richmond Avenue in Houston.

For more information, visit the Merry Makers website at www.merrymakersinc.net.

5. Barnes and Noble

What better place to experience story telling adventures than a local bookstore. The Barnes and Noble, located in Vanderbilt Square at 3003 W. Holcombe Boulevard features free story times on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. Learn about animals, kid adventures and creative non-fiction with new titles revealed each week.

For more information, contact Barnes and Noble at 713-349-0050 or visit the Vanderbilt Square’s store website at store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/store/2582.

6. Museum of Fine Arts Houston

If you are looking for a Sunday afternoon activity that will stimulate your child’s mind and creative spirit, head over to the Museum of Fine Arts, located in the Beck Building at 5601 Main in Houston. The museum features free story time sessions from at 1:30 p.m. each Sunday for ages 2+.

For more information, contact the Museum of Fine Arts at 713.639.7300 or visit the website at www.mfah.org.

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(713) 526-3989
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