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Playground Safety Tips

Playground-Safety-Tips2Playgrounds are a great place to take your child for active, social fun. However, they are also a hotbed for injuries. According to the National Safety Council, “Each year more than 200,000 children visit hospital emergency rooms because of playground injuries.” What can you do to prevent your child from being hurt while on the playground?

1. Look For Soft Turf

Make sure that the playground has a soft surface in case of falls. Children falling off play equipment and swings often are injured if playing on a hard surface. Most playgrounds now have soft surfaces such as mulch or rubber mats. Inspect the surfaces and make sure they are properly maintained and are large enough to handle any kind of fall.

2. Seek Out Appropriate Swings

Soft swings should be far enough apart from each other and from the play equipment to assure children will not hit anything while swinging. Bucket seats should be used for younger children and all children should be closely supervised while swinging to make sure they don’t jump out, let go, or try to stop too quickly and possibly injure themselves. Children should not go close to the swings while in use either.

3. Beware of Hot Slides

During the summer, metal and even plastic slides can become very hot. Make sure you touch the slide to make sure it is not too hot for your child. Children should always sit when sliding and loose clothing should not be worn as it can get caught and poses a choking hazard.

4. Use Teeter-totters Carefully

Although many parks no longer have teeter-totters due to safety concerns, there are some variations that are safe for children to use. Spring driven teeter-totters are great for younger kids, while traditional ones are good for older kids as long as they have a tire or other soft surface to keep the seat from hitting the ground.

5. Supervise Children Well While Climbing

The National Safety Council says, “Forty percent of all playground injuries are related to climbing equipment. More children are injured falling off climbing equipment or horizontal ladders than anything else on the playground. Children under 4 shouldn’t play on this equipment.” Older children should be closely supervised while climbing and all climbing equipment should be examined for safety before use.

6. Utilize Playgrounds with Appropriate Access

For children with disabilities, many newer parks offer accessible fun for them as well. Make sure the paths are sturdy and slip free for wheelchairs and that all accessible areas are well maintained for safety. Keep in mind your child’s limitations and health needs and make sure you supervise play closely.

7. Remember There is No Substitute Supervision

All children should be closely supervised while at the playground. Not only for reasons of injury, but also because playgrounds are a public area and are open to all. Not everyone at the park is a parent or caregiver. Make sure your child stays in sight at all times. If older children wish to visit the park with friends, make sure there is at least one adult there to supervise.

Going to the playground should be a fun adventure, not a painful memory. Make sure your local playground is safe for children. If you have issues or questions, contact the owners or the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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The Best Kid-Friendly Country Clubs in Houston

The-Best-Kid-Friendly-Country-Clubs-in-HoustonHaving a private club to go to is one of the joys of living in an exclusive neighborhood. No matter where you live in Houston or the surrounding areas, you can have access to wonderful, state-of-the-art, family-friendly country clubs. Catering to both kids and adults, these country clubs offer the best of both worlds for families.

1. Houston Oaks Country Club

Located 35 miles northwest of Houston, this country club is expansive, covering over 400 acres with “15 stocked fishing lakes, 27 holes of golf, a sandy beach with paddle boats, kayaks and water bikes, a beautiful family lap pool, a “field of dreams” baseball field, a fish camp and an amazing tree house.” You and your kids can walk the nature trails, go fishing, swim or play tennis. There is something for everyone at Houston Oaks!

2. Northgate Country Club

Located in north Houston, near Spring, Northgate Country Club has “27 holes of championship golf. Fine and casual dining. 8 lighted tennis courts. Banquet and private event space. 3 pools for swimming, diving & more. Active, family friendly event calendar and extensive junior activities.” They also offer a summer golf camp for kids aged 7 to 12 as well as a junior tennis academy.

3. The Clubs of Kingwood

Located northeast of Houston in Kingwood, this collection of country clubs offers a lot of value for the price. “One of the world’s largest private country clubs, The Clubs of Kingwood offers 90 holes of championship golf at two distinct locations, Kingwood Country Club and Deerwood Golf Club.” The have a great summer camp for kids that includes: “swimming, games, arts & crafts, tennis, golf, soccer, archery, paint ball target practice, water day, team building, volleyball, sport skill development, kickball, karate, special events and much more!” They also offer Junior Golf Camp, Tennis Camp and Golf & Fishing Camp. Additionally, they have a full water park with slides, a lazy river, a water play area for small children and both adult and children pools.

4. Royal Oaks Country Club

Located in the heart of Houston, just eight miles west of the Galleria on Westheimer Road, Royal Oaks Country Club is located in a pristine walled community. They offer a variety of things, from swim lessons and golf camps to tennis academies and ballet classes. They even have a Tot Stop “where kids can stay and have fun while their parents work out, play golf or enjoy a romantic dinner.” During the summer they offer Junior Tennis & Sports Camp, which includes “Tennis, Golf, Basketball, Soccer, Swimming, Fishing, Flag Football, T-ball, Pickleball, Kickball, Arts & Crafts, & plenty of Fun!” for ages 5 to 14. Junior Golf clinics, a Junior Tennis Academy, and a summer Swim League are also available.

5. Sweetwater Country Club

Located in southwest Houston near Sugar Land, Sweetwater Country Club offers a sitting service for young children called Kids Cove. Beyond that they have summer camps that specialize in golf, tennis, cross country and swimming. They also have activities like kid’s cooking and art classes, as well as Mommy and Me playdates. Special weekly camps have themes like color and art, science, crafts and outdoor activities. Archery, basketball and sports of all kinds are always on the menu! They also have an Arnold Palmer Golf Academy where kids, adults and families can learn and enjoy golf together. They even have family night activities, like Bingo with a meal.

As you can see, there are many country clubs in the Houston area that offer family-friendly activities and events. Get fit and have fun with your children at your local country club!


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The Best Party Caterers in Houston

The-best-party-caterers-in-houstonWhether you are throwing a birthday party, anniversary gala or wedding celebration, the food is often a definite focus to delight and entertain your guests. Luckily, the Houston area is rich with party caterers offering up elegant and casual cuisine designed for all ages.

From finger foods to fancy fruits and vegetables, find out what Houston caterers have to offer with this quick guide to the best party caterers in the area.

Astral Catering

For an affordable, yet personalized catering experience, sample the tasty creations provided by Astral Catering in Houston. This full-service catering company can provide your guests with casual dining featuring mouth-watering food selections buffet style or an elegant evening of fine dining complete with a full-service staff.

Want to personalize the event? Astral Catering offers a professional team that will work with you to design a custom menu and even assist in all aspects of event planning. Choose a theme and this catering company will provide food to match.

For more information and a quote, contact Astral Catering at 281-407-5621 or visit the website at www.astralcatering.com.

My Catering Company

Based in the Montrose, Midtown District, My Catering Company offers a broad range of professional and stylish catering services. Whether you are celebrating a sweet sixteen party, corporate event, fund raiser, private party or a wedding, this catering service delivers a personalized experience for you and your guests.

From drop off service and buffet lines to a full-service, black-tie event, you can choose from a variety of food and service options with My Catering Company.

For more information and a quote, contact My Catering Company at 713-529-6255 or visit the website at www.mycateringcompany.com.

Goode Company

Spruce up your next outdoor gathering with the sweet and tangy barbecue sensations from the Goode Company. Offering an expansive menu for private parties, events and receptions, this Houston caterer brings authentic Houston cuisine to you.

With more than 35 years of catering experience in the Houston area, the Goode Company offers made from scratch Texas-style food, set-up and full-service catering.

For more information and a quote, contact Goode Company Barbecue at 713-522-2530 or visit the website at www.goodecompany.com.

City Kitchen Catering

From serving hundreds of people at large galas throughout the city to in-home private dining services, City Kitchen Catering has established themselves as a premier catering service in the Houston area.

Serving impeccable cuisine and offering personalized event planning, this caterer has grown into one of the largest catering companies in Houston.

For more information and a quote, contact City Kitchen Catering at 713-847-8004 or visit the website at www.citykitchencatering.com.

Master Chef Catering

Voted as one of Houston’s A-List caterers, Master Chef Catering specializes in providing personalized full-service catering for private parties, weddings, fundraisers, bridal and baby showers and graduation celebrations.

With delicacies ranging from Asian and Classic American to Latin and Peruvian-Fusion, Master Chef Catering can accommodate parties with 10 to 3,000 guests.

For more information and a quote, contact Master Chef Catering at 713-823-6921 or visit the website at www.masterchefcatering.net.

Culinaire Catering

If you are looking for a venue and a caterer, Culinaire can deliver both. Sporting a gorgeous mansion for private parties, this full-service catering company will host your guests and provide event coordination, bartending, entertainment, décor and delicious dining.

The full-service catering company will also cater in your home, office or private location and offer a personalized menu that perfectly fits your event.

For more information and a quote, contact Culinaire Catering at 713-524-2337 or visit the website at www.cateringbyculinaire.com.

A La Carte Catering

Have a special request for food or décor? Then, A La Carte Catering may be the perfect choice. Offering personalized food that ranges from Tex-Mex to smoked house barbecue, A La Carte Catering can piece together a meal that fits your theme, celebration or reception.

The full-service catering company can prepare party platters, buffets, appetizers and seated meals for your next celebration.

For more information and a quote, contact A La Carte Catering at 281-408-4112 or visit the website at www.alchouston.com.

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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.

Posted in Advice for Parents, Houston | Comments Off

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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