Category Archives: Molly

Molly’s posts

Not Just a Chore, Raking Leaves Can Be Fun Too

Deciduous Trees and Falling Leaves

I don’t know about your backyard, but in East Tennessee, almost every tree loses its leaves. The biodiversity of the deciduous trees is what gives the Great Smoky Mountains (and the Knoxville, Tennessee area) such a memorable autumn. Not just a fall chore, raking leaves can be fun too. Involving the whole family in this typical homeowner experience is a great way to exercise and to bond.

What started out a nuisance of “little helpers” quickly turned into an afternoon of backyard fun and exploration.  While typically, most folks would want to rush through a chore to move onto another more enjoyable activity, raking leaves is one of those outside activities that I always enjoyed as a child because it usually meant spending time with my dad. So, when my kids were old enough to hold a rake, we turned them loose. This meant that the chore took longer, but guaranteed everyone would sleep well that evening.

At ages 5 and 3, the kids used to beg to rake leaves.
At ages 5 and 3, the kids used to beg to rake leaves.

Jumping into a Pile of Leaves…Again?

Every fall, the kids used to beg to rake leaves…so they could jump in them of course! Convincing a 5 and 3 year old to not to jump in leaves is impossible. So what if we have to do the work twice…or three times…look at those happy faces! If getting the job done in a timely manner isn’t the most important thing, then this simple chore can become a great opportunity to reinforce good homeowner habits and to spend quality time together.

Finnian bouncing a ball in the pile of newly raked autumn leaves.
Finnian bouncing a ball in the pile of newly raked autumn leaves.

 

This backyard activity not only is good exercise, but also provides safe and controlled independent exploration. Such as, what happens if we bounce the soccer ball into the the pile of leaves? What if we bury ourselves in leaves? What if we make it rain leaves. On their own, the kids noticed the different shapes and tried to identify which tree the leaves might have come from.

Now that the kids are a little older, I wish I could still say they were begging to rake leaves, but I can confirm that they are still interested in jumping into a big pile of leaves!

 

 

Creative Inspiration at The Muse

The Muse
http://www.themuseknoxville.com/
516 N Beaman St, Knoxville, TN 37914
(865) 594-1494
http://www.themuseknoxville.com/membership

Our family has been visiting The Muse (formerly Discovery Center) in Knoxville, Tennessee, for many years and it has never been more fun that it was this week. A bright and vibrant place crawling with campers made all the exhibits look even that much more fun. Musical notes and laughter filled the air.

Spin spin spin spin spin
Spin spin spin spin spin
Exploring sound at the whisper disc.
Exploring sound at the whisper disc.

This time we visited with neighborhood friends and that always makes a visit to a local venue more fun. About 20 percent of the inside space is dedicated to toddlers, but since we visited in the afternoon (naptime), our big kids enjoyed exploring the wavy funhouse mirrors and puppet theater areas.

When you visit The Muse, you’ll immediately understand the connection to their namesake.

In Greek mythology, there were Muses who ruled over the arts and sciences and offered inspiration.

Inspired by the Muse of Fashion
Inspired by the Muse of Fashion.

“There were nine Muses according to Hesiod, protecting a different art and being symbolised with a different item; Calliope (epic poetry – writing tablet), Clio (history – scroll), Euterpe (lyric poetry – aulos, a Greek flute), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry – comic mask), Melpomene (tragedy – tragic mask), Terpsichore (dance – lyre), Erato (love poetry – cithara, a Greek type of lyre), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry – veil), and Urania (astronomy – globe and compass). On the other hand, Varro mentions that only three Muses exist: Melete (practice), Mneme (memory) and Aoide (song).” www.GreekMythology.com

Our kids are old enough (ranging in ages 8 to 12) to explore on their own and since this hands-on museum is basically a big open room, the moms were able to sit and visit while still being able to monitor where everyone was in the play space. There’s a giant rocket ship

Enthralled by the floating scarf fan
Enthralled by the floating scarf fan.

complete with control panel, a book nook area, a floating scarf fan, a puppet theater, glow in the dark toys, wavy fun-house mirrors, LEGO car race tracks, microscopes, musical instruments, giant foam building blocks and a scrap materials art table.

Since there are several planetarium movies, this venue is worth a repeat visit. The younger your child is, the more you can take advantage of repeat visits to the play spaces while older children will benefit from the interesting staff-led programs and events.

Activities and exhibits prompted our kids ask engaging questions like how, why and what if. The question that rose in my mind was, why didn’t we have a place like this when I was a kid?

Lifting is easier with pulley power.
Lifting is easier with pulley power.

6 Tips for How to Plan a Successful Family Trip to Biltmore Estate

1) Eat a Good Breakfast

iphone Biltmore Spring MG 441In our case, this meant starting the fun early by stopping for donuts on the way out of town. We pretend that this gets us down the road faster, but really it just satisfies our sweet tooth. Knowing my tendency to get grumpy when the sugary high wears off, I ordered the sausage, egg and cheese croissant which at least gave me some longer lasting protein energy. To keep the kids from getting too sour, we fed them a snack in the Biltmore Estate parking lot after our 2-hour drive from Knoxville, TN, to Asheville, NC.

2) Joint and Individual Car Activities

Audrey taking a break during the car ride. Photo by Molly Gilbert
Audrey taking a break during the car ride.
Photo by Molly Gilbert

Gone are the days of just looking out the window. We travel by interstate so much that the kids have already seen what there is to see and if something is particularly amazing – like the heavy clouds over the mountains, then it’s our job as the front seat riders with the best view to tell them when to look up. I am a heavy packer, even on a daytrip. I like to have choices, so I make sure the kids have lots of choices too. If one thing runs out of battery or infringes on someone else’s space, then at least we have back up entertainment. Finally now that the kids are 8 and 10, everyone packed their own activity bags, but there were some “suggested” items (mandatory), such as colored pencils or crayons, a small pocket size notebook, digital cameras, electronic devices and headphones. Scott downloaded a book on tape, Jeeves and Wooster, for the whole family to listen to during the car ride. The kids played on their iPad and Kindle, but they also listened to the story which got us in the mindset for the scenery we were about to tour.

3) Water Bottles and Picnic Meals

Reusable water bottles have been a life saver more than once. We fill them at our house and they are great for sipping in the car and drinking at our picnic lunches or dinners. They have also come in handy for the I’m-dying-of-thirst “request” when walking through the Walled Garden on a sunny day, and to wash down an afternoon ice cream treat. It’s easy to go to the restaurants at Biltmore Estate – so many good choices, but that can start to add up. We try to pack a picnic and lots of snacky foods. On travel days like this, my goal is to get people to eat something…anything. I am not paying close attention to the food pyramid, instead trying to focus on fun and not fighting over nutrition. However, I am not totally irresponsible. If we

have had donuts for breakfast and are planning ice cream in the afternoon, then people have to eat enough at lunch to justify the sweet treat later. It’s amazing how a few snacks and a good lunch can turn a grouchy kiddo (or mom or dad) into pleasant company. Most of the time, our picnic doesn’t eliminate meals expenses, but it does help us keep them under control. A little planning ahead makes getting out the door earlier easier. So, rather than wing it the morning of, try to swing by the grocery store or at least make a list of what to pack. More than once our picnics have been ruined because we forgot to pack a knife. Once on the Estate, we will do part of our tour (either the house or the garden) and head back to the car for lunch. If we choose to take in the house and the garden and eat lunch on-site, then we will save our picnic for the car ride home. We have this romantic idealistic notion that we will take a blanket to the hillside overlooking the house and sit and enjoy a relaxing picnic, but so far we have just eaten in the parking lot. It’s shaded and you don’t have to haul stuff very far. There are convenient trash cans and nobody complains about putting everything away. One day, we will skip the house and gardens and just go find a grassy spot. That will probably be the day we get the gumption to take the bicycles and ride the trails.

4) Do the Extras

There’s an audio tour for kids hosted by Cedric, the family dog. Everyone gets their own headset and the grown ups do the grown up tour (not hosted by the dog) and the kids do the kids tour. The tours are in pace with each other and everyone has something interesting to share. Particularly the first visit, this is a great splurge

Finnian enjoying some ice cream. Photo by Molly Gilbert
Finnian enjoying some ice cream.
Photo by Molly Gilbert

item and helps engage the kids in the history of the home. Biltmore Estate is the kind of place we want our children to be enthralled with, but let’s be honest, they have been raised on iPods, IPads and multiple non-stop channels dedicated to cartoons. The idea of the height of “fun” being learning to cross stitch, play an instrument or go for a walk to the pond is hard to push when everywhere they look they are not allowed to touch anything…not even the chess set, the ping pong table or the bowling alley. Like it even needs to be said…stop for ice cream or a sweet treat from the deli – delicious! Somehow it always magically resets everyone’s mood.

5) Give the Kids Their Own Cameras

Molly's photo of Finial taking a photo of Audrey snapping a selfie in front of a statue. Meta-photography, folks.
Molly’s photo of Finnian taking a photo of Audrey snapping a selfie in front of a statue. Meta-photography, folks.

Either hold onto your hand-me-downs when you upgrade or buy cheap or used pocket-sized digital cameras. Give them something that you are not going to have a heart attack about if it does get lost, then your comments will be about how much fun they are having and not about the location of the camera. While you can’t take pictures in the Biltmore house itself, taking pictures gives the kids an activity the whole day and they capture images from a different height than a grown up. Some of our best on-location pictures come from the kids. We use their images as screensavers on their computers and print out our favorites for their bulletin boards. Plus, there are plenty of free apps that can alter the images by making them look like a watercolor painting or sketched in ink or add silly quote bubbles to them. They can also make a slideshow movie out of the images and a follow up to your trip or create a memory book using a service like Shutterfly or Snapfish. The outdoor sculptures, gardens and petting zoo at Antler Hill Village Farm make terrific photo opps even the kids can’t ignore.

6) Quit When You Are Tired

Either stop and rest or pack up the car and head home, but don’t soldier through a tour at Biltmore Estate. It’s so expansive, you will never be able to see it all in one visit. So, when the kids are in tow, it is better to go at their pace and plan a return trip than to end the day with meltdown memories.

New Year’s Resolution Revisited

Three Months of Living Up with the Jawbone Up 24/7 Fitness Bracelet

iphone Jan 22 2014 459Up to my mid-thirties, I felt like I did not need to prioritize the activity of exercise because I would rather accomplish two things at one time…like gardening was bending and stretching, picking up toddlers was weight lifting, and running up and down the stairs to swap out loads of laundry should count for step aerobics. If the doctor said I could stand to lose a few pounds, then I just chalked it up to being “fat and happy” — I was not going to give up cheesecake and be miserable just to fit in the same dress size as I did 20 years ago.

At some point, I noticed I was the only fool in the neighborhood shoveling my truckload of mulch and eventually the kids got too big to pick up. So I started out exercising on a regular basis as a running partner for a friend who was training for a half-marathon. For a couple of years straight we walked and talked for 5 laps and then jogged for 5 laps around the indoor track at our church. These were my friend’s “easy days” of training, using a different partner for her long runs, since I was not interested.

My friend met her goal but we agreed to keep our schedule which devolved into just walking and talking. This was great friend “therapy” time, saving our husbands from hours of listening! Some days we walked for 7 miles, and our average was around 4 to 5 miles.

Work, kids and volunteer projects got busy for both of us, and we weren’t able to meet anymore. I didn’t want to give up my new healthy habit, so I went by myself a couple of times, but didn’t put in near the miles. So my next step was to join the grown-up exercise world at the local gym. I was familiar with the machines, but it is still a little intimidating to see people so focused on their workout routine.

It turned out that my favorite part of exercise was talking. I tried to buddy up with another friend at the gym, but it is really hard to talk over a treadmill and there are a lot of awkward looks from the rest of the folks in the gym.

Let’s just say that I didn’t sprain my ankle on purpose, but I sure didn’t mind having a great excuse not to go to the gym, which basically resulted in a 9-month financial donation.

My New Year’s Resolution 2015 was to wear a fitness bracelet, which was heavily advertised during the Christmas season. I bought a Jawbone Up 24/7 Fitness Bracelet on sale at Dillard’s on New Year’s Day, which by the way is the best unadvertised bargain day of the year the sales clerk told me. I was looking for a bracelet that would be discreet, so I thought I picked out the black one which would blend with a lot of my work clothes. In daylight, though, it turned out to be dark navy…should have read the packaging better.

iphone Jan 22 2014 466My goal was just to wear it so that I could be more aware of my daily movements. But, when you sync it up, it tells you that your base minimum goal should be 10,000 steps per day. There’s no real scientific evidence that your life is better or that you are healthier with the magic number of 10,000 steps, but there was some pretty good research that said it was a good general goal for people to shoot toward.

In January, I was very dedicated and checked it almost hourly to make sure I was getting credit for every step. I worked really hard to make it happy and earn the rays of light that shoot out from the measuring bar. My daily life is very, very sedentary. I didn’t know just how sedentary until I wore this bracelet. I knew it felt like I spent all day in front of a computer screen, but I didn’t realize that I really only take breaks every couple of hours, not once an hour like is recommended. (Staring at a screen this long has to be bad for my eyes too.)

So, for me the first month was figuring out the new toy/tool and gaining awareness of my regular habits. I also downloaded a free app called “Lose it!” to log my calories. I have never counted calories before and this was as much an eye-opening experience, if not more of one, than the fitness bracelet. By February, I didn’t have the initial urgency to beat my step record or compete with my best calorie score (but did see big improvements here in self control so I could save all my calories for cheesecake) and by March I forgot to wear it a couple of days and practically quit logging meals, which are rather cyclical, and I now have a better sense of what I am eating.

The average New Year’s Resolution is broken by the end of January, so even if I don’t make it to December, I am still on a better path than I was. And now I have confirmation from my “glorified pedometer” that everything is more fun with friends, which, of course, everyone already knew.

How the Numbers Break Down:

1,500 = if I am on deadline with a project and basically sit at the computer all day
5,000 = if I go to the gym by myself and use the treadmill to walk 3 miles
9,000= if I clean house (this was a little disheartening to realize)
11,000 = if my family walks all over Biltmore Estate or some other big attraction
12,000+ = if I walk and talk with my friend at the indoor walking track

What Do I Like About It?
1) It made me face reality and helped me understand that my habits of being active are in spurts, rather than consistently.
iphone Jan 22 2014 6002) I love, love, love the trending graphs that show activity by the day, by the week, and by the month.
3) I love the daily tips and words of coaching encouragement. I know these are pre-loaded messages, but they are triggered by my accomplishments or lack there-of, so they do feel like personalized messages.
4) I set it to vibrate every 30 minutes of non-movement from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. so that I would be aware of how long I had been sitting still while working. I don’t always immediately get up and take a break, but I try to come to a stopping point and go get a drink of water.
5) It also tracks sleep, not in a super scientific way, but in a general way that monitors motion during sleep. I got really high scores on sleep almost every day for all three months. This is not a problem area for me, so it was a nice reward to see how happy the app was with my consistent “accomplishments.”

What Don’t I Like About It?
1) You have to wear it every day and night, which means you have to remember to take it off when you get in the shower and put it back on after the shower. (It is water resistant, but not water proof.) You also have to remember to push the little button telling it you are going to sleep mode, and then in the morning you have to remember to wake it up. However, it does a good job of knowing when you forgot and correcting the data.
2) It doesn’t actually force you to walk/run more, but then again, neither did my gym membership.