Children and Board Games Go Together

These days, video games are all the rage with young people. They’re everywhere and really fun. They’re exciting because they move fast and give big rewards for achievements. They have their place in our society, and I’m sure they’re not going anywhere. Board games, on the other hand, have to prove themselves. Most aren’t portable, take longer to play, require a time commitment and multiple players. They also have something not too many video games provide: built-in skill sets that provide several forms of intelligence and offer a tactile experience that supports the development of well-rounded individuals. That’s why I’m advocating for classic-board games, and some new ones, that the entire family can play.

Here’s what the traditional board game can do for you:

•    Literacy that translate directly to math and English skills. Many board games require reading at regular intervals. Instructions for learning a new game are dense and require analytical skills involving step-oriented processes. It’s also a great opportunity for adults to coach children with reading and following instructions.
•    Even simple games require some strategy, which is working on higher-level cognitive reasoning. Even choosing which piece to move or what play to make in a game of Sorry is a life skill. Board games require making long-term plans, or at least thinking ahead several moves.
•    These games help build emotional resilience and patience. It may not seem obvious, but learning how to lose can strengthen character. Chances are, a child who plays board games will lose once in a while. They can learn that losing is not the end of the world, and that there’s always another opportunity to win if they don’t quit. This helps with regulating emotions and keeping life in perspective.
•    Even small children can setup and clean up a game. Particularly with children around four-years, participating in the prepping and clearing stages teaches them responsibility. Sometimes asking for them to put away just four pieces can yield unexpected results like cooperation, initiative and problem-solving skills. Also, they may also like having all the pieces around the next time the game is played.
•    Maybe one of the most important reasons to play board games is to have family time. Making a ritual of sitting around the table talking, laughing and having fun can only lead to memories and deepening friendships. Conversation is built into most games. It’s an hour well spent.

Nothing prepares people for reading the “fine print” in life like board games. The more complicated a game is, the more rules; the more rules there are, the more navigational capital gets stored for when it counts, like applying for jobs and college or buying a house. If you’re new to board games, I recommend you start with these: chess, Sorry and Carcassonne. Hal’s picks are backgammon, Stratego, and Go.


Laugh for Life: The Benefits of a Good Guffaw


“A vegan and a Big Mac walk into a bar…”


I don’t know the punch line for that joke, but I do know that laughing is good, and that most of us want to laugh when we can. For example, on a recent social call, we spent an afternoon with friends who made us laugh nonstop. For about four hours, we laughed at jokes, each other and ourselves. The afternoon left us feeling lighthearted, energized and glowing. Imagine my delight when I found out that laughter is better than an anti-depressant pill. Now I’m on the hunt for my next big laugh. I hope you’ll join me.


Have you ever laughed so hard that your face hurt and the skin behind your ears got hot and your cheeks ached? If you answered yes, endorphins were coasting through your veins, and you were happy, truly and simply happy—naturally. That is what laughter is all about. There’s a reason why people feel light, balanced and happy after a day with friends. Friends are awesome, especially if they make you laugh. What’s more, I’m convinced that laughing makes us look and feel younger and more vibrant.


As it turns out, this is not just my fanciful idea. There’s plenty of research that confirms that laughter really is good medicine. Don’t take my word for it, investigate positive psychology and see what you learn. And, there’s also such a thing as laugh yoga, which focuses on daily laughter techniques. Because of what I’ve learned, I’m adding laughter to my list of 2015 goals, and here’s why you should, too:


  1. Just look at someone who laughs a lot. What do you notice? Laughter peels the years off of our faces. When we’re laughing, we’re literally working countering gravity, pulling our face muscles up—they’re tightening, drawing up and flexing, and we’re shining and beaming like a porch lights. We are meant to do this. We are meant to be bright, our eyes cleared with tears of laughter.
  2. Laughing is great exercise. This is in intuitively true. Think about it. When we laugh hard for even five minutes, what happens to our bodies? First, abdominal muscles contract, and who couldn’t use some free sit-ups? Next, some might experience shortness of breath or other physical sensation caused by peals of laughter. This is like running around the block because it’s aerobic, only you don’t need to shower afterwards, unless you’ve been rolling around the ground in utter jocularity while at a picnic, which actually sounds quite awesome. During all of this, the brain and other muscles in the body are getting fresh oxygen. Clearly, this is a superior method of staying young. Simply laugh off the years.
  3. Another benefit of laughing is that apparently we can’t hold two emotions simultaneously. That means we must choose to be positive. We can turn the tide of our emotions by exercising the positive ones. When we do, chemicals in the brain and body are altered. We can’t hold grudges while we’re laughing. So we  essentially free ourselves with laughter. Laugh long enough and all your troubles will be forgotten. That sounds marvelous to me.


Now that I understand some of the benefits of laughter, I’ve been looking for more things to laugh at in my daily life. In dance class, I’m quick to laugh when I make a mistake, and it makes the time more pleasant, the learning easier. It also means I can bounce back more quickly from uncomfortable situations. I start looking for the humor in my actions and thoughts and take myself a teensy bit less seriously, because life is more fun when I’m laughing.


Curious about how to get more laughter in your life? Check out Dr. Madan Kataria’s video introduction to Laughter Yoga: Laughter Yoga Video



Eat Your Way through West Texas: A New Twist on the Great American Road Trip


We recently took a road trip to visit family in another state. Along the way we discovered bits of our country and ourselves, which is really what road trips are all about. We discovered that West Texas is a visually stunning place. Driving east as you leave the Painted Desert you encounter picturesque landscapes, filled with enormous skies, juxtaposed against shacks and huge cubes of baled cotton. Big cities are few and far between, so you’re just as likely to see towering silver silos, as you are to see zebras (no kidding!). You only have two things to remember: first, don’t speed through any small town in Texas unless you’re hankering for a speeding ticket (there really wasn’t a single town where we didn’t see a sheriff parked outside of town between the 40-mile and 70-mile speed-limit markers). Second, when you’re in Texas, you’ve gotta eat the local food, because they really do food in a special way.


This was nothing like the road trips of my childhood, when I was packed into the car along with my sisters and our mother’s basket of carefully wrapped food. Nor was it a tedious quest for food, lurching from Wendy’s to Carl’s trying to pick food that would not upset our stomachs, a circumstance we endured just a few short years ago. To our delight, Yelp has transformed our culinary experiences, and thereby our lives, especially when we’re on the road. No longer do we need to make the requisite fast-food stop. A little WiFi and patience is all it takes to find the perfect meal when it might otherwise seem you’re in the middle of nowhere. That, plus the fact that gas is spectacularly cheap in Texas, makes it easy to go just a bit further down the road to feast like lords and ladies and forever forego meals in a bag.

So, next time you’re in Texas, keep your eyes open for Longhorns, llamas and goats on your way to our three picks for good things to eat with friends:

  • First Stop: Lubbock, Texas. The Cast Iron Skillet is totally worth a detour if you’re hungry before 2pm. We only had the opportunity to breakfast there, but I can tell you we were fully satisfied even as we pined for the fried okra that was two hours into a non-existent future. The Cast Iron Skillet is so good, they close right after lunch. They don’t even have to wait around for the dinner crowd. When you cook like that, you can be demanding. Service is courteous. Food’s served hot and delicious. I recommend the Chicken Fried chicken with a biscuit—the batter is spicy, peppery and crispy; the biscuit is flaky, a winning combo. You can also take a pie or some brownies home.


  • The unexpected treasure in Burnet is Crazy Gal’s Café. They serve delightful coffee; it actually stands up to cream. They offer a very nice menu and friendly service. The decor is fun and provides a distraction while you wait. I recommend the egg sandwich, cherry pie, which is made with almond extract, and the pancakes. Yummy!


  • Last stop: BBQ, anyone? If you like meat, buckle your seat belt, dress casually and arrive hungry. Lest you think I only eat breakfast, get yourself some world-class BBQ at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano. They serve the best BBQ chicken on earth. This is no exaggeration. This place is all about the food, and mostly, I mean meat. Wait in line outside before you get to the pit where a guardrail keeps the minions from grabbing a tempting morsel off the grill. Seriously, Cooper’s pit is designed to make your mouth water because it’s impossible to decide what to order when confronted with 12 choices of perfectly cooked meats, including goat and turkey and all the usual selections. This unfortunately, is not a vegetarian friendly establishment, so if you don’t at least eat chicken on occasion, give this place a pass, but send your meat-loving friends. It’s also not a place for purest. Meats are arrayed on one enormous grill—together. And at Cooper’s, there’s only one pot of lip-smacking wet dip for all of it. You can, however, ask for it dry and top off from the homemade BBQ sauce available inside. The picnic style-tables inside mean you might make a friend unless you’re a family of ten. All the meats we sampled were tender, cooked to perfection, seasoned with numerous herbs and spices; this was an all around hit. The turkey was unreal, and the pork ribs were as good as my mom’s Dominican-style slow-roasted pork shoulder—now that’s a compliment. Beans with bacon, pickles, water and sauce are all free sides. I recommend the coleslaw—I think that might be vegetarian. If you can’t get to West Texas any time soon, I hear Cooper’s delivers.

Maybe you’ll discover your own treats and surprises on your next road trip. Coming together around food is something most of us enjoy. It has a way of opening our hearts. That’s why it’s a treat to have local food prepared with care. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to Texas, but the memories of passing forkfuls around the table, laughing with friends and family and planning the next meal before one has ended, persists. Even now, I long for the feeling of connection at the table—and another bite of pie.