Hurricane Harvey: Could a simple tool save your life in a flood?

One of the most heart wrenching stories coming out of Houston was the family of six who drown in their van.

What would you do if your car began to fill up with water? Could you get out?

What you’re supposed to do unbuckle your seat belt and the seat belt of all the children starting with the oldest first to get their help unbuckling the others. Because of the water pressure against the car, you probably won’t be able to open the door. That pressure and electric windows will prevent you from being able to open the window. You have to break it.

OWL Owl for Life can help you break a window in a car.

We got a press release today from OWL Open Window for Life. It’s a tool you can put in the visor or glove box of your car or your purse. It has a stainless steel point designed to shatter the window. It’s about the size of a credit card.

It’s $19.95 for one, $29.95 for two. Find it at  

Hurricane Harvey: St. David’s moves 4 Houston babies to its NICU

St. David’s Medical Center moved four critically ill infants from the Houston area to its neonatal intensive care units Wednesday. St. David’s sent a helicopter team to bring them to Austin.

This is in addition to the seven infants Dell Children’s Medical Center brought from Corpus Christi late Thursday night in anticipation of Hurricane Harvey.

A team from St. David’s Medical Center moves an infant to its NICU. St. David’s

As of Wednesday, Seton Healthcare Family had received 31 patients from Victoria, Corpus Christi, Houston, El Campo, Bay City, Columbus and  La Grange. They were taken to Dell Seton Medical Center, Seton Medical Center Austin, Dell Children’s and Seton Northwest.

St. David’s HealthCare had 10 patients transferred to its hospitals as of Wednesday, including these infants.

Both St. David’s and Seton systems have seen hundreds of evacuees come through their doors needing help with everything from needing to get medication refills to more serious conditions like heart-related illnesses.

Both hospital systems have been preparing for more direct hospital-to-hospital transfers throughout the week. Often those have not come to fruition or the patients were sent to Dallas instead. The hospitals’ staff have been working with the city’s Emergency Operations Center to coordinate placement of patients and care of evacuees from Harvey-affected areas.


What are you doing with the kids this Labor Day weekend? Sept. 1-4


It’s a long weekend in Central Texas, and because it’s a holiday weekend, our calendar might not be as full with events. Never worry.

This would be a perfect weekend to check out our Top 25 Best Playgrounds. It will be sunny to partly cloudy with highs in the low 90s all weekend.

If you do go, don’t forget to bring the mosquito repellent. Hurricane Harvey brought a lot of destruction throughout Texas as well as the mosquitoes.

And, if you have family in town from an evacuated area of Texas, they can go to Catch Air’s two locations and get in free.

Here are some events happening:

Enjoy the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


Wildflower Center. Sprouts. Hands-on preschool program. 10 a.m. Wednesdays. Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave.

Texas Museum of Science & Technology. Star Party. Look at the stars. 9 p.m. Fridays. Texas Museum of Science & Technology, 1220 Toro Grande Drive, Cedar Park.

Ollie Mae Barnet and Luna Santana play in the Light Lab at the Thinkery. RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2013


Toybrary Austin. Unicorn Party. Believe in unicorns and celebrate them. 10:30 -11:30 a.m. Saturday. $10. Date night babysitting. For ages 1-5. $25 first child, $10 siblings. 5-8 p.m. Saturdays. Toybrary Austin, 2001 Justin Lane.

Wildflower Center. Nature Play Hour. Play in the Family Garden. 11 a.m. Saturdays. Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave.

Thinkery. Baby Bloomers. Learn about colors. For infant to 3. 9 a.m. Saturdays (Not happening on Monday this week.). Special guests throughout the month. $5. Thinkery, 1830 Simond Ave.

BookPeople. Story time: New Books. 11:30 a.m. Saturday. BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.

Barnes & Noble. 11 a.m. Saturday story time at all locations: “Uni the Unicorn” and “Dream Come True,” Saturday.

“Library Live.” Free concert. 2 p.m. Saturday, Carver Branch.

Saturday Family Movie, “Smurfs: Lost Village.” 2 p.m. Saturday, Windsor Park Branch.

“Smurfts: The Lost Village” will be showing at the library on Saturday. Sony Pictures Animation


Thinkery. Decoding DNA. Extract DNA from fruit and vegetables. For ages 4 and up. 11:15 a.m., 1:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. Saturday-Monday. $8. Thinkery, 1830 Simond Ave.

Hill Country Science Mill. Scavenger Hunt. Explore the museum’s newest exhibits including the Incredible Ball Machine, the fossil dig and the Axolotl salamanders. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Hill Country Science Mill, 101 S. Lady Bird Lane, Johnson City.


From top left, Jennifer and Kevin Miller react as their daughter, Laurel, 4, center, takes part in an inertia game at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


Bullock MuseumH-E-B Free First Sunday. Special family programs throughout the museum. Noon Sunday. Bullock Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave.

Big Don Kid Show. It’s a hip-hop storytelling show. 10 a.m. Sunday, Cherrywood Coffeehouse, 1400 E. 38th 1/2 St.

Neill-Cochran House Museum. History Lab: Make It Yourself. Make whirligigs, pinwheels or buzzers. 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Free. 2310 San Gabriel St.


Thinkery. Building Biology. Learn about synthetic biology with scientists as a family. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday. Free with admission. Little Builders. 9:30 a.m. 1-year-olds, 10:30 a.m. 2-year-olds, 11:30 a.m. 3-year-olds. Monday. $20. Thinkery, 1830 Simond Ave.



New ‘Star Wars’ toys are coming to select Target stores at midnight Friday

Force Friday II is coming!!! What does that mean?

That means at 12:01 a.m. Friday (aka late Thursday night) select Target stores are having a party to sell you 100 plus new “Star Wars” items, with giveaways.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”  is expected in theaters in December, but you can buy toys on Friday. (Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm

It’s all in anticipation of the film “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which comes out Dec. 15. “The Last Jedi” is the follow up to the “Force Awakens” and stars Daisy Ridley as Rey.

Rey action figures became available after “The Force Awakens” was released, but it took a while. TARGET

When “The Force Awakens” came out with a girl as the lead character, parents of girls rejoiced and then booed when Rey action figures couldn’t be found.

My advice to Target:

Dear Target,

Be ready on Friday with as much Rey merchandise as possible. We will buy it for our daughters and for ourselves.


Parents Everywhere

Locally, here are the stores participating:

Southwest Austin: 5300 S. MoPac Blvd.,  Austin, TX 78749

Arboretum: 10107 Research Blvd.  Austin, TX 78759

Bee Cave: 3702 RM 620 S.  Bee Cave, TX 78738

Northwest Austin: 10900 Lakeline Mall Drive,  Austin, TX 78717

Pflugerville: 18700 Limestone Commercial Drive,  Pflugerville, TX 78660

Cedar Park: 1101 C-Bar Ranch Trail Lot No. 2,  Cedar Park, TX 78613


Hurricane Harvey: What should you tell your kids?

We’re all watching it on TV, on social media. Scene after scene of boat rescues, flood streets, people on rooftops. Our kids are watching it too, and they’re watching our stress levels rise as we worry about what is happening in Houston and to people we might now.

What are we supposed to tell our kids about Hurricane Harvey?

Jackson Dugan 5, far right, and his brother Carter Dugan, 2, donate along with their mother Shannon Dugan at the Circle C Community Center Monday. Natalie Kifer, center,  looks on.

That depends on the age of your child as well as the kind of child you have, says Julia Hoke, a licensed psychologist and the director of psychological services at Austin Child Guidance Center. Most children preschool and younger probably don’t need to be told much, she says. Realize that kids this age are very self-centered and think that it must be happening here and to them, Hoke says. Reassure them that you are safe.

If your child is particularly sensitive, tends to worry a lot, be especially careful about what you say.

“You really need to know your individual child,” says Dr. Julie Alonso-Katzowitz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas.

With elementary school age children and older, you can watch TV with them and ask them what their questions are. Answer them honestly but don’t given them any more information than they need. Again, you’re trying to avoid the worry about things you and your children cannot control.

Do make your kids feel safe. Reassure them that you are doing everything to keep them safe and that we are OK here.

Do give them information, but without a lot of extra information. Give simple answers. Remain calm and reassuring. If you don’t know, it’s OK to say that.

Rosanna Garcia and her daughter Mia Franco, 2, stayed at the Smithville Recreation Center Monday after evacuating their Bay City. (RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Do normalize their feelings. Tell them: “Of course, you’re really worried about this,” then praise them for the empathy they are showing.

Do talk through what you would do in an emergency. Being able to reassure them that you have a plan if they were in danger, can be comforting. Where would you go? What would you do? But don’t dwell on that, says Alonso-Katzowitz. Reassure them: “Right now we’re safe and we have resources.”

Don’t give them false reassurances. You shouldn’t say “No. that can never happen here,” says Melanie Storrusten, a license clinical social worker who focuses on stress management. “That’s not a true statement,” she says. “The world isn’t 100 percent guaranteed to be safe.”

Do limit the amount of TV and social media about Harvey both you and your children are watching and consuming. You need a break from it.

Do let them know about any close family that has been affected. Try to limit that conversation to positive things that are happening if you can.

Do prepare them for the possibility that your family might be coming to live with you. Get them involved in how that might play out: Where would they sleep? What toys or clothes could your family or friends borrow? “Recognize that kids aren’t little adults and may have mixed reactions to it,” Hoke says.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t tell them your family will be fine. Don’t tell them your family is only coming for a few days and then you’ll have your room back.

Do talk to them about the positive things that are happening: The boat rescues, the way ordinary people are helping other people, the animals that have been saved, the way first responders are working to help people. That can help avoid the excessive worry.

Do engage in ways you can help as a family. Research local nonprofits who are helping. Find out what different organizations are collecting. Let your kids play a role in what your family decides to do. “It can help you regain some sense of power and control,” says, Storrusten, especially if you’ve been feeling out of control and helpless as you watch the events unfold on TV.


Do protect yourself with self-care, especially if you are volunteering. This is going to be a long recovery effort. Make sure you’re eating well and getting sleep. Even watching the events unfold, you might not realize the emotional toll it is taking on you, that will later be felt by your family.

Do try to keep your family routine the same, as much as possible. This might not be possible for families that are taking in more people or have been evacuated or have a parent that has been sent to Houston to help, but kids take comfort in the same bedtime, the same books read at night, eating meals together.

Hurricane Harvey: Evacuated and now in Austin? Play at Catch Air for free

Catch Air is offering free admission to Hurricane Harvey evacuees.

Kids indoor play centers Catch Air Austin and Catch Air Round Rock will let families who have evacuated from Hurricane Harvey in for free for the next 30 days.

All families have to do is show a driver’s license with a Houston area city listed as their address.


Find Catch Air Round Rock at 1401 S. Interstate 35, Suite 130 (behind the Whataburger), 
(737) 444-2992

and Catch Air Austin, 3450 N. U.S. 183, Suite 107,,
(512) 697-8800


Hurricane Harvey: Austin Diaper Bank wants your diapers to help

Last year, Austin Diaper Bank volunteer Melinda Cook packs stacks of diapers for distribution. Jessalyn Tamez / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Austin Diaper Bank needs your help. They need diapers (both adult and infant) as well as wipes and diaper cream to put together packets for people who have evacuated to Austin because of Hurricane Harvey. The diaper bank warehouse bin is at 8711 Burnet Road, back of Building B, or you can go online to to find a drop-off location. It also needs financial help,, to buy these supplies.


Monday the diaper bank created packets as well as packed a truck donated by Longhorn Car and Truck Rentals with more than 3,000 diapers and wipes to take it to Houston and South Texas.

The Austin Diaper Bank welcomed Holly McDaniel as its new executive director

“During times of disaster and catastrophe, families often have to leave their homes on a moment’s notice or do not have the ability take long-term supplies with them,” said Holly McDaniel, executive director of the Austin Diaper Bank, in a press release. “We want to make sure that an adequate supply of diapers is not a worry during these stressful times. Diapers are not supplied by disaster relief agencies, and they are essential to keep babies, children and adults clean, dry and healthy.”


McDaniel is the new executive director at the diaper bank as of last week. She has more than 15 years of experience with nonprofits in Austin and California. Previously, she was director of individual giving and philanthropy at KMFA, 89.5, the classical public radio station in Austin.

The diaper bank expects to hit its 1 millionth diaper donated early next year, and now works with 40 local nonprofit agencies to distribute diapers throughout Central Texas. It was started in 2013 by Austinite Beverly Hamilton, who left the executive director role in June. “I really wanted the organization to grow and have the impact it could have,” she said of her decision to leave. “My goal was to get it started and get it going. It’s in good hands now.”

Beverly Hamilton, founded Austin Diaper Bank in 2013. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2014

Hamilton will still have a founder’s role and serve on the board of directors. She’s started a consulting firm, Small But Mighty Consulting, to help small nonprofit organizations do things that they can’t afford to hire a full-time person to do as well as executive director coaching.


HURRICANE HARVEY: 7 babies from Corpus Christi hospital taken to Dell Children’s

A medical team moves an infant from Corpus Christi to Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas using an air ambulance overnight in advance of Hurricane Harvey. Dell Children’s Medical Center

Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas is now home to seven infants from Discoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi.

The infants who were in the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units were brought to Dell Children’s last night in preparation for Hurricane Harvey, which is expected to hit Corpus Christi late tonight or early Saturday morning. Care teams move them to Dell Children’s by air and ground.

“Being part of the Texas Hospital Association of Texas made it easy for us to communicate directly with Driscoll Children’s Hospital and partner to get their needs,” said Deb Brown, vice president and chief operating officer, Dell Children’s Medical Center. “Driscoll Children’s did an outstanding job of alerting us early and giving us time to get there. We’re honored to help care for their patients in this time of need.”

The infants will remain at Dell Children’s until it is safe for them to return to Corpus Christi.



10 things to do indoors with kids this rainy weekend

You can read my weekend calendar blog, but aside from the organized events, here are 10 ideas to keep kids busy as Hurricane Harvey hits the coast and brings the rain to us.

Photo by Larry Kolvoord AMERICAN-STATESMAN....9/02/07....Afternoon rains disrupted activities at the annual Batfest on Congress Avenue Bridge Sunday, September 2, 2007. Jeri Davenport of Round Rock and her twin daughters, Cerise Redden, 10, left, and Cheyenne Redden came prepared with their umbrellas. Many Batfest visitors were caught in the rainstorm which shutdown the music stages and caused vendors to hunker down under tent canopies until the rain eased. Davenport said the girls had been to previous Batfests and she had not so they convinced her to come to this years' event. She said they brought their umbrellas and were determined to have fun in spite of the rain.
Jeri Davenport of Round Rock and her twin daughters, Cerise Redden, 10, left, and Cheyenne Redden came prepared with their umbrellas when rain hit. American-Statesman 2007

1. Plan and make a meal together. Haven’t gone grocery shopping and don’t want to brave the store in the rain? No worries. We bet you can scrounge up some ingredients that you have on hand. Get the kids involved to see how creative you can get. This is also the perfect time to teach kids how to bake a cake from scratch.

2. Make recycled crafts. Dig through your recycling bin and the junk drawer for some found objects. Bring out the glue, the tape, the markers, the glitter, the stickers, the paint. Bragging rights or prizes could be awarded. There could even be judges.

3. Get some exercise. Search YouTube for yoga for kids and do a session together. Blow up a balloon, move out the furniture in your living room and play volleyball. Play hide and seek.

4. Make homemade Play-Doh. DIY Natural has this recipe: 

1 cup of flour (whatever kind you have on hand)

¼ cup of salt

½ cup of water

3 to 5 drops of food coloring

Mix together the flour and the salt.

Mix together ½ cup of warm water with a few drops of food coloring.

Slowly pour the water into the flour mixture, stirring as you pour. Stir until combined, then knead with your hands until the flour is completely absorbed. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour until it doesn’t stick at all.

Or make Goop, which is one part water to two parts corn starch. Mix it in a zippered bag. Throw in some food coloring and get to playing.

5. Head to a museum. You might get slightly wet on the way in. The Thinkery has workshops on printmaking this weekend. Aside from the museums you know like the Thinkery, the Bullock Museum, the Blanton Museum and the Contemporary Austin,  You can also try a museum you might not have thought of, like these:

6. Go see a play. On stage right now:

Austin Summer Musical for Children: “Jungle Book.” 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday. Free. Boyd Vance Theater at George Washington Carver Museum. 1165 Angelina St.

Hideout Kids Presents “Once Upon a Whaa?!” 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th St. $12-$8.

Or create your own play or act out your favorite movie.

7. Hold a moviethon in your house. Check out the Netflix, the Hulu, the Amazon Prime for the movies your kids haven’t yet seen, or show them some classics from your childhood. Pop the popcorn and enjoy.

8. Bring on the books. Hit story time at Barnes & Noble or BookPeople on Saturday morning or go to the library and pick up some new books. Start a new series of books that you read aloud together. We love “The Magic Treehouse” for younger kids and Harry Potter and Percy Jackson for older ones.

9. Bring out the board games and cards. Start with Go Fish and work your way up to poker (no betting… OK, maybe just pennies). Our new favorite board game is “The Oregon Trail” based on that computer game I played as a kid in school when they were teaching us how to program on an Apple IIc. We also love some “Apples to Apples” and that game that is about a bull and his excrement.

10. Make puppets. That sock that is missing its match, that lunch bag or gift bag make a perfect medium. Or eat Popsicles and use the sticks to attach paper characters to. (See we just wanted the Popsicle.) You can even create a play to go with your new puppet friends. If the light goes out, create shadow puppets using a flashlight.

BONUS: Embrace the rain. Put on the boots, the rain coat, the umbrellas and stomp in the puddles. Have a fenced-in private backyard. Turn bath time into a rain shower by bringing out the soap and shampoo. Have lots of warm towels at the ready inside.

14 tips to plan a vacation with a child with autism, special needs

Families who have children with special needs like autism, epilepsy and Down syndrome often don’t get a break. They don’t get to go on a family vacation because the logistics of taking their families to a new place or one that hasn’t been adapted to their child’s needs feels unsurmountable.

Adventures in Autism, Down Syndrome and Epilepsy provides vacations for families who have a child with special needs. AWADSAE

Austinite Karen Duncan is trying to change that. She studied recreational therapy in college and then became a travel agent 22 years ago. Four years ago, she brought those two aspects of her life together when she started the nonprofit organization Adventures with Autism, Down Syndrome and Epilepsy.

“It’s what I wanted to do in the first place, to help families have a semblance of a normal life,” she says.

Adventures started creating group cruises that brought along certified therapists. While on the cruise, parents get to spend time away from their children or with their neurotypical children while the children with autism, Down Syndrome or epilepsy are enjoying supervised activities.

The cruises and sometimes beach vacations are free to families who are chosen, and paid for by the fundraising efforts Adventures does. Adventures has two upcoming cruises planned: One for March 18 and one for Nov. 11, 2018. Both require an application, which you can find online at  (The application for the one in March has to be received by Sept. 15.)

Duncan now finds cruise lines, hotels and airlines are becoming more aware of the special needs community and even training their employees how to serve these families. She regularly works with Royal Caribbean cruise line and Beaches resorts, which have been eager to cater vacation experiences to fit the families’ needs.

Now people are coming to her wanting her to help them plan individual vacations with their children with special needs, while she does do that as part of her regular travel business. She also has these tips for families:

  • Plan flights for a time in the morning, after children’s normal waking time. They will be the most awake and not tired. Meltdowns are less likely
  • Choose direct flights when possible to limit the amount of transitions.
  • Call ahead to the airlines, hotels, restaurants, cruise lines and excursion companies to explain your situation and what you need. Families are often embarrassed and don’t want to be a bother, but Duncan has found that companies want to help you have the best experience.
  • Ask to board first or last, depending on your child’s needs.
  • Ask for the bulkhead seats of an airplane so there will not be a person in front of you to distract kids (and to avoid seat-kicking).
  • Ask airlines and cruise lines if you can do a trial run a few months before. They have programs to let you get the feel of the ship or plane without actually leaving the airport or port.
  • Notify hotels, resorts and cruise lines of specific food allergies or aversions. Arrange for specific food requests ahead of time. This could mean asking for a specific lunch to be made to take with you on an excursion.
  • Arrange ahead of time for seating in a less crowded space at restaurants and entertainment venues.
  • Ask resorts if they can connect you with baby-sitters, nannies or respite care nurses that you can hire who have experience with your child’s diagnosis. This will give you some downtime.
  • For families with autism, bring business cards with you that explain that your child is not misbehaving, he just has autism. You won’t have to explain to the 100 strangers who think you must be a bad parent because your child is having a meltdown.
  • Bring what you need with you. This includes snacks, weighted blankets or jackets, noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys and gum.
  • Ask for your hotel or cruise room to be made safe and accessible for your child. This could mean asking for the handicap room. It also can be asking for locks to be added on the room door as well as the door to the patio or balcony or asking not to be in one of those patio or balcony rooms if that’s possible.
  • Ask the hotel or cruise line to connect you to a medical supply company where you will be if you need things like a wheelchair, a scooter, a hospital bed or oxygen.
  • Ask to schedule ship or resort activities during less crowded times such as early morning.

Most companies, she says, “will do anything to make you comfortable within reason.”

One Love Caribbean Night Gala

Benefiting Adventures with Autism, Down Syndrome and Epilepsy.

When: 6-11 p.m. Nov. 4

Where: Sonesta Bee Cave Austin, 12525 Bee Cave Parkway, Bee Cave

Tickets: $100