Back to School: Oklahoma City metro kids are heading back to school

No matter if you will walk your kindergartener into the building for the first time, have just relocated to Oklahoma City, or are sending off your oldest to his final year in high school, back-to-school season is an exciting time for everybody. Here’s how to make this year the best back-to-school season yet.

Now is the time to shop back to school deals

78159925The back-to-school deals are in full swing and parents are left to figure out how to navigate back-to-school shopping without going bankrupt. According to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School Survey, families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies, and electronics – up 5% from last year.

To find the best prices in Oklahoma City, use resources such as the Metro Family Magazine or the My OKC Mommy blog that will keep you up to date on the best deals.

Oklahoma tax free weekend from Aug. 1-4 may help shave off a few more dollars. The sales tax holiday exempts the sale of clothing and shoes priced at less than $100 from sales taxes

If you want to support the local economy, challenge yourself to shop local  for school clothes and backpacks this year. Imagine how much money that brings to the Oklahoma economy. Websites such as Keepitlocalok.com can help you find local options.

Get stylin’

One upside to the end of summer is the new clothes and backpacks. Kids of all ages look forward to this ritual. This year’s hot trends include plaid and faux leather.

Immunizations

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If you are new to public school or have just moved to Oklahoma, you should make sure that your child’s immunizations are up to date and cover all of Oklahoma’s requirements. Call your child’s pediatrician or check with your local health department for more information.

Get to know your district

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Many people base home buying decisions on the reputation and rating of a school district and its teachers. Do some research and learn about your district’s strength and weaknesses. Learn about programs that are strong suits. Perhaps it’s a music program; perhaps the football team is unbeatable. These things tell you a lot about your child’s school’s culture. There are a lot of resources available to parents online to learn about your school district. However, the best way to learn about the district is by being involved. At the back-to-school night, find out about the PTA, sign up for volunteer opportunities and make sure your kid’s teacher remembers who you are.

The countdown is on

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Make sure you don’t miss your registration deadlines at the beginning of August, or the back-to-school or open house night which is typically a day or two before school starts. Make sure your child feels comfortable with getting on the bus or walk them to school if they are allowed to walk or bike by themselves. Help them meet a classmate before school starts if they are attending a school for the first time. These little gestures help take away some of the back-to-school anxiety.

Take that one big end-of-summer adventure

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No matter how exciting back-to-school time is with kids anticipating seeing their friends again and wondering who their teachers will be, it’s also the end of summer. So take the family on one last big summer adventure. For ideas, read our Uniquely Oklahoman: Oklahoma City Family Fun Guide.

 

Oklahoma City Family Fun Guide: Uniquely Oklahoman

No matter if you are new to Oklahoma City or you’ve spent your entire life here, the metro area is bursting with fun activities for the entire family just waiting to be discovered by you.

The Oklahoma State Fair

9-14-13-MIDWAY   037_0The OK State Fair has traditionally signaled the final days of summer in Oklahoma City. This year Oklahoma is celebrating the Oklahoma State Fair from Sept. 11 through Sept. 21.

Take the family to enjoy thrilling carnival rides, food on a stick, and a variety of agricultural, artistic, and commercial exhibits and shows such as; Disney on Ice. The Fair draws roughly one million visitors each year and features an incredible lineup of FREE shows; from concerts, to animal attractions, to countless competitions.

Keep an eye open for discount tickets available through many local retailers and organizations.

Bricktown and Downtown Oklahoma City: The Heart of OKC

med_bricktownDowntown OKC is not just for tourists and business people. There is a lot of family fun to be had in the heart of Oklahoma City. You can view examples of the beginnings of the city, or marvel at its newest additions such as a ride on the Oklahoma Water Taxi. You can find great restaurants down town with fine cuisine, or paint a masterpiece with the whole family (kids must be 13 or older) while mom and dad enjoy a glass of wine at Pinot’s Palette. Hang out at Myriad Gardens or catch a game at the Chickasaw Ball Park. Be wowed by the skyscrapers that form OKC’s unique skyline. The heart of OKC is bustling with activities.

Fun on the Farm

People not living in Oklahoma think of us a farm dwellers traveling in covered wagons. Those of us living here know that OKC is a vibrant metropolitan area. But did you know that you can have fun on the farm without straying far from the city?

78036710Orr Family Farm in Oklahoma City offers animals and country fun year-round. The farm, devastated by the May 20 tornadoes in 2013, has been rebuilt, and provides a friendly and educational environment for children of all ages. Truly a family affair, the Orr Family Farm is a spectacular family-friendly getaway located within the heart of Oklahoma City. The farm offers a variety of rides, activities, educational opportunities, birthday parties, weddings and corporate events and of course delicious food and treats. Orr Family Farm opens its doors for a spring season in March that concludes in late June, then opens again for its award-winning fall season mid-September through mid-November of each year.

Another outstanding farm adventure is the Express Clydesdales Barn , located on the historic Chisholm Trail. It is home to some of the world’s most beautiful Clydesdale horses. The Express Clydesdale Barn sits near the Express Ranches property at Garth Brooks Blvd and Wilshire just north of Yukon. The Express Clydesdale Barn is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10am until 5pm and on Sunday from 12:30 until 5pm. The barn is closed on Monday’s. The Clydesdale horses from Express Clydesdales Ranch have participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Rose Parade in Pasadena. The Clydesdale team has even pulled the stagecoach of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Youngsters will be in awe they are face to face with these majestic horses.

Oklahoma Sports Teams

med_thunder-3-Sports in Oklahoma are important. How important? Well, let’s just say that the OKC Thunder’s Kevin Durant or OU’s Bob Stoops are likely among the top 1 and 2 most popular people in the state. There is nothing more fun than to take in a game with the entire family soaking in the unique spirit of Oklahoma sports fans.

Thunder

OU Sooners

Red Hawks

OKC Energy FC

A Day at the Zoo

Oklahoma City has one of the top-rated zoos in the country. The Oklahoma City Zoo & Botanical Garden, with its state-of-the-art enclosures such as the Cat Forest, Lion Overlook and Great EscApe, offers children an up-close-and-personal view of animals from all over the world. Marvel at the diversity of underwater life in the aquarium, visit the zoo’s impressive elephant habitat and get the chance to pet barnyard animals in the Children’s Zoo complete with a forest exploration area and playground. There are great places for picnics and lots of space to run and play.

Thrill Seekers

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OKC Riversport Adventures is your passport to the most exciting thrills on the Oklahoma Rive, featuring the world’s tallest adventure course – the 80-foot SandRidge Sky Trail and the Air Express Zip line, Extreme Air Launcher, Sky Slide, Rumble Drop base jump free fall, and coming soon the Sky Zip, a 700-foot zip line across the Oklahoma River. Smaller children will enjoy the Sky Tykes mini sky trail, the Cloud Bounce and Kids Zip. In addition, adventurers can take the kayak plunge, do some stand-up paddle boarding, longboarding, kayak excursions, dragon boating and more.

Those who are in the mood for some traditional amusement park thrills including rollercoasters and other catch-your-breath rides should head for Frontier City. The park has been a family favorite for decades and also hosts a plethora of concerts and unique events including Fright Fest in October.

Cooling off at the Pool

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The Oklahoma City metro area had some amazing Splash pads for kids to cool off in. The best part is: the majority is FREE. There are also a variety of great pools open to the public.

Those who are seeking water park thrills should head for White Water Bay. It has all the rides and slides that you would expect from a top-notch water park. Families who want the water park fun but a little less bustle and people to share it with should check out Andy Alligator’s Water Park in Norman – ideal for families with smaller children.

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From art exhibits to children’s tours, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, home of the Cowboy Hall of Fame, offers a wealth of entertainment and education for all ages. Located in OKC’s Adventure District, the National Cowboy Western and Heritage Museum is America’s premier institution of Western history, art and culture. It also hosts a number of family events throughout the year such as the to the Chuck Wagon Gathering & Children’s Cowboy Festival.

Founded in 1955, the museum in Oklahoma City collects, preserves and exhibits an internationally renowned collection of Western art and artifacts while sponsoring dynamic educational programs to stimulate interest in the enduring legacy of the American West.

A Day of Learning at the Museum 

From the Science Museum of Oklahoma to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, there are lots of great museums to visit in the metro area. You can check out ancient dinosaurs at the Sam Noble Museum in Norman, and don’t forget the Jasmine Moran Children’s Museum in Seminole, OK. Check out the Oklahoma Museum Network for more ideas.

For more ideas, read Smart Summer Activities for Kids in Oklahoma.

Photos courtesy of OKC Visitor and Convention Bureau, National Cowboy & Western heritage Museum, The Oklahoma State Fair, Andy Alligators, Riversport Adventure.

OKC’s Best Gyms Help Families Get Fit – and Have Fun

We like to think of ourselves as fun-loving, up-for-anything folks – but we’re not immune to the feeling of dread that comes before a workout. As anyone who’s found their own exercise haven will tell you, it’s much easier to show up when your gym is a place you truly enjoy. Finding a great gym can take time – but we’ve done the hard work for you and rounded up some of the best places to sweat it out in the metro.

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Crossfit 405 - http://crossfit405.com/

1501 N Broadway

Oklahoma City, OK 73103

Like other Crossfit “boxes,” this gym focuses on intense, varied workouts that incorporate elements of strength training and endurance. Crossfit culture is known for being extremely community-oriented, and the folks at 405 are no different. Don’t expect any spa-like amenities or high-tech machines – but expect to make friends and fitness gains in your first session.

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 3.35.06 PMPlanet Fitness: http://www.planetfitness.com/

4202 NW Expressway

Oklahoma City, OK 73116

This chain is known for its affordability and size – and this particular location boasts tons of space, plenty of amenities (tanning, anyone?), and extremely flexible hours (24/7) for those of us on weird schedules. Don’t forget to bring your own towel, though – being economical does have its drawbacks.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 3.35.57 PMYMCA Midtown / Downtownhttp://www.ymcaokc.org

In recent years, the Oklahoma City Y locations have added more amenities and paid more attention to atmosphere. If you’re looking for a smaller, quiet space with plenty of classes, we suggest Midtown. For great people watching, saunas and hot tubs, an indoor pool, and a bustling environment with an array of group classes, go Downtown – just give yourself time to scout out a parking space!

Remember that YMCA members can go to any location as part of their membership – it’s a major perk.

University Health Club at OUHSC and Norman campuses – http://www.ouhsc.edu/uhc/

Now open to the public, these gyms come with plenty of perks – including a pool, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, on-site WiFi, free lockers, lots of yoga classes, and basketball, volleyball, and racquet ball courts galore.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 3.38.45 PMThe Weight Roomhttp://weightroomokc.com/

3901 N Tulsa Ave

Looking for a gym that’s more old-school? Serious lifters will feel right at home at the Weight Room – no frills, plenty of chalk, and a to-the-point crowd. Their slogan is “a real gym,” after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 3.39.44 PMPark Harvey Athletic Clubhttp://www.parkharveyac.com/

200 N Harvey (lower level)

Oklahoma City, OK 73102

It’s rare to find this kind of gym – whose “athletic club” title could not be more appropriate – in the middle of a commuter city. The Park Harvey Athletic Club feels high-end and boasts gleaming new equipment. If you’re feeling like you need R&R more than you need HIIT, try out the tanning, massage services, hot tub, pool, and juice bar. And when you’re feeling a good, old-fashioned sweat session, we bet you’ll feel even more motivated in such swanky settings.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 3.40.25 PMBodyFit Club – http://www.bodyfitokc.com/

737 SE 89th St

Oklahoma City, OK 73149

Want a gym that has it all? BodyFit Club certainly seems too. They emphasize personal training sessions: you get a free initial assessment, free workouts with a trainer, free periodic workout updates, and free group fitness classes as part of your membership. You definitely won’t get bored with the options: check out the indoor jogging track, Walleyball court, women-only workout room, and many programs for kids. When it’s time to relax, take advantage of the eucalyptus vapor room, sauna and whirlpool, tanning beds, or even the robotic toning exercise tables. The Pro Shop is stocked with vitamins and supplements, workout gear, and custom-made smoothies and sandwiches.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 3.42.00 PMMademoisellehttp://www.mademoiselleokc.com/

2950 NW 63rd

Oklahoma City, OK 73116

For women who prefer to exercise among their fellow femmes, Mademoiselle is a classic. Try one of the many classes, or go solo on the easy-to-use equipment. If you’re feeling experimental, you can hop on a toning bed or vibrating platform. Bonus: your membership will get you into hundreds of affiliate gyms nationwide.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 3.42.51 PMFitness 19http://www.fitness19.com/locations/oklahoma/

With 3 locations in the OKC metro, Fitness19 is easy to get to – and even easier to afford. Start with a free 7-day pass, then opt for a membership at just around $10/month – with no long-term contract. It’s affordable because Fitness19 doesn’t do bells and whistles; instead, you’ll find all the equipment you’d need to do intense cardio and serious strength training alike – and no fluff. Regulars love the friendly, knowledgeable staff and one-on-one training option.

 

 

 

Getting fit is much easier when you’re doing it at a place you love – and we think you’ll find something you love here! Let us know your favorite spots in the comments.

Oklahoma City Growth and Momentum: Small Business is Booming

OKC at night

Oklahoma City at night. Credit: Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau

In Oklahoma City business is booming. The Oklahoma City Metro area is becoming an attractive location for small businesses to launch and a prime location for relocation of out of state companies.

Oklahoma City is the #1 City to Start a Business

You might not think of entrepreneurship when you mention Oklahoma City, but in a recent report by NerdWallet lists, OKC as the #1 city to start a business.

This was based on a variety of factors including:

  • bank lending rates
  • population growth
  • unemployment rates
  • business friendliness
  • cost of living

The sum of these factors secures OKC as a prime spot for startups and small business.

This can be vouched with antidotal evidence of a growing Food Truck scene and the growing hipster enclaves of The Plaza District and The Paseo Arts District. Further evidence of growth can be seen in the steady stream of new jobs constantly in the press.

Forbes also agrees that Oklahoma City is a great place for business to be and has awarded OKC the #7 slot in its 15th annual Best Places for Businesses and Careers rankings.

Oklahoma City is also raking in award after award for being a top city for businesses.

So how did this happen?  

At the river in Oklahoma City's Bricktown.

At the river in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown. Photo Credit Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Growth of Oklahoma City

If you haven’t been to Oklahoma in the past few years, you may not have noticed the rising prominence of Oklahoma City as a major center for business. During the recent ‘Great Recession’ Oklahoma had a relatively low unemployment rate compared to the rest of the country and was insulated with a strong growth in the oil and gas industry.

It was during the middle of the recession that the Devon Tower rose to become the 39th tallest building in the U.S. and the Oklahoma City Thunder rolled into town to capture the hearts of the whole state.

The ending of the recession has only fueled OKC’s business friendly community to attract the eyes and wallets of investors across the country.

Other contributing factors to business relocation are: The number of highly educated workers provided by our universities and colleges, the availability of commercial space, tax incentives, the location in the middle of the US and available highways in and out, the down town city life, and the availability of other natural resources.

Those relocating to Oklahoma City for business reasons will soon discover that a caring community, affordable home prices and a unique culture make the Oklahoma City area a great place to live and raise a family as well.

Bug-Proof Your Home for Summer

As the days get warmer, bugs get more active. They want food, shelter and perhaps a place to settle down and start a family. And there’s nothing wrong with that – as long as that place isn’t your home. If you’re an Oklahoma homeowner, read on to learn how to make your home as repulsive as possible to these invertebrate critters.

Prevention before pesticides

Before you coat your home with aerosol, learn how to prevent pests from entering in the first place. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service recommends the following tips for bug-proofing your home:

  • Keep your home clean and tidy. Nothing says “home sweet home” to bugs quite like clutter – and that’s an amenity you don’t want to offer. Clear out garbage regularly. Avoid piling items in one spot. Keep closets, corners and other storage areas tidy.
  • Eliminate food sources. Vacuum carpets and floors regularly. Wipe down tables and counters. Clean away food crumbs, spillage and other sources of nutrition. Avoid letting food or drink sit out.
  • Clean up your lawn. Summer storms and weekly lawn mowing can leave organic clutter all over your yard. Sweep away leaves and branches and collect grass clippings to help keep bugs away.
  • Check your groceries for bugs. Bugs can hide in produce and even in dried food. Dispose of any infested items.

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What kinds of bugs should you look out for?

Often one species will attract others. For example, ants may attract house centipedes, and pillbugs will have spiders lining up for a meal. Other common Oklahoma bugs include moths, flies, mosquitoes, beetles and roaches. Many are attracted to moisture, others to light, all to food. In addition to the tips above, here are some bug-proofing tips from the Arizona Cooperative Extension:

  • Screen doors, windows and other openings. Mesh screening keeps out the majority of critters, barring tiny ones like aphids and leafhoppers.
  • Install brush or rubber seals under exterior doors. Foam weather stripping works for sliding glass doors. The seals should block light – and most bugs – from entering.
  • Fill cracks in the walls and foundation. Seal gaps with silicone or material that matches the foundation.
  • Maintain your plumbing. Leaky pipes and water damage can open up new paths for bugs to scurry in and raise the humidity in your home, inviting more pests.
  • Control moisture levels in your home. Turn on vent fans when cooking or showering. Keep your thermostat at a comfortable level, or set your dehumidifier to around 50% humidity.
  • Store your food in airtight containers. Bugs can detect a free meal from far away. Put leftovers and pet food in containers or resealable bags. Refrigerate or freeze food if necessary. Consider storing dried foods like cereal in glass containers.

Call in reinforcements

No, not the exterminator, but Mother Nature. Natural predators can go a long way in reducing the pest population around your home. Trees, shrubs and birdbaths attract bug-loving birds and bats. Plant flowers to attract helpful insects like flower flies and wasps. Wildflowers and other annuals are excellent choices – and they can add a splash of color to your yard.

For more bug-proofing tips, contact your local exterminator service. They’ll be able to help you deal with the bugs in your specific area (as Oklahomans know, even the bugs you see at the lake are different from the ones you find at home).

Financial independence: you don’t have to do it alone!

How the right loan program can help you achieve financial independence

moneyhouse (2)A brand-new home is one of the most exciting purchases you’ll ever make. Knowing that a space is truly yours is one of the most gratifying part of achieving financial independence – but you don’t go into buying your first home alone.

We’re not talking about your spouse or family. Nope, we’re talking about loans.

In preparation for celebrating Independence Day, we’ll show you how having a bit of help during the home buying process can make you more financially independent.

Aren’t loans inherently bad?

Many of us have been brought up to view loans and debt as things to avoid – but a manageable loan that you take on as a responsible adult can actually help you out in the long run.

You might think that you’re too stressed for cash to do anything but rent for now, but we like to put it this way: you’re always paying someone’s mortgage. You choose whether it’s your landlord’s or your own.

Bonus: regular, timely loan payments can boost your credit over time and build equity for your future.

ks95874Different types of loans available to homebuyers

Knowing what your options are is half the battle – and a little bit of information can save you a lot of money over time.

  • FHA (Federal Housing Administration) government loan – 3.5% down payment; the easiest loan for most buyers to get, as it’s not as credit-sensitive and allows for higher debt-to-income ratios. In addition there are HUD184 loans for Native Americans that have excellent advantages and many tribes have down payment assistance for their members. Bond money is also available for first time home buyers. So, there is the possibility of getting into an FHA loan without 3.5% down.
  • VA (Veterans Administration) government loan – No down payment required; active or retired military eligible as well as some reservists. Less than 10% of veterans have VA loans – mostly because they weren’t aware they were available.

  • Conventional non-government loan – at least 5% down payment; no monthly mortgage insurance with 20% down payment; more credit-sensitive

Every financial situation is different, but we generally recommend getting your credit score into a healthy range and then going forward with the best loan you can get. For the best results, we recommend consulting with one of our participating lenders so that you get all of your bases covered.

The more knowledge you have, the more independent you can become. Talk with one of our participating lenders or sign up for our upcoming free new home buyer seminar to learn more about how you can borrow strategically to achieve financial independence.

 

Eat In or Dine Al Fresco?

Ah, dining al fresco…

It can be a wonderful way to enjoy fine restaurant dining at sunset on a mild, temperate evening, or a way to entertain guests outdoors at your home in the summertime. The term “al fresco” is an Italian turn of phrase that Americans use to describe outdoor dining. But when is the right time for al fresco dining, and when should you keep your gathering indoors?

Weather patterns and climate

Your most pressing criteria, of course, will be the weather and season. If you are planning an event weeks or even months in advance and want to go al fresco, make sure you select a time of year that’s reliably conducive to outdoor events. If things are iffy, have a backup plan; you may decide to grill regardless, but be prepared to have everyone move inside at dinner time if the weather decides not to cooperate. Climates known for mosquitoes and other pests in summer may not be conducive to a pleasant outdoor dining experience.

Theme or event

Some party themes lend themselves to al fresco dining more readily than others. Dinner with friends you know very well out on your patio in the summertime can encourage a fun, festive atmosphere. Birthday parties, graduations, and especially events like the Fourth of July lend themselves to an outdoor setting. Anniversaries, Mother’s or Father’s Day celebrations and major holidays don’t necessarily lend themselves to at-home al fresco dining, but there can be exceptions: a Huffington Post article was full of inspiring ideas for al fresco Thanksgiving table settings. Christenings, baptisms and baby and wedding showers can go either way – it depends on the time of year, your climate, the weather that day, and your guest list.

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Your Guests

Will you be hosting a small, intimate dinner party, or a large gathering with guests of all ages? A graduation party with lots of people will have different needs than a dinner party with a few coworkers, and you should plan accordingly. Large gatherings lend themselves to an outdoor barbecue or picnic vibe, with plenty of space in the yard for children to play. If you’re having new friends over for the first time, an indoor setting can be less stressful due to fewer variables and considerations.

Keep in mind that some guests will not be fans of dining al fresco. There are lots more variables when dining outdoors –weather, wind speed, dirt and dust, insects, traffic, nosy neighbors – it all depends upon your location. If your yard has a beautiful garden area around the patio that will shelter your party from some of these elements, your outdoor party is more likely to be a crowd-pleaser.

1086149_85949499The Menu

Summertime is grilling season, and a grilled menu pairs perfectly with outdoor dining. From burgers to fish to kebabs, it somehow seems wrong to eat a grilled meal indoors. Warmer weather also lends itself to cooler picnic sides like chilled potato , pasta and fruit and veggie salads. Whether you grill or not, lighter fare and finger foods are generally great for al fresco dining. An outdoor wood-fired pizza oven party can be a hit. Heavier dinners with lots of sides and courses, on the other hand, are usually best served indoors. Outside cooking keeps you from having to heat up the kitchen.

It’s no surprise that many people love dining al fresco: when the conditions are just right, it can be a relaxing, pleasant and enjoyable experience. However, while you should plan for the best, it doesn’t hurt to have a “Plan B” in case the weather turns on you – whether it’s a tent, an awning or the means to take the party indoors to your entertaining-ready kitchen.