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Friday, November 20, 2015

Dreams Come True

What did you dream of doing or being when you were a kid? Movie star? Astronaut? Maybe even a CEO like Alex Keaton? When I was a kid I'd read my monthly issue of Highlights for Children and dream that one day a story I wrote would be included in the magazine.

And in October 2015, I learned that this dream will come true. It's just as amazing as I imagined it would be to know that a dream I had as a child is now reality. The hard work I put into learning about what makes a good story, accepting revision suggestions and critiques, pondering for hours over the inclusion or deletion of a single word has paid off.

I had to celebrate this achievement with my family for several reasons. One, my middle child gave me the start of the idea almost two years ago. During that time I massaged the concept, wrote several drafts, jotted ideas in a tiny notebook whenever I had free time, brainstormed, wrote and re-wrote, and even stayed up past midnight one night just letting my mind wander with the possibilities.

The other reason I wanted to share this achievement with my family is to reinforce to my children that it's good to dream and have goals in life and that we should work hard for them. As a parent I want my boys to imagine themselves happy and successful at something they love. A huge part of reaching goals is putting in hard work. We do that a lot in our family.

Another huge part of reaching goals is naming your goal. I really believe in the power of visualizing a specific, measurable goal as a part of achieving that goal. If you don't know WHAT you're aiming for you won't know when you reach it.

Here's where the anxious mom comes in. When my boys name specific goals that I think are not achievable, I worry. I panic. How do I help them pick goals that are achievable without crushing their big dreams?

I remember the time a grown adult, a professional, dismissed my stated goal of publishing a book for children. It was during a job interview for a position I am so thrilled I never took. I shared my goal with this person and he scoffed at me and said "you'll never publish a children's book unless you're famous for a different reason."

I'm so glad I didn't listen. No one needs to have that kind of negativity in their life when they're on a mission. And I don't want to bring negativity into my kids' lives at this stage, but I do want to help them pick things that are not only possible but likely - yet at the same time I don't want them to aim low.

When my middle son say funny things like "I want to replace George Washington on the one dollar bill" I feel I'm able to explain how that's not likely without crushing the middle guy. He just adjusts his goal to replace Benjamin Franklin. Much more reasonable.

But when the oldest says he wants to play soccer for FC Barcelona, I hesitate. The odds of becoming a soccer player at that level are pretty minimal for him. For one, he doesn't speak Spanish. And two, I don't think our family is willing to make the sacrifices necessary for him to become an international soccer star for one of the world's top teams. He could aim for the MLS, and his chances would still be slim, but somehow that still feels like I'm asking him to settle for less.

There are some goals that aren't really time-limited. One can be a writer at almost any age, I think. But while I still have a chance to publish a book at age 45, or 50, no one at that age is going to play La Liga soccer. Perhaps I'm just worried that his goal has such a short time frame and such low odds of happening. He hasn't studied the statistics. He's still on the youthful possibilities side of the life equation.

I would have been crushed if my parents ever told me it was unlikely I'd ever get a story published in Highlights. It took me awhile, but I never let go of the dream. So how does a parent help a child choose (realistic?) dreams without sounding like she is asking her child to settle for less?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Fall Races in Pittsburgh

2015 Pittsburgh Great Race

2015 EQT Ten Miler

I've had a great set of fall races in 2015. The photos above are from event results, but you can see all my 2015 races at my profile on Athlinks. I took most of the summer off from racing in for some weeks took quite a bit of time off from running. I think it did me good because I feel mentally and physically refreshed and have been able to put in some great training. The weather hasn't hurt either! Thanks to global warming, I guess, it's been easy for me to get outside and keep my training consistent.

I started training for the Great Race later than I should have, but I'm still pleased with my time and the effort I gave during the race. My coach always advises me to start this race slow and not get caught in the crazy stampede on those early downhills, but it is hard to resist. Even though I didn't start as slow as she wanted I kept my pace steady up until that long stretch uphill in mile 5. Even then I was able to maintain good cadence and had a strong finish. Best part? No pain in my left leg. The moves I've learned at my functional movement appointments have really handled the weaknesses in my hips and butt. 

For the first time ever I ran the EQT Ten Miler. Last year I did the Buffalo Creek Half and loved that race and it's point-to-point trail course, but I wanted to try something new this year. A ten miler also meant I didn't need to put in quite as many training miles. I also hoped this race would serve as a benchmark for me to knock some minutes off of my Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile run time. The EQT course starts at Highmark Stadium on the Southside and follows the marathon course backwards. The race organizers do their best to keep it flat, but this is still Pittsburgh. Hills are unavoidable. 

My pace early on was steady but maybe if I had started a few seconds slower per mile I would've held on better for miles 7-10. I hoped I'd roll in under 90 minutes but I missed that by :35. So close. My finish was a little bit desperate! But I did enjoy the race and would do it again. One fun bonus was the cheers I got via the Motigo app.  

I do like running races more than once because I feel knowing the course makes a huge mental difference but the next race on my horizon is another new one: The Celtic Solstice in December, down in Baltimore. I hate running in the cold, but this is only five miles and will help keep me honest in my training during the winter. 

These definitely aren't the fastest races I've ever run, but if you view my pace in races over 2015, it's trending faster. I give credit to my increased strength work, the FMA improvements, and regularly putting in the miles. 

I'm looking for February race recommendations so if you know of something around 10K, let me know!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Fearless Forty! Adventures and Deep Creek and Wisp

It's a lot easier to be brave for other people, I think. This summer I celebrated some friends' birthdays by taking one friend kayaking for the first time and another friend bike riding for the first time in a long time. I loved encouraging them to be brave.

It's been a long time since I've tackled something that really made me nervous. Sure, I climbed a tree with my eyes closed, but it wasn't that scary. It's bee a very long time since I've SCUBA dived. And once I'm under the water, I'm not scared. It's been over a year since my disaster at Presque Isle triathlon. 

And I turned 40 last month, so I thought it was time to try something scary. We were in Deep Creek so one fearless fun thing I did was jump in the icy lake with my sister-in-law (after we had been in the hot tub).

At the end of the weekend, we stopped by Wisp and our family decided to give the aerial adventures ropes courses a try!

My kids were so excited to do them, but I was not. I have done ropes courses and not liked them. I'm scared of heights. Really, truly scared. But they had had a taste of rock climbing the day before and they were jumping at the chance to get on the Spider Monkey course.

The middle one went first. I wasn't surprised at his eagerness, but when he got out on the spider web portion, the course shook and he felt the first jolts of fear. At one point on the course, he stopped to cry, wailling that he would die out there. 

Luckily, fearless older brother was right behind to help him. (I should say fearless unless there is blood involved. )

I got out there, too. Not just to prove something to my kids, but to prove something to myself, too.  I was not comfortable. I was not happy. But I worked hard to activate the rational parts of my brain over the deep fears of falling.

After it was all done, I definitely felt proud. And I learned that I love ziplines. In fact, the middle guy and I both loved the zip line, I think perhaps because we didn't have to do anything. My husband and oldest, who were definitely comfortable on the ropes course, were nervous about the zip line.

And the youngest? He raced through the Chipmunk ropes course without blinking an eye while his brothers and his parents cheered him on.

We also decided to try the Mountain Coaster. I thought it would be really fun because I love roller coasters, but I learned after two rides that I'm a big fan of thrill rides that require me to be in control of the brakes or the speed. I like roller coasters because I can sit back and let go and just experience the thrill! Same with the zip line. And this explains to me a lot of my anxiety that comes with riding my bike. I don't like that I'm in charge of the equipment, the speed and the brakes.

But I did it! I had some fearful fun. I know that there is a way to do things despite being scared and that I can learn a lot more when I do things that are a certain amount of scary.  So I'm OK with not being fearless, in the literal sense. I'm OK with being afraid of things. I think it's better to be honest about what scares me and to try and face those fears and learn what works to help me to handle fear. It's an extra birthday present to myself!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Travel Apps That Help

It turns out I've taken over half a dozen trips in 2015, including flights and road trips. I've been to NYC, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Washington DC, Lehigh Valley, Deep Creek, White Oak Treehouse, and right now I'm on my way to Scranton. You think with all of that travel experience I'd be using a lot of apps to manage my packing, mileage, tickets, etc. But as I prepared for my current trip I realized I'm still pretty old-fashioned in a lot of ways. for instance I still jot down a list of things I want to pack on a piece of paper!

But mostly I use apps, just not a wide variety of apps. Here are some apps I've used on our recent trips:

'm at the Philadelphia airport right now, and I'm hungry. So I opened up Gate Guru, an app that's offered by TripAdvisor. It tells me what food options are available by gate and provides ratings from other users. While I'm not impressed that somehow Sbarro got 5 stars (insanity) I do like that I was able to find Local Tavern in Concourse F. I'm waiting for my lunch from them right now. 

TripAdvisor: I use this app the most, I think. I use it to research the hotels, the activities to choose on our trips and places to eat. I also write reviews and post them on TripAdvisor. I try to write my reviews with an eye to traveling and dining with young children. I'm honest about the quality of hotels, but I don't spend a lot of time ripping places to shreds. TripAdvisor helped me find the largest Cuckoo Clock in America and I'm pretty sure it also helped us find Schmackary's Cookies

I used to use Cheapflights almost exclusively, but now I use Hipmunk. I don't think I'm gettinng any secret low price deals via this site, but the interface is clean and easy to use. The app works just as well as the desktop but I think the desktop interface offers a few more options to toggle. This app does help me find and book flights that are decently priced and I love beng able to compare the flight times in the grid layout. But for my current trip I found the prices to be in conflict with what I could get by booking directly onn the American Airlines website. Also, I use Hipmunk to find flights in the U.S. and Canada but I haven't booked hotels or rental cars through this app.

While I don't have qualms about booking most of our trips, we usually use Liberty Travel when we are coordinating a longer trip overseas. Our travel agent at Liberty Travel has helped us plan our trips to Germany and Spain. Both of those trips included traveling between cities within those countries, so the agent was very helpful in coordinatinng transportation to the airport and train station and helping us book adjoining rooms, which isn't always easy to get in Europe. 

Delta Airlines: I used this app when traveling to Minneapolis. I wanted to upgrade to first class but I think the lady at the gate gave the upgrades to some jewel-name level of passenger.

I'm using the American Airlines app for the first time on this trip. I haven't been able to log in to the app for some reason, even though my USAirways Dividend Miles number was converted to an AA Advantage number, but I like that I've been able to use the app as a guest. One  feature I really like about this app is the prompt to take a photo of my parking spot. 

Some hotels have apps that have been very useful. During stays in NYC at the Grand Hyatt, I've been very happy to request differet pillows and snacks to my rooom via their app. And the Four Seasons app was incredibly useful during our Vancouver stay. We got the extra pillows for the kids, a sleep mask for my middle one, a foam pillow for me and we were even able to email the concierge while we were on the go to find a medical center and book a babysitter for our last night there. I loved their app. 

I have had success using Viator to book excursions in San Francisco, specifically a boat tour of the bay. I haven't used it on other trips because we've planned the excursions differently. 

When it comes to packing, I was honest when I said I use a piece of paper. Partly because I'm packing for a family and I want my boys to see how we prepare for a trip. I want them to look at how I think through everything we might need and get it ready. If I do that all on an app on my phone, my kids won't look at the app, they'll just try to play Five Nights at Freddies or some equally silly but addictive game. I do have the app called Pack and Go but I just haven't gotten into the habit of using it.

What apps do you use when traveling? 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Four Eyes

The middle guy got glasses!

His older brother has had glasses for years, and at every eye doctor appointment the middle one has begged for glasses for himself. Last year he even tried to trick the eye doctor about his vision. It was pretty funny, but the eye doctor told me he was right on the edge on needed them.

So this year as we drove to the appointment, he started up again hoping he would need them. As he hopped into the chair and started reading the charts it quickly became clear he wasn't able to read the letters. And when Dr. Kohen told me (delightedly) that he needed glasses, he burst into tears!

The middle guy wasn't thrilled. I think it was fear of the unknown. What would it be like wearing
glasses? What would people say?

"They'll call me four eyes," he whined.

"How original," I replied and rolled my (LASIK-focused) eyes. In the rearview mirror I saw him moving his lips and was sure he was practicing to use those words at school.

He said he wouldn't tell anyone but he's no good at keeping secrets so when he got off the bus everyone knew.

A week went by and the glasses were ready. My husband and I handed them to him and he put them on in the van as we headed out on a road trip.

And he was astonished. Amazed. His first words were so familiar to my husband and I who have both worn glasses for years: "I can see every leaf on the trees!"

The ride continued with more astonishing discoveries.

"I can see the veins in your hand, Mom!"
"I can see the each sparkle on the water!"
"I can see telephone wires!"
"I can see bark lines on trees!"
"I can see the wood ties in the train tracks!"

He was even thrilled to copy a character from my (unpublished) novel who pushes his glasses up on his nose.

Then something really big happened. He told us he could read the GPS from the backseat.
This was an incredible discovery for everyone. Because we finally realized he wasn't asking "how much longer" for all of our trips to be annoying. He just couldn't see! We were all seriously delighted by this and the trip was filled with his happy exclamations of how fast the trip was going. In fact, we were all very happy and grateful for the glasses.

And he's not crying anymore. He was scared about the glasses because they were a big change for how he saw and how he saw himself.

"I have to get used to my new shadow," he told me. "Now there is a rectangular edge where my glasses stick out."

He's already adjusting to a new version of himself.

He wore them to school this week, and honestly I think he was a little disappointed. Everyone called him "handsome" and "smart"and he didn't get to use his comeback.

Friday, October 16, 2015

How to Help Kids Say Sorry, Forgive and Forget

**Update! It's been a month since I published this post. Over the past weekend, my oldest got pretty angry with us and was rude and sarcastic. He also failed to listen several times until my husband yelled at him. It took my oldest some time, but he finally came up with a meaningful, heartfelt apology, and he said it out loud. He told me later he felt better after apologizing. I think we're moving in the right direction!

My kids are in no way perfect and when they mess up, I expect them to apologize. I know some childcare providers don't force children to make fake, forced apologies. I don't force my kids to make fake apologies either, but I do expect them to apologize. 

Some people are naturally very good at apologizing, I think. It's part of their personality, like being shy or talkative, messy or organized. My youngest is the best at apologizing in our family, my husband and me included! (I don't know if my husband will like to read that, but I think it's true.) When my youngest gets angry, frustrated or hurt and yells at people, it doesn't take long for him to seek the person out and hug, cry a little, and say he's sorry. It's too hard to resist and the person he's apologizing to inevitably accepts the apology right away. 

My other boys could use a little work on both delivering and accepting apologies. But my oldest isn't great at putting his feelings into words. That's why I started encouraging him to write his apologies down and hand them to people.

This has been working out very well. He gets to take a break away from the explosive situation and put his thoughts on paper. The person who receives his apology doesn't have to listen to a mumble or a whisper or a sarcastic tone. In this case, when I read his letter, I calmed down a lot and really felt it was genuine. I know a short letter like this doesn't really have a tone but I knew it was authentic. 

For the middle son, we're working on helping him forgive and accept the apologies he's receiving. His favorite phrase is "sorry doesn't fix it." Even when the person really means it! I think my middle son gets a little bit of his grudge holding from me because I do have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. The difference is, I know I have this problem and I am trying really hard to work on it. But my middle son likes to revel in being the victim. He's a little theatrical. 

I haven't yet stumbled upon a way to help my middle son accept real apologies. And I'm really looking for advice.  It's true, sorry doesn't fix everything. But being able to forgive is a crucial life skill. I don't believe one can go around carrying the burdens of grudges and slights and wrongs throughout life and be happy and healthy. 

Forgiveness comes with empathy, I think. So how does one build empathy? And what helps you accept an apology?