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Monday, February 1, 2016

The Monthly Subscription Box is My Addiction

Oh, how I love thee, specially-curated, globally-themed monthly subscription box! Oh, how irresistible it is to receive hand-selected items, ingeniously packed in some kind of handwoven fibrous material, waiting at the door when I come home from a hard day of driving around suburbia and the high-priced coffee in my insulated mug has gone cold.

Some time ago, when I told myself I was still in control, I cancelled a bunch of my monthly box subscriptions, including one for baby toys that was such a good deal even though my "baby" was a year too old for it. I cancelled my Birchbox, I cancelled my NatureBox subscription, my Stork box and my Quarterly subscription (where I got a box from Bookriot every three months and loved it). I quit cold turkey.

Banned Books mug from BookRiot,
(controversial) ripped denim shorts from Stitchfix

I was clean for awhile. But that stuff calls to your blood. It won't let you go.

I started small. A few ounces of healthy snacks from Graze every few weeks. Then I heard about Kiwi Crate and it's age appropriate art and science activities and signed up FOR THE KIDS. It wasn't even for me, I told myself as I rearranged stacks of incomplete art and science activities the kids didn't want to do with me.

Screen printed french bulldog
on navy blue knapsack from Doodle Crate

And there's a lot to be learned about the world from our Try the World subscription. We are learning about geography and music and we're eating such tasty, tasty food. And I rationalized that StitchFix was saving me money in the long run because I wasn't driving all over town to find high-priced clothes that sort of fit that I wouldn't wear really anywhere.

My first okonomiyaki,
from the Japan Try the World box

I prided myself for being smart enough and tough enough to resist DarbySmart, a craft subscription service. And I laughed at their attempts to lure me back to the dark side. (Also, I was really enjoying those kid-level crafts from Kiwi Crate.)

I thought I tough. I thought I was safe.

But then, on a day my defenses were down, the demons came to call and showed me an online ad for  The Artisan Gift Box. And I CLICKED ON THE LINK. And I saw all these happy people with their hand-crafted goods from around the world that are lifting people out of poverty and the products arrive in colorful hand-woven baskets!!!!!!!!!!! I could re-gift the colorful hand-woven baskets!!!!!

And then I wept for I saw how weak I truly am.

It's ok. I know I have a problem. And I'm ready to work on it.

I've cancelled Graze. Cancelled. Even though they offered to "put it on hold."

I cancelled Kiwi Crate, but I had already paid for a year subscription so we'll get a few more boxes and then say farewell. I haven't ordered from Stitchfix in a long time. And Try the World, well, I can only say we're keeping that one. How else would my oldest know he likes jackfruit?  I can't deny him that kind of knowledge. What kind of mother would I be?

P.S. Lots of these services do make excellent gifts. Here are links to my favorites:

Try the World

BookRiot by Quarterly

Kiwi Crate (we get Doodle and Kiwi)


Monday, January 25, 2016

Belleville Thanksgiving 5K and Fun Run with Kids!

Back in November, my family traveled to Belleville, Illinois for a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration with my brother's family and my parents. Before we went, I did a little research and found  a 5K in Belleville on Thanksgiving morning. It's called the Belleville Thanksgiving 5K Run and it's hosted by the local running store called Toolen's Running Start in nearby Shiloh, IL. While I was there registering, I got a nice pair of new running shoes there AND a cute pair of running shorts with a cherry blossom design on them! I also learned there was a fun run for kids right after the 5K - so I signed up ALL the kids. My kids have run fun runs before, but my niece and nephew have not.

I was looking forward to this 5K keeping my training honest during NaNoWriMo, but also not being too hard because Southern Illinois is pretty flat. I was mostly right, the course was generally flat, but there was a decent downhill on the way out which meant I had to climb it on my way back to the finish. It wasn't terrible, but it added a noticeable challenge to my finish. Also, I think the course was a tad longer than a 5K.

Me at the beginning on the downhill,
me on the slight but steady uphill finish

I enjoyed the race itself, but there were some minor irritants. First, I paid for my kids to run but they didn't receive numbers or bibs. So, while I'm not going to begrudge a kid some physical activity, why did I bother to register them and pay for them? No one checked that any child was registered. I could have just lined my kids up at the starting line without paying and let them experience their first bandit experience. Also, getting shirts after the race wasn't that satisfying. We were told we could pick up shirts before the race, then after the race, then they were all gone. A nice lady tried to hook me up, but I haven't heard anything. Obviously, I don't run a race for a t-shirt, but I do feel it's a customer service lapse to be promised something and then not get it.

Despite the lack of a t-shirt, which is really not that big of a deal, I finished third in my age group. I went online to the running store website to see if they had race results, and was thrilled to find them. I was not thrilled to see my name listed with the right finish time, but in the wrong age group. Now I know I wasn't announced in the wrong age group, because my kids were listening and paying attention and cheering for me when I got my award. They definitely know how old I am and remind me of it frequently. But here I am in the 45-49 age group. According to the results for the 40-44 age group, I wouldn't get an award. I could send it back, but I already wrote on it! (see the next paragraph.)

The good part of the day was really seeing my kids run and my niece run. (My poor little nephew, who is really young, got too scared by the air horn start and ran right to his dad.) My oldest won the kids fun run, so I guess it's good he didn't bandit. Although I still think no one would know.  My second and third ran strong races, laughing the whole way, and my niece earned her first medal!! I showed her how I write the dates and times of my races on the backs of my medals. It was a great day and I felt so grateful for my wonderful family!!

Grateful for family!

Me and my niece with our medals! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Running Gadgets and Gizmos

How many gadgets and gizmos do you need, actually need, to be a good runner?

I've been a runner since I was 13, and I've been a sucker for running gear and accessories since I was 13. I remember going into the running store and getting that first pair of Nike Air Pegasus (everyone on the team wore those, except for one girl with really small feet who wore a different brand that I can't remember. If you know who I'm talking about and what shoes she wore, leave a comment!) When I was in that store, I also wanted all the gadgets and gizmos that were sold alongside those shoes. I wanted tops, shorts, tights, jackets, ear warmers, gloves, etc.

Of course, since I was only 13, I didn't have the cash to lay out for all those gadgets and I didn't get them.

Now that I'm older, I have cash to spend. And in a terrible twist of fate, I now find myself avoiding all these gadgets and gizmos. Ok, not all of them. I do love a few specific items. But lots of running sites, magazines, and friends use and recommend tons of gadgets and gizmos. They don't just use them, they swear by them. And many of them are great runners. I want to be a good runner, too. So I jotted down a list lately of what I do and don't do that people say is necessary to be a good runner.

1. I don't switch shoes. I have owned racing shoes, and loved them. I'd buy them again for my spring and summer races. But for training I wear the same pair of shoes every day. Every day. They are comfy, they have my footpod on the laces, I can slip them on and head out the door.

2. I don't use hydration systems or run with water bottles. I used to use Nuun, and sometimes I still use a tablet after drinking a little too much. But I just drink water now. Also, while I drink water during races, but I don't carry bottles of water or set them out on my races courses. I drink water before and after, but not during training runs. Maybe if I was doing 10+ miles a run I would do things differently, but as of now, I don't.

3. I don't do race nutrition like gels or beans. Over a year ago, my coach and I started talking about eating healthy and fueling my body without relying on gobs of glucose-based calories. Don't get me wrong, I loved those Honey Stinger Waffles and eating Vanilla Gu was just one step away from eating icing out of the can. YUM. But I don't do it anymore, and I don't feel like I'm suffering. To be honest, my weight hasn't plummeted, and I'm not running super fast (yet) but I'm feeling strong. I'm not injured and I'm doing good without them. I'm not spending lots of money on them, so that's a plus.

4. I do use UCAN in the summer and before longer races.  I've used UCAN before half-marathons and for practices that last over 90 minutes. But I've also completely forgotten to use UCAN before races and practices these same distances. So I know I don't need it to do my best. But I've also found it doesn't hurt. Meb uses it. I'm not Meb.

5. I don't wear compression. I don't wear it for running or recovery or anytime really. After the EQT Ten Miler, I did wear compression sleeves on my calves to try and reduce swelling. I'm not sure it helped and I'm guessing it didn't hurt. But I don't wear them during races.

6. I don't wear toe socks. My coach suggested them to stop my pinky toe blisters, but I think getting new shoes (see number 1) actually helped eliminate these blisters. I haven't actually put these socks on yet. I should give them a try, but they take a lot of time to wiggle my toes into each little slot.

7. I don't wear sunscreen (But I should). I keep forgetting. But I'm getting better. I put the sunscreen container right by the front door this past summer.

8. I do use a Garmin and a HR monitor. Although sometimes I wonder what it's like to run without it, 99% of the time I love my HR monitor.

9. I do use a foam roller. It hurts so good. I do think it helps. I'm not great at using it every day, but I use it.

10. I do strength work. And I think it works. No, wait. I know it works. My left leg pain is almost completely gone.

11. I don't stretch very often. I do a set of stretches that I learned from UPMC Functional Movement. And I do a few stretches here and there, but nowhere near what I used to do. I like this simple set of stretches that focuses on my ever-troubling IT band and my weak glutes. But I don't do nearly the same amount of stretches I did in high school or college.

12. I do and don't track how much water I drink. Sometimes I go nuts and drink 70 oz (half my bodyweight) in a day. Most of the time I forget and just drink when I'm thirsty.

13. I do cross train. Biking, swimming, kayaking, soccer in the backyard, neighborhood walks.

14. I don't do Shakeology or try to do cleanses to lose weight. Look forward to a BIG post on this coming soon.

So what running do's and don't, gizmos and gadgets, do you use and adore? Which ones do you disdain and ignore?

And feel free to tell me what you think I'm missing and doing horribly wrong. I love thoughtful critique.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Running with Tech

Lots of people love to run naked, and by that I mean running without tech. I enjoy my naked runs now and again, but since I'm really motivated by goal setting and quantified self and also love to listen to music when I run. So I enjoy running with a little tech support. Specifically I like running with my smartphone, my heart rate monitor and some cool wireless headphones.

But running with tech can be so irritating. And I'm not talking about the actual runs. It's the extra support.

Running with my iPhone feeds my quantified self taste buds. I love seeing my step count pass 10,500 daily. But more than that, my iPhone also plays music and runs an app called iSmoothRun that measures my cadence for me. My Garmin displays cadence, too, but the app provides a metronome that keeps my cadence high and has helped me climb hills and get to the finish during some recent races at a good clip. I carry my iPhone in a RooSport Pouch and have for years.

These are my wireless headphones. The wireless headphones are my solution to the battle between wanting to run with the right tech but not feeling encumbered by the tech. I ran with Jaybirds for awhile, ones that hooked over and into my ears. Frankly I struggled getting them to stay in my ears. Finally I switched to the Audio X wireless headphones after trying them on at the CUCB expo and wanting them for over a year. I bought a pair before the 2015 Pittsburgh marathon and loved them - until the charger stopped working…and I asked for help on Twitter. Big mistake.

Back in June 2015, I tweeted to the makers of the Audio X headphones (RocknReverb) letting them know my headphones wouldn't' hold a charge. I received a pretty angry DM in response. They thought I was a blogger who received the headphones free in exchange for a review and yelled at me via DM for "blasting" their product on Twitter. I got defensive. They sent me new headphones. They still wouldn't hold a charge. So then I went to Walgreens and bought a cheap-o charger cable and it's been working perfectly ever since! See that bright blue cable? Works like a charm. Thanks Walgreens.

The next tech fix I tackled was my Garmin. I've run with a Garmin 310XT for something like 3 years. Frankly I can't believe how much trouble I put up with from that device. It was constantly freezing up, the buttons stopped working, the HR monitor wouldn't transfer the data if I had the auto-transfer toggle switched on, etc. Just a total pain. The breaking point was the day I ran the EQT 10 miler and the buttons stopped working and I realized I might not be able to download my race data. I know I still ran the race, but that data is a validator for me. And I paid good money for this tech! I hated how the disfunction felt like a sabotage of my effort.

Even though Christmas was two months away,  I couldn't wait. I switched to the 910XT and it felt like I had gotten myself out of a bad relationship. My running data auto-transfers! The buttons work effortlessly! When my tech works I feel free, like I'm running unencumbered but can review and reflect on my hard work.

As we neared winter, the cold weather brought a new challenge. (Yes, I know the weather around here hasn't been that cold. But still). The back of the headphones stick out a little from my head and an ear warmer didn't quite fit over them, so cold air was sweeping up into my ears and head! No thanks! So one day I cut holes in the grey version of this ear warmer I picked up at Target. It worked fine. Then came trouble. The grey one was in the wash so I grabbed this purple one, my favorite. I tried running with the headphones under the ear warmer but hated my cold ears, so mid-run I just popped the headphones over the outside of the ear warmer and guess what!!! I could hear the music, my timer, and my metronome! Success! Joy! Warm ears! I count this as a mixed tech-fashion-comfort fix.

I picked up a little multi-usb outlet octopus charger and keep all my running devices ready to go whenever I am. It might seem like high maintenance, but now that everything's running smoothly, I'm happy.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Managing my Sebhorreic Dermatitis

I'm a little worried about jinxing myself, but it's been a long time since my last flare up of seborrheic dermatitis and I wanted to share that I think I've gotten a good handle on things. This time last year I was not in such a good spot. I was still struggling with seb derm and swollen eyes, and flaking, itching, bleeding skin and scalp, and general frustrations. 

But this past year I've managed to get a lot of the symptoms under control and develop habits that keep my skin healthy, and it mostly involves over the counter products. This post is not going to contain any major revelations beyond a quick review of the products that are working for me. 

The first over the counter shampoo I tried was Neutrogena T/Gel, and I have to say when I started using it, it felt like a miracle solution. My itching, flaking skin healed and my eyes felt better. 

I had read online not to use the T/Gel every day and that some people thought it lost efficacy after a using it for a few months, so I wanted a back-up plan. I tried Selsun Blue Naturals. It has salicylic acid and I believe it keeps my itchy scalp from itching. It doesn't smell bad at all. 

Since I work out a lot, I had to figure out the balance between keeping my hair and scalp cleaning after sweating and washing it too much and possibly drying it out. So some days after a workout I will only rinse my hair and scalp or I might use a small amount of this Yes To Carrots shampoo for itchy scalps.

I also switched my face soap and moisturizer to Vanicream. It's supposed to be "free and clear" of any kind of harsh chemicals that might bother sensitive skin, which it seems like I have. Since my skin has been looking good lately, I can only assume it's working. 

I still do daily drops of Restasis, and that is a cyclosporin medicine. I started that after getting my LASIK. I think sometimes that's a big part of my success but I want to see if I can switch to just using Refresh re-wetting drops. I'm going to try that in the new year, but my eye doctor reminded me it takes approximately 6 weeks for that medicine to leave my system.

Frankly, even my general eczema and rosacea has been under control. I believe I've minimized my eczema symptoms by changing some of my bad habits. I hated doing all that laundry and was so lazy I used to re-wear certain running clothes if I only did a short workout or didn't sweat that much. But now I don't do any of that and only wear workout clothes once, no matter how short the workout was.

For the rosacea, my go to solution is a prescription for Metrogel. I try to avoid prescriptions as much as possible but truly this light gel keeps my skin in such great condition that I don't think I'll ever stop using it.

Some of the other things I thought were causing my skin problems, like eggs or milk products, are still in my diet and not causing any issues. I'm back to my regular laundry detergent and have even used dryer sheets without problems, though I prefer to use the dryer balls. Also, I am wearing a different kind of wireless headphones now that don't rub against the backs of my ears. That could be helping, too.

So, there's the list of products I now use, and some of the changes I've made, and I haven't had a seborrhic dermatitis problem in months. Cross your fingers for me!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 Goals and Resolutions

2016 New Year's Resolution

I've come up with a New Year's Resolution! It's going to be hard some days and easy on others. But my New Year's Resolution is going to be to answer rudeness and anger with calm, politeness and kindness.

Sometimes, when people close to me use angry, mean or rude voices to talk to me, I respond with anger and rudeness right back. I've decided that is a real flaw in my behavior and it's taking revenge on them. I am going to assume that they would never go out of their way to hurt me intentionally and that something else must be bothering them. I'm going to be kind in my reply and work to diffuse any angry situations. 

I think I'll have an easier time with people I know and love. I know they love me back. They don't mean it.

It's going to be harder with strangers. I know many people go out of their way to hurt others intentionally, to take out their anger or try and get their way or just try to cause problems. But I'm not going to contribute to the problem. I'm going to answer anger with kindness, no matter who brings the anger, no matter when it happens, to the best of my ability. 

This doesn't mean I'll stand there and take abuse, but I won't respond by getting angry and trying to take revenge or 'win.' I will walk away when I need to. I will help when I can and when it's possible. 

2016 Goals

In addition to my resolution, I want to set some goals. I've done this for previous years for things like submissions of my writing, freelance writing clients and income, physical fitness challenges, and reading books. 

I had some real writing success in 2015, including my first sales to Highlights for Children! I also finally got my email newsletter up and running and published TWO new ebooks for kids. Check out Dinosaur Boogie and Fun Fresh Food Ideas for Kids if you haven't already. 

So here are my plans for 2016:

1. Read 100 books (again).

2. Have a new novel to pitch at conferences. Either the bee one, the iPod one, or the running one. Not sure.

3. Attend a new writing conference. Right now I'm thinking either the Cleveland SCBWI conference or the LA SCBWI conference. Any other suggestions?

4. I'd love to set some biking or swimming goals again, but last year I found it very tough to fit in the training for a triathlon with my increased writing work. But I think I'd like to try and complete a triathlon again but I may have to settle for trying a new race. Have any suggestions?

5. I'd love to run the Credit Union Cherry Blossom in under 90 minutes again and beat my fundraising goal for 2016. Don't forget to donate!!

6. I'd like to run a mile under 7:00. That's 4x400 in 1:45, or 4 sub- 2:00 quarters. I should be able to do that, if I keep my strength and speed training strong. 

Community Service
7. I plan to continue to advocate as a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. I want to find out how many welcome calls I made in 2015 and beat that total in 2016. 

8. My family volunteers frequently for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, but we've never done a gleaning activity. 2016 could be the year! 

Those are some good goals for 2016. It's a leap year, so I'll have an extra day to fit it all in. Wish me luck, and I wish you luck on your goals and resolutions. Happy New Year!!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Stay in Touch!

If you enjoy reading my blog (and I hope you do), I wanted to let you know that I now have an email newsletter that you can subscribe to and stay up to date on all of my stories, articles and books. Visit my professional website and look for the green email subscription box in the upper right hand box of my home page.

And thanks for all of your support!