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Monday, April 14, 2014

Delayed Gratification and Marshmallows

Recently, I heard a mom who used to homeschool her children mention that they were getting used to being back in school. Though they still pursued their own interests at home, she said, they were learning the lesson that sometimes in life you just have the check the box. [insert condescending shrug].

That got me thinking. She made it sound like only homeschoolers pursue their own interests, and that school is only about learning the check boxes. And that somehow learning to check boxes is always bad, and that pursuing your own interests is always good. 

ACHTUNG! I cried. (I lived in Germany for three years, you know.) It is not so black and white as you make it out to be! Sometimes pursuing one's interests is fine. Hobbies are great for that, oftentimes we're lucky enough to have our careers include our main interests and even our passions. But learning the check the box is a key life skill. It means you can force yourself to get things DONE that you might not feel like doing, but still contribute to the social good. Like mowing your grass. 

Thus, I was inspired to write this post about delayed gratification and the marshmallow test. 

Very often I have to force my children to practice piano and go to their soccer practices, basketball practices, and chess club. 

Why do I force them you ask? Why not just let them find something they love that they will agree to do without an argument?

Let me tell you about the marshmallow test.

Back in the 1970's, Walter Mischel at Stanford University put little kids, ages 7-9 in a room and put a marshmallow in front of them. He told them if they could wait and not eat the marshmallow right away, they would get a second marshmallow. The kids had to wait fifteen minutes.

This video isn't from the original study, but does show kids doing funny things while they try to resist eating the marshmallow.

Following the children through their adult lives, the researchers claimed that kids who didn't eat the marshmallow were more successful later in life. The conclusion was that the children who could wait had a higher level of innate self-control. 

Personally I can't believe kids sat there for fifteen minutes. I know I'd probably get bored. But I know my husband would absolutely not eat that marshmallow even if he was bored. Because he makes logical assessments about risks and rewards. Which leads us to a more recent study that tests other aspects of kids' behavior.

But later studies evaluated different factors than innate ability. A study at Rochester University showed that kids who experienced unreliable events (broken promises like art supplies not being available) ate the marshmallow right away. The idea is that they had already seen the researcher break one promise, so they couldn't trust a second marshmallow would actually appear.

I find these studies so interesting and want to test my children, so watch for a video soon. I'm curious about their choices and behavior because I do want them to be successful and happy in life. I'm one of those people who doesn't buy into the nature versus nurture argument. I do believe people have personality traits, but I also believe you can teach yourself good habits. That's why I loved reading the excerpt below is from The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
…That’s why signing kids up for piano lessons or sports is so important. It has nothing to do with creating a good musician or a five-year-old soccer star,” said Heatherton. “When you learn to force yourself to practice for an hour or run fifteen laps, you start building self-regulatory strength. A five-year-old who can follow the ball for ten minutes becomes a sixth grader who can start his homework on time."
Reading that gave me a fresh perspective on the activities my husband and I pick for the boys, and supported my decision to make them follow through on the activities they (and we) have chosen. I don't mind if they are never concert pianists, Olympic medalists, Nobel Prize Winners. But I do want them to have strategies that will help them in their personal and professional lives. I think about the discipline I need to write every day, whether I'm working on a fiction project or a client's non-fiction marketing copy. I think of the discipline my husband needs to plow through lines of code unraveling the source of the bug. And I also know that the discipline we need for those activities is directly tied to our experiences as runners, the fact we played instruments as children, and other daily tasks. 

Sometimes you need to check the box in order to fulfill your dreams and pursue your passion. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Win Prizes - Gift Cards and Bikes!

I declare bike season open in Pittsburgh! And to celebrate I have two $25 gift cards to Max & Erma's Restaurant to give to two lucky cyclists! (Rafflecopter is a bit lower in the post).

Ok, some people have riding already, but on Wednesday I not only saw lots of bike commuters, I rode my own bike for 45 minutes at North Park and really shook the winter dust off of it and me.

And with perfect timing to celebrate my season opener, Max & Erma's contacted me and asked me to help them celebrate National Bike Month - Hooray! 

Here's the deal:
"Max & Erma’s restaurants is inviting kids to join their kid-loving dog and mascot, Scraps, to “Ride with Scraps” and enter to win a new bicycle and helmet. Every kid’s meal ordered at area Max & Erma’s from March 24-April 22 will receive an entry into the drawing to Ride with Scraps. The drawing will be held on Tuesday, April 22 at all participating Max & Erma’s restaurants."
National Bike Month is sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists. I didn't know there was a League.

Even though I'm a nervous cyclist, my boys love riding bikes so when I heard about this contest, so we headed up to our nearest Max & Erma's and got some delicious carry-out and three entries into the bike giveaway. I'm trying to reduce my sugar and carb-intake, so I got a turkey, swiss and avocado burger without the bun but LOADED with mushrooms and it was incredible. The kids devoured their sliders, too.

In addition to giving away one free bike at every restaurant location, I also learned that Max & Erma’s is hosting a used bike drive. Each restaurant is choosing their own drive date, but when you donate a used bicycle, you get a coupon for a free burger.

This is also perfect timing for us because we wanted to at least one of our boys needs a slightly larger bike and now we can donate his slightly used bike to Max & Ermas, who will pass them on to local children's charities, and we get more burgers!

Here's how YOU can win a $25 gift card from me (and the folks at Max & Erma's). To enter to win a gift card, you can comment, tweet or share on Facebook anything you want about cycling and make sure you click through on the Rafflecopter. The bike drawing happens April 22, but my gift card giveaway ends April 25. And if you don't win, but want to go for a bike ride with us anyway this summer, send me a note. We're ready.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, cyclists!

You can get more at their press room and at Max & Erma’s Facebook page, and on Twitter .

Friday, April 4, 2014

Happy Runner in Town!

Many of you know this weekend is the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. 

I'm so excited.

Mainly I'm excited because my loving friends and family helped me exceed my fundraising goal. I have the best team!

I'm also excited because I think I've figured out how to run without foot pain, so I should be able to complete all ten miles. And no, I don't look like a limping kangaroo.

Read more about why I'm a happy runner on the Cherry Blossom blog (edited by yours truly).

If you want to live vicariously through me and follow me along the course, there is a really cool app available for download.

Of course, nothing is better than live video so on Sunday morning you can watch the entire event online! Catch all the starters and finishers live on streaming video along with scenes of action throughout the race staging areas at

And you can even sign up now to receive an email alert for when the lottery opens for the 2015 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tips to Eating Healthier

Amanda Loscar & my boys
March is National Nutrition Month, and the focus on healthy eating continues. Recently, I gave away a $50 Market District gift card and personalized tour with a dietician from Giant Eagle. Lots of readers shared their healthy eating challenges and Amanda Loscar, the dietician who gave us our healthy tour, took the time to give personalized answers to every reader! There are tips here that will work for everyone, so read through and make a change for the better in your eating habits.

The challenges are in bold and Amanda's answers follow.

"Dessert is absolutely my biggest challenge. I need a happy medium between "twice a day" and "never." I don't eat many processed foods (except dessert) and generally feel pretty good about my diet (except dessert)." - Sandra Kozera

RD Response: There are many options to satsisfy a sweet tooth and still feel good about your choice. Try using fruit as/in your dessert to get a natural source of sweetness. Try a baked apple filled with dried fruit and nuts, lightly sprinkled with brown sugar. If fruit is not cutting it allow yourself a small portion of what you are really craving. Often when we try to deprive ourselves of what we really want we end up over eating on “Healthier options,” which may add up to more calories and leave us unsatisfied. Also when we learn to incorpoarate small amount of items we crave the cravings decrease it becomes less of a forbidden item and we are able to control it better. 

So, I have a couple of challenges. My "quick" answer is M & Ms - seriously. I love them, I can't eat just one and they send me into a downward food spiral. The other challenge I face, as a vegan, is preparing foods that satisfy my family AND me. Often, on evenings when pizza is a quick dinner for the kids, I end up eating cereal due to a lack of advance preparation. - Allison Mathis
RD Response: As far as the M&M’s if you feel you have little control over portioning it may be best to keep them out of sight and out of mind. Instead try keeping quick snacks around like nuts or trailmix. As far as your other challenge- to help ensure prep work is done for the week pick a day to do the prep (often a good time is after you return from your shopping trip before items are put away and forgotten). By doing the prep on a specific day will keep you on track and ready to go on busy days. Within our Market District stores we have pre-cut fruits and vegetables available to save you some time as well. Advanced meal planning can help too. Try setting up a meal schedule for the week prior to shopping. Take into consideration what nights will need quick meals, and what nights will allow for a new/longer recipe. If you still end up with a cereal night, bulk it up with some nuts/seeds and fruit to make it more satisfying. You can even add some vegan protein podwer to your milk substitute to increase the protein.

My biggest healthy eating challenge is that I hate cooking. I love baking, but when it comes to the drudgery of making an actual meal, I'm miserable. And it's way easier to microwave a can of soup or throw a frozen pizza into the oven than to do actual food prep and make something from scratch. -  Heather Herrington

RD Response: This is a common comment many of my clients have as well. Cooking can be quick and easy without convenience items. My suggestion is to take advantage of pre-cut fruits/vegetables when grocery shopping. This can save you time and prep work. The pre-cut fruits and veggies can be added to a convenience meal to add a fresh component or they can be mixed into brown rice or quinoa to make a quick side dish. When you have some more time in your week I encourage combining the ingredients for a few crockpot meals in freezer bags so you can pull them out and toss them in to cook with some low sodium broth - a quick easy meal! You may also want to check out for some quick and easy recipes. 

Ranch dressing is a huge downfall for me. I've started switching it out with Greek yogurt "watered down" with a little milk and adding my own seasonings. Another downfall is added sugars and fats in crockpot meals. I'm a huge crockpot meal fan and sometimes the ingredients can be laden with sugary syrups, brown sugar, canned cream soups, etc. I switch out the sugars with raw honey when I can. The creamed soups are harder, but if possible, I do without or I add my own quick cream sauce at the end - Susan Paff
RD Response: You sound like you have found some ways around some of your challenges. To address your concern with crockpot meals there are many recipes available for slow cookers that use the juice from canned tomatoes and added water and spices in place of a broth this will help reduce the sodium. As far as the cream soups you can thicken soups by making a roux, or using unsweetened condensed milk, or non-fat half and half to still get a creamy consistency.
Running my kids around in the car - although I pack healthy lunches for them, sometimes I find it easier to drive thru somewhere (or else I don't eat!) - Kelly Hughes
RD Response: Trying to pack lunches/snack or keeping snacks in the car can help to prevent hitting the drive-thru, but if you still find yourself there here are some tips: do a little research before you head out think about the areas you will be in throughout the day and the options available. Most chain restaurants have their nutrition information available their website. Take a look at this to choose in advance what a better options might be. Many food fast restaurants are providing fresh fruit/fruit cups/fruit parfaits as a side option in place of french fries. Also be mindful of modifications you can request like: hold the mayo, or sauce or dressing on the side. If you have not had time to do the research remember you always have control over the portion you or your children consume so remember to oder the smaller sizes when available or split meal options to spare the extra calories/fat.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Irritating health complaints

I'm going through this period of weird health challenges. Nothing major, no chronic illness. But a sort of tiny accumulation of irritating and stressful things.

This photo has nothing to do with
my actual problems but accurately depicts how I feel.
1. Vertigo. I experienced this very mildly for a total of three days last week! It really lingered this time. Usually it hits hard for a day, I drink water and nap and by the next day it's gone. This time it was kind of haunting me, hitting me at weird moments. At least it was an excuse not to bend over and pick up toys. There's nothing really to be done about this except Epley maneuvers, and those make me go all crazy and wobbly and scary twitchy in the eyeballs. I've already seen a cool vertigo specialist about this.

2. Itchy, irritated red skin under my eyes. Not only is it tough to read my laptop, my phone, books, talk to people, drive and watch TV, it plain looks bad. I have these puffy, red bags under my eyes. The puffy skin is of course wrinkling in my laugh lines. I feel really self-conscious about this situation. I don't know what's causing this. I've tried a lot of home treatments for this, including Aquaphor, cortisone (super models use it, said my friend), coconut oil (it cures everything, said my same friend) and Claritin. Nothing seemed to work. I'm now seeing an allergist next week.

3. Itchy, irritated skin behind my ears. I'm not sure what's causing this, either. I thought it was a new shampoo. Then I thought it was my wireless ear phones. Then I thought it was earrings. I have no idea. I put some Aquaphor back behind my ears, too, but that didn't seem to do much. I stopped wearing my headphones. It's kind of gone away, but not quite. I'm going to ask the allergist about this, too.

4. Recurring breakout under my chin. I don't know why I get a break-out right under my chin. It's not like I'm drooling all the time. I guess it's better than a big breakout across my forehead or something, it but it never goes away! I wash, I exfoliate, I moisturize. I've even used my Metrogel (for rosacea) and that sometimes helps. I'm seeing a dermatologist about this.

5. My right foot. When I run, my right foot more often than not will start tingling, then buzzing, then my toes go numb and hurt. I thought I had a neuroma, but then I ran totally pain free on March 24, for 30 minutes. Absolutely NO PAIN. I saw the doctor today who told me I have no neuroma. He dug into my foot hard and said if I did have one, I'd hit the ceiling. I was fine. He actually said my foot was structurally beautiful. And it felt like I got a great massage. But then I could only run 17 min on March 25 until the buzzing tingle started. I'm trying to readjust my foot strike but who knows. This problem isn't always here, but it's not totally gone. It's lingering.

All of these things are lingering………… but like the Bison says, I should be grateful it's not worse, right?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Running Fashion Show at Elite Runners and Walkers

I was saving up this blog post for a warm day when I could wear my new shorts outside, but it seems like that is never going to happen. Back in February, my husband and I enjoyed a date night at our favorite local running store, Elite Runners and Walkers for the Brooks Pure Project Fashion Show.

Any night out my favorite guy is a good night, but this night was especially fun. We enjoyed tasty snacks and drinks in a running store. Of course we shopped around, tried on shoes, reminisced about some of our best and worst running memories.

Here I am trying on shoes and chatting and showing off my funky socks.

Without the flash

But we also tried on some Brooks Pure Project gear. I decided to try on these funky shorts because back in February I foolishly thought warmer weather would be here soon. I had just finished my first indoor triathlon and my running was getting back on track after my heel injury.

So here I am in the dressing room, showing off my winter legs. I thought the shorts felt good. And I was also excited to get a raffle ticket just for trying on some of the new Brooks Pure Project gear. But then Suzanne from Elite took my photo with my camera flash on. And then things got exciting.

These shorts (and all the Brooks Pure Project gear) light up! Woo! Look who's flashy now!

I like a little bit of sparkle now and then. And even though paparazzi aren't following me around snapping flash photos while I run, I like the idea that the reflective shorts will make it a little more likely a car will see me if I'm running at dusk.

So I bought the shorts and got my raffle entry to win any other Brooks Pure Project item for free.

I then proceeded to take photos of random people coming out of the dressing room in their crazy reflective Brooks Pure Project gear, like this headless lady in a running jacket. I like my
tops to hit past my waist, though, so this jacket was not my style.
The party continued for awhile and my husband and I spent some time looking at track spikes. Here is a close-up of some crazy honeycomb spikes. We also shared our war stories about track spikes. Yes, there are war stories about track spikes. We went to high school together, and ran on the track teams in high school (admittedly at different speeds, but still) so we had a lot of good times to recall. 

Then it was time for prizes. And guess who won!
I Get Lucky


Oh yeah! I won any item from the Brooks Pure Project line. I snagged a comfortable long-sleeve shirt, it's a little thin for me to wear yet. I'm basically always freezing so it's waiting for warmer weather with my shorts.

This was my first running fashion show but I hope it won't be my last. I had a seriously fun time and the team at Elite really knows how to throw a great party.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

How the Bison Handle Disappointment

What does the Bison teach us?

I did some reading on the symbolism of the Bison recently. I found an interesting website that talks about the symbolism of the Bison according to the Lakota and learned the Bison asks us these questions:
  • Are you grateful?
  • Do you respect what has been given?
  • Are you ignoring the abundance around you?
  • Do you squander the bounty?
  • Do you hunt down resources rather that trust your coffers are always stocked?
  • Are you missing the opportunity to recognize true blessings?

This is me in my bison shirt after a night of disappointment. I don't look too disappointed, do I? I look pretty happy. That's probably because I had three drinks that night. One before the disappointment (to get pumped) and two after (to drown my sorrows). One of my goals this year is to read my poetry at an open-mic night. I had worked up the guts and arm-twisted a friend to go with me to my first open mic poetry night back in February. But I came down with a flu and bailed. I re-scheduled for March, found a babysitter, and dragged my husband (a pretty decent appreciator of poetry) out the door with me to the local coffee shop hosting the open-mic night…only to discover the event was cancelled at a late hour because of a few flakes of snow.

I was disappointed.

I had pumped myself up for the event. I even had pre-race jitters in my stomach.

But disappointments happen in life, right? Like having yet another running-related injury right before the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile. I'll see the doctor Tuesday to confirm the details, but I'm pretty sure I have a neuroma in my right foot.

I've knocked my race registration down to the 5K.

That sounds so condescending, doesn't it? "I'll only be running the 5K." I've "knocked down" my running. There are people who aren't even able to walk a mile and I'm whining about having to limit myself to running three miles.

So I'm going to take a cue from the Bison.

Am I grateful? Yes. I'm grateful I can walk, let alone run. I am grateful I have friends who support my writing.
Do I respect what has been given? I respect the leisure time, the desire, the health I have to run. I respect the opportunities I have to write.
Am I ignoring the abundance around me? No. I live in a country that allows me as a woman to run when I want, where I want, and to write and read where I want, what I want.
Do I squander the bounty? No! I try to use my skills and strengths and not let them go to waste. I try to use them wisely and well.
Do you hunt down resources rather that trust your coffers are always stocked? I don't go searching for more and more and more than I need.
Are you missing the opportunity to recognize true blessings? Even when I can't run, I have a healthy, loving family who support me and my goals. I love the abundance of books available to me and the chance to express myself in writing.