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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Try It: BattleFrog Pittsburgh Giveaway

I have another giveaway that is perfect for anyone who wants to really adopt the "Try It and You May!" mindset and it's called Battlefrog!

Yep, it's an obstacle race.

Obstacle races are tough and they test your overall fitness and they are really worth doing. But if you're not interested in doing one right now, why not think about giving your kids a chance? Battlefrog is a great opportunity for your young ones to tackle some obstacles and build their confidence. My kids love watching shows on television where people conquer difficult obstacles. They are then inspired to challenge themselves physically when they play outside and they are so thrilled when they do things like cross the monkey bars alone. This kind of physical victory helps them tackle other tough things, too!

Here's the info:

For the truly indomitable, BattleFrog comes to Western Pennsylvania September 27th, 2014 with an incomparable course. SEAL frogman are famous for operating under water, but this course puts you under ground. Covering 650 acres of steeps and terraces, gorges and river bottoms, the Mines & Meadows Resort includes miles of limestone and coal mines that add a unique subterranean twist to our ever unpredictable challenges. 
BattleFrog, a fun and competitive new obstacle course race (OCR) series founded and designed by Navy SEALs. The event will provide challenges for both veteran OCR racers and newcomers alike, will feature three unique courses, a series of SEAL themed demonstrations and activities, and a festival atmosphere that promises to be fun for the entire family.
The folks at Battlefrog have given me on free entry to give away to someone who wants to tackle this course. The Rafflecopter entry form is at the bottom of the post. It's easy to enter, but this race won't be.

But tackling tough stuff is good for us.

So what are you waiting for? Inspire yourself.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 15, 2014

Travel with Kids to Spain - Art and Culture

Back in June, our family traveled to Spain and gathered an amazing set of experiences. I had the chance to break out my rusty Spanish. Of course, since it was American high school and college Spanish, it didn't quite fit with Andalusian Spanish. And I had no experience with Catalan, the language of Barcelona. But that didn't stop me from trying and learning. Those are two big priorities in my life and I hope my kids adopt those as priorities, too!

I asked a good friend how to help me say "try it" in Spanish and he said:

La traduccion de "try it" depende del context. Por ejemplo, si esta hablando de comidas, you would say something like "pruebalo." Si se trata de alguna "action," decis "intentalo" o "atrevete." Podes usar words de encouragement como "vamos" or "dale," por ejemplo: "vamos, atrévete."
You can read about the food we tried and loved during our trip, but this post is about the art, culture, and history we experienced on our journeys. The castles of Spain, like this castillo in Malaga, are so different from the Irish and German castles we have visited on other trips. The boys enjoyed climbing all over and imagining armies attacking. While we visited this castle, music from a brass band drifted up to us from the bull ring in the city below. The cafe at this castillo was truly excellent, too. 

We rented a minivan and traveled easily around the south of Spain. We took a long drive (over an hour) from Malaga to visit El Torcal, a natural park featuring an incredible limestone landscape. We took a longer hike than we intended but we have some excellent memories looking for the Robot and being found by a fox, un zorro, during the hot, spectacular hike.

The roads were so easily to travel. They were wide, well-marked and well-lit. The landscape looked incredibly Californian, but the road signs reminded us we were in a different part of the world. We explored the options of day trips to visit Northern Africa, but felt the trips would be really tiring on our younger children.

Instead of day trips to North Africa, we took day trips around Andalucia. One trip took us to Granada, the city that Queen Isabella described as "jewels scattered on a hill" and compared to the seeds of a pomegranate. During lunch, I felt this little piece of graffiti captured a great message for our whole family.

In Granada, we were lucky to secure a time slot to visit the Nasri Palace in the Alhambra. The boys were prepared for this experience - well-fed and warned - so we had a much better time here than on some other museum trips. The Courtyard of Lions was a real point of interest as were the elaborate geometrical designs in even the most hidden spaces of the palace.

We were in Spain at the start of the World Cup, and it was everywhere. On televisions, news, in hotels, shops - everywhere. The boys loved it, and frankly so did we. The country of Spain didn't love it so much when their team was knocked out early. Awkward!

Despite Spain losing so early, our boys were still soccer crazy and were so eager to collect a variety of player kits and balls everywhere we went. We made sure to find some open space for them to run around and imagine they were the stars of the World Cup. Here you see Neymar facing off against Ronaldo on the grassy lawn of a university near our hotel in Barcelona.

The architecture of Barcelona was a serious highlight to our trip, and I could post more photos than you'd ever want to see. But I'm just going to share this tantalizing image from our visit to Gaudi's Casa Batllo in Barcelona. The House of Bones, as it's often nicknamed, is in a high end part of town and worth a visit. We took a chance with this visit, we weren't sure our boys would be able to behave and they weren't sure they wanted to take the house tour, but we decided to try it! We told them "Vamos, atrĂ©vete!" And it was worth it. Each boy got an audio tour set and they loved winding their way through the incredible rooms and listening to the detailed descriptions of how the walls, windows, door, stair rails - just everything! - was designed so precisely. We found mushrooms, bones, mollusks, dragons and waves incorporated into every aspect of the house. The boys were also inspired by Gaudi's innovative cooling and lighting techniques.  Our middle son was a bit miffed that only Dad got the super fancy visual tour that included a mini-tablet to carry around and view the house as it looked when it was a home.

Since the boys were so engaged learning about Gaudi's Casa Batllo, we decided to take them to the Joan Miro Foundation museum and do the audio tours there, too! Though the boys hadn't behaved very well during our visit to Picasso's museum in Malaga, we thought perhaps they were ready for Miro. And they were, mostly. Miro's work is so colorful and there are some huge pieces to view. The audio tour here included small movies on the device to help explain the creation of some of the pieces and they loved the video that came along with "The Navigator's Hope." Could it be our children were experiencing a love of art? Certainly the description of Miro's "The Caress of a Bird" caught their attention. Perhaps it was the soccer ball used to represent a woman's buttocks or a toilet seat as her chest, but they certainly remembered this piece of Catalan culture.

Not all of our museum visits were this easy. Our trip to the Picasso museum in Malaga had some behavior troubles and I think the boys were tired and hungry. But even though they weren't at their best, we realized they were absorbing something during every visit. Take a look at this doodle by my middle son, titled "Animals Everywhere." I can see an influence!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Try It! Gladiator Rock'n Run Comes to Pittsburgh

Last year I had a chance to participate in my first obstacle mud run. While most of the time I was scared, unhappy and uncomfortable at the end of the race I was pretty damn proud of myself.

Do you want that feeling? I'm here to help. I am holding in my hot little blogging hands a free pass to the Gladiator Rock'n Run that is happening in just outside of Pittsburgh on September 20!

Excited? Here's a scary photo of people happily jumping through flames.

Luckily mud isn't flammable. 

If you're staring at this image thinking "OMG! That could be me!" Then you need to sign up for this race. The promise "a memory that will echo into eternity." Damn.

Here's the scoop:

Former American Gladiator Dan “Nitro” Clark has organized an obstacle course race fit for only the most daring competitors– the Gladiator Rock’n Run.  This extreme, 15-obstacle challenge will be returning to the Steel City Raceway, 290 Story Road in Export, PA, on Saturday, September 20. The first wave of participants will begin at 8 a.m. with waves going off every half hour until 12:30 p.m. (competitive wave at 8:30 a.m.)
The course challenges all participants to conquer extreme obstacles and harsh terrain, then to celebrate their conquests with a post race party filled with music, beer and food. Entry fee is $65 until September 12. Late Entry is $75 until September 19 and Late Late Entry is $90 the day of the event, if spots are still available.
During the 3.5 mile course, participants will race through fiery flames in the Gladiator BBQ, blast through a waist-deep icy pool of water in the Polar Bear Plunge and slither along on their bellies through a trough of mud in the Mud Madness Challenge. There are also two nightmare mystery obstacles, and many other thrilling feats. Those too skeptical to participate are still invited to come check it out— the course was built to accommodate spectators.
Gladiator Rock’n Run organizer, Dan “Nitro” Clark, says that while the course might sound intimidating, he created the run to keep people healthy and fit, and encourages people with varying fitness levels to come out and give it a try.
“The inspiration for Gladiator Rock’n Run arose from my desire to create an unforgettable fitness experience that participants would not only come back to year after year, but would also tell their friends about,” said Clark. “It’s an extension of my life’s passion to put America on the path to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life.”
A portion of this year's proceeds from The Gladiator Rock’n Run will benefit Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).
For more information and registration, please visit,

Want to win that free registration? Get busy on the Rafflecopter entry options below.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Elmer's Glue and a Roaring Good Craft

This summer, I was so excited that our What to Do Cube was featured in a Family Fun magazine article. I was even more excited when a representative of Elmer's Glue contacted me and asked if I was interested in learning more about their Let's Bond initiative. Their research showed that "activities like a simple, 20-minute craft using just a few materials yield countless academic benefits leading to long-term success in school subjects like math, reading and writing."

The Let's Bond campaign not only shares the results of their research but also offers some simple craft ideas perfect for moms like me who want to do crafts, but have trouble finding time. 

And did I mention these crafts are simple? If you read my blog, you know I have big dreams when it comes to crafting and there are lots of crafts I wish I could do. But those little craft setbacks don't stop me from coming up with random ideas for kids' crafts, costumes and projects!

So of course I said I'd love to take a look at the craft kit that Elmer's puts together for younger learners through their Early Learners Academy. When it arrived, my youngest was thrilled with the classic lunchbox style. He dove right in and unpacked the supplies. 

He was actually very surprised that the glue sticks were not round. And that was the point! I learned that these glue sticks are uniquely shaped to promote proper grip of writing utensils. My sister-in-law said her mom would love a full set of these for her preschool classroom! My youngest also liked the purple color of the glue. He knew exactly where he had already spread glue and when it was dry. 

I showed him the picture of the finished craft, a Lion Mosaic made from torn paper and glued onto a brown paper bag. He was thrilled to make a lion but he did NOT want to make it on the paper bag! Instead he got to work right away in my office as I sat next to him and talked about his ideas. He didn't actually need my help, and I don't think he wanted me to do anything for him. Instead, I think he loved the fact that he was able to show me his skills. We had seen a lot of different kinds of art on our recent vacation and so creating his own design and talking about why he was using a certain color or gluing a certain piece of paper in that specific place really validated the whole project. 

As I observed him turning his idea into a beautiful creation, I thought about what else his nimble little fingers will create in the future. I enjoyed his answers to my questions about what the lion was feeling ("happiness") and where the lion lived ("the savannah") and if he wanted to be an artist ("I already am"). I know that doing these kinds of crafts helps develop his fine-motor skills and his language skills, but I really think there were some benefits for me, too.

I felt calmer and happier watching him work. He didn't need my help and didn't want it, but that didn't frustrate me or make me feel left out. Instead I felt pride at his self-confidence and willingness to try. I was actually impressed he didn't feel the need to follow the predesigned project (even though it is super-cute) but that he wanted to implement his own unique design. It was such a positive experience for both us that it inspired me to do more crafts with all of the boys this summer.

I picked up some modeling clay and we laughed together mixing colors and making crazy shapes. We finished up some wooden models and tackled painting them. All of these craft projects took some time and meant I had to let the laundry sit unfolded (no biggie) or put off another chore until later. But the time we shared was priceless. And I definitely feel like we bonded.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Scarlett DNF

The calm before the freak-out
I like to try new things because I feel there is always something to be learned from those experiences, even if we learn that we don’t like something. Yesterday I had to learn how it feels to DNF. Unlike poor Hester Prynne, no crowd gathered to disparage and mock me. In fact, I don’t think anyone there outside of my family knew or cared that I didn’t finish. But I care and right after I pass through this phase of humiliation and regret I hope to move on to learning how to handle other such freak-outs.

What really has me frustrated is that I base my courage to do a lot of things in life on my physical activities. I finished the MuckFest course, of course I can finish writing a novel in a month! I finished an Olympic distance triathlon, of course I can read my poetry out loud!

So if I use physical success to boost my courage in other endeavors, how do I apply a physical failure to other endeavors?

Presque Isle Triathlon

I registered for the Presque Isle triathlon a few weeks ago, excited about the flat, fast bike and run course. And the swim in the bay didn't worry me.

My run and bike training has been good but problems with the skin around my eyes has made it hard for me to get in the pool. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to swim with goggles for the first two weeks of August, so my swims were basically some half-effort head-above-water kicking and pulling drills.

As the race neared, I wondered if I should do it. We were out every night the week leading up to race. Then I had some kind of stomach distress on Wednesday and Thursday and I decided Thursday night not to do the race.

Friday I felt better and guilty for skipping the race. Two things happened: the race my husband wanted to do was sold out. And the Magic 8 Ball said “yes.”

The pit crew for Racer 161
So I scrambled last minute to get our hotel reservation back, pack up the three kids, pack up all my tri gear, get gas in the car and get dinner for the road. I made record time on the drive to Erie. We visited the race site Friday night. The water was cool but welcoming. Gentle waves caressed the pebbly beach. I found my transition rack and spent the evening prepping my gear and mentally reviewing my race plan.

Race morning we were rushing, but it couldn’t be helped. I squeezed my bike on the rack and laid out my gear. I found a fellow runner from Pittsburgh who was doing his first triathlon and gave him a pep talk, which I now feel was hypocritical and ironic.

The race director announced that the current was strong enough to change the direction of the swim. No problem - buoys on my right, not left. Yellow swim cap on. I cheered and clapped going into the fog-blanketed water. I was pumped! A small chill ran up my spine but the temperature was manageable. I could do this. I even had the multisport feature on my Garmin set correctly! I attempted a few freestyle strokes but waves crashed on my face. I spluttered and surfaced, frustrated. I decided to breaststroke to the start buoy.

We started. I tried my freestyle. Waves rocked me. I couldn’t get into a rhythm. I coughed and choked on water. Switched to breaststroke. My chest felt tight and I couldn’t get my face underwater. I would go under, breathe out, surface to breathe in and get more water in my face.

I started to worry, then get scared. The first buoy seemed so far away. And for the first time, I called to a guard for help. I clung to his float.

I started again. Made it to a kayak. The woman in the kayak talked to me calmly and it helped me relax a little. I got the courage to make the turn around the first buoy and she was waiting for me.

“You’re doing great,” she said as I clung to her kayak again.

I talked about my kids to the woman in the kayak. I told her how I had encouraged them to push past their fears in swim lessons this summer.

My foggy goggles made the next buoy seem far. I contemplated going for the next kayak, the white one.

The jet-ski and patrol boat hovered close. I couldn’t calm down. I said I wanted to stop. The woman in the kayak raised her paddle and the jet ski picked me up.

As soon as I climbed up on the deck of the jet ski, I regretted it.

I looked back and my first thought was “It’s not that far!”

But it was too late.

I emerged from the water and began the long walk of shame down the pier to let the race officials know I was out. I was sure everyone was staring at me and whispering “DNF” behind my back. It’s not like I was injured. I was just scared and couldn’t tap into any calming self-talk. Race volunteers who saw me sobbing gave me water and told me I could finish the bike and swim on my own, not officially timed. Maybe I should have, but at that moment my spirit was broken.

I felt guilty for dragging my husband and kids two hours to Erie to watch me fail. Later at lunch, I fished for reassurance from my husband asking him if he would be disappointed if I DNF'ed my lunch, too. He has been awesome through this whole challenging (disappointing!) experience.

With a little help from my friends.
And then of course, there's the boys. When they saw me crying, the boys burst into tears. I got lots of hugs even in my soggy wetsuit.

“I’m sorry you’re sad, Mommy,” my middle son wailed. “But can we still go to that sandy beach like you promised?”

I said of course, because life goes on.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Glowgolf Review and Giveaway!

Have you seen the new Glowgolf place near Ross Park Mall on McKnight Road? We drive by it frequently and my kids begged me to take them there. Right after school got out we attempted to visit but they weren't open yet. Later on in the summer we headed back and finally got our glow on. 

And since you're here reading this post, you get a chance to get some glow on, too because I'm giving away free passes!

Finding Glowgolf is easy. Head up McKnight Rd and take the first entrance into the mall. Don't head toward Ross Park Mall - Glow Golf is in a building outside the main mall area that used to be a furniture store. (How's that for Pittsburgh-style directions? "You know where the old furniture store was?")

Right inside the doors the boys were eager to try the Laser Maze. We had to buy tokens since Laser Maze was not included in the golf price, but my two oldest were really excited to try it out. The staff explained how Laser Maze works: You put in your token, select your skill level and then try to move through the maze of lasers to touch a glowing button at the other side of the small, dark room. Then you have to make your way back and touch a glowing button near the entrance. Spectators watch you move through the maze on a small television. My older boys did this three times each. They really wished the room was bigger so the maze could be longer.
Neon clothes are a must! 
Then we moved on to golfing. We picked clubs and the staff person explained how to charge up your golf ball so it has extra-super glow. Frankly, the younger boys were a bit more interested in finding the glow charging stations than golfing, but they did golf. Sometimes. There are three different courses, but they weren't named when we were there so I can't actually tell you which one we did. Some of the holes were pretty challenging but I tried to push the boys to think about angles and vectors. No summer slide for us! Each boy got a hole-in-one at some point along the course. 

Glow Bracelets were included

The great parts about Glowgolf are the air conditioning, the indoor bathrooms, the lack of insects and the lack of weeds where one might lose a ball. The tough parts were the fact that at the time we went, there was no real guide on how to follow our assigned course, so we ended up doing hole 12 a few times because we wandered onto the other courses. Also, despite the few glow art pieces the interior really does still look like a furniture store. But the staff assured me when the glow tape they ordered arrived the courses would be better marked. And my kids didn't care that it looked like we were in a furniture store at all.

The Spinning Starfish was a tough hole
Glowgolf is great for days when the weather keeps you inside (like, this entire summer??) and it really does offer a fun afternoon or evening getaway. I think there is a lot of room for setting more of a scene and ambiance, but again that's me being picky. My kids didn't care at all. And we received Frequent Player Cards (fifth game is free!) and $1.00 off coupons for our next visit. Here's what the boys said:

Youngest: "Really cool."
Oldest: "Awesome!"
Middle: "Kinda good. The golf balls didn't stay glowing long enough. I had to keep recharging mine."

If your kids are restless and need a recharge, I'm giving away two free passes to Glowgolf on McKnight Road. Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

2014 Bookworm Triathlon Race Review

 July was a busy race month for me! I did the Sweet Sprint, the YMCA Butler Triathlon, and then the Scottdale Library Bookworm Triathlon on three consecutive weekends. It was tiring but it was also tons of fun. And I couldn't miss a triathlon that supported a local library. Triathlons and books and my favorite guys: a perfect combo.

The Bookworm Triathlon offered a new thing for me to try: a triathlon relay team. Since my husband hurt his leg he couldn't run and he still avoids swimming, so I did the swim and the run while he rocked the bike. It was awesome being on a team with the coolest guy I know.

But it was also the first time we had a pit crew: our boys! We had a great plan - I'd swim and my husband would keep an eye on the boys while they all cheered, then when he got on the bike I'd take over watching them and then he'd take over again while I ran.

The race was pretty short: 300 yd swim, 15 mile bike and 3.1 run. This event also offers a Super Sprint and a Duathlon. I was hoping to get more details on how the relay would work and what time our heat would start. Unfortunately almost all of the emails from the race director went into my spam folder. So we headed down as early as we could manage with the kids in tow.

 It was drizzling rain and and the race organizers were very friendly and we were able to get the van into a spot right next to the transition area. Check-in happened in the library and the bathrooms were super clean - bonus! Things were a little confusing when it came to body marking (because I hadn't received the earlier emails) and we didn't know if we were in the Over-100 or Under-100 Relay group. Did we add our ages three times? Or only two? We went with  adding our ages twice since there were only two of us on the relay team.

The pool was in the community center right next to the library. Very convenient - but still I almost missed the start of my swim heat! There was no time to warm up in the pool so I jogged a lot to get my heart rate up and when I could get in the pool, I did one or two quick laps. The pool tasted salty, not like a regular chlorinated pool. There were four big lanes with three people swimming in each lane. I was happy with my time, 6:20, and a teensy bit happy that I beat everybody in my lane, and one lady in the lane next to me!

 My nine-year old was my official race photographer and he captured some seriously funny photos of me swimming, as well as a classy slo-mo video.

We had to run to the door of the pool and pass the timing chip off to our relay partners. My husband grabbed the timing chip and headed across the small road into the transition area in the parking lot. He was able to run across some carpets but he did have to cover a good bit of asphalt in his bike shoes. He had a great bike time, around 45 minutes, and I was able to keep track of him using Find My Friends.

He described the bike ride as "Nice ride, leave small town USA, ride through country back into town down hill hell-bent for leather."

The boys read books, ate snacks and argued with each other in the van.

After the bike, my husband had to rack his bike and then run to the bike exit to hand me the chip.
Then I set out on the run. The run was an out-and-back that had a nice little downhill to a trail in town that was nice and flat. There was a little problem on the course where the paved trail ended and a small gravel trail shot off to the right. At least two people didn't turn right but turned around at that point. I kept going and found the actual turn around point.

I finished, which meant climbing the small uphill back to the race staging area, and felt great about my time, 24:46. Our overall time was 1:19 and we were very proud. We thought we had a decent chance of winning our relay group. But when the results were posted a team had a time of 59 minutes! We were pretty surprised a team could have beaten us by 20 minutes. We weren't super-fast, but where could they take twenty minutes from us?

After the race we enjoyed a really delicious snack selection of tons of fresh fruit, protein bars, cookies and more. And don't forget the Bookworm part of this event. Next to the library was a lovely gazebo and some benches that were memorials to people who supported the library. One had a really perfect quote for our family: "More blessed than me you can never be, for I had a mother who read to me."

We waited around in the off-and-on rain through the awards ceremony hoping to come home with medals. At the very end of the ceremony, the race director explained there was a problem with the relay timing and they'd send us our medals. And they did…three medals in three separate envelopes, all of which were torn in the delivery process and put into those special plastic bags the post office uses when there's a problem. Some say "Over 100" and some say "Under 100" but we don't mind. Really we just had fun racing on the same team together.

My oldest thought we should give the medals to Dad because he doesn't have as many as me (ha!) and my youngest was thrilled that we had a medal for swimming, biking and running. He loves wearing our race medals and running around the house.

Overall, there were some hiccups during the event but nothing terrible. The organizers were friendly, answered all our questions and it was great we were able to bring the boys. I'd really consider doing this event again next year with my favorite racing teammate.