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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Travel to Ireland with Kids - 2014 version

We are so lucky to have family in Ireland. And when a beloved aunt and uncle plan a celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary, we knew it was the perfect time to make a trip back to Ireland to see all of our family.

Our last trip to Ireland was in 2011 and the boys were very young. Our youngest and middle, while they had fun, had no memories of Ireland and our oldest had the uncomfortable memory of barfing on the streets of Cork. We assured him that wasn't likely to happen again and hopped on the plane to Shannon.

On the way over to Ireland, my middle son asked if we might just have fun and if I could not try to make them learn something on this trip. I told him I couldn't promise anything.

The high jinx began upon arrival. Despite their sleep deprivation (the flight over is a mere 5 hours) the boys were eager to start taking funny photos.

Here's a photo of the boys and myself at Blarney Castle in Blarney village, County Cork. This visit was in July 2011 and the castle was just crawling with tourists and visitors. The lines to get into the castle were staggering and in no way appropriate for a family with young children, so we skipped a climb and instead explored the grounds.

But in October 2014, the castle was almost deserted! So after waking everyone up from a quick nap we strolled over to the castle, grabbed a cup of tea and some snacks, and made our way into the castle. Things had really changed. Where my boys had run on grass straight up to the base of the castle a chain now blocked the area off. Badger's Cave, once dark and intimidating, was now lit with a bouncy little wooden walkway, wasn't as dark but still intimidating. And the castle was ours to explore. We wound our way up the steep stone stairs to the ramparts and gazed over the countryside.

We stayed in Co. Cork for most of our visit and spent a lovely afternoon at Fitzgerald Park near UCC visiting my husband's cousin and his lovely wife and three daughters. The playground looked the same as when we were there in 2011, but my boys enjoyed it so much differently. While earlier they had been content on slides, see-saws and that spinning circle now all they wanted to do was kick the soccer ball that came as carry-on in a backpack or make themselves sick on the tire swing. Two of my boys were shy around their newly-met cousins, but one made friends rather quickly. One guess as to which boy made friends first.

By the time the party rolled around, there were unfamiliar faces every where. Introducing my children usually went something like, "This is my oldest son, he's nine, then my middle, age seven,…" etc. So after a few rounds of that, my middle soon took over and answered for himself and then followed up by asking adults THEIR names and how old THEY were. He's a delightful child.  My boys loved meeting and playing with all the cousins.

The Irish food agreed with them very much, especially the Pringles and candy found in every siopa, or shop. I had to remind them we weren't in Spain and they didn't have to call Fanta Lemon "Fanta Limon" anymore, but they couldn't break the habit. I was a little surprised to find Finn McCool bars. I didn't have one, but I did pick up a Wellington Square at a shop near Beal na Blath - where we squeezed in a little learning - and was not overly impressed.

While in Cork City we did get a chance to cross something off my Irish bucket list - a visit to the Butter Museum! We squeezed in a little more learning at this museum near the famous Shandon Bells and where the butter market used to be. While it's a small little museum it tells the grand story of how Irish butter, once a small disorganized production system evolved into the massive globally recognized Kerrygold brand. I was incredibly impressed by that bit of history and also impressed by this thousand-year old crock of bog butter. They did not offer tastings at this time.

A highlight of this visit for me was the trip to Cloghroe, the small farm and pub that belonged to my mother-in-law's family for years. Her family doesn't own it anymore but we were permitted to walk the land and we visited Lady's Bridge where the train had once stopped. Now it's nothing but a dirt road, but the blackberries she picked with her brothers and sisters still grow there and still taste as good. This farm is the setting for a love story I've written and I was glad to see it for myself and discover small wonderful details to add to the story.

As for souvenirs, the boys were addicted to acquiring playing cards, called Match Attax,  featuring English Premier League players. Wherever we went they would sniff them out and the lovely Irish servers  at the hotel around the corner from where we stayed gave them tips on which ones to trade and not trade. The boys also got their hands on a bodhran and a whistle and formed their own band. They practiced their instruments for over an hour on the drive from Cork to Feakle, County Clare.

We capped off our whirlwind tour with a visit to a cousin's farm in County Clare. The children rode on a tractor and chased cows in a field. We all climbed a massive hill that gave us clear views of the river Shannon to our right and Lough Derg to our left. We traipsed through a pine forest so dense that light streamed through only at the trunks in straight, striking lines. It was an unforgettable evening that ended too soon.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Try It: Pumpkin Soup

Sometimes I ride the pumpkin crazy-train. I'm not buying Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes but I did try the Chocolate Pumpkin Coffee at my local coffee shop, Coffee Buddha. I made some pumpkin spice cookies and roasted pumpkin seeds. And I devoured my friend's $20,000 pumpkin applesauce.

But after I saw this video from, I decided to try something really pumpkin: Pumpkin Soup cooked IN a pumpkin.

I'm not a great cook and recipes often frustrate me because they leave out important information, like saying it only takes 20 minutes to prepare while leaving out all the time it takes to chop zillions of vegetables. And I get so easily distracted. Cooking requires a feel for food that I just lack. But after watching this video I felt inspired! It seemed so easy!

(Spoiler Alert: I probably didn't make the best decisions for this project. Another reason the kitchen isn't where I shine.)

Last week my oldest was home for two days with pneumonia and I had to go to Walgreens to pick up some medicine for my son. And I saw they were selling pumpkins! And - get this - I already had a sliced leek in the fridge! It seemed like fate was telling me to make this soup.

I don't know much about the different kinds of pumpkins, but the recipe (that I didn't read until later) mentions a "cake" pumpkin. The ones at Walgreens weren't labeled as specific pumpkins, but I grabbed one, took it home, and cleaned it out.

I gathered up the chicken stock, garlic, herbs, and pulled my pre-chopped leek out of the fridge.

Then we dumped in the ingredients just like the video described and popped the pumpkin in the oven.

Then we took it right back out because I forgot the parmesan cheese.

Then we put it back in, right on the rack. Later, when I read the recipe they describe putting it on a baking sheet, but that key detail was left out of the video.

 While the pumpkin soup was cooking, I let my four-year old explore pumpkin guts. He also eventually sorted out the seeds for me. Later, after the pumpkin soup was out of the oven, I roasted them to dry them out but forgot the important step of rinsing them first, so they were sort of burnt. I ate a few anyway, out of defiance. They were still pretty good with butter and salt and small bits of burnt pumpkin flesh.

As the soup cooked, the house was filled with this incredible aroma. Everyone thought it smelled good. The kids were actually getting excited to try this soup. But then I opened the oven and they got their first look at the pumpkin. They were devastated. Kids eat with their eyes SO MUCH that this shriveled, burnt, diseased looking pumpkin outweighed their olfactory senses and turned them right off to this dinner. Also, I couldn't get the pumpkin off the rack, so I had to drag the entire rack out of the oven and put it on our cooktop. 

Inside the pumpkin, the soup still smelled amazing. Luckily I can see past the exterior and find the beauty inside things. As I scooped the soup out of the pumpkin, two of my kids became interested in trying the soup again, but the middle child had long abandoned any hope of eating this dinner and was buried up to his midsection in the pantry looking for goldfish crackers.
I scraped out as much pumpkin flesh as possible and then served three cups of pumpkin soup with croutons. The reactions were varied: My youngest loved the croutons soaked in broth, topped with more parmesan cheese. My oldest cried when he saw it and said he didn't think he could eat it. I ate it but didn't enjoy chewing the leeks and the pumpkin flesh wasn't that smooth. I actually had to bite into it, which I didn't expect. My middle son and my husband never even gave it a chance. 

After dinner, I decided to modify the results and creamed all the ingredients together. I also added some chili powder to give it little more spice. I had it for a few more meals but couldn't finish this quantity of soup on my own. I don't know how much of this recipe depended on the kind of pumpkin used. Maybe I didn't cook it enough to soften the flesh but I did cook it enough to burn the outside. If I did this again I might cook it longer at a lower temp. 

Yet again, I learned that there are some instinctive qualities that go into making one an excellent cook and that I probably just don't have those. But that doesn't stop me from trying!

If you make this soup and it's a raging success, let me know what you did differently. And give me some.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Etiquette Tips for Babies

A very good friend of mine is welcoming her third baby this winter and several friends have welcomed new babies into their families. I'm thrilled for them and I'm also thrilled to offer the one thing all new parents just love: advice. But this advice isn't for you Mommy and Daddy, it's for your New Arrival. 

As a new parent, we have access to numerous experts online, in books and magazines to help us navigate the needs of our newborn. But what help is available for new babies? How do they learn the proper behavior and etiquette for this wide, wonderful world? Here are a few tips on the basics of baby etiquette that will help in even the toughest social situation.

Interpersonal relations – Things like eye contact and personal space are two key aspects of interpersonal relationships. But what rules apply to babies? 

  • Let’s say you’re at a power lunch and your dining companions are boring you. Feel free to look away and completely ignore what they are saying. You can even fall asleep! If they still don’t get the hint, crying at the top of your lungs is a failsafe method to getting their butts out of their chairs and catering to your every need. 
  • The same rule applies to personal space: it's your way or the highway. If someone gets too close, you can swat, push, punch and squirm to get away. This is also encouraged if the person has bad breath, isn’t holding you correctly, or just isn’t Mommy or Daddy. Don’t worry; it’s not rude to scream really loud in this situation. Go with your instincts.

Mealtimes - There are numerous rules regarding polite dining, and one should eventually learn which one is the salad fork and how to operate the oyster tongs. But as a baby, your rules are slightly different. 

  • If a meal is taking too long to prepare, shouting, yelling and banging your hands on any surface are appropriate ways to communicate your displeasure. Intense wailing that turns your face fire engine red is a good way to ask, “Pardon me, but is it almost ready? I’m quite famished.”
  • During meals, don’t be too shy to pass gas, burp, urinate, or release your bowels as loud as humanly possible. Enjoy yourself, Baby! Relax! Don’t worry about the proximity of others to your rear end and just fire away. It’s a special compliment to the chef to belch after eating. 
  • Here’s a hint when you feel spit-up is imminent: smiling as the liquid mess dribbles down your chin and on to your new clothes is a sure way to avoid any embarrassment. Your hosts will laugh and may even join in the fun!

Here are a few other miscellaneous points of etiquette to keep in mind:

  • When others are talking, and it’s not about you, do your best to get their attention. Again, crying is a useful tool; don’t hesitate to reach for those higher decibels.
  • Grabbing at people is a fine way to remind others you are there. Go for mouths, hair and eyes. If a man is holding you and he just doesn’t seem to notice you, chest hair is your best target.
  • While not in vogue for most adults, urinating or pooping on others is generally ok for you, Baby. Again, follow this up with a charming smile, and if possible add a heart-melting “ah-goo” or giggle and you won’t have to worry about being burned in the society column of the newspaper. 

Baby etiquette isn't all that tricky. Honestly, behavior that would get other people locked up or at least permanently shunned is all the fashion for Babies in the Know.  Every family is different and you may have to ad-lib on a few occasions, but these tips should help make your social debut absolutely unforgettable!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pittsburgh Great Race and Racing in 2014

Last year at this time my foot was in a boot and it was hard for me to even walk around. But this year I'm celebrating a very decent time at the Great Race and feeling good about upcoming events. For the Great Race, I wasn't quite sure what my pace would be. I decided to be conservative and aim to go under 55:00 and expected I'd maintain a pace of 8:45.

It was a gorgeous morning and even though I thought the race started at 9:00am (but it didn't start until 9:30am) I realized I was moving along faster than my goal pace at the 5K. I decided to hold it and push it as long as I could and finished in 51:31! It was satisfying to be faster than my goal but also a little irritating to be that close to going under 50:00.

But really I'm thrilled with this race. And as I looked back over my racing calendar I realized this has been a big year for me! I've completed the most amount of races I've done since my "return" to racing in 2011. I completed a total of six events this year and my calendar was a nice mix of old favorites and some new events. I also had my first DNF, which was a very uncomfortable new experience. But my year of racing isn't over yet: I still have the Buffalo Creek Half Marathon waiting for me October 18.

I use Athlinks to keep track of my race results and compare them from year to year. It's so wonderful to have a website do this work for me.

I'm already thinking about my 2015 calendar.

In January, I know I want to repeat the JCC Indoor Triathlon. I even invited Charlie Batch to try it with me this year.

In February I really want to do the Running out of Our Mines 5K.

March is open, but April will always belong to the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.

I've formed a relay team for the DSG Pittsburgh Marathon in May and I'll do Riverview 5K in June. Will I ever go under 25 in that race?

July was a busy month for me this year in racing, so I will have to make some choices. If I'm swimming again I'd like to do the YMCA Butler Tri but I was thinking I could do the Sweet Sprint with my kids! At least the older ones.

August might be tricky, because I know my husband really wants to do the Run Around the Square, and I'll be ramping up for the Presque Isle Marathon in September.

I'll have to see how I feel after that race but I'd love to squeeze in some fun 5Ks in October, November and December.

When it comes to racing do you like to go big? Or go often?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Loneliness of the Heart Rate Monitor Runner

At the end of a long (very long) and chilly (very chilly) and rainy (very rainy!) run, a V of geese passed overhead. I watched them speed across the sky, the lead goose cutting through the air, the trailing gooses drafting off the others.

The V moved away and then I heard the solitary honking of a goose without a V, struggling to journey on it's own, no fellow geese to help.

I see you, solitary goose. I am you. I am a Heart Rate Monitor Runner.

Running with a heart rate monitor is the ultimate in personal training. Every workout is attuned to the precise fitness level of the runner. I only run as fast as I'm supposed to based on my heart rate zones. It's incredible because it's like no workout is wasted.

It's also pretty darn lonely.

I love running and everything it helps me do in life. I love my coach and all the support she offers. She's the one who encouraged me to get back into wearing a heart rate monitor. (I got my first heart rate monitor back in around fourteen years ago when my husband gave it to me camouflaged as fanny pack.)

But I also like running with people. I like to chat! My high school and college running friends can confirm this. And it's often easier to run with friends. But not when you're a Heart Rate Monitor Runner.

I can't blow off a workout that my coach has given me and just run with someone else. My literal,  somewhat obsessive personality makes it really difficult for me to say, "I'm supposed to do an easy zone 2 run, but my friend needs to run at a pace that puts me in zone 3. Oh well, I'll just run in zone 3."

I'm too rigid about following instructions to deviate! I don't have any room in my running to just run with a friend. It's kind of a bummer. And I have such a busy schedule I don't feel I can waste a chance to run by not having it contribute in some way to my goals. And these zone 2 runs are really paying off, I believe. I'm really able to give it my all during speed work sessions because I've recovered on my easy days.

Recently I saw a post from a friend on Facebook that talked about the glory of a "naked trail run." Not that kind! She ran without her Garmin, no music, no watch. Just the trail and a run. It sounds nice, but it also freaks me out!

Last month I had a chance to run the roads near my high school. Back then I never wore a heart rate monitor, and I wasn't exactly a leader on the team. I practiced every day but the practices were designed for the whole team, probably some of them weren't 'right' for me at the time. Maybe I ran them 'wrong.' But I had a lot of fun. I chatted with my friends, loved the socializing and felt good about myself.

I don't get a lot of socializing via running anymore, but my workouts are more focused, more useful in helping me achieve personal goals. I get my socializing in other ways, and I do talk to other moms and women who run, but there's a lot of comparison and a bit of tension.

So if you see me out of the roads, me and my Garmin chugging along, join me for a mile. Chat with me, or listen to my chatter if you don't mind it. I can talk a lot when I'm running in Zone 2. If my pace is too slow or you need to do speed work I will wish you luck and watch you speed away. But don't be freaked if I honk, because I'm just a lonely goose on a journey.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How to Make Mom Friends (Hint: Get to The Mom Con!)

I love being a mom. Most of the time it's incredible, with some definite tough spots. You know what else is tough? Making mom friends. There are so many chances for me to bring up my opinions on a topic important to moms and offend someone.
  • I have mom friends who don't vaccinate their kids and mine get every shot offered.
  • My kids love almost all kinds of meats and I have mom friends who are serious vegans.
  • I take my kids to CCD, and I have a mom friends who tell their kids God doesn't exist.
  • I have mom friends who give their kids smartphones and tablets of their own and my kids have strict time limits on screen devices.
  • I have mom friends who adamantly only breastfeed and other mom friends who wouldn't even try breastfeeding.
  • I have mom friends who believe spanking is discipline and other mom friends who literally never run out of patience or yell at their kids. 
  • I have mom friends who delight in homeschooling and unschooling, ones who rage against Common Core and other mom friends who don't make their kids finish homework. 
  • I volunteer for a Moms Demand Action and ask if there are guns in homes when my children are invited for playdates while other moms take their kids hunting!
Do you see the mine field I'm walking here? 

Despite these potential obstacles, I still feel like I need mom friends. And that's why I'm going to The Mom Con. 

The Mom Con is happening right in Pittsburgh, PA on November 14 and 15 at Pittsburgh Marriott North.
I've already attended one pre-event meet up of moms who will be at The Mom Con and I'm thrilled to be involved. There are all kinds of moms in the world. But I'm the kind of mom who likes to model the behavior I expect from my children, and one thing I expect us all to do is treat others with respect even if we disagree. I also like to model understanding where people are coming from and how to have a thoughtful conversation with someone who has different opinions.

This is what The Mom Con is all about. Read this description:
"The Mom Con is a day to get inspired by our speakers, empowered with new ideas, and connect with each other in real life. It’s a place for creative + motivated moms to be who they really are."
Interested? Start following them on Twitter and Facebook to get event updates.

There is a definite gap in friendship with many of the mom friends I've made. It's so hard to navigate these relationships. I've even broken-up with mom friends! But I also know I won't learn anything about myself or about others if I stay at home, head buried in the sand, making snarky comments on Twitter. It's important to meet other moms, to try and see their perspective. 

There are some things I won't ever tolerate, like moms who smoke around their kids, letting my kids go to a home where there are guns, and parents who actively perpetuate racism and sexism. 
But there are things I can learn more about, like homeschooling and food choices. There are going to be lots of moms sharing their unique perspectives at The Mom Con and I'm really excited to attend with an open mind and learn new things. I also look forward to making some new friends.

What about you? Do you want to make some new friends, be inspired and empowered? Good! You can join me at The Mom Con at a discount by registering with the code momcon5off. Or you can enter to win two free tickets by entering the Rafflecopter giveaway below! 
This content has been sponsored by the Mom Con.  However, all opinions remain my own.  #momswhorock #themomcon

Friday, September 26, 2014

Try It: $20,000 Pumpkin Applesauce

For the love of pumpkin. It's fall! And we're going pumpkin crazy in America. And my friend Ali  makes some crazy-good pumpkin applesauce.

How good? Ask her 8-year old son.

"This applesauce is so good, you should charge people $20,000 just to smell it!" he advised.

Sure, apples, cinnamon and pumpkin make an appealing aroma. But how does it taste?

"They should pay $80,000 to taste it," her son said.

This recipe is a winner. Luckily she is nice and shared some with us and luckily I am nice enough to share her recipe with you! (She accepts cash, checks and money orders.)

From Ali:
"September is my favorite month in Pittsburgh.  The weather!  Elizabeth’s birthday!  Apple-picking!  Corn mazes! The return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes!  Wait, what’s that you say?  I can’t drink Pumpkin Spice Lattes anymore?   What’s a pumpkin-loving, vegan-leaning mother to do? In my quest to embrace fall without a PSL in hand, I took my kids on an apple-picking adventure to Simmons Farm.  We pulled into the farm’s entrance and drove (and drove) on the back road — and by road I mean narrow dirt path — until we came to the apple orchard.  As we parked on a steep grassy cliff I second-guessed both my plans and my parking brake. Luckily, this story has a happy ending marked by a safe return home and a bushel of handpicked Empire, Braeburn, Golden Delicious and Gala apples.
Back home, I found myself surrounded by too many delicious apples and still craving something pumpkin.  I decided dust off my slow cooker and make something special, healthy and, most importantly, pumpkin-y to share with my family and friends."

Pumpkin Applesauce (modified from this recipe

Prep time:  20 min
Cook time:  6-8 hours
Serves:  Depends on how much you eat!

9-10 medium, peeled, cored, and sliced.  (I prefer to use this handy tool)
1 – 1 ½ Tbsp ground cinnamon
juice of 1 lemon or orange
½ cup water
15 oz can pure pumpkin puree
1 – 1 ½ Tbsp vanilla
¼ cup brown sugar

Add all ingredients to the Crock Pot.
Cover and cook on low (or if your crock pot is like mine, setting it on “keep warm suffices) for 6-8 hours.
Optional: With a potato masher or hand blender, mash/puree the soft apples to desired consistency. Allow applesauce to cool to room temperature and store in the refrigerator. Serve warm or chilled.
$20,000 Pumpkin Applesauce!