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Monday, May 2, 2016

From Mayhem to Magic: Handmade Pasta Class in Pittsburgh

It was a typical Tuesday night in our house: mayhem. One brother was yelling at another for not playing with him (because yelling always make people want to play with you), a second wanted to go over a friend's house. A third wanted to stay home and be by himself. I had just finished a run that I started too late and I was sweaty and had two articles due and wasn't making progress and my husband was going to be arriving home late.

In the midst of the chaos, I reminded everyone we had a family pasta class and received a chorus of complaining groans in response.

"We are going," I told everyone.

As we were walking out the door five minutes after the class was supposed to start, someone had to run back in and use the bathroom.

Yvonne, our teacher, called to ask if we were coming at all. I tried not to yell "WE ARE COMING" into the phone. I barely held it together.

On the drive there I told the kids I would stop booking family activities like this. It wasn't worth listening to their whines.

But when we showed up to the tiny storefront on Babcock and walked inside, everything changed. We were greeted with a classic red and white checked tablecloth, red plates, and a candle burning in a chianti bottle. Bowls of white flour waited for us on gleaming kitchen work tables.

"Put on your aprons," Yvonne told us. We did, and we got right to work.

Our family has made pasta before. In fact, my oldest and I once were part of making the longest pasta noodle in Pittsburgh. But we had never done anything quite like this. It was more than a pasta class. It was an evening of magical family memories.

When Yvonne told us to measure out our flour and eggs right on the table and mix them up, the boys crowed with delight.

"We get to mix it right on the table?" screeched the middle one. "Sensory overload!"

As the flour and eggs transformed into dough, our family relaxed and laughed and chatted. We also learned.

Pasta dough needs to rest and busy families need downtime. As we let our dough sit, Yvonne served up a classic Italian antipasti and showed us incredible pastas from her giant pasta book. We ate and laughed and the boys (and my husband and I) asked endless questions. Everyone was in an amazing mood and the behavior was so positive. Food had worked its magic once more.

We did both hand-rolled and machine-rolled noodles and tasted both kinds. We all agreed it was a tie for favorite.

Cooking the pasta was a real eye-opener for me. Turns out I've been neglecting to salt my water the way Italians do. 

After such delicious food, everyone felt completely satisfied, but Yvonne had more magic up her sleeve and surprised us with dessert. I also learned how to use a Bialetti. It's on my Mother's Day gift list.

We've been fans of Yvonne's pasta and the wonderful oils from the Olive Tap for quite some time, but this was our first class with her. I can't express how much this class changed our moods for the better and how patient she was with our children, even when one of them broke a bowl. She's a mom of three boys, too, and her experience with exuberance was obvious.

If you know what you're doing in the kitchen, take this class.
Get to this pasta class, even if you know what you're doing in the kitchen.

And tell Yvonne we sent you!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bourbon, BBQ, Barf, and the NCAA Sweet Sixteen

It was a rough road trip, quite possibly the toughest vacation we've ever had.

Up until this point, our toughest vacation moments include:

  1. The potential Pinky Severing of 2015
  2. The missed-our-connecting-flight and arrive in shut-down-rural-airport with no transportation
  3. The vacation the youngest almost drowned 
  4. The time I lost all my cash at the start of a two week European vacation and had to mooch off of my boyfriend and his relatives
  5. The treehouse weekend with no hot water
  6. Lost in that Spanish airport looking for a rental car
After examining our top toughest vacation challenges, I believe we have a new top position: the Kentucky Experience. 

We never planned to go to Kentucky, in fact it is probably one of the least likely states for us to ever visit. I assumed we'd be in Arkansas before Kentucky, because I want to visit that national park with all the diamonds laying around. And South Dakota has Mount Rushmore.

It was Easter break, and anyway I wasn't looking forward to seven straight days at home with the kids. I suggested we head to the Omni Bedford Resorts in lovely Bedford, PA.

But when Maryland (Go Terps!) made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003, my husband said Lousivlle, Terps, NCAA and I said "Yay!" 

The drive there was uneventful except for a serious lack of good food along the way. We had a firm plan to stop at a huge liquor store on the way back. Louisville seemed so welcoming with our hotel being within walking distance of a delicious Brazilian restaurant - with bourbon flights! - and a fudgery. Those were halcyon days. 

Our second day also started well with a visit to the distillery where they make Bulleit and bourbon before noon.

Our guide Sylvia gave us great tips for places to visit. Our biggest problem so far was a grouchy kid who quickly flipped 180 degrees back to happy after inhaling two bison tacos. A little rain meant no waterfront playground, but all in all we were still cheerful. Then things went downhill. 

Downtown Louisville, almost back to our hotel. Rushing to avoid a bathroom accident in someone's pants - not mine - I open the van door and the wind catches it, swinging it wide open into traffic. A Cadillac rams into the door, wrenching it past the normal open angle. My husband screams because he thinks my arm has been hit.

I take kids into bathroom, he deals with other driver. 

We go to the pool. The pool is cold. Ugh.

My husband discovers several carbonated beverages I brought exploded in the hotel fridge.

We get dinner at Hard Rock Cafe and head to the MD game.

They lose.

Kids cry. I learn to hate Kansas fans. (Did you know the jayhawk isn't even a real bird?!? They should call it the jay-mock!!!)

Next day we head out to a recommended place for breakfast and our oldest barely eats. I get more bourbon at breakfast. But my oldest kept falling asleep on benches and sprawling on the floor as we dragged him around the Churchill Downs and the Kentucky derby museum and drove him through the cemetery to see Col. Sanders' grave.

His illness finally culminated with him vomiting on the bathroom floor of a really delicious BBQ place called Feast. (I highly recommend dining there but not visiting the men's room.) Needless to say he did not try the smoked tofu. 

Back at the hotel, everyone went to bed early and I went to the fitness room to run and deal with my frustration. I wasn't frustrated with my kids, I was frustrated with myself on how I had handled these stressors. 

Things improved. The kids showed us a silver lining and decided to refocus their interest on Villanova and insisted that they didn't want to sell the tickets, even though my husband and I did. They wanted to see the Elite 8 game.

"When will we get this chance again?" they said.

They were right.

Wildcats devour birds, even fake ones. And it felt so good to watch. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

April is the Cruelest Month

April Fools

Thank God for my kids. Without them, I'm sure life would be so dull. Here's an excerpt of the carried conversation I had recently with my middle son:

Kid: "I'm sure glad I have glasses."
Me: "I know. Imagine living in a time when they didn't have glasses.
Kid: "I have! Everyone would be like, 'watch out, wooly mammoth!' and I'd be like, 'where?' and they'd be like 'Keep looking, buddy!' as they ran away and I'd be like 'where, where?'"
Always the goofy faces

Word Play

I get a lot of writing ideas from my kids. Tons of them. And I'm not afraid to try and sell them. Back in September, I sent an idea from my oldest into one of our favorite kids' magazines and just this week I received the rejection. So I've decided to share this little puzzler with you, readers. 

Can you think of five words that have at least three consecutive letters in alphabetical order? Example: canopy. Post your answers here and good luck!

Family resemblance?


Not mine, this time we're talking about the youngest. Yes, he finally made it on to a soccer team. Last weekend, he was chomping at the bit with three shots during his first game which was held in a snowstorm. Like I mentioned on in the Ultimate Soccer Mom Guide, this isn't baseball.

But things heated up this weekend and the youngest was out there mixing it up and this time he found the back of the net. GOOOOOORAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!

Remembering Boston

It's been three years since my husband and I were at the Boston Marathon. We felt so lucky to be there, him running and me cheering for him and meeting amazing women runners. We were even more lucky not to be near the finish line when the bombs went off. The feelings of fear and panic I felt are still present inside me, and I still feel nervous in crowded public spaces. But I haven't stopped running. 

At the 2013 finish line the day before the race

And now for a little update on my latest addiction.

Subscription Boxes I am Currently Resisting

Subscription Boxes I Have Failed to Resist

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Year of the Wind: 2016 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run

On Sunday, I stood once more at the starting line of the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. This race has become a staple of my race calendar and in years past, I've been grateful just to be on the starting line. It symbolizes a return to running for me. This year, while I wish I had gone about two minutes faster, I'm trying to remember to feel gratitude for the day no matter what.

I was nervous about the race. The wind predictions were ominous. But I got out there and did it. And overall,  I'm glad I ran it even though my final time wasn't exactly what I hoped:

I had really hoped to go under 90 minutes but many people suggested I revise that goal because of the wind. I think the wind did make it harder to finish those last two miles, but I also wonder if I have only myself to blame. Probably both right?

I should be happy I ran faster than last year, which was a shorter distance by quite a lot. But I did want that 1:29:59 or faster time.

If you take a look at the splits from my app, I did run 10 miles under 90 minutes. And I ran one pretty fast split in mile 4 when the wind was at my back!

So this app claims I ran almost a half-mile over 10 miles. It's not totally accurate since it uses GPS, but I'm also sure I didn't run the shortest, most accurate path over the 10 mile course. And you can see I was slowing down because my cadence dropped below my normal rate of 88-89.

My first five miles were great, but I think I have to admit I didn't have the volume of mileage in February and March to carry me through the last five strong and steady. Something I will try to remember for next year!

Many times I forget to be grateful I am able to run. I focus so much on my goals (and falling short of them) I can lose sight of how lucky I am to have the luxury to set goals and work for them. I spend a lot of time worrying about what I should have done during training. The doubts creep on. Did I do the best I could? Was a lazy? Did I slack? But I can't go back and change the past. I can only go forward. 

I also want to remember to be grateful for people who helped me run. I first ran the CUCB with college friends and for a few years after I had friends with me in the race. Not this year. I had friends in the race, but not with me. I felt a little alone in the crowd of 16,000. But then this lady in the light blue hat appeared in front of me. I stayed with her for 6 miles, until a hamstring cramp slowed me down. 

I think of her as my secret mystery running partner. Secret because she didn't know I ran with her. Mystery because I only knew her from the back and was surprised to see I had caught her in this photo! I'm grateful to this mystery running partner for being there and pulling me forward.

I'm also grateful to my husband who brought the kids out to spectate even in the biting cold wind. I was excited the kids could join us this year. We explored the expo and saw famous runners and I got to see my family four times on the course and each time it was a real boost. I also have say how grateful I am for my sister-in-law who bought hand warmers for my boys!! It took away my worries about them.

Last but very far from least, I'm grateful for reaching my fundraising goal. It was not an easy run, and I think that's a good reminder that life isn't easy. Children and families getting treatment at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals probably feel like they are running headfirst, uphill, into a freezing wind, all alone. So I am happy to raise money for them and I grateful to every single person who donated.

While I was thrilled to finish as the top fundraiser for the race, I am sad the race didn't reach its runner goal. If each runner had only donated $10, we would have passed the goal. It seems so easy, doesn't it? But we didn't get there. We didn't even get to halfway! If you didn't get to donate before the race, there is still time. 

All in all, I'm grateful for the ability to run. (Yes I want to be faster. I'll work on it.) I'm even more grateful for the generosity of my friends and family who helped me reach my fundraising goal. Thank you!! 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Don’t Do This on Race Day

Today’s post comes from Sarah Warman of Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on lil Burghers, where I give Becky Willis some advice on being the Ultimate Soccer Mom.

Since 2008 I have amassed a resume of thirty five races including 5ks, 10ks, 10 milers, half marathons and marathons. Over this time period I’ve had many success, personal records and plenty of medals to start a decent collection. I’ve also messed up quite a few things. I’m sharing some of my mistakes so you don’t have to learn the hard way!

1. Don’t put your public transportation ticket into your shorts pockets. If you run a race in a metropolitan area, more than likely you will be using public transportation. Cities tend to close many streets during large running events and driving becomes more trouble than it’s worth. If you put your ticket in your shorts more than likely your perspiration during the race will cause your paper ticket to disintegrate into dozens of pieces. This will leave you actually running past the toll booth like a true bandit.

2. Don’t put your gel packets in your sports bra. This is obviously a tip for the female runners. I have learned this the hard way. In a fit of frustration during a marathon I pulled my irritating gel packets out of the pockets in my shorts and stuffed them into my sports bra. Little did I realize that those gel packets turn into sharp edges during the course of a four hour race. I didn’t even realize it until I got home and saw that I had a bloody sports bra.

3. Don’t wear thick cotton socks. When I played volleyball and basketball, thick cotton socks were a must. But I quickly ditched them when I started running. If you wear thick cotton socks and it rains during the race it will cause a nasty friction between your heel and sock. At the end of the race you’ll wonder why you have bloody socks until you see that you gave yourself two nice blisters during the race. Hopefully they will heal in time for your next race!

4. Don’t plan to meet up with friends in the start corrals. For smaller races, yes, you can absolutely meet up before the start. But for larger races you must meet up before entering the corral. Otherwise you will never, ever find them! Corrals usually pack in thousands of people and you will be swallowed up in a sea of neon yellow, green and pink outfits with hydration belts. Always plan to meet up somewhere else before you enter the corral.

5. Don’t plan to see your family and friends at the finish line. At my first half marathon I remember saying to my husband, “See you at the finish line!” when I jaunted off for the race. Except when I got there, he was nowhere to be found. There were thousands of people watching and I couldn’t find him. The result was me wandering around a stadium parking lot for over an hour on wobbly legs, that had just ran 13 miles for the first time ever, trying to find him! Eventually we did find each other but I could have saved myself a lot of time if we had a predetermined meet up place. Fortunately many larger races provide these locations in alphabetical order. For the sake of your tired legs, it would be wise to use them!

Other blogs participating in the Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event: 
Harvest + Bloom // Yes, Wear That! // jelly jars // Glam and Graffiti // To The Streets // In Pursuit // Pittsburgh & Pearls // Beezus Kiddo // Goodness Madness // Last Minute Panic // Steel City Intrigue // Crank Crank Revolution // Amanda Narcisi // Pittsburgh is Beautiful // From Cats to Cooking // Yum Yum PGH // Breelicious Bites // Parmesan Princess // Coffee & A Blonde // The Steel Trap // Wavy Alabaster // everybody loves you… // Eat with Emily // Don’t Forget to Eat // Sloping in the Sky // From Farm to Turntable // Secrets in the Wall // Red Pen Mama // Feedback Soup // The AP Collection // Blog Or Die PGH // Pittsburgh Happy Hour // Friendly Fitness Foodie // Small Town Dad // Josh’s World // Geeky Sweetie // Sean’s Ramblings // Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes // Try it and You May! // lil Burghers // Orange Chair Blog // Ya Jagoff // Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents // Melissa Firman

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Four Easy, Fun Ways to Help a Third Grader get Better Handwriting

Recently I posted about my third grader's horrible handwriting. He's a bright kid and I'm worried that his bad handwriting is going to have a negative impact on his school performance.

I don't just want him to have better handwriting, I want him to care about his handwriting. I'm not there in school, so I need him to want to write better.

So in addition to doing some reading online, I asked some friends - fellow parents and teachers - for advice. And I got some great advice! Since I'm a generous person I thought I'd share the tips with you.

1. One of my third grader's biggest problems is not leaving spaces between words. The other day, I was proofreading his first draft of his essay on the Algonquin tribes and I read a part as "The yalso." He jumped up and grabbed the paper and said, "No, that's "they also!" Oops. It was a perfect example of how spacing matters. So a friend shared this tip: have him use his finger to make a space between words. I suggested this as he prepared to work on his final version of his essay. He didn't like the idea at first because he thought his finger made the spaces TOO big. But he did start thinking about it. Almost win!

2. I talked to another mom of a third grader who is also a third grade teacher - bonus! She suggested a great tip for longer essays. "Have him talk out his ideas while you type them on a computer. Make the edits and corrections on the computer. Then print out the essay and have him transcribe the finished copy it by hand." I took her advice on both a science essay and the aforementioned Algonquin essay. Frankly, it worked like a charm! He really thought through his ideas, made stronger sentences and varied word choice, and then sat down and transcribed the essay onto looseleaf. Win!

3. Take up calligraphy. This was not my idea, nor was it an idea from a parent or teacher. I owe J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter a big thank you. My third grader's been obsessed with Harry Potter and wanted a quill pen. We stopped at Jo-Ann's and grabbed a quill pen and ink pot and a set of calligraphy markers. And for a week, there has been some gorgeous handwriting going on around the house. He even wrote a note with his quill pen to ask his teacher if he could write his spelling words in his new calligraphy font and she agreed. This was a huge achievement.

Check out that serif!
4. Provide positive feedback when you see improvement. As a result of that spelling test and the hard work he put in to his calligraphy, I really wanted to celebrate his hard work and the improvement we were seeing. I've offered lots of "encouraging words" (his favorite thing) and taken lots of photos and my husband even brought up how much Steve Jobs cared about handwriting and fonts.

A totally legible love note

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fearless Friends - The Best Kind of Inspiration

Running has taught me so much and fuels so many parts of my life. That's why I'm so proud to be a 261 Fearless Ambassador and work with Kathrine Switzer and other women runners to spread the word about being fearless. Just like my heroine Kathrine, I see running as my secret weapon that helps me tackle other tough tasks in life.

Parenting getting tough? Tap into your running.

Writing challenges? Tap into your running.

Got fears? Worries? Stress? Running helps.

Running has also helped me find amazing fearless friends who aren't afraid to be kind.

Too often, I think that many people are scared to be kind. Running can bring out the competitive spirit in us and the world of professional writing is no picnic. Many women tear each other down in order to make sure someone else doesn't get ahead of them. I think they worry that sharing some of their inner strength, caring too much, or being too giving might set them up for abuse or mockery or being taken advantage of by others. They might wonder, "if I help that person, will I get less? Or none at all?"

It can be scary to care.

It's easier to just focus on getting the best for ourselves and not worrying about helping others do their best.

But you know what else helps? Amazing friends. Running has helped me build friendships with women who are fearless, too, especially when it comes to sharing their support and kindness.
Luckily, I have some fearless friends in my life who aren't afraid to be kind. Their generosity of spirit inspires me.

Fearless Friends

She's funny, too. 

My friend Beth is an example of one of those friends. She's tough. Believe me. She does roller derby and ran a marathon while pregnant and wrote a non-fiction book in the time it takes most people to read their horoscope.

But she's also kind. She mentored me as I struggled to complete my first NaNoWriMo. She donates to support my charity runs. She stood up against racism and prejudice in her neighborhood. She listens to my fiction and non-fiction ideas and gives honest, but supportive feedback. I can trust her to support me as I try new (scary) things.

It can be scary to trust a friend with our hopes and dreams, just like it can be scary to care for a friend. We should trust in our friends and they in turn can help us trust ourselves.

Kathrine relied on fearless friends to help her stay in her first Boston Marathon, but in the end she had to run the race herself.

We should be fearless with our friendships and our friendships should help us be fearless. What fearless friends have been there for you? Name them here and show them some love!