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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Me and My Oldest Go Ape! at North Park in Pittsburgh

This summer, my oldest has faced some tough growing pains. He had his first teeth extracted, he got cut from one soccer team - but made another! - and went to his first sleep away camp. So if that wasn't enough to stress him out, I also decided he and I were going to try the Go Ape! ropes course at North Park.

You might remember I'm not a fan of heights. And that we've attempted one ropes course before.

I didn't know if I would be able to Go Ape! and wondered if he'd go on his own with an instructor while I chickened out on the ground. But when we arrived at the course, we learned we were responsible for clipping ourselves in and out of all the safety lines way high up in the trees. By ourselves. On our own. That freaked me out. But I told myself to press on.


We got the harnesses on and went through the training course. First you read it and do it on your own, then the instructor walks you through it. They were referencing things that made me nervous, like rope ladders. And what did the instructor mean by a Tarzan swing? Like, swinging? On a rope? In the air?

Yes, that's what he meant.

We went to the first stage and watched a demonstration of hooking into the lines before climbing the ladder, unhooking and rebooking at the platform, then hooking in and going down the zip line. I do like a good zip line. It looked ok. And the training platform wasn't that high.

We did the mini-zipline and it was great.

So my oldest and I volunteered to go next and we began the wobbly ascent at the next stage. Which was much higher.

Halfway up, he turned around and said in a quiet, nervous voice, "Mom?"

Right behind him, I said in a quiet but confident voice, "We can do this. It's going to be great."

(Yes, I lie to my kids.)

The next stage included the tarzan swing. YIKES. But we did it.


Go Ape! encourages people to not bring their phones or be very, very careful with them. We brought ours because we wanted treetop selfies. My husband texted me during the early part of the course and asked how I was holding up. I sent this terrified photo.


But we kept going. And I got to go down a zipline which I loved!! I learned to only focus on the tree in front of me as I climbed the rope ladder. And we learned to sit into our harnesses a little for stability and how to go a little faster over each obstacle. And we were laughing and having fun.

We were doing this.



I sent my husband another photo later on. Things were going great.


I snapped this shot of my son pausing halfway over an obstacle that had him a little nervous, but he conquered it. I was proud of him, but I also know he was proud of himself. I know just how he felt. I was proud of both of us.


Actually, I was elated. It's hard to describe how incredible I felt not only conquering this course that really terrified me, but truly enjoying myself while I was up there. But like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go:


Yes, that's me.  I asked my son to take a photo of me completing an obstacle and he captured me looking insane.

But I was really happy.

No obstacle was so stressful that I felt any real fear. I felt nervous and challenged, which are good things, but I didn't feel fear. And every time I completed an obstacle I felt empowered and ready to tackle the next one. I was learning things about how the obstacles worked and how my body could handle the challenges. So yeah, that photo pretty much preserves how I felt that day.

My husband and kids all got a lot of laughs out that photo, too. I'm such a giving person.

We were not able to finish the whole course because we needed to pick up the younger two from camp. But we loved it so much we cannot wait to go back and do the entire course again. The staff was friendly and supportive and calm. And I'm really eager to take the other two when they are old enough (minimum age is 10). My oldest and I are also eager to take my husband so we can snap some funny photos of him.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How to Survive a House Renovation

In May 2016, we finally started the renovation of our first floor. This project was in the works since January of 2015 when we thought we needed an addition. After getting a quote on an addition and basic redesign but not getting a lot of answers to our questions about WHEN we were on the schedule for the project to begin, we finally hired a designer who took over project management. Our designer coordinated meeting contractors and kitchen designers and closet carpenters and more. We made our choices and started packing up the first floor.

The day before renovation started, we hosted our 9 year old's birthday party with 20 kids. It was actually easy, because there was no furniture for them to ruin.

Living Room

Fireplace room

Intersection of rooms

Dining Room

Kitchen. We still had a week of packing lunches!



View of intersection from living room

We made it through the last week of school and first week of renovation pretty easily. The kids were excited to see floors disappear and walls and the fireplace come out.




Before work even started, we moved our kitchen and living room upstairs. These bookcases became our shelves and drawers. Plastic bins stored our non-perishable food, water bottles, larger utensils and cleaning supplies. We washed dishes in a bathroom sink. I made instant coffee from a hot water kettle. We moved our microwave, rice cooker and toaster oven into the office and used the grill whenever possible.




So while we've enjoyed more meals out as a family, we also have a streamlined system for eating more foods fresh (thanks CSA) but we have served with what I like to call our pop-up kitchen. A little mobile table, some staples in an easy to move storage bin, and useful appliances jammed onto the wide window ledge in my office. It's a lot easier to reheat my coffee now.




After we got back from vacation, things were really real. I mean, they were real before, but we realized the old rooms were really gone and even more was going to disappear. This was the "out with the old stage."

Sunken floor of fireplace room raised

Small opening between living and fireplace rooms gone

Old kitchen stripped down

Old dining room stripped down


Several people asked if we thought it would have been easier doing it during school. I think no. Doing this during summer meant we didn't have to pack lunches, make breakfast in a rush, or help kids do homework or school projects when most of our school supplies are packed away in the basement. We are still having music practice upstairs, but we're not on a strict timetable for anything except summer camps and those don't start as early as school. And the kids can play outside most of the day. The one really hard day was when we had no water, a friend visiting, and a tooth got punched out. 


The work has gone along at a good pace. The "out with the old" transitioned quickly into "in with the new." One day we had a wooden door, the next a real sliding door. 

New dining room with wood door

New dining room with new door!


View of new rooms from old fireplace/new dining room

View from living room into butler pantry


New man door. I use it, though I am a woman.
One of the hardest parts for me to stand was the plastering of our old rough ceilings to smooth. The plaster just smelled yucky. A wet mushy mud odor lingered for a few days, but now it's gone. And the plasterers were really good at their job.

Plasterer at work

Going up and down the stairs this day was pretty tough.  
Scaffolding on the stairs

Just look at these ceilings!

We haven't had any major disasters since the project started. Well, except for the story about the toilet next to the refrigerator. Ask me about that one sometime.

Old homework room/temporary storage


And we will need to extend the deck so guests enjoying cocktails in our new kitchen don't have to walk the plank.


Outside of new door

But new features are starting to go in now. We have floors.

New floors, view from living room

And the cabinets are going in, too.

Butler pantry

Cabinets ready to go into new kitchen

We have new doors for the basement and bathroom. 

Basement door

There's still lots to do, like paint and backsplash, appliances and lighting, hardware and sinks and faucets and more. Those things are all picked out and just waiting to be installed. And of course we have a lot of items we need to get rid off, like lights and blinds and bifold doors, that are in good condition. We'll take some to Construction Junction and donate some. We want to avoid putting anything in a landfill if we can help it.

It's been a good purge though. And of course when the project is wrapping up we'll have to unpack everything, but that feels more exciting to me than packing it all up. As we unpack I'm betting we'll find more things to jettison. But I can't wait to use our new special spice rack drawer. I didn't even know such a thing existed. And our new drawer microwave, which I didn't want, then when I saw it, I did. And the hood for the oven. It's going to be so nice to be able to turn that on if when I burn food.



Saturday, July 2, 2016

Seven Small Moments of Bravery

I often remind my kids that being brave doesn't mean doing things that don't scare you. It means facing things that scare you and doing them anyway. It's part of being a 261 Fearless Ambassador. (Read: Running Pittsburgh's Great Race). July has just started and already this summer has been full of small moments of bravery. Here are seven.

1. Bravery can mean apologizing about something you've done wrong. Like punching a tooth out of your brother's mouth during a backyard soccer game. Bravery can also mean accepting an apology even when you were really more angry than hurt because the tooth needed to come out anyway and you shouldn't taunt people.

I don't force my kids to apologize though because words are hard for some of them. (Read: How to Help Kids Say Sorry, Forgive and Forget).



2. Bravery can mean doing what needs to be done. Like having teeth extracted, even when you don't want to. The oldest needed to have three teeth taken out to make room for his adult teeth. And four more adult teeth have to come out. He didn't want to do it, but he did it. Sounds like it's not just his teeth that are moving toward adulthood.



3. Bravery can mean facing a physical fear. Like falling out of a ropes course when you're fifty feet up. I've done ropes courses before - under duress. (Read: Fearless Forty!) but this time my oldest and I did this voluntarily. A few rungs up that first wobbly rope ladder he turned back and gave me a look of anxiety. I told him we could this, and we did.



4. Bravery can mean learning something new. This summer, the youngest learned to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels. He's only 6. I didn't learn until I was 9. But now he's able to bike around with me and his brothers. He was absolutely tenacious about learning but also set a good example by keeping a positive attitude even when he was struggling so hard to stay balanced. I wish I had that kind of mentality!




5. Bravery can mean facing a social fear. This summer the boys aren't going to a daycare camp. It's all new camps and new people and new experiences every other week or so. And that's scary. We showed up for the first day of Ultimate Sports Camp late and when the boys saw the crowd of 200 or so kids gathered on the field, their first words were "No. No way."

It wasn't the first time I've had to push my kids to try something new and scary. (Read: Do you push your fearful kid?)

But by the end of the week, they said they'd be back next year. And that when they were older they might be coaches. Now that's bravery.



6. Bravery can mean admitting the thing you did isn't as good as it could be so you go back and work on it some more. I've written more than one novel, but I've only revised one novel to a really good version that I felt proud to submit to agents. The thing is, it's still not good enough. I need to go back and work on it some more, but I've been avoiding it because it's icky and painful to admit that all that hard work was good but not good enough. Yet. Hopefully I will learn as I revise (again) how to revise my other novels better the first (and second, and third times).



7. Bravery can mean trying something you've failed at before. Like a triathlon. Two years ago, I decided at the last minute to jump into the Presque Isle triathlon, counting on past open water experiences to carry me through the rather short swim. It didn't work. (Read: The Scarlett DNF.) But this year, I'm doing it right. I'm registered early and preparing, every day, a little at a time. Because I want to be brave.


What small moments of bravery have made you proud?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

What Do Your Kids Collect?

My middle son started out by collecting soft things when he was two, maybe three.


In his collection was the ribbony edge of his favorite white blankie, some of my t-shirts, and the soft skin between my finger and thumb. 

When he felt something he liked, he rubbed it between his forefinger and thumb and said, "this is in my collection."

 Now he collects coins. At first he only wanted novelty coins, like those extra large pennies you can buy at national park gift shops, but now he's moved on to state quarters, wheat head pennies and buffalo nickels. He also won't throw away the really awful joke-a-day pages from his tear-off calendar. 

The youngest one collects every single thing. Stuffed animals. T-Shirts. Magazine subscription postcards. Notebooks. Novelty socks. 

The older one is collecting cards. Baseball, football, soccer, hockey, pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and more. He also collects small toy animals, pins from different cities we visit, and once I found an enormous pile of gum wrappers in his desk drawer.

I collect books and hate parting with them, even the ones I didn't really enjoy. And my husband collects tech and interesting spirits.



But my middle son's collection of textures can't be gathered into a box or placed on a shelf.

"Where do you keep your collection?" I asked.

"In my heart."