Sunday, September 28, 2014

Currently...Getting Ready for October

How's your Monday so far? Monday really does set us up for the week, doesn't it. It can be so full of promise and positivity, or it can make you want to crawl back under the covers and try again tomorrow.  Hope your Monday's going well.  Here's how mine is filling up.

Fighting a cold. Or something. I don't get sick often but it seems that when I do, my body is playing catch up for all the time I wasn't sick.  I've been drinking hot green tea since yesterday, because that is the cure for any illness (you knew that, right?)

Planning meals for children who won't be at the dinner table. We're in full extra-curricular mode, so we're spending a lot of time in the car.  Dinner either has to be ready exactly when they get home and stay for a few minutes (crockpot and 1-pot dinners are great) or portable (quesadillas, rice dishes that can put in plastic bowls) in order to stay out of the drive-thru lanes.

Bracing myself for the onslaught of Halloween decorations. Its not my favorite holiday. And its not because of the candy; the candy in fact, is the one thing that makes it bearable. It's the skeletons and ghosts and goblins and spiders and scary things that will be everywhere for the next 33 days.  It's a tall price to pay for all those little packs of M&Ms and mini-chocolate bars.

Rearranging clothes drawers and closets.  It's the seasonal switch. Move clothes from the front of the closet to the back. Set aside clothes that will be too small or too out of style when it gets warm again. Pack away clothes that will make it to the next season.  And I always imagine that we're going to take this South Pacific vacation in the middle of winter and will need those bathing suits and shorts and sundresses, so I don't pack them too far away.  (You never know, this could be there year!)

Panicking because October 1 means there's only three more months to get done all the things I had hoped to get done in 2014!

Have a good week!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How to Run a Marathon in A Mile/Day

We’re on Day 9 of the Children’s Miracle Network #MiracleMarathon to raise money for children’s hospitals across the country - a third of the way done!
Keep track of your work - great motivation & reminder of what you can do!
The concept is simple: complete a mile/day over 27 days for a full marathon, plus one extra mile for the kids. It’s perfect for people like me who can’t ever imagine running a full marathon all at once. I’ve posted before about my marathon/month goal, but this is slightly different in that it’s a commitment for everyday. Everyday you are reminded of the blessings of either never having a child in an emergency room or intensive care or with a terminal illness, or the blessing of the availability of such medical resources for a child who needs them.

But, as the people that we are, the physical, logistical questions arise. You know, the ones that keep us off an exercise routine anyway.  The number one being: I’m busy, when am I going to have time to run/walk/skip a mile per day?

Let’s start with the time element. On a good day, in relatively good health, at an almost brisk pace, it takes about 15-20 minutes to walk a mile.  Give or take a few minutes due to one’s health, affinity for and habit of exercise.  But let’s say, for sake of discussion, 30 minutes. That may or may not include putting on your shoes and drinking a bottle of water when you’re done. Now, where do we find 30 minutes a day?  Here’s nine ideas.

  • Before, between, after the school buses – If you are a parent, school buses, carpools, or walking brigades probably dominate your mornings; and depending on the age of your children, your involvement in the morning madness of getting ready for school is little or very much needed.  Look at your morning schedule. Can you go out and walk around the neighborhood before they wake up, in between one school departure and the next? Or after the last school bus pulls off – you keep on running and get your mile in before coming back to start your day. 

  • Find 30 minutes before your day starts.  No kids or they don’t need you to get ready for school?  Wake up 30 minutes earlier or skip the morning email read and get it in in the morning.

  • While waiting. Parents do a lot of waiting. Kids’ practices, early warm-up before a game, tutoring, music lessons. I imagine non-parents wait around, too. Maybe for a spouse, a friend, your mom at her doctor’s appointment.  What are you doing while waiting?  Instead of fidgeting with that new phone app, lace up and go for a walk. Especially now that its getting into fall, you could go for a good paced walk and not really even break a sweat if you’ve got somewhere else to go.  I even noticed at an airport this summer, mileage and direction signs for a walking path around the airport (I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do with your bags, though.)

  • While running errands.  How often do you get into your car and drive across the street or down the block to pick up lunch or a prescription or for a cup of coffee? I’m guilty, too.  Walk.

  • The old park far from the building trick. You’ve heard it a million times before and I’m going to repeat it. The other day I had three separate meetings and I parked far in the lot each time.  Counting the six lengths to and from the building, plus two more for when I realized as I got to my car that I had to go to the bathroom, so I walked back to the building, then back to my car, that has to be at least a good half-mile right there. 

  • Plan for it. Like you do a dentist or gyn appointment (though you don’t want to do either everyday), write it in your planner. Block off 30 minutes to get in your exercise.

  • Commit to other people.  During my kids’ swim practice this summer, I would go running.  I also noticed a few other mothers who were also using this time for walking or running around the neighborhood. Next thing you know, we were heading out together while the kids were in the pool, and saying to each other “yes, I am running tomorrow.”  There are many days I may have sat poolside drinking coffee if I hadn’t made that commitment.

  • Participate in children’s athletic events. If you know the sport – get in there and coach or help out with workouts. I coach my daughter’s Girls on The Run team – perfect for making sure I get in my run.  Don’t worry if you know nothing about your kid’s sport.  Many organizations offer training for adults who want to help out, and, if you don’t want to do that, there’s always something you can do even if you don’t have clue about the actually sport. For my kids’ swim meets, parent volunteers serve as timers. You stand at the edge of the pool and push the stopwatch when the kid starts and stops. Then you walk to the other side of the pool for a different length race. I usually volunteer as the person who wrangles all the swimmers for their race.  Exercise? Consider walking back and forth across a pool for three hours.

  • No kids or no desire to help out with the local ice hockey team? Find your own sport. Whether zuumba, tennis, a running club, swimming lessons. Find something that you enjoy for yourself. Not only will you get in your exercise, but you will require yourself to separate from work, housework, email, and texts and concentrate on you.  And go ahead – count it for your mile. Last week, I clocked in almost a mile during tennis lessons.

Share other ideas in the comments below.  Enjoy your mile!
Always be ready to squeeze in a mile.
My hospital of choice for the #MiracleMarathon is Children’s Hospital in DC. You can make a donation on my fundraising page.  Thank you in advance!

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Sorry Kids, There's a Dress Code - Get Used to It

Imagine you walked into your doctor's office and he had on gym shorts and a tank top. You may all the sudden feel well after all and cancel your appointment.  On your way to work, you stop by the bank and the teller has 15 earrings in various holes in her head, a sheer blouse with a red polka-dot bra underneath and a leather mini-skirt. You might wonder if your cashed check was coming back to you in a stack of ones. When you get to work, the receptionist is wearing a bandana around his bicep and a t-shirt with questionable language printed in big letters. By now, you will be screaming "what the heck is going on?"

Why? Because, in society, everyone is expected to conform to a certain standard of dress. It may change with the time, place, occasion, and season - but there are some expectations that your clothes reflects the purpose at that time.

So, when our kids show up for school, they should look like they are about learning, not heading to a teen (or adult) nightclub, hanging out at the pool, or getting ready to get in the bed. Most schools that I know of, have a dress code - a list of clothing items that are and are not allowed to be worn in school. That's the rule. You can't wear see-thru, mid-riff tops, short shorts, bandanas and hats to school. No one's trying to oppress anyone or take away some inalianable right to be inappropriately dressed. It's a rule of that institution. We all have to live with them. At your job, at your church, in restaurants, even on the golf course. And in school.

I had this discussion several mornings with my daughters, with school starting before the end of summer when it still feels like summer. Sorry, the navel bearing t-shirt that we let you get away with at the beach doesn't go to school. The flip-flops you patted around all summer, nope sorry, don't go to math class. The baseball hat you bought on vacation can be donned after the school bell. There's an appropriate place and time.

I laugh whenever I read an article on kids who are protesting the dress code. Sorry kids, can't really support you. I'll be over here, with a stack of long t-shirts you can borrow and wear to class, though. 

And to the common girls’ complaint that dress codes are sexist because they ban specific female items (bra straps, mid-riff tops, etc.)?  Nope, can’t go along with that either, because certain dress is distracting not only to the boys, but to everybody, as well as just inappropriate for school. Period. Boys, girls, teachers, everybody is looking at that girl with everything on display wondering what the heck was she thinking when she got dressed this morning? We've got to teach our girls to dress in a way that demonstrates a level of self-respect.  We can't let them continue with this fallacy of "people shouldn't worry about what I'm wearing if I like it." Come on, please.

As much as we may not want to admit it, we judge people by their clothes. We all do it. The girl with the tight, short skirt. The boy with the pants hanging below his butt.  The girl with the purple hair. The boy with the tattoo around his neck. They could be the Einstein of their generation, but their presentation will close many doors.  I know, terrible, but true.

When kids go to school, we want them to project “I’m here to learn.”  Not, “don’t you think I’m the cutest girl in the class?”  Not, “My extra-curricular activity is hanging on the corner.”  Sorry, kids.  Put on a shirt that covers that navel-ring, pants that cover that booty, and leave the bandana at home.  There’s a dress code.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Creativity, Curiosity & Compassion at the KID Museum

When was the last time your son asked about the opening date for a new museum?  That was my son’s response as we wound our way through the MakerFaire in Silver Spring, hosted by the soon-to-open KID Museum.

Let me tell you about my son, first. My son is that kid who spends hours reconstructing and imagining cardboard boxes as box cars or forts or boats, starting with shoeboxes when he was a toddler to packing boxes now.  He likes things that light up and buzz and whistle, especially if they also fly around or roll away. Give him a piece of paper and he will fold it into a box or a multi-sectioned circle or a crane that flies.  We’ve given him, as a birthday gift, a box with a box in it, along with glue, tape, and scissors – he was thrilled.

So this is the kid who I knew would love the MakerFaire and, eventually, the KID Museum.

As they prepared for the Faire, I had the opportunity to take a peek at the space which will eventually be the KID Museum and talk with Founder and Executive Director, Cara Lesser.  That day, the space was filled with a floor-to-ceiling cardboard robot sculpture, boxes of Legos and wooden building pieces that connect to each other with a 3-D printer made thing-a-ma-jig, rolls and rolls of cardboard, and various piles of electronic pieces, wires, and batteries.  Those were for the Faire, but exemplify the electronic, “Outside the Box Building,” and digital media activities that will be in the museum.
Maker Faire - Silver Spring MD
One thing I loved about the Faire, and I anticipate in the Museum, there were no instructions. No one told the kids “here’s step 1 and then do this.” In the cardboard constructing area at the Faire, there were piles of cardboard, scissors, staple guns, and some cool little connector things and kids walked away with a knight’s suit of (cardboard) armor, a huge spider, robots, crowns, and … stuff. Perfect. Sometimes kids need a break from being told what to do and discover what's in their own heads.

Surprisingly, sitting in the middle of the museum space-to-be, was a Singer sewing machine. And not the new fangled, electronic programmed sewing machine. An old foot-petal to turn the wheel kind of Singer sewing machine, the kind your grandmother (or maybe mother) had.  One section of the museum will be dedicated to the Fabric Arts. What a great mix of the hard electronics and the soft textiles.

Tying this all together, an aspect that I think makes this space unique, is the exploration of world cultures and social responsibility.  There will be a rotating cultural display, the first planned is Kites and Flying Machines from around the world.  The KID Museum will also provide opportunities for students to participate in service activities in the museum space each weekend.  A few of the Advisory Board members and staff are from the MIT Museum, a science space that we happened to visit this past summer on vacation.  We had such a good time there and somewhere in the fun, I believe we all learned a little bit more about science – even me! Having MIT folks as advisors I think will ensure a wonderful level of creativity and science.

To answer my son’s question, the KID Museum opens in October in 7500 square feet in the lower level of the Davis Library in Bethesda, MD.  The exhibits will be geared to elementary and middle school-aged children and be open primarily when they are out of school – weekends and holidays – as well as be available for school field trips.  It fills a need for a creative science space in this area, the closest family science center being in Baltimore.

And the all important parent question -  do I have to go through the museum with my child or can I sit, drink my coffee and read a book while he goes through it without me? Yes. You can do either.  The museum is an open space with a little nook for tables and chairs, so you can explore with your child or sit on the sidelines and let him figure it out by himself, but still keep an eye on him.
Our take-home project - a Drawbot kit.

So until October, let the kids cut and glue cardboard and play with light up stuff at home. Then in October, pack them up and head on over to the KID Museum and enjoy a few hours of scientific fun.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Crockpot Cooking Without a Recipe

I've said it before, I'll say it again - my crockpot is one of my most used and favorite kitchen appliances.  Between running around with the kids and scattering to my own community and personal activities, we barely have time to eat - even less time to cook a decent meal.  So getting dinner cooked while I'm not even home is a masterful idea.

The wonderful part about crockpot cooking is that - although there are plenty plenty recipes and cookbooks out there - you really don't need a cookbook or a recipe, if you understand some basic requirements.
  • Liquid - there's got to be some liquid in the crockpot. It could be stock, juice, water, sauce, the fat cooking off the meat - but there has to be some liquid to keep the food from drying out.
  • Seasoning - the food is being slow-cooked, so there's time for the seasoning to melt into the food. Season generously, but not too heavy-handed.
  • Time - obviously, the whole point is cooking for the hours and hours you will be away.  There are times, too, when you will want to use it to keep food and beverages warm for serving, like for hot chocolate for a cookie party!
From there - be creative.

Meats of course are favorites for the crockpot.  Whatever you cook will become so tender and juicy. You can serve as is, straight from the pot, or continue to prepare the meat once cooked.  Chicken, whole or in pieces, is an easy meat to cook. Roast beef or pork is also easy; you can eat as is, or chop it after cooking for sandwich or taco filling.  I like to cook pork loin and then chop it up for bar-be-que.  A very convenient fact? It doesn't even have to be defrosted! Yes, you can throw frozen meat into the crockpot, turn it on low and come back hours later to a fork tender meal.

Grains, beans, and pastas can be cooked on their own or with your meat choice. These especially need enough liquid since they require a lot to cook to tender. Spaghetti is easier than you think and lasagna works well in the crockpot, too - the tomato sauce is your liquid. I've yet to cook overnight oatmeal, but have tasted it and that's really good.  I need a smaller crockpot, since my son and I are the only ones who like oatmeal.

Vegetables can also be cooked alone or thrown in with everything else. I've made some very tender collard greens in the crockpot.  You probably should reserve this for veggies that can withstand the long hours of cooking, nothing too tender.

You can cook all of these separately or throw everything in the pot together for an easy clean-up, easy serve one-pot meal.  A can or two of diced tomatoes or stock and you've got the base for a good stew. Pick up a loaf of Italian bread and a salad on your way home and voila! Dinner is served.

For the chicken meal pictured above: a pack of drumsticks (frozen!); salt, pepper, basil, paprika to season; 2 cans diced tomatoes in sauce + 6 hours in the crockpot while we were at church, a science fair, sorority meeting, and a basketball game.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Run, walk, skip in the Miracle Marathon for Children

The Miracle Marathon is a unique charity event to benefit a Children's Miracle Network hospital.  For my participation, I've selected the Children's Hospital in Washington DC.  I've been blessed to have not needed the services of Children's yet, with my 4 children, but have heard of the good work that they do.  I've also participated in other events that have benefited the hospital, including Ben's Run in memory of a young boy who was treated there before he passed away from an infection related to his leukemia.

Aside from the charitable aspect, this is probably going to be pretty much my one shot at doing a marathon. I've worked up to 5ks, a mere 3.1 miles, and that's a fair challenge. I even have a sprint triathlon and a swim/run duathlon in my race record. But marathon?  26 miles all at once? I've established my "marathon a month" as an exercise milestone, with the goal of running 26 miles over the course of a month, every month. It generally takes me 12-13 days, all totaled, and I admit, I don't always complete it.  So this is a great push for my own personal goals. Win, win for everybody.

So, what is it? Twenty-seven days to finish a marathon - plus an extra mile for all the kids that it benefits. Walk, run, skip, hop, swim, somersault a mile each, whatever works for you, and then on the last day, Oct. 12 , join with everybody else participating for the final mile, finishing at 2:27 pm (EST).

Join me in supporting this cause to benefit children all over the country. You can join my team, Piddlin' for Miles, or make a donation. I've set a fundraising goal at $270, so I'd appreciate - and so would the hospitals - your support.  Thank you!

My Miracle Marathon kit!  Including a pedometer to track my miles

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's the Closet-Life of a Dress?

As we start heading towards fall, it’s about that time to start moving sundresses and tank tops aside and pulling the sleeved-shirts and pants to the front of the closet.  This transition time is also the perfect time to do some closet purging, as you notice, but maybe don’t really want to admit, that you did not wear that linen skirt all summer. Nor last summer either. And truth be told, you’re not sure you even really like the color so much anymore.  So you fold it up, put it aside with everything else, just in case you might like it next summer.

Let’s admit it – cleaning out the closet isn’t just a physical process of taking clothes out that have exhausted their usefulness.  There’s a couple mental obstacles in the way of moving clothes into piles so that they can live another life in someone else’s closet.

When has a dress has passed it’s useful closet-life and it’s time to let it go?

It is not flattering, now or ever will be again.  I really like empire waist dresses, you know, the ones where the waistband hits the bottom of your bra. Its comfortable and breezy in the summer, and yes, hides all those scoops of ice cream.  Or so I thought!  Someone took a picture of me in one of my favorite dresses and I realized that I look like I’m in my second trimester!  But I thought it was a fluke (bad lighting, camera phone, bad angle) and kept wearing them. Until I took another picture in another dress and surprise – same thing, me and my second trimester self.  I’ve piled all my empire waist dresses aside.  Some are destined for some woman who needs the flowy-ness, the rest are now restricted to wearing around the house or walking to the busstop when there is no danger of being photographed.  (Sorry, I couldn’t truly truly give them all up.)

There was a different President in office when you purchased the dress.  You know that dress that you recall the exact event you bought it for?  And that event was long time ago?  I have a few dresses that I did the math and calculated five, six – or more - years ago.  I’ve kept it because, on a good day, it still fits. But even when it does – it was six years ago.  I can get away with a classic fit dress, a black skirt, a navy dress, but anything else – it either looks too young for me or dated by style.  Even the color is wrong.

It never fit right anyway.  You buy the dress, maybe it was on sale, maybe it looked great on the mannequin and you are sure that once it shakes out, once you put on some Spanks, lose a couple pounds, wear a different bra, its going to fit perfectly.  But it just never does.  Let it go.  That goes for those shoes, too.  Even the cute ones. They always did hurt your feet, anyway.

You have no idea where you will ever wear it to.  I have tops and dresses that require a much more active night-life than I have, which right now is pretty much dominated by PTA meetings and kids sporting events.  I have a really cute one-shoulder zebra print silk blouse.  Perhaps someone else has the right party to go to.

Shorts that have lasted through more than one summer.  Don’t take this as a disposable clothes idea, it’s just that regardless of whether I actually still wear that size or not, shorts never seem to fit right after one summer.  Maybe the ice cream reshapes my behind and thighs, same weight, different shaping. Like sand.

Anything two sizes too big or two sizes too small.  I’m letting a larger or smaller woman enjoy my shopping.  I don’t want to return to the too-big size and by the time I get back to the too-small size, the clothes will be out of style.  Okay, even that skirt I really like, it looks crazy slipping down my hips.  And the other one, well, who knows when was the last time it fit to know how it looks.

And to top off the pile?  Anything you just don’t like anymore. The why the heck did I buy this, the what was I thinking, the it used to be cute outfits. Why are these so hard to let go?

Now, when all those are gone…. Hey – I need to go shopping, I haven’t got anything to wear!  

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