A TALE OF TWO WOMEN, PART 2

December 28, 2012 in Tales of Inspiration

You can read Part 1 here.

I have recently started taking cardio kickboxing classes, and I have come across an instructor that makes me want to snatch up some of her qualities immediately.

Her name is Leslie, and she is tough. When she says “Get your knees up!” she means it. She will move around the room with her knees up high, and heaven help you if you’re not doing the same. “Are those your feet? Are they on the floor?”

One Saturday I went to a “Super” class: an hour-and-a-half worth of cardio and kickboxing, and as it was in December, she made it fun by offering everyone a jingle bell to wear during the class.

Maybe “offering” isn’t the right word. I think the word I’m looking for here is “mandatory.” She performed an inspection and class didn’t start until everyone, including the two lone men, had a dainty jingle bell pinned to their workout attire.

When it came time for the “team” activities, it was almost comical. I was already sweaty and winded. I didn’t want to get close to anyone else, let alone perfect strangers, and I wasn’t the only one. We milled around in our groups of one, trying to figure out how to get out of this portion of the workout.

Leslie wasn’t having any of that. “You and You: get together. Now! And you…you’re a man! Pair up with the other man!” Once we were all paired off, she was able to continue torturing us in peace. (By the way, I am not a fan of team activities and I will avoid them like the plague. That being said, the ab exercises she had us do with a partner left me sore for a week-and-a-half. Perhaps I should re-think my attitude about team activities.)

If that’s all it was, I probably would never think of her again once I left class. But here’s the thing: she’s passionate about what she does. She comes from a family with poor eating habits and problems with obesity, and she has dedicated her life to battling obesity and all the health problems that are associated with it. She takes the time to dream up these challenging workouts, and then she puts in the time to make sure each and every one of us gets the most out of them that we possibly can. Afterwards, she’ll send us an email about how we did (number of calories burned, etc), for she keeps track with a little device on her arm. And we know that whatever numbers her device recorded for her applies to us as well, because she won’t let us slack off.

I appreciate that in a fitness instructor.

Here’s another thing I appreciate: she’s funny. All that stuff she says about getting your knees up and hassling people when they leave class early? She means it, but she does it with a sense of humor that I only wish I could capture here. She has a way of simultaneously yelling at you, inspiring you, and making you laugh all at the same time. Man, I wish I could harness that and use it on my kids.

From Leslie, I would like to take her drive, her passion, her boldness, and her fearlessness about being a leader. I’ll also be taking more of her classes, because between the kickboxing and weightlifting, I am finally starting to see some results. It looks like Santa got me a set of biceps for Christmas!

A TALE OF TWO WOMEN, PART 1

December 26, 2012 in Tales of Inspiration

As a woman, I am constantly looking to other women, searching for qualities I admire that I’d like to incorporate into my own self. Like a themed gift basket, I take fearlessness from one friend, generosity from another, and a relaxed peacefulness that nothing can rattle from a third and I add them in. I find innocence in a woman who has been knocked around by life, and a courage of conviction in another that I had, at first glance, thought of as flexible. And still I gather, figuring out ways to add a bit of what they carry so easily into my basket.

In the last couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to spend some time with two women who couldn’t be more different from each other, and I have emerged with a new stockpile of personality traits that I’d like emulate.

The first is Kaila, a basket weaver. She comes to our school and teaches basket weaving to the students. It’s a wonderful way to round out their Native American unit. She talks about different materials the early baskets were made of and what qualities they had to have to be watertight so they could be used as a vessel for carrying water. I’ve worked with her multiple times throughout the years, both in the classroom and as a basket weaving student myself. She has a gift: she truly is a basket whisperer.

Kaila opens her time with the students by telling them that basket weaving is something she has done for 19 years, and it is the thing that has brought her the most joy in life. What a great role model for the kids (and us adult helpers): you can do what you love. She then asks the students for “willing hands.” The hands will make the basket, but only if the mind is open and willing: a great lesson in attitude.

If you’ve never done it, let me tell you: basket weaving is hard. You have to be the boss of the basket spokes, making them go where you want them to, and then you have to be a stickler for pattern with the weavers. You have to persistent, for Kaila is tough: if you make a mistake with your pattern, she’ll unravel all your hard work right there in front of you and have you start again. You have to have patience, for sometimes 23 of the 25 kids all need help at the same time and there are only 5 adults available. You have to learn how to help each other: when the adults are busy and you know what to do, pull your friend aside and help her out.

Somehow, in spite of the difficulty, in spite of the multiple re-doing of steps, and in spite of the long time waiting around for help, Kaila remains calm. She doesn’t get flustered or frustrated or down on the kids. She’s quiet, but she’s strong and confidant, and the kids see that. They flock to her, half-woven baskets in their hands, because they know that she will help them to be successful. Help them, not do it for them. Oh sure, if someone makes a mistake very early on in their pattern, she will undo it and re-do it to get them back where they started, teaching all the while, so that by the time the student is back on track, she has given them the skills and the confidence they need to forge ahead.

It is amazing to watch her, and it is equally amazing to watch the kids grow under her care.

I’d like to take her calmness under pressure, her ability to weave away frustration in others, and her faith in people of ages: if the mind is willing, you can make a basket. If the mind is willing, you can really do anything at all.

Stay Tuned for A Tale of Two Women, Part 2.

A CHOPPED FAMILY CHRISTMAS, PART 2

December 24, 2012 in Random Thoughts

If you haven’t already read Part 1, you can read that here. This continues right where I left off!

I proceeded making my cheese balls with a mixture of cream and cheddar cheeses. I rolled them in a coating of crushed pretzels and sunflower seeds, placed them on a cookie sheet, and shoved them in the oven.

Now, what was I going to do with the blueberries? I grabbed a saucepan and placed it on the stove. I scooped a handful of blueberries in a bowl, partially smashed them with the back of a spoon, and tossed them in the saucepan with some cream cheese, heavy whipping cream, and a spoonful of sugar. As the mixture heated, the blueberry juice permeated into the cream cheese and cream, making it a lovely purple color. I kept stirring until the cream cheese melted and it thickened a bit, and then I peeked in the oven to check on my cheese balls.

Hmm. When cheese melts, it doesn’t exactly stay in a ball shape. Who knew? I glanced at the clock…time was ticking away and I now had a collection of cheese blobs on my hands. In somewhat of a frenzy, I tossed the entire cookie sheet of cheese balls into the fridge to chill. Boy, did I wish I had access to the blast chiller like they have on the real Chopped.

In the meantime, I scooped some vanilla yogurt into 4 ramekins for the judges and set each one on a plate with a spoon. I topped them with a little homemade granola made up of granola cereal, sunflower seeds, and crumbled pretzels. I spooned some of my blueberry sauce over the yogurt and granola, and with a mixture of fear and resignation, I reached into the fridge to plop a couple of cheese balls on the plate. The thing was, there was nothing more I could do with them. Time had run out–has 30 minutes ever passed so quickly?–and I wasn’t about to be disqualified over a misshapen cheese ball.

My mom and I breathed a sigh of relief when out plates were before the judges. Honestly, at that moment, I didn’t care at all what they thought of my appetizers. I was sweaty and out of breath, and the kitchen was completely trashed. Grated cheese was all over the floor, pretzel crumbs coated the counters like dust, and I might have been a little sloppy with my blueberry mashing technique because there were splotches of blueberry stains everywhere. The judging was the least of my worries.

At least, until they started actually judging. My boys, like the truly picky eaters they are, poked my cheese balls suspiciously with the very tip of one finger. They lifted their spoons and tried to lift up the layer of blueberry sauce and granola to see what potential landmine I might have hidden underneath. “It’s the same yogurt you eat every day,” I snapped. They tasted miniscule bites and made proclamations like “Eh,” and “It’s okay.”

My dad, however, found his calling as a hard-as-nails food critic. He ripped my little cheese balls apart. I found myself growing defensive at first, and then felt myself wither under the judgment. I have a new appreciation for any contestant who is judged and found lacking. It’s an awful feeling, even if it is just your dad in your own kitchen.

He did like my blueberry sauce, though!

I won the appetizer round, but I do suspect that I had the home field advantage. My own three sons as the judges? My poor mom didn’t stand a chance.

Afterwards, I tasted one of my cheese balls, and my main criticism of it was that it was too salty. The blueberry sauce was inspired, though, and I have made it several times since. It is a perfect addition of blueberry sweetness to a granola-yogurt parfait.

This year, in my continuing effort for simplicity, there will not be a Chopped repeat. Instead, I’m thinking of a Wii Sports competition, single elimination, winner takes all. No clean up, no elaborate shopping sprees, and best of all, no judging!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

A CHOPPED FAMILY CHRISTMAS, PART 1

December 21, 2012 in Random Thoughts

Every once in awhile, I hijack the TV from my kids because I can’t stand another second of SpongeBob SquarePants. Since I can’t watch Homeland or Grey’s Anatomy in front of them, I typically watch the Food Network channel and somehow last year, my kids and I all got addicted to Chopped.

We got so addicted we decided to have A Chopped Family Christmas.

If you’re not familiar with the show, let me explain. The wonderfully droll Ted Allen introduces four chef contestants who compete against each other in three rounds: the appetizer, the entrée, and the dessert round. A chef is eliminated by the three judges after each round, so by the time the dessert round comes along, it’s a battle between the last two chefs standing.

But there’s a twist: for every round, the chefs have to make their appetizer/entrée/dessert utilizing the 4 mystery ingredients in a wicker basket, and they don’t always fit the category they are intended for. I’ve seen canned peaches for an entrée round, pork rinds for a dessert round, and 7-Up for an appetizer round. They challenge the contestants with ingredients  they have never heard of, and it’s a riot to watch them taste the odd ingredient and then want to spit it out because it tastes so bad. But they still have to make something palatable with it, and that’s where the chefs’ creativity comes to life.

Last December, my oldest son came up with the great idea to have our own version of Chopped over the Christmas holidays. Being a Chopped fan myself, I was all over this idea, but we immediately hit several snafus.

My three sons couldn’t be the contestants because they were too young to let loose in my kitchen, so they would have to be the judges. The problem is, they are extremely picky eaters and my oldest has food allergies, so what could potentially be placed in our mystery baskets was going to be limited to boxes of macaroni and cheese and goldfish crackers.

They needed an adult to go with them to do the secret shopping, and since almost every other one of my extended family members was going to be a contestant, the job fell to my dad.

My dad is a foodie of the highest degree. He has eaten, and will eat, everything. If it were up to him, he would put together a mystery basket of pimento loaf, blue cheese, Diet Coke, and a giant squid…and that would be for the dessert round.

This is fun if you’re actually on the Chopped show. This is not fun if your kids (aka the judges) won’t eat what we might make.

So we needed a mediator: someone to help branch the kids out a bit on their selections while simultaneously making sure my dad didn’t pick out anything too crazy. We sent my sister’s boyfriend/host on this pivotal errand. I was not privy to what occurred during their shopping trip, but I think I’m thankful to have stayed home.

And then our round began: me vs. my mom. Our host introduced us and the judges in the most hilarious manner ever, which was good because I was nervous! 30 minutes to create an appetizer out of four mystery ingredients in the confines of my tiny kitchen while battling for stove top space and utensils with my mother? Yikes!

When the timer went off, I opened my shopping bag with shaking hands to see what I’d have to work with. My four ingredients were: cream cheese, sunflower seeds, blueberries, and pretzels.

My first thought, inexplicably, was cheese balls. I’ve never made a cheese ball in my life, and I’d be hard pressed to say when the last time I ate one was. I’m not even sure what’s in them, except for cheese. I knew I’d have to work quickly if I wanted to bake them off a bit in the oven. (Are cheese balls baked?)

Something happens when a timer is set. There is a level of anxiety that is shot out of a cannon into your bloodstream, laced with adrenalin and endorphins, and while it gets the job done, it does not necessarily make you a pleasant person to be around. So, like a true competitive person under the gun, I mercilessly pushed my mom out of the way and lunged for the oven.

Part 2 continues here.

Congratulations to my Random Acts of Kindness recipient Rebecca! I have something for you when you return from vacation!

RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS, PART 2

December 19, 2012 in Making Life A Little Easier, Random Thoughts

I wrote about Random Acts of Kindness here, and since then, I have heard about something amazing: a simple push through word of mouth to do 26 Random Acts of Kindness, one for each of the 20 children and 6 adults killed in Sandy Hook, CT.

I admit I haven’t been able to follow the news coverage of this horrendous event very well because it makes me cry. I get my information through bits and pieces…a sentence here before my chest gets tight and tears threaten, a paragraph here before I simply burst into tears, an image that has me quickly turning away in sadness.

I read a story online about a woman wanting to make a donation. She said “My grandson is in first grade, that’s it,” and she had to turn away, overcome with emotion.

I feel exactly the same way.

I am going to spend the next 23 days doing one Random Act of Kindness a day to honor each of their memories. I began on Monday with a giveaway to one of my lucky blog readers (leave a comment below by Thursday, December 20 at noon PST to be eligible!), and I have also done an anonymous Random Act of Kindness for Tuesday.

Today’s Random Act of Kindness was a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund via United Way of Western Connecticut. There are a lot of different places to donate, but I chose this one as it is the one our school district recommends, and I like the idea of one school district supporting another.

There are lots of other ways to donate, like this list of beneficiaries set up by some of the families: http://duluth.patch.com/articles/sandy-hook-memorial-donations-how-you-can-help-444805f3 and this list http://newtown.patch.com/articles/ways-to-help-sandy-hook which also includes ways local PTAs can help.

In my sporadic reading, I have seen some truly beautiful ways to help. PTAs can have their students make snowflakes to help decorate the new school, transforming it into a Winter Wonderland. Plant a tree in Israel in memory of Noah Pozner. Donate a first grade level book to the North Wales Area Library in memory of the children killed. Send a condolence card.

There are a lot of options for Random Acts of Kindness, and they don’t need to be directed specifically to Newtown to have a benefit. The goal is to spread moments of unexpected joy, and this can be done anywhere at any time, and they don’t need to cost you a cent.

To whoever left The Elf On The Shelf on our front porch, you have brought our family much more than one moment of joy…you have brought days of joy. My kids wake up and immediately start searching for Boogs, and look what he’s up to today! (See photo above) Boy, do I wish I could take credit for that creativity!

So go forth, everyone, and perform a Random Act of Kindness!

RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS…PLUS A GIVEAWAY!

December 17, 2012 in Random Thoughts

Everywhere I turn this time of year, I am seeing the holiday spirit alive and well in the form of Random Acts of Kindness.

I hear about it on the radio, where someone from of my favorite radio stations is going about town buying people’s toys for them today. One woman who was the recipient of this Random Act of Kindness turned around and purchased a gift to be donated to Toys for Tots to pay the kindness forward.

I find it line at the Starbucks drive-thru, where patrons are treating the people in the cars behind them to free drinks and pastries.

I see it with a friend of mine, who is giving away her beautiful beaded snowflakes…just because.

Our family was the recipient of a Random Act of Kindness just yesterday. My boys found a book on our porch: The Elf On The Shelf with the accompanying elf. No card, no tag, no signature inside the book to indicate who this surprise might be from.

If you don’t know the story of The Elf On The Shelf, it goes a little something like this: Santa’s helper comes in the form of an elf to see who is being naughty or nice. The first task is to name the elf (“Boogs”), and then he sits, watches, and reports back to Santa. Part of the fun is that he changes spots every night, so you never know where you’ll find the elf the next day.

There is a part of me that is thrilled with the anonymity of a Random Act of Kindness, but I must confess there is a bigger part of me that is dying to know. Who left this for us? Who can we thank for this marvelous surprise? Who can share our joy with? You can bet I’ll be spending the day trying to figure out who could have left us this gift!

But I’ll also be spending the day doing my own Random Acts of Kindness, beginning with a giveaway! Leave a comment below by Thursday, December 20 at noon PST, and I will send one lucky winner a holiday surprise…just for fun!

I’m also going to do an anonymous Random Act of Kindness today…a gift to someone who will never know it’s from me.

I hope these Random Acts of Kindness continue well past the holiday season. I think all of us could use some small reminders of all the good there still is in people.

ROMANCE IS ALIVE AND WELL…IN HIP HOP MUSIC?

December 14, 2012 in Random Thoughts

When it comes to music, I’ll listen to anything. I’m not boxed into a particular genre or style. About the only quality a song has to have for me to own it on my iPod is that I like it, for whatever reason.

Virtually all 80s music speaks to me because that was my generation. Anything with a strong, fast-paced backbeat that I can use to inspire me to keep going when I’m running is a good thing. Everything by Maroon 5 and Train are great, and songs about female empowerment are favorites: Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, and P!nk come to mind. Instrumental is great for writing, and my own personal collection of mellow, moody songs of heartbreak and unrequited love are perfect for a lazy Sunday morning.

But there’s nothing quite like a man singing about the woman he loves, whether she knows he exists or not. Just My Imagination, by The Temptations, As Long As You Love Me by the Back Street Boys, Just Another Day by Jon Secada…my tastes are all over the map. But what does it matter as long as romance is involved?

When my kids hijacked my car radio to listen to their music, I was not impressed. Rap music and hip hop…have you heard those lyrics? I kept having to change the station because of lyrics that were inappropriate, or I’d have conversations like these:

ME: What the heck is this?

6 YEAR OLD CHILD: (singing) I’m sexy and I know it.

ME: Oh no. I don’t think so. (pause) Who sings this?

12 YEAR OLD: LMFAO

ME: And what’s it called?

12 YEAR OLD: You won’t let me say it.

ME: (writing it down) I’m changing this station. This song is inappropriate.

12 YEAR OLD: Then why did you write it down?

ME: Because this is a great workout song! For me, I mean. Sexy and I Know It – Single – I’m Sexy And I Know It

Gradually, though, I became conditioned (i.e. beat down) and you know what? Some of these hip hop songs are surprisingly romantic. Like Adorn (Remix) [feat. Wiz Khalifa] – Single – Miguel, who croons to his girl to let his love adorn her.  It almost reminds me of an old Motown song, but with naughty words from Wiz to keep it current. I like seeing these singers with tough guy personas and tattoos up and down their arms showing their softer, vulnerable side.

It Girl – Single – Jason Derulo. Jason Derulo sings that his “it girl” is better than a Grammy award…has there ever been a greater love than that? This song takes me right back to my childhood where my girlfriends and I would get together for slumber parties and listen to Careless Whisper by Wham over and over again. There must be a “romantic music makes you swoon” strand of DNA that I inherited, and I know some of my girlfriends have it too. The nice thing is, it’s a fairly harmless gene (as long as you keep your Michael Bolton CD hidden from public view), and apparently, there are quite a few songwriters that have the same gene—in every music genre.

 

 

 

COOKIES!

December 12, 2012 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Nut Allergies and Then Some

If you’ve ever watched Food Network for more than 2 minutes, you will soon hear that there are two kinds of chefs: savory (cook) and pastry (baker). I am solidly in the baker category.

 

Tom Douglas in his The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, explains it this way in his introduction:

“Bakers are crazy, bakers are irrational; bakers are perfectionist; bakers need to know mathematics; bakers are chemists. Need I go on? They’re just smarter than the average bear and thus by nature are difficult to get on with.”

Yep…that’s me! (Except for that last part…)

In case you are curious, he describes cooks in this way:

“Cooks are a scrappy lot, often feeling the sting from the prior late night.” and “Cooks “throw” recipes and menus together and scramble for virtuosity…”

(And yes, this introduction is hilarious and you might need to have this cookbook in your stocking this Christmas.)

In any case, I love to bake, and Christmas is like the grand finale to the baking year. I never have time to bake during December, and yet I make the time, because all the different cookies sound so good and look so delicious in the pictures! I’m always on a quest for that new special cookie, the one that makes my loved ones close their eyes and groan in delight as they bite into it. That’s when I know it has earned a place on our traditional favorites list that I make every year.

Here are some old favorites and a couple of new ones I’m trying out this year. I think you’ll soon learn that chocolate and peppermint are alive and well in our house!

Martha Stewart’s Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

A combination of fresh and ground ginger and cocoa powder and chocolate chunks come together in the perfect cookie: so chocolatey, perfectly gingered, and the chewy texture is sublime.

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies

A simple chocolate cookie wafer covered top to bottom in white chocolate with a crushed candy cane topping? Divine.

Cinnamon-Chipper Snickerdoodles

The extra blast of cinnamon from the cinnamon chips and the addition of white chocolate chips and crushed graham crackers make these snickerdoodles something special. The original recipe is from the Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies December 2011 issue, but it can be found online here.

If you have a nut allergy, and can’t use the convenient Hershey’s brand of cinnamon chips, try this substitute for homemade cinnamon chips. They aren’t chips, but the cinnamon is soooo good!

Chocolate Chip Peppermint Crunch Cookies

This is a new recipe I just tried today, and it is yummy! I love the simplicity of a chocolate chip cookie, and the Peppermint Crunch Junior Mints and crushed candy cane topping dress it up perfectly for the holiday season.

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies

Another new one for this year from the RecipeGirl. If you haven’t checked out Lori Lange’s site, do: she’s got lots of great recipes on there! This recipe is easy, which I love, and tasty, which I love even more. Think of your classic peppermint bark with a cookie on the bottom.

Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses, chopped

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies

 

For more Christmas Cookie ideas, check out my Pinterest board!

If you have a favorite holiday cookie, please share!

 

CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEAS YOUR KIDS DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THEY WANTED

December 10, 2012 in Making Life A Little Easier

There is an inverse relationship between the age of my sons and how easy it is to buy them gifts. It used to be so easy: Hot Wheels cars, Legos, Thomas the train, balls of every size and shape, action figures, and I’d be done.

But now my boys are growing into men right before my eyes, and you know what that means: finding them a gift that makes their eyes light up on Christmas morning is getting harder and more expensive.

So I am going rogue this year. I’ll still use their wish lists as a guide, but I’m going to delve into another gift giving avenue as well: getting them things they didn’t even know they wanted.

Like these, available at Amazon.com:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between their iPod touches, my iPhone, and my iPad that the have somehow confiscated for their own personal use, I can never find a free charger to charge my own devices. I’m sick of fighting with them over the one charger we can still find around the house. I think this multi-port USB charger is genius! I’ll be putting this one in my own stocking. Hands off, boys! The pink one is mine!

 

 

Last year, my sister gave the boys robes. They have worn them every day for a year. Every day. They love them. They roll out of bed and slide into their robes before they come downstairs. I’ve felt them: these robes are cozy and plush, and have held up beautifully after being worn nearly 365 days in a row. It’s the gift that they didn’t even know they wanted, but now can’t live without. From Crazy for Bargains.

 

If you don’t know the Bad Kitty series, it’s basically about the unkind and selfish antics of a very bad kitty, with some non-fiction facts about cat behavior thrown in for good measure. Now, I’m not a cat person, and I’m definitely not a fan of bad cats. So imagine my surprise when I read A Bad Kitty Christmas by Nick Bruel to my kids and found myself nearly in tears! It’s told all in rhyme in the style of The Night Before Christmas and it is a wonderful tale of the true meaning of Christmas and the generosity of spirit from even a Bad Kitty. Your kids may never have heard of this book, so they won’t know to ask for it, but wrap it up and slide it under the tree. It’s a treasure!

For older boys, consider The Kill Order by James Dashner, the prequel to the Maze Runner trilogy. It just came out and my oldest son doesn’t know it exists. He is going to be beside himself when he realizes what he holds in his hand. We both read the entire trilogy, of which Maze Runner is the best, and we couldn’t put the books down. They are exciting, suspenseful, dystopian society-esque books where even the characters in the books have no idea what’s going on, and the twists come faster than you can keep up with him. Honestly, this prequel is a gift for both of us, because I’ll be next in line when he’s done.

 

I don’t even remember how I came across PrepSportswear, but I did and I have never looked back. It is a website where elementary schools, junior highs, high schools, and colleges offer their school’s logo on sports attire, and it’s customizable! You go in, find your school and a T-shirt/sweatshirt/pair of shorts you like, and then you can add a graphic you like, i.e. basketball, soccer, football, etc. But here’s my trick: I don’t look for the schools my kids go to. I look for schools that have the same name as my kids, and would you believe it? 2 out of my 3 kids have an existing school with their name. They love having their own first name splashed across their sweatshirt with a picture of one of their favorite sports, and they never would have thought to ask for that because they didn’t know such a thing existed! (Wouldn’t a little athlete named Joyce love to have this T-shirt?)

If your kids like challenging their minds and/or games, look no further than Marbles: The Brain Store. If you are lucky enough to have one near you (Bellevue Square for you locals), do yourself a favor and go in person. Games are out and available for you to play to see if it’s something your child (or you) would like, and you’ve got to love a store where they make periodic announcements like “Excuse me! We are about to launch the catapult!” There are games, puzzle books, things to build, IQ tests, games targeting memory, math, visual perception, word skills, and logic, and they are fun! There are stocking stuffers galore here as well. I’ve already been once, and you can bet I’m going back again before December 25. It’s just so much fun!

If these ideas aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, try these:

RecipeGirl’s Unique Holiday Gift Ideas For All Ages

Julia Tomiak’s Four Great Gift Ideas For Readers and Word Nerds

Elissa Field’s 25 Top Gift Ideas Writers Really Love

And if you have any great gift suggestions for boys, please share!

GYM ETIQUETTE

December 7, 2012 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

(Warning: This blog post shines a light on my unattractive anti-social/snarky side. I’m off-setting that with an image (above) of the serene, peaceful side of me that also exists…just in case you were worried.)

For reasons that may forever remain inexplicable, I am hard-wired for cardio exercise, and my cardio of choice is running.

Of course staying in shape is a motivating factor, but the main reason I do cardio is for my mental health. For me, cardio is like a giant “reset” button for the neural circuits in my brain. It washes away all the clutter and gives me time to work through life’s problems, to ponder and plan, to fantasize and dream, and to organize the swirling commitments of myself and my family into a manageable order. It is truly “me” time, and out there on the trails or neighborhood sidewalks, it’s the only time of the day where no one can interrupt me.

I love running, but I also love being dry and warm, so belonging to a gym in the Pacific Northwest is a necessity. I go in the wee hours of the morning when it’s empty and quiet. I hop on my cardio machine, stick my earbuds in, crank up the tunes, and commence my “me”/anti-social time.

It’s heavenly!

Except when my fellow gymmates encroach on my “me” time by engaging in behavior that pulls me right out of my zoned-out, blissful state.

I’m happy to share my…I mean the gym with others, and I whole-heartedly promise to follow the Gym Etiquette guidelines listed below that will help make sharing our gym time together more enjoyable for everyone.

1)    Disinfect your machine when you’re done.

I see you working out hard, dripping sweat in great, torrential globs all over the machine and the floor. No problem—sweat is good. That’s what we’re here for! Just…you know….clean it up when you’re done. I come inside to escape the wetness outside, not to slide around in someone else’s sweat.

2)    If you’re sick, stay home.

There is nothing more distracting than having someone work out right next to me with a loud, constant, phlegmy cough that sounds like a body part might soon be hawked out of their mouth. My iPod volume doesn’t go high enough to drown out those sounds and they mess with my Zen. I can’t imagine that it’s doing you any good either. Go home, have some chicken soup with a Nyquil chaser, and come back when you can breathe without a wheeze.

3)    If I’m the only one on a machine in an entire row of similar machines, please don’t think it’s ok to hop on the one immediately next to me. Especially if you have a loud, phlegmy cough.

Gyms are like parking lots: if there are a lot of empty spaces, go find one! If you’re looking to be social, I’m not your gal. I don’t become social until well after 8:00am. If you’re unmotivated/lonely and want someone to workout next to for inspiration/company, then I suggest coming to the gym after 5:00pm. You will be blessed with bodies crammed around you on all sides!

4)    Guys: Don’t wear cologne.

You’re at a gym: you’re supposed to sweat and we all know sweat doesn’t smell good, so relax! You don’t need cologne to work out, and I don’t need to get high off your fumes. Save the cologne for after you shower…and even then, you don’t have to put quite so much on.

5)    Please be careful!

I’ve seen a lot of near misses at the gym: dropped weights causing loud, startling crashes, people nearly flying off treadmills at alarming speeds, some almost falling off the stair climber as they trip over their own feet (ok, that was me). I say to all of us: Let’s be careful out there! I don’t want to see you get hurt, and even more importantly, I don’t want to interrupt my workout to help you.

I know, I know. I sound hard-hearted and cold. The thing is, if someone were to get hurt, I’d be the first person to dash over and try to help. It’s not that I wouldn’t help, it’s just that I don’t want to. (Did I mention this was the only time of the day where I get my much-needed, uninterrupted “me” time?)

We have long, dark winters in the Pacific Northwest. It is my pleasure to share my early morning workouts with my like-minded devotees to exercise. I enjoy a certain amount of silent camaraderie when I scan the crowd and see the same people there day after day. Just, you know, don’t come near me. And I promise to leave you in peace as well.

Happy Exercising!