Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Runner Who Mentors

As a Philadelphia runner, I saw them at 80% of the local runs I did: blue shirts. The badge of courage marking a student runner. The organization known as Students Run Philly Style works with youth ages 12 years to 18 years, mentoring and training them over 9 months to run a full marathon (26.2 miles to you non-runners). With every race, they encouraged and inspired me. Each race I ran, I felt more and more compelled to join the organization. Finally, this past February, I joined as a running leader. This is the breakdown of one of our practices.

12:34pm. I text one of the co-leaders to ask about practice. I want to send out a reminder to the students but need to confirm with him that practice is still on as usual. He responds that he cannot make it due to unexpectedly working late. I attempt to contact the other leaders, but no one is available. I am exhausted and have no desire to lead the group run, especially since I cannot run.

Later that afternoon. I suck it up and send out the mass text reminding the runners that there will indeed be a 6pm practice. Still tired, I give myself a pep talk that includes how important it is that the students run. The clinics this week have or are workout clinics, not running ones, so the practice is important. Then I contact Frank to make sure he can still get out on time so that I don't have to tote Olivia along with me.

5pm-ish. Frank arrives home from work. I begrudgingly change and gather my SRPS materials, which I bring to every practice. In this bag are forms, emergency contact information, and anything else relevant to the now. I text the student I am picking up to alert him of my ETA.

5:50pm. We arrive at school. Already 2 or 3 students have gathered. They are chatting energetically. One of our notoriously late students is walking up as we park. Exaggeratedly I note how on time she is as we join the others. Only after 5 minutes of hanging out do I realize she is not dressed in her running gear. Laughing and more teasing ensue as I urge her into the building to change.

When I joined Students Run, I was intimidated and nervous. I had serious concerns about how much of a time commitment it would be and what I would be required to do outside of running a practice. There were 4 other seasoned running leaders on the team I joined, so I figured I would be able to float along, learning as time went by. But since my personality is more bold than docile, more take charge than stand back, it did not take long for me to well, lead.

6:04pm. She has not yet returned. I start announcements as a way to stall. The group has to run 5 miles, and there is one student who averages a 15 minute run/walk pace. We need to get started soon. I alert the students to the upcoming clinics and times. There are two important facts they need to walk away with, and as I know from giving professional development trainings, they will remember only a small percentage of what I say. I will repeat these two items no less than 5 times each before the run begins. After the run, I will echo this about two more times. My general mood is improving as my back-and-forth banter with the students hits its peak. I am happy that I have such a good rapport with this group.

I think, compared to the other leaders, I am the "mom" of this team. It's an easy role for me to identify with: surrogate mother. My tendency to care for others is evident in most of my endeavors. Even my career path has evolved into one of training, guiding, and educating others. More so than the other leaders, I bring the items that the students might need. I know that one of our runners has an incredibly high metabolism and is usually hungry. On long run days, I try to bring something small for him to eat in case he has forgotten. We have a runner who stands off more than the others, and it is him whom I make sure to praise each practice for attending. I give rides, provide water, and for one student, hand-sanitizer... a girl after my own heart.

7 - 10 minutes later. She returns. The announcements commence from the beginning [again]. One of the older students speaks about the upcoming clinic at the Sporting Club, where the group will rotate through circuits with personal trainers. Both leaders and students have told me how fun this clinic is, and I hope that his words will impress that upon the new students. Summer retention is hard in Students Run Philly Style when the kids could be doing anything else with their time besides getting up early on a Saturday or even just running. Because of this my goal with every practice, more than just the miles, is to create a fun environment. When you are young, running is boring and often tedious, especially when friends call with other plans. I want them to walk away a family, dedicated to each other just as much as they are to the run.

Fun can be hard to infuse into running. We are in our 5th month of a 9 month season. Our team has evolved into a group of dedicated runners. More importantly, I have seen many friendships develop. Students who once spoke to no one during practices have become our loudest members. For my part, I have spent the past 2 months making each practice a little different. Currently we are not training for a "big" race. Broad Street [10 miler] is behind us, and the Philadelphia Marathon is still a good 3+ months away. The students have an excellent base and could all run 6 - 8 miles easily (or without complaint). The summer can be tough, even for me. I have brought food, everything from snacks to muffins to cupcakes to pretzels, and water to practices. We have done scavenger hunts and party games. Wanna have fun? Play musical chairs but without music or chairs... in the rain... with my 2 year old chaotically running with you. Over the 4th of July weekend when a good number of our team was at SRPS camp, we did a patriotic run to the Liberty Bell & back. And even though many would think it's cheesy or uncool, all but one of the students listened to my request and showed up in red, white, or blue. Fun.

6:20pm. I go over the run. They will be doing a 5 mile run that they have often done in the past. All of them know the route, which is important because I will not be with them. There are two junior leaders present that will go the distance. I ask all of them to run in pairs; they are not required to talk, just to look out for each other. I also ask any students who are able to carry a cell phone. Generally, this is not allowed, but today, given my absence, I want to make sure they are able to reach me in case of an emergency. All of them have my number, and they are all programmed in my phone. More reminders. Last minute notes about the route to make sure everyone is comfortable.

6:32pm. They are off. Giggling, teasing, & best of all for me, without complaint. I hole up in my car and wait.

Being an injured running leader stinks. Especially since my injury is a broken pinky toe, on the same foot as my sore ankle. I compensated for the pain in the toe by walking mostly on one side. The tendonitis in that ankle resurfaced due to the severe pronation. A recipe for disaster that yielded me in a walking shoe and ankle brace... and limited to exercising on a reclining bike. No running for at least 6 weeks and probable PT after that. The students have been fantastic about it: a mixture of teasing and sympathy.

6:44pm. I receive a phone call from a student who has fallen and skinned both of her knees. She purports to be hobbling and unable to run. Some leaders would tell her to suck it up and run. She is running at the back of the pack tonight, and I don't want the others in this group held up. I have her stay put, tell the others to keep on, and I am off to pick her up. I have no doubt that she is fully capable of finishing the route. However, in this moment, it is easier for me to get her than to worry about her running back on her own or continuing and slowing or furthering her pain. She regales me with the tale; I will hear this about 4 more times over the course of the practice as she shares it with whomever will listen. Like me, she has a flair for the dramatic, and I am amused by how this plays out over the course of the evening.

In the fall my schedule will change. I have taken a full-time position in South Jersey that will not get me back in time for weekday practices. I am anxious about how this will work with Students Run. I cannot imagine my life without it just as I cannot remember what I did before I volunteered. For now, I am blissfully living in the moment, not thinking about what will happen once the school year starts.

7pm-ish. While we wait, another leader happens by after finishing work. As students finish, we all wind down with more jokes and razzing. My mood has drastically improved. How could it not? Watching these students run 5 miles without flinching then come back and laugh at each other is worth it. By 7:40pm everyone has returned safely. More reminders before "props."

"Props" are an opportunity for any student who so wishes to recognize someone else on the team. In college, my all-girls choir called it "warm fuzzies." Restaurants or stores use recognition cards. Some schools do "stars" or "shout outs." Our team does "props." Generally, every prop session starts with acknowledging everyone who came, thanking them for making the trek and for running hard. Tonight is the same. The wonder that ensues is what students say next. I am always impressed by their thoughtfulness. Members are called out for running with someone, for being on time, and for just generally doing a great job without complaining. This is topped off with our Students Run Cheer.

Who are we?
What do we do?
How do we do it?

8pm. Practice is over. I gather my riders, and we make our way back home. My heart is happier. Turns out covering practicing at the last minute was the best thing that happened to me that day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Mommy Tip: Baking Assistance

Olivia hit this wonderful, help you, independent stage. It's great. No, really... just greaaaat. (Note sarcasm.)

I do enjoy, however, when she wants to help me bake. We go through the hand-washing and necessary sanitary measures, but generally, I limit her helping to dumping ingredients into the mixing bowl. It's great fun for us both, and she loves "cooking" with Mommy.

One of the recipes for cookies involves refrigerating the dough for at least 24 hours, and when I pulled it out, she wanted to help. In a slight predicament, I figured out an easy way that she could help and maintain my sanitary expectations. After all, I wanted to be able to give these to others and not feel guilt over them eating germ-laden, yet delicious (!), baked goods.

These tips are cookie-related only [for now] and mostly applicable to children who don't understand they shouldn't lick their fingers or pick their noses while baking.


1. Choose a bake time right before nap or bedtime. This allows your child(ren) to only help with one batch before being swept away.

2. Have them wash their hands and stand in front of the baking sheet.

3. Portion out a ball of cookie, hand it over to your child, and allow them to roll it and put it on the sheet.

4. Slightly overbake this batch. DO NOT BURN!

That last step is most important. This way you will know which cookies your child touched, and because they are slightly overcooked, you will be less likely to give them to your friends. And let's be honest, your friends are less likely to take a slightly overbaked cookie than one that looks deliciously chewy. Just remember not to burn the cookies or your kids won't eat 'em either.

Happy Baking!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Peach Cupcakes with Sangria Berry Icing

I've been baking a lot lately. I'm not sure if it means I am in a creative mood, a cheery mood, or a just plain hungry mood, but it's made for some delighted tummies. The fruit this season has been delicious, probably because of all the heatwaves. Regardless, I've been wanting to bake something new (not the usual chocolate goody), and we had some peaches from the local farmers' market that were about to go bad. I found a super yummy peach cupcake recipe at Smitten Kitchen as well as one for sangria cupcakes [from a different site]. Feeling a little adventurous, I took the sangria syrup from the latter cupcake recipe, which called for adding fresh berries to a red wine, and used it to make a sangria icing. The result was almost too sweet, so I've gotta play around with the icing. The peach cupcakes, however, were perfect - so moist and light! I highly recommend trying it out; you can find the recipe by clicking here.

I took extras into work and received rave reviews from the summer school peeps. Don't worry, the sangria syrup involved boiling the wine, so I'm 99% certain that the alcohol completely burned off. Here is how they looked (I found the cupcake liners on Sweet Estelle's Baking Supply site on Etsy). Once I figure out a better icing recipe, I'll post an update. Until then, enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Mommy Tip: Surviving the Community

Today's mommy tip is brought to you by free stuff and crayola (figuratively):


1. Always keep a small pack of crayons in your purse.

2. Keep an extra pack in your gym bag, the diaper bag, and any other heavily used bag.

3. You can get free ones from Korner Bakery, Nordstrom's Cafe, and Outback.

4. Or simply throw a few in a plastic baggy and tuck them away! Be super prepared and keep scrap paper in there, too.

The crayons will become clutch in key wait situations: doctor's office, restaurants, church, etc. I often encourage parents to keep handy toys for all of these places, but when you forget, it's super easy to get out the crayons. Bonus: these aforementioned locations often have scrap paper readily available (church bulletin, back of placemat, & Liv's fave, the paper covering the patient seat in the exam room).

This is not age specific either - Olivia has enjoyed the crayons since she was around 9 months. If she didn't scribble, she loved watching me draw as I sang or spell words that were familiar to her. Now, she colors for a good 10 - 15 minutes independently.

So, go ahead, pocket that handy box of crayons the next time you are at Outback! Your child & your sanity will thank you later!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Mommy Tip (Potty-Training)

I am starting a new feature on the blog: every Monday I will post a Mom's tip. Something that I or my friends' do that I find incredibly helpful in parenting my child. A little lesson or task that makes my life easier. Or just some general wisdom from someone who has come before.

This first installment comes from the realm of potty-training. Having just gone through this with Olivia, I felt this was a good place to start. Whether or not you choose to do the highly intense, boot camp-esque methods I employed is irrelevant. This tip is perfect for anyone trying to teach their child to go in the toilet.

My post about the potty-training experience can be read here. Note that we had quite the first night - 7 accidents in a row! This left me wondering about how I would survive the next day on my own. When Liv had an accident, Frank was essential [in my mind] to getting through it. One of us cleaned up Liv and talked her through practicing, while the other cleaned up the immediate area. It involved getting clean clothes, washing hands, and spraying the area with Lysol (not in that order). So, I figured out a way to make it easier to do everything on my own:


1. Have a bucket handy filled with water and OxiClean (or any product like OxiClean). The idea is that as soon as clothing becomes soiled, you can immediately throw the garment(s) in the water for soaking until you can wash them. This made my life so much easier! Toss 'em in and forget about 'em.

2. Keep everything within arm's reach. I had her extra underwear & clean clothes, M&Ms, a roll of toilet paper, a roll of paper towels, a thing of wipes, a plastic bag [for garbage], my recording sheet, a stool for me to sit on, and a box of tissues [damn, the allergies!] all in a 4 foot radius of the potty. Nearby, but safely out of reach, was the container of Lysol. I never had to go more than two steps to get anything I needed. It was a thing of beauty; I wish I had taken a picture. There should have been a sign on the door that said: Potty-training in Progress... Don't Touch Anything!

3. I trained her using a tiny potty because our bathrooms are located upstairs and in the basement; nothing is on the first floor, which is where our easy-to-clean laminate flooring is. I didn't want to train her to use the upstairs bathroom because of (1) the carpet, (2) we don't spend a lot of time up there unless we are on the bed, and (3) it would have been a longer travel distance had we been downstairs. The basement was out because of the carpet and the [golf-ball sized] crickets. If you can avoid carpeting, do so. It's much easier to clean a hard surface than to scrub carpets (especially if you are alone).

4. The tiny potty had to be emptied into the flushable toilet, which wasn't an issue... until she pooped and I mistakenly used wipes. We cannot flush wipes at our house, so they had to be thrown in the plastic bag -- kind of smelly and gross in my opinion. I started using the toilet paper to clean her as best I could and finished off with wipes. Much less odor and a little more sanitary.

5. If you do the intense potty-training like I did, don't bother with pants until your child has the concept [and is having zero accidents]. Otherwise, they just get in the way. Liv went 3 1/2 days without pants, and the first day I put them on her, she said, "Where we goin?"

Good luck!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Power of Prayer

When people meet me, they don't look at me and think, "That's one deeply religious woman." I guess my bold personality comes across as fitting a different stereotype. I am not a fall-down-on-your-knees-throw-your-hands-up-and-shout-it-out kind of prayer person, more a "Hey God, It's Me ... [Alicia]" kind of person. Some people may call this meditation. Others simple contemplation in moments of solitude. I call it prayer.

I generally do not ask for specific things. Mostly because of Mark Twain's The War Prayer...
If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon your neighbor at the same time. If you pray for a blessing of rain on your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse on some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
Instead, I often request the strength to get through a tough time or the courage to accept the outcomes I may encounter. I ask this for others also because as highlighted in Twain's poem, sometimes what we ask for is in complete contradiction to what another asks of God. Who am I to feel more deserving than another?

Recently I found myself in quite a predicament: the eve of an incredibly important presentation, I discovered my jump drive was missing. The jump drive with confidential client files and highly personal information was not where I left it. Initially I panicked, and had this happened about 2 or 3 years ago, I would have melted down... freaked my freak as a friend once said. I'm not sure if it was hitting my 30s and achieving a maturity closer to self-actualization, or perhaps, simply not being knee-deep in the school year's stresses, but within about 10 minutes I had calmed down. I quickly accepted that the jump drive would not be available for the presentation and went about finding another solution. Happily most of the documents I needed were, in some form or another, on my hard drive or other removable disks. I figured out how to proceed, and the meeting went very well.

But... I still did not have a hugely important item. My concern loomed over the information contained on the drive and how potentially harmful it could be in another's hands. When I realized there was no way I had left it outside of my own house, I chalked it up to God or the baby and figured, eventually, it would be found. Still there was this gnawing on my inside: where the hell did that thing go?

After much remembering, I narrowed it down to two locations in my house. Again, I self-soothed: when able, I would do a complete clean sweep of those areas. If it was still MIA, I could safely assume my naively helpful child attempted to clean out Mommy's purse and threw it away. I felt better knowing that some evil superpower was not in possession of my jump drive, using it to accomplish their dirty, dastardly deeds... but still, where the hell was it?

I prayed. Aloud and silently. I began daily prayers to St. Anthony, "St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please look around. Something is lost and cannot be found." I racked my brain, tried new places, and then prayed more.

Nay-sayers will claim I would have found it eventually, but what does it matter? I eventually stopped looking and focused only on my novena, if you would call it that, to St. Anthony. I hoped, if nothing else, for the memory of where I left it. As I was about to sort my laundry... shamefully, the 2nd time in only 10 days... a thought crossed my mind, "Wouldn't it be funny, if it was in my laundry basket?" I shook my head and rolled my eyes and got to sorting. Absurd. With about 2 items left to pull out, there it was: my jump drive. Sitting there as if this was its home. Waiting for me to discover it. Strewn in with my dirty clothing. It either fell off my bedside table and into the basket or was accidentally pulled along with the clothing during a bed sweep.

However it came to be, it was found. Thank you, St. Anthony. And thank you, good Lord in heaven, for keeping me calm and sane... mostly.

So, forgive me, readers, for being soap-boxy. But take a moment when you can for you. Call it prayer or meditation or deep thought or internal discussions with your multiple personalities or just a simple moment of silence. It doesn't matter the title, just do it. You may not realize the full import of this quick pause until you face an adversity so troublesome, you have no idea what to do that it really is easier to not do at all. You will find the strength to continue, whatever its source.

And hopefully, you've realized, it's about more than a jump drive.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Really Good Cause!

Via Twitter I follow a woman who is running 13.1 miles in her combat boots to raise money for the American Cancer Society via Team Determination.

In order to raise a lot of money quickly, she's organized a pretty sweet raffle full of incredibly desirable running goodies. You can get raffle tickets by donating money! Visit her blog for more information and/or to donate. It's an excellent cause by an extraordinary woman.

Her raffle ends July 15, 2011, so do it quickly!

And if you are on twitter, follow her: @amileinmyboots & me:@BabyMakesChaos

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ain't Too Proud

Ok, so I admit it, sometimes I'm all for using this blog as a platform to win free stuff. So, I'm entering a contest on the blog: Endurance Isn't Only Physical. Cross your fingers for me and check it out (after you uncross your fingers!).

A Need to Go the Extra Mile

It's pretty clear that I love running. My t-shirts are 90% race shirts. My walking shoes are old-running shoes. My "sweats" are just loose running apparel. I have a drawer devoted entirely to running gear. I attribute my uh, [cough] svelte look to running... as well as my sanity. I enjoy lacing up the Brooks, turning on the Runtastic app on my Blackberry, bidding adieu to my hubby and child, or just the cats if no one else is home, and escaping my life. At a recent half-marathon I saw a sign that said, 13.1 miles of peace and quiet. Amen. And I'd like to add of no diapers, crying, whining, or general chaos - at least from my child & husband. I may do 3 of those 4 items at any time on a run.

Unfortunately, running has not always loved me back. After I birthed a small child, it took awhile for my 10 month stagnant body to warm up. Postpartum running went as fast as an 80 year old speedwalker, who often beat me [mentally]. And my knee developed this nagging pain that has since been successfully treated with Hyalgan shots.

Feeling like I needed focus, I trained for and ran the November Philadelphia Half-Marathon. It was invigorating to be running a distance again. I felt whole, finally back to me. During the 13.1 mile trek, my friend Amy & I talked about life, our daughters, and running. We wanted them to grow up strong and to see the importance in activity. I felt like I needed to share running with the world. Like I needed to stand on roof-tops calling out its glories. This pull led me to Students Run Philly Style, an organization that mentors youth through long-distance running, and over time, we train the students to run a full marathon. That's 26.2 miles, a distance even I have never beaten.

Running with the students has elevated my running, physically and mentally. It doesn't matter what kind of awful mood I am in; when I run with my students, I am immersed in excitement. Plus, my body has reaped the benefits of this conditioning. My pace has improved, and I found myself capable of quick turnarounds due to improved recovery on challenging runs.

Over the past few months, I was up to running 20 - 25 miles per week - an all-time high, especially as a working mom. I ran Broad Street in early-May, turned around and ran the Oddyssey Half-Marathon in late-May, and then the King of Prussia 10-miler in early-June all without a solid break. My pace has increased to slightly below 11 mins/mile. I was ecstatic.

But, it laid the groundwork for a physically tired anatomical me. During the KOP run, I landed funny coming off a curb. The immediate effects went unnoticed, and I finished the challenging 10 mile race under my goal. For several days, the ankle was sore, and I thought, "It's nothing." When I tried to return to running, it screamed at me. I figured, a minor sprain and took some time off, using a grocery store brace to offer home-made stabilization. Low impact exercise, ice, rest, repeat. After a week or so, I tried treadmill running... still pain. Back to the formula, walked with the students when I could, and this time kept the brace on always. Running with the brace, while it looks ridiculous, goes well with little to no post-run pain... as long as I am on a treadmill. I learned that latter factor when I decided to push my luck and run the Swarthmore Independence Eve 8K - a lovely, local run which usually has no more than 100 - 150 runners. It is also a very challenging 8K.

I ran it, in its entirety. My ankle starting talking to me around 2.5 miles. When I got to mile 4, it was yelling at me, cursing really, but by this point, I was a mile from the finish and determined. The recovery was tough, especially since I turned around and did a 6.6 mile run/walk with the students the following morning. Smart? Probably not. But I have a few students who would have been fine walking with me, and I don't want them to lose their conditioning so we walked a block, ran a block and enjoyed ourselves. Not wanting them to see bad habits, I minimize the effort I put forth around them. They need a role model that listens to their body, rests when rest is needed, and tests their limits cautiously. So while I may not do that in reality, I promise that when I am around the students, I am not reckless. In fact, this was the first time they have seen me run in weeks. Pinky swear.

The frustrating thing is that it only hurts when I run. With the brace on, I can do a stationary bike, the eliptical, walking, and even short-distance treadmill running. But that is not what my body craves. I have a problem: I need to run. I yearn to get out the door and spend hours hovering between 10 & 11 minute miles. It's a strange rush, but it's mine. I already have my sights set on the Baltimore Marathon's Half-Marathon, sponsored by Under Armour & sure to be filled with amazing swag. As fun as cross-training can be, it's not the same. It's not running.

I have a doctor's appointment Thursday and am hoping for the best: minor sprain. At its worst, it could be a stress fracture or even need surgery. Either way, I am developing a mental argument for why the doctor should treat the injury in a non-restrictive way. Maybe I really cannot run, but let me swim, bike, walk, move. Anything. Just let me do.

And when I return, I can continue saving my sanity, one mile at a time.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Passing Moment

Olivia has been having some nap troubles. Specifically, I want her to nap, and she feels it's unnecessary. We've gone through this before; the outcome of which was she learned that Mommy is not going to come get me but Daddy might and Mom Mom will. So, if she thinks I am not home, she will cry. Now, over time her cries have become more cunning, more manipulative. Initially, she cried. Then, she screamed hysterically. She started yelling out our names. A few weeks ago, she began loudly calling, "I love you, too!" or "I miss you!" Last week, it became, "Help!" My child needs to use these powers for a greater good...

Then, we potty-trained. And my daughter, the future CIA agent, pulled out her Ace-in-the-hole: "I need to go potty!"

Except she doesn't know what she's dealing with because her mommy is a behavior analyst who deals with cunning & shrewdness everyday. Her mommy puts her on the potty for a minute or two and then puts her right back to bed.

Today, however, in a passing moment of weakness, I sat with her in the glider and rocked her. I cradled her in my arms, told her to close her eyes, and softly counted. As I counted, I realized just how big my baby is with her head and feet over the armrests [laying on my arms]. I thought about how I used to hold her in this very position when she was a newborn and refused to sleep. I listened as her breathing slowed and hit a more rhythmic smoothness. I felt this radiant love - me to her and bouncing back.

She may be shrewd but she is still just perfect. As I shifted to move her into the bed, her eyes opened into tiny slits, and I whispered, "I'm going to lay you in your crib. It's time to take a nap." I softly brushed her hair aside before creeping quietly from the room.

The angel slept for almost 3 glorious hours.
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