Trainer’s Tip #8: Take a Daily Dose of Gratitude.

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Trainer’s Tip #8:  Count your blessings instead of your hardships.

Not just tomorrow when you carve the turkey, but every day.  Too simplistic, you say?  Studies show that doing so will improve your level of happiness and your health.  They show that people who keep a gratitude journal exercise more regularly, take better care of themselves and are more optimistic about life.  Gratitude is a stress-buster and helps the immune system.

When your eyes open in the morning, or before they close at night, write down something you’re grateful for.  Or just think it in your head.  What do you take for granted?  What do you love about yourself?  Create positive mantras, and repeat them in your head while you work out.  “I’m strong.  I’m empowered.”

Try it.  You may be grateful you did.

 

Fight Back Like A Runner

Martin

This photo of 8-year-old Martin is circulating the media.  He died during the Boston Marathon bombings, along with two others.  Almost two hundred people were injured, many severely.  Most of these were volunteers and supporters, the very people who make it possible for runners to do what they do.  What was supposed to be a display of joy, camaraderie and accomplishment became a murder scene, the kind that we’re only used to witnessing in 3rd-world Middle-Eastern countries.   Thank God for the heroic acts of medical staff and others who rushed victims to area hospitals.

My heart aches for those affected by this vile act of hatred.  It aches for Martin, an innocent soul who reminds me of my own son, who’s life was stolen from him prematurely minutes after he ran into the crowded street to embrace his father at the finish line.  Violence has become widely prevalent in our culture, and technologies such as social media have made isolation from others more common.  It’s easy to want to turn our heads and become apathetic, or to become bitter and cut ourselves off from everyone.  But the faces of these victims and those of other recent mass killings must be remembered.  Their memory can be the fire in our bellies that keeps us fighting for the peace and security that we and our kids deserve.

So now, as we try to make sense of who and what motivated this terrorist attack, we can ask ourselves–How will we heal?  Of course, we need to pursue justice.  But should we examine our own attitudes toward others?  Should we consciously choose to focus on what unites us rather than on our cultural, political, ethnic or religious divisions?  On 9/11, I was living in Boston, working at a local TV station.  I remember how we all responded to the horror of that day by overcoming these differences, if only temporarily.   We healed by using what binds us together to unite under the common cause of good.

Boston is a proud, resilient city, and running is a sport like no other.  It allows us to come together–without exclusion—for a positive, uplifting purpose.  For me, and perhaps for you, too–running is a gateway to inner peace.  But it also makes you tough.  It makes you strong.  Sure, you fail, but that only makes you fight harder.  You get up, and do it again.  And again, and again, if need be.

As parents, citizens, role models, elected officials, members of the human race–Let’s fight back the way runners do.  We can be that beacon of light and hope that always beats out evil.  It will be hard.  But it’s time to put our big-boy (or girl) pants on and refuse to accept the hatred, violence, fear, prejudice, mistrust, and the insistence of old, tired dogmas that we have no use for.  Let’s band together through encouragement, understanding, commitment, compromise, and pure, raw strength of will.  It’s time for us to lace up our shoes and actually walk the walk.  For Martin, and for the others.

From Runners World, on the sport of running: “It’s the only sport in the world where if a competitor falls, the others around will pick him or her up. It’s the only sport in the world open to absolutely everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or any other division you can think of. It’s the only occasion when thousands of people assemble, often in a major city, for a reason that is totally peaceful, healthy and well-meaning. It’s the only sport in the world where no one ever boos anybody.”

Valentine’s Day Heart Krispie Treats

heart krispies

Looking for a cool Valentine’s Day treat for the kids?  Heart-shaped Rice Krispie treats are pretty, delicious and a cinch to make.

Find the full recipe on familyfun.com.

I made these (pictured left) for my daughter’s preschool class.  Just add a few drops of pink food color while you’re mixing the Rice Krispies and marshmallows together, cut out hearts using a cookie cutter, and you’re done.

For added appeal, I drizzled pink-colored white chocolate on top of them.

One batch made 18 hearts.  I plan on trying out green shamrock Krispie Treats for St. Patrick’s Day.

Enjoy, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

8 simple Christmas traditions, crafts and shortcuts

white glitter pinecones

white glitter pinecones

Christmas…The most wonderful time of the year, right?  But if you’re like me, sometimes the stress of shopping, wrapping and all the rest can get in the way.  This year I’m determined to pare down on the commercialism and simplify the season so that mommy can enjoy the holidays too!

Now, there are certain things I go all out on at Christmas that won’t ever change.  I LOVE decorating.  But I made less batches of cookies, bought less gifts, and am making more family time.  I’m focusing more on the special family traditions I can pass on to my kids, and on carving out more quiet time at night for us to just “hang out.”  Here are a 8 simple traditions, crafts and shortcuts that help me put the joy back into Christmas:

Advent Forest

Advent Forest

1.  Advent Forest.  This year we made this out of card stock (from Family Fun magazine).  You can download the cone templates from their website.  Then I wrapped trinkets (silly bands, stickers, etc.) in tissue to put underneath each one for the kids to uncover during Advent.  Or, if you’d rather, you could stash little Bible passages or Christmas messages underneath to read to the kids daily.  We had fun making it, and the kids can’t wait to see what treasures they find each morning.

make your own tag

make your own tag

2.  Improvise.  Forgot to buy tags?  Here’s an easy way to make your own:  Using white card stock, cut paper into strips or squares using patterned-edge scissors.  Tape them under bows for elegant, simple tags.  These are such a snap to make, and personally, I think they are much prettier than the sticker kind anyway.

easy gingerbread houses

easy gingerbread houses

3.  Easy crafts.  Whether it’s a gingerbread house or a popsicle-stick snowflake, pick a craft and have some fun with the kids!  White glitter pinecones are my favorite.  These have been around forever, but if you’re looking for something easy to do with the kiddos, these are simple and pretty.  Mix together glue and white paint, brush on pinecones, then sprinkle with white or iridescent glitter.  Finish by tying a pretty ribbon to the top.  I have these on my tree, and sometimes the kids give them as gifts.  Tip:  The more paint you use, the prettier they are!

make your own centerpiece

make your own centerpiece

4.  Use nature’s beauty.  Not all Christmas decorations have to come from a store.  Snip some evergreen from your yard and display it in pretty vases in your house.  Not only pine, but cedar, juniper and boxwood also make beautiful decorations.  Keep them in water so they last all season.  If you’re feeling creative, craft a wreath by tying or gluing the branches to a wreath form from a craft store.  Simple, elegant, and cheap!

5.  Family movie night.  Time to pour the eggnog or hot cocoa,unwrap the cookies and get out those great Christmas classics! Whether it’s Rudolf the Red Nosed Reinder, A Charlie Brown Christmas, or A Christmas Story–or newer movies like The Polar Express or Elf, a special movie night can make for great family cuddle time!  We love Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, a Jim Henson classic.  If you’re in the mood for live entertainment, you could also take the family out to holiday concert at a local school or church, or even to the theatre.  I apprehensively took my 4 year old daughter, who loves dance, to see The Nutcracker, and to my surprise, she loved it.

6.  Light-Peeping: Fun and Free.  Once a year, we pile in the car and drive around town marveling at the awesome light displays.  We stop for coffee and hot cocoa along the way and have the Christmas carols on full-blast.  We even stop at a drive thru live nativity at a local church (a mini drive-thru Christmas play), which we can view from the warmth of our car.  The kids love it!

7.  Give Back. Something as simple as taking some food to a local shelter can do alot to put the spirit back into Christmas for me, and it reminds the kids that it’s not all about the presents.  Sign up the family to ring the Salvation Army bell for an hour, or see if your church has any outreach programs your family can get involved in.

8.  Caroling. If you have anyone musical in your family, break out the guitar/keyboard/flute and start singing.  Get some other families together and carol around your street/neighborhood, or gather around the piano and have a caroling party right in your home.  Always puts me in a great mood.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

My 10 Favorite Fall Activities

There are so many reasons to love fall.  It’s not too hot; not too cold.  It begins with apples, brilliant foliage and hint of spice in the air, and ends with pumpkin pie, soft sweaters and Thanksgiving turkey.  As a tribute to my favorite season, I’ve compiled a list of 10 great ways to get the most out of autumn.  If anyone has something to add, please do!

apple picking

1.  Apple and grape picking.  Living in upstate New York, these homegrown fruits become staples in the fall.  And they taste so much better picked straight from the tree/vine.  My whole family gets in on the action, and we have ball.  We’ve also visited cider mills, where the kids can watch how its made and then sample the result. 

2.  Visiting a pumpkin patch.  I don’t mean choosing from neat rows of picked pumpkins, I mean sloshing through the mud in our boots until we find the perfect ones.  Our favorite pumpkin patch grows pumpkins in all shapes, colors and textures–green, white, grey, bright orange, pale orange, bumpy ones-plus gourds and squash galore.  The night before Halloween, we carve two of them.

3.  Going on a scary hayride and other good, old-fashioned fun.  There are two types of

hayride at Powers Farm Market, Pittsford, NY

haunted hayrides–kid-friendly ones and adult-friendly ones.  We take a kid-friendly hayride at a local farm market.  We wind through the woods watching ghosts, gouls and witches as they stir their cauldron, as well as a creepy cemetery filled with dry ice.  At the farm market we also hit the petting zoo and giant corn-stalk teepees, which house wall-to-wall jack-0’lanterns. 

farm-market fun

If you’ve ever experienced a more “adult-appropriate” hayride, you know they probably involve gory masked figures jumping out at you suddenly and screaming in your face, and you’re not sure whether to laugh or scream back!  Fun for a goofy night out with friends. 

4.  Making pumpkin pie/muffins/bread and eating it with a hot cup of pumpkin spice coffee, by the flame of a pumpkin-spice candle, before taking a bath filled with pumpkin-spice bubbles.  You get the picture.  If you can’t tell already, I love everything pumpkin.

Canandaigua Lake

5. Taking walks in the woods and drives in the country.  The Finger Lakes boast breathtaking foliage in autumn.  During peak season, we like to walk along the nature trails at our local state park, observing a chipmunk, toad, caterpillar, bird, or maybe even a deer in its natural habitat.  We also love to ride through the hills around our lake as we listen to Louie and Ella’s “Autumn in New York,” stopping at an antique, coffee or pie shop if we spot one.

6. Wine touring.  Living in wine country, hubby and I love to do this any time of year, but autumn is prime time to visit our region’s wineries, some of which are the country’s best.  It’s our relaxing “getaway day”. 

7.  Watching, “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”  We grew up watching this, and now we do it with our kids.  Who cares if the Peanuts kids are cruel and every other word in the show is “stupid”?  It’s a classic, right? 
8.  Halloween Fun.  Costumes, decorating and spooky crafts.  Need I say more?  This year I’m actually attempting to make my daughter’s costume, which will be interesting since I don’t sew.  Families from all over town come to our little area of the neighborhood to trick-or-treat, because the homeowners here go all-out in their house decorating.  Sometimes the adults dress up too.  Who knows, maybe hubby and I will try dressing up this year.  Now THAT’s something I haven’t done in awhile.      

9.  Football.  I’m not big into TV sports, but football’s an exception.  There’s something about football on a crisp Sunday afternoon that screams “fall”.  Football, chili, and a roaring fireplace.  My son is playing on a touch football team this fall, and he loves going to watch our high school football team play home games, also.

10.  Crockpot meals.  Comfort food, plain and simple.  Soup, stew, chili, casseroles, you name it.  They’re easy one-dish dinners you can fix in the morning and forget about until dinner time.  By the time September rolls around, these meals become a welcome change to summer’s burgers and salad.  Visit here  for some easy slow cooker meal ideas.

My Love-Hate Relationship With Yard Sales

I hate having yard sales.

Every summer I struggle with the question: To have or not to have?? 

I contemplate the pros and cons.  Pros: Getting paid to get rid of stuff I no longer want or need.  More space, less clutter, and the feeling of relief and accomplishment that comes with it.  Cons:  A week of sorting, pricing, boxing, hauling up and down stairs.  The waste of a Saturday.  My husband complaining about having to help.  My mother-in-law dropping by and getting upset when she sees that I’m selling the cowboy boots she bought for my son 5 years ago.  And again boxing up all the stuff I didn’t get rid of and having no idea what to do with it.  Okay, so there may be a few more cons than pros, but that didn’t stop me from having another yard sale last weekend.

Everytime I sort through my kids’ stuff, my internal dialogue goes something like this:

“What if I regret selling this?  Should I keep it for my grandkids?  Ugh, no!  Get rid of it!  They have too many toys already!  Sell!…But it’s so cute, and we spent a fortune on it, and Nick had so much fun with it, Keep!…No, too many toys, Sell!,” and so on. 

My kids went to my parents’ house the day of my sale.  At the end of the day Karenna came home with my silver Barbie corvette from 25 years ago (ugh, I feel old!), which my mom saved all this time.  The steering wheel and some of the decals are missing, but Karenna could care less.  She loves it as if it were brand new.  She also plays with my childhood Cabbage Patch Doll, Pound Puppy and Little People sets, all of which my mom has saved, which my daughter loves equally as well.  So there is a good argument, I think, for saving a few of the kids’ toys, if you don’t go overboard and you have a place to store them.  I like to save a few of their favorites and the ones that’ll be classics decades from now.

Thinking about all of this has led me to ponder how wasteful our culture is, and how disposable our belongings are.  When we want something, we get it, and we get it NOW.  Then two years later we tire of it and it ends up at our next sale.  As easily as we get it, we trash it.  And the cycle continues.  It happens with my kids’ toys, with our clothes, stuff for the house, electronics, you name it.  It seems like it didn’t used to be that way.  Growing up my family had the same TV, the same appliances, the same toys forever before they were replaced.  I had nowhere near the amount of toys my own kids have, and I was just as entertained.  So why do kids today have so many more toys?  Why is everyone always striving for bigger, better?  Who knew a mundane yard sale would bring such questions to mind.  It has definitely allowed me to consider, “How long will my kids actually use this?” before buying them yet another toy that may land in a landfill

On that note, I’d like to share some “yard sale tips” for success.  Here’s what’s worked best for me:

1.  Advertise!  Put an ad in your local classifieds.  Be very specific in your ad, naming your big-ticket items, popular items, clothing sizes, brands, etc.  If the sale will be held on an open lawn, list a rain date.  Announce the sale on Facebook and Twitter.  Consider having a street-wide or neighborhood sale.  Make sure your signs are strategically placed, sturdy and easy to read.  Have your sale for two or three days, if possible.

2. It’s all about presentation.  Put your most desirable items in the most visible spot.  Neatly organize your loot.  Iron and hang clothes, if possible, or neatly fold them and place them on tables.  Separate kids’ clothes by sizes.  Have a separate bin for well-worn clothing and label it $1 or 50 cents.  (You’d be surprised how many people buy kids’ clothes from this.)  Note: I have never had luck selling adult clothes, even like-new ones.  Have toy playsets displayed on a table, not boxed or bagged.  If you still have instruction manuals, put them with toys/electronics.  Make sure everything has batteries, or keep some on hand to demonstrate that items missing them do work.   

3. Expect haggling.  People who go to yard sales want stuff for next to nothing.  When you’re pricing, keep in mind that people will try to get you to lower that price.  (Price everything!  People hate asking for prices.)  For stuff you really want to get rid of, price lower.  You could even have a “free” box.  For more valuable stuff, price higher and keep labels on hand in case you want to slash the price later.  

4. Be organized.  In my experience, the morning hours are crazy and the afternoon hours are steady to dead.  Expect a few people to show up a half hour to 15 minutes early.  Have someone available to watch your small kids, or send them to grandma’s for the day.  Make sure you have change for large bills.  Have lunch/lunch plans ready ahead of time and keep drinks and water on hand.  Keep your money on you or have someone with your cash box at all times.  Keep jewelry and valuables close to you.  Have someone there to help watch for shoplifters.  You’d be amazed how easily things can disappear when you’re not looking!

5.  Consign/Donate/Sell Online.  Your sale is over, and you’re left with a truckload of junk.  Now what?  I’ve had great success consigning my kids’ clothes.  They do the selling for you!  Pick a reputable children’s consignment shop and see if they’re taking new consigners.  Also, don’t forget to donate clothing, household and other hard-to-sell items to a local charity.  Finally, consider Ebay and Craigslist.  Ebay can be great for clothing, valuables and collectibles, and Craigslist is convenient for larger things that you don’t want to have to ship in the mail.

Summer’s Simple Pleasures

I love lazy, hazy August.  I love how everything (and everyone) seems to lighten up a bit.  No holidays…no extra commitments.  There’s actually time left over to stop and take in the misty heat, sniff the vibrant garden blossoms and hear the cicadas singing…To eat barbeque on plastic plates and sip lemonade (or sangrias) with good company late on a Tuesday night.  I haven’t spent much time on the computer lately, but I don’t miss facebook or the blogosphere in the least.  I’m even turning my cell phone off more.  The modern world will always be there, but in NY State, these blissful August days are fleeting.

I’m being reminded more than ever lately that the most joy can be found in the simplest of acts.  The other night, on a whim, we had a “camp out” in our backyard, complete with flames crackling our metal fire pit, s’mores and singing.  We’re not huge campers, but it was a beautiful night and no one wanted to go inside just yet.  Who knew it’d be so much fun to scrounge for wood, eat burnt marshmallows, and teach the kids old Girl Scout songs from eons ago?  We lit tiki torches as the stars lit the black sky like a planetarium show.  We took turns finding constellations (real and made-up). 

Hubby and I noticed the fire still burning full force after we put the kids to bed, so we grabbed a bottle of wine, turned on Diana Krall and stayed outside until the last ember faded.  It was nice not having to talk over the TV or obnoxious ring of the phone for once.

In a few weeks it will be back to business as usual.  The kids will be back in school, once again I’ll take on the duty of carpooler-in-chief and our nights will be filled with homework followed by earlier bedtime routines.  But until that happens, you’ll find me snoozing in a hammock somewhere, taking one more dip in the lake, eating that last s’more, and relishing in summer’s simple pleasures.

The Lazy Girl’s Iced Coffee

If you’re like me, iced coffee is a daily must-have during the summer.  Quenching, invigorating, an instant pick-me-up.  By about 2pm one of these babies is calling my name. Here’s a simple yet delicious recipe for iced coffee that takes 2 minutes tops to make and, in my opinion, tastes as good as Starbucks.  Great for me, since 2 minutes is about the longest uninterrupted stretch of time I have.  Enjoy!

~Pour 1 single-serve packet of Taster’s Choice 100% Columbian Gourmet Instant Coffee into a 16 oz. glass or insulated tumbler. *Yes, it’s instant coffee, but with this stuff I cant even tell!  Not just any instant coffee will do.  It’s gotta be the gourmet kind.   

~Fill glass with about 6 oz. warm water.  Stir until dissolved.

~Pour in at least 1 tablespoon of your favorite flavored (liquid) creamer.  Add to taste, depending on how sweet you want it.

~Fill rest of glass with ice cubes and milk.  Stir.

That’s it!  Take a sip and say ahhhhhh.

*A tip* Use “coffee” ice cubes instead of regular ones to ensure your drink doesn’t become too watered down!