Friday, October 23, 2015

My obsessive little... WR? DB?

I'm home from school, it's time to play Madden.
It's bed time? Oh, well can I at least watch the game until half time? 
It's after half time? Oh... well, I wasn't tired. What's the score? 
Can I watch a movie before bed? Okay, I'm going to watch the TO special online.
It's Sunday, I'll be in the living room playing catch and watching football.
Mom, did you know Vontae Davis went to school at Illinois? 
Mom, did you know Peyton Manning plays tomorrow? 

Welcome to my world. I've lost my little boy to football. Sure, he's always liked it, but over the last year he's become more and more invested in every aspect of the game. Husband gets tired of answering his questions, I think, but I think it's adorable that he wants to know everything he can. And of course, trying to be just like his dad, he has his little heart set on being a wide receiver. I'm still working on convincing him that it would be much more fun to be a corner, and he told me he had a lot of fun playing safety during flag football, so maybe I'll end up with a rockstar defensive back after all. With one year left until he can play true youth football (are there even any 3rd/4th leagues around here still?), I can't imagine how the obsession will grow. 

One of the things that has come up more and more frequently in the news, though, is the safety issue that comes with football. I've had several facebook friends mention that they would never let their son play. High school teams are declining as "feeder systems" decline due to not only safety concerns, but competition from other sports. Do I not let him play until he's older? Or do I encourage him to learn how to play safely from an early age? Will advancements in helmets come far enough, fast enough, that I won't have to worry? What about tradition? After getting to watch his dad play last summer could I keep him away from "following in daddy's footsteps" even if I wanted to? I think watching R flip upside down on a 4in beam is slightly terrifying, how will I feel about my baby boy being hit? And then, of course, there are all the concussion studies...

I can't picture myself ever telling A he can't play football, but I'm curious about the people who have made that decision for their children. Especially those who played themselves. Do you/would you/will you let your son play? Why or why not? 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Flag Football and Trojan Pride

This year the kids' school is an elementary only building instead of a K-12 building. The 7-12 kids attend school in another district. After riding an emotional roller coaster for years now, the parents and staff have set out to make the elementary the BEST elementary it can be. They've started planning family activity nights and offering after school sports. Right now they're playing volleyball, but in September they offered flag football. Husband volunteered to coach, and A got to play. What do you do when you start offering rec sports after school for your students? Host your own homecoming week, of course!

Earlier this month the kids had all their dress up days, and on Thursday night they played volleyball and played an exhibition flag football game. It was a blast, and you can see from the photos that Trojan pride still runs strong, but bleachers and sidelines full of fans who came out to watch the kids play and enjoy the free hot dog dinner! Being a Trojan isn't about the age of the kids on the field, it's not even really about the sports or the school. It's about the community that comes together to make something great happen. So thankful that my family gets to be part of that experience.

Monday, October 19, 2015

4H: Another New Adventure

Just like last year when I had no idea how to be a wrestling mom, this year I'll be a 4H mom! I was not in 4H, though my sisters both participated briefly. My husband, however, was a big time 4H-er. Last weekend while I was at a conference he and R attended her first 4H potluck, and she got to be part of the induction ceremony for new members. Here's to hoping that a) we can successfully juggle another activity, and b) my friends who are already 4H moms or who participated growing up have lots of helpful advice for me!

Were you in 4H? Do you have kids in 4H? I'd love to hear about your experiences and any tips you have for a first-timer!

Bill Northey shared this image on his
Facebook page about all the great experiences
that come from 4H

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Gym Mom Favorites in Ames

This summer when I wasn’t on the road I spent a pretty significant amount of time being a gym mom. One of the highlights of my summer, I thought I’d create a list of what made it so awesome. I came up with six things that made my gym mom time pretty epic, and that I think you would enjoy if you had some time to kill in Ames

1.   West Towne Pub. There aren’t a ton of places to eat in west Ames, but West Towne Pub is conveniently located and has delicious appetizers. I enjoyed more than one Bloody Mary there this summer, which I would definitely recommend. If you’re hungry, I recommend the jalapeno poppers or the sweet corn bites as favorites. You really can’t go wrong with cheese balls, and they have some excellent burgers! Make sure you ask for extra straws. 
2.   Sun Tan City. My lovely friends were giving me a hard time at the beginning of June for being so pale, and I while I know that it’s not the healthiest choice in the world for my skin, the 12 minutes that I spend alone and warm in the tanning bed are often a highlight of my day. Since it’s a national chain, I was able to tan while I was in Lincoln, NE for camp, and I regularly go to Ames, Mason City, and Fort Dodge because of my travel and work schedule.
3.   TJ Maxx. Shopping. I love shopping. I also love a good deal. I spent more time than my husband really would have liked stocking up on new clothes for work and working out this year. Fortunately, since it’s TJ Maxx, I was able to do this without spending a ton of money. So see, honey? It was really a smart decision to take advantage of the savings…
4.   Café Milo. Another local favorite on the west side of Ames, the large chai latte became my best friend this summer. When I was traveling I was able to start my morning with Starbucks almost every day. When I came back home my body went into shock without my morning drink. Luckily, Café Milo was there to step in. They have some good lunches, too. I had a great grilled cheese with spinach and tomato one day that I would eat again, and their breakfast sandwiches were often a staple for our mornings.
5.   Ada Hayden Park. It wouldn’t be much of a gym mom summer without putting on the miles! Walking, jogging, intervals, handstands, hiking… We find ways to make it interesting. Unfortunately we didn’t get in the kayaking that we’d hoped, so if anyone has any info on kayak rentals, you should let me know. And of course you put in the hard work of doing loops at Ada Hayden so that you can eat cheeseburgers. See #6.
6.   Odd Fellows. Several months ago, upon hearing about my obsession with “weird” cheeseburgers, one of my co-workers suggested I try Odd Fellows Burger Kitchen in north Ames (just north of the mall). I finally made it in with a fellow gym mom. I should never have waited so long. Their spicy mac and cheese cakes? Ah-may-zing. But their bacon/jalapeno/pepper jack cheese bites? I could eat them every day. And then I would ask for more. Can you tell I love appetizers? On the burger side, my favorite so far has been the Thai peanut burger, but it’s not actually on the menu. The guacamole burger is good, and I enjoyed the Elvis Presley peanut butter burger as well. I haven’t gotten up the courage to try the donut burger yet (the donut is the bun). Not because it’s scary or even weird, but because I’m not a huge donut person. Usually we'll order two different burgers that sound good, cut them in half, and share! 

Now that it’s fall and we’re back on a regular schedule, my life has to be much more focused on balancing kids and home and work, so there’s less time to “play” – but you can bet I’ll be visiting these places when I can, and I’ll definitely be back next summer! Husband would probably say I still find plenty of time to visit most of these places... 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Safeties, Sash, and #GBNB

The first defensive football player I ever fell in love with was Bob Sanders. It wasn't long before Tyler Sash was added to the list. Both former Iowa Hawkeye standouts turned NFL safeties, it's not surprising that these guys captured my attention. A safety is a leader. A safety sees the big picture. A safety sees a challenge and rises to the occasion, sometimes the last man standing between an opponent and a touchdown. On top of that, a safety will make wicked cool plays like Sash's three interceptions against the Cyclones in 2009. So almost as quickly as I fell in love with Sanders, and then Sash, I purchased my Colts Sanders jersey (okay, maybe more than one). When Sash joined the NFL and launched his #GBNB brand (short for Get Better, Not Bitter) to raise money for his foundation, I was a frequent customer. So while Sanders holds a place in my heart as a Hawk and a Colt, Sash found a way into my life on a different level.

While shopping the #GBNB gear Facebook page, I'd come across stories of how he modeled his life after this motto his dad shared with him. The idea is that we all have choices in life; we have the chance each day to get up and be better than the last. It is a motto of perseverance; grit; determination. Over time I have given away dozens of wrist bands emblazoned with the #GBNB logo, including using them as gifts for an entire group of graduating seniors. You never know what obstacles you're going to face, but you'll come out stronger for it.

News of Sash's passing earlier this week has left me saddened, a little shocked, and definitely reflective. It's funny, the kind of impact a person that you've never met can have on you. As the entire state (on both sides of the rivalry) mourns the loss of a great player and a great person, it's not the Super Bowl championship, or the interceptions, or the records that any of us will remember. Instead, we'll remember the community outreach, the supportive teammate, the friend and family member.

Sash's life may have been short, but he impacted more lives than many people ever hope to. His legacy and memory have united an entire state during a week traditionally filled with all kinds of trash talk and hard feelings. With Sash in mind, we'll all keep working to #GBNB.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Finding Relaxation on Vacation

One of my favorite parts about staying outside the city with family is that we have the opportunity to check out some different, more relaxing activities beyond the typical “go, go, go” mentality of being in the city. Burke has a lot of great little places to eat and shop, but we found a few places to be particularly fun – and probably something you could do in many suburban communities around the country.

We took the kids mini golfing for the first time. This wasn’t just your typical mini golf, but a jungle/cannibal themed safari adventure that include squirting water, plenty of photo ops, and 18 holes of crazy fun. The down side was that we had six people and they said we couldn’t go in a group larger than five. Since we’re rebels, we started separately and joined up together once we were inside. J and I had visited this particular mini golf course a year ago, and when A saw the pictures he had immediately asked for the chance to go.

All four of us and Uncle Mark were able to boast a hole-in-one this year. Kayo didn’t have one this time, but last year I was the only one without a hole-in-one, so she and I are about even now!
We also hit up the Minion movie while we were in town. This seems like such a simple thing that we can do at home, but when we have a toddler around, it’s not always easy to get away for a movie night with both mom and dad in attendance. The kids swear they will never watch another local movie again. The seats were full on leather recliners with footrests and giant arm rests. It was insane, so comfortable, and so much fun to give them that new experience!

The highlight for me, though, was the local park. Burke Lake Park is home to obviously a lake, but some great trails, a train, a carousel, mini golf, an ice cream shop, Frisbee golf, parkour stations along the trails, and probably a whole lot more that we missed while we were busy working out. At the time, the kids were training for the Iowa Games, but our family runs quickly rose to the top of my “vacation favorites” list. Living and modeling a healthy lifestyle for our kids is one of the best decisions and parenting choices J and I have made for our family. I’ll never forget those moments, and I don’t think the kids will forget their 5 mile runs or first parkour experiences any time soon!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Planning for DC: How I Scheduled Our Vacation

This probably should have been one of the first posts, but that’s okay. If you’ve ever been to DC, you know that it’s possible to spend days and days in the city and still never see everything. We chose to do almost exclusively free things this time around for two reasons. 1) We only planned to spend 2 days in the city, which is not nearly enough time to see everything, and 2) We were taking the kids on their first trip, so we wanted to hit the major highlights vs some of the more obscure, albeit really cool, destinations. We still didn’t fit them all in, but I think they got a pretty good taste. I thought it might be helpful to give you an outline/sketch of what our itinerary looked like for your own planning purposes. I didn’t necessarily write about them in the same order that we did them, so it may have gotten a little confusing.

-Arrived at DCA, took cab to Burke, VA where my family lives, and went for a run and enjoyed a nice meal with them.
-Took train into the city, about a 45 minute ride. The Smithsonians open at 10:00am. If you take the metro before 9:30am you pay higher prices because it’s considered “rush hour” or “on peak” travel time. We waited until after 9:30 to save a little money, but that did make our morning a little short once we finally arrived at the Smithsonian metro stop. At this point we did:
1. American History Museum (approximately 1.5-2 hours)
2. Natural History Museum (60-90 minutes)
3. Walked to Union Station for lunch
         *I chose Union Station because then everyone could get what they wanted from the food court, and also because then we got to walk by C-SPAN, where I had previously spent a summer as an Educator Fellow, and I had taken the train into Union Station every day that summer, and I wanted to share that with my kids.
4. US Postal Museum
5. Walked down the back side of the mall, or a block or two north, to hit Hard Rock Café for J
6. Found an incredible farmer’s market where we bought fresh flowers for Kayo and stopped for drinks and samples of sheep cheese (only J sampled those).
7. Returned home via McPherson Square metro stop, leaving the city around 4:30pm.

1. Miniature Golfing near Burke
2. Running at Burke Lake Park

1. Air and Space Annex near Dulles
2. Minions movie in theater near Burke

1. Zoo 9:30am to 2:30pm
2. Running at Burke Lake Park

-This time we went into the city a little earlier, but rode to Capitol South because we had our tour.
1. Botanical Gardens (30-45 minutes)
2. Capitol tour (tour is maybe 45 minutes, but I’d say we spent 90 minutes here)
3. 1:00 Lunch, then metro to McPherson Square
4. White House/White House Gifts
5. Washington Monument
6. WWII Memorial
7. Korean War Memorial
8. Lincoln Memorial/MLK Jr “I have a dream”
9. Vietnam War Memorial

-Back to the metro around 4:30pm again.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Remembering Katrina: Lessons 10 Years Later

I’ve spent a good part of my summer blog posts talking about the different “families” I’m lucky enough to have in my life. I met Herb as part of J’s “Rampage family” this summer. We were sitting at the Saloon in Webster City having dinner after a game, and as people often do when they are meeting new people, I asked where he was from. The conversation went something like this:

Me: So where are you from?
Herb: New Orleans.
Me: Oh, what brought you to Iowa?
Herb: Katrina.
Me: ….

I’ll admit, I am often guilty of the news media trend in which we “forget” about events after the next new thing comes along. That conversation (although brief) stuck with me, so in a later conversation when Herb mentioned the 10 year anniversary of the storm approaching, I jumped at the chance to write about it.

Born in New Orleans, calling the downtown area home through high school, Herb was just returning from a leadership training camp in August 2005 as Katrina approached. Aware of the storm, but not really following the media coverage (how many teenage boys do?), it sort of caught him by surprise. With not a lot of warning, and very inconsistent weather reports, where the storm flip-flopped from a category 3 to a category 4 and back again, his family decided to stay in their home to ride it out.

250mph winds.
Broken levees.
         Over 1,000 lives lost.
                      Billions of dollars in damage.

Herb and his family, like many who survived the ordeal, looked for safety in the Superdome. We all remember the stories that came out of the Superdome at the time – Herb called this space home for 5 days.

Leaving the destruction behind, thousands of people looked to relocate. Herb ended up in Pella. I imagine relocating from a Katrina stricken New Orleans to Pella, Iowa was a bit of a culture shock, but he did know people there. In fact, they had visited him in New Orleans prior to Katrina, and were connected through church. He told me, “[the] best part was having people in Iowa who cared enough to get us a house to live in in the midst of the turmoil. The worst part [was] being called refugees in our own country.”

While it has taken some time, he says the city is coming back. Though he has no plans to visit during hurricane season, he says the community is coming back as well. The rich traditions and heritage of the city live on, but with a new flavor.

For me, the story is a reminder that home and family are what you make of them. You don’t have to be related to be family, and you don’t have to be born somewhere to call it home. For Herb, his church family became a bright spot under tragic circumstances, and Iowa became home. You can't choose, or even know, what kind of events will impact your life forever, but you can choose the people that will impact your life. 

Thank you, Herb, for letting me
tell this story.

*A few notes...
1. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to tell this story. Never before have I had the opportunity to write about something so personal to someone else.
2. I truly wanted to tell a story of strength and family, not dwelling on the past.
3. In no way do I want to discount the story of Mississippi 10 years later.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

US Postal Museum: A Family Favorite

I don’t know the actual statistics for any of what I’m about to say, but I’m pretty sure it’s true anyway. Insert winking emoji here. The Postal Museum has got to be one of the most undervisited Smithsonian museums there is. At the very least, the number of people who have been their on either of the occasions that I have visited has not matched the value of what you get for the visit. Since it’s not on the mall, I think a lot of people don’t really know it’s there. Besides, if I told you that one of the coolest places to visit was a museum about the post office would you really believe me? Probably not. That’s why I took photo evidence.

We started by basically going back in time into a mock forest, where you see a pony express trail and learn about how they notched trees, what they earned, ate, and how they avoided robbers. Then you climb on a stage coach with these creepy mannequins, which my kids were not super fond of. Then you get to more modern day cities where there is a mail train car, you can sort packages, practice coding letters by zip code, scan packages, sit in a semi cab, and even see a dog sled. It’s all very hands on and kid friendly. And all that is just the downstairs. Oh wait. I forgot. There’s also the traditional gift store, but there is a stamp store as well, where you can buy tons of different kinds of valid postage with cool designs and pictures.

Moving on, upstairs, there several interactive boards to learn about different stamps, as well as a table full of old stamps that kids are invited to choose from (pick 6, is the suggestion) and take home to start their own stamp collection, along with a couple computers where kids can take their photo and design their own stamp that can be emailed to an adult and shared. We didn’t actually get any farther than that because we ran out of time, so there’s probably more to the upstairs exhibits than I’m able to tell you about, but seriously. Add this one to your list, it ended up being one of my kids' favorite stops!

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Coach, My Role Model

It will hurt. 
It will take time. 
It will require dedication. 
It will require willpower. 
You will need to make healthy decisions.
It requires sacrifice.
You will need to push your body to its max.
There will be temptation.
But, I promise you, when you reach your goal, it's worth it.

A friend once shared this post with me, and I saved it because it rings so true in so much of what I do. It embodies so many of the things I try to teach my kids. R's coaches live this mantra. R has had, and does have, some of the most amazing coaches in her life. They play such a crucial a role in shaping her into the person she is and will be. And while I appreciate all of the lessons that she has learned throughout her time as a gymnast, the quality I admire most is that they live the types of lives that I want my daughter to see. I could not ask for better role models in her life. Whether it's owning a business, traveling across the country to pursue big opportunities, or working and studying to become the best version of themselves mentally and physically...

Her coaches dream big... 
Never give up...
Rise above adversity... 
Push themselves... 
Take chances...
In order to achieve greatness.

Surround yourself with those who will push you, inspire you, believe in you, and live a life you want to emulate.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Doing the Smithsonians

We were only able to hit a few Smithsonian museums on our visit, and we left a lot unseen at each of them, unfortunately. We hit a couple major ones, and a few less known locations. Each of the following locations had free admission.*

         -Botanical Gardens – So this is not technically part of the Smithsonians I don’t think, but it’s right on the mall, between the Capitol and the American Indian Museum (someday I will get to this one). This isn’t a place I can spend a ton of time, but there are some really cool areas, including a children’s garden where kids can dig and water plants, a balcony walk through a rain forest area, and a medicinal plants (all joking aside) section that are really interesting. My favorite, however, would be the orchid section, which is beautiful. The kids enjoyed the watering and digging, but 45 minutes here was plenty for them.

         -US History – this was actually the first place we visited. Our first stop was walking through the wars of US history, starting with the American Revolution. We quickly realized, after taking time to stop at each exhibit and explain it to the kids that we needed to choose between depth and breadth. In the classroom, I would go with depth. On our whirlwind tour of DC, we chose breadth. After about an hour in the “wars/conflicts” section, we knocked out First Ladies exhibit, gun boat, American Presidency, coins, and a new farm to table exhibit in about another hour. After convincing the kids that we didn’t have to spend their shopping money at our first stop, we took off to the Natural History museum.

         -Natural History – I had never been here until about a year ago, and it now easily ranks among my favorite all-time museums. We made it to the second museum before the kids opted to spend their money on stuffed tigers. The animal exhibits were among their favorite, although the dinosaurs and gemstones ranked pretty high up, as well. They weren’t as excited as I was about the Egyptian remains or the human genetics areas. We took the obligatory “shark mouth” photos and made sure we saw the penguins before leaving this one. The giant elephant that generally sits in the rotunda was under construction, so that was a little disappointing. We were able to show them from the second floor balcony, but it loses a little something when it’s behind a large barricade.

         -Air and Space Annex – Last year was also the first time I’d visited the Air & Space museum, and I liked it so much I immediately added it to our list with the kids. That was until Mark suggested the Air & Space Annex at Dulles. Here’s where the * from above comes in. The museum is free, but parking is $15. It’s totally worth $15, but it does need to be noted, especially when you think you’re doing the “free” Smithsonian stuff like the zoo. While the museum on the mall is cool, the Annex is home to the Discovery space shuttle (yeah, like the real one that was in *SPACE*), the Enola Gay (yeah, like the real one that dropped atomic bombs), several Nazi fighter planes, an air and space restoration bay where they are working on old planes, and numerous other bada** planes. They also had several interactive exhibits for the kids to check out, along with flight simulators you could ride in. J could have spent several more hours there, but we had tickets to go see the Minions movie.