Monday, September 9, 2013

Five Reasons to Go Greek

As millions of students begin their college careers, I am enviously remembering some of the most fun and life-shaping years of my life. Part of what made my college experience so memorable--both on and off campus--was becoming a member of Alpha Gamma Delta. I hadn't intended to join a sorority but after meeting some members and finding out what the organization is all about, I was all in.

Every chapter of a sorority has a different personality and purpose on its campus. I encourage any coed to get to know the women in sororities on their campus and consider membership for many reasons.

Forget all the Animal House ideas you may have about sororities and fraternities. Members of National Panhellenic Conference or Interfraterity Conference organizations are held to academic standards that, when unmet, can limit participation in the "fun" activities or even cause membership suspension. The chapter as a whole must meet an average grade point average. Our chapter supported academic growth by providing study hours and awards. I was even given a scholarship based in part on my scholastic success.

Most sororities are connected to a cause, providing members opportunities to be involved with philanthropic fundraising or activities. While bettering yourself, don't forget about others. Represent a cause and live with a purpose.

Let's not forget why you are in college to begin with. Imagine upon graduation you automatically have a network of thousands of people connected to the same organization. For years, you met the same standards as these folks and worked for the same philanthropic cause. A network of alumni connections can help you get a foot in the door or find mentors in your field.

For all the fun that college brings, it can be stressful. Every fast-paced day can bring critical deadlines and important tests. There will also be new sources of stress from relationships, work and living away from home. Your sorority sisters will understand these challenges and help you cope.

Don't miss the opportunity to be a part of something great. The women who founded Greek organizations were leaders and who paved the way for many successful women. Why not join them?

Monday, August 19, 2013

It's Monday... Do you know where you're going?

Between work, being mom and all the stuff in between, it's easy to lose sight of my goals and fall in a slump. As Seuss said, "Unslumping yourself is not easily done."
I like this quote from Gandhi because it shows the relationship between your beliefs and thoughts and your destiny. The things you think become the things you say, so think positive! Believe in the ability of others and especially yourself!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Go See: South Haven, Michigan

I'm sorry to say that I didn't discover the Great Lakes until I was in my twenties and living near Ann Arbor. Growing up, our frequent destinations were Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach, and anywhere in Florida... but a few visits to Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie, and the Leelanau Peninsula, which juts into Lake Michigan, and I was enchanted by the north. A few years ago I spent a girls' weekend in South Haven and couldn't wait to go back.

When our Florida family vacation plans fell through this year, I decided that I'd take the kids north, where the beach looks just like the ocean but the drive is much shorter and best of all, there's no salt, sharks or jellyfish. The west coast of Michigan is dotted with picturesque tourist towns. Blogger Adventure Mom is a regional regular and a great source of advice for kids activities!

My mom, sister and niece joined us on the trip. It wasn't the vacation I had originally planned, or even secondarily planned (it was unseasonably cool) but it was worth every nickel and 300 minutes of driving. I know our boys will never forget it.

The best way to experience South Haven is to rent a cottage from which you can walk to beaches, the pier, parks, shopping and dining district. Throwing our trip together last minute (and going for the cheap), we opted for a hotel about a mile out of town. The indoor pool really made our trip for the kids.

Before leaving, I used the South Haven visitor's bureau website to make an itinerary, or really a menu of activities to choose from. I like to play it by ear, and it's a good thing. Our first morning we awoke to thunder and rain. It was difficult to find indoor activities since it was a Monday and most museums were closed. We drove about 25 minutes north to Holland, where we found an indoor drop-in center and a place for lunch. Once the skies began to clear, we went to Holland State Park where the kids were able to wade on the beach and see the "Big Red" lighthouse.

Back in South Haven, we got in some playtime at a city park and headed to dinner at the Idler Riverboat, docked on the Black River. Personally, I loved the atmosphere with the open air dining, music and local beer. I have done South Haven with the girls, and South Haven with the kids but next it will have to be with the man. I think he'd enjoy the boats and beer, too.

On the advice of a friend, we set aside a day for Van Buren State Park. Unfortunately we were unable to swim due to the rip tides. More wading and sandcastles. The boys loved climbing the sand dunes. We stopped at DeGrandchamp Farm on our way back to pick blueberries.

Our favorite SoHa restaurant was probably Maria's (be sure to visit after 4 p.m. so you can try the lasagna... delizioso!) My sister and I were able to check out most of the boutiques and antique shops while grandma and the kids napped. We could have spent quite a bit more time rummaging through the books at Arbor Antiques.

Besides building sandcastles, eating and swimming indoors, we did quite a bit of "treasure-hunting" as the boys like to call it. By geocaching we found some spectacular views and a pretty amazing cemetery called Lakeview. Can you guess how many deceased are buried there?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

T is for Tee-ball

We recently completed our third season of tee-ball. While I’m not trying to raise a baseball prodigy, we come back year after year for the important lessons that will help my son in the future, both on and off the field.

My child may be the most stubborn person I've ever met, but learning something new can be frustrating. The encouragement and motivation he receives on the field feed his can-do spirit. It's important for him to know that through practice and strong desire he can accomplish anything.

Tears… and Toughness
During our first season of tee-ball, it was a great accomplishment if we made it through an entire game (three innings) without tears. Keeping him on the bench or in the field was considered a major success. In our league, the batter gets three pitches before he can hit off the tee. I’ve seen a few get hit and learn how to shake it off and be tough.

Every kid longs to be a part of something and to find a place they fit in. It won’t always be the baseball team, but I think the earlier we can show our kids a place where they can belong and learn the importance of teamwork, the better.

It's important for kids to know that you get out what you put in. Between practice and games, the discipline of meeting time commitments will carry over into other aspects of his life. Succeeding in anything, whether it's sports, academics or even relationships, requires a time investment.

Is there anything more rewarding than seeing your child succeed? I love the taste of triumph this sport lets him have. The small feat of catching the ball can make his entire day (and mine). There is no score-keeping at this level and everyone gets a trophy at the end. I think it is well-deserved.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Recently Read: "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed

I love stories of adventure, especially if they're true.

A co-worker handed me "Wild" and said I might enjoy the book based on my (limited) backpacking experience and my love for adventure. I was intrigued right away.

In her memoir, Cheryl Strayed depicts her 1,100-mile journey to shed a troubled past and broken heart. Based on the popularity of this book, I'd say it was a success. "Wild" is a New York Times bestseller, a top choice for Oprah Winfrey's Book Club 2.0 and has been optioned for film. Watch the book trailer here.

These accolades mean little to me as a reader; I've tried and put down a few books with similar worldly success. Just pages into Strayed's story, however, I couldn't wait to hear how it ends.

Strayed is unabashedly honest about her failures following the sudden death of her beloved mother. At age 22 and just finishing college, she tried to keep it together for a time, but soon gave up on her marriage and herself, turning to drugs and promiscuity to escape. It may sound a little cliché, but woven into the chronological detail of 94 days on the Pacific Crest Trail, the story takes an amazing new life. The seamless sort of way she ties pieces of her past into her journey on the trail is nothing short of masterful. It's truly an admirable piece of writing.

At some point in the book, I became invested in her story and found myself rooting for her success, not knowing if she would stay off drugs, be safe or reach her destination, the Bridge of the Gods. She let me down along the way and sometimes I found her to be downright unlikeable. But much more often, I was impressed at her resolve to lace up her boots every morning (while she had them), strap on her monstrous backpack, and continue her quest alone. The enduring solitude is a significant theme throughout the story. There are occasional campouts or stopovers in small towns that add to the adventure, but more than anything it's a story about personal transformation.

In her transformation, Strayed learns to "stay with it" and becomes resolved to succeed, both in her hike and her writing career. In this interview with Author's Magazine, Strayed talks about the resilience and determination required in both the trail hike and the writing process.

"What we accomplish is built on what we failed at, what we tried at, what we hope to do better someday."

What I hoped would be a good story became inspiration for me. I'm so happy Strayed shared her story with the world but there is one more thing I wonder about... Has she been backpacking since?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Day at the Zoo

We got up early on a recent Saturday and arrived just as the Cincinnati Zoo was opening a few minutes past 9 a.m. It made me chuckle a little to see all the strollers popping out of minivans simultaneously. We easily found shaded parking under the solar canopy and headed straight to a watering hole for a rainbow slushy. Don't judge.

Having a zoo membership is the best way to experience all they have to offer by taking off the pressure to see it all in one day. My son and I leisurely strolled at our own pace for a couple of hours. It's also nice that our membership covers parking and unlimited rides on the Zoo Train. See Membership options

Another great membership perk is free or discounted admission to more than 100 zoos... something I definitely plan to take advantage of this year. I have never visited any zoo besides our own here in the Queen City!

It's so worth while to get to the zoo early. Not only did we get great parking and avoid crowds, all the animals seemed very active. The polar bears were splashing and thrashing, which reminded us of one of our favorite books.

After visiting the giraffe exhibit, we headed to the Cheetah Encounter show, which I found impressive. Before watching cheetahs race through the yard--the main event--the guides brought out several other animals including an ocelot and a giant porcupine. The guides bantered back and forth and promoted the zoo's cell phone recycling program by having a red river hog demonstrate.

I can't wait for our next early morning trip to the zoo.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

It's Elementary: Improve Engagement with 3 Basic Rules

Content marketing and strategy is all about engagement. The more you engage users, the more results you will see, whether you want to move more product or generate buzz. Great content is important, but don't forget these very basic rules in the process!

1. Use correct spelling and grammar.
A few years ago, I was in the market for a new daycare. I found the website for the nearest and newest "learning center" but I never called or even emailed because the site was full of spelling errors. When a friend asked about the facility, I shared my concerns. If you want to be taken seriously, increase sales or create more conversation, there is no escaping the need for proofreading.

2. Mind your manners.
Play nice and your friends will come over more often. Thank new followers and users who share your content. Answer all questions, even the tough ones. Also, remember that your online persona is a reflection of your true self and the business or organizations that you represent. Check out this post for more on social media manners.

3. If you want something, ask for it.
We mastered this before kindergarten. Stop grunting, pouting and hinting. The last step in closing a sale is to ask for the business. Likewise, it's proven that asking for engagement yields more engagement. Examples of asking include:
RT this plz
Please "share"
Tell us...

The most clever and creative strategy in the world will fail if these rules are forgotten. Besides, wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone followed these rules?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mom's Favorite Milestones (So Far)

We celebrated another milestone this week with the end of kindergarten. I have been reflecting on all that my son has accomplished so far and thinking about some of those moments that have made me smile.

"I did it, mom! I tied my shoe!"

"Mommy, can I marry you when I get big?"

"I love passparagus!"

"Mommy, you are the best cook ever."

"Mommy, you are the best."

"Did I do good, mom? Did you see me catch the ball?"

"Will you cuddle with me?"
What have been some of your favorite parenting moments?  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Old college t-shirt gets a second chance

You never know when inspiration will strike.

I was taking advantage of a rainy day to do the bulk of my winter-to-summer wardrobe switcheroo, when I came in contact with my t-shirt collection.

Between sorority events, road races and work, I have a ridiculous amount of t-shirts. I use some for sleeping, some for sweating (sans the sleeves) and some for bumming around, but I have way more than I can utilize... or fit in my closet.

I was looking at these shirts I had stowed away when I suddenly had a craft attack and dropped what I was doing to try a Pinterest project that had been on my mind. There were two pins here and here but I chose the second option that requires only a pair of scissors and no sewing.

Here's a quick and easy guide to re-styling an old t-shirt into a tank top:

Step 1: Choose the t-shirt. I opted for an oversized shirt that I would otherwise never wear. This one is from my alma mater, Eastern Michigan University (Hats off to you, Eagles).

Step 2: Let the cutting commence. Cut off the sleeves and the neck, staying close to the seam. Then, cut deeper into the neck, and deeper into the back from the arm holes. This blogger provides great tips.

Step 3: Stretch the edges of the fabric so it rolls up and hides the hack job you just did.

Step 4: Stretch out one of your cut-off strips and use this to tie up the back.

Viola! Check out more Pinterest projects here. What are you working on?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reality for Road Runners

I love running. But I'm also a realist and I think if you're going to hit the road running you need to be smart about it. Here are three quick tips to be safe. Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on safety, fitness or running. These are practical tips I've learned in my running experience.

Plan ahead. If you are limited on sidewalks, like me, choose routes with low speed limits and plenty of shoulder. I like to drive my road runs before I venture out on foot. I also use RunKeeper to keep track of routes and activities but I've used a similar site called MapMyRun. Let someone know your plan--but not everyone. I cringe when I see other female runners post their routes on Facebook or Twitter, giving would-be attackers a virtual treasure map. Unfortunately this is a reality we have to live with, so hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Be visible. Wear high-visibility reflective gear even in daytime so you stick out from your surroundings. I like Sierra Trading for good deals on gear but Brooks has a great selection. Acknowledge others (other runners, cyclists, neighbors, the mailman). A quick wave or nod will ensure they see you and it will help them remember you.

Be a defensive runner. Pay attention to drivers because they may not be focused on the road or expecting to see you. Distracted drivers may be fiddling with a phone, radio, other device, eating a sandwich or talking to kids in the backseat. Run in the direction facing traffic as much as possible so you can play the best defense.
Knowing self defense techniques in case you are attacked is smart. My fiancé insists I carry pepper spray on certain routes, particularly secluded areas like bike paths and trail runs. I also love these shorts with a built in gun holster.

How do you stay safe while running?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

3 Tips for Minding Your Social Media Manners

Unflattering photos. Hurtful comments on unflattering photos. An April Fool's joke gone awry. Public shaming and bullying.

I've seen a little too much of this recently from adults I interact with online. What is it about Facebook and other social platforms that emboldens people to abandon their good manners and let it fly?

Full disclosure: I am not immune to this phenomenon and I don't want to be judgemental but rather make some observations that may be helpful to all of us.

On April 1, a friend posted an ultrasound photo to announce her pregnancy. Later that day, she announced it was a joke. While I didn't think much of it, mutual friends apparently did. Certainly the "joke" was inconsiderate to friends who may have difficulty conceiving a baby. But I was most surprised by what happened next.

A mutual friend publically shamed this "jokester" by pointing out how distasteful it was and how she thinks less of this person now. Our 30 or 40 mutual friends all know who and what this was in reference to and many of them "liked" the public shaming post. To me, this is liking throwing stones in support. While I don't begrudge my friend for feeling upset, I think the way she dealt with her feelings was unfortunate. Two wrongs don't make a right.

In the grand scheme of online etiquette, this was pretty minor. There are too many unfortunate examples of cyberbullying among adults and children that have had fatal consequences. There are even more examples of carelessness that have resulted in lost friendships, workplace termination and lawsuits.

I have advised collegues on these basic guidelines of social media etiquette:

1. Angry? Walk away from the keyboard... Phone a friend or bend your partner's ear, but don't vent to your online friends and followers. Your dirty laundry is probably not their business, and the only real outcome is you will look angry and bitter.

2. Don't share anything you wouldn't want your granny or boss to see/hear/read. Most of us don't care to see your hot tub party pics or read your true feelings about your coworker. It's the ones who do want to see this information that you have to worry about.

3. Ask yourself, will this offend someone? This is where I struggle. I'm passionate about my values and I tend to share editorials and cartoons in hopes others might "see the light." Usually I only succeed in starting a heated debate without converting anyone. My approach now is to keep my posts about politics lighthearted, but it is difficult. Bottom line: it's unacceptable to post anything that is intolerant of religion, race, creed, etc. Keep in mind that controversial posts can bite you in the rear as your online persona (like it or not) is a reflection of your employer and other organizations you are affiliated with.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any advice for keeping online conversations civil?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Scenes from Date Night

Last night, the stars aligned and my son and I had some alone time together. After dealing with adults and adult problems all week, it was refreshing to listen to someone talk about important things like kindergarten and counting to 100.
At first he didn't want to go on a date--he said, "No way mom, I'm too young to get married."
All I had to say was "Big Boy."
With a coupon from Valentine's burning a hole in my pocket, we went to Frisch's--one of our favorite things. My date offered a taste of his vegetable soup. "This is a date, you're supposed to share," he informed me.
We did share hot fudge cake, a delicious finish to our meal. We talked about all the things we will accomplish this summer including riding a bike with no training wheels, going on vacation, and swimming A LOT.
Back at home, we held hands and watched several episodes of SpongeBob Square-Pants. A date is no good if you're not laughing, I always say.
I overheard him later proudly telling my fiancée about our date. I think he likes me. He didn't hold the door open and he didn't pay but I think I'll see him again.

Voter Registration Deadline

Oct. 9 is the voter registration deadline in Ohio. It probably goes without saying how critical Ohio will be in the outcome of this presidential race, and the future of our country.

Secretary of State offices and county boards of elections will accept new and updated voter registrations until 9 p.m. Tuesday. A form can be printed from the website and brought to one of those offices.

To check your voter registration or update your information, go here.  The SOS has also provided this nifty guide to voting in the Buckeye State.

Recently Read: The Kitchen House

Before embarking on a 12-hour road trip to Florida, I packed three books and selected The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom as the first read. It had been awhile since I'd enjoyed some historical fiction and the back cover said there was a "dark secret" to be exposed...

It didn't take long to become engrossed in the life of young Lavinia, an indentured servant arriving to Virginia in 1791. Separated from her Irish family, she becomes a part of the Tall Oaks plantation, but belongs neither in the big house or the kitchen house, where she is intended to live.

Grissom offers two perspectives in narrating the story by Lavinia, and also Belle, a slave and manager of the kitchen house. At first I was put-off by this, but the book would have been lacking without Belle's perspective. As a level-headed mainstay of the plantation, Belle offers the story a sense of balance.

The book explores themes of isolation, history repeating itself and of course, secrets! This is by no means a feel-good novel. It is however, a feel-real novel, as the characters and their emotions easily come to life.
After finishing, I couldn't bring myself to start another book right away. I needed to revel in this story awhile. I lived in, smelled, hated and loved the kitchen house. I experienced all the good and bad the plantation had to offer, thanks to Grissom's excellent development of the scene and its characters.

I loaned this book out to one co-worker who concurred with my assessment. I'm curious what other readers thought of the book.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Half a lifetime ago

This is one of the few pictures of myself that I actually like. Can you see that smile on my face? It doesn't get bigger or happier than that. I was on top of the world...probably heading to King's Island. Hell, I might have just been going for gas.

Or oil... This beast burned through a quart per week. Looking back, the best thing about that 1987 Pulsar was the paint. Nevermind that the fifth gear was shot. I had my CD player velcroed to the dash, the wind in my hair and my best friend Mandy riding shotgun. What else do you need at age 16?

Freedom. I was a good kid. I didn't always make the right choices but I had a job, sports and I only skipped algebra (sometimes). Oh to be so carefree. "Youth is wasted on the young."

It's hard to avoid introspection while looking into the rearview. Would I--could I--change anything, having the present knowledge? What would then-me think of now-me?

I think the years have humbled me and hopefully I'm far less judemental than I was as a know-it-all teenager. Come to think of it, I know a lot more now. And I'm more self-assured than I was as an awkward teenager. I guess it's not so bad here in the mid-thirties.

I hope this post doesn't come off as terribly narcissistic. I'd love to hear about then-you vs. now-you if now-you would like to comment. Or, just tell me about your first car.

In 1997, I was going places

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Running and Writing in 2013

Let's kill two birds with one stone. My goals for 2013 are exercise and write more. To accomplish the second part, I'll be using writing prompts provided at The One-Minute Writer.

Today's prompt asks "What's the most fun you've ever had while exercising?"

I've written four sentences and I'm already being interrupted because someone's hungry. Focus!

My dad was an avid runner and when I was a kid, he was always running. After work, he would head out for long jogs along the river levy. He even ran a few marathons but that was before I came along.

I've never been as disciplined or accomplished as dear old dad. In fact, I was probably one of the worst distance runners on our high school track team (and cross country, for that matter). That's probably due in large part to my lack of competitiveness. I challenge you, by the way, to name a sport that is as physically beneficial and simultaneously, without winning, is as enjoyable as running. I've also found that, the higher my age bracket, the more competitive I become. Yours truly is one of the fastest recorded runners (aged 30-34) in Ross, Ohio.

Learned or inherent, I got a little piece of that running thing from dad.

My running includes mostly solo runs on local courses I've mapped out using RunKeeper (which, is not posting my activities logged from my Android, ugh) but it's a nice, free app. Every now and then I'll get with some people for a group run. My runner friends are pretty casual like myself and we enjoy doing the 5k's and 10k's mostly. Since I'm home with a five-year-old most of the time, I do have treadmill that comes in handy.

Getting back to the point, the most fun I've ever had running is probably during the Flying Pig. I've ran on relay teams three times and ran the half-marathon twice. The Thanksgiving Day Race, also in downtown Cincinnati, is a close second.

One of my close friends would argue the most fun we had running was the Tough Mudder in northern Ohio last year. It was a great challenge, and I'm proud of it, but not sure if I want to go again (unless maybe I'm in better shape). We also did a mini-triathlon that I loved, and she hated. To each her own.

So that's it. I've accomplished some running milestones I'm proud of but I think every runner thinks about the marathon. That's something that requires real commitment (as in making training a top priority) and I'm just not sure I'm there yet.

Well, I didn't accomplish this post in the allotted one-minute time frame but I think it's a great topic for today, since everyone is thinking about their weight and health. Or they will be tomorrow, I mean.