11 Invaluable Life Lessons from a Coach

At the twilight of another Olympiad, the world prepares to return to business as usual.  Athletes reflect on their golden moments while others mourn the loss of “what could have been.” Fans return to their regularly scheduled programming and embrace the fact that they can no longer use “I was watching the Olympics” as an excuse for everything.
Although I was never an Olympic athlete, I did spend 14 years in competitive swimming.  Watching the Olympics always brings up memories of being a competitive athlete; the sacrifices, the triumphs, the disappointments, being supported by a coach.   I spent 10 years training with the same coach and when you spend that much time with a person, it’s impossible to forget all of his or her motivational sayings no matter how hard you try.
Everybody can benefit from the guidance of a good coach at some point in their life.  We all need a good kick in the pants every now and then.  In the spirit of the Olympics and training with a coach,  I’ve complied a list of 11  Invaluable Life Lessons as told by my former swim coach.  Consider this your good kick in the pants for the time being!
1) I’d rather be oh and twenty than oh and oh. Better to try and fail than to never try at all.  Samuel Beckett had a card on his desk that embodied this idea: “Fail.  Fail again.  Fail better.”
2)  Have a little pride. Remember that your work, your actions are a reflection of YOU! Don’t want to tarnish that good name of yours.
3) Be able to look at your competitor and say, “I’ve worked harder than you and I want this more than you.” Make this a true statement.  Work harder than your competition.  If you believe you are the greatest, you will rise to your expectations.
4)  Hope to meet your competitor on their best day, rather than their worst. You don’t want to win the Gold Medal in say Women’s aerial skiing just because the favorite slipped and fell.  You want to win because you are the best in the field! 
5) It’s time to light the fire under your rear.  Any time my coach  yelled this sentence in my general direction before a race, I always dropped at least 2 seconds off my best time.  Passion ignites success!
6) Find the path of least resistance. Originally said in the context of stroke technique, this principle can be applied to life.  Whatever you decide to do in life should not be a constant struggle or cause conflict. In other words, “get in where you fit in.”
7) When the race is over, get out of the pool like an athlete. It’s important to carry yourself in the way you wish to be perceived.  To this day, I still feel a little guilty if I exit a pool using my knees. 
8 )  Get your priorities straight. We were told our priorities were family, school, swimming, end of story.  When you have your priorities firmly laid out, there’s no getting distracted from the task at hand.
9) I don’t need any more friends, I have my own. This was often said in response to my bratty comments.  As a 10-year-old, I talked back and thought, ‘that’ll really show this guy!’  However, my coach reminded me that he had a delightful group of friends at home, thus my approval of him was not necessary or needed.  You don’t need everyone you meet to be your friend, you simply need to be able to maintain a working relationship.
10) There are billions of people in China who don’t care how
you swim today. Or as Dr. Phil once declared, “People don’t think about you as much as you think they do!” Put your life into perspective.  Not that many people care about what you do, so no need to worry what other people may think.
11)  Excuses aren’t printed on the results. “Wait…but…I…if only…see what had happened was…but…” No excuses!  Do or do not, there is no try (thanks for that one, Yoda).

College Dorms and the Living’s Easy

The words “upscale” and “college dorms” should never appear in the same sentence.  I nearly fell out of my chair while reading a recent article in the Boston Globe that described a local university dormitory that came equipped with a wood fired pizza oven.  While the article focused on how universities are battling for students, I couldn’t help but fixate on the wood fired pizza oven.  A pizza oven in your dorm room?  I could barely make Ramen noodles in mine!
Living near several college campuses, I have noticed the trend in upscale dorm living.  To be competitive, colleges are looking to find creative ways to attract students, I understand that.  Parents want more for their money, I’ll buy that. But providing part-time valet parking, a concierge that will take your dirty laundry, and automated-wake up calls as is the case at High Point University in North Carolina?  Give me a break!
To me, “upscale dorm life” was having exposed brick on one wall of my otherwise modest single room.   I only dreamed of picking a high enough lottery number in the room lottery to secure the college’s “prime real estate,” newly erected townhouses built with uncharacteristically wide hallways, but I was happy to secure a room of my own.  As for the automated wake up call?  That was my friend pounding on the door to make sure I was awake for lunch. 
With this new trend of condo-like dorms equipped with full kitchens, gyms, snacks, laundry, gourmet coffee, varying dining options, college students are missing  key character-building life experiences.  I am a better person for having lived in a dorm in which people left their ashtrays out in the lounge, bathrooms were co-ed, there were no elevators  to take you to the fourth floor, and you might have had to wear headphones to drown out the noise at three am while finishing a paper.  Part of the college experience is learning how to adapt to communal living away from the comforts of your parents’ house!
I wonder about the future of these college kids when they rent their first apartments.  They will face a harsh dose of needed reality when they find that no one else will take out the trash, housekeeping does not make the rounds each morning, toilet paper does not automatically refill itself, and omelettes cannot be made to order on the first floor of your apartment building. 

Don’t Let the Weather Rain on Your Parade

Living in a cold, Midwestern climate and having lived in other cold climates, I find myself wondering why I haven’t moved to Florida or California already.  During the heart of winter, when thirty degrees feels warm and sunny days are a pleasant surprise, I like to lament about the things I could be doing it weren’t so unearthly cold outside: dining al fresco on the front porch, meeting for margaritas and chips n’ salsa on the patio of the local Mexican joint, relaxing on the beach with a good book to name a few.  I then feel envious of the people living in Southern California who probably have never owned a coat.

However, lately the weather has been miserable everywhere.  This winter it has already snowed in Florida and Texas, DC has had not one, but TWO Snowpocalypses, New England has been pounded with snow.  There really is no such place with perfect weather.  That being said, there is no point in wishing away all of these less than ideal conditions.

Moral of the story? Don’t wait let the weather rain on your parade! You don’t need to wait for the “perfect” conditions in order to enjoy your favorite outdoor activities! Simply bundle up!

Here are some events you can still enjoy in the Great (Cold) Outdoors:

The Winter Olympics. The rest of the world doesn’t seem to mind standing outside on Cypress Mountain under the cold, dim moon to catch a glimpse of downhill moguls or cross-country skiing. Anything to witness Olympic Glory.

Mardi Gras and Other Winter Parades. After attending St. Louis’s Mardi Gras parade and celebration this past weekend, it dawned on me that I don’t need to wait until June to enjoy the delights of a street festival.  Just add a pair of leggings under your outfit, a couple extra shirts, gloves, scarf, and a hat and you can still catch beads from a parade for hours while clutching a 32 oz. Hurricane.  Added bonus if you can wear winter gear in Mardi Gras colors.

Outdoor Sporting Events. It seems to be a trend that hockey teams are ditching their indoor arenas to play games at local baseball parks or football stadiums.  The Boston Bruins played in the Winter NHL Classic at Fenway Park this past New Year’s Day.  Last year, Wrigley Field hosted the tournament.  I attended a Packers game in early December in Green Bay where the temperature was 20 degrees. I felt under dressed as I had left my snowpants/hunting gear at home.  Of course, despite the cold, Packer fans were  tailgating before and after the game. 

Grill out.   If you’re feeling daring, you can even eat outside on a picnic bench with a couple of beers and enjoy the wonders of your backyard.  However, most people would want to eat their food indoors.  I would argue that a cheeseburger made on the grill tastes better in December than in the heart of summer because it’s such a rare beauty.

However you decide to spend the rest of your winter, remember that inclement weather does not have to ruin your fun!

If It Ain’t Broke…

With the advent of Google Buzz, I’m starting to get tired of all the rapid changes in technology and social media.  If technology is going to progress so quickly, I’d like to be able to choose whether or not I can opt in or opt out of these changes.  For instance, Google Buzz simply swooped in and gave its Gmail users Twitter-like abilities and public profiles without fair warning. Facebook has changed its image and added more features so many times that it’s becoming frustrating.  What was wrong with the first 500 versions of the website? 

Today’s phones don’t just take calls, but also videos, photos, hold music, store important documents, act as a GPS, balance your check book, and count your calories.  Anything you’d want to do in your daily life, now there is a phone app for that.  Remember when text messaging was a novel concept?!

It’s hard to keep up with all these changes, especially when I preferred some of the older models better than their newer counterpoints.  I’m still adjusting to the fact that VHS tapes are out along with video rental stores like Blockbuster.

In honor of my favorite “oldies, but goodies,” here are 5 technologies that are fine just the way they are:

 1) The boom box.  Do you really need to bring your personal computer around with you to provide music at parties? The boom box did just fine.  Plus it still plays your old mix tapes.

 2) The overhead projector.  Invented during the 1940s, this is hands down the best way to display information on a wall in front of large groups of people.  No need to worry about memory stick problems or losing your connection to the internet during a presentation.

 3) A physical book.  No digital reader can ever replace the feeling of holding a book in your hands and feeling the pages between your fingers (and of course the new book smell).

 4) The Nokia cell phone.  I agree, we all need cell phones, but you can’t even use a touch screen with your winter gloves! Flip phones tend to snap in half eventually, but the Nokia can fly down a flight of stairs (and even survive a drop in the toilet) and still accept your calls and text messages.

 5) The single air conditioner unit. Forget central air.  I just want my bedroom to be cold. The noise these things make is soothing, especially if white noise helps you sleep. I don’t need my whole house to be cold all the time and I like how easy you can control the temperature on these things.

What are some of your favorite technological “oldies but goodies”?

No Valentine? No Problem!

As another Valentine’s Day rolls around, those without Valentines need not worry.  If you are flying solo on February 14th, there is no reason to panic or even give it a second thought.  While everyone else scrambles to order flowers, secure reservations for the local dark bistro, and set the mood lighting at their hotel room, you will have something even better planned: A Valentine’s Day pub crawl.

Last Valentine’s Day, I attended a Valentine’s Day Pub Crawl throughout the streets of downtown Boston.  Singletons and non-singletons alike packed these bars to the brim.  Most places even had lines of people waiting to enter.  This record-breaking turnout made me stop and wonder, are there really that many single people around? How refreshing!  My friend found this organized pub crawl through some social group, but if you’re too lazy to find a pre-organized crawl, you can make your own!

The homemade pub crawl never disappoints.  All you need is to pick a neighborhood of local bars, decide an order and a drink minimum per bar.  If you live on a line of public transportation, try to visit a bar at each stop.  For instance, my pal and I used to do what we called The Red Line Challenge in Boston/Cambridge, MA.  Starting at the Park Street stop off of Boston Common, we headed North towards the end of the line at Alewife, picking one bar per stop.   Usually by the Davis Square stop (just before the end of the line), we had to call it quits due to exhaustion. 

If your route permits, I suggest stopping by a hotel bar. The third stop on our Red Line Challenge was always the Kendall Square’s Marriott bar, Characters, a clean dive bar. With complimentary popcorn, pool tables, a permeating smell of the hotel pool, foreign bartenders, and intriguing hotel guests, our experience at Characters always provided a good story to tell the next day. 

Finally, making t-shirts for your pub crawl is key in building camaraderie amongst pub crawlers and helping you keep track of your route and friends, should you forget.  Even if you’re not single, you should have been expressing your undying devotion all along, not solely on Valentine’s Day.  You have 364 other days to express your love and affection, but the Valentine’s Day Pub Crawl comes but once a year!

If Lauren Conrad Can Write and Publish Books, We All Can

Former reality TV star Lauren Conrad is on a book tour promoting her teen series, L.A. Candy.  A movie is already in the works! If she can write and publish teen novels, we all can right? Probably,  if you subscribe to the whole everyone-has-one-good-novel-in-them theory.

The more important question is, what is the likelihood of having your teen novel published? Conrad is not a writer by trade, but she has the social capital to get anything she wants published or turned into a movie/television show.  Publishers approach her to pen a ten series about a reality TV star.  I certainly don’t have publishers knocking down my door (except in my dreams).  In fact, I’m lucky if a publisher doesn’t throw my un-opened manuscripts straight into the trash bin.

Then there’s Stephanie Meyer.   She had never written so much as a short story before in her life.  Then, she wrote Twilight, a story that came to her in a dream.  Meyer had intended to keep the story to herself, but after reading the finished version, her sister convinced her to send it to a publisher.  Meyer wrote 15 letters; 9 were rejected, 5 went unanswered and 1 was positive.  Finally, there was an auction for her manuscript and Ms. Meyer received $750,000 for her Twilight series. Not too shabby for a woman who never wrote.  Maybe there is still some hope in getting published the old-fashioned way! Maybe all it takes to get published is coming up with an original, heart wrenching story idea  plus an effective pitch letter.

There’s always self publishing, I suppose, if you are in to that sort of thing.  The verdict is still out on that.  People on Twitter try to convince me daily that self-publishing my work is the way to go, but I’m not too sure.  I could be convinced.

I guess there are worse things for celebrities to do besides write teen novels.  At least Lauren Conrad’s claim to fame is not undergoing multiple plastic surgeries like her Hills nemesis, Heidi Montag.  Regardless, I still like to think that if Lauren Conrad can write teen novels, I can, too.

Fight Monday Morning Dread With The Breakfast Sandwich

Every Sunday night around seven o’clock, I start to feel what I call “The Sunday Night Blues.”  It’s a feeling that stems from wanting to extend the weekend and thinking about all the things I neglected to do to prepare for the Monday morning work day.  When I taught middle school, “The Sunday Night Blues” were more of a personal guilt trip: “I really should’ve graded that stack of personal narratives instead of watching movies all day.” Now that I’m not teaching, it’s more of a feeling like, “I should’ve been in bed three hours ago, but this Lifetime movie is so riveting.”  Inevitably Monday morning rolls around leaving me unprepared and reluctant to attack the work day head on.  Why can’t it still be the weekend?   Instead of enjoying a nice breakfast with the morning paper, I grab a few peanut butter breakfast bars for the road, praying public transportation works in my favor.  More often than not, I suffer from a case of The Mondays.

Enter the breakfast sandwich–a cure-all for fighting Monday morning dread! Any time I can wake up and make myself an egg sandwich, I feel refreshed, even energized. It puts an extra little bounce in my step.   There’s no greater sense of accomplishment than waking up a half an hour earlier to fry up a delicate, but delicious breakfast sandwich.  Some people feel that same sense of accomplishment by running five miles at 5 am.

The breakfast sandwich is so easy to make and worth every minute of your time! You’ll need two eggs, an English muffin, two slices of tomato, and your favorite veggies.  Start by toasting your english muffin.  Then cut up all of your vegetables.  I use two slices of tomato, a few slices of pepper (could be green, orange, red, or yellow), one small mushroom, and sometimes zucchini or asparagus.  After toasting the English muffin, I immediately slab on some mustard, my favorite condiment!  Setting the English muffin aside, I saute two slices of tomato along with my veggies.  When they are ready, I place a slice of tomato on each piece of English muffin.  Next, I stack on my peppers.  Finally, I fry two eggs over medium and place them above the peppers.  To put on the finishing touches, I put the mushrooms over the eggs and voila! The breakfast sandwich!

(Don’t forget the side of bacon.)