"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘coaching’ Category

The Shes In Me

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Taking Emily to college a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but mentally check off all of the life lessons I was sure I’d taught her in her eighteen years of living with us at home.  Did she know not to put a grease fire out with water?  Had I shown her how serious I was about safeguarding your drink at a party?  What about identity theft scams?  Did she know not to mix ammonia and bleach cleaning products?  I couldn’t be certain that we’d covered all the basics of everyday life and I knew that I didn’t have time in our remaining car ride to cover them all, even if I could remember what they all were.

I wasn’t overly worried about not telling her everything—her generation grew up with Google and YouTube, after all.  But it wasn’t until last weekend that it dawned on me that a lot of things I have learned in life didn’t necessarily come from my own mom.  Not to minimize my mom’s influence on my life, but I realized that over the years, many women (and men) have served as teachers in my life.  By absorbing their life lessons, intentionally taught or not, they have all helped develop and shape my outlook on life.  The person I am today is a product of all those “shes” in me.

I’m really hoping that Emily’s life is full of people who step up for some of those practical lessons in a role that parents can’t always fill.  There are times that I think I’ve neglected to teach her some of the most basic of things—like in her first few days at school she asked me where to buy postage stamps.  (Apparently, we never covered that lesson.)  If I skipped the postage stamp lesson, I have most certainly glossed over topics like refilling your windshield washer fluid and choosing produce at the grocery store, so I hope that she is never afraid to reach out and ask others.  I remember several years ago I felt really stupid asking my mother-in-law about hospital corners when making a bed, but I asked her anyway.  Growing up, as long as the bed covers were pulled up and not rumpled, my bed was considered “made”.  But my mother-in-law had been in nursing school, and “official hospital corner bed-making” was part of her curriculum, so I asked her about it, and she patiently showed me.  Now, just about every time I make the bed I think of that lesson, and the non-judgmental kindness of the woman who didn’t mind taking the time to teach me.

Lessons that go above and beyond have stayed with me a lot longer than others could possibly imagine, too.  When I was about six years old, my mom demonstrated to me a tooth brushing lesson that I’ll never forget.  I was the kid that would wet her toothbrush so it looked like I brushed my teeth because I was too lazy to actually brush.  And I had the cavities to show it, too.  I don’t know if Mom was just tired of having to take me to the dentist or listening to me complain about Novocain shots, but one day she took me into their master bathroom and got out an old comb and toothbrush.  She demonstrated in dramatic fashion the best way to brush.  I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember thinking that my teeth brushing habits must really be important to her.   I remember how it made me feel important to her, too.

tooth

Some of the best kind of mentoring can take place when someone lives in such a way people emulate their ways.  People who walk the walk, and don’t just talk the talk.  I know of many women who have been a blessing to me and probably don’t even realize it.  Women who have lived their lives modeling graciousness, reaching out to those in need with a heart for helping others.  Women who aren’t afraid to admit they’ve made mistakes, but use the lessons they learned in making those mistakes as a way to guide others into self-reflective decision making instead of wallowing in self-pity and regret.

Speaking of role models, I need to mention I’ve picked up on some “what not to do” teachings, too.  Generally unintentional, not necessarily pleasant, these lessons in life are passed on by the person who embodies character traits that make others want to turn 180 degrees away from them.   As distasteful as some of those encounters can be, I long for my children to see them for what they are—a valuable lesson on how not to conduct themselves, which can be as powerful of life lesson as a deliberate teaching.  Instead of feeling wronged, I hope they turn those experiences into becoming strong, resilient people who gain the ability to persevere through adversity.

When I think back over my years being around young people as a parent, Girl Scout leader and coach, I have had the opportunity to be someone else’s child’s “she”.  In those roles over the years, I became extremely self-aware of how my attitude and the way I’ve handled situations and people is perceived by the casual and not-so-casual observer.  I’ve always hoped that, even if they don’t remember my name, something I’ve said or done in our time together in some small way will draw up to the surface of who they become in a positive way.  The food coloring in the water to someone’s carnation.  I am forever grateful for those who have been that to my children—their friends’ parents, coaches, youth leaders, and teachers who took the time to be a role model and mentor to them.

carnation

I will always appreciate those in my life who, whether they knew it or not, shared moments and insight with me that helped to shape who I am today.  To the women who shared cookie-baking secrets, demonstrated grace during crisis and lived lives that showed others they truly cared, thank you. I hope to be able to pay your kindness forward to someone else.  And to those whose lessons were not in kindness, I owe you thanks as well.  Without the negative interactions we’ve had, I may not be able to see the balance in life and work through it.

It’s been a little over a month since Emily stepped out from the comforts of living at home with Mom and Dad into college life.  She’s not encountered any grease fires or had cleaning catastrophes that I’ve been told about, so I’m hoping those skipped lessons have been averted or do not become Mission Critical any time soon.  I’m not positive on how she goes about making her bed on the top bunk, but my guess is hospital corners are not a major concern that she has.  Thankfully, it sounds like she’s settling into college with some great shes to help her out.  But now that I think about it, she’s not mailed a letter to dear old Mom and Dad yet, so about those postage stamps…

What’s Going On These Days…

One of the things that I do that drives my kids crazy is to start a sentence and not finish it when I’m talking. Sometimes it’s because I assume they know the end of the sentence, but other times it’s just because I’ve gotten distracted. I realize that my blog has kind of gone in the same direction as some of those unspoken sentences.

Here lately, I’ve been very distracted from blogging and writing in general. As a Financial Peace University graduate, it’s good, because the reason is that I’ve been working a side job as a form design contractor. It’s a great gig—I can work in my PJs on the couch on my laptop. However, as a paid gig, it takes precedence over other things—like writing. I wish I could put things on hold like laundry or housework instead, but for some reason it’s frowned upon to go out with no clean clothes.

So as to not leave some of the more recent blog topics dangling like a participle in one of my unfinished sentences, I thought this would be a good time to follow up to some “goings on” around here recently.

The Wall

The new view from the living room into the kitchen.

The new view from the living room into the kitchen.

The wall we removed the week of Thanksgiving was successfully taken out without incident. Over that weekend, Darrell removed the wall and finished it with the wooden trim he painted, leaving a strip in between the two floors of the kitchen and living room unfinished (for now—I’m not the only one who runs around like a loon).

The strip that needs to be covered.  There's a teeny little hole that peeks into the basement.

The strip that needs to be covered. There’s a teeny little hole that peeks into the basement.

He touched up the paint on the living room side, and I decided that it really was time for a new color in the kitchen. My friend brought over a gallon of paint she had leftover from a project at her house, so we tried it out in a couple of spots in the kitchen. The color is “smoked taupe” and it looks pretty good. Now we just need to paint!

Here's "smoky taupe", the color we'll probably go with.

Here’s “smoky taupe”, the color we’ll probably go with.

 

Robotics

 

Our Engineering Notebook

Our Engineering Notebook

Last Saturday the Nuclear Unicorn Girl Assemblers (NUGAs) attended the FIRST Robotics qualifier competition. After an (almost) all-nighter the night before, complete with printer issues and a few robot hiccups, they managed to do quite well. (By the way, the girls did win the 3D printer, we just haven’t received it yet!) The game, called the Cascade Effect, required our robot to try to score points on the game field by knocking out the kickstand of a container that had wiffle balls in it, and then trying to loft them into these tall beakers. The teams were assigned other teams as alliance partners for six separate matches. The girls had to make sure that the robot was programmed keeping in mind that another robot would be in the same general area, trying to do the same general thing. One robot starts on a ramp and the other one on the floor (hence, two possible programs to use). There is also an “interview” type of judging session (our girls rocked!) and an Engineering Notebook they have to turn in documenting their work and how it progressed.

A scene from the qualifier.

A scene from the qualifier.

In the robot matches, the girls came in tenth out of thirty-three teams, which was amazing. They did not make the cut to advance to the next competition, but we are attending another qualifier next month to try again. This month we will spend updating the robot, its programming and the presentation to wow them at the next competition. The girls all learned a lot from Saturday’s competition—and I know I gained valuable insight as well. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing the kids that do the FIRST Tech Challenge are. The atmosphere at the competition is one like no other. Yes, they are competing against each other, but teams are continually helping each other with troubleshooting and supplying items that a team may have forgotten. Officially it’s called “gracious professionalism” and it’s stressed throughout the competition. It is so encouraging to see it being practiced by these very mature, very smart young adults.

Adelaide/NaNoWriMo

Maybe next year???

Maybe next year???

Poor Adelaide. She never saw it coming, which is kinda crazy because seeing things coming is a big part of her story. Adelaide is a little bit psychic, but not of anything of importance. Just weird, small stuff that doesn’t really amount to anything, so she really keeps this “gift” a secret. Until this nudge causes her to uncover the plot of a murder. Now, usually-reserved Adelaide has to go out on a limb to protect people she loves. Will she risk leaving behind her “normal” life to set the story straight?

That’s the premise of my silly little story I started for NaNoWriMo at the beginning of the month. I’m not anywhere near the 50,000 words that is the goal by month’s end, mostly because I didn’t see my side job coming. It’s not a huge deal, so it does fall into the realm of possibility to be the type of thing that my character would get a heads up on.

I haven’t completely shelved her at all. I just have gotten swamped with home improvement projects, robots, work and Christmas. Hopefully someday Adelaide will get all the attention she deserves so she can be brought to life on the paper. In the meantime, I just keep writing her story in my head.

When I’m not thinking I’m George Jetson on the treadmill screaming, “Jane, stop this crazy thing!”

Pink Safety Glasses and 3D Printers

This past fall I’ve become involved with my daughters’ FIRST FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) Robotics team. For the past three years, it was Emily and Darrell’s “thing” and I didn’t really do much more than hound my husband to make sure he read his emails from the coach. This year, the woman who had been the coach/Girl Scout liaison in the past was planning to move out of state, so I agreed to be the person to help coordinate our team, the Nuclear Unicorn Girl Assemblers (NUGAs for short). If you’ve read my posts about coaching running or leading Girl Scout troops, you may begin to see a pattern in my acceptance to lead things that I have no experience in. Robotics is no exception. Thank goodness that we have involved parents (including my husband), who know the ins and outs of building and programming robots. I jokingly say that I can fire off a pretty good email now and then.

Let me tell you about these girls—in a word, “awesome”. They are all Girl Scouts from five different troops in 7th – 11th grades. NUGA has girls from public, private and homeschool environments – 10 girls in all. What I enjoy most about these girls, besides admiring just how very smart they are, is that they are just fun people to be around. We spend Sunday evenings hammering out details of how our robot would best complete its assigned challenge. Each year there’s a different game field the robots compete on, with a different challenge. You can see it in action at FIRST’s website at http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/ftc, but to put it simply, the robot basically needs to be able to put two different sized whiffle balls into “beakers” (clear tubes on rollers). There are three separate, timed parts to the run in the competition—Autonomous, Driver and End Game, and teams earn points in each of these segments. As a team, part of the design process is coming up with a strategy to earn the most points during the judge competitions. The girls have to learn how to design, wire and logically plan to efficiently create programs and designs that would benefit our strategy in the competition.

What’s really interesting to see with these girls is how they all have special, individual talents that they contribute to our team. While they all share and work on design ideas, some of the girls work on building the robot using Tetrix. Others program in LabView by National Instruments and download it into our Lego Mindstorm Brick to control the robot. The team has to maintain an Engineering Notebook (another part of the Challenge), and build relationships with other teams. Especially because we are sponsored by Girl Scouts, we participate in a lot of outreach efforts by mentoring younger teams and getting girls excited about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The girls have a blog they post to—www.NUGAteam.tumblr.com to share what they’ve been doing. Not all of it is relevant to the robot and the challenge, but they seem to enjoy having a forum to post their interviews with one another.

Sunday night we worked on writing a 300-word essay to submit to win a 3D Printer from EKOCYCLE, who is giving away 1,600 3D printers to FIRST teams this year. The girls had a lot of good things to include and I was impressed with their ability to articulate what they needed for their robot that they thought the 3D printer could help them make.

The NUGAs, who just four years ago were mostly strangers, have become friends. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles we face on Sunday evenings is getting the girls to focus on the task at hand instead of socializing with one another. But slowly our plan is coming together. We hope to be participating in a newly formed practice league in our area soon and getting our robot out on the field to see him in action.

If you are ever asked to help out with a robotics team, I’d advise you to accept, even if, like me, you haven’t a clue as to how to program a robot. There are a ton of resources available, and the FIRST league is definitely first-class in gracious professionalism, a core value it promotes. Robotics is much more than just kids building and programming a robot. When you see these kids in action, you get the feeling there’s a lot of hope out there with kids like these building the future.

The Last Lesson

Today I attended my last Girls on the Run practice as a coach. It was a fitting ending—we did the “freeze tag” lesson, which is always one of the girls’ favorite, and as Coach Missy says, “makes great memories for the girls”. Lately I’ve been thinking of how this will be my last season as a coach, and how proud I am for having been a small part of this wonderful program that helps builds character in young girls through running.

The program came to our school, Progress South Elementary, in 2009, through the efforts of Coach Gina—a mom who wanted her daughter to learn the lessons taught the in Girls on the Run curriculum. She put out the word through our Girl Scouts Neighborhood, which I am involved in, and I thought it sounded great. I’d heard of the program through a friend who was a Practice Partner at another school in our area. I replied that I was interested, though I had no prior running experience, and the next thing I knew I was the Head Coach of this team we were trying to scrape together. You needed to have eight girls for a team and somehow we managed to get eight girls by the deadline.

That first season taught me a lot—not only about running, which I learned from my wonderful Assistant Coaches that had been runners for years—but about motivating girls to do more than they thought they could. Sometimes they were reluctant to run at all, but I will never forget watching one of the girls cross the finish line at our practice 5K, red-faced and breathless, full of pride and a sense of accomplishment. In that moment, all the challenges we faced that season became worth it. I also enjoyed seeing my own daughter’s determination and confidence grow as she became a stronger runner with each practice.

The Girls on the Run program at our school has grown significantly since that first season. We now have two teams and are almost filled to capacity each season (that’s 34 girls). We have traditions and our own unique identity as a club at the school. In the St. Louis area, the Girls on the Run program has grown, too. Each season, each race, has become better organized and the processes more streamlined, from online registration and scholarships to moving the race to downtown to accommodate the larger number of race participants. There is now a Junior Coach program that both of my daughters who are no longer in elementary school have had the privilege to be a part of. What a joy it is to see something positive thrive!

I’d be remiss to not mention how much this program has made me a better person as well. Before Girls on the Run, I’d never run a 5K. I think I was just as excited as the girls that first race and I will never, ever forget it. To this day it is probably my favorite race I’ve ever run. And since then I’ve run a lot of 5Ks, 10Ks and two half marathons. I’ve had two daughters that are Girls on the Run alumna and past Junior Coaches—one who runs with me in every race she can and is looking forward to Cross Country in High School. All because I said “yes” to coaching.

A few seasons ago, I stepped down as Head Coach and handed the baton to Coach Kelly, who has five daughters that will be going through the program. She has done a phenomenal job getting our team numbers to what they are today and doing all that it takes to organize 30+ families. This last season I stepped back into the Practice Partner role from Assistant Coach. My daughters are no longer in elementary school and it is time for me to let someone else experience the joy of working with truly awesome coaches and fantastic girls.

To Coach Kelly, Coach Missy, Coach Sheri and Becky, I treasure our friendship. I admire each of you not only as runners, but as mothers and mentors to all the girls who are on our team. To all of the parents through the years, thank you for sharing your daughters with me. They have so much potential and I love seeing that in them—I know you do, too. I hope they see it themselves as well and that they will remember their Girls on the Run experience fondly—and never forget to plug into their positive cords.

So, Saturday will be my last race as a Girls on the Run Coach and I will wear my tutu proudly. We are the girls, the mighty, mighty girls—and I know they are going to continue to roar.

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