Tips, advice and personal stories as we socially distance but remain a strong Laurel community

List of 8 items.

  • Thank you to Laurel Alumnae who are Bettering The World

    How are Laurel girls supporting others during this time of uncertainty---in ways big and small? Contact the Alumnae Office or fill out this Google Form to give a shoutout to a classmate who is bettering the world, whether from the front lines or her living room.
  • Volunteer to write letters to older alums

    Help bring a smile to an older alum during this time of social distancing and isolation by writing her a letter or a card. Your kind words, personal reminiscences about Laurel and wishes for her health and safety can provide a connection so many of the older generation of alumnae would appreciate now. If you are willing to write and mail a letter, please fill out this Google Form and the Alumnae Office will be in touch.
  • Sew community face masks with Jess Audey ’01’s design

    Watch Jess’ video to seean adjusted pattern for a better fit for community face masks. These fabric masks are not medical-grade masks, but they can help prevent the spread of germs in the community---at places such as nursing homes, grocery stores and other community areas. Check with your county to see where you can donate masks! (Tip: Masks with hair tie elastics can hurt ears with extended use. To help ease the pressure off of ears, tie an elastic between the hair ties around the back of your head)
  • Top 10 Tips for Recognizing and Avoiding Scams by Chelsea Robbins ’11

    As a Manager at AML RightSource, an anti-money laundering and financial crimes compliance solutions firm, I spend my days helping identify those responsible for financial crimes and preventing new scams. Here are some tips to keep you and your accounts safe:
    1. Don't click links or open/download attachments from unsolicited emails.
    2. Look for typos, misspellings, and inconsistencies in emails and texts.
    3. Hover (don't click!) your mouse over links to see where they lead: look for complicated web addresses and typos—these can indicate fraud!
    4. Get your news from trusted, legitimate websites and sources.
    5. Don't provide personal info, banking info, or passwords to ANYONE.
    6. Don't grant remote computer access to a caller—they don't need to see your screen, they want to steal your personal info and passwords from your device.
    7. Spam can come in many forms, so be vigilant when reading emails, texts, and mail—and extra cautious of unknown or unsolicited callers.
    8. If you believe a caller may be trying to scam you, ask for the organization's name, a callback number, and the name of the caller and then use this information for research.
    9. The IRS is not calling you to verify your bank information—this is a scam that is ever popular, but even more so right now.  
    10. When in doubt, take the conservative approach.
    Two bonus tips I always give my family and friends: 
    1. A Nigerian prince is not going to send you gold if you wire him money—ever! (I know it sounds crazy, but this is a ridiculously popular scam!)
    2. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! 
  • Five Small Changes to Make Your Home More Efficient, Organized, and Green by Samantha Gillombardo Larson ’99

    Greetings, Fellow Laurel Alums! I hope that everyone is staying healthy and happy. As a professional organizer and efficiency consultant, I am writing to share some simple changes you can make in your homes, so that your space will better support your and your family’s needs, now and in the future. While several psychological studies have established a causal link between clutter and anxiety, many of us know, through our own experience, that disorganization causes tension and stymies productivity. As we practice social distancing, it is only natural to experience moments of cabin fever, however, these tricks are designed to allow you to get through your daily routines more smoothly and enjoy greater peace of mind. Although my sister and I were members of the White Team, I do my best to make green choices easy. Repurposing common household items is thrifty and eco-friendly; none of these projects will require a trip to the store!

    1. Create a “charging station” for your electronics. No need to go wandering around the house looking for a headset or a tablet. A serving platter, decorative tray or even a placemat will work. Position the charging station near an outlet and use either a power strip or an outlet extender to provide ample space for tablets, headphones and cell phones to charge. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can give your charging station a more polished look by coiling excess cables up and securing them with the twist ties found on loaves of bread.
    2. Even if your dining room has become a communal workspace, it is still possible (and restorative!) to enjoy meals at an uncluttered table. Take a cardboard box, medium-sized plastic bin or basket and make a “briefcase” for everyone in your home. Any books, paper and writing implements each person needs can be quickly located when it is time to work, and re-stowed when it is time to eat. Even young children can manage this chore and it will get them in the habit of keeping a clean workspace. As Benjamin Franklin wisely said, “a place for everything, everything in its place.” 
    3. Given the scarcity of household paper products, it is the perfect time to substitute reusable items for disposables. Take the cloth napkins and napkin rings out of the drawer where they lie dormant most of the year and get them into regular rotation. You’ll have more room in your cart at the grocery store and more room in the pantry when you are not buying these bulky, single-use items. The heavier weight from cloth napkins (as opposed to paper) helps remind children to keep their napkins on their laps. Plus, this practice feels festive and we could probably all use a bit more celebration these days. Similarly, dish towels or sponge cloths (which are alternatively called “Swedish towels”) can serve the same purpose as paper towels in many instances and can reduce the need to replace, spend and store large rolls of paper towels.
    4. No mudroom, no problem! Fresh air does wonders for us all, especially now, when it is easy to feel cooped up. The endorphin release we feel from a brisk walk can focus our thoughts and brighten our moods. Younger children, who are unable to sit for long stretches, especially benefit from regular time outside and you can “get back to business” more quickly if everything you need to enjoy time outside is in a designated spot by the door. A few large bins, tubs or boxes of any kind make a solid substitute for a mudroom. Ideally, each person gets a tub in which to store one pair of gloves, one hat and two coats (a raincoat and a warmer jacket, perhaps), and one tub holds a pair of sneakers and a pair of rain boots for everyone.
    5. You can maximize the capacity of your refrigerator and pantry shelves by taking advantage of vertical space. This is especially useful when you may be stretching its capacity to reduce the number of trips you make to the store/grocery deliveries you are scheduling. By using smaller plastic containers or boxes (approximately the size of a shoebox), you can more efficiently store “hard-to-stack” items like cantaloupes, yogurt cups, and fragile items, like eggs. This will also ensure that everyone knows where the food that they’re looking for can be found.

    While it may take a beat to acclimate to these changes, streamlining in this fashion should help keep things running as smoothly as possible during the pandemic and in the happier, simpler times to follow. As ever, I welcome the Laurel community to reach out with organizational quandaries and efficiency questions. I can be reached at Best wishes to you all. Stay happy and healthy.

  • Top 10 Tips for Running for Fun by Hannah Ballock ’13

    A short guide for those who never thought “running” and “fun” should be in the same sentence. Believe me, I used to be one of them.

    1. As long as you tie your shoes and head out the door, that counts. My mom always told me this when I would dread going for a run, meaning even if you only go a tenth of a mile, it’s still an accomplishment. And the thing is, usually when you start running and tell yourself just to do a little bit, you feel good and wanna push yourself a little further. The hardest part is getting started!

    2. There is no hurry! One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a new runner is trying to run as fast as you can. Sprinting is awesome training, but there’s a time and a place for it. When I started getting into running longer distances, I found that if I started off slow I could run so much further than if I tried to sprint, and it made it such a more enjoyable experience knowing that I wouldn’t have that stitch in my side and have to gasp for breath two minutes in. So, take your time! This isn’t a track meet, it’s your time to enjoy yourself! And when you feel like picking up the pace, go for it! Slow runs, fast runs, they all count as runs!

    3. Don’t hold your breath. This goes along with #2. Another big mistake I made when I started running for fun was not learning how to breathe right. (I swam varsity for four years in high school and I was a sprinter so “breathe” was not in my vocabulary). The best piece of advice for breathing while running came from my dad who said “just breathe in for three steps, out for three steps.” Slow breathing in running sounds counter intuitive, but it’ll keep the cramps and burning lungs at bay. And just like everything in running (or anything in life for that matter), it takes a lot of practice. But you’ll find your rhythm!

    4. It’s all about the music! Speaking of rhythm . . . people who run without listening to music baffle me. Lining up a playlist on Spotify of songs I love that are upbeat and fun is one of the ways I motivate myself during my run. I even have a handful of songs I put on every new running playlist that I know will make me wanna keep going when I get tired. If you’re thinking of going for a run today, dig out a pair of headphones, spend a few minutes and throw together 10-15 songs that you love, and I promise it’ll make you feel stronger and faster and you will have so much more fun!

    *side tip: if you happen to have an indoor treadmill, watching a show on Netflix or picking out a movie is an awesome alternative. I used to tell myself that I could only watch the new episode of Grey’s Anatomy at the gym, and let me tell you how excited I was to get on that treadmill Friday morning….

    5. Bring a friend! (Virtually). I’m a big fan of distracting myself while running. I’ve also found it’s really fun to run with other people and chat. This might not be the best idea with social distancing right now, but if you have someone in your immediate household who is also itching for some time outside, bring her or him along! It can be hard to talk and run at the same time, but even if the two of you just listen to music and don’t talk it can be motivating to push each other, point out cute dogs you pass and just spend time outside together. I’ve even talked to people on the phone while running . . . not ideal but sometimes a girl’s just gotta chat, ya know? You went to Laurel, you know what I mean.

    6. Play games with yourself. One of the hardest things about exercising when you’re an adult is that no one is holding you accountable. Coach C isn’t yelling “SWIM LADIES!” from the proverbial pool deck, so why am I doing this? Motivating yourself to keep doing a physically unpleasant thing to your body is hard to do, so you should be proud any time you do physical activity. I like to play games with myself to pass the time if I’m really struggling, whether that’s “just run three more mailboxes” or “just get through three more songs”, or every now and then “time to think about the massive ice cream sundae I’m going to make when this run is over.” Find what works for you!

    7. Speaking of ice cream….nourish yourself! By all means, treat yourself to that sundae, you worked hard for it. But, if you make running part of your routine, then healthy eating needs to be part of it, too. Trying to run when you haven’t had anything besides coffee all day is a recipe for a miserable experience and probably a really short run (google “runner’s colitis” if you don’t believe me.) Running takes an enormous amount of energy, so you gotta put fuel in the tank. There were a couple months in college when I was extremely anemic and didn’t realize it (meaning my body was super low in iron, which is really common in females). I had been running five to ten miles regularly but suddenly couldn’t run two without feeling short of breath, exhausted, and like I had lead in my shoes, and it was extremely frustrating. Long story short, I got more iron in my diet and almost instantly was back to normal. This is just an example, but the point is that it is SO important to eat healthy and eat enough. Your body will thank you!

    8. New gear. There is nothing that makes me more excited to go for a run than new running clothes or shoes. Remember those awful green shorts and grey t shirts we used to wear in gym class? Gross. If you’re really having trouble getting started, splurge a little and treat yourself to some new garb or shoes. Dick’s Sporting Goods has awesome stuff but pricey . . . if you’re like me and still broke (thanks, med school), Walmart, Kohl’s and TJ Maxx all have a great selection for a lot less.

    9. Keep track of your accomplishments! Before the days of Fitbits, I had a note on my phone where I wrote down how many miles I ran every time I went for a run, because my friends and I were having a competition to see who could run the most miles over the summer. I found that I really liked keeping track of my miles and looking back to see how far I ran every week, month, year, etc. Whether you count your steps, miles, or how many minutes you spend running, it’s a fun way to motivate yourself and feel proud of the work you put in.

    10. Remember how you feel after a run. I don’t mean the few minutes right after you stop when you’re panting and feel like you could drop dead. I mean the feeling you get half an hour later when your heart rate has slowed back down, your muscles are tired but accomplished, and those endorphins are flowing. Remember how awesome you felt after a good run, and use that feeling to help you get started the next time.

    Above all, be gentle with yourself. It’s hard trying something new and it’s going to take a lot of patience. Running is awesome but there are a lot of days where it feels like crap. Push yourself when you can, but don’t beat yourself up if it’s just not happening for you that day. If you keep at it long enough, soon the good runs will outnumber the really rough ones. My legs have carried me so much farther than I ever thought they could, and so can yours. Happy running!
  • Top 10 Tips for Baking at Home by Alyssa Mastrey Ladner ’07, Pastry Chef

    1. Follow the recipe. I know this seems obvious, but it is the most important thing you can do. Recipes can have multiple steps and sometimes certain steps need to be done well in advance. When you decide what it is you want to bake, read through the ingredients and the steps first to make sure you have the necessary products and the time to successfully complete your recipe.

    2. Measure ingredients accurately.
    Baking is a science. Each ingredient serves a purpose and it is important to have the correct amount of each ingredient. Most professionals use recipes that are in weights, not volume. The reason for that is weighing an ingredient is more accurate than measuring. When I taught baking, I would have each of my students measure a cup of flour and then weigh the cup of flour. No two students’ cups weighed the same. I’m not saying you need to go and buy a scale, but if you are using cups make sure you measure accurately. Level the flour, sugar or other dry ingredients in the cup. Does the recipe call for a cup of sifted flour or a cup of flour, sifted? Because those are not the same thing. Make sure the measuring cup is on a flat surface when measuring liquids. These small details can make a big difference in the outcome in your recipe.

    3. The oven temperature is important.
    A lean bread dough such as a French baguette, focaccia or sourdough needs to bake at a higher temperature for a shorter time than an enriched dough such as challah or brioche. A higher temperature (usually 400°F or higher) allows the crust to form and the interior crumb to develop quickly. A lower temperature (usually around 350°F) allows an enriched dough, which tends to be denser, to bake slowly all the way through without burning on the outside.

    Drop cookies such as chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin usually bake at temperatures between 325°F and 350°F. If the oven temperature is too low, the cookies will spread too much before developing any structure; if the temperature is too high, the cookies will be crunchy on the outside and raw on the inside. Sometimes something as simple as increasing or decreasing the oven temperature by 25°F can make a huge difference in the final product.

    4. Ingredient temperatures are just as important as oven temperatures.
     When making bread you typically want all ingredients to be room temperature and you NEVER want the liquid you are using to activate the yeast to be hot. Yeast is alive and anything above 115° F will damage or kill it completely. Usually a temperature between 95°F and 110°F will activate the yeast and keep it happy.

    If you are making a cake or cookies you want the butter and eggs to be the same temperature. Adding cold eggs to a room temperature butter and sugar mixture can cause the batter to break and look like a chunky watery mess. Instead of leaving eggs out all day I put whole eggs (still in the shell) in a bowl of warm water while I scale the rest of my ingredients. By the time I am ready to measure the eggs they are up to temp and ready to go. Eggs also whip better when they are warm because the proteins are more relaxed which allows them to trap air more easily.

    5. Use the right tools for the job.
    If you have a countertop stand mixer such as a KitchenAid there is a good chance it came with a few attachments. Each of those attachments serves a purpose and it is important to use the correct attachment for the recipe you are using. A dough hook typically is used for making stiff doughs such as bread and pasta. It mimics kneading dough by hand and helps develop structure in a dough. The paddle attachment works best for thicker cake batters, frosting and cookie doughs. If you would use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to mix something by hand, use the paddle.The whisk attachment should be used for thin cake or cookie batter. A whisk is also good to use when you want to incorporate a lot of air into a product such as meringue or whipped cream.

    6. Have patience.
     Rome wasn’t built in a day and your bread is not going to be ready in 10 minutes. All baking takes time and some recipes take longer than others. If you want your finished product to be the best it can be you need to be patient. A cake can not be frosted and sliced as soon as it comes out of the oven. Bread needs time to ferment and proof. Batters need to be mixed long enough to incorporate air and develop structure. If you rush whatever it is you are making, you will have it sooner but it won’t turn out the way it should. Trust me, it is always worth the wait.

    7. Start small.
    If you are just starting to bake, the first recipe you make should not be croissants or a 3-tier cake. When I taught we always started with chocolate chip cookies. Why? Because they are familiar, everyone has had one at some point and they are relatively simple. The first bread dough you make should be a simple baguette. Once you have that mastered you can move on to a more complicated dough such as brioche. The more confidence you build the more complex recipes you can try and the more fun you will have.

    8. Choose the right ingredients.
     If you can buy top of the line everything then go for it. If you can't, that's fine too, just try to use the best you can for each recipe. If you are making chocolate mousse then splurge on the best chocolate you can find. If you are making bread then flour should be the star. If you are making something that is butter forward such as croissants or biscuits try using a cultured European style butter. No matter what it is you are using just make sure that everything is fresh. Baking powder can go bad and lose its leavening powder, yeast can die, flours can go rancid. Using fresh ingredients is just as important as using quality ingredients.

    9. Clean as you go.
     This may sound silly but it is very important. Having dishes pile up and cocoa powder all over your counters can make baking feel overwhelming. If you clean as you go there will be less clutter and you can focus on what you are doing. Sometimes if I am making a long or complicated recipe, I stop what I am doing and take a few minutes to clean and organize. It makes a huge difference.

    10. Have fun and enjoy!
     Baking at home should be fun, not stressful. It doesn’t matter if your cake layers are uneven or if your challah isn’t perfectly braided as long as you had fun making it.
  • Top 10 Tips for School at Home with Kids by Hope Bennett ‘08

    We’ve all heard how hard it is to be stuck at home. The internet is crawling with memes of working from home, children running households, and pets wondering why everyone is suddenly home all the time. Many are faced with not only having to manage their own jobs but help children through the adjustment to online school.

    Here are ten tips to make this all a little easier.

    1. Be patient with others. This is a trying time for everyone. This isn’t what any of us signed up for. I’ve had many students complain to me about their schools’ and teachers’ policies constantly changing. I think it’s important to acknowledge that while this is frustrating, it’s also completely understandable. Our teachers and school administrators are human too. They can’t predict exactly when this will end, or when school will return to “normal.” They are doing the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. Give them a break. Same goes for your children, spouse and other family members. Your daughter might come to you asking for help with homework on a concept you haven’t thought about in 30 years. It’s okay to say, “I’d love to help you but I don’t see this stuff every day, can I have a few minutes to try and refresh my memory?” We’re all learning as we go. It’s okay to ask for some extra patience from others as you do this, just make sure to return the favor.

    2. Admit uncertainty. Give yourself the option of saying “I don’t know.” This can be incredibly difficult. We want to comfort our children by giving answers and easing their uncertainty. Unfortunately, we just don’t have all the answers right now. This might not be the comforting answer your child seeks but they’ll appreciate your honesty. Give your children the gift of learning how to live with uncertainty. Even at the best of times, life is uncertain. Allow your children the space to come to that realization on their own. What better time for them to develop coping mechanisms to deal with uncertainty than when they are stuck at home with a built-in support system and family who love them.

    3. Get help if you need it. This is an extremely difficult time. It may emphasize problems you were able to previously ignore or bring new problems to the surface. It’s okay to ask for help. This can take many different forms. It can be as simple as asking a friend to listen to you vent or telling a spouse you need a couple minutes by yourself. This is also a great time to reach out to a therapist. Online therapy comes in all forms at many different price points. Many therapists who never offered this service before are offering it now. Plus, many health insurance providers are waiving copays for telehealth visits including therapy sessions. Additionally, the national crisis text line allows you to connect with a crisis counselor for free by simply texting CRISIS to 741741. Additionally, getting help doesn’t have to be related to mental health. Struggling to help your children manage their studies? Ask for help. Teachers might have suggestions to help, so might other parents or a tutor. Even if you don’t want to pay for a tutor regularly, some tutors (including myself) specialize in helping students (and parents) with executive functioning skills. Even just one hour-long session can give students some coping mechanisms to better organize themselves in this hectic time.

    4. Give constructive feedback (and solicit it). Let people know how things are going. This can be teachers, children or other family members. Encourage others to let you know how things are going. This is the easiest way for us all to improve. Encourage your older children to give feedback to their teachers. They can share if some type of online lesson works particularly well for them or could use adjustment. That being said, feedback should always be given with respect and the understanding that teachers might have a reason for doing something that isn’t immediately clear to the student. Give feedback to your family members as well. This can be as simple as saying “today, I think we did this, this and this very well but tomorrow let’s try to get a little better at this other thing.” This is a great way to get the whole family involved. It’s important that feedback is positive, constructive and not accusatory. It should be of the form “maybe instead of doing this, we could try this” instead of “I hate when you do this.” It can promote group problem-solving sessions and creative solutions to new problems. Just remember, we’re all learning how to make this work together, and feedback is critical to improving.

    5. Set goals. Every night or every morning set “goals” or a plan for the day. This could be as simple as saying, “I’m not going to turn on the television until the kitchen is clean.” Help your children do the same thing. We all need a little extra motivation at the moment. Help them write a list of the things they need to get done that day. This can be school related (attend math class) or not (clean your room). Help your children decide on appropriate rewards for completing their “goals.”

    6. Schedule “events.” In “normal” times, many of us have our schedules booked every second of every day. This goes for our children, too. We schedule classes, family fun time, and playdates. With organized sports shut down and most extracurriculars on hold for the time being, this isn’t quite as easy as usual, but it’s not impossible. For younger kids, schedule “digital” playdates (not literal ones). Kids can use Netflix Party to watch movies together or applications like the online game site Pogo allow kids to virtually play some of their favorite board games with friends. Don’t usually let your children play video games during the week? Maybe it’s okay to make an exception for games that they can play while interacting with friends such as Minecraft or Roblox. For older children, encourage them to do this for themselves. You can schedule family events, too. If you were going to see a movie in the theater, you’d have to leave the house and get to the theater at a specific time. Have a movie night, schedule the movie to start at a specific time, leave 15 minutes before hand to walk or drive around the block to get to the “theater,” turn the lights off, silence cell phones, make popcorn and pretend you’ve actually gone to the “theater.”

    7. Create a space. Help your children create a space where they work. This is where all their school supplies should be. Having a specific workspace can help separate work from play. This gives them a better chance to separate their school life from family and prevent it from taking over everything else. This works for adults suddenly working from home, too!

    8. Exercise. Endorphins are a real thing, and exercise releases them. This is another thing you can schedule. In my house, we do an online yoga class every day at 3 pm. It breaks up the day and provides a little exercise, but exercise doesn’t have to be that formal. It could be a walk around the block, time spent playing with a pet or even an impromptu dance party.

    9. Use this as an opportunity. Many of my students have commented that even if “remote” school is objectively going well they just don’t feel like they are learning nearly as much. I try to help them view this as a learning opportunity. “Remote” school is resource intensive and online classes take a while to get used to. I can’t honestly tell my students that I think they are learning exactly what they would in school but I guarantee they are learning valuable skills. I always tell my students that if I run into them in 15 years and they don’t remember the intricacies of Hamlet or how to find a derivative I won’t be disappointed. During their time with me, I want my students to become better learners. I want them to learn how they work best. I want them to have the skills to maximize their potential. Right now, I’m telling them that, “Suddenly being thrust into an entirely new environment is an excellent time to explore what works best for you. Being able to learn new things is a valuable life skill— one which I can guarantee is useful in any future you may have.” This is something you can help your children with by providing regular feedback and helping them brainstorm solutions to problems.

    10. Be forgiving. Things don’t need to be perfect. If something doesn’t turn out quite as you expected, that’s okay. It’s okay not to be perfect. This is always true but especially important now with so much uncertainty and stress. Celebrate little accomplishments and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned. Nothing is going as planned at the moment. This isn’t your fault.
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