Tips to Make the Senior Year Count


My daughter’s graduation with her pup Waffles.

School is starting and for a large group of parents, this may be their children’s senior year — whether it’s high school or college. Warning: you’re going to be emotional. There’s going to be a host of final moments. Lasts. And never agains.

Here’s some advice I wrote for SwimSwam about how your kids can make their final year count. I heard this from a former swim coach of my kids. I think it applies outside the pool and to more than our children. We can take the same approach ourselves to enjoy and make the most out of our kids’ senior year, too.

“I tell my swimmers to try for best times and leave on a high note their senior year,” said Tim Hill, a coach with more than 30 years experience at the club and collegiate level. “You have to plant the seed and let them know they can do it,” he advised. Hill currently coaches at Sharks Swim Team in Texas.

Often, I see kids quit swimming before their senior year because they aren’t improving and it’s plain hard to keep working at such an intense level. They may get “senioritis” and feel they’re “over it.” If our kids believe they can still improve, maybe they’ll stick with it for one more year and put in the hard work and effort.

Trying for a best time is one bit of motivation that can propel our swimmers through their final year. What a great time to look forward to—their final meet where seniors are recognized. It’s an amazing experience for them to compete for four years and have a satisfying closure to this chapter of their lives. When they know they’ve given it their best, they’ll look back on their swimming careers without any doubts or regrets.

What can we do as parents to encourage our young adults to keep swimming throughout their high school and college years?


Be proud.

According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. If our kids are swimming through their high school and college years, we have reason to be proud and celebrate. We need to tell our kids how proud we are that they are sticking with their sport.


It looks good on their resumes.

We’ve heard that employers value athletes and especially swimmers. Employers know how hard our kids work, how organized and disciplined they are. They are competitive, goal orientated and can thrive in a challenging environment. Completing four years as a student-athlete is an accomplishment within itself.


Savor each moment.

According to many coaches and sports parenting experts, it’s important to tell our children, “I love to watch you swim.” When it’s the final year, treasure their swims, the other parents, the officials and coaches. It’s a part of our lives that seems to go on forever when they’re young, but at some point, it comes to an end. Don’t end your swim parenting years with any regrets. Have fun at your final meets and reach out to other parents to share the joy of being a part of the swim community.

What have you done—or will you do—to make the last year count?

Do you have plans to make your senior year count? Will you volunteer for senior banquets, graduation and other senior events? What friends will have you made that you want to see once the kids are gone? One thing I discovered was people I took for granted disappeared once we didn’t have kids on the team or school together. It’s worth the effort to stay connected. It can be as simple as a phone call or text. I’ve reconnected and stayed in contact with several school and swim moms and it’s a joy to get together.


My son giving his high school graduation speech.

What are your plans to make the final year count?



How We Can Learn from the Finns on Education


My attempt at pulla, Finnish cardamom bread.

Okay. I may be a bit prejudiced because I come from Finnish descent. My dad was a first generation American with Finnish parents and grandparents. I can barely recall Christmas at the grandparents house and a party with extended family — many speaking Finnish. Also, there were some foods I found disgusting like lutefisk. Of course, the lovely cardamom braid called pulla that my grandmother baked made up for her lutefisk and fish head stews.

Finland boasts the number one educational system in the world. And they do things very differently than we do here. Depending on the source, we are either 17th or 27th in world for our education system.

So what does Finland do that we don’t? They let kids be kids. They don’t do standardized testing. They emphasize playing outdoors. Here’s an article from the Wall Street Journal where an American and a Finnish family traded places and they discovered the different school experiences for their kids. Here’s an excerpt:

To Really Learn, Our Children Need the Power of Play

The U.S. can learn a big lesson from Finland’s education system: Instead of stress and standardized testing, schools should focus on well-being and joy

By Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle

Aug. 8, 2019 7:00 am ET

Five years ago, we switched countries.

Pasi Sahlberg came to the U.S. as a visiting professor at Harvard University, and William Doyle moved to Finland to study its world-renowned school system as a Fulbright scholar. We brought our families with us. And we were stunned by what we experienced.

In Cambridge, Mass., Pasi took his young son to have a look at a potential preschool. The school’s director asked for a detailed assessment of the boy’s vocabulary and numeracy skills.

“Why do you need to know this? He is barely 3 years old!” Pasi asked, looking at his son, for whom toilet training and breast-feeding were recent memories.

“We need to be sure he is ready for our program,” replied the director. “We need to know if he can keep up with the rest of the group. We need to make sure all children are prepared to make the mark.”

Pasi was flummoxed by the bizarre education concept of “preschool readiness.” Compounding the culture shock was the stunning price tag: $25,000 a year for preschool, compared with the basically free, government-funded daycare-through-university programs that the boy would have enjoyed back in Finland.

Pasi had entered an American school culture that is increasingly rooted in childhood stress and the elimination of the arts, physical activity and play—all to make room for a tidal wave of test prep and standardized testing. This new culture was supposed to reduce achievement gaps, improve learning and raise America’s position in the international education rankings. Nearly two decades and tens of billions of dollars later, it isn’t working. Yet the boondoggle continues, even as the incidence of childhood mental-health disorders such as anxiety and depression is increasing.

Finland focuses on equity, happiness and joy in learning as the foundations of education.

Meanwhile, in Finland, William Doyle entered the school system ranked as #1 in the world for childhood education by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Economic Forum and Unicef—a system built in large part on research pioneered (and increasingly ignored) in the U.S. Rather than pursuing standardized-test data as the Holy Grail of education, Finland focuses on equity, happiness, well-being and joy in learning as the foundations of education.

Finnish parents and teachers widely agree on several mantras rarely heard in U.S. schools: “Let children be children” and “The work of a child is to play.” A Finnish mother told William, “Here, you’re not considered a good parent unless you give your child lots of outdoor play.”

Finnish children learn to take responsibility and manage risks at very young ages, in school and out. Following local customs, William’s 7-year-old son learned to walk to school by himself, across six street crossings and two busy main roads. One day, on a forest path, William came upon a delighted Finnish father applauding his 6-year-old daughter as she scrambled up a tall tree—to a height that would have petrified many parents around the world. “If she falls and breaks her arm, it will be in a good cause. She will have learned something,” the father said nonchalantly.

In Finland, William experienced an education culture that protects and cherishes childhood, one in which students are immersed in a play-rich education that goes all the way to high school. At his son’s school, William saw children rush to the cafeteria in stocking feet, giggling, hugging and practicing dance steps. Students got a 15-minute outdoor recess every single hour of the school day, rain or shine.

“There are many reasons children must play in school,” explained the school’s principal, Heikki Happonen. “When they are moving, their brains work better. Then they concentrate more in class. It’s very important in social ways too.” He added, “School should be a child’s favorite place.”

The cultural shift is profound. Instead of annual, high-stakes standardized tests, Finnish children are assessed all day, every day, by a much more accurate instrument: trusted teachers who are selected, trained and respected as elite professionals.

Finland has a crucial insight to teach the U.S. and the world—one that can boost grades and learning for all students, as well as their social growth, emotional development, health, well-being and happiness. It can be boiled down to a single phrase: Let children play.

Back in the U.S., that idea has a powerful champion: the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has a membership of 67,000 doctors. “The importance of playful learning for children cannot be overemphasized,” declared the academy’s 2018 clinical report “The Power of Play.”

—This essay is adapted from the authors’ new book, “Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive” (Oxford University Press). Mr. Sahlberg is a professor of education policy at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and a former director-general at Finland’s Ministry of Education. Mr. Doyle is a scholar in residence at the University of Eastern Finland.

What are your thoughts about letting kids be kids and getting lots of outdoor time?

pulla ( traditional finnish cardamom bread)

I borrowed this recipe from a lovely blog called “Feasting at Home.”



A traditional recipe for Pulla – a Finnish Cardamom Bread that tastes and smells heavenly. Perfect for mornings or afternoon tea. This makes 2 large loaves, feel free to halve.

  • Author: Sylvia Fountaine | Feasting at Home Blog
  • Prep Time: 2 hours
  • Cook Time: 40 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hours 40 mins
  • Yield: 2 loaves 1x
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Finnish


  • 1 Cup  half and half
  • ¾ Cup  water
  • 1 ½  Cup  sugar
  • ¾ Cup  melted butter, let cool
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • approx. 7 cups flour
  • 1 Tablespoon crushed Cardamom Seeds or 4 tsp ground cardamom


  1. Prepare the cardamom. Give yourself  a good 30 minutes for this part.
  2. Slice 40-50 pods lengthwise with the tip of a sharp knife. Scrape out seeds. Grind down to the consistency of fine sand with a mortar and pestle. You could do this step ahead.
  3. Heat half and half and water to just lukewarm. Pour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, stir in yeast and let stand for 7 minutes. Mix again to make sure its dissolved. Mix in sugar, eggs, cardamom, butter, salt. Mix in 7 cups of flour cup by cup and combine till the dough pulls away from the edges. You may need to add more flour.
  4. Using dough hook, or by hand on a floured surface, kneed for  6- 7 minutes and make a large ball.
  5. Place in large bowl and cover and let rise in a warm area for 1 ½ hours, or until dough doubles in size.
  6. Punch down and divide into 6 balls ( this will make 2 braided loaves)
  7. To make the braided bread, roll each ball in to long ropes. Braid the loaves and tuck under the ends. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper ( or a lightly grease pan).
  8. You could also make small rolls, instead of one loaf– although baking time will shorten.
  9. Brush with an egg wash or half and half.  Sprinkle course sugar over the top.
  10. Let rise again at least 1/2 hour. Place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes and nicely browned. Poke with a skewer or tooth pick. It’s done if the pick comes out clean.
  11. Pull it out of the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Slice and lather with butter.


How to Say Good-bye to Your College Student

Here’s a blast from the past — the year my daughter moved from home to start her college days. It seems like yesterday.


Last week I wrote about 7 tips for parents on Move-In Day. At the end I wrote: “I made it through the day without tears–mostly. It was a long, busy and tiring day. When my husband and I stopped for lunch — alone — and I realized that we were truly alone — the tears ran down my cheeks. I wiped them off and prepared myself for battle for the next stop at Target. When, it’s time to say good-bye — well, I’ll tell you how that goes another time.”

Kat during our 6th trip to Target

Kat during our 6th trip to Target

So, how did it go when we said good-bye?

We had planned to stay until Sunday. Move-In day had been Thursday. We wanted to be around for a few days in case she needed us. She wanted us there on Thursday, but by Friday — not so much. It began to make sense for us to leave a day early. We didn’t want to hang out and wait to see if she wanted us around. It didn’t make us feel good and we weren’t enjoying ourselves exploring the city that much. We had a long 11-hour drive ahead of us, too. So we went out for an early morning walk Saturday and talked about how we’d let her know that we felt it was time to leave.

She texted us at 7 a.m. Saturday. 

text from Kat

text from Kat

Okie dokie.

It was time to say good-bye. We walked on over to her dorm. I took a deep breath. I said a prayer to be strong.

“Do not cry. I can do this,” I repeated in my head.

She opened the door, I wanted to say something profound and loving. Something she’d remember — but I said nothing. My husband said a few things and I nodded my head.

I opened my mouth, my voice cracked and wavered. At this point I cannot remember what I was trying to say.

“Mom! Mom! Stop it!” she said. “Don’t!”

She held my face in her hands, like I was the child. “It’s going to be okay.”

A view  during our walk on campus

A view during our walk on campus

Tip 1:  Make it short and quick.

Bill and I walked out of her room into the bright cool air that is Utah. We walked all over campus for two hours, tears running down my cheeks. During the walk, I began to feel better — amazed at what a strong beautiful woman we had raised.

Sage Point dorms at U of U

Sage Point dorms at U of U, the athlete housing for Winter Olympics 2002.

Here’s an update:

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 6.39.38 PM

Humility: Is It Overlooked in Athletics?

kat group

My daughter with teammates.

Yesterday I wrote an article about the amazing role models our children have in the world of swimming for I was pointing out three greats as examples: Michael Phelps, Kaitlin Sandeno and Ryan Lochte. Yes, Ryan Lochte.

For non swimming fans, Lochte did something amazing this past week. His suspension ended a few days ago and he won a gold medal at the US Nationals in Stanford on Sunday. He turned 35 years old the day before. He was racing kids who were 17 and 19 years old! And he won decidedly. Talk about a role model. He didn’t give up despite really screwing up and blowing it at Rio and beyond. Instead he got his life back on track and trained. He got married, has two beautiful babies and entered rehab. He showed a sense of humility and gratitude after winning the gold medal that quite frankly was missing in his youth. Here’s the video of him winning the 200 IM.

As far as Michael Phelps, I was honored to hear him speak a few years ago. He told a story of his bouts with depression and substance abuse and said at one time he no longer wanted to live. He’s refocused his life and is making a difference in the charities he volunteers for as well as being a father and husband.

I am reading “Golden Glow: How Katilin Sandeno Achieved Gold in the Pool and in Life” and she is truly inspirational as well. She was a 17-year-old phenom who earned a spot on the Olympic Team in 2000 and 2004. Through her stellar career, she faced many hardships including undiagnosed asthma, a fractured back, shoulder issues and weight gain in college. Through it all she was humble, inspiring and a joy to be around. I highly recommend the book for parents and kids! For many years, she’s dedicated time as spokesperson for the Jessie Rees Foundation, named in honor of Jessie who died from inoperable brain tumors. Sandeno visits hospitals and connects with kids fighting cancer and brings them “Joy Jars.”

What incredible role models these three are, and they all show humility. Of course there are many more in the world of swimming, too.

I found an article called “Humility in Sports–Why Does It Matter?” by Malcom Shaw, a soccer player. He has some good stuff in his article. I feel like humility doesn’t get as much attention as other traits of successful athletes like talent or hard work. Yet, it’s just as important. Here’s an excerpt:

Humility is one of the most respectable and admirable traits that an athlete can possess. The prime essence of a humble athlete is the act of selflessness and modesty which transcends to the world. Oftentimes in the realm of sports we witness many accounts of prideful behavior, whether it be on or off the playing field. Being a competitive athlete myself, I’ve watched and observed professional athletes of the highest caliber. As much as I would gravitate to their individual skills and talents, I would even more so be observant of their character and demeanor.

When athletes talk about humility and comprehensively act on it (Principle 2), they set a precedent for fostering good character.

Below are a few ways humility is exemplified and embodied in an athlete. 


A modest athlete is one who handles character gracefully on and off the field. An individual who doesn’t excessively floss their achievements goes far in character cultivation. When they are in the spotlight, they carry themselves in a way that draws limited attention (even when there is). Modesty in a successful athlete is a trait noticed and respected by many.

Leads by example

Leading by example can come in many forms. Whether on or off the field, leadership is noticed everywhere. Being the hardest and most consistent worker, or being the only one to help clean up equipment after practice are all ways leadership is exemplified . Leadership in the world of sports is not prideful, but it looks to inspire and better others.

Lifts those around them

Athletes who embody humility take responsibility for their actions, especially when things don’t go well. In a team sport setting, there are usually situations where blame shifting occurs. Examples of blame shifting can be things such as, “We lost because of you” or “Your mistake costed us the game.” In situations like these it takes someone with humility to diffuse the problem by sharing some of the responsibility. 


Team cheer on the college swim team.

What are your thoughts about humility in today’s society?

Take a moment to watch funny video of 1980’s vs. 2019 moms


Parenting in the 2000’s.

I ran across a hilarious video on Yahoo News. Here’s a link to the video which pokes fun at moms from different generations–the 1980’s mom versus a mom today. The video has more than 6 million views: 1980’s Mom Vs. 2019 Mom: Summer Edition.

According to the article by Catherine Santino called “Hilarious Video Compares Parenting During Summer in 80s vs. Today and It’s So Accurate” parents have changed through the years. Although I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, we were outside a lot in the summer. Mom dropped us off at the pool and didn’t pick us up until the end of the day! We were unsupervised for our entire lives, it seemed. If we weren’t at the pool, we were tramping through the woods with machetes, making forts and clearing trails. Or, we were riding on country roads for miles and miles on our bikes. Here’s an excerpt from the Yahoo News article:

Before the age of parenting blogs, summertime was a lot simpler for families. Kids roamed free in their neighborhood streets, pool safety was lax, and no one judged a momwho only remembered to slather their children in sunscreen once a day. But in 2019, parents have become substantially more…involved. Meredith Masony of That’s Inappropriate recently shared a video comparing summer moms in the 1980s versus today, and the result is hilariously on point.

In the clip shared to the That’s Inappropriate Facebook page, Masony portrays the 80s mom who feeds her kids Pop-Tarts for breakfast, gives out ice pops like they’re going out of style, and insists that baby oil is far superior to sunscreen. The video then cuts between Masony and Tiffany Jenkins (of Juggling the Jenkins), who represents the hyperaware, health-conscious moms of today.

“I’ve been reviewing all of the sunscreens and it looks like SPF 1,000 is gonna be our safest bet,” she says while slathered in lotions. Later, she announces it’s “essential oil time”, which will, of course, be followed by a sound bath. Meanwhile, Masony’s character barely knows where her kids are.

I was closer to the 2019 mom, without the essential oils and ostrich milk! I let my kids eat a lot of mac and cheese and Goldfish crackers — and Pop Tarts. I tgot them out of the house to the park, beach and pool. They did have a lot of “unsupervised time” although I was close by at all times! I remember them riding their bikes or walking to the park without me when they got older and I was ready for an anxiety attack.

When they were in high school and we were at the beach in the summer, they started having bonfires at night with their friends, without me. That was tough — because there is nothing I enjoy more than sitting around a campfire at night at the beach. I was thrilled they wanted to share the tradition with their friends, but heartbroken to not be included.


The 1990’s.

What style of parents are you? Are you more of the 1980s parent or the 2019 one?

When to Take a Break From Vacation


The pool at the MARC, Park City, UT

My husband and I planned a week’s getaway in the gorgeous mountains of Park City, UT. We booked a townhome on Airbnb months ago. Finally, the big day arrived.

We were packed, ready to go, when something came up with my husband’s work and we had to make a detour for a meeting two hours out of the way. Hey, we weren’t on any schedule so it was no big deal.

While I waited for him in a Starbucks, my stomach churned. Hours later, he picked me up and we were officially on vacation with a 10-hour drive ahead of us. We decided to break it up into a two-day drive, since half the day was gone already.

My stomach acted up and we stopped in every town from Pasadena to Las Vegas. Finally, I felt better. We slept in a hotel across the border in St. George, Utah and made our way to our destination the following day. We were exhausted when we arrived and took some small walks around town. The following day we met with friends and had a great day. But then, my husband got sick! It lasted for another a few days.

This was not what we planned for an ideal vacation, but sometimes it’s what life throws at you. You roll with it. There was nothing seriously wrong or life threatening. Just annoying. We’re looking forward to trying out Park City next summer. There’s so much we wanted to do, but didn’t have the time. 


Views from our hike on the slopes of Park City.

When we finally felt normal, we hiked in the mountains with our friends who live here for the summer. It was tough because we weren’t used to the altitude, but we were so thankful to be out and about in nature. After our hike, we drove to the MARC, the Municipal Aquatic and Recreation Center. I swam and felt wonderful while my husband worked out in one of the most amazing weight rooms he’s ever seen.

At the end of the day, our first day with lots of activity, I barely could walk up the hill to our Airbnb. My legs felt like jello and I was breathing so hard. I checked my health app on my phone. We had walked or hiked more than 10 miles and I swam a mile in the pool. Yikes!


One of the hiking trails.

Needless to, say, it was not a good thing to make up for lost time on our vacation. Now, we need to recover from too much vacation!

Please share some of your vacation stories when things didn’t go as planned.


Viewpoint from the big hike.