Monday, July 30, 2012

Best Day Ever

She awoke to hugs and kisses, as usual. But this time they were accompanied by whisperings of "happy birthday."

She stays in her pajamas and watches cartoons. As she dresses to go out to breakfast at her favorite breakfast restaurant she says to me, "Mommy, isn't this the best day ever?"

We return home for a rousing playtime of baby dolls. Babies dolls line our living room rug, in various states of being put to bed, changed or fed. Her chatter floats through the house as she talks to them all. I watch her from a distance, not wanting to intrude upon her special time. She catches me watching her, smiles and says, "Mommy, this is the best day ever."

We run to the grocery store for birthday party supplies, which she helps to pick out. We use the self-service check-out which makes her feel important and special as she scans each item.

We return home and she announces she wants to go for a bike ride around the block. We make several loops, racing at times and going as slowly as possible at others. "Mommy," she says, "Guess what."

"What," I say, knowing what she'll say next.

"I love you!" she announces, giggles and leans towards me for a sideways hug. "If you had to say, would you say that this was the best day ever?"

Her dad and sister arrive home, and she dons her special birthday hat to open presents. She delights in ripping the paper and hugs her sister for giving her a homemade pillow that is only partially constructed. Upon opening a bouquet shaped like birthday cake, she asks that we light the candles and sing happy birthday to her. She jumps around and directs us while we sing to her, then blows out the candles emphatically.

"This is the best day ever!" she exclaims.

We leave for the restaurant for dinner and she orders exactly what she wants. We listen to the girls chatter about what they're going to do during the birthday party the next day.

We return home and catch the last of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. We watch a part of the parade of nations. Tiredness sets in around countries beginning with the letter "G" -- there will be no staying up to wait for the United States to enter the arena.

She dons her pajamas, brushes her teeth and reads us stories while lying on our bed.

I finally tuck her in to her own bed, with Dax already curled up beside where she'll sleep.

"Mommy," she whispers, pulling me close to her for a hug, "This was the best day ever."

That's what makes Marissa so special. Every day with her is the best day ever.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Marissa turned seven on Friday. Being the second child, her birthday has sometimes taken second stage to her older sister's, so I took the day off work and sent Lindsey to her summer program, so I could spend the day with Marissa doing whatever she wanted to do.

We went to Perkins for breakfast where she had a french toast tower. She played with baby dolls back at home, and then wanted to ride her bike. We had to pick up groceries that day, and we stopped at Dairy Queen for lunch while running that errand. Back home for more playing while I sorted through her 1st grade papers.

When Wayne and Lindsey arrived home before dinner Marissa opened her presents from us, including two homemade gifts from Lindsey. One special gift was a bouquet from her Grandpa Tom in Arkansas that had arrived earlier in the day, which she insisted in staying in the box until she officially "opened" it. The bouquet was shaped like a birthday cake, complete with candles. She had us light the candles, sing "happy birthday" to her and she blew out the candles before we headed out to dinner (photos are in the collage, above).

Dinner was with the entire family at Olive Garden, the same restaurant Marissa chose last year for her birthday dinner. What more could a girl want but unending breadsticks, salad and spaghetti noodles?

The next day, Saturday, was her birthday party. A total of 14 girls were invited but only six could make it, as expected with a summer birthday. Lindsey had a friend come as well for a total of 8 girls. Marissa asked for a "rock star dance party" at our house. I wasn't sure what exactly that meant, but for her it a game of freeze dance, bracelet making and whatever else she and her friends chose to do.

It was wonderful to see her with her friends opening gifts -- she was so polite, opening cards first without being reminded, thanking each guest and giving each of them a hug.

A wonderful birthday for a special little girl.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Week Three

Yep, another week of boring work outs. Boring boring.

Oh contraire, dear reader!

The week kicked off with a family adventure -- the Color Run! Their tag line? "The happiest 5k on the planet!"

My sister flew to Minneapolis from Indiana to join us on this adventure. Runners are instructed to wear plain white t-shirts at the start, and at every 1k marker you run through a cloud of a dyed powder (corn starch, non-toxic). There's a different color at each 1k marker, and by the end of it you're a rainbow.

Near the starting line.
I was happy that my friend Laura joined us for this adventure. She drove to St. Paul from Rochester, MN, just for the event, with her husband and little girl in tow. I have no idea what time they had to leave their house, but we had to get up at 5:30 a.m., and we already live in the metro area. That's dedication! She wrote a post from her perspective on the adventure, if you'd like to read it.

If you can imagine, they had 20,000 runners signed up and ready to run. The race began at 8 a.m. and they let 1,000 people go every 5 minutes from 8:00 until the last runner had gone. We had to wait in queue for 20 minutes before finally making it into the 5th wave -- we were dripping in sweat before we'd even taken off, it was so hot.

Lindsey and Wayne took off running right from the start, while Kristi and I stayed back with Marissa, who ran the first 1k of it but walked the rest. We lost Laura halfway through, as she ran ahead so she could meet with her daughter at the 4k marker and run the last 1k with her.

When we first started Marissa was confused and said, "I thought people would be putting color on us!" She didn't realize they didn't put color on you the entire way, just at certain points.

First orange.
Then pink.

Feeling blue!

I missed photographing the last station. At the finish as people crossed they opened up the packets of colors we'd been given in our race packets and threw them all into the air. I dumped mine over Marissa, and then later was given a half-used packet of pink from a random runner, which I also dumped over her. Only by then her glasses were on top of her head.

Rock star!
We miraculously met up with Lindsey and Wayne, considering Wayne had left his phone behind and by this time there were several thousand runners congregating in the finish line area for the festivities, all in rainbows of color that made people unrecognizable.

She had no fun whatsoever.

Our "after" photo.
Fitness is boring.

On a separate note, I was thrilled to have my sister there, not only for this run but for my first-ever "Fit Club" workout on Saturday. "Fit Club" is basically open to anyone who wants to get in a free workout with other people. The coach for that Fit Club picks a workout video from the Team Beachbody suite of products, and people go to town working at whatever level they're at, each of us sweating like never before.

Kristi has lost a lot of weight and toned up a lot since making her decision to get fit over a year ago. I am so incredibly proud of her and of the changes she's made in her life. Thank you, Kristi, for inspiring me!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Geeking Out With Inline Skates

They are finally here. My skates. You know, inline skates? Oh don't think of those things you wore in the 90's. Those clunky black things that weighed 10 pounds each, with the neon laces that you had to tie halfway up your calf to put on?

Not those.
Circa 1988. My friend still uses these. She books it, too.
These are Bonts, the ones the pros wear. Oh, you didn't know that inline skating was a pro sport? Well, it is, thank you. Not that I'm a pro, but I like to think of myself as a pretty good skater. At last year's  inline marathon I realized that moreso than in other sports, equipment matters. You can go faster with better equipment, even if you never train. Add the training factor and look out, you've got yourself one fast skater.

I've always loved skating from my very first pair of quads, the term us skating geeks call traditional skates that were around before inline skates were invented. I used to skate up and down our driveway and all around on the sidewalks, and in the winter I would skate all around our ping pong table in our unfinished basement. You can picture me, right? Long hair in ponytails, glasses (just to confirm the geekdom here), all elbows and knees with skinny legs in between? Yep, that was me.

As a newlywed in 1995 I bought my first pair of inline skates. I remember going skating for what was probably a little under a mile and paying for it the next two days with burning legs that refused to go up and down stairs. But I strapped them back on the next weekend and the next weekend, and used those things for 10 years, through four houses and two babies, countless wheels and a multitude of bearings.

After baby #2 was born in 2005, I treated myself to a new pair and retired my old ones after 10 years of service. The new ones were amazingly light, faster, and much easier to put on. In the early years I would circle Lake Harriet twice in 50 minutes and it wiped me out. I wished I had the stamina to go farther, because I loved the feeling of speed, being outdoors, and enjoying the ride.

Seven years later so much has changed, but still not the skates.

I am still skating on that second pair from 2005, but now I'll cover 10 miles in 50 minutes, or hit the greenway and get 14 or 16 miles in. Last year I competed in my first inline marathon, and finished in 1:58, or an average speed of 13 mph.

It was time to change the skates.

Come to mama!
I finally invested in some equipment, buying Bont semi-race boots with 100mm wheels. The jump from 84mm to 100mm is dramatic -- most skaters take the in-between step of 90mm wheels to get acquainted. (FYI, basic physics here: the larger the wheel the less energy it takes to get it spinning and the more distance it covers with each rotation.) I decided that I probably should've spent the last two years skating on 90mm, so I was going to take the big leap.

Another skating geek factoid: racing skates do not have much padding in them because the more padding there is the more your energy is absorbed by the padding and not transferred to the wheels. The less padding, the more of your physical energy transfers to your wheels, increasing acceleration. Also, the lower the boot the more you can bend your leg, lowering your center of gravity. The lower your center of gravity, the more aerodynamic you are and the faster you go.

Can you tell this is all about speed? And people say I can't do science...hmph!

The skates have a hard outer shell, and they have to be heated to 180 degrees for 10 minutes before you  slip them on. Once you lace them up, they mold to your feet and re-harden in that shape.

I picked them up tonight, and seriously, it's like Christmas in July. I do not remember a time when I was so excited for a material purchase. When I got the call today that they were in, do you think I could wait until the next day to pick them up? Of course not! So after dinner off I went to get them fitted and bring those babies home.

If you've made it to the end of this post, I have to applaud you and award you the inline skating geek fan award. I'll give it to you next time I see you. You'll be at the Minnesota Inline Half Marathon, right?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Week Two

I hit a speed bump this past week in my fitness challenge. I was doing my Asylum workout one morning, the "Strength" one with weights and lots of push ups. At the beginning of the workout my left shoulder was making a grinding noise, but I chalked it up to my typical tension that I hold in my shoulders. (Ask any of my masseuses over the years.) Halfway through I heard a little "pop" and was in sudden pain. Sharp, shooting pain, but only with certain movements. This limited the rest of this particular workout enough that I finally stopped it because I wasn't able to do most of it.

I was afraid I had really hurt something, like REALLY hurt something. I mean, who hears a "pop" in their body and it doesn't mean bad news? So I laid off, took ibuprofen throughout the day and iced it morning and night.

Thursday I had to lay off any workout at all -- I couldn't imagine even trying to inline skate with my shoulder giving me that much hurt at every little jostle. Through this experience I learned that we rely on our shoulders for a lot of movements that I had taken for granted. Putting a shirt on. Steering a car. Answering the phone. Closing a door. And you have no idea how much you turn over in your sleep in the night until it hurts to do so and you wake up every time your sleeping body tries to do it.

Don't take your shoulders for granted, that's all I have to say.

On my drives to and from work (which, you may know if you follow my blog, are often quite lengthy), I massaged it as best I could, often pressing to the point where I had to breathe through the pain.

And shockingly, by Friday morning I was back to my workout. They were workouts that did not have as much shoulder work on them, and whenever push-ups or other shoulder intense activities were required I modified the exercise. But I managed through them.

And Saturday I managed to get TWO workouts in, something I previously thought ridiculous. I mean, once you work out, you're done, right? Oh no, this is the program, welcome to it. So I did my "Vertical Plyo" workout in the morning (which currently sucks, by the way, which means when I finally master it I'm going to LOVE it), and in the afternoon joined my coach Gianna at a Fit Club gathering for a 55 minute "Insanity" workout. We moved. We pushed. We encouraged each other. And we were all proud of ourselves afterwards for pushing ourselves as far as we could go.

I'm enjoying my Shakeology lunches as well. I mean really, what's the difference between a tasteless microwave meal that leaves you hungry an hour later, or a chocolate shake (CHOCOLATE, you hear??) that fills you up for the rest of the afternoon? And in these past two weeks I've dropped 4 pounds, and am noticing, some definition in my arms and legs that didn't used to be there.

In a nuthshell, I'm thrilled.

I leave you with a video I posted to our challenge group's wall this past week. Our coach Gianna has designated Friday as "Fun Fit Friday" and asked members to post videos of how we're incorporating fitness into our every day activities. Gianna's example was a video of her doing squats while brushing her teeth.

This video was my reply, which was met with much laughter and smiles.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Fitness Challenge Inspiration

So why a fitness challenge? Why me?

My co-workers will tell you they already think I'm crazy. On Monday mornings when people ask "How was your weekend?" I talk about 5ks, inline skates, family fun runs, all kinds of activities. One of my co-workers told me, "I get tired just following you on Facebook!"

So why would I want a fitness challenge, and what inspired me to do so?

I have to be honest. I am inspired by fat people.

I wrote it in that way to jolt you. But in a way, it's true. Not because I'm afraid if I don't do these things I'll become fat. That's not it at all. It's because I see overweight people doing things I would never dream of if I were them.

I've seen overweight people run 5ks faster than I do. I watched a man competing in a triathalon with his knees hitting his belly as he rode in the biking portion of the tri. I witnessed a man crossing the finish line at the Boston 5k with gasps and small steps, to great cheers and encouragement.

I can tell you now: if I were as overweight as they were, I would never have dared.

I would have resigned myself to my fate as an overweight person, destined for diabetes, heart disease and whatever else may follow. But I see these people out there on the trails, pushing themselves beyond their limits.

Here's the thing: they have so much farther to go than I do. And they aren't quitting. They aren't hanging their heads down in despair. They are pushing to that goal with every ounce of their body and souls. My God, what is stopping me when they are pushing themselves so hard?

Every time I see one of these people around the lakes I want to cheer them on. I want to tell them how proud I am of them, how I admire the dedication and commitment they're demonstrating.

But of course I don't, because they might not see themselves the way I see them.

So I silent go on, pushing myself farther and faster to try to keep up with the effort that they put into the changes they are making in their lives.

I am humbled by their will, and aspire to meet it.

That's what inspires me.

This video is only one example of why I am taking on this challenge. I plan to see it through.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Mystery of the Missing Dog

(FYI, dog is not actually missing. Here's photographic proof.)
When Dax was just a pup, we had a kennel for him in our basement. This wasn't just a crate, it was a large space made out of 3-foot sections of metal fencing, so he had a 9 square-foot area for himself while we were at work.

We bought him a little dog bed, which he promptly chewed up. We bought him another one, which he also decimated in about a day. We then decided to go the blanket/rug route, as he didn't seem to go through those too easily and they were cheaper to replace, anyway.

Finally he stopped chewing on the blankets, and we thought that perhaps the chewing stage of puppyhood was done. So we bought him a bed again, this time something that resembled a puppy bean bag, made out of all fleece and one that dogs could scratch and push into any shape to get comfortable on. Something kind of like this.

Everyone say "Awwww!"
Unfortunately he began nibbling at the seams, but at least it was taking him a while and the dog bed was still usable while he nibbled away.

One day I came home from work and went downstairs to get him out, only to see an empty kennel! I stared in wonder and amazement. Hmmm, the gate is shut, there's no way he could jump over the 4-foot sides, where did Dax go?

The only thing in the entire kennel was the bed ball, which began to move. And move. Eventually a little head popped out of the top of the dog bed. Dax had completely eaten a hole into the ball and wiggled his way in, and that's how he slept in the dog bed.

He slept in the bed that way for some time until he finally opened a seam up so far that all the stuffing came out all over. That was the end of the dog bed ball.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I Didn't Realize the Presidency Was For Sale

This may come as no surprise -- I support re-electing President Obama. While he's become a lightning rod for everything wrong with this country, there is so much he is doing right. and he can only do so much with a gridlocked legislative branch.

I find it frustrating that only one year into his four-year term political pundits were already talking about his chances of being re-elected. Let the man just do his job, instead of campaigning to keep his job, mkay?

I have been slightly engaged in this presidential campaign, signing online petitions, getting involved in social media, but not supporting financially or advocating passionately.

But now I'm getting annoyed and angry at the entire process. At the end of June both Obama's camp and Romney's camp released their financial statements, disclosing the names of their highest dollar donors and the total amount that's been raised. Now that the Republican field has been narrowed down to a single candidate, Romney's camp raised $107 million, while Obama's camp raise $70 million.

That's a whole lotta money. I know a lot of charities that could do some good with that money, change people's lives and all that.

And because I've been involved in Obama's camp, I'm now getting the emails from his side:

"We're being outspent. If this continues we will lose." And then the kicker at the end:

"Paid for by Obama for America." $3 is going to go towards creating and sending an email that asks other people to donate $3?

If you click through the email to the donation form, you'll see that if you've already given your limit of $2,500 to this campaign, you have several options to support Obama.

Like give to the Obama Victory Fund. Or the joint fundraising committee of the Democratic National Committee. Give to them all until you've giving your $2,500 limit, then find the next super PAC that is fundraising as well.

In the past four years, while the household income of the average American declined by 20%, the income of our congressmen have increased 20%. The disparity between the have's and the have-nots has grown. And now the fact that our leadership can be bought is being made blatantly clear to everyone in America, including people like me, who were asked for a measly $3 to help support the president.

Who else sees something wrong with our political process?  I think I'm going to start advocating hard to campaign reform. This is getting ridiculous.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Week One

It's been one week since I've begun the 60-day fitness challenge that my friend Gianna began. Everyone who is doing this is trying something different, something that is appropriate to his/her level.

For me, that means I'm doing the "Insanity:Asylum" workouts and replacing my pathetic lunch choices (read "Lean Cuisines") with a Shakeology shake.

I was completely intimidated starting the Asylum workouts. If you've heard or read anything about them, you'll know that they are intense. The warning at the beginning of each DVD is enough to scare you away, if you didn't believe what you'd heard.

In my first workout I was gasping and sweating in 3 minutes...and that was just the warm-up. The coach during the video, Shaun T, told me, "If this is making you sweat, you're in for a real workout."


After my first workout I emailed Gianna and asked if she would loan me her "Insanity" for this challenge. I did not think I was up for this. But she convinced me that you do not have to do the first "Insanity" workout to take on this one, and that I was probably already at a fitness level that could handle this challenge.

At the end of the day, as I reflected back on the start of my morning with this workout, I was pretty proud of myself. My muscles were kind of sore but not TOO sore, and I felt like I was going to make myself stronger if I stuck with it.

So I plowed on, day after day. The program is four days of workouts, one day of rest. This is on top of your other physical activities, not in place of them. So if I spent my morning workout time inline skating, that meant that I got to spend time in the evening getting my Asylum workout in.

Speed and Agility. Strength. Vertical Plyo. Back to Core.

I had to improvise in some cases. I can't use the jump rope provided in our basement with 8-foot ceilings, so I jump along and pretend. For the first strength workout I didn't have any weights, so I used a gallon of paint that was half full. I have to keep moving my equipment around in my small little space. Instead of making excuses and saying "I can't do this one, I think I'll sit it out," I found a way to make it work for me.

Saturday came and I was feeling great. So great that when I hit the lakes for an inline skate, I managed to skate 10 miles in 51 minutes, an average speed of 12 mph, in considerable foot and bike traffic. Every time I got tired and thought of slowing down, I heard Shaun T in my head, saying, "Push it push it push it! You've got it in you!" Or if I took a break, I would take short one and hear, "That's enough of a break for you. Get back at it."

I was damn proud of myself, until 3 hours later when my legs seized up. My hamstrings were strung so tight you could pluck them. My quads were killing me and my calves were mooing. It was surprising how my body reacted to this workout after no break for the entire week. Ow ow ow!

I told my loving and supportive husband how sore I was and he said, "Well you stretched, right? You do know to stretch?" in his usual loving and non-sarcastic way.

Uh...yeah, I know that! That doesn't mean I did it, though.

So I put in the "Relief" DVD and did 20 minutes of stretching, along with additional stretches before bed. Aahhh! Much better! I skipped that day's workout and did it on Sunday instead, which was supposed to be my day of rest.

So I'm a week in, and feeling pretty good. I'll let you know how I'm feeling at the end of week two.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Independence Day

Such a strange Independence Day this year, falling smack dab in the middle of a work week, and in the middle of a long and brutal heat wave. It reached 101 degrees on our thermometer at home that day. But we still had to take in the Edina parade, despite the heat. It just wouldn't be the 4th of July without a parade!
Lindsey was happy to be there, despite the heat.
Marissa...not so much.

The parade begins with the presentation of the American flag.
Honoring our veterans.

The bad guy's right next to you! Turn around, Superman!!

Keith Ellison, our representative. Must be an election year.
To celebrate the melting pot that is America, we had sushi for dinner. Actually, it was to honor the melting that was going on in Minnesota. It was too dang hot to cook, too hot to stand next to a grill, and who wanted to eat hot food anyways? So sushi from Lund's it was.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Inspired to Run My Best

This past weekend our family participated in Children Cancer Research Fund's 10th annual Time to Fly. This is a run/walk event with something for everyone: a 10k run, a 5k run, a 5k walk and a 1k kid's fun run. Lindsey decided she wanted to sleep in Saturday after her tiring week at Camp Kici Yapi, so Marissa, Wayne and I went to Harriet Island in St. Paul while Lindsey stayed home with a babysitter.

The temperature was already 88 degrees when Wayne's 10k began at 7:30 am, and it only got hotter from there. By the time my 5k run began at 8:30 it was 91 degrees with 66% humidity. Whew.

Yet despite the heat, I ran my fastest 5k ever. Why, you ask? Because every time I thought of stopping I saw these little signs that were along the entire route.

In honor of children fighting for their lives, or in memory of those who had already lost their battles. Just before the 1-mile mark I spotted the sign that our family had sponsored, honoring Annika, our Duluth friend, who recently fought back leukemia for the second time in her 6 years here on earth.

Every time I got winded or felt my knee tighten up, I looked at those signs and thought about the hardships those children had faced or were facing. The needle pricks, blood draws, chemotherapy, exhaustion, nausea, radiation. They have faced more challenges than most people ever will their entire lives. A little 5k was nothing compared to what they had gone through.

So I completed the 5k in 34 minutes and 16 seconds, only stopping to walk once at the water stop. Wayne and Marissa missed seeing me finish because they didn't expect me for at least 5 more minutes.

I also learned that I can see well enough to run even with tears brimming in my eyes.