Tuesday, August 28, 2012

First Day of School

New shoes. Backpacks. Notebooks, paper, pens, and the list goes on and on. Oh the things we need to send children to school in America.

For the first time since hitting school age Lindsey was less-than-thrilled with the start of school. Usually she can't wait and is excited to meet her new teacher, see her friends again, and learn. But this year, when Sunday night rolled around and she realized school was really starting the next day, she burst into tears.

"I thought the summer would last longer!" she wailed.

Me too, kiddo. But it is indeed time, and so we picked out our outfits, set out new backpacks and got a good night's sleep.

Marissa couldn't wait. She was excited to be in 2nd grade and was so happy to meet her teacher, who also happened to have been Lindsey's 2nd grade teacher. She couldn't wait to find out who would be in her class, where she would sit, and be all the way on the second floor of the two-story building, where only the 2nd graders go.

During the open house we realized that she and a good friend of hers were seated right next to each other, with no one else at the table. Her friend's mother and I both happened to mention to the girls' teacher (independently, ironically) that we were taking bets on how quickly they would be separated. After arriving home Marissa let me know that the room had been re-arranged a bit, and her one friend wasn't at her table anymore, but now two different friends were, so it was still okay. Hmmm....we'll see how often Marissa gets moved this year as compared to last.

I didn't realize until the girls put their backpacks on that they both had picked out first day of school outfits that matched their backpacks that we had bought earlier in the summer. Marissa happened to match her backpack exactly.

I wonder where they get their love of patterns.

And look! My tripod actually works! How sweet to finally get a photo of our entire family on the first day of school.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Another Challenger's Story

For as much fun as I've been having on this fitness challenge, I have to tell you a little bit about someone else who has been on this journey. She's been at it a lot longer than I have, and she recently completed a challenge that at one time she couldn't ever see herself taking on, much less finishing.

My sister began her fitness journey two summers ago after my daughter, at the age of 4, said some pretty mean things to her about how big she was. I was appalled at what Marissa had said, apologized profusely, and admonished Marissa that we shouldn't talk to people about their weight. Kristi took it in stride and said, "She's just being honest."

Summer 2010.
It was the wake-up call she needed.

She began working out at Curves and watching what she ate. She didn't go on a diet per se, but because she was working out so much she WANTED to eat well. Who wants to work that hard only to put it all back on?

She started shedding weight, toning up, and dropping sizes. She finally had to go down a size in her scrubs, the most adjustable of uniforms, because her pants threatened to fall off at work.

Curves started not being enough of a workout for her, so she added running to the mix, and last year ran her first 5k. She moved from Curves to Crossfit to continue her fitness journey. Crossfit is a workout of constantly varied movement at high intensity, from push-ups to dead lifts and pull-ups. It's completely scalable so that anyone at any fitness level can take it on. She's deadlifted 135 pounds and can do overhead presses of 75 pounds. Wow.

In the meantime, she continued with her running and began eyeing a 10k, when something else caught her eye:

The Warrior Dash.

By this time, she felt like a warrior. She had conquered that little voice in so many of our heads (especially women) that says "You can't" or "You aren't strong enough." Her voice started saying, "You can. You are capable. You are strong. Get out there!"

And then summer happened, with a long, awesome vacation to Upper Michigan to visit our cousins. When she wasn't working she was traveling, visiting family and indulging in good, home-cooked meals in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas and elsewhere.

Kristi had taken a 5-week hiatus from working out when she came to visit in mid-July and ran the Color Run with us. With the Warrior Dash in just four short weekends after her visit with us, she got down to business when she arrived back home in Indiana.

On the day of the race I was excited and nervous for her from 500 miles away, especially because she was doing this alone. She hadn't found anyone else willing to take this on with her, and that extra encouragement can sometimes go a long way in a challenge like this. I was hoping that it went well. She called me after she completed the course, crying.

Before the Warrior Dash

Leaping over fire.
At the finish line!
"It was easy," she practically sobbed. She couldn't believe it. It was EASY.

This from the woman who, two years earlier, needed to use both arms to push herself out of bed in the morning.

Now she's addicted. Screw that 10k, who wants to just run when you can run, climb, pull, crawl and leap? She's signed up for the Warrior Dash here in Minnesota in a few weekends, and this time a team of 3 or 4 others are joining her.

I can't say enough how proud I am of her far she's come. What a warrior!

Friday, August 24, 2012

State Fair Trip

We're on 12 years and counting, why stop now?

One day I'm going to be one of those people they interview on the local news when State Fair time hits. You know, those old-timers who haven't missed a state fair since 1949, or 1954, or something like that.

We're on 12 years and counting, babies, toddlers, and now grade schoolers included.

This year was probably the best in a long time, with no fights and no meltdowns. We were smart about taking the girls in different directions when wishes/needs were different, instead of forcing the four of us to stay together. Technology had a bit to do with that. This year I downloaded the MN State Fair app on my iTouch, and even though I didn't have a connection or GPS so it couldn't tell me where I was every second of the visit, it could tell me where things were that we wanted to see, and I could look to see where we were standing at the time.

Lindsey: "I want cheese curds. Let's get some!"

Me: "Good idea! Let me see. We're standing at the corner of Judson and Carnes, the closest cheese curd stand is at Judson and Nelson, just two blocks that-a-way. Let's go."

Two minutes later...

Lindsey: "Thanks for the cheese curds, Mom! You're the best!"

Okay, so my writing sometimes toes the line between fiction and non-fiction.

But it was incredibly handy for me, the direction-impaired one. I usually get so twisted around that by the end of the day Wayne has to lead us to the exit because I have no idea which direction we're even walking. Since I was able to check the map frequently and get a sense of where I was at, I was never lost.

Wayne and the girls visited the sheep (including cousin Rachel's, though we hadn't coordinated to see them while we were there), the horses and other animals while I parked the car. Then we met up and hit some of our favorite food stands, including Sweet Martha's Cookies, where they'll pile so many cookies into a paper cone that you have to walk carefully until you eat the first two off the pile or they'll slide off.

The Giant Slide was the hit that it always is.

A new attraction for us this year was the Mr. Bubbles bubble foam pit, where the girls were covered head to toe in bubbles. They used hand-held showerheads to rinse it off before continuing on, and it was just the cool down they needed to keep going on this hot day. I don't know if they've had this other years and we've just never seen it, but it was a big hit with the kids, not just ours.

After the Bubbles were done, completely and utterly wet from head to toe.
We spent some time at the Kidway but not as much as other years. I went on the "Lady Bug" ride with Marissa, which is just a line of cars that go around in a circle and slightly up and down. A barker tells people to scream to make it go faster, and eventually he makes it go backwards. She and I laughed and laughed, looking at each other and grinning our ears off. The lights of the ride glittered off her grey eyes -- she was so filled with joy, I just wanted to hug her but couldn't because we were spinning so fast. What a hoot.

We finished the day with a couple of special purchases for the girls, a beer for mom and dad, and a bucket of Sweet Martha's Cookies to take home.

So maybe some of the cookies got eaten before we left...

The best part about going to the fair for me is that everyone is so dang friendly. They don't call this state "Minnesota Nice" for nothing. Lindsey made a friend in line for a ride at the Kidway who went on two rides with her, and the girl's grandma used two of their own tickets to get Lindsey on the second ride since we had just run out of tickets. People in lines for food joked with each other, and the service people were friendly everywhere we went. I wore my "Vote NO" shirt supporting the LGBT community, and had people comment all over saying they liked my shirt, or if I knew where the booth was for that organization. I also saw the booth for the opposite side of that ballot issue, which had a big banner over it which said, "Marriage is for One Man and One Woman." I was tempted to stand in front of it, or go up and ask for information, but I resisted the urge.

My husband really IS a rock star!
The great Minnesota get-together was great once again.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Small Kindness

With Wayne gone running the Ragnar race, the girls and I went out to eat for dinner. They could choose anywhere they wanted to go, and they chose Old Country Buffet, after having been there once on a summer outing.


But they both really wanted to go, and so we went.

I hadn't been to an Old Country Buffet in nearly 20 years and it didn't take me long to remember why. Most of the foods were deep-fried. There were three different kinds of potatoes, but only one option for vegetables; overly-steamed broccoli that looked completely unappetizing.

Lindsey loaded up her plate with carbs -- mashed potatoes with gravy, rice and a dinner roll. But then she hit the salad bar. Twice. Marissa did the same, choosing spinach over iceberg lettuce as the basis of her salad.

Lindsey the photographer at OCB.
Now I know what my face looks like when I tell Lindsey to put away the camera.
As we sat eating I noticed we were attracting the attention of an elderly woman at the next table. We had seen her walking to and from the buffet several times. She could not stand upright and was hunched over so far that she was only a few inches taller than Lindsey. She wore a fushia broomstick skirt and matching top, with a stylish hat like the ones black women wear to church, and a shiny scarf wrapped around her hair underneath. At one point she had three plates of food in front of her and she systematically ate her way through them. She wasn't incredibly overweight, so I speculated that perhaps this was her only meal of the day.

At one point she commented to me, "Your girls are such good eaters! Look at all the choices they have and they choose salad. I don't know many kids who eat salad." I smiled and thanked her for her kind words.

As we were getting up to leave, she motioned Lindsey over to the table. She started digging in her purse for something, and I approached the table, wondering what she was searching for. 

She pulled out four dollar bills, and gave two to each of the girls. I protested, but she said she wanted to reward them both for being such healthy eaters.

I could tell that I would insult her if I protested too strongly, so I thanked her and told her we would make sure we used the money to help others. She nodded in agreement and smiled. "That would be wonderful."

It was only $4, but I could not believe her generosity and the simple behavior she wanted to reward. We talked in the car on the way back home, and the girls agreed that they want to use the money to help others.

We will be spending the next few days or week looking for ways to "pay it forward," using the money they were given just for eating salad.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What No Doctor Can Diagnose

Image from Michelle's Heart Songs
The father of a friend of mine was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The doctors went so far as to give him just a few months to live, something that you don't hear doctors say often.

Why don't doctors say that anymore? Because every once in a while, someone proves them wrong.

Doctors can diagnose all kinds of physical maladies -- tumors, disorders, diseases, malfunctioning organs that require dialysis or blood transfusions. What they cannot measure or see is the strength of the human spirit and a person's will to live.

I have known people who were diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer and are still living -- cancer free -- 20 years later.

I also know someone who was given an 80% survival rate but managed to be in the 20% who didn't survive his particular form of cancer.

My aunt was diagnosed with lung cancer, which moved to her brain, to her kidneys...and seven years after her initial diagnosis she finally succumbed to the disease. I believe that anyone else would not have survived the first treatment, much less battled on for seven more years. She lived to meet two of her grandbabies before leaving this world, something she would have missed had she not possessed such an indomitable spirit.

I am thinking of my friend and his family, and hoping that the doctors are wrong, because they cannot measure this man's will to live, or the strength of his family which surrounds him.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Week Six

It isn't all daisies and roses, is it? Or should I say, push-ups and dumbbells?

I have to admit, my week six of my fitness challenge looks an awful lot like life before I ever started the fitness challenge. Sure, I did one "Insanity:Asylum" workout. Sure, I got up a couple of mornings and got 10 miles of skating in. But that's only one workout more than I used to do before I did this fitness challenge.

The one constant has been my Shakeology shakes for lunch, but otherwise, I completely and utterly fell off the wagon this week.

And guess what: it happens.

What I've learned from this challenge group is that any effort is more than no effort. We all could spend our time berating ourselves for indulging in ice cream, or choosing to sleep in instead of working out. Or, we could just put it behind us and commit to do better tomorrow.

Because that's all any of us have, isn't it -- tomorrow.

That friend I was writing about that I met at the Minnesota Half marathon? She and I have been in touch and she is looking to set a PR at the North Shore Inline Marathon this fall, and wants to skate with me to make it happen. Her PR though, is a whole 20 minutes faster than my marathon last year. Do you know how much faster you have to go to make up 20 minutes in a marathon?

A lot. That's the most I can quantify it without having a calculator handy.

So now I have a new motivation. She and I are going to get together to train a couple of times, and she's recommended a place that has inline skating lessons for people like me who know how to stand upright and know how to stop, just need some pointers on technique.

I've got five more weeks to make it happen. As Tim Gunn would say, "Make it count."

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Vacation From Parenting

Those of us who are parents all live it -- parenting is a 24-hour-a-day job. The pay is next-to-nothing, the demands are outrageously high. And there is no such thing as a vacation.

Unless you ship your kids off to grandma and grandpa's for a week, that is.

And when you do, oh heavens! The ideas of things you want to do while you aren't tied down!

At first, visions of all the projects I would complete danced through my head. Things like organizing a closet, purging old clothes, painting a bedroom.

Those things never get done when kids are around because really, who would turn down a 6-year-old who wants to go biking and instead choose to clean the dust out of a bathroom vent? I know I don't make those choices, because some day that 6-year-old will be asking for the car keys and driving to her friend's house and I'll have all the time in the world to tackle that clogged vent. (Which, by the time she's 16, will really need attention.)

Our children have been at my parents' house since Sunday, when we met them midway between our house and theirs, and transferred kids, suitcases, bikes and toys to their car. Wayne and I drove home and had an actual conversation, while music we chose played in the car.

We arrived home and had to...do whatever we wanted. Which, for me, meant sitting in the backyard with a Kindle and a glass of wine, to read a book uninterrupted. Uninterrupted, I tell you, what a miraculous thing!

Our plans for this week include:
  1. Having both of us leave the house early in the morning to go skating or running, without needing to coordinate so that one person is home in case a child awakens early.
  2. Going out to dinner without having to pay a babysitter and without having to watch the time to make sure we're home by the time we told her we would be. 
  3. Eating dinner whenever we feel like it.
  4. Going to an industry networking event without having the other parent be on parent-duty.
  5. Using the effenheimer to add emphasis to a sentence without having to first check for the presence of children.
There is a little homesickness going on in Wisconsin, and hopefully keeping in touch via Facetime throughout the week helps.

From our standpoint, we are realizing that we don't do this often enough, and we are enjoying a much-needed break from parenting.

Thanks, Mom and Mark.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Fitness Challenge, Week 5: The Race

So like I was telling you before I was rudely interrupted by a Shakeology commercial break, fitness is absolutely no fun at all.

Nope, not having a good time. None whatsoever.

On Saturday I skated the duathlon as a part of the Minnesota Half Marathon event. I skated 13.1 miles, followed by a 2.8 mile run. (I thought it was a full 5k, but the way the course laid out it was only 2.8 miles.)

This was my first race on my new skates -- it's the day after the race and I still have a swollen bump on my left foot where the skate wasn't quite right. But still, I managed to pull off a PR on the half marathon portion, finishing in 55 minutes 18 seconds, or about 14 mph. The woman in the photo above is someone I met at the starting line and we skated most of the race together, drafting back and forth until I lost her the last couple of miles. We exchanged contact info and hopefully will get together to train for the NorthShore Inline marathon, which we're both doing this fall.

At one point in the race the course does a 180-degree turn, and the hills you just went up become the hills you go down. We had just climbed a long hill when we got to the turn, and promptly got to go back down that same hill. As we were chugging our way up, a long train of people drafting were coming down it on the other side. Over the sounds of people clapping and volunteers warning of the turn, I heard a person who was already on the downhill side let out a "YEEEEE HAWWWW!"

And that pretty much sums it up.

Going that fast on skates is thrilling. I was grinning the whole way down, and the momentum from the downhills would push me through the uphills.

Seriously, why isn't this sport more popular?!

The challenge was in transitioning to the run. My dear friend Gianna was there to cheer me on, and I took the transition as an opportunity to take a short break, catch my breath and grab a quick bite since I could feel my body craving fuel. Others came in and out of the transition area while I was still there and when I finally headed out on the run my legs were Jell-o. "What have I gotten myself into?" I thought to myself. And the funny part is, running felt so SLOW after skating, that I found myself speeding past all the half-marathoners who were out on the course. After a while I realized I was running at an unsustainable pace (for me), so I slowed it down. But still, I finished at a 10-min pace, faster than I've ever run any other 5k.

This after skating a half marathon. Which only goes to show you -- it's all mental.

I finished with another duathlon completer, and we exchanged congratulations. Then he said to me, "Man, it's hot out there when you're running! I don't know how those runners do a half marathon like that." And this was on a relatively cool day, compared to the prior year.

Which tells me that the grass is always greener on the other skate. Or something like that.

A few minutes after finishing. I am sweaty but happy!
After a shirt change and meeting Wayne after his finish.
To sum it up, I had a ball, I made a new friend, and I beat my husband by 2 minutes in skating a half and then running 2.8 miles, including an unusually long transition time. (I'll know better next year!) And he ran a damn good half-marathon, finished in 1:32. I got to see him finish his race as well, which was also awesome.

We ended the adventure with a lunch out with other members of the Minnesota Running Wild team, which was, like the rest of the day, not enjoyable in the least.

All before 10 o'clock in the morning.

Like I said, fitness is not fun.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Week Four

Before I began this challenge I already was physically active, running, skating and doing other activities. While adding more workouts to this has stepped up my game, the other element is the Shakeology shakes that I've added, and I think that combination has been the perfect addition for me.*

Shakeology website

I used to eat a frozen entree for lunch at work every workday and was usually hungry two hours later. Two hours later is also "chocolate o'clock," when my craving for chocolate hits an all-time high. Between 2:00 and 3:00 every afternoon you could find me trolling the office for chocolate, and if there wasn't any to be had from a co-worker's desk I would inevitably hit the vending machine for a chocolate fix. After ingesting 210 to 240 calories and 30 grams of sugar, I'd hit a second sugar low around the time I left to go home. Yawn.

Now I have a chocolate shake for lunch, usually with a little something added in like a banana or peanut butter and honey. I blend it up in the morning, put it in the frig at work and sip on it at my usual lunch hour. It is surprisingly filling -- so much so that two hours later, when chocolate o'clock hits, I'm not really hungry. And...I've already had my chocolate fix for the day.

I don't feel bloated and I don't get the tired afternoon blahs I used to get.

Oh yeah, and if you blend that peanut butter and honey with the chocolate shake, it's like drinking a Reeses' Peanut Butter Cup, I kid you not. It's really yummy. Lindsey, our picky eater who only eats dark chocolate, even tried it and declared it delicious.

Sorry if this sounds like an infomercial -- anyone who knows me knows that I don't spout off about products left and right unless I believe in them. I have to say that I was utterly skeptical going in to this. Yeah right, a shake is going to fill me up and I won't be hungry. Uh huh. But I've been pleasantly surprised by this added element, so I am honestly telling you of my experience with it.

I've backed off on my "Insanity: Asylum" workouts this week as I've got the Minnesota Half Marathon this Saturday. I signed up for the duathalon this year, meaning that I'll be skating 13.1 miles, then lacing up my running shoes and heading back out for a 5k run. I'll be saving my hamstrings and quads for that race this week, so no vertical plyo or speed + agility for me the next few days, although I'm thinking a strength training session sounds pretty good.

I am nervous about skating on my new skates because I'm still getting them tweaked. Yesterday the "master boot fitter" (yes, that is his official title) at Pierce Skate & Ski  molded an orthotic arch support into my left skate. I went out for 10 miles this morning and felt pretty good, so I may finally be on my way to having well-fitted skates. But that doesn't make me any less tentative on hills.

To get an idea of how fast these skates can go, drive 20 mph down a street in your car, and then imagine taking away the car and strapping skates on your feet. Not that I can sustain 20 mph, but I hit that on the downhills. Nerve-wracking, I tell you. Protective gear wouldn't actually protect you if you fell at that speed, it'd just keep the bones together until you get to the hospital. I've learned that while good equipment will let you go fast, it won't make you go fast. Good training, confidence and lack of fear will make that happen.

I'll let you know in my next fitness update how the race went!

*This is not a paid endorsement for Shakeology or Team Beachbody products. This is my honest assessment as a skeptical consumer who tried the product for 30 days.