Monday, December 30, 2013

Gratitude for Modern Conveniences

Did I mention that our dishwasher sprung a leak on Christmas Eve?

It actually happened when we ran the dishwasher overnight on the 23rd. We ran it even though it wasn't full because it was 2 degrees and expected to get down to 12 below overnight (and it did, in case you were wondering). We've had the water line to the dishwasher freeze in previous cold spells, so we thought that by keeping water running as the temperature dropped that it would keep the line from freezing.

Instead it sprung a leak, resulting in water all through our basement.


This means I baked a coffee cake Christmas Eve, a pasta dish that evening and a nice dinner the following night, while hand-washing every single dish, spoon, fork, knife, serving dish, plate, cup and bowl that was dirtied. This means that we washed dishes approximately 4 to 5 times a day, for five days.

We were able to get a hold of a plumber who came to look at it the day after Christmas.  He determined that not only was a hose busted, but the dishwasher itself had a leak and an appliance repairperson would also need to be consulted.

We sure know how to break stuff.

We hosted a family dinner on Saturday while the dishwasher was only partially repaired, resulting in dirty dishes on every flat surface in the kitchen before clean-up began the following morning.

Re-routing the plumbing to and from the dishwasher so it can be INSIDE the exterior insulation (what a concept).
So I learned to appreciate my modern dishwasher, but also to appreciate clean dishes, because I have to say that our silverware and dishes never gleamed quite as well as they did while we were hand-washing.
One of many loads of dishes washed in a day.
And it also reminded me of this little story I read in Reader's Digest many moons ago.

A recent bride had just moved into a brand-new home with her husband.  She was incredibly excited to show her family the home with all its modern conveniences. One day the bride's grandmother visits, and the granddaughter happily takes her on a tour of the house, spending lots of time in the kitchen with its modern appliances.

The grandmother smiled as she surveyed the beautiful and modern kitchen and asked, "If you had only one of these modern conveniences and had to give up the rest, which would be the one item you would keep?"

The bride looked around the kitchen, at the dishwasher, the side-by-side refrigerator, the stovetop and oven, the warming drawer,  microwave and debates: Which one could she absolutely NOT live without? Finally she says, "The microwave. Because if nothing else worked, I could at least heat up some takeout."

"Interesting choice," the grandmother said, "I would've chosen the running water."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Runaway Train of a Christmas Eve

Coffee cake, anyone?
We've built a few Christmas traditions for our family, based on carrying on old ones that I grew up with. One of those is having homemade coffee cake while opening gifts on Christmas morning. Another is having a baked pasta dish cook during Christmas Eve service, to be eaten upon the family's return from church. There's nothing like coming home from church, opening the door and having that good garlic-tomatoy smell waft out of the house. Aahhh!

For my family, this means that both dishes need to be prepared on Christmas Eve. My mom -- being the master organizer and planner that she is --  used to prepare them in advance and store them in the freezer until they were needed. Of course, that requires not only chunks of time not taken up by work, family and household chores, but also a nice-sized freezer in which to store the food, neither of which I have.

Christmas Eve morning started out with the highest of hopes and expectations to have everything done by the 4:30 church service. But this was soon derailed when we discovered at 8 o'clock in the morning that the pipe to our dishwasher has frozen. The appliances in our basement, located just under the dishwasher, looked like they had been rained upon, the floor trusses above were saturated and the floor was sopping wet. It was no longer leaking, but clearly had done so while the dishwasher had run overnight. A call was made to a plumber, with a promise of coming out to look at it...after the holiday. In the meantime, no running the dishwasher until we can determine the cause.

This means breakfast dishes had to be washed first, and THEN coffee cake started a bit later than initially scheduled, with dishes washed again while the cake was baking.

Coffee cake, or ugly cake?

Coffee cake! (See last year's post. And the year's before. Etc.)
In the meantime, I could feel a sniffle and occasional sneezing creeping up on me. Ignoring it, I told the girls we could go to the mall for lunch and possibly a visit with Santa, since we hadn't seen him yet this year and I was not up to making a lunch and washing those dishes as well.

But first... the eldest had to bathe and wash her hair which was long overdue for a washing.

They both put their new holiday dresses on and off we went to the mall. We lunched, and then got in line to see Santa. The line was relatively short; it didn't look like we were going to wait long. But this was a really good Santa, and he took his time with every child who came to him to tell him their wishes. There was a girl with a disability a few families ahead of us, and he took extra care in talking with her and her family. Seriously, how can you not love that?

Except that I was watching my watch as it crept toward 2:00, then past, then towards 3:00. And all the time I was standing in line I was feeling more and more run-down. I debated even going to the church service, but...really? Isn't that the whole point of Christmas, to hear the Christmas story and celebrate Christ's birth?

When it was finally our turn to see Santa we had been waiting an hour and a half. There goes my cooking time for dinner. is this going to work?

We arrived home at 3:20 and I shooed everyone out of the kitchen while I got to work, whipping up our traditional pasta dinner of stuffed pasta shells.

I learned that I can cook that dish in 45 minutes. Rock star. By 4:10 I was upstairs changing and we got the family out the door in 10 minutes.

All during the service my nose itched nonstop and dripped endlessly. My head was feeling heavier and heavier. This was now a full-blown cold and I felt like crap.

We arrived home and final preparations began for dinner. My blood boiled briefly when I heard "When's dinner? I'm hungry," from the child playing in the living room, the child who is perfectly capable of filling salad bowls and putting salad dressing out. She was promptly recruited for the job.

While hand-washing the meal's dishes after dinner, I informed my dearly beloved that there was no way I could do all the Christmas prep myself as I had previous years. Thankfully I had done most of the wrapping the weekend before, but there were still a few late gifts that needed to be wrapped, along with stockings to be stuffed and Santa gifts to be found from their hiding places and set under the tree. Of course, only I knew where the stocking gifts were hidden, which presents needed to be wrapped, and where the Santa gifts were hiding.

The two of us got it all done and went straight to bed. Thankfully I slept all the way through the night and was awoken at 6:30 by two excited little girls, which is relatively late for Christmas morning in our house.

It felt like it had been a runaway Christmas Eve, starting out slowly and calmly and eventually ending in a race against the clock and a cold.

I'm thinking that we may invest in a freezer so I can avoid this runaway train next year. Ah-choo.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Journey Complete and a Celebration

About 18 months ago my sister began a journey to create opportunity for herself. She decided to go back to school to get her bachelor's degree in nursing. Sure, she already has a bachelor's degree, and she has enough schooling to be an RN. But to be truly mobile in her career, she needed the undergraduate degree to be in nursing, not psychology (her original undergrad degree). So back to school she went, for something like the third time in her adult life.

As usual, she rocked it. She would sigh over her A- on her test or project and wonder what she could have done to get an A+. (Yes, her expectations of herself are really that high.) She juggled work and studying and fitness and traveling to see family to earn this degree.

So when it came time to graduate, she asked if I would attend, along with our dad, who would be driving up from Arkansas. What a wonderful opportunity for the three of us to be together, a rarity considering the distance between us.
Look out, Chicago! The Floria's are in town.
My what a time we had.

I flew in to Chicago on a Friday afternoon to be greeted at arrivals by my sister and dad. We drove into the city, lunched at a Corner Bakery, and then, the Sears Tower. I mean the Willis Tower, but it will always be the Sears Tower to us. Kristi had last been to the top of it about 20 years earlier, and Dad had never been to it.

We had such a wonderful time walking around, looking down at all the buildings and eventually trying our courage by standing on "The Ledge," a glass-bottomed enclosure that literally hangs off of the edge of the 103rd floor. Kristi could barely take the picture while I clung to the building for some time before finally stepping out.

We drove through the city a bit and looked at all the holiday lights, then drove back to Valparaiso, Indiana, where Kristi lives. We relaxed for a while, then headed out to a restaurant for dinner.

Saturday morning she and I took in a Crossfit workout. Kristi's been doing Crossfit for several years now and raves about it. I've heard all about her Crossfit friends and got to meet them in person. We did a group workout, where we got together in groups of threes and had to complete these strangely acronymed exercises like "DU's" and "wall balls." It took our group 36 minutes to complete and we were drenched in sweat. By the end of it I had completed 450 single jump ropes, 100 wall balls (squatting down and throwing a 14 lb. medicine ball as high up against a wall as possible and then catching it and going back into a squat for the next toss), and 35 power snatches (lifting a weight bar from a squat position directly above my head in a single movement.)

Crazy as this sounds, that is my idea of fun. and Kristi was complimented on her form during the power snatches. Of course, she couldn't resist but ask the guy, "Did you just tell me I had a good snatch?"

I learned that "DUs" are "double unders" and that I cannot do them. (It's jumping up once and having a jump rope pass under your feet twice before your feet touch the ground again.)
Lunch at home and then shopping in downtown Valparaiso. Valpo is such a pretty town and was special to see in a fresh coating of snow that was still falling as we were out and about.

Dinner out again. Shocking. Food and the Floria's.

And then Sunday, the graduation ceremony.

The chapel from my seat in the last row.
Valparaiso University is a private Lutheran school and the graduation took place in the chapel. It's a beautiful building with soaring stained glass panels two stories tall. The graduation was regal, filled with pomp, tradition and ceremony. So wonderful.

I never made it to Kristi's first graduation from college -- I was a freshman at St. Cloud State and her graduation took place the weekend before my finals week. I can count on one hand the number of times I had been to Valparaiso, for as close as we sisters are and for as many times in a year I see Kristi. It was such a treat to spend time with her and Dad. When we're together we are laid back, happy as can be to just sit around and "gaboon," as my dad says. And, as only families can do when they get together, we feast.

Such memories were made. I am so proud of my sister and so happy that our dad and I could be there to celebrate.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Are We Really Still Doing This to Our Girls?

Somehow a co-worker of mine got put on the subscription list at work to both Boy's Life and Girl's Life. Perhaps they think that by giving the PR manager at a children's hospital a free subscription that the magazines will end up in our waiting rooms and reception areas.

She, of course, begs to differ, and I had to agree upon looking at the magazines. 

For the first thing, take a look at both magazine covers.

No really, these covers are indeed from this year.

The Boy's Life one? I don't feel I can comment too much on this one, I never was a boy and am not the parent of boys. But from the outside, it doesn't look too awful. About skiing, the perfect ski outing, the most dangerous job in showbiz, and "true stories of Scouts in action." All sounds wholesome although obviously slanted to the outdoors and an active lifestyle. Perhaps it should be re-named "Active Boy's Life."

But then we have this.
"Look Amazing!! Major outfit inspo inside" (We can't even be bothered to write the word "inspiration" in full?)

"Get Your Dream Hair"

"Steal Her Beauty Secrets: Shhh! Tips and tricks from gorgeous girls." (Because we all know what it's like to look at the gorgeous girls, hate them but want to be them, too. But we shouldn't know what that feels like, that's the problem.)

And the ultimate headline: "Quiz: Should You Date Him?"

Oh. My God.

I looked up this magazine's advertising stats -- age range of its subscribers are 12 to 17, median age is 15.  They have more than 2.1 magazines in circulation, of those 400,000 are paid subscribers. 

You mean there are actually 400,000 parents who paid to expose their girls to this crap? Haven't we moved beyond this yet?

I try to shield my kids from ridiculous stereotypes and unreal expectations. They may comment on a beautiful woman on a bulletin board, and I'll let them know that her body was probably photoshopped or her make-up airbrushed on.

They and their friends are currently mocking Miley Cyrus for her choices in wardrobe and actions. But then we'll have a conversation about bullying, and how it must feel to be Miley Cyrus and have everyone make a parody of her song "Wrecking Ball." (Poor Miley.)

I made the mistake of opening the magazine to see if the content was really as bad as the cover promised. 

It was.  

On the traditional "reader asks questions" page:

"I think I repel guys. I get top grades, am captain of my sports teams and do choir. My friends say guys are intimidated."

One editor writes: It's not that you're successful, it's how you carry that success. Downplay it. Put the spotlight on others, and point out special things about those around you.

The other editor's response is: "At the risk of being a little sexist, flirt. Smile. Laugh at his jokes." 

My response to that editor: You didn't risk being a little sexist, you ARE incredibly sexist for giving that advice to 15-year-olds.

So the message here is: Be smart, but not too smart. And if you are really smart and talented, don't be proud about it, be sure to shine the spotlight on others or rely on your good looks so you can get a guy.

Now imagine that readers take that advice, apply it to their high school education, their college education, and then eventually to their careers.

And we wonder why women are still not well represented in the C-suite of company management rosters.

We need to stop giving in to societal pressure that the value of women in our society is in their beauty and not in their talents. 

I wish I could make this crap stop. I don't know why it's still out there. No wait, I do know why: I looked up the statistics for this magazine on their advertising page. A full-page ad in this magazine costs $27,000, more for the back cover or inside flap. Guess who their #1 advertisers are? Yep, you got it, cosmetics companies. Hair products. Apparel retailers. 

So we may want to tell "Girl's Life" that we will never buy their crap, but unfortunately enough people are buying it that advertisers want to be there.

So I will target the advertisers. Skechers has a four-color back page ad, the most expensive ad of the publication. A product called "No!No! Skin" promises to zap away your zits on the inside back cover. "Series 31" jeans has full-page four-color ads.

I could write a little letter to these, but I think I'll be a little more public about it -- Ooo! Look! Skechers has a Facebook page....

Stay tuned...

Or better yet, want to join me?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Games People Play

There is something about playing games that brings people together.

It is not as direct as a one-to-one conversation. Yet it is not as unengaged as watching two separate screens, side-by-side, with no relationship to each other.

It is conraderie. It is friendship. It is kind-hearted teasing. It is getting-to-know-you-time.

Which is why I'm so thrilled to have many generations together playing cards.

Mark and Donna engage in "table talk" while Lindsey and Mille play by the rules.
Some of my fondest memories of my Grandfather Dolaskie is of his playing the game of spades.
I didn't know him well. He tried to teach me to fish, but I wasn't much into fishing. He wanted to take me boating, but I was afraid of the water.

He tried to play cards with me, but I was too young. So instead, I watched him. For hours. For years.

I watched him be a sly little shit and bluff his children (my parents) into thinking he didn't have the cards he had, and win a hand. I watched him be stoic and non-expressive, then grin like a fool as he counted his points. I saw him laugh to the point of tears, with the ridiculous plays he or others would make, trying to get others to show their hands.

All in the game of spades

I got to know his humor, his stance, his political bend,  his dry sense of humor. All through card games. I can honestly say I never had a direct conversation with the man my entire life. We just didn't see each other that often through my childhood, and by the time I was an adult I was too busy to take the time to get to know him. That was my loss, truly, I had no idea what I was losing.

He was staunch. He was strong. He was weak. He was funny.

All those things I never knew, his entire life.

But now, seven  years after his death, as I sit around a table playing cards with people he'd only met once in his life -- at my wedding -- I think of him.

Because I am getting to know my sister- and brother-in-law and my mother-in-law the way I got to know my grandpa.

Playing games.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Our Mathlete: An Update

Thanks so much to everyone who expressed their concern, well-wishes, advice and commiseration after I wrote about Marissa's struggles with math.

I can give you a couple of updates.

I learned a whole lot about the resources available at our school, or the lack thereof. While we could never afford private schools, I was encouraged to try to open enroll her to Edina or St. Louis Park school districts, both of which seem to have no issue finding resources to give a little extra help to students who need it. Still on the table, but not thrilled with a school change for her, away from friends, and the extra complexity that having kids in two different school systems would bring to our family.

We learned that Marissa is not a terribly attentive student. Her math teacher this year has let us know that her number one goal for Marissa is to pay attention in class. When we talked to Marissa about focusing and listening to the teacher, she said that her friends would get upset with her for not talking with them. We told her that she should tell her friends that her parents will be even MORE upset if she doesn't pay attention, and that they should probably be listening, too. I can only imagine the amount of chatter that happens in the classroom.

Because of this, we know that changing teachers mid-year this year probably won't help. It's not the teacher, it's her lack of focus. We considered whether or not she had ADD. After reviewing the questionnaire for the disorder and talking to her teachers, we decided not to put her through the testing because the chances are so slim that this was the case. Bottom line, she's a social, lovable, happy little girl who would rather spend time with her friends than listen in class.

Mathnasium rocks and is an incredible resource. Marissa loves to go there, loves to work with the various tutors and enjoys the little rewards they get along the way. They started her with 1st grade math, which she has nearly completed after 2 months. She'll be starting on the 2nd grade math curriculum probably mid-winter, and if she continues with Mathnasium through the summer, she'll be ready to start the 3rd grade curriculum next fall...just as she enters 4th grade.

We are incredibly frustrated that she has fallen this far behind and it was on no one's radar but our own.

But she is plugging along. We have noticed considerable improvement in her math skills, and less resistance to doing homework in general, though she still has her moments. She likes to show off her math skills now by writing word problems in her math notebook, which you will find in her hands nearly every evening, making up problems like...

If Daddy had 3,546 jelly beans and he gave 1,252 to Marissa and none to Mommy or Lindsey, how many jelly beans would he have left?

The answer: 2,294, until Mommy stole and bunch and then he had none. (She knows me pretty well.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"My Child's Greed is Killing Santa" -- An Update

Just in case you thought that my eldest was still in her room, sulking...

She is not.

But we did have a good conversation about the value of money. Someone who read my original post suggested that perhaps Lindsey could save up her own money to buy these Uggs that she wants so badly. Actually, she wouldn't have to save, she's already got more than $200 saved up from the last few birthdays and Christmases. If she wanted Uggs, she could go out and buy them right now.

But she won't, of course, because it would use all her money for a single pair of boots she would grow out of in just a year.

My point exactly.

I think she was actually more upset at learning in a roundabout way that Santa is not actually sending her presents, that parents spend the money for the gifts from Santa and that we are not bottomless pits.

She revised her gift list down and said that Uggs are off the list. Whew.

A day later our family was watching the news and a report came on about consumer spending for the holidays. The report said that the average American family was planning on spending around $750 for gifts. Wayne and I both looked over at our formerly greedy girl and said, "That's $750 for the entire family, not one child."

She hid her head in the blanket in embarrassment.

I think she got it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Child's Greed Is Killing Santa

For a month or so now my oldest daughter has been mentioning here and there some of the things she'd like for Christmas. A trendy down vest. Acrylic paints and canvas. A Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire is a bit outside of the norm, but might be doable.

Then she mentioned the Uggs. The same Uggs she asked for last Christmas but didn't get.

Well, it's not that she didn't get them, she got "F'Uggs," or fake Uggs. She knew they weren't "real" Uggs, so authentic Uggs are back on her list at $200 for the style she wants.

I have a real problem with paying $200 for a pair of shoes. I have never in my life spent $200 for shoewear for myself. Ever. And I'm not growing, I've been the same shoe size for almost 30 years now. Our daughter is currently growing about a shoe size a year. We buy her new winter boots every year, and she's going through athletic shoes at a pace of 2 per year because she wears those year-round.

Of course we won't buy her a pair of $200 boots at age 10.

But she says "Well, Santa will bring them."

Now, we are 90% confident that she knows Santa doesn't exist. None of her friends believe anymore, and I think she just says "Santa will bring it" knowing that we won't break the news to her that Santa isn't real.

She started adding up her wish list, computer in front of her so she could look up the prices. $150 for a Kindle Fire. $200 for Ugg boots. $30 for paints and canvas. $65 for a Furby, all the way through her entire wish list.

She added up the list and came up with $285. I corrected her math, and she came up with $485.

"See? It's not even $500," she says.

Who is this child? When is the dollar amount "$500" ever preceded by the words "not even" unless you're talking about a house repair or medical bill?
Santa reviews my daughter's wish list with skepticism. So do I.
She got moody when I told her Santa would NOT be bringing her everything on her list, and that mom and dad couldn't possibly afford to buy all those things for her.

She is currently up in her room, sulking.

So we will have to break it to her that mom and dad ARE Santa, and that's why what things cost DOES matter. And then I think we're going to go volunteer at Feed My Starving Children and have her dad tell her stories of his Christmases growing up, when each child was given one gift. And they liked it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You're Losing Your What?

My hair. Yes, I am losing my hair.

This is something women in particular do not like to talk about. Sure, men don't like to talk about losing their hair (or losing it in the first place, for that matter), but at least it happens to enough of them that it's kind of normal.

But for women? If we lose our hair we never talk about it.

This past September I noticed that I had an inordinate amount of hair going down the drain when I took a shower. Enough hair in a handful for a small ponytail, I kid you not. Cut a small ponytail worth of hair out of your hair every couple of days and see how much is left on your head.
Crazed, flyaway-haired lady! Aaaack!

This picture was taken a few months after I had begun shedding. The short hairs that were re-growing weren't long enough to stay in a ponytail, so I began looking like a crazed lunatic whenever I wore my hair back. Which, for me, was most of the time. 

At first I chalked it up to...I don't know what. I think I was in denial that it was happening. But then I lost a ton while showering, then combed through my hair just after said shower and lost just as much again.

What. The hell.

So of course I called my dermatologist, because she'd just put me on a new prescription and asked her if a side effect was hair loss. Actually, she informed me, a side effect is hair growth.


I called my endocrinologist and scheduled a blood test, because I know that hair loss can be associated with hormone and thyroid changes.

Every test they ran came back normal.

Curse it...

I happened to mention to both doctors that I had recently made a diet change. I stopped having my protein shake every lunch hour because it turned out I was allergic to some of the ingredients in the shake. Even more ironic, my allergy had been coming out as severe adult acne, which was the reason for the new prescription from the dermatologist. Nasty, ugly stuff that made my self-confidence take a huge plunge and make me feel like an awkward teenager.

Turns out that there are four kinds of grasses in the protein shake I'd been taking: wheat grass, barley grass, kamut and oat grass. Now, grass is actually a great filler -- it's in the majority of protein shakes on the market, a fact I discovered while researching a replacement. But for someone who is as horribly allergic to grass as I am, ingesting the stuff is just as bad for you as rolling in it.

But...there are a lot of good things in that shake that my body really loved too, tons of vitamins and minerals, acai extract, Goji berry, blueberry, and so on and so forth.

When I mentioned that I had stopped taking this shake to my doctors, they both said, "Oooh yes, that can make a difference."

So the good news is that the hair loss is a not a permanent change, and my hair loss seems to have slowed to a more normal rate. The bad news is that I still didn't feel great about myself because it was so scraggly to me. It may have looked okay to others, but I could tell the difference and I was not happy.

And so there was only one thing left to do.

My normal stylist wasn't available for a while, and I just couldn't wait to make a change. So I called a salon in Minneapolis that specializes in cutting and treating curly hair. They cut every curl individually while it's dry so they can see where the hair wants to naturally curl up. THEN they wash it and dry it in such a way that it isn't frizzy and won't frizz as the day goes on. They even taught me how to dry and style it appropriately so I can get the same effect myself.  I LOVE the way my hair curls now, and the shorter length is absolutely freeing.

I had no idea that a diet change or hormonal changes could result is such dramatic hair loss until I experienced it myself.  Hopefully my sharing this can help other women from panicking if they experience this themselves.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Enjoy the Process

I started my third 21-day meditation challenge recently.

The first time -- a bust. I think I meditated a total of 4 times the entire 3 weeks, and hated every second of it.

The second time -- interesting. Got something out of it, felt more settled, and actually kind of missed it when the 21 days was done.

This time -- struggling to stay focused.

I have never had such a hard time staying focused in this. It was hard the first time, but this time around? Even harder.

Before Deepak can even say "If you find your mind starting to wander…" my mind has wandered and I didn't listen to what I was supposed to do if my mind started to wander.


An aging beloved pet...

A volunteer assignment I took on and haven't been committed to completing…

My child's math struggles….

My mind is anywhere but where it is supposed to be, which is nowhere.

But then finally, I settled on one thought which sounds ridiculous but which I've adapted to any situation:


This did not come from some meditation expert, therapist, life coach, it came from a fitness instructor, Chalene Johnson.

THIS Chalene Johnson, of TurboJam, then TurboFire, then Chalean Extreme fame.


Here's the context:

I do Chalene's Chalean Extreme (CLX) strength training program, and it will probably be a program I follow the rest of my life. The theory is low and slow reps, medium to heavy weights.

Try this:

Fill a glass with 8 oz of water, and hold it out straight in front of you. Hold your elbow up to the same height as your shoulder, and keep it steady right in front of you.

Not hard, right?

Now hold that for 10 seconds. 30 seconds. A minute. Two minutes. Five minutes.

See ripples in the water yet?

That's the idea.

It's not about how heavy you lift, it's about how long you hold the rep. You don't need to do 30 bicep curls, you need to do just 12. But by the 12th rep, if that weight was a glass of water it would have ripples in it from the shaking in your muscles because they are so maxed out, because you did the rep so slowly.

Halfway through this workout, Chalene says, "Enjoy the process! It's so much fun building muscle, why would you want to rush it?"

And that's the key to success with her program: do it slowly and enjoy it, or you won't do the whole program. You are building muscle, you are re-shaping your body, why would you want to rush through it and not enjoy it?

Now, apply this to life. Apply this to anything you don't always enjoy.

My kids when they are acting up and bickering: Enjoy the process! They will only be little for a short time. Take a deep breath, be calm, set a good example and parent them while they'll still listen.

Dinner time. Enjoy the process! Look at the vibrant colors of the veggies, listen to the sizzle of the meat cooking in the pan, smell the sauce as it simmers. Instead of rushing through the prep work savor every moment of it.

Laundry. Enjoy the process! Appreciate that your children own so many clothes that need washing, that they are active and healthy to be able to get them so dirty, and be sure to breathe in the clean smell as they come out of the dryer.

Meditation. My mind wanders, I accidentally made a "to do" list,  I did not "go within."

Enjoy the process! It's okay to have your mind wander, it's back where it needs to be now, just enjoy this process of finding stillness in your mind and life.

This is my version of "live in the moment." Live in the moment? I don't know what that means. And I ponder it and then feel like I missed out on something because I didn't "live in the moment." I don't get it.

But "enjoy the process?" These three little words give you room to make mistakes. It allows you to have setbacks. Because it's not about the goal, it's about getting to the goal. Savor every sense while you're doing it, and you're "living in the moment," without freaking out if just for a second you don't.

Now you try it -- how would you apply the mantra "enjoy the process?"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why I Do What I Do

The thought of sleeping is the furthest thing from my mind.

Yes, I've been up at 3 a.m. the last two nights. Yes, I was single-parenting it the last day and a half.

But I can't even think of going to bed.

Because today was Give to the Max Day, a 24-hour online fundraising event in Minnesota. And every year on this day I am reminded why I do what I do.

Because giving to charity FEELS GOOD.

It warms your heart. It puts a smile on your face. It makes you feel all bubbly inside and you want to hug the nearest person to you, even if that person just spent that last 30 minutes grouching at you because you made her do her homework.

And I am always amazed and humbled by the outpouring of support for my employer, Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare.

The families whose lives we touch, the children who grow to be fully-engaged adults in the world, with jobs and spouses and family and friends, who ask their family and friends to give back because of what Gillette has done for them.

We would like to forget that two generations ago, people who were born with the conditions Gillette treats would be shuttered away in institutions, easily forgotten by society.  But remembering that makes what Gillette does even more remarkable. These are children who overcome incredible challenges to become…ordinary. Everyday, "have a nice day" kind of ordinary.

What a blessing.

And what a blessing to fundraise for this cause, to talk to donors who have been moved by the mission and choose to give, to hear their reasons and their stories of how their lives have been changed, either directly or indirectly. To have them give in amounts unfathomable to me, and have them say, "it is only a token of what Gillette has done for me."


Okay, so maybe it's the adrenaline, the lack of sleep and the excitement over the day, but still, there is just something magical about being a part of something so moving.

So here's just a snippet, you can't begin to imagine the challenge of capturing in 30 seconds what Gillette does:

Moving Forward > from Gillette Children's on Vimeo.

And now, the story behind the story.

Moving Ellie Forward from Gillette Children's on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Whoop! Whoop! Mom of the Year Award

This fall both Marissa and I caught a cold. She had it first, passed it on to me, I got over it and then realized she still had it.

Actually, what she had was a cough. Her nose wasn't running anymore, her head wasn't stuffy, but her cough was lingering on and on.

We sent her to Girls on the Run practice as usual, thinking that the fresh, cold air and exercise could help clear out the lungs once and for all. But it didn't get better. We kept sending her to school, since she wasn't feeling too poorly, wasn't running a fever and just had this nagging cough.

Finally, this past Sunday her cough got to the point where she was gasping for breath. She had circles under her eyes from the strain and disjointed sleep, and her sides hurt from the coughing.

So Monday I stayed home from school with her and took her to the doctor. The pediatrician decided to do a whooping cough test, even though she thought it would come back negative. They put what looks like a Q-tip on a very, very long flexible wand so far up her nose I thought they were going to tickle her brain. God bless Marissa, she did so well during the test even though she was super scared to do it. She's a much better kid than I was at that age, that's for sure.

The doctor sent us out the door with a prescription for Zithromax and said that we would treat it like whooping cough until we knew for sure if it was or wasn't. In the meantime, Marissa could go to school until we got the test results, especially since she wasn't running a fever.

I should clarify -- she wasn't running a fever at the doctor's office. The pediatrician asked me if she'd been running a fever and I said no, even though the battery on our electronic thermometer had been dead for months and I hadn't been able to actually get a temperature on her this entire time. The first of a series of "mom of the year" award-winning moves.

So she and I spent the rest of the day Monday snuggling together, watching movies, reading and enjoying each other's company. It was actually quite nice.

Tuesday morning Marissa awoke and said she had a headache and didn't want to go to school. She didn't feel warm (using the hand-on-forehead scientific method still), so we gave her some ibuprofen and sent her on her way. We did have her skip Girls on the Run, though.

Same thing Wednesday. Doesn't feel like going. Gave her ibuprofen and sent her anyway.

Same thing Thursday. Doesn't feel like going. Get her up and dressed and she and I head to Bruegger's since it's free coffee day, a fundraising event for Gillette. While there I missed a call from her pediatrician's office. I pick up the voice mail and hear that the test came back positive for whooping cough. Not what I expected.

In the next hour of phone calls here's what I learn about whooping cough:

  • It is a reportable disease, meaning the pediatrician has to notify the state about this diagnosis.
  • The treatment is antibiotics but she is still highly contagious during the first 5 days of treatment. Even though she's been on Zithromax since Monday, she must stay out of school the rest of the week.
  • Not only should she stay out of school but she needs to stay out of all public places.
  • The entire family must be treated with antibiotics as well so we don't develop it.
  • Her cough is expected to last another 3 to 4 weeks. 
  • Anyone who has spent more than 10 hours with her in close contact (like my sister who was just visiting from Indiana over the weekend) must be notified and should contact their doctor.
  • She can and did develop whooping cough despite being vaccinated against it because the vaccine is no longer 100% effective. Why isn't it? Because so many other families don't vaccinate their kids against it, per the pediatrician.
I also learned that whooping cough is an annoyance for kids Marissa's age and healthy adults, but can be deadly to little babies and those with compromised immune systems, which is why it is monitored so closely. Had Marissa been around any little ones in the past 2 weeks? Um….yeah, we had her cousins over for dinner one night, the littlest one is only a year old. Crap.

For days Marissa had been saying she didn't feel like going to school and we'd been sending her. Parents of the year award coming our way, both of us.

So if you're looking for us this weekend, we'll be right here in our house, quarantined, the four of us. I think some books and movies are in our immediate future. Maybe some apple pie. Hey, I have to earn back that "Mom of the Year" title, right?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Math Doesn't Like Me"

Our youngest daughter has always been the easy-going one. She is quick to smile, even faster to hug, and meets "best friends" every day.

With a late July birthday, we considered waiting until she was age 6 to begin school. But she was 90th percentile in height and weight and scored so high on her pre-K screening that her tester asked us, "Is she bored in pre-school?"

Yet now, after completing 2nd grade and beginning 3rd, she is falling behind in math. And her lack of maturity in dealing with school work is making the matter difficult.

We noticed at the end of 2nd grade that math was getting harder for her. Homework assignments that should have only taken 10 minutes would drag into 30 minutes, then 40 minutes. There was much gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes. Many times we sent the homework back to school with her half finished, with a request for the teacher to walk through it with her, because she clearly didn't want to work with her parents on it. It was emotionally exhausting when she brought home homework.

We decided that a little extra tutoring over the summer would help, and her 2nd grade teacher agreed. So she tutored for an hour a week with her teacher and did homework a couple of times a week to make sure she didn't have a "summer slide" in her math skills. By the end of the summer her 2nd grade teacher pronounced her ready for 3rd grade math.

But she wasn't.

In an assessment test this fall she got 1 out of 10 answers right. A week later, only 3 out of 30. Concepts that had been taught one-on-one over the summer had apparently been completely forgotten, like they were a foreign language.

We took her to Mathnasium, a learning center that specializes in math. In the initial assessment test they gave her she got a 60% on 1st grade math. We decided to have her tutor at Mathnasium twice a week.

We talked to the social worker at her school, her 2nd grade and 3rd grade teacher, and eventually called a meeting with both the teachers, the social worker and the principal.

Our concern: How is it that Marissa is so far behind in math and yet was given a "meets grade expectations" at the end of 2nd grade? But more importantly, how do we help her to catch up, so she doesn't struggle with math her entire school career?

While we love her 2nd grade teacher and so far are finding her 3rd grade teacher to be a very reasonable and caring person, the school's response was nothing less than frustrating.

Marissa is already in the most basic math group. When they have their math lesson she goes to another teacher's classroom to learn, and she seems to be getting those concepts well.

They have no math specialist at the school.

They have no additional tutoring available.

She's not so far behind that she qualifies for special education.

Basically, there's nothing more they can do.

The school has been trying to pull together something called Alternative Learning Center or ALC, which is additional tutoring for kids who qualify that would take place right after school. Marissa would qualify for this program, but they are asking teachers to volunteer their time to make this happen, and so far only one teacher in the school has volunteered for the program.

My initial thought: Why of COURSE you only have one teacher willing to volunteer! You are asking paid professionals to do FOR FREE something that they do all day long, when they already are being asked to do so much more every single day! That's time that the teachers end up having to use for record keeping, grading, organizing, and doing the job they are paid for. I wouldn't volunteer for that either.

Eventually we received an e-communication from the school that the ALC program has been canceled due to a lack of volunteers. Shocking.

But they encouraged us to keep spending our own money on the private tutoring she's receiving, they think that's great.

They reassured us that some times some kids just don't "get" math, it's okay. Yet her test scores indicate that once upon a time, she DID "get" math. She scored higher on her tests at the beginning of 2nd grade than she did at the beginning of 3rd.

Again, we love her teachers, they are doing everything they can. But the lack of resources at our Minneapolis Public School for Marissa is incredibly frustrating and problematic.

Yes, we are VERY fortunate that our family has the resources to pay for private tutoring for her. We don't have to worry about where we'll stay from one night to the next, or where our next meal will come from, unlike some families in the Minneapolis Public School system. I cannot imagine being a family who faces those challenges and having these discussions with the school on educating our children. No wonder the education gap in Minneapolis is widening. Resources to help children who just don't learn like the majority, or who need just a little extra help, should be available to all families who need it, regardless or whether you can or can't pay for it.

As for our sweet girl, we're going to assess how she's doing at the end of the first semester and possibly ask for a change in teacher. She doesn't seem comfortable having a male teacher and won't ask him questions, something she's never had issues with in prior years. I think she used to bother her 1st grade teacher ad nauseum with questions. Her current teacher noticed that Marissa won't ask him questions and said he  wouldn't take it personally if we asked for a change. We will continue Mathnasium, and will keep encouraging her and giving her positive feedback for the "wins" she's getting in school in reading, writing and other work.

And as much as we hate to do it, we're going to keep our school options open. I am a big believer in public schools, but if we cannot get the resources needed to educate our daughter, we have no choice but to seek them elsewhere. There is nothing more important that we can do for her.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It's Hard to be a Vegetarian When You Don't Eat Vegetables

I like to say that my kids eat a balanced diet...between the two of them. One eats all the fruits and vegetables, the other eats all the meat and starch. So when our meat and potatoes girl announced in July that she wanted to be a vegetarian, we were a little skeptical, but supportive.

Her reason was sound -- she didn't like the idea of animals losing their lives so she could eat. There are so many vegetarian options nowadays, we decided to support her 100% in her effort to be animal-free in her eating.

Only problem was, she didn't really change her diet, except for not eating meat.

We bought "chicken" patties made of vegetable product. We tried tofu. Tempeh. "Beyond Meat" brand chicken products (which I highly recommend, by the way). All of which Wayne and I embraced and ate. Our youngest kept to her same diet of vegetables, fruit and the occasional meat, pasta or rice.

And the vegetarian?

Well, she would say it was good, but at the end of each meal the items left on her plate were the proteins and vegetabled-based products that we had bought and prepared specifically for her chosen diet. This left her with a meal of starches only, because, of course, any vegetables we prepared weren't eaten, just as they weren't eaten before this diet change.

She was excited to prepare quinoa, but wouldn't eat it. She picked the black beans out of vegetarian enchiladas and only ate the rice and tortilla. She never liked peanut butter before and never developed a taste for it for her school lunches. She couldn't wait for the vegetable medley from fresh-from-the-farmer's-market vegetables, but come meal time, wouldn't touch them.

And Lindsey began to feel the way anyone would when they only ever ate white starches. Lethargic. Low on energy. Bloated. Irregular. And constant, constant stomach aches.

Finally, one night Wayne had a conversation with her about her diet, and it started like this, "Your mom and I have been talking, and we're concerned about your nutrition and health." This after a Saturday of energy ups and down, mostly downs, and stomach aches throughout the day.

Because it's hard to be a vegetarian when you won't eat vegetables and you won't get protein from other sources.

So she agreed to mix meat back into her meals, but not a lot of meat. We celebrated the following morning by taking the family out to breakfast at Perkins. Lindsey ordered scrambled eggs with toast and a sausage patty on the side, most of which she ate. And she had good energy that day and no stomach aches.

Since then she's been mixing up her diet more, usually with  meat as a side dish and not the main dish, which, honestly, is how Americans should be eating our meat anyways. She has taken to eating turkey and ham sandwiches, and on a recent trip to Tracy insisted on packing her own lunch of a ham sandwich with carrots and sliced apples on the side, so she could eat healthy on the road.

She is still getting an occasional stomach ache, but they aren't as frequent, and her energy is more even.

In the meantime, we've got a freezer full of vegetarian options that I'm sure we'll be mixing in here and there. I'm really, really glad this experiment is over.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Girls on the Run 5k Winner!

Thanks to everyone who commented on my post earlier to enter the drawing for the Girls on the Run 5k bib. I loved reading everyone's comments about fitness and the value of this program. And it was great to feel the support of the community via social media from more than just the contest entrants. I was amazed by the depth of women's feelings about the messaging of Girls on the Run, with many lamenting that it wasn't around 30 or more years ago. The years of therapy we could have saved ourselves!

And with no further ado, here is the winner of the bib!

Congratulations Greta, I will be in touch with you to get the bib to you. I look forward to seeing you on race day at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis on November 16th!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Girls on the Run Giveaway

I've previously written about Lindsey's involvement in Girls on the Run. This is not just a nonprofit about running -- it encourages self-esteem, positive self-image and confidence in young girls, and has been a program Lindsey has benefited from immensely in the two years she's been participating.

Lindsey's first 5k, spring of 2011.
One of Lindsey's classmates moms noticed a change in Lindsey. As we both were waiting to pick up our girls one evening, she mentioned how much more outgoing and confident Lindsey seems. "She used to not talk to anyone," she said, "Now she can have a conversation with adults and kids she doesn't know well."

Another time, Lindsey told me about a time she could put her Girls on the Run lessons in action. They had just had a lesson on gossiping: what it is, how it's different from other kinds of conversations, and what to do to prevent it.

The day after the lesson, one of her classmates was talking about a mutual friend and the way she dressed. Lindsey cut her off and said, "Well, she's not here to talk about it, and I don't want to discuss this behind her back." End of conversation. If only adults knew and abided by this lesson.

Lindsey's first medal.
This fall both Marissa and Lindsey are able to be in the program since it's for 3rd through 5th graders. I love picking them up after their meetings twice a week and hearing about what fun games they did, their energy awards and then, of course, the running.

Their grand finale will be a Girls on the Run 5k on November 16th. Nearly 100 girls from around the Twin Cities and their running buddies will be participating. For the first time, Girls on the Run is opening up the finale 5k race to the community to participate, and have limited the field to 300 runners.

That's where you come in.

Here's the easy part: I have been given a free entry to give away to the Girls on the Run 5k which will take place Saturday, November 16th, at Lake Nokomis.

Here's the hard part:

If you win it, you have to run it.

This is normally a $40 entry fee, but it's free to the winner of this giveaway.

Just comment on this blog post with your take on why fitness or running are important to kids (be sure to register so I can contact you if you win).

And if you can share this post via social media sites too, that'd be great, though I won't make it a requirement of entering.

Wayne and I are both going to be running buddies for our kids on that day -- join us and other runners to support our Girls on the Run!

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Having gone through my entire childhood without ever getting lice, I have had the privilege of getting it not once, but twice as an adult, both times from my generous kids.

Lice is a chronic issue in the school and I can understand why. Most lice today are immune to the pesticides that were used back in the 70's when I was a kid. Now to get rid of lice, you have to use an olive oil based product to comb through the hair, then pick the eggs and babies out of the hair every day for 21 days until there are no more. If you don't keep pulling them out, they'll eventually grow up to be adult, re-produce, and you're right back where you started.

On a related note, I don't know why lice haven't died off as a species from all the inbreeding. Brothers and sisters copulating, every time they have babies? Gross.

These photos are from the day before we discovered lice on Marissa. We had gone to the Fulton Festival, where one of the fundraising activities was a hair coloring station.

Marissa had begun scratching her head that morning. I had been checking her head for lice since notes had been going home all week about lice, but never saw anything. I should've known better to think I could recognize them with the naked eye, despite my prior experience in ridding our house of lice. 

She ran into a couple of good friends she hadn't seen in a while and wanted to have a playdate with them the next day. So Sunday morning I informed her that I wouldn't even call the parents to set up a playdate until she let me comb through her hair and check her over.

And that's when I found the little critters. 

Marissa does not like to have her hair combed. At all. Usually it is a matted, tangled mess. I figure that as she gets older she's going to care about her hair, so that's a battle I'm not willing to have right now. Until it comes to ridding her head of lice. 

Once she realized she didn't have a choice but to let me comb through her hair, she was amazingly patient. We set up a lice-killing station and went to work for over an hour, combing through every piece of her hair with the best lice comb ever, nit free. 
Worth every penny. Accept no substitutes.
I checked Lindsey -- nothing. I checked myself -- yep, critters. Makes sense since Marissa is often snuggling in our bed, usually on my pillow.

Having been through this before, I knew to inform Marissa's friends' parents so they could check their own kids. One parent found lice on both her kids, and I went to her house and helped clean both of them up. But then the following weekend Marissa went to a sleepover and came home with an adult louse on her head. Since I'd been combing through her hair every day, I knew it wasn't an adult I had missed, she must've gotten it from someone else. I communicated with the parents of the kids at the sleepover, and sure enough, one little girl had it and they hadn't known it. No itching, no scratching, no symptoms until they checked her and found out. Little stinkers.

It's been a week now that I have NOT found adult lice on her head, which means that other kids have stopped transferring them to her. So hopefully we'll have this second episode of lice behind us soon. I have continued to check Lindsey and she remains lice free.

Marissa after a day of de-lousing and combing.

Surprisingly, Marissa hair looked about two shades lighter after a day of treatment, combing and two shampoos. Hmmm, maybe we should be washing her hair more often, you think? On a good note, Marissa is good about combing her hair every day now, and loves to have me put it in pigtails in the morning (to keep it up and away from possibly touching other kids). 

Humans: 2. Lice: 0. 

Beat it, suckers.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Time Rewind: What A Summer

Our week before the start of school was a flurry of activity -- a trip to Colorado, our annual State Fair trip, and the Renaissance Festival.

Looking back through our photos I realize our entire summer has been filled with little outings, trips, adventures and other weekend getaways, right in our own city.

Lake Harriet Rose Garden
Marissa and I took a bike ride around Lake Harriet one day. We stopped at the bandhshell, had some popcorn and ice cream, then continued on to the rose garden. I hadn't realized it had been a few summers since we'd been there, and what a difference a couple of summers makes to a child who is growing so quickly. We took our time walking around the gardens and fountains, watching couples get wedding and engagement photos taken by various photographers.

Over Labor Day weekend Lindsey and I went to Minnehaha Falls with her friend Maia, Maia's mom and little brother. A trail went along the river down to where the creek empties into the Mississippi River. What a treasure of trees, sand and water, pristine and undeveloped, all in the Minneapolis city limits.

Where the creek empties into the Mississippi.
Lindsey's good friend Emma moved into the house behind us at the beginning of the summer. They've spent much of their time together devising what products they should sell to make money. Their most popular had to be the homemade organic dog treats, which were a hit with dogs and their owners alike. This was followed closely on the heels by the lemonade stand, which appropriately opened on one of the hottest days of the summer.

There were after sunset toad catching outings. Tree climbing. Adventures at the park.

Toad catching with neighborhood kids.

Tablets are this generation's flashlight.
And of course, there's this Facebook exchange which was indicative of the activities of the time.

What an adventure this summer was.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The First Day of School....Twice

 Back to school felt so different this year.

For the second year in a row, we used an offer through a fundraising campaign for the school to buy our back-to-school supplies. I went online and ordered school supplies for a 3rd grader and 5th grader, and everything was delivered to our house in the middle of the year in one fell swoop.

Yes, it cost more than going out and buying the supplies ourselves. Is it worth it to not spend a month worth of Sundays in stores fighting the crowds for the last red notebook or packet of #2 lead pencils? Every penny.

We also didn't do back-to-school clothes shopping. There's no point in buying pants and long-sleeved shirts when the forecast was for 90 degrees every day for the first week. I knew the girls would've insisted on wearing their "new" outfits and they would have roasted.

My ulterior motive for this, of course, is that when the weather finally cools down and we need to buy those items, they will be on sale because the back-to-school retail season will be over. Heh heh heh...

So it already felt a little weird going back to school, but it was made weirder by the brutally hot weather that forced Minneapolis Public Schools to close for the last two days of the first week of school, since most of their buildings aren't air-conditioned.

Three days of school. Five days off for Labor Day weekend. Then four days of school.

It's enough to screw up any family. Are we in a routine, or not? Are we packing lunches, or not? Is this summer vacation, or not?

So the Tuesday after Labor Day felt like the 1st day of school...again.

Two heads are higher than the fireplace mantle, now.
But we only took photos on the actual first day. They were both very excited, had already met their teachers and knew a few friends who were in their classes. The reports on the first day were good -- both of them have new students to the school in their grades, which always reminds me of the grades in which I was the new student to a school. I hope my girls were welcoming to them.

For the third year in a row our kids are still in different buildings. This wouldn't have been the case except that an addition was put onto the lower campus to ease crowding, and the 3rd grade is in the lower campus for the first time. Marissa is excited that her classroom is in the new section. Her desk and chair are brand new; they have never been used by a child before her. She has a locker for the first time, and it also is brand new.

Marissa finds her locker at the open house.
The Grand Opening of the Lower Campus addition.
When Lindsey and I met her teacher the week before school started, her teacher was telling me about her teaching experience. She's taught various grades, but has settled into 5th and really likes that age. 

"The kids change so much this year, especially the girls," she said to me, with a knowing look of the kinds of changes girls start going through in 5th grade.

Lindsey overheard this, of course, and insisted that we measure how tall she is on the 1st day of school. "Because my teacher says I'm going to change a lot this year, so I can't wait to see how much I grow."

Ummm...I'm not sure those are the kinds of changes she was referring to, but we didn't get into it, we just measured her. She'll find out in health class.