Wednesday, July 22, 2015

10 Things Running Taught Me

When I was in middle school we had to run a mile for PE class.  As everyone else finished, they gathered on the bleachers by the track and waited for the rest of us.  Or should I say, they waited for me.  I was THE. VERY. LAST. ONE.  I went home and cried that day because more than anything I wanted to be a runner and I couldn't even finish a mile.  I was never athletic, didn't play sports, and wasn't what anyone would call skinny.  I was frequently sick, bookish, and clumsy...but, by God I had a quick wit, so I didn't totally suck.  I never went on to run as a youth, after all, running was hard, and like most people, I had an aversion to difficulty.  And then, four years ago, I moved to Guam and something changed. I became a runner.  Last May I completed The Great Wall Marathon.  Me, the chubby girl who couldn't finish the mile in eighth grade, finished the THIRD HARDEST MARATHON in the WORLD.  (without injuries, I might add...that's something to be proud of)

During the course of the last few years I have learned so much about myself through running.  I want to share some of those things with you.  Because, maybe you are like I was: you want to, but you just don't think you can.  Listen to me, (I never lie...except on birthdays and at Christmas):  YOU TOTALLY CAN.

*Listed in order from most vain to most meaningful

1) Running gives you pretty skin.

Ever since Ye Olde Puberty I have struggled with "difficult" skin.  Running increases your circulation and most people drink more water when they do it, so that helps flush out the yucky stuff.  See how scientific that was?  I should debate Bill Nye!  Now, I can't solely credit running with that transformation.  Around the time I began running, I drastically changed my diet and that played a huge factor in my  overall health.  As a matter of fact, I got rid of a mysterious autoimmune condition that puzzled doctors and made me sick for several years.  You can read more about it here.

2) Running helps you lose weight

Like I said, I've never been what anyone would call "skinny".  I've been referred to as "healthy", "curvy", "baby manatee" (thanks, Dad) and "pudge" (Dad again).  I carry most of my "healthy" in the second third of my body and have a hard time getting rid of it.  Running regularly, coupled with crossfit and diet change, helped me get down to the leanest I have ever been in my life.

3) Running helped me to shatter my own preconceived ideas about women.

Because the ads in magazines and on TV featuring female runners always show a super thin, young and beautiful woman, I assumed that's how they all looked.  I know, dumb, but I think many of us are unaware how much marketing influences our thoughts, if even subtly.  My running group was comprised of runners of all ages and sizes.  Some were fast and some were slower, but they all had one thing in common: they were runners.

4) Running gives you an endorphin buzz.

In the words of Legally Blonde's Elle Woods: Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Happy people don't shoot their husbands, they just don't.

5) Running creates a strong heart and lungs.

Like I mentioned earlier, I was a sickly child and teenager.  Before ninth grade I got pneumonia (I spelled that without spellcheck, HEY-O!) and I had chronic bronchitis as I got older.  On top of all that I had a heart murmur and mitral valve prolapse.  After running, weight-lifting, and dietary change, not only can I hold my breath for a really long time, but any trace of the heart murmur and prolapse is gone and I very rarely get sick anymore.   Your heart is a muscle, folks.  Make it a strong one.

6) Running taught me self-discipline.

This is a big one for me.  Even though I wasn't blessed with athletic ability or natural gracefulness, books and school came very easily for me.  I rarely had to study to make A's and I was always on the Dean's List in college.  The things I did came easy and so I never really had to make myself DO anything.  Running changed all of that.  Guam was so hot that we had to start running at 5 or 5:30 in the morning and races began even earlier.  For the first time in my life, I was frequently the first one awake in the house.  Up before even the sun and roosters, having my coffee with the geckos and jungle sounds.  I believe a lack of self-discipline is one of the root problems that prevent people from achieving their goals.  We are often our own worst enemies.

7) Running taught me goal-setting.

This one kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point, but it still needs to be noted.  Setting goals was extremely crucial to my success and I have to credit my coach in Guam (Hafa Adai, Matt!) with teaching me that fitness isn't all about how you look.  He challenged me not to set physical goals for myself like a certain number on the scale or a size in clothes.  Instead, he suggested we set athletic goals for me to accomplish and beat.  This was a game-changer.  For the first time in my life, someone told me I could be "athletic", even if that meant setting a number of squat jumps or miles per hour to beat against MYSELF.   It was only ever against myself.  Like I mentioned before, up until that point, life had been easy for me.   I'm not a competitive person by nature, I want everyone to win.  BUT...seeing my previous record and then shattering it gave me a very empowering sense of accomplishment and that translated into every aspect of my life ultimately making me a better human.

8) Running taught me to push myself.

Like I said, most people have an aversion to difficulty.  It's just human nature.  The body hurts, it says stop, and we listen.  It's normal to want to take the easiest route.  But guess what I learned through running (and some really difficult patches in life)?  Usually the harder way is more rewarding.  In order to run further or run faster, I had to push my body out of its comfort zone, and it hurt.  I'm not going to lie.  There were times (like this morning) that my lungs and legs burned and my heart was pounding, but I was determined to run all the way home faster than the previous time.  General George Patton said the following: Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing.  You have to make the mind run the body.  Never let the body tell the mind what to do.  The body will always give up.  It is always tired- morning, noon, and night.  But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.

9) Running enabled me to be a better role model for my daughters.

I have two daughters.  They are amazing little creatures and I knew after my last bout with my autoimmune condition that I had to make some serious changes in my life, for them, for me, for all of us.  I wanted them to know that keeping your body strong and healthy is nearly as important as exercising the mind.  I wanted them to see me overcome myself and perhaps someday use those memories to help them push through their own personal struggles.  I wanted to be more than love for them.  I wanted to be strength as well.  My husband would bring them to my races and when I would see them waiting for me and cheering me on at the finish line, my eyes would instantly tear up and I would be overcome with such a vast and intense array of emotions, only a woman and mother could fully comprehend them.  Running, and distance running in particular, is about perseverance.  And so many times as is the case with life, our most difficult moments are the ones that require us to persevere when it hurts and when it is hard.  My running showed my girls that they can persevere.

10) Running taught me that I can overcome myself.

Nearly every time I run I think about middle-school Jill.  I think about how impossible and painful a thing running seemed to be and how when I cried in my room that day, long ago, and thought I would never be able to do it, that I was giving in to my own lying voices.  We are always at war with our thoughts.  They lie to us constantly  A wise man once said, "the mind is the greatest battlefield upon which we will ever fight."  Before my marathon as we stood huddled together in the early morning light of the Chinese countryside with the enormity of The Great Wall looming before us, I was afraid, so very afraid.  My own lying voices told me I wouldn't be able to finish, and that it would hurt so much.  I thought about my daughters and I remembered eighth grade Jill and I told the voices to SHUT UP  because I was going to FINISH THIS.  And after hours of grueling stairs and breathtaking views, I finally crossed the finish line in Yin-Yang square and put the negative voices to death for good.  Because I CAN do whatever I set my mind to accomplish, and if I can, then you certainly can too.  There are moments when I wish I could travel back in time to my eighth grade bedroom in rural Pennsylvania. I would place my Great Wall medal in my younger self's hands and tell her, "don't worry, you'll never believe what you're going to do one day."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I Quit Facebook

Yesterday I decided to give up Facebook.  This decision came on the heels of some recent heated exchanges between people of very different opinions than myself after I posted remarks they happened to disagree with.  It's not very often that my anger is stirred...I've come a long way since High School where I would have dealt violently with any heated exchange.  No, seriously, I did.

I realized something during these exchanges.  Something most people probably already know but I suppose took me longer to really grasp.  People treat each other differently when they're separated by a screen.  Let's blame the evil blue light.  But it's true.  And for someone who values personal authenticity and kindness above most things, that was a painful thing to realize.  I became obsessed with reading the vitriolic rants between people on the comments section of news articles.  I didn't understand how we arrived at this place.  A place where it was ok to talk to each other that way. A place where all the ways our parents taught us to be kind to one another was lost.  A place where people were reduced to a tiny square profile picture and could hide behind their relative anonymity and hurl their hate like poop from monkey's butt.  Yes, I just went there.  Because that's how it feels.  Ugly.  So I decided to end it.  When the thing you love no longer brings you joy, let the thing go.

The first hour I felt almost giddy.  I deleted the Facebook app off my iPhone and yet I found myself mentally wanting to pick it up and check it every few minutes like some Pavlovian dog, looking for her electronic reward.  No.  There would be no more scrolling through feed filled with adorable animal videos, daily play-by-plays (those are the worst), political this or thats, or pictures of children and selfies of their parents.  No more.  I was done.  Really, really done.  I made a decision to be completely present with whatever I was doing and whomever I was with.

I made dinner with my eldest daughter and we talked about cooking.  I taught her how to make Chicken Saltimbocca.  And in doing so, a great truth became revealed to me: My obsession with Facebook had fractured my life into a million pictures and blurbs about life, but my REAL LIFE had been reduced to something less than authentic.  I was never fully present because I was always looking for the quote or the perfect photo.  As a writer, mentally collecting moments to later capture on paper isn't an uncommon thing, but it is something that I used to do alone, and in one fell swoop.  Smart phones and instant access to everyone caused me to interrupt real life over and over and over again in the attempt of capturing it.  But all I was really doing was stopping it from happening organically.  "WAIT!  Let me take your picture!"  "Hold on, I have to put that on Facebook!"  "Just a minute, I want to read these comments."  "SELLLLLLFIEEEE!"

In my attempt to stay connected to people, I became disconnected from the perfect minutia of my real life.  The only one I will ever have.  That realization of that truth both hurt deeply and set me gloriously free from the bond I had with Facebook.  I saw so many moments pass before my mind's eye that I missed because I was never wholly there.  I vowed not to let that happen again.  I would delve wholly into the minutia, the details of my daily life and I would find joy there.

I drank too much wine at dinner, probably because I'm just a fast drinker and probably because I was excited about my new journey into Complete Presentness, I just coined that term (I think), feel free to use it.  (and this is where I feel compelled to enter an emoji, because that is what I have been reduced to. ) I went to the bathroom without my phone.  This was kind if a big deal.  I then remembered that before smart phones, I put books on the back of the toilet for those very occasions.  Oh yeah!  Books are for reading, not just decoration!  WHO KNEW?!

I walked the dog with my daughter and we found a huge feather.  I did not take a picture of it because memories don't have to be stored in a phone, hearts are good for that too.  I watched the season finale of Game of Thrones with my husband, while our six year old kept knocking on the door and telling us that she "just can't sweep, because I'm not tired" to which we yelled back through the locked door ""too bad!  It's past nine o'clock, get back in bed!".  I suppose some things will never change.  I left before the show ended because I knew what was going g to happen (thanks to Facebook) and couldn't bear to watch.  I went to bed and read some of a book instead of looking at my phone.  I used to read things, BIG THINGS!  I mentally reclaimed my time to read books.

I woke up this morning and noticed that so many people had text me through the night, and I realized something.  If people care about each other, they find a way to connect with them, wether it be through a phone call or text or letter.  Hokey as it may sound, love will find a way.  And it does.  And it did.  So for now, I relish the freedom that quitting Facebook has afforded me.  My mother says that this will wear off and it will get hard not to go back, but I am a very stubborn person and sometimes I can use that power for good.  I guess we shall see.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Moving Cross-Country and Paleo Spaghetti Pie

Some of you may know that we ( The children, the animals and Jeremy and myself) travelled (by vehicle) from Indiana to California recently.  To Live.  For three months.  Because we like to live on the edge…or something.  Taking a cross-country trip with your husband and children is a huge undertaking for normal  families but ours had just ended a long deployment where my husband was at sea form six months.  He came back after Christmas, we had a whirlwind visit with some family and we loaded our trailer as fast as humanly possible because IT. WAS. COLD.  and we headed off into the sunset (literally) for four days.  You guys, deployments are hard for numerous reasons mainly: WILL MY SPOUSE COMEBACK ALIVE AND WITH ALL HIS LIMBS ATTACHED?! And then there are the more subtle concerns like: I've been the sole parent for six months, that's NOT how I do it!  Sooooo, there is a little readjusting period.  We learned how to do this crazy dance as a team again.  So there was that.  A whole lot of me telling Jeremy: YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!  And Jeremy all: GET OUT OF MY FACE, WOMAN, WHERE I'M FROM PEOPLE CALL ME SIR!

So, yeah, it takes some getting used to, but also, and I think even more importantly, road trips are how you know how much you love someone.  Because if you can ride in a stinky, crowded car with someone for two weeks, and not want to kill them, that's amore!  That's how I knew I loved Jeremy when we were dating.  We drove from Indiana to Mexico and back in 10 days and I could still stand the sight of him afterward.  AMORE!

Granted, this trip was a little different…many years later, I didn't have the luxury of napping in the car,  This time every time I would drift off someone inevitably needed a DRINK! or a POTTY BREAK! or THE DOG FARTED WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!  
Funny aside: At one point somewhere on the fourth and final day, someone (let's blame the dog) had terrible gas and Ari, holding the cat and trying not to gag, said, "Well, the cat has eight lives left."  She's funny, that one.  

And now here we are.  In our little apartment in the city.  Is this life even real?  Someone pinch me! (Didn't I say that in Guam too?) Outside of the homeless guy waking everyone every other morning screaming through the streets, it's near perfect.  I could write so much more about the whole journey.  About all the little details that I tucked away in my heart.  Those little gems in life that we only get when we really stop all the noise and just…live.  But right now I'm still decompressing.  I'm feeling all the feels…and there are so many of them. FEELINGS! So instead, let me tell yo about how we are transitioning from EAT ALL THE THINGS MADE OF BREAD AND SUGAR AT GRANDMA'S to: LET'S EAT CLEAN AND HEALTHY AGAIN!

You guys, my kids diet got so bad when Jeremy was deployed.  I know, I'm the lady on her food soapbox all the time but sometimes, you just have to put life on autopilot and do the best you can with what you have.  For me, that meant not arguing with my children over EVERYTHING and making them pretty much whatever they wanted for dinner.  HERE!  You want cereal?! Eat it!  But, as you can probably image, that did not end well.  

Jeremy came home, we drove a lot, ate many donuts and slices of pizza and then were all: NO MAS!  I feel like a pregnant hamster! So back to paleo we were to go as a family, but I wondered how to do it without making my children completely freak out.  PALEO SPAGHETTI PIE!  I modified some ingredients to for what I had on hand and to our tastes which I will note following link .  Click HERE for the recipe.

Here are my modifications: I don't like sausage as much in this recipe.  It's too fatty and I felt it made everything too soggy.  A key with convincing someone that Spaghetti Squash is actual spaghetti is texture and consistency.  So I used lean, grass-fed ground beef instead.  I also omitted the onion, simply because I didn't have one on hand, and lastly I added about a half a cup of parmesan on top.  Primal, not Paleo.  
It's me cooking in my (kind of mine) kitchen for my family for the first time in over six months.  

When my children asked what was for dinner I just said SPAGHETTI PIE!  YAY!!!  And luckily my excessive joy quelled their suspicions…orrrr it was actually just as delicious as I thought it was because BOTH of them ate it!  DUNDUNDUN! MIRACLES!  

I served it with a salad of mixed greens and what I had on hand…even though the grocery store is only two blocks away.  SERIOUSLY! Topped with a Balsamic Dressing by Emeril which I also modified to make Paleo/ Whole 30 friendly.  Recipe HERE. I omitted the sugar and added about a third a cup more balsamic.  

So here is dinner before we attacked it: 

 For the salad I added mixed greens, butter lettuce, grape tomatoes, English cucumber, a few chopped macadamia nuts, red onion, and a small sprinkling of organic Parmesan. 

And here is dinner afterwards:  Ellie, my pickiest eater had SECONDS!  And after Ari telling me she doesn't like hamburger, she left the table and then must have a had a Come To Jesus with herself in her room because she returned liking hamburger AFTER ALL and ate most of the food on her plate. 

The moral of the story is:  LIE TO YOUR KIDS!  No, just kidding.  Just be vague and moderately deceptive about what they are actually eating until they for sure love it and eat it all the time.  OR NEVER TELL until they're grown and ask for the recipe themselves and then: SHOCK AND AWE!  YOU MEAN TO TELL ME I WAS EATING A VEGETABLE THIS WHOLE TIME?!?!  What kind of horrible parent tricks their children in such a way?!

I also made this lemon and raspberry infused water because I picked nine million citrus fruits at my friend's house in Phoenix on the way here.  

Also, cats are apparently necessary to unload the dishwasher.  Whatever it takes, kid,  

Stay tuned for more news on the dietary reprogramming of our family and other current events that may or may not involve my FEELINGS!!!!!