Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mud Therapy

The last ten days have been some of the most stressful that I can remember in quite some time. For a variety of reasons (which I won't unload on you) Chanda and I have felt weighed down and to be quite honest we could see the effects all the stress was having on our family. We were all frustrated, short tempered and just plain grumpy. But today we decided we were going to have a good day!

After the older kids got out of school Chanda and I announced that we were going to hit the trails. The kids suggested a park called Hudson Springs about 20 miles from our home with a pretty challenging but rather short running trail that also sported a kids play area made up of at least four playground sets, a rock wall, a giant slide and a dozen or so swings. Chanda and I agreed to take turns hanging with the kids while the other ran the trail. After each lap the person running would check in at the playground and if everyone was doing well they could do another lap.

As we drove to the trail you could feel the tension in the van already starting to dissipate. Everyone was looking forward to enjoying some time outside...Until we arrived. I could feel the tension in the van begin to rise as we surveyed the seen. I now know why they call it Hudson SPRINGS! It was practically underwater!

Here in Northeast Ohio we have had more rain in the last 30 days then they have had in Seattle and the whole park was a swamp. "Oh no!" cried my oldest as she looked out the windshield toward the playground, "How are we going to get over there?"

I took a deep breath. "We are going to have a good day." I thought to myself. "We'll just go that way." I said allowed, pointing to a high place that looked like it might be dryer. "It won't be so bad." I was wrong. There was no dry way to get to the playground. Every square inch of that field was swampland. By the time we made it to the first jungle gym the we were all a mess! My four year old son's fairly new running shoes were encased in mud, the girls had somehow managed to get mud up to their knees, our youngest walker (a year and a half old) had already sat in the mud three or four times and both Chanda and I had mud all over our running shoes. We all just stood there looking at each other, surveying the damage.

"What do you want to do?" Chanda asked. I thought about it for a minute. We were all there. Already muddy. There was no way to get back to the van without getting even messier.

"You can go first."

She just looked at me. Then without a word she strapped on her watch, grabbed her water bottle and headed into the woods. When she got back the kids were covered in mud from head to toe. They had it in their hair, on their faces and all over their clothes. The trails weren't quite as wet but looking at Chanda's shoes I knew that she had seen mud out there too. Chanda ran her laps and then I ran too and the while the kids got muddier and muddier. We were having a ball!

As we drove home, mud encrusted children dozing in their seats, Chanda sighed, "I think that was just what we needed."

It was. The circumstances that lead to our feeling so stressed are still there but we all walked away from that park with our heads clear. Being outside, playing, running, getting muddy...it was therapeutic. It allowed us to refocus on what was really important, to remember who we are and who is really in control. What we needed was a little mud therapy. And as we drove away I was reminded of a Bible passage at the end of Mathew 6, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all of these things will be given to you as well. And do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it's own."



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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Southwestern Stuffed Peppers

These Southwestern Stuffed Peppers are one of our kids favorite vegan dishes. Before grocery shopping every week we ask our kids for meal ideas and this dish is always one of the first things they ask for. It's practically a staple in our home and it's super easy! Here's how you can make it. (Warning! This recipe makes eight peppers. There are after all seven of us to feed)

Ingredients:
  • 8 Bell Peppers
  • 3 Cups Prepared Brown Rice
  • 2 Cans of Black Beans
  • 1 Bag of Frozen Corn
  • 1 Large Bottle of Taco Sauce or Salsa
  • 1 Packet of Organic Taco Seasoning
  • Chilli Powder
  • Cumin
  • 2 Cloves Chopped Garlic
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Cup Nutritional Yeast
  • 2 Tbs Cornstarch
  • 1 Tbs Flour
  • 1 Tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
Instructions
  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Cut the tops off of the peppers and clean them out. 
  • In a bowl, combine the rice, black beans (rinsed), frozen corn, taco sauce or salsa, organic taco seasoning, garlic, chilli powder & cumin (to taste).
  • In a blender, combine water, Nutritional yeast, cornstarch, flour and salt. Blend until smooth. Pour into a sauce pan and stir over medium heat until sauce begins to bubble. Allow to bubble for 30 seconds.
  • Pour sauce into bowl with rice and other ingredients. Stir well.
  • Spoon filling into the peppers 
  • (Chanda occasionally puts the tops back on the peppers and fixes them in place with toothpicks. Growing up, her mom did the same thing when she made stuffed peppers. Honestly, I haven't noticed any improvement in flavor or texture but the kids think it is fun to take the lids off the peppers so whenever we have toothpicks we put the tops back on.)
  • Place the peppers in a 9"x11" pan.
  • Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the peppers are soft.
  • Serve with corn chips. (The kids also like sour cream which, of course makes the dish non-vegan unless you choose to use a vegan sour cream substitute which doesn't taste nearly as good.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Street Smarts

Is it true that some lessons are best learned the hard way? I don't think so. I often tell the kids in my church to listen to their parents because lessons learned the hard way aren't learned better they just hurt more. On Sunday Chanda and I both ran our first half marathon. (Yes, Chanda has run a full marathon but never the half. I guess she kinda skipped that step!) Going into this race Chanda and I had very different goals. Chanda wanted to celebrate the end of being a "tax widow", have fun and, most importantly, finish the race pain free, indicating that she is ready to begin marathon training. Me? I wanted to see how fast I could do it! And having never run a half before, I set what I considered a pretty ambitious time goal. Now, I feel that we are both pretty well read runners but as we were pressing toward the finish line we both realized that booksmart doesn't get you to your goal and being "newbie" half marathoners we had some lessons to learn. Lessons that you don't learn on the treadmill. Lessons that you can't know until you've raced. These are the things we learned on the street!

Lesson #1  Training is Training.
I'm sure you've read about the importance of training in the morning. It probably went something like this, "Recent studies have shown that the human body naturally performs at its best in the afternoon but you can train your body to perform well anytime simply by doing the bulk of your training that time of day. If your race will be run in the morning you can train your body to perform well in the morning by getting up earlier and training before school, work, etc." It's a pretty widespread and highly accepted theory. It's in just about every running magazine and running blog out there. You have to train when you race! I've even seen timelines showing how you should go to bed at 9:30 and get up at 5am to train! 

Here's my problem with that theory. WHO RACES AT 5:30AM? I mean...SERIOUSLY?!? Now, I know there are a few races out there that start in the wee hours of the morning but around here most races start between the hours of 7 and 9am. That poses a problem for just about anyone who has school, a family or a job. Let alone all three! Using that theory we should all be logging miles at the same time as we are eating breakfast, getting our kids dressed, getting ourselves ready for work, packing lunches, making sure the kids brushed their teeth & hair, loading them into the car, rushing them off to school, carpooling and drinking our first cup of coffee at work. That sounds feasible! What I realized is simple. Training is training. It doesn't matter if you do it at 5am or 11pm as long as you do it. On race day you will reap the rewards of your hard work regardless of what time your alarm clock goes off every morning.


Lesson #2  Practice Fueling
This one is pretty easily overlooked but extremely important! Long runs leading up to race day are the time to experiment with proper fueling. Race day...not so much. While training Chanda and I both fueled the same for long runs. Between 45 and 60 minutes into our run, regardless of distance we would eat most of (or in my case all of) a cliff bar and then switch from water to a sports drink. The day before our race while I was freaking out about how I was going to carry a cliff bar in my pocketless running shorts Chanda was picking up some Gu packs from a vendor at the expo.  And on race day when I was cutting my cliff bar into long skinny pieces and shoving them into sandwich baggies so they would fit into the tiny pocket on my water bottle, Chanda was simply slipping those Gu packs into the pocket on her water bottle. She seemed so smart, so cool. She had it all figured out. But at mile nine when I was still plugging along Chanda was feeling light headed and dizzy. "I should have fueled better" she said after the race. Don't make that mistake. Figure out what works for you and stick with it. Practice fueling. It is a vital part of a successful race.

Lesson #3  Know the Course
I thought I knew this course. I looked at the course map then compared it to an elevation map of the area. It was mostly flat. A few steady inclines. Two big hills and one big descent. I thought that I had trained properly. I used a local trail with some good inclines, one of the hills even had a 5% incline warning at the bottom of it. I should have been running steps somewhere. Today, I got on my treadmill and cranked the incline all the way up. 10%. That second hill, the one at mile nine seemed steeper than even that! (To be fair I was pretty tired but I bet it was close!) 

Know your course. If it's a fairly local race get a copy of the course map and go out and drive it. If you come to a big hill. Park your car and walk it. Get an idea of how it feels under your feet. Once you've done that you'll be able to modify your workouts. You'll know if your doing enough hill training and you'll be able to approach the race with added confidence of knowing that you are well prepared and that there will be no surprises on that course.

Lesson #4  Set Multiple Goals
As I mentioned earlier Chanda and I had two VERY different goals. Chanda, who ran a marathon in the fall with an IT band injury just wanted to have fun and finish pain free. For her it was a celebration of tax season ending and running season beginning. (for those of you who don't know us I manage a tax prep service during the winter months). Her plan was flexible. I on the other hand had one goal. To finish in under 2 hours. That is what I trained for. That was the plan and I was sticking to it. But there was one very big factor that I had not considered. The wind. 

The National weather service recorded a steady wind of 25mph with gusts reaching 39mph. Unfortunately, unlike at today's Boston Marathon that wind was NEVER at our backs. About 40% of the time it was a crosswind and the remaining 60% a headwind. Do you know what it's like to run into a 40mph headwind? And when one of those "gusts" hit you from the side...well, lets just say that one sent Chanda careening into the runner beside her. How a loop course had us running into a headwind both ways is still something I cannot figure out! But needless to say running that race required considerably more energy than I had expected.

At the eleven mile mark I was out of steam. Another runner eased up beside me. "How are we doing on time?" he asked. "1:45.30...I guess we're not gonna come in under two hours." "I was thinking the same thing" he replied. I started to walk. At mile 10 I had found myself gasping for air and still running a full minute per mile slower than I needed to be going. I had failed. I considered walking it in... But that guy was still plugging along. He was going slow but he was still running. "10 seconds" I though to myself. "Then you have to start running again" I decided to make a new goal. 2:04 (Ironically the same goal Ryan Hall had for today's Boston FULL Marathon) and I started running again. 

Chanda's goals were flexible and at no point in the race did she feel defeated. I had one goal and the moment I realized I had failed to reach it I was done. Set multiple or flexible goals. If you have a time goal give yourself a backup goal. One that you know you can achieve. That way if something goes wrong (like having to race in a tornado!) you can readjust, refocus and still give it your all. 


Lesson #5  Spectatheletes Make All the Difference
It turns out there are two VERY different kinds of spectators at a race. Spectatheletes and gawkers. Spectatheletes are awesome! They are the ones cheering from the side of the road. The people who lie to you and tell you that you look great, your doing well and that your almost there. They yell your name if it's on your bib or shirt and they give you that extra umph to keep pushing yourself past the discomfort and exhaustion. Gawkers are very different. They sit on the side of the road and...well...gawk. They offer no kind words, encouragement or help of any nature. Instead, their eyes pierce you like a laser beam as you run by sucking energy from your muscles and increasing your fatigue. Yesterday was mostly gawkers. I recommend asking around and seeing if you know anyone else who has run that race before. Ask about the race environment and the crowd. To be honest, I'll take a quiet trail with no spectators over crowded streets filled with gawkers any day!

I don't want you to misinterpret this post for something it is not. I'm not whining or complaining about yesterdays race. We had a great time, both feel that we ran great races and are already considering running it again next year. What I am hoping is that you are able to learn from a few of our hard knocks.  Because, like I said earlier, lessons learned the hard way aren't learned better they just hurt more.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

A Healthy Sense of Humor

In a big family like ours, you just never know what the day might bring.  Today for instance, I spent my entire morning feeling like I was trapped in an episode of Seinfeld.  I was home with our 3 youngest (all 2 and under).  We were trying to get out of the house on time to pick the 2 oldest up from school at 12:15.  At noon I told Faith (the 2 year old) to put her boots on while I ran the babies out to the van and I would be right back for her.  I left the door open so she could see me, but closed the glass storm door behind me.  It took maybe 3 minutes to load the babies into their car seats.  When I came back the storm door was locked.  From the inside.... where my keys were.  Faith was standing at the door, brown curls bouncing at her shoulders, big brown eyes looking up at me innocently.  Yeah right.

"Turn the button baby"

"This one?"

"No baby, the bottom button."

"This one?"

"Yes!  Turn THAT button!"

We went back and forth like that for some time, but it quickly became clear that she just couldn't do it. (How it is that she apparently had an abundance of ability to turn the button to the left, but seemingly totally lacked the capacity to turn it to the right, I'll never know).   I told her to keep trying and went to see if, by some miracle, the back door was open.  Nope.  I ran back around to the front to see if, by some miracle, Faithie had gotten the door unlocked.  Nope. I try coaching her some more.  Nope.  Vince Lombardi could not have coached this kid into opening that door. 

At this point I was late for school pickup.  I call Nate to let him know what was going on but he was in a meeting at a restaurant almost 2 hours away, so he wasn't going to be any help.  Who else can you turn to when you're really in a bad spot?  Your parents, right?  So I call my dad to see if he can pick the kids up.  Nope.  He's working too far out of town.  I call my mom (who works third shift) hoping she'll hear the phone ring and wake up.  Nope.  And it's right about this time that my phone dies.

I look back in the front door to check on Faithie and perhaps try to bribe her into unlocking the door.  She is sitting in front of the door chatting away happily on her toy phone.  Nice.  At least one of us can make a phone call!

At this point I began to realize that no one, absolutely no one is going to come to my rescue.  I will have to be my own Knight in Shining Armor.  No sweat.  I put myself through college working at a lock shop.  Getting into people's houses is what I do.  Or did.  A long.... long time ago.   

To get into most regular locks you don't need much more than a flat head screwdriver, a hammer and a pair of pliers. (Don't tell anyone I told you that).  I asses the 3 doors into my house to see which one might be opened by this method.  The only one that fits the bill is the door that opens into our dining room.  A door that we never, ever use.  I'd be surprised if it had been opened any time in the last 50 years.  I asses the tools in the garage to find what I need.  It was the first moment in my life that I regretted marrying an athletic, musical pastor instead of a construction worker.  We have a small Phillips head screwdriver, a socket set, a hammer, and..... well, there is no "and"...  that is all there is.  It'll have to do.

Using the above mentioned method, I set to work.  As I do so, I see Faithie run out of the room.  She runs back to where I'm working at the door, opens the curtain, and holds up an eyeglass screwdriver and a box of decorator nails.  Thank you.  I'm sure that'll help me honey.  Please go turn the button.

The lock releases.  The bolt retracts.  The handle turns.  I have one short moment of bliss and then I find out why the door hasn't been opened in so many years.  As it turns out, that door has been nailed right into the jamb.  Seriously, who does that?

I go back to the front door and try to get Faith to unlock it.  She looks up at me and says (are you ready for this?) she says NO.  I'll deal with you later.  I walk around my entire house.  We live in a three story, hundred year old house with 29 windows.  Hundred year old windows. Except 3.  The kitchen and bathroom windows are new.  But the bathroom is on the second floor, so that's out of the question.  The kitchen windows are about 8-10 feet off the ground.  Now that I've circled my house a good dozen times, I realize that of my 29 windows, only 4 of them are at eye level.  All of them locked and painted shut. 

I check the basement windows.  The one with the dryer vent is missing half the glass and is covered with a board. Not even sure that I can fit through this window, I attempt to kick it in.  Now, I've seen a few cop shows on TV and they make kicking in a window or door look so simple.  Lean back, make a mean face, and kick!  If you've been wondering, this doesn't work in real life.  I take a few whacks at it with the hammer.  Nothing.  I attempt to open the old coal shoot that goes from the garage to the basement.  Doesn't budge.

I go back to the front door.  (oh, just so you know, I did check on the babies in the van several times during my escapade).  Faith has a set of toy archeology tools and is fiddling away at the lock.  No baby, just turn the button.  She looks at me, tilts her pretty little head to one side, turns her back to me, marches over to the TV, looks at me over her shoulder and turns it on.  Then she marches over to the fireplace and turns it on (electric, no real flame, don't worry).  With one last look at me, she plops down on the couch, and I don't get so much as another glance.

It's at this moment that I realize that I have no other option than to go in through the kitchen window.  I stand below it and can not even reach the sill.  For one quick minute I contemplate climbing onto the patio grill, but realize very quickly that this is a very bad idea.  Instead I go into the garage and find a big plastic tote full of baby clothes.  I drag it under the window and still can't reach.  I find a smaller tote of vacation Bible school supplies and stack it atop the first tote.  I can reach now, but not well enough to open it.  I find a small wooden stool and stack it at the peak of my tower.  I manage to get the window open, about 12 inches.

I am standing atop my precarious tower and realize that should I fall and break my neck, 2 of my kids are at school (and should have been picked up an hour ago) my two babies are in the van alone, and my middle child is locked inside the house.  Lord help me.

So that you can get the full picture, you know, a picture as good as my neighbors got, I should tell you that we live on a busy street.  At the intersection of 2 busy streets really.  And I'm wearing skinny jeans and black knee high boots.  Not snow boots.  Not rain boots.  Girly boots.  Pretty boots.  And I have no other option that to try to jump into my window from my perch atop the mountain of miscellaneous items.  I jump.  I heave myself up to my armpits.  I swing my right leg towards the 12 inch window opening.  My tower comes crashing down beneath me.  I look down.  I slip.  I am suddenly dangling from my own kitchen window sill with nothing between me and the ground except the soles of my pretty boots.  Lord help me.

I drop to the patio and manage not to break anything.  I make the circuit around my house to check on the kids.  I go back to the window.  I realize that I need a taller tower and go back to the garage.  It is then that I realize that we have a ladder in the garage. A LADDER!  All that stacking and climbing and falling and dangling had been for nothing!

You can figure out the rest of the story on your own.  But just in case you're a parent who wonders if they should make staying in shape a priority, just remember that you never know when you'll need enough endurance to run around your own house 7000 times, enough agility to climb a (very) unstable stack of objects, enough upper body strength to hoist yourself through a window, enough weight lost to fit through a 12 inch space, and enough balance to be able to laugh at yourself when its over.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Family Game Night!

As a kid, I loved Fridays. When the bell rang signaling the end of the school day, I felt the glorious freedom of the weekend stretching out before me. Mom would make something fun for dinner or maybe even bring home take out. My favorite shows would be on tv and my brother and I would be allowed to stay up late enough to watch them.

Now I'm the mom, and I want to give my kids that same "break" at the end of their school week. All of our kids are under the age of 7, so only two of them are school aged (one in kindergarten and one in pre-k). It isn't always easy to be the oldest of 5 kids when you're only 6 and 4, so this past Friday we wanted to reward our two oldest with a special family game night just for them.

Instead of making a regular dinner, I decided that we'd just eat a smorgasbord of finger foods and appetizers around the table while we played some of our favorite games. Like any other family, the temptation is to break out the chips and dip and bake up some pizza rolls and fry some mozzarella sticks... I mean, come on, it is Friday after all. Instead, we decided to tackle the challenge of making a completely plant based snack-fest.

The kids were big helpers in the kitchen and had a blast helping with all the veggies. They tore Kale for chips, shook dressing for salad, tossed chickpeas in spices, and got to add ingredients to the Vitamix for vegan cookie dough.


The first thing we had to do was to set out all the ingredients. Kale, radishes, limes, asparagus, raisins, nuts, garbanzo beans and more! This is the makings of a healthy finger food feast!!



One of Lilli and Noah's favorite part of the night was helping in the kitchen!



Look at all those delicious colors!!



The Final Results? Cucumbers, oven roasted garbonzo beans, kale chips, cooked veggie salad and vegan oatmeal raisin cookie dough. Altogether a fun and delicious game night!




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