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“. . . and I made THIS necklace just for you, Mom. To make you FANCY!” my three year-old daughter explained as she showed me her day’s collection of art from school.

I should explain. I am NOT a fancy person. In fact, my daughter is very much like her favorite book character, Fancy Nancy, right down to the red hair, while I’m much like her plain jeans and t-shirt mom (although I, too, have red hair). The kids ask where I’m going if I’m wearing mascara. Even the dog takes notice when I put on heels.

So Little Sister has taken it upon herself to make me her beauty project (Fancy Nancy fans will recongnize the parallel with Ooh La La! It’s Beauty Day). For my birthday last week she picked out colorful dangling earrings, a sparkly necklace and a bracelet for me. My husband managed to talk her out of buying the entire jewelry department at Target, which is what her first plan was. She immediately gravitated toward the ultra-glitzy costume jewelry, but again Daddy came to the rescue and convinced her that she needed to think about what *Mommy* would like instead of what she would pick for herself. The results were perfect and she was proud of herself when I wore all three pieces for my birthday dinner. The problem is, she wants me to wear it all every. single. day.

Then yesterday she brought home the necklace she made at school out of yarn, noodles, straw pieces, and a tag that reads “Mom” in her very best three year-old writing. Without her having to ask, I immediately put it on, inducing the biggest hug a mom could ever hope to get from her child. I wore it to the post office, the grocery store, and the chiropractor. Everywhere we went people commented on (or just smiled at) my special necklace, which in turn made me smile and made my daughter glow even more. Funny thing is, I feel more fancy in the noodle necklace than I do in “real” jewelry. Maybe it is the love factor that makes the difference.

So now that I’m preparing for my husband’s work holiday party (the first we’ve attended in nearly 10 years), I’m starting to worry about what to wear and what jewelry I have that would be appropriate for an evening affair. Seriously, I get dressed-up for weddings (no more often than once every two years), but that’s about it.  I could wear the pearl necklace my husband got me as a wedding gift, I could splurge on a new necklace to wear with a new dress, or just maybe I should wear my new noodle necklace. Noodles are like pearls, right?


My last post was on the 10th, which is . . . how many days ago? What day is today? Who am I? Where do I live?

In a nut shell since the 10th, I’ve:

– Had an amazing book signing with fellow-author, Sarah Bowen Shea (photos to post when I can figure out what “safe” place I tucked them in)
– nursed a sick kid back to health
– hosted my mother-in-law for 4 days
– done the regular “Mom” stuff
– nursed a hurt foot
– traveled to Ojai, CA for 3 days of BodyHoops Teacher Training (ie., hours and hours of hoop dancing/move learning/lesson plan learning/etc.)

I got home from the last adventure sometime after 11PM last night. Based on how well today has gone, I do believe I left my brain in California.

Despite the fatigue and the challenge of getting back into “mom mode” after a long weekend away, I’m really quite excited about things to come. My plan is to arrange several 6-session hoop classes for children starting in the fall. I’ll likely organize to hold some adult classes, too, depending upon how things unfold these next few months. First I need to polish my hoop moves, but since I’m now hooping daily, I’m hopeful that my skills will be up to par by the time I get all of the business details worked out (insurance, location, costs, etc.).

I can’t say enough about how amazing the weekend in Ojai was. It was the first time for as long as I can remember that I was truly out on my own from start to finish – including driving myself to and from the airport. I’m over 30, but I haven’t ever done the rental car thing on my own (either my husband or one of my parents has been along for any rental car excursions with me), driven down a 12 lane highway in California, stayed in a hotel on my own or eaten more than one meal a week at a restaurant alone. But last weekend I did it all. And thanks to my GPS (awesome “little” invention), I navigated from Burbank to Ojai and back without fail, slipping in some dining adventures along the way.

The teacher training (I did Level 1 & Level 2) was fantastic. Diana Lopez, the founder of BodyHoops, was our instructor, and she really has this all figured out. She ran the weekend as a series of mock classes so we could get a true sense of how classes are paced, develop our own hooping skills, and get a handle on the terminology. We had group discussions, she helped us troubleshoot, and all the while worked with us at our own experience levels cheerfully and encouragingly (is that even a word? See? Brain hasn’t caught up with body yet). The training manual has it ALL written out so that I can remember it all in a week or so when I’m all caught up with being back home and can really focus on moving forward. I do look forward to practicing every day to get better. Seriously, daily. Can you think of a better way to coax a smile . . . better yet, a full belly laugh, out of yourself at the end of a long than hula hooping? Maybe one day in the not-so-distant future I’ll even get my Level 3 license. It is totally on my dream list now! And maybe even fire hooping. OK, definitely fire hooping. Yes, fire hooping. I’m getting in touch with my fun self and I’m loving it.

Interested in learning more about hooping? Want to order your own awesome, weighted hoop (these aren’t the hoops from your youth)? Leave me a message and I’ll get you a coupon code to save you $5 on your order!

Next up . . . the very delayed run-down of the book signing (which, too, was a positive experience). With that post, look for info about how you can WIN a copy of Run Like a Mother. I’m timing it just right with Mother’s Day. So maybe you won’t have it in hand for Mother’s Day, but really mothers should be celebrated and appreciated more than one day a year, right?

Happy running, happy reading and happy hooping!

Every now and then I get hit with a case of writer’s block. Even my Facebook status updates and tweets have been lacking flavor or intrigue. But secretly (or not so secretly now) I like having bouts of writer’s block – they give me an excuse to do more of the other things I like. This time the block coincided with a case of tendinitis in my right hand, limiting my non-writing time choices. Reading was not only the most appealing activity, but it became the best for my hand healing, too . . . as long as I held the book with my left hand.

I read the entire Twilight series in 2 weeks. My husband caught me reading in the kitchen while “making dinner” – or rather, just hoping dinner would make itself while I devoured the book. Thankfully he’s a voracious reader, too, so he just gave me the “I knew this would happen when you started those books” look and started getting out the ingredients while I oversaw the preheating of the oven. He also let me take charge of holding down the couch while he did dishes.

Thankfully I finished the series and my obsession with reading isn’t quite as lustful. Now I’m pacing myself by heading to bed early to read The Art of Racing in the Rain. My college roommate (now a vet) warned me I’ll need tissues for this one – hopefully not as many as when I read Merle’s Door, but I’ll have them handy, just in case.

The reading thing was catching for our kids. We always read several times throughout the day, but with a mom who is unwilling to put down a book at breakfast for conversation, my three year-old and kindergartner turned to books more frequently, too. Stacks of books started appearing around the house and various corners turned into book nooks with pillows and blankets and stuffed friends.

Mr. Music, as you’ve seen me call him, is a strong reader who could sit down and read The Magic Tree House series on his own. If I read with him, he’s willing to read the entire thing in one sitting. If he tries it on his own, he gets frustrated 3 pages in. That was the case until yesterday when I channeled my inner teacher.

We’ve been reading Marvin Redpost Kidnapped at Birth together for the past 2 days and I noticed that he gets frustrated when his eyes pick up words from the line beneath the one he’s reading. This doesn’t happen with EVERY line, but often enough that it slows him down. This kid wants to know what comes next in the story, so any obstruction or distraction is upsetting. Following the line with his finger (or my finger) isn’t enough to nip the problem, but I’m a former elementary school teacher, so I whipped out the good ‘ol bookmark trick.

Holding the bookmark horizontally to underline, or isolate, one line of text at a time immediately improved his fluency. With the bookmark in place, the words from lower lines can no longer jump up into the line he’s reading. Words from upper lines on the page were never distracting, so we don’t have to worry about covering them. He glides smoothly through the sentences now, even adding inflection.

Initially I was worried that he might see this simple tool as babyish (his term, not mine), but when I asked what he thought about it, he remarked, “That’s great! I LOVE bookmarks!” And so tonight he and I sat down to enjoy the conclusion of Marvin Redpost (4 chapters worth) without so much as a “Can we stop now?” or “Let’s just read it tomorrow.” Come to think of it, I believe his exact words were “Let’s keep going so we can see how it ends!”

As I type this, our night owl daughter is “reading” to herself in her bedroom. We gave up fighting with her to go to bed at the same time as her early bird brother. Now she has a choice: read quietly in her room or go to sleep. She reads for a bit and then comes to get me to tuck her in when she’s ready. This solution has made EVERYONE happier. Our bedtime routine is now struggle-free and she gets lots of book time. This is every author’s dream, right?

My wrist is still in a brace (slowing me down considerably), but my writer’s block is lifting. The new found consistency in my running (a steady 15 miles/week now) is also encouraging. Those things, combined with all of the reading happening in the house, make for a very content me. Let’s see how long this period of balance lasts! Even if it doesn’t last long, I can revel in the fact that it DID happen.

What are YOU reading now? Something good, I hope. Let me know!

Welcome 2010.

I kicked off the year on January 1st with 3.5 miles on my trusty ol’ treadmill. After two weeks of not running, it was fabulous. Delicious even, if a treadmill could be considered such. I went the next step and even recorded my mileage! That’s right, this year I’m going to track it. I suppose that could be considered one of my New Year’s resolutions – write down the good things!

Remember the running calendar I told you about in December, Carol Goodrow’s What a Day for Running!? Well, I bought one when they came out and a running pal of mine gave me a copy for Christmas. We’re using one to keep track of family stuff and I’m using the other to track my mileage. I think I’ll hang the second one by the treadmill for ease of recording since I use the treadmill year-round (I DO get outside for runs, too, don’t worry).

Though the year is still quite new, it has been full. A local friend of mine welcomed her second son into the world at noon on the 1st and my college roommate said goodbye to her mom for the last time the night of the 3rd. These two life-changing experiences prompted me to return to my Starting with a Thankful Heart posts. Life is too precious and too short not to take notice of the little things that make life full and rich and worth sharing.

So, on this first Monday of 2010, I give you a short list of things that make my heart happy.

1. I am thankful for my daughter’s question as I tucked her into bed tonight: “Can I hold yours hand?” While her nearly-three year-old self can sure push me over the edge sometimes, she does know what to say to melt her mama’s heart.

2. I am thankful that I cranked out 2.5 miles this morning before getting back into the groove of post-holiday reality. One day at a time I’m getting back to my workout routine and it feels GREAT!

3. I am thankful that others reach out to share their passion with the world. A high school friend of mine is kicking-off her 2010 in grand running style. Please take a minute to visit my Beth on her Sweaty Quest for Enlightenment blog. She’s a strong, smart, sassy go-getter of a redhead who is using running to get her life back after several years of serious illness and time taking care of everyone but herself. Please join me in supporting her on her quest and enjoying her new found passion for running! And I do have to toot my own horn here, too, in mentioning that she’s a big supporter of my book, for which I am forever grateful.

4. I am thankful that after the stressful holidays we managed to squeeze in a day trip to Camano Island yesterday before my husband’s vacation was over. We practically had the beach to ourselves and even brought along dear ol’ Albus Dumblepup. There were many treasures to be found, as you can tell from my son’s bursting arms.

How about YOU? Is there something big or small that makes you thankful today?

So, I did it – I finished all of the pillowcases for 30+ people (including one for myself – with a running shoe print, of course) for Christmas. They really did make for the perfect wrapping paper – they fit gifts of ALL sizes and shapes!

I wish I could report that Christmas came and went without a hitch and that I even ran on our trip to my mother-in-laws, but that’s not quite how it all went. Running didn’t happen for a variety of reasons – icy roads, lots of visiting with family, adjusting to the time difference (3 hours), etc. The biggest reason was the most important one, though. Our son was transported by ambulance on Christmas night from the ER to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he was admitted for three nights.

After working for 2 weeks to get the kids healthy for our trip (daughter had pneumonia, son had sinus infection), they were both finally off meds and ready to go when a cold erupted in both of them the day before the trip. After several days of coughing and general ickiness, we began to realize that this bugger was not going to pass quickly. At Christmas dinner with 22 family members, our son picked at his dinner (RARE, as this kid eats non-stop) and had a wicked coughing fit that told us it was time to get help. My husband took him to the ER to be checked and after 2 breathing treatments they transported my boys by red sleigh (translation: ambulance) to Children’s in Pittsburgh. Diagnosis: pneumonia and aggravated asthma.

The next 3 days were filled with trips back and forth to the hospital for visits/tag-team overnight stuff while the docs, nurses and respiratory therapists worked to get his oxygen level steady. We are ever so grateful for my husband’s family who drove us back and forth (I don’t know the highways and city area well enough to make the drive in the dark) and took care of the little sister who was dealing with missing her brother and fighting her own cold/bout of pneumonia. The day before our return home to Washington our son was released from the hospital and our daughter took her trip to the ER for a chest x-ray that confirmed her illness. Armed with a bag loaded with antibiotics and inhalers, we were able to get on our regularly scheduled flights home on Tuesday morning (despite the fact that I lost my driver’s license in PA . . . but that’s a WHOLE other story). There is no place like home!

I had planned to share the series of haiku I wrote for our Christmas cards on Christmas Day with you all, but I think this last day of 2009 is an appropriate day to share the poems, too. As I look back on the year, I remember our fun-filled summer fondly, I appreciate the supportive network of family and friends and I am amazed at all my children grew through. I look forward to 2010 as a year of further personal growth – as a writer, a runner, a wife and a mother. And I pray that it is a HEALTHY one – not just for my family, but for yours, too!

And now . . . the haikus:

Daily Adventures
Two bicycles race
Beside the family garden
A rope swing beckons

Camano Island
Logs stretch out their arms
For kids to construct their caves
On the rocky shore

Little Sister
Red hair flows freely
As she dances side to side
Laughing and singing

Big Brother
“I have an idea!”
Inspiration is bellowed
Filled notebooks are proof

Behind the dense fog
Ducks quack and cows moo, “Hello!”
As she runs the trail

Stars twinkle above
As the crowd dances freely
Music-filled nights rock

Kids reach for the leash
Announcing a family walk
Swish, swish goes his tail

Our Wish for You
Christmas lights glimmer
As the New Year approaches
May love fill your days

Happy reading, running and good health to you in 2010!

Tomorrow is my son’s fifth birthday (that’s him doing what he loves best above). As my mother-in-law says, he’ll officially be a whole handful.
I find birthdays and anniversaries to be great times to reflect on personal growth and to check-in with progress on goals I’ve set. Don’t worry, there will be cake and singing and silliness, too. And a few tears that only mothers know how to cry when their babies get older.

When I think back over the “whole handful” of years, I’m amazed at all that has happened in our little family (I’m keeping with the “5” theme):

1. We moved all the way across the country from Charlotte, NC to just outside Seattle, WA. If that situation doesn’t provide growth, I don’t know what will!
2. After two serious allergic reactions before his first birthday, our son was diagnosed with a long list of food allergies. As of last week, we’ve been given the green flag to add in larger amounts of eggs & milk into baked food products. This is cause for celebration at our house!
3. Our son became a loving big brother to a spit-fire little sister.
4. We’re now able to enjoy family adventures lasting longer than 6 hours. We’ve managed 2 weekend-long camping trips already this summer. I really never thought this day would come.
5. Our kids speak of their futures using empowering phrases like, “When I’m a runner . . . “ and “I’ll do that, too, because I’m strong!” I can’t wait to see what will happen when they make those phrases come true.

Although the birthday is HIS, as the mama who birthed him, the day belongs to ME, too! This gives me the clearance to evaluate my goals in relationship to his life-span.

1. In his short/long (I haven’t decided if the time has been fast or slow!) life I published a book and sold over 1,000 copies of it.
2. Two weekends ago I set a running PR that blows anything from my “pre-kids life” out of the water.
3. I have completed at last a dozen quilts and already have a growing list of quilts to create over the course of his next five years. Only one quilt in his lifetime was for me – the others have all been gifts to celebrate weddings and births.
4. I started a non-profit social moms group in our community 3 years ago and it is still running.
5. My husband and I celebrated our 10 year engagement-iversary last week and our marriage is still going strong.

Now that know I can guide a child through life longer than I’ve held down any single paying job, my challenge begins. I must ask myself:

What are my new goals?
What experiences will I have the pleasure of remembering when the NEXT birthday rolls around?

Don’t go yet! I have a challenge for you:

What life events prompt YOU to take a look at where you’ve been on your life path? What experiences lead you to set new goals as you head forward?

My son is just 12 days shy of his 5th birthday. For those of you without children, here’s a translation:

He is a confident force to be reckoned with!

Really and truly, he wants to be a super hero when he grows up. If that doesn’t pan out, he’s sure that he will be “the best Globe Trotter EVER!” (despite the fact that his current basketball skill is that he knows what a basketball is). He assures me that he is a faster runner than me (despite the fact that he begs me to slow down so he can catch up when I’m running and he’s biking with me) and asserts on a daily basis that he will always be older than his sister (which is, in fact, true).

Unfortunately hurt feelings can accompany all of this young confidence. He’s starting to discover that other people’s athletic skills are a bit more fine tuned than his and that hitting a ball with a bat is harder than it looks (even with a tee)! This makes my job as his mom a bit more challenging this summer than I thought it would be.

Thankfully I have some good stuff in my arsenal.

1. YMCA Rookie Sports Camp – My son spent the first week out of school at the soccer/t-ball rookie camp. I was thrilled that the core value they promoted all week was Sportsmanship. In addition to working on dribbling, catching, hitting (and running in the right direction), the group of 4-8 year olds learned how to encourage one another and celebrate success without being arrogant.
2. Books that promote kindness and acceptance of others – Now that he’s reading independently more regularly, we’re reading books together and discussing them the first time through. Then he rereads them on his own. After we read them again as a family (with little sister!) I have him tell me something the main character learned in the story. This often leads to an age-appropriate discussion about if/when he faces that situation what he can do. Where’s Your Smile, Crocodile? by Claire Freedman was a good one we read last week that showed the importance of helping others. I was also happy to discover an Early Reader that chronicled a pair of friends who struggled with competition: Cork & Fuzz: Good Sports by Dori Chaconas. And you’ll notice the new book Nico & Lola: Kindness shared between a boy and a dog by Meggan Hill in the photo below.

3. Family Runs/Rides – I DO want my son to feel confident, but I want him to feel good about specific things he can do (not just what he *thinks* he can do!). So even though when he rides his bike while I run it makes my runs s-l-o-w-e-r, I know this won’t always be the case. To build his confidence as a rider, I’m using the time to cheer for him when he’s doing well with detailed compliments: “Wow! When you steer straight like that, you can go farther faster!” or “I noticed how smoothly you took that turn!” These become part of our reports to his dad at dinner time and then we set a skill focus/goal for the next bike outing. Of course, riding on the tag-along on the back of Dad’s bike during our family trail rides is great, too.

4. Water Balloons – Good ol’ “Catch” isn’t a favorite at our house (i.e., we have strong reading skills, but need to work more on hand-eye coordination!), so now we’re working to make it fun and game-like so he can be successful when he plays a bit more seriously with kids at school or the playground. Water balloons are great for this on these warm summer days.

This last summer before he heads off to Kindergarten promises to be one of growth for all of us. I’m glad that fun can be at the base of all of it!
How about YOU? What do you do to help your children strike a healthy confidence balance? What’s in your fun/learning parenting kit?

Somehow I got away from my “Starting with a Thankful Heart” posts. They really are a great way to kick-off a work week, so you can count on me getting back to those. When I find frustration building-up or feel like I’m swimming against the current, I can often turn my attitude around by taking a minute to acknowledge at least ONE thing for which I am thankful.

Granted, gratitude can be a bit like pulling teeth when you have a two year-old screaming in your ear and a four year-old taking apart every last thing he can get his hands on. But it can be done. And when I can latch on to one or two things for which I truly am grateful, I find I can get to the root of the screaming (lately, the arrival of molars and a significant physical growth – as evidenced by the dramatic shoe size change overnight!) and redirect my son’s curiosity for good instead of evil (it always helps to address him as a Superhero and give him tasks that can “save the day”). Oh, don’t bother asking me about the socks – I really don’t know why they’re an important part of the outfit, but they are.

In the spirit of those usual Monday posts, here’s my “Ending with a Thankful Heart” gratitude list:

1. My husband recognizing that I was ready to hear him say “You can run faster if you want to. I know you can.” After plodding along at the same pace for at least 2 years and with a nearly 6 months of strength training under my belt, he’s right. I can go faster – because I have the tools to do so. I kicked-off my “I can go faster” mind-set this morning with a tempo run on the treadmill – and, no kidding, he was right!

2. The open arms of the great outdoors. For SO many reasons, but especially since it provides my children with a place to be themselves, full throttle.

3. Pizza. Late-night pizza with my husband after a full day last night and family pizza night with my mom tonight. Is there such thing as too much pizza? I’m sure there is, but we haven’t reached that point yet.

4. And finally, as my dad would say, “Cuteness personified.” The boundless energy of my children can’t be beat (though there ARE days when I could use a second run to get a bit more time to myself – let’s be honest here!). They wear me out and they challenge me daily, but I wouldn’t trade ’em for anything.

How about YOU? Can you think of at least one thing for which you are thankful this week? Big or small, feel free to share in the comments.

It took a few weeks, but I think Mother Nature finally caught on that this is April and the appropriate season is SPRING. In celebration of the wonderful stretch of days we’ve had over the past week, I’m posting my “Starting with a Thankful Heart” entry a few hours early.

As I get ready to face this new week, my heart is full of sunshine. I am thankful for:

1. The 11 mile training run my friend Kajsa did today. No, I didn’t go with her, but her daughter played with my kids in the yard while she hit the trail and her husband weeded the front garden beds for her. Hooray for her!

2. The countless hours of gardening we enjoyed this week/weekend. There’s nothing quite like wheeling around loads of soil, sifting it, collecting rocks, chasing kids in the yard, planting new trees, pulling weeds, raking, and breathing wonderful fresh air all the while. And, NO, I’m not usually a gardening gal, it was just that good.

3. Homemade worm farms (constructed enthusiastically by three children – ages 4, 3 and 2). Priceless.

4. The season’s first sunburns that remind us that YES sunscreen is important. I have it out and ready to incorporate into our daily routines.

5. A full visit with my mother-in-law. We had a great time doing a little bit of everything and the kids have many great memories to hold them over until we’re able to see her again.

6. The flexibility of casting aside a run to enjoy all of the above.

I did get in 3 runs during the week as part of my SaneFitness workouts (I start Week 5 of the program tomorrow – it IS great!), but no longer runs this weekend as I initially planned. But I realize that I am more balanced this evening because I chose the yard work over a run (my husband did offer me the chance to get away for a run, but I turned him down).

As for tomorrow? I run! But not as far as those Boston Marathoners. I wish them – AND YOU! – happy running.

Every now and then life gets sticky, runs are more difficult, and the sun hides out behind the clouds for longer than I’d like. It is during these times in life (and sometimes they all happen at once, so it is a collective and singular time) that I find breathing to be my best tool.

One kid is galloping around the house like a Pony Express rider gone wild while the other is climbing chairs to get scissors and staplers out of the “grown-ups only” cupboard in the kitchen to “Project, Mama!”. This is a recipe for disaster, especially if that first kid rides past the chair too quickly and knocks down the arts and crafts kid. Yelling seems easiest, but from experience I know that yelling just makes the horse go faster and more items fall out of the cupboard. What to do? BREATHE first, then assist the crafty gal in getting more age-appropriate items and suggest that the rider pull the horse to the nearest watering hole for a break. The BREATHE some more.

Now that my running workouts are back on track, I’m starting to increase my speed. Sometimes this is liberating and motivating, other times I think my body would rather go back to bed. When I realize negativity is getting hold of me with thoughts of cutting the run short or slowing down to make things easy, I get back to my BREATH and get in a steady rhythm, aligning my breaths with my stride. More often than not, once I get control of my BREATH I can finish out the scheduled run – and sometimes even knock out a little extra distance with a smile. I love how empowering those BREATHS can be!

While my rate of respiration never will be able to control Mother Nature and the amount of sunshine we get (or as of late, don’t get), BREATHING does help me focus on what we DO have. Warmer temperatures enable us to take family walks, which make for happier kids, adults and dog. “Sun breaks”, as they’re called out here, are perfect opportunities for weeding a few square feet of garden while Mr. Music whacks trees with sticks and Little Sister slides, slides and slides some more on our little backyard structure. It may just be 10 minutes, but those 10 minutes are crucial to everyone’s sanity and overall well-being.

And for this writer, BREATHING is the key for clearing the clutter from the mind. A calm BREATH makes everything more manageable. And taking the time to BREATHE makes me a happier, better person.

How about YOU? How does deliberate BREATHING support you in your times of stress – or times of delight?