"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for February, 2014

Eating Clean in 2014 Lenten Challenge

I hate the word “diet” because I am not very good at following one. Yet, I get freaked out when I think of trying to eat a certain way forever and ever and ever. I like the idea of taking something that’s difficult and breaking it into doable pieces, similar to my mindset for running longer distances. One mile at a time.

And, as much as I hate diets, I adore my father-in-law, Mike, whose recent heart health scare has caused some serious discussion between my husband Darrell and I about how we eat. Like many people, Mike has been advised by his doctor to change how he eats and get more active. So, in an effort to show some support, as well as to be a little more proactive in our health, Darrell and I are going to start a Healthy Eating 40 Day Challenge, beginning next week on Ash Wednesday. The Lenten season seemed like a great time to make a few soul searching changes.
I have been trying to decide what diet to follow for this. At first I thought I’d try Paleo again. I tried to do Paleo a few years back and only lasted about a month. In Paleo, there’s no dairy, no legumes and no grains. Your carbohydrates come from your vegetables, and the focus is on lean meat and vegetables. I did great with the meat part, but found I was mostly eating meat and filling in with vegetables instead of the other way around. It was very restrictive for me and I found myself thinking of food constantly.

I also considered going gluten/sugar free for the 40 days, but I want to do something in this challenge that I feel I could realistically maintain when it was over. My hope is that if I do something drastic-yet-doable, I will be able to feel the difference and therefore want to keep it up. I don’t mean drastic like all celery or grapefruit for the next month and a half, just really concentrating on getting in the most “good stuff” like fruits and veggies that I can.

So, after listening to what Mike has been told to avoid (white flour, potatoes, pasta, grains, etc) I think we’re going to go with a “Clean Living” approach, with as little of processed foods as possible, focusing on veggies and fruit, lean meat and no fast food (my big downfall). I’m in training for my half marathon, so I’m not looking to shave calories or even really to lose weight, although I’d love it if I did.

For a lot of people, a “Challenge” like this may seem like not much of one so here’s where I hang my dirty laundry: our family eats pretty bad right now, something I’m a little embarrassed by. We eat “on the run” a lot, grabbing a quick bite on the way to the next activity. So part of this challenge for us isn’t the “what” we are eating, but “how” we are living–dashing from place to place, grabbing a handful of Oreos on the way out the door. Not good, I know.

So we’re gearing up and getting ready for “Eating Clean in 2014” at our home. Want to join us? Post your comments and let’s see what progress we can make together.

What Makes a Great Person

I asked each of my children when they were younger, “What makes a great person?”.  While none of them gave me great insights into their psyche, I did get an impression of what a great person isn’t—a bully.  They preferred people who didn’t hit them or do mean things to them.  Surprise.

 My mother-in-law, Karen, had to write a paper in college on this topic, and it got me to thinking, too.  What does make a great person?  One hundred years from now, if all we have to look back on are the likes of US Weekly or TMZ, we might think it has much to do with a person’s claim to fame, Hollywood romance or their stylish red carpet attire.  Of course, Hollywood’s greatness gauge is probably not the same as an average person’s, either.  In our modern media, we may run across a great philanthropist or scientist who discovers the cure for a horrible disease.  Truly these people are noble, and maybe even “great”.  Yet, when I think about it, I’ve known a lot of great people who will never be remembered in a magazine or newspaper article, yet their lives have impacted mine with undeniable, unique greatness.  Using my kids’ method of deductive reasoning to determine greatness, great people are not necessarily famous or well-known to others outside their circle of family and friends.  So since I know a little about what greatness isn’t, I decided to give this matter of what greatness actually is some thought, and I’ve come to these conclusions:

Great is a generic and overused adjective.  Sounds cynical, doesn’t it?  But we have to put this out there straight away.  Apparently I was a “great friend” in junior high and high school.  My son brought up some of my yearbooks and reminded me of this fact.  Many of these same people also thought I was “sweet” and even “2 good 2 be 4 gotten”.  Imagine that, I was a legend of greatness in my own time and didn’t even know it.  I also didn’t actually remember a lot of those who held this opinion of me in junior high.  If a great person doesn’t remember those who thought she was great, does the greatness cease to exist?  Hmmmm….

 Greatness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  To the struggling entrepreneur, a successful, self-made businessperson could be the role model for greatness.  Likewise, to the woman in the throes of raising young children, the woman who raised seemingly happy children into responsible and respected adults may be her hero.  People who fit the description of how we wish our future selves to be are “great” on an individual level, without question.  After all, who wants to aspire to mediocrity?

 Greatness comes from within.  In my limited experience, those I’ve thought of as great have similar character traits.  These people are a mixture of men and women, thin and not-so-thin, tall and short, high school drop-outs and holders of multiple educational degrees, businesspeople and homemakers.  Amongst their traits in common?  Generous, patient, compassionate, self-sacrificing, have empathy for others, kind-hearted, energetic, willing to learn from, as well as teach others, and truthful.  There are more, but these seem to re-surface time and time again in people I believe to be great.  Almost any person can demonstrate one or more of these characteristics to some degree.  But great people are consistently great, and usually in more than one area.  Think “good” person, times 50,000.  Incidentally, the greatest also tend to be humble about it. 

 Those who surround themselves with greatness can’t help but to absorb it themselves.  No, I’m not talking about those who ride others’ coattails to make a name for themselves.  But greatness can be contagious!  Think of that one person (you may be lucky enough to have more than one) who brings out the best in you, the one who makes you try harder and not give up.  How do you feel when you spend some time with that person?  Energized and ready to do more to make the world a better place?  A truly great person wants you to be great, too.  This is also something to keep in mind when that little green-eyed monster rears its ugly head when your best friend gets that promotion or loses that last twenty pounds!

 Greatness makes a difference.  A person doesn’t have to organize a world-wide rally for peace and ending hunger to make a difference.  The person in rush hour traffic who lets you get over into the left-turn lane that you missed because you were distracted won’t be getting a shiny metal, but they could make the difference between whether or not you get to your daughter’s kindergarten graduation ceremony in time to see her get her diploma.  Small differences matter, too.

 Clearly, greatness is hard to define, and can also be confused with other noteworthy attributes.  Yet it still can serve as a benchmark for behavior.  Does a particular activity serve a greater good?  While that question may be answered more easily with what behaviors are not great, taking the time to define for oneself what it means to be great can make a good person an asset, maybe even a great asset, to this world.

From my front porch…

The lone surviving bird from our front porch.

The lone surviving bird from our front porch.

A few years ago, I was surprised to find that a bird had made her nest in my artificial flower arrangement hanging on our front porch.  At first, the little babies were nearly naked and so very tiny.  My three young children and I took a picture of them each day and I grew attached to them.  On his way to work one morning, my husband, Darrell, noticed that something—a cat most likely—had gotten to the nest and knocked the whole thing off the wall.  There were no signs of any of the babies, and I sadly began to clean up the mess.  I lifted up the flower holder, and hidden underneath it was one little baby bird.  I carefully picked him up in a towel and put him and the nest back on the wall, afraid that my touching him would make the mother bird reject him.  Later that day, Mama Bird came back and resumed nurturing her last remaining baby.  I continued observing his growth, taking pictures regularly.  A week or so later I was standing on the driveway and witnessed Baby Bird (now a young “teen” bird) take his first flight.  I never saw him again, as he was ready to move from that nest into the great big world, but I truly believe that I was meant to see him off and know that he had flown away on his own.

Conquering the Treadmill

Until today, I had the winter running blues.  It’s been an exceptionally cold winter here in Missouri.  Not just a cold winter, but a frozen, slushy-junk-on-the-sidewalk kind of winter.  Since at times I find it difficult to navigate dry pavement, my sense of self-preservation dictates that I stay indoors and off the sidewalks when they’re icy.  That leaves me with the option of the treadmill (or dreadmill, as I’ve heard it called.)

When I first started running, I used the treadmill a lot.  I always was self-conscious out there on the roads of O’Fallon—like the people in the cars would know I was only pretending to be a runner—so I opted for the dingy basement.  My treadmill at home was old and had experienced a leaky battery so the controls that tell you how fast you’re going and how far you’ve run didn’t work.  I used the clock in my husband’s workshop to see how long I ran.  Since I was slow and all my friends who were “real” runners ran a lot faster than me, I was running solo anyway so it was the perfect way to get miles in.  Even if I didn’t know how many miles I ran.

I didn’t start running a lot outdoors a lot until last fall when I trained for my first half marathon with a training group at Big River Running, a local running store here.  Before that, most of my outdoor running was when I was coaching Girls on the Run at the elementary school playground.  Not exactly scenic.  But with the training team our long runs were in parks and through nearby subdivisions as well as the high school track.  This was when I began to enjoy running.  Even in 90+ degree weather I thought being outside was part of the experience that I enjoyed most.  I also loved the camaraderie of running with a group.  The miles fly by when you’re with other humans with a common goal.

I trained into the fall and did the half, followed by a couple 5Ks afterwards.  Then it was December and the swirl of Christmas activities pulled me away from running—exactly what I was afraid would happen.  It was dark early and cold, although not too bad, but I was busy and not training for a race.  So I didn’t run (and I need to add I got crabby).

In January, the training team started up for a spring half marathon.  Knowing that I need to have a goal to motivate me, I signed up again.  So far I’ve gotten to go to two trainings out of six—and one was cancelled due to ice.  All the other long runs I’ve done on the treadmill.  Alone. And I’ve started to wonder why I ever liked running so much.  Audio books aside, running on the treadmill takes away my favorite parts of running—the outdoors and the people—and reduces it to the part that’s just sweat and being out of breath.  When I’m running with the group my fear of getting left behind keeps me on pace.  I hate to admit it, but on the treadmill I am able to dial it down when I’m not just feeling it, so I end up dragging out the torture even longer.

So yesterday I went to the park, hoping to find it cleared off enough for the long run with my friend Amy…it was not.  And I dreaded the treadmill run slated for today on my training calendar.  But something happened today that shook my blues and made me happy.  I went against every instinct I had, and didn’t look at the mileage as I ran. I set it up on my pace and kept it there…never slowing down because I wanted to quit.  I gasped and was red-faced; it was not pretty.  But I felt the way I used to feel after I ran.  Tired, but accomplished.  Like I hadn’t “cheated” on my training plan.  It was a great feeling.

Tomorrow’s training run is four miles.  And it will probably be on the treadmill again.  Bring it on.

Thoughts on Being a Girl Scout Mom

I’m the Girl Scout Cookie Mom for daughter Emily’s Girl Scout Troop.  I was the co-leader for several years, but we merged with another troop, so I was able to step down from that role.  I am not sure how much I can say I was a “leader”.  My co-leader and one of my best friends, Kelly, was the true leader of the group…organized, always planning and ahead of schedule.  I was more like the warm body that was there to say there was enough adult supervision to comply with the ratio of adult to girl requirement.  In fact, one time I got my girls in trouble with the lifeguard at camp because I was telling them all about the Nestea Plunge and they were trying it out.  Turned out that they were only allowed to go into the pool feet-first, and this was a clearly a violation of that rule.  So much for me being a good role model.

For several years I was the main leader for Erin’s troop as well.  We were a very laid back group.  Yes, we earned badges, did plenty of community service and sold cookies and such, but my co-leader and I made the decision to make our troop meetings fun so that they didn’t feel like they were in a class at school.  Sometimes our meetings were chaotic, but I remember laughing a lot at those meetings.  Sometimes we’d finish early so we’d just play silly games like the one where you can only speak in questions.  This group of girls was hilarious and understood my sense of humor.  It was fun while it lasted, but by the time they were entering Middle School in sixth grade it was time to move on.  Our troop disbanded and Erin joined another troop, determined to stay in Scouts.  I help out now with that troop, too, but basically my role is that of an involved Mom, which I like.

So it’s Girl Scout Cookie time, a time full of selling cookies and holding cookie booths (ugh!), as well as the time when I wonder if my daughters will continue on next year in Scouts.  I always say our family would have so much more free time if they quit, but I think a part of me would really be sad.  I’ve made wonderful friends and memories through Girl Scouts, and so have my girls.  The women who organize the events in our Neighborhood are incredible—very organized, very purposeful and energetic.  I wish I could be a little more like they are.  They are a compassionate group, too.  Amongst them have been those who have lost their homes to fires, recovered from surgeries and served in Afghanistan leaving their family here in the states.  I’ve never seen them fail to selflessly reach out and make a difference for those who need a helping hand.  I’m blessed to have known them.

No matter if my girls stay in Scouts or not, it has definitely had an impact on their lives, and mine as well, that goes well beyond earning badges and doing community service.  We have seen first-hand how communities flourish when there is a group effort and how making a difference can begin with just an idea and a little elbow grease.  We’ve learned valuable skills, like first aid and the best way to build a campfire (I still opt for matches instead of the magnesium block!)  But most memorable of all to me is the friendships that form when one spends time trying new things together—even if it might get you in trouble with the lifeguard!

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