Keep the Giving in Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving has been approaching, I’ve been at odds with some contrasting feelings I’ve been having about it. On the one hand, I love food; eating it, cooking it, and baking it, so this time of year I look forward to making all my favorite dishes and sharing them with my family as we get together to give thanks. On the other hand, I’ve been a little annoyed that Thanksgiving has become SO focused on FOOD. There are nearly 50 million people living in “food insecure” households in our country alone, who have little food to be thankful for, yet those of us who are more fortunate are consuming about 3,600 calories per person at the Thanksgiving table, according to a report by The Today Show. It also bothers me that this has become yet another holiday falling prey to the beast called commercialization. So, what’s a girl to do? Stop raining on the parade and bake up a storm or donate all my food to the poor and boycott all the sell out brands?

Call me a party pooper, but lately I’ve been wondering when and how Thanksgiving became so focused on food. If you watch Food Network for a bit you might think they created this holiday as an advertising opportunity for all the companies marketing their marshmallows for our sweet potato casserole, french fried onions for our green beans and whipped cream to top our pumpkin pie. I’ve actually seen them do a live day-long Q&A session to answer questions like “Why is my turkey dry?,” sponsored by Perdue or something, of course. They even feature a “Countdown to Thanksgiving” e-newsletter where they send you updates EVERY day in November helping you prepare. Yesterday I saw a car commercial with a live turkey waddling around saying “Gobble, Gobble.” And I’ve lost count of the number of emails from clothing stores I got this month titled “Gobble Up the Savings!” or something. Now as a former advertising executive, I get it. They’re not going to sell many cars if their ad says, “We are thankful this holiday, come give us your money.” And as my husband says, “Everyone deserves to make money.” But it seems like some are trying to do to Thankgiving what they’ve done to Christmas, hijacking another holiday into a marketing opportunity. One of the reasons I have always loved Thanksgiving is because it is not about buying presents. But I fear that before long, we will be feeling like we need to do that on Thanksgiving too. Ironically, my husband and his family’s 100+ year-old wholesale produce company relies heavily on holiday’s like Thanksgiving. He told me they sold 7,000 boxes of sweet potatoes, each about 40 pounds, this week alone! They are in the food business and even they aren’t selling out with stupid “Gobble Up the Savings” ads. Not to mention, they’ve probably donated just as many boxes of produce to the Cleveland Foodbank, as they’ve sold.

We all learned in school that this holiday is about gathering together to remember the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621 that was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World and the feast they shared with the Native Americans. Thanksgiving became an official Federal holiday in 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” But at some point over the last century and a half, this holiday that is supposed to be about thanking, giving and sharing has now been dubbed “Turkey Day” by some. From what I’ve read from the letter written by Edward Winslow, the Pilgrim who documented the “First Thanksgiving,” the Pilgrims didn’t even eat turkey that day. And they likely didn’t eat sweet potatoes, or cranberries as they weren’t native to that part of the country. Instead they ate duck or goose, corn, carrots and peas as well as barley. The poor turkey has gotten a raw deal. Thanksgiving has transformed for too many, from praising God and giving thanks for the harvest and the blessings in our lives to eating until we feel sick to our stomachs and watching a Turkey cluck around a TV screen selling cars while we watch the Macy’s parade. It annoys me that all that was once sacred is now another example of a commercialized advertising opportunity.

What I’m most at odds with is this. It’s a wonderful feast full of thankfulness for those of us who are fortunate enough to have one, but I can’t help but feel that this holiday is also a reminder to the people who don’t have as much, what they don’t have. Like the children who won’t eat that day because there is no school and that is often the only place they get a meal. One in five children in America struggles with hunger, according to the No Kid Hungry organization. Yes, it gives most of us cause to be very thankful and fortunate to know that WE don’t struggle with hunger. I am very THANKful every day that my husband has been blessed with a stable job so that we may feed our children and sleep in warm beds. But, let us not forget the GIVE in Thanksgiving. And turn compassion into action.

When I think about those statistics and the families who are thankful to be eating a meal in a shelter on Thanksgiving, I can’t help but wonder. Are we all overdoing it just a little? Isn’t 3,600 calories per person for one meal a little excessive? Do we really need the green beans AND the brussels sprouts, the mashed potatoes AND the sweet potatoes, the salad AND the jello salad? Did I really need to make both a pecan pie AND a pumpkin roll? No Kid Hungry says the average cost of one Thanksgiving dinner is $49. That’s a lot! Is slaving in the kitchen the whole day and even days before, planning a menu weeks before really what Thanksgiving was supposed to be about? Not to mention the shopping trips and washing the china, polishing the silver, stressing about our house being tidy for guests. All to eat for about 20 minutes and then spend another hour or two cleaning up while we feel a little sick from overeating. And did I really need to go to spin class and run the Turkey Trot last Thanksgiving in order to burn off extra calories so I could binge eat? Where is the THANKS in that. Or could some of the time, energy and money spent on some of those things be better spent. Better spent in donations to the poor, better spent helping in our community or better spent just taking a walk with our family to talk instead of having our heads buried in the oven all day. There is a fine line between being gracious and being gluttonous, one of the seven deadly sins.

That said, I think we are all pretty good at the THANKS part. Each year at Thanksgiving, our family goes around the table and each person says what they are thankful for. I’m sure many families have similar traditions. Children seem to get it too. I received an email from my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher yesterday with a list of all the things the children said they were thankful for. I was surprised by how heartfelt their answers were including things like, “the world, friends, nature, God, my little brother, and even food.” It makes my heart sing to know that five and six-year-old children are so thoughtful and wise. We have kept the “THANKS” in Thanksgiving. Let us not forget about the “GIVE” in Thanksgiving.

Am I suggesting we should all donate our food to the poor on Thursday or that we should sell our possessions and leave our jobs to volunteer at homeless shelters? That would be a little idealistic and unrealistic. But let us not forget on Thursday as we gather with our friends and family to make a meal, why the great Abraham Lincoln created this holiday to begin with, “to give thanksgiving and praise” to God. Let us be thankful, but let us also be giving. This day and every day. A friend of mine recently shared a quote online that said, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” Give your gifts. The most important of which is love.

In church this week we were reminded to “be the body of Christ.” Here is a bit of Reverend Throckmorton’s sermon.

“If we’re Christ’s body, we are invited to convey Christ in all our words and deeds. Being Christ’s body has its genesis in all the little things we do and are for each other—the smile for someone we don’t know, the meal for someone who’s been sick, the cookies for the memorial service.  And it has its full working out when all are finally fed. “Until all are fed we cry out!  Until all on earth have bread.  Like the One who loves us each and every one we serve until all are fed.” Today and every day it’s worth asking ourselves: what are we going to do to be the body of Christ?  How are we going to feed the hungers that cry out?  In what ways can we make justice come alive and make a difference?  That’s our charge, because we are the body of Christ. When Jesus dwelt among us, he fed the hungers of people.  He shared not only food, but his love and compassion as well.  As Christ’s body, we too are called to feed and to love others.”

I think that message resonates no matter your religious beliefs. Give love and compassion. As I gather with my family at my sisters house on Thanksgiving, I will enjoy the traditions and I will give love to my loved ones through the delicious desserts I baked. My sister and her family will share their love in the feast they have prepared. But let us continue to give love and compassion every day until all are fed.

At the very least, let us PLEASE say “Happy Thanksgiving” instead of “Happy Turkey Day.”

LARABAR Review and Giveaway

LARABARI was so excited to receive a package from my new friends at LARABAR this week! I was like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for it to arrive. They sent me samples of their Seasonal Flavors to try and review. If you haven’t tasted these yet, you’d better find some quick before they are gone. I honestly don’t know how they can make something made with only fruit, nuts and spices taste so much like Pumpkin Pie, Gingerbread, and Snickerdoodles, all for under 200 calories.

I discovered LARABAR just this fall after I read fellow blogger “100 Days of Real Food” raving about them. I had been in search of a healthier snack bar for a couple of years now since I started “eating clean.” I usually try to go for an apple, a banana, carrots or raw almonds when I snack, but I like to keep something in my purse for those times when I’m really hungry and I just don’t have another option. For awhile my “go to” was Kashi brand granola bars and then I switched to Kind and Nature’s Path, which have a fairly healthy list of ingredients. However I was looking for something with fewer ingredients, all of which were “real” food with as little processing as possible, and under 200 calories. That’s exactly what I found in LARABAR. They are the perfect snack to help me refuel after my morning run or after the craziness of getting my girls off to school and chasing after my two and a half year old. They are so filling they could even make a great breakfast and these Seasonal Flavors are so delicious, I might even start eating them on occasion for dessert!

LARABARThe Banana Bread flavor contains just almonds, dates and unsweetened bananas. That is it! There is no added sugar and many are gluten free, dairy free, soy free, vegan and kosher. I have not tasted all the flavors, but so far my favorites are Blueberry Muffin, Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Peanut Butter Cookie. Just be sure you look at the nutrition facts on each flavor. Some are higher in calories than others. I pick the flavors that are 190 calories. That is still even a bit much for a snack for me (I usually try to stick to two snacks a day each 150 calories or less.) Blueberry Muffin, Apple Pie and the Seasonal Flavors I sampled all fit the bill. Banana Bread has slightly more calories at 230, so I probably won’t make that one of my regular purchases. However, it was delicious and tastes very much like banana bread. Of the Seasonal Flavors, Pumpkin Pie is the best. The others were delicious as well, but maybe even just a little too rich for me. I have not tried the other varieties of LARABAR yet like the UBER, ALT, RENOLA, and JOCOLAT. I have stuck to the original as they seem to have the fewest ingredients and calories.

I should mention that the LARABARs I have tried have around 20 grams of sugar in them. Now there is no added sugar, this is all natural sugar from the fruits contained in them. I am no dietitian, but I know that too much sugar can be bad no matter what the source. I also know from logging what I eat in My Fitness Pal, that I am to stay below 24 grams of sugar for the whole day. So you really should only have no more than one of these a day and maybe consider it to be a special treat just now and then. That said, you can feel good that you are eating a nutritious snack made with healthy, real ingredients. My kids even love them! Even though I am tempted to hoard them to myself, I am so happy to give them these instead of Quaker Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola Bars.

Thank you LARABAR for the delicious products you sent me! I loved them so much, that I might even eat one for a guilt free dessert on Thanksgiving. Well, ok, maybe just for a snack on Thanksgiving. There are a handful of times I don’t feel guilty about splurging on dessert and Thanksgiving is one of them.

Keep an eye on my Facebook page, Running with Skissors, and my Twitter feed @RunningSkissors for a giveaway of my favorite LARABARs!

I was not compensated for this review. I was provided samples by LARABAR in exchange for my honest review of their product.

Visit LARABAR on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

Roller Skating Roller Coaster

IMG_4489Last weekend I went to drop off my oldest daughter at her first roller skating birthday party. While she had been ice skating before, she had never been roller skating. I’m embarrassed to say that in my twelve years in Chagrin and despite living right around the corner from the famous local roller rink, neither had I. At least not there. The last time I had gone roller skating was probably in middle school when I held hands with the boy I was “going with” during couples’ skate. Little did I know, that would change pretty quickly over the course of the next three hours as a roller coaster of emotions ended with me riding round and round the rink.

Now that Elizabeth is seven, there is rarely a birthday party I stay at these days. So I had planned to take her in, get her set up in some rental skates, help her find her friends, make sure she was getting around ok and then slip out of there. I had a number of items on my to yard chore to-do list on that last weekend before the forecast snow was to arrive. So there I was in my yard work/workout clothes, i.e. black sweat pants, a warm-up top, hair in a pony tail, no shower, no make up (my standard look these days), hoping I could sneak in and out without bumping into too many people I knew.

I guess I had an inkling of knowledge in the back of my head that there was a chance it wouldn’t be that easy. My big girl is so grown up in many ways, but in others, still needs a lot of hand-holding. My husband even said to me on my way out the door, “You’d better be prepared to go roller skating.” I chuckled and went on my way. Don’t get me wrong, I do remember really enjoying roller skating at one point in my life, but on this day I was looking forward to a few hours of time with only two children to manage while I cranked out a couple of chores.

IMG_4496Elizabeth was excited to get to the party and get her skates, but once we began lacing them up, I could tell I was in for the long haul. The skates were “too tight” and after swapping them out for a larger size, I could feel the coaster reaching it’s first ascent. “I don’t even know how to skate! I don’t even want to be here,” she crabbed. Then she became embarrassed when the other kids saw her and she began crying even more. That’s when her sweet little girlfriend spotted her from across the room and approached saying, “Elizabeth I don’t know how to do it either!” Elizabeth’s tears began to subside and I encouraged the two girls to go out together and give it a try. Down the first hill the coaster glided.

They skated, or rolled more like, along the side holding onto the railings. I was glad to see her making an attempt. And then about 10 feet down the way, Elizabeth was like a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel and fell straight on her bottom. Immediately, tears and drama. The metaphoric roller coaster did a loop the loop and Elizabeth was in the front car screaming. I ran over to her, picked her up and wheeled her over to the closest bench. She was fine physically, just embarrassed and adamant that she was finished skating for the day and that she was going to leave and never return. Of course it became my fault. Everything is my fault. “You told me it was easier than ice skating!” she shouted at me. “Roller skating isn’t even fun. You made me come. I didn’t even want to come here.”

Annoyed that I had taken the time on a busy Saturday to go pick up a birthday present at the last minute, struggle with Elizabeth to get on her skates then manage a tantrum in the middle of the roller skating rink while in my sweat suit, I was ready to lose it. I was about to launch into a tirade. The following rant nearly escaped my lips complete with my Mean Mommy voice and facial expressions.


RollerskatesBut somehow, for one of the very first times in my life as a parent, I was able to keep my cool. “Let’s just sit here and watch for a little while,” I said calmly. As I sat there I could hardly believe the words that had just come out of my mouth. Elizabeth sat and watched the skaters go by still crying and complaining that she wanted to leave. I was still a little tempted to just take off our skates and take advantage of the remainder of the afternoon. But as we sat and watched, every couple of minutes another little boy or girl would wipe out right in front of us. Left and right these poor kids were just biting it. “See that little boy fell too. And he’s just got back up and kept going.” I’d say. We must have sat and watched for nearly a half an hour. Every now and then I’d ask if she was ready to try again. Elizabeth still maintained that she was done skating and was NEVER going to try it again. Eventually it became clear what I needed to do. I offered to put on skates and go with her. I knew that if we left at that point in the ordeal she would never want to try roller skating again. Of course, roller skating was not on the top of my to do list that day, but I was willing to set aside my vanity and my own desires and take one for the team.  “No. I’m done,” she said. I was secretly a little relieved.

Just about the time I was ready to throw in the towel and tell her her time was up. She said, “I think I’m ready to try again. If you’ll come with me.” I hopped up and got some stinky old skates from the rental desk and soon we were holding hands on the rink, Elizabeth clinging to the wall with her other hand. When she’d reach a break in the railing where there was nothing to hold on to, she’d grip my hand even tighter. “Don’t let her fall!” was all I could think about. Every so often, I’d catch a little smile on her face. “See, aren’t you glad you didnt give up?,” I said. We made our way around the rink. We were lapped several times per song by all of the other skaters. After awhile we decided to take a little snack break. I had no cash so I had to buy a minimum of five dollars worth of food in order to use my debit card. We ended up with two chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. Not exactly part of my “eat clean” diet plan, but I was willing to break the rules to celebrate her getting over her fear and embarrassment.

Before long I was in the center of the rink doing the Hokey Pokey and then skating in circles with Elizabeth and her two best friends flapping our wings and singing the Chicken Dance. It was one of those happy parenting moments that I knew I would always remember. I was one of maybe three parents on the rink. Definitely the only one in sweat pants. Then the lights dimmed and the air filled with smoke. “When there’s something strange, in the neighborhood. Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” We skated around under the flashing lights and I was genuinely having fun. Maybe a little too much fun. After a couple more laps I encouraged Elizabeth to go without me. To my surprise, she did and I graduated to the bench with the other parents. I watched her with delight as she giggled with her friends as they rolled alongside the wall.

After the kids ate pizza, sang “Happy Birthday” and skated a little longer, miss Elizabeth was happier than I’d seen her all day and so was I. The roller coaster of emotions made it’s final ascent and from way up there at the top I was enjoying the view. While it might seem like a small success, the patience I witnessed myself exhibit that day was very unusual for me. Something usually happens to me when my kids start complaining, crying and making a scene in public. I tend to lose control of the words that come out of my mouth and say a bunch of really mean things that I regret later. Essentially, I turn into that person I see in the store yelling at her kids and all I can do is feel bad for those poor little children.

A recent example of a time when I acted this way was when I took my other daughter to dance class. She put up a fight about putting on her dance clothes because she was cold, tired and crabby. I started to wrestle her into them because I was determined that if I spent the money for the class and made the effort to get there with her sister and baby brother in tow, she would GO to that class. I became upset. Caroline began crying, then hyperventilating. When she cries like this somehow she begins to cough really hard and sometimes she ends up vomiting. As I became more angry, Caroline cried harder. “FINE, WE ARE LEAVING!” I said. “This is a waste of time.” As I packed up her things and tried to leave without making eye contact with the other moms, guess what happened, she vomited all over the brand new carpet in the changing room of the beautiful ballet studio. I didn’t realize at the time that my escalating emotions were making the situation worse. She needed me to be the calm voice of reason. And I failed her. We struggled with getting back to dance class for weeks after that. In fact, sometimes, we still do.

I remember watching another mom have a similar struggle with her daughter at dance class soon after that. She didn’t like the way her tights felt on her toes (something with which my kids have always complained about too). I happened to stay to watch class that day so I saw what happened next. I sat completely in awe of this mother’s patience. She is was so calm and collected. “Let’s sit and watch,” she said. I could feel the tension this mother was experiencing within herself. But they sat and watched from the doorway for awhile. About halfway through the class, the girl eventually went in and sat on the dance floor. She didn’t get up and dance. She just watched. The girl would inch her way back toward her mom every now and then and her mom would encourage her to get up and dance. Eventually she did. That women’s behavior that day made such an impression on me. I wished I could be like that. That was how a mother should act. She was helping to TEACH her child how to get over her discomfort, not PUNISH her child and embarrass her even further, the way I had done.

Somehow that day at the roller rink I was able to be like that woman. It was not conscious. It just happened. I was able to act like the mother I want to be. Teaching my child how to persevere, instead of teaching her impatience. I am proud of my rare ability to stay calm that day and help Elizabeth conquer her fear and encourage her not to give up. I only hope I can manage to do so the next time I am faced with a similar parenting challenge. Elizabeth and I both learned a lesson on that roller coaster ride of emotions. Best of all, we created a lasting memory of the first time we did the Hokey Pokey and the Chicken Dance together at the roller rink.

Weingart Starts with “We”

Fall clean-up is a big job at our house. We love living in the woods, but the work required to pick up leaves here can sometimes be a little overwhelming. My husband and I usually do all of the leaf pickup, but this year all the kids lent a hand. My new motto is, “Weingart starts with “We” and WE all need to help out in order to get things done around here.” Surprisingly, there is no complaining. Not yet.

We returned from New York City to find that virtually all of the leaves had fallen and the trees were bare. With three acres we can’t do it all in one day. But we’ve managed to find a system that helps make it more manageable. Andy or I use the blower to get the leaves out of the beds and off of the grass into large piles. Of course, the kids like to play in the leaf piles. This year the piles were so big that they made a fort. Then he attaches the Cyclone Rake to his riding mower. It is essentially a huge vacuum that sucks up the leaves and then shreds them into mulch. We all help raking the leaves into the vacuum shoot. This was not an inexpensive yard tool, but whatever we paid for it, it is worth EVERY PENNY! Before we bought this a number of years ago, we would rake or blow the leaves on to tarps and pull them into the woods. That was before we had children and had a little more time. You can also just ride the mower as if you are cutting the grass and the leaves are sucked up that way, but when there are SO MANY leaves, the vacuum doesn’t do as good a job getting the leaves up. Andy then dumps all the leaves into the compost pile at the edge of the woods. It’s gotten pretty big this year. When our children were younger and I was inside nursing babies, this became a one-man job and it was almost impossible to get done. Now that the kids are older, we put them to work.

This week I also finished cutting back my perennial garden as well as some remaining astilbe and geranium rozanne. My mums were way past their prime, so, sadly, it was time to add those to the compost pile too. One of these years I will do a better job taking care of them and get them to last until Thanksgiving. I always pause when it comes to preparing my hydrangea for winter. I have read different things about whether or not to cut them down to the ground or leave the branches longer to protect them and ensure you’ll have lots of flowers next year. Last year, I left the branches long and only clipped away the dead flowers. Then in the spring and early summer when I could see the new growth, I cut away the dead branches. This seemed to work well as I had many beautiful blooms this summer and the size of the bushes was just right. I decided to do the same this year. I did strip the dead leaves off of the branches to make them look nicer. John helped me cut away the dead flowers. I KNOW, he shouldn’t be using these gardening shears. I was right next to him the whole time cutting each branch with him ensuring his safety. Don’t worry, no children were harmed in the making of this post. I didn’t want to squash his enthusiasm and we talked about how we can only use them with mommy’s help.

There is still a little more work to be done, but we were able to complete nearly all of our fall yard chores this week, just before the first snowflakes began to fall. While I will miss my pretty green lawn and my colorful flowers over the winter months, I have to admit it will be nice to have a little break from yard chores. When the snow is still falling in April, I will long for those chores again.

Since I started writing this blog, many people ask me, “How do you find the time?” One of the ways I fit everything in and find time for the things I enjoy is by letting my kids help. At the Weingart’s house WE all work together to check things off our to do list. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Put your kids to work. While it might slow you down a bit in the moment, remember that you are helping to build confident, helpful, and handy little people.


My Little Pumpkins Visit The Big Apple

My CrewLast week we traveled to The Big Apple. Andy ran 26.2 miles from Staten Island through Brooklyn and Manhattan in the New York City Marathon while my children, my in-laws and I cheered him on. He had his best race yet! We then had the pleasure of staying a couple of extra days to take in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this one-of-a-kind city. You might have figured out by now that I enjoy taking photographs. It is my way of capturing the beauty I see in ordinary, every day moments and expressing my gratitude for the blessings by which I am surrounded. I hope my photos might encourage others to stop, take notice and be thankful and respectful of the world around them. I am not sure my photos are all that good, but it brings me to joy to take them and to go back and look through them, so I guess I doesn’t really matter. Here are some of the beautiful sights we saw throughout our adventures in this truly awesome place. You can view them as a slideshow by clicking on any of the photos. Read more below about what we brought back with us from the big city.

While it was definitely challenging at times to travel through our country’s largest city with three young children in tow, it was worth any bit of frustration we might have experienced. Tromping up and down the stairs of subway stations carrying a folded up stroller in one hand and a toddler in the other and walking blocks and blocks weighed down with a purse full of diapers and snacks was tiring. We were all exhausted by the end of each day. Andy had just run a marathon the day before, for goodness’ sake. But they were all troopers! And the sights we saw and the memories we made will always stay with us.

I had worked in downtown Chicago after college where I lived an exciting urban lifestyle for a few years. But twelve years, three kids and a minivan later I’ve become a bit of a middle-aged, suburban soccer mom. At first, the noise and crowds had some of us in a bit of a culture shock, including me. Rubbing elbows with strangers on the noisy, dirty subway, spending $80 for parking, sirens echoing against the streets of this concrete jungle day and night was all very different from our life in the little village of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. We saw and did things we aren’t used to seeing and doing.

We visited playgrounds in Union Square and Central Park that had more children climbing and swinging than there were slides and swings. The bright lights of Times Square were mesmerizing. The beautiful sculptures and paintings we saw at The Metropolitan Museum of Art inspired the artist in all of us. Caroline asked me to take photos of her favorite paintings so she could try to mimic them. I studied the photography exhibits. We heard voices speaking many different languages and saw people from many different places. Every meal was delicious. We saw the city from above, below, far and near.

The kids noticed each of the unfortunate people we passed who were holding signs asking for money and help and who had no place to lay their weary heads at night. We stopped in a fire station whose garage door was open and talked with the fine firemen there who were kind enough to take photos with the kids before showing us the memorial of the ten souls from their station who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Later we visited the 9/11 Memorial where we read some of the names of the nearly 3,000 people commemorated there and watched the fountains flow like a continuous stream of tears.

It was good for my children (and for me) to step out of our little bubble to be reminded that there is so much going on in this big world. Much more than the small, sometimes petty problems, we all tend to complain about now and then. Like when the kids get upset if the ketchup on their plate touches the fruit, or when the new outfit they received for their birthday is too itchy or when little brother gets a bigger scoop of ice cream. I’m guilty of it too. I get caught up in my own little world focused on fitting in my workout, following my diet, baking goodies for PTO, doing crafts with my kids, organizing closets and making my yard look pretty. All worthwhile activities, that are not insignificant because they are things I enjoy and are important in my life. I definitely lose it pretty easily when the kids make a mess of the house I just spent the day cleaning up, when the laundry I just folded is balled up in their drawers, or when the girls miss the buss. So are my kids going to suddenly act like angels, eat all their food and not complain because they felt bad for the homeless person on the street? Sadly, the answer is probably “No.” They’ve already had pretty terrible behavior this week. Can I guarantee that I won’t turn into “Mean Mommy” when the kids are ungracious and bratty? Not necessarily. Since we’ve been home I’ve already told Elizabeth she couldn’t have a birthday party next year because she was complaining about writing thank you notes for the gifts she received this year. It is difficult to be gracious and mindful in the heat of the moment. All we can do is our best.

I do hope that the things we saw in New York City help us to pause in the heat of that moment and remind us that there are people in the world who aren’t as lucky. People who are finding their meals in the garbage at Grand Central Station, with holes in their shoes and dirty clothes on their backs. There are people who awake every day and go to work at the same fire station where their fellow firefighters were called to the scene of terror on 9/11 and never returned. They, and the thousands of others who lost friends and family, live each day with the grief and horrific memories they saw there. My wish is that we can find a way to remind ourselves and our children of this.

We are lucky to live in our spacious house in our quiet little village, surrounded by forests and streams, fresh clean air, and friendly people. We have a full refrigerator, warm beds to sleep in, clean clothes in our drawers, good, affordable schools and we have been blessed with health and happiness. It is fun to travel to the big city and the bright lights now and then to take in the arts and culture and broaden our horizons. Visits like these help remind me to count my blessings and do my best to keep things in perspective.

Whole Wheat Pancakes

ElizabethWe eat pretty healthy most of the time, but some weekends it’s fun to splurge a little! Actually, since my recipe is made with whole wheat flour, you don’t even have to consider these a splurge. You really can have your (pan)cake and eat it too! We all know that bananas are a super food and at just 111 calories per pancake, now you have no reason not to dig in and enjoy some with the kids. Pancakes from scratch don’t really take much longer than a store-bought mix, and using fresh whole ingredients is so much healthier than what you’ll find in a box.

HelpersOne requirement of making pancakes on the weekends, though, is that you must be in your pajamas. My kids love to help in the kitchen and I enjoy doing it with them. It’s something I hope I always remember about this fleeting phase of my life; making pancakes on Saturday morning with my kids in our PJs. What’s better than that?

Before you get started, here’s a tip that I hope will save you time later on. Double or quadruple the dry ingredients part of this recipe and store it in a container. I used this canister that the Stonewall Kitchen store-bought mix I used to use came in. Then when you are ready to make pancakes next time, you can use it just like you would Bisquick. You’d still measure out one cup of the dry mix and then just add the milk, butter and egg and stir. If the batter seems too runny, add a little more of the dry mix until it reaches the desired thickness. Another time-saving tip; cook up extra pancakes to freeze and use for breakfast on busy school mornings. Just reheat and breakfast is served!

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Dark Chocolate and Bananas IMG_2514

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • Dark chocolate morsels (optional)
  • Fresh bananas (optional)
  • Maple syrup

Whisk together flour, sugar (or skip if using honey), baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl whisk milk, egg and butter (plus honey if you skipped sugar). Combine wet and dry ingredients and stir well. Spray skillet with nonstick spray or use melted butter. Pour batter onto hot skillet using a ladle. Add chocolate chips (if using). Once bubbles rise, flip each pancake. Finish cooking and remove from skillet. Top with banana slices and drizzle with pure maple syrup.

Nutritional Facts (For One Pancake with Dark Chocolate and Banana), no syrup:

Calories: 111

Fat: 2.8 g

Cholesterol: .6 mg

Sodium: 269.1 mg

Potassium: 109.7 mg

Carbs: 19.5 g

Fiber 1.9 g

Protein: 2.7 g

Vitamin A: 3.9%

Vitamin C: 2.6%

Calcium: 3.7%

Iron: 3.2%

Watching the World’s Biggest Marathon

Here he comes!At 5:00 the morning after Halloween, we packed up the car, the kids and all of the crap that kids require. Still in a sugar hangover, we made our way through the dark into the beautiful state of Pennsylvania and on to the great city of New York. With porta-crib and pacifiers, blankies and a bottle (yes, still), diapers and dolls in tow, we arrived in Manhattan early that afternoon. While just a short seven hour drive from our quiet, suburban town, the lights and noise of New York City seemed worlds away. Taking it all in, we gawked as we passed mile after mile of skyscrapers, crowded sidewalks, and busy people. We heard police and fire engine sirens clanging, horns honking, and subways clickety-clacking. To my husband who had been training months for the New York Marathon for which we were making the trip, it might have been the longest seven hours of his life. He could hardly wait to get there so he could finally realize the events that had played out in his mind over and over as he trained and prepared for the 26.2 miles he would run through the streets of this extraordinary city. We arrived in the rain at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and hunted in bumper to bumper traffic for a parking spot within walking distance. After paying a jaw-dropping amount of money to park for one hour, we made our way into the biggest race expo I had ever seen. Seeing as the New York Marathon is the largest in the world, I suppose that should come as no surprise. With 50,000+ runners, the organizers have this thing down to a science. Runners are greeted by rows and rows of booths to retrieve their number. There are so many of them, the booths are broken into groups of 2,000. Then we were herded to more booths to pick up Andy’s race shirt. One booth for each size, men separated from women. Soon we were surrounded by racks of running gear and thousands of fit athletes searching for a well deserved souvenir. We heard people speaking languages from around the world. The excitement and energy was palpable. As a runner, I was feeling envious and wishing that I could get in on the action. Honestly though, I was also eager to get the hell out of there. A 27-pound child is too big to be carried around a convention center and after eight hours in the car with three kids, my patience was on empty. Note to self: Never let your husband talk you into NOT bringing a stroller into a large crowded room. Smile. I felt bad Andy didn’t get to enjoy the Expo for long, but he was ready to escape the craziness as well.

After checking into our hotel and finding Andy’s parents who met us in town, we all carb-loaded at a quaint little Italian restaurant around the corner called San Martin at 49th and Lexington. No, I wasn’t running the next day, but I don’t really ever need much of an excuse to eat pasta. After a struggle, the kids finally fell asleep. Andy’s parents stayed in our room for the night with the kids, so Andy wouldn’t wake them when he got up early for the race. We slept in their room for the night. It was an early evening for all of us as we knew the next days’  events would require a lot of energy. Andy got up at about 4:00; sleeping in compared to his produce salesman hours (he usually gets up at 3:30). He followed his usual pre-race routine, and was off to catch the bus to Staten Island before 5:00. I was up, so I decided to make the most of the time and headed upstairs to fit in a short run on the treadmill so I wouldn’t feel like a total slacker watching all the other runners. Five miles was all I could bare to do. I HATE TREADMILLS! Once the sun came up I could see more of the city. It was a great way to start off the day.

Morning Run

After cleaning up, we finished making our signs to cheer for Daddy. The kids were so excited! Then we bundled up in winter coats, hats and mittens. It was only in the 40s and very windy. We grabbed bagels at one of New York’s most authentic bagel joints, Ess-A Bagel on 3rd Avenue. This was the real deal. Totally worth the carbs! We headed to the subway to make our way to mile marker eight in Brooklyn. If someone could only have recorded us trying to figure out the subway, I could give you a really good laugh. First we couldn’t get the stroller folded up, then we couldn’t figure out how to buy a pass, then we couldn’t get through the turnstiles because the card wasn’t working and the kids were afraid. When we finally got through, we discovered we were on the wrong side of the track headed Uptown instead of Downtown. So we had to go back up the stairs, cross the street and do it all again. Hilarious now. Not so much then. I did live in Chicago after college for a couple of years and rode the subway to work every day. But that was 12 whole years ago and that was Chicago. This is New York. Totally different animal. I was actually surprised by how kind and helpful some people were. Others just looked us, probably thinking, “Damn tourists!” The kids noticed a homeless person hunched over sleeping on the bench where we waited for the train. Something they don’t see in Chagrin Falls. While very sad, it was a teachable moment. The kids were unenthusiastic about the subway this first ride. Later on during the trip, they got the hang of it and learned to enjoy it.

When we finally made it to Brooklyn, Andy still hadn’t even begun running so we had a good hour to wait. We got there just in time to see some of the wheelchair racers go by and then some of the male elite runners. The females had started earlier so we missed them. I was disappointed as I was hoping to catch a glimpse of my new buddy Deena Kastor, Olympic Medalist and current U.S. record holder for the half marathon and full marathon. Andy and I had the pleasure of meeting her a few weeks ago when she visited Cleveland for an event at our local Fleet Feet store. We also got to run a few miles with her. Anyway, we were too late to see the women. So we watched and cheered for all the runners who started before Andy. He had to wait about five hours from the time he got to the start on the bus provided by the race until his start time at 10:30 a.m. Poor guy sat there and froze. That’s like torture to make these people wait when all they want to do is RUN! I suppose it just goes with the territory if you want to run the world’s largest marathon. Good thing he bundled up and brought some “throw away” clothes. He told me later I wouldn’t believe how many clothes people left at the start. I sure hope they donate them and don’t throw them away.

I finally got word via the New York Marathon app that Andy had started. He actually also carried his phone with him this time so he texted me right before he was about ready to go. I convinced him to carry it so that we could find each other at the finish. We waited and watched thousands of runners go by. We couldn’t believe how many runners there were and how many people were there in Brooklyn cheering them on. They were three people deep in some spots all along the barricades. People were sitting in apartment windows above the street holding signs and balloons. All of them were yelling for runners they probably didn’t know. It was awesome! Volunteers on the street handed out pom poms and kazoos, shoe laces and even snacks. The kids struggled to see above the fences lined with banners so we took turns holding them up on our shoulders. When they got bored they would bounce around behind us. I was balancing my camera in one hand while I tried to perch John up with the other arm as he refused to let me put him down. Once we finally elbowed our way up to a front row spot when some fans left, we were determined to not give it up. Andy would be there soon. I received the update that he had made it past the 10K. We were on the lookout for Andy. There were so many runners it was difficult to get a look at everyone running by. We held the banners up high so that even if we couldn’t see him, he might spot the posters with his babies faces on them. It worked! From about 20 yards away I saw Andy pointing to our signs and he made his way from the left side of the road toward us. He looked strong with a huge smile on his face. I was so relieved. I get nervous before I watch him run these races as he has struggled often with severe leg cramps. Last winter he wore an air cast for three months after having a stress fracture in his foot from overuse. I still worry it might bother him again. But he looked great at mile eight.

As soon as he ran past us, we knew we needed to hustle back to Manhattan if we wanted to try to see him when he came back over the Queensboro Bridge at mile 16. We hopped back on the subway at the Barclays Center. John fit in a short power nap and of course didn’t want to wake up at our stop at 59th. We hustled our way to 1st Avenue and Andy called his dad to tell him he was just crossing the bridge. We must have missed him by a minute or two as once we got to where they came off the bridge we couldn’t find him. There were SO MANY spectators that we couldn’t even see the runners faces. People were standing on top of garbage cans to try to see over the rows of people three or four deep in front of them. We watched diligently for another 10 minutes until we eventually decided that we must have missed him. I felt terrible as I know he really needed the support to head into those last 10 miles. Based on his splits, I could tell he was maintaining a strong pace. I was pretty certain he would be able to meet his goal and finish under 4 hours if all went well.

Power Nap

After a brief stop in a nearby market for a quick bite to eat, we walked to try to see him near the finish at the bottom of Central Park near the Plaza Hotel. Everywhere we walked we couldn’t believe how many people there were. Not just spectators, but just people who live and work in Manhattan who were out and about doing their daily tasks. We were also struck by how many people were speaking different languages. Russian, French, Spanish, German and others. The crowd was the largest where the runners came out of the park. I didn’t think there was any way we would spot Andy. I held out hope and squished my way in between a couple of women also cheering for their husbands. My arm hurt from holding my sign up of John’s face. Finally, I spotted Andy just for a moment. But he looked like he was hanging in there and with only one mile left I was confident he was going to finish under his goal time. We headed to the finish line. The kids were losing steam and so was I, but that was nothing compared to what Andy was feeling. We were all cold and wind-blown. Andy’s parents offered to take the kids so I could get to the finish and the family reunion area sooner and get Andy his warm clothes. So I booked it. The police had all of Columbus Circle closed off. I couldn’t believe how many police officers there were. I walked all the way around the circle and up six blocks to the family reunion area. I received an update from my app that he had finished at 3:56:34! I was so proud of him! I began to walk faster. There are so many runners that the family reunion area is broken out by last name. Of course “W” was the furthest. They had to check my name and then I had to walk to another line where they searched every person’s bag and wanded them. I stood and waited for Andy, as I watched exhausted, freezing cold runners strolling past me, their faces white with salt. I stood there teary-eyed in anticipation. I felt proud, happy, and relieved. When I saw him we embraced. He was eager to put on warm clothes then we made the long walk back to find his parents and the kids. I couldn’t believe he didn’t just want to get in a cab and go to the hotel. He kept walking and walking in the freezing cold with sore, cramped legs. He never ceases to amaze me.

I have to admit that watching the world’s biggest marathon made me want to run one. The excitement surrounding this great race in this energetic city was contagious. I have cheered on my husband at three different marathons now in Cleveland, Orlando and New York. I was running with him during his fourth in Big Sur, California when we ran as a relay team. I ran about 16 miles of the race, and he decided to keep running after his relay leg and ended up finishing all 26.2 miles. I have completed four half-marathons. And up until this point I have honestly not really had the desire to run a whole marathon. I just began running long distance two years ago. A half marathon seemed out of reach for me just a short while ago. I met that goal and have continued to beat my personal record with each consecutive race. Finding the time to train has been the biggest challenge up until this point. Sure, the race itself is very challenging, but I feel like I am capable of more. If ever I’m going to be able to run a whole marathon, the younger I am, the better I suppose. It certainly isn’t going to get any easier the older I get. The foot pain I’ve been experiencing due to bunions on both feet is one thing that makes me less confident. I’m on the fence about whether I should go through surgery to relieve the pain. I just don’t know that I want to deal with the recovery. Perhaps it would be worthwhile in the long run. One thing is for sure, if I could borrow even an ounce of the determination and perseverance of my amazing husband, I am certain I could complete a whole marathon. In the spring we are going back to Big Sur to run as a relay team. Perhaps I will add more on to my leg of the race, or maybe I will take a page out my husband’s book and just keep running all the way to 26.2! Thanks New York for an unforgettable day watching the world’s largest marathon.