Hal Higdon Book Feature

I was pretty surprised when I received an email from long time Runner’s World Magazine contributor Hal Higdon telling me he wanted to quote me in the Half Marathon Training book he was writing. I was even more surprised when I received a signed copy of the book last week (a little over a year later) and discovered my name and a whole page featuring one of my most popular blog posts. Here is the story of how it all happened.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Hal Higdon, he’s kind of a big deal. Hal has contributed to Runner’s World for longer than any other writer, an article by him having appeared in that publication’s second issue in 1966. He is the author of 36 books, including a novel, Marathon, and the best-selling Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. He is also one of the founders of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). As a new runner, Hal’s training programs featured on his website were paramount in me going from a 2 to 3 mile runner to  a marathon runner in just a few short years.

In January of 2015 when he was writing his new book about half marathons, Mr. Higdon asked his Facebook community (all 71,000+ of them) if they remembered their first run and the emotions they felt. He asked what advice we would give other new runners. I commented on the post with a somewhat lengthy story. Here’s what I wrote.

“After my third child was born in 2012, I was able to quickly take off most of the baby weight through various forms of exercise other than running. When we went away on vacation, and I didn’t have my elliptical machine, I decided to try going for a short jog down the beach: only a mile or two. I always had knee trouble, so running was usually out of the question, but I thought maybe the sand would be easier on the knees. I enjoyed that first run enough that when I got home from vacation, I began running more, and then more, and then some more after that. One year later I ran my first half marathon. I have since done four more halfs, plus the Big Sur Marathon Relay, where I ran 16 miles. My advice to new runners is: Just believe in yourself. You are capable of achieving so much more than you know. Let go of fear and seek ‘the impossible.’ You won’t know if you can do it unless you try. You may just discover a new love and talent you didn’t even know you had in you.”

On January 27, 2015 I received a personal email from Hal Higdon asking me if he could use what I wrote in my Facebook post in his book. After I got over laughing and shaking my head, of course I said yes! Then after I slept on it, the marketer in me decided I’d be stupid if I didn’t tell him about my blog and ask him what he thought of my recent post called, “10 Reasons Why I Run.

Apparently he liked it because the next day he shared it on his Facebook page. My blog and my Facebook page lit up, making it the most popular post I had ever written generating more than 12,000 views and doubling my Facebook following. It was popular on Hal’s site too. Here’s what he says about it in Chapter 5 “Why We Run.”

“The post 10 Reasons Why I Run, was written by Ashley Weingart, who writes the blog Running with Skissors. Weingart’s post definitely resonated with readers after I posted a link to it on my Facebook page. Within 48 hours her 10 reasons achieved more than 100,000 reaches, a thousand shares and several hundred comments from those who visit my page regularly.”

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He sent me an email in early February of 2015 to tell me that he felt my reasons were so relatable to other runners that he would feature a page with the highlights of my “10 Reasons” post. I was ecstatic!

After that exchange he also forwarded my post to Tish Hamilon, the Editor of Runner’s World. I never heard from her (not surprising I suppose). Mr. Higdon then became a sort of mentor of mine. I asked him for feedback on posts I was writing and he even gave me the stamp of approval on my Busy Mom Marathon Training Plan and my Half Marathon Training Plan. He shared blog posts I published about all three of the marathons I ran in 2015 (Big Sur MarathonCleveland Marathon and the Chicago Marathon) helping to build a community through my blog that reaches around the globe.

I was so excited to finally meet him at the Marathon Expo in Chicago last October. I got to shake his hand and thank him for all he had done to help me explore my love of running and to help boost my confidence as a writer. I do have a Journalism degree, but it had been years since I put it all into practice.

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Finally this past week I received the new book, Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training! I had no idea whether I was actually mentioned in there or not. To be honest I had kind of forgotten all about it until I saw an ad online that the book was now on sale. When it arrived I sifted through it quickly and didn’t see my name anywhere. My husband sent me a note later that afternoon while I was at ice skating with my daughter to tell me that it was right there on page 51 in black and white. Pretty cool especially considering in 2012 I had never run more than a mile. Now I was featured in a book about half marathons???

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So at this point I realize that it appears as though I am just tooting my own horn. Perhaps I am a little. But there is a message I’m getting to and it is this.

Don’t give up on your dreams and never stop searching for new ones.

I left my job as an advertising executive in 2007 to raise my family. Over the 8 years following I experienced a handful of moments when I wondered if it was the right choice. I missed having people stop and listen when I spoke. I longed for feeling like I had something important to say. At times I yearned for using my talents for something other than folding laundry, changing diapers and organizing closets. Don’t get me wrong, the tasks of a parent are so very important and I wouldn’t trade the days I was lucky enough to be home to raise my babies for anything. But it doesn’t change that I also wanted to feel like I was using my gifts in other ways too. I quietly looked forward to the day when I had time to let my creative light shine again through my writing and my photography. When I could share my passion for life and my inspirational outlook to help others also live their happiest, healthiest, most fulfilling life.

That journey began when I started writing this blog about two years ago and has since opened so many new doors, both professionally and personally. I’ve met hundreds of new friends and fulfilled some wonderful goals. This crazy sequence of events that turned into me being published in a book about half marathons is just one of them.

I wanted to capture these events here on my blog so that I always remember them. (I can’t seem to remember a whole lot after having our third child!) But I also wanted to remind you all to never let yourself think you’re too old (or too far past where you were when you left your career to become a mom) to start something new or revive something old.

That original comment I made about running to Hal Higdon also happens to apply to starting anything new in life…

“Just believe in yourself. You are capable of achieving so much more than you know. Let go of fear and seek ‘the impossible.’ You won’t know if you can do it unless you try. You may just discover a new love and talent you didn’t even know you had in you.”

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Confessions of a Running Addict

Something surprising can happen the year after you meet a big huge goal. Like running your first marathon (or your first three in my case). After your mind and your body are so focused, suddenly you feel lost. Well maybe not you, but me.

Following the high of conquering an enormous task, one that seemed impossible at one point, I celebrated for a bit. I felt on top of the world. Powerful. Unstoppable. Like I could achieve anything I set my mind to.

But before long at all, I began feeling lazy. Even as my body was still recovering from the big race, my mind started playing tricks on me as I wavered between never wanting to run ever again and feeling like I must do it again tomorrow. I was enjoying the rest, but hating the way I felt while resting. My mind started telling me I’d never again achieve that goal and in the next breath was planning how I was going to beat my best time. I kept seeking out that same euphoria I felt during those most challenging, yet most satisfying last miles of a marathon. But no other exercise brought me to that place. So, I considered going back for more, to experience the high once again.

But then I recognized the cycle I was in. I challenged myself to NOT attempt a new goal to ween my mind and to lower my expectations. Then came the withdrawal, the self doubt and mood swings.

I have glimpsed dependence. I now understand what it’s like to be an addict, always coming back for more, to quiet my mind and to feel… normal. Except my drug isn’t one you smoke or snort or shoot. It is the endorphin rush I get while using my own two legs to run as far and as fast as I can.

Like an alcoholic who needs more drinks with time to feel the buzz, that same kind of dependence had me needing to run 15 miles to feel high when five miles used to get me there. I’d run through illness and injuries and blizzards. Was I teaching my children discipline or obsession? Dedication or addiction? There’s a fine line.

The end of last year I experienced the low that comes after the ego boost, the confidence lift, the high of running a marathon and then another and another. The beginning of this year I forced myself to take a break from running altogether to bring myself back down to reality. You could say I went “cold turkey.” I focused on getting exercise through other means. And then with a clean slate, I decided to go at it again with a more balanced, less dependent approach. Now I run when I can, because I want to. Not because I need to.

The three marathons I ran in 2015 will always be races and a period of my life of which I will be extremely proud and look upon fondly. Though I have learned that, for me, it is healthier to stick to shorter distances. As I get older I keep confirming through all different aspects of my life, that I am best when I live “in the middle.” Like when I run half marathons or even just a few short miles on the trail instead of three marathons in one year. Or when I strive to eat healthy most of the time and allow myself to splurge some of the time. Or like when I let go of my perfectionist nature and let my house be a little messy.

That is my happy medium where I am not dependent and addictive, but happy, healthy and balanced. That’s where I am now and that’s where I intend to stay.

 

 

 


Eggplant & Rigatoni with Tomato Pesto

IMG_8100Last week I did A LOT of cooking. I was trying to decide which were the best of my recipes to share in an upcoming local magazine feature.

The assignment was to provide “tried and true” party recipes to “wow your guests.”I kept going back and forth about which of my favorites would meet those requirements. “What’s more tried and true than Grandma Carter’s recipes?”, I thought. So I whipped up Grandma’s Eggplant & Rigatoni with Tomato Pesto, with my own little twist. I cooked and I photographed and I served it up to my family. We all gobbled it up and with garlic breath (there is a lot of garlic in here!!!) my husband gave me the two thumbs up.

In the end, I decided not to submit this recipe as part of my magazine article. But not because it wasn’t delicious enough. On the contrary. It is actually one of my favorites. I decided to go with some other dishes that I created on my own and that felt a little more light and summery since warmer weather is right around the corner. (At least I hope! Yesterday we got about 5 inches of snow!)

Long story short, you all are the lucky recipients of this “tried and true” recipe. It will “wow your guests” or even just your family. Serve it warm on a cool evening or at room temperature in the summer months. Here’s what you’ll need.

First put together the sundried tomato pesto.

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Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

3/4 cup sun dried tomatoes

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup fresh basil

1/2 tsp. salt

Combine sundried tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts, basil and salt in a food processor. Process until finely chopped. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup oil. Process until almost smooth. Set aside.

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Rigatoni with Eggplant & Pesto

1 medium onion

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt & Pepper (to taste)

1 medium eggplant

1 lb. whole wheat rigatoni

1/3 cup sun dried tomato pesto (above)

1/4 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese

Italian parsley or basil

Cut onion in 8 wedges. Put in 13 x 9 casserole dish. Brush with 1 Tbsp. oil. Roast in 425 degree oven 10 minutes. Cut stem off of eggplant. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise. Brush with remaining oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir onion. Place eggplant in pan cut side down. Roast 15 minutes more on until onion is golden brown and eggplant just tender. Meanwhile cook pasta and drain. Toss pasta with tomato pesto and pepper. Put in serving bowl and keep warm. Cut eggplant with serrated knife in 1/2″ slices. Toss eggplant and onions with pasta. Sprinkle with cheese and parsley. Serves 4 for dinner or 6 to 8 as a side dish.

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Serve alongside tofu, fish or a green salad. I hope you enjoy making my Grandma’s recipe as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you.

Look for another post soon where I’ll share the recipes that made the cut for the magazine!!!


The Second First Year

Following is an article I wrote for the April issue of Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine. I know, I know, that’s all I’ve been sharing lately. Don’t worry. I PROMISE to publish new, unique content here soon! I have so many posts already written in my head, I just can’t seem to find the time to sit down and write them out. Can someone PLEASE invent a way to add more hours to the day! 

Welcoming a new baby into the world is a time full of emotions; joy, excitement and perhaps even a little anxiety. To some, the first year can seem even more challenging the second time around. Now you’ve got a new baby AND their older sibling to care for. How do you manage all of their needs all at once?

Here is some advice from both parenting experts as well as experienced parents themselves on how to survive the first year, again.

Preparing for Baby

Helping your older child prepare before baby’s arrival will make the transition easier for everyone later on. Molly Edwards, School Psychologist at Gurney Elementary in Chagrin Falls remembers what her sister told her when she was pregnant. “Having a baby is like getting a new life-long roommate who is a stranger that you don’t get to interview.” “It’s totally understandable that a child might be nervous about what to expect,” says Edwards.

Dr. Elizabeth Feighan, MD, with Pediatricenter of Greater Cleveland, says that children ages three and over thrive on “the known.” She suggests to, “Find a way to make the older child feel secure. Practice showing them what it will be like when the baby comes.”

  • “Get out your child’s baby book or photos and talk about what it was like when he or she was a baby,” suggests Edwards. “Kids love talking about and hearing about when they were an infant.” There are also many appropriate books that you and your child can read together to prepare for a sibling’s birth.
  • Discuss with your child how things changed around the house when he/she was born. Edwards says that you and your child can come up with a list of ways you think life in your home may change when the new baby arrives (e.g. more visitors, the need to be quiet during nap time, etc.) Include both positive and potentially negative changes.
  • Show them bottles, diapers and all the gadgets that go with a new baby. Tell them how the baby will use them. You may consider mentioning any safety concerns like not giving the baby small toys or touching their head.
  • Let him or her help you set up the baby’s room, pick out new clothes, wash them and put them away.
  • Help your child pick out a special gift to give the baby when he or she arrives.
  • Put together a “treasure chest” of little activities, toys and books that you can allow your older child to choose something from in the early days while you’re nursing often. The dollar store is a great place to stock up on things like magic marker coloring books.
  • Consider holding off on potty training, “big boy beds” and visits from the Pacifier Fairy until after you have adjusted to life as a family of four. Older children can regress around their new baby siblings and you will certainly have times when you are happy to give the older child a pacifier and place them in their crib so they will nap… so you can too.
  • Perhaps most importantly, be sure to talk to your child about how your love for them will not change. “When I was about to deliver my second child, I recall being afraid of how I was going to love another child as much as I love my first,” says Sarah Kostura, Chagrin Falls mother of three boys. “As soon as number two arrived, my love for them both multiplied. “Love is not finite. It is boundless, especially when it comes to loving your children.” Sarah is expecting her fourth boy this July.

And Baby Makes Four

  • One benefit of caring for your second infant is that you can relax a little about some of the day to day matters that caused you worry the first time around. You know how to change diapers, you’ve worked through breast feeding once before, you survived the sleepless nights, you know how to work the carseat and how to fold the stroller. Have confidence in all that you know from the first child. While those early days are perhaps the most challenging because you’re recovering from childbirth and you’re very tired, you know now that they are also quickly fleeting. Cling to the sweet moments because you won’t get to do them again.
  • It will take some time to find your new normal. As you know from your first child’s first year, you can’t expect for there to be a routine for the first several weeks or even the first few months. But you know now what sleeping strategies work for you and those that don’t and you understand that the sleep deprivation is somewhat short lived. It makes it a little easier to get through those long nights when you know that they won’t last forever.
  • “Try your best to keep routines as consistent as possible for your older child before and after the new birth,” says Edwards. “As many of those little routines that can remain the same before and after the baby arrives will help keep your first born, and the whole family, from feeling like everything has changed.” Soon the new baby will adapt to the family’s schedule too.
  • “Always make a special effort to have one on one time with your older child,” says Kristen Thalman, mother of two ages 4 and 1. All day long they hear “Wait, I have to feed the baby” or “Be quiet, baby is sleeping.” Even if alone time is bath time, reading books together or a walk in the park, one on one time is important.
  • Psychologist Molly Edwards recommends that you acknowledge and validate your older child’s feelings. “Babies are great, but they do change the family dynamic in a huge way,” she says. “Let your older child know that it’s ok to be frustrated or disappointed and that it is normal to feel those things.”
  • Don’t forget to make time for yourself and with your spouse. It’s easy to feel guilty leaving two needy kids with a family member or a sitter. Even just an hour or two away to exercise, pamper yourself, have dinner together or shop by yourself can go a long way.
  • Lower your expectations of what you can accomplish or how you will react to challenging situations. “Not every day is going to be a gold star day,” says Sarah Kostura. “You will go to bed wishing you hadn’t lost your temper about the spilled milk, the crayon masterpieces on your furniture or potty accidents. You have to remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day and that you will keep trying again.”

Overall it’s important to simply take one day at a time. Just like in all of life’s challenges if you think too far ahead it is easy to become overwhelmed. If you focus on the task at hand this day, even just this hour, before you know it you’ll be as confident managing two children as you felt managing the first.


Food Fight

Following is an article that I wrote that was published in the March 2016 issue of Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine. 

Many parents know that in order to have teens with healthy eating habits, it’s most effective to take measures to establish those practices early on in your child’s life. But what do you do when your teenager eats poorly? How can you help guide them back toward healthy habits without it literally turning into a food fight?

Struggles with food among teens is common and normal. Our emotional first reaction might be to try to take charge, throw away their favorite snacks, lecture them on proper nutrition and closely monitor everything your child puts in her mouth. But experts say that by trying to control their diet, you will likely end up doing more harm than good.

“Food is another example of developmental changes in teenagers,” says Tira Stebbins, PhD, Clinical Psychologist from Chagrin Falls. “One main purpose of adolescence is learning independence,” she says. Like friend and clothing choices, food choices are an area where teens want to express themselves and exert their freedom.

Stebbins says she commonly sees instances where parents who eat very healthy and have very high standards become overbearing in their approach at helping their child eat healthier. “Well-meaning parents who model healthy eating sometimes try to control what their teens eat, but this backfires and a power struggle may result,” says Stebbins.

Nitpicking and expecting perfection from your child can also lead to dangerous food habits. It may result in a child shutting down, feeling criticized or rebelling and sneaking food. Stebbins says to pick your battles. A more subtle approach will be much more effective than a pushy one.

Have Confidence 

Show your child that you have confidence in them by giving them the independence they are seeking. While it seems counterintuitive, it can be an effective method of reverse psychology. “Your child may end up learning more through their own trial and error than by being told what to eat,” says Stebbins. You can bet that at some point they will make a bad choice, eat too much junk, discover how they feel after and learn on their own to make a better choice next time.

Do As I Do

While it may seem as though your teen wishes to ignore everything you say and do, they are indeed still learning from your habits and modeling your behavior, whether they’d admit it or not. “Teens are observing what their parents eat and drink,” says Jennifer Fritz, Registered Dietitian. If you want to see your child eat healthier, take a look at what’s on your own plate. Even without saying anything at all, over time they will learn to eat healthy by watching you eat healthy. If it seems like that will never happen at your house, keep at it and be patient. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

But be careful you aren’t inadvertently steering them the wrong way. Being too fussy about your own diet and appearance won’t set any good examples for a body conscious teen who is constantly bombarded by photos of too thin models and muscular athletes via social media. If you are constantly dieting, obsess over counting calories and your weight and are overly focused on body image, you are not modeling healthy eating behavior for your children. “What children and teens hear and observe others saying about their bodies is what they will think and say about their own bodies,” says Dr. Stebbins. Focus should be on being “healthy” and “active” not on appearance.

“Lead by example,” says Shawna Napolitano, a Bentleyville mother of three. “They see what you do, not what you say.”

Family Meal Time

You’ve heard it before, but it’s so important that it needs to be repeated. Study after study shows the importance of sitting down to eat dinner (or other meals) together. According to “The Family Dinner Project” (a program created by Dr. Anne Fishel, clinical psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School), regular family meals lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in adolescents and children.

“Make mealtime a priority,” says Jennifer Fritz, RD. “It may be impossible to have dinner together every night, but try to eat as many meals at home as you possibly can,” she says. “If you don’t have a plan, then it will never happen,” says Dr. Stebbins. “Try to find a middle ground.” The message in itself is important. Essentially your saying, “We want to be together with you to connect.”

“Eating in instead of at restaurants allows parents to have more control over what is consumed than what is ordered outside the home,” says Fritz. And just by sitting and eating with your children, you are doing perhaps the most important and effective job you can do to help your teen eat healthier without saying a single word. You are modeling good eating behavior, showing them what a healthy meal looks like, and that you enjoy it.

Everything in Moderation 

Local parent of two teens and teacher, Betsey Gregoire, says she let’s her children have all things in moderation. “Too many rules actually ends up encouraging kids to make unhealthier choices when they are on their own.”

Experts agree that it is actually wise to offer less healthy foods now and then. It teaches your children how to self-moderate and keeps treats from becoming the “forbidden fruit.” If you always forbid certain foods, when your child does have access to them they end up overindulging.

Enlist Help from Influencers

Without being pushy try to help remind your child that food is fuel. If your child is an athlete and you’re concerned that they aren’t receiving the nutrition they need to meet their goals, consider asking their coach to talk to the team about how healthy eating habits will improve their performance.

If your child struggles with skin problems and you can see that it bothers them, think of asking their dermatologist to talk to them about how a proper diet can contribute to skin trouble.

Make Small Changes

If you feel you can make positive changes without creating conflict, don’t preach, just make subtle changes at home. Rather than trying to jump in and overhaul their whole diet, help your family make small modifications in habits gradually. Slight adjustments will be beneficial over time.

Here are some tips from Jennifer Fritz, Registered Dietitian.

  • Eliminate convenience and snack foods from the pantry. If they aren’t there, they can’t access them.
  • Instead keep whole fruits and vegetables in grabbing range. Don’t hide them in the drawer of the fridge.
  • Replace breads and cereals with 100% whole grains.
  • Read labels and look for hidden sugars.
  • Put out only small portions of foods higher in fat and calories at meal time. For example, on taco night only put out a small bowl of cheese and sour cream. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
  • Keep those items off the table too. Getting up to get more will be inconvenient.
  • Go heavy on the vegetables when making soups and stir-frys.

Reversing poor eating habits is difficult, but with time and effort you can help your child make positive changes to their diet, without it becoming a power struggle. Here are a few other general reminders about establishing healthy eating habits for children of any age.

  • Never force your children to eat any foods or even taste them. Your job is to provide a variety of healthy foods at each meal. Let your child decide which ones they want and how much.
  • If they don’t like something you serve, don’t make a big deal about it and try not to take it personally. Say things like, “Oh you didn’t like it yet? You might like it next time.”
  • Keep meal time positive.

Marathons Made Me Fat

Ok, so I’m exaggerating, but I got your attention, right? I know I’m not fat and I actually hate that word. Despise it. Here’s what I wanted to say but couldn’t fit in a headline… even though running marathons has virtually nothing to do with “burning calories” (it is SO much bigger than that), I sort of thought a nice little side perk would be that after running one I’d be leaner than ever before. I quietly hoped I might lose a pound or two. Secretly, I wondered if after running so much I might resemble one of those people on the cover of Runner’s World or an Athleta model. Instead, I ended 2015 (the year I ran my first THREE marathons, all within six months of each other) ten pounds HEAVIER than I started it.

While I am not THAT body focused that I think this is a huge problem in the world, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me to not fit into my favorite jeans after the year I ran my ass off (or not, as it were). I know that muscle weighs more than fat, and I know how to take off ten pounds. But, I have since heard others say that they have experienced this same thing while training for big races. So what gives?

For me marathon running is about achieving a goal that seemed impossible and using what you learned about yourself (your mental and physical strength) to apply it to the rest of life’s challenges. That said, I can’t help but feel I need to spread the word and debunk the myth that running marathons will put you in the best shape of your life.

First, let me pause to say that you probably know from previous posts that I preach BALANCE, that I’ve been known to tell people to throw away their bathroom scale and that I encourage people to focus on being STRONG NOT SKINNY. I think there is a fine line between being dedicated and focused and being obsessive and narcissistic. That said, I also don’t want to KEEP gaining weight and have to donate all my clothes and buy new ones.

And contrary to what you might be thinking I was NOT eating bagels every day for breakfast, entire pizzas for lunch, a pound of pasta for dinner or a whole pint of ice cream by myself the way I hear some runners talk about their post run meals.

To tell this story better, let’s back up a little. After I had our third child in 2012 I had more than 40 pounds to lose. I took it all off within four months and within six months I weighed less than I had since high school. I accomplished it by eating a clean, balanced diet, keeping a food diary through My Fitness Pal and exercising about 5 days a week for about 30 minutes, usually on my elliptical machine or a Jillian Michael’s DVD. Thirty minutes was about all I could sneak in between taking care of a new baby and two young girls not yet in elementary school.

The next fall and spring, when I began running to mix things up I discovered that I needed to consume more calories in order to have the energy to run as far and fast as I wanted to. I put on a couple of extra pounds, but, honestly, it was a healthier weight for me.

When I trained for my first half marathon a year later in the fall of 2013 I discovered that all that running was making me HUNGRY… ALL THE TIME! While I continued to eat clean, healthy meals (which included meat at the time), the scale moved up a couple pounds once again. But, that was fine because I wasn’t focused on being thin. I was focused on meeting athletic goals.

I kept running, faster and further. Seven half marathons later I decided it was time for a full marathon. So, last winter I began training for the Big Sur Marathon in California and then went on to complete the Cleveland Marathon three weeks later and the Chicago Marathon this past October.

During this time I had stopped weighing myself because I was not at all focused on my weight. I considered myself an “athlete” and I thought of food only as fuel. I was eating three meals and two snacks every day; healthy meals with clean ingredients that I ate when I was at my thinnest. Meals and snacks I still eat today. I was tracking my nutrition to ensure I was getting the proper carb, protein, fat balance and I was burning through 1,000 to 2,000+ on double-digit training runs. Ok, so I ate desserts when they were offered to me and I didn’t really think about it if I ate a ton one day, because I knew I’d burn it off the next.

Since my scale had gone in the garbage I don’t know what I weighed then. I didn’t care really because I felt healthier and stronger than ever before. Which is what I strive to focus on.

After I finished all three marathons last fall I decided I was ready for a little break from long distance running to heal my injured ankles and spend more time focused on family and my new job. Since then I have still stayed quite active running once or twice a week, HIIT training on my bike and my elliptical and weight training at home most days.

What I wasn’t monitoring from October through December was my diet. I continued to eat the way I had been eating when I was training. And I was no longer burning thousands of calories running. After my pants were tight at the end of the holiday season I got on the scale to see where I was. And… bingo there it was.

After you run a marathon you can’t eat the way you did when you were training for the marathon or you will gain weight. Not rocket science I know, but something you forget to remind yourself after you’ve been in your athlete mindset for awhile.

So, by now you’re either thinking, “So what you gained 10 pounds. Big deal.” Or you’re like “Yeah, dummy. You ate too much, you were moving less. Shocker, you gained weight!” Or you’re like, “So what is the moral of the story?”… Cause you know I ALWAYS have one. My point is this (aside from, “Don’t make the same mistake I did if you don’t want to gain weight”)…

When I wasn’t weighing myself and I was focused on a goal much bigger than exercising to look good in my bikini, I had the best body image I have ever had. I wasn’t thinking about every single thing I put in my mouth and overanalyzing whether I should have a cookie based on how many calories I had left for the day. I had finally found the healthy balance I have lacked through certain periods of my life. 

But from a more practical stand point, I also learned that getting lean, means not only doing LOTS of cardio exercise. If you want to get in the “best shape of your life” and look muscular, you have to combine strength training in too. Doing a little bit of a combination of things each day might just be better than doing A LOT of all of the same thing all the time. I have always mixed in work with weights, but while training for my marathons, I did considerably less of that. When you have to run that many miles a week that takes up ALL the time you have as a busy mother of three. And I was afraid to do a strength workout that would make me too sore to get in the run I had scheduled. On my rest days I was too sore to even consider another kind of workout.

After a few months of lack of focus and some “post race let down” I have finally found some clarity in recent days. Will I continue to run? YES!!! Will I run far? Uh huh! How about marathons?… Not sure yet. Someday? While I have not ruled out doing another at some point in time, I feel like I’ve conquered that goal and I’m ready to move on to the next thing. Eventually I may try to take six minutes off my time to meet by sub four hour goal.

But, I am REALLY enjoying challenging my body and my mind in other ways these days. I am able to lift weights when I want, I can ride the bike on the trainer when I feel like it or I can sign up for a fun new challenge with girlfriends, like the “21 Day Fix” Challenge I’m about to begin. And I can still go out and run 3 to 6 carefree miles when I feel like it. But, now that I’m working during every spare minute of the three hours that all my kids are all at school, I honestly don’t have time in my brain to focus on a full marathon right now. I’m focused on family, work and balanced exercise and eating. I also happen to be eating better because I’m not starving all the time from those huge calorie burns from long runs.

I’ll finish by saying this.

If you’re thinking of training for a marathon, don’t do it to get your body stronger than ever. Because it’s really all about training your MIND. 

 


The Too Busy Blues

Following is an article I wrote for Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine about finding the right balance with after-school activities. Thought I’d share it here with you all as well. 

Search your school district’s “Clubs & Activities” webpage and you’ll find dozens of choices. Each week you open your child’s backpack to find a flyer about another after-school program. And there’s always a class your child’s best friend is taking that your kid can’t wait to try too. Science Club, ballet class, travel soccer, Drama Club, piano lessons, gymnastics, Chess Club, art class, Ski Club, cooking class – there are dozens of enrichment opportunities through your child’s school, the library, community center or local businesses. It’s important for our children to be involved and find activities that they enjoy and learn from, but there is only so much time in the day and so much money to spread around. By signing our children up for too much are we inadvertently doing them a disservice? How much is too much? Here are some things to consider when helping your child chose the programs that best fit their needs and schedule.

SIGN EM UP!

Our preschoolers are learning Spanish, our Kindergarteners can read chapter books and our first graders are dabbling with multiplication. While they still receive exposure to art, music and some sports during school hours, they are limited by the amount of time they get to spend in these special areas of interest in part because of all their testing requirements. Allowing our children to delve further into special subject matters after school helps broaden their horizons, open new doors and open their eyes to enjoyable and fulfilling lifelong hobbies or even potential career choices. Enabling them to try new things and experiment with a variety of activities helps them to get a feeling for what they’re good at, what they find interesting and what they are passionate about. If done right, students can use their extracurricular activities to demonstrate the sort of focus and determination that a well rounded college applicant should possess.

After school programs also offer new opportunities for socialization. Back in high school I formed friendships with classmates while participating in the annual spring musical with whom I might not have otherwise interacted. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, one out of every four students report being bullied during the school year. Getting kids involved in extracurricular activities gives them an opportunity to create another social group and can foster new friendships and minimize the possibility of bullying.

“Kids that are involved are more likely to stay out of trouble, find a positive mentor and make healthier decisions,” says Emily Farrell, a High School Guidance Counselor who was born and raised in Chagrin Falls and who now offers private counseling services and academic coaching to adolescents in Aspen, Colorado.

THE DRAWBACKS

“Enrichment activities are perfect. The problem is we’ve lost the ability to balance them with down time, boring time,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, author of “The Over-Scheduled Child” in a 2013 interview with The New York Times. He compares overloading children to overloading our computer. It’s great to have a computer, it’s great to have software, but if you overload a computer with software it breaks down.

Kids need time to play, explore, rest and figure out who they are. Some of my favorite and perhaps most valuable memories of being a kid are the hours I spent in my yard in Omaha, Nebraska playing freeze tag and building snow forts with my neighbors or playing Barbies with my sister in the basement. Sure, structured classes can expand your mind, allow you to be creative and utilize your imagination, but so can building skyscrapers out of Legos, creating a chalk masterpiece on the driveway, or pretending your backyard is the “Deep Dark Forest.”

Too many after school activities often makes sitting down for a family meal a thing of the past. And evening sports means homework and bedtime get pushed back later and later. Study after study seems to reveal that the benefits of eating dinner together as a family are plentiful including everything from children with a larger vocabulary and higher achievement scores to kids consuming more fruits and vegetables and having reduced symptoms of medical disorders. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and a have a better relationship with them. Fewer extra activities equals more beneficial family time.

Another disadvantage of “overbooking” our kids is lack of focus. If our kids are being chauffeured from school to ballet rehearsal to swimming lessons and then to Girl Scouts, are they really at their best in each of these places? At some point, are they adding and/or receiving any value or are they just going through the motions? They may have a competent grasp of many skills, but not be outstanding in any one of them. I believe the saying is, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

THE RIGHT BALANCE

“It’s best to find a couple of activities that you are passionate about,” suggest Farrell. “Instead of joining every club and being part of every activity, it’s good to hone in on just one or two.” For younger children ages 4 to 10 there can be more exploration. Farrell suggests that they still need to experiment and figure out which activities they enjoy.

Some parents set a limit to how many activities each child can sign up for. “One after school program per kid per session,” says Jessica Zuik, pediatric nurse and mother of two from Cleveland Heights.” “I let them choose what they want.”

Courtney Mooney, a teacher and a parent of two boys ages 7 and 4, suggests choosing activities that offer opportunities for lifelong skills like swimming, skiing, running or martial arts. “I like that they are spending the time developing their skills throughout their life.”

Every child is different. Some may thrive while being busy and others may become overwhelmed. Observe how your child reacts to too little or not enough, talk to them about their load and trust your child. On occasion ask yourself questions like:

“Does my child have enough time to do their homework properly?”

“Are they getting at least eight hours of sleep?”

“Does he/she have enough time to be with family and friends?”

Above all, Farrell advises her clients to strive to maintain a healthy balance between family, social, school and extracurricular activities.

At the end of the day, we shouldn’t encourage our children to be involved in every activity so that they can show the world their talents as a celebrity singer, a professional athlete AND the mastermind of the next big invention. Through all these extra activities aren’t we really striving to help them prove to themselves that they are capable of accomplishing anything they set their mind to? Don’t we just want to teach them the value of hard work and dedication? As I help my own children chose the right mix of extracurricular activities my goal is to help them find even just one thing in life that sets their mind and their heart on fire, that fills them with joy and passion.


Berry Crisp Clean Oatmeal

For me, breakfast always sets the tone for how I eat for the rest of the day. On a cold winter morning, a hearty bowl of steel cut oats with some yummy toppings is a great way to start off the day right. It actually contains the perfect combination of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat (60%/20%/20%). And it will keep you full all morning. Here’s my recipe:

FullSizeRender-2You’ll Need:

1 cup steel cut oats, prepared with 1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. vanilla

1 Tbsp. agave or honey

Juice of 1/4 lemon

1/4 cup strawberries

1/4 cup blueberries

1/4 cup raspberries

1/2 Tbsp. sliced almonds or other nuts

A sprinkle of lemon rind

A sprinkle of clean granola

Prepare the oats according to package directions adding salt. I usually cook mine on the stove, but you can do so in the microwave too. When it is nearly finished cooking, stir in the cinnamon and vanilla. When it is finished cooking add in the agave and lemon juice and stir well. Move to a bowl. Top with berries, nuts a small drizzle of agave, lemon rind and a sprinkle of your favorite granola.

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With the freshness of the berries and bright flavor of the lemon combined with the warm and chewy oats and the crunch of the nuts, it reminds me of eating berry crisp in the summer time. It’s a delicious and nutritious breakfast, yet it’s only 276 calories.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 276

Fat: 5.4 g

Saturated: .5 g

Polyunsaturated: .3 g

Monounsaturated: 0

Trans: 0

Cholesterol: 0

Sodium: 296.3 mg

Potassium: 279.9 mg

Carbs: 50.7 g

Fiber: 8.8 g

Sugar: 15.2 g

Protein: 8.7 g

Vitamin A: .5%

Vitamin C: 65.6%

Calcium: 3.7%

Iron: 12.3%

 

 

 

 

 


Roasted Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing

Looking for a delicious vegetarian dish to serve as the entree at your next special meal? Wait, scratch that. Forget I said “vegetarian” because I should have just said “delicious.” It doesn’t even matter that it’s meat-free, because it’s so good that all you carnivores will love it too. I made this on Christmas to accompany my sister’s beautiful holiday meal and it was so good that I can’t wait to make it again.

It was inspired by a dish I had a few weeks back at James Beard Award Winning Chef Jonathan Sawyer’s Greenhouse Tavern in downtown Cleveland. We went there for a special dinner before we watched the girls dance in the Nutcracker. I ordered the Acorn Squash Confit. I’m used to eating sub-par vegetarian meals when I go out; usually pasta with a bunch of bland sautéed vegetables on top. Sawyer’s Squash blew my mind. It was such a treat to be served a vegetarian dish that was not an after thought. Even my husband, who is not a vegetarian ordered it and he was raving just as much if not more than I was. So, when I told my sister I would make an entree to add to the Christmas table, Acorn Squash was the first thing that came to my mind. Of course, I couldn’t match the genius of The Greenhouse Tavern’s masterpiece, but I’d put my own spin on it. Here’s what I came up with.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing 

Here’s what you’ll need.

4 acorn squash

1 stick butter

4 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

Salt & Pepper

3 cups cooked wild rice (I used a brown rice, wild rice combo)

1 shallot, finely diced

4 stalks celery, sliced

2 Tbsp. fresh Thyme

4 cups good crusty bread, cubed

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Begin by washing the squash. Then slice them in half lengthwise and clean out the seeds using a spoon. Place all the squash flesh side up in one or two baking dishes.

Next, melt half of the butter (4 tbsp.) and combine with the maple syrup. Stir and brush it over top of the flesh of the squash. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Place in the oven to roast for 45 to 60 minutes until the flesh begins to brown and is fork tender. Set aside.

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While the squash is roasting, prepare the stuffing. If you haven’t already, prepare the rice according to package directions. Set aside. In a large skillet, melt the remaining butter (4 Tbsp.). Add the diced shallot and the celery. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add in thyme and cook a minute or two longer. Remove from heat. Add in bread cubes, rice, cranberries and pecans. Stir well. Add seasoning to taste. (Note: You can make this recipe gluten free by leaving out the bread. I did this for one of the guests at our Christmas dinner and it worked out perfectly.)

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Divide stuffing evenly among all the squash. If you have some left over put it in a small casserole dish to toast in the oven and to serve on the side. Place all the stuffed squash back in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes until the top is lightly browned. Serve warm. And remember, it’s ok to eat the skin of the squash. It’s full of vitamins and minerals and it tastes really good too.

I hope you’ll enjoy this dish as much as we did. It is “fancy” enough to be the star of the plate at a dinner party or holiday meal or perfect as a side dish too.

 


Don’t Waste Today, Waiting for Tomorrow

Lately as I’ve been focusing more on some of my career goals, I’ve let some other things slide a little. After accomplishing some pretty big athletic endeavors this year, like running three marathons (my first three ever), I was ready to look within myself and use the courage I had gained in new ways, perhaps some less self-centered ones.

I couldn’t be more excited about where these endeavors are leading me and I can hardly wait to see my plan to help the struggling families of the Cleveland food desert come to fruition. They deserve better access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables and we are in a position to help. But that’s not what this post is about.

This is about the other hobbies, passions and responsibilities I’ve begin to let falter. I haven’t been running 20-milers, in fact I’ve been lucky to even get in 3 or 4. My house almost always looks like someone just came through and ransacked the place. There is a basket of folded laundry sitting in my living room that has been there since last Wednesday. There is toothpaste caked on to the bathroom counter and the list of Christmas crafts and recipes on my Pinterest account has not gotten any action since last year.

“You can’t get to everything.” “There are only so many hours in the day.” These are sayings I commonly ponder, but I honestly don’t know if I really take them to heart. But that’s not entirely my point either.

As I was getting ready for bed the other night, feeling guilty about all of the things I didn’t get to, for some reason I also thought about periods of time when I DID seem to meet big goals I had set up in my mind.

Like this summer, when my kids were away and I organized every inch of my house. Everything was in it’s place. Each toy was neatly tucked in the correct bin. Every piece of laundry had been washed and folded and carefully organized in each drawer. There were no crumbs under the kitchen table and no finger prints on the windows.

I thought about a couple of years back when I had reached and surpassed my goal weight after striving to lose the extra pounds that lingered after giving birth to three children. After a lot of hard work I weighed 112 and wore a size zero. (I was too skinny… but I digress).

Or how about when I ran my first marathon in Big Sur this past April? I trained through the bitter cold of winter. I ran the most beautiful course I probably ever will. I finished and celebrated meeting a goal that just a year earlier I would have never even attempted to accomplish.

But guess what? During those times when I met every goal to “get organized” or to “get in the best shape of my life,” I still wanted more. It still wasn’t enough. I had achieved what was “the ultimate” in my mind in some areas of my life, but something was still missing. The closets were organized, but what about the messy garage? Why didn’t I get to that? I could fit into the jeans that I couldn’t get one leg in after I had John, but what about my arms? They needed more muscle definition. A day after finishing my first marathon, I was already setting a new time goal for my next one. When I was at peak marathon fitness, I was in part wishing I was giving more effort to something more significant, like my career or helping others.

I often subconsciously tell myself I can relax when it is all done. That I’ll be happier then. Am I obsessive? Sometimes. A perfectionist? Always. But I think it is just human nature that we always want more.

In recent weeks I have come to discover this. No one can meet and stick with EVERY goal, ALL the time. There is no such thing as “perfection” in every area of your life all at once. We are jugglers. One ball is in the air, while another is falling. What goes up, must come down. It is a law of nature. You can’t train for a marathon and start a new business and run a household, and be as organized as Martha Stewart tells you to be and as crafty as Pinterest infers you should be. Not all at once. Despite what you’ve been told, you can’t “do it all.” Well, maybe you can, but somethings eventually gonna give. Your peace? Your happiness? Your sanity?

I often think of the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” We can’t do everything and do everything well. Lately I’ve been reminding myself to not feel guilty about the balls that are dropping. And if I focus on keeping fewer balls in the air it makes the remaining ones easier to juggle.

Most of all, these days I’m striving to find happiness, contentment, and peace in this moment. Right now. Not when it’s all done. Not when I weigh less or can lift more. Not when my closets and my basement and my garage are organized, not when my kids are old enough to stop fighting, not when I finish the next marathon. Because if you’re like me, once you get to the end of one tunnel, you’ve already entered a new one.

Don’t get me wrong, goals are good. Really good. But as I end 2015 and set goals for 2016, I am challenging myself to remember this;

Don’t waste today, waiting for tomorrow.