Happy Happenstance

We’ve just had a week off for spring break.  As homeschoolers, we certainly could have kept up the normal routine while our public school counterparts had the week off, but we decided to take our own break.  We didn’t travel.  We just enjoyed some simple pleasures at home.  We played a lot of Pictionary.  We played outside.  We anxiously waited for a forecasted snowstorm that never came.  We went to a movie.  We read books.  We spent a lot of time at the YMCA.

We happened to be at the pool when a Multiple Sclerosis Water Exercise class was about to begin.  Not all participants had MS, but most of them were older and had some limitations in mobility.  Side note:  I love that the YMCA offers classes and exercise options across a huge range of ages and fitness levels.  The family feel, the whole community feel, is largely what drew me to the Y over other gyms.

A gentleman who was waiting for the class, Bob, approached me to ask about my tattoo.  I told him about my Ragnar Relay experience and that several from the team had gone to get tattoos together after the race.  He told me that he had had a stroke six years ago and had been coming to this class for about 4 1/2 years.  He told me that after his stroke he could only speak two words and had to relearn to speak, walk, everything.  He remarked that now he “can’t get himself to shut up”.  He was delightful.  His zest for life was contagious.  I can understand his enjoyment of his gift of gab.  I imagine it is something he does not take for granted.

At times, I feel a similar sense of gratitude and enthusiasm to that of my new acquaintance, Bob.  It took years after my heart surgery to really appreciate the gift I’d received.  I resolved to make the most of my healthy heart, and for a while, I did.  Then I began to let it slide, caught myself, and renewed my efforts to keep up healthy habits and do my best to hold on to this gift of good health.  I was so happy to meet Bob, and I hope that we will see each other again at the Y.  I think he gains something from sharing his story.  You should have seen how he lit up talking to me and my children.  He certainly gives in the course of sharing his experience.  Inspiration.  Encouragement.

Coincidentally, when I met Bob, I had just started reading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s massive stroke and locked-in syndrome.  His cognitive function remained excellent, but his brain could not communicate to the rest of his body, essentially leaving him trapped in his own body.  His only means of communication was blinking his left eye.  It was a touching book, heart-rending really.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy good health, let us not take it, or any of our other blessings, for granted.

Long time, no blog

Wow, I see my visits here have become few and far between. It has been nearly a year since I have updated, with the exception of my ongoing book list. Glancing back at several of the more recent, however non-recent, posts, I see a lot of focus on child-related issues. That is no surprise. As a homeschooling mom, a huge part of my time and attention is directed toward my children. I do give a lot of thought to how our culture, and how our own parenting and educational decisions, will influence them. In fact, the infrequency of my posts here is largely a result of my effort to be more available to my kids. As homeschoolers, we do spend a lot of time together. I found that it is pretty easy to let other things overtake our free time – my free time – and I don’t want all our time together to be about doing schoolwork. I want to have time to play together and work together on meaningful things other than school.

Since I spent a lot of time talking about running in the past, I will update briefly. After an injury in 2012, I have to admit, I fell apart on the fitness front. If I couldn’t run, I wasn’t going to exercise at all, darn it! I didn’t consciously decide that, but it turned into my reality.

One great thing I’ve noticed when I am in a good exercise routine is that I also tend to eat well. I called it my virtuous circle.

virtuous circle

noun

A recurring cycle of events, the result of each one being to increase the beneficial effect of the next:
‘economic expansion would itself produce a virtuous circle of increased productivity, increased exports, and increased growth’

Sadly, when I wasn’t running, I didn’t make an effort to eat well. I was very lax about my food choices. It’s not by any means as if everything was bad at that time, but I certainly put my health on the back-burner.

When I saw people running, I felt a longing. For a long time, I thought I could just dive back in at any point once my injury had resolved. I would decide to start running again, run a few times per week for two or three weeks, then fizzle out. Boo. Finally, in 2014, I acknowledged the reality that I needed to start over. I did Couch to 5K all over again, and was so pumped to participate in a local 5K as the culmination of that training program. I’ve also joined a local chapter of a national women’s running group – Moms RUN This Town – and the community has gone a long way in encouraging me to keep it up this time. I have been running pretty regularly again since July of 2014. I’m slower than I used to be, but I have run several 5k’s, a 10k, and even a half-marathon last fall. I have enjoyed getting to know some great mother runners in my community as well. How did I do it without community before?

I have no races coming up, but I should pick something out and sign up! While unnecessary, I feel that races add a lot of FUN and motivation to things. I did enjoy a four miler today. A sunny 60+ day in Minnesota in March? I’ll take it, with gratitude. My virtuous circle also seems to be functioning fairly well again. It’s hard balancing work, parenting, health and all the rest. I am a constant work in progress in all aspects of life.

How about you? Have you dealt with injury with more grace than I did? Do you notice virtuous circles in your life? Do you have any advice on balance?

Girls, Dirt and Play

I can vividly remember taking my precious toddler girl out to play in the backyard. This was about nine years ago. If she happened to sit down on the ground, perhaps lose her balance and end up on her bottom, she was distressed by the dirt that she got on her hands. Rather than dig in and play in the dirt, she sat there holding her hands out as if unsure what to do about that dirt.

At four, she wore dresses almost everyday. (She had been the lucky recipient of a lot of very lovely hand-me-down dresses.) She certainly had other options in her dresser and closet, but she literally wore dresses almost everyday. I should add, it didn’t stop her from playing. She was into Polly Pockets and Littlest Pet Shop around this time, but she also enjoyed playing outside at the playground (in her lovely dresses).

By the time she was six, she was in self-imposed superhero training. She very seriously informed me that one must be eight years old to actually be a superhero, so she was in training until that day. This involved a lot of strength and agility work. Many goals and checklists.

At ten, she is now a full-fledged superhero. And a musketeer. And she plays in the dirt. That little girl who once held out her hands in dismay when they touched dirt now comes in from an afternoon of play absolutely covered in mud.

So why am I telling you this? I ran across this interesting blog post on peggyorenstein.com about girls’ footwear and the old practice of foot-binding.

My two kids and I had read the biography of a missionary to China named Gladys Aylward last year. One of the things she accomplished there was helping to eliminate the practice of foot-binding (the mandarin made her a foot inspector), which would literally deform the girls’ feet and greatly limit their mobility. As you would expect, all three of us were horrified by foot-binding and couldn’t imagine anyone choosing to do that to their children. We shook our heads, thinking how enlightened modern people are in comparison.

The Peggy Orenstein article cites a study showing that parents take their boys outside to play more than their girls. It also shows the vast difference in marketing for boys’ and girls’ shoes. Whether to sparkle and shine or to help you run fast. Whether to be looked at or to be used. I must say, I hadn’t ever really thought of footwear choices as reflecting the same attitudes as foot-binding, but I can see her point.

I’ve never been one to wear high heels often. Occasionally when dressing up, sure, but not regularly. Since I started running, though, I almost never wear them. I noticed that my ankles bothered me when I would go for a run after a night out in high heels. Not worth it to me. My feet are for getting me around, not for looking at. Contrary to the shoe industry’s apparent marketing strategy, I care more about utility. I have a few pairs of high heels that mainly collect dust and that I probably never should have wasted money on for how seldom I actually wear them. Am I unusual? I don’t know. I don’t pay that much attention to other people’s shoes. Is the shoe industry out of touch? Again, I’m really not sure.

I have nothing against dressing up and wearing pretty things, for myself or for my daughter. I draw the line when looking pretty and shiny becomes more important than being active and doing what we enjoy. If we can’t work or play for fear of messing up our shiny shoes, what’s the point?

What do you think? As a culture, are we unintentially (or intentionally) telling our girls to be still and look pretty?

(I hope not. There is SO MUCH MORE to life than that!)

Why I’m Not Tired of Winter

DSCN5149

Here it is past the middle of March, the temperatures are still routinely in the 20s, and I’m not going crazy.  How is this?

This winter has been really pleasant for me.  So many people I know have recently traveled to Florida and Hawaii, and I don’t long to do the same. 

I had to stop and think about why I feel so content this winter.  If it is anything in my control, I will want to keep it in mind for the future.  I might find myself feeling cabin fever again someday.

Here is what I’ve come up with:

1.  We have had good snow most of the time.  Obviously, this is out of my hands, but it makes such a difference to my children and me.  Cold and snowless equals staying indoors way too much.  Cold with snow equals bundling up and playing outside a lot.  Fresh air, exercise and having fun are great ways to keep the mood up.

2.  I purchased new winter boots.  For several years, I’ve been wearing boots that left my toes chilly.  Warm toes contribute greatly to quality of life for a Minnesotan in winter.

3.  We have been meeting up with other homeschoolers on a weekly basis just to play and visit.  (We still do weekly classes and occasional field trips with a group as well, but it is something different to gather simply for the enjoyment of it.) This has involved visiting many new parks as weather allows.  Over the winter, we have met at sledding hills, indoor playgrounds and swimming pools.  Again, it is getting out of the house and being active.  Having others expecting us makes us more likely to consistently head out to the YMCA or whatever the case may be, and it has truly helped to pass the time.

4.  I have been very flexible about school work.  If my kids ask to play outside, I say go for it.  We can jump back into our school work a little later.  And we do, with everyone feeling refreshed.

The moral of the story: make sure you are properly equipped for the conditions at hand, and make sure to get out of the house and enjoy the season you find yourself in as much as possible. 

An exercise in futility

During my Couch to 5K Part 2, I’ve been running time rather than distance.  Still, I find that if I know I’m almost done, say 3 minutes to go, I start to speed up.  This makes sense only if I’m going for distance.  News flash to myself:  time won’t move faster just because I do.

Ever catch yourself doing something like that?

Slant

After taking three months off after an injury, I am taking tentative steps (literally) back into running.

I referred back to the Couch to 5K training program, which is how I got started in the first place.  I want to take things slowly – easy on the joints – so I started toward the beginning of C25K to suit my current running ability.

My daughter wanted to run a 5K with me this summer.  Though technically not still summer, I have my sights set on a local 5K at the end of September.  I hope this will do.

When planning my training routes, I prefer running a loop over an out-and-back when possible.  It’s a psychological thing.  It feels more fulfilling, less boring.
A conversation with my cousin came back to mind yesterday.  He runs along the edge of a rural highway.  He told me that he switches sides periodically, so his body doesn’t continuously face the same slant.  Although proper pedestrian etiquette calls for sticking to the left side, his method of alternating sides has helped him clear up and avoid further aches and pains.

I need to be more aware of the slant issue on my own runs.  I run on a paved trail, and it is definitely a bit slanted.  If I’m doing loops, I should at least change my direction from one run to the next.

I once read about a marathon that was run on a track.  (Can you imagine?). Apparently, the runners change direction every thirty minutes so the same side isn’t always the outside.

On my loops, I don’t think outside/inside is an issue (we’re talking 4, 6, 12 mile loops – the curve is hardly noticeable), but the slope of the trail can’t be discounted.

I’m just out there to enjoy myself.  I don’t always think about the details that can ultimately help or harm my long-term ability to continue this hobby.  Thanks, cous’, for making me think about one of those details.

I hate to say it, but…

If anyone out there is wondering how the marathon training is going, I have bad news. The marathon is less than two weeks away, and it’s not going to happen for me this time. My knee started to bother me a bit in early March. It really didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I thought that taking a few extra days off and taking it easy would be all I needed. In the end, I took more like two weeks off before gradually building my mileage back up. But then I was feeling great. I was feeling optimistic. I had certainly gotten behind on my training, but I felt like I would be able to do it.

I had gotten back up to a pain free 12 miler and felt fantastic. Yes, there are still many more miles in a marathon, but at that point, I thought I had time to slowly build up to a 20 mile training run. My particular training plan would have taken me all the way to 26 if I had been able to keep up with it, but I know some training plans only go up to 20. I felt okay with how things were going.

Then, the last straw.

I had set out for a long training run about two weeks ago, and just over 6.5 miles into it, my knee started to kill! I hobbled home and told my husband that this was probably it. No longer enough time to let it rest and build back up.

You’re probably wondering if I have sought any medical care. I have not.

Like I said, back when I had that first pain, I really thought it was no big deal and that some TLC would do it. Now, I could go get it checked, and maybe I should, but I haven’t. It’s too late to get ready for the marathon (this time), and it doesn’t affect me in regular life. Someone did advise me that it could be caused by unequal muscle strength in my legs (i.e. the front leg muscles, and to a lesser extent, the back leg muscles are strengthened through running, but the side muscles really are not – I haven’t been doing anything to hone in on the side muscles of my legs).

I should also admit that I dislike going to the doctor. I go for my annual check-ups, and I take my children for their check-ups and for other needs as they arise. For myself, though, I usually have to be pretty concerned to go in. I think it’s an effect of growing up poor.

So, when and if I decide to try tackling a full marathon in the future, I think I just might go have things checked out and seek some expert advice based on my personal experiences. But not necessarily before then. Feel free to offer your two cents if you have strong opinions about any of it. I’m willing to listen and consider advice.

On the bright side, with the exception of about two weeks off in early March, this was the first time I’ve run through the winter since I took up running in 2008 with the C25K.

In other news, I’m keeping busy making plans for school next year, including putting thought and research time into the idea of giving my kids more choice and flexibility in their learning. If you happen to look at my book list, you’ll see a couple titles that hint at that. If you’ve read about why we homeschool, you also know that tailoring learning to the interests and abilities of our children is one of the reasons we decided to homeschool in the first place. I don’t know if I could ever go all the way to unschooling, but I do think people learn more when it is something that they are interested in and have a reason for learning.  It has been interesting reading at the least.  🙂  So far, we have a science curriculum purchased at the special request of my daughter ~ it looks good, a music theory curriculum purchased at the request of both children, and a lot of historical novels selected (some purchased, and some available from the library) to read together next year.  We have a math program that both kids are loving, each at their own level, and phonics and grammar programs that have been helpful.  I went to a talk on literary analysis last month, and I’m all stoked to incorporate a bit more of that into our discussion of the books we read.  See, that’s something that particularly interests me.  I will try to restrain myself a bit if they don’t share my interest.  The last thing I want to do is turn them off books and reading.  I always try to walk the fine line of challenging them, but not frustrating them, and spending time on things that they enjoy, but instilling the discipline it takes to do something even when it isn’t fun.

I’ve also been to some used book sales recently and purchased books on geology projects, how various machines work, Greek mythology, a family devotion book ~ things that we can enjoy together that aren’t necessarily part of a curriculum.

In the food world, we have just started a new CSA season.  Thank goodness!  I had gotten into a cooking rut.  The CSA provides a lot of inspiration, and so far, the recipes in the newsletter have been outstanding.  I’ve finally found a recipe for sunchokes that I liked!!  I’ve mentioned that we had an unseasonably warm winter in MN this year.  We were having an especially warm spell in mid-March, and my husband decided to plant radishes, arugula and spinach.  We had to cover them a few times, but now we are enjoying eating a few fresh veggies from the garden.  We weren’t even able to start planting by this time last year!  What a difference from one year to the next.  Our mint has also come up in full force.  My word, that is one prolific plant!

So, there it is.  Some good.  Some bad.  Keeping busy with my little ones.  Looking forward to summer and all the new adventures it may bring.

I hope life is treating you well.  🙂