My Flawed Sugar Compromise

On my son’s first day of 3rd grade last month, I stayed to watch in the morning with the other parents, as the kids met their new teacher and over breakfast, he gave us an overview of what the kids would be learning throughout the year.

I was standing next to my friend Eve, whose daughter is in the class.

Our eyes met for a brief moment, as we watched our children dive into their school breakfast. Both of us, without even having to speak, knew what each was thinking: how many grams of sugar do you think are in this one, little, breakfast?  I calculated in my head about 70 grams, if my son was to eat all of it.

There was the chocolate milk one could choose.

There was the flavored yogurt.

The graham crackers (that were actually cookies).

And the cereal.

Thankfully my son chose the white milk, and didn’t eat all his breakfast because he’s a very slow eater, but that’s another story…

Eve spent a full year avoiding sugar, along with her family, blogged about it, and wrote a book about it that will be published soon. I have an interest in sugar because over the past 5 years, I have become an evangelist about my own diet. Constantly monitoring what I eat, weeding out the bad, and adding foods I think will benefit my health. Also, I continually assess whether my current diet works well alongside my fitness goals. I wrote a post earlier this year called My Food Evolution, about how my current philosophy towards food originated.

I read a ton of labels.

Avoid added sugar and sodium.

And if I can make something myself, I will. The less processed, the better.

My son has a food allergy, as many of you know, I just wrote a long post about it. It’s really difficult for him to eat out, we always bring our own food to ensure his safety, and I know that gets a little boring for him. But at school, the cafeteria is nut-free and finally offers him a chance to eat something other than what I give him. He feels included. And can eat safely. He often will try a new food at school, let me know about it, and I can try to recreate my own version at home. Because of the positives, I didn’t get too hung up on the fact that the foods he ate at school might not be the same quality as what we have at home, because it was only 5 meals a week.  It seemed like a good compromise.

Until Recently.

I am ashamed to admit since making this decision as a parent, allowing him to have school lunch, rather than make it at home, I never really re-evaluated the fact that since kindergarten, he’s been eating breakfast there too. No longer 5 meals a week, now 10.

And I never really looked at the menu consistently. I recall glancing once or twice thinking: fruit, cereal, milk…sounds healthy enough, right?

But until I saw that breakfast at school in person, the realities of this decision, or non-decision, became more clear. My child is not one of those kids who sits nicely at his desk and raises his hand to be called. He’s the one who is hanging off his chair. He’s the one blurting out answers to every question. He’s the one swaying back and forth into everyone’s space. And last year, he complained often about how tough it was to stay focused in math, right after breakfast.

He is a powerful little force, on the move…

It didn’t once occur to me that the food he ate prior to his lessons might be an issue.

When I learned about this sit-still-during-math problem, we started to do “jump around” time in the mornings, before school, and we have kept it going this year. Some days when it’s nice out we take a few laps up and down our steep driveway. Sometimes we will run down to the river and back. If the weather is bad, we throw all the couch pillows on the floor and do a few rounds of “pillow hopping”. We do a few squats. Stretches. Waking up the arms and legs. Sometimes we only have 10 minutes, but it appears to help.

I read a book earlier this year by John Ratey called: Spark, about exercise and the effects on the brain, because of my own interest in exercise and fitness. I know the fact that I incorporate formal exercise and lots of movement into my own day, I feel so much better. I’m less anxious. I’m more calm. After a session, I’m centered on the task at hand, no questions asked; where I’m jumpy and always feel the need to stretch or move around if I wait until later in the day. But my takeaway, aha moment, after reading the book, centered around what I need to do with my son.  The book described a fitness experiment in a school in Naperville, Illinois, clearly proving, in the form of measured grade improvements, how much better kids are able to focus and learn when they participate in “fitness” time first thing in the morning.

I hadn’t thought much about school food or his fidgety tendencies for a week or so, he came home happy everyday and said he loved school. And I was elated to finally have a few moments to myself to breathe, to enjoy some late summer hikes, and to have some moments to myself to figure out my personal goals.

But about a week after school started, Brett came home and mentioned he didn’t really like school lunch anymore. The Sunbutter at school tastes different, and he didn’t like it as much. My guess is that the school serves the sweetened kind, whereas he is used to the unsweetened version we have at home. And lately, he has been choosing sandwiches more often than the hot lunch. I told him I’d be happy to make his lunch on days he would opt for a sandwich.

I hung the lunch menu on the cabinet so he could check it out and decide each morning.

And every day since, he has opted for home lunch; I don’t bother asking anymore…

On Monday, as we were driving home from school, Brett mentioned he had a breakfast cereal that he didn’t like; it was too sweet. It made his stomach hurt. I asked him what it was called.

Trix.

Hmm, I remember Trix is one of those sugary cereals I used to see commercials for when I was a kid. Why in the world would that be a choice at school?

The first thing we did when we came home that afternoon was look up Trix on the web, I wanted to see what the nutrition label looked like. Once I did, yup….lots of sugar (13 g). I asked Brett what other choices he had, that he could remember. He named 4 or 5 different brands. I looked them up and we decided, for breakfast at school, your best bets are Kix (3 g), or Rice Krispies (4 g).

But as we discussed it further, we thought, this is silly, let’s just bring in our own cereal (Erewhon Brown Rice (0g) mixed with Enjoy Life Flax (2 g)) So he has done this for the last few days and is perfectly happy.

With so much media play on the need to lower obesity rates in children.  And so much documentation about how sugars make kids unable to sit still, to focus, along with the fact they do not get enough active movement during the day, you just have to wonder, why do they even let these  sugary options through the door?

Whether this breakfast change will make a difference in his focus, or his need to move around so much, who knows. But at least we can be confident now that the foods he eats each day are not contributing to the problem.

I still am mad at myself for being so complacent for the last few years. Maybe it’s because I am so “on it” with the foods stocked in my kitchen, for both health and allergy reasons, it felt good to take a deep breath, and delegate, just for a few meals each week.

But if someone swapped out my plain yogurt with a super-fake-sugary one. Or gave me graham cracker cookies instead of my typical seedy low-sugar brand, I certainly would not let it happen.

I’d feel like a blob all day.

And so do our kids.

My son knew this stuff didn’t taste good. His stomach felt odd. He could tell he needed something different and we worked together to make better choices.

I hope you all don’t think I’m some scrooge, never allowing my kid treats, making him eat Brown Rice & Flax cereal. Believe me, when sugar is necessary, I’m all for it. I have this one espresso brownie recipe I’m embarrassed to say I make more often than I should. It calls for 3 1/2 cups of sugar! And we have chocolate in the house. And I make cookies. Maple syrup and honey are everyday staples.

I like sugar for dessert, but not hidden in basic meals.

Brett and I had a specific conversation about the terms: Appropriate and Not appropriate yesterday.  He wanted to wear a pig mask he made at school during recess. I had to explain, it wasn’t that the mask was in itself bad, it was just clearly not appropriate to wear at that time. These same terms came up again later in the afternoon when he wanted to bounce on the cool adjustable chair at his dentist appointment. By the horrified look on the hygienist’s face when she saw that chair wobble, we clearly know bouncing is ok outside, but at the dentist, we can file under: Not Appropriate.

He understood quickly. Not appropriate is when the timing is wrong.

And the terms apply perfectly in the case for sugar.

Too much of it during the school day? Not appropriate.

After school? Appropriate.

On the weekends after lunch or dinner? Depends on what we are doing, but mostly: Appropriate.

For adults at work? Judging by how many of us eat poorly and want to fall asleep at our desks in the afternoon after a big lunch, then need a 3 pm coffee pick-me-up? I’m going going to say sugar isn’t really all that appropriate here for adults.

Sugar before bedtime? For kids; Not appropriate.

And for me? I have started getting insomnia on nights I have a late dessert. File under: Not appropriate.

Timing makes all the difference.

I used to have a few minutes to myself in the mornings. To write. To think.

To drink coffee and think about the day ahead.

I didn’t have to make Brett’s lunch for the last few years; but now I do.

Apparently, I’ll now be making him two breakfasts each day too, one for home, one for school.

And that’s ok.

I’m proud of him for speaking up. He has proven he has a strong instinct regarding his own health; an instinct as good or better than my own.

He reminded me we should never become complacent with our own nutritional needs.

If something isn’t working, we can stop, think, ask questions and reevaluate to make positive changes.

And that sometimes a compromise is just not worth it.

 How do you approach sugar, for you, or your family?

Are there foods you notice help or adversely affect your moods or focus? How about exercise and movement? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Tradeoffs

Many people think they have to give up foods they love, or feel guilt after the fact when they indulge, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s all a matter of balancing the good with the bad. I have heard a few percentages quoted in the media, if you eat well somewhere between 85-90% of the time, then the other 10-15% of the time, you can live it up.

Although I’m not sure where I fall with percentages, I subscribe wholeheartedly to this philosophy. I’m one of those people who love different tastes, appreciate a good chef and the creativity of fusing unexpected flavors together. And of course, love the bottle of red and desserts that go with it. A few months ago, I wrote For the Love of Foods , with the message you can still achieve your health goals, but also live it up with food when the time is right.

This ideal has worked well over the last few years, but I have to come clean about one new problem that keeps cropping up after I have one of these dessert-wine-heavy meal evenings.

One I keep silencing every time I think about it, because I don’t want it to be true.

On these nights, I have insomnia.

And it’s awful. I go to sleep easily, and then wake at 2 am, like clockwork, and am not able to go back to sleep. I have searched the web, and it’s well-documented that alcohol can cause insomnia. But after a few months of testing, just wine, wine + dessert, only dessert, etc,  I have noted the problem isn’t really the wine by itself, as much as it’s the sugar in the dessert–or the combination of both.

This appears to be my new reality, and I’m faced with this tradeoff every few weeks:

Live to eat whatever I want for one fun evening?

Or not sleep, and suffer the next day by being tired and irritable.

But I love wine…I love dessert…I deserve it, really….help!

But I can’t tell you how awful I feel at 2 am watching the clock for hours and hours waiting for morning.

What to do, what to do…

When I know I want to write about a topic at some point, I create a draft with a title and a few descriptive words, just so I don’t forget about the topic.

Then promptly forget about it.

This idea, Tradeoffs, has been sitting in my drafts folder for a  long, long time, but after reading this post by Caitlin Kelly, at Broadside: I’m not where I expected to be, and subsequent discussion, I thought it was a good time to pull it out once again.

The stakes aren’t monumental if I make the wrong choice once in a while when I go out to dinner, I’ll just be uncomfortable and tired and need to make up for it somehow.

But there are other tradeoffs, either conscious decisions, or ones we haven’t realized we even made, that shape our lives.  And we question ourselves repeatedly over the conscious ones, wondering  if we have made the right choice.

Career/Family

My big life tradeoff, the one I keep questioning over and over in my mind, is my decision to jump out of my successful corporate career and stay home with my son full-time.

When I was working full-time and traveling, and generally frazzled and without sleep all the time, I remember glaring at those lucky stay at home moms, who could actually hire a babysitter so they could go out to lunch with “the girls”. I remember seeing them when I was out to lunch with my co-workers. Must be nice I thought. They have all the time in the world to play during their day.  But what I realized very quickly is that the mom stuff is actually really, really hard. These women do need to do lunch with the girlfriends, as often as they can!

Work problems taxed my mental capacity, sometimes stress was so great I would wake in the middle of the night all-consumed by issues with clients or with co-workers, or just overwhelmed by the projects I had due the next day.

Mom-stuff zaps me of all physical energy and at the end of each day, I’d love to curl up under a rock and fall asleep and just not speak to anyone….

But each day those brain-muscles are a bit underutilized. I kind of wish I had some of those more interesting work-like-puzzles to unfold.

Other trade-offs with this decision? Money is a big one. The ability to fix up the house isn’t really an option anymore. And that’s ok generally, until the washing machine and the dishwasher break at the same time, or when the toilet springs a leak…eventually this stuff has to be fixed. And I remember the days when I had a big paycheck, I used to collect orchids! Really, who does that? I think every orchid was probably $20-$50, and my beautiful collection slowly died out after my son was born and I wasn’t able to keep up with them.

I think about all the money I spent on that now, and on $500 suits, and other little throw-away luxuries I indulged in when I was working, and think, wow, I do wish I saved some of that for now!

The travel tradeoff, I think about this often. When I worked full time, I traveled so much for work, I never wanted to travel for personal reasons. But I could afford it. Now? I’m dying to get out of town. Would love to visit my mom and my brothers and sister-in-laws, and my niece and nephews. And I have plenty of time now. But the budget isn’t there.

Nope….it’s never easy.

But my son knows I’m here for him every day. I have the time to work on his challenges. I know what he’s eating. I know he has a good mix of what’s important in his day; nature, exercise, healthy foods, time together to read a book, build legos, catch frogs. He gets a good nights sleep and as much as he likes activities, with me around, he has more flexibility to be home when he needs to recharge.

He often is bummed when his dad is out of town on a work trip, and doesn’t have as much time for him. But we explain the tradeoffs his Dad is making now, so he and I can spend our days together. We explain to him this isn’t always the norm with kids who may have to go to daycare or after-school activities and not see their parents but for an hour or so a day. We explain Dad enables us to do what we do, keep our family happy and clothed and warm and cozy each night in our cute little house. It may not be the most up-to-date, a la HGTV, but it’s our home, and we are comfortable and safe…

My husband and I do find this family set-up very funny. We never expected we would be a traditional, Dad works; Mom stays home and cooks and cleans and takes care of the kids kind of family. But hey, it seems right now. And I suppose we will re-evaluate these decisions and make adjustments as we go.

I think I made the right choice. For my son, and for my family. Time will tell for me personally.

Health

When I think about day-to-day tradeoffs I make, most of them are account of my biggest obsession: health.

In that first year home after I stopped working, I was disorganized and overly-focused on my son, I didn’t bother worrying about myself. I thought just being outside with him meant I was getting enough activity for the day.

I didn’t have a lot of energy.  I couldn’t get a handle on my weight. And my back started to bug me all the time.

My son had the down time he needed, but I did not prioritize myself. Nothing in my day took into account any of my needs.

The tradeoff:

Child has attentive Mom 100% of the time.

But, Mom is sick, unhealthy, unhappy and impatient

This to me?

Not quite acceptable. I did some research, figured out how much to eat. I learned how to like exercise (something I thought I hated initially, read about that here) and then made time for formal activity every day. No more leaving it to chance anymore. I also learned to take time for myself when I need it. If I’m impatient and burnt out? I give myself a time-out.

Making changes isn’t easy, but I’m a lot happier. And I now feel great. Have no back problems. And as long as I have a good cup of coffee in the morning am mostly patient.

And you are asking, what are the Tradeoffs?

Sometimes I don’t feel like exercising. Sometimes I’d rather do something else.

Sometimes if it’s a super-busy day, I have to wake up early to get that workout in and that’s tough. I miss out on some sleep (again!)

Sometimes when he was younger I had to stick my kid in front of a video to make it happen.

Sometimes I’d rather do take out and not cook our meals

Sometimes I’d like to eat a gigantic bowl of tortilla chips and salsa all day every day without a care in the world about how this is going to affect me long term…

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to think so hard about this stuff, because it is hard!

But it’s life…if you want to be healthy long-term, you can’t ignore it and hope what you read in the news about the need for eating well and staying fit do not apply to you.

At 20, you can get away with it.

At 35+? Not an option.

Just like my wine and sugar issues never bothered me before a few months ago, there are new realities that come into play all the time, and we have to figure out the best way to address it.

And there are even more tradeoffs:

My house is oftentimes messier than I’d like. My husband, a few months ago mentioned I should entitle one of my blog posts “A fitness buff’s dirty little secret”, to address the fact he found a zillion dust bunnies under the bed when he happened to look for something under there. Thanks hon.

Part of being healthy of course is foods. I cook a lot, and every night after dinner I am still stunned at my ability to use every dish in the house and am getting tired of dealing with the mess.

One little issue that has come to mind in the last few years is that my health focus has been so all-consuming I haven’t had much time to think about anything else, namely what I want to eventually do for a career.

From what I have been reading, every problem in life these days: lower stress levels, lower anxiety, better focus and attention, overall energy levels, fewer colds and sickness; better diet and improved fitness levels, along with some time outside are exactly what we all need.

And what most people do not get.

Nope, I don’t see too many downsides to this tradeoff.

But I do need to come clean on one other very little tradeoff:

This summer, if I want to write, my son plays Minecraft for way, way, way too long…

Mom, brain-exercised

Son, brain-frazzled…

But now it’s time to take it outside and we’ll both be ok for the rest of the day…

 

What are some of the tradeoffs you have made? Are you happy with them? Still trying to decide?

Big or Little day to day tradeoffs…

Would love to hear your stories and discuss. How are you handling them?

Bold but Senseless

WP_20130802_104-1A few years ago, my first boyfriend came to Vermont and we met for coffee. I hadn’t seen him in maybe 15 years? And I was worried.

There was this nagging feeling I had, not that either of us weren’t mature enough to have a cup of coffee together as adults, but about something I did to him back in the day.

Or didn’t do.

Basically communicate effectively at the end.

As an adult, I think back to the former me, and still shake my head in disbelief. I was such an awful person back then. That I could ever treat anyone with such disrespect.  But when I brought this up over coffee, so many years later, he laughed it off and said something to the effect of:

“We can’t be held responsible for what we did when we were like 20, 21….I mean really…we all did really senseless things back then”.

I was so relieved after all these years, and have thought about that sentiment often since, letting myself off the hook for quite a few dumb choices while repeating these words to myself.

I do however think back to that time in my 20s, and I may not have had much sense but I was fearless.

I moved from location to location following my career. I lived alone.

I explored new cities and towns when I traveled, all by myself.

I had no qualms about going into a restaurant by myself. Drinking wine by myself. Going to the movies by myself.  It wasn’t easy at the time, but when I forced myself, in the end, I was empowered by it.

My last state move, to Vermont, was no different. After the first few weeks of crying, wondering how I could make such a crazy mistake, thinking I could adapt to life in the country, I finally settled on a 3-bedroom house just for me. I need to be happy, right? Nesting is good.

When I was first learning to love the nature-girl life, I embraced it on my own.

I went for hikes in the woods.

Said yes to learning weird hobbies from new friends: foraging, running on river rocks, fishing, cruising around in the evening looking for critter sightings…

Once I learned what people around here did for fun, I went for it. I would run from river rock to river rock without worry, up and down my favorite spot along the Big Branch in Mount Tabor and go out looking for wild mushrooms deep in the woods.

And going solo? Never worried about it.

Last night, I was reminded of the younger, bold but senseless me , when I was on the phone with my husband, who is traveling this week. We were talking about what activities Brett and I had on the agenda for the week. I really want to go mushroom hunting; because there should be a ton of chanterelle mushrooms in the woods, but am not really used to going on my own anymore.

I asked my husband, “do you think it’s safe for us to go up to our favorite spot in the National Forest, alone?”

My husband sounded startled. “of course, it should be”, he said “why wouldn’t it be?”

I hung up the phone and wondered, when did I turn into that person who hesitates?

Who stops, and misses out, because she is scared?

There was one incidence, after I had lived in Manchester for a few years. There was a snowmobile trail from one side road near my house that opened up to the woods, eventually bringing you out over a walking bridge, that came out onto another side road. One day as I was walking from one side of the bridge to the next, I heard voices. Hiding behind a tree, I slowly took a few more steps, and then a few more, until I could see what was up.

Two stringy-haired guys, in their 20s perhaps, were taking tree branches and slamming them down on the windshield of an old beat up muscle car they had dumped there. Crushed beer cans surrounded them.  I turned around immediately and ran all the way home.

I suppose this could have been when I started rethinking solo walks deep in the woods as I never went over the bridge again after that.

Who knows who could be lurking around?

What if I wasn’t able to turn around?

What if they saw me?

What if? What if? What if?

All these thoughts in my head; I never used to worry like this.

I never needed to rely on someone else to do what I wanted to do.

But as a woman, and a mom, 15 years later, I have way too much sense for my own good.

So many years of anxiety about keeping my kid with a life-threatening food allergy safe.

I’m always at-the-ready with a safe snack and a few Wet Ones.

When it snows? Or if there is any inkling of black ice lurking on the roads, I don’t drive. It’s not safe.

Chemicals and insecticides in the environment and on our foods? Ugh. Must stay away from them too.

The news.

Abductions.

Identity Theft.

What else should I worry about?

Be careful on those river rocks, you might slip!

As I think back to that sentiment: We shouldn’t be responsible for what we did way back then, I realize after years of gaining more sense, something I desperately needed, I need to dial it back a notch and throw some of it to the wind…

I don’t want to resurrect the insensitive qualities of my early-adulthood of course, but need to get over the constant worry.

Can I be bold, and have common sense at the same time, can those qualities realisticially live side-by-side?

I’m tired of missing out. Tired of making decisions for my son that will cause him to miss out as well.

WP_20130802_007So today, I made the decision, Brett and I went to the mushroom spot by ourselves.

What if there was a weird psychopath on the trail? I think to myself…

What are the odds?

We’ll be ok…

As we rumbled along the deserted gravel road leading to the chanterelle spot we saw a sign:

Road Closed. Gated

Well, no chanterelles today I guess, but we enjoyed Plan B instead.

Not quite running , but some slow climbing on the river rocks.

And it felt so good to be out there again.

The breeze. The beauty of the rocks. The sound of the water.

I just saw a glimpse of my old-younger self again, and want to push myself back, but forward, just a little bit each day, so I can see this side of me a little more often…

Do you have moments when you don’t recognize yourself today? Without wanting to go back, are there qualities you had then you wish you could get back again? 

Would love to hear your stories and comments.

 

Two Wheels on the Road…

SONY DSCI have had “buy Brett a bike” on my to-do list for months, and it has been the one item on there I have been reluctant to cross off.

He had one of those balance-type bikes, purchased by my mother a few years ago, where he could just scoot along and lift his feet and put them down as needed, and that was sufficient for a few years.

But he didn’t have pedals.

Or have a need to learn any skills to help him stay upright for any length of time.

You see we have a long, steep gravel driveway, with a scary hairpin turn in it. And we don’t have neighbors or neighboring kids for him to feel the need to keep up with and make him want to learn. Instead we have a river and trees behind us. We do cool things in our yard most other kids don’t do, right?

We fish.

We catch bugs and frogs.

We walk and stomp around in the river.

We skip rocks…. who needs a bike?

So my husband and I, as parents, slacked off and let it slide.

When we were in Montana last month, Brett met a new friend at the ranch named Asa and even though there were only gravel roads, Asa had this new bike he was extremely proud of, with big tires that worked just great on the dirt and gravel road. And it would have been nice if Brett could have joined him instead of having to just walk alongside him.

Asa is 9, and had great skill on his bike. Brett, at 8 1/2?

Note to self: when we get home, buy this kid a bike!

He needs to learn. Every kid needs to at some point, don’t they?

brett bike-001

Testing out the new bike at Grandma’s house with a paved road.

I finally did cross that chore off the list last week, on a trip to Rochester to visit my mother in law, where we found ourselves walking in front of a Dick’s Sporting Goods, with no excuse like: “I’m too tired” or “We don’t have time”.

I haven’t really thought much about riding on a personal level over the years.

I guess I liked riding my bike when I was a kid. I did grow up in suburbia, and had friends who rode around with us in the neighborhood. I have memories of riding with my brothers, chasing the ice cream truck.  I have one memory of falling and losing a tooth, and running home alongside my bike, blood gushing from my leg, but excited my fall would mean I would get a visit from the tooth fairy that night.

As an adult, not by design; maybe just by default, I have pursued outside activities involving my own feet, not wheels.

But when I do think about the sport, I think about my Dad.

When I was a kid, my father was always gone on Sunday. This was his day to take an epic bike ride with his friends.

I have always admired him for taking this time to do something he loved. Instead of being like one of the millions of Dads out there who had no hobbies, and just work work worked, and did what their wives told them to do, my Dad took that time for himself. He would stretch for a long time, maybe an hour,  and then head out. I’m sure he got a lot of flak from my mom because of this, since she had to stay home with 3 obnoxious kids by herself all day.

But he knew he needed this time for himself.

And he was able to stay in great shape this way and clear his head.

My parents moved to the bay area, south of San Francisco, in the mid-90s and on one of my first visits to see their new home and new town, my father drove me around to see some of his favorite bicycle routes. He would often go along these super windy roads, and along the bay. On many visits, we went up Kings Mountain Road, in Woodside CA, to go to the restaurant at the top. The first time he took me up there, as I complained I needed a Dramamine and felt sick from the curvy drive, my father told me this was one of the roads he would frequently ride on his bike.

What? You really ride your bike on this road?!

I remember saying “Dad, this road is going to be the end of you if you keep riding it…”

He just laughed. And continued riding along these roads he loved for years. And still, on Sundays.

But then 2 years ago, while at home in Vermont on Memorial Day weekend, I was just sitting down to a glass of wine after a long day in the garden when my mother called, hysterical.

My father was in the hospital.

He had an accident on his Sunday bike ride. She didn’t know much else.

It wasn’t on scary Kings Mountain road. It was another one.

We never learned what happened exactly, as there were no witnesses, but my brothers and I were told to get out to California immediately. The next day, I walked into Stanford Medical Center and found my father in a coma with traumatic brain injury. He died about a week later.

He was only 67.

I have been told, well, he died doing something he loved. And that’s true.

I try not to blame bicycling.

Just as I have tried not to blame Memorial Day weekend over these past 2 years. Because honestly, I have always loved Memorial Day weekend and do not want to demonize it for the rest of my life. I was told early on when I first met my husband that his mother lost someone she loved dearly on Thanksgiving, and has always hated Thanksgiving.

I adore my mother in law, but to hate a holiday for that long? I didn’t want to live the rest of my life that way.

Last summer, one year after losing my father, I was on vacation on Cape Cod and my family went off to do something else while I took the car to visit a few shops by myself. I had a few messages on my cell phone from my mother. Doesn’t she know I’m on vacation? I’ll call her later.

But then a text “Call me”.

So I pulled over to the side of the road to do just that.  I learned that it happened again. This time to my parents dear friend. Accident on his bike, he had been hit by a car and was was in the hospital.

And most certainly would not make it.

As you can imagine, it hasn’t been so easy for me to let bicycling off the hook, like I have been able to do with Memorial Day weekend.

When my son starts to ride a bike, will I get back on a bike too?

My motto these days has been to be open and willing to try new things.  Especially activities that take us outside and keep us moving.  When Brett learned to ice skate a few years ago, I put a pair of skates after 20-some-odd years. And I did fine.  And he has been learning to ski.  So last season I put skis on after a 10 year lapse. I had been so nervous I wouldn’t remember how, but once out there, I loved it.  I was proud of myself for taking that initial step to try again because now this will be an activity we both can enjoy.  Because that’s all it takes sometimes.  Just take that one step, and you aren’t nervous anymore.  You can move on from any emotional barriers.

But what about bicycling?

I can’t remember the last time I was on one, maybe in college? I should say yes, of course I will retry that, and Brett and I can ride together.

But still I hesitate.

At this time of year in Vermont, I see bicycles and cyclists everywhere.

Tour groups. Tourists. I see people of all ages riding along on our narrow windy back roads, with no room for cars and bikes to work together side-by-side.  This brings tears to my eyes more often than any other trigger. When I look at the faces of these cyclists, I see my Dad.  When my father visited us in Vermont, the first thing he did was go to the bicycle shop in Manchester and rent a bike for the week. He loved riding along and around Route 30 and visiting the little towns. Stopping at the country stores and chatting with whomever was inside. And snapping photo after photo of the farms, the flowers, the houses, the mountains…

And all I can think when I see these people is :

Why are they out there?

Do something else!

Don’t you know the roads are dangerous!

But as some friends reminded me yesterday, as they were headed out on a bicycle tour in the Finger Lakes:

“There is risk in anything and everything”

This morning I opened up the manual on Brett’s new bike, as I’m thinking we can start practicing this week. I see “Warning”. “Caution” every few lines.

Is this supposed to reassure me I’m doing the right thing?

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Warning! Caution! Yikes!

I suppose not.

But I have ideas on where we can practice with no chance of seeing other cars or hazards.

And we’ll see how he does.

I think this year I’ll ask for new skis for the holidays, so Brett and I will be able to go more often and experience this sport together.

But we’ll wait and see whether I’ll hop back up on a bike.

I won’t say never, but maybe next year my head will be in the right place to take that initial step over the emotional barrier I still have with bicycling today.

Do you have any tough memories associated with activities, or times or places that you have a hard time getting over? How were you able to get over them? Are you glad you did?

Are there activities you have retried because of your kids or other family members?

I would love to hear your stories and comments.

Words from Strangers

No jeans for a few weeks, just waders...

No jeans for a few weeks, just waders…but I’ll get back to them soon…

I have been wracking my brain, wondering what I need to do to snap out of this lazy post-vacation summer trance I have been in for the last few weeks, when I remembered this conversation with a stranger that made me smile, and finally commit to stop whining about feeling down, and start to refocus.

On the way to Montana a few weeks ago, on the plane from Charlotte to Denver, my family had two seats in the front, while I had an aisle seat about 10 rows back. I was looking forward to this separation, anticipating some rare uninterrupted time with 1Q84, the thousand-plus page Haruki Murakami novel I had started a few weeks prior, and with my family around, my kindle would  likely remain off.

Towards the end of boarding a super-thin young gal with long straight dark hair, worn cut-up jeans, a tight red knit blouse, and spiky- high heeled boots, plopped her bag into the middle seat next to me.  The grandmotherly woman in the window seat and I did that polite-smile-thing everyone does on an airplane, and we each went back to our reading, hoping we didn’t need to engage in any conversation just yet.

After an hour or so, and a little more snoozing than reading, I woke up and looked around. The young gal, noticing I was awake,  glanced over to me a few times, smiled and out-of-the-blue just asked, “So, what are you, like 27?”

I looked at her, a little stunned, first of all that she would think I was that young, and second of all, that she dared to ask my age. Didn’t she learn you just don’t do that?

“Ummm, no”, I replied.

“30?”. I looked up at her again.

“35?” I was silent. “higher?” nod.

I don’t think I ever gave her the true number, but she was visibly stunned and I was a bit embarrassed by the reaction.

“Wow, you look sooo young!” She shook her head in amazement.

You can imagine I was more receptive to abandoning Haruki and engaging in a little conversation after she mistook me for the older-sister type, as opposed to a mom type ( after some conversation, it sounded like her mother may have been my age or younger).  I learned that this gal is actually 20, and she was on her way from Louisville, Kentucky to Montana to surprise her boyfriend, and go live with him for the summer.  She was a bundle of nerves, wondering what his reaction to this very big surprise was going to be. I would be too…can you imagine taking this kind of risk?

Today, as I think of it, I actually wish I took her contact information just so I could find out what happened!

But instead, I’m back here in Vermont, having a tough time getting myself back in my health routine and feeling worn down.

I have been back to exercise every day, but I have taken it slow, it’s not very intense.

My diet has been a mess, I still haven’t been able to kick that dessert habit I developed from vacation.

Why I have been slow to make these changes I don’t really know. Some of my friends and family would say a few weeks of lazy mindless diet and inactivity is what I need, because they think I worry about it too much, and I have to admit the allure of doing so is appealing. You are thin! You shouldn’t have to work so hard! You could use a plate of cookies…no worries! I hear them say…

But sadly I know the truth.

Letting go is great in short spurts, but if I do this too long, laziness will become a habit. I have heard it takes about 21 days to build a habit–good or bad–and I’m nearing the limit on settling into some bad ones!

Thinking back to the young woman on the plane, and that conversation about looking young makes me realize I have lost sight of a few things over the last few weeks.  I forgot that feeling young, and looking young is a choice (even if I know in fact, I do not actually look 27…), and one I want to stick with. I remember too well how I felt before I made these change in the first place, and do not want to find myself back there again. Yes, the motivation this time is a little vain; I typically like to say my fitness quest is for health reasons, but how can I not like the idea that people think I’m younger, I mean, why not let that motivate me for as long as I can get away with it?

So starting today, here’s the get motivated to feel young so I don’t feel like a lazy blob plan that should get me back to feeling like myself again in a week or two:

  • Get more sleep! This is one issue I have been slow to address but it keeps resurrecting itself every few weeks. I don’t get enough sleep and have dark circles under my eyes pretty much every day. I will plan go to bed earlier on some nights, and address the source of my new, unwanted insomnia habit. I’m positive this is the main reason I have been in such a slump.
  • No dieting, but monitor foods and cut the sugar- now!   Back to monitoring my food diary again, something I have let lapse in the last few months, to make sure I realistically know I’m keeping to the right food quantities. On vacation, portions get bigger and the reality-check of quantifying will get me back in line with appropriate portion sizes again.
  • Keep moving. It has been so hot and humid. Keep going on the exercise schedule, but make sure to start in the morning instead of later in the day when it feels like it’s 90 degrees. I just started a new exercise program, called Focus T25,  that I hope will work–it’s only 25 minutes a day of formal exercise to make sure I have some structure to the schedule. And then the rest of the time I’ll spend making sure to keep active all day with Brett: creature catching, river walking, mushroom hunting, berry picking….just hoping that humidity goes down soon so it’s a little more bearable!
  • Keep away from the scale. I don’t weigh myself anymore. Ever. I know many people live and breathe by the scale and it would be tough for them to stay away from it. But this works for me…  no good is going to come from seeing + 5 lbs on the scale.
  • And finally, stay away from jeans.  Instead of depressing myself further by spilling out over the top of my jeans,  I’ll avoid them at all cost and stick to the yoga pants and skirts for now. And maybe if it stops raining and the river behind my house goes down, we can just go fishing every day, I can hone some of my skills learned on the Firehole River a few weeks ago, and I can wear my ever-forgiving baggy waders until I’m ready to be seen in jeans again…that would be fun, I think every gal needs a pair for weeks like this…

So there you have it in writing. I’ve got the plan now!

And here’s one more little call out to that sweet gal on the airplane, who I hope is happily still in Montana with her boyfriend.

Your inadvertent compliment to a stranger on an airplane a few weeks ago resonates still.  These words are just what I need for inspiration to refocus this week.

Thank you!

Have you ever had a conversation with a stranger that inspired you in some way?

Have you given a compliment lately, or recieved one that made a big impact?  

Please share your story and add to the discussion on how you manage to re-energize after a vacation or a lapse in focus.

If you are reading this by email, please click on the comment button and tell your story!

Vacation Reset

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Today I sit. And sit, and sit and sit.

Staring out into space.

Wondering if I’m glad to be home.

And wondering how to snap out of vacation-mode and get back to real life.

Yesterday, my son and I endured a time-warp kind of day in the hands of the airlines, starting in Idaho Falls, then Denver, then Charlotte, then eventually Albany, where tired and dazed, we collected our 100+ collective pounds of suitcases and bags, and stepped into the Albany Park and Fly van, where the driver eventually brought us to our car.

Oh great, another hour and a half of driving to go. We hadn’t eaten anything but a few snacks all day. I mentioned in some of my other posts my son has a peanut allergy. When leaving the house for a trip, we always pack a supply of safe foods in a bag to ensure he has something safe to eat along the way. But on our way home, we didn’t have the time to replenish, and just had a few snacks left, and after a week of dragging around the same granola, crackers and dried fruit, neither of us were interested in eating them. I doubt any of you have noticed this, because you don’t have to worry about food allergies, but every restaurant in every airport has a sign that says basically if you are allergic to anything, we have it in our facility so eat at your own risk! So we keep airport-restaurant eating to a minimum, picking up a Greek yogurt if we can find it, and that’s about it.

Once in the car, we headed north on 87, through Saratoga Springs, and then over to Washington County. Around a half hour from our house,  Brett finally looked up and complained he was dying of hunger.  He had been such a great kid all day. Barely eating anything and not really caring. I had been surprised; he’s not typically shy about whining when he needs something. But at the moment, there was nowhere to stop, so I rummaged through my snack bag and eventually pulled out a piece of provolone cheese.

It looked ok. I had packed it before I left and usually cheese is ok for awhile outside the refrigerator, right? I had been munching on some cheddar a few minutes before and it tasted good.

But then: Sudden scream from the backseat.

“The cheese went bad Mom!! My stomach is killllling meeee!”

Oh come on,  really?  I have just spent 14 hours traveling, carrying bag after bag, one on each side of me and around my neck, plus a booster seat, so if I was unbalanced in any way, I would have toppled over. And I spend all day every day of my life, and especially on vacation, trying to keep this kid safe from peanuts and nuts when we eat outside the home. And then he keels over from bad cheese?

He continued to moan, flailing around in his seat for the next few minutes. The realization: this might be serious.

Did I really just poison my son?

I had been blasting Steve Earle’s Burnin’ it Down before that, visualizing Steve burning down a Wal Mart in a town pretty similar to the one I was driving through, but had to turn him off. Brett’s eyes were closing. He leaned over into the middle console. Should I stop and make him get out? Well, if I can make sure to hear his breathing, that works.

He fell asleep.

I listened to him breathe as I drove.

And all these horrible scenarios played out in my head about what would happen if he wasn’t ok. And what I would do.

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An ominous welcome home to VT

About 10 minutes from my house, along Vermont Route 30. The sky darkened and rain started hammering the windshield. Is this a sign? Should I have stayed on vacation?

We finally reached the house at around 9pm; I woke Brett and wrestled him out of the car. He perked back up within a few minutes. Whew, sigh of relief! I pushed through the front door, leaving the car doors open and all the bags still out on the driveway, and headed immediately to the refrigerator. Having been away for the past week, the fridge had been empty and sad, but I saw some eggs, and made us a few omelets. Brett was so hungry, he ate two of them, and since we were still on mountain time, we stayed up late snuggling, talking about our trip, and making up for lost time with the pets in the house who all needed a little care.

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Our home last week!

Aside from the drama on the way home, this has been an amazing week. As soon as school ended on the 13th, we took a day to pack, and then flew out to Montana, staying at Firehole Ranch, on Hebgen Lake, and visited Yellowstone National Park. My husband was there too; he stayed for a few extra days, so had to miss the dramatic drive home. In Montana, I had one day of fly fishing with an amazing guide and now feel like I finally could do this myself. We had no access to internet. Maybe one bar of cell service; enough to send a text in certain rooms of the house, or check email, but that’s about it. I’m feeling completely out of touch with everything.

With the News. With Facebook. With Twitter. With WordPress. With my Fitness friends.

With my exercise agenda. With foods. Oh, the foods from this week! I can’t even begin to tell you what we ate, and I tried to keep up on activity with walks and some exercises out on the cabin deck, but as my heart rate monitor would display at the end of the week, it was an “incomplete training week” at best.

This morning the jeans are tight. I’m still craving desserts and wine.

But I’m looking out the window now and it’s beautiful here in Vermont too.  I needed that break from civilization and media and devices. And I wouldn’t admit it before, but the break from fitness and schedules and balanced eating was kind of nice too.

It was a tiring and stressful journey yesterday to get here, and we are both still in a zombie-like state of mind, but we are both safe.

Maybe it is indeed good to be home.

For the next few days Brett and I will stay on mountain time, and gradually re-emerge from vacation-mode to home-mode in a more focused way, but not today, tomorrow sounds about right…

The Balancing Act – Fun vs. Fit

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My focus lately has been a little off.

Actually, very off, and all over the place. Based on the subjects in my last few posts, you can see my mind is outside. It’s finally starting to look like it’s supposed to in the Green Mountain State: very, very green, and I have become brain-swept with a renewed urge to just spend all my waking free time thinking about what I can do out there.

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columbine is in bloom!

Look, Columbine! Where’s my camera?

Hey, frogs are back!

Oh, ramps are out, so are morels and fiddleheads–lets go find them before it’s too late!

Look rose breasted grosbeaks are at the feeder, where’s my camera?

Ooh! Gardens–I need to get going on those!

It’s nice to be inspired. But this change of season is seeping  into my my typically rock-solid, gung-ho attitude towards the inside fitness I feel is really important.  My scheduled workouts have become kind of an afterthought. I’m procrastinating, waiting until the end of the day to do them. This may not be so bad for some people, waiting until later, but I’m really beat by late in the afternoon, and my mind isn’t really into it by then. Yesterday I clock-watched through the entire workout and was feeling down on myself.

look! an RBGB!

look! an RBGB!

If I’m like this now, this summer will be worse!

Trying to figure out where that super-motivated, fit and focused me went, and how to bring her back, I started thinking back to an experience that really make me thankful fitness is an important part of my life.  At about this same time last year, I attended a fly fishing class.  This was the 2nd time I took this class, because I needed a refresher on the knots and casts I learned the year before, and thought this women’s-only class would be a fun, more relaxed group. On the second day in the afternoon, we went out to a local stream.  There was one very reluctant woman in the class, I’m guessing she was in her 60s, who was there only because her husband had sent her. We were wading in the river on somewhat slippery rocks, most of us wearing borrowed and unfamiliar wading shoes,  trying to reach the bank on the other side, and working against the current. There was another woman, there on her own free will and excited to learn, in her mid-fifties. And she also was struggling to stay upright and cross safely, becoming a little more discouraged by the minute.

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a little fun with casting at class…

A few of us had to offer an arm and walk slowly with them, across the river, and over to the other side.

At the end of the day, as we all headed with gear towards our cars, I sided up to our wonderful instructor, Molly Seminek, who was visiting from Montana just to teach this class. We were silent at first but then began kind of a reluctant conversation about how tough it is for some people, wading in the water and having the balance and strength they need. She often advises clients to work on their balance and agility and their overall fitness and strength levels off the water, because it’s something that definitely works to their advantage when in the water, and on the riverside when you need to step over rocks or logs, or high banks. I mentioned how I feel strongly about the need to stay fit as we get older, and how yoga and weight training, has helped me too, in many ways. Hearing this was something she works on continually to keep herself in good form to keep guiding and doing what she loves every day as a career, was very reassuring.

This conversation comes to mind from time-to-time for motivation when I need it, as well as advice I hear from other sources, most notably from P90x, one of the strength training programs I like to rotate into the mix a few times per year. Tony Horton, the trainer mentions a few times throughout that jump training, and yoga and some of the other moves included are so great to practice and learn to do safety in a controlled environment, because it helps train you for all the great things you want to do in real life and in real settings. And I guess it’s because these are on DVDs and I have heard the same lines over and over again, that I can hear his voice in my head when I’m lunging down to dig up dirt in my garden and throwing it in a pile. And I’m reminding myself to not arch my back. Or let my knee go over my toes. And when looking for salamanders with my son, always bend my knees when lifting up heavy rocks, instead of pulling them from a standing position. Or when lifting him to cross the river when he’s about to swamp his boots.

My friends and family, when I ask for advice on this, tend to think it should be easy for me to just let go of my need to do any

always ready to join me on that hike...

always ready to join me on that hike…

formal exercise inside, because it’s just so nice out. I should just hike. Or run. Or whatever keeps me moving, as long as it’s outside. I don’t think one really replaces the other though, and with a set amount of free-time, I worry I’ll lose all that great endurance, flexibility and strength I work so hard to build the rest of the year, that enables my success on so many levels. But then again, it’s super-depressing being inside doing pull-ups and push-ups, or planks when I hear an oriole out the window chirping and the river rambling along, and always a labrador ready and waiting to be walked…

I have to figure out how to let my fitness life and my outdoor life live side-by-side this season, without slacking off in either. I want to be in my sixties, and crossing that river on my own, without someone else lending me an arm, and worry if I let it slide, even a little, I’ll lose momentum long term…

How have you balanced your fit lives when more fun activities are calling your name?

Do you make changes that help keep the strength training more interesting? Or take that outside?

Do you let fitness slide a bit throughout certain times of the year?

Do you have the perfect mix of both?

I’d love to hear some ideas and discussion.

For more information:

Molly Seminek: http://tietheknotflyfishing.com/wordpress/

P90x: http://www.beachbody.com/product/p90x-what-you-get.do

Ramping Up

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There is a great benefit to researching and writing about being fit and healthy.  It’s the fact that if I don’t practice what I preach, then I’m a hypocrite…and since I don’t want to be one of those, it’s great motivation to ensure I make every attempt to follow my own advice. Last week, in my post Sense of Nature, I wrote about the benefits for all of us, children and adults, to be active participants in nature. I’m happy to say, I was able to embrace nature in a big way this weekend, thanks to an early start of the 2013 foraging season.

Every spring, when we see a little green on the trees and in the fields, and a few warm days, my husband and I get obsessed with foraging, or as I keep hearing in the media these days, wild-crafting. This is where we head out into the woods, search for mushrooms or edible plants or berries, or whatever we can collect in the wild with confidence that when cooked, it won’t make us sick.

Foraging was not an activity I was ever familiar with growing up. When I tell friends this is one of my hobbies, sometimes I hear them wax poetic about how so-and-so’s grandmother in France or Italy showed them which mushrooms or plants to hunt for as a child, and they had vivid recollections of amazing ethnic feasts, with these prized edibles taking center stage. This romantic scenario wasn’t the case for me, my parents weren’t the woodsy-type, or the type of people who would take a risk eating something they personally had to identify as safe. Although eventually, thanks to Whole Foods stocking some of the same wild mushrooms we fed them ( but charging zillions of dollars per pound), they learned to trust we were not going to poison them.

When I moved to Vermont as an adult, that’s where my education on wild-edibles began.  Here, in many places, the forest is open and beautiful and you can really meander around comfortably and see the forest floor without getting poked in the eye with twigs or branches or brambles, or assaulted by too many ticks. Black morel mushrooms are the first to come out, and where I live, we see them along old paths in the woods. A few weeks later we see yellow morels, often near white ash trees.

fresh morels from a secret spot in the Vermont woods...

fresh morels from a secret spot in the Vermont woods…

morels...

morels…

What I love most about collecting mushrooms, or berries or wild plants in the woods is that it’s like an unstructured scavenger hunt. You look for clues: a certain tree. the elevation, the slope of the ridge. The sun. Moss. The weather that day. The moisture. And when you get it right, you are sometimes rewarded with the prize.

And probably more often, you get the location right, all the elements for success are there, but you find nothing and you are left scratching your head wondering what the heck you did wrong.

Regardless of mushroom success or failure, we usually come back relatively happy, because what we tend to find in the same locations are big beautiful patches of wild ramps, or as they are sometimes called, wild leeks. My husband used to think of these as kind of a consolation prize when we came home empty-handed on the mushroom front. But since, I have come to love them as much, maybe even more. They are much more abundant, predictable, and come back in the same spots every year. When I have them, I cook with them pretty much every night, adding them on homemade pizza, or on top of a burger, in omelettes or over pasta or grains… They are the best when the bulbs and leaves are slowly sauteed in olive oil until crispy, with a little sea salt.

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Oh, I’m off topic here, I’m supposed to be talking about exercise and nature, not eating…

So this weekend, I didn’t even have foraging on the radar because it’s so early in the season. But I happened upon a recipe for Wild Ramp Pizza that looked so good.

Hmmm, I wonder if… ??!!  Maybe I’ll go check…

jackpot!

jackpot!

We happen to have a reliable ramp patch near our house. I quickly grabbed my waders and boots, and ran down along the river (it’s easier to do that than run through a tick-infested field), and within a few minutes, realized I hit the jackpot. Sometimes early in the season you will see many ramp leaves, but the bulbs are too small. Not so this time, there were a bunch of them. I didn’t bring a pack basket with me, because I didn’t really expect to find anything, so brought back just enough for dinner that night and surprised my family with my prize. I made my super-slow-cooked crispy saute perfectly and served it over quinoa.

freshly picked!

freshly picked!

The next morning, when the timer rang, signaling to my 8-year-old son Brett that he had reached his Minecraft playing limit, I came over and asked him if he wanted to take a hike down the river and get more ramps for dinner.

Typically?

Whining. Complaining.

“Can’t I just play for 5 more minutes!”

Not this time.

More ramps for dinner? He was on it.

We brought the pack basket this time, so we could collect a little more than just a handful.

It had to be the most beautiful day. A nice breeze. 70 degrees.

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pulling them out with great care…

There were no critters in the backwater ponds for Brett to catch with his net, what he usually focuses on while I do all the work, but once he looked up and saw that field full of ramps, he pulled out his small shovel, and even though they were tough to pull out, he took great care in selecting, cleaning and helping me fill the pack basket.

On the way back, we stopped and made some rock sculptures on the river beach, and later that afternoon came back to the house tired and happy and proud of our catch.

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me and my little partner…

Foraging is such a perfect activity from start to finish.

Fresh air, lots of exercise, mental relief from being in such a beautiful outside environment, and a great time to talk to family and friends.  Let’s not forget too, at the end of the day you get to cook a really special meal reminding you of the time and patience and care it took for you to gather the ingredients.

As for me? I’m psyched because the season has officially started. It’s almost never as easy and hiking down the river to find what I want, like I did this past weekend. It’s more of a puzzle. A hunt, and not always a sure thing. But that’s what makes it fun, engaging and kind of addicting!  Now that I have had that first taste of it, I’ll be more motivated than ever to shift my focus from winter indoor exercise and grocery-store produce, back outside and back to nature, something essential for us on so many levels.

Hiking in the woods. Rambling on paths. Wading in the river.

Ramps. Fiddleheads. Mushrooms, Berries…

Let the hunting season begin!

If you are interested in learning more about foraging and collecting edible plants, there are so many books and field guides and apps to use. I learned through knowledgeable friends though, and think it’s probably the safest bet to have someone show you how to identify the plants or mushrooms in person. If you have a friend who is into it, invite yourself along–and if not, look to see if you have a local nature organization nearby where you can learn with guided instruction.

I’d love to hear your foraging stories too, please do tell!

Sense of Nature

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the only blooms we see so far, the cute little willows…

Yesterday felt like winter. Today, finally looks like spring.

Tis’ the season in Vermont, where every few hours it seems the weather changes. Sun and warmth are taken over by clouds and rain or a sudden chill, keeping us inside.  It can mess with our moods in such a profound way, sometimes making-or -breaking our whole outlook for the day, including our focus and drive.

On one of the two or three nice days we have had so far this spring, determined to get a little outside time, I met my husband at his office and we took a short hike up a steep cobble on his lunch hour. He tends to plow up through the woods, never the trail, scaling steep rocks and downed trees, never looking back to see how anyone else is doing. That’s fine with me, and I’m used to it, but I don’t particularly like steep, and am convinced that boot-makers have some conspiracy going where they never put a rugged-enough tread on women’s boots. Even when I purchase the same boot my husband gets, in women’s sizes, I’m slipping and sliding, and he’s got the rough tread to keep on going.

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the view from the top!

As he went straight up, I poked along in a safer, more round-about way, checking from side-to-side to see if there were any instances of green or new growth. I still managed to meet him at the top. It felt amazing to be outside, and we made a pact to make this happen every week where he isn’t traveling. It’s great exercise. Fantastic to get fresh air. And when he hasn’t left me too far behind, we actually have time to talk, think out-loud a bit, and not be interupted every few minutes by an 8-year-old who’s current fascination includes bizarre what-if scenarios involving Minecraft zombies and creepers and skeletons.

As we worked our way down back towards the office, our conversation drifted back to a reoccurring topic: the virtues of taking it outside. “See, when you climb over rocks and go down mountains, it’s really great cardio and great for the core too” says my hubby, “and I’m outside in the fresh air, not inside staring at the ground, a wall or a DVD, I feel much better after being out in the fresh air”.  He thinks I don’t agree, but I don’t dispute this at all. I love being outside, wouldn’t trade it for the world.  What he is actually trying to do is convince me we don’t need to do any additional strength training beyond what we would get on a hike….that’s where we differ.

I’m not out here today for the physical effects, but for my sanity! After this first hike of the year, I was walking on air, feeling great for the first time in months.

I am convinced I think much more clearly after even just a short walk by myself or with my dog, because when I’m outside around the trees, looking and listening to the sound of the river, the birds, and away from everything else like cell phones and computers, my mind wanders and I usually come back with a long list of ideas to write down about how to approach my goals. I have actually started scheduling my walks earlier in the day to be more productive, because I know it’s part of my thinking process. I also have a son who has enough energy for about 5 kids, and have found just by observation when he is outside looking for something, whether it’s frogs, salamanders or bugs, or his most recent find, a praying mantis egg sac, he is truly in his element. Calm. Happy. Engaged. Focused.

look mom! soon we’ll have 400 mantis babies in the house!

Currently I’m reading an eye-opening book called Last Child in the Woods-Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. I was interested in reading this book for my son of course, but also because I believe we as people, as parents, need this for ourselves.

The basic premise of the book is that kids are not outside enough. They are too scheduled. Kids in suburbia and in cities have a tough time finding any place to play freely and safely, and that some locations, even rural areas, are so highly-regulated because of liability and restricted use, it’s causing kids to come inside, play video games, watch tv, and sit on their rear-ends instead.

This of course adds to a host of issues including obesity and attention problems, among them. And with technology today, people trade information for experience. They think they know everything because they can Google it. But in actuality, technology does not encourage any of us to be hands-on participants in nature,  just observers. Being a participant brings out healthy development of the senses, sparks creativity and “can improve cognitive abilities and resistance to negative stresses and depression“.

Being an observer, not so much…

Louv says “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health, (and also, by the way, in our own.)” and “most parents have an acutely tuned sense of responsibility–to the point where they consider relaxing and leisure, for themselves or their children, a self-indulgent luxury. By taking nature out of the leisure column, and placing it in the health column, we are more likely to take our children on that hike–more likely to, well, have fun“.

The book goes on to describe examples of how natural landscapes and gardens have been known as restorative, and therapeutic for as far back as two thousand years. He notes studies indicating positive effects to people just by seeing a little green, or a natural setting out a window. Louv mentions research into “green exercise” is ongoing, and mostly for adults, and they “seem to benefit from “recess” in natural settings” as these settings help rejuvenate, restore and calm anxiety and depression.

I know I haven’t done the book justice with this short synopsis, because the message of the book goes in many different directions, but I love this, and agree wholeheartedly. Not just for kids, for us too, because who are we, but just grown up kids? A few days ago on my morning walk as I was thinking about this book, it made me wonder if there was an exact time in my life when I stopped thinking like a kid, and became this responsible, serious person I am now. When did I stop being a creative person? I had always loved hands on art projects and drawing and writing as a kid. I’m guessing my gradual decline in creativity started when my marketing career began after college, where I suddenly became a numbers person.  And then I wondered, was there an exact time when suddenly my need to be alone, or to have space and time to think, went away? Well, it never went away, I just stopped allowing it to happen, I’m guessing the moment my son was born.

Regardless, it isn’t right. There’s no reason I can’t reclaim that creativity, calm and focus, I just need to work at building a new, and more consistent habit.

The sun is peeking out, I can see from the window. A few willows are blooming and red-winged blackbirds and chickadees are singing away. No time for a hike and fitness debate with the husband today, but a quick walk down by the river with Balsam will wake the senses and get me through the day. I hope whether you are at work or home, you can stop, look and enjoy a little time outside today, even if you only have few minutes to peek at a little green.

Remember, it’s not an added luxury, it’s for your health too.

Happy spring!

More information about the Children and Nature Movement:
http://www.childrenandnature.org/

Last Child in the Woods
http://amzn.com/156512605X