Lessons from my son: Fidget more, Sit Less

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I’m consistently awed by the wisdom I have gained from my child. And this past week, I can add more of that to the list, where his instincts were on target to solve one of my problems, while my preconceived ideas fell short.

From the moment Brett pulled himself up for the first time at the age of one, he was on the move. He has many amazing qualities, but his inability to sit still?  That is not one of them.

Or so I thought.

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just like Brett on his ball…1-2-3, 4-2,3-6-0, 2 1/2, 0

We were first alerted to his fidgety tendencies in Pre-k. He was constantly swaying into people’s space. Not quite able to keep in that single file line. And always a bit out of step in the circle. He reminded me a bit of Tacky the Penguin, have you ever read that book? Unlike all his penguin friends, Tacky marched to his own drum.

Brett is in third grade now, and has definitely improved. My theory is he spends all the energy he can muster during the school day trying to do the right thing, but once home, he is all over the place.

At mealtime, it’s always a challenge.

We have an open living room, dining room setup. And so when it’s time for us to sit down to eat, he’ll show up for a bite, then he’s gone the next, launching himself off the couch or scooting across the room. A few years ago I bought him a product called a disc-o-sit (nicknamed the wiggle cushion) hoping this might keep him in his chair so he could at least move and sit at the same time, and it did help for a few years until it was replaced by something even more fabulous in his eyes.

When Brett was about 6, My brother Greg visited. At the time, he recommended I learn to use an exercise ball. Inspired, I went out and purchased my own big red stability ball. But once Greg left, I didn’t really know what to do with it, and it seemed too big for me.  It promptly went downstairs out of sight, out of mind.

A few months later, I purchased a new exercise program and received a blue stability ball as a bonus.

Oh great I thought, just what we need, two stability balls taking up space downstairs!

The blue one was smaller than the red one, and Brett took one look, one jump on this thing, and the two were inseparable. Until that is, a week later he happened to bounce on the ball while holding a bamboo skewer, pointed down. In a matter of seconds, the blue ball was no more…

Brett was horrified; he ran downstairs, found the underutilized big red ball, that was actually a little smaller now, deflated from inactivity. And this has been his savior ever since, and a permanent fixture in our living room. He rolls the red ball to the table, next to his chair, while eating. He bounces or lays on it, or sways back and forth. He’ll stretch forward or hang backward. He bounces while watching movies, just hanging out talking and while listening at family read time before he goes to bed.

When friends and family come to visit, they think this is odd.

a little balancing practice...

a little balancing practice…

Why is he not able to sit in his chair?

At meals, kids should sit. When you are reading together, kids should sit and listen.

When watching a movie, shouldn’t he be sitting on a couch?

Why do you let him do this?

You must be pushover parents…

Brett and his intense need to move around and fidget are on my mind this week, as I try to solve a similar problem of my own.

Newly-inspired by the goals I set a few weeks ago, I’m finding in reality, a few of my goals cancel each other out. Here’s the dilemma: I just don’t know how to live an active lifestyle if I’m on my rear-end writing. Or learning to paint. Or learning a new language.

When I sit for long periods of time, I think about Brett and his need to move.  This must be how he feels every day: restless, uncomfortable, trapped. I feel if I sit for as long as I need to write something, or research, or study, I’ll grow roots! My legs and rear-end begin to numb. I can feel my thighs expand, soften, as I sink further and further into that chair…

Thinking it through this week, I realize there are two separate issues to address:

1) I need to maximize time spent off the chair, ensuring I’m getting the extra movement I need to balance out those big blocks of inactivity.

2) And I need to see if there are workstation options that may help me not feel so awful when I do sit down for long periods of time.

I started my search for answers, realizing immediately there’s no shortage of media coverage on the topic of sitting. I learned through many sources that sitting too much makes you die sooner, and that it is also considered by some as “the new smoking.

Then I saw an article in the Daily Beast that actually got me thinking about combating issue #1. The article recommends people incorporate a variety of squats at random times throughout the day. For example, instead of sitting around on the couch watching commercials during a TV show, get up and squat. Or take a 10 minute break at work, to get in a few more. And perhaps while waiting for a train, you might try a few more. In no time, taking advantage of these breaks can add up to a substantial amount of activity.

There is one part of the article I don’t agree with, and that is the assumption these movements can replace formal exercise: for me, that wouldn’t work. But the wheels started spinning, and I began to experiment. Not just with squats, but with lunges, and stretches and balance moves…

Here were a few places I started to add activity:

  • Lunge or Squat while folding laundry
  • Plie squat and hold while blow drying my hair
  • Random kicks while standing around thinking. That one worked well except for the time when I clipped my dog in the jaw –oops! Note to self for next time? Watch for family members before trying…
  • One legged balance poses and wall squats.
  • Squat while emptying the dishwasher.
  • Squats in the kitchen while waiting for my pan to heat up.
  • And of course, lots of static and ballistic stretches while standing.

Awesome, this will work! Now onto issue #2, assessing my workstation…

As I researched different chair and desk options, I came across the term Active Sitting.

According to Wikipedia:

Active sitting occurs when seating allows or encourages the seated occupant to move. Also referred to as dynamic sitting, the concept is that flexibility and movement while sitting can be beneficial to the human body and make some seated tasks easier to perform.

I found a variety of chairs designed for active sitters, how does one even choose? But then I came across this article in the New York Times , and had to laugh that the possible answer could be staring me right in the face.

I looked up from the computer, scanned the room until I located it off in the corner. The big red ball.

I walked over, rolled it back to my computer and was about to take a seat to test it out by my computer.

Brett caught me in the act.

Are you going to sit on my ball?

Embarrassed, I said no. Pushed the ball back over to him, and took my regular seat in the dining room chair.

I thought about the old wiggle-cushion. And the red ball. And how we used to try so hard to make Brett sit in his chair until finally giving in because we just didn’t want to fight it anymore. How is it that my kid knew he need to move, or fidget, to restore his active/sitting balance throughout the day, and was drawn to Active Sitting all along.  He found his answer instinctively, where we adults have to research at length to find the answer from supposed experts.

Adults have been making fidgety, active kids feel bad for not being able to conform to the right way, the expected way of sitting properly, when repeated evidence shows the right,  proper and expected  way, over time, is really very wrong.

Get a load of this quote I found about fidgeters, also from Wikipedia:

Fidgeting is considered a nervous habit, though it does have some underlying benefits. People who fidget regularly tend to weigh less than people who do not fidget because they burn more calories than those who remain still. It has been reported that fidgeting burns around an extra 350 calories a day.

I don’t know anyone who would mind burning 350 additional calories just by some extra movement, do you?

Perhaps it’ll look funny for all of us to be moving, lunging, squatting, standing, kicking, fidgeting, and balancing all around the house, but I think it’s a good plan to set in motion, starting now.

My son has proved to me yet again, his instincts are spot-on.

And we will once again become a household with two big stability balls floating around the living room.

Only this time we’ll know what to do with them!

How do you combat inactivity throughout the day? Are you a fidgeter? Or too sedentary? What types of lessons have you learned from your children?

I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts and please share this post. Once you are done with that, get up, stretch, and 10 Squats please!

Don’t Call Them Resolutions

SONY DSCOnly 1 more day!

Last year I set a goal to write two posts each month, and as of 12/30/2013, I’m on the verge of not meeting my target.

Any person with a blog will tell you two posts a month isn’t exactly a strong showing. I had to alter this goal a bit too, originally I had this set at every-other-week, but unable to achieve the pace, I didn’t abandon it altogether, but changed it to two per month instead.

Next year, perhaps the goal will be 3?

I have lots of excuses this month, primarily the fact that December happened, where we all tend to get sucked into the holiday void: end-of-school year events, holiday shopping, spending time with visiting relatives. The kid is home from school, and just being  “off” the typical schedule does it every time.

But the clock is ticking…and I want to end the year on plan!

Setting goals, or Resolutions, at the New Year.

We all love to do this, don’t we?

I personally like the term goal setting,  because a goal sounds like something you can work towards. Where a Resolution sounds much more definite. To resolve something. To be resolute. I tend to shy away from any declaration of intent without wiggle-room. Nothing in my life ever seems to get resolved. And even if it did, some new problem would likely unravel in its place. Because that’s what the life of an adult, a parent is all about. For instance, you won’t find me saying something like I WILL exercise every day for ONE hour. Or I WILL NOT drink wine during the work week, or I WILL drink eight glasses of water each day. Or I WILL sleep 8 hours each night.

While these are all admirable changes people make to live a healthier life, this wish list is one bound to fail very, very quickly…

Because sometimes I only have 30 minutes for a workout.

And sometimes I just want a glass of wine on a Monday night.

And honestly, I find it painful to drink that much water and I’m too lazy to keep track anyway.

And it’s really hard to go to bed early every night when my child doesn’t even get to bed until 9. We all need time to ourselves.

Nobody is perfect. According to Journal of Clinical Psychology Study, only 8% of New Years Resolutions are actually achieved.

By setting goals to work towards, I can feel confident even if it takes awhile, I’ll achieve some level of benefit along the way, just by trying, and by declaring very publicly, to all of you, this is my intent. But because I don’t expect 100% resolution, I won’t feel the need to abandon them in disgust when I can’t keep up….

So here’s what I’m thinking for 2014 :

For my Health: Continue to make formal exercise part of each day, but focus on quality rather than time spent. I feel like I have been on auto-pilot these past 6 months with exercise, and have experienced a bit of an off-season. But I have a new fitness challenge (p90x3) that I can do at home, is not time-consuming but should keep me moving every day and interested because it’s something different and should be a challenge.

Where I really need improvement is sleep. I don’t get enough. At least a few nights per week, when my husband decides he wants to turn on a war movie or some uninspiring TV show where I know I’ll fall asleep on the couch, or be compelled to play online Scrabble throughout, I’ll pro-actively go to bed instead.

And sadly, I have enough evidence that sugar after dinner interrupts my sleep, so dessert will be the exception, not the rule in the coming year.

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As Chief Health Officer of the family, need to keep him active…

I’ll also keep up my role of Chief Health Officer on the family level, ensuring everyone else stays active and eats well most of the time. I do need to work on honing my skills as a cheerleader, but without being too preachy.

For my Family: Over Thanksgiving, when we were visiting my brother and sister-in-law and niece and nephew, we tried one little experiment: on Thanksgiving day, devices had to be put away. From the second we woke up, until about 11 am, we spent most of our time answering questions about what was allowed and what wasn’t. We finally just gave up; at least the kids were actively engaging with each other while on their devices…

I’ll have to get buy-in from my husband on this, but while home, I have noticed we aren’t much better. We need to set some device limits to get the attention back on each other. Tom, if you are reading this? We can talk about it tonight…

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Couldn’t resist putting in this photo from last week…bonding time w/devices!

For my extended Family: Be a better Sister, Aunt and Daughter. I thought when I stopped working outside the home I’d miraculously get better at correspondence. But guess what? I’m still horrible with remembering birthdays and calling and keeping in touch. It’s because I’m disorganized with basically everything except my workouts and my son, and I am not much of a phone talker. But this year, I will set up a reminder system and you will all see an improvement!

For my Girlfriends: Where are all of you??! We are all stuck in a void, being moms and prioritizing everything else.

But making time for each other? That’s what keeps us sane. I have been thinking a lot about the Four-burner stove story detailed by David Sedaris. Where each burner represents a priority.

And how so many of us turn off that friendship burner in lieu of everything else. Thanks Jen at and yadda yadda yadda..I made alliyah, for alerting me to this concept earlier this year. I’m here if you are, and maybe I won’t chat for hours on the phone, but will be in touch and hope to see you all in person this year! I want to keep that burner going for years and years and years…

For Personal Improvement: A few years ago, I went on this kick where I forced myself to try activities I thought I would always dislike. I wrote about that here.  This was a great motivator, because I found out I truly didn’t dislike many of these activities, I was just either too lazy or unmotivated to work at learning something new. Over the last few months I took my eye off this target, but want to bring it back.

I’m going to start by taking my friend Lynn’s watercolor class, anyone want to join me?

I’m going to ski more with my son this winter.

And after visiting with my step-daughter Brooke and her husband Wilson, I realized I really should learn Spanish. Wilson is from Ecuador, and while I don’t think I need to be fluent, there is no reason in the world that I should not at least attempt to learn some of the language. I stopped myself mid-sentence as I explained “But I don’t speak Spanish…” and thought to myself, this excuse does not fly, it’s never too late to learn…

Writing has been great for me, and I’m proud even if I’m not as prolific with my posts as others, this has been a great discipline to keep me focused throughout the year. Being “fit” to me does not just define what physical shape I’m in. It defines whether I’m a fit parent. A fit friend. Being fit can define happiness, and satisfaction. It’s a general state of being. And reflecting here every few weeks helps me see if I’m on the right track.

Whether I can make it to 3 posts per month next year? I’ll think about it…

Goal setting experts will probably say there are way too many items on this list.

But I’ll keep them all there anyway, because they are all items I aspire to achieve.

I’m not expecting 100%, just progress…

Because these are goals remember, do not call them Resolutions!

And by the way, writing this post? I just met my 2013 target…

Do you set goals each year? How do you judge success? Do you have a tough time keeping them top-of-mind? Would love to hear your stories and input!  And Happy New Year!

The Fitness Blues

When I first started this journal, my idea was this would be the place for me to work out my thoughts about staying healthy through the years.

And I wanted this to be about me as a woman; not a mom.

I didn’t want, more than anything, to be a mommy-blogger.

Not that there is anything wrong with mommy-bloggers, I read and enjoy many of them. I just thought because so many women, once they become moms, become so absorbed in being caretakers, keeping track of households, careers, kids, etc, there needs to be a place to voice our concerns. Because as often as we get swallowed into everyone else’s drama,  we too are people who matter. We need to be strong, healthy, and yes, happy too, if we are going to be good support for our families.

And if anyone cares to read what I write, if they don’t know this already about themselves, they can be reminded of this fact too.

But as I look back at my last few posts, actually most of them from this summer on, would put me in that mommy category. Parenting issues have invaded my brain. And as much as I would like to mull-over interesting  issues and health trends, I often become interrupted.

Hmmm, should I continue to pursue intermittent fasting? I read it’s really healthy and helps you ward off disease, but after trying it for a few months, I need to re-evaluate…

Oh, time to pick up my son from school….

I need to find a local veggie source for the winter, need to research all the options.

Are you going to town today, can you pick up prescriptions at the drug-store?

My friend Maggie told me about this company, 23andme, about how you can get genetic testing for your family and find out if you are prone to Alzheimer’s and other diseases? Can you imagine doing that? Would I ever consider it?

Hey, get off the computer, you have been playing Minecraft way too long…

I need to reschedule that yearly exam I cancelled last month…

Actually, Brett needs his well-check too, I’ll schedule that first.

I’m unmotivated right now and need to create a new exercise program before I build a new habit of laziness, what should I do?

Don’t forget, come early for the Halloween Parade at school today!

Where does the time go!

Often as soon as these questions come to mind, I’m forced to come down from the clouds, back to the school, back to the doctor’s office, back to finishing the last Harry Potter book with my son. Back to helping him do his homework, and lecturing him about the need for balance with screen time.

And these questions are forgotten for weeks, unresolved, until I bring them up again and start the same cycle of putting them off, putting them off…

Oh yeah, and did you know, we are out of toilet paper too? 

Argh! The indignity of it all…

I just want to concentrate for just a few minutes…my health and sanity are at stake!

There isn’t typically an immediate downside to putting off finding answers to some of my health questions.  But one of them has finally become a problem.

It’s that one about about needing to find a new exercise program. Because I’m in a big slump. Completely unmotivated.

I’m one of those people who does well with a planned exercise program. I need a schedule telling me what to do each day. If I have a schedule, no questions asked, like it or not, busy or not… it gets done. And for the last few years, I had been happily switching off between a few programs (P90x and ChaLean Extreme) where I have three days of using weights, and then the rest of the days I have a mix of outside walks, hikes or some variety of strength training and yoga.

But last month as I reached the end of my most current program schedule, as much as I love them both, I couldn’t bear to continue. The workouts were getting redundant; I have done each of them, in 3-month intervals, 3x.

So I decided to be unscheduled for a few weeks, to think over what to do next.

Each time I tried to take the time to research something new, I was disappointed. First of all, if you try enough of these programs, they all start to seem similar after awhile and it’s just hard to choose. I think, but if it’s so similar, why don’t I just do another round of what I have already?

But I don’t want to do another round. I’m bored.

Decision, interrupted. 

I began to take hikes up in the woods behind my house every day. October is so amazing in Vermont, I need to enjoy it.

The view at the top of my October hikes…

These hikes were challenging, and a welcome change from scheduled weight lifting.  And when your mind drifts a million miles away in parent-land, just feeling that air. Seeing the colors. The different trees. The feeling I get when I reach the top of the little mountain and look out at our cute little rural valley, it’s intoxicating.

But the beauty doesn’t last too long. As I look out the window today, and see the leaves almost all down from the trees. The wind is whipping, and it’s pouring out. And the need to answer my question about what next comes back to the forefront, because I’m not going out there…

I have read it takes 21 days to build a habit.

And after my wonderful month off, mindlessly rambling in the woods, I realize I took a few days too many. I lost my good habit. The one where I’m all for the challenge of one armed push-ups, army crawls, vertical jumps, chin-ups, right angle poses and hip openers, and heavy weights.

Instead I am left with the new habit of just wanting to move around mindlessly, not having to think too much, or work too hard. When I’m particularly unmotivated and it’s cold out, I even started strapping on the headphones, grabbing my kindle fire and streaming Orange is the New Black on Netflix, while mindlessly moving my legs on the elliptical.

When I’m done, I don’t even remember working out. It just isn’t all that satisfying.

This IS really good exercise. I know you are all thinking that.

But I won’t be hiking or walking much in the winter. And I’ll be bored if I am on the elliptical more than once or twice a week.

When you are in a slump, the first bit of advice a fitness expert is going to tell you is that you need to mix it up. Well, I’m trying. I agree with that advice.

But here’s the problem I’m starting to see. I need to stay motivated not just for 3 months or a year, or two years, I need to stay motivated to workout for LIFE. I have been in-tune with my health, making sure it is always a priority, for about 5 years, and I’m in this slump already.

What happens in 10 years? Or 20?

How am I going to keep mixing it up FOREVER?

Another bit of advice I hear from fitness experts, and try to add to the equation to pick me out of this slump, is that I need to set goals.  And I totally agree! I set goals all the time. But here’s the challenge. It’s all fun when someone wants to lose weight. Hooray, I lost 10 lbs! Or 50 lbs. I have reached my goal!  That’s so motivating!  But what happens when you are the same size for a long time. And you just need to stay there?

And then when you first start working out you can set goals like: I want to run a 5K, or a half-marathon. Or I want to increase my weights. Or I want to lose 2 inches off my waist. And you have reached these goals already. What’s next?

Keep going?

Make the challenges harder?

How long can I keep this up?

Do I want to keep this up?

And is it safe? Injury is not an option.

Thinking about how I might respond to these questions, about how far I really need to go with these never-ending goals to stay motivated, I am reminded of a phrase from one of my favorite workout videos, where Chalene Johnson tells us assuredly:

You are an athlete now!

Me, an athlete?

Because I show up every day and work hard at fitness? Hmmm…

I’m flattered by the idea, I hadn’t thought to categorize myself this way.  But it worries me too, because the more I get swept up in setting and achieving new goals, quantifying progress, looking at exercise as a sport, a competition or a job, or thinking about me, an athlete, the harder it is to ever feel like I am succeeding.

I don’t want to continue keeping score.

How do I show progress, without being so into it?

Without having to quantify every bite, every weight, every personal best?

I don’t want to think like an athlete…or a professional. I can’t lift more than I am already. Get more fit than I am already, unless I make a decision to take it a step further…

And I don’t need that.

I am after all, just a mom.

Decision on how to proceed?

Interrupted, once again, for now…

What types of tactics do you use to help get you back into the right frame of mind to stay motivated? Do you feel the need to continually one-up your goals? Or do you just not think about it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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!

Much more than a Sneeze…

WP_20130903_004-001Brett and I took the red eye flight last February from Phoenix to Dulles and arrived at 6 am.

He slept on the flight.

Me, not so much.

For him to be comfortable enough to sleep, it means discomfort for me as he sprawls his body across both seats, pinning me down, I am unable to move for hours.

Finally off the plane, eyes still blurry as they adjust to the air and lighting. We had to find our next gate; it would be a shuttle, and then a long walk. As we made our way through the terminal, we passed a food court.

Within a few seconds, “Mom, something smells horrible,  it’s bothering my throat! Get me out of here!”

I look to my left and see fast food workers behind trays, food sizzling away. A Chinese buffet. Peanut oil is sifting through the air. I can’t tell the difference, but Brett’s body sure can…

We quickly run away. I pull him aside when we are safe from fumes, and pull out a Benadryl Fastmelt.

6 am? Really? We have to worry about Chinese Food cooking at 6 am?

I just want some coffee…

This is the reality of parenting a child with a peanut allergy.

I have so many stories like this. How to even begin?

There was the time we went to an annual game dinner with my husband’s co-workers, where we had to flee the scene after my son, running around outside with some other kids, had a nose-to-air assault. We discovered the culprit. Wild turkey in the smoker, cooked in, you guessed it: peanut oil.

When Brett was a little shorter, a few years ago, counter-height, we were checking out at a natural foods store in town and he began to sneeze. And sneeze. And sneeze. Multiply this 20x or so, the stores owner and I look at him in alarm. What is going on? I pull him out the front door, give him a Benadryl, and have him stand outside while I finish paying for our “nut-free” crackers and supplies. I look down, a peanut cookie, wrapped in a light cling-wrap, sat nose-height directly in front of him on the counter.

Our favorite store, a birding store, has open bird seed bins, with peanut dust flying everywhere. It used to be a treat to go there; now we don’t go in there at all. Now I worry even if I go there myself, what if the product I purchase for him has peanut dust on it?  And then there’s the local garden store with a large pet bird. We loved to visit just to see him, until we were there watching as a staff member fed peanuts to the bird; shells and dust littering the floors. I haven’t been back.

We are in Beaver Creek, Colorado with my family. Before going out to dinner, I check the website of each potential restaurant, and start the inquisition. Do you use peanut oil? How many menu-items have peanuts or nuts? Do the people working there sound like they know what they are doing and will take care of my son’s meal?  After dinner someone mentions going to get ice cream cones. They all go. We have to search for 15 minutes to find a convenience store, to find a pint of ice cream with an allergy-friendly label, because we can’t go to Ice Cream Parlors. Cross-contamination. Our family looks at us kind of funny. It was bad enough it took three tries to agree on a suitable restaurant. Now this? They wonder, are we being just a little over-the-top with our caution?

During intermission at a local high school play with friends, baked goods are spread out on tables for purchase. So tempting. My son’s friend hurries over and picks out two cookies. There aren’t nuts in it, she says, Brett do you want one? I’m sure they are fine!

My son stiffens.

Then runs to the hallway, away from all the food.

There’s nothing there for him.

Even an innocent little cookie, baked probably with love by one of the high school kids parents, and probably without nuts, is off limits. Who made it? What are the ingredients? Is the chocolate they use made in the same facility as other nuts? Do they have nuts in their kitchen? I found a squished old allergy-friendly chocolate bar in my purse, left over from Halloween, and that had to suffice until the play was over. If only they sold something in a package. With a label. Without nuts. Without being produced in a facility with nuts, he could have something to eat.

Quite a few of my friends have suggested I consider writing about what it’s like to deal with this peanut allergy on an ongoing basis. My response so far has been, no thanks. I don’t think I could keep up on the news and still stay a positive happy person.

I’ll keep it health-focused. That makes me happy.

But food allergies are on the mind this week.

One reason, is that recent news has been particularly horrifying. When I open Facebook, where most of my food allergy-related sources live and communicate allergy news and happenings, the photo of a beautiful, smiling 13-year old girl, Natalie Giori, is repeatedly shared.

Natalie died from anaphylaxis in late July. Her parents this past week spoke out about the incident. She died because she ate a Rice Krispie treat at a camp cookout. She thought it was ok. It didn’t look like it contained nuts. But it did.

Her Benadryl didn’t work, nor the 3 epi-pens administered.

You can read about it here..

As a parent of a child with food allergies, I have to keep up with the news. But often, it’s hard. If I miss out on important new developments, and learnings from fatal, heartbreaking, too-close-to-home stories like the one above, I will miss out on making myself a smarter, more-prepared parent.

But if I read about this too much? It just depresses the heck out of me.

As I’m contemplating Natalie last week, my son starts 3rd grade.

At the beginning of each new school year, food-allergy parents need to head straight to the school nurse. We discuss our emergency action plan. We sign new forms and have our doctors sign as well. We give the school a recent photo of our child so they can post the photos on their emergency forms in all the common school rooms. We get new epi-pens so the school has valid ones for the year and double-check the box of Benadryl is up-to-date.  We meet the new teacher ahead of time to make sure he is aware of the allergy and knows to have two epi-pens follow Brett wherever he goes. I’m lucky; our elementary school is fantastic and has the best policies on allergies a parent could ever want. The nurse, Mandy, a gem. Thankfully, that’s the one place I am confident I can leave him.

Our school also sends out an informational form to parents about food allergies, the severity of them, and outlines procedures used at the school to ensure nut-free rooms and zones exist to keep students safe.  Although nuts are not banned, the policy cautions parents about sending kids with nut products in their school lunch.

I know this is a pain for other parents.

Every school year, in the news, I hear about some group of parents, in another community around the U.S. fighting the school about nut-free policies. They don’t understand why they need to change what their kids eat because of other people’s issues. Can’t these allergic kids just stay away from nuts?

They can, yes, to a certain point.

We do, as parents, whatever we can to make sure our kids avoid the allergen. In the stories I mention earlier you can see that. But sometimes these kids come face-to-face with the allergen and it’s unavoidable, sort of like second-hand smoke, or worse, using another recent news topic, like a chemical weapon.

Severe food allergies are not the same as regular outdoor allergies: It’s not sneezing and wheezing from dust or pets or plants. Exposure can cause anaphylaxis. Where someone’s throat closes up and they are not able to breathe. Like my son in the airport, or the game dinner, coming face-to-face with sizzling peanut oil. He is just walking down the hall, or just running around, and then bang, it happens!

Epi-pens are powerful and save lives; but in some cases, like with Natalie, who did actually consume the peanut, the success rate is not 100%.

At a school, nut residue could be on a doorknob, or a table, or on playground equipment, or just on a friends hand, who touches my son, and it transfers. And that’s why it isn’t just something we as parents can control on our own.

And why many of us, parent and child, navigating life with food allergies every day have so much anxiety.

Every year I get better in my role of being a food allergy parent.

The difficult part though involves finding the right balance. Teaching the child to advocate for themselves as they get older, and also ensuring their safety in an emergency. I get loads of unsolicited advice from family, acquaintances, and some friends. Who judge my actions as a parent, when they have no idea what kinds of dilemmas we face each day.

Do you really have to read that label 15 times, or ask the server if there are nuts in a hot dog?

Nobody puts nuts in hot dogs.

Well, yes, someone might.

But the label doesn’t say “produced in the facility with nuts” it must be ok, right?

Why do you need to call the company to ask?

Because it’s not a law; companies do not have to label when there are nuts in the facility, or even when foods are processed on the same equipment. Cross-contamination is a big deal.

And surely he can learn to speak up for himself and carry his own medicine.

I don’t know. Would you put a couple of huge needles in an 8-year olds backpack, and expect him to save himself by stabbing himself in the leg if his throat started to close up from contact with an allergen?

Other kids go to camps all summer, why does Brett only attend a few?

Most camps around here have no policies for nut-allergies and no training on epi-pens. Would you leave your kid somewhere when you can’t ensure their safety?

And, you haven’t left him at a birthday party or playdate by himself?

Not yet…but I’m working towards it!

Aren’t you just being a little too hovering, a little too over-protective?

He needs to learn independence.

I don’t know.

It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just leaving my child with someone else is a big responsibility.

For me and for the other parent.

Food allergies are certainly not the only childhood problem. All parents have issues with their children. My son’s friend Ashley has Type 1 diabetes, and her mom Lynn and I are often the ones staying at after-school activities and summer camps, long after other parents are free to leave. Lynn explained to me one day in detail what she needs to do to keep her daughter safe, on an hourly basis, sometimes more, and my jaw dropped in disbelief.

But food allergies are invisible. And they are misunderstood. There is no apparent reason why my child has one; he certainly didn’t ask for one, and neither did the other millions of people who are living with this problem.

What I’d like to accomplish by writing my thoughts here?

As you send your kids back to school you will inevitably encounter kids in similar circumstances, and their parents trying to figure out how to balance their safety and independence, even while the two goals seem to contradict each other.

Less judgement and unsolicited advice.

Patience. Support.

Understanding.

Food allergies are complicated.

While they share the same name as seasonal allergies,

The realities, if we aren’t careful, are much, much, more than a simple sneeze.

Do you have anyone with food allergies or intolerance in your life? Or any difference, that makes it a little tougher as a parent? Would love to hear your stories and strategies…

Please consider sharing to promote better understanding of Food Allergies, thank you!

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?

SONY DSC

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.

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…

Little Changes, Big Impact

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Too busy to admire nature? Put it on the list…

Have you ever had one of those moments when you make a teeny-tiny, no-brainer kind of change in routine, but it makes all the difference?

I’m feeling that way this winter, and still can’t believe it took me so long to figure out how to get myelf a little more organized. I’ll say a little more, because the transition isn’t 100%, but think I’m on the right path.

I have always been kind of Type A at career-oriented tasks. If I had a vision on a project, it had to be perfect and I’d work round-the-clock to ensure everything was just so, and of course, on time. The calendar and task list was solid. But on a personal level? I’m definitely Type B. Banking and finances, a mess; if I sent a payment in on time, it was luck and it didn’t bother me all that much.  Mail was in piles, unopened, all over the house. Nothing interesting ever comes in the mail anyway, right?

With friends and in groups? Whatever they want to do is fine, no worries. Go with the flow, that’s me…

A few years ago, when I was in the middle of my corporate work-life, mom-life juggle, the Type A work-mode took over, and I was notoriously bad on a personal level keeping in touch with friends. Between driving to New Hampshire, the corporate office, and traveling to visit clients in California, Utah, Seattle, Boston, and having those work-at-home days too where I would hide downstairs in my office until lunch, where I’d see Brett for an hour, maybe exercise, and then go back down and hide for the rest of the day, anything fun and inpirational like hanging out with a friend, that was the last thing on my mind.

My friend Marina and I were often trying to set up lunches, and each time that day came up on the calendar there was some reason to cancel.  Travel, or a super-important project, or whatever, and then by the time we would think to make a date again, a few months had passed and we would start this cycle over again. It got to the point where I was seeing my friend only a few times during the year, and she only lives 20 minutes away! She finally one day brought up the idea of a scheduled once-a-month lunch date.

The Rules:

  • Put lunch date on the calendar.
  • Schedule other appointments around it.
  • As soon as we get back from lunch, immediately set new date.

What a concept, put something fun on the calendar, and prioritize it?  It’s not rocket-science, but it worked, and although the dates aren’t always as often as once a month, we have had this routine for about 6 years.

Long after I put my career on hold and became the full-time master-of-the-home-and-child I am today, I still have a tough time

Well, I think I saw that to-do list here somewhere?

Well, I think I saw that to-do list here somewhere?

accomplishing everything I want to during the day. Aside from some lunch dates, most of what I put on my calendar and notepad-based to-do list are uninspiring chores.  I have often wondered how the heck I ever worked outide the home. The days go quickly. I still feel awful that I don’t see certain friends enough. I still forget to do pretty much everything on my to-do list because the notepad where I write my list gets lost under all the papers sent home with my son from school.

I was beginning to think my exercise habit was the problem, because I have been unable to focus on anything else. But how can maintaining my health be a problem? That’s not going anywhere…

Why was I so good at this when I was working outside the home?

Or was it in here???

Or was it in here???

Back in December, as I was considering New Years Resolutions and looking to set some goals for 2013 , I was still down about my lack of ability to begin some of the personal projects I had been thinking about but just never seem to have time to do because I was always in the midst of family chores. A friend had mentioned she just signed up for a program called the “Push Challenge”, by Chalene Johnson (http://www.30daypush.com/).

Do you know about Chalene? She is a fitness instructor and motivational guru, and I adore her.

Her workout program Chalean Extreme (http://amzn.com/B001O2MWGI) had been recommended to me last year. I was a little skeptical,  because I had never heard of it, but the workouts had great reviews on Amazon, so I crossed my fingers and placed the order. For the first few weeks I was not a fan; everyone in her videos is so darn cute! And they wear pink. And sometimes sparkles! I mean, me? My friends? People in my state? Nobody looks like these women. I’m guessing they are all California and Florida types, but we New England gals, we look like a whole different species. But over time I learned to love all the inspiring people in the videos, as well as the workouts, as they are all short, really effective, and that Chalene is one smart, motivating woman.

Based on being truly won over, I signed up for this challenge to see what it was all about. I’m not sure I ever went through the whole program, maybe half of it. But essentially, what we did was:

  • Establish Personal Goals.
  • Pick out one goal called the “Push” goal, work towards this every day, and
  • Organize it all on a smartphone to-do list.

My smartphone has a to-do list app?

But I like my notepad to-do list, it sits on the counter right in front of my face so I can’t ignore it.  Oh, and where is that to-do list, by the way? Underneath the school lunch menu, perhaps? Or the pile of drawings on the dining room table?

Seems kind of like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? I guess it isn’t though because I never thought of it by myself! My organizational system, if you can even call it that, was not even remotely taking into account personal goals. I wasn’t prioritizing them because these goals never made it to the to-do list in the first place!  I really thought something was wrong with me over the last few years, wondering why I haven’t been able to focus.

The Type A me, who I was used to seeing in my corporate life, only made infrequent appearances to ensure exercise and fitness-related goals were met, but then just went quietly away after that, where the Type B, go with the flow, disorganized me remained.

Within a few minutes of evaluating to-do list apps, I downloaded one and started filling it in.  The most important point Chalene makes about creating this list is that you must not only put boring chores on your to-do list, like I had been doing. You must put tasks associated with your “Push” goal, or enabling goal, on the list each day, so if your goal is to exercise more, or to be a better friend, or a better parent, tasks associated with you accomplishing this goal go on the list. If you need to get outside more and enjoy nature, or read more fiction books, or to take more photos, those go on there as well. Every day your goals are top-of-mind, and you work towards achieving them.

Kind of cool isn’t it?

I was so excited about this new approach, the next time I saw Marina at lunch I told her all about it. She sat there for a few seconds, looking at me with kind of a stunned silence. “What do you mean you never put your personal goals on your to-do list? I thought you always did!” She felt awful, neglectful even, for not clueing me to this bit of wisdom she knew about, but just assumed I had already done.

No worries Marina. I’m on the right path now.

My goal was to start writing more about what I’m interested in, and maybe inspire a few people along the way, and here I am.  Within a few weeks, I managed to get it done. I now have all my boring chores on my to-do list app too, and my family doesn’t think I’m too much of a space-shot anymore because I don’t forget to do things; my list doesn’t get lost amongst clutter anymore. Already my writing has started enabling one of my New Years Resolutions, being a better friend, and seeing friends and family more often, because when they get my posts I hear from them, we start a dialog, and then we put those dates to get together on the calendar.

I’m starting to see things happen. And am much more inspired throughout the day.

I may start a few new annoying habits, like checking my smartphone too often, but I’ll take it considering the alternative…

How do you organize personal goals into your day? Or do you? Have you had similar struggles?

Please comment, I would love to hear some discussion!