Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to Do a Family Thanksgiving Workout Without Losing Your Gratitude

Our family is fond of the pre-Thanksgiving workout. No surprise there; of course we are. I love that most every city in the country hosts a Thanksgiving "Turkey Trot." If there isn't one nearby, you can always create your own.
A flock of Thom Turkeys at last year's Thom Turkey Day 5K.
We did just that last year, complete with 5K course and race t-shirts. The kids were super excited about participating. Realistically, though, the most any of us can plan is a family walk before sitting around the dining table sharing what you're most grateful for.

The problem here is, you don't want to lose that happy, grateful feeling you're exuding in honor of the holiday in the effort it will take to get your kids to join you. Smiles, everyone! Smiles! Toting along sullen children who do NOT want to walk with their family will suck the gratitude right out of you.

I might have given you the impression that because I write this blog that promotes family fitness, my own children happily come along every time I snap my fingers to get out the door for physical activity. Not usually. Mostly never.

Getting my kids to go along (happily) on a Thanksgiving walk will take much cajoling, pressure, even bribery. Here are my suggestions if you need them.

1) If your children are under two, they are likely too young to protest, so go right ahead and buckle them into whatever device you need to carry, push, pull them along and enjoy the outing. Yes, natural movement advocates recommend letting them walk on their own as soon as they are able, but if you desire to go faster than .00345 miles an hour, do what you have to do to stay grateful.

2) If you don't mind lying, the younger children might rise to the occasion if you tell them you are going out to search for the Magic Thanksgiving Turkey Feather. Bring along a special bag, you know, just in case you find it. Wink. Wink. If you actually do find a turkey feather, you're on your own.

3) If you have a dog, use the dog. This will work any time, not just Thanksgiving. Appeal to the older kids by telling them the walk is for the dog. The dog needs exercise. Tell them that the dog is a family responsibility; walking the dog is part of taking care of the dog. Still protesting? Give them the choice: walk the dog or pick up dog poop. (If you can get them to do both you are a really good parent.)

4) As adults we know why we want that workout: we are making room for more pie. Plain and simple. This reasoning might not appeal to the younger set. What does? Make room for that. My hunch is the kids may want gluttony in another fashion: screen time. So allow it. Just not during the Thanksgiving meal.

5) Have a special guest or two joining you for Thanksgiving? Then by all means, make the Thanksgiving workout their idea. If you tell your kids Grandma or their favorite Aunt Cheryl want to go for a walk then they likely won't protest. They might give you the stink eye, but they will act like angels in front of special guests. Use it to your advantage.

If you can't manage the pre-meal family workout, there's always the post-meal family football game. Not into football? Make up your own active holiday tradition. How many push ups can you do without puking your pumpkin pie?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dinnertime Challenge

The dinnertime challenge: How to please all six of our palates. I've reverted to: You can't please everyone all of the time, only some people some of the time. The ones you don't please at the dinner table have not learned to keep their distaste to themselves and suffer through the meal politely. So far, that includes all of my children.

Despite the dinnertime challenge I haven't given up on our family meal. I try mightily to win these young taste buds over, but the fact remains there are few meals that create an air of excitement for all.

But there are those few that earn a four thumbs-up rating (as in they all eat them willingly and speak positively about what's on their plate). I am grateful to fall back on those few meals as often as I can, and I'm happy to share these recipes knowing full-well they may or may not bring you the same relief at the dinner table.

Chicken Pasta Salad (Deconstructed)

This recipe is derived from a deli recipe sold at a popular Twin Cities grocery store. I have perverted the recipe so badly, I don't think it's wise to give credit to the original. What's more, I have borrowed from a tactic used by Jenny Rosenstrach, author of the book and blog, Dinner: A Love Story (anyone suffering through the dinnertime challenge will appreciate her book), which is the "deconstructed" method of serving dinner to kids with picky palates. In this way, grown ups can have their meal all mixed up, and the kids can choose those ingredients they find less offensive and then have the satisfaction of keeping all food items on their plate from touching, or worse mixing together. But here's the real reason why I recently needed to deconstruct this meal: Because what children like one week doesn't mean they will like it the next. A few years ago I could always count on my kids to eat this pasta salad as is, all mixed up, but recently one child has denounced the celery, another the cherries, and yet another the nuts. Instead of dropping the meal entirely I salvaged it but letting them add what they DO want in their pasta salad.

One box of medium shell noodles (can use gluten-free if you can get away with it), cooked according to directions.
1 1/2-2 cups cooked shredded chicken
Dressing: 1 to 1 1/2 cup mixture of equal parts mayo and poppyseed dressing
Salt and pepper to taste.

Add ins:
2 stalks celery sliced
1 apple peeled, sliced and diced
1-1 1/2 cups dried cherries, cranberries, raisins or whatever dried fruit your kids like
1-1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds nuts or whatever nuts your kids like

Breakfast Pizza

The newest addition to my dinner-time dilemma is something I call breakfast pizza. Breakfast for dinner is always a hit. Kids know pizza is a safe meal for them. Why not combine? I got the idea when I saw ideas for dough-free crusts. One included a crust made from thinly sliced potatoes. I tried this with left-over roasted potatoes and think it will work just as well with a bag of frozen hashbrowns. 

One bag of frozen hashbrowns, cooked according to directions (or leftover cooked, sliced potatoes)
Shredded cheese
Cooked sausage (I typically buy the pre-cooked frozen sausage that's easy to microwave)

Spread the cooked potatoes on top of a sheet of greased parchment paper. Make the crust thin like a pizza crust but thick enough that it will stay together. Bake at 400 degrees until crisp. Add cheese over top and continue baking until cheese melts. Meanwhile cook, crumble or slice the sausage and cook the eggs to your children's liking (my kids like them over easy and runny, go figure). Add the sausage and eggs, then cut into slices and serve.

Jalapeno Cheeseburger Quesadillas

This is the meal I might be remembered for at the end of life. This is thee meal my kids will come home from college asking for; the meal that gets a "Yeah!" when I tell them what's for dinner. Created out of a necessity to use ground beef before it turned green, my very own, West Texas influenced, jalapeno cheeseburger quesadillas (just drop the jalapeno if that scares you or the kiddos).

Cooked ground beef (I often use left over ground beef that didn't make it in the meat loaf, spaghetti, etc.)
Shredded cheese
Sliced red onion (three out of six in my family skip the onions)
Shredded lettuce

We use a panini machine to cook the quesadillas. I cook the onions for those who want them.

 The Boy wants only ketchup with pickles on the side.

This is a traditional cheeseburger option with lettuce, pickles and ketchup.

 Here is the I-Miss-Sonic's-Jalapeno-Cheeseburger version, with lettuce, jalapeno, and mustard.

Normally I make them all then keep them warm in the oven until we're ready to eat. Normally I don't serve a side with this, but on this particular night I cooked half a bag of frozen corn until charred, then sauteed it with diced zuchini, a little garlic and salt and pepper. Not a fan favorite with the kids, but a easy southwestern side for those who need and/or want a serving of vegetables.

Monday, November 10, 2014

5K Training Tips

Me with my first borns at the 5K start.
The 5K for our More Than Pink program is in the books. Everyone in this 3rd-5th grade program to empower girls to be strong inside and out (with the exception of two who had strep throat) finished a 5K. Some had run a 5K before, but most had not. For a young girl, 3.1 miles is a long way to go, especially so when it's cold and blustery out. But they were ready and finished with big smiles. Here's a page from our 5K training playbook:

1) Make sure you can walk 3.1 miles first. One of the first workouts we did was a nature hike. We brought along a list of 20 things we needed to find, similar to the nature hike I posted about last summer. We had so much fun looking for the items and were thrilled about what we saw: the snowy egret, the frogs, snakes, turtles, that it wasn't until mile two that they started asking, "Hey, how far are we going?" When we made it back to school and I announced they had just finished 3.1 miles they were surprised and convinced they could also finish their race.

2) Find support and be supportive. I have witnessed some special interactions watching these girls extend themselves to help each other. On our very first training run, the girls--without any prompting from the adult coaches--made a tunnel out of their arms as they finished and cheered for the girls who finished after them. At the end of our class sessions the girls had the opportunity to write something they needed to let go or something they wanted to share with the group. Most of these slips of paper included pats on the back and positive shout-outs for their fellow More Than Pink team members. Some people say that women don't support each other enough, especially in a professional environment. I hope these girls take this camaraderie with them into adulthood.

3) Work your way up. Most of the girls had already run a mile in gym class so we knew that was our base. We set out to cover one mile, then a mile-and-a-half. We did a mile-and-a-half again, then two miles. We did two miles again, then two-and-a-half miles. We did two-and-a-half miles again, then 3.1 miles. As Dori says: Just keep swimmin' (or running, in this case).

4) Shake it up (because girls ages 8-11 love that song). In between those running workouts we explored other routes to fitness: a yoga class, hula hoop class and sessions with the high school dance, softball and basketball teams. Even if you love running, your body benefits from moving in new and different ways. I love running, but I don't love only running all the time.

5) Challenge yourself. One of our favorite workouts was a game called Train. We had groups of 4-5 girls run in a line around the soccer field. When we blew the whistle, the girl in back would run to the front of the line and set the pace. Someone from each group wore a pedometer and the group that took the most steps was the winner (of bragging rights). This was one of our most challenging workouts, but also a lot of fun; a speed workout dressed up as a game (and one that would be fun for the family too, hint hint).

6) Write down your goal and share it. Before the race everyone wrote down their goal on a piece of poster board. The girls made their goals public, which has the effect of making them come to life. Plus, when your support system knows what you want to accomplish, they can help you get there or remind you of what you want if it becomes less important to you (say when you don't feel like training or when you feel too tired to go for it).

7) Race. That's all. This part is easy. Just show up at the starting line. Do your thing and then own your finish.

This particular 5K was far from my fastest, but will be memorable and gratifying for different reasons, namely that I helped usher girls across a finish line that really is so much more than a 5K. It was a doorway into world where they believe in their aspirations, hard work, and capable bodies.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Flashback: Fall Funk

Every year. It gets me every year. Instead of writing about it (again) I'm just going to flash back to the post I wrote in 2010.

November 1, 2010
Fall Funk

Here I am again, closing in on the impending time change feeling like my energy, productivity level, ability to stay on task and overall enthusiasm (even for the fun stuff--hello exercise!) has hunkered down in the nearest cave for impending hibernation.

It happens every year (and apparently I write about it every year). I hit the proverbial wall as the days get shorter. Fall literally feels like it falls on me, knocking me over. I want to look up and say, "What the hell?" I shouldn't be surprised and yet every year I begin October thinking I'm going to be able to outwit the darkness. By November I'm flailing. "You can't go over it, you can't go under it, you just have to go through it."

So I do, or at least I have in years past. Despite the appeal of slothfulness at this moment, I'm trying to remember how it is I get through it. So far, my list includes:

1. Give in. But only for a week. I give the finger to my alarm clock and otherwise slack off in any way as is possible for a mother of four. The highlight of my slackerness, which I allowed myself last week, was stealing a nap one afternoon while my son napped. Yes, it felt very indulgent.

2. Reintroduce myself to the dark. I do have to function before the sun gets up and after the sun goes down. That alarm goes back into commission and I use any motivation I can to get out of bed. I have discovered, in doing this, that the sunrises from my new house are spectacular and are, in fact, worth getting up for.

3. Keep exercising even when I don't feel like it. What can I say. I just don't feel like it. I know better, though. I know that if I can just move a little here and there, I will remember that exercise will be the light for the long winter months.

4. Avoid ruts. Especially when it's dark, you don't want to find yourself in a rut. Two years ago I switched it up with dancing, last year I signed up for tennis lessons. This year I'm still undecided. I plan to hit a new class at the gym tonight and try a masters swim class on Thursday. I seem to muster up motivation for something new. It better be good...

5. Stay out of the Halloween candy. For the love of Hersheys, we have waaaaay too much sugar in the house for me after our four trick or treaters hit the road last night. Let it be known I have raided the candy bags and am now searching for a way to get rid of it. The Butterfingers, like sleeping in, provides only temporary, fleeting gratification, not long-term satisfaction. Still, I allowed myself the splurge, now it's time to move on.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Feeding the Fit Mom Breakfast

I love big, filling, breakfasts and I often take the time to make oatmeal (not quick or instant), eggs, even pancakes (which I usually make on the weekends, freeze the extras, and then pop in the toaster during the week). My favorite breakfast lately is quick and yummy, and something I can put together and eat as I'm getting four kids ready and out the door for school. Aside from being easy to make there's nothing to clean up. Maybe that's why I love it so much? For the purpose of this blog post I've named it Chia Breakfast Pudding and I think it's ideal fit mom fuel.

1) Pour chia seeds into a small bowl (watch out, they expand).
2) Pour enough unsweetened plain almond milk (or whatever milk you prefer) to cover chia seeds. You may need to add more milk after the chia expands.
3) Option A: Stir in 1/2 scoop chocolate dynamic greens (sure you can use plain chocolate powder or syrup but then you can't say you had vegetables for breakfast). Option B: If you're not into chocolate for breakfast sweeten with a smidge of honey or maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon.

Next add whichever toppings you have or desire in whatever combination that appeals to you:
-shredded coconut
-chopped nuts
-fresh or frozen berries
-chopped fresh apple, pear, or banana

Monday, October 20, 2014

Life Cycle of a Running Stroller

Since The Boy turned five, I don't think we've used his stroller once. Is five the official graduation age out of a stroller? Now the stroller sits in our garage where we trip over it often to get to bikes, roller skates, and scooters. We had a good run with our Bob revolution stroller, and I can't help but look back fondly over the good years we had together.
Sure I used the stroller for exercise, but it was an excellent restraint system, too.
As kids get older, they need a few distractions like snacks and toys to go the distance.

Strollers are also rolling cribs. If toddlers fight naptime, like this one did,
the stroller is a great tool to induce sleep. Plan workouts accordingly.
When does a stroller become obsolete? Slowly the kid will spend more time out of it than in,
and as you push the empty stroller you will wonder why you didn't just leave it (the stroller, not the kid) at home. 
Strollers are for babies.
FOR SALE: Gently used orange Bob Revolution stroller. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

I am Strong! I am Smart! I am Bold!

Ella Runner Girl attends all of the More Than Pink workouts, including this 3-mile nature hike.
Last month I started coaching 22 girls (including my three daughters) at our elementary school, for a community education program called, "More Than Pink." One aspect of the program is to ready the girls (who are third, fourth and fifth graders) for a 5K run, but ultimately my job as one of the three coaches is to expose them to many physical activities so they get a sense for the vast options out there to stay fit and have fun, beyond our 16 sessions together. Ideally forever.

After we've spent about 45 minutes moving our bodies we go inside for girl talk, covering all kinds of topics from healthy relationships and peer pressure to body image and goal setting. The purpose of the program is to help girls become strong inside and out. Hurrah!

These girls are getting some great lessons, lessons I know from four decades of living are better learned now in their first decade of life. I don't know how much of it will sink in. We keep our meetings light and fun, but deep inside I'm dying to hug each of these girls tight and say, "Don't forget this!"

One quote I've written on the board and made the girls repeat twice was:

"When you know and respect who you are, you know where you belong, and you know where you don't belong."

I hope that if and when any of these girls find themselves in uncomfortable or compromising situations, they will hear a little voice from their past--their own strong, smart, bold voice--repeating those words.

True, sports builds more confident girls, but recently I read that by age 14 girls are dropping out of sports twice as fast as boys.

I know sports isn't the answer for everyone, but engaging in physical activity is non-negotiable for good health. I also believe a strong, capable body is good for the mind. We recently incorporated "power poses" into our cheer: "I am strong! I am smart! I am bold! I am more than pink!" I have read and heard a lot about power poses lately, how they not only boost confidence but also go on to help you succeed in your efforts. That is just one clear-cut example to me of how the strength of our bodies support the strength of our mind.

I hope each and every one of these girls I'm working with now stays active, whether they play sports or not, to stay strong inside and out as they grow up. In fact, I gave them assignments at our first session; homework I said they should do for the rest of their lives. It is this:

1) Be able to sit down and get up off the floor without using any body parts to help lower themselves down or leverage themselves to get up (hands, elbows, knees). Just squat down onto their bum and then rise up on their feet.

2) Hang their body weight from a bar (better yet, swing from monkey bars or do a pull up or two).

Can you do them?

If we are able to do just those two things as we get older, we will stay strong enough to live independently into old age. That certainly has repercussions for our confidence and mental health, doesn't it?

Just getting these girls through puberty with a strong head on their shoulders on a strong body is the main focus of the program, of course. Still I can't help but hope that if they stay strong, smart, and bold through their teens and early adulthood, they will go on to be strong, smart and bold senior citizens.

These are big ambitions for an elementary school 5K training program. Ambitions fueled by a few power poses and this cheer: I am strong! I am smart! I am bold! I am more than pink!