Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hi, My Name is Kara and I'm a Recovering Step Hoarder

Did you notice I stopped writing about my Fitbit?

Perhaps you surmised (and rightly so) I lost it for good. That's an easy assumption since I wrote often about the losing and the finding of my Fitbit. As it happened, I was on a hike last fall when I pulled over to check my distance on my little moss-green, leaf-sized gadget; not so much to check how far I had gone, but to measure the distance back to my house. When I got back to my house, however, and looked at the waistband of my shorts, my little moss-green, leaf-sized Fitbit was gone. I went back to the area where I had last seen it and started looking around, but you can see my dilemma.

That speck of green in the middle of this shot is not my little moss-green, leaf-sized Fitbit.
I gave up, which turned out to be a blessing-in-disguise, allowing me to become a recovering step hoarder. I decided without technology, I had a pretty good sense for my daily activity. I would go rogue and be one of the few people not wearing a tracking device.

Then for my birthday, my husband bought me a replacement. (This is not to say he didn't think my fitness instincts should be trusted, he was just trying to be thoughtful). Same little moss-green, leaf-sized Fitbit that I knew, which is to say I knew I would repeatedly suffer the frustration of going out for a long walk only to realize my Fitbit was still tucked into yesterday's shorts, before losing this one for good, too.

What I wanted was the style that stayed secured to my wrist, but I didn't want all the extra features (and price tag) that came with it.
(Dear Fitbit, I don't care about the quality of my sleep and --NEWS FLASH!!--no mother does. Between hungry newborns, night terrors, sick kids, and "oops I wet the bed," sleep quality is not realistic. So please offer versions of your various models that don't start our day by telling us we got a terrible night's sleep--thank you Captain Obvious--but do keep counting all the steps from bed to child's room; from child's room to kitchen; from child's room to washing machine, etc. so at least all moms get a jump start on their day's step totals.)
Unable to exchange my Fitbit for one that provided bare-bones data, attached to my wrist, and was less than $100, I did the mature thing and returned it. I was going to continue life without counting every step. Still love that Albert Einstein quote, which is the recovering step hoarder's serenity prayer: "Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted."

Then I got an email from Fitbit (because I'm still logged in despite my little moss-green, leaf-sized gadget turning to compost right about now) to tell me that in fact, not every step does count, not even the steps tracked on their devices. Beginning this month, they now measure "active minutes," to keep step hoarders honest. Steps you take that last less than 10 minutes don't fall into the "active minutes" total. And if we're going to follow the CDC's guidelines for physical activity, only activity that lasts a minimum of 10 minutes is going to do you some good.

What this means for step hoarders: Getting up from your desk to walk to the faucet and refill your water bottle can be counted as steps, yes, but doesn't count toward active minutes. Walking up and down the flight of stairs before you go to bed so you can hit your 10,000 number is a waste of time. All the advice to take the stairs and park farther away?  It's bull shit.

Or is it? True, the steps of less-than-10-minutes may not count toward any aerobic or endurance benefits, but I'm still fond of them (I said recovering step hoarder, not recovered step hoarder). In the first fitness tracker post I ever wrote in 2011 (long before Fitbit was a thing) I shared my enthusiasm for the Polar Activity Monitor:
I do believe that the daily tasks of motherhood keep me active and that housework can be exercise. But that was just my opinion. The Polar Activity Monitor now proves it. Take last Monday. No workout. But I did vacuum, tackle four loads of laundry, and scrub blue marker (unsuccessfully) from the carpet. By noon I had taken 12000 steps. By the end of the day, after bus stops and swim lessons and dinner and dishes my steps had accumulated to 20254. Wowza. There was 56 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity recorded on my Polar Activity Monitor, and yet I hadn't officially "exercised." Take that!
Ah, there it is, a record of how my obsession with step hoarding began.

I do believe tracking active minutes is a useful tool to measure fitness; it's a solution to the dilemma I once had about whether or not to wear a tracker when I exercise. Exercise is a separate animal from total daily steps. Yet I still think all those non-fitness steps count for something. Those are the steps that keep us from sitting too long (sitting is the new smoking!), that help engage our glutes every time we stand up, that help our circulation, that can lead to who knows what... a chat with your neighbor at the mail box, bumping into your kid in the hallway and getting an impromptu hug, catching sight of an extraordinary sunset.

Sounds like a recovering step hoarder on the verge of a relapse.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How My "Oops!" Parenting Moment Became Welcome Adversity For My Kids

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend a speaking event with Cheryl Strayed, best-selling author of Wild, which as the universe would have it was the perfect prep for my lesson in parenting that week.

The whole of Cheryl's speech was riveting but there was one particular nugget that stuck with me as she spoke of lessons learned from her solo journey across the Pacific Crest Trail. She described how it served as a rite-of-passage for her, something most cultures once provided as children became adults. The common core among all rites-of-passage, she said, include a physically difficult challenge with elements of deprivation that is accomplished in solitude.

That resonated with me as an endurance athlete and was how I described why I trained and raced for marathons and triathlons some 20 years ago to my then octogenarian grandfather. I told him if I had been born 100 years earlier I would have been one of those people in a covered wagon heading west. This modern era of ours doesn't provide many opportunities to experience the kind of physical struggle that was an integral part of life for our ancestors. My struggle as an endurance athlete was fabricated, yes, but in a way that filled the yearning to dig deep, which has been passed down in my DNA by my pioneering forefathers.

Can we all agree that adversity can be good for us? Can we agree that in general, kids growing up in middle and upper class families at least, don't experience a whole lot of adversity? In fact, protecting our kids from adversity seems to have become part of our jobs as parents; to keep our kids safe; to always be there when our kids are in need. Can we all agree then that what we might think of as parenting failures might indeed be just the adversity our kids need?

So it was in HINDSIGHT, after recalling Cheryl's speech, that I realized I did my kids a favor last week when I was downtown at a writing conference and unable to be there for them. They got off the bus in the driving rain (which turned to sleet) and discovered that the garage code, which normally provides entry to the house, was not working. My kids don't have cell phones. Did I mention my husband was traveling?

Without any help from me, they devised a plan: one 11-year-old stayed under the porch with the 6-year-old, while the other 11-year-old and 9-year-old walked about a half-mile to our neighbor's house (not the closest neighbor, but the one with kids on the same bus where they knew an adult was home). My neighbor called me and we managed to get the kids safely inside without me having to leave my writing conference early.

Once all was said and done (i.e. collecting myself after sobbing over the fact that this one time I was not home for them was when they needed me), I realized this opportunity in adversity was good for us. While not exactly hiking the PCT trail solo, this microcosm of a rite-of-passage for my kids provided a challenge without a parent to guide them (deprived of a cell phone and umbrella). I learned my kids are quite competent without me. They handled the situation sensibly and bravely; I was proud of them and told them so. No doubt, they gained a new measure of confidence in themselves (and me in them, ahem).

I can't say I'll set up these sort of "traps" for them as a way to gain their independence, but it certainly helps knowing these mishaps can provide good training ground to allow them to think on their feet and solve problems on their own, while letting me off the hook to be the perfect parent. If they desire a bigger physical challenge, well, they can always sign up for a triathlon.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Running Dream Analysis

I am a dreamer, in every sense of the word. Particularly, I dream at night and most mornings I wake to reminisce over the memorable, yet often nonsensical scenes. Occasionally I recall longer spans with an unimportant narrative that dissolves in my memory by noon. Then there are those rare occurrences when I wake to a fully formed story, one that I replay in my mind over and over; a dream that pesters me for days to understand.

The Dream

I was lying naked in bed with actor Mark Ruffalo. (Remember, this is a running dream).

In my dream I am self-conscious about my body--my now body--my 46-year-old, birthed-and-nursed-four-babies body. Nothing happened between us (that I can recall anyway). The moment ends when Mr. Ruffalo’s wife enters the home. I head for the front door. In my dream I see the wife, who is young, lean, supple; her hair is long and blonde. Although I see her in the house, I don’t think she understands I am there.

Now wearing a white bathrobe, I grab running shoes laying in a heap by the front door. I exit the house and begin running down the street.

As I run away I realize one shoe is hers and one shoe is his. One shoe is too small, constricting my foot; the other shoe is too big, loose and floppy.

Analyzing the Dream, Part I

Where did Mark Ruffalo come from? My husband’s name is Mark, too. I consider the possibility that Mark Ruffalo is really my beloved, married-for-16-years Mark.

Even though my body isn’t the same as it was 25 years ago, I still appreciate my body far more than I ever did in my unscathed 20s. Why, suddenly, did this dream cast any doubt?

That’s when I determined that Mark Ruffalo wasn’t really Mark Ruffalo, who also wasn’t my husband Mark, either. Mark Ruffalo was me. The me who I want to fully accept this now body I have without judgement or sarcasm.

And who was his wife? My younger self with her long blonde hair, who remains oblivious to the changes of her body to come.

Analyzing the Dream, Part II

Why did I run when I haven’t been a “real runner” in several years? 

Putting on running shoes was by far the strangest part of my dream. In every running dream I can recall over the last 25 years, I am barefoot. Not only am I wearing shoes in my dream, I am wearing shoes that don’t fit. One shoe that, if I believe the conclusion of my dream analysis so far, belongs to my younger, ambitious self who was constantly seeking approval, and one that belongs to the self who has worked hard to let go, appreciate the ground under her feet, and embrace what is now.

What I embrace now is a daily walk, lots of yoga and restorative exercise. But six months ago I started allowing myself an occasional run when the urge strikes; rarely more than three miles, rarely more than once a week. I don’t run out of obligation. I don’t run to accrue a certain amount of weekly mileage. I just run when I feel called to do so. It’s like touching base with an old friend.

Since allowing myself to run though, I feel I have cracked open a door I’m not sure I want to open any wider. I can’t help but wonder if my three easy miles will continue to satisfy me or if I will feel an urge to race again.

During my rehabilitation I received sage advice from a wise man (my hair dresser, not a runner) about coming to terms with letting go of running. He said, “People who have to run, are either running away from something or toward something.” Maybe, maybe not, but this I know: while I want to run, I don’t want to run away from gracefully accepting my body as I age, or run toward the affirmations and subsequent injury brought on by too much racing.

At first I feared my dream, with a running shoe too big and one too small, suggested my long-time passion for running no longer fits. But a friend suggested the dream might be telling me I haven’t yet found how running fits into my life now.

If I still need another dream or two to figure it out, Bradley Cooper and George Clooney are welcome to join me.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Tales from Another Mother Winner and Random Question

Thanks to all of you who signed up for the Tales from Another Mother Runner giveaway by signing up at my new website, Life as a Fit Mom.

The winner is...

Rachel Beittenmiller!

Rachel, please send me an email with your mailing address and I will send the book your way.

Now for the Random Question: Any fit mom's out there with  a certain talent for designing book covers? That's what I need before these eBooks come out and if you have that skill and are interested in such a job let me know!

That's all for this week. It's spring break where I live so I'm enjoying life with all four kids under my wings.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Give Away: Tales from Another Mother Runner

A few weeks ago the mother runner dynamic duo, Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea, published the third book in their series, called: Tales from Another Mother Runner, a collection "from Badass Mother Runners."

Me? A badass mother runner? That's right, I'm considered one of them.

My essay, "Mother Runner Redefined" (on p. 38!), is the cathartic look back at my need to let go of being a runner for the sake of healing my body, something you have read bits and pieces of if you've been following along the last few years.

Tales from Another Mother Runner includes 22 essays from some notable names, among them writers I admire and a few editors I've had the pleasure to write for. (And see p. 89 for the essay by the hilarious Jennifer Graham, author of "Honey Do You Need a Ride," interviewed here on this blog two years ago.) All moms, all runners, sharing their vulnerability and, as often happens when you do, the ensuing victory.

In between the essays you'll find fun runner reading candy such as: conversation during a celebrity dream run; In Her Shoes, a section where you can run vicariously through women who have among other things, run naked or won a marathon, situations you might never experience; case studies of what a mother runner looks like through the decades; plus loads of quotes from other mother runners. I'm only a few essays in but enjoying the community.

Recently, the Another Mother website shared a portion of Kristen Armstrong's essay that was edited out. I loved this so much I had to share and say: if this is what was cut, you know the rest of the book is a good read. I want to use this as the Fit Mom's Manifesto:

I'm giving away a copy of Tales from Another Mother Runner. I'm choosing from among subscribers at my shiny new website, Life as a Fit Mom. Here is the link directly to the subscription page. This is where I'll share publication news for my forthcoming eBook series: Life as a Fit Mom. Like Dimity and Sarah I'm out to expand the bookshelf on the experience of balancing fitness and motherhood. We don't need more books on losing the baby weight, we need more said about how when we find the time and energy to be active we find ourselves, how this helps us better embrace motherhood (more sanely), and how we can reach the goals that really matter.

Sign up by this Friday, March 27, and I'll announce the winner Monday, March 30.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Good Luck With Those Pancakes

Last year was a four-leaf fail when I attempted to be fun mom and serve "Lucky Green Smoothies" to my kids on St. Patrick's Day. This year I'm going to WOW them with green shamrock pancakes.

Pancakes are a breakfast staple in our home. Until I discovered Mark Bittman’s pancake recipe in his Food Matters cookbook, I usually resorted to pre-packaged pancake mix, which is either full of additives or if not, super expensive. I’ve adapted his recipe into my own big batch mix that I can store in the pantry. This takes the time-consuming aspect of pancake making out of the morning rush.

For the mix:

10 cups flour (All-purpose or whole-wheat flour works well. For gluten-free, I mix a combination of oat flour, brown rice flour and buckwheat flour, sometimes quinoa flour too.*)

1/2 cup sugar (cut this down if you prefer)

1/3 cup baking powder

2 1/2 t. cinnamon

2 1/2 t. salt

Put this in an airtight container or bag and shake it up. When you’re ready to make pancakes, combine:
2 cups of pancake mix 
2 cups milk 
2 eggs
Sometimes, if I have it, I also mix in about 1/2 cup of applesauce.

*If using gluten free flour, add 1/2 teaspoon of xanthum gum when you mix up a batch to eat.

My plan for Shamrock Pancakes is as follows:

I will place the milk, eggs, and applesauce into my blender with a few handfuls of spinach. Just enough to turn the liquid bright green. Next I will stir in the pancake mix, then carefully pour what I hope to look like shamrocks on my griddle. If I had a Pancake Bot, I would use it.

Even if my four-leaf pancakes turn out perfectly, my kids will be suspicious of the color, for sure. When they ask me how I made the pancakes green I will tell them I used just enough coloring to turn them green. I will not go into specifics of what I define as "coloring." 

I have no idea if I can get away with this but I've had a spate of good luck recently. My Life as a Fit Mom website is up, covers for my eBooks are in the works, and the first book is being converted into eBook files this week. Notice I said "books" plural. That's because I had so much material I decided to turn my book into a six-book series. 

The Life as a Fit Mom eBook Series includes these titles:
  • Finding Fitness in the Chaos of Motherhood
  • Altered States of the Fit Mom, Vol 1: Pregnancy and Postpartum Speed Bumps
  • Altered States of the Fit Mom, Vol 2: Toddlers to Tweens and Injury in Between
  • Raising a Fit Family
  • Feeding the Fit Family
  • Winning as a Fit Mom
The books will be ready soon (shooting for May) and I plan to offer specials and freebies to those who sign up at my website. That's an easy way to get lucky. 

As for my green shamrock pancakes, I will let you know how lucky I am on social media tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Keeping Kids Safe Indoors Isn't All That Safe

Spring has sprung! More daylight! Now my kids--without much prompting from me--are outside running around, skating, biking, and asking me (I swear, this is true), "Can we walk to school?"
When temps hit 60 degrees in Minnesota you are required
to take of your shirt and celebrate with a happy dance.
Just a month ago I wrote about the difficulty of kicking kids outdoors. While I realize I need to cut my kids some slack in our frigid winters, I shouldn't cut myself any slack for being a worry wart when they are outside on their own.

Shortly after writing that post I read a great article by Rae Pica, an education consultant who specializes in children's physical activity (I've been following her for years and there's a lot of great material from Rae) about walking to school and parents' irrational fear.

In the article Rae says:
I realize it’s difficult to believe that there really isn't danger everywhere, especially considering the paranoia spread by the media’s incessant tales of tragedy, presented in all their gory minutiae. But the experts – and there are many of them – insist that today’s children are no less safe than children of my generation. Stranger danger, which tends to top the list of parents’ fears, truly is a myth. According to the U.S. Department of Justice statistics on violent crimes, between 1973 and 2002, out of every thousand children kidnapped, just one or two of them were abducted by strangers. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, children are four times more likely to die of heart disease than to be kidnapped by a stranger.
Keeping kids "safe" indoors, is not at all safe in the long run.

The day I read Rae's article I sent two of my kids out to walk the dog. This was exercise for them, sure, but more so an exercise in letting go for me. True story: within five minutes of sending them on their way, my children burst through the back door (just as I had convinced myself to stop staring out the window) screaming: "We saw a coyote and Darby is chasing it!" I didn't even have my coat on to go after her before our dog was back, wagging her tail and thoroughly exhausted.

Crossing paths with a coyote brought a whole new meaning to stranger danger, but we have not let the Coyote Caper deter us. We have discussed how coyotes are more scared of us than we are of them (especially when a dog twice its size takes off after it) and if we see one to make lots of noise (blow that whistle!). The beauty of going for a walk is, actually, the beauty of going for a walk, sighting of wildlife, included.

Along with walking the dog regularly we are going to start walking to school, possibly biking to school, before the school year is over. (Did you notice I said "we" not "they"?) Not only will my kids need to gradually work up to the two-mile distance, I will need to gradually work up the nerve to let them set out for school on their own.

There is a Walk to School Day and a Bike to School Day, including a web site full of supportive resources. Let's do this!