Monday, January 26, 2015

Letter to Myself with Young Children (Two 5-year-olds, One 4-year-old, One Newborn):

April 2009

Let me just blurt this out. You are not going to believe how much easier your life will get in five years. Yes, I know, you’ve got to get through baby-proofing the new house, potty training The Boy (and this will come close to doing you in), sleepless nights and nap routines, and loads more pediatrician visits, which will make you feel like a rookie.

With this fourth child you already know how fast it will go. And when you come out the other side, when this newborn turns five, you will be in the sweet spot with four kids who are no longer toddlers and not yet teenagers. You will no longer be bolting home from preschool to make the Kindergarten bus with a babe in the backseat who fell asleep before you could get him down for a real nap (a child who will be wide awake after 15-minutes once you try to transfer him into his crib).

Now--and this is so juicy and amazing, I still feel giddy as I write it--you will put all four kids on the same bus in the morning. They will go to the same school. All day.

Think about that as your lap top sits on the kitchen counter while you work and assemble lunch, or mop the floor while your son breastfeeds in a sling, or march all four kids under protest to the gym’s child center.

Meanwhile you will struggle to squeeze in a workout and wonder what a routine looks like, but you will also start to grasp that change and challenge for you can also mean being still, holding back.

This does not mean you will lose your motivation and ambition completely. Thing is there have been plenty of times when you have not felt motivated or driven, but instead of letting yourself go through it you resist and forge ahead. It’s like that children’s story, though: you can’t go under it, you can’t go over it, you have to go through it. Being still, holding back doesn’t mean defeat or failure; it can mean your body and mind need to replenish. Sure, sometimes a lack of motivation needs a kick in the pants. Sometimes, though it needs a cup of tea, a little dark chocolate and a game of solitaire.

A lack of motivation can also mean what you’re doing is not working. Think about that, why would you feel motivated if there’s no joy? Try something else then. If you don’t know what else to do have a cup of tea, a little dark chocolate and a game of solitaire to allow motivation and ambition to bubble up. This seems so counterintuitive, I know, but trust the process, the tea, the dark chocolate, the solitaire. Being still, holding back isn’t what you think it is: being stuck, unproductive, lazy. Not in the least. The process allows you to reset, realign, refresh with intention and in the right direction.

And remember this when you feel unmotivated to get in some semblance of a workout. There will come a day when one daughter asks you to take her mountain biking, another daughter will join you for a hike or run, a third will require a steady dose of catch with her softball, and The Boy will beg you to take him rock climbing. It’s not always about you.

Love from your future,

Monday, January 19, 2015

Letter to Myself with Three Toddlers

April 2007

Your youngest daughter just turned two and you’re feeling a little like you can breathe again. You’re sleeping again. You’re reclaiming your identity as an athlete again. You’re wondering why the effort to get back to the essence of you is harder than you thought. Hello! Would you take a moment to consider what your body has been through during the last three years? Three straight years of being pregnant or nursing. But what do you want to do as soon as your body is released? Race.

I am shaking my head at you now. I understand you want to own, direct, and produce your body in action. That will be the fun part. But soon, you will be sitting on a bus at the butt-crack of dawn that will take you to the starting line of an Olympic-distance triathlon after a whacky and exhausting day trying to prep for the race while juggling three small kids and a sleepless night with a 2-year-old. Despite all your training you will hardly feel ready or excited to be there.

I don’t disagree that racing is within the essence of you. What you need to realize, however, is that 1) you don’t have to have a full race schedule to enjoy racing, 2) you can own, direct, and produce your body in action in other satisfying ways, and 3) there is a time and place for everything, and the more enjoyable time and place to go through the shenanigans of getting to a start line will come later. Like, a lot later. Like, stop trying to figure out when. Just be here now.

What you’re just starting to figure out--and embrace this because this will be part of your reinvention--is the little people you hang out with every day can be included in your fitness pursuits. Not only that, it’s good for them to be included so that they grow up knowing that an active lifestyle isn’t just something for mommies and daddies but for them, too.

I know this sounds crazy, because all you want is a workout by yourself; an hour without needing to meet the demands of others. It’s sanity-saving time. It’s become your me-time so working out with your kids around is not your first-choice. But you’ll stumble on this new view of inclusion by accident; when your husband is traveling and you have a sick kid, so you’re left with no other option than to figure out a way to get your move on in the presence of little ones. This scenario will be a regular part of your life and--I’m proud of you here--you will not become bitter or resentful; you will start looking at finding ways to workout with kids as the challenge that it is. You like change and challenge, remember?

The thing is you don’t have to be in constant pursuit of extreme fitness goals. Raising these three toddlers is a form of extreme fitness all its own. Don’t you see that? Keep your back healthy enough to lift them as they get heavier. Maintain a strong core and glutes so you can spring into action at a moment’s notice. You need to sprint to catch your kids and have the endurance to keep up with your kids. You need a goal? Be strong enough for motherhood.

There are still changes and challenges to come. This is inevitable with toddlers under the roof. Here are a few things you will say in your near future:
  • “Barbies can’t go swimming in the toilet!” 
  • “Did you put a pea in your nose?” 
  • “Time to take the stuffed animal out of your underpants.” 
Parenting toddlers is a joyfully exhausting experience, one you don’t appreciate fully until that stage is over. I know, easy for me to say now, when I’m no longer driving around town with a potty seat in my car, or steadying myself for bath and bedtime with a gaggle of little girls, or going head-on with a resistant and screaming child in a public place. You’re right, I don’t necessarily miss all that, but I do look back on those year with a smile.

Spoiler alert: You’ll be pregnant again in a year so it must not be all that bad.

Love from your future,

Monday, January 12, 2015

Letter to Myself with 20-months-old Twins and a Newborn

April 2005

See what happens when you try too hard to hold on to your identity as an athlete and sign up for a marathon (when a 5K, 10K, even half-marathon would do) before your twins turn one?

When you pile marathon training on top of sleep deprivation you won’t be able to remember all the rules in “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” when you finally get the chance to have sex again with your husband. You will take a pregnancy test immediately after a run because you know—I mean you know—there’s only one reason why your heart rate is not recovering. Then you cry because there is still breast milk in the freezer, because you have to tell your friend and training partner you can’t run 26.2 miles with her, and especially because this is not what you planned.

And you thought when I said “change and challenge” I meant the surprise twin pregnancy and the move from Texas to Minnesota before they were born. Oh yeah, that was a lot to embrace, but now, here you are with three kids under age two.

You’re still buckled in, right? Of course you are, you are scared to death. And I hate to make things worse, but that au pair you hired will be gone in two weeks. She was hoping to get the family with an only child, not three kids under age two. Initially you will feel total despair but this is just the shake-up you need to shed your old skin to start delving into life as it is, versus life as you thought it should to be.

Soon you will reach out to all of your freelance writing clients and tell them you are taking a year off. That will be terrifying for two reasons; first because it feels like letting go of one more thing that defines you and second because getting a sitter so you can write was a chance to get away from the chaos. Now it is all mom all the time.

Do not freak out. By the end of the year you will have embraced being a mom and staying home with your kids so much so that you will not even send your twins to preschool the following fall. Crazy? I know! Crazy!

This time around you won’t even pick up the pace until this new babe is six-months-old. Good for you, and yet I know that is also partly due to the fact that you have no way to go running with three babes in tow. This is good, though. You will make the epiphany that walking to the park with kids counts as a workout; that a yoga dvd in the basement helps get you through the day; that you move an awful lot sweeping up the kitchen floor, hauling laundry upstairs and chasing after two toddlers while breastfeeding a newborn.

You will be way too tired to miss training and racing. You won’t even remember this year. You won’t have time to record the “special moments” because you will be too tired or too preoccupied. You will never feel more challenged but your mind will block most memory out. You will be in pure survival mode, for yourself and the children. So heads up on a few things: The twins will soon begin climbing the outside of the stair rail; don’t leave the twins to eat alone when you need to nurse the baby because you will put those Red Cross choking skills to use; when you inadvertently lock all children in the car over the summer, Mark will be able to arrive before the nice policeman breaks the window; this baby will suck her thumb and yes, it will still be a comfort for her when she is five but don’t sweat it, let her suck her thumb; and finally you will lose sight of a toddler or two often, go ahead and get those child harnesses (aka leashes) sooner than later.

Love from your future,

Monday, January 5, 2015

Letter to My First-Time Pregnant Self (Before the First Sonogram)

April 2003 
Dear Kara:

Remember when, just six months ago, you and Mark were talking about the possibility of maybe having a child? You decided on: “Let’s just have one and see how it goes.” You both wondered how much life would change and then Mark said, “At least nothing will change for nine months.” But you had the insight to say, “Maybe not for you, but everything changes immediately for me.”

I commend you for knowing that once you became parents nothing would be the same again. What you still don’t know is what this change will look like beyond folding another human into the life you already know.

I don’t want to give too much away here but your vision of having this one child, who you tote to triathlons around the world, who sleeps soundly at your feet while you pursue a wildly successful freelance writing career, who will be as manageable as the well-trained dog, isn’t going to happen.

Don’t be sad; ultimately you will be wildly happy with the outcome. I think this will be in large part due to the fact that you and Mark embrace change and challenge. In fact the rate of change and challenge will be such that you two will not feel the need to sign up for another ironman triathlon. I’m sorry if that disappoints you, but believe me, life will be overflowing.

You are getting a sense for the extent life will change as you struggle to run through your pregnancy and try to keep up with what you believe you should be able to do as a pregnant athlete. You do a fine job taking care of yourself; let that be enough. Seriously. Let that be enough.

I know you are signed up to run the Bolder Boulder 10K soon, but you won’t be able to travel, so stop stressing about whether or not you will finish. This should come as a relief since deep down you already know you shouldn’t race after that last training debacle when you ran, peed your pants, walked, ran, peed your pants, walked. (You should know it will take years before your pelvic floor recovers, but there will always be a certain amount of “prep” involved before sneezing.) Although you have never before entered a race and not shown up at the start line, this will happen time and time again during the next 10 years. Get over it. One of those future races may or may not involve a pregnancy test. Just saying, other things might come up that trump entry fees and your ego.

That said, by the end of this pregnancy your desire to do something physically hard will serve you well for the birth (again, don’t want to give too much away, but you will kick ass in that endurance event). From here change and challenge will seem to rain on you and there will be this temptation, this longing to hold on to your old identity. That’s normal, but do your best to resist clinging, because you will recreate yourself. You will be happy when you do.

Keep listening to your body and adapting. Do away with your preconceived ideas, societal expectations, and most definitely your plans. Pregnancy and motherhood is yours to define and live. Take it day by day. You never know what new changes and challenges will come your way. From where I write this now I do, so let’s just say you will do well to buckle up and hold on for the ride.

Love from your future,

Monday, December 29, 2014

Altered States of a Fit Mom

I spent all of 2014 working on my forthcoming e-Book, "Finding Fitness in the Chaos of Motherhood." (If you'd like to be notified when the book is for sale--or available for free!--please sign up here). Indeed, the book is largely based on my six-plus years of blogging at Mama Sweat, but I've written a significant amount of new material to weave the posts together. The e-Book is also peppered with fit-mom poetry, somewhat unconventional for a fitness book.

I read other blog-to-books for inspiration and have already mentioned one of my favorites, Dinner: A Love Story. Early in the book, author Jenny Rosenstrach includes a letter to her newly married self. Out of the entire book I loved that piece the most. I took her idea and wrote my own, although I didn't stop after the first letter--I wrote four--because I had so much to say to myself. For the month of January I'm going to share one of those letters each week.

I also spent all of 2014 focusing on fitness to support my health. To support my health, what I do physically must take into account my physical state, my mental state, my environment. That’s when a nice symbiotic relationship comes into play, because tuning my fitness into my life in that way, does indeed improve my body, my mind, and how I feel about my surroundings.

What I share in the letters to come--and what I would love any athletic woman to know who is entering motherhood--is that you can embrace gentle workouts during pregnancy, postpartum recovery, or injury; you can do yoga in a room strewn with toys and still find zen; you can take a walk instead of a run when you feel fatigued, or a run instead of walk when you feel stressed. It’s perfectly acceptable for fitness to accommodate our altered states.

In 2015 you can go faster or slower. You can aim to get stronger or more supple. You can strive to become better or be happy as you are. Fitness belongs in all of those places.

Thanks for reading in 2014. Wishing you all the best for 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Holidays

Are you taking time out from the shopping, baking, card addressing, holiday house prep, wrapping, etc to get a little sweaty or find a little zen?

Just checking.

If yes, good for you!

If no, go get you some.

Happy Holidays from Mama Sweat!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dinnertime Challenge-Part 2

I'm back to offer three more fan favorites for feeding the fit family.

One good way to discover dinner ideas is to have dinner at someone else's house. My kids are more polite in the presence of company, so I can never be sure if they truly love the meal and it's worth trying at home, or if they know they would be in huge trouble if they said "Yuck" at someone else's dinner table. If kids go back for seconds, though, I know it's safe to adopt the recipe. Here are three examples where they went back for seconds.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

My sister-in-law often makes pulled pork sandwiches for family gatherings. Now we eat these at home on a regular basis (in fact is cooking my slow cooker as I type this). What I like best about pulled pork is you can use leftovers the next night for pork tacos.

There are various versions of simplicity for this meal, but they are all pretty easy. The most simple is this:

Pork Shoulder (as much as you need for your family, plus enough for leftovers)
BBQ Sauce or ready made sauce packets for pork such as Frontera or Red Fork
Sliced onions (if you even care to take that step)
Hamburger buns and/or tortillas

Put pork in a slow cooker and pour about a 1/2 cup of bbq sauce or the sauce packet on top. Most important step: TURN SLOW COOKER ON! Cook for 6-8 hours.

If you have a bit more time, I found a great recipe--Grandma's Easy BBQ Pork--in The Primal Blueprint Cookbook that rocked my world, and is in my opinion, worth the few extra steps.

1 tablesppon olive oil
4 lbs of pork shoulder roast (bone in has richer flavor)
1 small onion
1/2 cup ketchup (the book includes a recipe for homemade ketchup, too)
1 cup water
1/3 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brown meat on all sides in oil over medium to medium-high heat in a flame-proof casserole or Dutch oven. While the meat is browning, combine remaining ingredients and stir. When meat has browned, remove from heat and pour mixture over the meat. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours. (This is forgiving if you need to cook longer, it will only shred easier). Check halfway through baking time, adding a small amount of water if necessary. Once done baking you can pull the meat apart and mix with the sauce.

Serve with hamburger buns and bbq sauce one night and tortillas and salsa the next!

Tia Laura's Meatballs

My dear friend Laura, who has made the blog over the years as we were once ironman-training partners and now get together for relay races sporadically, can make a killer lasagna. My kids asked me to make her lasagna, which I did, but not up to the standards set by Tia Laura. However, I have managed to reproduce her meatballs to their liking. They are wonderful, fun for the kids to make, and part of an enjoyable, complaint-free meal. I use this industrial-size recipe (makes about 5 dozen), then freeze leftover meatballs for easy access. If you don't want to freeze for later, cut the ingredients in half. Disclaimer, the recipe is hardly exact because I make this by feel.

4 lbs ground beef (or 2 lbs beef plus 2 lbs ground mild italian sausage)
2 cups ish bread crumbs
3 eggs (enough to help the meat and crumbs combine)
1 cup ish pesto
Sprinkling of grated parmesan

Mix well, roll into 2-inch balls and place an inch or two apart on a foil-lined or sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, turn over and bake another 10 minutes.

Place meatballs on top of your favorite noodle (or spaghetti squash or bed of kale, this is yum, I promise, but not recommended for the kids as they will surely balk) and sauce and devour.

Easy Chicken Strips

After watching Food Inc., I can't buy frozen chicken nuggets at the store from the major chicken producers. Just can't. But my kids, like all kids, love chicken in that nugget or strip form. I sought out a few recipes and then mashed them up to make my own. Kids love them, ask for them, and don't seem to miss the chicken industry nugget.

The recipe that follows is definitely not as easy as ripping open a bag of frozen chicken nuggets, but they are easy enough that they’ve become a staple at our house. They are easier if you have children old enough to help you with the dipping and dredging. The kids love that part and that frees me up to stay focused on cooking, and not burning, the chicken.

2-3 chicken breasts pounded flat between two pieces of wax paper (let the kids do this, unless you need to take out your frustrations on raw meat), then slice into strips.
4 eggs beaten with a squirt of yellow mustard
Plate of flour for dredging
Plate of equal parts bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese for dredging
Coconut Oil
Salt and Pepper

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces then dip in the egg/mustard and roll in the flour. Dredge a second time in the egg/mustard and then in the bread crumbs/cheese. Cook in batches turning when lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes each side. If kids are helping, they can dip and dredge while you cook.

I like to keep all the chicken strips heated on a cookie sheet in the oven at about 250 degrees until everything else is ready to go.

Serve with a Caesar salad and you’ve got dinner!