Give Until It Hurts

In this season of Thanksgiving and as we approach the end of another calendar year, I find myself reflecting (upon the trails, per usual), on what it means to give and how I can give. I have realized recently that I live by the motto, “Give until it hurts.” I find myself continually and consistently in self-reflection asking, “Can I give more? Can I do more? Can I take on more?”

Most often the answer is a bold: YES! I take on more, I overfill my plate, my minivan, my heart even until it all explodes like a giant balloon with one load and sudden puff. I become overwhelmed, over-stressed, then I run more, reflect more and realize that I can handle this. I was made to do this. I was made to love, to share, the help. My heart can expand, grow and squeeze in more. I can do this.

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Two happy pups nearing the end of a run in the mountains.

A friend mentioned to me a few weeks back in conversation that he finds despair in humanity. I didn’t say much in response, mainly out respect. I held my tongue and chose to ruminate on it for a bit. I thought of a response while running on the trails this morning. “Perhaps you aren’t giving enough or are looking in the wrong places. I have found in my life that the more I give, the more I trust, the more I get back — sometimes not right at first, sometimes not for a while, but eventually, it comes back to you. Fear not in humanity but rather seek out the good in humanity. See the good, and better yet, BE the good.”

I do not think that life is out to get us. Yes, life is hard. Life hurts, the days are long and challenging and many times all I can do is let out a great big sigh and a good long cry. But we can do this. We can all do this and it’s hard for all of us for a million various and sufficiently good reasons, so just lend a hand. Share. Rescue a dog, give a life, make someone’s day better, say YES, stretch yourself and give until it hurts.

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This is happiness.

Find what makes you happy and share it. In fact, one of the very best things I think we can do in this life is to find what makes us happy beyond all belief, what fills our heart with the most joy and the brightest light and share it.

“There is a candle in every soul
Some brightly burning, some dark and cold
There is a Spirit who brings a fire
Ignites a candle and makes His home

So carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the helpless, confused and torn
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world
Frustrated brother, see how he’s tried to
Light his own candle some other way
See now your sister, she’s been robbed and lied to
Still holds a candle without a flame
So Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the lonely, the tired and worn
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world.”

– Chris Rice, Go Light Your World

Stop hiding your candle, pushing away your talents. This Thanksgiving, ask yourself: “What more can I give, How much more do I have, How can I help?” Amaze even yourself. You are so capable, powerful beyond belief.

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For me, running is my happiness, my escape and my passion. So I adopted two rescue dogs — one nearly a year ago, and one a mere two weeks ago — and we run together. I remember thinking a few years ago how wasteful my time running was becoming. I mean, I got a lot out of it but did I really need to be out there for 1-2 hours every single day when there was so much else to be doing? “How can I make it even more meaningful, more purposeful?” I asked myself. Running with dogs was the answer. All I really wanted to be doing on my mornings alone while the kids were at school, or on my days with the kids at home for that matter, was running and a dog could enjoy that time with us just as much. At once we saved a dog (now two) and have given them a beautiful life with running in it.

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I have three kids and two puppies and babysit another young girl 2-3 days each week and all because I CAN. The heart can stretch, love can grow and I am capable. WE are capable. What more can we give? How can we help? It is up to us to improve humanity, to seek out the good, to BE THE GOOD.

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Some very good, and very fun people pictured here from last Thanksgiving’s Annual Turkey Trot.

Happy Thanksgiving! I will now step down from my pedestal — ha, I don’t mean to be preachy but rather to share, to share my vision, my inspiration, and hopefully to share some good. Thanks. : )

Unexpected Moments

Why is Mama taking pictures?” Alan asked the kids in a Mama-is-being-crazy-slash-silly-again-tone.

It is 6:30pm. Tt has been a long day. The morning came too early, far before the sun chose to shine and kids were crabby post-Halloween. Daddy was still sleeping after being awake most of the night once again due to jet-lag post-China business trip. All I wanted to do was crawl back under my white down comforter and pull the pillows over my head to block out all noise. Instead, I found myself cleaning dog poop and pee and more dog poop — most in the yard, some in a puppy’s crate. I was tired. It was a rough start.

The day was hectic, Alan was crabby after another sleepless night and I was dropping balls here and there. All day I saw my life spiraling out of control, wondering what and why I do these things to myself, make these decision. Kids were being pulled to activities and charity walks when they really needed naps and then it was me left dealing with the aftermath.

But then, at 6:30pm, we had this moment.

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It may not seem special to you. “Why is Mama taking pictures?”  Look closely and you will understand. There is silence, there is peace. There are four of them sitting on the couch without a word or complaint to be heard. Then there are two dogs, exhausted and happy after a playful day together. This moment, it was special.

This, I thought to myself, this is one of the happiest days of 2015.

These are the moments that make everything worth it. These are the moments where everything falls so perfectly in place, when you would least expect it. We were all tired, all hungry, dinner was late. But we were happy.

Sometimes all you need is a late dinner on the couch of homemade grilled sliders, oven-roasted broccoli and a good stout to make you realize how wonderfully lucky you are. Oh, and two sleeping dogs and three quiet kids also helps.

Happy November, Happy Fall, and cheers to many more of these unexpectedly perfect moments at the end of a hectic, messy day!

Life and It’s Surprises!

A few days ago I wrote about the wonderful surprises that life brings us. Today, we were blessed with yet another..

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            Welcome to our crazy family, Mischa!

We were not looking for an eighth member, a third pet or a second dog, but it just kind of happened. That’s what I told Alan in China via Skype tonight.. “We have a new dog, honey, it just kind of happened!” No, in all seriousness, though, this dog came into our lives on Friday as our two year old son’s preschool teacher needed to find her a new home. I’m a sucker when it comes to dogs, or kids, or soft, loving, innocent creatures. I invite them into our home and beg them to stay.

So does she…

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And he…

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Amused by their silly playful behaviors, AND carefully guarding his breakfast.

It was a whirlwind of a day, this Monday. We woke to a puppy being delivered at our doorstep for “just a playdate.” Two hours later, a heartbroken owner sad to give up her baby but knowing it was the right decision, told us she could stay a little bit longer. She is now sleeping in between Isaac’s toddler bed and Cesia/Adara’s bunk beds. Curled up and cozy, she dreams innocent puppy dreams and I smile thinking how much I loved this day.

A morning run with Clover and two kids in the Double Bob led to an impromptu backyard tea party complete with pretend pizza and cake and other goodies all while two pups ran in furious circles around us. We followed that up with an afternoon run to drop off Cesia at her Halloween Craft Class at preschool, then ran back home to check on the pups and simultaneously lull the littlest to sleep via stroller, watched dogs play and chase some more, then ran back to preschool to pick up Cesia, then straight to the park for some rare park-time play (I can’t typically handle parks, I’m over them, spent too much time with Adara there back in the day.. but today was wonderful and perfect and we had the park all to ourselves). Then we ran a few blocks to pick up big sister and friend from 1st grade, then watched as four little ones ran up and over the big hill and 1/2 a mile or so to get back to the church/preschool laughing all the while for an afternoon Musical Theater class, then ran 1 final time to retrieve the car and retrieve the kids and EAT and smile and laugh and bathe and read bedtime stories to three sleepy kids and two very sleepy dogs.

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It was a good day to be a dog, or a kid, or a Mama in this family.

 

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Never Give Up

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I had not planned to write tonight. A sink full of bubbly dishes await me, school lunches need to be made, laundry needs folding and the dog could use some attention. We are on Day 4 of 10 with Alan out of the country. We are surviving, doing well, I like to think. The days are as long as ever, more demands are passed on to me and I am doing my best to stay patient at the end of a 14 hr day with three kids to call me “Mama.”

I had planned to do my chores and head to bed.

Then I saw a photo of the kids two years ago at Underwood Family Farms — which by the way hosts the most magnificent Fall Harvest Festival complete with acres of pumpkins, hay rides, labyrinth’s, games, story mazes, animal petting, pony rides, carmel apples for sale, and just about every other thing that says “Fall” and elicits magical childhood memories of how Halloween and October should be spent.

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All wonderful aspects of Underwood’s Festival aside, this photo reminded me that life is wild. It is full of twists and turns and surprises. What is life without surprise? Further, what can we learn from these surprises? What can we learn from this life at all?

For me, one of the greatest lessons I have learned over the past two years has been summed up by three simple words: Never Give Up. And why? Because you never know where life is about to take you. You never know what is waiting just around the corner, or how the next moment will change your life so profoundly that you wondered how you missed it or didn’t guess it all along.

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We like to think we have perfect control over our lives. We make 1 and 5 and 10-year plans. We schedule and conceive. Then life happens, as it does. We find inspiration, or lack thereof, and change our course.

At the end of 2014, my husband left his job at a well-paying, recognized and very successful research lab in Malibu. He had an ocean view, a 20 minute commute via sports car through some of the most beautiful canyons on this planet. He was twice (and unprecedentedly) named Distinguished Inventor of the Year, awarded to just ONE employee each year at the research facility. His career had not yet peaked. Then he left. He had an idea. He was inspired. He took a risk.

It has been over ten months that he is without a job and without an income. We are a family of five, both with higher degrees in education (he has a PhD and I sit with a M.S.), and we are struggling financially. Life is a wild ride — a grand adventure.

His idea may be great. We are hopeful. Excitement is brewing, but only time will tell. He has the potential to forever change the field of podiatry and orthotics, and help millions. Perhaps it will all be a tremendous success and we will reflect ten years from now on the intuition he felt when deciding to quit his job and how we knew it would be wonderful. Or perhaps it will be a great flop, a failure.

What I am learning is that either way, it will have been great. Life has a funny way of keeping you guessing, stretching you and your dreams. The mystery inspires me and reminds me again to Never Give Up.

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Twelve years ago, a Ob-Gyn told me I would never be able to conceive. Having suffered from female athlete triad syndrome from about the age of 14-22, I had severely altered my hormone levels, screwed with my bone mineral density, was diagnosed with osteopenia (borderline osteoporosis) and perhaps irreversibly destroyed my reproductive capability. I was young, consequences meant little but a future without my own children was devastating.

Something within me began to change. It was not sudden, it did not happen over night, but I grew healthier, I learned self-respect and love. And then eventually, I learned to share that respect and love with others. I met Alan and immediately wanted to be my very best self. Love is powerful.

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Back in the day.. long before kids, during my brief stint of competitive cycling while healing from running injuries.

So what does this have to do with that picture of my child at Underwood Farms back in 2013? Well out of that love, she grew. And on that day in 2013, I had walked out of the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of a calcaneous stress fracture. After a few final heart breaking years of collegiate running and suffering repeated stress fractures, I had succumbed to the fact that my bones were brittle, my body done. Running was no longer in my cards. The problem was that running was still my greatest passion, and I could feel that deeper in my bones than any fracture could ever reach.

Having given myself over five years to fully recover both mentally and physically from the demands of competitive running, I had finally returned that Fall. I felt so ready, so strong, so inspired, until.. I didn’t. The pain in my foot was too familiar and even before the official diagnosis, I knew exactly what had happened. Once again, my osteopenic bones had cracked. My body had failed. I knew it, the doctor knew it. I was done, but still how could I go on without running in my life.

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It was raining, really raining (which was rare for this drought-stricken state), the skies were ominous and all I wanted to do was shut out the world. But I was a mother, I had three little ones who needed me with all their soul. “Meet at Underwood Farm at noon?” a dear friend’s text came through. “It’s raining, we’re heading home,” I replied from the doctor’s parking office, which I had just schlepped my children to along side me, not having any help and with Alan out of town. Then another text came through: “Pepper says we can catch all the rain drops with our tongues. Meet us there!”

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I pressed the gas and drove 30 miles to the Farm, in the pouring rain, on my sore foot and broken heart. Four hours later, as I loaded the kids into the car and drove home with cheeks aching from laughter, a full heart, overloaded memory card, and the best friends and family in the world by my side, I knew it was all very simple: Never Give Up.

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Isaac (9 months old) and me after a healing day at Underwood Farms.

Two years later, more supportive shoes (thank you, Hoka) and I am the strongest version of myself. This is definitely not the life I had imagined for myself, nor the one any doctor predicted. I am a mother of three beautiful babies, I am healthy, fast (and whenever I say fast, know that it’s all relative but for me in this moment, I am fast), fit and happy. You never know what life is going to throw at you.  You never know when you are about to get pummeled, trampled upon, left disheveled and heartbroken peeling yourself like grape gum off the ground, but if you follow those three simple words, you learn that it really doesn’t matter because life goes on, the sun comes up and everything works out just as it’s meant to be. Never Give Up.

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Post-race high picture. So lucky to have this life and these kids.

Time Keeps Ticking

Alan is in China. A world away and seemingly further, I wanted someone beside me last night. I pulled my four year old out of bed and carried her to my own. She asked what I was doing. “Just come cuddle with me tonight,” I whispered. “Okay,” she moaned and fell fast asleep in my bed, beside me. A few hours later, she woke, begging, “Please, can I just go back to my own bed? Please, Mama?” She jumped up and ran away. I heard her bedroom door click shut.

Once, she slept on my chest. For six months, I was her only. She needed me. Now, only four and she wants her space.

Fall is here. The season is changing, kids are growing and I can not help but marvel at how time keeps on ticking. Yesterday, she was born, then her, then him. And it all seemed so trying, the days impossibly long, each second hovering like a feather in heavy air as I watched it slowly float to the ground, praying he would soon come home.

Now she is six and four and he is two. They all tell you, “It goes so fast..” You stop and smile politely, say “I know, thanks,” all the while questioning how you will ever manage to survive the next eight hours. You do and in a flash, it is gone. You have survived. They are gone.

I can see how it happens now — now that she is six, and four and he is two. Gosh, it just goes by so fast. I tell the mother with heavy eyelids and dirty sweats cradling her newborn, “It goes so fast..” and I pray she understands.

I scheme how I can stop the clock, how I can savor every single second. Can we skip school? Play hookie? Hold them back? No, I am too straight-laced and they are ready to soar. They are soaring. We must let them.

And so I take photos, lots and lots of photos. I write. I hug and kiss, a thousand times a day. I look at them, right in their eyes and try to remember their faces before they change come morning. I do anything in a feeble and desperate attempt to capture this very moment. I don’t want to forget how it felt, how her nose wrinkled up as she wrote her spelling words so carefully, how his eye twinkled when he scooted over to make space for me in bed tonight.

I hope I never forget. I savor. I savor every single second with them, no matter how trying, how difficult. I have stopped glancing at the clock in hopes that hours have flown by. I know that time moves too quickly. I appreciate my time alone with them.

Alan is in China this week and something quite different has happened this trip. Rather than being filled with fear over how I will spend the hours, the weeks and questioning whether I will survive, I have actually been looking forward to it. That may sound odd, and I do not mean to say I do not miss him, because I do in fact, every second he is gone. Instead, I am taking this time to appreciate my three magically and rapidly growing babies with every ounce of my being. When he is away it takes this pressure off getting them to bed, having dinner prepared at a certain hour, having everything perfectly in order. And still, somehow, a homemade healthy dinner is prepared and kids are put to bed (but sometimes now with a beer on the bookstand to sip between bedtime stories and a prolonged bath for the kids while I finish folding laundry).

Here they are, these magically and rapidly growing babies. Our day in photos:

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I love how she finds this place magical. A broken down playground, in the middle of a field of dead grass, browned and scratchy, with the scent of coyote piss and spilt beer, she is happy swinging for hours.
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Little boy finds time to nap on our afternoon run amidst a busy day or neighborhood play, birthday cupcakes for one of his own 2-yr old friends and busy big sister schedules.
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One of my very favorite sights: watching this girl draw and craft away as I glance out the kitchen window while cooking dinner. We call her the queen of “mixed-media.”
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Bedtime snuggles in “The Nest” as they appropriately termed my bed full of pillows and blankets and bodies tonight during bedtime stories.
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And this girl, and her books. She reads as well as Mama these days and in greater volumes. Adara reading bedtime stories to us.

And finally, I have to close with sharing this poem by Annie Flavin.. once again. I love it. It plays on repeat in my brain, in it’s brilliance. I have shared it here before, so skip it if you please, or read on and be amazed at her talent. This poem has been stuck in my head for days and I’m just fine with it. So much truth.

This is how it happens
as it does
when the weather turns,
when all of a sudden
the leaves have changed color.
Where did the green go?
Here comes the snow.

When all of a sudden
the sleeping on your shoulder
and the generosity of their words
have been replaced
by friend sleepovers
and one-word answers.

It changed
while you were staring
at the second hand
waiting for it
to reach bedtime.

The clock was moving after all.

Annie Flavin (www.annieflavin.com)

  • Cesia&Mom

Fueling my running habit

A few weeks ago, we were baby-sitting a 7-year old friend after school. At about 3pm, I served up some snacks and helped myself to a full meal. About two hours later, 5:00 came around and I served up dinner. Once again, I ate another full meal. My kids thought nothing of my incessant eating, as they are used to it by now especially during high mileage running days. This little girl, however, looked completely perplexed and said politely, “Um, excuse me Caitlin, but I think you eat too much!”

She was right. Well, half-right. I do eat a lot, but probably not too much. I do not count calories or obsess over my fuel consumption, rather I listen to my body and eat healthy, homemade, plant-based foods.. and often. In fact, I spend most of my time away from the trails in my kitchen.  We are always cooking up something delicious to fuel my running habit (and three fast growing little kid’s bodies!). Plus, I have learned time and time again that when you cook with kids, they will eat it — it doesn’t matter what veggies are tucked in or how many lbs of spinach you have added, if their hands are the ones chopping, sautéing and layering, they will proudly munch it up!

Here are a few favorite recipes we have been cooking up and devouring lately! Enjoy and make them your own!

1. Watermelon Chia Seed Cooler

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Watermelon Chia Seed Cooler

I adapted this recipe from Julie Morris’ Superfood Kitchen recipe and have been sipping on it post-run all summer, especially on really hot days which have been plentiful this Summer AND Fall!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp chia seeds
  • 2.5 c watermelon flesh (cubed and seeded)
  • 1.5 tbsp lemon or lime juice
  • agave to taste (optional)

Place all ingredients in blender and mix until smooth! Place in refrigerator and sip cool, or pour over ice!

2. Quinoa cut-outs/patties/burgers/salad toppers!

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I love all things quinoa and rely on it as a perfect protein during periods of intense training especially. This is one of my favorite quinoa pattie recipes, largely due to the fact that they stick together and don’t crumble as many other recipes I’ve tried. I use this recipe loosely, adding lots of finely chopped veggies.. whatever I have on hand just goes in the food processor and then gets mixed in with the other ingredients (usually carrots, frozen chopped spinach (defrosted), onions).

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups/12 oz/340 g cooked quinoa, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1/3 cup/.5 oz /15 g finely chopped fresh chives
  • 1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup/.5 oz/15 g freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup/3.5 oz /100 g whole grain bread crumbs, plus more if needed
  • Water, if needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or clarified butter
  1. Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the chives, onion, cheese, and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, stir, and let sit for a few minutes so the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. At this point, you should have a mixture you can easily form into twelve 1-inch/2.5cm thick patties. I err on the very moist side because it makes for a not-overly-dry patty, but you can add more bread crumbs, a bit at a time, to firm up the mixture, if need be. Conversely, a bit more beaten egg or water can be used to moisten the mixture.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat, add 6 patties, if they’ll fit with some room between each, cover, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned. Turn up the heat if there is no browning after 10 minutes and continue to cook until the patties are browned. Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and cook the second sides for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties. Alternatively, the quinoa mixture keeps nicely in the refrigerator for a few days; you can cook patties to order, if you prefer.

To cook the quinoa: Heat a saucepan over medium heat, when hot add a tsp or or so of olive oil, then add 2 c quinoa and stir it about 3-5 minutes until it begins to toast and turns light brown. Then add 4 c water and bring to a boil. Then cover and lower heat to a simmer for 12 minutes or until the grain separates from the outer layer of the quinoa and all water is absorbed.

3. Baked Eggplant-Veggie Gratin (from Vegetable Literacy Cookbook – one of my very favorites and most used)

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb. eggplant
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 10 to 12 cups coarsely chopped chard, kale or spinach leaves (about 1 lb.)
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Several large fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1 or 2 large tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced or parmesan shredded on top
  • Handful of small fruit-type tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Slice the eggplants about 1/2 inch thick. You should have 8 to 10 slices. Salt the slices and let stand for 30 minutes, then blot dry with paper towels.

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, brush both sides of each eggplant slices with oil. When the pan is hot, add the slices and cook for about 10 minutes, moving around occasionally with spatula so they don’t stick or burn. Turn the slices over and cook on the second side the same way.

In a wide pan over medium heat, warm 1 Tbs. of olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Add the chard (or other greens) and a few pinches of salt, cover and cook until it is wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Place the cooked chard into a colander to drain, then press with the back of a spoon to remove some of the liquid.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a round or oval gratin dish large enough to hold 6 to 8 cups.

Place half of the eggplant slices in the dish and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the basil, then layer half of the tomato slices on top, followed by half of the mozzarella. Season again with salt and pepper. Place the chard over the cheese layer and season lightly with salt and pepper. Layer the remaining eggplant slices, followed by the remaining tomato slices and cheese. Tuck any small whole tomatoes here and there among the vegetables.

Toss the bread crumbs with the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil to moisten and sprinkle them over the surface. Bake until the gratin is bubbly and the bread crumbs are browned, about 35 minutes. Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving then eat up!

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Mom Guilt

Mom guilt — sadly, it’s a thing, a real thing. It’s serious, but ridiculous and most of the time I just ignore it. Over the years I have shifted back and forth from letting it eat me apart to completely ridiculing it.

Wednesday night, I spent a good three hours in the dark of the night worrying about my oldest and the way I talked to her during running group that evening. Just a few hours beforehand, we had been running together. Perhaps I was too hard on her, it really is all for fun and she’s only six years old. As I lie awake in bed, the things I said replayed in my head, the words that I just could not keep inside. I teach my kids to only say kind words and to think before they speak, but gosh, sometimes it is just so hard. My patience was growing thin, I had run a killer 20 mile workout the day before and hadn’t gotten enough sleep afterwards. Excuses, excuses. Now I was paying for them with this mom guilt when all my body really wanted to do was sleep.

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Now let me pause here for a moment and explain what I really did say during running, because that holds great importance. I strongly believe in raising strong confident kids and sports can be a great tool in doing just that. However, they can also tear a kid down or shape them negatively if not coached properly. I am a strong proponent of keeping sports fun and positive, especially for those under age 12 or 16, or whenever sports become more competitive. I did not yell at Adara, I did not say anything negative. Rather, I nagged her. Running side by side with Adara while pushing my two littler ones in the stroller, I reminded her at least five times to “Keep running, try to go a little faster, this is supposed to be fast.” Why did I have to say that? She was so happy running stride for stride beside one of her favorite little running buddies. She was happy! She was running! And then I had to open my big mouth and ruin it. And what’s worse, she didn’t cry or say a thing. Instead, she shut down. She did not look at me. She just kept on running and doing what she knew. I could see her trying to ignore me, to shut me out, and all to protect herself.

Sometimes parenting is just so hard. There I was running beside her and I could tell that she was in a different place, a different land. I could tell she wasn’t paying attention to her effort, wasn’t really trying. Sure, she was running but she wasn’t running hard. Her teammates (whom, yes, are all older than her besides the one boy she was running with that night) were pushing it, giving their all, putting their heart into it. She wasn’t and perhaps that’s what I saw.

She is only six. She is my first and since birth has always seemed so old, so mature, wise beyond her years. But she is six and I must not forget that again. She doesn’t know what it means to give it her all, nor should she. She should know what it feels like to breathe and talk and run beside her running buddy, to laugh mid-stride and nearly trip because she is off in some other dreamland, to high-five and put her hand in the sea of big-kid hands at the end of each practice and yell, “Eagles!” That is all she should know. I don’t want to ruin that for her. She loves to run, this girl and I am so proud of that fact. That is what matters.

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Choosing your own challenges

Patio lights twinkle as a cool wind whistles, the hum of a fast car sounds in the distance, neither breaking my focus nor warranting any additional thought. I am alone on my patio. My computer sits beside a bottle of Guinness which balances awkwardly atop of pile of the day’s art projects and half-finished crafts, the ones that await a child’s return with sunrise, to carefully attach an impossible amount of stickers, some extra glitter, more stuff. For me, I am full. No more stickers or glitter are needed in my day. I note that every day ends with a certain fullness and contentedness. That fact alone makes me smile.

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I could not say so much for the last couple of years of my life. They are now 6 and 4 and 2. Life is a bit easier, as they age, I think. Friends with older kids are quick to remind that the challenges change, battles shift and things don’t quite get “easier.” I disagree. Life is easier now. For one reason alone, perhaps, life is easier now: sleep. I get some of it. Yes, I still awake every single morning exhausted and drained, in some sort of zombie need-my-coffee-but-trying-to-kick-the-habit-mode, but yes, I do get some of it. Life is easier, these days. That makes me smile.

And I don’t smile because of the fact that life is easier, for I have never been one to necessarily go after “easy.” Quite the contrary, in fact. I have chosen much of my life to follow the challenge, seek out difficulty. The difference in my feelings tonight upon my patio, is where I now sit. My challenges are no longer thrown at me, covered in a day-old spit up rag. Now, I get to choose them. As Tom Robbins wrote in my all-time favorite book, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, “Difficulties illuminate existence, but they must be fresh and of high quality.” 

Much like the chef of the newest/hippest/locally organic vegan sustainable restaurant who frequents the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market each Monday to seek out the absolute freshest and high quality ingredients, I fill my days with challenges of the utmost quality. The ingredients must sustain me, move me, fill me. If they don’t, I let them fly right by. I seek out my own adventure and push myself to the limit for some purpose — some purpose that still can not be defined, but that can be felt. And man, can it be felt.

Sometimes it is felt in the look he gives me at night, as he carefully scoots his not-quite-30-pound-body to the corner of his crib to make space for me and looks up saying, “I need Mama. Mama sleep with me.” Sometimes it is felt in the saying or the not saying, the eye contact and the smiles she gives me as we pick her up from 1st grade each day. I felt it last week in our seven year old friend’s voice as she told me, “I wish everyday was Tuesday!” (which happens to be the 1 day each week we watch her all day, helping with homework and art projects and playing.. I don’t say babysit because it is so much more than that and she is becoming like a fourth child to me). Other times, and nearly daily, it is felt on the trails and it is why I run, why I chase after sometimes impossible seeming goals, why I am still training and pushing myself to the limit after 16 years and 3 kids.

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A glimpse that she feels it, too.

Last Thursday as I crested the top of a beautiful single track upon my favorite trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, I felt it. For 30 years, I have been waiting, looking forward to the next phase. I couldn’t wait to start high school, then college, which I rushed through to graduate a semester early to pursue a career in Neuroscience, then graduate school. At 19, I met Alan and couldn’t wait to get married and have kids. By 27, I had three. That morning, all three were in school. I ran to the mountains. Alone on the trail I was overcome by the feeling that this moment, this very second, might just be the best of my life. The air was crisp, no clouds to be seen and I was flying. I knew then it was time to start living. Around mile 15 I became very sentimental. Long runs will do that to you.

What moves you? Do you seek out your own challenges or take those handed to you? Are you pushing yourself to become the best you?

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My dog and me, mile 15. Santa Monica Mountains.

This is Why I Wake Early

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The soft smell of dew glistening upon stiff green blades,

the promise of a new dawn,

the hope that lies in the burning red sun,

the dreams that jump from dendrite to synapse like the leaping deer at first glance.

The silky gossamer fibers of the arachnid

 as they gently brush my shoulder,

the rush to be the first to catch those fibers, those webs,

for as sticky and vexing as they may be, they are still… a sign

that no one yet has been here,

no one yet has touched this small space in this great big overcrowded world,

much like the first footsteps on a freshly fallen snow,

and oh, how I long for that snow of my youth.

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The quiet breathing of a sleeping child,

drifting in and out of dreamland,

soon to wake like a storm and erupt upon us all,

but for now,

so magically… peaceful.

The stillness of a home,

of five wild ones and two pets,

before the others have climbed out of bed,

have run down the halls,

have shouted and cried and hugged and cuddled and loved,

before anyone has started.

The howl of coyotes and little yappy dogs…

and the sticky silver threads that brush against my shoulder.

From home to single track, from Mama to animal,

transformed for no one to see,

except for my tediously web-spinning friend.

I prance along quiet dirt trails,

and am left to wonder,

to realize:

This, THIS, is why I wake early.

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– Written on the trails early 8/28/15. Recorded at the end of an early day, when all are again asleep and I have found myself a slice of quiet, cut from a very loud, very full, very wonderful day in the life of a Mama.

Chasing Dreams (and a New Favorite Book)

I gifted Adara a new book this afternoon as a surprise upon coming home from school. She has been working hard, at both school and running. She has been tough, with little complaints and lots of smiles and enthusiasm for 1st grade and all it entails. She has her first test on Friday. It makes me nervous, she is calm. I have been saving a book in the cabinet for a special moment. This afternoon was it. As she opened the brown cardboard packaging and revealed a fresh new book, a smile spread across her face. She then opened up “Henry Hikes to Fitchburg” and read it aloud to little brother, sister and Mama (and a hot, tired dog at her feet).

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“Henry Hikes to Fitchburg” is my new favorite book, and Adara’s, too. Based on a short passage from Walden with the main character named, Henry, I could not help but fall for this book that touches on such heavy meaningful topics. If you’re in the market for a new children’s book, if you love the outdoors or if you are just tired of reading the same exact book for bedtime every single night for the last 3 weeks, then try this gem by D.B. Johnson. You won’t be disappointed.

The timing of our reading this book was quite interesting. As Henry hikes to Fitchburg and plays in the river and eats wild berries and hikes 30 miles, his friend stays home to work and earn enough money to then take the train to Fitchburg. I could not help but relate this to Alan and myself. In fact, at the exact moment we were reading this story, Alan was at a meeting with a potential investor. He was working, staying behind (or going ahead, however you look at it), in search of money. He was quite literally, chasing after money.

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Light Insoles product testing on the trails Monday night.

 

We are very different, the two of us, and thank goodness. I like to think we compliment each other and keep one another balanced. I tend to live with my head up in the clouds. “Things will work out, everything will be fine, don’t worry,” I attempt soothe his nerves as another month passes with zero income and bills need to be paid. “No, things don’t just work out. You have to make them work out, there has to be action,” he replies. And yes, I know this, too. I relate everything to running, as it is the perfect metaphor for life. In running, you get out of it what you put in. When it comes to racing, I know that I must train properly and sufficiently in order to perform the way I wish to, or to achieve a new personal best/record, Boston Marathon qualifying time, etc. But at the same time, I believe that if you put the work in, do your best and remain calm, everything will work out fine. Worrying is just wasted energy. He may disagree on this. I don’t know. We try our best and calm ourselves and stick together when that is what must be done.

Nevertheless, as the children and I sat around the table in dim afternoon light, with shades drawn in an attempt to further insulate on this hot August dog day of summer, I could not help but notice the irony of our conversation. It was one that touched many subjects, and most much deeper than I had anticipated between my 6, 4 and 2 year olds. Mainly, we talked of the pursuit of money vs. the pursuit of happiness. “The guy hiking had much more fun than the one working,” stated 4 year old Cesia. “Yes, but the one working was doing the right thing and not just out hiking all day,” said 6 year old Adara. I allowed them to continue, arguing back and forth a bit then about what was “right” and more “fun” and “faster” and “smarter” before chiming in. The wisdom in their words astonished me and made me smile. We then talked about Walden and Henry David Thoreau and his life and works and brilliance.

Perhaps the purpose in life is finding that balance between the pursuit for money vs. the pursuit for happiness and discovering a way to blend the two. Yes, Alan is chasing after money and investors to get his new company off the ground. But the bigger story is that Alan is wildly passionate about this new business, inventing and transforming the way custom orthotics are made and creating the perfect insole. It is not purely about the money, but in reality, money is needed to achieve this dream, to start Light Insoles. And me, well I am crazy about running and being outside and reading with my kids and teaching them about life and just trying to do it all. One day, we will strike the perfect balance. Until then, we will just keep on chasing our dreams, and running as much as possible. : )

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Kindergarten pick-up run. 100+ degrees. I chose not to check the thermometer and just run.