Monday, October 24, 2016

The Price of Perfection: Zapping Memories and Family Time

The whole family came out to support my mom and dad.

At the University of Indianapolis football game, they received an award.

Their younger supporters.

Cooper invited a few buddies to celebrate his 10th birthday at Zip City.

The birthday boy requested Marsh cookie cake.

Then, he zipped over the play area:)

His brothers joined him in zipping across the facility.

Pretty good seats at the University of Indianapolis football game (although I did worry about getting a ball to the face:)).

This came in the mail this week!  I'm going back to Boston in 2017!

As I was fiddling with dishes and dinner today, the Pioneer Woman  played in the background.  She was whipping up a cherry pie and fiddling with the pie crust.  Although her crust appeared magazine-perfect, she expressed her displeasure at the pie's perceived imperfections.  As she inspected the crust, she giggled and announced, "Well, my family doesn't expect perfection."

Anyone who sees my home and life would imagine I follow that mantra.  Dust has set up residence on our blinds (something I discovered today), and a sticky, syrup residue is glued onto placemats.  My shirt has peanut butter smattered on the front, a souvenir from this morning's lunchbox assembly line.  The refrigerator desperately needs to be purged of fuzzy-looking, mystery items.

Sometimes, though, I still seek that (unattainable) perfection.  I strive for it despite knowing that seeking perfection comes at a cost, namely zapping my family of meaningful encounters and spontaneous memories.

Take yesterday.

A pile of dirty dishes set next to my kitchen sink.  Their appearance made my sanity start to wane.  I desperately wanted a clean kitchen counter; I truly felt my happiness was tethered to its cleanliness.

While I started to empty the dishwasher and place glasses into their proper places, Cooper asked if I would play Legos with him.

My first thought was to bark "no."  Couldn't he see that dishes sat on the counter?  Didn't he know that crumbs were on the floor?  Who has time to play at a time like this?

Then I thought about how infrequently my nearly ten year old asked me to play.  I remembered how we had several harsh exchanges that day.  I recalled the moments when all I wanted to do was connect with him in ways that didn't involved request to do homework, chores, or timeouts.

I placed the dishrag on the counter.  With my back turned to the stack of dirty dishes, I walked over to my son and found a seat next to him and a big pile of Legos.

My family doesn't expect perfection.

They don't care if the counters sparkle.

I care.

But, I care for my son more.

That means, I walk away from the dishes and pick up the Legos.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Selecting the right pumpkin.

Last week, Chris joined two friends in a hiking excursion in the Grand Canyon.

After Chris emerged from the canyon, he connected with our friends the Brinkruffs (who were also in Arizona for vacation).

Chris came home with about a million of these gorgeous pictures.

Meanwhile, I was tending to the homestead and the boys.  Fall break began, and we made it a staycation.

The weather was absolutely perfect to enjoy a lot of fall activities.

The corn maze seemed daunting, but Caleb led us to the end quickly with his excellent navigation abilities.

I really think he set a course record:)

Selecting the perfect pumpkin was an ordeal.

No caption needed.  He's a one-of-a-kind:)

I joined my parents and sister on a tour of the Indianapolis Airport.  My mom seemed like a natural in the airport fire truck.

Look what we followed in the taxi lane?

Miniature golf with a neighbor kept them busy on another day.

Trying to find his missing miniature golf ball.

As I scanned my Facebook pages, it appeared that everyone in our town is vacationing for Fall Break.  We are not.  With Chris working most days, I have done my best to fill our days with the "need to do" and the "want to do" activities.  

For the "need to do".....We visited the Minute Clinic, and all of us had flu shots (Collin said they hurt less than one of Cooper's "deadly pinches.")  Fall clothes were purchased.  Winter coats were pulled out of basement bins.

For the "want to".....We engaged in a competitive round of miniature golf.  While snuggled under comfy blankets, we watched a zillion movies.  On a rainy day, we visited the movie theater.  Cooper's birthday was celebrated with friends.

One day, we visited Stuckey Farms.  The farm boasts an extensive pumpkin patch and an assortment of fall outdoor activities.  The boys whizzed down the slide built into the hill.  Then, they traveled by tractor to the pumpkin patch acreage.

I let each boy select his own pumpkin.  Most of the boys quickly selected pumpkins from the closest section.  With little thought or conflict, they plucked pumpkins from the vines and carried them to the tractor stop.

Cooper worked differently.  He raced to the back of the fields until he looked like a distant figure on the horizon.  Then, he meandered around the rows, inspecting and interviewing dozens of potential pumpkins.

"Cooper, what are you looking for?" I questioned, frustrated at his extensive search.

"I'm looking for a pumpkin that looks like me," he answered as if this was the most logical way to select a pumpkin.

I've always heard that people pick dogs that look like them, but do people select pumpkins in the same way?

"How can you tell if a pumpkin looks like you," I questioned.

"You just can," he answered, while busying himself with the choices.

After what seemed like eternity, Cooper beamed when he showed me his pumpkin.  It was a bit dirty and misshapen, but sturdy and beautiful all the same.

I didn't see the resemblance between Cooper and his pumpkin.  But, they shared a few common threads.  This was a pumpkin that required work to find, but its specialness made it worth the work.  

Sounds like Cooper. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Vintage 90s

Caleb wearing my high school letter jacket on Throwback Thursday for Homecoming Week.

I had the privilege of celebrating with my mom on her 70th birthday!

Collin's soccer team.  So cute!

Collin's team celebrated their wins in a weekend soccer tournament.

Four inches cut off my hair.  Immediately I felt like I lost a few pounds:)

Last week, the middle school celebrated Homecoming Week.  To commemorate the special week, each day preceding the big football game had a theme.  Thursday was Throwback Thursday in which middle schoolers could wear generational clothes.  Caleb requested to wear my High School letter jacket.

He slid into my jacket, and he noted it was too big for him.  Thanks!

The image of my son parading around in my high school letter jacket was a little too much.

I teased, "I don't think my high school letter jacket is really a 'throwback' item."

He paused and responded, "Mom, the 90s are vintage now."

I think the individual who said "kids make you feel younger" is a liar.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Running Club Finishes

School running club right before these kids ran a 5K race.

Lined up and ready for the start!

Cooper positioned himself by a group of friends.

Running coaches for two local schools.  So grateful to have Nicole to provide advice and support!

Cooper and Collin are all smiles after finishing the Hit the Bricks 5K race.

Just got this picture back from Mom and Dad's 50th Anniversary weekend (thanks Mom and Dad).  Might be the Christmas Card photo.

I'm used to crossing race finish lines.  After pounding the pavement for miles, cruising past the finish line induces a euphoric feeling that has no equal.  I've found few experiences in life that compare.

On Saturday, I stood at the finish line with an unobstructed view of the finishers.  I waited for my kids to arrive.  By "my kids," I mean my two sons and the over 30 kids I coached in the elementary running club.  I affectionally call them "my kids," because over the course of six-weeks training they transformed from strangers to dear ones.

Children who rarely left the couch began racking up miles.  I had every sort of runner from kids who enjoyed the shared experience with a friend to those who looked Olympic bound.  I loved the whole spectrum of these runners.  The ones who tried so hard and barely completed a mile were just as precious to me as the ones who breezed through four miles without breaking a sweat.

The Hit the Bricks 5K was their final run.  The kids lined up outside the high school starting line.  Many expressed anxiety.  A few looked concerned.  When the gun went off, they raced past me and disappeared beyond a tree line.

I stood at the finish line facing my own anxiety.  Were they prepared well enough?  Were they doing alright along the course?  The beauty of a 5K race is that time goes quickly.

Around the 20-minute mark, my first runner came into sight.  He was focused as his stride quickened to reach the finish line.  The minute his toe crossed the line, a big smile emerged along his face. But, I think my smile was greater than his.

I got to experience this blessed feeling over 30 more times as I watched kid after glorious kid cross the finish line.  The smiles.  The euphoria.  The pride.  The joy.  These are the feelings that drape the finish line.  My own finishes pale in comparison to the experience of watching these kids.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Running with my husband

For the entire span of our marriage, I've held at hope.  I knew if I just waited/prayed/begged/cajoled long enough, I would wear my husband down.  For 15 plus years, he was not the least.  He had absolutely no desire to lace up running shoes and pound the pavement along side his wife.  Furthermore, he had no interest in lacing up running shoes and pounding the pavement by himself.  He unequivocally was not a runner, he declared over and over.  He even mocked my endless need to rack up miles and secure quick racing times.

A few months ago, things changed.  Chris, preparing for an upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon, started to heavily train.  Most days, he visited the gym.  He at meals that would make the strictest of dietitians swoon.  He dropped weight.  He built up endurance.  He became lean and buff.

And in the midst of all his training, he began to run.  He started off with a mile or two.  He'd emerge from the treadmill with a scowl. It was clearly not love at first sight between Chris and running.  But over time, he added miles and built up speed.  Today, he can run five miles like a champ.

Last week, he asked me, out of the blue, if I would like to run with him.  He popped the question without one ounce of fanfare while I was reacting as if he proposed all over again.

Did I want to run with him?

Yes, I've wanted to run with him for the 6,000 days of our marriage.   I think my response was a bit convoluted between all the squeals and jumping.

Last Wednesday, we showed up at the running path in the blanket of darkness.  We agreed on five miles, and we fell into stride together.  Chris thought of the run as a joint exercise experience; I thought it was social time.  So, we both treated it as such.  I chattered through the miles, while he patiently listened and stayed the course.

At the end of five miles, I couldn't stop smiling.  

He did it.  

We did it.  

And, I couldn't wait to do it again....together.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Destroying the play set

For over a year, I've gazed out my kitchen window and stared down an eyesore.  Our wooden Costco play set, once the centerpiece and highlight of the backyard, had fallen into disrepair.  It was in need of a good facelift in the form of a power wash and re-staining.  When we evaluated the time and money it would take to revive the play set with the fact our children have outgrown the swings and slides, we decided to give away the play set.

I put a listing on a local sellers' Facebook page offering the play set for free.  The catch:  the lucky recipient had to disassemble and haul away the play set.  Within minutes, numerous people responded to my post.  I notified the first person.  She came out once to look over the play set.  Then, her and her husband returned with tools to slowly take the play set apart for transport.

About an hour into the process, they had second thoughts.  As they pried nails from boards, alarming things were discovered.  Poison Oak wound itself around lower planks.  Carpenter bees had feasted on the play set rafters.  And, many of the wood planks collapsed due to rot during transport.  The would-be owner turned down the play set.  Her response, "It's not worth it, even if it is free."

Can't blame her.

What was left in our yard was a wood pile and a half-disassembled play set.  It looked like a lumber autopsy gone wrong.  I sat in my kitchen and glanced at the disarray in the backyard with dismay.

But, my boys looked at the backyard differently.  They saw it as an opportunity to be helpful and to flex their manly muscles.  They requested to be helpers in the demolition.  And in a moment of questionable parenting, I agreed.

Within seconds, four boys rushed out of the house and charged the play set.  They clutched all sorts of "tools" for demolition, things like snow shovels, gardening shovels, and baseball bats.

Within minutes of my boys engaging in their "project," the news of the demolition swirled throughout the neighborhood and every adolescent boy within a five mile radius descending on our backyard carrying his own tool of choice.

I supervised and ensured a modicum of safety was enforced.

I watched my boys and the neighbor kids have a ball.  This was their chance to destroy, and they relished every single moment.  

If you want to know how to make a boy happy, give him a baseball bat (or snow shovel or gardening tool) and a piece of wood to destroy.  Smiles are guaranteed to follow.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Smoky Mountain National Park Half Marathon

Mid-commute from Indiana to Tennessee, we stopped for a hike in Berea, Kentucky.

Followed by a dinner stop in Powell, Tennessee at the Front Porch Restaurant.

Simply charming.

Highlight of the trip was when this fella crossed our path.  Mr. Brown Bear seemed not the least bit rattled about holding up traffic or creating quite a stir among park guests.

The bear didn't stop us from enjoying our first hike in the Smoky Mountains.

We dove right into celebrating the national parks and a race close to its borders.

Love this sign!

First day hike with falls as a beautiful backdrop.

Smiles.  Pre-run.  With sunshine about to peak over the mountains.

Smiles still there with post-run glow.

Claudia earned a 3rd place overall finisher's award. Woo hoo!

Her prize:  a national park pass!

I claimed the 3rd master's winner award.

And scored a national park pass too!

Basking in our 3rd place awards!

And because running is just not enough exercise (sarcasm), we hiked later that day.

On the first hike, we attempted to reach the Appalachian Trail.  But when the trail seemingly disappeared and daylight was dwindling, we nixed those plans.

The beauty about the Smoky Mountain National Park is that the trails are everywhere!

My dear friend Claudia decided it wasn't enough to run a race in every state.  She also needed to compete in all the national park runs.  When she spotted the Smoky Mountain National Park race and suggested we attend the race, I could think of not one single good reason to say no.

On Thursday, Claudia, Sarah and I hopped into our rented sedan.  We took the six hour trek down to Townsend, Tennessee (the self-proclaimed quieter side of the Smoky Mountain National Park).

Townsend is a sleepy Appalachian town who is happy to host the onslaught of park tourists, but in a more understated way than its flasher counterpart: Gatlinburg.  In Townsend, one bypasses the go-carts in favor of a comfy rocking chair with a clear view of the mountains.  Dining in Townsend is down-home fare with prices that even the stingiest of patrons will relish.  Those who work and live in Townsend dip their words in southern charm and hospitality.

If I would use one word to describe this weekend it would be active.  My backside only made contact with a seat while in the car to and from Indiana.  The rest of the time, we were hiking or running.  (And as the cruelest injustice, I did not shed one single pound!)  

The day before the race, we took the Cade's Cove loop; an 11-mile course that lapped Smoky Mountain Meadows and historic structures from original park settlers.  During this loop, we stumbled upon a bear.  He shot out of the bushes and wandered onto the road directly in front of our car.  The park is plastered with signs warning about the dangers of bears, and I've seen enough "Animal Attack" commercials to have a healthy fear of the damages inflicted by menacing bears.  But this bear seemed more domesticated and playful than the nasty images in my mind.  This bear sighting was the highlight of our trip.

The next day, we awoke before daylight and jumped onto the crowded shuttle that carried runners to the start.  In a typical Claudia/Becky/Sarah race fashion, we arrived at the start with minutes to spare.  When the race started, we joined 2,000 other runners along a course that ascended 500 feet for 13.1 miles.

What the course lacked in dramatic inclines, it made up for in rolling hills.  We raced along Tennessee country roads where charming cabins, bubbling rivers, and friendly locals formed our backdrop.  I had a hard time concentrating on important racing things, like pacing and breathing, because the beautiful scenery demanded all my attention.

The last mile, the sun broke through the trees and the course grew steeper.  The beating sun and hills made the finishing line look more appealing.  When I crossed the finishing line, a relief washed over my body and a gratefulness for experiencing something both so beautiful and wonderful simultaneously.

Our legs had little time to rest from the race before we were working them again. This time, we were exploring the numerous Smoky Mountain trails and gazing across gorgeous mountain vistas.  As much as I wanted to go back and sit on a rocking chair, these views and this park drew me deeper into the woods and along the mountains.

This weekend in the Smoky Mountains was active.  But really, that's the best way to experience something that begs to be explored.