Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mama Sisyphus

You might know the story in Greek and Roman mythology about Sisyphus, the man who is punished by a king to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat the process for all of eternity. While making the beds this morning, I realized how much of my day is filled with those push-the-rock-up-the-hill-and-watch-it-roll-back-down-the-hill moments.

Laundry gets soiled, dishes get dirty, beds get unmade, meals get eaten.

Even fitness can feel daunting if you're not careful to take note of the overall changes that happen along the way. The changes can be physical transformations like tightening and toning, maybe even regaining bladder control after birth. But they can also be mental, like gaining the self-confidence or discipline to make big life changes.

But here's the real evidence that we don't belong in mythology:

Yep, our kids grow up.

Every little thing we do, even if it seems repetitive, makes a big mark on some very important lives. Suddenly rolling those boulders up the hill isn't such a bad thing...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Back from Disney World...

It’s my first full day back from our family vacation to Walt Disney World and I already feel like I need another vacation. Reality can be a little slap on the backside, can’t it? But before I get too steeped in the present, I wanted to share a few thoughts about our trip to visit Mickey and pals.
  1. Theme parks are not as physically exhausting as you might think. Turns out nine hours of walking around Disney parks isn't quite as tiring as I anticipated, except for Grandpa who at 74 made an impressive show of endurance. Truth is, when you factor in ride time, show time, wait time, eat time, and rest time, nine hours at a park isn’t nearly nine hours of walking. According to my Polar Activity Monitor (which my daughter enthusiastically wore around her ankle to account for those times she didn’t let her arm swing--like pushing the stroller and holding the camera) it’s not much more than a typical day around the house. Our ratio of time spent in the park to time moving was something close to 3:1. That means for every three hours we spent in the park, we spent about one hour walking.  
  2. Theme parks are more mentally exhausting than you think. More exhausting than nine hours of walking in the hot sun is the insufferable sales pitch of the Disney marketing monster, unmatched at Sea World or Busch Gardens. Disney has every exit covered, every corner staffed. Looking for something test to your Zen state of mind? Disney is there for you. My suggestion…  give your kids an allowance of money they can spend at the parks, then let them decide where the money goes. 
  3. Our kids take their pool time as seriously as we do our runs. While the parks are fun, having a pool seemed equally important to my kids. They swam at least once a day, if not twice and registered more activity in the pool than anywhere else. Cady's almost perfected her flip turn and Maggie has a flawless "CANON BALL!”  Every early morning after every late night, my kids found a hidden reserve of energy in the pool. 
  4. You DO see gators while running in Florida. Let’s just say I felt better running on the road than the sidewalk after witnessing a few beady eyes not far from my path. 
  5. You can eat healthy in Disney. After our visit to Disney in 2007, we vowed to bring our own snacks on our next trip; back then we didn’t see much nutrition on the kiosks of ice cream sandwiches, popcorn, and cotton candy. This time around, however, we did see some GoGo Squeez applesauce packets in Epcot and lots of fruit in Animal Kingdom. We didn’t see many healthy options in Magic Kingdom, but luckily we’d packed out own. Turns out there are a few places you can go to get healthy food. At the Princess Dinner in Norway, I had what seemed to be a very healthy serving of salmon (though the kids options were less than friendly—hotdog and pizza). If you’re interested, check out this post on the Disney food blog for some food stops that offer healthy eating alternatives.  
  6. Disney is something every kid should get to see at least once. In a perfect world every child feels special and important. In a perfect world every kid gets to smile until it hurts and yell, “I love you, Sleeping Beauty!” at the top of her lungs (yes, my little Maggie is in love). In a perfect world every kid would get at least one visit to Disney.
Share your recent Disney experience or post a question if you’re going soon. I'll be taking notes for next time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jungle Gym-Nastics: See Mom Sweat Giveaway

Every day that we are blessed with warm weather is another day I have to feed a lame excuse to my kids about why we can't head to the park yet. My top reasons so far involve mud and water, which basically means I'm not keen on yet another pile of dirty laundry (and means virtually nothing to my dirt-loving children).

I'm usually pretty hands on at the park, but age has made the swings less enjoyable (renders me dizzy) and anything that spins virtually impossible (vomit-city!). To be honest, once I plunk my butt down on a park bench it isn't long before I start thinking about the things I should be getting done at home. I love to watch my kids play, but the park bench feels like an assault on both my productivity and my sanity. So I'm hopeful that my new deck of Playground Pump cards will make park visits as much fun for me as they are for my kids this year.

A husband and wife team who work extensively in the field of health and fitness, Chris Rauchnot and Nancy Levin, created the cards as a way of "incorporating working out into your life" and to get clients "out of the gym and into the fresh air, sunlight, and sounds of nature." Sounds like a perfect fit for moms, doesn't it?

The deck includes cards that are color coded by type of exercise (warm up, upper body, lower body, abs, and stretching), each using familiar equipment found at most playgrounds--swings, parallel bars, benches, monkey bars, rings.

For those of you who don't visit the park or have kids that nap, these exercises will work great on a backyard play structure, too. Focus on upper or lower body exercises, pick out cards using only certain types of equipment, or do a little of everything for a circuit training workout.

Got any great playground or backyard workouts to share? Maybe it's just your favorite piece of equipment (monkey bars for me!) or a funny experience. To help celebrate the March 29 release of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom (Andrews McMeel 2011), I'll pick a winner from the comments and send off a box of Playground Pump cards next week.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Competitor Within

Before life got complicated with things like marriage, kids, dogs and a house, I thought I knew exactly what it meant to be a competitor. Being a competitor meant pushing myself to the limit—racing for a personal best, an age group win, or to outkick my nemesis at the finish line. With age, though, comes wisdom. 

At first by necessity, then later by choice, my perspective has changed. I gave up weekly races a long time ago; runs don't always hurt. I’m not always racing against the clock and I don’t care as much if someone passes me on the trails. I love running with my dog and stopping to let him make a new friend. I’m still a competitor, though, perhaps even more than I was in my younger years. 

I’ve come to realize that being a competitor isn’t so much about physical prowess or building an impressive athletic resume, it’s about character. You are a competitor when you decide you’re not going to let life’s uncontrollables bring you down, or when you pull yourself off the couch and get moving when you’re already depressed. It’s about finding ways to make a visit to the park a workout too. Just enjoying an easy bike ride, resisting that temptation to push hard, can be a significant accomplishment for some of us. It’s all about knowing what you need to do, and then doing it.

There will be times in your life you need or want to race hard and often; at other times it's best to use that energy to attack the mudane. Take a look at where you are right now and then figure out where you want to be, where you really want to be. Start taking steps in that direction—Olympic fast or small baby steps—just get moving. Do that and you are a competitor.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

More Ways to Exercise

As winter drags on, workouts seem to require more mental energy than I have available. True, suited up and out the door I usually escape my motivational black hole, but getting to that point is becoming increasingly difficult as the season wears on. And the degree of difficulty is directly correlated with the temperature outside: the lower the temps, the lower my motivation.

I know I’m not alone in my struggle. One of my close friends, another obsessive runner type, recently took an entire week off running. This wasn’t an intentional, planned vacation for her. No, those are the kind that actually boost our energy levels and return us to mental rock star status. Instead, it was a week filled with disappointment and negativity… exactly the opposite of what she’s used to getting from fitness.

It’s time to remind myself of some important tidbits you’ll find in Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom (Andrews McMeel, 2011) when it hits the stores at the end of this month. In the book, my co-author and I devote an entire chapter (Chapter 8: Get Moving: There’s More than One Way to Exercise) to the various types of exercise we can engage in—from the therapeutic kind that helps heal an injury or muscular imbalance to those hard core athletic workouts that leave us wonderfully tired and exhausted. Somewhere in between those two workouts is the secret to my sanity for the next month.

As an endurance athlete, I think I sometimes take my fitness for granted. If I miss a workout, I feel bad in a guilt-ridden sort of way. I think about the impact my missed run or ride will have on my performance, but I usually don’t think about what it’s doing to my body. And that’s where the different kind of workouts fit in.

My goal for the next month is to focus on protective exercise (for me means stretching and strength training) that will get me ready to turn things up a notch in the spring. Lucky for me these are the same kinds activities that help me settle my mind, too. (Read that as lots of hot yoga. I did say hot, right? Hot as in NOT COLD!). I’m going to knowingly dial back a bit on my cardio be happy with whatever time I can collect.

What are you doing to push through this final month of winter (especially if you're in a colder clime like me)? Are you going to put your head down and plow on through, or slow down and watch the snow melt a little more?