Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why I need Advent.

Our jack'o'lantern's face has that wizened, sunken look...kind of like the woman wearing a purple daisy housecoat in the aisle at Dollar Tree who has forgotten to put in her dentures.

Yes, the pumpkins are still on our porch. The mums have browned and are all droopy and in need of cutting back. The straw wreath is still on our door.

All around me, my neighbors have decorated for Christmas, erasing chunks of the night sky with colored lights on their houses and white lights in their shrubs and giant inflatable light-up snow globe thingys in their front yards. People have their trees up and their presents bought and are already baking cookies.

And the music...oh, the music. It's everywhere, even inside my head. Rudolph and the horrible lisping child who "ain't been nuthin' but bad" and Santa Baby won't you bring me a duplex and checks and Frosty hippity-hop-hopping all over the shopping center are making me want to run into the mountains and hide out indefinitely in a cabin by myself.

Wait! I want to scream. Hold on a minute! I'm not ready...I'm just trying to recover from Thanksgiving.

We have a whole extra week this year...Thanksgiving was early (whatever that means), and it isn't even December why do I feel so out of breath, like I'm being left behind? Somehow, before the table was even cleared, with words of gratitude barely out of our mouths, the world went spinning madly into "the holiday season," everyone sprinting for the door with the goal of getting as much done as possible, as quickly as possible.

I feel like I got left sitting here with the dirty dishes.

Before you decide that I'm one of those bah-humbuggers, let me say that Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it. I even got married in December, just so I could have a brass ensemble playing carols at my wedding and Christmas trees with lights as decorations. I love egg nog, cookies, wrapping paper and caroling. George and I have been making Christmas playlists since 1997, and we have amassed thousands of songs for holiday listening. Really, we should start playing the music as soon as possible, just so we could make it all the way through our old favorites and get some new things in the rotation, too...and most years, we have (all the while faithfully lighting our Advent wreath).

This year, though, I just don't understand the rush. Why do I feel so overwhelmed? Why the huge push to get everything done right now? So we can check everything off our lists and then relax and enjoy the holidays?

Today, sitting amid piles of unwashed things, some still in suitcases from our trip last week, I'm struggling to create order from chaos, editing my longest to-do list in recent memory (involving both sides of a piece of college-ruled paper). I have a bunch of lists right now- a house cleaning list, a gift list-turned-spreadsheet, a decorating list, a grocery list, a list of gift ideas for the grandparents. (I just made a list of my lists. That alone might qualify it as a compulsion.)

The house is a mess. I'm trying to do five things at once (involving multiple separate screens on electronic devices, a cold cup of coffee I've reheated twice already, and mismatched socks). I hear my babies' conversation as they are waking up from their nap, and my first thought is, "Oh, I'm not going to get anything done."

It all feels out of control (a situation I don't handle well, if I'm being honest). I'm not ready for Christmas, and there is so much to do. In an effort to get everything together, I am writing it all down, as if literally putting all of it under my fingers will help me to feel on top of it.

Suddenly, I realize that I am guilty of trying to control the Incarnation (and everything else, too) with my lists.

It's not only my house that needs cleaning. My heart and my mind do, too. I feel cluttered, overwhelmed by all the stuff I think I need to do, busy and scattered and distracted.

Fortunately for all of us, the arrival of Christmas doesn't depend on me and my chronic list-making and my incomplete preparations. Christmas is so much bigger than my lists. It is a turning point in history, the arrival of God-made-baby, Love made visible. It is hope with feet, complete with ten tiny toes. It can completely change everything, if we let it. It is a big deal. 

It's such a big deal, in fact, that we need time to prepare for it.

Yes, there are things to be done, as there always are. But it doesn't have to all be done right this instant. The false sense of urgency I feel is just that - FALSE - and I'm calling it what it is.

It isn't Christmas yet. It isn't even Advent yet, actually, and I don't have to do everything RIGHT NOW.

Today, I'm stopping.

I'm reminding myself that I have time...that time is what Advent is about. It's about waiting. It's about not throwing ourselves into the nativity scene while there is still leftover turkey and dressing in the fridge. It's about giving ourselves permission to start at a place that's less than ready. It's about taking a deep breath and realizing that our unpreparedness, our brokenness, our cobwebby corners and dirty floors are exactly where Christ is going to make his entrance...and that when Christ meets us in the middle of our mess, He makes it holy.

Waiting is hard, I often tell my son. I know it's hard to wait. I don't like to wait, either. But waiting, especially at this time of year, is also a gift. A gift of room to breathe. A gift of a spare moment to sit and ponder and stare out the window without worrying about the crumbs under the table or the bread that needs to be baked. A gift of empty space that doesn't have to be filled right away with a tree or neatly wrapped gifts.

We have time to get there.

I'm going to take my time. I hope you will, too.

And...I'm fighting back against the holiday muzak with a playlist just for Advent, starting this coming Saturday evening. If this sounds like something that would help you create space and take time to wait during this season of preparation, feel free to come by and listen along.

**Update: Here is the Advent playlist for your listening pleasure. You may need to download the free Spotify software to listen to the songs if you don't already have it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Church with little kids: What's in your Mass Bag?

We sat in a pew in the main part of the church that Sunday because we were actually on time. The Sisters were settled on our laps, and SuperSam was snuggled between us. There was some wiggling, but the children were content. We had made it through the opening hymn, the confession, the first reading. Just when we thought things were going pretty well, there was that moment. The moment when, during a quiet lull between Scripture readings, SuperSam burst out at full volume, "You didn't bring me anything else to keep me occupied?"

Our parish usually has Children's Church during part of the 10:00 AM Sunday Mass, and SuperSam enjoys his class there. In the summer, though, or if we have to go to a different Mass for some reason, he sits with us. I know it's not developmentally appropriate to expect him to follow along with the entire Mass at 4 years old, but we feel that he gains something by being part of the gathered Body of Christ, even if he isn't completely able to engage with everything that is happening.

My hope is that the sound of the music, the rhythms of the prayers and the responses will wash over him, imprint upon him, become part of his sense of what church feels like. He can kneel and stand and sit when we do, even if he's not entirely aware of what it all means yet. Being part of the Mass with us, even as he's staring up at the stained glass windows or watching the candles is slowly developing his liturgical awareness. Even taking part in small ways is growing his God-image and feeding his spiritual imagination.

The ways in which SuperSam participates in church are growing as he does. He always dips his fingers into the font on the way in and out of the sanctuary (though we have to lift him up so he can reach, which is no small feat while balancing a baby on one hip and the enormous diaper bag on the other!). He's excited to offer the sign of peace to others, especially The Sisters. He loves receiving a blessing when we go up for Eucharist. He sings along with the simple, prayerful song that is always sung after we return to our seats. He likes to be the one to put money into the collection basket. He sometimes asks to light a candle for someone after church, especially if our family has been praying for that person at home.

And yes, sometimes he throws himself down on the floor in protest during the prayers and won't get up, which usually leads to George and I hauling him up by his arms and holding his dead weight between us as we smilingly sing the Our Father. (Please, try not to stare. This could be your kid next week...or five minutes from now.)

Given how active SuperSam is, we have found there's a real need for something that he can do, something on which he can focus during the homily and during the longer readings. So many words are spoken, and most of them pass over his head. Mass can feel incredibly long for such a small, squirmy, talkative boy.

With this in mind, I began searching the for items for our Mass bag. It's a simple blue tote bag with handles like you might find at any craft store. It could be decorated easily with paints or markers (and maybe someday, I'll get SuperSam to help me do this). For now, we have been using an extra bag we had around the house.

Some things I kept in mind when putting our bag together:

  • We don't include snacks. I know other parents who successfully put snacks in the bag for their family, but with three small people, it's just too messy for us. Before we made this rule, many Cheerios rolled far away under multiple pews and were crushed by others' feet three rows ahead. We crawled around under the pews after church trying to clean them was just too much to handle.
  • The items need to be somehow church-related. There is time every other minute of every other day to play with our regular toys. I want the things in this bag to be special, to only be used at church, and to help our children develop their spiritual imaginations.
  • The things in the bag have to encourage SuperSam to be quiet. They need to be somewhat interactive, but if they make his volume go up even slightly, they're out. (It would be nice if they encouraged the Sisters to be quiet, too, but I'm trying to keep my expectations realistic.)
  • I can't handle anything with tiny pieces that will be lost under the pews. We have too much going on already.
  • I don't want the items to distract the people around us.

So far, here is what we have in our bag:

  • Baby board books for the sisters, one "baby's first Bible" and one called Adam and Eve's New Day by Sandy Eisenburg Sasso (a family favorite because of the amazing artwork)
  • The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth Taylor (which SuperSam never opens)
  • Crayons in an Altoid box (only a few, because they have a tendency to roll when dropped)
  • Bible story coloring book (we got ours at Dollar Tree, which had a surprisingly good selection)
  • Dry-erase wipe off board for writing or drawing
  • Lacing cards and string
  • Button string 
  • Wooden children's rosary (more beloved by the sisters than by SuperSam at this point)
  • Children's Missal book with the order of Mass so he can follow along (so far, he likes to follow through the Gloria but often loses interest after that)
  • Prayer cards on a ring with pictures of Jesus, various Bible stories, saints and angels
  • Betty Lukens felt book of Bible stories - a new addition, and my favorite item so far. Interactive but quiet (except when SuperSam feeds Jonah to the whale and says "nom nom nom" in what he believes is a quiet voice). Each page has a different familiar Bible story with felt pieces that can be placed on the page. (Stay tuned for a review of this item next week!)

I'm thinking about making a photo book with pictures from the children's baptism. I'd like to be able to rotate the items out so that the bag contents change somewhat. Especially in weeks with multiple Masses, sometimes the novelty wears off.

Do you have a church bag for your children? What's in it?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christ the King Sunday

Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the church calendar, it runs differently than the "regular" calendar (January through December). The church (or liturgical) calendar begins with the season of Advent (the weeks that lead up to Christmas) at the beginning of December. Advent starts next Sunday, which means that this past Sunday was the end of the church year.

On the way to church yesterday, SuperSam talked with us a bit about what it meant for Christ to be the King. The whole "king" concept is a little outside of his frame of reference. We tried to explain words he might hear in the service, like "power" and "dominion" and "omnipotent." He was, as usual, totally into the big words. 

Finally, he summed it up: "So it's like Jesus is the one in charge of everything, like the whole universe and the planets and galaxies and stars and constellations and everything there is and used to be and will be and is to come."

Yes. That pretty much covers it.

Although church itself yesterday was mildly awful, with two horribly squirmy babies and one preschooler meltdown, SuperSam apparently absorbed something anyway.

This morning, he wanted to talk about it more and draw a picture of it...and this is what he came up with.

That is a drawing of all the planets singing "holy" and "la la la." They're all smiling. And those red and blue guys at the bottom are cherubim and seraphim (well, just a cherub and a seraph, since there is one of each). We looked up the definition, because I couldn't remember what they were, exactly. Based on our research, SuperSam's seraph has six wings and blue light coming out of it (because blue is the hottest light, he said) and the cherub has four faces (all smiling) and wings with eyes on them and feet like a cow (which are supposed to be like ox feet, but as SuperSam pointed out, he's never seen an ox and we have cows in the field behind our house, so he knows what their feet look like).

Christ the King is the blue guy on the left near Betelgeuse, wearing a blue crown and smiling, of course. And why shouldn't he? Who could ask for a better party for the last day of the year?


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving thanks for Turkey Trots.

Today, I'm thankful for the Turkey Trot. It's become a tradition in our family to run (or walk) a 5K together on Thanksgiving morning. The weather was perfect this morning, and running through the woods with the sun shining through the trees was just the way to start a day dedicated to being grateful.

The Turkey Trot is a funny thing. It's not a fast race, really...but then, it's not about the time. It's about going outside in the morning and running or walking with a bunch of other like-minded people before we stuff ourselves full of carbs and turkey and sugar and then crash on the sofa for a nap.  The level of participation in our family varies from year to year. One year, it was almost everyone on my mom's side. This year, it was just us - my husband, my children, my parents. 

I'm grateful for my body, for my legs and feet, for the chance to run with my family and be together today. I'm grateful for the members of my family who didn't run this year. I'm grateful for my parents, who pushed the double and single joggers so George and I could run with our hands free. I'm grateful for the three little stroller occupants, who cheered when they saw me after the race. And I'm excited that the race is done. Soon the food will be ready, we'll be gathering around a table with everyone, and there will be food. I think I burned the corn pudding, but George didn't burn the pies...and since we already ran this morning, I'm planning to eat as much pie as I want. (The rule of thumb is 100 calories per mile run or walked, but I don't normally count calories, and I'm certainly not going to start today.)

And, although this isn't the focus of my gratitude, I'm happy about the race I ran. I beat my post-twin PR by almost a minute, coming in at 33:03. I felt good, I had fun, and I didn't get sick. It might just be a 5K, but it feels kind of like redemption.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Race report: OBX Half Marathon

Long story short: This wasn't the race I thought I would run; therefore, it's not the race recap I thought I would write.

I told myself (and you) that my goal was just to get across the finish line this time. I said that it didn't matter how slow my time was, that this was the beginning of my comeback after having the twins. I said that I was grateful just to be able to do the race, given that I had to sit out of my last half-marathon because of complications with the twin pregnancy.

I believed those things were true.

It turns out that I wasn't being completely honest with myself (though I believed I was being honest with you!).

So, how did it go? 

Not the way I hoped. I struggled nearly the entire time. It might have been my worst race ever.

Because of horrible, unprecedented stomach upset that attacked around mile 2, I ended up walking a big chunk of the second half and visiting a higher percentage of the porta-potties on the course than in any previous race. I have never been so sick on a run. Even now, as I'm sitting here telling you about it, the mere thought of lemon lime Gatorade is making me nauseous. I ended up finishing over 3 hours, which is the longest (by far) that I have ever taken to complete this distance.

Does my time matter? Maybe it shouldn't, but it bothers me.

I know. I should give myself a break. Three different people have been in residence in my body in the last four years. With the double occupancy of The Sisters, I ended up with 12 weeks of bed rest, which erased all the hard work I had done in 2010 to train for my last marathon. This race is like starting over for me- a reset button for everything.

Writing about the race has been harder than I expected. I really left everything I had on the course. It was the most difficult, most demanding race I have ever run, and although it's been over a week since I ran it, I still can't manage to rehash the whole thing.

I do want you to know two things:

1. This is an outstanding race. It's well organized, the course support is great, the scenery is amazing. It has the warmth and charm of a small-town race, but every detail has been handled with total professionalism. Even with a hurricane blowing through just a week and a half beforehand, the race organizers managed to pull off a smooth race. Not only that, they used the event to entirely restock the Outer Banks Food Pantry (which was wiped out by the storm) by coordinating a food drive at the race expo. Additionally, 100% of the net proceeds from their race events go to charity. If you have never done a race run by Outer Banks Sporting Events, you definitely should consider it. They are a class act.

2. I have already started looking at my training plan for another half marathon. This race (which felt like a failure in some ways and a victory in others) is a beginning, not an end. I will be back, stronger than ever...and I'm going to do more of my long training runs with lemon lime gatorade (or whatever they will have on the course for Shamrock) so my stomach can adjust.

Random race highlights:
  • I started the race with a good friend, and it was her first distance race. I remembered my first half-marathon (Rock 'n' Roll in Virginia Beach in 2005) and how nervous I was. She was as calm as I've ever seen her.
  • In the first mile, my friend and I ran behind someone with a shirt that said "Mormons on the Run." I've seen a lot of race t-shirts, but this was the first time I've ever seen one of those.
  • In the second mile, the sound was blending into the sky in an unbroken band of shimmery was impossible to tell where the water ended and the sky began. It was incredibly beautiful. The bridge up ahead was hidden by the fog that obscured the horizon, but I loved this part of the course more than ever before.
  • In the fifth mile, I passed a sign that read "Run like Gerald is chasing you." I have no idea what it was for, but I thought of the only Gerald I know, my children's godfather, running along with me as I went. Also, someone (seeing my "Virginia is for Runners" shirt) yelled out, "Good show, Virginia!"
  • Going up the bridge over the sound toward Manteo, I looked out over the water. It gave me chills to look back over to Jockey's Ridge, where we had started, and see how far away it was.
  • They had coconut water at the finish instead of sports drink. Since I kind of never wanted to see sports drink again, this was a delightful surprise.
  • The best part of the whole thing was when George showed up, having just finished a hard-fought 26.2 himself, and handed me my discarded striped knee sock arm warmers. He had seen them on the roadside and picked them up to bring to me, even though they were covered with sandspurs. What a guy.

So, am I glad I did it? Yes. Mostly, though, I just want another shot at it. I wasn't expecting my time to be fast, but I wasn't expecting it to be so slow. I'm working on processing things and seeing this one as a success. 

I did it. I did okay. And I feel okay about telling you that I'm not totally okay with the whole thing yet but expect to be more okay as time goes on. I'm working on it, and I'll get there.

Thanks for all your support and for the race playlist ideas...the music was one of the best parts!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A date with SuperSam

You wore your new shirt, the one from Aunt Laura with your second-favorite constellation on it. Your little upturned face glowed blue with the reflected night sky projected on the domed ceiling above us. Eyes bright with excitement, you bounced in your seat.

Your first trip to the planetarium.

You were nervous that it would be too loud when the show started. I held your hand some, rubbed the top of your head in that spot where your cowlick swirls. You snuggled into my arm.

The presenter began the introduction, explaining what we would see and learn. You sat up very straight, poked me, shifted your weight in your chair.

"Actually," you said, not quietly at all, "I already know nearly everything about space."

Elmo and Big Bird sang "Twinkle, Twinkle," and you sang right along with them, staring raptly up at their faces on the ceiling above you. You counted down with the cartoon rocket launch. You always answered the questions out loud. And when Elmo said "Elmo loves you!", you said, "Aw, that's sweet of him!"

You were game.

When the movie ended and the presenter showed us the night sky and started to point out constellations, you saw the one that looked like "W" and shouted out, "Cassiopeia! I know that already!"

She looked all around. "Who said Cassiopeia?"

Your confident hand shot up into the air. "I did!"

(Child game show contestants have nothing on you. Nothing.)

The other kids were funny, too...blurting out questions and comments that seemed too old for them. The boy on the other side of the room, the just-a-bit-older-than-you-boy, said, "Well, I don't have a question, actually, it's more of a fact to share, actually..."

You wanted to know why I was laughing, and I couldn't tell you.

Actually, "actually" is your favorite word, my dear.

You were as delighted by the Big Dipper as you were by Elmo and Big Bird. I thought you might fall out of your seat when the presenter pointed out Orion with the laser pointer. Then you loudly whispered, "Rigel is a blue supergiant!" and you did fall out of your seat and hurt your arm.

You asked me to kiss it.

I'm going to be sad when you get too big for that.

Just don't get too big to go to the planetarium with me, okay?


Friday, November 9, 2012

7 Quick Takes: OBX Racing Love


Serious anticipation is crackling in the air at our house right now. Even though there is still a pile of laundry (okay, multiple piles) to be done before we can pack our stuff, we are all tremendously excited (according to SuperSam) about our race at the beach this weekend. So that you can share in our fluttery stomach feelings, here are 7 reasons I can't wait for the OBX Marathon/Half-Marathon this weekend:

--- 1 ---
The playlist. I have taken all your suggestions into account, have looked them up on iTunes and/or Spotify, and have crafted the most beautifully perfect race playlist ever. This is my first big race in two years, so the music is very important to me. When does a stay-at-home parent get to listen to all her own music without interruption? Answer: when she's running a really long way by herself. I can't wait. Which brings me to number 2...

--- 2 ---
Babysitting by grandparents. This course is not baby jogger-friendly. I am going to be totally by myself for about three hours (from pre-start to finish) on Sunday morning. I honestly can't remember the last time this happened. It's felt like Christmas Eve all week long. All I have to do is run 13.1 miles to get this privilege. Why don't I do this every weekend?

--- 3 ---
Water stops. While I am on the course running, someone is going to hand me drinks every couple of miles if I want them. (And no one is going to ask me for any juice, then change his mind and say he wants milk, then spill it on the floor and refuse to help clean it up, either.) This will be a nice reversal of how my days usually go.

--- 4 ---
Water stops, part B. The sound of paper cups crunching under thousands of running shoes is one of the greatest sounds in the whole world.

--- 5 ---
Donuts. Duck Donuts. In one word: amazing. I'm going there, and I'm going to be burning 1300 extra calories on Sunday morning. Logically, I should be able to eat as many donuts as I want, and I plan to do exactly that.

--- 6 ---
The Outer Banks is one of my very favorite places.  This race in this place is special. It's beautiful, of course, but it's more than that...the people who put this race together have made it a great community event, and the whole community comes out to support it. People here are tough and resilient, just like marathon runners - it's a natural fit. Besides, you can stick your legs in the cold ocean when you finish running, which beats an ice bath any day.

--- 7 ---
The end...and little hugs and kisses. They're going to give me a medal at the end. When I cross the finish line, no matter how slow my time was, someone is going to put a medal around my neck. It makes no difference how many times I have this experience- it never gets old. I feel like an Olympian. Or a superhero.

Baby SuperSam and me after 2009 Ukrops 10K

After it's all done and I have my medal and my runner's high and my complimentary sports drink and banana, I will get to see my children and hug them. I'll remember that part of why I do this is to be the best mom I can be to my three little ones, because that's what they deserve. And seeing all three of them there together will remind me that what I've just done is a big achievement for someone who had twins after 12 weeks of bed rest just over a year ago. That woman is pretty amazing. A lot has happened since she last covered this distance. 

What I'm doing this weekend is a big deal, and I'm proud that I've fought my way (almost) to the starting line. The race itself will be great, but I'm already feeling like a huge success.

Thanks for following along. I'll let you know how it goes.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Calling for reinforcements

Image credit: Sports Backers

Waiting in the corral, I feel the familiar flutters in my stomach. Feet shuffle all around me as runners shake out their legs and arms, take deep breaths, study their watches, test their iPods. People jump in place. (Why do they do that?)

There's nothing quite like the camaraderie of a distance race. Hundreds or thousands of people line up together. We have all come from different places, all prepared in different ways, but now that the race is here, we all share the same goal - to get across the finish line. There are lone runners, pairs of runners, big groups of runners. Someone in an Elmo costume. A girl in bright pink argyle knee socks. A daughter running in memory of her dad. Guys wearing fuel belts and headphones with Philippians 4:13 on their shirts. The inevitable people without shirts (no matter how cold it is that morning), their race numbers pinned to their shorts. No matter who we are or how we got here, we're all waiting, standing together at the start.  We will travel together across the miles, and we will all finish in the same place. At the end, most of us won't care who finished ahead of us or behind us as we grab our bottle of sports drink and bagel or banana, giddy with the elation of just having completed the distance, checking our watches and calculating mile splits, replaying the great moments of the race as well as the awful ones, already thinking about the next one we'll run.

I have a big race coming up in just a few days. I can't wait for the swarm of runners, to become part of that moving mass of humanity putting one foot in front of the other until we reach the goal. Community is created during the hours on the course. Even if I don't speak many words to the other runners (which I usually don't), we still share something important. We have dedicated ourselves to a common purpose.

I'm not a chatty person (maybe even less chatty as a runner than in my non-running life). I normally run alone, both during training and during races. There are notable exceptions: my sister (though it's a very rare treat), my excellent running friend (once a week or so), my husband (every now and then when we hire a babysitter). Once I ran with an old friend from elementary school at the end of a race when we were both hurting (an unexpected but awesome encounter). Usually, though, it's just me, and it can get lonely sometimes. On occasion, I've imagined Jesus running along beside me for miles, keeping me company. I think he'd be a barefoot runner, probably, and fairly quiet. Not chatty. Running buddies, even imaginary ones, are great for motivation. They don't even have to say anything, just keep me company on the way.

This is where you come in.

I'm about to run further than I have run since 2010, and I'm going to be by myself. I can rely on my legs and my training to get me part of the way to the finish line, but a big part of distance running is mental. Over the years, I've learned that it helps me to think of other people at each mile marker. Focusing on someone else (and how grateful I am for that person) is good for keeping me moving ahead.

If you're willing, I'd like you to be my running buddy for a mile of my race. You agree to think of me/pray for me/send me positive vibes and love next Sunday morning, and I will be doing the same for you while I run.

I am grateful for each person who reads this have been on this ride with me since I announced I was training for this race months ago, and you have helped keep me accountable. It is only fitting for me to take you along in some way on race day. With GU and sports beans in one pocket and all of you (figuratively, of course) in my other pocket and these people in my earbuds, how can I go wrong?

Leave me a comment here or on Facebook with what mile you'd like, from 1-13, if you want to help me out with this. Mile #2 is the only one that's not up for grabs, because I'm dedicating that one to Sierra Forder and her incredible running mother, Missy. If I get more than 13 of you, I'll break the miles into pieces (which might be a good idea, anyway).

(Note: to leave a comment, just click on the link that says "Comments" at the bottom of this post. That will open up a window for you to type your comment. You can comment as a guest if you want, but if you do that, please leave your name or something so that I can tell who you are!)

Thank you. There will be a race report at some point, so stay tuned.

On Gratitude...

I have a guest post today at burlap + blue. It's the season to write about gratitude, of course...but some of us, for various reasons, might be struggling to get that thankful feeling flowing. If this sounds like you (and even if it doesn't!), I hope you'll take a minute to visit burlap + blue to read my thoughts.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

She shall have music wherever she goes...

Running and music are inseparable.

I know people that run without music. I have even tried to be one of them. During my first marathon, I didn't use music at all in training or in the race. I tried to be a purist, to associate fully with the run, to avoid distracting myself with songs. Five years later, even though I often leave my iPod at home on runs, I still can't manage to run without hearing music. Even on short runs, even when I'm talking to someone else, I can't help but have a song in my head.

Honestly, I have some kind of music in my head all day long (yes, even right now: The Goldfish Song by the Laurie Berkner Band.) My brain is my personal Pandora station. The quality of the music varies, but there are (usually) no commercials. (I did have the old "Toys R Us Kid" song in my head for about 3 hours one day last week.)

Unfortunately, my Pandora-brain lacks a Running channel. Sometimes, if I don't have my headphones and a carefully engineered playlist, I end up with inappropriate music rattling around in my head. It can be a challenge to get rid of it. Take my last long run, for example: I struggled through the first half, partly because of the crazy hilly course George mapped out, but also because of the unhelpful people singing inside my skull (mainly the Beatles with "Carry That Weight.") Talk about feeling heavy. When George handed me his iPod in the last three miles, it was a relief to let something else (Aretha Franklin and Kanye West, in that case) drown out that song.

Although my taste in music is diverse, I'm kind of a snob about my "regular" music. I don't listen to commercial radio, and I'm sort of precious about what is on my iPod. For running, though, my standards are totally different. I listen to all kinds of stuff while I'm running that I would be embarrassed about at any other time. Even George has teased me about some of it (um, Spice Girls?). I used to apologize for this. I don't anymore. If I'm going to run for hours on end, I can listen to whatever I want, even if it's trashy. No judgment.

With the race coming up on Sunday, it's time to start assembling my playlist. Here are some highlights, in case you are interested:

Pre-Game (waiting forever in the line for the bathroom while I second guess my choice to wear short sleeves)
  • Shine - Collective Soul
  • Down at the Twist and Shout - Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Closer to Fine - Indigo Girls
  • To Be Young - Ryan Adams 
  • Forca - Nelly Furtado
  • Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison

The Early Miles (I'm just getting started, here, and I don't care if you pass me)
  • Roll Away Your Stone - Mumford and Sons
  • Old Time Rock 'n' Roll - Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
  • Touch of Grey - Grateful Dead
  • Meadow Green - Old and in the Gray
  • Crosstown Traffic - Jimi Hendrix
  • It's the End of the World as We Know It - R.E.M.
  • Love Me or Leave Me - Nina Simone

The Middle (I don't care if you pass me because this is the fun part, and I'm so happy to be alive!)
  • Ladyflash - The Go! Team
  • Magnolia Soul - Ozomatli
  • Starships - Nicki Minaj
  • Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard - Paul Simon
  • Dog Days Are Over - Florence and the Machine
  • Magic Carpet Ride - Steppenwolf
  • The Horizon is a Beltway - The Low Anthem

The Hard Part (now I don't care if you pass me because I'm just trying to get to the finish line)
  • Devil's Dance Floor - Flogging Molly
  • Living in Colour - Frightened Rabbit
  • Hey Ya! - Andre 3000/Outkast
  • Pump It - Black Eyed Peas
  • Highway to Heaven -  Mahalia Jackson
  • Here I Come - The Roots
  • Leanin' on the Everlasting Arms - Fontella Bass

The Finishing Stretch (I love this song! Oh, I love this song, too! I'm going to get a medal! I will NOT let you pass me now...better watch out- they call it a finishing kick for a reason!)
  • You Can't Stop the Beat from Hairspray
  • He's All over Me - Whitney Houston and the Georgia Mass Choir (from the Preacher's Wife soundtrack)
  • Go Speed Racer, Go - Ali Dee and the Deekompressors

Richmond marathon, 2010 - that's the finish line up there, right in front of me.

I have amassed a lot of music in the past five years...23.5 hours of stuff in the "Running Music" folder on my iTunes as of last evening. Still, I'd love to have a few new songs to try out and use for this race. What are your suggestions? I'm open to anything - I've run to everything from Flatt and Scruggs to the JMU Marching Royal Dukes to the Soweto Gospel Choir to Smashing Pumpkins. So Really...Anything.

Leave me a comment here (click below the post on "Comments," which will bring up a comment box inviting you to leave a message) or on Facebook if you'd like to suggest a song.

I can't wait to see what you come up with. Thanks in advance.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An open letter to my friends

To my dear friends:

I love you. Each of you.

I think of you at inopportune times, like while nursing two babies at 3 am. I wonder how your trip went, whether your court case got continued, if the baby's rash got better. I wonder if your day went well and how you liked your new job. I wonder if you are also up at 3 am with a fussy infant (but I don't check to find out, in case you're sleeping soundly along with your babe).

I think of you.

Sometimes I forget what you've told me, I know...I don't remember that you said you'd be out of town next weekend, or that your husband had to travel this week and you'd be on your own for several days with the kids. I forget that you had a conference with the third grade teacher or that you were running auditions all this week. The details we've talked about sometimes slip out of the gaps in my mind despite my best efforts to hold them all there.

This doesn't mean they don't matter to me. They do. You do...a lot.

One day, things will be less crazy on my end. This day is coming...when I can finish a sentence...when I can look at your eyes while you're talking to me instead of scanning the room to be sure a baby isn't about to eat a doorstop she's just unscrewed from the wall...when I can enjoy a meal with you instead of frantically cutting up food into teensy pieces for my small folk to eat...when we can chat together on a walk instead of constantly policing the tricycling superhero.

When that day comes, I promise I will make it up to you. I will be a good friend to you again, and I'll be able to reciprocate, to show you how much you matter. I'll make you a cup of tea and listen while you vent. I'll meet you for lunch without all of my small ones in tow. I'll bake some brownies and drop them by your house. I'll go to New York with you for the weekend.

Until then, please don't give up on me. I love you. Each of you. And I'm grateful for all the ways you've helped me keep myself together over the last year and a half...the Diet Cokes, the loads of laundry, the swept floors, the baby-wrangling, the cheerful, encouraging words. All of it. Especially the Diet Coke.

Thanks for being part of my life.

With all my love,

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The cloud of witnesses

Today, I survived one of motherhood's most defining moments: The Full-Blown, All-Out Meltdown of Epic Proportions. It was library story time (because really, what better place is there for all three children to completely fall apart than the public library?). We had cheated morning nap time to run an errand- a silly mistake, given the late bedtime of my tiny trick-or-treaters last night. On the way home, SuperSam asked if we could pleeeeeease go to the library for story time.

My foolish heart said something like this: Oh, poor kid, he never gets to go to story time. He didn't even get to check out books this week because of the storm. The Sisters really need a nap, but maybe they can just hang out sleepily in the stroller while he checks out his books and listens to the story. Everyone did so well in the grocery store, I'm sure we can hang on a little longer.

This is pure mama folly, a classic case of not using my brain. This is silly talk, a deliberate flaunting of the rules of morning nap:
  1. Do not skip morning nap.
  2. If you skip morning nap, don't do it on a day after you let them stay up late. (The day after Halloween, for example.)
  3. Don't take all three of them anywhere by yourself that people might reasonably expect voices to be kept at a low to moderate volume. (The library comes to mind.)
  4. If you take them to such a place, certainly don't do it during what would otherwise be morning nap time (if you hadn't so recklessly decided to skip it).
  5. At the first sign of distress, cut your losses and run for the door.
Should you choose to ignore these commandments, only you are responsible for what may occur.

Things started out pretty smoothly with everyone on the rug for the beginning of the first story. The Sisters were engaged with a pile of board books, and I was pulling them back in turn if they started to crawl too far away or tried to lick another kid's shoe. SuperSam was even sitting down most of the time.

Then, The Bug bumped her head...and she wailed. Louder and more piercing screams kept coming out of her tiny mouth as I tried to comfort her. The story volunteer couldn't read over the noise. I scooped The Bug up in one arm, grabbed up The Belle in the other arm, and carried them out of the room to the large print section around the corner. I peered at SuperSam through the glass partition as I shushed and bounced The Bug while trying to keep The Belle from deshelving a collection of Italian language audio books.

By now, The Bug was screeching a full octave above where she had started out. As The Belle was occupied with the audio books, I discreetly tucked myself into a chair with The Bug, hoping she would calm down if she nursed.

This poorly considered decision proved disastrous. Consider the rules of nursing twins:
  1. If you nurse one baby, you must be prepared to nurse both.
  2. If you try to fool the babies and nurse only one at a time, you will cause a Nursing Triangle Relationship Crisis, and you will certainly be sorry.
  3. When both babies start screaming and you are awkwardly trying to hold them while you adjust your clothes, everyone in whatever public place you are occupying will turn around and gawk at you, and your Nursing Triangle Crisis will become a Very Public Event.

    Now The Bug and The Belle were screaming in consort, and there was no calming them. They were both so hysterical, they were hiccuping in between cries and gasping for air. SuperSam was staring at me from the story time rug, so I mouthed to him, "We have to go."

    He apparently reads lips well. His countenance darkened immediately, as if a fast-moving summer thunderstorm had overtaken him.

    Oh, dear reader! By now you must know that I am clearly off today, as for my third strike I boldly broke the cardinal rule of going out with preschoolers:

    Never tell a preschooler it's time to leave without a warning first. She who ignores this rule risks dire peril.

      SuperSam yelled, "NO!" and threw his small body onto the story time rug, narrowly missing a little girl dressed as a tree frog and losing one of his shoes in the process. By this time, all the children, the story time volunteer and all the parents in the room were just staring at us. I hissed at SuperSam to get up as I tried to carefully lower the screaming babies one at a time into the double stroller. The Belle's face was purple, and The Bug was beating her tiny hands against my chest. SuperSam narrowed his eyes, responded, "I WILL NOT!" and kicked the stroller. When both babies were secure, I scooped up all our library books, hung the library bag from the stroller handle, grabbed SuperSam, and half carried, half dragged him out of the room while trying to steer the stroller with one hand.

      Everyone watched us go.
      All three of my children were crying inconsolably.
      I was not crying, though I felt like it...and who could blame me?

      A few pieces of candy from Ms. Debbie, SuperSam's favorite librarian, helped to ease the sting of leaving story time before the juice boxes had been handed out. The babies stopped screaming when we stepped outside (at least until I buckled them into their car seats, when they promptly resumed as if on cue). When we got home ten minutes later, I turned on Sesame Street for SuperSam, nursed the girls, stuck them in their high chairs with a handful of Cheerios on the trays, and started preparing lunch with Elmo singing in the background.

      As I stirred the macaroni and waited for the broccoli in the microwave to be less frozen, I replayed the events of the morning. It felt awful for a few minutes in the library to be the one everyone was staring at. I won't even try to guess how many people said, "She sure has her hands full," after we left.

      There are a lot of witnesses to my parenting these days. It feels very public. We attract attention wherever we go, and people feel free to comment about how the children are behaving or what they are wearing or who they look like. It's hard to teach SuperSam about how to be polite in public (i.e., it's not kind to stare at people or talk about how fat someone is or how yellow her teeth are) when people seem to feel so entitled to stare and make comments about us.

      I do have my hands full, and I contributed to today's messy meltdown by being a little slack with our routine. The thing is, we are often on the receiving end of stares and comments. Usually, it's fine, and we handle it well. We have it under control. Today, though, I could have used a hand. There were a lot of other parents in the room, most of whom we know at least a little, and no one helped.

      It's All Saints Day, and we're headed to Mass this evening at 6 pm. That's right before the girls' bedtime, and it will be a risky move to have them in a quiet place at that time of night. I'd like to think that people will be understanding, since there's no nursery provided, but at least one of us will probably be out of the service most of the time with one to three children, depending on who needs to be taken out at the moment. Church, like the library, is a place where a lot of people know us. It's also the place where we are most likely to get stares if our children are loud.

      Normally, All Saints Day is one of my favorite days in the whole year. The Church celebrates the lives of holy men and women individually all year long by feasting on days dedicated to each of them. Today is the feast for all of them, the day dedicated to all saints, past, present, and future - even the ones we don't know about yet. I love this day because it reminds me that we're constantly surrounded by those who came before, people like us who took what they had to work with and gave it to God, who did extraordinary things to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, whose examples shine before each of us. And what's more, we're laying the groundwork for those to come after us. We're all one Body, throughout time and space...we are each other's community. The great cloud of witnesses, our companions for the journey of life, are with us wherever we go.

      Today, though, for the first time, I find myself wishing there were fewer witnesses throughout time and more encouragers. I long for some more pats on the back and some more cheerleaders around me. I admire all the holy men and women of the centuries, but today, I think it would be easier to be holy if I didn't feel so completely up to my eyeballs folding socks and washing dishes and sweeping floors and wiping crayon off the walls.

      Why aren't there more saints to encourage parents? What would St. Hildegard of Bingen have done in the library today with the three screaming children? Would St. John of the Cross be as eloquent if he could only do his writing during nap time? Would even Our Blessed Mother have lost her patience with a tantruming preschooler Jesus if she was trying to balance twinfants and an armful of groceries in the checkout line?

      In the middle of my discouragement, I had a realization.

      You all are a cloud of witnesses. You and the words you share with me.

      You who read my posts and e-mail to tell me you felt encouraged by what I wrote, you friends who send cheery texts in the middle of the day for no reason, you who tweet through difficult bed times and share your stories with me, you bloggers whose words wrap around me with the warmth of a blanket. You may not be saints in the traditional sense, but we are each other's companions on the journey. We are sharing words, even if we don't share space. We're keeping each other company along the way.

      And that, my friends, is an encouragement to me. It is worth celebrating.

      Happy All Saints Day to each of you. Thanks for being part of my cloud and for letting me be part of yours.