Thursday, February 26, 2015

Valentines Day 2015

Handmade Valentine cards

And just like that a year flew by and another February come and gone. Well almost. It's the last week of the month and I couldn't be wishing March, and hopefully warmer weather, would arrive any sooner. 

Valentines Day this year was just like any other day. Nothing special. I spent the morning rushing to make Valentines cards for all three of my sweethearts before Sophie headed out to spend the day with my mom and sister, thrilled that it was her weekend to go to Grandma's. As we always do, we made plans to meet them later for dinner. IHOP, one of Sophie's favorites. The snow began to fall as we were finishing up our meal. I had decided to try something new with the double blueberry pancakes and quickly came to the conclusion they were not for me. Next time l'll stick to my tried and true, plain pancake combo. It was a wonderful surprise that my dad joined us, it happens fewer and fewer these days and before I know it, it's been months without having seen or talked to him. I was happy to get a chance to catch up and talk books. He is so much faster at reading that I am, going through one or two books in a weekend. Oh to be able to read that much in my lifetime. My excitement quickly turned to worry as my gaze turned to the window. The snow had begun to fall faster, harder, and whip around like a blizzard. I looked around the table and sensed the same feeling in everyone's eyes, maybe we should hurry this up before it gets too nasty out there. 

We stepped out the door and were immediately blasted by the frosty air. I turned to my sister, trying to shield my face from the snowy whirlwind surrounding us and said, "doesn't this remind you of that time when dad was in California and that terrible blizzard came through?" "We were driving home from that small convenience store, High Up, in the rusty old Monte Carlo and mom missed the turn into our neighborhood off Crestview, the visability was so bad." We practically finished in unison, laughing. We were not much older than Mason is now, and still that story is shared almost every year we have a horrible winter.

It was getting pretty dicy out and I worried my dad would be unable to get into the car safely. These are things I constantly worry about now, ever since he had his stroke and can no longer walk without a cane. We said quick good-byes and slowly made our separate ways. 

That storm dumped only a few inches on us, but with the windchill and temperatures continuing to drop, the kids were out of school four of the five days, with one 2-hour delay, the following week. We all made it home safely that night but it had me thinking. Winters like this aren't normal in Virginia. We keep saying that, yet it seems more and more this is becoming the new norm. Even as I sit here writing this post and wallowing in my winter woes, my mind wandering as it always does, I took a look back at Valentines Day last year and found this:

…with the winter storm that had just dumped 13+ inches on us, closing schools for the 10th time this year (no, not the school year, I'm talking about just in 2014 our kids have missed 10 days due to snow. This does not include all the holidays and teacher work days that happened to coincide with those snow days. But don't get me started on that. How I feel about the lack of school my kids have attended since we rung in 2014 is a whole story in and of itself).

Ha. Ha. I had to laugh because the reality was just so sad I seriously wanted to cry. Here we are a whole year later and facing the same situation. Kids have missed I don't know how many days of school, probably at least 10 at this point. We just had another storm dumping around 10" of snow. Thank the lord it only resulted in a two hour delay on Monday and the kids have been back to school as normal the rest of the week. *Enter foot in my mouth. After putting this post away for the evening, I would surely have time to finish tomorrow while the kids were in school, good ol' Wayde called me this morning. Yup, schools are closed again today. I didn't even bother to inform the kids. Just hung up the phone and went back to bed. As excited as I am at the prospect that this horrid weather is quite possibly killing off the remanding population of stink bugs, one can only hope, I am so over this winter! Honestly, I can't be the only one craving some sense of a routine around here.

With all this winter weather advisory hoopla, at least the kids got to have their classroom Valentines parties. Unfortunately they were both scheduled during the same time on the same day. Ugh! Problems I am sure I will encounter more and more as the years go on. This meant I could only attend one party. This meant I had to let one of my kids down. I agonized over this for weeks when I found out. I hate having to chose between my kids. I love them both equally and don't want to let either of them down. Ultimately I decided I would try to share my time. I've heard other parents talk about doing it all the time. It would be easy right? However, as always, I was running late. 

I had signed up to make the cupcakes for Sophie's Kindergarten class. Mostly because of her food allergies and I don't trust other parents to make homemade food without fear of cross contamination. Sorry if that offends you, but after you watch your child almost die you take this shit seriously, and don't leave anything to chance. Most parents, and shockingly to me even ones who have children with food allergies, don't know or either don't care enough to understand the dangers of cross contamination. So many times I have seen the eye rolls and heard the sighs when mentioning the extra precautions that need to be taken, or special brands of ingredients that have to be bought in order to ensure the food is safe for ALL kids to consume. As if it is just too much work for them to buy the Enjoy Life brand chocolate chips. Because of this, I just don't bother to ask anyone to provide safe foods for my daughter. I always make sure I have a safe alternative on hand for her wherever we go. 

Being a mom of a child with food allergies I am super sensitive to other kids with food allergies, and there are quite a few in Sophie's Kindergarten class. I am no expert on food allergies, in fact I have freaked out a few times over the milk allergy. It's harder to avoid then you think. At first I figured I could just pick up a box of the Cherrybrook Kitchens fudge brownie mix. I soon discovered that you need to add butter. Guess what butter contains? You got it, milk. Now I could have purchased the vegan butter and been done with it, but the cost of that butter was more than the box of mix and we are on a seriously tight budget in my household. Not wanting to be defeated, I went to task scouring Pinterest for a recipe that is not only peanut and tree nut free, but also free of eggs and milk. That is when I happened up this vegan chocolate cupcake recipe with strawberry filling. I had most of the ingredients already on hand so it was perfect. 

I do not claim to be any baking expert, far from it in fact. I have no idea the difference between raw cane sugar and regular sugar. So as I stood in the baking aisle at Wegmans I thought, I have regular sugar at the house, and if it's not a major difference I think I'll just use that because when am I ever going to cook with raw cane sugar again? In case you are wondering, the regular sugar worked great. 

I made the cupcakes the day before so I wouldn't be rushed. I must have been craving some chocolate because I licked the hell out of that bowl and spatula, glad the kids were at school and I didn't have to share. I chose to substitute the strawberry filling with store bought strawberry preserve. I am all for baking from scratch, in fact those tend to be my favorite, but sometimes you just need to simplify when possible. However stuffing the cupcakes with the preserves was not as easy as the author of the recipe made it sound. The reality was so much harder, and messier. I ultimately decided to use a cookie cutter and partially cut a heart shape in the tops, removing it to spoon in the strawberry preserve before squishing it back into the cupcake and sprinkling with powdered sugar. I would have made it on time to the party if not for the powdered sugar having absorbed into the cupcakes and needing to quickly sprinkle more on before rushing out the door. 

The kids Valentines Bookmarks and the vegan cupcakes

The parents who tried the cupcakes all said they were very tasty. Yay! During the Valentine exchange portion of the party I snuck out to Mason's class for a bit. I arrived just as they were in the middle of enjoying a snack. I was disappointed when he told me I missed the skit they put on earlier, but what can you do. Your a mom of two kids in public school and as much as you hate to admit it out loud, you can't do everything. Noticing the time, it was just about dismissal, I raced back to Sophie's classroom. (All this running around, I was sure to get my 10,000 steps in for the day.) All 30 cupcakes that I had stuffed and powdered were gone. Yes! Less cupcakes I would feel obligated to consume over the weekend. We packed up and headed back to Mason's classroom just in time for his exchange of Valentines and clean up.

In public school if you are going to hand out Valentines you have to hand them out to everyone in the class. This means you have to get around 26 cards times two classrooms, that's a total of 32 cards at $4 a box, and each box only contains around 10-12 cards so you have to purchase at least two or three. If my math is correct, that means I would need to spend possibly around $20 for silly little cards that are going to get thrown away as soon as these kids get home. No thank you!  I knew I could do this better, cheaper, and give the kids themes they really wanted.

Both kids agreed to the bookmark idea for their Valentine cards this year. Simple to make, and you can use it again and again. Each kid was heavily involved in the decision making process. Sophie was very adamant about the pink background with her Monster High ghouls, even though I felt a white background would be better. Hers read, I like you so much its scary Valentine. Mason was more particular about the image he wanted and finally settled upon Deathwing from World of Warcraft (WoW). His read, You melt my core Valentine. Fred made some comment about using Deathwing to say Happy Valentines Day. I mentioned these are second graders and would probably have no idea who Deathwing is, it's just a cool dragon to them.

After all was said and done it cost me a grand total of around $8 for 36. Now that's a win. I suppose you could say my kids have an advantage with me being so crafty and willing to create custom valentines for them. To that I reply, such is life. We all have our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Mine just happens to be a love for crafting, and any excuse to do cute things during the holidays. Especially if it involves the kids and making them happy. I guarantee you no one else was going home with more than one WoW Deathwing valentine in their bag that day. Couldn't say the same for TMNT though.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Weigh-in Wednesday

Happy Wednesday Folks!!

I know you are probably mentally scolding me at this moment for missing my weigh-in post two weeks in a row. But here's the thing. I'm in maintenance mode right now and though I am still working hard, and finding it extremely difficult, probably even more so than losing the weight (have you ever heard a teacher say that its harder to keep and A than to earn one? Same concept), my weight doesn't fluctuate much from week to week. So rather than bore you with a post each week about how my weight stayed the same (yay for me!) I thought I would make it an every other week thing. This way, I am not flipping out and feeling like a failure because I dropped the ball on posting for the week as well as it giving me time to come up with a more interesting discussion for that particular Wednesday. More than, "Hey guess what? I am still 130lbs. Toot toot!" By the way, as I said two weeks ago, I am back up to 130.2 lbs. as of this morning. In case you were at all interested and that is why you continue to read my blog. That said, what I have planned to discuss tonight are my setbacks, my motivation, and my review of a new exercise DVD I started.

So these last few weeks have been especially rough. Scratch that, this whole winter has been especially rough. Once the temperatures dropped below 40 degrees, and stayed there, my running started to dwindle. I don't like to run when my body parts feel like they are going to freeze off, and the treadmill makes me feel like I just downed a whole bottle of wine on an empty stomach. When the forecast calls for snow, ice, or a median high of somewhere in the teens you can bet my little butt is staying inside, unless I have to walk my kids to the bus, and then I bundle myself up like Randy from A Christmas Story. This, my friends, has been the state of affairs here in Virginia for oh, the last three months. It's been miserable. To top it all off, this dramatic drop in temperature led to me developing acute bronchitis, which I suffered through since late November, and ultimately rendered my exercise routine kaput. It was admittedly arduous, this sudden stop in being active after habitually maintaing a workout schedule of 4-6 days a week. I fretted this newfound laziness would undo all my hard work. Dreading the number on the scale each week, convinced it would reach absurd heights. This undoubtedly lead to the stuffing of my face with all the foods I knew would only lead me to the one thing I dreaded. I know that sounds counter intuative but once again we are dealing with a mind that is anything but rational. Just ask my husband. This momentary hiatus with fitness lasted only a few weeks, when finally sometime in January I was able to reintroduce cardio without erupting into uncontrollable fits of hacking up a lung, but the damage was already done. I was used to spending my days sitting on the couch reading; my mornings sleeping in (because the kids have yet to experience an unaltered week of school! Damn snow days.); and my evenings snacking on chips and candy late into the night.  Follow that up with excuses as to why I am unable, or unwilling, to cook a meal while suffering through this ungodly weather, and we were consuming McDonalds on a schedule I should not have been comfortable with. This brings me to my current state of being.

I no longer had a viable excuse to keep from exercising daily. Yet I was petrified that I wouldn't be able to do it without feeling like I wanted to die, and then subsequently give up because that is what I have always done whenever I hit an obstacle. I am the queen of throwing my hands up in the air and screaming, "I give up!" whenever things get too hard. And it had gotten hard. I had let my eating habits run amok and tried in vain to deny the bulge that now peaked over the top of my size 4 skinny jeans. The slow emerging proof that I was a failure. So began the daily tongue-lashing I always manage to inflict upon myself. I manage to beat myself up far worse than anyone else ever could. Stripping myself of any confidence I might be harboring, believing the words I've repeated in my head so often, aware of the power they had to break me down time and time again. I'm my own worst enemy. This time though, I was faced with the plain and simple truth that I didn't want to be that person anymore. Hadn't I proven to myself these last 10 months that I was more than able? That I had the commitment and strength to stick to it even on the days when my muscles ached, my body screamed at me, and I thought I would pass out? I wasn't a failure. Surely someone who could start, and survive, a rigorous fitness routine after sitting on her cushy ass for months, and turn it into a habit which resulted in a drop of 3 pant sizes and 20+lb. weight loss could not be described as a failure. I metaphorically slapped myself across the face and did my best to keep control as I inwardly screamed, "Do. not. give. up."

I'm not gonna lie. It was painful. It was tough. I thought I was going to die. And I had only completed one day of Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred Level 1. Ugh! I wanted to curl up into a ball, cry, and pass out. Though not necessarily in that order. Only I didn't. I regained control of my breathing and said out loud, to no one in particular as I was was the only one in the house, "I. did. it." Yes, my muscles ached in places they hadn't for months and I could barely get through the cardio without, as Jillian puts it, gargling my heart, but the point is that I did it at all. And then I did it again, and it was a little bit easier.

January 18th I joined my first, Moms Run This Town group run. I was nervous and wanted to back out, especially when I walked out the door. This would be my first run since my bronchitis diagnosis and it was cold. Frost covered the ground, and not just the grass. Parts of the sidewalks were slippery with it. I wanted to turn around and go back inside with every step I took and every puff of white cloud that emerged as I breathed. I didn't. I walked all the way to my neighbors where we rode together to the coffee shop to meet the group. The more women that showed up the more relaxed I felt. Before we ran they made sure everyone had a running partner for their pace and off we went. Starting off slow, unsure of how fast I would be able to run, and slowly realizing I could do more. At the halfway point (15min.), I had made my way to the small cluster of women out front. We talked about the different races we'd run, the best place to purchase workout gear, and our goals for the year.  When I lagged behind a bit near the end, one of the ladies stayed with me encouraging me the whole way. By the time we made it back I felt on top of the world. Thirty minutes of running in the books for 2015, a total of 3.2 miles at a pace of 9:34/mi. Not my fastest, or where my average was the previous month, but not bad by any means. I am so glad I went. I did much better than expected, proving to myself that even though I took a month off to heal, and stuffed my body with crap, I still had it. It didn't hurt that I got to enjoy a warm cup o' joe while sitting down to chat with everyone who stayed. On the way home I mentally noted to make these Sunday morning Coffee Runs a regular occurrence on my future fitness schedule.

While I have yet to attend another group run, they keep getting cancelled due to arctic temperatures, I have continued to stay on track. I even sucked it up and have run on the…dun dun dun…gulp treadmill. Ah! I know, but my god it is way too cold and I just need to run somedays. A few weeks ago, after one of my circuit training days with Jillian Michaels, Fred mentioned that I should look into getting some new DVDs to try out. You know, so I don't get bored. He had a point. I was coming up on the one year mark of having started my fitness regimen and though I switch up my cardio somedays by having started to use our elliptical again (thanks again for the machine Mike and Dani), I haven't changed my circuit training to anything but the 30 Day Shred.  While I was sure I wouldn't get too bored as I still had not come close to being able to do level 3 for more than a day or two, and not in succession, it had me thinking and one particular trip to Target I found myself perusing the fitness aisle for a new DVD. Having stood there for what seemed an eternity to my kids based on their whines of, "can we go home now?" I took the advice of my son and purchased Jillian Michaels Kickbox FastFix.

This workout consists of three 20 minute kickboxing routines: the first focuses on your upper body, the second tones your lower body, and the third zeroes in on your abs. I started with the first workout, choosing to focus more on my upper body, as I had lost the tone and definition in my arms. I found myself getting frustrated during the routine, sometimes even stopping to rewind and try the move again. By the end I was huffing and puffing as I always seem to do with a Jillian Michaels DVD, though I didn't feel like I had received a satisfyingly hard workout. I moved on with my day having only 20-30 minutes to devote to exercise and didn't think too much about it. That was until I woke up the following morning and went to get dressed. I pulled my arms above my head and, ouch! My muscles were definitely sore. Apparently I had received a decent workout after all, it just took a day for it to hit my body. The next day that I decided to do the Kicbox DVD again I first watched the tutorial video that is included on the DVD intended to get you familiar with the moves and perfect your form. Funny how when I took the time to learn the moves and practice them before doing the workout I performed much better. These workouts are not so much a, feel it at the time hard core cardio type of workout but more of a, that was decent enough and I'm gonna feel it tomorrow type. If you are looking for a less impact workout I totally recommend this one. You get to tone your muscles without all the jarring to your knees, which comes in really handy for someone like me who has runner's knee, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome. I think this is one I will work on perfecting and ultimately use as a supplement to my regular routine.

For now though, I'll grab my regular morning cup of coffee, bundle myself up on the couch while checking email and maybe sneaking in a chapter of two before its: Did we get our homework done today? Put on warmer clothes its only 15 degrees outside, are you crazy!? What would you like for lunch? Juice and Pirate Booty OK for snack today? Did you hear that? The alarm went off.  Let's go, let's go. Shoes, socks, backpack… and somehow hope that I don't freeze to death before this winter is over.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Story Reader

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Today was my day to be Story Reader for Sophie's class. I do so enjoy coming in to read. Ever since Mason's first year at Golden Pond, if there was an opportunity to volunteer reading to kids I was the first to put my name down. I may have mentioned before that my Mom worked in the public library,  and I grew up accompanying her to work and helping out with Summer Reading Programs. My childhood was filled with nights sitting on my bed listening to her read us chapters from Redwall and Indian in the Cupboard. It fostered a great love for books and reading. I suppose one could have predicted, that when I became a mother, I would be the one sitting down with a carefully chosen book;  who uses different voices for each character, and thrives on hearing the laughter of children; who watches them listen intently as I read, their eyes wide with excitement leaning in to grasp my every word.

Today was my third day as Story Reader. Unlike my first day, I knew what to expect. The kids would stop whatever they were working on, gather around me on the carpet and recite the rules for being a good listener, "Hands are still, feet are quiet, lips are closed, eyes are watching, ears are listening." I would open the first book and begin to read. And before I am even ready, it would be time to pack up and say good-bye. A fleeting interlude. From the moment I sign in at the front desk, to the moment I am in my car and driving away, is a total of 12 minutes. Some might say not worth my time, but then again maybe I haven't introduced myself properly. I am the Mom who pulls out the volunteer calendar from the friday folder each month, quickly enters my assigned days into the calendar, and then impatiently waits for it to arrive.

Today I picked out what I hoped would be two engaging reads. I had to compete with: A Monster at the End of the Book, Another Monster at the End of the Book, and Pigs Make me Sneeze. I know right? Some of the most funny, yet classic books for kids. I could only hope Drummer Hoff and Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses would compare. Although, I had to ask myself, would they even remember those earlier books, or that I was the one who read them? I have no delusions about how the school year will play out. I am prepared that this will not be the year where I know the names of each and every child in the class. Nor would they know who I was without the teacher telling them, "Sophie's Mom is here to read to us today." Yet, secretly I harbored the hope that somehow, at some point during my mere 12 minutes in their presence, I might reach into the hearts of these kids and make a difference. I should never doubt the capacity of a child's mind.

Today I walked into Sophia's Kindergarten classroom, waved hello to the teachers as I made my way to that familiar rocking chair where I would unload my coat, purse, and library tote filled with the day's selections. Mid stride, I was stopped by one of the girls as she was making her way across the room. She leaned in as if to tell me a secret. "I love all your books!" she quickly told me, before rushing to put her things away and take her spot on the carpet. I stood there for a brief moment, caught slightly off guard, absorbing her words. Once I began to move again, I cracked a small smile and went about my task of story reading with a renewed sense of pride. It was such a simple thing, only five little words. I was reminded of the quote, "Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts." Driving home, I wondered if she knew how much she brightened my day.

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