Monthly Archives: July 2012

Gollum Fish Sticks

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There are a few things you should know about our family:

1) While we haven’t always had a nutritarian lifestyle, we now avoid processed foods.

2) Being a recovering Theater-major (and instead becoming an English Lit geek and writer), I have tried to instill in my children the idea that they must choose practical fields of study, which subsequently assures they spend every spare moment involved in some sort of creative ‘art.’ I suppose some apples don’t fall too far from the tree.

3) Though we don’t dress up as elves or wizards, we DO enjoy the Lord of the Rings books, movies, and the unabridged audio books on CD (which can last an entire road trip to Italy and back).

4) My eldest child wants to be a filmmaker.

5) I forced him to get braces so he can flash a Hollywood smile along with his “I’d like to thank my Mom” speech, as he accepts his academy awards (yes, there will be more than one award).

6) I can be boastful and slightly biased about my children (because they are awesome).

This is a little video William made in honor of his friend’s birthday. It is a parody of a Tyson commercial and is one of the funniest things I’ve seen–and I hope it’s not just my Mama-glasses tinting the view. 

Enjoy!

Notes After a Marathon

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The moment I gave up was when the red balloon with 4:15 scrawled in Sharpy bonked me in the face.

Twice.

It began as a thought as subtle as a hairline crack on bone china, but when the pacemaker, with the indolent balloon tied to his waist and a pack of athletic young Fußballers at his heels, passed me, I envisioned the 4:30 pacemaker passing me too.

Needless to say, I did not make my goal of running a 4 to 4:15 marathon.

There were some things under my own control that I did wrong, and other things beyond my control which ground my positive vibes to a pile of dust. Truly, mental toughness is the most difficult part of marathon running. 

My only solace is that I did not come in last for my age group, and that I did not require post-race medical attention beyond a glass of red wine.

What I learned the hard way:

Always bring a lightweight, breathable rain jacket, instead of digging your winter coat out of the car and wearing it because you didn’t fancy wearing a garbage bag over your head.

I am the co-queen of packing light (you can read about the one-bag rule in my book ‘The Gypsy Mama’s Guide to REAL Travel with Kids‘). However when it comes to a race, I say always bring every speck of running gear you own, because you don’t know if it will actually be 75 degrees and sunny, or 48 degrees and pouring rain.

Along those same lines, never think that you ‘might not need’ an item such as an inhaler or knee straps. I did not need these items during this year’s training (though exercise induced asthma and patellofemoral pain syndrome plagued me in the past), however, I had wheezing problems while standing in the pouring rain (which I did manage to forget about) and my right knee periodically lost its ability to bear weight after km 30, which would send me into a flail worthy of a third-grade drama queen. Eat your heart out, Tonya Harding! Dramatic arts are my forte.

Don’t start off too fast. In my last post, I mentioned starting in first gear, and I’m not sure what happened to that noble thought. Maybe I was so cold that I thought sprinting was a good way to warm up. Whatever the reason, I hit the ground running, keeping ahead of the 3:45 pacemaker for several miles before the gradual slowdown. If I’d been running a half marathon, I’d be happy, since I hit the halfway mark at 2:02.

Put your iPhone in a plastic baggy. I couldn’t listen to music to lift my dampened spirits or even to my metronome (to keep pace) because my phone was simply too wet. While my fingers were warm this year (thanks to my Nike running mitten/gloves), the iPhone kept calling my friends and would randomly attempt to email cryptic messages. When the sun, in a burst of intense irony, showed itself, and I got some music going, I couldn’t get it to do anything other than shuffle, which isn’t that great when you get Classical Relax instead of Hip-Hop.

Repackage the goodies you send ahead to the aid stations. People will rip open your bag and steal your Coconut Water (yes, even in civilized Deutschland apparently), but they won’t guzzle down a ‘mystery’ substance. Out of the three coconut waters I sent ahead, I received one of them. Next time, I’ll just leave a clear bottle with my name on it. Fortunately the culprit DID leave my chia, which actually IS a mystery substance.

Don’t be intimidated by other runners. While standing in the pouring rain–and I’m not exaggerating when I use the word ‘pouring’–and shivering uncontrollably despite your winter jacket and mittens, if a German makes fun of your American accent when you try to speak his language, don’t let it ruin your morale.

What really irritates me is not that he made fun of my accent, (of which I am already painfully aware) but he thought I was stupid enough to not realize he was insulting me. When he realized I actually understood a lot more than he’d anticipated, and when I confronted him on it, he simply turned away and cheerfully struck up conversation with his son. Here’s the sad thing, this guy was probably fifty years old, and the legacy he will leave to his son is one of pettiness and rudeness.

*Note: I’ve lived in Germany for over six years, and this is the first time this has happened. There are PLENTY of friendly, generous Germans who are gracious to me when I rip apart and restitch their language like an old quilt. And I am also aware that jerks have infiltrated every country on earth. If you know of a jerk-free country, please let me know.

On the intimidation aspect…don’t worry about the other runners. You MUST run your own race at the pace you’ve planned on. If you start off slow and go faster through the miles, then don’t worry about the people zipping along with the 4:00 pacemaker. It is very easy to look up at a 6’4″ twenty year-old and think “What am I, a 39 year-old housewife, doing in THIS pack?”

What I learned the more pleasant way:

I bought compression socks on a whim and tried them out for the race. These are made by Adidas and I can’t tell you much about them since the tag is in a waste basket in Tirol. However, these probably helped to keep me going–through mud, puddles, cow paddies, wet grass up to my ankles…you name it. In fact, I didn’t notice my feet at all during the race, except they got occasionally cold when splashing through a puddle. The funny thing is that my feet never felt cold during the race (maybe I was hypothermic?). These socks are the perfect balance of compression (enough to keep the blood flowing) and circulation (without being tourniquet tight). They worked beautifully with my Newton Distance U’s.

I wore my old shoes. My Newtons are so comfortable and broken-in, they ended up being a great choice. While the mesh allowed the water to flow into the shoe easily, the shoes themselves didn’t seem to absorb water like the Mizunos I used to wear. And now that I’ve been doing forefront running for over a year, the Newtons are certainly the brand I’ll stick with. Too bad they stink so much now. But a marathon through farm country can be tough on a pair of running shoes.

Carrot and stick, light at the end of the tunnel (or is it just the train?) whatever phrase you prefer, always keep the end in mind.

After 42.2 kilometers, a marathon is over, and you will be crossing the finish line, hand-in-hand with your offspring, while a buxom woman in a dirndl puts a medal around your neck and cheerful bystanders offer you beer, brats & brezen. Okay, so maybe this only happens in Germany, but you get the picture.

There is no way I could quit with my husband and kids (and a good meal at a gluten-free restaurant) waiting for me at the end. Despite my winter coat, which now weighed ten pounds, the cruel sunshine at km 40, and despite my misbehaving kneecap, I kept moving forward and enjoyed a gluten-free schnitzel (my first in 3 years) and a lifted a glass of rot wein (or cola) with the people I love the most.

My husband and children don’t care if I finish at 4:40 and come in 11th out of 17 in my age group. They are proud when I simply cross the finish line, no matter what the digital red numbers flash above my head.

As William put it, “I’m glad you run marathons. It makes you an active sort of person. Otherwise you would just sit around and blog.”

Ah, the wisdom of youth.

This blog post is done.

My knees feel fine.

And I am ready to fill up my calendar with miles.

Notes Before a Race

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The balcony drips with petunias in typcial Tirolean style. And, also in typical Tirolean style, the balcony drips with rain.

I don’t mind the rain so much, but the cold is something I will have to overcome tomorrow, unless the weather takes a turn for the better.

We spent the day at a local (indoor) swimming pool. Mike & I let the kids enjoy the waterslide and the diving pool, while we relaxed in the ‘quiet’ zone (only those over age 15 allowed). I know that sounds ironic coming from a woman with four children, but the honest truth is that I don’t always ‘enjoy’ other people’s kids.

The adult  area was enclosed in glass, rather like a fancy hamster cage, so we could watch the kids play without being subjected to the decibles of the childrens’ pool.

After the pool, we went into town and looked through the shops. I was sorely tempted to purchase a picture of a cow with flowers around its neck, but opted for some muscle cream instead–it might come in handy tomorrow.

I am excited about tomorrow’s race. My plan is to start in ‘first gear’ through the city and then attack the lake route, which has stymied me in the past. That’s the beauty of running the same race 3 years in a row–you have an idea of what to expect from the terrain and from yourself

I’ve gotten more than my share of encouragement from the kids. Katie stayed up  late  baking gluten free brownies (as a post-race treat…they taste  great, by the way…I had to sample them)  and Libby drew a picture of me in my race number, in which she also  pledged her heartfelt love–what could be better?  Noah hugs me and talks about our plans to run a marathon together  when he’s old enough, and Will gives me kind words and the occasional arm around my shoulder, which in William-ese means he’s proud of me.

To be honest, I am nervous. I know there will be puddles around the lake, which means my feet will be soaked for the entire run. I bought a pair of compression socks today, and they might be my undoing–or they could be great, I guess I’lll find out tomorrow.

The socks  were an impulse buy. The sport shops in Austria have such great products that  I always look around when I’m here. I did have in mind how cold my legs would be tomorrow (since I only brought shorts , and because I forgot my long, purple SmartWools).  And thhis store just happened to have one pair of long running socks in my size. Hopefully, it was meant to be.

I am realistic enough to know that my sucess or failure does not depend upon the socks I wear. Mostly, it is in the months of training I’ve completed. But more than the miles I’ve logged, my success or failure is in my mind. If I can focus, stay relaxed, keep good form, and don’t give up by blaming my socks, then this race is in the bag.

In 14 hours, I’m going to give it my all, rain or shine.

Running in Germany: A Video Diary

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On my last long run, I took a few videos along the way. I wanted to show you where I run and give you a sense of why I run.

It was extremely windy that day, so I had to scrap the audio and do a voice-over. The video also ends a little abruptly, but this is my first try at a video diary. Hopefully future installments will be smoother.

So, join me now on my long run, where ten miles was condensed into about 5 minutes.

I hope you enjoy the German countryside as much as I do.

Weight off my Shoulders

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When I tell people I was overweight, they often don’t believe me.

Maybe I hid it well, or maybe it was because at the peak of my girth, I was the least sociable. But recently, I found a health journal I kept nearly 4 years ago, which depicts the struggle of a typical American woman who realized she needed to change her life, but was at a loss as how to do so.

The journal doesn’t lie: I weighed 184 pounds (unless I was, in fact, lying, in which case I was closer to 190) and could squeeze into a size 14, though I could actually bend in a 16.

Not surprisingly, I also had many health problems…which I will happily talk about with you over coffee sometime–if you really want to know.

The saddest part of that little pink journal was the desperation that poured from its pages.

I wrote about all the diets I had been on in my life: low fat, low cal, South Beach, cabbage soup (twice…makes me shudder to think of it), Atkins, and I even resolved to follow that farcical ‘guide’  known as the USDA food pyramid (which requires a ranting blog post of its own).

But in the end, I always gained back the weight, and when I moved to the land of strudel and schnitzel, the weight came back with a vengeance, leaving me with a sense of despair and helplessness.

Then due to medical problems, I had to go gluten-free.

It was tough at first (especially with the many pity-parties I was quick to host), but my loved ones were supportive. After all, gluten was a medical issue.

But this new plant-based life has been tougher. And with my track record, I don’t blame people for being skeptical–especially when I become passionate on the subject.

I probably come across like some caricature from an infomercial.

I am from a nation that is notorious for exporting its fad diets, and I have been steeped in a culture that strives to bring newer, faster, cheaper products to the market. So to stumble upon a simple, ancient plan that brings good health seemed too good to be true.

I remember the feelings of helplessness and desperation that excess weight and health problem pack onto a person’s psyche. And I know that in American culture we look for fast results with minimal introspection. We want to be thin, healthy and comfortable–and we want it now…or at least before the next family reunion.

I distinctly recall feeling so desperate to lose weight, I would have tried almost anything.

But what I discovered is that the secret of obtaining good health is to slow down, to take control over what you put into your mouth, to not count calories or follow a ‘diet,’ but to simply eat foods found in nature.

Unless you drench them in ranch and top them with bacon & cheese, you can NOT get fat from eating veggies. If you don’t believe me, try it and prove me wrong!

While weight-loss is a fabulous by-product of plant-based eating habits, the best part, by far, is the sense of well-being you get from nourishing your body on a cellular level. Every cell in your body is a microscopic factory, and by eating veggies and fruit, you are giving those cells the fuel they need to work efficiently. It is that simple.

Long before meals came in a take-out bag, meat was not on the Ancient Daily Specials list. If meat WAS on the menu at all, it was 100 percent grass-fed and organic–and the consumer burned a lot of calories to get the food from plains to plates.

As a modern-day human, you may feel completely discouraged about your health. While there’s no going back to a completely agrarian society, there are steps you can take (like I did) to take control over your own health destiny.

My unsolicited advice:

  • Eat a salad before every meal (use quality balsamic or find a natural topping, such as nuts or fruit)
  • Stop using oil in your cooking (even ‘good’ olive oil–it’s still fat)
  • If you have a sweet tooth–eat dry fruit instead of candy
  • Refuse to purchase anything that contains high fructose corn syrup, now also under the happy name ‘corn sugar’
  • Think of processed food as poison–a small dose may not kill you right away, but it won’t help you either
  • Try limiting your dairy or only choose organic, whole or raw
  • Take time to re-train your taste buds
  • Eat beans or legumes instead of meat products
  • If you do eat meat, choose organic–from a local farm, if possible
  • Vote for politicians who support the small farmer. This may seem irrelevant (and nearly impossible), but America’s obesity/cancer/diabetes epidemics are symptoms of a corrupt and injust political system. If government officials no longer come to the banquet escorted by Monsanto & Tyson, there might be real and lasting change in our nation. (Yes…I just watched Farmageddon and was shocked)

If you feel powerless about achieving your own good health, please do some research. The following resources opened my eyes, first to my own nutritional needs, and second, to the preventable epidemics sweeping through our nation:

  • Eat to Live and Disease-Proof Your Child, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman: Lots of nutritional information and a 6 week program for plant-based eating (which can turn into a complete overhaul of your eating habits)
  • Forks Over KnivesThe scientific research behind the benefits of plant-based eating
  • Food Inc: a candid look at the food system in America
  • Farmageddon: a shocking documentary on how current food policies in America are killing the small farm, and how our rights to nutritional foods are being whittled away
  • King Corn: a funny, yet sad look at the effects of corn subsidies in America–a must see if you’re from the Midwest:)

While I am still not where I’d like to be health wise, I am on the right path, and nothing makes me happier than to see other people walking there with me. All it takes is a small, first step.

Won’t you join me? 

The Houseguest

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This week’s houseguest has more dietary constraints than I do, which, being gluten-free and (mostly) Vegan, is no small feat. 

And every morning, before I can even grab a cup of coffee, she makes me take a look at the guinea pig AND the rabbit. I assure her that it’s okay for rodents to be in the house, but because she’s from a vastly different culture, it’s a difficult concept for her to understand.

Some things get lost in translation.

The really great thing about her, however, is that when I wake her up at 5:30 am to run (before breakfast–which I DON’T do with ALL house guests), she smiles and cheerfully dashes to the door–I’ve already learned to put my shoes on BEFORE I wake her.

Yes, she is sloppy when she drinks, and I find her hair in strange places (like on the birthday balloons strung from the ceiling), but she is so congenial, I can’t help but want to adopt her.

One of the things I admire about her is her love for running. She puts her entire self into a run, and she seems like the type who would run until she dropped, which fortunately has not happened yet.

She likes to run ahead of me, but she always stops and waits, no matter how long it takes me to catch up. And while it’s hard for her to go slowly at the outset of a run, (or if we see a rabbit), by the end, we run side-by-side, enjoying the sunrise over the gorgeous German countryside.

I know that our houseguest misses her real family, and they will be back for her soon, but we would keep her if we could.

I wonder if she has a sister?

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring: Running while Soggy

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Because I had written my last post on the things that don’t bother me as a runner, it naturally rained during my entire long-run yesterday. Even when the sun came out, it was still raining.

It was a warm, gentle rain, and after the first four miles I was coated in sweat, making my light rain jacket ridiculous; and once I stripped it off, the rain kept me cool.

I didn’t need as much water during my run, and I could go longer between breaks for chia-gel.

While I prefer running in the sunshine, running in the rain on a warm day is great too. In fact, some of my fastest runs this year have been during a warm rain shower. (Notice how I keep mentioning a ‘warm’ rain?)

It rained during my last marathon, but it was the type of rain that sinks into your bones and joints and causes your muscles to feel like blocks of granite, which is not desirable when you’re trying to envision yourself as Legolas, darting lightly through Middle Earth.

Mind power only goes so far.

The only downside to running in the rain yesterday was that my SmartWool socks were completely drenched. Normally, they do a great job wicking away sweat while keeping my feet from chafing; however, yesterday the wool socks held the moisture like sponges.

When I switched my Newtons for flip-flops post-run, my feet were pasty & wrinkled, like the hands of a kid who’s been in the tub too long.

The question is: did the rain affect my running?

The surprising answer: yes–in a good way.

Because I was cooler, without being at risk of hypothermic, and because I wasn’t too hot, and thereby obsessing over the warning signs of heatstroke, I was able to simply run–shocking, I know.

I don’t run with gadgets anymore, so I can’t give you my splits, but I ended up running the entire 15 miles in 140 minutes, which means, if I run that fast during my marathon, I will make my dream ‘goal’ of a 4 hour marathon.

I know it’s not much to some people (like those featured in running magazines), but for me, a nearly 40 year-old housewife with no prior record of athletic achievement, this is fabulous.

I ran my first marathon in 4:40. My second in 4:30, so realistically, I should aim for 4:20–or 4:15. But I AM a dreamer, and for some odd reason I have it in my head that a 4 hour marathon would mean that I could, realistically, achieve my next goal of running a mountain marathon.

But one dream at a time.

For now I will pray for ‘perfect’ running conditions for the marathon, which may include a few scattered showers and a touch of humidity.

Bugsplat: Desensitization by Trail Running

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When I first began running four years ago, there were things I would not do:

  • Run in the rain

  • Run in the wind

  • Run if it looked like it might become windy or rainy

  • Run if there was anyone who might see me

  • Run before breakfast

  • Run if it looked buggy

  • Run if I felt tired/achy/sick/bloated/lethargic…

I would also not run without each of the following items:

  • hat

  • headphones

  • sunglasses

  • hydration pack

  • tissues

  • snacks

  • mosquito repellant

  • clothes coordinated (down to the socks)

I also had strange little pre-running rituals, such as using the bathroom multiple times, re-tying my laces at least twice, and peering out the window to make sure there really, really wasn’t anyone on my road. I admit, sometimes I used binoculars.

I used to wake up in the morning and think cute thoughts like: I wonder if it will be a good day for running?

I find it funny, the things to which I’ve become desensitized:

  • Bugs: In Star Wars, Hans Solo has to program the Millennium Falcon before engaging the hyperdrive, so they don’t collide with objects in space. Trail running is like that, only YOU are the ship, and BUGS are the objects to be avoided. Sometimes, however, there’s a collision or an unavoidable swarm, and you find yourself picking insects from your sweaty body.

  • Weeds: Countless times I’ve chosen a trail which looks like a groomed golf-course, only to find myself ankle-deep in flora that pokes through my socks and sticks to my shoes. The only thing to do is to pick up the pace.

  • Mud: A sloppy trail no longer stops me. In fact, I don’t quite trust running shoes that aren’t dirty.

  • Sweat: I used to wear sweatbands around my wrists; now I just wipe my brow with my sleeve, if I have one. Sometimes sweat drips right down from the ends of my braids.

  • Non-standard WCs: When you run through the countryside, you don’t always have restrooms available. The more trail running you do, the better you get at finding concealed areas.

  • The Weather: It is ALWAYS a good day for running, because even if raindrops pummel you in the face like pellets from a vindictive child’s bb gun, you come away stronger. Besides, a marathon is NOT a fair-weather friend: unless there’s a hurricane, she will be there for you, rain or shine.

  • Perfect clothing: All I ask these days of my running apparel is that it fits well, is non-chafing, and doesn’t add weight to my body as I sweat. While color-coordination gratifies my OCD, (and I admit, I DO try and keep my favorite outfits clean & easily accessible) if my hot pink socks are the only ones available, I will wear them, ignoring the fact that they clash with the red stripe on my knickers.

  • Early hours: My alarm chirps at 5am, whereupon, I roll out of bed, sneak into the kitchen to start the coffee, and then I quietly get dressed by the light of my window. I like to run at 5:30 because there are no tractors, no cars (if I have to use the paved road), and the entire countryside is mine. Not only is the incredible sunrise worth the effort, I can continue my day as teacher/mama/wife guilt-free.

  • People/tractors/cars: If for some reason I have to run later in the day, the only thing I do not wish to share the trail with is the manure truck, which MUST be avoided at all costs–even if it means adding a couple miles to my route.

  • Forgetting things: While it IS good to be prepared (I make a list for long-run days), there are mornings when I simply dart out the door, leaving technology (and a few other random things) behind. If I forget something, I continue on my run without getting worked up about the absence of niceties. Though gadgets can be useful, it is good to unplug once in a while and listen to your body during training–to know what a 9 minute mile feels and sounds like, rather than what it looks like on an ambivalent computer screen.

While I’ll never be an Olympian, I feel I have been happily desensitized to things that used to hinder my runs; and God-willing, I will continue to learn more about myself as a runner, as the years move swiftly past.

Recipe of the Week: Tastes Like Chicken Apricot BBQ Tofu

This week’s recipe is adapted from the cookbook Veganomicon. It is NOT a Dr. Fuhrman recipe and is most likely  just beyond the limits of his Eat to Live plan.

While I cut out all the oils and changed the soy sauce to tamari, the ingredients that push this recipe over the Eat to Live edge are the molasses and (pure) maple syrup. I’m sure with a little experimenting, the molasses could be substituted with dates, but I haven’t tried that yet.

However, this is a great-tasting recipe that my entire family enjoyed. As Libby happily exclaimed, “It tastes like chicken!”

Success–I have now sufficiently altered my 8 year-old’s taste buds.

The Raw Materials

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 pounds fresh apricots (6-8, depending on size), pitted

1/2 cup water

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground coriander (I crushed the seeds by hand, because using the mortar & pestle makes me feel gourmet)

Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup molasses

2 tbsp pure maple syrup

2 tbsp tomato paste

3 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)

1 tsp liquid smoke

2 packages Extra-Firm Tofu, drained & pressed (I cut mine into triangular patties–not too thick)

The Method

While you are working on the glaze, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In your dutch oven (or a saucepan), water saute onions over medium-high heat until browned (7-10 minutes). Add garlic and sauté for 2 more minutes. Add 1/2 cup water to de-glaze the pan. Add the apricots, black pepper, ginger, and coriander. Cover and bring to a boil. Once the sauce is boiling, lower the heat to medium-low and let cook for about 10 minutes, until the apricots are mushy.

Uncover and add the molasses, maple syrup, tomato paste, tamari, and liquid smoke. Cook for about 10 more minutes, stirring often and mashing the apricots to a gelatinous goo.

Remove from heat and let cool.

Transfer to food processor (or blender) and puree until smooth.

Slice your pressed tofu and dredge in tamari, coating both sides. Place slices in a 9 x 18 inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes, flip the slices and bake for 15 more.

When the tofu is done baking, smother with BBQ sauce and return to oven for 15 more minutes.

Remove from oven and serve with veggie of your choice.

We went with sweet corn, and because of the slightly Asian taste to the glaze, I also roasted some mushrooms to serve as a side. This would be excellent as a sauce for any stir-fry.

For convenience, pre-make the sauce and keep in the fridge until needed.

Guten Appetit!