Monthly Archives: January 2013

Mom of Clark Kent

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early crossfit

One of my favorite ‘teenage-years’ memories is trying to kick my dad in the head on a routine basis.

Of course, we were in a dojo, wearing sparring gear, and we would both end up profusely sweating and laughing. I didn’t actually kick him in the head very often, but occasionally I could slip in a good double-roundhouse without the ‘old man’ noticing until it was too late.

I’m the old man now, or rather the old woman.

And we’re not doing Tae Kwon Do but CrossFit.

My son and I don’t kick each other during CrossFit, but we get to do fun stuff like carry each other across the room and do wheelbarrows. Even when we’re not teamed up, we still work out alongside each other, and I am consistently amazed by him.

Where does he get his super-strength?

Is it from the mere fact that he is a 15 year-old male?

How can a young man who eats so much pizza have such energy? I don’t understand.

After one or two tries, he just does things right. Under his mild-mannered persona is a guy who can do amazing things–like spring onto tall boxes in a single bound.

I am impressed by his hard work, dedication, and his ability to actually do this stuff.  

I am the proud mama.

But it leaves me to wonder: with Clark Kent in the house, which Mom am I?

The one from Kansas or Krypton? 

Perhaps after more CrossFit, I’ll start feeling less like Martha Kent and more like Lara Lor-Van.

I’d like to hit my 40s with some ‘super’ powers of my own!

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Cancellation Policy

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There's a running shoe under there somewhere.

There’s a running shoe under there somewhere.

After a run last week through ankle-deep snow, I felt like a Barbie doll who had its leg pulled out and ineptly stuck back in the socket. This strange phenomenon happens to me from time to time, and all I can do is wait until my hip and knee pop in that peculiar way that makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

While I wasn’t in pain during Crossfit last night, I kept unconsciously favoring that side, which threw everything off balance. It was a great workout, but a less-than-perfect performance. It didn’t inhibit me from doing 160 air squats, but it did make me lean forward during the thrusters, instead of keeping my weight on my heels.

My legs were already weak from running five miles through the snow before anyone was awake, and to top it with Crossfit that evening made my body cry out “Enough!”

Thus before bed, I made the decision to take an extra day off this week–even though I HATE canceling a run during marathon training! But my leg was hurting and my entire body craved rest the way a camel craves water.

For some reason my husband feels that getting up at 4am to run five to ten miles through the snow is a little extreme. I’m not sure I know what he’s talking about, but I do know he cares about me and above all else does NOT want me injured.

It does make me wonder when I began to think of marathons as common as Volksmarches? When did I go from collapsing after three miles to knocking out twelve just for fun? Why do I feel Crossfit is a great addition to my training, and not something that would sufficiently prepare a person for a career with Cirque du Soleil. And does this mean that someday I’ll see a marathon as the warm-up before my Ultra? Will I be an IronGrandma someday?

Marathons are extreme things (apparently), and the training requires a type of dedication that allows no excuses for snow or rain. However, it IS important to listen to your body. And I hate writing that phrase, because so many people use it without really defining it. So here is Keri’s easy translation:

Listening to your body simply means KNOWING the difference between your limits and your laziness.

To truly be in tune with your body takes time, effort, practice and on occasion, a day off.

Happy running, friends. And though winter may slow you down, don’t let the snow bring your training to a halt!

Souk du Jour

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Libby leads the way through the souk in Jerusalem.

Libby leads the way through the souk in Jerusalem.

If you, like me, were born and reared in Midwestern America then a “bargain” is something you find in the back of a store, somewhere between the rack of leopard print leggings and the bin of plastic poppies. Even in a used-car lot, a “bargain” describes a vehicle-shaped object and is by no means a word that implies action.

In the Middle East, however, “bargain” is a verb not a noun. And this takes some getting used to.

Jewelry shop.

Jewelry shop.

Despite my unassuming Midwestern upbringing, on my recent trip to Jerusalem, I was a force to be reckoned with in the souks. I’d like to say it was because I was savvy to the tricks of the trade, but in reality, it was my inability to quickly convert shekels into dollars.

So basically, when the shopkeeper would state his price in shekels, I would usually laugh at the ridiculously high sum.

350 shekels for 3 scarves? Who cares if they are wool or silk? Preposterous!

Inevitably, I would retort with a number closer to an average resting heart rate than a high blood pressure reading, to which the shopkeeper would reply with a grimace.

I wasn’t big on the ‘give and take’ nature of the proceedings, and so I would normally cut to the rock bottom price, and every time I did this and refused to budge, the shopkeeper would ask, “Where are you from?” And every time I answered, “I live in Germany,” he would give me the price I asked.

Libby always got the price she asked. Who could resist her?

Libby always got her price. Who could resist?

Maybe it is the perception that Americans are rich (which we are) or maybe it is the perception that the Germans are thrifty (which, for the most part, they are), but whatever the reason, saying I was from Germany sealed the deal in more than one case.

The funnest part of bargaining was when my friend made an offer for a chess board. During negotiations, I tried to be as German as possible, which primarily meant NOT smiling, and finally I whispered something to her, and then we ended up walking out of the store. The guy chased us down saying, “I want to be happy; you want to be happy; we all want to be happy!” and he accepted her offer, asking, “Where are you from?”

Even though I drove a hard bargain in Jerusalem, I was a little more generous in Petra. The people there didn’t have fine shops, and most of the merchandise was covered with sand. Plus the Jordanian dinar was about the same as the euro, so it made quick calculating much easier. I deliberately paid a bit more for my four fake Nabatean coins, but then the woman added a fifth, “For the Mom.”

And I thought I was the generous one.

Into the Box: My Introduction to CrossFit

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My fingers were wound tightly around the bar overhead, and my body was stretched out as if awaiting a flogging, when the trainer said, “Now touch your toes to the bar.”

He must be joking, I thought. 

But he just stood there as if he expected me to actually do something.

I grunted as my knees wobbled towards my chest.

He talked about torque, while I wondered how many years it would take to actually accomplish this.

Welcome to CrossFit!

Simply finding the CrossFit box was a challenge–especially since I wasn’t wearing my trifocals, and there was no big neon sign pointing to it. My son joked that it was probably in an abandoned paint factory, and he wasn’t far from wrong.

Walking into the CrossFit box was a triumph for me, since I am usually such a mild-mannered (i.e. chicken) type of person, when it comes to approaching strangers and fumbling to explain myself in a foreign language.

However, being somewhat emboldened by my recent trip to the Middle East, I wasn’t too intimidated to burst into the box during the middle of a class, call a cheerful “Hallo!” while waving my stick-arms to people who looked like they could bench press Peugeots, and ask if I could join the beginner’s class.

There was no beginner class, but I went back again twice last week, and I am hooked.

The atmosphere was very cordial and freundlich, and I was never made to feel idiotic, even though I can’t do a single burpee (yet).

I tried to do a push-up and fell to the floor, as if a cave troll had suddenly placed his giant foot on my back.

When the trainer asked me to do a pull-up, I held on to the bar until my elbows quivered, but since that didn’t seem to count like it does at home, the trainer wrapped a giant rubber band around the bar for me to stand upon, to help my fight against gravity. I still couldn’t heft my weight up to the bar, but I did try so hard that my wanna-be muscles still ache 48 hours later.

I have run four marathons, logged countless miles (19 just yesterday), and yet, I am weak as a half-drowned kitten. I am the slowest, most inept person in the CrossFit box. I have to do modified versions of the modified exercises; and yet, there’s hope, as long as I keep going back.

There was a time I couldn’t run a single mile, let alone 26.2 of them (times four); and so I know that someday, if I continue working, I’ll be able to do burpees with the rest of the class.

You have to start somewhere; and sometimes, starting is the most difficult part.

The kids and I crossing the finish line together at my first race ever.

The kids and I crossing the finish line together at my first race ever:
The Rothenburg Half Marathon 2010.

Starting is difficult because it’s humbling. It is humbling because you are learning a new skill, and until your muscle memory kicks in and your strength builds, you are going to stink at it. But if I lived life avoiding humility, I would never learn anything new, and I certainly would not have four marathon medals dangling from my bulletin board.

I am weak, and I know it. But I also know that if I keep working the muscles, they will get stronger.

Why do I have this drive to run long distances and do pull-ups? 

It is a question that haunts me sometimes.

Though I have a lot of great-sounding reasons, I also don’t really know. Why did God give me the desires He has? Why writing and not engineering? Why marathons and pull-ups and not Cheetos and video games? 

I just don’t fully know.

To be a good and faithful servant means to take care of the things over which you have been given control. For me, this includes diet and exercise. It means putting aside my own desires (I DO actually like Cheetos), and doing what is right and good (like juicing kale).

Sometimes doing what is good means stepping out of the box.

Or in the case of CrossFit, it means stepping faithfully and consistently into the box.

Whatever dreams or goals you have, take a step towards achieving them, and before you know it, you’ll find yourself touching your toes to the bar.

Auf Geht’s!

La Shukran: Your Free Pass Through Petra

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William approaches the Khazneh

William approaches the Khazneh

Paris, London, Rome, every city has people willing to sell postcards and keychains to tourists–and I’ve purchased my fair share of trinkets. But what I learned a while ago (the humiliating way) in Bolesławiec, Poland is not every person who approaches you to sell something is merely trying to see where you keep your wallet–in fact, most are simply trying to scrape themselves above the poverty line.

In my research on Petra, there were ‘complaints’ about the Bedouins who seem to run the park. It is debated whether they are, in fact, true Bedouins, or simply locals trying to make a buck. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me.

On the drive from Aqaba to Wadi Musa, I caught a brief glimpse into the lives of average people–living in dwellings most of us wouldn’t take camping. So, if they set up their stands in Petra, take care of their horses to drive weary tourists to and fro, I’m not going to throw rocks at them–at least they’re working.

The real ‘complaint’ most people have about the Bedouins in Petra is that they are so persistent when it comes to selling their wares, they won’t take “no” for an answer.

Guess what? They DON’T take “No!” for an answer!

If you tell them “no” as they trot their horses alongside you, they will keep asking, in a variety of ways.

Air conditioned ride

Air conditioned ride

They will talk about their “air-conditioned” ride they have for you. Or the Lamborghinis of the desert, as they pat their donkeys. If you smile, then you are guaranteed an escort down the wadi, until the dust makes your eyes water.

You can say “no” until you are practically at the Khazneh, where the guy with the horses turns back, and a guy with a camel will ask if you want a ride.

Our time at Petra, however, was delightful because of two simple, magical words: “La Shukran.”

You may know this phrase as “No thank you.” But in Arabic, it is a magical pass down the wadi, free from bargaining and banter. It worked like a charm on the most grizzled horseman to the smallest child with her postcards (not that we COULD say ‘no’ to the toothless little Bedouin girl, no older than Libby–I only wish now that I’d bought more from her).

Little girl selling postcards

Little girl selling postcards

It is simple; it is polite; and it is the right way to respond in any country.

The fact that we could walk unaccosted through Petra simply by saying “La Shukran” reinforces my notion that in any country you visit, you should at least learn to say the following:

Yes

No

Please

Thank you

Hello

Goodbye

and “Where’s the WC?”

And if you can learn water, wine, coffee and police, you’ll be fine in nearly any situation.

When my daughter used “la shukran,” the man was so excited, he began rattling off in Arabic, leaving her somewhat bewildered, and leaving me with a desire to learn more languages.

Luxury and comfort rob you of motivation for many things. It is a lesson I am just beginning to fully understand.

The little Bedouin kids run up and down the wadi, selling postcards and things, and even if you don’t buy from them, they might ask for food, which just breaks my heart.

Maybe you think I am a fool, or that they are deceiving me somehow. But I don’t care. If I am being scammed out of a granola bar and a bottle of water, does it matter? I only wish I would have brought more food with me (and this is yet another debate on trip advisor).

If the food I give the little Bedouin girl is immediately turned over to some Jordanian Fagin, it doesn’t bother me, because the only reason I can see for someone asking for food is because he or she is hungry–and that is one scenario in which I will never say “la!”

A boy plays in the dirt while my camel passes by

A boy plays in the dirt while my camel passes by

Traveling is a privilege, and if my presence in a foreign land can somehow bless other people, then it is my duty to look at others as real, living breathing human beings, upon whom I should view as innocent until proven guilty. Don’t most people have the same wants? Peace, respect, a harmonious family, the ability to feed their children–aren’t these things universal desires? If not, they should be.

When traveling, we should be smart and avoid scams, particularly ones that can lead you down some dangerous roads. I am not ignorant, nor do I romanticize the grim realities of this world. However, not everyone is out to get you.

That is the mindset I took with me into Petra, and that is the reason I could chat with the woman selling the fake Nabatean coins, who admired my family, and watch her beam with pride when she spoke of her six sons and four daughters.This is why my heart broke when the Bedouin girl smaller than Libby sold me a stack of postcards for a dinar. These are real people in circumstances that would bring Westerners to their knees.

On the drive to Wadi Musa, I saw a boy standing on top a tin hut, releasing a bird from his outstretched hands. It rose into the air and flew off, and I wondered how hard his life was, and if this was his only play time of the day. Releasing a bird into the air.

How vastly different this is from my world.

How humbled and spoiled and rich I feel.

Now, the only thing to do about it, is to give generously, to view others with respect, and to find ways that I can be a blessing to others.

There are no adjectives adequate enough to describe our trip to Petra–it opened my eyes and my heart, and went so well, that all I can say is al hamdullilah.

*Thanks to Uncle Ghanim and Aunt Carolyn for the Arabic lessons!

Ruined for Hummus: Perilous Dining in the Middle East

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Falafel Shop

Jaffa Gate Falafel, Jerusalem

“I miss the hummus,” lamented my eldest daughter.

“Can you learn to make flat bread?” asked the youngest. For a woman with a gluten allergy, flat bread might be stretching my capabilities.

Our first morning in Israel, expecting a German-style buffet of cheese, bologna, and a few pickles, I was astonished to find not one but two salad bars–for breakfast!!! This was a revelation to me.

Chicen Schnitzel on the menu, YMCA, Jerusalem

Chicken Schnitzel on the menu, YMCA, Jerusalem

The hotel also had the typical fare for the gluten-eaters: crepe thingys, phylo stuffed thingys, and other goodies I can not adequately describe, since I averted my eyes when the kids ate them. But from the “yums!” it sounded tasty.

All kinds of pretty, yummy deserts, Movenpick, Jordan

All kinds of pretty, yummy deserts, Movenpick, Jordan

Eggs were also on the menu, basically in any form you could want, since each of the 4 hotels had an egg cook ready to make your custom order.

But my favorite place to graze was the salad bar. The tomatoes always tasted as if it were the height of summer. The eggplant was never bitter. The roasted red peppers melted in my mouth. And the salad tasted as if it had been plucked directly from the garden. And the olives! Wow. Truly incredible, if you like that sort of thing at 8:00am.

Eggplant with rosemary, cherry tomatoes and olives for breakfast.

Eggplant with rosemary, cherry tomatoes and olives for breakfast.

Katie having salmon, and in the background, spaghetti and more schnitzel (you can take the kids out of Germany…)

Katie having salmon, and in the background, spaghetti and more schnitzel (you can take the kids out of Germany…)

At the Movenpick in Jordan, we had the buffet for dinner as well, and they did not disappoint. There were different types of cooked fish, one night with a creamy white sauce, one night with a sweet and sour. They also had different variations of potatoes, and rice was a staple as well. My favorite rice had almonds, green onion, and cinnamon. I’m sure I will spend the next decade trying to re-create it.

Ice cream for lunch, at the Movenpick, Jordan

Ice cream for lunch, at the Movenpick, Jordan

I also took a gamble and had falafel, which I knew could be made with flour. If it was, it didn’t affect me at all. We also tried schwarma, which is basically the same as doner kebabs, (lamb slow-roasted and shaved from a spit), which is the fast-food of Germany.

At the U Coral Beach Club, there was fresh fruit in the morning, freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs, plenty of potatoes, and the full salad bar. Many mornings I would have a dish of cucumbers and tomatoes, finely chopped with cilantro and tossed with lemon juice–Arabic salad, it was called, and it sometimes had avocado.

One night, the hotel did not have my favorite veggie stir fry, and as I stood there, I saw a chef tossing thin slices of beef onto the grill. He took a piece off the grill and put it on the hotplate, where it was snatched up by a greedy little boy. The chef went to put a second slice there, and as the boy reached out to nab it, the cook placed it on my plate. Smugly, I walked away with it, leaving the child to gnaw on the one he already had. 

I haven’t had a steak in over a year, and this was certainly the place to have one. It was thin and tender as a stick of butter. Fresh off the grill, it was just perfect.

Shop on our hike to the monastery, Petra, Jordan, offering coffee, snickers and Bavarian beer.

Shop on our hike to the monastery, Petra, Jordan, offering coffee, snickers and Bavarian beer.

Other meats were frequently available for dinner–beef, chicken and lamb. Libby loved having a chicken nugget again (since we had long ago banned them) and hers was shaped like a heart.

My favorite dish was hummus. And it wasn’t even the gourmet stuff from any of the resorts–it was the hummus my husband had picked up at a nearby convince store. There were different varieties, one with a green type of pesto, another with plain chickpeas, and our favorite, the kind with the red pesto, complete with a little kick.

And now it’s back to ‘real’ life, whatever that actually means.

I’ve cooked my chickpeas this afternoon, and am scavenging together a red pesto to try and emulate what I had in Israel, but I’m afraid no matter what I do, I will fall short.

My traveling friends and I have discussed this notion before–travel ruins you for certain foods. When you actually have hummus in the place where the ingredients grow naturally in your garden, it’s hard to recreate it in your cold German kitchen. And likewise, gelato just isn’t the same anywhere outside of Italy–even ‘Italian’ gelato in Germany lacks something. As for yogurt, I can’t even taste the stuff if it doesn’t come from Deutschland. Holland has the best cheese in the world (which I know since I sampled plenty of it before my plant-based conversion), and now hummus will never be the same again.

In the Middle East, things grow on TREES in December! Amazing!

In the Middle East, things grow on TREES in December! Amazing!

It is a bittersweet thing, to be ruined for a food forever. But if I am lucky, I will catch hints of the real stuff from time to time, and it will bring back the memories and the stories that begin with, “Do you remember sitting on the balcony overlooking the Red Sea, when we had hummus for dinner?”

Ruined. 

Completely, happily ruined.