Parenting with Chocolate

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away… and yes, I am pregnant in this picture!

I ate chocolate.

It wasn’t dark, paleo-friendly chocolate either.

It was a big, square Ritter bar with nuts.

I ate two of them.

Not the little squares that you break off the grid–but ALL the little squares.

Two bars’ worth.

After I ate them, I thought: “Wow! That’s weird. Why did I eat those?”

Considering the mountain marathon I have coming up in September, I’ve been pretty good about my diet. I eat lean meats and veggies. No sugar, no gluten (as always), no nuts, eggs, fruits or grains. I ‘cheat’ on Friday with my gluten-free pizza and a glass of red wine, while the kids and I watch a movie; and Pancake Morning (or lately, Crepe Morning) on Sunday. IF I have chocolate, it usually coincides with Movie night. But TWO bars?! This was a first.

Why? I wondered. Why?

I can’t just eat chocolate and enjoy it–no, I have to psychoanalyze it.

I think it started with my eldest son saying he was buying a one-way ticket to Guatemala.

I’ve been preparing myself for his launch for a while, and honestly, I’ve been happy for him. But it’s just that talk about airline prices made the event a little too real.

But I know how it is when you’re waiting for life to start. While I LOVED raising my kids in Alaska, I always had this feeling that life had not quite begun for me. That while I WAS involved in the toughest, most important job on earth (which ironically included mind-numbing bouts of Dora the Explorer), there was always this sense that there was something else out there that would light the fire in my soul. For some women, child-rearing is that spark–and they are good at it. They have their babies, they adopt, they homeschool, and I truly respect them for how well they do this.

But no matter how much I enjoyed it, and no matter how good I was at it–it wasn’t quite me. Not quite.

It’s the same with teaching.

I love interaction with the students.

I love being there when the ‘light bulb’ clicks on.

I love being helpful.

But it’s still not quite me.

The one thing that does ‘light the fire’ is writing. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In fact, sometimes I hate writing. I’ll sit down to the computer, stare at the blank screen and think, ‘What the hell am I going to write?’

But if I stop over-thinking, the words will come. And before I know it, I have something to say.

When I was writing my fiction manuscript, I would read a new chapter to the kids every morning at breakfast–and even though it was course and unrefined, they loved listening to the adventures of the main character. We were transported from those dark winter days, sitting by the sunshine-lamp at the breakfast table, to another world where animals could talk and girls could fly.

While I can (and do) write non-fiction, fiction is my passion, my true love, and hopefully the words I craft can help people along the way. I am a firm believer that even fiction can make lives better. I mean, why do we have such a love for Cinderella stories or happy endings?

It’s because fiction gives us a sense of the good things in life. That life CAN and SHOULD be lived to the fullest.

It’s hard work though. Cinderella did get stuck with all the dirty chores and emotional abuse before things turned around for her. And while we can’t always expect a Fairy Godmother, we can work hard towards our dreams.

Why go through life without dreams?

And so…with the words one-way ticket and Guatemala in my mind… I prayed that I would have the strength to let my son go.

It didn’t take long.

After two bars of chocolate and a little crying, I felt genuinely happy for him.

Because I know how it is to feel stuck. To feel like your real life hasn’t started. And our time on earth is very limited. It should never be wasted.

Marathon running, CrossFit, writing–these things are part of me. They shape who I am as a person. Parenting is also just one part of my life–not the whole of it. Because if my only job is to be a parent, then I lose myself. And it makes launching children into the world nearly impossible.

I want them to live their lives and strive for their dreams.

That’s my job.

I just have to let go.

Of the kids, as they become independent.

And of the chocolate.

Because it doesn’t really help after all. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Immersion by Party: In Which I Speak Terrible German, Sing the Beatles and Try Schnapps

 

 

*This is a random stock photo: no lederhosen were present at the actual party!

An innocuous slip of paper in my mailbox began it all. The American translation was this:

  • We’re having a party, so don’t complain if it’s too loud, because we just warned you.
  • We will be grilling, so don’t turn us in to the police if you see the smoke–it’s legal.
  • Bring meat. Lots of meat.
  • Preferably wrapped in bacon.
  • Bring a salad.
  • Preferably wrapped in meat.
  • We will have more drinks available than the Geträngtmarkt.
  • RSVP two days ago.

I’d like to say my RSVP was late because I was busy working. I WAS busy, but the truth is that the invitation sat on my fireplace mantle for several days. I would read it whenever I passed by.

A party.

Not on my street, but in my neighborhood.

With Germans (well…yeah…I live in Germany, this makes sense).

I don’t know any of them.

I sound like a 3 year-old when I speak German. (Yes, me like wine red, please?)

Then I told my kids a story at dinner one night: it was my first day of high school. I was painfully shy. I decided to reinvent myself. So, I introduced myself to the first person I saw during the lunch-break. The poor soul happened to be Mavis, who remains one of my very best friends to this day.

As soon as I told that story, I knew I had to go to the party. I mean, if I was forcing encouraging my kids, who’ve had very little exposure to public school AT ALL, to go to GERMAN school, then I could certainly wrap some veggies in meat and saunter down the block to meet the neighbors.

Besides, I could always leave after a couple of hours.

I filled out the RSVP, wrote a nice card and paid my youngest five bucks to deliver it.

The invitation said to arrive after 18:00. I was there by 19:30.

I wasn’t the first one there, nor was I the last, as people slowly trickled in throughout the night.

You can imagine how awkward it was at first–I’m terrible at small talk, in any language. But the hostess was gracious and got me oriented, while some of the neighbors invited me to sit with them.

There seems to be a set of standard questions, probably issued by the Ausländerbehörde, for Germans to ask before getting to know anyone from the US.

After it’s established where I live (they want to know EXACTLY the house and number and then they tell me the history of my house), the conversation then goes like this: 

“Do you know other Americans in our town?”

“No,” I reply.

“We have a large community of Americans here. We have an American family renting our duplex.”

“Oh…okay…”

“I’ll give you their number.”

“Uhh….”

“Where do you shop?”

“I like PennyMarkt.”

“Don’t you shop at the PX?”

“Not really.”

“Not at Katterbach?”

“No. I go to    [INSERT ANY GERMAN STORE HERE]   .

“Oh.”

Having lived in this area for a while, where the US families come and go like migrating birds, I can understand why Germans would want to connect Americans to each other, and not necessarily to themselves. It’s hard to say goodbye. And while three years SEEMS like a long time if you have a baby or you’re in prison, it’s slips by before you know it when you have a good friend. And it’s been said that if you make friends with a German, then you have a friend for life.

But once they find out that:

A) I have a job with a German company

B) My kids will go to German school

C) I want to live here forever

D) I NEED to become fluent in German

…the conversation changes.

Within an hour, I was asked to use ‘du.’

I listened.

A lot.

But I also spoke some. It was easiest during one-on-one conversation.

“What do you like to cook?”

“I like to grill chicken.”

“Do you bake?”

“No my daughter likes to bake.”

etc.

But sitting at a beer table with several very fränkische people was like the UltraMarathon of my linguistic abilities.

Occasionally, someone would slip up and speak ENGLISH, upon which, someone else would say, “Don’t speak English–she needs to learn German!”

I took that as a compliment.

The night went on. More food was eaten, coffee and cake were served, the stars came out and more wine was poured.

I spoke more.

I EVEN had a conversation about CrossFit! Trying to explain why it is NOT ‘bodybuilding.’ I talked about my training and my marathons and they wanted to know exactly how many kilometers I run daily/weekly/monthly and whether I belonged to a running ‘club’ or not.

Then the schnapps came out, and we were inexplicably singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ and other songs in English (with lyrics provided by someone’s smart phone).

I did learn a few valuable lessons:

  1. The things that take courage are often the most rewarding experiences
  2. ASK questions if you don’t know something (like, which Metzgerei is best)
  3. Friendships are an investment–what you put in is what you will get out, but use caution because not every scheme is solid
  4. A glass of wine improves your German
  5. Schnapps does NOT

The day after the party, I went to retrieve my salad bowl, which I’d forgotten in my late-night exit. (I ended up staying at the party MUCH longer than anticipated). The hostess said it had been brave of me to come to the party, and that we should get together more often.

I can hardly explain how good I feel about the whole thing. How much better life is, because I did something that was hard. How great it feels when you have friends.

How a simple piece of paper shaped the course of my life.

Someday, I’ll laugh with my friends about how weird I sounded all those years ago.

Someday, I’ll have a barbecue for my neighbors.

And I’ll invite the Americans renting my duplex.


Don’t Let Failure Win

 

10390306_706278312746588_8745867215509763551_n copy

Sometimes life seems to be one steady stream of dropping the bar.

  • The dog eats the vacuum cleaner.
  • The side-view mirror randomly falls off your car.
  • Your toenails are the color of rotten robin’s eggs.
  • You don’t front squat as much as you would’ve liked.

But the fact is: this is life.

I don’t think life has ever been perfect for anybody.

While the past is etched in stone, it doesn’t mean you have to tie yourself to it.

But you should look at it from time to time.

Read it. Learn from it. And move on. 

I’ve been SO wrong about SO many things; and I can either let mistakes sideline me, or I can write a better game plan and jump back in.

I am working towards a goal–a dream.

And anyone who’s actually ever lived a dream knows it comes with a shit ton of hard work.

I want to stay in Germany. To live here. To work here. To become fluent in the language and be part of the community. But it’s intimidating. It’s a lot of paperwork. It’s a lot of mental work. I have fears and misconceptions to arm wrestle.

This week, I stepped foot into a German school, something entirely alien to a homeschooling mom (homeschooling is illegal here for Germans–illegal, as in: people go to jail rather than send their kids to school). So, German schools must be like prisons, right?

Not so much. At least, not in our little town.

Everyone was friendly. The staff seemed happy–laughing, smiling, joking. They brought me cake and coffee. They made me, this strange American former homeschool mom with four *gasp* kids, feel welcomed.

The Principal kept shaking his head and blowing air through pursed lips while he put our information into the computer.

“I’m giving you a challenge, aren’t I?” I asked, between mouthfuls of cake.

“Yes, yes. This is a challenge, but it will be more of a challenge for your children.”

“They’re up for it,” I replied.

And they are. I know they are–even if they don’t think they are. Moms, like great coaches, know these things.

Life is difficult.

But I truly believe that those horrible, difficult times scrawled on the pages of my tear-stained journal have been for my benefit.

I appreciate the millions of good little things better than I ever have in my life: Laughter at the dinner table. Meat on the grill. Lesson plans to prepare. Someone saying, “Hey, I read your blog!” and they don’t roll their eyes.

The hard work, the hard times have incredible value. Why NOT go for the challenge? Because even ‘failures’ help shape us into better people, as long as we don’t quit.

My son told me that I need to re-write my book (I have several manuscripts in various stages) because I’m more ‘vibrant’ now.

Standing hip-deep in this strange circumstance has made me more real, more alive, and so maybe, all of this has made me a better writer. Maybe the fact that I can’t beg, borrow or steal a full-time job means I’ll have more time for writing. Maybe I’ll look back and say, “I’m glad I DIDN’T get that job with Adidas.”

Who knows?

Sometimes desperation inspires greatness.

All people fail.

Some of us fail again and again.

But the key is to never fail the same lesson twice.

Pick up the bar.

Take some weight off, if you have to.

Work your way back up.

It will be intimidating. It will require sweat and perseverance and your hands won’t be quite as smooth as they once were.

But it’s totally worth it.

Just don’t quit.

Because if you quit, then failure wins.

And that shouldn’t be an option for anyone.


Run Less and Still PR: CrossFit for Distance Runners

3 hours of running and hamming it up for the photographer

When a CrossFitter calls me crazy, I take it as a compliment.

And I have to chuckle.

These are the same people who will finish a WOD with bloody hands and broken bones. They hate burpees but still do hundreds of them–even if they’ve just had major surgery.

To be called crazy by this group is high praise–so I just smile and agree.

I am crazy: crazy for challenges, for living and feeling, for new experiences, for new milestones, for never quitting when the world goes to shit.

Three weeks ago I decided to sign up for a marathon for fun.

This was my 7th marathon, and in the past, I would run 5 days a week, building to a weekly total of 45-50 miles before the taper. My short runs were anywhere from 4-6 miles, medium runs of 8-14 miles, and long runs of 15-20.

This year was different, however. With only 3 weeks to prepare, I managed one decent long run (18 miles) and one medium run (12 miles). I did one short run of 6 miles and one medium run of 8. That’s it.

Except for CrossFit, 5 days a week.

Last year, I did CrossFit 2-3 times a week and ran a LOT. This year, I rarely miss a WOD, and run very little outside of class.

The result is that this year, I had a PR of 4:05:51, which is 15 minutes faster than the year prior.

You read that right: 15 minutes faster.

Wait, you might say…what ELSE have you been doing?

I changed my diet this year: 1) I didn’t eat cheese before the race. Cheese causes inflammation in my joints, so if I eat it (or a lot of dairy) I’ll have knee problems while running. 2) No nuts! Nuts make my body hurt. I can’t explain it other than that. 3) I adhered to a strict diet, particularly the week before the race, eating only lean meats, veggies and no sugar whatsoever. However, I DID eat toasted marshmallows the night before the race, but my kids assured me it was considered carbo-loading, and was thus ok.

Carbo loading with Noah

Carbo loading with Noah

The only mistake I made during this race was to wear socks that I’d not tested in training. The compression socks were great for my calves (which had been tweaky during my long run) but they were too slippery, and on the downhills, my toes slid into the front of my shoes. When I pulled off my shoes at the finish line, my toenails were blue. (The race doctor said they’ll probably fall off, but that I’m tough, so I can handle it–this from an Austrian is definitely high praise, even if he wasn’t a CrossFitter).Imst2

Aside from my nightmarishly blue toenails, I did a lot of things right.

  • I left my watch at home. With no numbers to scold me, I could stop and do air squats whenever I felt like it. Best of all, I was relaxed!
  • I didn’t crumple at kilometer 30. In the past, around mile 18 or between kilometers 28-32, I start to get weary. This time, I changed my mindset: Instead of thinking “Oh, hell, this is where I bonk, I thought, “Wow! I’m almost done!” Before I knew it, I was crossing the bridge to Imst.
  • I wore a hat. It was an unassuming green sun hat sitting on a shelf, and I bought it on a whim. When the sun came out blazing, my eyes were shaded and my head was cool. I tend to WHITHER in the sun, so this hat saved the day.
  • I visualized kettlebell swings. During the uphill portions, I found myself breathing the same way I do during kettle bell swings. I thought about the WOD where we went heavy and did 100 of those suckers; and so, I kept visualizing myself doing KBS 100 at a time. The breathing was the same and even the muscle groups I used were the same: my core, my hamstrings and my ass. It all worked together on the uphills so that instead of fading, I ended up passing people. I could literally hear my coach’s voice saying, “Do NOT set those kettle bells down! Do NOT stop!” So I kept going when other people were walking. They might’ve been faster on the straightaways, but I was certainly better conditioned because of CrossFit.
  • I had fun. When the race is over, the bling doesn’t matter, it’s the experience that gets ingrained in your soul. What I remember is the empty village with one old lady on her balcony clapping for ME–and how she LIT UP when I waved back and smiled. I was running for her, along with the many others who’ve nestled into the cozy part of my soul.

Overall, it was an excellent day, an excellent race and an excellent run. I finished smiling and laughing with my kids, and afterwards, I soaked my feet in the Freibad. Later, I had three gluten-free beers, two steaks and a bag of peanut m&ms. My reward.

The kids took some silly pictures that I will cherish forever.

Imst3

 

Imst4

Our first camping trip.

My best race ever.

A new way of marathon training.

A new way of life.

As Rob says: It’s all good. 

 

At the finish line!

At the finish line!

*Official results: I placed second in my age group and in the top half for women overall.

Next stop: Switzerland!!

 

 

 

 


Honest Thoughts of an Estranged Wife

signmom

I woke up wide awake at 02:00.

I’d had a bad dream.

In it, the children’s father walked back into our lives, and we all went back to who we were before the separation.

I was angry.

So angry, that I woke up crying, as the hateful “Why’s?” swarmed in with their biting stings.

I was angry with myself for ever having loved him. Angry with ‘him’ for not loving me back. Angry that I wasted time not being myself, and now I have to figure out WHO I am. Angry that after all the hell and pain, I still have to rely on ‘him’ to pay bills.

I don’t regret staying home to raise the kids.

I DO regret not keeping my foot firmly in some kind of door–even a small one, wedged open just enough to let me breathe some fresh air.

Then the answer came to me.

Toughen up.

It is what it is, so deal with it. 

Be THANKFUL that he left.

Because I finally feel alive again. I even feel happy.

Stressed, yes.

Busy, yes.

Scared, often.

But content. Satisfied.

For SUCH a long time, I felt like I was waiting for life to begin.

Now life has rushed upon me with a vengeance–it has 20 years of lost time to make up for.

I feel a lot of emotions.

But the important point is that I FEEL.

This is a hard time. But it’s not even a chapter title in the book of my life–it’s just a plot point to make the story more compelling.

And who knows the twists and turns that will unfold in this narrative?

We’ll just have to keep turning the pages, one at a time.

Because after all the anger and pain, I finally have a story to tell.

And it’s mine.

 


How CrossFit Ruined My Love Life

'I loved you--until I saw your kettlebell!'

‘I loved you–until I saw your kettlebell!’

CrossFit ruined my marriage.

At least, that’s what my estranged husband might say.

Before CrossFit, I was mild, docile, and never wanted to cause trouble.

But CrossFit changed more than my lats.

It gave me the courage to do things that were hard. After all, CrossFit, like great sex, is mostly in your mind. When you apply pressure to a person through a challenging WOD, their real nature comes out–for better or worse. Quite often, how a person reacts to a WOD is how they will react in everyday situations.

There are enough blog posts on why you should date a CrossFitter, and most have to do with the body and sex and so on. But what makes a person great is the mind and soul and character.

So, what do you see at CrossFit?

  • Faithfulness: Do you want to roll your eyes when someone tells you that [INSERT ANY EXERCISE PROGRAM HERE] is just as good as CrossFit?
  • Dedication: When you miss a WOD, or go to a different class, do your friends worry about you?
  • Endurance: Do you walk through the door, having quit already? Or do you give it your all until the clock runs out?
  • Social Skills: Do you talk to the people around you? Or do you sit in the corner, hoping nobody sees you?
  • Personal Responsibility: When you screw up do you admit it or blame it on your shoes/calluses/ponytail/big blue stupid kettelbell…
  • Healthy pride: It’s okay to yell or fist bump or collapse to the floor smiling when you PR.
  • Humility: Actions make a person great–not words.
  • Attitude: It doesn’t matter how fast or strong you are; or if others are faster or stronger–but what kind of a person are you, really? How do you attack your WOD? That’s the proof of your character. That shows how you live life.
  • Strength of character is the most attractive quality a person can have–and CrossFit can help develop it.

Now that I’m discovering who I am and who I WANT to be, I think a lot about these (and other) attributes. Life should be a steady work-in-progress, where we are always striving to improve some area of our lives. Whether it’s to relax more, to have fun, to pay more attention to detail, to be bolder–whatever it is for you, these things play out daily in the box. There is a body/mind connection, nearly indescribable, that shapes our character. Nobody’s perfect, but at least in CrossFit, we’re working towards something better.

And this is why CrossFit has ruined my love life–past, present, and future.

The past, because it gave me the strength to capsize the boat.

The present, because I’m currently in a new boat, and it’s a lot smaller (like…only room for me).

The future, because I’m convinced only another CrossFitter could eventually help me paddle upstream.


First Times and Thoughts While Running

 

Pitztal Gletscher Marathon 2013

Pitztal Gletscher Marathon 2013

I am sitting in my tent, watching the beads of rain roll off the plastic windows, and drinking a gluten-free beer–my first in two years.

Another first happened for me last night–I slept in a tent in the backyard with the kids.

It’s funny, the things you do when you’ve suddenly become a single parent.

I also signed up for another marathon.

This is not the Jungfrau (in September) but the Pitztal Gletscher marathon–the same one I did last year. Many factors went into this decision. 1) I wanted to take the kids camping. 2) There is a campground by the finish line. 3) It’s Tirol–one of my favorite places in the world. 4) It’s a marathon ‘from the glacier to the city,’ which means both mountains and descent.

The marathon is about 3 weeks away, and I’ve been doing nothing but CrossFit training. Thus, this weekend I thought it might be good to actually go for a long run.

“Twelve miles?” my coach asked.

“I was thinking 18,” I replied.

He looked skeptical but simply said, “See how you feel.”

Right, I thought. I’ll do 18. 

I’m stubborn that way.

Some people say running is boring, and I can see how they might think that. It’s just you–alone with your thoughts.

Scary.

So what do I think about when I run?

  • I love running
  • I hate running
  • I wish these bicycles would get out of the way
  • I wish I had a bicycle
  • I’m hungry
  • I feel sick
  • Three miles already?
  • Five miles–that’s it??!!
  • Ahh…alone time!
  • I’m lonely
  • Why am I doing this?
  • I feel great!
  • When I’m done, I’m going to get ice cream
  • I feel sick again
  • Do all German couples color coordinate?
  • ________.
  • Where the hell am I?
  • I see the ice cream stand!
  • What IS the meaning of life?
  • I hope they have coconut.

The list could go on.

In fact, the list DOES go on.

Usually, my 3 hour runs are a non-stop, stream-of-consciousness narrative containing everything from deep philosophical issues to utter randomness. On this particular run, I literally zoned out for about forty-five minutes. When I ‘woke up,’ I couldn’t remember which part of the trail I was on.

It was great.

I was curious how this run would go, since I haven’t actually been running consistently in months, though I have been CrossFit training five days a week. Overall,  I felt really strong during the run. My endurance was great, and I felt like I wasn’t even breaking a sweat. The only problem was that my calves started cramping at mile 15, so I stopped, sat on the lakeshore and watched the sailboats, while I stretched and ate the last of my apple slices.

After that, I walked for about a kilometer. It felt like ages.

In the end, I finished strong, and clocked in at just over three hours, which was pretty good for me, considering the stops.

I did not get ice cream. I wasn’t hungry anymore. But I did feel good. Good that I had made it. Good that I had stopped to enjoy the setting. Good that I could purge a few issues from my over-worked brain.

Running isn’t a hobby. Like CrossFit, it’s part of the landscape that defines my life. It makes me feel more like the real me. My kids understand this, which is why they push me out the door when I get those guilty feelings.

I’m not a great runner. And you won’t see me in a CrossFit Throwdown any time soon. But these are part of my life, as much as writing or reading or parenting or breathing.

This is my real life.

And it feels good.

Now, it’s dark. The birds stopped singing. My glass of beer is empty, and it’s time to zip up the sleeping bag and rest.

I’ve got to run in the morning.

 


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