Tag Archives: healthy-living

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Marathon

The tent was still dark as my eyes opened, my body wrapped up like a microwaved burrito. I had shed my socks, stocking cap and flannel pants during the night. It is one of the anomalies of having a good sleeping bag: the nuclear world within and the frozen world without.

But it wasn’t because of the climatic disparity I woke so early.

It was nerves.

There are now less than 24 hours before I board the bus that will take me to the starting line of my tenth marathon.

It is my third Jungfrau marathon, so you think I would be a little calmer, knowing what to expect.

But a marathon, as I told a friend recently, is a lot like having a baby. You spend months preparing. You know basically what’s going to happen, but you’re nervous because of the thousands of unknown things that might play out.

Your body has changed since the last one–for better or worse; and you don’t know how that will affect the labor.

You don’t feel like you’re doing anything admirable. You’re still the same person who scrubs toilets and forgets to bring her own grocery bag to Lidl. It’s nothing extraordinary. You’re just doing something that you do.

However, it is exciting. It is nerve-wracking. It gives you both self-doubt and self-confidence.

It is emotional.

The first time I ran it, I cried like a baby at the end. Yes, I was glad to finish–but it was so much more than that. A friend of mine accurately described marathon running as cathartic. It is. The weights you carry when you begin are scattered across the path like a trail of breadcrumbs. If someone could read the emotions left behind on the trail, there would be enough stories to last multiple lifetimes.

What is my story this year? What will I leave behind?

I didn’t run a marathon last year. Last year, I spent a lot of time letting my health go to shit. I didn’t take care of myself. I incarcerated myself in an emotional lockdown.

Then suddenly just before my 44th birthday, my husband, my hero-turned-nemesis, died.

At age 53.

The text messages with silly animal emojis stopped.

The skype requests stopped.

The phone calls stopped.

My nightmares stopped.

23 years of history.

Stopped.

Dead. Cremated. Interred.

All I have left are medals & patches & ribbons & photos & these 4 incredible humans who bear half his DNA.

And the memories, of course. However, foggy and (sometimes) romanticized they might be.

Michael had always scoffed at my marathons–calling them selfish or a waste of my time. But he was always the first one to brag to other people about them.

During the height of his psychological problems, I signed up for my first mountain marathon–the Jungfrau.

Michael was always worried about my marathon running: “What would happen to the kids if you got hurt?” he would ask. His years in Alaska search and rescue fed into his fears like a glacial river.

I never ran marathons to spite him. It was therapy for me. My quiet time. My escape. He could never fully understand that. When you marry at age 20 and spend your life homeschooling four children, sometimes, you need a little time alone with your own noggin. Maybe it is selfish–but it is a much-needed selfishness. The type that staves off depression in a weary mom. The selfishness that gives you some semblance of control over your own body, your own mind, when you live a life in which those two elements belong to god, your husband or both–but never to your self.

I ran the Jungfrau depsite his long-distance skepticism. I ran it again the next year, though stress had already begun to gnaw at the edges of my health.

The next year, I skipped the marathon altogether.

Then Mike died.

And I was alive.

Suddenly. Completely.

A princess startled and alert, not from a kiss but by the death of a deep love.

I was alive.

Alive!

Let that word roll around on your tongue for a bit. Let it sink into your mind. Breathe it in and out.

Life means you still have the ability to choose.

You can eat more vegetables or take the dog on longer walks. You can go to the gym and lift heavy shit; or to stay home and drink two bottles of wine. You can choose with whom you share your bed; to whom you give your heart; and you can decide if those two things are mutually exclusive.

You can do the really hard things–like mend broken relationships or walk away from unhealthy ones. You can say what’s really on your mind; to be authentic; to expose your inner thoughts and weaknesses; to forget about busting your ass to be a people-pleaser.

You can make the terrifying choice to be happy, which is like jumping off a cliff, when all you’ve chosen before is to cling to anguish.

I am allowed to be happy?!

Mike’s death is not a crossroads for me–it is a trajectory. Whichever way I point the sharp end, that’s the direction I’ll go.

I am choosing a life that makes me happy, healthy and strong. I can see the person I want to be from here. I can’t lose sight of her–not now, not after going through so much.

The marathon is symbolic for me–this year especially. My whole world has changed. I am happy. On the road to health. Discovering myself along this rocky new trail.

I carry a lot with me this year. The sadness, the anger, the depression and self-loathing. Regrets.

I plan to leave it all behind; and at the end, come out with something beautiful and healthy. A rosy-cheeked bundle of joy.

Kicking.

Crying.

Cooing.

Alive.

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Motivation for the Unmotivated

No matter how many inspirational memes I read, they don’t quite motivate me to get up at 04:30 to run in the pouring rain. Even my dog, with his tail wagging so fast it knocks everything off my nightstand, cannot quell the grumbling (and sometimes mild cursing) that spews from my psyche when my alarm goes off.

The word motivation has two nuanced variations. When you pull your hair into a ponytail and say to yourself in the mirror: “If I don’t go to the gym, I will murder my kids today; and I want to avoid jail:” that is motivation (noun).

When you put on an awesome headband that matches your sport shoes and think “Yay, me!” as you skip away to the gym: that is motivated (adjective).

Often, I am not enthusiastic; I just show up.

For example, I do not wake up thinking, Hooray! It is dark and cold and raining; and I get to go running!

Sometimes I even complain about going to Crossfit. Maybe I dreamt I was drowning all night; or I ate too many tacos the day before; or my knees ache from wearing high-heeled boots; or I still have sore muscles from Friday’s WOD; or maybe it’s just a rainy Monday after school break, and I don’t want to drag my carcass out in public. None of that matters–I shove it aside and go.

I have loved ones who would do anything to simply walk across the room without pain. Sometimes, I carry that with me, and it does inspire (motivate) me to get up and get moving–simply because I can. I am blessed with good health. I don’t take it for granted.

Still, there are days I want to take that job as a test subject for NASA my mom told me about: staying in bed three months while scientists study me.

So, what keeps me going when I do not feel motivated?

I contemplated this while the cold spring rain blasted into my face on my run this morning, which is a fancy way of saying I wondered why the hell I was out there.

Marathon Training

Last year, aside from chasing my dog as he attacked ducks in the park, I stopped running. With divorce issues, visa issues, work issues, and basic life-falling-apart issues; I didn’t make the time for training. I was burnt out. Despite continuing Crossfit training 4-5 days a week, I was stressed a LOT, more aggressive; my creativity plummeted into an abyss of self-doubt; and I slowly came to realize I was missing a part of myself.

Except for last year, I have run at least one marathon (sometimes two) every year since 2010.

Thus, when I saw the ads for the Jungfrau Marathon (which I’ve run twice and said ‘never again’ both times), of course, I had to sign up. I knew it would give me the motivation to get my ass out of bed and go running, whether I felt like it or not.

Which brings me to my second point:

Feeling Motivated is Irrelevant

When I have a goal, my level of enthusiasm doesn’t matter–I just train, rain or shine, or snow or wind or whatever the universe throws at me. It doesn’t matter, because the miles I log absolutely count when I’m running five or more hours up the side of a mountain. I know this. I’ve felt this in my quads and in my soul. 

So even if I only had four hours of sleep, or my calves hurt, or my labrador looks a little sleepy–it doesn’t matter. There are no excuses. I might grumble while I pull on my compression socks, but NOT training is not an option.

I just tell myselfokay, just put on your tights and socks and shoes and gloves and hat and raincoat and grab the dog and get the hell out there. If the wind blows you backwards, try to at least make it to the big barn. If you are not hit in the head by a tree branch, continue to the next town.

As long as there are no tornadoes, swarms of wasps, or sheets of black ice, I should be able to make it as far as the park. Sometimes I think about how wonderful running feels. Other times I bitch the first few miles. But I have never come back from a run saying, “I wish I would’ve stayed in bed.”

It’s the same with Crossfit–on certain days, showing up is my only goal, my only expectation. 

So, for my fellow unmotivated friends: never feel that in order to go to the gym or go for a run that you have to be Sunny Sally Zumba (who is, if you think about it, paid to motivate people).

Romantic ideas of being “motivated” are what hinder people the most. Motivational posters won’t tie your shoes for you.

So don’t wait to feel motivated. Instead, schedule your training on the family calendar. Set an alarm or two and show up.

You won’t regret it.

I promise.


Hope for a Reformed Killer

cala

This is my reason to celebrate this week: the plant.

Let me explain.

Long before all of this wintery wonderland nonsense, I get out of my car, and an old lady standing in her front garden calls me over. She’s about ninety years old, and we often see her working in her yard, which is most likely the original site of the Garden of Eden. She smiles and asks me if I want one of her plants, and then she gestures to a row of several pots in front of her.

I think to myself, “Oh, dear lady. You have no idea who you’re dealing with!”

I am notorious for murdering innocent plants. I can’t tell you how many brittle corpses I’ve hacked apart and dumped over the years. There is likely a wanted poster of me hanging in every garden shop in all of Franconia.

My kids make jokes about it (at least they’ve survived to adolescence); and they’ll buy me helpful little gifts, like books called, “101 types of plant disease.”

I do not have a green thumb–though I TRULY wish I did. But somehow, the weeds overtake the garden, insects attack, limbs just inexplicably fall off a tree, I water too much or too little. Somehow, I am destined to kill things. I have resigned myself to this fate.

So, with this murderous history running through my mind, this lady innocently hands me my next victim, a pot of white cala lilies.

I carry it in two arms down the street, and I feel triumphant when it arrives at my apartment, still alive.

During the walk, I dare to dream.

I imagine putting the pot out on the balcony in the spring. And maybe, if I’m lucky, the flowers will bloom again. I think it’s the first time I could actually envision a future for a houseplant in my care, not counting shower mold.

So, here we are, mid-winter. The lilies are gone, but the plant is still living.

Yes, sometimes I forget to water it and the stalks slump over in defeat; but somehow, it keeps forgiving me–it keeps surviving.

I still hope it has a future here. Once I rid the balcony of pigeons, I can put it outside, and we can enjoy the warmer weather. Maybe we will have a chat over morning coffee as the sun rises. We can laugh together, as I swat away pigeons with an old broom.

Sometimes I worry the old lady might take the plant back into custody. Or maybe the plant would be happier with her? But maybe the cala can be the first on the balcony, championing the way for others that have a hardy will to survive.

We’ll see. For now, the cala lily is sunning itself in the window.

I hope she’s happy here.

Now where did I put the watering-can?


Why Do You Want to Live in Germany???!!

bw fountain

She tossed my file on the desk, and glaring at me through heavily-framed glasses, she asked me a simple question:

Why do you want to live in Germany?

I didn’t know I was being interviewed by immigration at the time (I thought she was some kind of social worker, benevolently helping me with paperwork). If I had known, I would’ve learned phrases like “mass shootings” and “frenetic pace of life” to help explain.

I had been warned by the experts that when I had my immigration “interview” (which for me conjures business suits rather than blue jeans), I should ALWAYS answer this question in any variation of the following ways:

  • I want to work.
  • I want to learn better German.
  • I want to work.

And unless you are an M.D. or Ph.D.,  answers involving the words “healthcare” or “education” are verboten.

I have two character flaws that make me both charming and dangerous:

  • I always believe the best in people
  • I try to look on the bright side of things

I’m not ignorant of the world. I mean, I did walk by a man bleeding to death from a stab wound on my way home one evening, but my first (and correct) assumption was: Nothing to fear. It was just a bar fight. 

Even though I do try to remember distinguishing features of people’s faces as I walk down the street, in case I need to identify them later, I’m not fearful about it–just aware.

While dealing with German bureaucracy has been a fairly consistent stress headache for the past eight months, I have learned that some things just can’t be translated.

I know by all the memes on facebook rife with logical fallacies, that political words are being grossly mistreated by people who don’t know how to handle them. These abusive wranglers hold the words ‘social democracy’ by the throat out of ignorance.

With all of these issues burning on the minds of people back home, I’ve been asked that simple question repeatedly, not by empire builders in their little cubicles, but by people who loved me before I was born.

Why do you want to live in Germany?

I know that many people want me to dissect the inner workings of the ‘ideal’ society, but the answer isn’t as simple as cutting the beast open and looking at its organs.

Germany and America are altogether different creatures; they have evolved differently, with different temperaments and motivations. And for those who think Germany is some sort of valhalla where schnitzel falls from trees and rivers run with Riesling, think again. Not all Germans are happy with their political system (my god, they have more political parties than beer varieties).

Yes, I like the Education and Healthcare here.

I admit it: I like that my kids can burn themselves with welding tools at school, rather than participate in mass shooter drills. I love that they are becoming fluent in another language, which will give them better opportunities. I love that they learn about the reformation by visiting historical sights in Nürnberg. I love that Catholics, Protestants and Atheists have their own religion classes in school. I love that if you get cancer here, you won’t have to sell your house to pay medical bills.

Now, some wise-ass is going to ask: Do you love the taxes?

My answer: Who the hell loves taxes?

You pay them according to your tax bracket; and unless I’m mistaken, everyone hates taxes equally. And incredibly enough, some people here still have money for Michael Kors bags and Hugo Boss jeans. Germany is not a prison block, where we all wear the same jumpsuits and dig ditches under the prying eyes of the tax man.

Frankly, I hate talk of politics: taxes, healthcare, education, war. These are important, but they create a vicious vortex of negativity, and, as your Emancipated Pollyanna, I don’t want to dive headlong into those things.

So, why do I choose this expat life?

I walk my dog in the park at five A.M, and give him a toy, so he doesn’t growl at the newspaper lady. The old man with his funny Franconian hat, smoking cigarettes in front of the nursing home says good morning to me, even though it’s still too dark to see his eyes. I walk the kids to school, not out of fear from attack, but because it’s our time to talk.

The sun shines through the windows of my apartment in the morning, making it brighter and warmer with its white walls and wood floors gleaming. I have a closet in the hallway that reminds me of my grandma’s.

I can’t walk to the cobbled corner of Neustadt and Rosenbad without greeting someone I know.

The kids come home from school, and when I haven’t spent the entire morning at the Ausländeramt, I have lunch ready, and we sit at the table on our fold-out chairs and talk about TV and music and good teachers and bad teachers and true love and sex and what the hell is the dog eating over there?

In the evenings, I meet the people who help me to be a better version of myself; and we lift heavy weights and sling kettle bells and run and jump and sweat and complain and laugh and complain again.

Sometimes, I Skype my son in New York, and his energy encourages me to keep working to live my dreams.

I sit on a quiet sofa in my meditative place, eating raspberries, while I churn out pages upon pages of my novel.

I know it's not a satisfactory answer, 

but the reason I live in Germany is because

it's my home.

That’s all.

I don’t have a magic pill to single-handedly ‘save’ America. I don’t hate America, in fact, I love my American-ness. It makes me who I am. But Germany is also a part of my identity now–and that German-ness can’t be pried away.

This is where I skinned my knees on bureaucracy. This is where I got my first job to require a masters degree. This is where I learned to drive the autobahn. My key fits in the door here. I grew up here. This is home.

 


Thoughts on Camping, Crossfit and Culture: A Post in Which I Alienate Everyone

 

Camping

The kids and I have been in a tent in the Swiss Alps for five days, and this is the first day we’ve seen rain.

I feel thankful.

Last year was warmer, but we had the kind of dampness that crept into your soul, making you regret you put the words ‘Camping’ and ‘Switzerland’ in the same sentence, to the point where you contemplate trading months of marathon training for your own cozy bed.

This year is better.

While my nose freezes solid when the sun goes down, I learned that if I wrap my down jacket around my feet inside my sleeping bag, I will actually sleep the whole night through.

Crossfit

I am nervous about the race because I haven’t done as much long distance running as usual. I have been in the Crossfit Kettlebell program, training 5 days a week, so I’m interested (and anxious) to see how the kettelbell training translates into running 42.2 kilometers up 2320 meters.

I have more muscle this year, which while good, means I’m bulkier than the Nike-clad willow-trees jogging around camp. I’m hoping that my muscle and endurance will give me the edge once we hit the switchbacks.

Culture

Our first night in camp coincided with the American holiday weekend, which meant I could understand everything our neighbors were saying. It was strange, and honestly, kind of annoying. Sometimes it’s better when you don’t know what people are saying.

Little kids were running around screaming. Not simply using outdoor voices, which I totally support. Not simply calling to each other in play. But rather, the type of shrieking that should only be reserved for wounds requiring stitches, broken bones or abduction.

The shrieking lasted 3 hours.

Yes, I timed it.

But I couldn’t be too upset with them, because earlier in the day, I heard the father declare: “I don’t know why I had fucking kids anyway!”

He was serious.

In front of his wife.

In front of their friends.

In front of the entire camp.

In front of the kids.

*cringe

It gave me a little empathy for the shriekers.

On Monday, the Americans cleared out, and another family moved in. One man, two women draped in black, only their eyes showing, two little girls and three boys, who, when they weren’t playing soccer, were dutifully saying their prayers at the appropriate times.

I was curious about their family.

I automatically feel sorry for anyone involved in a strict religion–it doesn’t matter whether you’re covered head to toe in cloth or you’re a county clerk in Kentucky. I have come to feel that most religions damage more people than they help.

But I had the feeling as these women watched me camping alone with my kids in the mountains, they were sorry for me, with no man to look out for me.

Maybe I’m alienating every culture with this post–I don’t mean to. I respect the right of people to choose how they want to live, and sometimes I bruise myself trying to figure out my own way through life.

I just wonder how many people, whether they’re from the east or the west, are trapped in their lives, simply because they were born in a particular locale.

How hard is it to break from your culture, if you want to? How much of a choice does a person have? And how are we–any of us–brainwashed, rather than taught to view facts, experience life and think for ourselves.

How is the woman in the veil different from (or the same as) the cheerleader who marries the quarterback and brings Snickerdoodles to the church bake sale? Maybe she’s happy doing it, but maybe she’s simply playing a role that was written for her by someone else.

I know I have the typical Western mindset, but I think everyone should have the right to adopt a certain lifestyle/religion/culture or step away and question it.

I have the right to be myself.

And so many others don’t.

Or they don’t want to see that they can, because it seems impossible.

Because change, when you want it, is a lot of hard work, and sadly for many, it is dangerous.

For me, change means (among other things):

  • filling out paperwork in triplicate, three separate times, because you didn’t understand a phrase
  • thinking someone is angry at you, when they’re making a joke
  • telling people you’re warm and comfortable in your backpack, when you meant to say sleeping bag

Mostly, change means being uncomfortable at times, and yet feeling more at home than I ever have before.

The Marathon

Sometimes my life feels like a marathon. And maybe that’s why I run them. To free myself from negativity. To become attentive to the nature around me. To meet my real self along the trail.

The Ziel of the marathon is a high: someone puts a medal around your neck, a beer in your hand and everyone cheers; but it is not a finish.

It is a start.

The accomplishment is simply a mile-marker along the path of your life.

The life you want.

A happy life.

I wish that for every person.


City Life

Charlie 13 weeks

My dog isn’t fat anymore.

He nuzzles his velvety muzzle against my neck promptly at 05:36 every morning. When I tell him to go lay down, he wanders around briefly before jumping on my bed. By 06:00 we are getting our exercise.

Normally, I would say we are taking a walk, but really, I’m just trying to keep him from killing himself. He lunges at every moving thing, except for trucks and mopeds, both of which he is deathly afraid.

If a dog across the street stares at him, he dislocates my shoulder. If an old lady clutches her Yorkie more tightly, he jumps at her. I’ve started taking our walks earlier, and avoiding well-known dog routes, in the attempt to avoid lawsuits.

My labrador was raised as a lazy country dog, and as such, he is completely bewildered by City Culture. City life means structure and discipline, two things at which I excel when it comes to Crossfit and marathon running but fail miserably when it comes to puppies and children. I console myself with the knowledge that someday I am going to be the most indulgent (*awesome) Oma the world has seen–as long as my offspring make it safely to adulthood.

We have moved from a country house that was dark and secluded, to a city apartment that is both bright and quirky.

When my labrador drops a ball at one end of the hallway, it rolls down to the other end.  My daughter and I had a hell of a time trying to find the most symmetrical furniture arrangement in a room where each wall has a different length and angle.

I still don’t know how to hang the pictures.

Our new apartment gives you the slightly dizzy sensation of living onboard a perpetually listed ship. It is one of the charms of living in an old building.

It is home.

Something about the doors reminds me of my grandma’s house, or maybe it’s the fact that after nine years of living in Germany, this is the first place I’ve seen with closets. The spires of two churches and the warped red roofs of the Altstadt fill the frame of my window. Everything we need, and don’t need, is within walking distance.

Slowly, we’re adjusting to the ever-present traffic; the antiseptic smell of the dental clinic below; and the damn pigeons that defile our little balcony. It is a constant war against pigeon poop up there.

Garbage goes out more frequently in the new apartment, or we are swarmed with gnats. For some reason, forks are a scarcity in our house, and need to be hand washed after every use; and every person who calls this apartment ‘home’ has to remember their keys.

The one who has most quickly adjusted to our new life is our fluffy little dog. He prances perfectly down the street on a loose lead every morning and like clockwork, shits by the steps of the church, which is housed in the ground floor of our building. I’ve learned to bring two baggies with me, because he frequently likes to leave something extra in front of the liquid smoke shop.

City living means the kids have easy access to swimming and the mall (very important for summer). I went for five days without driving my car, and nobody starved or actually died of boredom. And we can spend time with friends, without a major road trip involved.

Discipline is hard. Structure is hard. But with those things comes a certain freedom. And like any worthy endeavor such as weight loss, exercise or good health, the rewards are worth the effort.

So, we will HTFU, as our coach says, and press on in this new city life.

Now if I can just explain it to Charlie, when I take him to Doggy Integration School.


Maintenance

A mealy bug fell from my running shoe, as I clapped the pair together. It made me wonder if my writer’s brain was also starting to decompose, due to inactivity.

With my integration course over, I’ve found myself with a 3 month backlog of housework.

When we rented this house, it was perfect for us: a big yard, nice countryside, enough compartments to stick each kid and canine into.

But I live in a place where you could play golf on the hay fields, and with my schedule, I’m lucky to get to the grocery store before they close.

So, we’re moving to the city where most things are within walking distance and our yard includes miles of trails, maintained by other people. I will have a small balcony where I can kill helpless plants, and each kid can escape to his or her own room, or with the threat of a new Paleo Lifestyle, downtown to the ice cream cafe.

I’m pretty sure it’s written in a book somewhere that matter decays over time.

Houses, running shoes, gardens, friendship, love. If you let something go unattended, nature will do its damnedest to turn it back to dust again.

Maintenance doesn’t always require a ball gown and makeup. Sometimes you have to wear rubber gloves and fight the urge to vomit.

You walk through messes made by other people, so you clean it up and open the window and breathe in the air and admire how fresh things look again.

Maintenance requires sweat and heart and soul.

Disrepair requires nothing.

But when you tend something truly well, it gives you an intimate look at the thing; and if you’re attentive, you can enjoy it in a way that fills the soul.

It’s time to experience the beauty of maintenance.