Sunday, December 21, 2014

Grace at the grocery store

This afternoon, I made my weekly trip to the grocery store. We have friends coming over for dinner tonight, and I had a long list of things to get for Christmas dinner too. 

I was hurrying through my list and getting frustrated by the fact that I had to go from end to end of the store to get things I overlooked on my first trip through the aisles. There were lots of other people in the store this afternoon, all on similar missions to mine, so I was held up more than once while waiting for another patron to make their selection with their cart parked out in the middle of the aisle.

When I was finally finished and ready to head to the checkout, each register had about 3 people waiting. I sighed and started to push my cart towards the front.

I heard this really loud jingling - like there were about a dozen Salvation Army bell ringers somewhere nearby - and looked up to see a dancing, stuffed elf hat on one of the shelves between me and the register. To my right, I heard giggling and saw a 10 year old boy dart towards the dancing hat - while leaving his cart directly in front of mine with no room to get around.

An exasperated voice said, "Tony, you can't leave your cart in the middle of the aisle! Come back here!"   When I looked to see the person attached to the voice, I saw a dad with three other kids in tow. The poor guy looked like he had been through quite the afternoon. 

In that moment, I knew I had a choice: I could either silently push past the abandoned cart with a grimace on my face, or I could offer a word of encouragement to a guy that was clearly having "one of those days". 

I put on my biggest smile, and said, "How could he not stop? It's a singing, jingling elf hat! No big deal - I can go around." The dad smiled a very relieved smile, and I saw his shoulders drop about 6 inches. The little boy came back to his dad with a grin on his face and started dancing along to the music eminating from the hat. We all just laughed!

It was a small moment, a tiny gesture, and honestly, not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things - but it gave me pause. In EVERY moment, we have choices like that: we can grimace our way through or offer a smile and kind word, we can sulk in silence or pick up the phone, or we can walk away mad or turn and try to have a civil conversation. I think it all adds up. After that brief encounter, I was in a better mood and carried that home with me. I was excited to share that moment with my husband and with you, and I know that the dad with four kids was grateful to have a positive interaction rather than a negative one. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

The best non-advice I ever got about parenting

The dang Huffington Post always sucks me in with their headlines: "The 4 Things You Must Never Say To Your Daughter" or "The 7 Ways To Make Sure You Have The Perfect Child", or something along those lines. Whoever they have working for them to write those headlines deserves every penny. I always find myself clicking through to read the wisdom promised to be shared in the article they've posted.

The funny thing is that I have never finished reading one of those articles or blogs and really felt like I have just unlocked some secret about parenting that is going to alter the course of my life forever. They are entertaining. I relate to a good deal of them, a least a little. Earth shattering? Life changing? Not hardly.

Actually, some of the best parenting advice I ever got was from someone that was basically telling me to ignore parenting advice, in general. Here's what happened:

Right after S and I found out that we were pregnant, we went to S's friend's child's birthday party. Soon, all of the attendees found out that we were expecting, and the advice starting FLOWING. Now, I didn't want to be rude, so I politely listened, smiled and nodded. I even thanked most of the people that offered the unsolicited advice - most of which directly contradicted anything said by the person before or after.

I was beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed, and then, the sister of my husband's friend pulled me aside. I fully expected to get another dose of parenting wisdom, since she had just had a child of her own a couple of years prior. Instead, she said something that I locked on to and haven't let go since.

She leaned in, looked me in the eye and asked, "Jeannine, do you have a couple of really good girlfriends?"

Confused, I said, "Of course, I do. I have some of the best friends in the world."

Smiling, she sat back and said, "Good! Have they have kids?"

Still confused, I replied, "Yes, some of them have."

Smiling even bigger, she asked, "Do you like those kids? Did they turn out pretty well?"

Now, totally confused, I simply answered, "Well, yeah. Most of them are great!"

She slapped her hands on her legs and stood up, satisfied with my answer. "Perfect. Then, ignore these people. Listen to your gut and your girlfriends. Call them when you want advice, and don't get bogged down in what anyone else thinks, especially perfect strangers at a kid's birthday party. Keep your circle small, and you'll be fine."

I laughed and let her help me up out of the chair. I understood. We started to walk back towards everyone else at the party, and then, she suddenly turned with an extremely grave look on her face. She had one final thing to share.

"Oh, but they are dead right about Kegels. Those things are SERIOUS!"

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Why I was so excited to bake muffins with Diana

Mother's Day is bittersweet for me again this year. I absolutely love being a mom, even when it's really challenging, but I hate that my own mother isn't here to see her namesake becoming this spunky, fun little human.

On Friday afternoon, Diana's school had a Mother's Day party. We ate snacks together, and the kids presented us with these sweet little collages that they made. Instead of heading back into work after the party, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon with my little one as my own Mother's Day gift to myself. 

We went for a walk, we colored in a couple of her favorite coloring books, we played tag, we ate pizza together, and then, we got to do this: 

My husband snapped this photo with his phone from the other room. That's Diana and me making muffins together. It was our first attempt at baking together, and my heart is still full because of it. 

It might seem like a little thing to most people - why get so excited about muffins?? But for me, it felt like I was carrying on a family tradition.

My mom was an incredible baker and cook. She was MacGuyver in the kitchen - she could whip up pretty much anything from nothing, and it was always really good. She loved the act of creating something that would bring people happiness and comfort, something that would sustain and nurture. We had a giant cookie jar in our kitchen, and it was always full with something yummy. When she died, many of the condolence cards mentioned her skills in the kitchen. 

I loved to be in the kitchen with my mom. Who doesn't love to watch a master artist apply their craft?

One of my favorite memories of my mom was from a random day after middle school, when I came banging through the front door before my brother and sister got home, and she was singing along to Lionel Richie on the radio and setting out all the ingredients for us to make her trademark chocolate chip cookies. When she saw me come in, she didn't stop singing, she just grinned and motioned for me to join her. (I still get choked up with I hear "You Are"....)

Over the past 14 years since she died, when I've struggled with missing her or needed to feel connected, I have often resorted to stepping into the kitchen, pulling on an apron, and getting my hands busy making something from her baking repertoire. 

On Friday, I was loving the time I got to spend with Diana, but found myself thinking about how much I wished my mom was still around to be a part of her life. Instead of wallowing in that or letting it ruin an otherwise really lovely afternoon, I decided to show Diana how her grandmother would have loved to be spending time with her. 

So, I pulled out the ingredients to make muffins and all the bowls, spoons and muffin tins, I plopped Diana up on the counter, and held her hands as she put in the eggs, water and oil. I held the bowl as she sloppily stirred everything together. I found myself saying the same things to her that my mom used to say to me: "Make sure you get you get all the lumps out", "don't eat too much of that now or you'll feel sick", and "great job, sweetie, great job." 

Diana loved it. As a matter of fact, she loved it so much that we made two batches! Then, when we were done, I wrapped them up, and we delivered them to our neighbors to say "Happy Mother's Day" to them because that's what my mother would have done. 

Today, I am grateful for having had a mother that taught me about the love of baking and of caring for others with her example of a life of service and sharing, and for the fact that while she's not here anymore, her legacy can live on and on if I choose to share it with her granddaughter, Diana, and all of you.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What I learned from my 20 month old

When I started thinking about becoming a mom, I was more focused on what I could teach Diana than on what she would teach me. Little did I know that she would be one of the greatest teachers I could have hoped to have.

Lately, she's taught me a great deal about patience by being absolutely uninterested in doing anything quickly or that doesn't suit her agenda. She's taught me to enjoy the little things by showing me her fascination with picking up rocks out of the backyard to see what's underneath. She's taught me the fun that can be had just by making noise.

However, the biggest lesson that she's imparted on me in the past few months is to take the time to celebrate each individual step in a process.


This kid LOVES to play with blocks. She likes to stack them up high and knock them down. She loves trying new designs and configurations. She even loves the act of dumping them out of their bag. But what she loves most is taking a moment to pause and celebrate each piece as it goes into place.

What an awesome way to go through life, and definitely a good lesson for this mom to learn.

I don't know about you, but I am usually so focused on the destination that I forget to celebrate the little achievements along the way. I tend to get so focused on what I think the end result should look like that I forget to get excited about watching the pieces come together.

Diana is not at all worried about what the final product will be. Instead, she's PUMPED about getting that one piece in place, and stops to cheer herself on before moving on to the next piece. What would it be like if we did that, as adults? 

I don't know yet - but I am going to find out!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to become a runner in 4 easy steps

This year, I have two running goals - complete my second half marathon with a personal record time (check!) and complete my first marathon. When I first started running about 8 years ago, that would have seemed like a ridiculous pair of goals. Heck, it STILL seems kind of ridiculous when I stop to really think about it.

After the 2014 Mercedes Half - with Diana staring at my medal!
Part of my training program is to keep track of my runs - so, I've been doing that with an app called RunKeeper, which posts to social media when I log a run. Doing that keeps me motivated and accountable, and I need all the help I can get!
I guess since I've been so obnoxious about posting my runs this year, I've started to get a lot of questions from friends about "how to become a runner". This always strikes me as funny, because truth be told, when I started 8 years ago, I couldn't run 100 yards without literally thinking I was going to P-A-S-S O-U-T!

True story - when I started training for my first 5k, I went to a reservoir in West Hartford that had a running trail around it about that distance. On day one, the person helping me get started suggested that I pick a landmark up ahead and just focus on running towards it, and then, once I got there, I could decide if I wanted to pick another landmark, and so on. Well, by the time my out-of-shape butt got to that first landmark, an oak tree, I was so out of breath that I felt like I had a hood coming up over the top of my head trying to black me out. I know this may be shocking to some, but I was kind of a drama queen about it, too. I would shout to him, as we approached the oak tree, "HOOD! HOOD!", and once we got to the tree, I would make a grand show of slowing down and walking the rest of the distance around the reservoir in my weakened and exhausted state.

Over time, as the weeks rolled on, I would get past that oak tree, and then, the next, and then, the next, until finally, I was slowly jogging the whole distance around the reservoir. I wasn't going quickly, but I was GOING! It wasn't pretty, it wasn't graceful, it wasn't athletic - it was just motion in the right direction for long enough to achieve the goal. All I wanted that first year was to be able to run a full 5k in memory of my mom - and I did!
Race for the Cure 2008 (with my friend Barb on my back!)
My point is this: if I can do it, YOU can do it. I wasn't an athlete in high school - as a matter of fact, I was so unathletic that the basketball coach (despite his high hopes for my Amazonian height) kindly guided me towards trying out for the theatre program after floundering around on the basketball court for a few weeks. So, if I can do it, YOU can do it.

Me and Steven with friends at the Jingle Bell Run in Birmingham

Step 1: Pick a goal. Pick a real one, one that you can achieve, so that you don't get upset and quit before you even give yourself a chance to get started. If you have never run, a 5k is a great goal to start. Give yourself lots of time leading up to it to get trained. (Remember the curse of the HOOD!)

Step 2: Pick a plan. Just thinking that you'll go out and run a few days a week isn't tangible enough to feel like a plan. I really like Hal Higdon's website ( for training plans of all kinds of races, for all kinds of fitness levels. They have some built in to apps like my RunKeeper app, too. Find one that works for the distance you want to go, and map it out. I literally have a calendar of all the runs I am going to do between now and my marathon in November. It took some time to plan it out, but now, I don't even have to think about it, I just get up each day and GO!

Step 3: Pick a buddy. One of the best things I can recommend is have a friend that can act as an accountability partner. For me, it's my friend Donna. We are both training for different races right now, but we check in with each other after we run. Heck, we don't even live in the same state anymore! For us, it's not about running right next to each other, it's about offering moral support and accountability. We offer encouragement to each other when we run...and when we don't, too. When one of us is too busy or doesn't feel well or is nursing an injury, we are honest about that too, and offer encouragement then, as well. One of the best feelings in the world is when I send my daily report and get hers back!

Step 4: Pick up your feet. GO! If you are like me, you can worry about getting all the right stuff (the shoes, the outfits, the temperature, etc.) in place before you start, and if you are like me, it'll all have to be perfect before you can take even one step. WRONG! Just go. GO! GOOOOOOO! Pick up your feet and run 100 yards. Done? That's 100 yards that you didn't run yesterday. How cool is that?? You can make progress each day, just by picking yourself up off the chair you are sitting in and heading out the door or onto the treadmill!

One last thing: be gentle with yourself. None of us are perfect. None of us run the perfect race, or follow the training plan perfectly. It just doesn't happen. Don't push too hard if you start to feel pain either! Don't be too hard on yourself if you hit a slump or feel sluggish, just do the best you can, and incrementally, day by day (or as in my case, year by year!), you'll get to where you want to be.

Talladega Half with two of the coolest sisters I know: Kristen and B!

If I can do it, ANYONE can do it. I would LOVE to hear from you, if you are trying to run. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help encourage you along the way! The running community is an incredible group of people - I've met some amazing people and had fantastic experience. The feeling of accomplishment when you cross the finish line is second only to the sense of camraderie and community you feel with the folks that are running along beside you. Don't miss out on this awesome experience!

Mercedes Half 2014 - at the starting line with my friend Scott, who pushed me to get a 2:07!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Six months later...

Have you ever meant to get to something, and let time slip and slip and slip by? So, six months later, here I am! I've been meaning to write, meaning to set aside the time, meaning to get organized and down to business...but then, well, life happened and I just never got around to capturing my thoughts here.

I am sitting here, with the rain coming down outside, in the kitchen of my new house with my daughter and husband asleep upstairs. Scratch that. She's asleep - he just sent me a video of her snoring while he holds her. How stinking cute is that?

Lots has changed in the last six months - the biggest thing is that our little family moved into a new house. It was quite the adventure with lots of drama along the way. We almost bought a house with termites. One of the owners threatened to sue us for not wanting to buy the house with termites. We had to find a new house in 48 hours because we sold our old house and the closing date was looming. Oh, and then, when we did find a house and determine a closing date for our old house, it was right smack dab on the middle of a two week mandatory training class that I had to take at work, so S ended up doing pretty much all of the coordinating and organizing. On Monday, March 24. I left to go to work from one house and came home to another! 

We are going to spend quite a while getting this house to feel like our home, but we love it, so far. It has lots of room for Diana and for us, and for family and friends to come visit or stay (hint, hint...) It's closer to civilization, so now, heading into town for an event isn't such a daunting proposition. 

The other big milestone for me was getting a PR (personal record) in the Mercedes Half Marathon in February. I had been wanting to get back into running and with my new schedule at my new job, I can run before my work day starts. After a few months of serious training, I ended up running next to a friend who kept me so distracted that I didn't even realize how quickly we were running until we crossed the finish line! I got a 2:07, which is a full 24 minutes faster than my only other half marathon. 

What's up next? Vegas, baby! I am planning in doing my first full marathon there in November! Training has already begun, and if my knee holds out, I can cross that off my bucket list. 

Well, I know this wasn't the deepest or most inspirational post, but basically, I just wanted to write SOMETHING to get back in the habit. More to come - hopefully soon.

Today, I am grateful for:
1. Rain on my window - it's the best soundtrack for a Sunday afternoon nap. 
2. Getting to spend time with my in laws this weekend - they are truly some of the best people I know.
3. A husband that will go grocery shopping when I don't want to - what a champ!
4. A friend that I can text or call when I have something keeping me up at night to help get me out of my shame spiral and off the hamster wheel.
5.  This: 

Dear God, thank you for the many blessings in my life. I know that I am blessed beyond measure and only by Your grace. Please grant Diana some relief from her pink eye - I know You have lots of other stuff to worry about with world peace and all, but since You are God, I am hoping you can multitask. Please show me how to be of service to those in need and look for ways to give rather than take. Amen.