On The Run

I can’t believe I’m doing this. But I’ve done it 4 times over the last week. Anyone that knows me knows it’s the last thing I would ever want to do.

I’m running*.

Gah! – just typing that makes me cringe. I HATE running. HATE. HATE. HATE. I always have. I think I always will.

At elementary school soccer practice I was always the kid fiddling with her shin guards and cleats so I didn’t have to do the 3-times-around-the-field running warm up. At high school soccer practice I dreaded the “suicide”** sprints our coach made us run after a lousy practice or game.  There is a reason I played fullback or goalie. In college I even took Jogging – an honest to goodness 16-week class that I got credit for – hoping that I’d learn to love running.  I didn’t. I ended up loathing every second of that class.

But, right now I can’t make it to my beloved trainer 3 times a week like I want. The thought of doing another round of 30-Day Shred or listening to Tony Horton’s cheerful encouragement in Power 90 in the unfinished basement is unbearable. So for almost 2 months I did nothing and felt like a slug.

Last week I finally loaded up the Couch to 5k app, tied on my shoes and headed out under the cover of dusk. And I survived. Although I wasn’t sure I would. The next 2 days I was in pain; like can barely walk kind of pain. But I did it 2 more times to finish the first week.

Tonight I started week 2 which, if you’re not familiar, ramps up the running time by 30 seconds each interval. I’m not going to lie – by the second run my inner dialogue went something like this: “You went through 2 labors without so much as a freaking Advil. You can run 20 more seconds, damn it!” And I did.

I’ll do it again on Saturday, then on again on Monday. Who knows – maybe by the fall I’ll sign up to run a 5k, but don’t count on it; I still hate running.

*It’s more of a jog/shuffle, really. I’m not sure anyone who saw me would call it running.
**I’m sure they’ve come up with a different name for those horrid sprints by now


Share the Shearer’s

As I mentioned before – Mark’s race was a weekend-long family affair. We were in Cincinnati for 2 nights/3 days along with my parents and other family. I have 2 rules when traveling with kids: 1) a suite or 2 regular hotel rooms are essential and 2) bring SNACKS. Lots of snacks.

Luckily not long before the race weekend Shearer’s asked me to be part of their Share the Shearer’s and try out their new line of healthier chips (in comparison to their classic Red Bag line). Ever since I learned that Shearer’s was not only a local company but one of the greenest good manufacturing plants in the world, we have made an effort to buy only their chips for parties and home. So accepting their offer was a no-brainer as I already buy their product.

It was perfect – I could stock our hotel room with snacks for us, for my parents and for other family who would be stopping by throughout the weekend. Shearer’s sent me a box of assorted chips – the new potato chips, along with several flavors of Riceworks and Shapers. The day we left I also went and picked up some grocery items like cheese, yogurt, water and fruit to round out the selection we’d have in the hotel room.

Thank goodness for the snacks! First of all, the Black Bean Salsa and Cinnamon Shapers were gone days before we hit the road. Mark and Matilda took care of those in short order. In fact we passed the cinnamon ones off as dessert a couple of times (18 grams of whole grains and low sugar in a dessert – score one for mom!). During our 4-hour drive to Cincinnati we all shared the Sea Salt Riceworks which were NOT what I was expecting from a “brown rice crisp”. They were a little nutty, salty and crunchy and quite delicious; I’m pretty sure I had way more than my share of that bag.

In the hotel room we sampled the chips with visiting family….believe me, people were more than happy to come hang out in our room! The sour cream and onion and the rippled were everyone’s favorite. And no one had any idea they were eating chips without trans fat. In fact, my mom asked for a bag of Rippled to take home – they were as good as her favorite potato chips (and that woman is a potato chip connoisseur). Mark chowed down on the BBQ and Classic flavors post-race… he said the salt was “essential” after running.

I gave the Sweet Chili and Tangy BBQ Riceworks Chips to a co-worker who is gluten-free. Later that day he not only thanked me 3 times he asked to throw one of the bags in my trash. He had eaten both bags and was embarrassed to have 2 “empties” in his own trashcan. Guess that means they were really good!

Chips aren’t a pantry staple in our house, but Shearer’s will always be our go-to when the craving hits. It’s nice to know that you can get the flavor you want without the junk you don’t want. It’s a company I’m more than happy to support.

Disclosure: Shearer’s provided chips to sample and a grocery gift card to supplement our selection for the weekend. The opinions are strictly my own.

In Defense of a 30 Minute Meal

Foodie. Hippie. Locavore. Food Douche. Call it what you will but we, like thousands of other families, have take great strides to improve what we eat. Make more homemade. Support local agriculture. Cook more.

There’s an article by fellow Clevelander, Michael Ruhlman, that’s been making the rounds for the last year and when first I read it I nodded along in agreement. Everyone has time to cook – just not everyone makes the choice to cook.

But as it’s resurfaced and I’ve read it again, this time through the lens of a working mother of 2 kids under 5, I get defensive.

I cook a lot. I make much of what we eat from scratch. But why should it have to take an hour or more for it to be considered real cooking? In reality, if it weren’t for the “fast and easy meal” recipes from people like Jamie Oliver and – my favorite source – America’s Test Kitchen, then I would probably not cook as much as I do today.

America’s Test Kitchen – my current favorite recipe magazine

Here is our evening: I pick up Matilda from preschool, drop the carpool kid off, and walk in the door between 5:15 and 5:30 . Mark and the Madman get home between 5:30 and 5:45. The Madman goes to bed at 7:00.  That leaves –  at the most – 90 minutes for dinner to be cooked and eaten, baths to be given and, hopefully, some playtime, reading and snuggles thrown in. I imagine that this scene is played out in countless homes of working parents throughout the country.

My solution is to seek out recipes and ideas with faster cooking times and things I can do ahead. The entire family loves this Korean Beef Rice Bowl. It’s a 30-minute meal that, with a little prep (I do all the chopping, cutting and marinating the night before), can be on the table in 10 minutes. Because of this recipe and others like it, on the nights Matilda has gymnastics we can still have a healthy, real-food dinner cooked by me. We all enjoy it, it’s healthy and it makes me feel good that I made it. A really crazy night might see scrambled eggs with spinach and herbs from our garden thrown on a plate. In the few minutes it takes to cook dinner Matilda can have the table set and when the boys walk in we all sit down for dinner. 

My goal every work-week is to make 3 home-cooked meals with enough leftovers to get us through 2 more dinners. I do what I can on the weekends to make this happen. Something I learned from the 30-minute-meal type shows is to prep all the veggies as soon as I get home from the market. On the weekends I’ll roast a chicken (or 2) to use during the week or make overnight stock if my freezer stash is getting low. I’ll clean and chop and measure out all my mise en place for the 3 meals on Sunday night. I store them in tupperware, labeled with blue tape. I’ll fill a huge bowl with torn lettuce for my lunch salads and will make a big batch of tuna salad. If I’m feeling wild and crazy I’ll make my own mayonnaise, butter or bread, too. 

Some weekends I’ll even get chicken breasts from the Plum Creek Farm stand at the farmers market and will spend an hour cutting them up to make chicken nuggets to stash in the freezer for nights I don’t feel like cooking. Or I’ll make a big batch of waffles on a Sunday morning and freeze the leftovers for out-the-door breakfasts (yes, I give my kids waffles that are still-frozen…they eat them in the car). But I also never feel guilty serving my kid a store-bought nugget or waffle when the homemade supply runs out.

Listen, I do love to cook – when I have time to enjoy it. Give me a weekend with nothing pressing and I’ll make chicken pot pie, braised short ribs or a luscious lasagna from scratch. But trying to shove the meal prep or long cooking (and/or oven-heating) time into my small window of weekday evening of time with my kids is not a high priority. That’s not even mentioning the stress of trying to cook while tripping over a one year old who is reaching for the burner knobs on the stove while the 4 year old whines that she’s hungry. That is not enjoyable for anyone.

I do think that Ruhlman’s overall point is very valid: everyone has time to cook, but not everyone chooses to do so. And while I’m happy that today he has time to enjoy “carnal exertions” with his lovely wife during the hour his dinner roasts in the oven, I’m sure he remembers a little bit of what life was like when his kids were knee-high rugrats clamoring for “food! food! now!”

So please, Michael, stop making at-home 30-minute cooks feel like we are the enemy to good food. And please don’t discourage editors, publishers, producers and chefs from developing new fast meal ideas. I rely on them. In fact, I invite you over to see how I can have a rocking from-scratch meal on the table 20 minutes after I walk in the door.

Race Day

…continued from here
Dark and early Sunday morning Mark’s alarm went off at 4:30 so he could eat breakfast well ahead of the 6:30 race start. I crawled out from under the covers at 5:15, scooped up the Madman and dropped him off in my parent’s room, and we headed for the car.

Ready to run

A quick drop off near the starting line and I went back to the hotel where they were just setting up the breakfast. I grabbed a bagel, banana and coffee and went up to the room to watch the weather. While it wasn’t raining when I dropped Mark off the radar didn’t look good. By the time my mom brought the kids back down to my room at 6:15 there was a steady downpour outside. Yuck.

At 7:15 we gathered in the lobby with signs, noisemakers and umbrellas and all headed outside. The hotel was right on the marathon course at about mile 6 ½. There was a good size crowd already gathered and we found a spot right along the midline of the road. The leaders had already passed that point but soon we saw some of the 30,408(!) runners trudge up the hill and around the curve.

The best cheering section ever

My mom spotted him first and we all cheered and yelled as he ran by. The rain had tapered off to drizzle at this point and he seemed pretty chipper. (I had 8 different signs for cheering, the one my dad is holding above got the most smiles/laughs from runners).

Blurry but happy!

We went back to the hotel and I left the kid with my parents, threw the rest of the signs in the car and headed over to Hyde Park Square to meet up with the course at mile 11. Except I never made it there. From the hotel the only way (as far as I could tell) to get there was to cross the marathon course which, obviously, wasn’t happening. I circled around for a bit in the adjoining neighborhoods and finally parked and found the route. I got set with my camera and signs, asked a volunteer where we were – mile 10ish – and pulled out my phone to see where Mark was. According to his Facebook updates via Runmeter he was already at mile 12. Shit.

I hustled back to the car and mapped my way to the “Party Zone” at mile 21.5. I wasn’t too worried about missing Mark at 10 because my cousin and aunt were planning to cheer at miles 14 and 17 (which, for spectators, were only a few blocks apart). I got to my spot around 8:50 and checked Facebook again – he was already at mile 18 – he was flying!

A few minutes later I got a call from my cousin, Carrie. They got a little lost but, were now at mile 16 – had he gone past yet? My heart fell; according to Runmeter he was already well past that spot. And Mark hadn’t seen a familiar face for over 12 miles. I felt awful!

But if he was at 18 already I would see him shortly at 21.5. I cheered as I waited; lots of people were looking ragged. Just beat down and ready to stop. I fact one guy cramped up as he went by and I helped prop him up as another spectator massaged his calves. After 20 minutes I got worried that maybe he was injured and had to stop…he should have gone by me by now.

Then my phone rang – Carrie and my Aunt Gretchen were driving along the route to get to the finish and they saw Mark! They were able to pull over and cheer for him – what a relief! He had just passed mile 19 when they saw him….apparently the Runmeter App had gone wonky and the mileage was off.

Then around the corner he came. He looked pretty beat down, but he was still running. I yelled and rattled the cow bell and tried to take a few photos. I wanted to do everything at once; I was so excited to see him. I fact I started crying a little bit and he told me later that he did, too.

Five miles to go

I jumped back in my car and hightailed it downtown for the finish. The crowd was huge and I had to drive around several blocks before I find a parking garage with open spots. I ran down to the finish area and shimmied my way up to the barricade. I was on the wrong side- the half-marathon lane was directly in front of me – but I didn’t want to risk missing him cross the finish as I tried to get a better spot.

My cousin called and said they were on the other side, right next to the finish line. Now all we had to do was watch for him to come down the final quarter-mile. After not very long I spotted him. I screamed and yelled and waved around my sign and as he passed by he spotted me.

I cried.

Mark crossed the finish at 4:21. I am just so damn proud of him.

By the time we got back to the hotel we had 15 minutes to clear out*. So we threw everything together and headed north to my cousin’s apartment. She graciously offered her place for Mark to shower and relax.
I had set up a lunch for everyone at nearby InCahoots*. Mark was able to sit and rest for a bit and M was excited to give him the gifts we had purchased to commemorate his accomplishment.
Official Flying Pig Finisher hat and jacket
After a little more time visiting and resting at Carrie’s apartment we all hit the road for home.
My Aunt in the center (my cousin took the photo)
Notice the awesome shirts my sister got for the kids
Despite the rain and long drives it was a terrific weekend. One that I hope I never forget. Mark just started running last June. He turned 39 2 weeks ago. He trained through a Cleveland winter – rain, sleet, snow, wind, slush, and ice (even a few rogue skunk encounters) – nothing stopped him. More than once he returned from a 10+ mile run with his coat and hair covered in frost. He even bought running cleats for traction in the snow and ice. He did almost all of his runs after the kids went to bed, hitting the pavement after 8 PM, so he wouldn’t miss any time with them.

Mark is truly an inspiration to me. I love you, Mark!

*You’d think that when an entire hotel is full of runners that maybe they’d have a pretty flexible check-out time, considering the timing of the race. But no, the Spring Hill Midtown was pretty rude and we had to be out by noon, even though they told me (a Marriott Rewards member) a week prior that a late check-out “should be no problem”.

**They were fantastic about accommodating us. And the food was really good, too. I would totally recommend them if you are in the area. (I got nothing for saying this, they were just great to us).

Race Travel Report

This past weekend we picked up the kids from school early, loaded up the station wagon and drove the 4+ hours down to Cincinnati for Mark’s 1st marathon. To say it was a great weekend would be an understatement. You might think that only runners can write race reports, but spouses who spend hours planning and organizing the logistics of an out-of-town race also have a story to tell…

Such a great traveler (thank god for travel DVD players)

My parents also drove down for the weekend which was not only a nice thing to do (coming to cheer for their son-in-law) but also turned out to be an invaluable asset. The extra hands to help wrangle the kids was a godsend for me as I stressed about getting around on race day. I can’t thank them enough for giving up their weekend and helping out.

On Saturday they took MAD while Mark, M and I headed to the expo. It’s a bit overwhelming being a first timer, but M had a great time checking out the booths and getting freebies. As a runner Mark got a nice backpack and a tech shirt. After we left the expo we decided to check out a bit of the course. It ran right past our hotel at about mile 6.5 which was smack dab in the middle of a major uphill climb. In fact I was worried at the steepness and length of the hills. Mark did a good deal of hill training but the terrain in Cleveland can’t compare to that of Cincinnati. In fact, miles 3 to 9 were all uphill. He wasn’t worried, though. On our drive I tried to scope out where I would cheer and we saw some really beautiful neighborhoods.

Bib secured, pigs ready to fly

We grabbed lunch at nearby Mt. Adams Bar and Grill, which was a very cute and accommodating place with good food. (Once we found parking. Mt Adams is a darling area, but parking is really hard to find). Afterwords Mark and MAD took a nap while my mom, M and I checked out the beautiful Eden Park which was across the street from our hotel. We soaked up the sunshine and warmth while we could – the Sunday forecast had a 90% chance of rain. As it was my first time in Cincinnati-proper I was really impressed with the parks, houses and architecture. Cinci has much more to offer then I had thought.

My mom doesn’t usually have a spout of water coming out of her head

For dinner we headed over to Kentucky for dinner at Pompilio’s. I had researched pasta places extensively and had called the restaurant earlier in the week. While they wouldn’t take reservations they insisted it would only be a 30-45 min wait at 6 PM, even with the Reds game and the marathon. We got there and saw crowds waiting outside. I made my way through the (smokey – I forgot not every state has the same wonderful smoking ban that OH does) bar and the hostess told me it would be a 3 hour wait! Thank goodness for smartphones because we were looking for a new place immediately. We ended up at Martino’s On Vine near the UC campus. It was a great place; not crowded, fantastic service and good prices. My cousin, Carrie, who lives in Blue Ash and my Aunt (from Columbus) came down to join us and it was great to catch up with them. Mark got his big plate of spaghetti and meatballs and was a happy camper.

My parents, wonderful people that they are, offered to take M to the hotel pool then have her sleep in their room on the pull-out couch so Mark would get good sleep. We eagerly accepted since the night before no one really got any sleep with all 4 of us in a single hotel room. I was able to keep MAD pretty quiet all night so Mark was able to get a pretty solid 6 1/2 hours of sleep before is alarm went off at 4:30 on Sunday morning.

Race day is a whole other story…