Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Feel like you've been hit by a truck? This will help.

I feel like I've been hit by a truck.  This is a funny expression.  Not because there's any real humor in getting hit by a truck, of course, but rather because people say it on a semi-consistent basis, even though the vast majority of us have no idea how it actually feels to be hit by a truck.

Even so, during the past week I've felt like I've been hit by a truck.

I've been tired, sluggish, sore, and unmotivated.  An acquaintance suggested that my lethargy might be due to aging, and as evidence, she quite happily referenced the fact that I celebrated my 39th birthday earlier this month.  Point noted, but grudgingly, because a) turning 39 means I'm practically still a puppy, and b) we're all aging.  Every day, in fact.

No, I don't believe that the real culprit for my recent tiredness is because I'm facing the end of my 30's.  I've decided that it's due to my recent trip to Florida.  Florida has ruined me.  During our six days in the Sunshine State, I grew accustomed to warmth, and vitamin D, and the smell of sunscreen, and posing for pictures with alligators.

Now that I've returned to the daily grind of my life in the north, I've reverted to a cold-weather existence that involves heavy jackets, clunky snow boots, gray skies, snow squalls, and scraping frost from my windshield in the morning when I forget to pull my car into the garage.  

I tolerated this reality for the past several months without complaint (or even notice), but now I've moved past these winterish practices, both mentally and physically.  They have no place in my post-Florida-trip lifestyle.  I vehemently object to them, in fact, but despite my protest, they continue.

Which is why I recently took a nap on my kitchen floor.  You see, when the afternoon sun shines (which doesn't always happen in March, but did happen today), it illuminates a small stretch of flooring tucked between my kitchen table, a house plant, the spot where my kids leave their boots, and the wall where I lean our broom.

And, for some reason, when I saw this brilliant sunshine streaming through the sliding glass doors this afternoon, I immediately lay down, stretched out, closed my eyes, and basked in the light.  Granted, closing your eyes is a dangerous prospect when you're worn out; sleep comes quickly, even if you're not intending it to.

In my last wakeful moment, after realizing that there were some hardened Cheerios stuck to the floor near my head and noticing that a child had vandalized the underside of our kitchen table with Banksy-esque graffiti, I remember vaguely thinking, "If Joel comes home and finds me sprawled on the linoleum, he's going to think I'm dead."  (Of course, if my kids had found me, they would have ignored the fact that I was on the floor, nudged me with a foot, and asked for a snack.)

It wasn't quite the same as lying on the beach, mind you, but it must have counted for something.  After all, I woke from my unlikely nap feeling warm, refreshed, and no longer as if I'd been hit by a truck.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy First Day of Spring!

Title: Happy First Day of Spring!

Subtitle:  Consider this to be a post card sent to you from Pennsylvania.  There's a bird in that one tree.  That's spring-y, right?

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2,400 Miles. 3 Kids in Tow. 1 Epic Road Trip.

Our family recently took a Spring Break road trip -- driving over 1,200 miles from Pennsylvania to Florida, and then over 1,200 miles back again, only to get walloped with an epic Pennsylvanian snowfall upon our return.  This juxtaposition seems both ironic and somehow fitting.  I mean, who doesn't want to spend one day vacuuming sand out of your minivan, and the next day shoveling your driveway so you can pull that minivan out of your garage?

It was a glorious trip, even with its small hiccups along the way.  Plus, you have time to reflect when you have that much distance to cover.  For example, once again I was amazed that strategic road trip bribery is effective, even though it's definitely not my typical parenting style.  Here are a few other observations from our travels:

The original adage is wrong.  The journey of a thousand miles actually begins with a child asking, "Are we there yet?" 

When your spouse packs a can of Lysol spray and a container of Lysol wipes and stores them in the cup holders, the exact place where you want to store your bottles of iced tea and water, do not question whether Lysol products are necessary to take on a road trip.  Do not think about hiding them away.  They are essential.

At least, they were for us when one child announced that her stomach hurt a mere 30 seconds before vomiting across the backseat as we were driving 75 miles per hour on a dark and congested stretch of highway.  (Yes, this was as exciting as it sounds.) 

But, we had Lysol handy.  Always pack the Lysol.

You'll take inordinate pleasure when you find a license plate from a new state.  On our drive home alone, we discovered plates from 40 states and 4 Canadian provinces.  (Shout out to Ontario, Qubec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick!  You, my friends to the north, are the true road-tripping heroes.) 

During your license plate search, you'll realize that you haven't given this much thought to US geography since elementary school.  Incidentally, you'll also notice that no states begin with the letters B, E, J, Q, X, Y, or Z,  so you'll feel prepared if you ever get asked this question in a trivia game.

You'll eventually get in the driving zone and it will be so surprising, so shocking, that you won't want to do anything -- no talking, no glancing in the rear view mirror, no fumbling with the bag that's crowding your feet -- because you recognize it's a holy moment.  Nobody needs to use the restroom.  Nobody is hungry.  Nobody is cold or hot or complaining that the sun is too bright, or that their sister looked at them funny, or that it's their turn to have some device that will low on batteries and missing its power cord.

The miles pass, and you feel like you could drive forever -- which, you reason to yourself quietly, is good, because you are driving forever -- and it reminds you of the rare times when you've run and felt like you could run forever, which happens so infrequently that it also deserves a moment of silence, because most other times during a run you feel every step and are tempted to check your watch or the treadmill screen every few seconds.

But no, you're driving, and miles are adding up, and all is right with the world, and don't dare to breathe and offset the hushed glory.  You remain silent and awestuck, like you would if you encountered an albino deer or a snow leopard in the wild or witnessed the Northern Lights.

That zone will last roughly 25 minutes.  Then you're back in the fray. 

It's worth it.  When you finally arrive at your destination and stretch your legs, you'll forget the 19 hours of minivan confinement.  You'll forget the vomiting episode and the three bathroom breaks in a span of under two hours because one child chugged an entire bottle of Gatorade.  The excitement will counterbalance the road-weariness, and the roadside challenges will turn into good stories, and the trip will finally have begun.  You have arrived.  You made it.

Yes, a road trip is always worth it.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

It's What You Do After a Good Show

Early in the morning when I hover in the grogginess between sleep and wakefulness,  I sometimes can't discern what day of the week it is.  To push through this haze I need to focus more intensely than what seems possible.  Eventually, reality surfaces and I remember details of what I did yesterday or what I must do today.

That's happening to me right now, but it's not regarding the day of the week.  No, right now I'm confused about seasons.  You see, it's still winter in Pennsylvania where I live, but our university is on spring break, and to celebrate, we're visiting my parents in Florida where it's perpetually summer.  (Essentially, the only thing I'm certain about is that it's not fall.)

Mind you, this is a good type of confusion.  I can handle the cognitive dissonance of sitting on a beach and toying with the idea that it's actually March when I get to see sights like this:

The other night my family, along with a group of unknown beach-goers, stood on the shore and watched this sunset.  As the sun slipped beneath the horizon, spontaneous applause erupted from the crowd.  My youngest daughter looked around and asked why we were clapping. 

"Well, it's what you do after a good show," I said.  "We just watched a beautiful one and we're acknowledging it."

She nodded and went back to dragging her towel and getting sand stuck to every exposed ounce of skin because that's what kids do.  After all, kids really don't need to worry about what time it is, or what day it is, or even what season it is.  They simply enjoy the beautiful show, just like I've been doing this week.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Breaking Up with Dr Pepper (making one better choice each day)

I have a confession to make.  I once nursed quite an infatuation with Dr Pepper, but I cut it out of my diet a year and a half ago.  Originally, the separation left quite a hole.  During the early days after the break-up, I noticed the absence of sweet cherry fizz in my life as acutely as I notice the missing period after the "Dr" title.  (Seriously, where is the period?  My inner grammarian cringes at this omission.)

Jealousy used to surface when I saw others with a cold Dr Pepper.  I'd remember the good times we once had together.  I'd glamorized how full of life and energy the good doctor made me feel.  In moments of weakness -- late nights, dull afternoons -- I contemplated going back, whispering to myself just this once.

But I held firm.  As more time passed, my cravings diminished.  I could tolerate being in the same room with another person holding a Dr Pepper without obsessively staring or longing.  As weeks turned into months, I felt downright Taylor Swift-y about it.  I made a declaration: Dr Pepper, we are never, ever, ever getting back together.

And that's where I stayed: living a resolute Dr Pepper-less lifestyle for over a year.

But then there was last week.  On a day when I felt especially deprived of sleep and burdened with a heavy workload, I was given a coupon for a free Dr Pepper.  It was the worst possible alchemy.  I realized that I was flirting with danger by keeping the coupon instead of immediately trashing it, and as expected, the temptation proved too great to resist.

I won't lie: it was wonderful.  I savored every drop as it went down.  I still enjoy a Dr Pepper fling, apparently.

But here's where I differ from my past self: I didn't wallow this time around.  I didn't throw my hands up in the air, exaggerating that I had ruined everything by falling off the wagon.  I simply moved on.  I filled my water bottle the next day and got back on track.  This reminded me of three premises for better health:

1) Little actions lead to larger habits.  I like to pretend that my small dietary choices, good or bad, don't have actual consequences.  It's just a Dr Pepper, I rationalize.  It's just a milkshake, and I deserve a milkshake after this week.  It's just an entire box of Girl Scout cookies, and Thin Mints only come out once a year.  It's just one apple, and does one apple really help that much?  But these small choices, when repeated, can form habits, and habits, when entrenched, have impact.

2) Don't let one bad choice derail you.  Although repeated small choices do lead to habits, I've found that it helps when I give myself grace.  A bad choice doesn't mean that I'm entirely undone.  Sure, I broke my year-long Dr Pepper-free streak, but I didn't buy a whole case and drown my sorrows with more Dr Pepper to numb my regret.  I can chalk it up to a bad day (or week) and move on.

3) Make one better choice each day.  When I think about my diet or exercise restrictively -- mulling over what I shouldn't do or shouldn't have -- I grow more fixated on those things.  Instead, I've found that it's helpful to get so busy doing the right thing that I don't have time to do the wrong thing.  (This is good for life in general, not just health.)  If I concentrate on one simple premise -- Robin, just make one better choice today -- I'm more prone to take the steps rather than the elevator, or eat a little more broccoli instead of a little more pasta, or skip on a second scoop of ice cream.

This repeated choice to do "one better thing" each day leads directly back to my first tip.  My little healthy actions lead to larger healthy habits.  Those larger healthy habits, in turn, ensure that my bad choices are more of a rarity than the norm.

I'm sure I'll drink more Dr Pepper in the future, and since I'm being honest, you should know that I still hold a more romantic view of sweet tea than I ought.  And if you hand me a theater-sized box of Dots, it would be gone in a day.  And don't get me started on freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. 

But I'm working on it.  For me, one better choice each day means I carry a water bottle at all times.  After all, I simply don't have enough room for sugary drinks when I'm downing two or three 32-ounce Nalgenes of water each day.

If you've every struggled like I have, I hope these tips help you make one good choice today.  (Just one. You've got this.)  And even better, I hope that today's good choice will help to kickstart a good habit tomorrow.

Ever kick a bad habit?  Have any tips for us?  Leave a comment: we're all ears!

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Dr Pepper image adapted from cyclonebill.