Enjoy them While You Can

Title:  Enjoy Them While You Can

There's something wonderful about cutting a bouquet of roses from our bushes on the last day of September.  Bring the outdoors inside while we still can.

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It Does Sell Everything

Brooke's voice is unique.  It's sweetly gravely and deep, as if the treble has been turned down and the bass has been turned up, which is rare for a three-year-old girl.  Once they hear her talk, strangers occasionally ask if she has a cold.  Nope.  This is normal.

I think it's delightful, especially when she sidles up beside me and says, "I love you, Mommy."

Recently, my father-in-law asked her, "Where did you get a voice like that, Brooke?"

Her response was simple.  "Wal-Mart."

Well, it does sell everything.

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The Weekend that Didn't Quit

If I were my oldest daughter, I would have had so much to report to my friends on the school bus and the playground this morning.  Our weekend was awesome.  (Pause here while I kiss my hand and plant it firmly on my forehead in some parental self-congratulatory loving.)

I'm not sure if it would be possible to fit in any more goodness.  On Saturday morning I took the girls on a nature walk and we discovered a fuzzy caterpillar.  In the girls' world, this is huge.  It was worthy of ten uninterrupted minutes of inspection, one long ceremony where he as carried on a leaf to a safe new home, and best of all, it allowed me to stand perfectly still and enjoy the first hint of fall in the air, to listen to the unmistakable sound of a few dry leaves swirling along the pavement.

On Saturday night, Reese went to a sleepover at a friend's house where she ate pizza and chips and a donut, watched a movie, and then attended a special church service as her friend's guest on Sunday morning.  She's still experiencing some degree of sugar high.

To top it off, on Sunday afternoon we took the whole family to a small local amusement park for its final day of the season.  It was Harvest Festival, which meant that there was a plethora of fried foods, craft booths, and rural entertainment, including, but not limited to a Civil War reenactment and a team of men carving animal statues from tree stumps with chainsaws.

Of course, we were just there for the rides.  And just a bit for the food.  It'll be a long time before we taste festival food again.

Welcome, fall.

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The End of Innocence

Have you ever noticed that you never need to teach your children how to disobey?  Give them enough time, and they come by this naturally.

Recently, it's become apparent that Kerrington, the can-do-no-wrong-baby as all babies originally appear, is growing up to be a normal toddler who can (and does) do wrong.  It's the end of innocence.

A few weeks ago, she discovered -- with great pleasure, I must add -- how to throw food from her high chair.  Meal by meal the scene unfolded: cereal on the floor at breakfast, grapes and cheese on the floor at lunch, spaghetti on the floor at dinner.  Occasionally her bowl or plate was tossed, too, rotating along the linoleum like a coin that had been flicked and spun until it ran out of momentum and dropped.

Intervention time.

Discipline never is fun -- not for the child, and not for the parent.  Each time Kerrington tossed her food, I scooped from her high chair, carried her into a separate room, and placed her in a pack and play (set up solely for this purpose) by herself.  She would cry.  I'd find food that had been squirreled away in her cheeks strewn about the pack and play when I returned to get her after a minute.

We'd repeat this situation: throw food, pick her up, carry her to the other room, place in pack and play, bring her back, throw food, pick her up, carry her away... lather, rinse, repeat.

Each time I envisioned how much easier it would be to ignore her misbehavior.  Or, how much more convenient it would be to set a tarp underneath her high chair and shake out all the tossed food at the conclusion of each meal.  I might be able to finish a meal while it was still warm or remain seated for longer than three minutes.

But that wouldn't get to the root of the problem.  So, I carried on.  Stayed the course.  Ate lukewarm meals for a week.  I did what parents do: I remained consistent, teaching her how to do right rather than just masking what she was doing wrong.

It's worked.  Kerrington hasn't thrown her food, her plate, or any utensils for two full weeks.

Now onto the hair pulling.

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Short and Sweet: Backseat Driver

When children become backseat drivers in 100 or fewer words:

I'm driving with the girls, and for once the entire van is silent.  There's no talking, no yelling, and no singing -- just the sound of Kerrington sucking her thumb.  It's bliss.

Brooke sees her opening.

"Mom!"  (Most everything she utters is exclamatory.)


"Don't bump into that other car!"  She points to the single oncoming vehicle urgently.  "And stay on the road!"

For a backseat driver, she's aiming relatively low, I think.

"You're welcome!" Brooke responds, satisfied, when we successfully pass the car without colliding or veering onto the berm.

Obviously, I couldn't have done it without her.

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Thirteen Point One Reasons (Part Four: Race Day)

This evening I took down the half-marathon training schedule from my refrigerator door and tallied up the number of miles that I've logged in the past eight weeks.

One hundred and sixty-seven miles

It looks impressive when you write it out this way, don't you think?

Given slightly different circumstances this final number would have come to 168 miles, but I'll get to this in a moment.  Let me first begin where all half-marathons begin, which is at the starting line, surrounded by roughly 25,000 fellow dry-fit clad runners who are shaking out their arms, stretching their legs, and fidgeting with pent-up energy as each corral is brought forward and released onto the course.

I clicked my watch as I crossed the starting line, breathed deeply, and temporarily felt propelled by the crowd.  The first several miles were spent jostling for placement, passing some runners who were moving slowly, looking for small windows of space to fit through, and keeping my excitement at bay in order to maintain a sustainable speed.

By mile seven, I was in a good rhythm and safely keeping my goal pace of 9 minute miles.  Focusing on breathing deeply, I scanned the scenery and absorbed the unfolding scenes along the city streets: thousands of runners surging ahead, bands playing, cheerleading squads cheering, water cups being tossed and trampled.

I glanced at my watch as I passed the tenth mile marker, and I couldn't help but smile when I saw my time.  If I could complete the final 3.1 miles of the race within a half hour -- which seemed like an attainable goal -- I'd fall under my goal time of two hours.  You've got this, Robin, I told myself, and headed into mile eleven.

Ah, mile eleven.

I must say that I don't recall much about mile eleven, except that the punk band at the side of the road was painfully loud, and that my temple suddenly throbbed, and that for one brief moment as I was nearing the twelfth mile marker, it seemed as if everyone was starting to pass me and the ground was spinning.

My next recollection was looking up into the face of a paramedic while lying on a gurney on the side of the road.

Granted, I wasn't thinking too clearly at this moment, but I could register one thought: This really can't be good.

"What's your name?" the paramedic asked.

I answered.  Correctly, I must add.

"How old are you?" another paramedic asked as he hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff.

"Thirty-three."  In my mind, I figured that they were checking my level of coherence.  If they wanted coherence, I'd give them coherence.  I launched into a brief autobiographical sketch.

"I'm here with a group of friends."  That's where I paused.  Technically, I only knew one of the other runners in my group well.  I just had met the other members the day before when we had carpooled for four hours together to the race.  Upon closer thought, I wasn't even sure I could accurately recall all of their last names.

I retracted my statement.  "Actually, I'm here with one friend and a group of her friends.  I really don't know the rest of them.  Not well, anyway.  I just was invited along."  Oh, man.  I was babbling.  "They're all going to be wondering where I am at the finish line."  One paramedic raised his eyebrow at the other.

"Don't worry about that right now," he said.

"Can't you please just let me go?  Let me at least walk to the finish line.  I'm totally cognizant of my whereabouts."

There.  I had used the word cognizant, which clearly is not a word that would be selected by someone who wasn't just that.  Couldn't they see how lucid I was?

A female paramedic came to my side, squatted down, and spoke directly to me.  "Look.  You were out cold.  You hit the pavement.  Your knees and hands are scratched up."  I drew my hands toward my face, inspecting my palms as if they weren't my own.  She gestured to my arm.  "You're hooked up to an IV."

I had no recollection of this.  None of it.  She continued, "You tried to fight me while we brought you to the medical tent and insisted that you could finish the race.  Right now your blood pressure is extremely low and your heart rate is too high.  You're dehydrated." 


I sank back into the gurney and watched the steady stream of runners passing by.

A group of paramedics looked at my monitor and conferred.  "You're going to need some more help and tests than we're able to give here.  We're calling in an ambulance."

As I stared up into the sky, I prayed.  Lord, this wasn't supposed to happen this way.  This is entirely wrong.  I'm not supposed to be here.  

I was in a strange city, separated from a group of people that I didn't even know well, unable to get in touch with anyone, and about to be transported to a hospital I never had heard of by ambulance.  I totally had screwed things up.

My mind raced, spinning unproductively over the unknown logistics of how everyone would find me in the hospital, what alternate carpooling arrangements would be needed for the long drive home, how I would get in touch with Joel, and the eventual emergency room bills that would be coming our way.

And then, one final realization: I absolutely cannot believe that I'm going to have to write a blog post about this.

Then I resigned thinking altogether, scanned the inside of the ambulance, and watched the blur of the hospital walls as I was wheeled into the emergency room and hooked up to probes and monitors.

"So, young lady, what happened to you?" one technician asked as he hung up a new IV bag.

"I was running the half-marathon, and well, I collapsed, I suppose."

"How far did you get?"

"Twelve miles."

"How far is the race?"

"Thirteen point one miles."

"Dang, girl!  You were almost there!"

Point duly noted.

Words can't adequately convey the relief that came when I saw my friends eventually enter the doorway, still in their running gear and bib numbers.  I filled them in on all the details that I could recall.  They asked smart questions to the doctor.  When I joked that I didn't get much opportunity to stretch when I finished running, two women that I hadn't known twenty-four hours prior massaged my stiff calves.  "You did just run twelve miles, you know," one reminded me.

That's precisely when the tears welled up.  I was disappointed, embarrassed, and had a terrible headache, but only one thing struck me: even though we had driven to the race in multiple cars, no one was choosing to leave.  I was blown away by their incredible kindness and support, silently thanking God for turning this situation around through these amazing people rallying around me.

After five hours, two IV bags, one chest x-ray, one CAT scan, and four small containers of orange juice later, I was discharged.  The diagnosis: low blood pressure and low blood sugar.  Apparently, when low enough, this combination is enough to knock a girl off her feet.

"Have you ever passed out before?" the doctor had asked.

I had -- twice in the past few years, actually.  Both times had been characterized by missed meals.  I thought back to my morning's half banana and few bites of toast.  Obviously, that hadn't cut it.

When I walked through my front door much later that evening, I dropped my bags, bear-hugged each girl one by one, and settled into Joel's arms on the couch.  The girls climbed up on me.  I didn't want to let anyone go -- or to have anyone let go of me.

"Mommy, does this mean that you finished last?"  Reese asked, an impish grin on her face.

"Well, that certainly is one way you could put it."

Or, you could say that instead of a finisher's medal around my neck, I instead earned a hospital band around my wrist.  Not as glamorous, that's for certain, but certainly earned.

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The Coupon Experiment

I once watched half of an episode of Extreme Couponing.  When it finished, I felt a very small niggle of guilt over my lack of aggressive couponing, but mostly I felt bewildered as to why anyone would want to stockpile shelves of toothpaste, bins of deodorant, and pallets of spaghetti sauce.  It resembled hoarding, just in a very systematic, organized, and cost-effective fashion.

Perhaps I get the wrong Sunday newspaper, but if my family tried to survive on what we could purchase with coupons, we'd be serving shaving cream, Dove soap, and air fresheners for dinner.  Or cat food.  Occasionally yogurt.  If you've been reading long enough, you know how I feel about yogurt.

Also, I don't think I'm at the level of carrying a binder to the grocery store, or (heaven help me), creating a spreadsheet.

It doesn't seem sustainable.

Still, I'm intrigued, so last night I went to a meeting titled Couponing the Non-Extreme Way to learn some helpful tips and terminology.  (Did you know that the coupons automatically printed out at the register are called catalinas?  There's a whole new set of vocabulary involved in this endeavor, apparently.)

Some information was common sense -- to know store couponing policies, only clip coupons for products that you really want to use, and read the text carefully.  Other information was eye-opening and simple, such as to register your grocery store bonus card online and select e-coupons in advance to automatically receive savings when you purchase those items at the store.

Suggestions were given for what additional newspapers provide the best coupons, considering that our primary local paper doesn't provide a wealth of useful ones.  A few websites were recommended, like this and this and this and this. I'll be checking them out.

Hearing the testimony of a real woman who cut a monthly grocery bill for a family of six from $600 to $300 was appealing, indeed.  I still waffle, though, wondering if it's possible for me to see any significant results without needing to quit my job in order to create time for couponing. (Counterintuitive, no?)

Balance seems key.  If you're a couponer (or, if you're on the fence like me), what are your thoughts and experiences?

Image compliments of CouponzCouponszz (flicrk.com)

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See That Cell Phone?

Title:  See That Cell Phone?

Subtitle:  Someone needs to tell this child that texting and horseback riding never mix.  By all means, keep both hands on the reigns.

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The Library Bathroom

Besides from lugging home a brimming canvas sack of books and issuing eighteen reminders to share toys at the train table, there's one thing that unifies the trips that my girls and I take to the library:

We never have good bathroom experiences there.

One visit, it's a diaper blow-out with an empty container of baby wipes.  Another day, it's an accident on the floor mere steps from the toilet.

Today, however, everything seemed to be going well.  Before we left our house, Brooke used the bathroom and I changed Kerrington's diaper.  After playing at the library for some time, I proactively ushered them into the restroom again. 

Flawless, I thought.

As I helped Brooke wash her hands, I glanced in Kerrington's direction.  Our eyes momentarily locked.  Without warning, she beelined toward the toilet and plunked a plastic zebra (contraband from the play area, undoubtedly) into the bowl. 

Before I could flinch, she plunged her hand into the toilet, fished out the zebra, and then -- here's where it gets too painful for words -- she licked that zebra.  A full-on, open-mouthed, slobbery, slow motion, extended lick. 

Then my child, my sweet little baby, lowered her hand and smiled at me as toilet water trickled down her chin.

There are no letters to adequately convey the pained noise that I came from my mouth -- some twisted blend of nooooooo! and violent shuddering intermingled with involuntary gagging.

I have nothing more to say about this right now.

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Thirteen Point One Reasons (Part Three)

My neighborhood is snugly built into the side of a small mountain.  Because of this, I begin every run from my house going downhill -- and, more notably -- I finish every run uphill.  When you're aiming to cover some distance, there's something daunting about the knowledge that a mountain looms ahead of you.

Even when I'm running on even terrain, my mind can wander to the steep hills that eventually are coming.  Instead of being present in the here and now, I project to the future.  How much will it hurt?  What if I can't make it?

I found myself in this trap during one of my longer runs.  My breathing was steady.  My pace was on target.  The air was clear with the promise of fall.  Yet, none of this resonated.  My focus lingered on the final summit ahead.  The more I meditated upon it, the more my running deteriorated.

It was at that point when I felt God's presence.  "Don't you know that I'll be with you then, too?  Robin, I'm with you every single step."

So many parallels can be drawn between running and life.  With every slow run -- those days where my legs are leaden, when my gait lumbers more than it lilts, when my confidence wanes, when I want to break stride and walk, when the only positive note is that I finish -- I remind myself that I'm stronger because of persevering.  It's more to my credit to finish a miserable run than to finish a run which is going well.

If running always were easy, what would I be learning?  I've needed my crummy runs just as much as I've needed the excellent ones.  They a metaphor for running through challenges in life -- warning me about the downfalls of focusing on the mountains ahead, reminding me of God's continued presence.

I pray when I run.  I pray for others, lifting up their concerns and needs before God, and ask for wisdom in my own life.  On occasion, my mind sifts through a Rolodex of every Bible passage I can muster up pertaining to races or perseverance.  ("I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me" and "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" are two personal favorites.)

And, yes, sometimes I still count my steps -- or the number of mailboxes I pass, or the seconds it takes me to pass the next driveway.  You can't entirely kick this habit, I presume.

Encouragement comes out of the blue.  During one run an elderly man watched from his mailbox as I ascended a hill, and he let out a single, low cheer and raised both his arms in a victory stance when I reached the top.  "This hill is a killer," I admitted to him, breathless.  He smiled, nodded, and replied, "That's why I drive it."

He waves each time I run past now.

One week from today it all comes together: Race Day is near.

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Loving Noodles. And a Fish. And You.

Last night at dinner, Brooke declared that she loved noodles.

Reese propped her elbows onto the table, pushed back her plate, and said, "Well, I love chocolate cake.  But when I say love, what I really mean is that I like it a lot.  It's not the same love that I sometimes say when I really love something."

I'm blown away by her perception of language here.  Such insight into subtle semantics -- how our English language uses the term love interchangeably for both our inconsequential likes (I love pizza) and our significant commitments of the heart and will (I love you; will you marry me?)

I prod Reese to elaborate.

"Well," she continued, eyeing Brooke across the table, "If I said that I loved something really great -- like a new hiding spot in our backyard or the monkey bars at school -- I actually mean that those things are really fun.  But when I say that I love Mommy or Daddy or our fish, what I mean is that I really do love them."

"Reese, " I interjected.  "We don't even own a fish."

"But I sure would love him if we did."

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Short and Sweet: Aim

A lesson on wiping noses in 100 or fewer words:

Her fever is gone, but Kerrington still shows lingering signs of last week's cold.  Her nose drips at the most inopportune times, like while I'm holding her on my hip and wearing a fresh shirt.  From this vantage point her face directly aligns with my shoulder.  She uses me as a Kleenex, leaving snail-like horizontal streaks.

The key lesson in wiping noses is this: never aim directly for the nose.  This is an art, not a science.  Be one step ahead.  Aim left or right (a child always flinches in one of these directions), and you have a 50% shot of actually connecting.

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Thirteen Point One Reasons (Part Two)

Last week I wrote for the first time about my upcoming half-marathon.  Over these past weeks, I've realized how running serves as a mirror for me; it brings my tendencies and personality into much greater relief.

For example, in the early days of training a simple jog quickly plunged into an exercise of obsessive-compulsiveness.  I counted everything that possibly could be counted: the number of mailboxes and street signs I passed, the steps that I took, and the pattern of breaths entering and escaping my lips, which, I have discovered, is a sure-fire way to quickly veer into hyperventilation.  (Lesson: there's nothing beneficial about over-thinking something as natural as breathing.)

I'm past this now.  Mostly.

Running also reinforces my predisposition towards being goal-oriented.  I need goals.  Or, to quote Jim Rohn, "The ultimate reason for setting goals is to entice you to become the person it takes to achieve them."

My premise behind this race is a simple one: if I can train myself to stick to a schedule, push past discomfort, and mentally overcome self-doubt in the running realm, then I can do it in other realms of life as well.

If I can run 13.1 miles by taking one step at a time, then can't I translate this lesson into all other areas of life?  To write a book by penning one word, one sentence, at a time?  To tackle large projects without being daunted by their magnitude?

Earlier this week I received an email with my race and corral numbers, something that vaguely made me feel like cattle.  Corral?  Really?

As I read the details, I grew simultaneously excited and nervous -- okay, nauseous -- which must be my default contradictory emotional reaction because I experience it to a certain degree with every large endeavor that pushes me out of my comfort zone.

Two weeks from today: race time!

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Miniature Golfing

This evening our family headed to a local treasure, a miniature golf course which is so hidden that many people who have lived in our town for decades never have heard of it, much less patronized it.

Bordered on one edge by a small creek and dwarfed on the opposite side by the owners' 230-acre farm, this homemade course boasts one hole that drops your ball onto the green by means of looping it round and round an oversized, spray-painted auger bit wrapped in chicken wire.  On another, balls ricochet off a tin square nailed into the base of a tree.  When you reach the final hole -- which on this course is the 21st hole, rather than the standard 18th -- you aim toward a mounted five-foot plastic trout.  Those skilled (or lucky) enough to launch their ball into the trout's gaping mouth earn a free game.

Before you leave, you can feed grass to the three alpacas in the front field, visit the two newest calves in the barn, or buy fresh eggs gathered from the hen house that morning.

It's classic.

Tonight, we were the only ones there.  Given that it was still 89 degrees with, say, 80% humidity at 7:00 in the evening, this isn't surprising.  Many people were holed up in their air-conditioned houses viewing their sixth consecutive hour of college football or fanning themselves on their back porches with beverages in hand.

Not us.  We had entered the realm of extreme trust where you hand metal clubs to those very small and volatile people in your family, and then you encourage them to swing those clubs.  It's an exercise in faith.

Being competitive in nature (there's no telling where she got this from, right?), Reese kept track of her own score.  Brooke played the holes backward, hit her ball haphazardly, laid down on the greens, picked flowers, and examined the ants crawling on the tenth hole; in essence, she remained blissfully unaware that most people who go mini-golfing actually do just that -- i.e., golf.

Kerrington, so quick on her feet now, raced up and down the greens, wreaking the type of havoc synonymous with ever-mobile fifteen-month-olds.  Eventually we hooked her up with two balls, one for each fist, in hopes that she'd be less interested in grabbing those balls in play if both her hands already were occupied.  While sound in theory, this was only marginally successful in practice.

When we packed the kids back into the van, their faces were flushed, hair sweaty, and clothes grass-stained from when they rolled themselves down the hill across from the pumpkin patch.

Pretty much a perfect night, even if I didn't ever manage to get a hole in one.

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The other day Kerrington was markedly cranky, which is unlike her.  I hoisted her onto my hip and she melded into me, lowering her head onto my shoulder.  Immediately I could tell that her forehead was warm.

While I never would wish illness on my children, there is something exceptionally sweet about the vulnerability of a sick child.  My girls don't normally slow down long enough to cuddle for any length of time.  They're on missions; they're careening, darting from one thing to the next, and scattering through the house like errant pin balls.

But not when they're feverish.

I sank into a corner in the couch, settled Kerrington onto my lap, and held her long and close, reveling in how she nuzzled into my embrace.

Her fever's gone now, and I'm glad.  Oh, if only the snuggling always could continue.

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