Gift Wrap Inspiration

I know I have been conspicuously absent around here. Apologies all around! There is so much I would love to share about the holiday season and especially how my family does the holidays because it's pretty unique and special. But I always find that during the holidays I'm too busy actually taking part in the festivities to write about it. :)

Obviously, there is SO much more to the season than shopping, planning, buying and wrapping presents. But I really do enjoy giving to friends and family and thinking up gifts that will make them feel special and loved. It doesn't matter how amazing the present is, thoughtful gift wrap makes it *that* much more special.

It's always so fun to observe the presents under my family's Christmas tree. Everyone has such unique style in their wrapping, from my father who considers high-quality wrapping a plastic Target bag instead of a plastic Wal-Mart bag to Carmella (4) who thinks the more pink, glitter and bows the better to Nathaniel (13) who is obsessive about the corners on his packages to Ellie (8) who demands on no more than three pieces of tape per package.

Sharing some of my gift wrap inspiration in case you, like me, are a last minute wrapper:
And a sample of the final product:
Find more wrapping and Christmas inspiration on my Pinterest board, Most Wonderful Time of the Year. I would love to hear what inspires your Christmas wrapping...comment below and let me know!


Tybee Island

Tybee Island was not our destination. Twelve years ago we headed south for Disney World. Savannah was our rest stop, Tybee Island just a day trip for an event at the science center. But then we saw the lighthouse and we found the beach. That beautiful, perfectly deserted beach and we never did make it to the exhibit.

Nine consecutive trips later, this detour has become our home away from home. My family spends three weeks every summer on this tiny, two-mile island. We unplug, read books, play cards, cook so much food, walk the beaches and take a break from the rush and pressures of home. It's a time to regroup and recharge for the challenges of the year ahead. We now have so many friends here who have made us feel welcome and given Southern hospitality a greater meaning. This year dear-friends-turned-family traveled all the way from Minnesota to spend a few days of awesome conversation, eating and enjoying each others company.

Sometimes you find something you didn't know you were looking for. This wasn't the plan. But it's perfect. Oh so perfect. And you slowly discover this is where you were meant to be. It is the best place to be. And your plans don't matter anymore. Perhaps someday you'll arrive at your original destination. And maybe it's a detour but a detour is still part of the journey. This, this is now.


Getting Crafty | Fall Edition

Have you ever had a Pinterest fail? Pinterest is the best but I have had more DIY fails than I care to count. It just looks so easy...until you try it. Last Christmas I bought three yards of Tartan print flannel for a Pinterest project that quickly deteriorated into a full blown disaster. And all year I have regretted the waste of my fabric purchase.

Until now! Inspiration struck and this time IT WORKED. I cut down my three yards to 2.5 (so as not to drown) and folded the flannel into a seriously awesome blanket scarf. Guys, it is so warm and cozy! Plus, because of all the colors in the print, it should go with pretty much everything. Which means I will not be taking it off until spring. I did not hem but I think I may do a straight stitch around the border so it frays enough but not too much.

And to further the awesome, a here VERY similar scarf here is selling for $45 (gag). With sales and coupons I paid less than $5/yard. Guys, it's hard to beat the thrill of a really good deal.

In other Pinterest worthy news, after hearing much about apple cider donuts I took advantage of a lazy Sunday morning and gave them a go. Mella + Elsa were my helpers and we used this recipe. We made our own boiled apple cider and fried without too much disaster (be proud). Conclusion? They were okay but I don't think worth the hype. And, at least this particular recipe, did not have as much of an apple flavor as I would have liked. I might try a baked and/or yeast version sometime...if you have a recipe you like I would love a copy!

Care you share your recent crafting adventures?


Dear Medical Professional

photo credit: susan schmidt
inspired by Morgan's fabulous post, Metrics of Affection...

Dear Medical Professional,

I hope you understand what an amazing privilege you have. This year, in the United States alone, 6,000 babies will be born with Down Syndrome. And you, YOU, will be the very first person to welcome that baby into the world. Those 6,000 scared and confused families are not going to look to their friends or relations for answers...they are going to look to you.

You will be the one to share the news of their baby's diagnosis.  You will answers their endless questions about the implications of Down Syndrome. You will set the tone of that baby's first days and weeks of life. And you words and action will determine their child's reception.

Two and half years ago my brother Addison-sometimes-Henry was born. While we knew he had a CHD we did not have a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. There were many specialist present at his deliver. And when he was born they knew. But no one wanted to be the one to deliver the news. Although he was stable, they swept him away to the NICU before my mother could hold him and she still regrets the loss of those precious early bonding moments.

He was three days old when we received a definite T21 diagnosis. "I'm sorry." "This shouldn't have happened." Statistics. Complications. Referrals.

I'm ashamed to say, we spent the first week of his life mourning his diagnosis and the bleak picture the professionals had painted of his life. Not one doctor, not one nurse congratulated us. Not one of the many healthcare providers involved in his birth told us what an amazing boy he was and what a bright future he had. To them, his birth was a genetic mistake. And that is what they conveyed to my family, already scared in the reality of this unfamiliar territory.

I can't encourage you enough, if you have the opportunity to greet a child with Down Syndrome, please take time to express to the family how pleased you are for the arrival of their beautiful baby.

Please tell them their child's future is bright and the sky is the limit.

Please tell them they are living in a wonderful era for people with Down Syndrome.

Please tell them their child is more than a diagnosis.

Please be honest and tell them this will be hardest things they've ever done but their child will always be 110% worth it all.

Please tell them, for now, the pain and tears are real but they are nothing compared to the incredible joy the future will hold.


Why I Love "Go Set A Watchman"

Like everyone else in the world, I love To Kill a Mockingbird. Like everyone else in the world, I was surprised/excited/nervous to hear of the release of Go Set a Watchman. But unlike everyone else in the world, I love Go Set a Watchman and think it a worthy sequel to Harper Lee's classic tale.

I have yet to hear a positive review for Go Set a Watchman. Several have said it was only published because it's Harper Lee, one friend said it was boring but the main complaint has been, it ruins Atticus' character.

***keep in mind this post will, most likely, include spoilers***

In case you haven't read GSaW, the very abridged synopsis goes something like this: Grown-up Scout, now living in New York, returns home to visit Mayberry (←small, southern town...Maycomb, Mayberry...you can understand my confusion). Through a series of events she discovers Atticus and her love interest/Atticus' protege are members of the newly formed Citizens' Council. Her world comes crashing down as she realized her father is not who she thought him to be.

Reader's main quibble seems to mirror Scout's feelings perfectly. In To Kill a Mockingbird we all fell in love with Atticus and hailed him as a great Civil Right's activist. So naturally our justice seeking hearts are devastated to learn of our hero supporting something as vile as segregation.

“What would Atticus do?” passed through her unconscious; she never realized what made her dig in her feet and stand firm whenever she did was her father; that whatever was decent and of good report in her character was put there by her father; she did not know that she worshiped him.”

But don't you see? That's just the point!

People are flawed. Fathers, mothers, friends, celebrities and historical figures. They all get stuff wrong. You can't set you moral compass by any one person. Because they will let you down. And, like Scout, your world and sense of morality will tumble if it's dependent on the supposed goodness of any individual.

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.” 

But, guys? Flawed people can get stuff right, too. Good people aren't always good and bad people aren't always bad. You can learn something from anyone. Atticus' belief in a despicable practice and his ignorant justifications of his beliefs do nothing to change the fact that his actions in To Kill a Mockingbird are noble, right and commendable. Atticus is a good father. He did good works. But he is flawed and has flawed thinking. He's human.

“As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings—I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes ’em like all of us.” 

I would like to tell you about my cousin C. When C experienced some traumatic events in his early teens, instead of facing the hurt, he masked the pain with substance abuse. He spent his teen and young adult years in and out of jail on various charges, including armed robbery. Eventually the drugs he embraced took his life.

The world would not classify C as a good person. But to my siblings and I he was always the big brother who was never too busy to play hide and seek or build a snowman. We were well aware of the bad things he had done but we knew he was not a bad person. He was our big brother and friend.

It would be nice if people fit inside our mental check boxes of good, bad, neutral. But that's not the way the world works.

 “I need a watchman to tell me this is what a man says but this is what he means, to draw a line down the middle and say here is this justice and there is that justice and make me understand the difference.”

People are flawed creatures. Inevitably they will let you down. There is evil in us all.

But there is also a great deal of good. And you can't ignore the good. Be wise, acknowledge the wrong. But keep looking for the good...it's there somewhere. And when you find it, take heart. Relish that, no matter how dark, there is always a glimmer of goodness.

“As she welcomed him silently to the human race, the stab of discovery made her tremble a little.”
 ― Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
Have you read Go Set a Watchman? I would love to hear your thoughts...especially if you disagree!


Top 10 Disney Memories

Hello, friends! I'm back! In case you didn't notice, I ran out of time before I left and the whole month of running posts kinda went out the window. (Get it? Ran out of time? I crack myself up...) Hopefully there was something useful in the posts that did make it to publication and we'll get back to running blogging sometime in the future...

BUT right now I want to tell you about Disney World! Actually I want to tell you ALL about Disney World but that would be one flippin' long post so let's focus on the top ten Disney moments (you don't know how I struggled to keep it down to just 10!).
Disney was awesome. I loved every. single. thing. about it except the darn Florida heat. The worst. Basically spent two weeks bopping around from AC to AC. God help me if I ever move south...I'm pretty sure I wouldn't survive.

1. Seeing Carmella meet and interact with Mickey Mouse, Elsa, Snow White and other assorted Disney characters. Carmella (4) was actually the instigator of this trip when, back in January, she informed us Mickey Mouse was calling for her to come meet him. When a little girl as cute as this tells you she needs to visit Mickey...you really can't argue with the logic. Heck, some days I feel like I need to see Mickey Mouse. Carmella is the very first of my siblings to believe in Santa Clause, fairies, mermaids and every Disney characters she comes in contact with. It's a new experience for my family. Is it wrong to lie to her? Probably. But we are relishing the novelty and sheer cuteness of a little tiny believer and praying she won't outgrow it in a hurry. Seeing her face light up when, after forty-five minutes in line (no complaining...I know other people waited over five hours), she finally catches a glimpse of the Frozen duo...it makes every. single. cent. 110% worth it.
2. Discovering Disney updates. One of my very favorite things about Disney is, no matter how many times you visit (this was my sixth trip...yes, I can direct you to any bathroom in the Magic Kingdom), there is always something new to experience. We checked out the new parade, Rapunzel bathrooms and, the biggest change since last visit, the Seven Dwarfs ride. True to Disney style, there are SO many fun details that make this two minute kiddie roller coaster 110% magical.
3. Guys, I'm a sucker for anything seasonal. Not in a snowman earring sorta way but in a when it's fall I want to see pumpkins, goshdarnit sorta way. Disney any time of the year is beautiful. But Disney during the holidays is that much more special. The Christmas decorations are my very favorite but no one can deny that even when it comes to fall decor...Disney's nailed it.
4. Generally, Disney on a holiday is NOT a good idea. But Labor Day was the last day of the Frozen Summer Fun party at Disney's Hollywood Studios. And when you're traveling with two little girls as Frozen obsessed at Ellie and Carmella you do what you have to do. Frozen singalong, Frozen stage show, Frozen parade, Frozen dance party, Frozen fireworks...basically everything was blue and snowing with "Let it Go" blaring. But it was such a fun day and seeing the girl's faces...I'm sold. The fireworks, which told the Frozen story as narrated by Olaf, were truly spectacular and some of Disney's best.
5. The key to surviving Disney with little ones? Don't try to do it all in one day. We did a lot of half days and post-nap time evenings for dinner and a nighttime show. It made for some super fun evenings and never forget...when the kids are rested and happy, we're all happy.
6. What's better than Disney World? Starbucks IN Disney World. Guys, it's just the best. And the Disney themed Starbucks cups? Melt my heart.
7. No Disney trip is complete without lunch at the Crystal Palace with Pooh Bear and friends. The food is far from noteworthy but seeing the kids (and my father...he's the quintessential Disney Dad) get so into the characters is priceless. Plus there is nothing like the respite of the cool dining room on a hot afternoon to recharge your batteries for the rest of the day. Henry was hilarious with the characters...he was so taken with them and was shouting his little heart out to get their attention...but as soon as they got near he completely flipped and would have nothing to do when them...love 'em from afar, little one.

8. The Magic Kingdom is NOT a fun place to be when it's raining. But there we were, smack in the middle of Main Street during a downpour. Us and every other person in the Magic Kingdom takes cover which means you have lots of sweaty, stinky, bodies crammed together in tight places. Then, out of nowhere, there's music and people dancing in galoshes and a spontaneous parade takes shape right there on Main Street. And all of the sudden you don't feel so crabby about being wet. Guys, these moments are when Disney shines. The impromptu shows, parades, flash mobs...this is where the magic happens.
9. We don't generally eat at Italian restaurants. Why would I even want to when my mom makes everything better? But after many recommendations we finally made reservations at Via Napoli while touring Epcot's World Showcase. When it comes to marinara we are pretty snobby...and their marinara left much to be desired. But the food was not half bad and the service (combine Disney employee + Italian and you're pretty much golden) was amazing. We had such a fun afternoon just chilling around the Italy pavilion. It's slow and sweet and peaceful. The performers, the architectures, the tables outside the wine shops...atmosphere perfection.
10. On our last day, my parents put together a Disney scavenger hunt. We teamed up by twos to complete certain list items...interview a cast member, take a team selfie, create a magical moment (such as singing loud, loud, loud on Small World, sneaking in an extra round on Buzz Lightyear after park closing...), find pixie dust, putt your hands in the air on the Splash Mountain drop (AND getting a picture to prove it)...you get the idea. We all had so much fun and it really made the otherwise sad last day 110% more special.
And THAT is the Reader's Digest edition of my Disney Vacation. Have you ever been to Disney World/Land? I would LOVE to hear some of your favorite memories!


Preventing and Treating Shin Splints

Pain management...because THIS is how wild and crazy I am.
Shin splints...they are nasty and miserable. Thankfully, they are simple to avoid.

1. Always wear good shoes. Keep in mind, expensive doesn't always mean better! Do your research. And avoid shoes marketed as running shoes. Running shoes are meant to be super light for speed and disposable after only a few runs. They offer little to no support. Look instead for a trail shoe. My shoe of choice is anything from the Asics gel series (currently wearing Asics Gel Preleus). They are a little pricey but not ghastly so and a solid pair of running shoes will always cost less than orthopedic bills.

2. Replace your shoes every 200-300 miles. We put our running shoes through a lot and they wear out fast. The Nike+ running app has an option to track the mileages on your shoes which is so helpful.

3. Always s t r e t c h after a run. This is something I'm horrible at because I feel running is an intrusion into my day and I want to get it over with as quickly as possible. One day I was in a rush for an appointment, skipped stretching and paid the price with so much pain all day. That night I finally stretched and it was sweet relief.

Sometimes shin splints happen despite our best efforts. Yes, it hurts but you've gotta work through it. Don't stop running! Apply heat, take ibuprofen around the clock and s t r e t c h your shins like nobody's business.

How do you prevent and treat shin splints? Any shin splint stories you would like to share?


How To Increase Your Running Speed and Endurance

First a bit of a confession: Back in March I started training for this running season. At first I was doing fine. It was March...perfect weather...at the beach...perfect location. And than I got a nasty cold and instead taking time off to rest I ran through it. But because of my low energy I had to stop frequently and it was a mess that got me started in stopping during my runs. Death to my endurance.

To complicate matters, when I was eleven I had reconstructive surgery on my knee. It works great now but in the past year I've developed pain in my knee and hip that only gets worse with running (yes, I'm an old lady). So running will never be pain free.

Long story short, all this lead to my breaking down after a run sometime in May and telling my mom it would never get easier. In all her loving, unfiltered wisdom she said I could either choose to succeed or quit but stop whining and making excuses. It really did seem a shame to quit after so much work and quitting really isn't in my nature AT ALL. So I had an attitude check, decided I could and I would and reached my non-stop 3.5 miles which is my typical run and really the perfect workout for me. I feel like I've worked hard but I'm not dead.

The best way to build your running endurance is simply to decided you will and do not allow yourself to stop. Run as slow as molasses if you must but DON'T STOP RUNNING. Once you stop running your muscles begin to tense, your heart rate slows, you loose your pace and getting going again is so. much. harder.

When you feel like you can't go any further and HAVE to stop, BEFORE you stop I recommend first simply slowing down. Run a 12, 13 or even 14 min/mile. There is no shame in taking your time and you will feel so proud of yourself for not stopping.

Some days I keep going only by thinking how much I want to be finished running and how stopping will just make the misery last longer. Hey, whatever works!

Breathing is huge for endurance. Steady breaths in and out the nose are best. And don't wait until you are winded to focus on breathing. Breath intentionally from the start to avoid cramps and breathlessness. If you have hills in your area (we have nothing but hills) use the downhill stretches to slow down, breath intentionally and prepare for the next hill.

As far as increasing speed, this is one I'm still trying to figure out myself. Remember the second rule for beginning runners? Don't increase your speed until you have reached your distance goal. Once you can run your target distance nonstop you will be surprised how your speed will improve without much effort.

Figure out your average run length and try to do just a little better the next time. For example, once I reached my 3.5 miles nonstop I was doing 42 minute runs pretty consistently without giving speed any thought. A 3.5 miles run in 40 minutes seemed like a pretty simple goal and it was.

Similarly, determine your average no-thought-to-speed pace. I started out doing an average 11:50min/mi. My goal is to run a less than 10:00min/mi. Your pace will fluctuate throughout the run, especially if you run on hills. For now, I try to keep my normal run pace to somewhere between 11:00min/mi and 10:20min/mi. When I need to slow down I try to go no slower than a 12:00min/mi and I throw in as many sub 10:00min/mi sprints (usually 9:30min/mi) as I can to make up for the slower bits.

Be sure you are properly nourished before you run! Last month I did a morning run on an empty stomach less than 24hrs after donating blood. It was a mess. I ran 13:00-14:00min/mi and felt like I was dying. You need those carbs for energy. I am not a breakfast person and don't like eating before 10AM. But on running morning I try to eat 60g carbs, 15-45 minutes before running. It makes such a difference in my speed and endurance! Your body needs something to burn or it will burn muscle and that's just counterproductive.

Also, drink lots of water! Just not too near running or...ya know...

Make use of your full stride. I'm 5'6" so pretty average height. Regardless of height (but helpful if you're tall!) just increasing the distance of your stride will make you faster and your runs easier. This is tricky to practice and something I have to be very conscience of.

Livin' On A Pray by Bon Jovi is my power song. I always listen to it at the half way mark and keep my pace under 10:00min/mi for the duration. It improves time and is just fun.

Always on the look out for ideas...how do you increase your speed and endurance?


Three Rules For Beginning Runners

We've all done it at some point. You tie on your running shoes for the first time of the season or maybe the first time ever.  You have carefully researched and selected the perfect training plan. You hit the road and you feel invincible. Bye, bye training plan. Who needs a training plan?

You do.

You are new to this runner racket. So is your body. It is not used to the intensity of a long distance run. Bad things happy when we thrown the training plan out the window. Injury. Shin splints. Nastiness. It may feel like a set back to stick to a steady increase plan when it feels like you could do so. much. more. but trust me on this one...injury will be a much greater setback and may keep you from ever getting back on the road.

Rule No. 1 For Beginning Runners- Select a training plan and stick to it! Be kind to your body and give it the time it needs to adjust. I know many runners like run/walk plans but it has been my experience that once you start taking walking breaks it is very challenging to stop. I find it much more effective to steadily increase distance. Below is the training plan I used this spring and found very helpful.

Rule No. 2 For Beginning Runners - Build your distance goal before even THINKING about speed. I strongly recommend setting a distance goal (5k/3.1 miles is really the ideal distance for health benefits without putting too much wear and tear on your body. More on goals later.)  Once you have the endurance to run 3 miles (or whatever your distance goal) and KNOW you CAN you will be surprised at how fast the speed comes. (No pun intended!) I love sprinting and it's very tempting to just run as fast as feels good. But I know that if I expend my energy on the sprint I will never make it to the end. It is much wiser to keep it slow and steady until you have the endurance.

Rule No. 3 For Beginning Runners - Never compare yourself to other runners. I cannot think of anything more fatal to that running spirit than comparison. I read this running magazine where the featured runners do 50-60 miles A WEEK. My brothers come back from a 5k complaining because they were so slow (26 MINUTES!). Don't allow the success of others to steal your thunder. Think of what you can do, reflect on how far you've come and be proud of yourself for getting out there and doing it!

What training plan works best for you? Any rules you would add?


A Month of Running

When you read this I will be somewhere along 95 heading south for a really fantastic family vacation. Two weeks in Disney world and two weeks on the shore. Yes. Awesome. I can't wait to tell you all about it when I return in October and send you into photograph overload. But never fear! You will not be completely deprived of my presence...

A few weeks ago a dear friend and new runner emailed asking for running advice. If you know me and my running habits you may understand why I am the last person anyone should be asking for running advice. My farthest run ever was six miles. And I have no intention of ever running further. I run 3.5 miles, three times a week. I run somewhere between slow and slower. (10'40"  and 11'40") This is my third running season  (I usually chicken out over winter). And as a general rule I hate running. 

But! Having run three seasons and being part of a family of serious runners (they scare me!) I have picked up a few tips and tricks. And I am always more than happy to give advice, especially when it's about something I know nothing about. 

While away I will be training to get my 5k under 30 minutes for the 5k by Change Inc. on October 17th. So I have decided to name September the month of running. We will be touching on several running topics inspired by my friend's questions...how to build endurance, how to increase speed, the best running gear and some pitfalls to avoid. 

Let's dispense with all the disclaimers from the get go... 

I am not a personal trainer and have no professional experience or medical training. I am merely an amateur who puts one foot in front of the other and gets excited when it adds up to a significant distance I can call a run, sharing what works for me. Listen to my advice at your own risk. 

As always, I value your input! If you have any experience running you probably have more than I so please share your tips as I share mine and maybe we can learn together. What advise would you give a new runner?

Grab your running shoes and let's get going!