November 29, 2016

Trader Joe's haul

Well, I'm still physically sick with a cold, but I feel a lot better about the vegan challenge, so I'm in a more positive place mentally (and not as crabby!).

Jerry was off work yesterday, and after we took the kids to school, we decided to go to Trader Joe's. I really wanted to get some of their black bean and corn enchiladas. I bought some the last time I went, and loved them! They also happen to be vegan. I had been feeling so frustrated about not having anything quick and easy to eat, so I just wanted to get some convenience items. I know that prepared foods aren't exactly the healthiest choices, but if I'm going to stick to this challenge through the end of December, I need the convenient option once in a while.

Here are the vegan items I picked up at Trader Joe's:


Last year for Christmas, I made an amazing apple cinnamon roll bake for breakfast, and it uses canned cinnamon rolls. I was thrilled to see that I can try making a vegan version of it this year, because Trader Joe's has vegan cinnamon rolls. The other stuff is just to give me some options throughout the month when I need something easy and convenient, so that I don't get frustrated with the whole challenge.

After Trader Joe's, we went to REI. Neither of us had ever been to one before, but I knew it was some sort of sporting good store, so I was curious to check it out. Holy cow, it is such a great store!! There are SO many things for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, which made me wish I was a hiker. But there were also things for runners that I'd never seen in a store before (like a Camelbak--I'd only ever seen those online). I didn't buy anything, but my mental wish list is about a mile long now ;)

As I said on my last post, I headed out for a run when I finished writing it. It didn't go very well! My cold made it feel hard to breathe, and my energy was still zapped, so I ended up just running a lone mile that day. Yesterday, I rested. Today, I'm still feeling sick, but my energy is coming back.

Since I've been resting so much lately, I decided to try running again today. I couldn't believe how nice the weather was!


For being the end of November, I'm shocked that it's been so warm here. I took it very easy on the run (keeping my heart rate under 146 bpm) and my pace was extra slow today, but I was able to do three miles and I felt like I probably could do three more. It felt really good to get some exercise!

I haven't been doing a very good job with the whole MAF experiment. All of my running has been at my MAF heart rate, but I know I'm not doing enough mileage to make a difference. I'm going to try and pick it up now that my energy is getting back to normal.


My friend Dean (a blog reader and Ragnar SoCal teammate) is an ambassador for the Glass City Marathon/Half Marathon/Relay, and he's giving away two free entries to the races. Dean is running the full marathon, and I'm running the relay. It's an awesome race! Anyway, here is the link to Dean's giveaway post if you want to enter to win one of the entries.


Finally, I got an email from a blog reader named Lisa a couple of days ago that totally made my day! I asked her permission to share it. She wrote:
"Hi Katie - I just wanted to say thanks so much for sharing information about Dogs on Deployment. Thanks to you, I am now taking care of a sweet dog for a naval reserve soldier who is in training and will deploy in February, returning in September.  I cannot imagine how stressful training and deployment is on its own, let alone the worry of leaving family, children and pets behind, so it is my pleasure to be able to take one thing off the list of concerns for someone serving our country."
Things like this make me so happy to learn about the good people in the world :)

November 27, 2016

First few days of the vegan challenge

Today marks day three of the vegan challenge. Let's just say it's not going how I'd wished! ;)

If you missed it, I decided to try challenging myself to eat vegan from November 25th through December 31st. (In addition to not eating any animal products, I also chose to give up alcohol--that was an impulsive decision I'm kind of regretting, haha, but still sticking to it).

I'm hoping after a few more days, I'll find it easier to do; but right now, I'm basically just struggling through it in frustration.

In theory, it sounded great--I was looking though vegan recipes, thinking about all the things I could try, and looking forward to it. I'm not even a big meat eater, so I thought that it would be a fairly easy challenge for me. It's the dairy/eggs/honey that are making it difficult, though.

In reality, this challenge requires a TON of planning and preparation. I'm infamous for buying vegetables only to find them rotten in the fridge later because I forgot to use them or I changed my mind about what to cook. So, I like to buy just what I'm going to use that day or the next day. Basically, what I should be doing, is planning out each morning what I'm going to eat for the day, and then stick to that plan. Go buy the ingredients just for the day, and repeat.

Also, I've been sick with a cold (I'm pissed--I JUST got over a cold about a month ago, and now I'm sick again! Usually, I go years between colds). This cold has knocked me on my ass. I've had absolutely NO energy (not because of what I'm eating--I've actually been eating much healthier than normal--but because of the cold itself).

It's actually hard to tell what things are happening because of my cold versus what are happening because of the vegan challenge. For example, my appetite has been very low, and I hardly ever feel hunger. Not sure yet if it's the cold or the challenge causing that. Hopefully it's the challenge! Once this cold goes away, I'll figure it out.

This cold has been making me super crabby, so it's hard to see the positive right now. But I will, as soon as I'm better. Let's hope so, anyway! ;) Tomorrow, the kids go back to school after their Thanksgiving break, so I'm going to hopefully get into a nice routine with this challenge. I can stop at the store after I drop them off to school in the mornings and pick up ingredients for dinner. I started a Pinterest board with recipes that I think will be pretty easy without having to buy a bunch of unusual ingredients.

On Friday, the first day of the challenge, Nathan (my younger brother) invited us out to dinner at Anson's, our favorite pizza place. One of his friends that he was stationed with while in the Army (Nick) was visiting, along with his family, and Nathan wanted everyone to get together for dinner. I didn't want to skip dinner with the family just because of the challenge, so I decided to go with them and order a veggie pizza with no cheese.


It actually wasn't too bad! I would have liked to eat the Reuben pizza (my favorite), of course, but the veggie one was good.

Earlier that day, Nathan wanted to show Nick and his family around Detroit. I'm more familiar with Detroit than Nathan is, so he asked if I'd go with them. Since they were bringing their kids (two boys who are about the same age as Noah and Eli), I took my kids and we all headed up there for the afternoon. We took the People Mover to Joe Louis Arena, and then walked the Riverwalk, crossed to Campus Martius to check out the Christmas tree, and then walked back to the casino, where we'd parked.

Noah and Eli
It was a fun afternoon! I always like going to Detroit.

Yesterday and today, I have done absolutely nothing. I've been resting because I have no energy and I'm hoping this cold will just pack up and go away. Jerry's sick, too, but thankfully the kids aren't! I watched the new Gilmore Girls four-part series yesterday, and I was left wanting SO much more. I'm sad that it's over. I wish I'd turned it off just two minutes before it actually ended, though. I won't spoil it, but if you watched it, then you may feel the same way.

I do have a little more energy today, so after I finish this post, I'm going to head out for a run. If it feels awful, I won't stay out long; but I feel SO lazy after not doing anything all day yesterday or today, and I think a run will make me feel better. Since I'm going MAF training, it'll be an easy run anyway.

Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend!

November 24, 2016

A cozy Thanksgiving

Today felt like such a nice, cozy day for Thanksgiving. The weather was perfect for fall--about 40 degrees and overcast. I got up early, at around 5:00, and went out in the living room to curl under my blanket and play solitaire on my iPad.

Recently, Jerry and I were looking for a new entertainment center (the one we had wasn't even an entertainment center--just cheap shelves). I looked at thrift stores for a long time, but just couldn't find what I had in mind. I would have loved to get one of the entertainment centers with an LED fireplace, but they were expensive, so I hadn't even been considering them.

When I mentioned it to my mom, she offered to give Jerry and me Christmas gift money early so that we could use it toward one of the fireplace entertainment centers. With her gift, we decided to go ahead and get one.

We bought one at Lowe's, and I LOVE it! I've always liked the light given off by a fire; the LED one obviously don't look as good as a real fire, but it's much more convenient, and it actually does look pretty good (in my opinion).


Anyway, this morning was spent cuddled on the couch in the light of the fireplace, playing solitaire, in a silent house (everyone was still asleep). It makes me feel so excited for the colder weather!

My mom asked me to make a pecan pie to take to her house for dessert, so I baked that this morning. Then I decided to head out for a run with Joey.

I wasn't sure how well I'd be able to stick to my low heart rate training while running with Joey, but I really wanted him to come with me. I decided I would just run at a slow pace, even if he pulled hard to get me to move faster. I love the hands-free leash, because it makes it easier to keep my heart rate down (when I had to hold the leash, my heart rate spiked all the time from pulling Joey in all sorts of directions).

We just did a short three-mile route, and it was pretty uneventful. Joey was trying to get me to move faster, but I was stubborn and just held him back to keep my heart rate down. The run felt really easy today, for some reason, and when I was done, I realized why: my pace was in the 12:00's!




I've been sticking with my plan to keep my heart rate at my MAF training zone (under 146 bpm). I think I just might not be running enough mileage to make a difference, though. My pace has been SO inconsistent since I started this training! I had been planning to plot out all of my runs into a line graph, but the inconsistency will make it difficult to see any progress. Instead, I think I'll run the same route once a week (not with Joey!) and compare that run each week. It'll be easier if I'm just comparing one run per week instead of all the runs together, if that makes sense. I'll get in one more week of training, and then write an update on how it's going so far.

I'm actually really looking forward to starting my vegan challenge tomorrow! This morning, I went through my recipes blog to see what meals I have that are already vegan--and there were actually quite a few! (Here is where you can see the recipes)

Lentil and Black Bean Chili
Guacamole
Chick Pea Curry
Taco Soup (omit the chicken)
Cookie Dough Hummus
Crispy Potato Halves
Vegetarian Fajitas
General Tso's Cauliflower (my chicken recipe, just with cauliflower instead of chicken)
Green Monster Smoothie
Granola
Hot Cinnamon Apples
Indian Lentil Soup
Hummus
Lemon Lentil Soup
Mexican Lentils & Rice
Quick Bean Soup
Quinoa Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
Roasted Tomato & Garlic Soup with Barley
Spicy Peanut Noodle Bowls
Beans and Rice
Sweet Potato Wheels
Vegetarian Fried Rice
Pizza Crust
Whole Wheat Tortillas

These are all the recipes on my recipes blog that are already vegan. Bonnie sent me a ton of recipes yesterday as well. It's actually kind of overwhelming! I need to sit down and make a meal plan so I don't get frustrated.

Anyway, we are heading to my parents' house now. Happy Thanksgiving!


SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

RECIPE: Homemade Taco Seasoning

Ever since I discovered how easy it is to make my own taco seasoning, I no long buy stuff in packets. I've tried several different recipes for it, and it's all very similar; but my favorite is from Emily Bites' Spicy Taco Gnocchi Skillet recipe. I just use the seasonings from that recipe to make my own taco seasoning for other uses as well (with a couple of modifications to my family's taste). I've posted the seasoning recipe here for convenience.

Taco Seasoning

1 Tbsp. chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients together in a little bowl or a ziplock baggie. One recipe is the perfect amount for one pound of meat.

RECIPE: Spicy Taco Gnocchi

This has become one of my very favorite recipes! I thought the gnocchi sounded so odd with taco seasoning, but I'm glad I tried it. This is a modified version of a recipe by Emily Bites. The portion size on this looks tiny (a scant cup!) but it is surprisingly very filling. I'm always satisfied after eating it. I have also made this with pasta instead of the gnocchi, and it tastes just as good. Just cook the pasta separately, and add it to the rest of the dish afterward.


Spicy Taco Gnocchi Skillet

One recipe of taco seasoning:
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. butter
1 package (16 oz) of gnocchi
1 pound of lean ground turkey (93/7)
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 oz can of Rotel tomatoes (or salsa)
1 cup beef broth
1 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup full-fat sour cream
4 oz. full-fat cheddar cheese

Prepare taco seasoning by mixing all ingredients in a small dish. Set aside.

Heat skillet over medium high heat and melt butter in skillet. Add the gnocchi, and cook for a couple of minutes until gnocchi starts to brown a little. Set gnocchi aside in a bowl.

Add the onions to the skillet, and cook for a couple of minutes until they soften. Add the ground turkey to the skillet, and break it up as it browns. Add the seasoning mix, salsa, broth, and corn, as well as the reserved gnocchi. Bring just to a boil, and then reduce the heat. Cover with a lid and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Add the sour cream and cheese, and stir. Portion into six bowls (about 1 cup each).

RECIPE: Lentil and Black Bean Chili

This is a Weight Watchers recipe, and my whole family actually really loved it. I cut back on the spices a little because of my kids. We topped it with a little cheese and sour cream.

Lentil & Black Bean Chili

1-1/2 cups dry lentils (preferably French variety, but regular green lentils will work too)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. dried oregano
1-1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne
1/2 tsp. salt
29 oz. can of diced tomatoes (fire roasted with chiles)
2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed

Cook lentils by placing in a pot and cover with water (a couple of inches above the level of the lentils). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat at simmer until lentils are tender, but not too soft (about 12 minutes).

While lentils are cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Cook the onions, bell pepper, and garlic in the oil until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, and cover the skillet. Let simmer 5-10 minutes, and then add the lentils. Stir and divide into 6 portions to serve.

November 23, 2016

A holiday challenge

I've been thinking about this and thinking about this, having been totally unsure if I wanted to move forward with it. I know that if I make it public, then I'll be committed to finishing it, which is probably why I haven't mentioned it. I just wanted to be 100% sure I want to do it.

I used to do monthly challenges for myself, and somewhere along the way, I got out of the habit of doing them. Right now, I haven't really been focused on anything. Last year, I was hardcore into getting down to my racing weight and then training for my 10K; this year, I'm loosely counting calories, trying to lose the summer weight, but not really putting much effort into it.

And to be honest, I like it this way. I look "normal" at this size, and I don't have to watch very closely what or how much I'm eating. I haven't gained anything this fall. Maybe I'll feel like working harder at it again in a few months, but right now, I am pretty content, even with the extra pounds.

Anyways, back to the challenge. I've always liked challenges that are from 2-6 weeks long. Any longer, and I tend to lose interest before it's over. When my friends were here over the weekend, Bonnie and I each agreed to give up a vice of ours for the rest of the year. She chose bread, and I chose alcohol. This challenge wasn't too difficult to agree to. I like alcohol, of course, but I will survive month without it ;)

The REAL challenge is something I'd been thinking about trying for a long time: eating vegan for a month!

As I mentioned, Bonnie is vegan; she shared a lot of her favorite foods and meal ideas with us, and they sounded really good. I have no interest in becoming vegan permanently, but to try it for a month will be kind of fun (and definitely challenging)!

The hardest part for me is not giving up meat, but giving up dairy! I love cream--ice cream and cream-based sauces. Also, even though I'm not a huge cheese person (I don't just sit down and each cheese by itself), I do like pizza, macaroni and cheese, and scrambled eggs with cheese, etc.

Instead of focusing on the things that vegans don't eat, I'm going to try to just think about all the foods that vegans do eat. When I was at Bonnie's house on Labor Day weekend, she made a mock-tuna salad that I was very skeptical would taste good. I do love to taste new things, though, so I was open minded and gave it a try. I was shocked at how good it was! Chick peas take the place of the tuna, and she used some kelp powder (I think that's what she said it was) that gives it a mild tuna taste. I would eat that whether I was vegan or not--it was that good!

I've had this vegan cookbook called Thug Kitchen in my pantry for a while, and I've never used it, so I'm going to dust it off and try some recipes. I've heard really great things about this cookbook.



Since I'm going to be trying lots of new things, it'll also give me something fun to blog about. I thought the idea of doing the challenge between Thanksgiving and the New Year sounded better than just for December; so, it'll be a little over a month, but the plan is to do it from November 25th-December 31st (36 days). I don't have any plans going on for the rest of the year (other than a couple of family things) so now is the perfect time to try this challenge.

I'm not really sure what I'm hoping to get out of doing this. I like doing challenges because it gives me a focus and something to work toward. Also, it tests my discipline; and it feels good to complete something difficult. In the end, I hope that I will enjoy vegetables more, and maybe branch out my meal rotation a bit. It'll be a fun experiment, if nothing else.

Well, I hope that everyone has a nice Thanksgiving! My mom is cooking dinner, so we are going to her house. My brothers are going to be there, too. Should be fun! :)

November 21, 2016

Girls weekend!

I just got home from dropping Bonnie and Andrea off at the airport, and I am so sad that the weekend is over. We had such an amazing time!

On Thursday, Caitlin (my Ragnar SoCal teammate) arrived from Boston; Bonnie (another Ragnar SoCal teammate) came in from Virginia; and Andrea (my Ragnar Florida Keys teammate) arrived from Kansas City. Bonnie and Caitlin obviously knew each other already, but Andrea met them for the first time. We all have quite a bit in common, and it was fun chatting. Between the four of us, we've lost a collective 630-ish pounds!! So crazy.

Caitlin, Andrea, Bonnie, and me
I won't detail the entire five days they were here (they came in Thursday and left Monday), but here are some highlights of their visit.

On Thursday, we right to La Pita for lunch after I picked them up from the airport. Bonnie and Caitlin had never been there before, so I was excited for them to try it. Bonnie is vegan, and La Pita has a lot of vegan options, thankfully. Lunch was delicious!

We got settled in at my house, and then walked to the local bar for drinks and Keno. I introduced them all to Keno, and then I happened to win my four-spot! I always pick the same numbers: 11, 25, 33, and 64. All of my numbers were pulled, so I won $72 (I'd paid $20 for the ticket). It's fun to win, because then I got to pay for the whole table's tab and it technically didn't cost me anything ;)

On Friday, I planned to host my wine club meeting, so we spent the day prepping for that. First, we went for a walk at the state park, because it was gorgeous outside--72 degrees! Then we bought the groceries for Winers. Andrea and Caitlin are amazing at baking, so they made yummy cookies. Bonnie and I put together dozens of skewers of things--antipasto, pound cake with strawberries, cheese and fruit, etc.

About an hour before Winers started, I saw that I got several messages from guests who canceled at the last minute. I was super bummed, because I had spent a lot of money and time putting everything together. Only four people from my wine club showed up (I was expecting 12), so we had a ton of leftover wine and food. BUT, we had a lot of fun! I just don't think I'll be hosting Winers again after all that.

Unfortunately, Caitlin had to leave on Friday night, because she coaches Girls on the Run and their practice 5K was rescheduled for Saturday morning. Again, a bummer, but she really didn't have any other options. She took a late flight, so she was able to be here for a little while during Winers.

On Saturday, Bonnie, Andrea, and I went up to Detroit in the morning so I could take them to Eastern Market. Eastern Market is a HUGE farmer's market that is open year-round on Saturdays, and a couple of other days during the summer. There are vendors that sell food, plants, crafts, etc. Bonnie was hoping to find some vegan baked goods, because that's not something that she can get easily (if at all) at home. The weather change was ridiculous from the day before--Friday was 72 and sunny, and Saturday was 32 and overcast/drizzly.



We walked around Eastern Market, and if it wasn't so cold, we probably could have spent all day there; but as we were walking, down came freezing rain! We got to see the whole market before the freezing rain, thankfully, so then we left to get lunch. There is a restaurant in Detroit called Detroit Vegan Soul, and I was excited to take Bonnie there. She's been vegan for two years (vegetarian much longer), but she'd NEVER been to a vegan restaurant before! Taking her there was one of my favorite parts of their visit, because I've never seen a grown woman so excited about anything. It's fun to see someone that excited!


I'm obviously not vegan, but I do love to try new things, so I ordered the "catfish" dinner--it was tofu that was breaded and fried like catfish, along with potatoes and a corn/broccoli medley.


I thought it was just okay. I really liked the cornmeal breading, but the tofu itself didn't have any flavor. The side dishes were good, though.

Andrea ordered the "Soul Platter"--collard greens, mac and cheese, beans and rice, and sweet potatoes.

Bonnie got a "bacon" wrap (the bacon was made from coconut!) and yam chips

All of us agreed that the food was just so-so, but we really liked trying it. The restaurant is adorable, too!

After that, we headed to Greektown Casino because Bonnie had never been in a casino before. She lost a quick $5 in a slot machine ;) We had some time to kill before going to Jerry's sister's house for a Pure Romance party, so I took them on a quick tour of Detroit via the People Mover (it was way too cold to walk around). Then, we stopped into Astoria Pastry Shop in Greektown to get baklava for a treat to have later.


Neither Bonnie nor Andrea had ever been to a Pure Romance party, so it was really fun to take them to Laura's! (Laura is Jerry's sister). Laura hosted the party, and Jerry's cousin was the consultant. The party was fun, and we were giggling over the products like the mature women we are ;)

We were pretty exhausted when we got home that evening. For dinner, we just ate some of the things we bought from Eastern Market (tamales and chips with guac), and then we watched a couple of movies while we drank margaritas in our pajamas. (I'd bought all three of the girls some Cookie Monster pajama pants. I wish I'd have thought to get a picture of all four of us in our pajamas while Caitlin was here.)

With our margaritas and PJ's
Sunday was the Kona Chocolate Run 10K that we were supposed to do, but the weather was miserable! None of us thought that running in the cold snowy weather sounded fun (the "feels like" temp was 13 degrees because of the wind!). So, we stayed home and had a pretty low key day. We went out for Mexican food for dinner (a super early dinner!) with Jerry and the kids. Then, we watched Shameless in our pajamas and had more margaritas (a lot of margaritas were consumed this weekend! ha). It was a very fun pajama party weekend!

This morning, Bonnie made me one of her delicious sandwiches. She's introduced me to several things I wouldn't normally have thought to try. She makes a sandwich on this amazing bread called Dave's Killer Bread...


I'm normally not a big bread person (unless it's freshly baked and has something spread on it), but holy cow, this bread is heavenly! Bonnie's favorite sandwich consists of this bread, sliced avocado, a very thin smear of Just Mayo (a vegan mayonnaise), red onions, Mrs. Dash Chipotle seasoning, and spinach. It was delicious, and I have a feeling I'm going to be eating it a lot now.


Remember how I said that my tastes have changed recently, and peanut butter is repulsive for some crazy reason? Well, I've also had an aversion to sweets for the first half of each day. The thought of having a sweet breakfast makes me feel nauseous. It's so strange! When we were at Eastern Market, I wasn't even tempted to taste samples of all the sweets and baked goods. Once evening rolls around, however, sweets are great again. (I have no idea what caused this--I suspect it's from the fish oil and/or vitamin D supplements I started taking about a month ago.) Anyway, this sandwich actually makes a great (savory) breakfast.

Today, it's back to the normal routine. I already miss my friends! But I am so glad that we got to have such a fun visit, and I hope we can do something like this annually.

November 17, 2016

Running Games for Kids (Part 2 of 2)

(...continued...) In my previous post, I shared tips for coaching a kids' running club or cross country team. In this post, I'll share the games that my cross country kids loved playing after getting in their mileage for the day. The games still involve running, but the kids don't even really realize it!



Connect 4

I bought a Connect 4 board game, and we used that in a few different ways. There is a hill in the park where we practice, so to get them to run hill repeats, we placed all of the game pieces (the little red and yellow discs) on the top of the hill. Then we placed the game board at the bottom of the hill. We divided the kids into the yellow team and the red team (trying to make them equal based on how fast the kids were).

Each team lined up at the bottom of the hill, and when I blew the whistle, the first person on each team ran to the top of the hill, grabbed one game piece, and ran back to the bottom to put their piece on the board. When they reached the bottom, the next person from their team headed up the hill. This went on until one of the teams got four tokens in a row! We usually fit in two or three rounds of this game.

Another way to use the Connect 4 game is to do a relay like I wrote above, only instead of a hill, they can run a straight line or in a loop.

Sharks and Minnows

This is a game that the kids actually taught me. Using orange cones, we set up a large rectangular play area. You choose two kids to be "sharks", who start in the center of the rectangle. The rest of the kids are "minnows", and they line up across one end of the rectangle. The goal is for the minnows to get from one side of the play area to the other without getting tagged by a shark.

When I blow the whistle, the kids all run as fast as they can to the other side, and try not to get tagged by a shark. If they get tagged, they become "seaweed" and they have to sit down on the spot they were tagged. The seaweed can then tag minnows as well as the minnows run by, but they have to stay seated. You do several rounds of this until there is only one minnow left standing, who is the winner.

Musical Hula Hoops

This is basically musical chairs, but instead of putting a bunch of chairs in a circle, I put a bunch of hula hoops in a giant circle in the field. For 20 kids, we started with 8 hula hoops and we allowed 2 kids per hula hoop. When I blew the whistle, the kids would start running a circle around the circle of hoops, just like in musical chairs; and then when I blew the whistle again, they had to scramble to find a hoop to stand in. Only two kids were allowed per hoop, so the leftover kids were out. Then we took away one of the hoops, and continued. We did this until there were two kids fighting for one hoop. Last one standing is the winner.



Obstacle Course

I set up a simple obstacle course for the kids to run relay-style. They had to weave in and out of cones, hop over three hurdles, jump rope five times, do a hopscotch-like thing with the hula hoops, and maybe a couple of other things that I came up with. First team to finish wins. Or, you could combine this with Connect 4, and have them pick up a token after the last obstacle and run it to the game board.


Scavenger Hunt

This was a little different than your average scavenger hunt. I bought about 10 small buckets from the dollar store, and a large package of plastic toy food items. On index cards, I wrote down the name of each food item. Then, I placed 3-4 items in each bucket, and placed all the buckets spread across the field randomly. I divided the kids into two teams, and they lined up relay-style. I handed each kid one of the index cards with an item written on it.

When I blew the whistle, the first kid from each team ran off to look in the buckets for their item (if they were lucky, it would be in the first bucket they checked; but if not, they had to keep searching). When they found their item, they ran it back to the team, and the next person took off. The first team to find all their objects was the winner. The kids are allowed to help their teammates--if the first kid, for example, saw the banana in one bucket and knew their teammate was going to be looking for it, they could tell their teammate what bucket the banana was in.

Matching Game

I bought a few packs of Matching Game cards from the dollar store (the deck consists of cards with pictures on them, and each card has a match). I would have the kids run their laps and collect ONE card after each lap (without peaking at the cards). They were divided into two teams, and each card they collected was put in a pile for their team. Once all the cards were gone, the teams got together to see how many matches they made. The team with the most matches was the winner. The kids learned that the faster they ran, the more laps--and therefore, more cards--they would get.

Marbles

This game is for a hill, but you could modify it for short sprints on flat ground, too. I bought two bags of marbles--one blue and one green. The blue marbles were worth 1 point, and the green marbles were worth 3 points. We placed a bucket with all the blue marbles halfway up the hill, and a bucket with the green marbles at the very top of the hill.

We divided the kids into two teams of equal ability, and when we blew the whistle, all the kids run at the same time up and down the hill, picking up one marble at a time and returning it to the bottom of the hill. They could choose to get the 1-point marbles and only have to go halfway up the hill, or they could choose the 3-point marbles by going to the top of the hill. At the end, we totaled the points for each team, and the team with the most points was the winner.




Speed Workouts for Kids

Speed workouts for kids are pretty much the same as for an adult. The kids' races are short (about 1-1.3 miles), so I gave them short sprint workouts for speed. I always liked seeing the kids to speed workouts, because they would leave just dripping in sweat!

Sprints: Set up two cones about 50 meters apart. If you have a large group of kids, you may want to separate them into "waves" that start about 10 seconds apart so that they aren't getting trampled. When you blow the whistle, the kids sprint as hard as they can from one cone to the next. Then, they turn and walk back to the first cone. Repeat 5-10 times, depending on how hard it is for the kids. My team was whipped after doing just five, so we usually did 5-6.

Fast Finish Runs: The kids run their usual laps, but on the last lap, they run as fast as they can get it done without stopping or walking. This teaches them to finish strong on tired legs.

Time Trials: We only did a time trial on Day 1 and at the end of the season, but you can do them periodically in place of speed work. It's basically like racing, so they're pushing themselves to the max.

Loops with Speed: Instead of a short sprint with a short walk after, we would have the kids run their laps, but whenever they got to a particular cone, they would sprint to finish out that lap; then, do an easy run for another lap until they got to that cone again.This has a longer recovery period between sprints, but they should jog between sprints instead of walk.

Animals: I made little signs, each with the name of one of four animals on it--turtle, pig, horse, or cheetah. I put the signs on cones that were set up in their loop where they run laps. Turtle means walk; pig means jog slowly; horse means run steady; and cheetah means sprint. Each time they came to a cone, they would have to run like the animal on the cone.



Out of all the speed work, I think the kids liked the Animals workout or the plain old Sprints workout the best. Actually, they hated the sprints, but they did mention how much they love the way they feel when they're done.


Overall, I absolutely LOVE coaching kids' cross country! If you ever have an opportunity to coach, you will probably have a lot of fun with it. I'm looking forward to doing it again next year :)

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

November 16, 2016

Tips for Coaching Kids to Run (Part 1 of 2)

Someone recently emailed me to ask if I had all of the games I play with my cross country kids written down into one post, and I thought I did--but apparently, I do not! When I first volunteered to coach cross country for kids in second through fourth grade, I was clueless. I read as much as I could about it, but I just couldn't find the info I was looking for. My goal was to make running FUN, so that the kids would want to continue to run through middle and high school.


I had a hard time finding games for the age group that I was coaching, so I put my brain to use and came up with some games of my own, inspired by others that I read about. Some games were a hit with my team, and some were a bust. In this post, I'll write all about coaching kids and I'll share all the popular games I came up with.

Tips for Coaching Kids to Run
  • Make a structured plan for the week. We had three practices per week: one for easy and fun running, one for long distance running, and one for speed work. On the easy run day, I would give the kids a certain number of laps to run (the loop of the park we run is about 0.34 miles). Once they ran their laps, then we would play a fun game or two. On the speed day, we did a speed work exercise (I'll list some of those in this post) and then played a game. And on the distance day, we gave the kids a goal number of laps to run, which was usually double what they ran on the other days; no game on distance day.
  • When you're coaching a lot of kids, it's impossible to keep track of how many laps each has run (and even the kids forget). The kids happened to LOVE my system for keeping track--rubber bands. I have a tupperware container full of rubber bands, and I set it at the start of the loop. Each time the kids pass the start, they grab a rubber band and put it around their wrist. Alternatively, you could give them a certain number of rubber bands to start with, and they can take one off after each lap. I have no idea why the kids got so excited about rubber bands, but it really motivated them!
  • Be prepared to hear a lot of excuses from the kids: "My stomach hurts", "My leg hurts", "My foot feels funny", "I'm tired", "I didn't eat before practice", "I ate too much before practice", etc. They claim they can't run laps, and then they are miraculously all better when it's time to play games ;) Throughout the season, there were a couple of kids who really did have an injury or other issue where they couldn't run that day; but on most days, I let their excuses go in one ear and out the other. 
  • Stress to the kids that they should only worry about competing with themselves. I told my team that the main goal for them was to be a better runner than they were at the start of the season. At each meet, I told them to try and beat their own times. Of course the kids love winning medals, but the competition is tough! I wanted them to know that they are still doing great by improving their times, whether they come in first place or last place at the meets.

  • Start your first (or second) practice with a time trial. That is where the kids will run a particular distance (in my case, I had them do three laps, which was 1.11 miles) as fast as they can. They should treat it like a race, where they run that distance in the shortest amount of time possible. Write down their finish times (I'll explain my system below). At the end of the season, have them do the same exact time trial so they can see how much they improved. Every single kid on our team improved their time! 
  • Keeping track of finish times for a time trial is a bit of a challenge. I've done several of them now and have developed a system that works well for us. First, I cut a bunch of index cards in half, and I wrote numbers on them (1-24, the number of kids we have on our team). I downloaded a stopwatch app for my phone that allows you to keep track of "laps" on the stopwatch. Each time you press the lap button, it would mark that particular time while the clock kept going. 
So, when each kid finished, I would press the lap button and hand them an index card with their finish number on it. (The first kid to finish gets number 1, the second gets number 2, and so on). Tell them to hold on to the index card until you collect it from them. Once everyone has finished, you'll have a list of finish times on your app, and all the kids will have a number. Then, you'll know that the first lap is the time for the kid holding the number 1. The second lap is for the kid holding number 2. And so on. Write down all of their times in a notebook.
Here is an example... Each time you press the lap button, it records that split. The numbers in gray are the splits for each lap (ignore the numbers in black). If this was a time trial, the Lap 1 (5.0) would represent the kid who finished first (who will be holding the number 1 index card).  Lap 2 (11.1) would represent the kid who finished second (holding number 2). And so on. 

  • I had a bag of little toys that I bought at the dollar store. After each meet, we recognized who improved their time the most from the previous meet, and we gave the most improved boy and girl a prize from the bag.
  • If you're able to, it's actually really helpful to run with the kids (usually Renee would, but occasionally I would instead). The kids are less likely to take walk breaks if the coach is on their heels ;)
  • One of the most important things to teach the kids, in my opinion, is good sportsmanship. We always encouraged the kids to cheer on other runners. One thing that I love about running as a sport is that the competition is friendly. Two kids might be racing each other, but as soon as the race is over, they're best friends. You don't really see much of that in other sports. 
  • At the end of the season, I think it's nice to recognize each kid for something special they contributed to the team. Last year, I made certificates for things such as "Cheetah Award" for the fastest boy and girl, "Most Improved Runner" award, "Most Enthusiastic" award, etc. All of the kids got one, and I think it made them feel special to be recognized. 
This post got to be really long, so I'll continue on tomorrow's post with games and some workout ideas for the kids...

November 15, 2016

RIP Peanut Butter

I can't get over this amazing weather we have right now! Today, it was 65 and sunny... in November... in MICHIGAN. All summer long, we heard about how cold and snowy this winter will be, and I was expecting the worst. Of course, it's not even winter yet, so we could still be in for really harsh weather. But this November weather is amazing. I hope it holds out for the weekend when my friends are here.

Speaking of which, I have been non-stop busy getting ready for the weekend. Having a houseguest is one thing, but having three from three different states is a bit more complicated (although, it's three times the fun!). Also, I'm hosting my Wine Club meeting at my house on Friday, so I have that to prepare for as well. Lots of work, but the weekend will be totally worth it. I'm super excited!

Yesterday started week two of MAF heart rate training. I was scheduled to run for 35 minutes, so I just did a lollipop route that I knew to be about 3.3 miles. I felt good! Nothing notable about the run.



Average pace was 11:13, and average heart rate was 144 bpm.

Today's run was a bit different. I felt SO lethargic! My legs felt heavy, and I just wasn't feeling my best. My pace wasn't too far off from yesterday's, though.



I started taking my resting pulse when I wake up in the mornings, and it hasn't been very interesting. Sunday was 53 bpm, Monday was 51 bpm, and today was 49 bpm. I have an app on my phone that measures pulse, so that's what I've been using. I tested it out several times, and it's actually very accurate! You place your fingertip on the camera lens (I have an iPhone 6, not sure if that matters), and it uses the flash and lens to detect your pulse. The app is called Instant Heart Rate: Heart Rate & Pulse Monitor. It has a million ads, but since I only use it once a day in the mornings, it's not bad.

This heart rate experiment is kind of fun! It's nice not feeling any pressure at all to hit a particular pace or anything during training. I just keep my heart rate under 146 and whatever pace that happens to be, that's what I run. A lot of people have expressed interest in seeing how it works out, which makes me even more interested in sticking it out for the full 12 weeks. On Sunday, I'm running a 10K race; but, true to my word, I'm going to keep my heart rate below 146 during the race.

The weirdest thing has happened to me recently--I have an aversion to peanut butter! I promise I'm not pregnant (someone always asks when I mention something like this)--but the thought of peanut butter actually turns my stomach. Isn't that crazy? I used to be obsessed with peanut butter! I would literally eat peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon more often than I'll admit to.

Well, recently, I had a Reese's Pumpkin in my freezer, and it wasn't even calling to me at all. I finally ate it yesterday (even though I didn't want to... I shouldn't have eaten it!) and I actually had to gag down the last few bites. I immediately thought that I must be dying. It's SO weird! The only thing that comes to mind is that I started taking fish oil and vitamin D supplements a few weeks ago, and maybe that did something to my appetite? I don't know. I'm not complaining, though. Peanut butter has always been one of my biggest vices!

Speaking of vices, ice cream is my top vice; so, I was really excited yesterday when Jerry found the new Halo Top flavors at a store near his work. I won't pretend that Halo Top is the same as eating Haagen Dazs, but it's definitely good for an ice cream craving. I love the Mint Chip one! I told Jerry to pick up a pint of Mint Chip and surprise me with another. He chose Cookies & Cream.


I haven't tried it yet, but I'll write my thoughts when I do. (If you've tried Arctic Zero and didn't like it, I promise that Halo Top is better! It has more calories than Arctic Zero, but still a very low amount.)

Whelp, I'd better go cook dinner and get started cleaning the boys' bedrooms. I saved their rooms for last, because I am dreading them the most! I'm not sure how much I'll be writing over the next week or so, but I'll try and squeeze in a couple of posts. (I know it's only Tuesday, but my friends arrive on Thursday morning!)

By the way, I haven't seen Boomer, my sweet little bird, again--but I look for him every day. Hopefully he'll come back!

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

November 12, 2016

Bathroom makeover!

So, the first week of MAF training is done. Today, I ran 45 minutes, and it ended up being a terrible run! There was actually frost on the ground when I woke up. This unusually warm weather has been so odd, it was kind of nice to see that it's getting colder. My weather app said the temp was 34 degrees when I headed out for my run, so I wore a fleece top, gloves, and a headband to cover my ears.

I felt fine when I started running, and I decided to do an out-and-back route, turning around when I hit the midway point (22:30). Usually, I run at least a mile before I get a beep telling me that my heart rate is high and I need to slow down; today, it took only a quarter mile. After that, it was beeping so much that I just ran as slow as I felt my legs would allow. Even then, my heart rate was right on the border of 146 the whole time.

I had a low calorie day yesterday (not on purpose--I was super busy and didn't have time to eat lunch), and I wonder if that had anything to do with my heart rate being high today. I think I'm going to start taking my resting heart rate in the mornings when I wake up, just to see if there is any correlation with how my run goes--does a high resting heart rate mean my run is going to feel harder? It'll be interesting to see.

Anyway, my average pace was 12:11, and my average heart rate was 145 bpm. In comparison to my last long run (6 miles on 11/5), my heart rate was also 145 bpm but my average pace was 10:59! Big difference. Today's run was very out of the ordinary for me. We'll see what happens next week.


I've spent the last week or so really cracking down on getting our bathroom finished. The whole project started out to be SO simple--remove the thin strips of trim that cover the drywall joints. (The strips are something that manufactured homes have--I have no idea why.) Sounds like no big deal, right? I couldn't have been more wrong.

As you may remember, I took down the strips (I think in July) and I used drywall joint compound and a special kind of tape to smooth the drywall joint (this would make it one smooth wall, rather than having those vertical strips every few feet). Obviously, after doing that, I would have to paint the walls. Again, no big deal--the color clashed horrendously with my bedroom (which I'd painted in the summer as well).

When we had issues with the water heater and furnace recently, we knew we'd have to replace the floor in the laundry room (where the water heater and furnace are). We bought the materials to replace the flooring, and it was messy, but we got it done! (Many thanks to my brothers and Becky).  Since we had all the materials, we figured we might as well replace the small section of subfloor in the bathroom that had some water damage from the shower. We fixed the leak years ago, but the wood needed to be replaced.

Our bathroom floor actually had CARPET in the whole thing except for where the toilet is. Carpet is a really bad idea for a bathroom! We always knew we wanted to replace it, but it was never a true necessity, so we put it off for "someday".

Another issue was our bathtub. In addition to a stand-up shower, we had a huge corner bathtub, but I very rarely used it. It sounds stupid, but I was always afraid that there would be spiders inside of the jacuzzi jets in the tub, and I feared they would come out when I took a bath, so I just rarely took baths. (I'm terrified of spiders!)  The tub was basically a big waste of space in our bathroom. We decided to remove that as well--which would have to be done before painting the walls and doing the flooring.

This led to one big messy project: We needed to paint to cover the drywall mud; but, we couldn't paint until we removed the bathtub (for obvious reasons). Once removing the bathtub, the flooring would all need to be replaced, because there would be a big empty spot where the bathtub was otherwise. Everything was reliant on the previous thing, so it wasn't a project we could work on a little at a time, unfortunately. It reminded me of the "If you give a mouse a cookie..." scenario.

I had no idea what color to do--my bedroom is yellow and white, and I wanted it to match that, but not perfectly (I didn't want the same yellow walls in the bathroom as my bedroom). So, for the first time since becoming a homeowner 13 years ago, I actually painted the walls WHITE. Plain old boring white walls ;)

Jerry and I picked out vinyl plank flooring, and Jerry did the dirty work. He cut the bathtub in half to get it out of the bathroom, and then tore up the carpet and linoleum. Then he fixed the subfloor in front of the shower that needed fixing. He had never done flooring before, but it would save a lot of money to do it ourselves, so we decided to give it a try (and by "we", I totally mean "Jerry").

He laid down the underlayment over the subfloor, and then started on the vinyl planks. It actually didn't end up being that bad! The planks fit together really easily, and they don't need glue or grout or anything like that. Jerry got the plank part done in probably five hours total. We put in a new toilet, and it was finished!

The only part that we still need to do something with is the cabinets in there, because they completely clash with the floor; but, that isn't something that has to be done right away, so we'll save that for later. Like always, I forgot to take a "before" picture of the bathroom, so the best I can do is this stupid pic Jerry took of me flossing my teeth, haha. But you can at least see the drastic difference!


Here are some photos of the progress:

This is what was under the mirrors--floral wallpaper

No mirrors, no trim strips covering the drywall joints

Drywall joint after removing the strip

This was after I put the joint compound on. It looked like this from July until now!

Jerry tearing out the bathtub
After priming and removing the flooring

After painting and starting the vinyl planks
Finished! Well, until we decide to work on the cupboards...
Obviously, we need to put something in that right corner (the toilet is off to the left; you can't really see it in the pic). Someday, maybe we'll put a linen closet there, or maybe some nice shelves, but for now, I'm just going to leave it as-is. My mom said I should use chalk paint for my cupboards, so I'm going to look into that. It'd be much better (and cheaper) than having to replace them.

Anyway, I absolutely LOVE the floor! Jerry is super proud that he did it himself, and we're already talking about what we can do with the rest of the house--again, for a "someday" project, haha. I really wanted to get this done before my friends come over next week, because there will be FOUR women in the house that need to take showers and get ready, so having two bathrooms will be nice!

SaveSave

November 11, 2016

Military pet charities

(This post is sponsored by Purina. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.)

Not only is today my favorite date (11/11--my favorite number is 11), it is also Veterans Day--a day to honor those who served in the military. As you may know if you've been reading my blog for a while, Veterans Day means a great deal to me. It wasn't until I experienced my brother's deployment that the sacrifices veterans make really sunk in for me. I'm always in awe of the veterans in this country and how much they've sacrificed for us. I can't begin to express how much I appreciate them!

My boys at the airport waiting for Nathan to come home from Iraq in 2007

So, when I heard that Purina was going to be donating $100,000 to two military pet charities, I was thrilled. I honestly wasn't even aware that military pet charities existed! The two they've teamed up with are Dogs on Deployment and Pets for Vets. Here is a brief rundown of each:


Dogs on Deployment- Dogs on Deployment (DoD) provides an online network for service members to search for volunteers willing to board their pets during service commitments. Their mission is to give military members peace of mind concerning their pets while unable to care for them during their service. This way, their pets won't have to be surrendered to a shelter! As of early this year, nearly 900 pets had been placed in foster care for these service members.

I was checking out the Dogs on Deployment website, and out of curiosity, I searched for pets near me that need fostering. It's so tempting! If I didn't have three cats and a dog already, I would love to foster for a service member. If you're interested in fostering, you can go to the DoD website and enter your city in a search bar. It will list pets nearby that are looking for foster care. You could also register as a potential boarder, so that the service members can search in their local area.


Pets for Vets- Pets for Vets provides a second chance for shelter pets by rescuing, training, and pairing them with America's veterans who could benefit from a companion animal. Animal-assisted therapy has been very helpful in fighting PTSD or combat stress. Over 5 MILLION dogs and cats are euthanized every year because they don't have homes--and Pets for Vets gives a lot of animals a second chance by training them to be great companions for veterans who need them! There are plenty of ways to volunteer for Pets for Vets as well (including fostering, dog training, fundraising, event planning, and several other opportunities).

Both organizations do excellent work for great causes. Purina is going to be donating $100,000 to the charities--$75,000 to one of them, and $25,000 to the other. They are asking for public votes to determine which charity gets each amount; to vote for the charity you prefer, you can do so at Pure Love for Pets.

Personally, I love the Pets for Vets idea. When my brother came home from Iraq after serving four years in the Army, he adopted a black lab named Bailey. I really think that she helped him establish a feeling of being "home" again. A lot of war veterans come home feeling like they just don't belong anywhere, and it's a difficult adjustment. Adopting a pet to care for can give them a new "purpose", as well as be therapeutic while they adjust to civilian life again.


Anyway, please make sure you take a moment today to thank our veterans for their sacrifices and service! xo

I'll end with these cards that my kids made for Uncle Nathan on Veterans Day a few years ago. They make me smile every time I look at them!

"You are a great Army man" --Eli

"Thank you for saving our country" --Eli

--Noah