Friday, December 14, 2012

Love on the run

I might not always like him but I will always love him.


Thursday, Mark and I celebrated our fourth anniversary. Four friggin' years of ups, downs, highs and lows. We've weathered family problems and the death of my mom; adopted an enthusiastic puppy by the name of Denali; bought a house; and created the most amazing child on the planet. Sorry if you are a parent and this is news to you but it's the truth.


And though I still feel like Mark and I are the same two crazy people who got married in December, it's amazing how we both have changed. All you have to do is look at our wedding photos.


Mark looks so much younger and I look a lot less fit. I definitely think I win in this equation.


As I've been consumed with the health of my grandma (thank you for all the well wishes - she has stabilized and has moved to a nursing home for rehab), I've been reflecting on my own and how much mine has changed since Mark and I got married. How those changes aren't a coincidence. I've been able to do what I've done because of him.

Mark never forced me to lose weight. He never said I was fat or unattractive or undesirable. Just the opposite. But, he never shied away from being a role model and an encouraging one at that. By example, he showed me that people can exercise for the pure joy and not because of weight loss or vanity. He supported any effort I made to exercise and was always willing to scale down his efforts to do it with me.

He came up with the idea to participate in my first road race, the now defunct Warbird 5K, and then ran with me, each and every step, in a blistering 42 minutes. He was just as proud of me on that May morning when I finished as he was when I set my PR two years later.

He took me to Three Rivers Running Co. so I could get fitted for my first pair of running shoes, Nike Air Pegasus, beginning a new love affair that I'm not so sure his wallet enjoys.

Just as I celebrated being able to run 4 miles, he came up with a crazy idea that we should do a half marathon - not just him, but us. I did that one and four more, and he's attended all but one of those races. Cheering me on and giving me a hug despite my sweat and stank.

As I began to become a more dedicated runner, he helped ignite my passion by buying me a generous birthday gift - a Garmin Forerunner 305. His friends always tease Mark for being cheap but he's never said no to something I "needed" for running. If I'll use it, I can have it. Well, nine times out of 10.

He's remained a constant, enthusiastic training partner. Mark knows how to get me out for a run when I am just being lazy, and he knows how to push me beyond what I think I can do. I've ran some of my fastest races with him by my side, telling me to stay in it and that I can do it.

Most importantly, he's always believed in me more than I ever dared believe in myself. Even as I grow more confident, in life and fitness, Mark is always thinking of the next big thing I can do.

And then helping me do it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Three Things Thursday: Get it free

It all started the moment I stepped on the Bowling Green State University campus at the ripe old age of 18.

Table after table lined the walk to the book store, offering T-shirts and phone cards (God, remember those!) if you stopped to chat and, maybe, fill out a credit card application. That year, I ended up with 26 T-shirts, 215 phone cards and a $1,000 in debt. Not my smartest move but whatev.

Those applications, though, ignited my love for all things free. It's much harder to come by those things now but through the powers of social media, I've found a few sites that satisfy my need for free by doing the same thing I did at BG: filling shit out.

1. Crowdtap. According to its website, "Crowdtap is the Influencer Marketing platform, enabling leading brands to easily identify, activate and manage their influential consumers for real-time insights and powerful online and offline peer-to-peer marketing." Activity includes answering quick hits, sharing web content as part of challenges and sample and share opportunities. You might remember seeing Old Navy pop up on occasion, and it's because of my activity with Crowdtap. I've received coupons to sample and share ON items such as shirts, dresses, beach wear, shoes and bottoms. I've got an exciting opportunity coming up that features one of our favorite things: workout wear.

2. BzzAgent. BzzAgent dubs itself as "the leading social marketing company. What's that mean to you? We put products in the hands of hundreds of thousands of real consumers and help them share their opinions about them with friends and family via reviews, Facebook posts, photos and videos, blog posts and more. We wouldn't call ourselves heroes, but it's okay if you want to." I'm fairly new to BzzAgent but since I started, I've had the chance to try out a new product in Meijer's photo department - the mounted photo - and COVERGIRL blastflipstick.


The blastflipstick is "two lipsticks in one, so you can combine creams and shimmers to create your own one-of-a-kind look." I'm not normally a makeup person, much less a lipstick person, but I love having some new things to play with. And, I'm not sure about you, but a little of mascara and a swipe of lipstick, and I feel instantly put together. I'm a fan of the Vixen shade that I was sent, followed by Stunner.

Because I'm both, obviously. I also look like Sofia Vergara.

P.S. I have some coupons for the lipstick so if you want to try it out, shoot me an email (hlthystrides at gmail dot com) and I'll mail them out. No lip marks on the envelope. I promise.

3. House Party and Vocalpoint. I've been a Vocalpoint member for awhile though I've done very little on the site beyond a few surveys. This week, in a random mail delivery, I received something through my membership: a blog kit from Charmin. Inside was a box of Charmin Freshmates (think baby wipes from grown-ups) and the most awesome towel ever. It's not a particularly soft piece of terry cloth but it is labeled on each end - one for face, the other for the tush.

I have House Party to thank for my Keurig Vue but beyond that, I haven't had much luck with the site. You have to act quickly and be super involved to continue to get parties. And lots of friends who lots of time to hang out when you need them to hang out.

But I'm not complaining. I'm wearing my vixen flipstick and drinking a cup of Donut Shop coffee while Miles chants "Grover." Grover might be the monster but I fear I've created one.

What about you: Do you participate in any of these social media marketing tools? Do you have tips?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Currying favor

So ugly yet so good.


When I signed up for Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Holiday Challenge, I knew one of the key things would be not only planning my lunches but finding creative meals that fit the plant-based lifestyle and, more importantly, my tastes.  I didn't want to eat kale salads, though delicious, every day. I wanted hearty dishes that were full of flavor.


Dishes like this Indian buffet-inspired rajma.

There's nothing like hitting the Indian buffet - and hitting it hard. Saag paneer, rajma, chicken tikka masala, basmati, daal, naan. Oh, and that rice pudding and mango lassis. It's utterly delicious but a complete calorie bomb, and you leave feeling like you're going to birth the next Dali Lama. Not quite the goal of the Healthy Holiday Challenge.

These Indian-Spiced Kidney Beans bring home the flavors of your local Taj Mahal without the fat and calories. There's warmth from the cinnamon, a smokiness from the cumin and heat from the chili powder and cayenne. The beans are soft without being mushy and the sauce is perfect to soak up with a piece of whole grain naan.


Even better - it's in the slow cooker. Make it on a Sunday night, and you have lunches for the week come Monday morning. Wait. There is something - it used items I already had in my pantry, and probably cost a whopping $2 to make. Far cheaper than the buffet.

Slow Cooker Indian-Spiced Kidney Beans

1.5 cups red kidney beans, rinsed but not soaked
1 medium onion, diced
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1-inch piece ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon tumeric powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
3 whole cloves
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups water
1/8 cayenne pepper, or more to taste
Chopped cilantro, to taste

Place all ingredients except the cilantro in the slow cooker. Cook on HIGH for 8 to 10 hours, or until the beans begin to break down and become thick.

Remove the cloves. Stir in cilantro.

If you wish, use an immersion blender or masher to break up some of the beans to create a thicker sauce. To make it non-vegan and a bit creamier, stir in 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt.

Serve with basmati rice and naan, if you are so lucky to have it. I managed to time this perfectly with a shipment of Stonefire Naan, which included a whole grain variety.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Healing my heart

As with most things these days, it started with a text message.

"mom was having trouble breathing and had a fever so she is in the hospital."

The message came from my aunt, and "mom" was my grandma.

After taking a nasty fall a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, my beloved grandma has been plagued with problems. Her legs are swollen, breathing is labored and a wicked cough has kept her up during the night. The once spry woman was moving slowly around her house, sleeping in a chair and only going out for doctor's appointments. But she promised to bounce back. She said it might take some time but she would.

Now, I am not so sure she can keep that promise. It's been six days since that text message, and she is still in the hospital and I have heard on mention of when she'll be released. Doctors have told us that the right side of her heart is not functioning and is merely a garage in her body; the heart troubles are causing hypertension in the lungs and the difficulty breathing; her tremors are Parkinson's; and she has second-hand emphysema. The woman who so valued her independence might not ever live alone again.

It was heart breaking to hear those things over the phone from my aunt but nothing shattered my heart like listening to my grandma's voice but not hearing her. The steroids have made her confused, temporarily, my aunt said, but I fear they have taken her away. And, to be honest, I'm not ready for it. My grandma has been a rock throughout my life, and we developed a unique and close relationship when I moved in with her at age 15. I call her every day and count down the days when I can see her. She is an amazing woman with more faith than I will ever know.

It's all I can do not to break down in tears at work, to not hide under the covers, to not run to the drive-thru and order an extra large shake with a side of hot fudge sundae. To turn to the coping mechanisms I relied on for so long. It's only the knowledge that those things will not change the situation, they will not make things better, that keeps me sane. Or as sane as I can be.

Running helps, too. I put one foot in front of the other and move. This morning I went out for a slow 4 miles. The first dusting of snow came over night and the white and red lights that adorn the festive houses in nearby neighborhoods set the frost aglow in a spectacular winter picture. The air was cool and moist as I breathed in and out, in and out. For 39 minutes I thought of nothing but the sound of my feet on the wet pavement, relaxing my pace and why my bred for running dog who seemed excited to leave for a run was dragging at a barely sub-10 pace.

Note: For all of you animal activists, Denali merely needed to warm up and happily trotted along after reaching the first mile marker.

I came home refreshed and let my heart rate come down as I brewed a cup of Donut Shop coffee in the Keurig. I drew a bath, thankful that Mark was kind enough to save some hot water. I dipped my toes in cautiously before sinking into the tub. I read a few blogs on my Kindle Fire and sipped my coffee. (Yes, I do this in the tub.) When I went to dip my head below the surface, though, my thoughts began to resurface. I violently sat up out of the water, desperate not to drown in the sorrow ... in the fear. I took a deep breath, anxious to find that emptiness, free-ness that I had on the run.

The next few days, weeks, months ... years, if I'm lucky ... will be trying. I am going to have to find my own ways to come out the other side of this strong and healthy. To search for such ways is an almost futile task. Most advise to not keep bad foods around and to avoid triggers as if the stress in "stress eating" is because your boss isn't nice to you and you want to run to the vending machine for a cupcake - not, my grandma might be dying and sugar makes me feel good.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ho, ho, NO!

Cheese. Crackers. Choo choos.

I'm not sure there's anything Miles loves more in the world than those three things. I mean, besides me.


And while he gets regular doses of string cheese, graham crackers and episodes of "Thomas and Friends," Mark and I had a special outing for our little conductor. Complete with cheese and crackers.


By the glories of Google on Friday, I discovered that the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society invites families - as well as Santa and Mrs. Claus - for a ride on a vintage train, allowing them to "pay homage to a great Fort Wayne tradition and create brand new ones while visiting the home of the largest operating steam locomotive in the Midwest: Nickel Plate Road No. 765."


For $4 a person, families are treated to a 20-minute ride and a visit from Santa. There are also other activities - coloring, train sets and self-guided tours of the locomotives - on site though those weren't of much interest to an impatient 17-month-old.

Note: He did like the 25 cent train whistle, which I'm sure is a choking hazard but it kept him engaged as we waited in line. Go ahead, nominate me for mother of the year. While I was enamored with the overall experience, my only complaint was that you couldn't buy tickets for a particular ride. It was first-come, first-serve with rides about every 30 minutes. The setup works with older kids but makes it hard to manage younger toddlers.


I will say that we were lucky and managed to get on a train with an hour. It was a festive looking caboose, with wrapping paper on the walls and candy canes awaiting the child. Self-important as I am, I tried to sit in Santa's seat rather than the benches.


Miles thoroughly enjoyed riding on the choo-choo and looking out at the fields of rural Indiana as we went down the tracks. He (safely) stood on the bench, peering out the small window saying, "choo choo. CHOO CHOO!" When we reached the turnaround, the train stopped and the car readied for a special visitor.


Santa! (Or, as Miles says, "Hhahnta!")

The jolly old fellow made the rounds, shaking the hands of excited, eager children and Mrs. Claus passed out candy canes. He took a spot in my, I mean his, seat and began to entertain the wishes of the youngins. I should have paid attention to what kids these days want but I was trying to amp up Miles for his visit, whispering in his ear that he should ask for Nike Pro Hyperwarm print training tights in a size small. Matching half-zip, too.


When it was finally his turn, Miles let out one more "Hhantaa" before turning into a screaming mess.


I was slightly embarrassed and felt sort of bad for the kind gentleman underneath the beard but I happily snapped pictures. I might be a terrible person to say this but I love, love, love photos of kids crying on Santa's lap. Actually, I think photos of crying babies are, in general, quite cute.

I do fear that Miles' general disdain for Santa will not bode well for the Nike tights but his enthusiasm for the train and Santa (he seriously won't stop saying the word) means we might have ourselves an affordable Christmas tradition.

And next year, if he doesn't cry, I'm pinching his butt.