May 2013

Pull Up a Chair

May 31, 2013

Woods in Summer

It’s hot here. Too hot. When temps are over 92 with 80% humidity, I pretty much lose all energy and motivation — which isn’t so good when you have two girls who don’t stop, various work projects to find time for, a disaster of a house, and an outdoor party to host tomorrow.

It’s funny, but no one in my house is good in this kind of weather, including my daughters. Since most people don’t know anything about Ethiopia — let alone Africa — they assume our girls feel right at home in this heat. Nope: Ethiopia is mountainous, and most of the year, temps are in 70’s and low 80’s with low humidity (except in the south where it can be hotter). In the north, where S and H lived, the climate is like southern California: dry, temperate, and sunny most of the time. So these little girls don’t much care for the Maryland heat and are sweating buckets out there. They aren’t fans of the cold, either — just like their mom. Except that I was born in Nova Scotia, which is supposed to have made me hearty. Unfortunately, a very delicate rogue gene found its way into my little body at conception, and my window of comfort has always been very narrow in the temperature department.

As for B, things are little upside down there, too. He was born in southern California and raised in Maryland and overseas, but he mostly loves rainy, misty, cool weather. I think it’s the melancholic, Irish writer in him. Give him a cup of tea and chowder, with a good book by a stormy sea, and the guy is a happy camper. Sadly for him, he’s surrounded by three girls who love the sun — so long as it’s not scorching.

All this heat has steered me in the direction of a porch swing today, a drink I spotted on Smitten Kitchen: Homemade lemonade, gin, Pimm’s, and slices of cucumber…a perfect remedy to beat the heat, in my opinion. While I suck one of these down to cool off, here’s my high and low of the week:

Low: The mess in my house is out of control. I’m not sure if the toys have suddenly reached the tipping point volume-wise, or if it’s the result of not yet being able to instill regular clean-up habits in the girls, but from morning to night the house is a disaster. I’ve tried to get the girls to play with one thing at a time — it doesn’t work. I’ve tried to assign a home to each category of toy and enforce it during clean-up time, but the next day everything is in every bin again. It’s all I can do to make sure the kitchen floor and our bedroom don’t become additional play zones. Help!

High: The upside of this mess is how I marvel at my daughters’ creative play. They can take anything — and I mean anything — and use it in the most elaborate play scenarios. Skipping ropes are wrapped around waists for baby carriers, then strung across dining-room chairs as zip lines for froggy and cat. Wooden beads are not just for dolly’s new jewelry; they’re morsels of tasty food at the fancy restaurant I’m invited to for breakfast, served atop puzzle-piece plates. The bins I keep in the entry area (for mail, scarves, and miscellaneous items) become cribs for babies and nature playgrounds for colorful plastic lizards. Each supposedly random pile of mess is not random at all to these girls, but elaborate inventions of their imaginations. So I take heart in this, while I’m searching for a few spare inches of floor to walk on.

Another high: My husband has a surprise day off today, so we’re heading out for some fun family time. We’ll see how much heat we can tolerate — lots of water bottles to pack!

Bonus question: Are you a hot-weather or cold-weather person? Or are you a delicate creature like me, with a very narrow range of climate preference? I don’t think California is in the cards for us, so it looks like I’ll just bear with the relative extremes I’m used to living in.

Friends, please grab a porch swing, kick up your feet, and tell me about your week. Stay cool wherever you are this weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Why Siblings Are the Greatest

Have siblings that you’re even moderately fond of? Raising multiple kids of your own? Then you must read Frank Bruni’s column in the New York Times about “the gift of siblings“:

“Siblings are the only relatives, and perhaps the only people you’ll ever know, who are with you through the entire arc of your life,” the writer Jeffrey Kluger observed to Salon in 2011, the year his book “The Sibling Effect” was published. “Your parents leave you too soon and your kids and spouse come along late, but your siblings know you when you are in your most inchoate form.”

It’s true: No one else understands what it is like to be my parents’ child, to have grown up as a kid in their family — except my three sisters. That’s quite a bond in itself.

Bruni points out some other benefits to siblinghood — strength in numbers, decreased pressure on any one child, etc. — but that doesn’t mean it’s all Leave It to Beaver, all the time. In my own family, there’s a ten-year spread between my oldest and youngest sister, and growing up our personalities ran the gamut, from bookworm to ballerina to black sheep. Let’s just say we weren’t always bosom buddies… (Cue my mom, laughing hysterically at the thought.)

Why Siblings Are the Greatest

Fifteen years ago, this one and I would not have been smiling so sweetly together…or probably standing in the same picture at all.

But I think even those times when we weren’t close were good for us: We learned how to forgive, how to share, how to love people even when you kind of hated them. So how did we get over that stage and end up so close today? I think Bruni nails it here:

[A]crimony, geography or mundane laziness [can] pull brothers and sisters apart, to a point where they’re no longer primary witnesses to one another’s lives, no longer fellow passengers, just onetime housemates with common heritages.

That happens all too easily, and whenever I ponder why it didn’t happen with Mark, Harry, Adelle and me — each of us so different from the others — I’m convinced that family closeness isn’t a happy accident, a fortuitously smooth blend of personalities.

It’s a resolve, a priority made and obeyed. …We made a decision to be together, and it’s the accretion of such decisions across time that has given us so many overlapping memories, which are in turn our glue.

That family bond kept us tied together, through good times and bad — and as we grew up, settled into ourselves more, and came to appreciate each other more, we continued to make the effort to keep that connection strong. Particularly now that my sisters have families of their own, we all see the importance of reaching out and simply being there for one another. We make the time for family vacations, we call each other to check in; I rely on them for so many different things, and they on me. They are the best gift my parents ever gave me, and I can’t imagine where I’d be without them. (I mean, who else is going to appreciate my obscure jokes or commiserate over our crazy childhood haircuts?)

Why Siblings Are the Greatest

And like any good sister, I left out the bad haircuts in my toast.

So does Bruni’s piece ring true for your family, or for your kids? What’s your relationship like with your siblings? And can anyone explain to me what it’s like to grow up with brothers?

Images from Sibling #2’s wedding: 1 and 3, Justin Evans; 2, Margaret Cabaniss

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Minimalist Parenting

I’ve been wanting to tell you about this book for weeks, but I had to read it first. Quiet time with books is hard to come by these days! It was the title that first caught my attention. I was sure that “minimalist parenting” must have a lot in common with the values of slow living — and I was right.

Authors Christine Koh (founder and editor of Boston Mamas) and Asha Dornfest (founder of ParentHacks) — two successful, tech-savvy moms who found themselves overwhelmed and needing a change — took their wisdom and wrote a book for parents about creating simpler, less cluttered, less chaotic lives by focusing on your family’s values and changing the way you make everyday decisions. Here’s an excerpt from their introduction:

Never before have parents been faced with so many choices — of child-rearing philosophies, work schedules, educational options, savings plans, gadgets and gear, nutritional advice, even entertainment possibilities for our dwindling free time… Choice is good, but the sheer magnitude of choice we face today is overwhelming, even paralyzing. Minimalist Parenting is our prescription for how to handle too much of a good thing. We’ll show you how to minimalize your family life — how to edit your schedule, possessions, and expectations so there’s more of what you love and care about and less of what you don’t.

What I love most about the book is the practical advice it contains and how personal Koh and Dornfest make it, sharing their own experiences and lessons learned over the years as working women, moms, and wives. They also include many ideas and comments readers have left on their website, MinimalistParenting.com. You can easily read their book in small chunks and return to the ideas and suggestions as needed.

The authors don’t cover every lifestyle area, but there are chapters on time management, decluttering, finances, education and school, meal planning, playtime, vacations, celebrations, and self-care. Minimalism is defined as giving yourself “formal permission to step off the modern parenting treadmill and to have fun while doing it.” Having read the book, the authors’ take on minimalism is really about knowing what’s important to your family, simplifying, and shifting your mentality.

From time to time I think about writing a book about slow living or parenting, and many of the ideas in this book are similar to what I would envision being in my own book. Perhaps I’ve just been saved a lot of time by Koh and Dornfest! Regardless, any modern parent will get a lot from Minimalist Parenting. If you pick up a copy, let me know what you find most helpful in the book!

Image via Bibliomotion

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by Ann Waterman

Pouring Water

A friend emailed me a while back to ask when I start giving my children juice. Apparently, a lady she met at a playdate expressed concern when my friend mentioned that she only gave her toddlers milk and water, remarking, “And your pediatrician hasn’t said anything about that?” Even though my friend’s gut told her that holding off on juice was the right thing to do, she wanted to make sure she wasn’t completely off-base.

I assured my friend that her decision was perfectly sensible and that her pediatrician would probably agree. In fact, I did, too. My husband and I made the decision long before our kids were old enough to spear a straw in a juice box that we would only offer water at home. It was something we felt strongly about for a variety of reasons and something we’ve been able to stick to in spite of food marketers’ insistence that juice should be a part of every well-balanced meal.

I have to confess that part of the reason for the juice ban stems from laziness: I’m not interested in cleaning up sticky juice stains from the floor or carpet. I don’t mind if the boys walk around the house with a sippy cup or bottle of water; if it spills, no big deal. The water-only rule also makes my life simpler: When we go out and the boys tell me they’re thirsty, it’s easy to find a water fountain or keep a water bottle on hand — they’re used to drinking it, so they never balk.

Another practical reason is space. With three boys and a husband to feed, fridge space is at a premium, and there simply isn’t room for jugs of juice. And because I’m cheap, I hate spending money on something that has little nutritional value when there’s a better, free alternative. To date, I’ve never bought my son juice boxes for his school lunch; he gets a stainless steel bottle of cool, refreshing water, and he’s never once complained.

Drinking Water

Aside from my own personal hangups with keeping juice in the house, though, the main reason we only offer water is for our children’s health. Experts agree that juice is mostly empty calories. If you haven’t had a chance to see Dr. Robert Lustig’s talk about why sugar — found in the ubiquitous juice box that so often replaces water at mealtimes — is one of the leading causes of childhood obesity, do yourself a favor and check it out. You’ll learn why he considers the sugar in juice not only empty calories, but toxic calories.

Getting our boys to drink water was simple: It’s all we offered when they weaned. Without sugary drinks to distract their taste buds, they quickly developed a taste for water. Now that they’re older, we make it easy for them to help themselves by putting out chilled bottles at mealtime and making cups easily accessible so they can get water from the fridge anytime.

Bottled Water

And to answer my friend’s original question, now that water has been established as the default beverage, I don’t mind if they have juice when we go out or if it’s offered at a party, because then it’s a treat. Even then, my boys will sometimes surprise me by asking for water instead.

Do you have any rules about sugared drinks in your home?

P.S. — In case you were wondering, we did try offering our boys milk when they weaned, but no dice: Neither of them would drink it, even after multiple introductions. They eat their weight in cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream, though, so I decided not to fight it, since those are all perfectly legitimate sources of calcium. In the end, it was more important to me that they drink water. Sometimes you have to pick your battles!

Images: Ann Waterman

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Sacrifice

May 27, 2013

Sacrifice

It’s Memorial Day here in the States, a day when we remember and honor those who died serving this country in the armed forces. This weekend typically marks the beginning of summer vacation, and today is filled with cookouts and time with family and friends. It’s a day of enjoyment, for sure, but it gets me thinking about the notion of sacrifice — a word we don’t hear much about anymore, and when we do it’s usually in a negative context, because society often tells us we’re supposed to be fulfilling our own wants and needs first.

But I think sacrifice is something we instinctively admire in others, like war journalists and surgeons, firefighters and police, priests and aid workers — those people who do the jobs many of us would shrink from. There are people living big lives of sacrifice out there, but it can be found everywhere, in the everyday moments. Parenthood has definitely taught me that: You just can’t be a parent — a good one, anyway — without a lot of sacrifice. And usually it’s not the big stuff, but the many small things where you just can’t have it your own way, on your own terms. The “we” has to come before the “I” most of the time.

Sacrifice can be born of duty, but the higher motivation is always love: love for your children, family, neighbor, country, God. Love can motivate us to do things we never thought possible — even lay down our very lives.

If you’re a U.S. resident, I hope you’re having a happy and safe Memorial day. For the rest of you lovely readers, happy Monday! I’m off to spend a relaxing day with my favorite husband and daughters…

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up a Chair

May 24, 2013

Large Red Rose

It can be hard to write blog posts on the heels of a tragedy; it doesn’t feel right to talk breezily about a new breakfast muffin recipe or my latest parenting insight when a tornado has killed children a few states over and wiped out everything for so many, but sometimes there is little to say. My prayers and thoughts are with the people in Moore, Oklahoma, who lost so much this week. We made a donation to a favorite relief organization and hope you’ll consider doing the same.

Since Margaret posted a fantastic spring drink yesterday, I thought I’d offer something non-alcoholic today and you can take your pick. Here’s an iced green tea elixir with ginger and lemon, spotted at TheKitchn. To me, this sounds so refreshing and healing. Here’s my high and low this week…

Low: Well, it’s hard to top the sadness I felt looking at the photos out of Oklahoma, but I know I’m not alone there. As trivial as it is in comparison, there’s something else that made my week irritating: I have about 25 red, itchy bites on my body so far, and the jury is still out as to what’s causing them. I thought I was getting bit in bed at night, but I ruled that out when I realized no one else in my house had them. Then I thought it may be the tiny ants I spotted in our back room, which tend to show up every spring for a few weeks. Then I noticed a small fruit fly or gnat-type thing in our kitchen flying a million miles an hour and decided that must be the culprit. B thinks these are “early season” mosquito bites, but I haven’t seen any mosquitoes in our house — and they tend to love him best, so you’d think he’d be bitten, too. Plus, these are unlike any mosquito bite I’ve ever had. It’s a complete mystery still, and my daughters have taken to nursing my wounds. My SlowMama contributors are coming for brunch this weekend, and I’ll be informing them that no, this is not adult-onset chickenpox.

High: Thinking about my family always gives me a boost, and Wednesday was my twin brothers’ birthday, as well as the birthday of one of my sweet nephews. All three are in Nova Scotia, and I wish I could have be there in person to celebrate. Additionally, I got a kick out of some news from one of my sisters this week: Her voice will be in an upcoming documentary called Springsteen & I, coming out this July. To say that my sister is a Bruce Springsteen fan is the understatement of the century, so this is lots of fun for her. B and I love documentaries, too, so now we’re extra excited to check this one out.

Bonus Question: What’s the view right now from your nearest window? I’m in my galley kitchen at the moment, and being in a Baltimore row house means I’m looking at the outside brick wall of the back of my neighbors’ house. Not very picturesque, but just beyond lies our lovely shared courtyard, so that’s something.

I’d love to hear how your week was — and if you’re in the U.S., I hope your Memorial Day weekend is safe and happy. See you back here on Monday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Grapefruit Shrub Cocktail

Friends, I have had A Week. After spending the last several days crawling toward the finish line of a work project that seemed to recede further into the distance the closer I got, I finally, finally wrapped the thing up yesterday afternoon. You’d better believe the first thing I did after sending it off was pour myself a drink.

The occasion seemed to call for something special, so I broke out a little treat I’ve been saving: a bottle of grapefruit shrub I got as a present recently. Zoe mentioned shrubs in one of her virtual happy hours a few weeks ago; it’s an old-timey method of preserving fruit in vinegar that’s become popular again on the craft cocktail scene. My grapefruit shrub came from Texas outfit Liber & Co, where they make small-batch cocktail ingredients by hand — like this one, made with local Texas Rio Star grapefruits, coconut vinegar, cane sugar, and a little allspice.

The idea of drinking vinegar might be a little off-putting at first (the aroma is definitely…assertive), but this is really amazing stuff. I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand to make one of their official cocktails, but a simple one-to-one ratio of shrub and gin, topped with a couple dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, definitely did the trick. I know calling a recipe “interesting” is usually a backhanded compliment, but I mean it in the best way: The resulting cocktail was the perfect balance of sweet and tart, a little bitter but totally smooth. Perfect for sipping out-of-doors on warm spring afternoons with a good magazine to make you feel human again…

Grapefruit Shrub Cocktail

I think I’ll have to experiment more with shrubs this summer; I’ve come across a few homemade recipes online that I want to try, like this one for a rhubarb shrub at Rurally Screwed. It’s definitely the season! What do you think? Would you try a vinegar cocktail?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Tea Party

I’m not supposed to be judging myself as a parent. I’m supposed to be doing my best, learning as I go — particularly if you’re parenting children with traumatic backgrounds. But I’m not that disciplined; I can’t help but assess how I’m doing…where I’m kicking butt, where I’m doing things differently than I thought I would, and where I’m not winning any medals in the parenting department at all. I’ve certainly got improvements to make — consistency being one of them. Whether it’s mealtimes, or helping the girls build new habits, or encouraging certain behaviors and discouraging others, I need to be more consistent.

But my biggest weakness as a mom right now is this:  I don’t like playing with my children.

I love caring for them, meeting their needs, comforting them, teaching them, hanging out with them. But playing? It’s just so tedious. Which makes me feel like a bad mom, because playing together — whether it’s blocks or puzzles or tea party or whatever — is really important with newly adopted children. Probably all children. But with little ones who are attaching and building skills they missed out on, it’s an important thing to do.

There’s a lot I do that comes close to playing — dancing with them, wrestling and tickling and acrobatics, getting outside together, helping them pack and unpack their backpacks for the umpteenth time…a million little things like that. But the whole get-down-on-the floor-kind of play stuff is hard for me. I manage it every now and then, but I didn’t realize until lately how much I try to avoid it. After all, if I can get the girls to play quietly by themselves, I can prepare lunch, clean a room, do another load of laundry, make a phone call, catch up on email, write a blog post, or any number of things on my long to-do list. But none of these things is more important than playing with my daughters.

So my new resolution is to commit to half an hour a day to playtime — on their terms. It doesn’t have to be at the same time every day, but I need to decide in the morning when it will be. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I have to admit, I’m nervous that when the girls suddenly realize I’m willing to play tea party in their Mongolian-style blanketed tent on a regular basis, they’re going to want way more than half an hour. Which I understand — but like any human being, I pale in the face of torture. And just saying that makes me feel guilty, because these girls are the best: I don’t deserve them one bit, and they’re going to grow up and leave way too soon.

While I’m not above letting guilt drive a resolution, in this case it’s really because I love my daughters and some interactive playtime is good for them. I’ll no doubt gain something from it myself — a little more patience, probably. And I just might become a kick-ass castle builder. Just as long as none of us is poisoned with dirty-water tea…

If you’re a mom or dad, what’s your biggest parenting weakness? (If you’re not a parent, what do you think might be a weakness if you ever have children?)

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Feathering the Nest

May 21, 2013

by Alissa Lively

IMG_1563

There aren’t very many things I particularly enjoy about pregnancy — except for the baby. I don’t feel fabulous, my nails don’t grow longer or break less, my hair doesn’t do that whole “get thicker and more luxurious” thing, and I definitely don’t glow. I mainly just get cranky.

But in spite of my overall bad attitude about gestation, there are two things I definitely love (three, if you’re still counting that baby): laughing and nesting. For some reason, pregnancy makes me laugh really hard. And often. It’s not that I’m more amused by life during pregnancy (kind of the opposite), but for some reason laughs just come out of me more easily. So, if you need a pick-me-up and want to feel hilarious, you’ve got about a week and a half left to come over and hang out. Your ego will get a huge boost.

And then there’s nesting. Apparently, the instinct to “nest,” or start preparing yourself and your home for a new baby’s arrival, is considered an indicator of imminent birth. Since I’m a natural procrastinator, it tends to take me forever to accomplish projects. Fortunately for me, nesting kicks in about two months ahead of time, so I can actually get something done.

In early April, I got the bug to finally finish (read: start and then finish) some of my projects, and since then I’ve refinished bookshelves, rearranged furniture, and reharped living room lamps; deep-cleaned appliances, reorganized closets, and changed out fall/winter clothes for spring/summer ones; purged toys, clothes, and general miscellanea; and painted two rooms by myself.

In addition to all that, there’s one more project that makes me happy, not only because it brings some closure to an unfortunate situation, but also because it saved me a ton of money — money that I was able to funnel into other projects. Win-win!

For the past year, some very sad curtains and curtains rods have shamed our living-room windows. When an interior designer friend was giving me some ideas for my living room, she very lovingly suggested that no window treatments might be better than the ones I had. Point taken.

I was thrilled to find industrial pipe curtains rods at West Elm, but a little less than thrilled at the money I’d be spending on the three for my living room. So when I found a tutorial to make them myself, I almost fell over. I was able to pick up all the supplies at my Home Depot and put it together in no time.

IMG_1564

The hardest part about the project was mounting the rods on the wall. My children have a tendency to wrap themselves up in curtains as part of their daily games, and I didn’t think that having iron rods yanked down onto their heads would add to the general merriment. The pre-drilling and hollow-wall fasteners I ended up using added a little bit of time, but I‘m banking on the future lack of head trauma to justify the extra effort.

It might be an overstatement to say that new curtains and hardware make me feel ready to have a baby, but only by a little. We’ll have a little more privacy with a lot more ambiance, and knowing that makes me feel more relaxed. Now if only that nesting energy would extend to walking up the stairs without getting winded…

What about you? Do you ever get those high-voltage cleaning/reorganizing energy bursts (pregnancy-related or not)?

Images: Alissa Lively

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Graham Book Lead Pic

Today I’m participating in a virtual book tour for Jennifer Graham’s new book, Honey, Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner, published by Breakaway Books.

“Fat” and “runner” are two things I’m not, but I love good writing, books that make me laugh, and inspirational stories — and Jennifer’s memoir is all that. If you’re a runner, or if you’ve ever aspired to run, you’ll love it. Her book speaks to anyone still trying to figure out how to get fit once and for all, or who has ever struggled with body image or a painful past.

I asked Jennifer to share a bit about her new book, and I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.

Honey Book Cover

Zoe Saint-Paul: Jennifer, this is a well-written and entertaining read — and I mean that in the best way, because you write about some painful stuff. Why did you write the book?

Jennifer Graham: First, thank you so much for your kind comments, and for having me here! The book grew out of an essay I wrote for Newsweek magazine a few years ago. The essay was called “Confessions of a Fat Runner,” and in it, I talked about what it was like to run my first half-marathon, feeling like a walrus among a herd of gazelles. At the time, it was a bit unnerving, but it turned out that walruses and gazelles get along just fine, and nobody stopped me and said, “Hey, what are you doing here?”

After that essay was published, I heard from a lot of people who are like me — runners who don’t look like the archetypical runner — and several of them encouraged me to develop the idea into a book.

I’m one of those readers who, halfway in, looked at your photo and thought, “Fat? What is she talking about?” I’ll grant that you may be bigger than your tribe of runners, but I’m surprised at the strong identification of yourself as fat (which you say began in childhood). Do you think a woman can truly change her body image?

Oh yes, I do, and it’s because mine changes every week! Fat is a state of mind, not a state of body. I know this because there have been times when I weighed 180 pounds and felt like a glob of mayonnaise in human form, yet there have been times when I weighed 180 pounds and felt like a feather. The reality didn’t matter. This is one reason I’m not a big fan of reality.

As for the photo, I’ll share a little story. When we were still brainstorming ideas for the cover of the book, a friend of mine who is a photographer spent a day with me, taking pictures of me running. When we tried to make a selection, every one I liked, she thought I looked too thin, and every one she liked, I thought I looked too fat! (We did wind up using one of those on the back cover, by the way.) Anyway, while a realistic picture of me might give more credence to my credentials as a fat runner, ego prevailed.

Jennifer Graham Running

In running, you found a passion, an outlet, a way to cope, and something to achieve. How has running changed you as a person over the years?

How many hours have you got?

The first thing that comes to mind is a line from a song that’s on my running playlist, “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers. It’s this: “Man, I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same.”

At a casual glance, my body hasn’t changed all that much. I’m still overweight, still can’t fit into clothes that I couldn’t fit into when I first started running. Look closer, though, and I see I’ve got legs that are as strong as Sequoias, I’ve got blood pressure that shocks and amazes my doctor, and I’ve got a resting pulse rate in the 50s, which is that of elite athletes. In short, even though I’m still fat, I’m undeniably fit.

Most importantly, though, running has made my default emotional state that of joy. This is not to say that I’m not ever despairing, or angry, or grumpy — I am those things, a lot — but those are the aberrations. As long as I’m running regularly, usually I’m stewing in contentment. That’s because the runner’s high is not just a state of euphoria that you experience on the road, but it stays with you long after you stop moving. In fact, sometimes it’s hours after a run, when I’m feeling all clean and relaxed and accomplished, that running gives me the most pleasure.

What are the spiritual lessons you’ve learned from running?

I read an essay on running this morning in which the writer said that when she runs, she’s running to God. I think that’s a beautiful way of expressing the spiritual side of the run. So many times, when I’m out there, it’s like I’m running from something…running away from the noise of my children, the mess in the house, painful memories of my divorce. But it’s true that runners are also running toward something, and often, it’s that big, inexplicable, holy thing that animates us, a thing that I happen to call God.

Has being a runner changed the kind of mother you are?

If I didn’t run, I know I would be a lot more explosive, a lot less patient, a lot less loving, a lot less willing to snuggle and read Harry Potter at the end of a long, tiring day. So there’s no question that it’s made me a better mother. And my kids are aware of it, too. When I start to get cranky, inevitably, one of them will say, “Mom, how long has it been since you went for a run?”

I’ve tried to like running and just can’t seem to do it. I’d rather be dancing or doing yoga or just walking. But you can’t beat a form of exercise that only requires a proper pair of shoes and the great outdoors. Should I keep trying since I like the idea of it, or do you think some people are just not born to be runners?

This question vexes me greatly, because I really hesitate to encourage people to do things that they hate! And if you find joy and fitness in dancing, then that’s your thing, and you should probably focus on that. But I do believe that the human body is meant to be in motion, and that it thrives from being in motion to the point of exhaustion. As William James said, “The strenuous life tastes best.” Also, I think there is great value in being able to run faster than zombies. Yoga will not help you at all with that. So running is not just a form of exercise, but a potentially life-saving skill.

What do you wish someone had told you about being a runner before you ever started?

That what other people think DOES NOT MATTER. That there will always be skinnier and faster people out on the road, but it doesn’t matter, because 1) they’re not paying any attention to me, and 2) if they were, they would ADMIRE me, because it takes a lot more courage for an overweight person to lace up and run down a public road than it does a skinny person. Fat runners are the bravest people I know.

What’s your current dream for your running life?

Well, I gained 10 pounds and got much slower over the winter, so right now, my dream is to get back to the level of fitness that I had just six months ago. Beyond that, of course, the Olympics. (Reality is highly overrated.)

Barring that, I would love to run the Boston Marathon, given that I’ve been a lowly spectator now for eight years. And I would really love to be competitive in my age group some day, although that may not be until I’m in my 90s.

Jennifer with Donkeys

How are your donkeys, Jo-Jo and Foggy?

Unfortunately, they’re still happy and thriving, and continuing to be a useless drain of resources on the family — kind of like teenagers who happen to bray. But they don’t seem nearly as much work since we got a Border collie, which constantly needs exercise and grooming and tooth brushing and walking, plus with the added negative of pooping on the basement carpet, something that donkeys never, ever do. So the life lesson is one that also extends to running: When something seems hard, just keeping adding more stress and pressure, and after a while, what you previously thought was difficult will seem easy. P.S. — I’m having a sale this week: Buy 100 copies of the book, get two free donkeys and a Border collie.

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Jennifer is just as hilarious and honest in person as she is in her book; you can read more about her here, and be sure to check out Confessions of a Fat Runner. A big thanks to Jennifer and her publicist, Emily Hedges, for asking me to participate in this book tour!

Images: Debra-Lynn Hook

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