About Me

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After years of sloth, I am now a mama who runs and practices yoga. I write about exercise; parenting a grownup child as well as two little kids; and whatever is annoying me at the moment.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The church of mowing

When I want to feel 18 again, I mow the lawn.

I'm going to exaggerate here, but only a little. I love mowing. And I love mowing when it's hot and humid.

I grew up an Air Force kid, our family domiciled in Omaha, Nebraska from the start of my eighth grade year at Logan Fontenelle Junior High until I graduated from Bellevue West High School in 1986.

Though the Deep South (not sure why I feel the need to capitalize that, but I do) is best known for torrid summers, summers in eastern Nebraska are hot, sticky affairs as well.

Compared with my current home of 20-plus years in Chicago, just a few miles from a nearly constant cooling Lake Michigan, nearly all weather in Nebraska is about extremes -- hotter, more humid, colder, snowier, and a heck of a lot more tornados than Chicago.

It was those summers in high school, as the oldest of an Air Force colonel and a stay-at-home mom, I got the marquis chores, including mowing. I grumbled, but I kind of liked it, too.

There was something so physically satisfying about pushing sweat out of my eyes, under a wicked and unforgiving sun, and seeing the lines of newly tamed and shortened grass emerge. Even as I was dive-bombed by a million mosquitoes and biting flies.

Back then, you had to put a grasscatcher on the mower -- if mulching mowers were around, we didn't have one -- so every so often I'd have to stop, turn it off and go empty the then-heavy, fragrant grass, especially if it was wet and clumping, seeing my fingertips quickly become stained green.

My shoulders would ache, though not terribly, and sweat would trickle down the front of my bra and soak the back of my shirt.

In those days, I didn't feel pretty or thin -- though now I look back and know that I was just fine. As I mowed then, I'm sure I thought about school -- hard AP classes, trying to keep up my mostly all-As, boys that I desperately liked but felt unworthy of. I'd also think about how many calories I must be burning, so that I wouldn't get fat.

Being a slightly neurotic teen-age girl is so fun, isn't it?

And yet I remember joy on those hot days. The satisfaction of a hard job well done. Feeling physically strong. It took years for me to discover that again, when I started running in late 30s and worked my way into long trail races.

My husband and I bought our house 15 years ago next month. He grew up mainly in apartments and was eager to have his own yard and mower. I figured since I mowed as a kid, I'd be the mower in the family. Conflict!

Yes, we both love to mow, but I usually don't insist on it. I sneak it in once in a while, when he's run to the store or sleeping or on the rare occasion that he's out, like he is this weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival.

After a trip to the pool, I got the kids settled with Netflix and a snack, and went to the garage.

I got the hand hedge clippers and the hand edger out -- I never, ever use a power edger. Doing it by hand just feels like honest work.

Sweat poured in my eyes as usual,. I pulled up my shirt many times to wipe my drenched, hot face, not caring who might get a glimpse of my torso, which has housed three babies.

I edged carefully, my Air Force colonel's daughter self pleased with the neat lines that formed and tidily separated the lawn and the sidewalk.

I hand-clipped the areas where the mower won't reach (my husband usually skips that part and it drives me a little bananas).

And then I mowed, first moving the mower on the outside edges to form a frame for the lawn, then methodically mowing diagonally because it just looks awesome.

The sweat soaked my shirt and tricked down my bra, the sun bright and warm against my neck. I felt young again. Being 17 or 18 wasn't easy, but there were young moments of happiness, of feeling like aha, I have this.

I felt that again as I saw the manicured lines made by the mower, and stood and looked at the lawn when I was done.

I was happy.

I hand-trimmed overgrown grass around this ugly sewer thing we try to hide with flowers.

Neat and tidy edging. Love our backyard -- a nice little sanctuary in the city.

If you look hard, you might be able to see the diagonal mowing lines.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Graduation day, baby

At 4:15 a.m., as I drove north on a pretty desolate Western Avenue toward Evanston, I noticed the outline of clouds against an already-lightening sky. 

When I steered into the condensed school parking lot at 4:30, the cars I recognize as quickly as my own were there -- the light teal Prius and the dark Honda CRV. It made me smile.

And there was the old crew -- Krista, Terri, Betsey and Kellie. I hadn't run with them since before my hip scope surgery last January. Another runner has joined the group, Kara. Sleepily, we introduced ourselves. 

OK, maybe I was just the sleepy one, after some wine with some wonderful colleagues last night and months of not getting up at 4 a.m. for runs.

We began running the still dark streets, the sky rapidly brightening as our feet quietly tapped along the pavement.


Earlier this week, I was finally and officially cleared to run, graduating from the "back to running" anti-gravity treadmill. 

After four months of no running and a ton of physical therapy, I had been running on a special treadmill for about four-ish weeks that encased my lower half in a bubble and did run/walks starting at 65% of my body weight. It also reminded me that I have back fat, which gets squished upward when you run on an anti-gravity treadmill. Fun!

Each session I increased by 5% and each time the amount of running increased and walking decreased. I learned that I would like running even more if I just weighed, oh, 120 pounds. Which I don't.

So today was the test... could I run my old morning default distance of 5 miles? Yes, yes I did. 

It's good to be back.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hipsters, help and -- yay -- I'm two weeks post-op

As of today, I'm two weeks and a day post-op from a hip arthoscopy to fix a hip labral tear (torn cartilage) and a femoral acetabular impingement in my hip.


My surgery was done the day before the new presidential administration took office, so you could say my recovery has tracked the new administration. Let's just say my recovery is going much more smoothly.

Some observations:

  • When people see you in a hip brace and crutches, they automatically assume something very bad happened. It just looks worse than it is -- it's pretty good so far.
  • I can button my jeans again this week. SWEET!
  • My family's been pretty great in helping. My 7-year-old just learned to tie his shoe (because his mom just got around to teaching him, oops) so he's gotten to practice on me, since I'm not supposed to be doing deep bends, which makes putting on my right shoe hard. 
  • Doors get opened for me, cars stop to let me crutch across the street (this is a good thing in Chicago), people even bring me food. (Yum. I wish that last part could continue indefinitely.)
  • Binny's delivers. Yes!
  • I'm sleeping in my 5-year-old daughter's "My Little Pony"-adorned bed right now, so I don't have to navigate stairs to my room in the middle of the night. She thinks it's one big slumber party, enthusiastically agreeing to sleep in her plush unicorn sleeping bag on the floor. I think she thinks I'm going to stay there permanently. The cat sleeps with me there, too. 
  • My running friends are SO nice to set up reasons for me to leave my house and gab for hours. Non-running friends (who I imagine are like yeah, dummy, running is bad for you) have been so nice, too, with cards and even a book to read while I'm off work. Which I haven't yet started, but I will!
  • I'm so grateful for a FB group that calls ourselves "hipsters" and shares surgery and recovery stories. Reading of others' experiences of having multiple hip surgeries, I'm attacking my recovery like a double cheeseburger on a camping trip. It's like quitting smoking -- I really, really, really only want to do this once, thankyouverymuch.
  • Hip surgery does not automatically mean hip replacement. I've been asked that a lot. I'm not old enough to join AARP yet and, therefore, using only vanity for logic, I'm obviously too young for a hip replacement. (According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the average age is 50 to 80. OK, so I'm closer than I thought. But not there yet!)

One of the challenges of all of this has been going from exercising six days a week, with sweaty runs or spin classes several days a week, to, well, not sweating at all.

I realized how much I depend upon exercise to keep me well below "snarling" level. I felt really down several times this past week. (Though, compared with problems others are facing now, I kept reminding myself a lot that I am really, really lucky.)

I'm allowed to ride a stationary bike with no resistance for 20 minutes every day, on which it s impossible to break a sweat or generate much in the way of endorphins. I asked (ok, maybe I pleaded with) my physical therapist, who cleared me to lift weights (upper body) and that has lifted my mood. It always pays to ask for what you need.

I will be able to give up crutches as early as next week, so that's cool. The clunky brace in a few more weeks. Drive a car again some day. Eventually attempt the elliptical machine (six weeks) and -- the sweetest gift -- running (four months).

I'm getting there. ☺✌🏃

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Surgery story

A couple of weeks ago, I ran the Frozen Gnome 10K trail race, known for its January frostiness, ultrarunners (because there's a 50K option), "butt-slide hill", and, of course, a human runner dressed as a GNOME.

There's a little group of us who have done it each of the last three years, and we're addicts. At Veteran Acres in Crystal Lake, this race is the only reason I even know where Crystal Lake is.

This race is one big postcard for snowy (well, icy this year), hilly and tranquil woods that will remind you that you have a soul -- and it needs feeding.

This was my last race before surgery,which was a week ago today.

As I ran that morning, I didn't feel bummed or worried as I anticipated the surgery. Sure, my hip ached, as it had daily in the last year and more. It had ached during this particular race last year, too, long before I knew I had a labral hip tear and a bone deformity that only surgery would (hopefully) be able to fix.

As I ran, I felt calm and hopeful instead, knowing that maybe I will feel so much better when I run this race in January 2018.

Last Thursday, I woke up with a jumpy stomach after not sleeping much. So much for calm.

The week prior I had been a distracted mess, forgetting my husband's haircut appointment and that I needed to pick up the kids, losing stuff around the house and forgetting to turn in the Girl Scout cookie order.

I totally disqualified myself for mom or wife of the month, for sure. Good thing there's a low bar here for that.

We got the kids ready for school. I was worried the two littles, who are 5 and 7, would be scared, but fortunately they seemed ok and much better than me.

After hugs and final walking-to-school instructions to my oldest son, who is 24, Brett and I were off to Rush Hospital in Oak Park.

We made it on time, because I lied to my husband and told him we had to be there earlier than we really did. I don't like to lie but man, it works every time. It's worth him being annoyed with me. I hate to be late.

We got into a little waiting room right away, and then sat for a few hours. Because I couldn't eat or drink anything after midnight, I was grumpy.

That faded when a hospital worker showed up with a bed and said to hop on, it was time to go to the operating waiting area. Fear flooded me as I got on to the bed and I started to cry as I looked at my husband. I'm a cryer, that's just what happens when I get freaked.

As I sniffled my way to the OR holding area, the worker mispronounced my name, Tamara, and said "Ta-MARR-uh, you're not crying, are you?" I was like, yeah, I am.

He said it would be OK, that my surgeon was awesome (he was about the 50th person who by this point told me how awesome my surgeon is, which was comforting) and that when Chicago Bulls players come in for surgery, they're pretty scared too. Well, that got my attention!

I laid in a holding area for another hour, watching Trump's Treasury Secretary nominee, investment banker Steven Mnuchin, get grilled by the Senate, which gave me some grim glee as nurses paraded in and out of my room, very cheerful and encouraging.

(God, nurses are awesome.)

Finally, it was time to be wheeled into the OR, so my anesthesia "cocktail" was added to my IV and I was brought into the OR.

So this is kind of nerdy, but I really wanted to see that OR before I fell asleep. How often, outside of TV, do non-medical people see these? For the brief few minutes I was still awake, it was an amazing sight, with equipment, lights and plastic sheeting everywhere.

And then, it was over. A few groggy hours in recovery and a few most lost hours laying around after that and my husband was helping me in the car. Or the nurse. Who knows.

I dry heaved part of the way home and don't remember much else other than hugs and cards from my awesome kiddies.


Since then, it's been all about resting and recovering. I have to use, just for a few weeks, lots of medical equipment. I'm really, really, really trying to be good and do what I'm supposed to do:

Fixing a runner takes a lot of equipment, apparently. From top left, clockwise: Crutches (obviously), no  more than 20 pounds on the surgical leg, which is really hard to gauge; Reckless the cat checks out the ice wrap/compression machine, used several times a day; the CPM, a passive motion machine on which I lay my leg and it lifts it up and down, four hours a day; foam "booties" that hold my toes up toward the ceiling while I sleep (FUN!!! I hate back sleeping); and a sassy hip brace that amplifies the frumpy mom look (but I'm wearing a Frozen Gnome race shirt, so that's cool).

To pass time, I'm (finally) reading some books, since I stopped reading them sometime around 2009. I'm currently reading Algren: A Life by a friend of mine. It's really good.

I'm studying Spanish again, though when I watch Narcos much of it is still spoken too quickly for me to understand. But I pick up more individual words now, so that's cool.

I also got to weigh in on my oldest son's Tinder profile description, which needed some work. I think he regrets showing me that now. (Too much self deprecation in his self-description, if you ask me. Which he didn't. Overreaching mom, right here). 

And I finally watched Love, Actually, which came out 14 years ago. It was awesome.

Each day, I crutch over to the gym two blocks from my house every morning for my 20 minutes of stationary bike riding, clutching any chance I can to preserve my sanity and escape from 1. presidential politics and 2. the fact that I CAN'T GO FOR A RUN FOR 3 3/4 MORE MONTHS. 

If I time it right, I get to catch a glimpse of a line of parka-clad three-year-olds grasping a rope on a morning walk from the local day care. 

So stinking cute. Can't wait for you little cutie-pies to grow up and fix the world. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Good-bye, 2016, the year of crap running. Hello, 2017!

A few days after Christmas, I had planned to run eight miles with a couple of regular running buddies.

But my hip ached -- again -- so I bailed, reluctantly. An MRI in November revealed a hip labral tear -- basically, the cartilage in the hip socket is torn and there is a bone spur or something like that.

The good news is I can still run a little, though nowhere near my usual mileage. This is good news for my family, too, since they have to live with me and a few miles is better than no miles.

I've made up the difference as best as I could with weekly weight-lifting classes and tons more biking and spin classes.

Like other runners, I love to track my mileage. I use Strava, an online app that makes it easy.

So as the year end approached, my ego piped up. I wondered what my mileage would look like for 2016, considering I've been injured basically all year, including during my worst marathon race/time ever last spring.

As of 12/30, I was at 992 miles.

Dang it. I could have hit 1,000 if I hadn't blown off my run earlier in the week.

Sometimes I'm smart and sometimes I'm a bonehead. So to get my miles up past the millennial milestone, I ran just over eight miles on New Year's Eve in Southwestern Michigan, discovering during my run the Wau-Ke-Na nature preserve trails.

Sure, the run felt like crap from the waist down, so I focused on how pretty the countryside was. It *kind of* worked, like eating fat-free ice cream and pretending it tastes amazing.

The Wau-Ke-Na nature preserve near Fennville, Mich. 
Thanks to that run, I finished 2016 with 1,001 miles, a nice big number accomplishment for a rough year of running.

And I biked 911 miles for the year, way more than I've biked in recent years and a function of being forced to do something besides run all the time.

My sports doc tells me that it can take two years on average to diagnose a labral tear because so many other things have to be ruled out as the root cause, like the hamstring tendon tear last summer.

We tried a steroid injection after Thanksgiving, but it didn't stick.

She says it's common in women runners who have had kids. Indeed, since having my daughter five years ago, the connection between my hip and hamstring has felt "stuck" and I've been in and out of physical therapy since then -- sometimes for hip stuff, sometimes back issues.

I really like running and kids. Bummer. But I wouldn't change the last several years -- I love being a mom and I love running.

Next stop is surgery. I meet with the surgeon this week. He's recommended by both my doc and by the ultrarunning community, so I'm feeling hopeful and optimistic about this next step.

And, eventually, I'll be back to full-fat ice cream.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Soy una mujer

We were blabbing away, happily on an early morning run. Early runs with my running besties set the tone for the day, I truly believe.

A car crept up to the left of us.

It was dark, save for the streetlights along the roadway. And it was loud -- we were venturing on to an overpass over Interstate 90, which connects downtown Chicago to O'Hare, suburbs and eventually, Wisconsin  and on to Seattle.

Even at 5 a.m., the expressway roars.

We could make out the shape of a guy at the wheel. His car slowed to a crawl, and he was looking at us and trying to say something. The din of the freeway noise drowned him out. We picked up our step, instinctively.

No woman wants to talk to a strange guy crawling by her in his car. It's happened before. He's not there to say good morning.

He had to stop a bit in front of us for a stoplight. Shit, we thought, slow down until the light turns green and he has no choice but to keep going.

The light turned, and he waited. We had caught up with him again, unfortunately. And he sat there with his passenger window still down, leaning toward us and trying to say something. My heart was pounding. Keep going, we said to each other. Fortunately, the car behind him honked and forced him to move -- presumably, go home for the night, we thought.

We quickly detoured to side streets. We still run side streets now.

About a year ago, walking to my train station, a distraught woman called out to me and asked me if she could walk with me.

Confused, I said "sure". She quickly explained that the dude on the bike on the street had been following her and trying to talk to her. Seeing both of us glaring at him, he went away.

These instances are by far exceptions in life. I am blessed to be surrounded by good, loving men -- my loyal, do-the-right-thing husband. My 24- and 7-year-old sons. My wonderful bosses, so many amazing guy friends and colleagues who are bright, funny, and so supportive of women.

But this shit does happen to women. And worse. Like just about every woman I know, I've been grabbed in places I shouldn't be, called horrible names and had men push themselves on to me. I was once told I was hired because my boss liked my legs, and once almost didn't get a job because I wore a pantsuit instead of a dress. (And the editor who almost didn't hire me because of that was a woman!)

This crap happens less now that I'm older, but occasionally I still find myself in uncomfortable or scary positions, and it pisses me off.

The great thing about being older is that I'm less afraid to be a bitch if I need to -- even when they scream obscenities at you for standing up for yourself. (Go ahead, dude, you think I haven't been called that before?) Though yeah, I'm still scared, I'll admit.

With the guy in the car, I wondered what went through his head -- if it occurred to him that he might be freaking the shit out of women running in the dark by pulling up to us like that.

I'll never know, though I can pretend he went home, put on his jammies and went to bed, and later woke up and had a feminist epiphany and decided he should help women and not scare the crap out of them. Or maybe he just woke up with a headache.

After the election events of this week, I've been thinking about a lot of this stuff. There is so much hate and rage and bullying and shit out there I want to pull the cover over my head and hide. It's so bad for our kids and for people less able or unable to defend themselves. Someone opened up the box of human depravity and left it open. I feel sick, over and over.

And it's not like I'm remotely perfect. I am a deeply flawed person. Just ask some of my relatives. I don't do enough for the world, or my friends, or my family. I try, but I know I fail a little every day.

Hillary failed, too. I first got to see her in action covering a health care event she did in 1993 in Des Moines. I was impressed. I've watched her for 20-plus years, as she got older, I grew up. In my 20s, I could not figure out why people were so freaked out by her. I remained impressed with her through the years. I've watched her get skewered over the years, and watched her fail, too, and spectacularly so this week.

When this photo of Hillary went viral this week, it made me smile.

She dusted herself off and was still smiling, if tiredly. God bless you. If you can do it, we can do it.

Sure, sometimes we're scared. But we can keep going.

Working on my part in that now -- how can I better support women around me, and women I haven't yet met. I have friends going through divorces, betrayal, job losses, miserable bosses and not being paid what they're worth, infertility, cancer, loneliness -- and want to help and support beyond what I normally do. Kids, too -- the little ones who go to school and get called the n-word or beat up because they're Muslim. It's a knife in my chest. For the love of god, we have to protect our kids!!

Figuring out what and where I can be most helpful. I know I will fall short, but I have to do more.

Soy una mujer. Soy una mama. Soy una estudiante en espanol. Soy una hermana, una hija y una amiga, una esposa, we learned this week in the conversational Spanish class I'm taking. Those aren't just descriptions -- they mean something.

And are reminders that we should fight for those who need us to fight for them -- even if my heart is racing and someone is telling me I'm a bitch or a whiny city liberal.

I saw this quote attributed to Lucille Ball this morning -- "I'd rather regret the things I've done than regret the things I haven't."

Yep. Let's go, ladies. It's a new day.

And thanks, Hillary. <3

Monday, September 19, 2016

The silver lining

This has been the summer of biking in our house.

We've worked hard with our "littles" to teach them how to ride bikes. It's paying off.

Little M-man, my 7-year-old, is now able to pedal in short spurts. A little dude who struggles with confidence sometimes, he was beaming Saturday as he worked with his big brother and was actually biking on his own.

His 5-year-old sister C is tearing around on her tiny pink bike, demanding to go farther than the sidewalks near our house. She wants to bike with mommy, whose nagging running injury has prompted her to bike more.

I love that girl's spunk.

Sometimes I wonder if the world is getting crabbier, or if as I age I am viewing the world through a different lense. It seems so many people are unhappy or angry sometimes, and grumbling is a reflex. I'm certainly guilty of it.

I was recently walking on Michigan Avenue, which teemed with people on a warm September afternoon. I wondered how many of them were crabby. I pictured them as cute babies instead, to see if my lense of humanity would be kinder. I decided to picture them as five-year-olds instead. Kids that age are the bomb.

Some stuff you can't fix. Some stuff you can, if you try.

Long before I became a runner, I biked. My introduction to biking as a kid was far from remarkable.

I had a pink bike with a pink striped banana seat (I LOVED that bike). Back then, we didn't wear bike helmets. My dad will still laugh about how many times I crashed into garbage cans trying to learn. It seemed to take forever. (God, it took forever...)

But then biking became fun, super fun. It meant big-kid freedom to wander. Sometimes, as I got older, it meant peace, a chance to collect jumbled thoughts, whether it was my bewildered eighth grade self on military base housing streets in Omaha or my troubled new mom self, back when my oldest son was born, on a little used trail east of Des Moines.

I vowed that this year would be the summer that my kids would learn to ride -- and hopefully, learn to love biking as I did. And that has been so great to work with them.

It's also been great to re-discover biking for myself and remember why I loved it so much.

Yesterday morning, I had planned to do another of a series of rides I've been doing on the weekends lately along the North Channel Trail, which runs thru a chunk of the North Side of Chicago into a bunch of suburbs, eventually reaching the Green Bay Trail that starts in the tony suburbs of Wilmette, Kenilworth and Winnetka (which, at ~20 miles round trip from my house, is as far as I've gotten). 

But M-man was up in the middle of the night. He is usually a great sleeper, but he was barking-coughing and crying. Poor kid was miserable. I stayed with him until he could sleep again, so I didn't get up as early as I would have liked to get 25 miles in (that was my goal).

So, by the time I got up and fed the kids, I had an hour or so to squeeze in a ride before a kids' birthday party. I decided to bike west from my house, along some more bike-friendly streets, to the North Branch trail, where I've done plenty of runs.

Given the time constraint, I knew that just as I reached the Caldwell Woods, where the awesome paved bike trails began and wound north that I would have to turn around.

But hey, a ride's a ride. And it was a beautiful fall day.

And then I discovered something awesome.

The biking path has been extended south of Caldwell Woods to Cicero and Forest Glen roads, easily accessible from bike-friendly Bryn Mawr Road.

I was elated.

The construction/do not enter signs were still up, promising $500 fines for trespassers, but the path had plenty of scofflaw bikers and walkers already.

I joined them. A new path is just irresistible.

I giddily biked up to Caldwell Woods, my turnaround. I wanted to split myself in two -- send one mom back to do all the mom stuff at my house, and the other part of me keep biking, wind in my hair.

The rest of the day, I thought about that ride. I got grouchy about stupid stuff at a few points in the day, which I feel silly about, and reminded myself to think about the things that make us happy. If I'm grouchy, even if I can't go for a bike ride that second, maybe just thinking about that feeling can help pave over the grouchy moment.

Yeah, it doesn't always work. But sometimes it helps.

I so cannot wait to take the "littles" up to that path for a ride!


Biking has been the silver lining to what's happening with my favorite physical activity, running. Unforunately, my hamstring tendon/hip issues are still there, a good seven-plus months and counting. I can run a few times a week, but my hamstring feels stuck.

Back to the sports doctor this week. Never give up, right?