Saturday, August 30, 2008

Football Season!

I don't follow many sports, but I am an avid U of Oregon football fan. GO DUCKS! And tonight is the first game of the season! And Mr. Chick and I are both going! We play the U of Washington Huskies (boo!) and are 15+ point favorites. It's a night game, which are always fun. We have a rockin' tailgate with lots of friends from law school. The kids will be spending the night (a sleepover!) with friends since we'll be getting home so late (2 hrs drive each way, 7pm kickoff time. You do the math.)

I love fall, and I love Duck football. Can't think of a better way to spend time during the holiday weekend! I hope whatever you do this weekend is at least half as fun.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hood To Coast

I am still having trouble walking my legs are so sore from running my first Hood to Coast relay this past weekend. Seriously, I look like I'm about 90 when I walk. Going up stairs is OK but down? Ouch.

For those unfamiliar
with the Hood to Coast, it's a 197-mile relay race. Yes, 197 miles. Teams of 12 people run from Mt. Hood to Seaside, Oregon. Each person on the team runs 3 times, averaging 4-5 miles per leg. This was the 27th year of Hood to Coast and teams come from all over the world to run it. There is a Portland to Coast walking version, which is 127 miles. Our team is unique in that we have 2 teams who run together. So 24 people in total. That way you run with a partner, which makes it more fun and safer for everyone. I was assigned the first leg. I ran Leg 1, Leg 13, and Leg 25 and had the shortest overall distance of just under 14 miles all together. 14 miles isn't all that many, but when it's broken up into 3 legs and you run every 9-10 hours, it's much harder. You don't get much time to recover between runs, nor do you get much sleep. It took our team about 27 hours to run the race, and during that time you are either running or in a van with 5 or 6 other sweaty people while someone else is running. I think I got about 2 - 2.5 hrs of sleep during the race, and that was in an open field in a sleeping bag next to the van with several hundred other people. Not exactly quality sleep.... And yet, despite that, I'd do it again!

My first leg was rated "very hard" because of the elevation change. I literally ran down the mountain. It was 5.6 miles with a 2000 foot elevation change. It can be very hard on a persons knees. Thankfully, I can do downhill. Uphill? Not so much. But downhill is good for me. I had been cautioned by many people to take it easy and not jam down the hill because I'd be paying for it on my next two runs. So I held back a bit. I felt I could have gone faster, but didn't. I did my best to stay with my partner, but she simply ran slower than me. At about halfway we had to move to a single file line and I just sort of naturally moved ahead of her and started running a bit faster. It worked out because she ended up needing to pee anyway. I averaged 7:50 miles on that leg. Pretty good for me, especially considering I could have gone faster. I felt good after the leg and enjoyed cheering the rest of the team on during their legs. After our van finished we had several hours to kill while Van 2 took over. We went to a teammates house for showers, a late spaghetti dinner and to watch some Olympics. A few people tried to sleep, but I don't think anyone really did. At 10:15pm or so it was time to load back up and head into downtown Portland for the next exchange. I took over at about 11:15pm and got to run along the river in downtown Portland. It was so pretty! Then we crossed a bridge from the eastside to the westside and kept on running into an industrial section of town. My partner was struggling with some asthma so after about 2 miles of slower paced running we had to walk a bit so she could try to catch her breath. It was really hard for her. I was not about to run ahead and leave her by herself at night in the city. That's the whole point of running in pairs: safety on the course. So I walked with her, ran when she felt up to it, and just chatted. Our time for that leg wasn't very good, but it didn't matter - we're not a competitive team, and it was really pleasant to be running/walking in the city. We handed off to the next runners and the time in the van began again, cheering our runners and offering support along the way - water, gatorade, etc. It was during these middle legs that we came upon a terrible accident scene. Earlier a 18 yr old girl running on the road (with the required reflective vest and carrying a light) was hit by a car and seriously injured. The car veered into her and continued on down a pretty long embankment. We haven't heard yet what exactly happened - it wasn't like the driver was trying to turn into a driveway or street and just didn't see the runner. There was no turn to be made there - the car just struck her, tossing her up on the windshield and breaking quite a few bones in the process. Poor girl! I guess this is the first time something like that has happened in Hood to Coast history.

After everyone finished their 2nd legs we drove ahead to the next exchange point, which was a random farm in the middle of nowhere. We pulled in about 4:30am and parked among a couple of hundred other vans. We spread out a tarp next to the van, rolled out our sleeping bags, and tried to get some sleep. I got up at about 6:30am, as it turned out. I needed to pee, just like everyone else, it seemed. Long Honey Bucket lines at this place - ug! 20-30 minutes later I felt better. I ate a banana and a Cliff Bar for breakfast and got ready for my final leg. We had no cell reception in this field so we weren't quite sure if Van 2 was on schedule or not. It was estimated I'd take over at about 8:15am. I think it ended up being closer to 8:30 or 8:40 when I started my last leg. This leg was my shortest - just 3.75 miles. It had a very gradual uphill, but it was morning and the weather was cool and misty so it was easier for me to tackle the incline. I didn't feel too bad running ahead of my partner because it was daylight, and that's what happened. I was able to pass 6 or 7 people and felt pretty good once I got the lead out of my legs. They felt like bricks when I first started! I finished strong and ran 8.5 min miles, which is good for me, and really good for my last leg! I was proud of my time.

Mr. Chick's last leg was a killer. It's nicknamed Mt. Fuji because of the elevation shape of the leg when plotted on paper. It's 3 miles uphill at a pretty decent incline (by now we were running in the Coast Range), and then 2.55 miles down. It had gotten pretty hot and sunny by then and the leg has a lot of switchbacks and turns as you run up the hill. It's brutal. This leg is what makes Leg 5 one of the toughest of all the legs. You put your best runners on this one. And that was Mr. Chick. He did great! He ran up that hill and made it his bitch. He did it in under 8 min miles and with painful stomach cramps. He's a rockstar!

After everyone in our van had run their final legs it was time to head to the beach. We had rented a place for the night and we all hit the showers. After cleaning up a bit we went to find some food of substance (pizza) and then hit the beach to wait for the rest of our team to get there so we
could all cross the finish line together. It's quite a party at the beach during Hood to Coast! Lots of tents, a big beer garden, a stage with live music, etc. It was a gloriously beautiful day, too. After we crossed the finish line we hit the beer garden and relaxed. Everyone was starting to get sore and many of us were tired, but it was good fun. We ran into other people we know who'd run the race, too, so that was fun to see them. Around 9pm Mr. Chick and I headed back to the beach house and I took a bath to soak my legs as they were hurting like motherf*ckers by then and walking was tricky. Mr. Chick went to the back duplex to join the rest of the team who was there enjoying a keg. I ended up feeling so tired in the bath that I just went to bed. I called it quits early, but I was not the first! Let it be known that a couple of other people had crashed out before me! I slept great but when I woke up I almost couldn't walk my legs were so sore! Other people were walking funny, too. Going down stairs is a slow, painful process. We all went to brunch and then packed up to head back home. I'm still sore today but it's getting better. I had a lot of fun doing Hood to Coast. I enjoyed the camraderie - both in the van and on the course. It feels like an accomplishment.

If you ever get a chance to join a HTC team and run the race, do it! You see the beautiful Mt. Hood, pretty Portland, and the gorgeous Oregon coast. You see some crazy characters, like the guy almost 7 feet tall who ran in nothing but a wacky wig and pink speedo. You see some inspirational people, like the team of blind runners. Or the walking team of senior citizen ladies, the oldest of whom is 91 and walked 60 miles. You meet new people - like the young (American) lady in our van who grew up in Singapore, is currently in college in Seattle, and speaks 3 languages. She ended up meeting a guy from France at one of the exchange points and was speaking with him in French. Sure, you're sore afterwards, but it's a good kind of soreness. The kind that speaks to challenge and effort and triumph. Hood to Coast is an experience I'm happy to have had.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

School Supplies!

I LOVE "back to school" time. Love it! I have very fond memories of going back to school shopping. My mom would drive us to the mall, hand over $200 in cold, hard CASH, and tell us to have at it but spend wisely. That money was all we would get out of our parents for clothes and the like for the entire school year (not counting Christmas - we usually could count on getting a new something from them under the tree). But that money had to stretch to cover everything down to shoes. And so you quickly discover that while $200 might seem like a lot at first it really doesn't go all that far. So my sister and I, with the money burning holes in our pockets, would descend upon the Brass Plum department of Nordstroms like tornadoes. We had a strategy: pick out everything you like to try on and we'd meet up in the dressing room to compare. My sister was just one grade below me in school, so our style and size were essentially the same. If we both picked out the same item the negotiating would begin. We were saavy enough to recognize the stupidity of both of us buying the exact same thing. So we'd strike deals. YOU buy that sweater and I'll buy this one, and we'll share them both! Which is a good plan on paper but tough in practice. "Hey! *I* was going to wear that sweater today!" or "You KNEW I was planning on wearing that today but I can't because YOU got it all scuzzy!" Oh the joys of school mornings with several adolescent girls trying to get ready at the same time....

Now that I have my own kids, I still look forward to school shopping. Thankfully they are too young to give a rats ass about the clothes they wear, but they do get excited about buying school supplies. Ah, the smell of fresh, new Crayolas... My mom has started a neat tradition with the kids where she takes them out shopping for a few new Back to School things. I arm her with their lists as well as a list of my own of what they need (Nicholas needs jeans and sneakers, Lauren needs long-sleeved shirts and a coat, for example) and Grandma gets busy. It's taken us a few attempts to get the bugs worked out - like having to explain to my mom that I don't really care for character items and would prefer to not dress the kids in head-to-toe Cars gear,no matter WHAT Lauren says. (sidenote: my kids have been overheard on several occasions saying, "Mama doesn't buy character stuff - keep walking" when in Target lately. It's working!) The shopping trip with Grandma was last week and my mom picked out really cute stuff for the kids. She has a preference for Lands End and they each got a few needed clothing items from there. Love it! Lauren picked out some adorable light blue Mary Jane's with horses on them. ("horses don't count as characters, right Mama?!" Right. Horses are OK with me.) Grandma also hooked them up with a few supplies from their lists, which is also very appreciated.

Yesterday was my day to fill in the blanks. The kids and I hit the stores to pick up a few things we still needed in order to be ready for school. I found some good sales and got Nicholas a couple of pairs of pants and a shirt. Mama even got a new shirt and skort for 75% off! Oh yeah! Lauren got a new pair of pants and both kids got sneakers. And we got every last thing on their supply lists. Gawd! I can wait a little longer before getting Lauren the winter coat she'll need or the pair of non-sneaker shoes Nicholas should probably have. Space things out a bit.

There was one situation that reminded me very forcibly of the negotiation my sister and I used to do during back to school shopping. Nicholas is into Webkinz right now and could help but notice a Webkinz school supply kit at the store. "Please Mama! I LOVE Webkinz and it's for school supplies! Can we get it? Pleeeeaaaasseee??!!" For $14.99, I don't think so. Plus, it didn't have anything in it that matched his supply list. The ruler was the wrong size. He didn't need pencils. The case was wrong, etc. I told him we'd keep looking but keep it in mind. I explained how it didn't have the right kind of supplies he'd need. "But Mom, I can just use the Webkinz supplies at home. You know, to help me do my homework?!" Nice try, kiddo. Then, at Target he spied a backpack he really liked. It was sort of a camo backpack with a spider and about a million little pockets all over it. His old backpack is in perfect condition, except it's too small. It's a "youth" size and folders and stuff get dog-earred when he zips it up. He really should have something a little bigger. So we struck a deal: he could have the new camo/spider backpack, but it would mean no Webkinz supply kit. He had think a minute before agreeing to go with the backpack as long as we could maybe keep our eyes open for Webkinz stickers (do they even MAKE Webkinz stickers??!) that he could have to use on his folders and stuff. You know, since he isn't going to get the actual Webkinz school supplies. OH the old days of negotiating at Back To School time - ! I agreed to his condition and we got the backpack, which he now claims to be his most favorite new thing for school.

And so the house is filled with the smells of new jumbo pink erasers and unsharpened pencils. And new shoes. And excitement about going back to school. Who will my teacher be? Who will be in my class? All the unanswered questions that contribute to the exciting anticipation. We won't know for another week or two. But we'll be happily spending that time, those last lazy days of summer, organizing the new school supplies, weeding out old clothes that no longer fit, and adjusting the bedtime schedule. School starts the day after Labor Day.

We're (almost ) ready. Are you?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Block Mom

My summer quest has been to get my kids playing outside as much as possible. Seems simple, right? WRONG! My kids are the type that prefer to be indoors. I think it's because we get such short summers here that the majority of their lives are spent inside. You'd THINK that would only make them crave the outdoors even more, but no. I mean, there is no Wii outside. Or computers. Did you know?!? Shocking. Also, no videos! What is a kid to do?!

Enter the nagging, annoying mom (played by yours truly) who declares that the kids MUST play outside and that there is to be no electronic interaction for the entire afternoon. Whining and pouting ensue but to no avail. The mom holds firm. Go outside. NOW. I've even taken to literally LOCKING them in the backyard just to keep them out there and prevent them from creeping back in.

And out backyard should be pretty damn fun for a kid, if I do say so myself. I mean, we have a tire swing, a slide/fort thingy, grass and trees, and I set up the badminton net. We have a deck with a basketball hoop (albeit one of those plastic ones that go only up to 5 or 6 feet tall at the most, but still - !). Every other kid who comes to our backyard loves it. My kids? You'd think it was their torture chamber.

So fine, play in the front. I've laid down the law about their boundaries (light post on one end, basketball hoop 4 doors down on the other end). The street gets very little traffic - just residents, mostly - and it has a slight slope. I've allowed Nicholas to play out front if he stays within his limits, and if he's out there with her, Lauren can play in the front, too. I check on them, but I don't feel like I have to be out there every second, hovering. The kids are really good about respecting their boundaries. They ride bikes and scooters and such, and I make sure to set out these cones we have on either end of their boundaries to make sure cars slow down and watch for kids.

But now? Now that Nicholas and Lauren are outside pretty much everyday? Now all the other neighborhood kids are flocking to my yard. Suddenly my house is the center of the social scene on my street. You guys are out playing? Ok, then I'll come play, too! Just yesterday I had my two kids, the two girls from next door, the two girls from across the street, and the kid from a few houses down in my backyard. The day before? Swap two of the kids for two different kids, all having races down the street on my kids' bikes/twist cars/scooters. The day before that? The kid from down the street essentially invited himself to dinner (a first) and when his older brother came to tell him to come home, stayed for dessert, too.

When it's just my kids playing by themselves I don't feel like I need to supervise every second. I know my kids and I know what they do (for now - in a few years? Not so much...). But when neighbor kids come over I feel like I need to be present more. Watch more closely. Held responsible. Which is fine - I truly think it's the best thing that the neighbor kids all really want to play at our house. I get to know the kids, my kids have friends to play with, and I know what everyone is doing. BUT, it makes it hard to get stuff done, you know? Instead of sitting and folding the laundry, I'm in the backyard making sure the hordes aren't using the fragile badminton racquets as tools to dig in the dirt. Or hit the trees with. Or that someone isn't trying to make a swimming pool in the far corner of the yard, generating more mud and mess than I want to know about. I'm sitting on the front steps making sure that the kids are all taking turns with the scooters. Or that they're watching for cars. Or fetching a band-aid when someone inevitably falls. I'm the street mom, I guess. The other parents are usually nowhere to be seen, trusting that I'm the one keeping an eye on things. I'm also spending my time fending off the endless, mind-numbing questions that seem to spill out of 4-6 year olds:

"Mrs. Neighbor? Can we play inside your house?" No, we're playing OUTSIDE.
"But Mrs. Neighbor! I really wanna play inside your house! My mom would say I could!!" I know she would, but we're playing outside. We're not going inside right now.

Whine. Pout.

"Miss MP, I'm hungry. Can I have a snack? I think you have popsicles in your garage - can I have one?" Not right now. If you're hungry, go get a snack from your mom.

And on it goes. I usually end up bringing out extra snacks because it wouldn't be fair to just bring something out for my kids and not everyone else. I'm going through a lot of Goldfish crackers.

And yet, I wouldn't have it any other way. Our house is the center of the social scene on our block and I think it's great. I like that other kids have fun here. I like that they like my kids. I like that they like me. Even the young teenagers are starting to hang around. They talk to me. I'm engaged and THERE. Watching. Paying attention. Keeping things going and orderly, relatively speaking. I don't want to be the referree, prefering the kids to work things out if conflicts arise, but there if they need me to intervene. I'm there to suggest a game when things get "boring" (have become a master hopscotch artist with sidewalk chalk - huzzah!). I've printed off the rules for 4-square so kids could read for themselves how to play (WHAT are they teaching kids at recess that they don't know 4-square? I swear - !) Freeze tag is big around here. I've taught the overly-sheltered girl across the street how to drink directly from the hose, a summer tradition. You're thirsty? There's the hose. That's the rule - I'm not a waitress ferrying drinks from the kitchen. You're hot? Wet down your hair and sit in the shade - take a break. Nope, we're not going inside. I'll even spray you with water to help you cool off. That's what summer is all about!

I find I'm sort of in the middle in terms of leniency. The kids down the street? Get WAAAYYY more freedom than my kids. Their just-turned 6, going-into-1st-grade son (youngest of 3 boys) knocked on my door this afternoon to invite my kids to come with him to the park. He was with a friend of the same age and they were unattended. The park is several blocks away, nearly a mile by car, shorter via walking path. There is NO WAY I'd allow my kids to go to the park by themselves at this age. NO WAY. But this kid? Apparently he can. He also rides his bike all around without a helmut. And sometimes without shoes. His parents are originally from Russia and Israel, so there may be a cultural thing happening. Regardless, he has the most freedom. He's the nicest kid and I really like him, but he gets to do stuff my kids can't do yet. However, on the other end of the spectrum is the girl across the street who is nearly 8 and who's dad claims isn't ready for a bike yet, for starters. Also, she's "unaccustomed to the heat and exertion" of the kids playing out front the other day. She was having fun with everyone, but was flush. They all were - riding scooters and bikes up and down the street, laughing, etc. dad came out to make sure she was drinking water and asked her to come back inside for a bit to cool down and "rest". Gimme a break! She was fine! She was drinking water and making friends. But at least she was allowed outside at all. Some other kids aren't allowed past their driveway. They're 5.5 and 6 and can only play in their backyard. So they cling to the fence, talking incessantly, and asking to come play in our yard. They don't have bikes, but they have tricycles they can't bring around to the front. So they can only stand and watch the fun or wait for kids to play in the backyard.

Regardless of the parental preferences, I'm spending my summer teaching my kids to make the most of summer. To have fun outdoors. To find ways to entertain themselves that don't involve electricity or batteries. To use their imaginations. To be physical and healthy. And if other kids are learning that from me, too? Even better! It's hard to measure my productivity these days as a result, but I know that my efforts will pay big dividends in years to come. I think I rather enjoy being the "block mom".

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