Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011: The Year of Helen

On Tuesday, I mentioned that I want to make 2011 The Year of Helen.  Almost immediately I got comments and emails asking me how I intended to do that.  Guess what?  I hadn't really thought about the steps I would take.  I just know it is past about time for me to woman up.  Maybe I didn't come up with a plan, because I had also decided that I wasn't going to do my usual 1, 2, 3, A, B, C list of goals/aspirations/resolutions, whatever you want to call it.

On Wednesday I shared about how I have a "stick-to-it-iveness" that I can credit my parents for.  In fact, my personal mantra could be "Never say never, never say die, never, ever quit, just keep on."  There's a runner's message board that I participate in and my signature for that board is "Just Keep Running" which is the mantra I've used in every single marathon I've participated in.  If you just keep running, you make it to the end, no matter what.

So while I have not had the quick success I would have liked to with weight loss, I have never quite given up.  Thank goodness because God only knows what size I would be by now if I had.  Long time followers will remember the many rants I've posted about my thyroid.  It is so freaking frustrating that I work so hard to have only minimal results.  Yet, do I really work hard enough?  Additionally, for the last couple of years it seemed like there was always something setting me back - the latest thing being my athletic injury that is making it hard for me to exercise as vigourously as I would like.  While I do not intend for 2011 The Year of Helen to be strictly about my weight, I've got to address this weight issue. Like it or not, it holds me back in many ways. 

So how do I translate my stick-to-it-iveness into kindness and caring enough for my body that I get some weight loss results?  To be honest, I had no idea. Then as I was perusing blogs I ran across two that sent my head into a spin and made me realize what my first step can be.

First, I read this post by Anne, "frustration tolerance".  Anne is giving up Monster drinks and she shared that she did not wait until the last drop was gone and in fact, still has some in the house.  But she still likes them and wants to have them. She is in the process of tolerating her frustration over the fact that she shouldn't drink them.  She is willing herself into doing what she knows is best for her body.

Then I read MizFit's blog on Willpower vs. Willingness and this statement really stuck out: "Are you, as I am, simply willing to do what it takes to reach your goal/achieve your personal mission statement because it’s just that IMPORTANT TO YOU?"

Which made me think... is it possible that Willpower and Willingness
are different sides of the same coin?

When it comes to running, I have a high level of frustration tolerance, no doubt about it.  When I first started running, I literally willed my legs to keep going.  Over the years of running, through all sorts of weather and all sorts of injuries, I have willed myself to keep going.  But was it willpower or willingness?  I believe at first it was willpower.  Now, I know it is willingness to do whatever I need to, to achieve what I want, because I've seen the positive effects and benefits running has brought to me.  So just like a coin with its head and tail, my running coin flipped from willpower to willingness.

Lightbulb moment?  Take the lessons I've learned from being a late in life runner and run with them to meet other goals (including but not exclusively weight loss) and make 2011 The Year of Helen.

Willpower + Stick-to-It-Iveness = Results = Willingness = GOAL MET

HOW ABOUT YOU?
WILL YOU TAKE 2011 AND RUN WITH IT?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bad to the Bone

One thing about me is that I'm dedicated once I commit to something.  Or as Mr. Helen says, like a Pit Bull that won't let go (do not email me pit bull people!).  It's true, and I think it comes from being raised that when you start something you finish it.  Growing up we were never allowed to stop "mid" anything.  Even if we were miserable in the chosen activity we had to finish out the season.

That same character trait makes me love a schedule.  Give me routine and I thrive.  All that flying by the seat of my pants stuff?  Even though it was one of my goals for 2010 to get better at it (and I think I did), I still don't love it and prefer schedules, routines and rules.

The last two weeks have been horrible for me and my schedule and I think that's why I keep feeling like going to bed and not getting up until January 3rd might be a good thing.  Between the stupid aching hip and the dojo closing I'm feeling all out of sorts and completely off my schedule. 

I am also learning that I have some self esteem issues tied into my activities.  Which actually might be physiological too now that I think about how many endorphins are released when we exercise.  Running has been a perfect activity for me because I really have never loved competition against others.  I'll never be elite so I only run against myself.  Sometimes I set PRs, sometimes I have terrible periods when nothing I do makes me run well.  Still, I stick to it and there is satisfaction in that.

Recently in Muay Thai they have introduced sparring.  Even though we have all the protective gear, I didn't even like the idea of it, much less actually doing it.  Until, one day, I moved really fast and managed to get an offensive jab past Mr. Helen's defense.  He's such a good cheerleader (and besides if he really wanted to he could kick my butt) that he immediately made the biggest deal out of it.  Kept saying I was bad to the bone.  I sort of liked that.  Then I realized that if I keep to my Muay Thai schedule and follow the rules, I will get better and better.  So while I still have around two years to Black Belt, I am pretty proud that I didn't give it up when they were introducing things I didn't like very much.

Last Wednesday, in the midst of the most hectic Christmas week EVER, I tested for blue belt in Muay Thai. We had people from white belt to green testing.  The sensei gives you combinations and other things to do and then watches to see if you are doing things correctly for the level you are at.  Mr. Helen said it was fun to see beginners to advanced students because he could really see the progression students make. It was great having him there to cheer for me but he is not the best photographer (he blames the camera).  Nonetheless, here are some fuzzy photos of the event, with my facial expressions proving that indeed, I AM bad to the bone!


Jab-Cross

Switching Knee followed the jab cross
Evidently, I did it correctly because
 the Sensei is about to give me a high five.

Upper Cut Punches

Squat while the Sensei walks around the room and leans on you.  You are supposed to be able to keep your arms up and your squat intact.
See him there in the background?

Squat on the wall while your partner hooks their feet around your ankles and does crunches.
If it's being done correctly, the wall sitter doesn't fall.

Roundhouse!  Almost textbook perfect!

Blue Belt!
I love the mirror image of this photo.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesday Ten

10.  I'm nursing a pretty bad injury right now.  It's frustrating me to no end.  I have a Piriformis Syndrome for sure and also seem to have an irritated IT Band. The orthopedist that I saw last week said it was probably caused from having a sedentary job and then exercising vigorously. Evidently my hip flexors are weak from sitting too much.  He thinks the piriformis got so inflamed it started inflammation in the IT band because the pirformis hooks into the hip right where the IT band starts.  Sigh.   I discovered that running does not irritate it at all and almost everything I do in Muay Thai flares it up... all those crazy sprawls and ninja pushups.

9.  How did I discover that?  Because I tested for my Blue Belt in Muay Thai last Wednesday and since that night I've had non-stop pain in my hip and gluteous medius. Heat, ice, stretching, rolling, Aleve, Motrin, and Vicodin are not giving me any relief.  Feel bad for me yet?

8.  Mr. Helen caught a stomach bug and was sick from the wee hours of 1 am on Thursday to the afternoon at 5 p.m.  He lost 9 pounds.  Are you freaking kidding me?  NINE POUNDS in 16 hours?  I told my friend if it had been me that got the bug I probably would have lost 2 - if I was lucky.

7.  This bug resulted in a major freak out on my part as I host Christmas Day.  I absolutely had NO TIME to be sick! I left him and his germs at home and went to work. When I came back into the house 8 hours later,  I walked in Lysol first, spraying away.  I'm not kidding.  I then isolated him in the bedroom with some liquids and anti-nausea meds and proceeded to scrub down almost the entire house.  Not exactly what  I had planned. To make matters worse, Little Helen was arriving home and I was trying to get everything sanitized before she arrived.

6.  It must have worked because no one got sick.  So, I found out that yes, indeed, I can have something totally take me off track for several hours and I can still get everything I need together, although at one point I thought my head would explode with anxiety about getting it all finished.

5.  On Sunday, we had a blizzard, which ironically didn't leave as much snow on the ground as expected but we had near hurricane force winds.  Freaky.  And stressful.  Sunday was the day we finally spread Pam's ashes.  It was snowing like crazy, and cold.  But we caravanned to the park and threw handfuls of her remains into the air and watched them blow away.  It was time.  My wish is that Mr. Helen's family is now better able to move forward with their grief.

4.  The blizzard gave me an unexpected snow day from work on Monday.  I didn't do one productive thing except clear up a magazine backlog and write this blog.   On the other hand, the doctor did tell me to rest as much as possible this week, along with doing stretches, icing, etc., etc.

3.  All that laying around got me to thinking, which usually is productive in one way or another.  I am amazed at how little time I have to just be quiet and think about things.  Of course one of the things I thought was now that all the hoopla was over,  it's pretty sad when one entertains the idea that maybe it would be OK to get the virus if one could also lose 9 pounds in 16 hours...

2.  Because on Sunday, which was the third day of non-stop partying and indulging, I told my sister-in-law when I step on the scale on December 31st for my annual end of year weight, I fully expect it to sue me for abuse.

1.  But I also thought, why not make 2011 "The Year of Helen."  It's time. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

This Season of Love (in Three Parts): The Finale

This is the third and final part of a three part story.
To read Part 1, go here, to read Part 2, go here:

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Unfortunately, the magic had to end.  Sometimes life happens and puts a halt to even good things. In January, Margaret’s brother’s (supposedly soon to be ex) wife and son came back to the USA and she promptly asked him to reconsider the divorce.  It really threw him for a loop.

As a person who had been through a divorce and who also had a child, I could see it was tearing him up. You see, all the things that I loved about him… the kindness and goodness of his heart… were the very things that made him feel torn about leaving his little boy.

So, after six months of dating, I put a stop to it. I told him that he could not be torn like this and that he needed to “...finish reading one book before picking up another. Otherwise, you don’t enjoy either book.” I thanked him for his goodness to us but told him that I couldn’t morally or emotionally keep dating him. He did end up deciding to go out west where his wife and son were and I actually drove him to the airport. I held nothing against him and I wanted us to be friends and think fondly of one another.

About a month later, he came back to the east coast and immediately looked me up. I said, “Are you divorced?” He said, “No.” I said, “Well, no dating then.” And I went on about my business, one bit of which was to finally move back into my own apartment! Of course, Margaret’s brother heard all about it (through Margaret) and organized a moving crew for me.

I had to make some hard choices one of which was that I refused to socialize with him because my heart was tender there and I knew it would lead to no good. Funny thing? I was right and he eventually moved back with his wife and son several months later. I was happy he finally made a decision but sad for me.  It didn't help that he called me the night before he left and said, "I probably shouldn't say this since I never have before, but I need you to know I love you.  I'm in love with you.  I think we should be together but it's a case of really bad timing.  I have to go and take care of my son."  Additionally, Margaret felt that all of this was her fault and she started avoiding me.  I lost my boyfriend and my friend all at once.

However, for Little Helen's sake I couldn't crumble. I was all she had so I went about my business and spent the next years working hard, raising her. We had to move again. Within the same town, but I was working my fingers to the bone, (at one point I had three jobs) and having a hard time meeting expenses.  I made the very difficult choice to find a place where I could have a roommate and take off some financial pressure.

I ended up sharing a 3 bedroom apartment with a single guy who had a daughter about the same age as Little Helen.   He got visitaiton with her every summer and some holidays. He specifically wanted a roommate that either didn’t mind kids, or had a daughter so his daughter could share the room when she came into town. As hard as it was to make that change, it really was the perfect situation once we settled in. Ironic thing? He was one of Margaret’s cousins! Never anything romantic between us but we cohabited very happily for two years and then he left me to get married. My own brother became my new roommate.

One day I was getting ready to leave the house with Little Helen and as we approached the door, there was a knock. I opened it up and there stood Margaret’s brother. Needless to say I was shocked! It had been four years since I’d seen him but he looked as good as ever. He told me he was moving back to town. He was staying at his parents and heard I lived where his cousin used to live so he thought he’d stop and say hi.

A few days later, Margaret showed up on my doorstep. She walked in and said, “Look, I know I’ve avoided you for a few years now. I didn’t even invite you to my own wedding which I will regret until the day I die, so if you want, just tell me to leave. I’m not going to beat around the bush… my brother sent me over here because he wants to take you out on a date. He said he’ll bring the divorce papers with him if you’ll go out with him, just once.”

I told her she could tell him yes. There’s so much more I could say here but I’ll just condense it and say the rest is history.

We started dating and never looked back. Two years later, in 1992, he became Mr. Helen. (Margaret was our Matron of Honor by the way.)  He took us on as a package deal, knowing that I did not receive any child support or other kind of financial help from Little Helen's father. Yet, he never once uttered any other phrase about Little Helen other than “My daughter…” She was 12 going on 13 when we married,  and she and I were starting to do that mother-daughter dance of the teen years. He was right on time, there as a calming and sane voice, always loving us both, even though I'm sure there were times when he'd like to have choked us.

During her high school years when he was driving a car full of teenagers all over the county, her girlfriends would remark that step fathers just didn’t act that way! He acted like he really cared about her! Like he loved her! He did and he does.  I've shared before that sometimes the two of them seem so sympatico I wonder who the biological parent is?!  She has always been "his."  Every Christmas, a tiny jewelry box is hidden in the tree for me... and there's one for Little Helen, too.

What I haven’t shared in this story so far, is that Mr. Helen has a beautiful angel named Vanessa who watches over him. His own precious daughter was born prematurely in 1980 and lived only six weeks. (She and Little Helen are only 6 months apart in age.) He tells me, “I love Little Helen because I love you. And I love her because I feel like God has given me back my daughter. I feel like this is what I was put here on earth to do.”

I wonder if Joseph felt the same?  I think he did.  I have to say I feel blessed, as I'm sure Mary did, to have this wonderful man with the huge loving heart to call my own.  I can't help but feel he was "divinely" given to me.

So now, here we are, 25 Christmases after that first one, and when you see this picture and I tell you it’s my MOST FAVORITE ornament on the tree, you can understand why. Little Helen made it for me when she was in second grade. There she is toothless, in her purple coat with the fur trimmed hat. To me, it's the perfect symbol of This Season of Love.



Thursday, December 23, 2010

This Season of Love (in Three Parts): Part 2

This is Part 2 of a three part story. To read Part 1, go here:

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I was hurt from my breakup and isolated myself, not feeling very social. It was easy to isolate myself because one of the things that happened in the breakup was that the jerk my fiancé had done some dirty financial stuff to the point where I not only had to hire a lawyer, I had to move back to my mother’s house and live in her lower level basement. It was so humiliating!

One day Margaret called me and said, “Enough. You are going to go out with us tonight. There’s a Halloween Party at such and such a place and you need to just come out and have one glass of wine and be with friends.” I tried to refuse but she wouldn’t take no for an answer so I asked my mother if she minded watching Little Helen. Mama Helen was actually thrilled that I was leaving the house.

So out I went and met up with my friends. Guess who was there? Margaret’s brother. When we were introduced, he smiled, took my coat and checked it, and brought me back a “glass” of wine, literally in a huge beer glass because the bar was out of wine glasses and he asked them for a big glass of wine. It was funny. We enjoyed conversation and a couple of dances. When I was ready to go, he got my coat and asked me if we could get together on Halloween. So I said, “Are you still married? Because I don’t date married men.” He said, “We filed for divorce, She’s still overseas so I’m just waiting for her to get here and the divorce will be final. Besides, I’m going to be living around here now and I’m really just interested in making new friends, not really dating.” So I replied, ‘Well, I have to work late and my mom is taking my little girl to a Halloween party at her church. If you want to meet me at the house and pass out candy, then maybe after my baby gets home we can go somewhere for coffee or something.” He said OK so I gave him the address but truly never expected to see him.

Halloween night rolled around and guess who pulled up? Margaret’s brother. He was so much fun and he loved the little kids and their costumes. We talked a little about his son and I could tell he was missing his little boy, who was only 5 years old.

We did go out and at the end of the evening, he suggested that maybe the next Friday he could come over with a movie and pizza so that I wouldn’t have to leave my daughter. People, I was living in my mother’s basement and he wanted to come over! I thought he had to be an alien or something, but I agreed.

Do you know that he called me every single day that following week? And this was way before cell phones. On Friday, not only did he arrive with the pizza and movie, he arrived with TWO movies – one of them specifically for Little Helen.

And so it went with Margaret’s brother and before you know it, we were actually dating. He wasn't just all looks; he was also the nicest, most considerate guy, a real gentleman… I actually kissed him first because I didn’t want to wait any longer!

At this time, he was working what was called a shut down at the local nuclear power plant. Which meant he was working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. He was making really good money, even by today’s standards. He took me out to very nice expensive restaurants and always brought me flowers and little trinkets.

One day, he said to me, “I know you work really, really hard and you get no help from your ex so I don’t want to overstep here… but it looks like Little Helen could really use a new winter coat. It seems like the one she is wearing is a bit small, and thin. Would you let me buy her a winter coat?”

As I sat there in shock, all I could think was, “Alien. For sure. Who does that kind of thing? We’ve only been dating 6 weeks…”

But what I said was, “Well, actually I had planned to buy her a new coat, but if you’d like to, that would be really nice and truthfully it would free up that money for some Christmas gifts for her.”

The next day, after working another 12 hours, he arrived with a new coat: purple with a fur trimmed hat – her favorite color – and with matching gloves and another knit hat!

So, Little Helen had her new coat, and I had money to give her some Christmas gifts. Perfect timing. Made more so by the fact that she had lost both her front teeth, right in time to have Margaret's brother sing All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth to her.  It was a wonderful, almost magical holiday season that year. 

When I think back on that time and how hard it was living in Mama Helen’s basement and working two jobs and the emotional turmoil, I can honestly say Margaret’s brother was a bright spot for both Little Helen and me. At one point, Mama Helen asked me how I felt and I told her, “You know, I’m not ready to get married again, but if I ever do, I hope to find someone just like him.”

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

This Season of Love (in Three Parts)

Part 1

Whether you believe in the Christmas story as truth or religion or just another fairy tale, if you look at it carefully, you will see that underneath all the symbols is a love story… if we were to take the story as just a story, and simplify it, this is how it would begin:

A single young woman, engaged to one man,
giving birth to a baby that is not that man's child.

I think even those of us who “believe” tend to forget that Joseph was a step-father.

Step parents in general get a pretty bad rap, probably deserved much of the time. As a step-parent myself, I can honestly tell you it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I can’t even begin to imagine what went through Joseph’s head when Mary told him that she was pregnant. But somehow he felt he had a calling to protect this woman that he loved, and to love and protect her baby, and the rest is history. It’s also a great example of unconditional love.

In 1977, I graduated a year early from high school. My own parents were going through a divorce and getting away to college as fast as possible seemed like a great idea. There I met quite a few international students and became fast friends with this large group. One of them was my first husband. He was from Zambia, Africa. He was in the USA studying music, paid for by his government, because they did not offer this course of study in the one college or university in his country. The agreement was that when he graduated he had to go back to his country and teach his fellow citizens. He was a senior, I was a freshman. He asked me to marry him, my parents divorce was raging and I didn’t want to go home, so I said yes. By now I was 18 and there wasn’t a thing they could do to stop me. He graduated and just after Christmas in 1978, we left to go to Zambia to live.

I married for all the wrong reasons so this was not a marriage that would last very long. However, I got the experience of a lifetime living in a foreign country for a little over 3 years. And, of course, I got Little Helen. The Best Thing I Ever Did.

In the spring of 1982 when Little Helen was only 2½, and with my marriage falling apart, I moved back to the USA: to ultimately get a divorce. By the time Little Helen was 6 years old, her father would be gone and she would not see him again for 15 years.

Even though I had a child, I was in my early twenties and I dated quite a bit. I actually ended up engaged but that was not to be (and could be a blog in itself) but the good thing that came out of that relationship was that I gained a really good girlfriend, Margaret. Our boyfriends were friends and introduced us. When we broke up with the guys, she and I stayed friends!

Here’s the thing, Margaret was brown and every time we went somewhere with Little Helen people would ask her if the little girl was her daughter, or niece. It was funny because Little Helen did sort of look like Margaret's family. Pretty soon she started calling her “Auntie Margaret” as kids will do with people their adults love.

When I first broke up with my fiancé, Margaret said to me several times, “I have this brother that I’d love you to meet. Only two problems: he lives overseas and he’s married.”

Yep. Definitely a problem, especially the married thing.

To Be Continued…

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Ten: Our Ornamental Life

1.  The Christmas Tree at the Helen Household is filled with ornaments that have meaning for us and that we delight in looking at for the month or so that the tree is up.  Here's, my newest:  One Saturday afternoon this past spring Mr. Helen and I were walking around a local shopping area that happens to have a year 'round Christmas store.  He hates to shop so you know he was in full marital duty mode.  When I walked into the store, I heard him sigh but I ignored him and went in anyway.  I was looking around and I heard him call my name... he wanted me to see what he had picked out for me.  When I told him how pleased I was, his response was, "Just because I don't like to shop doesn't mean that I don't like you, and I also know what you like." 


2.  You guys have seen these lighthouses before in my blog... here they are in ornment version, collector's items available only at one of our local jewelers:


3.  A very crafty friend gave me these after I admired them... made out of spoons!


4.  Another ornament that Mr. Helen bought for me two summers ago during a local festival.  This is hand carved and the nose is made out of a toothpick!


5. Mr. Helen is also known as Mr. Fisherman.

6.  Or Sensei:

7.  We both love sports.  I like NCAA Basketball the best ever since Little Helen went to Duke University.  Plus they've won a few championships, you know!



8.  He has been a New York Football Giants fan since he was Little Mr. Helen.  Our first year of dating they won a Superbowl, then they won again and again.  I tell him I'm his lucky charm!


9.  In some circles, even though I'm not a great runner, I'm known as Crazy Running Woman:


10.  When we were married for ten years, we finally got to go on a honeymoon.  We went to St. Martin and it's our favorite place in the whole world.  The sun and sand there renews us.  It's nice to have a reminder that our love can keep us warm during the December chill:

Our tree is so much more than a Christmas tree.  Once decorated and we turn on the lights what we see is a reflection of our life together.  I think that's what holiday celebrations should be about.  And honestly, I don't long for color coordination at all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Whirlwind Weekend

They say time flies as you get older.  I must be ancient then because I can't figure out where the weekend went!

This was supposed to be my snowstorm, hunker down, enjoy my house, maybe do some baking weekend and then, life happened.

First of all, I slept too late on Saturday so I got out for my run later than I would have liked because I wanted to run at least 6 miles. But I decided I'd better take the "me" time and boy am I glad I did as it pretty much ended up being the last me time of the weekend.  I chose to run hills. I know, crazy, right?  But with being on the treadmill so much I just feel I need the variation that hills provide.  So,  I took off and an hour and nine minutes later I'd run 6.43 miles for an average pace of 10:56.  I was super happy with that, especially since the course was so hilly.  Besides, I actually had one mile (the only flat stretch on the course) that I ran in 9:53.  Woot!

After my run, my agenda for the day had four things:  find stocking stuffers for Little Helen and a gift for my manicurist (who I've been going to every two weeks for well over 10 years); do a BJ's run; grocery shop; clean at least the upper level of our house.  First, Mr. Helen held me up with I can't even remember what now, it was that inconsequential. He left to go shopping on his own so I hurried to get ready and just as I was ready to leave, the phone rang and it was a call I needed to take.  That set me back another 45 minutes.  By the time I left, it was almost noon.  Sigh.

Suffice it to say, that I spent the next several hours battling crowds, traffic and getting annoyed.  And, I only found the gift and did the BJ's run, leaving the grocery and cleaning to be added into Sunday's chores.  I finally sat down after 6 that night and said, "I give!"

Sunday morning, when I woke up feeling behind.  So much to do, so little time.  Right away, I made a list:

Bake and frost cookies
Make Chex Mix
Clean House
Finish Wrapping
Make Spaghetti Sauce
Make BBQ Beef
Run?

Normally I do quite a bit of baking at Christmas but really haven't felt like it this year, so I asked Mr. Helen and Little Helen what they really wanted and they both chose the frosted cut-out cookies.  Mr. Helen asked for Chex Mix too and Little Helen asked me to make my toffee or fudge.  I'm really grateful they didn't want more as I literally ran out of time this year!

What I accomplished:

About half the house got cleaned:  important bits like bathrooms and floors
Sauce and Beef done so that's a couple of meals for the week
Wrapping Finished! This felt very triumphant for some reason
The cookies and Chex Mix:

Here the triple batch of Chex Mix that I make every year,
cooling on the counter

Here's all the cookie stuff, ready to go.  I always listen to the Carpenter's Christmas album while I decorate them.  And for the past 10 years, I've always missed Little Helen because when she was growing up we did this together.




When I was decorating them, I couldn't help but think of Biz, who loves snowmen!

All finished!

I have to say, looking at those finished cookies gave me a sense that I hadn't completely failed my tasks this weekend.  The one thing I was truly thankful for is that we didn't get the snow because I have no idea how far behind I'd be now if we had!

And that run?  Nope, never got it.  Which would be why I'm up at the crack of dawn writing this blog and getting ready to hit the treadmill!

Oh, and in case you forgot...


Make it a great day everyone!

*All photos courtesy of my crappy iPhone camera because the regular camera is charging.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Weather Outside is Frightful!

I got a great surprise when I got home Monday night: the Athlete's Honey Milk that I won from Shelley.  It felt like early Christmas!  And they were generous sending me a case EACH of Regular Honey, Light Coffee and Light Chocolate.  And wouldn't you know, Mr. Helen jumped on the jimmy jam right away?  "Honey wouldn't be your favorite flavor, Right?  Plus there's more CALORIES in those.  Don't you want me to try those for you?"  So he tries one as a protein drink pre-Muay Thai Tuesday night and as soon as he gets home..."Mind if I chill a couple more of those honey ones?  So nice of Shelley to send you these!" Uh-huh.  Suddenly my "imaginary friend" Shelley is his best friend too!  Sorry but he doesn't actually understand blogging and winning a contest on a blog and all that.  Stay tuned for my review.

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Have I mentioned the unseasonable cold?  Wednesday morning I got up to run (on that dumb treadmill) which is in my unheated garage.  The weather gauge sitting on my kitchen windowsill said it was 14.6 degrees outside and 57 inside.  Brrrr.  I immediately turned on the Weather Channel to find that yes, it was 14 outside with a Wind Chill of 4.  That's F-O-U-R.   Got my taped Biggest Loser Finale ready, bundled up (remember the photo Shelley had on her blog?  That's how I looked)  and went into the garage.  It was 22.  At least there was no windchill.

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Self discovery re running on the treadmill:  while I have never minded using the tread as a tool to keep me running, I have never loved it and have always thought of it as a necessary evil.  Being forced to stay on it during the week has made me do some thinking about it and I think the reason I resent it so much is that I don't feel like a "real" runner.  Because outside running is very, very different.  Even using incline, etc., you just don't get the real feel or variation of an outside run when you run on the treadmill all the time.  OK, I promise I'm going to stop whining talking about this every day.

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Big news in the martial arts world for us this week.  I got notified that I am testing for my Blue Belt on Wednesday the 22nd!  But even bigger than that, Kyoshi called us into her office and told Mr. Helen that he has been chosen to prepare to test for his THIRD DEGREE BLACK BELT next December!  This is a pretty big deal blogland.  I am so proud of him... I wish you all could see him.  His enthusiasm is infectious but more than that, he puts to shame and to rest the belief that physical fitness is not achievable after a certain age.  He will be 56 years old when he tests.

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I know I have mentioned in the past that Mr. Helen is very loved at the dojo... from teeny tiny Ninjas (ages 3-6) to the Adults pretty much everyone adores him.  (Which wears on my patience and makes me want to YELL  inform people "he's not perfect dammit!" but that's another story.) It's because he's such a great cheerleader and supporter of everyone - and a really good martial artist to boot.  Anyway, this time of year he often receives thank you cards and sometimes little gifts.  This is what was waiting for us on Tuesday night:
All homemade.  I gotta give Mr. Helen credit though because the first words out of his mouth when he set it down on the counter were, "I'll just take those to work.  Your homemade cookies are going to be way, way better."  But then of course, after dinner he wanted something sweet and there was nothing except ice cream in the house so they got opened.  This is what the box looked like before he took them to work Thursday morning:

Yes, I ate too many cookies.  But I had help!  My favorite helper was this liitle guy, who comes to my house every Wednesday...


Big doings here people.  If you look closely, you see he lost his other front tooth!  He was so annoyed that I wanted to take his picture because, "Mama already took like a thousand!"

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Finally, because we might actually be getting an honest to goodness snowstorm Sunday night, here are your Helen's Holiday Extravaganza photos of the day:

Someone gave me this sleigh with bubble bath in it.
Now I fill it with potpourri every year


Here it is with the cute snowman & tree decorations I found at the Big E this year.


One of  Mama Helen's best friends was a talented painter and crafter. Unfortunately Carol passed away a few years ago quite suddenly.After she passed her husband asked me if there was anything of hers that I would like and I told him I wanted anything that she had hand painted.  This is what I got:

There is a cup molded onto the top of this canning jar so it holds a tealight candle.




Cute, cute, cute wall hanging.  The knobs are for hanging keys or something on
but we all know that can't be allowed!

I'm wishing a warm and toasty, joy-filled weekend for all!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do You See What I See?

There is a lot that we white Christian gentiles take for granted during this time of year.  The thing is, when you're part of the majority, you don't even notice it really because everything is just like you.  But, the fact is, we live in a very diverse world.  Not everyone does things the same.  There's a reason why Chinese restaurants are usually the only places open on Christmas Eve and Day.

Can I tell you how much that I LOVE that my city allowed a huge Menorah to be placed on the plaza this year?  First time I can remember this happening, yet every year we've had a Christmas tree and a whole lighting ceremony and Santa arriving, though no Nativity that I can recall... separation of church and state you know.  Which makes it all the more ironic that they allowed a Menorah.  But I digress. 

Anyone who has been sharing in Doing A 180 would have to be blind not to have realized by now that both Mr. Helen and Little Helen are brown.  Shocking, I know.  Here, let me remind you:


Brown and cute.  But I digress again.

You know, I carried that girl in my stomach for 9 months and after 13 hours of labor when she was born, she was the most beautiful thing on the earth to me.  Not the most beautiful brown thing, just The. Most. Beautiful.  It never occurred to me that things that were normal to me would look different to her, until one Christmas when she was three years old.

That year, her daycare center, which had a very diverse culture, had their usual holiday party which included traditions from black, white, Asian and Latino cultures!  They put on a concert for the parents and there was a Santa who gave each child a gift.  That year, Mr. Monroe, who was a sort of volunteer handyman around the center, played Santa. The kids loooooved Mr. Monroe and I was sure they would recognize him behind his white beard, but they didn't!  Maybe that's the innocence of 3 and 4 year olds.  By the way, Mr. Monroe was brown.

Here she is participating in the concert, cute as a button!


After the party when we were on our way home, from the back seat I heard, "Mommy?  Did you see that Santa?  He was brown, just like me!  I think he must be the real one!

If you are a mother you can only imagine what that did to my heart.  From that day on, I went on a quest to make sure my little girl felt included.   What one doesn't realize, until made aware, is that it's really hard to find holiday things that mirror other cultures.  I am not saying that it's the most awful thing in the world, it would just be nice if it was easier.  Little Helen actually didn't even ask, it was just something I felt compelled to do.  I wanted her to have opportunity to celebrate both of her "sides." After all, 'I' am not brown and I am her mother. And when she was little if you asked her what color she was, she would hold her hand out palm down and say "brown," then turn it over and say, "and white."

But still, I made it a point to try to find things that would make her feel like she did that day when she was only three:  that all the hoopla was for her too!

So my friends, I present to you Helen's Holiday Colors.  Many things I gave to her and are packed away or at her own home but these are some things she has asked me to keep for now.

One of the very first things I found was this!  It's made of cast plastic and when I would put out the ceramic nativity, I would let her have this one and put it wherever she wanted.
(Um, why yes, the angel does have a broken and glued back wing.  Compliments of Gracie. I guess it runs in the family!)



Another nativity, but as an ornament

Another ornament but this one is brown Angels!


Finally, the guy who started it all!


It pleases me that Little Helen loves these things, but she also loves our other decorations and traditions.  Maybe I succeeded in providing some of the best of both?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday Ten: Bring We Joy!

1. You know that Pioneer Woman?  She always has a bunch of giveaways going on.  Every time I see something (usually expensive) that Little Helen wants, I enter.  Haven't won yet, so I guess I'm actually paying for gifts this year.  Anyhoo she always has around 20,000 entries on each giveaway.  I always wonder if it's the same 20,000 of us entering.

2.  This is the pin I have on today.  How can you see this and not smile?


3.  I hope I didn't sound ungrateful for my lovely treadmill in yesterday's post.  Becasue I am truly grateful to have it.  It has enabled me to keep running and training for races when the weather isn't cooperative.  But in my heart of hearts, I really just want to run outdoors.  So I'm working through the fact that I won't be able to do that for almost 9 months of the year now.

4.  Unless I hit the lottery.  Because then I wouldn't work and I could run anytime I wanted. Which would still be at the break of day, whatever time that might be.  I mean it though,  if I win big money, there's going to be a whole new Helen up in here.  Mr. Helen hates it when I say so but seriously people, there's going to be some nipping and tucking, some job quitting, and some serious reconsideration of life in general.  In addition to a girlfriend trip to a spa, paid for by me.  Now don't you want to be my friend?

5.  I have some nonsensical guilty pleasure TV shows that I will sit and vegetate in front of.  One of them is the Housewives Of "_____" series.  Sunday afternoon around 5 p.m. I finally had a minute to sit and do nothing so I turned the TV on and sure enough, there were the Beverly Hills crazies.  Mr. Helen got home around 6:30 from work and came and sat with me.  Suddenly he was asking me questions about who was who and why this or that and I was all like "What's gotten into you? Don't you want to check football scores?"  He huffed, 'I was trying to show you I could be interested in something you're interested in!  But this is ridiculous!"  As he went downstairs to check the scores he yells back, "And they way they look is the reason I don't want you getting plastic surgery!  It's not sexy!!"  So there.

6.  In photographing the decorations around my house, I've realized I have a lot of nativities, both as Christmas ornaments and as stand alone decorations.  I also discovered other than my miniature stand alone set, I like unique nativities, like this one carved out of olive wood from Jeruslem:


7.  Or this ornament nativity which is actually two ornaments that I've had since Little Helen was, well, really little:




8.  Yet another made of carved wood...I think these carved, one-piece items are so clever!


9.  As is this one piece ornament nativity made of blown glass:


10. But mostly, whether it's Santa or an Angel, or a Snowman or a Nativity, to me, the definition of Christmas is "Joy"


Monday, December 13, 2010

Choices and Consequences

The storm that dumped all that snow in the Midwest this past weekend brought torrential flooding rain to my hometown and altered some of the plans I had for the weekend. But, just like heavy snow, torrential rain is a good reason to stay home and be safe and warm and get some things crossed off the to-do list.

As a result of being home, alone, more than I had anticipated, I found myself getting into some deeper thought than I generally even have time for this time of year. As various thoughts spun round in my head, I found myself thinking quite a bit about choices and consequences.

Because, you know, for every action, there will be a reaction.

One example would be my choice to never get my college degree. In some fashion, that has dictated my career (or lack of one!). While my age and time of entry into the workforce makes me luckier than say, high school graduates today, the work I do is a direct result of not having that college degree.

Another example: if between now and December 31st, I choose to sit at my desk and eat chocolate covered cherries and Reese’s peanut butter cups every single day, I’m pretty sure that I won’t weigh less on December 31st as I did on November 1st, which as you know was my one year end goal.

You get my drift.

Sometimes, however, the consequences we suffer are not of our own doing at all. Usually I think of small children in this category as they often do not have any choice in their circumstance.

I live in a small city. In fact those of you who live in much more metropolitan areas would not even consider where I live to BE a city. But for this area, it is. I say small because our population is around 26,000 – and it is small geographically as well… 10.76 square miles and nearly half is water. Only 5.54 square miles is land.

Now you understand why when I want to go off on a long run, I have to run one town over!

Matthew Chew was a 25 year old man who lived and worked in the downtown area of the city I live in. On October 29th, he was walking home from work – just a couple of blocks to his apartment, when he was attacked. A call was made to 9-1-1 about someone lying on a sidewalk, maybe intoxicated. When the ambulance arrived they found him lying in a pool of blood, with several stab wounds. When it first happened, the police department immediately issued a statement to the citizens of our city stating that there was no need for alarm as it appeared to be a drug deal gone bad.

Almost immediately, those who worked with and were friends with Matthew protested. Something didn’t add up for them. Thankfully, the police did not let it go and kept investigating.

A few weeks later, six teenagers ages 17-18 years old were arrested. Two were charged with murder and the remaining four have been charged with being accessories.

From the story on one of our local TV stations website (WTNH.com):

Police conducted hundreds of hours of interviews and surveillance, which lead to the six arrests. As for motive, the ten-page warrant is sealed but the judge said witness statements indicate there was "no reason” and “because we were bored."

The very thought of this is so absolutely horrifying that my little city has been polarized by it. None of us understand really, this big city crime arriving as it has.

Not to mention that efforts have been made over the past few years to revitalize our downtown: apartments renovated, condos built, businesses built and nurtured to bring people downtown – not just to work but to live also. And it feels like all that is down the drain now.

For me, though, it has become much more personal and I didn’t even know Matthew Chew.

Ever since I began running in 2002, I have been an early morning runner. I love running early before there is too much traffic and noise and before other things will get in my way. Summer running, of course is easier – dawn is breaking and the birds are chirping and it’s warm. But I have slogged through runs in all seasons (as long as there is no ice on the roadside) because I have the equipment: my reflective vest and headlamp. I have always felt safe and even “joked” that were someone to try to harm me, all the homeless men who are out early in the mornings know me so well they’d gang up on that person and save me.

But it’s no joke now. An innocent 25 year old man – someone half my age – was murdered because some kids were bored.

Mr. Helen has forbid me to run outside in the dark by myself any more. Because you see, we live only 2 miles from downtown and I often ran through there.

Through no choice of my own, I am suffering the consequence and am losing my early morning outside runs. I am grieving on a treadmill now, for myself and for my city.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ahhh the Weekend

Good Morning!

I woke up feeling happy today!  Mostly because it's Friday.
Then I went downstairs and Mr. Helen had turned the lights on the Christmas Tree.
By now I think you guys know how I feel....


I've got a whole "Peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards Mankind"
 thing going on today.
Even towards the idiots who were mean to Elizabeth Edwards.
In fact, I'm feeling positively Angelic...




Did You Know?!!


So my plans this weekend are to finish up whatever I need to do:
 the last few gifts wrapped,
getting the stocking stuffers.
Except for the baking, baking is going to be done next weekend.

The rest of my weekend?  That's easy