Monday, December 29, 2008


I’m not big on curveballs: I like having a plan and sticking with it. But in the last week, I’ve been thrown for a loop several times. The main culprit? One snowstorm after another here in Portland, a city woefully unable to cope with any inclement weather other than rain. We had snow off and on for a week, then starting Saturday, December 20, our world got whiter and whiter. Roads rapidly became impassable, and we were basically housebound for a week except for a few sledding forays (that's Jack with the kids, above). Our babysitter lives across the river in Washington so she was unable to come to work for the three pre-Christmas workdays. I donned my mommy-hat; writing and deadlines would have to wait.

As I’ve admitted many times: I’m not cut out to be a full-time mom. If you’d told me on December 19 that I’d be without childcare for the next nine straight days, I would have been panic-stricken. Yet, much to my own surprise (and delight!), I got caught up in the raucous, messy fun of it all. Sure, I had my meltdowns, just like the kids, but I also enjoyed our kids’ aimless ebb-and-flow. I especially loved sleeping in until the kids woke us up and snuggled, a luxury I never enjoy because of early morning workouts (which were impossible or idiotic due to closed gyms and dark, slippery roads). I couldn’t chart how time passed--it all slid by in a boisterous blur.

My run on Saturday was another longer-than-expected holiday surprise. We had finally braved the roads to visit some of my husband’s relative up on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I wanted to run 10 miles to prep for my January 11 half-marathon, but was clueless about the area. Will, a cousin’s husband, mapped out a loop that we figured might not long enough. Oh, how wrong we were!

About six miles in, I started to realize I was going to be running for longer than 10 miles, and I wished I’d brought along more than a single Roctane for energy. It had been raining nearly non-stop, and my hands were getting stiff from the 38-degree temps. When I hit a familiar-to-me intersection at about 9.5 miles and realized it was still at least two miles to the cousin’s house, I consoled myself with two daydreams—that Will would realize his mistake and come get me or that I’d hitchhike if fatigue overwhelmed me. Instead, desperation, frustration, and the cold fueled my fire and my pace quickened. I ran the final 4 miles—yes, the loop ended up being 13.4 miles long!—much faster than normal.

Have no doubt: I gave Will plenty of grief about sending me so far. But at the end of the day, I was proud as punch that I’d persevered through an unexpectedly long run. It was exactly how I felt about my out-of-the-blue long stint with the kids. Maybe my life should contain more unexpected turns.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cool Quiet

Few things make me feel more alive than running in the cold. I don’t overdress, letting me feel the outlines of my entire body as I tromp along the streets. I become vividly aware that I am a corporeal being.

This morning I felt this way for two hours as I ran through yet another of Portland’s freak snowstorms. (That's me post-run.) One reason I opted to run outdoors, as scheduled, was because I thought about all you blog-followers who live in colder climes. I figured if you all run year-round, I shouldn’t let a steady onslaught of white stuff to stand in my way. It wasn’t until I was about 8 miles from my house (I did an out-and-back so I wouldn't be tempted to cut my run short!) that it dawned on me: Maybe Canadians and Coloradans run on the treadmill on days like this!

Despite the chilly temps, I enjoyed the heck out of my run, loving the deserted streets and the stream of tunes on my iPod. Around mile two, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Passionate Kisses” came on. The lines that set my attitude for the run were her singing about what she wanted—“Pens that won’t run out of ink/And cool quiet and time to think.” I figured it’s exactly what this mom had been looking for after a week in a snowbound house with three kids amped up for Christmas.

Happy holidays!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sarah 3.0

It’s hard to do, but when I think back to what I was like pre-kids, I dimly remember being able to average sub-8-minute miles on the Hood to Coast Relay. And running the San Francisco Half Marathon in 1:42. It all seems so long ago--and so much more dang fast than I am now. But lately it’s been getting slightly easier to believe.

After having Phoebe (almost 7 years ago!), I got back in shape pretty quickly, thanks in part to twice-weekly Pilates sessions that are far beyond my reach these days (both time- and $-wise). I didn’t get quite as speedy as my pre-pregnancy days, yet I wasn’t too far off. I squeaked out a 4:01 (non-chip time!) marathon 14 months post-partum, and I felt good about where I was.

But then came my twin-pregnancy, and the wheels came off. My firm, Pilates-cized abs were stretched and sliced, and my speed was shot. After having John and Daphne, it became a serious struggle for me to average less than 9-minute miles. Even doing weekly speedwork for last year’s marathon didn’t help matters that much. Looking back, I’ve started to think I was still recovering from the 2-for-1 pregnancy and breastfeeding the twins for a year.

Because, at long last, something has clicked, and my times have dropped. Each time it happened in October and November, I thought it was a fluke. But now I think my hard drive has been reset for good. Like the other day, in the early stages of a sinus infection, I headed out on an “easy” run. I just wanted to get the lead out and enjoy the sunshine; I wasn’t consciously putting the pedal to the mettle. Yet turns out I averaged 8:20-minute miles—5.5 of them.

And the icing on the proverbial cake? That muffin top I’d been sporting since the twins is gone, and when I got weighed at the doc’s office at my diagnose-the-sinus-infection appointment, I found out I’m the lightest I’ve been in 10 years. Sarah 3.0: Not new, but definitely improved.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Secrets of a Happy, Healthy Family??

I hope you don't mind if I solicit help for an article on here every once in a while. I'm working on a story for a magazine about having a happy, healthy family. I'm looking for anecdotes from parents about things they've done to make their family content, fulfilled, and healthy. I'm especially looking for a family who pared back their children's schedules to restore some sanity in their family's life. Like dropped art lessons or cut out soccer. If you have such a tale, pls. post a comment in next day or two.

Other tips welcome! I really appreciate your help.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Getting Engaged

I’m not sure if I’m a few weeks early, or 11 months late, but lately I’ve been carrying out a New Year’s resolution: to be a more patient, engaged mother. It actually started in mid-November on the Friday afternoon when I ditched work after our nanny called in sick. I found when I slowed down and committed my attention more fully to my children, we were all happier campers. It helps that John and Daphne recently had a leap in maturity level—now, when I take all three kids to a playground or pool by myself, I am not run ragged and my blood pressure doesn’t soar. And the three kids have become more simpatico recently, playing school or house together nicely.

Now that the holidays are upon us, I’ve taken my mommy-method a step further: I’m vowing to be less of a Scrooge this year. No more Sarah Bah-humbug Shea. Like yesterday: On my long run, I decided I’d bake a few batches of holiday cookies and invite one of Phoebe’s friends over to help decorate them with my gang. This evening, I’m taking the kids out to look at Christmas lights, and we have plans to watch Portland’s Christmas Ship Parade on the Willamette. I’ve already got our wreath hung, and the tree goes up soon. Opening up an Advent calendar window is an evening ritual. (But turns out I’m not going full-throttle enough: The other day in the van, I turned the radio to a station that plays only holiday songs. Phoebe piped up, “Why are you listening to this—you’re not festive.” Ha, ha, ho, ho!)

Overall, in my new mommy-mode, I find all of us are in better spirits and the kids have fewer flare-ups and meltdowns. I realize I’m not going to become Donna Reed overnight, but I’m aiming to be a phrase a British physician coined in 1953—a “good enough mother.” I don’t have to be perfect, just caring, alert, and reliable. I think that’s the best gift I can give to my kids—no bows or gift wrap required.