London on a Bicycle

One of our favorite things to do whenever we vacation somewhere is to locate a bike rental shop and check out the area at our own pace. Jay and I have biked through Williamsburg, Toronto, and even on Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island), and now we’ve added London to that list!

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This past June Jay and I decided to spend our 13th anniversary in London. We knew we’d want to go exploring on a bicycle at some point in our 3-day stay, and after doing a little digging online we came across BrakeAway Bike Tours. The company offered a number of different tours, and we were thrilled to see that one of them would cover many of the popular tourist attractions that we’d already planned to visit – which would save us a ton of sightseeing time on our trip.

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We met our tour guide, Matt, in Waterloo Station, then took a short walk to where the bikes were housed – a crazy tunnel where spray painting the walls was completely legal. The tunnel was frequented by graffiti artists who would just paint over the existing work on the walls, and as a result the walls were constantly changing daily – we were advised to take pictures of anything we liked because it would most likely be gone the next day! There were even artists spray painting in the tunnel while we were there, which was pretty cool to watch (albeit a bit smelly).

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We put on our helmets, grabbed our bikes, and headed off through the tunnel. I was a little nervous about biking on the “wrong” side of the street, but Matt was a great guide and always made sure everyone in the group stuck together. He explained biking signals, that there would be areas where we’d be required to walk our bikes, and that we could feel free to stop him any time we needed.

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Big Ben, Buckingham Palace (including the Changing of the Guard), St. Paul’s Cathedral, and MI5 were just a few of the stops on our tour. At every location we went to, Matt would give us interesting tidbits of information that made us feel as though we were really getting insider information – past and present – about the city. He quickly caught on that Jay and I are Harry Potter fans, and any chance he got he’d squeeze in a few factoids about the actors and the movies. 🙂

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The ride was an easy 7.5 miles, which we finished in only about 3.5 hours (including a 20-minute break). Despite the crazy traffic and not being used to everyone driving on the left, we didn’t have a single moment where we felt things were dangerous. Our tour included the bike rental (mine was named Audrey Hepburn – how perfect is that for a gal who loves Tiffany’s?) and helmets, and of course, an amazing tour guide. My bike had a little basket on the front, which was perfect for holding my purse, jacket, and water bottle. If you’re ever headed to London for a sightseeing trip, I highly recommend checking out BrakeAway Bike Tours! 🙂

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Jay and I have always enjoyed walking and biking through the cities we visit, but I think this tour has made us consider booking bike tours on our future travels to other cities, too! Now, where to go for our 15th…? 😉

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PS – I was not paid or perked or even asked to write this post. Jay and I just had such a good time that I wanted to give this company some internet love! ❤ 🙂

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Smores Pops

Smores Cake pops and Oreo pops are fun to make, and even more fun to eat. But if you’re looking for an easier and quicker treat, I highly suggest you try these super yummy Smores pops! I made them a couple of summers ago and forgot all about them until my sweet friend Tina mentioned them a few days ago. Since the girls and I had planned a lazy day at home they were the perfect activity! Seriously, they are the easiest things ever, so they totally qualified as a lazy day activity. 🙂 Here’s what you’ll need:

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  • lollipop sticks
  • graham crackers
  • jumbo marshmallows
  • milk chocolate chips

Are you ready to be prepared to be blown away by the simplicity?

  1. Crush the graham crackers. You’ll only need about 2-3 cracker sheets, I always err on the side of too many in case the chocolate goops them up in the coating process.
  2. Melt the chocolate chips. I put about half the bag in a glass container in the microwave and melt on high for 30 seconds. Then I take them out, stir well, and return to the microwave on high for another 30 seconds. IMG_9643
  3. Place a marshmallow on the end of each lollipop stick.
  4. Dip the marshmallow halfway into the melted chocolate. I twist mine as I pull it out so that the marshmallow doesn’t slide off the stick. IMG_9645
  5. Gently roll the chocolate-dipped marshmallow in the crushed graham crackers, then tap the top of the marshmallow into the crackers so that all the chocolate is covered in graham cracker.IMG_9649
  6. Place the finished pops in a glass so that they won’t stick to each other, then place in the fridge (standing up) for 10-15 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden.

That’s it! Super easy, right? Emily and I made about 20 of them in less than 10 minutes, which means they are also a fabulous treat if you’ve promised to bring dessert somewhere and forgot and don’t have a whole lot of time to bake cookies or an upside-down pineapple cake or monkeybread. Not that I’ve ever been in that situation or anything…. 😉 IMG_9651 So there you go! A fast, fun, easy, and yummy treat that makes you feel like you’re camping – even if your hubby would never agree to sleep on the ground in a tent. 😀 Enjoy! 😀

Wear Blue

Monday is Memorial Day. It’s a day when we remember those who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces. Traditionally, the flag is raised to the top of the pole and then immediately lowered to half staff to honor the fallen, then at noon is raised to full staff again, symbolizing how those of us still living will continue to rise to fight for liberty and justice.

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My family doesn’t have a flagpole to honor those who sacrificed their lives for us, but there is another way that we can show our gratitude, and all it requires is committing to dedicate a few miles to a fallen soldier.

It’s called Wear Blue: Run to Remember, and it’s probably the easiest way that you could make your Memorial Day a little more meaningful, even if you don’t know anyone who’s lost their life for our nation.

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Here’s what you do: First, decide how many miles you want to dedicate to honor our fallen servicemen. Then, go to www.wearblueruntoremember.org and click the link to commit your miles. You can complete the miles however you choose – run, walk, bike, it doesn’t matter – you can even get them done on a treadmill! If you know someone who has lost their life in the line of duty you can enter their name as the person you’re completing your miles for, but if not they will email you the name of a fallen soldier. You can also explain why you chose to commit the number of miles you did – I chose to complete 4 miles because it’s going to force me to push myself harder than I normally do, which is what I know our military men and women do on a daily basis.

I received my email with the name of the serviceman I’m running for yesterday. His name is Riley Gallinger-Long, and he was a Navy Hospitalman assigned to work with the Marines as a medic in Afghanistan. He was killed on August 11, 2011 while serving during Operation Enduring Freedom. He was 19 years old. The most amazing thing about this is that he was assigned to the exact same military base that I was born at.

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I’m also going to be running in honor of my Great Uncle, Albert Stuart Simpson. He was serving in the Army when he died in Europe during World War II. I only just learned of my Great Uncle’s sacrifice, and I’m glad that I can add his name to my miles as well.

Wear Blue is hoping to reach 10,000 participants willing to commit any number of miles this Memorial Day. I hope that you’ll sign up, put on something blue, and join me in remembering our military men and women who have died serving us and our country.

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PS A huge thanks to my friend Carolyn, who told me about this event and also invited me to join in. She faithfully wears blue for every run she participates in, and inspires me to run for something more than myself. ❤

PSS – The results are in! Wear Blue: Run to Remember had over 11,000 participants, logging in 54,180 miles! Thanks to everyone who participated! 🙂

Tadpoles in the Kitchen

A few months ago the girls and I walked down the canal in our backyard to toss some moldy bread in the water – I hate throwing it out when I know that someone might enjoy it! We stood at the edge of the bank, tossed our bread in, and then noticed some wiggly little black tadpoles swimming among the grass.

IMG_6878So I did what any crazy mom would do – I went in the house, grabbed a large plastic food container and a ladle from my kitchen, climbed down to the water’s edge, and scooped up a bunch of the squirmy little guys.

IMG_6875The girls loved it. They sat at their pint-sized backyard table for a good 15 minutes just watching the tadpoles swim around in their new home – which was obviously more restrictive, but was also 100% predator-free. 🙂

IMG_6873The pollywog habitat sat on my kitchen counter for a few weeks, and we checked in on them every few days to see if their metamorphosis had begun. It wasn’t long before we noticed that a few of them had started sprouting arms and legs.

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Their tails started shrinking away, and we placed a large rock in the center of the container for them to climb out on as they started developing lungs and becoming air-breathers.

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These particular frogs are pretty teeny, and also pretty fragile. We did suffer some losses, and by the time we had to dispose of our third tadpole corpse we decided it was time to let them all go, no matter what stage of life they were in. We released the ones that had completed their “change of life,” and dumped the rest back into the canal.

IMG_7661I hope these are the memories my girls hold onto, that this is one of the experiences that they will one day try to give to their own children, all the while telling them how “cool” Grandma (me) is, and about the time I nearly slid into the canal while using kitchen utensils to catch pollywogs in the backyard. And then I hope they do the exact same thing for their children. 🙂

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Floating Down the Ichetucknee

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I have not seen the world. I’m not well travelled. I know there are amazing sights; wonders of the world created by both God and man. There are things I’d definitely love to see, places I’d love to go. But out of all the places I have been, Ichetucknee Springs is among my favorites.

DSCF5546I like to think of it as nature’s lazy river. You know, like those attractions at water parks where you fight to get an inner tube, walk down a ramp to a man-made river crowded with people trying to exit, then climb on your tube and float around the park in a circle, squashed up next to tubes holding other people, trying not to bump into their legs or kick them in the head. At some point you get tired of kids splashing water on you, tired of scraping your feet on the concrete bottom, and tired of the sun beating on your head. It’s a lot like that. Except without the crowds, concrete, lack of shade, and repeated goofy structures like whales squirting water in your face. No, Ichetucknee is pure heaven. I love lazy rivers (even at water parks), and there’s just no topping this.

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Like Rainbow Springs, Ichetucknee is a spring-fed river, which gives it a fairly strong current. You can bring your own rafts or rent them (there are many places along the way to the river that rent them out), but rafts/tubes are required. When I was a kid I remember swimming in it, but now in order to help protect the wildlife the park discourages swimming and/or walking on the bottom to preserve the grass on the riverbed, which the animals need to survive.

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This was another part of the same trip I took with my friend and her kids, and my parents were able to join us for this activity too, which was great since my dad knew how to get there. 🙂 My parents had enough rafts for all of us, and I had brought a small fishy raft for Julia, so we blew everything up when we got there and headed down to the tram that would take us down to the river.

DSCF5440We carried our rafts down to the dock and climbed in – no easy feat with the current, cold water, and small children that we didn’t want drifting down the river without us. My dad had some rope, so we linked our rafts together so we wouldn’t get too separated.   Once we were in our rafts and settled in though, aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh.

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The girls had never been before, and they loved it. I hadn’t been in ages, and it still held the same magic for me that I remember feeling when I was just a kid.

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The water is cold and clear. The trees are lush and full. Turtles are abundant. And you just float away. Just don’t get too relaxed and close your eyes… you might crash into a half-submerged log or a rock wall or a random tree trunk. But honestly, why would you want to miss a second of the ride? I promise, it’s a major improvement over eye-squirting whales. 🙂

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Summer Lovin’

This summer was hands down one of the BEST I’ve ever had in my life.  And that’s not just because I can’t remember most of my summers and two of them involved newborn babies.  No, this summer just totally kicked tushie.  And I feel like a huge part of that is due to the fun checklist we made as soon as school let out. Get ready for a photo overload!

photo-1We did it ALL.  Every last bit of it. Sure, we were scrambling about near the end to ensure that every last item was completed, but that only helped to keep up from moping about the last week, waiting for the school year to start. Some things were pretty easy to check off because they already happen regularly, like going to church, eating lunch, and hunting for bugs in the backyard.  Other things were bound to happen anyway, such as Emily’s bug-themed birthday party, sleepovers at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house, getting ice cream, and of course, getting frozen cokes. We also did loads of arts & crafts projects – check out these groovy tie-dye shirts we made!

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We did other artsy-type projects that were on the list too – we painted, made sun catchers out of pony beads, created jewelry, and even dabbled in architecture when we tried to make buildings using marshmallows and toothpicks. Julia gave up and ate them when we weren’t looking. 😀

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Our list included trips to Ocala (where we also crossed off swimming in a natural spring), a visit to Dinosaur World, and a stay at the Nickelodeon Studios Hotel.

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And of course there were other highlights, like water park playdates…

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…trips to the library…

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…board games…

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…fireworks shows…

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…trips to the pet store (one of the girls’ favorite things to do)…

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…and beach days, too!

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The last thing we checked off on our chart was a trip to the movies.  We managed to squeeze in a movie at a local theater the last week of summer break.  Whew!
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Looking back through these pictures makes me so overwhelmed with joy at the wonderful memories our family created this summer. Granted, many of the items on the checklist were things that were already on the calendar, but there many more unplanned activities than planned. It wasn’t always easy to find time to do some of the things we wanted to do, but it definitely kept us from staying inside everyday watching movies because it was too hot or rainy to go anywhere. 

We had ourselves a BLAST! And we will definitely be making another checklist next summer!

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Another Visit to Rainbow Springs

IMG_0639I realize I’ve written about Rainbow Springs before, but I cannot begin to describe how much I love this place. We always stop off there when visiting my parents, and I promise I’ve fought off the urge to blog about it every time we go. But this trip was special, since it was Julia’s first time getting in the water with us – so it totally warranted its own post.

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This time we were travelling with my friend and her two kids, and it really made the whole experience more fun – mainly because none of them had been there before and weren’t exactly thrilled at the idea of jumping in the cold water.

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Emily and my friend’s daughter jumped right in and swam around using their noodles. Both girls are strong swimmers, but its so deep that you can’t put your feet down anywhere in the spring. Julia had a new swim vest, and I tried getting her to go in, but she’d step down, get her feet wet, then immediately turn around and climb back out. Eventually I just jumped in, swam back to her, grabbed her arm, and dragged her in. She hated it at first, but as she got used to the water she was less disagreeable. Sometimes you just gotta show tough love. 😉

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My friend had brought a water camera with her, so we were able to get some really great pictures of ourselves underwater. I’d never had an underwater photo taken before!  My nose bubbles crack me up. Emily looks like she should get a job at Weeki Wachee.

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At some point the kids started jumping off the dock, and we were able to capture some great shots of that too. Julia even gave it a try twice, although she insisted I had my foot on the ladder before she’d leap into my arms.

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I know I’ve recommended it before, but if you ever find yourself in Central Florida, be sure to make a detour to see Rainbow Springs – it’s a swimming experience like no other!

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PS – My entomologist daughter wanted me to add this photo she had my friend take of dragonflies mating at Rainbow Springs.  You’re welcome.

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Although now that I think about it, my last post on Rainbow Springs also ended with an insect photo.  I’m just glad these didn’t sting anyone! 😀

Pony Bead Sun Catchers

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 5.56.19 PMOne of the things the girls and I had on our summer checklist was to make sun catchers out of pony beads.  I love my patio area, and I love the idea of my girls’ creativity being displayed out there.  I came across this idea on Pinterest, and it seemed to be a perfect summer craft – simple enough for Julia, intricate enough for Emily, and great for a rainy day – which is pretty much a daily guarantee where we live.

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The process is super easy – buy beads, place beads in pan, bake beads, remove beads, drill beads, hang beads.  But just in case there are more of me out there who love details, I’ll break it down a little better. 🙂

Materials

  • pony beads
  • cake pan
  • muffin tin
  • oven
  • drill
  • twine / fishing line / string

Steps

  1. Acquire pony beads.  I recommend getting the most vividly-colored beads you can find.  Ours seemed to be on the paler side, and the colors don’t pop as much as I expected.
  2. Arrange beads in cake pan or muffin tin. I’m not sure that it makes much difference, since the beads will melt out flat anyway, but we placed them so that we could easily see the hole in the middle of each bead.  The muffin tins were a perfect size for Julia, Emily, and her friend Leila to fill, but it was easier to create an image in the cake pan. Julia’s on a Humpty Dumpty kick right now, so I was ordered to make him sitting on his wall (see bottom right).
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  3. Bake in the oven.  We set the oven for 400 degrees and 25 minutes, but I pulled them out after 20 minutes… the melting beads emitted the worst smell while in the oven (melting plastic, ya know), but I opened a door and turned on a fan and it completely dissipated within 15 minutes. I placed the pans outside on cookie sheets to cool, then just popped them right out of the pans.IMG_0410
  4. Drill holes for hanging.  Pretty simple.  The suncatchers didn’t seem to be brittle, but I made my holes a little away from the edges anyway.IMG_0446
  5. Tie on string and enjoy!

We decided to hang ours along our patio fence.  Since our community requires us to paint our fences white, the colors in the suncatchers really pop!

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KID Hero 5K – A Super Race!

I’ve been completely honest about my lack of running this summer.

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But there’s a funny thing that I’ve begun to notice, at least for myself.  I’m calling it the I’ve-Signed-Up-For-Another-Race-So-I’d-Better-Start-Running-Again phenomenon. Basically, I’m finding that when I’m too busy, too hot, or too lazy to run, an upcoming run is the kick in the butt I need to keep going.

And fortunately for my mushier-by-the-day butt, I just completed another 5K. 🙂

IMG_0473This time it was the KID Hero 5K, benefitting Kids in Distress.  Our registration fees and any other funds raised went straight to the organization, which works to prevent child abuse and treats children who have been abused or neglected.

My friends Jen and Tina invited me to join them for this event, which was their first 5K, and I eagerly accepted. Runners and walkers were encouraged to wear costumes representing their favorite superheros, and we were only too happy to get in on the fun. Tina found some shirts with the Batman logo on them – hers even had a cape -and we were ready to go!

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I picked them both up the morning of the run and we headed off to the race location. We had to sign in at the registration tent once we got there, and they gave us our bib numbers and pins (walkers did not receive a bib).  At another tent we received a bag, water bottle, and T-shirt.  Right after I signed in I ran into another good friend, Gillian, who also happened to be wearing Batman attire.  I grew up with Gillian but hadn’t seen her for years, so it was pretty amazing running into her at this event. 🙂

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It rained a little right before we headed off to the starting line, but fortunately stopped right before they sang the National Anthem.  Then everyone counted down, and we were off!

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The race took us through the streets of the city and neighborhoods downtown, right in the same area Emily and I ran for the Color Run (although it was a different route).  It was awesome running with so many other “heros.”  There were all sorts of costumed walkers and runners, from the head-to-toe Hulk muscle suit to cute little babies with capes on to groups sporting matching shirts.  I ran with Tina for the first mile or so, then caught up with Jen and finished the race with her.  It rained off and on throughout the run, which helped counteract the crazy summer morning heat.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 9.20.08 PMAfter the race we checked out our finishing times – I somehow managed to come in 6th in my age group!  Not too shabby considering I haven’t really run much all summer, although looking at these other times I think the best I could have done might be 5th place.  Thank goodness my only goal is to finish, no matter how long it takes me. 😀

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I had so much fun!  It was an awesome 5K, one I’d definitely do again.  Tina and Jen have caught the Race Bug though, and we’re already planning on doing a few more together in the upcoming months. These races are much more fun with friends!

20140802_091831The three of us parted ways after the race, and of course I went and picked up my traditional post-run treat at Starbucks.

Is there any other way to reward yourself for completing a super 3.1-mile run? 😉

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Confession Time

Ok.  This isn’t easy to admit, but I’ll be honest.

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about how I was planning to wake up every morning to get in a short run.

Well, I totally overestimated my ability to wake up in the morning.  I kinda also overestimated my desire to do it.

It’s not that I don’t love running anymore – I still get in a short run whenever I can manage to, and I’m averaging a 3-mile run every week.  Our family is about 5 weeks away from taking a Disney Cruise vacation, and all I can think about is how the girls get to go to camp all day and I’ll be free to run the track around the ship.  I’m participating in a 5K this Saturday and I’ve already been scoping out my next half-marathon.

The problem is the same thing it was last summer:  IT’S SUMMER.  And Florida summers are no joke.  Between the heat, the humidity, and the insane daily thunderstorms, it’s not easy to find time to get out.  And although I really did love that early morning run, it’s just not always possible to do that either.  Jay’s schedule changed almost as soon as I made the choice to try and get out every morning, and I’m not able to get any running in when he’s out of town.

I know, I know – excuses, excuses. 😦

Not running has had an unexpected effect on me – I started getting depressed.  I don’t think it’s the lack of endorphins as much as it is noticing the changes in my body, mainly the lack of energy and motivation that seems to occur whenever I’m not working out. Running makes me happy, makes me feel good about myself.  Not running makes me feel icky.  And I get bummed and feel like a failure because I’m not at all working towards my goal.

But I’ve started to see the absurdity in thinking that way, mainly because 90% of why I’m not running is not my fault – or, at least, it’s a well-made decision not to go.  I have no control over the weather, no control over the heat, no control over my husband’s work travel and obligations.  If I can’t run one morning because Emily’s friend is coming over for the day, then that’s not really me being lazy, it’s me making a sacrifice to help my daughter have a great summer.  If I look out the window and see the clouds rolling in and decide to set up the pool in the backyard instead of forcing the girls to go running with me, then I’m making sure my kids enjoy the little sunshine we have their way and not mine. A great day with my kids is way more likely if I’m not suffering from a never-ending migraine brought on by running in 90-degree heat.

I am not giving up on running.  Not by a long shot.

What I am doing is becoming aware of my limits and deciding not to let them get me down.  When I read that I struggled getting in runs last summer too for the same reasons I’m having trouble now, I realized that beating myself up is about the least productive thing I can do.

I’m still a runner, just a runner on hiatus.  A runner choosing to take a break until the weather and schedules are more cooperative.  A runner eagerly awaiting the beginning of the school year so that routines can be set in place again.  A runner admitting temporary defeat.

So maybe I’m not the great, dedicated runner I want or appear to be.  I’m okay with the choices I’m making.

And I’m not worried – I’ll know I’ll be back in full force before too long. 🙂

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