Saturday, August 18, 2018

Tips For Air Travel With Kids (And Grownups!)

For the second part in my series on traveling with kids (see car travel tips from Part One, here: Road Trips With Kids, I enlisted the help of my sister-in-law, who has had a LOT of experience traveling with kids all over the world for this guest post.  Enjoy!

Garmarjoba. Bula. Salam. I’m Alisa’s sister-in-law, Deb….and due to my husband’s job we live overseas. We have lived in the Republic of Georgia, Fiji, and have recently arrived in Qatar (hence my array of greetings). As you might imagine, we have done our fair share of air travel with kids….so that is why I am doing a guest post here! (If you are interested in reading about our adventures, check out my blog here: Next Stop...the World! ).  We just changed our duty station this summer, so I’m a little behind on all of our adventures!  Due to our transition this year, we’ve had to take a lot of flights since March! We’ve had 9 flight itineraries to keep track of. Of those, only two were round-trip and two were international (one across the Pacific and one across the Atlantic)…..so, needless to say, we’ve racked up some frequent flier miles in the last few months….so enough of the intro, here are my tips for air travel for kids:

1. ALWAYS carry extra clothes in your carry-on. I really try to minimize the amount of stuff in our carry-ons but after having to spend a fortune on a t-shirt for myself after someone was an infant and I just couldn’t handle smelling like throw-up for another flight...I learned my lesson! For the kids, I always pack a complete outfit plus a spare set of underwear. For myself, just an extra shirt (I can deal with wet pants if a drink gets spilled on them….kids have less patience). My husband likes to tempt fate. I use a packing cube to really compact the clothes and keep them contained at the bottom of a backpack so they are not really a burden and just available if needed.

2. Airplanes, once airborne, are COLD!! In the US, carriers do not give out blankets any longer (even for transcontinental red-eye flights, as we sadly discovered...at least they don’t if you end up flying back in steerage like we do). So even in the hot summer, I’ll pack a sweatshirt and warm socks for my younger child and myself (my teen is in charge of his own carry-on now…I remind him, but if he opts not to pack anything….not my problem). 

3. Snacks! I know this was on the car road trip list - common theme here! Though, if flying internationally, check importation restrictions. For example, when we were flying into Fiji/Australia/New Zealand we could not bring any food items that contained cheese, whey protein, honey, meat, or fresh fruits/veggies from the US. So, if we brought those snacks we had to have them consumed before disembarking from the plane (and all our bags, including carry-ons, were x-rayed before leaving the airport to verify we didn’t leave the airport with any of these items). 

4. For the snack consumption, I try and throw a couple empty plastic bags (subway sandwich bags are perfect) to hold the trash in our seat….as it seems like it is forever before the flight crew ever comes by to pick up any trash.

5. Meals – staying on the topic of food. If you are flying internationally, you have the option to select special meals in advance. Being a vegetarian, I have learned it is best to request the vegetarian meal. While there is typically a vegetarian option, sometimes they are out of that option by the time they get to your seat. Most airlines will offer a kids’ meal (typically the adult meal but with fewer sauces and more treats). Flying internationally, sometimes the meal is what kids from that nation will enjoy…not always chicken nuggets. If you have picky eaters like we do, we have learned that you can never go wrong with the fruit meal….who doesn’t like fresh fruit? My only caveat to all of this is that if your flight leaves late at night I would skip the meal request. When we have flights that leave after 7 pm, we won’t request the special meals for the kids. Special meals are delivered before general meal service (added bonus), but with late flights, the kids typically put on their eye masks, hunker down, and fall asleep. With special meals, you are obliged to take them and will be woken up and given them. So then you have a meal tray to deal with and a potentially fussy-trying-to-get-to sleep child….not fun (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…lol).


6. For our seats on the plane, once our tickets are booked, we always try to select our seats beforehand. Our preferred arrangement is my husband and teen in one row and our younger one and me in the row behind them. That way when my younger one inevitably kicks the seat in front it is just my husband being annoyed not some stranger who might get really annoyed. If seats are in groups of three, we will select the aisle and window seats as well. That way if the flight is not completely booked, someone is less likely to pick the middle seat when selecting a seat…..about 1/3 of the time this works and we end up with an empty middle seat and extra room to lay down and rest on!! I will typically go ahead and sit in the middle seat during boarding though, since my younger one doesn’t like strangers. If someone does board and say the middle seat is theirs, I point to my younger one and ask if they mind if I sit in the middle and give them the aisle. I’ve never had someone say no.

7. As I mentioned in the first point, I try to keep items in our carry-ons to a minimum. Less stuff in the carry-on keeps it lighter so the kids can carry it themselves, plus it is small enough to stow at their feet. I’ve tried packing books, games, toys, etc….and they all go untouched. The only thing the kids really want to use is their iDevices (and if available – watch in-flight movies)….so sometimes on an 11-hour flight it is worth it to choose your battles….and this is not one worth fighting! Unlimited screen time it is….so it’s a treat! We pack everyone’s iDevice, CHARGER, adaptors (if needed), and a small notebook and pen/pencil. (Our notebook is 5x7 size). The notebook provides so many options of games….hangman and tic-tac-toe are our go-to’s. Though you can also draw pictures, make a bucket list of what to do when you get to your destination, etc.


8. If you get stuck with a long layover en-route to your destination (13-hour layover survivor here!), lounges are wonderful! Some credit cards give you free entry (they have high fees though…boo!). I have a priority club membership for $49 year where you can get access to lounges worldwide. It then costs $27 per person for entry (for myself and up to 3 guests). Note: members may be free depending on which plan you sign up for. If you travel a lot then you may want to upgrade to a membership that includes 10 free entries a year. If you would like to get 10% off the cost of membership (disclaimer….I earn a free guest entry), then send me a message via the contact form on my blog  Next Stop...the World! and I’ll send you a referral!!! Talk about win-win!! You’ll want to check before you fly though, because some clubs limit the number of guests/or don’t allow kids, but most major airports have multiple participating lounges so if you have a long layover you can just find a different lounge that will work. What is so wonderful about hanging out in a lounge vs walking the halls of the airport? It is so much quieter than the airport…no constant PA announcements. They have free food and drinks (well I guess not free since you paid the entry fee).  The unlimited food and drinks are typically healthier than the fast food options that are available out and about in the airport and some beer and wine is typically included. The seats include comfy, den-like furniture with more charging stations nearby. There are bathrooms scattered through-out (and since entry is controlled I feel comfortable leaving the kids to run to the restroom or letting them go alone if I happen to be flying alone with the kids). Speaking of the restrooms, you can check in advance, some of the lounges will have showers (with towels, shampoo, soap)…before or after a really long flight it is nice to freshen up….it always makes you feel much better to get some of that airplane/airport grunge off. 

9. Miles & Points. Everyone in our family has frequent flier accounts with all the American carriers (most international carriers have code shares and the American carrier will give you miles for your trip). It is always worth signing up for an airline’s frequent flier program – it is free and worst case scenario, your miles expire…best case you take a free trip! In fact, on one of our trips this summer we all flew to St.Louis on one airline on miles and flew back to Charleston on a different airline but also on miles! Simply entering frequent flier numbers when traveling helps make trips to visit family (or just be tourists) much more affordable! You can also pre-enter your passport info (and TSA precheck/trusted traveler info) to your profiles – just another way to make check-in go smoother! The best way to earn more miles quickly is by signing up for an airline’s credit card. They typically have sign-up mile bonuses (50K miles is pretty typical) as well as other benefits like one free checked bag, and, as of this writing, United’s card will even give you a $100 credit when you sign up for TSA precheck/Global Entry. Somewhat related, once you get off that airplane and make it to your destination you might need a place to stay! Some hotel groups have credit cards where you earn points towards nights at hotels. Our favorite card is the IHG card. They have domestic and international locations at a variety of price points (we try to pick places with free breakfast….and then eat a big enough breakfast to skip lunch). You also get one free night per year, and opportunities to earn bonus points with promotions they offer all the time. I can think of several trips we have taken where lodging was ‘paid for’ with points! If you sign up with this link:  https://www.referyourchasecard.com/251/ZFPP25L6Q7 then we both benefit – you get 80,000 Bonus Points after you reach the initial spending requirement and I get 10,000 points for everyone who discovers the wonderfulness of the IHG card!!! In addition, with both types of cards, with your regular purchases, you also earn miles or points towards future trips/stays!

Well…..I think those are my major tips for flying with kids. There are of course hundreds of tips about travel (my favorite travel pillow - Trtl – hands down)…but, just like parenting, in the end, you just have to do what works for you and your family! Thanks again for the chance to contribute to your traveling with kids series! Now to motivate everyone to book a trip somewhere….here’s a beautiful Fijian sunset photo!



Sunday, July 29, 2018

Surviving A Road Trip With Kids

Photo by Andrew Neel
I recently took on the challenge of driving my two children, two and six, to upstate New York by myself.  I generally don’t like to do this.  I usually enlist the help of a grandparent or friend, or wait until my husband is available to go along.  This time, however, no one was available.  I was really nervous about the 5 ½ hour drive, but I really wanted to attend my Grandma’s 90th birthday celebration.  So, we set out on the trip.  I brought the usual snacks, books, toys and Etch A Sketches.  We did several stops and even had their favorite foods, hamburgers and chicken nuggets.  It went a little better than anticipated, but there was one hour where they were fighting so badly and grabbing each other across the seats and screaming.  I had had enough and was at my wits end.  Finally, I put in a CD of children’s music.  Magically, they began to calm and sing along.  I had peace and quiet for those 20 + songs at least.  Whew.
When I pulled in to my destination, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had survived the trip.  Just barely, but we did.  After this experience, I decided to enlist the help of my mom’s group for some road trip ideas.  (MOPS/Moms Next at Grace Brethren Church, check us out this Fall!)  Nothing is better for ideas than other moms who are in the trenches!  Steal and enjoy these ideas from mommas who know how to road trip with kids and please post your own ideas in the comments so we can continue the conversation.  Look for the next blog in this series coming soon from my sister-in-law who travels all the time with her kids.  Happy summer!  Alisa

Audio books have really cut down on the amount of time spent on the tablet.
Puzzles and brain teasers really kept our kids entertained.
Rubix cubes
Etch A Sketch
US map:  when you see a license plate from a state, mark it off on your map.
A cooler full of sandwiches and drinks.  Lots of snacks!
Bring a travel potty for emergencies.  (Especially for those potty training kiddos!)
Travel Aquadoodle or books from Target with the water pens.
The Color Wonder sets.
An unusual amount of snacks, but not too much water.  (Less potty breaks!)
Usborne sticker books, car bingo games, Target $1 spot for new little trinkets, notebooks and activity pads.  Bring out a new option every few hours.
For long trips, make a chain link where each child gets to rip off a link every hour.  (They loved the times when they fell asleep and woke up and got to rip off two or three links all at once.)
Melissa and Doug Scratch Art activity pads.
Travel bingo game.
Plan stops where there is a Chik Fil A if possible.  Playtime and good food (and great service!) make getting back in the car so much easier.  (As long as it’s not a Sunday!)
And my all time favorite response…
Leave the kids at home…lol.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Patience of a Rice Krispie Treat

How's your summer been going?  I have to admit I have a harder time writing blogs during the summer time.  I sit down to write, and then my kids demand a juice box, a movie started, or more likely, my daughter will shout "I have to go potty!!!"  (We are in the thick of potty training, friends, and it ain't pretty...)  At the moment, one tiny human is watching the Wheels on the Bus movie and the other is blessedly still asleep, so here goes...

It's been a rainy couple of days here and the kids are getting a bit antsy.  After a fun week of staycation with my sister and family visiting, we were used to gorgeous sunny days, boat rides, water park trips, and Six Flags adventures.  Now, it's three thunderstorms a day.  I do love watching thunderstorms, but my kids do not.  So, yesterday, we decided to embark on a cooking project.  I have planned a couple of these for rainy days such as these.  I'm trying to be one of those really cool, prepared moms.  I haven't gone as far as Pinterest, but we do have some notecards in a box for "sunny days" and "rainy days" with ideas my son and I have written on them.  We picked "cooking project" and decided to make rice krispie treats.  It seemed like a fun and easy task.  The iconic dessert/snack that people have made for years.  Wow, was I wrong...

It turns out that making rice krispie treats requires the patience of a saint.  Step one:  Melt butter at low heat in a saucepan.  That took about ten minutes.  Step two:  Melt several cups of mini marshmallows in the pan.  This was supposed to be quick, but literally took about 30 minutes (the entire start to finish time the recipe claimed!)  


I was so worried about it burning, that I kept it on extremely low.  This gave me extra time to fold some towels, entertain my son and start building an ark...

Eventually, thirty minutes later, it began to melt, and I stirred constantly.  My son had long since lost interest.  His contribution (during his sister's nap) was to add some secret ingredients.  He went with sprinkles (a child after my own heart!) and M&M's:


After the sticky mess finally melted, I mixed it with the cereal and wrangled it into the pan.  After attempting to flatten it down with the spatula several times, it finally looked somewhat edible.  We cooled it in the fridge during dinner.  


Making this concoction really tested my patience.  I learned long ago never to pray for patience or God will test you on it.  (Thank you, Gloria, one of my college roommates, for that advice!)  But, I must have accidentally said a little prayer, because I was getting a test of patience that I wasn't expecting.  The waiting reminded me of the last year or so of my life, as I've been waiting on God.  It takes a lot of time.  It takes patience.  And it's often messy.  As I've figuratively "waited for the marshmallows to melt,"  there have been times when I've gotten frustrated and wondered if I was doing the right thing.  Just like our cooking project, God doesn't want us to sit around, waiting for things to happen.  He wants us to keep busy in the waiting.  Serving him, praying, talking with trusted friends, and being open to his presence and work in our lives.


The waiting is often messy work.  It doesn't come easily.  Sometimes we mess things up and have to scrub and scrub to make our lives better again.  Sometimes God allows the messy things into our lives to grow and stretch us.  But, like all these dishes, they are worth it when we look back and see what God has done in our lives.

A few times during this process, I was tempted just to give up and go to the store for some boxed rice krispie treats.  (So much easier!)  But, I had already gotten this far, so I persevered.  In life, it's easy to give up and go the easy way.  But, if we persevere, God's plan is so much better.  As I took a bite of my rice krispie treat (after eating all of the food on my plate, of course!)  I was amazed by how good the homemade one tasted.  I had waited and waited,  and the work had paid off.  (The sprinkles didn't hurt, either...)

Persevere during this rainy week!  Make some sprinkle-M&M-krispie treats, go bowling, paint, read, do whatever makes you happy as you wait for the sun to return.  Share your rainy day ideas in the comments!

Look for my next series of blog posts on keeping little ones entertained on road trips.  (Something we all need help with!)




Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Mile In Her Shoes: My Year as a Substitute Teacher, Part 2



Photos by: An elementary school student
Although my year as a substitute teacher was challenging in many ways (see part one here: http://www.pancakesandperseverance.com/2018/06/a-mile-in-her-shoes-my-year-as.html) ), it was overall a good experience.  The reason I chose substitute teaching for this year of my life is that it is flexible.  I could set my own days and hours and take off days when I needed to.  (When my kids innevitably got sick.)  There is no contract, so if you want to stop, you can, and you have the summer off to care for your children.  There was a long application process, but there was no interview to get nervous about, and only a half-day orientation to schedule.  I also found that most schools don't require their teachers to dress up very much at all.  I was expecting to wear dresses or dress pants every day, but many schools were very casual. 

The staffs at pretty much all of the schools I worked in were very nice and eager to help.  The front desk staffs in our county are all extremely nice and made the days go smoothly.  They welcomed me with a smile and often some humor.  The principals were also very nice, although I generally didn't have too much interaction with them unless I had a very challenging student.  I found the sweetest people to be the Special Education teachers.  They left very detailed plans and those I saw in person were very clued-in to how I was feeling and what I needed for the day.  They have some of the toughest jobs in the county, and they do them very well. 

There were also a few random things that made me smile.  Schools welcomed substitute teachers in, and when it was teacher appreciation week or holiday time, we had free food for lunch.  (Much better than the cafeteria food, I must say!) I also received artwork from students, many of whom I had just met.  They were willing to share what they had made and even made me personalized portraits. (So cute!)  Elementary school students were quick to accept a new person.  They would often run up to me, hug me, and say "I love you," after I had only been in their class for a short time.  The world can learn a lot from young children about acceptance of new people. 


I learned a lot about the educational system this year.  It was something I really didn't know that much about, except for my own experiences growing up and hearing about it from my youth ministry students.  It was very interesting to observe and be a part of the education of students at all grade levels, including Special Education classes.  It gave me a better idea of how schools and individual classrooms work.  I also learned a lot about discipline and managing a class.  Some from simply trying things and a lot from asking teachers and other subs what works for them.  I feel like I improved a lot in this area and I've been able to use this knowledge with my own kids.  For example, many of our schools use a clip chart for discipline.  They start in the middle of the chart and move their paper clip up or down depending on their actions.  Up leads to a reward at the top, down leads to a disciplinary action at the bottom.  This has really helped with my own kids and I found it invaluable in the classroom as well. 

I learned once again that I love to teach!  On the occasions where I was able to teach a lesson (vs. watching the class while they did a computer assignment or packet), I really enjoyed it.  I had several favorite days of teaching this year.  One was the day I got to sub for middle school English.  We read an interesting story together, discussed it, and then they were to create their own ending.  With my love of English and experience from various writing retreats, I jumped in and asked some leading questions.  I loved seeing their answers and their creativity with the new endings. 

My other favorite lesson this year was the time I got to teach the Bible in public school.  "How?" you might ask... I was teaching middle school social studies and we had a lesson that day on Old Testament history and Moses.  I just could not believe it when I read through the lesson plan. I was very excited.  I have a graduate degree in Biblical studies, so I felt it such a privilege to share this lesson with the students and to use my knowledge to inspire them to learn this part of Christian history.  I knew that God had chosen me that day for that lesson.  Just another reason I love looking back at his plans unfolding in my life. 

Another lesson I enjoyed that ended up really helping a student was one on communication and conflict management.  This was a health class lesson for middle schoolers.  I presented the material and added my own nuggets of wisdom.  I was fascinated by their responses and how much they felt that violent reactions were the best way to deal with conflict.  I learned just as much from my students that day as they learned from me.  I also loved to throw in a life lesson or two each day so that I was adding my own nugget to the day's lesson. 

After this health lesson, a girl came up to me and told me that she was being bullied by a group of girls at the school in a particular situation.  I listened, took her very seriously, and helped to connect her with the school counselor.  I was honored that she trusted me enough to share this situation with me.  If I subbed the whole year just to help this one person, then it was all worth it.  Teachers are invaluable as mentors for students. Listening, caring and pointing students in the right direction is what can make the difference in a life. 

The students I remember most will be the ones who remembered me from week to week and shouted, "Hey, Mrs. Laska!"  or said "You were the best substitute ever!"  I also loved it when students simply said "Have a nice day" when they left the classroom.  These polite responses showed me their character and their parent's good teaching at home.  I would encourage all parents and friends of students to teach them to respect their substitute teachers through politeness, kindness and following the rules when a sub is present.  Ironically, I had to teach this lesson to my own son this year.  He thrives on routine, so the few days he did misbehave at school were on days he had a substitute teacher.  This really upset me, but I took it as an opportunity to teach him about respect for new teachers.

Although being a sub was often challenging, there were many positive things about it, and I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time teaching and learning from my students. 

In the last part of this series, I will write about a lesson I did not expect to teach--active shooter training.  Coming soon...



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Mile In Her Shoes: My Year As A Substitute Teacher, Part 1

Photo by Luke Stackpoole
Imagine that you had to look for and begin a new job every day.  You have to figure out how to get there, decide which of the five parking lots to park in, and get buzzed in at the entrance.  You have to find your supervisor, the employee lunch room, and the room where you will work that day.  This will be harder than it seems, because each place of employment will be set up like a maze, and you will rarely receive a map.  You'll meet your new colleagues and those you will supervise minutes before you actually have to do the work.  If you get there early, you'll have a little time to look over the plans for the day before jumping in head-on.

You'll also be doing a different job each day.  A different age, grade, and subject.  You may even have to teach something you know absolutely nothing about, like high school French, or something you've completely brain-dumped, like middle school Algebra.

You'll also have to deal with rude, obnoxious, and whiny people all day long who think they have a free day because you took the job.  You may even find out you are working that day an hour beforehand, so you'll need to race to get that shower in.

Sound like a fun job?  I hear they are hiring...

A day in the life of a substitute teacher includes all of these things, although not quite so extreme every day.  I had a half-day of training and was thrown into the world of teaching.  Granted, I have worked with middle and high school students for years, but not in the school setting.  I never expected that 1st and 2nd graders would bring me to the end of my rope!  Substitute teaching was quite the experience, so I wanted to share a bit about it on my blog.  For the first part, I'll focus more on the negatives, but in Part 2, I'll point out that there really were a lot of positives.  I enjoyed spending time with students in a classroom setting and learning so much about the educational system.

Besides the things mentioned above, one source of frustration is the low pay for subs, especially if you aren't a certified teacher.  I added it up, and if I had worked every day of the week, and had summers off, as most teachers do, I would only have made $18,900.  Fortunately, I only worked part-time, so I wasn't expecting to make tons of money, but compared to the "regular" teachers, who make $40,000-$100,000, according to our county's website, this is a lot less.  I do understand this to some degree, as teachers do all of the planning, grading and guiding that we aren't able to do.  They work extremely hard, and deserve every penny they make!

Another very challenging aspect of substitute teaching is the lack of training and the challenge of discipline in the classroom.  As I mentioned, I only had a half-day of training.  I realize that those studying to be a teacher would already have a four-year degree in this and basically know what they were doing.  Youth Ministry, my previous profession, takes a different approach to students than teaching in a school setting does.  Teaching involves a lot of discipline, rule-setting and enforcing, and basically not having the students like you, because you need to "lay down the law."  Youth Ministry revolves around the concept of building relationships in which we share the love of Christ.  Not that there is no discipline involved, but we approach things from a different angle.  This was hard for me.  I wanted to go in and talk to the students about their day-to-day struggles, but I was too busy getting them to sit down and be quiet.  I can tell that the regular teachers do have a good relationship with the students and can help them when needed, but it takes time.

It's challenging to discipline when you come in and don't know the particular system in that classroom and you don't know any of the student's names.  Usually, when I asked a student what their name was, it was to clip them down for bad behavior.  Behaviors really ran the gamut this year.  I wouldn't say that every class was terrible.  In fact, many classes were very good.  But, I did get to know who the "trouble-makers" would be when they walked in and got really excited that there was a sub that day.  My most challenging experience was the time that I asked a girl who was talking, singing, dancing around and texting on top of her desk to sit down and quietly do her Math. She replied, "I'm going to get you fired."  Respect is often lacking, and it's hard to build it in a short amount of time.

Seven and a half hours feels like a very long day.  I had to get special shoes, which I call my "teacher shoes,"  because they aren't very attractive, but they keep my feet from hurting quite so much after walking around on them all day.  The foot pain is real!  You also can't go to the bathroom very often, so you have to be very careful not to drink too much water and to time your bathroom breaks well.  Another job hazard with subbing in different buildings with different students each day is the gigantic amount of germs you are exposed to!  I am a bit of a germophobe anyway, so I used many bottles of hand sanitizer this year.  I got sick more than I usually do.  In February, I came down with bad laryngitis.  It was pretty hard to discipline that week!  The worst was the day that I got pink eye.  The day before, I had picked up the germs at a middle school somehow.  By Friday night, my eye was incredibly red and itching.  My doctor's office was closed, so I had to spend more money than I made that day to go to the Urgent Care center.  (I am still bitter about that one!)

One thing that made me sad about substituting was that I really didn't get to teach that much.  By teach, I mean standing in front of the class, explaining a concept in a way that will teach and inspire the class to learn.  I realize education has changed, but the times I was able to do this, I really enjoyed it.  Elementary classrooms do allow subs to teach, but middle and high schools often ask students to do their computer work the whole time or to fill out a packet.  Some of those days were very boring and felt like babysitting.

I have learned to respect teachers so much this year.  They are stressed and exhausted from a challenging job.  They have many pressures put on them and they have to deal with many challenges.  I would encourage you to take every chance you get to encourage teachers and appreciate all that they do for their students.  Coming up next time, I'll share some of the positives about teaching and some of the good things that happened during my time on the job.

Monday, June 11, 2018

How I Lost 20 Pounds While Eating Pizza


Photo by Jez Timms
I announced last week on Facebook that I have lost twenty pounds since January.  I was excited to share the news, since it was a very challenging accomplishment.  Since many people have asked, I thought I would share how I did it in case it is helpful to others on the same journey.

I've carried around an extra twenty to thirty pounds since my son was born seven years ago.  I've tried running, as well as various exercise videos and classes.  Exercise alone has not seemed to work.  So here is my "secret":  Calories in/Calories out.  I can eat mostly anything I'd like to as long as I take in less calories than I burn that day.  Sounds simple right?  It is and it isn't.  I realized that I am not the type of person who can give up bread forever, eat no sugar for a month, or eat only salad.  I'm just not.  I have excellent willpower with many things, but food is not one of them.  (Food seems to be an acceptable sin in the church.  I mean, have you been to a Methodist church dinner in the South?  Everything tastes so good because it's either fried or cooked with bacon.)  I knew I had to do something that would be sustainable in the long-term.  (AKA still allow me to eat my favorite foods--ice cream and pizza.)

I began to track my calories. (There are several free apps that are great for this!)  I learned that a good calorie range for women seeking to lose weight is 1250-1400 per day.  At first, this seemed like an incredibly small amount.  I was pretty hungry for a couple of weeks, and very tired.  Although I wanted to quit, I kept going.  My stomach eventually shrank and my body got used to the smaller amount of calories per meal.  I was amazed to learn just how many calories I had been eating and how much fat certain foods contained.  I began to swap things out.  Almond milk instead of regular.  Mini oranges instead of orange juice.  Wraps instead of bread.  I still allow myself to eat things like pizza (which I can't live without!) but I try to eat less of them.  Two small slices instead of three or four.  One scoop of ice cream instead of a bowl.  A quarter of a large cupcake instead of a whole one.  This felt more sustainable than completely cutting these things out.

I also increased my exercise.  I aim for 3-4 times a week.  The more the better! I've also heard thirty minutes a day is a good goal.  I enjoy cardio-strength classes (Shout out to Body and Soul Fitness!), exercise videos, yoga and dance.  It's all about finding something you like to do and will want to do.  I have been weighing myself each day, which has been a fascinating study in how the body processes food.  It is recommended to only do it once a week, but it has helped me to see when I have gone in the wrong direction that week.

I haven't lost as much weight per week as I had hoped.  My goal was two pounds, and I've been landing around one.  Two major challenges for me have been stress-eating and dish-to-pass/celebration meals.  Stress-eating has been my go-to for a long time.  I wish I could say that I just pray away the stress, but I usually go for a bowl of ice cream after a long day at work or a draining day with the kids.  This has been a hard habit to break, and I can't say that I've completely broken it yet.  However, I've tried to replace the need to treat myself with food with something positive like a movie, reading or yoga.

I also have trouble with eating at celebrations and restaurants.  Due to my childhood, I learned to eat as much as I wanted at these occasions.  If I have a stressful day or week, it is especially hard to eat healthy at a restaurant or a mom's group gathering.  (Note to moms:  If you have to go to McDonalds, choose the Happy Meal, it is not really that bad calorie-wise compared to other menu items.)

In a way, the "life change" I am experiencing has felt a bit like my experiences with fasting.  It has involved a lot of disciplining my mind and body and not always saying yes to cravings.  I really like food.  I wish that I didn't.  (I'm convinced that skinny people must just not like food that much.)  I don't think that will change, but my choices can.  I learned that I really can say no to that cup of hot chocolate or that third piece of pizza.  That has felt freeing.  A really cool thing that I didn't expect was that the less food I ate, the more it tasted better.  If I only eat dessert occasionally, it tastes so much sweeter than it ever did.  Waiting to eat certain things helps them taste better.  My body has also started to reject very salty foods (I made the mistake of eating Burger King fries recently, wow!)  and I feel sick if I eat a really fatty meal.  Our body really knows what it needs and doesn't need.

I'm not finished with my lifestyle change yet, and I know that I will continue to struggle with food.  However, I am excited to see change happening in my mind and body and feel blessed to share this journey with you.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Hit Refresh

Photo by Tim Marshall
I need to hit refresh a lot. 

Our dryer has a setting where you can turn the dial to the refresh section and choose 30, 40 or 50 minutes to "refresh" the load.  What this means to me is that I've left the laundry in the dryer overnight...or let's be honest, sometimes for a few days at a time.  I am turning this dial, because the laundry has been sitting there wrinkling for hours and there's no way I will get to it anytime soon. 

The Dictionary.com definition that fits this best is:  "To freshen in appearance, color, etc., as by a restorative."  Let's hope that load of laundry stays fresh until I get home tonight.  Or, maybe I'll get to it in the morning...

Sometimes I also need a refresh button for life.  Mornings like today, I have been running non-stop since the alarm rang.  I exercised, refreshed the laundry, took a shower, checked our schedule and email, made my son and I breakfast, tied his shoes and shooed him out the door just in time to make the bus.  My daughter woke up late, so I quickly gave her food, got her dressed at breakneck speed and put more laundry in the dryer.  It was pouring outside, which required her special dinosaur raincoat and ice cream umbrella.  We were running late.  She would no doubt miss the fine motor skills time at preschool and be scarred for life. 

I need a refresh button for today.

The other definitions for "refresh" that struck home with me are: 
"To provide new vigor and energy by rest, food, etc." and "To make fresh again; reinvigorate or cheer." 

After the middle-of the night diaper change and the early morning alarm, I sure could use some of that energy and rest right now.  Instead, I'll settle for some coffee and a few minutes to watch the rain. 

Looking up a verse for this concept, I found this one for the first time:  "The Lord replied, 'I will go with you.  And I will give you rest.' "  (Exodus 33:14)  How cool is that?  I'm sure I am totally taking it out of context, and I know my seminary professors would kill me for this, but I am going to mention it here, because what a message!  God will go with us, and he will give us rest. 

If, like me, you need a "refresh" button for life, think about this verse today.  Dwell on it. Walk in it. God will go with you.  He will give you rest. 

Thank you, God, for the refreshment that comes from you just when we need it.