family · running

Everything I Need To Know About Fitness I Learned From My Mom

My mom started running in when she was in her 30’s, and became a fitness phenom before it was cool, especially for women. There was no Target, let alone an affordable fitness department, so in winter she would don her sweats with cotton tights underneath with an old stocking cap, a scarf and jacket and get out to run, no excuses, ever. She ran in freezing cold and blazing heat, wind, rain and ice. She ate “clean” long before it was even a thing, and pumped iron in the garage. I thought she was nuts at the time, but she left an impression. Her steadfast example went unheeded through my youth, but in my 20’s when I decided to get into a healthier lifestyle, I found I already knew what to do, I had to look no further than example she had set.

There were no gimmicks or secrets to her fitness routine. She never fell for a fad diet or nutrition drink. She just looked at her circumstances and added a huge heap of common sense, which is free for all to use.

  1. Eat real food, heavy on the fruits and veggies.
  2. Skip the artificial junk. Yes, it goes with #1, but it doesn’t go without saying. If it comes in a package, less is more.
  3. Portion size matters, don’t get carried away.
  4. Sit down and savor your food, you’ll be more satisfied with less.
  5. Pass on the alcohol. Maybe wine has benefits, but it has sugar too, save it for special occasions.
  6. Treats are treats. A little goes a long way.
  7. Play, it keeps you young.
  8. You won’t melt. Go outdoors in crummy weather.
  9. It’s okay to get dirty. People are washable.
  10. Heavy work is for women too, you get great muscle definition shoveling snow, push mowing the lawn and raking.
  11. Get outside your comfort zone. When my mom first started running my sisters giggled as she struggled to make it a quarter mile. When she finished first a 5k, then a 10k, and eventually a 25k, they could only cheer.
  12. Movement helps what ails you, especially when paired with fresh air.
  13. It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

It’s been almost 40 years since something clicked in her head and my mom decided to get fit, and she’s never looked back. When I see her playing tag with her grandkids and great-grandkids at the playground and swimming with them at the lake, my heart swells with gratitude for the health and strength she has maintained well into her 70’s. Not only has it served her well, she pays her health forward to her children and grandchildren and even her grandchildren’s children. She has passed down to us all a legacy of health and well-being that I am proud to carry on, and can only hope serves me as well as it has her.



Back to Basics, Back to Balance.

I’m getting back on the wagon. No, I am not on a diet. (Well, not really).

I have this pair of snow pants that are my “reel it in” gauge. I’ve had them for over 20 years, and while their primary purpose is insulation while playing outside, the serve me well as the canary which signals that things aren’t what they should be. I’ve taken to doing a serious wiggle dance to get them over my hiney, so that is my signal that it’s time to eat less and move more.

My presumption is that it’s far easier to lose 10lbs, (even if it’s the same 10lbs that I have gained and lost umpteen times) than it is to let it go any further.

The first thing I do is start a food log and get a handle on portion size.

Because I love to eat.

It’s not easy to calorie count when 90% of your food is made from scratch, but at least I know I’m in range.

Next step is moving more. I’m not exactly sedentary, but let’s just say that writing isn’t an aerobic workout. But, my knee and my thyroid are back in shape, which removes my limitations.

There have been a few times in my life when I have been strong, healthy and fit. Though I know that as I age regaining and retaining that level of fitness will get ever more difficult, I will get as close to this as possible.

It might sound like I’m getting carried away, it might sound like vanity, and sure there’s some of that, but that’s not all.

When I make time to exercise and eat right, it’s the best self care I know how to do. It improves my physical health, my emotional and mental health, and there’s enormous benefit to loving the way I look.

The Lee I like best is the one who comes in soaked with sweat and flying high on endorphins and endocannabinoids after running for an hour or two. She’s the one who is a better wife and mother and happier person. Probably because I treat her so well.

It’s all about balance, and my balance has been teetering, so here I go again.

marriage · parenting · special needs parenting

A Tribute To My Husband…

We are a case study of opposites attracting. He’s a headstrong doer, I’m a heart-strong be-er. He takes conflict with his daily coffee, whereas I will go to the end of the world to avoid hurt feelings. He’s decisive, I procrastinate. He talks on the phone and connects with people, I text and keep to myself.

Yet somehow it works. We’ve been married almost 23 years now, and though it took us awhile, we figured out a thing or two along the way. I have to say, we do all right.

When the neonatologist told us our son appeared to have Down syndrome, it was him who took the lead, accepting the diagnosis and plunging ahead. I might have floated adrift for quite some time, but Mike rallied immediately, then threw me a lifeline and reeled me in.

We often have tough decisions to make, and when I waffle he’s strong. When I procrastinate he pushes. When I get bogged down in my feelings, he’s pragmatic. When frustration gets the best of me, he’s diplomatic. When I demure, he asserts. When I feel, he thinks.

I’m pretty sure people envision me in the driver’s seat in our complex family, and I don’t think that’s wrong, but if I’m the driver, he’s the engine. One of us wouldn’t get anywhere without the other.

I don’t know how much I actually pause to appreciate my husband. Certainly not enough. In case I haven’t said it lately, I notice you. I appreciate you. I value you for who you are and for all you do. I can’t imagine living this life and parenting this crew without you right here with me for every little detail. In the midst of it, you make me a better me. You call me out when I’m off-base, you challenge me to improve myself, but you love me exactly where I am. I know you didn’t ask for this crazy life, but you have stepped into it and mastered it. I love you completely. And just in case I forgot to tell you, thank you. You are a treasure.


Finding a Fabulous Lip Gloss on A Snow Day

It’s a snow day. Not for actual snow though, we have just a dusting, but beneath it is a layer of ice.

A snow day would be great, we have a sledding hill about 40 feet out our door, but this? If you can make it 4 steps without landing on your tailbone it’s a success. There’s no way we can play outside in this.

I’m over it. This is the 4th snow day since Christmas break, and not one of them has been for actual snow, which we enjoy, but for bitter cold temps and ice.

In other words, we’ve been shut in together a bit too much this winter.

I wasn’t even going to get dressed. My bathrobe seemed to suffice, but I can’t quite manage to stay in jammies unless I’m sick, it’s a weird hangup. So up I went to get dressed, quite likely muttering under my breath as I went. It’s darn cold, so I opened my sweater drawer to grab a cardigan, and couldn’t find the one I was seeking, but low and behold, in my digging, this came up.

I have no idea how it got there, I don’t remember getting it, and I certainly have no recollection of burying it in my sweater drawer, but there it was. I snatched it from the drawer, threw on my clothes and went downstairs to the bathroom to try it on.

Next thing I knew, everything changed. You can’t wear lip color without mascara, and I added blush just for good measure. And low and behold, my attitude perked right up with my face. I’m not big on makeup, and since I work at home, my MO is to go with little or none, so I was surprised at the pick me up I got from a flattering lip gloss.

I took a deep breath and decided that my attitude should match my face, and got myself squared away.

Then I looked outside to see fat, juicy flakes of snow coming down hard and fast. Today is going to be a good day after all.

adoption · Down syndrome · special needs parenting

The Next Step in Pro-Life

This weekend marks the 45th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion nationally. I am not even going to attempt to discuss the law, rather, I’d like to examine the next step.

What happens after birth?

What happens when children are born with disabilities, and in an instant a parent becomes a caregiver?

What happens when a parent gets addicted to opioids or dies of an overdose?

What happens when parents hurt their children because of human frailty, or neglect, or substance abuse?

What happens when children have enormous medical challenges?

What about services and support for people living with mental illness?

And so much more.

Wouldn’t robust support of families caring for children with exceptional needs be pro-life? Would women be less likely to terminate a pregnancy with a child who has a prenatal diagnosis of disability if they knew that access to everything their child would need to thrive would be available and affordable?

Wouldn’t it be pro-life to fund research and resolution for opioid addition? And while we’re at it, there are record numbers of children in foster care at present, in large part related to opioid addition, being a foster parent is, in my humble opinion, the most stunningly beautiful example of pro-life imaginable.

Do you get what I’m saying here?

There are dozens of ways to embody a full-circle, lifelong pro-life stance without even bringing abortion into the conversation.

But it’s hard.

It’s easy to talk about changing a single law, and to carefully hand select politicians who have a certain box checked on their platform. But if that’s your stance, can you answer what should happen after the children are born?


But wait, is it right to separate a child from their ancestry for life? Biology is enormously important, and while infant adoption is sometimes necessary, far too often it’s a lifelong solution to a short term problem when better solutions for both the child and parents are available.

I don’t claim to have answers, in fact, it’s the questions that overwhelm me.

But as a person who has spent my adult life focused on the children who are already born, the ones with disabilities, the ones whose parents are addicted, the ones who have been orphaned, the ones with mental illness, the ones with so little support. I have come to believe that if everyone who made sure that they voted for the pro-life candidate took a step or two to care for the children once they’re born that it would transform everything. We have the ability and the obligation to fill in those vast gaps for the children who are already born.

introvert · special needs parenting

Has Social Media Changed The Meaning of The Word “Friend”?

I’ve always kept a tiny circle of friends. When I was younger I felt insecure about my relative unpopularity. It seems I’m somewhat of an acquired taste.

Add to that a family with complicated needs and working at home, and if I get out with a friend a few times a year I’m lucky.

If you look at my Facebook, though, it’s a whole different story. I have a hundred or so friends that I encountered through an adoption related discussion board about 12 years ago. I’ve actually met fewer than half of them, but I consider every one of them good friends, and some quite close.

Then I have a broad group of people who have some kind of connection to Down syndrome, special needs pare ting, or some type of disabilities with whom I’ve connected over the years. And, of course, childhood cancer connections.

Throw in people from high school and a few jobs, and my latest additions of fellow writers, and my list of Facebook friends belies my claim to be an introvert.

The funny thing is, with rare exception, I feel like I know these people well. In fact, when I have met the people with whom I’ve developed online friendships, the transition has been seamless.

Maybe this means that I spend too much time surfing social media, and I won’t argue that. I will say, though, that for the socially anxious introvert, the advent of socializing through my phone screen has been revolutionary.

Even before social media came along I demurred when invited to any gathering. If it is a large group or there’s alcohol involved, there’s not much chance of me attending a get together.

But now, especially through groups and private messaging, I am able to have meaningful discussions, connect with like minds, and enjoy a form of interaction that enriches my life without finding a non-existent babysitter or using up my energy on tedious small talk.

While many find social media a simple distraction or time killer, I suspect that many, like me, find a way to fill a void that had previously been insurmountable, and do so unapologetically.

Down syndrome · special needs parenting

You Just Had a Baby With Down Syndrome, What Now?

We opted not to have prenatal testing, so our son’s diagnosis of Down syndrome was first suggested by a neonatologist while my abdomen was still wide open on an operating table. I write this according to my own experience, and because it sure would’ve been nice to have it when I was recovering in the hospital and trying to understand what having a child with Down syndrome meant, both in the immediate future, and longer term.

Our son, Alex, was whisked away after only a brief introduction. He was born in distress and needed the support of the neonatal team in order to stabilize. By the time we got to see him again later that night he was on oxygen. This is common in newborns with Down syndrome, but it unnerved me. Learning to breathe takes a lot of energy for any newborn, and since people with Down syndrome are born with low muscle tone (hypotonia) breathing takes even more effort than average. The oxygen gave him a little boost until he became strong enough to get the hang of breathing on his own.

I spent my time in the recovery room wondering if my husband would still want to name our son after his grandfather and himself if he did actually have Down syndrome. I can smile about it now, knowing that there was no question about it, that we did make him a namesake and have never regretted it. But this is what went through my mind, and though it seems silly in hindsight, it was a legitimate fear at the time.

By the next morning a feeding tube had been placed in his nose, and a cardiologist had been called in to check his heart. This is all status quo as well. Over 50% of babies with Down syndrome are born with heart defects, and many go on to have open heart surgery. Alex had a small hole in the septum between the ventricles in his heart, but his did not require surgery. It closed on its own and after a year of appointments and echocardiograms he was given the all clear.

I was disappointed right off because I had breast fed my first child immediately after her birth and enjoyed nursing her for a full year. My son needed the benefits of breast milk even more, but because of his need for neonatal care, I wasn’t able to nurse him right away. I did start pumping immediately, and tried to get him to nurse. He was tired and floppy though, and just couldn’t latch. The lactation consultants at the hospital coached me along and helped ease my disappointment. Even though Alex couldn’t latch, the attempts to nurse gave us skin on skin bonding time, which is precious as well. Thankfully I had no problem producing milk, and before I knew it I had a stockpile of breast milk ready for him.

It took Alex about a week to get breathing and eating down pat so that we could bring him home. He had no medical complications other than the tiny hole in his heart, which gave him a big advantage. He was still in the hospital when we got the results of the genetic testing (called a karyotype) that gave him the official diagnosis of Down syndrome, but we knew before it even came that he did indeed have it.

Upon his discharge from the hospital, he got referred to Early Intervention services, and within a week an Occupational Therapist called to set up a meeting, which occurred right at home. Our OT was kind and professional, and a huge help in learning about things like hypotonia and gave us tips on helping Alex become strong and capable. She continued to see him until he turned three and started school and she became a family friend.

The Early Intervention team eventually included a teacher and speech therapist (SLP). Some kids also see a physical therapist, but that was not the case for Alex.

I eventually gave up on nursing him, and focused on stockpiling enough breast milk to feed Alex until he was about 6 months old. I was pretty cranky about pumping, which took a half hour, and feeding Alex took about the same amount of time, and we fed and pumped every 2.5 hours around the clock, doctor’s orders. I felt like I had no time for anything, and had just had it, when my husband suggested trying to nurse Alex just one more time. It had been a couple of weeks since I’d tried, and I did it out of pure spite. How dare he, the one with useless nipples, tell me I should try to get our son to latch. I might have even told him it would be about as useful as him getting Alex to latch. But I did try, and Alex did latch. He was 6 weeks old, and from that day forward he nursed exclusively. This experience is more of an exception than the rule, but I think it warrants inclusion in the story, because it taught me to never underestimate the power of trying just one more time.

Alex had the very typical experience of having sinus and ear infections, and went through about a dozen sets of ear tubes as well as tonsils and adenoid removal, but has been otherwise healthy.

I fell into a mindset when he was tiny that my child with Down syndrome would be high functioning, which would make everything okay. For a couple of years I clung to this notion, before realizing that my son was okay no matter what. He was and is precious and worthy, no matter what his IQ, which is just about average for a person with Down syndrome.

We’ve learned a lot in the almost 16 years since, but most importantly that Alex is a good human being. His bonus chromosome doesn’t make him an angel, more precious or wonderful, and it doesn’t make him less than anyone else. He is who he is, and that is a witty, goofy teenage boy with more than a little attitude and a whole lot of fun.