Ultra-Marathons and An Unusual Beauty

On Sunday I participated in something beautiful. So many moving things happen on Sundays, don’t they? So many touching moments fill my Sunday memories. But this one was a little different.

This one wasn’t at The Block where we gather to worship our faithful God. This one took place on a trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Peninsula, Ohio. I was there at 4:30 a.m., peering through the dense fog and blackest night. Not even the moon was shining. It was cold and I was still bleary-eyed. And, I wasn’t standing next to my preacher-man (where you’ll usually find me on Sunday mornings). I was with my dear friend, Shannon.

Ultra-Marathon RunnersWe were there to send-off my sister, her husband and his brother. I’m not sure what ever made them think that running for 52 miles would be a grand adventure, but that’s what they were attempting on this cold October Sunday. We had to be there this early because it would likely take them more than 12 hours to complete their task. Yes, 12.

Can you even imagine? Maybe you’re an avid runner but I am NOT. Running for an entire day is not even on my radar of possibilities. But, Crystal is a competitor and she loves to push herself so… here we were. Waiting to begin the run of a lifetime.

But, this post isn’t really about the run itself. (Though, that is surely worth a post!)

This post is about the power of being there. Just showing up. For the people you love.

Ultra-Marathon RunnersI did nothing for this race. I didn’t pay her fee. I didn’t train with her. I didn’t fill out her registration or prepare her drop bags or pick-up her race packet. Nothing.

And, yet, when it was finished and we were all done crying, she thanked me. SHE thanked ME. Why? Because I showed up. That’s it. I just showed up. I didn’t even say anything amazing to encourage her. I mean, how lame is “good luck” when a person has trained for months? Really, there was nothing powerful about my words. The thing that had traction was my presence. That I would drag my sorry butt out of bed at three-o-clock in the morning and be there. When she needed a familiar face.

Our eyes locked in knowing before she left for the starting line, little tears spilling into the corners. And, that was it. She was off. To run 52 miles. But, in that moment, I could tell that it mattered. The showing up had mattered.

The crazy thing is that Shannon and I weren’t the only one who showed up. Three other friends came to the start. And, even more people were there coming and going all day. One friend Jillian even bundled up her infant son and came to most of the check points. Friends, family, friends-of-friends. People just showing up to see them for a few minutes as they passed. We’d shout encouraging things or let them know we were praying for them or walk with them for a minute as they got water but they didn’t really NEED anything from us. It was just that we were there… as they finished a grueling loop or topped a killer hill.

It was a beautiful thing to witness. It really was.

Run with Scissors Ultra-MarathonAnd, isn’t that same thing true in life? Sometimes the power of just being there is the critical thing. The fact that you didn’t leave when the going got tough in your marriage. Or that you came home for dinner when you could have worked another hour. Or that you sat down to listen to your daughter’s favorite song even though you really don’t like hip-hop music. Or that you sat there in the rain while he played his football game.

We think we need to buy something or say something profound. But, usually we just need to show up.

There’s something powerful about that. We Americans are pretty independent folks. But don’t be fooled. We still need each other. More than we often know.

And when we show up, we discover an unusual beauty.

New Adventures=Together Moments

Hot-Air BalloonMadison and I tried a new adventure last weekend: The Ravenna Balloon A-Fair. I’ve lived in Northeast Ohio for most of my life and Ravenna isn’t very far. But, I had just never gone to this hot-air balloon festival before. I thought it was pretty cool. In fact, I’m discovering lots of things about Northeast Ohio that are pretty cool.

Hot-Air BalloonsAfter growing up here and going to college here, I can remember being pretty eager to leave. I don’t know why, really. I guess it just felt sort of lame to stay in the same place. When I married Rick, I did leave for awhile. I really thought we’d never come back. But, here we are. Caleb was just 1 when we returned. He’s 12 now. You do the math. I think we’re here to stay – at least until I find a great reason to live in Ireland. (The Ireland I imagine, anyway.) 

I’ll be honest, the thing I love most about being back is my family. It’s a treat to live so near my two sisters and their families. I also love that I’m five minutes from my aging grandparents and that my kids know them and enjoy going to their home. (Have I ever told you how much I love my Grammy? You’d love her too. Because she’s great.)

So there’s my family. And, of course, my friends. I have some pretty precious people in my life here.

But, I’m also finding that it’s a fun place to live. Hence, the Balloon A-Fair. We had a blast watching all of those big balloons fill-up and take off. We even splurged and shared a funnel cake as we lay on our blanket and looked into the big, blue sky. As we finagled for the pieces with the most powdered sugar, I looked over at my little girl and just savored being there with her. It was just a single slice of life but we were experiencing something new together. And there was great delight in that.

As I reflected more on the last year, it occurred to me that our family has had several simple, but fun, moments just like this as we explore the area. A trip to a goat farm, hikes in the Cuyahoga Valley and climbing on parts of the old canal locks, farmer’s markets, lambing time at a farm in the Valley, art galleries, local festivals, etc… This is actually a pretty cool place to live and there are some neat adventures to be had. Who knew? Maybe Ohio really is the heart of it all. {wink}

How about you? When was the last time you ventured out and tried something new? Any ideas for Fall adventures?

The Sound of Silence

A lot of people have had a lot to say about today. That makes me not want to say much. Sometimes silence just seems better.

Our flag flies on the front of our house. Rain drizzles off and on throughout the day. The world spins on. And yet we pause to remember.

Dinner Gone Wrong

Banning children? Maybe by now you’ve heard about the restaurant near Pittsburgh that is banning all children under the age of six. The owner’s week-old announcement has definitely made waves in pop culture throughout the U.S. I heard about it while working-out this morning as Q104 took calls from people weighing in on the ban. I was surprised when I later Googled it to find out that even the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had picked up the story.

My reaction has run the full gamut of thoughts and emotions.  At first, I saw the merits of the ban. I reasoned that it’s his restaurant; he can do what he wants. No one has to eat there if they don’t like his policies.

But, then I started thinking about the civil rights end of things and wondered if it’s even legal for him to discriminate based on age. I mean, we don’t let owners ban certain customers because of their skin color or belief system. And, last time I checked, most of us believe that is a GOOD thing for us to stick to.

But, then again, I could site other examples where age is a qualifier for certain admissions or places. Usually because of the mature content in those places. But, perhaps there are more grounds for limitations based on age than on race or creed. For a while, my thoughts just swirled there – around the legal and moral implications of it. Honestly, I’m still not sure where I’ll land on all of that.

But, do you want to know what really shocked (and disturbed) me? It wasn’t the owner or his decision or even the news outlets that picked up the story. It wasn’t even that 60% of the readers polled by WSJ thought the ban was good idea. Whether I agree or disagree, I can see their side of it – especially when a lot of parents let their kids run rampant in public.

No, those things didn’t disturb me.  The thing that floored me was the commenting by readers on the WSJ site and by callers on the radio show. I was shocked by the utter disdain expressed regarding children. Seriously. It was gut-wrenching to read some of these comments. Let me share just a few to give you a feel:

“Bravo to this restaurant. I have no children and do not like children for the main reason these days there are many more unruly, rude, undisciplined children and their parents out there inflicting themselves on people like me who have to travel by air and are stuck with them. (These horror stories could fill a book.) Go to a nice wedding and it is ruined by children running around totally out of control…  Children are everywhere and there seems to be a modern family way now of letting the kids do and say whatever they want…to the expense of others. Enough! Bravo!”

“Nicely done. When spending $50-$75 on a meal with a friend, the last thing I, or anyone else wants to hear, is the screaming, squealing sound of a baby/infant. Here’s a counterproposal for the liberal minded thinkers out there who know d#@ned well that the sound of a baby howling is the most God awful racket known to humankind.”

“When I go to a restaurant and they ask “smoking or non-smoking,”  I simply tell them “no children.” I do not want to see them, smell them, or hear them.”

“No one should endure an evening with disruptive children present.”

The basic gist of most of the negative comments was that families with children should be relegated to eating at McDonald’s and stay far away from sit-down restaurants. I found the whole discussion disheartening. I actually read a comment on another site that suggested that restaurants simply are not for children at all. That they should only eat at home with their parents.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand. Just last Fall I was in Taco Tantos (LOVE that place) and had a family come in that basically let their children run wild. Part of Tantos’ charm is that it is a small space. But that charm changes a tad when undisciplined children take over the place. My date-time discussion with my husband was definitely derailed by their presence. (So, we did the only rational thing possible in Tantos – we just stopped talking and focused on our burritos instead! Silver lining.)

I’ve been on planes with whiny toddlers. Been shoved by kids trying to get to their seat in the movie theater.  I do get it. Kids can change the ambiance of a place. Especially when those kids are ill-mannered and inconsiderate.

But, I’m just not so sure that it’s healthy for us to embrace an anti-family mantra that is motivated primarily (in this case) by convenience and entitlement for the diners. To say that a screaming baby is “the most God-awful racket known to humankind” seems a little over the top.

Do you catch the implications of some of these comments? Children are being viewed as annoying barriers. Like pests that should be brushed aside. Is that really how we want to treat other people?  To despise their presence just because they aren’t as refined as we would like? And it bothers us?

Eating out is a cultural norm in the U.S. These small people are an important part of the fabric of our society. While I will grant that some venues aren’t best for them, I will not treat them like they are annoyances to be endured. And, yes, I realize that means you have to take the unruly ones along with the good ones. But, our children don’t need shoved to the margins just because they make life a little, ummmm,  challenging at times.

Oh, and BTW, today is my birthday. The family is taking me to Outback Steakhouse for dinner. I kind of like that we can all go out and celebrate together. I hope the presence of my children can be tolerated. I’ll try to keep them from climbing over the back of the booth and ruining anyone’s meal. *wink* Hopefully only one or two  greenbeans will get launched across the room. *double wink*

How about you, any tricks or tips or words of wisdom you want to share with other readers about ways you enjoy a meal out with the kids in tow; BUT without ruining it for the people around you? I’ll collect your suggestions and list them in a future post along with some of our best practices!

This Day in 1999

His arrival came with much anticipation.

The two babies before him had gone on before us. Loved with all the anticipation and joy we could give them. But never held or known. At least not in this realm.

But it seemed to us like the whole world was joining with us in welcoming this one. He was considered high risk for the first half of the pregnancy. Four families committed to pray with us daily until he arrived. We later found out there were others we didn’t even know about who were doing the same thing. I had friends who believed God when I was afraid to. One who gave me a mommy journal and a pair of tiny Gap overalls before we’d even made it 12 weeks… let alone gotten over the 14-week range that haunted me so. “I’ll believe God for you, Shan. You know, in the gaps. Where you can’t.”

People were so excited for us that they couldn’t stop throwing showers. (I think we had four or five!)

And, finally, he came. On June 28th, 1999, he beat the odds and he came.

Into our world and changed it forever.

Mapping Summer

This week brought the official start of summer. The kids have already been out for two weeks. But Tuesday made it official!

The kids and I finally made some headway with our summer planning. It’s been fun to dream a bit about how we want to fill our blank slate!

This is a process that is best done together – so that the kids own the summer too. This doesn’t mean that you abdicate and let them call the shots. We start with a few parameters that I have set. As the parents, Rick and I get to craft our overall goals for the summer. The kids simply don’t have the perspective or maturity to see the big picture yet. From their perspective, having fun would always trump everything else. You and I both know there are other worthy goals for the summer months – things they might not even like very much. {wink}

These goals are not details or specifics. They are the big picture stuff. For instance, one of our goals is making sure we keep using our brains all summer. Just because they’re not in school, doesn’t mean they stop growing intellectually. Notice, my goal doesn’t say howwe’re going to accomplish that growth. The how comes later.

When I’m thinking through our summer goals, I try to think through some of the various aspects of life: relational, physical, intellectual, and spiritual. Some goals might overlap various areas. For instance, another summer goal for us is to get outside into nature several times a week. If we choose to go on a scavenger hunt in a metro park with friends, that could be physical, relational, and intellectual.

(Confession: not all of my goals are so lofty. I have one goal just to get more “slugbugs” than my son. He always sees them first. Stinker.)

Once we’ve decided on our goals, we move to making lists.

  • Fun lists. A summer soundtrack. Things we don’t want to miss this summer. Fairs or festivals to attend. Friends we hope to hang out with. Treats to make or try. Outdoor adventures to pursue.
  • Growth lists. Books to read. Journal topics for writing. Ways to help the kids practice math. Spiritual growth ideas. Challenges to undertake.
  • Chore lists. For me AND the kids. (Lest you think Rick gets off with no chores, don’t be fooled. I affectionately refer to Rick as Ultra Type-A Man so he doesn’t need our help with lists. He gets plenty done. Believe me, he has his own list. In fact, I’m pretty sure his list has a list.)

Then, after we finish our lists we start putting some things in the calendar. You’d be amazed at how fast the summer fills up. We have 10 weeks left.

The purpose of all this planning is simply to help us do the things we really want to do. Not to bog us down or tie us to our calendar. But, to help us really seize the things we want to and not just get stuck in a rut.

What about you? Have you made any progress with a summer plan?

The danger, of course, is to get so caught up in the planning that you miss summer. Wouldn’t that be a horrible irony?!?!  The other pitfall could be putting too much pressure on your goals. There are no perfect parents out there. What if the kids don’t actually read as much as you had hoped? I mean, truth be told, almost nothing has gone the way that I planned this summer. It’s just my reality so far this year. (I have a theory that as soon as you decide to write about something, it never actually works out that way. But, I digress…)

And, please, no comparing your family to other families. Yeesh. That will just kill your summer.

But, then again, input from other people can be helpful – as long as you’re not trying to live up to some crazy self-imposed standard. Here are a few resources that I have found helpful. Really there are tons out there. Especially now with the so many excellent mom blogs out there. Don’t get sucked into spending too much time here. But, have fun poking around…

Do you have any you would add to the list? What resources do you use to help you plan for summer?

Summer Un-plans?

Unexpected deadlines, vacation bible school practices, first week of summer extras, vacation preparations. Isn’t that just life?!? The very week I anticipate planning and even writing about planning, my plans become…well, pretty much they become “unplans.”

It all started off so beautifully. On Monday, I finished a project for work in the early hours. Then we loaded up and went to the library where we got signed-up for summer reading. A quick stop for slushies and then on to letterboxing, where we discovered a perfectly wonderful park in Stow that we had driven by a million times and never noticed. The results were in… and, summer break was off to a great start!

By Wednesday, I was a stressed-out mess because the house was in chaos, a new project at work needed my attention, I still hadn’t gotten the kids to the lake, and I had just realized that I had forgotten to drop off Rick’s suit at the dry cleaners. (The suit was a just a minor issue. It’s not like he was officiating a wedding for a dear a friend on Friday. No, of course not.) Sigh.

Feeling like a failure as I watched week one of 12 slip away, I definitely needed to regroup.

How? I needed to remind myself of a few things…

First, life isn’t about perfect days. When the laundry piles high and the sunscreen is expired and I forget an important task until the last minute… my inward attitude is just as important even more essential than getting actual work done. Let’s face it. Perfect days come few and far between. Most days are just normal days – a mix of moments that are both good and bad. My attitude in the midst of all those moments is what can make or break the summer. And, since Mom tends to be the tone-setter for the rest of the household, my outlook has a pretty big impact on everybody else’s summer too.


Second, I need to get to back having a plan. Not a strict second-by-second itinerary. After all, it is summer! But I still need a way to make sure I’m juggling work, family fun, personal growth (for the kids too), and household jobs. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean everything else is on hold! I mean, I can have a really great attitude about it all but it just would not be best for the pastor to show up in his boxers on wedding day. {smile}

Third, lists and the calendar are my friends. I need them for summer success. So, this weekend the planning began in earnest. I started with some questions and worked toward specifics. But, more on that tomorrow. There are some good tools to help with your summer success and I’d love to share them with you.

Oh, and by the way, Rick’s suit was ready in time. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I picked it back up on Friday. A really big sigh. Huge, in fact.

How about you? How was your first week of summer?

Summer: Will You Survive or Thrive?

Well, it’s finally here. After a very long winter and a nearly sunless spring, summer has officially come to my little town. How do I know this? Maybe because the farmer’s market started back up a few weeks ago? Or because the students are gone, making the line at Starbucks way shorter and the streets much quieter? Or because I finally painted my toenails? Well, those things are all true.
But the way I really know it is summer is because my kids are home again! All day, every day. (That, and my freezer is full of flavored sugar water Flavor Ice again.)

For most moms, having the kids home for summer surfaces all kinds of different emotions. Relief that we don’t have to pack another lunch until August! Delight that we get to be with our little people more often. Excitement and anticipation for all the “summer things” that we do as a family: slower mornings, bonfires at dusk, days at the lake, letterboxing adventures, cousin sleepovers, walks to Katie’s Korner for homemade ice cream, grilling out with friends, and the list goes on. Your list might be different than mine but I’m sure you have one… and I’m guessing it involves some combination of sunshine, being outside, and time together.

But, let’s be honest. Summer also feels a little overwhelming. It’s a blank slate. Twelve weeks of freedom. How will we seize those 12 weeks? How will we find that right mix of structured planning and laidback playing? Finding that balance will probably take some intentional thought from Mom. It certainly won’t just “happen.” Nothing good ever does.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to just survive the summer. I want us to thrive this summer.  It’s the only one I’ve got when my kids will be 12 and 9. The last summer before the man-child enters middle school. I want to seize every moment with them. Even the unplanned ones where all four of us dance around the living room, laughing until we can’t stand up. 

But, how? How to make sure the summer doesn’t just slip by in the blink of an eye? That’s the question I’ll be pondering this week. Won’t you join me? Could we map out summer together? Because I’m betting you have some good thoughts too.

Next up: Having a Plan!

The Art of Curiosity

Today I went to the Akron Art Museum with Caleb’s 5th grade class. The docent who led our group through the exhibit said that he “never had a group that asked so many questions before.”

I thought that was a rather fabulous compliment.
BTW, the exhibit is MC Escher’s works. It’s only coming to two galleries in the entire U.S. If you live in NEOH, you really should go check it out before it leaves on June 5. Like, really.

A Sidewalk, New Tires, and Some Sparkles

So, this is what’s new at the McKee house lately…

Yep. New sidewalk along the side of the house.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about it. We need it. And it will help water shed away from the house. Which will make it possible for us to finish the basement so that I’m not staring at cinder blocks when I’m working. I’m for that plan.

But, it’s sort of like getting the tires changed on your car. Necessary. And it does look a little nicer. But, let’s be honest, it’s not very much pizazz for your buck. No sparkles. Or “oohs and aaahs.” Just concrete. To walk on.  

But, I’m adding it to my gratitude journal just the same. {smile}

Because life is mostly like that, isn’t it? Not always very glamorous. Mostly a lot of unnoticeable, foundation-strengthening stuff.

I suppose that’s what makes the sparkles so sparkly when they do come.

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