Friday, April 15, 2016

FAQs from the First Trimester

I hate when bloggers make excuses for not blogging. Who cares?! It's your blog, you should do what you want, right?

Well, in this case, I feel like my excuse is cause for note. I've been too exhausted to write (beyond what I get paid to write at my job ... and even that effort has been questionable as I fight to stay awake at my desk). Why? Because I'm growing a freaking human! I'm pregnant. :)

Yes, baby No. 2 is due Oct. 31 - yes, Halloween! Since we spilled the beans, I've found myself answering a lot of the same questions. So I figured I'd just answer them here.

And then there were four ...

So ... you’re still running?
Yep! I’m seeing a practice of two doctors and two midwives who all believe in staying active as long as possible through pregnancy. They simply said, “Don’t become something you’re not.” Since I’m already a runner, I’ll keep running. But, since I’m not a body builder, I’m not going to start body building. Works for me!

How long can you keep running?
Like I said above, I’m encouraged to stay active as long as possible ... that could be the day I give birth! They said my body will tell me if/when I need to slow down/cut back/stop running. We'll see how it goes.

Are you still running the Indy Mini?
Of course! I’m just not going to run it as fast as I’d planned. When I started training, I was on a pretty aggressive plan though the Train Like a Mother Club (which is awesome, by the way). And I thought I could keep going … but at 8 weeks pregnant, the wheels fell off the bus and I couldn’t do the workouts. I’ve been doing my own modified version of the plan, taking out the speed work and cutting back on the long runs (just listening to my body, really). My ONLY goal for the race is to hit the $2,000 mark in my #Run4Bronson, which you can still donate to if you haven’t already!

Do you have any other races planned?
I’d like to run a local half marathon in June (just because I can't resist a starting line that's only 20 minutes from home), but I’m not sure if it will fit in my schedule/budget with other family stuff planned this summer. Other than that, I’ll do some local 5Ks and just see how it goes. One personal goal/motivation is to complete one of the races at Fort4Fitness, when I’ll be about 36 weeks pregnant. I might run the 10K, or I might walk the 4-miler. I’ll be happy to just keep moving.

How are you feeling? Any morning sickness?
It depends on the day … or the hour. I haven’t actually vomited (yet), but I’ve felt crappy on and off. Around 8 weeks, I felt like I had been hit by a truck (see above wheels falling off the bus reference …). I was exhausted and nauseous pretty much all the time. Things are improving though!

Did you get sick with Kenlee?
To be honest, I don’t remember. She’s going to be 5 in May, so it’s been quite a while since I was pregnant. The other thing to keep in mind is that I was more than 100 pounds heavier when I started that pregnancy, so my body (and its reactions) will likely be different this time around.

Is Kenlee excited?
Excited is an understatement – she is over the moon! She talks about being a big sister ALL THE TIME and asks a thousand questions about the baby. She loves to rub and kiss my belly, talk and sing to the baby, and even try to tickle it (she doesn’t quite understand that she’s only tickling me!).

Can you still do Weight Watchers?
No. I had to cancel my membership for now, but I can start back up again when I’m not pregnant. I’ve tried to keep my same healthy habits, but sometimes I’m repulsed by the foods I would normally enjoy … And yes, I know gaining weight is normal (thanks for the reminder ...). It's hard/weird to accept my body changing, but I'm doing my best to accept it. 

Will you find out if you’re having a boy or girl?
YES! There’s just NO WAY we could wait till birth. We plan to bring Kenlee to our big ultrasound in June, so we can all find out together. We'll let you know when we know! 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My No. 1 Piece of Advice for Disney World

If you go to Disney World, you have a lot of choices: resorts, parks, attractions, restaurants ... And, everything changes so quickly, you'll never see it all. BUT there is a way to ensure you see more than the average guest. How? It's simple: Wake up early. 

Now, you may be thinking, "I'm not a morning person, especially on vacation." Well, guess what?! Most people would agree with you. Which is EXACTLY why the morning is the best time to get to the parks. The crowds are lower, which means the lines are shorter. You could fit in more attractions before lunch than the average guest will fit in all day! Seriously.

In the Disney fan community, this strategy is called "rope drop." Here's how to do it:
  1. Depart for your chosen park at least one hour to 90 minutes prior to opening. This might seem insane, but you really do need that much time to drive/park or wait for Disney transportation, then get through bag check/security. 
  2. Line up at the gates. Cast members will usually start letting guests scan their MagicBands and head inside about 30 minutes before the official opening time (depending on the park/day ... during peak times, they might even let you in earlier). 
  3. Wait at the rope. In most cases, you'll be allowed to walk partway inside the park before you get stopped behind a rope or line of cast members. At the official park opening time (sometimes a few minutes earlier), they'll drop this rope or tell you to follow them further inside, hence the term "rope drop."
  4. Head to a headliner. Pick a popular attraction and head straight there for the lowest wait times of the day. Depending on what time you arrived, you could be first in line! Be sure to look at a map in advance so you're in the right spot and don't have to ask for directions. 
  5. Do as much as you can. Ride the adrenaline high and ride as many attractions as you can before lunch. Depending on the park/day, you might even schedule a few FastPasses for later in the morning as the crowds build. 
  6. Eat lunch and head back for a nap. No matter how old you and your children are, naps are extremely beneficial on a Disney vacation, especially if you're waking up for rope drop. Even if you don't fall asleep, a break will give you a chance to get out of the sun and crowds for a while. Then you can head back in the evening, refreshed and ready to see more. 
As an example, here's how rope drop paid off for us on our first day at the Magic Kingdom. 
  • The park was scheduled to open at 8 a.m., so we woke Kenlee up at 6 a.m. and got to our resort bus stop by 6:30 a.m. We got lucky - a bus was there in just a few minutes and we were the only people on it! 
  • We arrived at the Magic Kingdom and got through bag check. Surprisingly, we were NOT the first people there! But the crowd was small enough that we took a few pictures in front of the train station and let Kenlee play some hopscotch on the bricks before lining up. 
Bright and early at the Magic Kingdom!
  • After scanning our MagicBands, we headed straight for the rope to the left side of the train station. We didn't have the best view of the Welcome Show, but we could still see it and enjoy. 
  • As the characters counted down, I picked up Kenlee and Kyle was ready to follow me, pushing the stroller. (If we put her in the stroller she wouldn't have been able to see much of Main Street in the crowd.)
Excited to head down Main Street!
  • We did our best Black Friday speed walk toward Princess Fairy Tale Hall, which is where you can meet Anna and Elsa. This character meet is the most popular in all of Disney World, so we weren't lucky enough to secure FastPasses in advance. This was likely our only chance to see the Frozen sisters without a minimum one-hour wait. 
  • Despite taking a wrong turn in front of the castle instead of walking behind the castle (study those maps!), we were the FIFTH party in line to meet Anna and Elsa! Woohoo! 
Rope Drop ... WORTH IT!
  • After Kenlee met her ALL-TIME FAVORITE characters, we did the all of the following attractions before lunch at 11 a.m.: 
    1. Dumbo
    2. Barnstormer
    3. Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid
    4. Jungle Cruise
    5. Magic Carpets of Aladdin
    6. Pirates of the Caribbean
    7. Splash Mountain
    8. Big Thunder Mountain (this was our first FastPass).
I should note that this is a LOT of attractions in just a few hours - some people don't do that many in an entire day. AND, it the crowds were a 10 out of 10 at the Magic Kingdom that day. Boo-ya!

I'll admit, this sort of park touring is not for the faint of heart. If you can't handle Black Friday, you won't be a fan of rope drop. It's not violent, I promise, but it is a bit ... intense ... at least for your walk to the first attraction. After that, it's smooth sailing for an hour or two when the rest of the crowds will start arriving. 

If you don't do rope drop, know this: showing up two hours after park opening and complaining about the crowds is just like showing up two hours into a Black Friday sale and complaining that all the flat screens are gone. Sorry! The early birds get the worm (and the shortest lines). 

NOTE: If you're not sure which attractions you should visit in the morning, the TouringPlans website and app can help you! You sign up for a subscription ($12.95 for one year, plus you can find discount codes online), then you can enter your trip details and select which attractions you want to see. Based on their database of wait times and other information, the system will give you a custom plan for park touring. It will even suggest which FastPasses you should select, allow you to incorporate meals/breaks into your schedule and so much more. It's a great tool!

Because I didn't know what to expect, I made touring plans for each of our park visits but remained flexible. They were more of a guide than a schedule. But without them, I know we would have wasted time wandering around, trying to decide what we should see/do next. 

Also, I should mention Kyle and I appreciated our nap times just as much as Kenlee! We didn't always fall asleep, but sometimes we needed to! When we went back in the parks, we were re-energized while everyone else was getting cranky from being out all day. (OK, sometimes we were cranky, too, but not as much as we would have been!)

So to repeat my No. 1 piece of advice: You might not be a morning person on a regular vacation, but you should be at Disney World! Rope drop is definitely the way to go if you want to see/do as much as possible AND have time to rest. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Changing Your Lifestyle With Your Loved One

Throughout my weight loss and lifestyle change, my husband Kyle has been a constant source of support. He joined Weight Watchers with me in April 2012, and together, we've lost 196 pounds. Having someone eating the same foods, counting the same points and sharing the same goals is what helped us finally get healthy. Today, I asked him to share his thoughts on what it's like to change your lifestyle with your loved one. 

Kyle's Heaviest Weight: 330 pounds

Current Weight: 239 pounds

Goal Weight: 210-215 pounds

Proudest achievement so far: I have a kid who likes vegetables and other healthy food, and makes healthy choices.

Think back to April of 2012 when I asked you to join Weight Watchers with me. What was different compared to when I'd asked you to join before? 
Kenlee. In all reality, we were eating crap, and I didn't want her to have the same lifestyle.

How was this attempt different compared to the other times you'd tried to lose weight on your own? In other words, what made this attempt successful? 
You. I tried the diet pills, all that bull crap - it doesn't work. You have to have the support system there.

Do you think Weight Watchers is a good program for men? 
Yes because I haven't felt like it's been a diet all - you make the system work for you. I think the problem is when people diet, they're restricting themselves. If I want ice cream, I have ice cream, and I just gotta deal with the consequences of it. If I could change anything, I would have started sooner.

What are some of the benefits to changing your lifestyle with your spouse? 
You always have someone to talk to, someone who understands what I'm going through and understands the struggles, and also the victories.

What are some of the maybe not-so-fun parts of changing your lifestyle with your spouse? 
You're a lot more motivated than I am, so I don't always appreciate your chop-bustin' ... but it's for good reason.

What's your favorite healthy meal or food that we eat now? 
I like the salads I take to work - never thought I would say that.

What's your least favorite healthy meal or food that we eat? 
It took me a long time to adjust to brocolli ... But I actually like a lot of fruits and vegetable now. Lately, I really like beets and radishes.

Is there a certain food you still have a weakness for?   
Ice cream and baked goods - that's my kryptonite.

What's been your favorite race that you've run? 
I liked the Warrior Dashes - those were fun.

What race/challenge is on the top of your bucket list? 
Probably a long distance bike ride or maybe a Tough Mudder.

Aside from looking smokin' hot now, how would you say you've changed since you started living healthier? 
I'm more adventurous - I've tried and enjoyed a lot of foods I would have never tried before. Especially spicy foods. I've learned that I can replace some of the bad stuff with better flavors.

How would you say our relationship has changed since we started living healthier? 
I think it's gotten better. We're stronger individually, but we're stronger as a couple, too.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work on being healthier with their spouse/family? 
Be patient. It's not easy. It doesn't happen over night. I think in the past, I was expecting results like, right now, and that just doesn't happen. You gotta be patient and remember it's truly a lifestyle change.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

An Ode to Winter Running

Oh, winter! How I love to hate you
This isn't always the best of time for driving ... or doing anything outdoors
But, oddly enough, it can be the most magical time to run

Sure, there are awful days
Days when you question your sanity
When you spend more time getting dressed than actually being outside
When the snowplow drivers offer to give you a ride home

But, there are also those perfect winter days
When it's not too bitterly cold
Not snowing or sleeting too hard
And not so windy that your hat blows right off your head

The streets are salted and the sidewalks are clear
And you can totally handle this winter thing

Sometimes, you might get lucky and see the sun peek through the gloomy, gray clouds
Maybe even feel its warmth on your cheeks
It gives you hope, reminds you that darkness can't last forever

Even in the dark, there's a wonderful stillness to the air
Everything has magically frozen over
And all the world has stopped in its tracks ... except for you, of course

Because you are more alive than ever
You feel every stride
You pay attention to every step
You feel the aches and pains (hopefully minor) that come with taking the occasional fall

The cold is startling at first, then refreshing
It makes every inch of your skin tingle and tighten
You're focused and you're fearless - you have to be if you're going to survive

Seeing your breath in the air can be reassuring
It means your lungs are working, your feet are moving

Seeing your tracks in the snow can be motivating
It means you've been somewhere and left your mark

You may finish feeling weary
But you also feel so strong
Because when Mother Nature is your only competition, the reward is always pride

Oh, winter! I'll continue to count most of the days till you're gone
But I'll treasure the few wonderful days that remain
And every time I want to hate you, I'll be patient
Because eventually, I know I'll fall in love with you again

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What Surprised Me at Disney World

I definitely had some expectations of what Disney World would be like before we traveled there in November. But, like most things in life, not everything turned out the way I thought. So, I hope other first-timers (or even Disney veterans) can appreciate learning about the surprises - good and bad - we experienced.

How big (yet small) it was … Let me explain. First of all, Walt Disney World Resort is massive. HUGE. When I found out it took an average of 20 minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom by bus, I was skeptical … but it really did take 20 minutes! Fortunately, that was our longest bus ride – trips to the other parks were more like 10-15 minutes or less. But still, the parks and resorts are soooo spread out in reality compared to my expectations. 

INSIDE the parks, on the other hand, everything is sooo close together. Shops, shows and rides are nearly on top of each other (or literally on top of each other) in many cases. We’re more used to Cedar Point, where the massive roller coasters force neighboring attractions to leave more wiggle room. (I know comparing Disney World to Cedar Point is apples to oranges, but Cedar Point is my biggest theme park point of reference, OK?) Also, I felt like a lot of walkways/streets at Disney were more narrow, forcing crowds to bottleneck often. I was a little claustrophobic at times, but there were times where I felt like we had some breathing room, too.

A view down crowded Main Street at the Magic Kingdom - MUCH more narrow than Cedar Point's midway. 
How CROWDED it was … We picked the week before Thanksgiving because all those online crowd calendars gave it about a 3 on a scale of 1-10. Sweet, right? Turns out, our first day at the Magic Kingdom was a 10 out of 10 according to TouringPlans, which gave me a bit of a shock right off the bat. Thankfully, that day was an anomaly, as the rest of the week was less crowded … they weren't exactly the “empty” parks I was picturing, but totally manageable (aside from the wall-to-wall crowds at the Osborne Lights (but that’s just because they’re going away after this season and everyone wanted one last look ... or first look in our case!). 

Highlights of the magnificent Osborne Lights ... They put the Toledo Zoo lights to shame ...
A few fantastic dining experiences … When we made our dining reservations, my husband BEGGED me to eat at Biergarten, the authentic German buffet in Epcot. I didn’t think I’d like it at all, but I didn’t want to deny his ONLY request. I’m so glad I listened to him! The food wasn’t as “weird” as I thought it would be – in fact, it wasn’t weird at all! Combined with the German beer, live music and authentic décor, this dining experience was one of the best of our entire trip!

Kyle was pretty much in heaven with all the food at Biergarten. And he kept it all down while dancing with Kenlee!
I say Biergarten was ONE of our best experiences because I think Boma and Sanaa, the two table service offerings we tried at Animal Kingdom Lodge, ranked toward the top as well. We ate at Sanaa for lunch, and the famous bread service – five different flatbreads with nine dipping sauces (or "accompaniments," if you’re feeling fancy) – more than lived up to the hype.

Sanaa's bread service. I would go there again just to eat this. 
At Boma, the brunch buffet had the perfect combination of familiar and exotic foods. My favorites included the French toast bread pudding with praline sauce (O-M-G!), as well as the carved turkey with African mustard. AMAZING. In my opinion, both picky and adventurous eaters can leave here MORE than satisfied.

And I can't leave out this one ... Honorable mention goes to ’50s Prime Time Café for having the best options for simple, “home cooked” comfort food. Kyle had "A Sampling of Mom's Favorite Recipes" and I had "Cousin Ryan's Vegetable Lasagna." We topped it off with dessert - Kyle got apple crisp a la mode, and I had an amazing chocolate milkshake. MMMMmmmm ...
Kyle lunch at '50s Prime Time was the best of three worlds - pot roast, fried chicken and meatloaf! 
Some amazing attractions … Disney is known for its incredibly immersive experiences with special attention to theming and technology. So I definitely knew we see some great attractions, but the ones that stood out for us were sort of unexpected: 
  • Soarin’ – Kyle, Kenlee and I all LOVED this experience. We truly felt like we were hang-gliding over California, and we left amazed at how REAL the flight felt. 
  • Toy Story Midway Mania – To be honest, I thought this ride sounded a little childish before I tried it. Yes, it is childish, but in the best ways possible. The gaming experience, 3-D effects and carnival atmosphere are perfect for kids ages 2 to 102, in my opinion. 
  • Mickey’s Philharmagic – This show was NOT on our must-do list, but when rain ruined most of our plans during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, we needed an indoor experience. At the recommendation of a coworker who raved about it, we decided to duck in the theater. It was Kenlee’s first 3-D show, and she didn't stop giggling the entire time! So. Damn. Cute. 
  • Festival of the Lion King – This show lives up to its fantastic reputation. It combines elements of Broadway, acrobatics, parades, fire twirling, dancing, singing, stilting (is that a word? I’m going to make it a word) and more.
Festival of the Lion King was our FAVORITE live show!
A few disappointments … Not everything was as magical as I thought it would be. The biggest disappointment was actually my biggest anticipation: Cinderella’s Royal Table. It's hard to explain, but here’s the review I left on Disney’s website: 
Left Hungry and Unimpressed  
For being the most expensive meal of our entire visit, this experience left us disappointed. First of all, we did not get enough food. It tasted good, but the portions were tiny and we all left still feeling hungry. Second, we were the first table seated (which seemed like a great thing), but we had to sit and wait 30 minutes after we'd finished eating for all the princesses to come out. My 4-year-old was starting to get bored, and so was I. When the princesses did come out, the announcement on the speakers could NOT be understood, and we also couldn't hear the directions for the wishing ceremony. All that money and you can't get good volume/acoustics figured out? It was nice to say we ate in the castle once, but I won't be going back. It's not worth the price, not to mention the hassle of getting a reservation.
::SIGH:: Live and learn, right? I can’t believe we ate IN CINDERELLA CASTLE and didn’t feel all that magical about it … On the plus side, my daughter met five princesses without waiting in long lines. So that’s priceless, yes? 

Even though I was disappointed with Cinderella's Royal Table, I can't put a price on those smiles!
Two other disappointments? Journey of the Little Mermaid at Hollywood Studios – holy outdated and strange show, Batman! This was like a “Worst Of” effects from the ’90s. And, Kali River Rapids? Too short and too dry. I hate compare Disney to Cedar Point again, but CP's Thunder Canyon is waaaay better. 

How much I miss it … When we returned home, I had to immediately jump into holiday mode, so there was little downtime to let my brain relax. But now? The post-Disney blues are really kicking in. I KNOW we’ll go back someday (the plan is two years), and I KNOW the parks aren’t going anywhere … but sometimes I just can’t help but crave that magic. My mind often wanders to our memories and I can *almost* feel like I'm there again.

Of course, we had our share of stressful moments and letdowns at Disney, but we also experienced an incredible amount of happiness. Our entire family was together – with no other obligations and distractions – and we could ALL enjoy and appreciate the magic around us. 

If it wasn't already clear, I'll go ahead and say it. This trip made me fall even more in love with the magic of Disney. Maybe it's the eternal optimist in me ... maybe it's the nostalgia of it all. Heck, maybe it's the magic of Disney marketing! ... I don't care. All I know is that this trip was just the beginning of something. And I can't wait to see where it takes us next. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

What We're Eating: Easy Breakfast Burrito Bowls

In our house, we could probably live on two meals: brinner (breakfast for dinner) and taco bowls (basically, taco ingredients without the shells). I'm pretty sure at least one, sometimes both, are on the menu every week.

So when I saw a recipe on SkinnyTaste for breakfast burrito bowls, I was intrigued - it's our two favorite meals in one! But then, I realized cutting up, seasoning and roasting the squash required more patience than I typically have for cooking dinner. (Other people may have no problem with it, but I'm a little lazy in the kitchen <--- Understatement!)

Immediately, I started brainstorming easier options. And, in a moment of pure genius, I came up with the anchor to my newest recipe: CILANTRO LIME HASH BROWNS. Yes, you read that right.

Cilantro. Lime. Hash browns. YES!

Because I'm obsessed with Chipotle, I mastered homemade cilantro lime rice a while ago, and I figured I could do the same with shredded hash browns. Not only does this better support the "breakfast" part of the meal, but it also cuts the points (2 points per cup for hash browns compared to 6 points for white rice!) AND it tastes just as amazing.

So no offense to SkinnyTaste (God knows I love ya!), but here's a much easier (in my opinion) version of the same meal.

All the ingredients (cute kitchen helper optional)

Easy Breakfast Burrito Bowls - 7 SmartPoints Total

Start by making the cilantro lime hash browns (2 points per cup):

  • 1 bag frozen shredded hash browns
  • 1 small bunch cilantro 
  • Approx. 1 tsp. of sea salt
  • Approx. 1/4 cup lime juice 
Cook the hash browns in a large skillet, mix in the cilantro, lime juice and sea salt to taste. Scoop out a 1-cup serving on your plate, then top with:
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute, cooked (I used Meijer's Great Egg Spectations for 1 point)
  • 1/4 cup 2% shredded Mexican cheese (3 points)
  • 2 tbs. fat-free sour cream (1 point)
  • 1/2 cup salsa (0 points for most brands)

A note about points: Weight Watchers recently switched over to SmartPoints instead of PointsPlus. I'm not going to explain the details, but this recipe was calculated with the new SmartPoints. My old recipes (like the one linked at the beginning of this post) were calculated with the old PointsPlus. Eventually I hope to update them ... but I think you have a better chance of seeing Oprah show up at my local Weight Watchers meeting. ;)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year of Adventures

You know I try to be pretty real online. I share a lot of highlights, but I've shared some lows, too. We all have good days and bad, right? We're human. In 2015, I think I can overlook the bad days because I had so many good ones.

I know sometimes year-end recaps can seem like bragging, but an article on BlogHer (go read it here) recently helped me understand why it's OK to share the best of our lives on social media.
"When you post about how your heart could explode with joy at the sound of your daughter's laugh or that you just had the BEST glass of wine of your life, you are archiving memories that you will be able to retrieve later with just a click of a button."
So here's my archive for 2015, what I'm calling The Year of Adventures. I went to new places, tried new things and met lots of really awesome people. Years from now, I hope I look back with happy memories of it all.

So to recap, this year I ... 

Hit my 1-year anniversary as a Weight Watchers Lifetime member
That was in May - I've now maintained my 105-pound weight loss for more than 18 months. Boo ya!

Met running celebs Lauren Fleshman, Dimity McDowell and Peter Sagal (but not together)
I met Lauren in January, when she spoke at the Fort Wayne Track Club banquet. In May, I went to the Another Mother Runner party in Indianapolis, where I got to meet Dimity (Sarah was out with a broken ankle). Then in October, I met Peter Sagal, who was the keynote speaker at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum (and I told him that I read his Runners World column when I poop ...) 

Ran my half marathon PR
Finished the Towpath Half Marathon in 1:56:59 and felt like a rockstar. 

Ran my 5k PR - TWICE
First, I ran 24:46 at the RBS 5k in Edon ... Then I ran the EXACT SAME TIME at our Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day. Ha! 

Ran my first marathon (which TOTALLY counts as another PR, right?!)
If you haven't already heard about the puddle I left on Market Street, you should totally go read the recap.

Completely gutted and remodeled our living room ... with a LOT of help 
What we thought would take a few weeks ended up taking about six months ... and I owe my family BIG TIME for all their hard work. Check out the difference - the ugly paneling is GONE, and we found hardwood floors under the carpet!

Rowdy likes the new rug ...
Went to Disney World with Kyle and Kenlee
I haven't blogged about it (yet), but it was everything I thought it would be - and more.

Wasn't sure if I wanted to do it all again ...
While all of those things were amazing, I can tell you three of them are NOT happening again next year: 
  1. We're NOT doing any major home remodeling projects - Kyle and I might do some minor things here and there, but nothing that requires near as much effort (or money) as our living room did!
  2. We're NOT going to Disney World. (Insert frown face) But we ARE already saving for our next trip, which will hopefully be in November 2017. 
  3. I am NOT running a marathon. Nope, nope, nope. It's not about the work involved in the training - it's about the TIME. This year, I'm going to spend more of my weekends with my family than with my Garmin. 
What I AM doing in 2016 is taking on a new kind of running challenge ... I'm going to run for Team Riley at the Indy Mini! If you didn't see the announcement on Facebook, please go check out my personal fundraising page. I'd appreciate any support - financial or otherwise - as I #Run4Bronson.

Honestly, I've never been good at fundraising, and I've never run for charity, but this felt like something that was meant to be. I can't wait to see what adventures this challenge - and the rest of 2016 - will bring. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Disney World DVC rental: How we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge for a FRACTION of the normal price

As you may recall, I spent approximately 18 months planning and saving for my family’s first trip to Disney World. We stayed Nov. 15-21, 2015, and I have to say every bit of research and budgeting paid off – big time. And, I can’t wait to share everything I learned.

But before I dive into any tips or tricks, I want to set the stage with the “stage” of our vacation: our resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge. This place is so incredible, it’s hard to describe. From the sights (animals grazing on the savanna), to the sounds (genuine African drummers), to the tastes (Indian and African dishes) and the smells (OMG I asked if they sold incense so we could take the scent home!!), every detail added to an immersive, amazing experience. 

Now, you may be wondering how we decided to stay here. I wish I could say we chose it after a lengthy comparison of features and costs … but really, we just got one hell of a deal. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a good discount or clearance sale. And I found that through DVC rental. 

Quick explanation: DVC stands for Disney Vacation Club, which is Disney’s timeshare program. Members can “rent out” their allotted points, allowing non-members to stay in deluxe accommodations for a deep discount. (If you want more details, check out WDW Prepschool’s post.) After doing some research (of course!), I ended up making a request through David’s Vacation Club Rentals … I say request because there’s no guarantee that points/rooms will be available for your specific trip dates/resort. In order to have the best chances, I made our request just before the 11-month mark (the earliest DVC members can make reservations at the home resorts) … and I got it! 

The team at David’s made everything easy. Their process is straightforward and simple, and they responded to all my emails the very same day. How many businesses can say that? Once the reservation was set up, I linked it to MyDisneyExperience (where you manage all reservations and tickets) and we were set. The price they quoted was the price we paid – no hidden fees or extra taxes. I paid the bill in full, and I never had to think about it again. BOOM. 

As I said, we stayed in a Value Studio Villa for six nights, seven days, and loved every single minute. Animal Kingdom Lodge is a FANTASTIC resort, and we got to stay there for a fraction of the normal cost. To be completely transparent, here’s a price comparison (total cost for six nights, seven days – remember, prices change depending on your travel dates): 
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge Value Studio Villa - $895 (with Dave’s DVC)
  • Pop Century Resort Standard Room - $785 (This was our original plan)
Just for reference, I’d like to point out without DVC rental, the price to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge was WAY out of our range: 
  • Standard View Room- $2,223
  • Savanna View Room - $3,236
So for the extra $110 (compared to staying at Pop Century), what did we get? 
  • Deluxe amenities, including an amazing pool with waterslide, more dining options (one cafeteria and three table service restaurants – one of which is a buffet), a fitness center (which we surprisingly never used) and, of course, views of amazing savanna around nearly every corner
  • A deluxe room – Kyle and I shared a queen bed rather than a double (Kenlee got the pullout couch); we had a coffee maker, microwave and mini fridge (Pop Century only offers the mini fridge – if you want coffee, you have to walk down to the food court); and a private balcony (with the option of a savanna view … more on that later)
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? For many people, it is. But before I booked, there were several things to consider:
  • We weren’t able to participate in any Disney package discounts, such as the popular free dining promo. We had already been leaning toward NOT using the dining plan because of the out-of-pocket costs, restrictions on what you could order, and overwhelming amount of food. (And I totally stand by this decision, but that’s probably a post for another day.) The free dining discount sounded amazing, but I calculated that by the time we paid for gratuities and extra meals not covered by dining credits, we’d ONLY save about $250 on our trip. PLUS, by going with the DVC rental, I didn’t have to deal with the hassle of booking free dining, which was a cluster this year, according to many Disney news sites.  
  • Because the room we wanted is extremely popular (READ: It’s the cheapest DVC room available), we had to book it 11 months in advance … and there’s absolutely no refunds. You have the option to purchase travel insurance if this makes you nervous. But, Kyle and I decided we were going to Disney World come hell or high water, so we passed on the coverage. However, we did make sure to check the dates with our employers before we booked … gotta have your bases covered!
  • We didn’t get daily housekeeping. Since DVC rooms are “home away from home” for members, we only got trash and towel service on day four of our trip. That’s it. To some people, this is a drawback … for us, it was totally fine. We just hung up our towels and picked up after ourselves. Not a big deal, but something to consider depending on how your family likes to travel. 
Oh, and about our view. Thanks to the TouringPlans room finder, I learned that Value Studio Villas can have either a savanna view or standard view. With other rooms, you have to specifically pay extra for the savanna view. Because I subscribe to Touring Plans, I used the awesome fax request tool, which automatically sent my room view request a few days ahead of the visit. Just after we landed in Orlando, I got a text saying our room was ready – 5124, a savanna view! Nailed it.

The view from room 5124 - absolutely worth all the effort!

I sure do miss watching the giraffes while I eat breakfast and/or sip some wine ...

So, in summary: we got to stay at one of the BEST resorts on Disney property with one of the BEST views and some of the most AMAZING amenities for a FRACTION of the normal cost. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Honestly, I hesitate to share my story for fear that everyone and their brother will want to do the same. ;)

Seriously, if you’ve ever looked at going to Disney World and thought, “I could NEVER afford to stay deluxe,” or “I want to treat my family without breaking the bank,” look in to DVC rental. But fair warning: You’ll fall in love with your new “home” and immediately start planning your next trip back ...  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

I'm a Marathoner! Recap of the Akron Marathon

WARNING: This post is nearly as long as my marathon. It's taken me nearly a month to put together, and it's probably too long and rambling at parts, but I don't care. You're about to read more than a race recap. You're about to read my memories of one of the hardest, craziest and most incredible days of my life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Part 1: The hills are alive
If you were looking at elevation maps (hills) for a marathon course, which of the two below would you rather run?

Yeah ... That's a trick question – they’re for the same race ... my race! They’re just scaled differently, which is REALLY hard to see unless you’re some sort of map guru (which I am not). 

So when I saw the first map back in December last year, I didn’t think the course for the Akron Marathon looked so bad. Yes, it would have hills, but I thought they seemed comparable to the hills I run out in the country. 

Fast forward 10 months to when I saw the second chart … and I nearly shit my pants. I prayed that maybe the second map was deceiving, maybe the first one was more accurate. A girl can hope, right? 

WRONG. When we arrived in Akron, I might as well have been in San Francisco. Helloooooo hills!

You think I would know some basic Ohio geography by now (Hello, northeast Ohio IS closer to the mountains!), but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my first marathon course would be so hilly. Seriously, when we arrived for the expo, I started singing in my head, “The HILLS are alive … with the sound of Akroooonnnnn!”

OK, you get my point. This course was hilly. It was so damn hilly, Kyle told me some of the elites being interviewed at the finish line commented that it was one of the most challenging courses they’d ever run. And I've since been told that the course is often compared to the Boston Marathon ... So yeah. I was in for a challenge.

Part 2: The puddle on Market Street
After the expo and a fairly decent night of slept (honestly, it was probably the best pre-race night I’ve ever hard), I was READY for race morning. Everything was laid out and ready to go. My body cooperated with its morning duty, and I felt strong. Nervous, but strong.

Kyle drove my brother, Scott, and I downtown and hung out with us at the starting line for a bit. After one last hug, Kyle started walking to our pre-selected meeting point just after mile 13 … and I started getting in the zone.

I’m so glad I decided to start the race without my headphones because they had an excellent starting ceremony, and I loved taking in the amazing energy all around me. Scott and I started out running next to each other, but he knew he’d be running slower, so after barely a quarter mile, he told me to go on ahead. 

From there, I was racing. I was a serious athlete, focused and in control. I stayed near my goal pace, charging up the uphills and letting the downhills carry me forward. Everything felt good, almost too good, just as Kim had warned me. 

I mean, look at these splits! I'm so proud of these. I felt like absolutely everything was going right ... I really felt like a finish time close to 4 hours (9:09 average pace) was within my grasp. I BELIEVED.

Mile 1 - 9:39 (Started out slower than goal on purpose ... but quickly got in my groove. Maybe too quickly?) 
Mile 2 - 9:34
Mile 3 - 9:09
Mile 4 - 9:18
Mile 5 - 8:51 (Fastest mile of the entire race - must have gotten a little speedy going downhill!)
Mile 6 - 9:18
Mile 7 - 9:19
Mile 8 - 9:02
Mile 9 - 9:11
Mile 10 - 9:27 (Slowest mile of the first half - had to stop and change podcasts!)
Mile 11 - 8:59
Mile 12 - 9:12
Mile 13 - 9:08
First half - 2:02:12

Even though I was forced to stop and switch podcasts around mile 10 (and curse the new podcast app for not working the way I'd hoped), I refused to stop and use the port-a-potties to pee. I was having a great race - I didn't have time to pee, right?! For goodness sake, I use a Camelbak so I don't have to stop at water stations, why would I stop for anything else? Thinking about the race map, I thought for sure I'd see some more port-a-potties near my meet-up point with Kyle ... 

Well, I thought wrong. When I finally met up with Kyle to switch out my Camelbaks (he had my second one, filled with more water and Gu), the first thing I said was, "I'm going to pee my pants." Soooo ... I did. At first, I figured a little trickle would come out. No big deal, right? But then it started gushing ... suddenly, I had Niagra Falls running down my capris and into my shoes, and there was no way I could stop it. 

Mortified, but EXTREMELY relieved, I laughed at myself, allowed Kyle to snap a couple of pictures, gave him a hug and took off again. (But not before I asked him to snap a picture of the puddle I left behind ... ha!)

It's funny that the first half of the race is so blurry in my mind - it went by in a flash! The second half was so much harder, yet so much more memorable ... (Also note there aren't as many pictures because I didn't see Kyle again til the finish.)

Part 3: This can't be the same race
After I left Kyle, I had to make a slow and steady death march up Market Street. Yes, I will forever remember that street name - I left my mark on it, after all! The night before the race, Kyle tried telling me, "It's not THAT bad. It's just like the hill in front of Jodie's house (back in Edon)." I quickly replied, "Thanks for lying to me." And he laughed. Because we both knew I had NEVER run such a monstrous hill in my life. 

Anyway, I had planned to run while eating my Clif bar, but I quickly decided it was OK to walk up the rest of the hill while I finished my snack. After all, the first half of the race had gone perfectly - didn't I deserve a break? Of course. 

But once we turned off Market Street, the entire race seemed to change. Gone were the throngs of crowd support and music. Gone were the fantastic views of the city. Gone was my adrenaline from the starting line ...

Suddenly, I felt like I was running a COMPLETELY different race. With the half-marathoners gone, the field around me was very thin, and the crowd support was thinner. Sure, several neighborhoods came out to cheer, but the spectators and aid stations were much more spread out then they had been in the first 13 miles. I'm not making excuses here, I'm just trying to paint a picture of what I was going through.

I started walking up the bigger hills, giving myself permission to rest - goal be damned, I knew it would be great to just finish standing up ... Actually, I was walking up one of the hills, I told another marathoner I would crawl if I had to, or maybe do a zombie walk. He said he'd be happy to just get feeling back in his quads. Ha!

Part 4: Marathon drunk
At some point earlier in the race, I saw a sign that read, "There will be pain, but there doesn't have to be suffering." And suddenly, I knew EXACTLY what it meant. I may have been hurting, but I didn't have to miserable. A switch flipped in my brain, and I remembered to smile - I WAS RUNNING A MARATHON!! I wanted to enjoy every moment.

So for a little while, I was what some people refer to as "marathon drunk" - so deliriously giddy and out of my mind I forgot how bad I was feeling. If you've ever been around when I'm really drunk, you'll know I tend to get super happy ... I LOVE EVERYONE!! EVERYONE IS AWESOME!! Well, it was the same sort of thing.

There were plenty of high-fives, dance moves and cheers as I made my way through the roller coaster of suburban Akron. I started taking advantage of aid stations, asking the little kids to splash me with water, which they did with glee. At one point, I even ran through a homemade PVC-pipe shower/sprinkler, just because it looked like fun and WHY THE HELL NOT?!

Around mile 19, I saw one of many beer stops along the course (not officially sanctioned, mind you ... the residents of Akron are just very generous). Again, "Why the hell not?!" I said out loud as I stopped for a Solo cup filled 1/3 of the way with some sort of cheap brew. "This may be a bad decision, but right now I don't care."

"Beer is NEVER a bad decision," a runner behind me said. I turned to see her and read her name on her bib - Mary. I laughed, thanked her and started sipping.  And OMG ... She was absolutely right. That little beer was probably the best beer of my life. It was just enough to help me relax, kinda like those awesome drugs they give you in labor - it didn't dull the pain, but it made me care about it a little less.

Part 5: Where's the next hill? 
I went forward, continuing to walk up the hills ... but it was getting harder and harder to keep running between them. So hard, in fact, I started WISHING to see a hill so I could have an excuse to walk.

Then at mile 20, I saw a few shuttle buses with relay runners. A police officer waved one of the buses through the course ahead of me and a couple other runners, which was fine because they had plenty of room. But then a second bus decided to pull out, and it nearly hit me and another marathoner! WTH?!

I. WAS. LIVID. Who pulls out in front of people running a race? Especially people running at MILE 20 of a MARATHON? !The shuttle driver pulled ahead and was stopped alongside the course a few hundred feet ahead. I turned and shouted, "Hope you're happy you almost hit us!" and the other marathoner yelled something as well. Not my proudest moment, I admit ... but I didn't have the energy to think about manners at that point.

A few miles later, I saw the other marathoner nearby and tried to catch up to him. I wanted to say something encouraging like, "I know we're in pain, but at least we're not dead under a bus right now." It was funnier in my head, I think. Sadly, I couldn't catch him.

Around mile 23, there was another MONSTER hill. Instead of offering a long and steady climb like the hill on Market Street, this one was a straight shot into the air. SERIOUSLY.

OK, maybe it was just really steep. But it felt like I was climbing a ladder, and I had trouble even walking to the top - so did everyone around me. Who puts a hill like that at the end of a marathon course? And WHY did I choose this for my first marathon? I'll never know the answer to either question ...

After that, I became really discouraged and had to stop and walk through a flat part of the course. To make it through, I pulled out my phone, which had been silenced to notifications, and found nearly a dozen messages, comments and tags from people who had been tracking me and cheering me on. I had no time to reply, of course, but seeing everyone's love really made a difference.

I thought of my family, who had sacrificed a lot of time during training, my friends, who offered encouragement and advice, my coworkers, who listened to me talk about this marathon since January, my fellow Weight Watchers members, who cheered for me every step of the way ... I thought of all the people who had been there for me, and I let their support propel me forward.

So before I forget: THANK YOU, everyone, for being awesome and helping me get through the race. You're the reason I didn't stop. I mean it.

Part 6: That's the last hill, right? WRONG!
Eventually, the course dumped us back on Market Street, except this time, we got nearly a mile of downhill running. For some people, this can be just as painful as uphill running. But for me, it was pure heaven. I opened up my legs and let them fly (as much as they would allow). I was passing people left and right. The crowds were building again, and I was back in my groove ... WOOHOO!!

Well, until I hit another hill. SHIT. All of my momentum stopped and I wanted to cry. I asked out loud, "This is the last hill, right?" And a woman walking nearby said, "No, there's another one just before we turn the corner to the stadium (the minor league ball park where we finished)."

"DAMMI!" I cried. But I kept trudging along.

Not-so-random side note: Kyle had written me a letter before the race. The letter was very sweet and included a picture of Daryl Dixon (HOTTIE!) from The Walking Dead - he wrote, "Run like zombies are chasing you and Daryl Dixon is waiting at the finish line." As I was walking up the last two hills, a man next to me had "Darrell" printed on his bib. Sure, the spelling was different and he wasn't so good looking (I mean, I'm sure he looks better when he's not at the end of a marathon) ... but I decided it was a sign to motivate me.

As I turned for the final stretch, spectators were cheering on both sidings, yelling my name and pushing me on to the finish. Of course, I started crying, which made it hard to breathe, but I gave it everything I had. Finally, I made it to the stadium and saw the word, "FINISH" at the end of the chute. I couldn't believe I was almost there!

I sprinted (hobbled) down the chute and reminded myself not to fall - to soak up the moment and remember how incredible it all felt.

And so, with my hands up in victory and an ugly cry all over my face, I finally finished my first marathon. BOOM!

I'm back in the pink - unfortunately, Kyle wasn't able to get a clear finish line photo.
Second half breakdown: 
Mile 14 - 12:40 (Pee break + Market Street death march)
Mile 15 - 9:34
Mile 16 - 10:25
Mile 17 - 9:14 (Fastest split of the second half, not quite at goal pace, but the closest I would get!)
Mile 18 - 9:59
Mile 19 - 10:07 (Beer break!)
Mile 20 - 10:05
Mile 21 - 9:40
Mile 22 - 10:14
Mile 23 - 12:00 (I think this is where I walked the second monster hill)
Mile 24 - 12:24 (This is where YOU ALL carried me through ...)
Mile 25 - 9:48 (Downhill! WOOHOO!!!!)
Mile 26 - 11:33 (Those last two hills with Darrell ...)
Final stretch - 4:34
Second Half - 2:20:11
Finish Time - 4:22:23

Part 7: Taking it all in
After the finish line, everything was once again a blur. I immediately saw Kyle and Scott in the stands, cheering loudly and waving. I thought, "When the hell did Scott pass me?" and suddenly was bummed I didn't see him on the course. Well, turns out he did the smart thing and decided to turn around after mile 13. He started a new job this summer and wasn't able to train as well as he would have liked. So I'm proud of him for listening to his body and not hurting himself just because he paid to run the full 26 miles. Good job, bro!

Shortly after I got my medal, a familiar face stopped in front of me to shake my hand. It was Mary from mile 19! "So was I right about the beer?" she asked. "DEFINITELY!" I told her. "I'm off to get some more!"

After making my way through the tents for pizza, snacks and beer, I found a spot on the outfield grass and finally say down. Only runners were allowed in the post-race area, so Kyle and Scott couldn't come find me right away. But that's OK, I needed a few minutes to reflect, to let it all sink in. I JUST RAN A MARATHON. Holy shit.

Eventually, I stood up (verrrrry slowly) and asked someone to take my picture. NOTE: That was the SECOND best beer of my life.

Finally, I made my way to find Kyle and Scott, and immediately started crying as Kyle pulled me into his arms. What a good man, right?! According to my brother, I smelled, "Like a hobo on a poop train," but Kyle embraced me anyway. Now, when we got to the car it was a different story. He wrapped me up in an old picnic table cloth in an attempt to trap the stench and keep my seats clean ... but I like to think it was all with love ;)

Part 8: Reflections 
Since the race, everyone has asked me two things: Am I happy with my time? And will I run another marathon?

After some time to think and reflect, the answers are yes and yes.

Yes, I am happy with my time. I knew from the moment I set my goal that it was lofty, even if the course would have been flat. They say you should just be happy to FINISH your first marathon, and I am - especially now that I know the course is one of the hardest out there. I no longer feel foolish for choosing Akron as my first marathon - I feel like a badass.

Could I have started slower for a faster finish? Should I have conserved some of my energy for the last half? Maybe, but what's the fun in that? Back in January, Lauren Fleshman told me, "Go fast, take chances." And so I did. Don't regret it one bit.

And yes, there will be another marathon. I knew it the minute I crossed the finish line. BUT (this is a big BUT), it won't be any time soon. I loved the distance, but I also respect it. My body needs time to heal, and my mind needs time to recover. My family, home and work also deserve some of the attention they've been missing. Training for a race like this is a huge commitment, and it's one I'm not willing to agree to for at least a couple of years.

In the meantime, I have my medal, my memories, and a sweet new sticker for my car. I learned, once more, that we all can accomplish so much more than we ever imagined. We just have to try.

And we have to enjoy every moment, even when we're struggling. Because it means we're still alive. 

ALSO: Remember what Mary said. BEER is NEVER a bad idea. At least when you're at mile 19. ;)

In the end, I'm a marathoner. And I always will be.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

My First Marathon, By the Numbers

The Akron Marathon is a mere 14 days away ... 

First of all, holy shit. 

Second, I thought I would share some details about my training and plans (for the marathon on my legs ... since I already explained the marathon in my mind). 

I'm normally not a numbers person, but these stats excite me. The numbers say I'm ready ... My heart and brain need some convincing, but I know I'll get in the zone eventually ... hopefully before Sept. 26!  

Total weeks: 19 (I cut an extra taper week from the Train Like a Mother plan)

Miles so far: 498

Miles to go before race day: Approx. 39

Most miles in a week: 43 (the week of my 22-miler)

Most miles in a month: 154 (August)

Number of times I quit mid-run: Only 1 (humidity + hills = hell)

Number of times I wanted to quit: Infinity + 100

Race Day 
Hydration: 2 Camelbaks, each holding 70 oz. of watermelon Nuun – I’ll start with one and Kyle will meet me near the halfway point with the other

Gels: 6 Gus, 3 in each Camelbak

Snacks: 1 Clif bar

Goal time: sub-4 hours

Pace required for goal: 9:09/mile 

Number of times I’ve reconsidered that goal (especially considering it’s my first marathon and I just want to FINISH): Infinity + 1,000

Chance I’ll try like hell anyway: 100%