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Two years ago, I began a blog about my journey from couch potato to marathon runner.

Though I wanted to keep the blog purely about health, I found funny things, like my kids, kept creeping in. Because at the core, whether I’m keeping the couch warm on a daily basis or getting my Merrells routinely muddy, I’m still a mom.

I’ve come to realize that not a single component of the mother/writer/runner amalgam can be extracted without making the other elements weaker.

Looking back through my blog, it’s apparent I haven’t met all of my health goals (I can barely hold myself in plank position for 30 seconds before falling in a quivering heap, let alone do an actual push-up), but I am much healthier than I was two marathons ago.

I’m not worried about the fact that I still have many items on my “goal” list because it gives me more to strive towards. And I’m the kind of person who always needs some goal or project to keep me from the fuzzy warm blanket of lethargy.

“Auf die Dauer,” is the German equivalent of “In the Long Run,” which is especially fitting for my life as a mother/writer/runner living in Germany.

Everything we do (or fail to do) has an impact in the long run.

It is finding the importance in each of the hundreds of little daily events, which will lead to something greater. Whether it is plugging away on a languishing manuscript, taking 5 minutes to let my teenager vent, or running a few miles, each step gets me closer to the goal.

It is a new year, and I have a lot of goals: some old, some new.

While I still hold fast to the Auf die Dauer philosophy, I’ve decided to start a new blog. It will be the same me…just a different name.

Auf Gehts, Mama! will contain more about my life as a world-schooling, noveling, solar-powered, running mama, who is encouraged and motivated (often literally) by her children, and who also happens to live in an incredible (often literally) place in the world.

So join me in the new year at AufGehtsMama.com

Let’s go!

Our fingers were frozen, and our toes were frozen, but a Christkindlesmarkt just isn’t authentic unless it is bitterly cold.

Besides, you could be digging a ditch with Libby and still have fun.

Right on the heels of the Katie•Mommy Day was a Libby•Mama Day. I don’t exactly know why the girls have each chosen a different diminutive for me, but I’m just thankful neither refer to me as “mother,” which for some strange reason, conjures the image of someone who beats you with kitchen utensils.

Libby and I arrived at Rothenburg painfully early, mainly to avoid the combative parking arena; and thus we found ourselves walking around the quiet town, waiting for the market to open.

Libby is eight years-old, but she still gets excited about those colorful rides that do nothing more than go round in a circle.

As the man took the tarp from the carousal, Libby plotted which critter she would ride first. Soon, we had purchased four tokens, and Libby was on the unicorn, lifting her feet so they wouldn’t drag on the ground. She had a bit of trouble in the frog car too: with her knees nearly to her chin, she could hardly unfold and get out by herself.

When our hands were sufficiently numb, we went to our favorite restaurant, by the clock tower. The waiter lit a candle for the two of us, and we ordered coffee and hot chocolate to warm our fingers and souls.

Libby was delighted when her cocoa was served to her on a ‘silver’ platter. She said it was the first time EVER—and it makes me happy that it happened while I was with her.

We enjoyed our lunch, and she enjoyed having a captive audience. She says she wants to be a doctor someday, and if she does follow that line of work, I know she’ll be awarded the “Best Bedside Manner” prize. Libby’s charm and cheerful nature could probably heal most people without the use of medicine.

Walking through the market, we picked up a few Christmas presents for the other kids, and then we spied the nut stand. If you’ve never been to Germany, then you may not have heard about candied nuts they have here. Though they’re not laced with anything stronger than cinnamon, they are highly addictive, and should come with warning labels.

As Libby was deciding which nuts she would choose, she suddenly spied the chocolate-covered apples. We usually shy away from foods that have the potential for disaster, but in this case, as an ‘only-child’ for a day, Libby got her wish: her first chocolate covered apple E-V-E-R.

Surprisingly, it did not end up all over her face, hands, forehead, or ponytail, nor on her seat in the car.

We strolled in the shadows of the medieval walls, non-sticky hand in non-sticky hand, simply enjoying each other’s company. 

The fourth child is perhaps the luckiest, because when she comes along, parents finally figure out how fleeting and precious time really is.

It is nearly Christmas, but my best gifts have already been given to me.

WILLIAM*KATIE*NOAH*LIBBY

My mother used to tell me, “I hope when you have children, you have one JUST. LIKE. YOU!” and she didn’t seem to mean it as a compliment.

How unfair! I couldn’t help it that I was a stubborn, self-willed, independent child—it’s just how I was born, or maybe it was my parents’ fault for not raising me better. Right?

Fast forward to my second born.

She was the first little princess born to me, and subsequently she got her way a lot. She was opinionated from birth, whimsical, and when she was old enough, she loved to bend the rules in order to torment her legalistic older brother.

People who know my lovely eldest daughter can’t quite believe some of the stories about her early years, which include many temper tantrums. She was strong-willed, independent and…well…a lot like me.

I won’t say she’s just like me—her strengths, such as mathematics and music—were always my weaknesses. She bakes and cooks and sews. And every friend is a sister to her. She also has the most tender heart I’ve ever seen, and she wears it right on her sleeve.

And yet, she has a toughness about her that allows her to do things like dissect cow organs and pick up dead moles in the garden without cringing. Of all the kids in the world who want to grow up to be veterinarians, I see in her the type of person who can actually accomplish it.

Yet despite our differences, we are incredibly similar, which means my own behavior reverberates in her life.  While there are things that crop up which make me wonder, “Where did THAT come from?” there are also things I can pinpoint the origin exactly—and it’s a little too close for comfort.

The difficult part of having a child who has your temperament is that you are quicker to lose patience. It seems like it should be the opposite: that because you have felt similar things, you should be MORE patient.

But what actually happens is that because you have a good gauge of what’s going on inside that child’s head, you want to ‘encourage’ her to get over it more quickly. It’s almost as if you expect that child to have come preprogrammed with the trials you went through by fire. 

Now, I find myself looking eye-to-eye with my daughter, who also borrows my shoes. She is a young lady—beautiful inside and out, which is kind of a scary thing (especially when I catch guys looking at her–which makes me want to check for loopholes in that whole “thou shalt not kill” commandment). And I constantly have to be on guard to keep our relationship safe. It is a valuable thing.

Katie and I recently went to a Christmas market together by ourselves. It was drizzling with the kind of rain that leaves you with a chill you can’t shake. Yet, we were both cheerful—happy just to be together doing something fun. 

And sometimes the drizzly cold days make the memories warmer.

It was Katie’s year to pick out the Christmas tree. So we went through the aisles, discussing the varieties available. In the end, Katie chose a ‘surprise’ tree: meaning one that was already wrapped up (as most of them are here), so we didn’t know exactly what it would look like.

It was by far the heaviest tree I’ve ever crammed into the Honda, and I was afraid it wouldn’t quite fit. But we wedged it between the seats (bending the top branch like an uppercase ‘C’) and eventually managed to get it set up at home without breaking the tree stand. It turns out, Katie had picked the biggest, fattest tree I’ve ever seen in Franconia. It is gorgeous.

I love making these kinds of memories.  When it’s just Kate and I, I can more easily catch glimpses of the woman she will become.

Once, she was my little princess, but someday, I know I will count her as one of my very best friends.

I can already envision her texting me between appointments with her furry patients, writing: “Meet me at Starbucks!” God willing, I’ll be there, chatting with her over coffee.

The woman who marries my son Noah will have a life filled with the type of love that can (literally) knock you off your feet.

But for now, I am the lucky woman who has his heart; and I love that when we go out, he still reaches for my hand.

Noah is sweet, gregarious, smart, renowned for his giggle-fits and bad jokes (the two often go together); he is musically talented in a scary sort of way, he loves the theater and singing opera in the shower; and he is my only child who not only enjoys running with Mom but whose goal it is to run a marathon with Mom someday.

Noah and I went out together alone on Saturday. We arrived at the Christmas Market before the booths were open, so naturally, we found a coffee shop to pass the time. Noah was thrilled to have a Coke at 9:30 a.m. and vastly amused by our table, which had coffee beans under its glass top.

I wanted to capture the moment by snapping a self-portrait, and with typical Noah-flair, he wrapped his arms around my neck and planted a big, wet smooch on my cheek as the shutter clicked.

Noah does nothing halfway.

His life is either glorious or devastating. His room is either an IKEA showroom or a garbage dump. His siblings are either his best friends or his worst enemies.

There is a distinct lack of middle ground with this kid, which calls for a bit of ingenuity as a parent and diplomatic skills that could qualify me for work in an embassy somewhere.

In a sense, I am an ambassador to my children, bridging the cultural gaps between the State of Adulthood and that Independent Territory of Children.

This is not to say I have to give in to their demands, after all, I wouldn’t want to feed them Swedish Fish for lunch and Mac-n-Cheese for dinner every night. But I can value their young lives and show respect for their opinions (even when I think they’re wrong). And although I am still a work in progress, I can show them what I think adulthood should look like and admit it when I fail.

The love of my children is one of the most precious things in my life. And when you have an all-or-nothing child, the stakes become critically high.  

My Noah.

I can’t imagine this house without his infectious laughter or facing the day without his bear hugs. I am the love of his tender nine year-old life.

In my thirty-eight years, it is the best gift I could possibly have received.

His love is worth giving my all.

I was sitting next to a soft-spoken young man on the train.

He was considerate, offering me a book to read, and had that unique brand of humor that can make me laugh in almost any situation.

The conductor checked my ticket and then asked for his. He looked up at her wide-eyed—he had no ticket.

He’s my son, I explained in German, he is on my ticket.

She double-checked, and sure enough, two seats had been reserved. This is his last year of riding free on Deutschebahn.

My oldest doesn’t complain and he rarely asks for things, so when he requested a day alone together, there’s no way (aside from heart-removal surgery) I could say no.

Despite a wearying schedule and all the housework and chores and mountains I could move via the computer, my son and I took the day off.  

I do not consider it time lost but a worthy investment.

With four children in our family, being out with him alone is a rare occurrence, as one of us is usually tending the rest of the crew.

So we made the most of it: riding the train to Nuernberg, exploring the Christmas market, sipping a leisurely latte (for me) at Starbucks, and rounding out the day with lunch at a restaurant where food does not come in a box or bag.

It struck me that day just how much he has grown up, and how little time we actually have left before he’s filling out college applications.

My heart misses him already.

I have to say, however, that traveling with William now is much easier than it used to be.

I will never forget the energy (enough to power a nuclear facility), the planning (enough to design a nuclear facility), and the real-life, dripping-from-your-brow sweat (enough to build a nuclear facility with your bare hands) involved in traveling with youngsters.

During that train ride, I sat in awe of this handsome young man in the Italian leather jacket, who no longer needed Cherrie-O’s doled out one-by-one for amusement, and who could not only entertain himself by reading a battered edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but who brought an extra book—just in case his mom wanted something to read.

But before the high tide of adulthood rushes in and overtakes these placid days, I will relish each moment of his young adulthood, and savor those rich memories we have built together.

 

I have no fear about my son’s future—he will go far in life, even if I’m not there to buy his train tickets.

Fahrkarten, bitte.

Whimsical. Sparkly. Magical. Funny. Bubbly. Beautiful. Pink.

These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of my youngest daughter. And on her birthday, the adjectives are amplified beyond description.

She was awake this morning (who knows how long), and when she heard the house stir, she put on a party dress and entered the birthday room. There were polka-dot packages, which matched her boldly polka-dotted dress, shiny (pink) ribbons, shiny (pink) baloons, and a cake with that magical sweetness that only ripens on a child’s birthday.

Libby brings so much joy to my life, it seems my heart can’t bear the fullness of it. Which is why it is all the more odd to recall that when she was born, I wasn’t sure if I could love her as much as I loved the other children.

Everything had been going smoothly. My mother-in-law arrived in Alaska, and twelve hours later we were on our way to the hospital. After three hours of labor, my delicate, 10 pound, meconium baby was rushed away, her lungs suctioned, and her head placed in an oxygen bubble.

When they brought her back to me 3 1/2 hours later, she didn’t seem familiar, as my other babies had. And it scared me to think that this baby in my arms would always be a stranger.

Of course I loved her. But would I love her so much that my heart would break with it?

It haunts me to think of it, but at the time, I wasn’t sure.

I know there are stories of mothers and infants clinging to life, and who are separated by medical necessity for days or weeks or months. But for me, 3 1/2 hours was long enough to make me wonder if my baby and I had missed something we could never get back.

I spent three days in my cozy hospital room, with limited visitors, nurses bringing great meals to my private room, and with plenty of time to get to know this new baby, who depended so completely on me.

By the time we walked through the door of our home, excited little kids bouncing off walls, Bushia’s home-cooked meal in the oven, with that tiny human, swallowed up by all things plush and pink, our hearts had been knit together for good.

The bonding had occurred, not as quickly as with the other three kids, but with that same familiar, unbreakable permanence.

God had a lot of women to choose from when deciding which one would have the honor of raising Libby.

I am thankful and grateful and completely humbled that out of all the mothers in the world, I am the one she calls Mama.

Happy Birthday My Darling Libby!

My plate is full of great things: Super-sized portions of field trips, a side of piano lessons, and heaps of delicious art classes, during which, Mama goes for coffee (and sometimes ice cream) with her friends.

Still, it’s a lot more than I’m used to. And to top it off, my skinny jeans are getting uncomfortable to wear (must be all that ice cream during art lessons) making it apparent I need to increase my weekly mileage. Oh yes, and I’m teaching writing seminars for the homeschool kids. And I’m going to write a novel this month. Plus there’s that little thing called homeschooling, where I’m SUPPOSED to be the teacher.

I love my life and the opportunities the kids and I have, but I wonder how I’ll get everything done.

The real problem is that for the past couple of months, most of our activities are an hour away. There’s no real solution or way around it, so I find myself spending 8 to 10 hours driving a week, and if you look closely at my kitchen floor and bathroom toilets, you’ll see the cost of the commute.

But here’s the thing: I can stay home and have a perfectly clean house, or I can provide valuable learning opportunities (and fun socialization) for my kids. There’s really no choice to be made–our lives are richer because of the activities and because of the people we get to be with while we’re doing cool things.

All of this means that in the next month, I have to be extremely dedicated to using my time wisely.

So, if you don’t see many funny quips on my Facebook page, don’t be alarmed. If I don’t answer emails right away, don’t call the Red Cross–I’m still here!

And though I will be driving way too much, I’ll also be running (before sunrise), writing (any chance I can get), living, laughing, drinking too much coffee, and loving my family.

All it takes is dedication.

But my house probably won’t pass a white glove test any time soon.

Having four kids isn’t really that hard.

Sure, the first six years are a blur of keeping little people clean, fed and safe, but by the time the oldest is eight and the youngest is out of diapers, things start becoming much easier. And that’s why I’m always caught off guard when well-meaning people give me sympathy about my motherhood status–as if by having four children, my life is somehow four times more difficult than the average woman. Yes, having four little ones IS difficult, but now that my oldest can legally babysit and everyone cleans the house, my job feels downright easy.

The challenges I face now, as a mother, are much different and more subtle. While I do have time to shower and get dressed every day (a luxury in those early years), I have to carve out time with each of my kids, to make sure we’re not growing apart. As they become more independent, it’s more important than ever that our hearts remain close.

A while ago, a friend of mine posted a question on her blog regarding the number of children a Christian family should have (biblically speaking, that is). There were many different answers to that question, and I remember feeling somewhat defensive–that a matter so personal was between the husband & wife & God only. And maybe it is, to a certain extent. I mean, certainly, we weren’t all meant to have 20 kids. Were we?

God did not design each family in exactly the same way, though as Christians, we use the same Operations Manual.

Some women are much better mothers because they work outside the home. And when I spend 30 hours or more a week marathon training, those hours out of the home help me to be more patient, kind and level-headed.

When I was a young mom, I thought my life was so full, I couldn’t add more to it without something breaking (like my sanity). But now that I will soon be the mom of two teenagers, life seems too easy. I look at my children and wish there were more of them, tearing through the house, making silly jokes, painting masterpieces.

Why did we stop with only four?

People used to tell me that the years when my children were little were the best years of my life. And I used to wonder at that, feeling acutely the exhaustion from never having a good night’s sleep, and the demoralization of rarely eating a hot meal.

A child’s first steps and first words are incredible, but I can’t honestly say those early years are the best. Each stage of life has rich rewards. Yes, the chubby little hands around your neck and sticky kisses are priceless moments, but what about the late-night laughter with your teen? Or discussing dreams and wishes as you make dinner together? And what about that magical moment when you realize you count your child as one of your best friends?

Each year is the best year of your life. Recognize it. Live it. And share it with your kids.

It’s not that hard to do.


What exactly does a Supermom look like?

Does she get up at 5:30 to run every day, keep her house tidy, drive various kids to their various activities, and always have a home-cooked dinner waiting for Superdad when he gets home from thwarting evil-doers? Does she keep the house running like clockwork with chore charts and schedules and happy-face stickers?

Does Supermom ever have a runny nose or groan at the current state of the household toilets? Can a Supermom have big feet or gray hair? Does she ever lose her patience?

I thought about Supermom a lot as I was lying on the couch this weekend.

Normally, I’d rather pluck out my eyelashes than passively watch the kids play video games. But in this instance, I was sick—so sick I couldn’t even follow the weak plot. Who was Mario trying to save? And why did he keep turning into Bowser, when they were mortal enemies?

I drifted in and out of my catatonic state, feeling very much like I’d been run over by a truck.

Where was Supermom? Last week, she was here, running with the stars and cooking pot roasts. And now, she was lethargic, on the couch, and letting the kids zombify their brains via Nintendo.

I did no laundry, accomplished no chores, laughed at the thought of washing windows, failed to tick a single box on my ‘to-do’ list. All I managed to do was sleep and self-medicate.

I drifted off as Mario was trying not to get impaled on a spiked floor. When I woke up, two stuffed animals were cuddling next to me.

Out of their tender, loving hearts, two different children had each left something for my comfort.

It occurred to me that maybe being a Supermom has nothing to do with my valiant actions, but everything to do with my day-to-day, humdrum interactions.

I hate being sick. But because of it, I witnessed such an outpouring of affection from my kids, it was almost worth it. Katie made me pudding; Noah drew a picture; William gave me concerned, sympathetic hugs; and Libby scampered about with her doctor kit, periodically taking my temperature (after I sterilized the thermometer, recalling it had been in multiple armpits).

So, where was Supermom this weekend?

She wasn’t scrubbing floors or organizing closets or even playing in the sunshine with the kids.

She was lying on the couch, being loved.

And sometimes, that’s exactly where a Supermom can truly find herself.


Contrary to popular belief, there are enough hours in the day; you just have to know where to find them.

A while back, a friend of mine encouraged me to get up before the sunrise, chickens and children to run. The theory is that you can have glorious alone time before anyone needs anything from you.

This is also the same friend who got me into long-distance running, so I know her advice (while it usually sounds outrageous to most people) pretty much always helps me in my metamorphosis into SuperMom a decent sort of woman.

Thus, when my electronic birds gently began chirping last week at 5 am, I got up and immediately made the decision to crawl back under my cozy down comforter ASAP.

But when I actually stumbled into the bathroom, I looked through the window on our slanted ceiling/wall and noticed the moon illuminating my running trail and billions of stars all around.

The Franconian countryside had become a strange, new world.

I quietly laced up my shoes and snuck out the door.

The trail was the same (the same tractor ruts, chunky rocks, looming trees, and fields in various stages of growth and harvest), but the entire experience was exhilarating.

Everything looks different; and every scary story you’ve ever heard comes flitting through your mind as you run in the dark (especially past corn fields).

Sounds are amplified and sometimes terrifying (such as the lone car that came barreling over the hill or the hawks that swooped over my head as I ran down the lane of plum trees).

There are creatures slinking around in the fields at night, and they all sound BIG and FAST—at least, bigger and faster than you. Those could be deer, or dinosaurs, or bunny rabbits out there—you have no way of telling!

The good thing about running in the dark: scary sounds make you run faster.

One problem with running with the stars is that you tend to look skyward a lot, which isn’t actually that safe to do on a darkened path.

And instead of hill repeats, you find yourself stopping at the top of the hill, tipping your head back as far as it will go.

In fact, you may consider lying down in the grass to soak in the view, until you remember how wet and muddy it is.

Though running in the dark is seductive, it’s also a hard habit to establish.

The October issue of “Runner’s World” has a good article on becoming an early morning runner. So, armed with sure-fire strategies and inspiration to run before sunrise, I set my alarm for 6:00 am.

The problem with this noble act was that I knew it was not enough time for a good run. I ignored this tidbit of knowledge and justified my action by reminding myself that I need 7 hours of sleep a night.

However, at 5 am, I felt three distinct taps on my shoulder.

I started awake, sputtering, “What is it, Libby?” before my eyes even opened. I expected to see the dark little shadow hovering over me, explaining about hypothetical mosquitos or phantom spiders, but there was no one. My husband appeared to be sleeping, and even the dog was silent in his kennel.

It must’ve been some kind of muscle spasm, but I could not get back to sleep. I tried to ignore the clock, but by 5:15, I knew I had to get up and at least look out the window.

There were stars.

Billions of them.

I added a headlamp and a blinky tail light to my ensemble.

It was another glorious pre-dawn morning. The countryside belonged to me (and to one other person, again barreling over the hill, who must drive to work AWFULLY early every day).

I made my way off the main road and turned off my lamp to let my eyes take in the ambient light that transforms the familiar landscape into a mysterious new place.

As I turned down the final trail to home, the sliver of a moon was hanging on the horizon in a pale strip of coral sky.

I finished my run and had a cup of coffee as dawn broke the spell over lovely, magical Franconia.

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