September 25, 2012

My First Half Marathon

I had been preparing for this day since the beginning of July--The Mighty Niagara Half Marathon (for hospice). Week after week I followed my training schedule, running something like 3 miles Monday, 5 miles Tuesdays, 4 miles Thursday, with a long run on Friday or Saturday. My long runs started at 6 miles (since that was my base prior to training) and built up one mile at a time each week. I achieved the 13 mile distance at the end of August and for the next few weeks began tapering--a 12 mile September 7th, an 8 mile the week after, and finally resting up with a 5 mile run 2 days before the race. 

I was ready

My mom and dad had been excited about my race and I invited them to join in on the fun. The world of runners is a microcosm that cannot be explained, only experienced, and my parents were looking forward to being a part of my big day. After an evening of games with mom, dad, Kevin, Randy, and Sheryl (and some competitive banter between myself and Randy), we all hit the sack early Friday night. 

Saturday morning dawned cold, windy, rainy, and just plain depressing. I do not enjoy running in the rain. I have tried to be whimsical and go for a fun run in the rain, but it's never fun for me. Thus, the morning's weather was a source of major frustration and disappointment. I kept praying and praying that the Lord would clear the skies and calm the winds. 

We carpooled to Lewiston, NY with the other half marathon trainees from our church's Run for God group and arrived with plenty of time to register, use the bathroom too many times, and take a pre-race group photo. 

Back Row: Brian, Jack, Matt, Mickey, Wayne, Tom
Front Row: Tom, Melanie, Sheryl
It was finally race time. We took our places in the sea of 900+ runners, half of the guys near the front and Sheryl, me, Brian, Wayne, Mickey, and Jack at the back of the group. I wanted to start out with my friends to ease my nerves and keep me from gunning it out of the start gate. My strategy worked! Not only was I more relaxed and even laughing, but the rain suddenly stopped my goose-bumped arms were warm again! Praise the Lord. 

I spent the first 2 miles with my friends, keeping my mood light, but soon I felt the urge to push ahead and increase my speed. I gradually began the process of working my way through the mass of runners, enjoying the sounds of their conversations and the sights of the lovely towns through which we were running. 

Mile after mile there was always something to keep my mind entertained. Bands played with enthusiasm every couple miles, there were water/Gatorade stations (where I nearly always choked--it's hard to run and drink simultaneously), guys who would take off for the nearest patch of trees for a bathroom break--rendering the nearest ladies full of laughter (and maybe some jealously!), and supporters filling the sidewalks. The air was ringing with their cheers and enthusiastic encouragement. 

I kept looking for our crew of cheerleaders--Kevin, Randy, dad, and mom--but by mile 6 hadn't seen them yet. Just then, I passed through the quaint town of Youngstown and it was just the boost I needed. The people were flooding the streets, cheering loudly, and even offering high fives as we passed. I was feeling good as I approached mile 7 and there, off in the distance, was my cheering section! Dad and Mom high fived me, Randy was videotaping, and Kevin was taking pictures and loudly yelling, "GOOD JOB EVERYBODY! BUT GO, MELANIE! I MARRIED HER!"


As I passed them by, my emotions nearly got the best of me and I had to choke back tears. Their presence was overwhelmingly encouraging and I knew I could do this--keep on keeping on (as my husband always says.) 

For the next many miles, a girl with the name "Hillarie" stamped on her back and I kept a silent camaraderie and competition going. She would pass me, I would pass her. We would be side by side. She'd pass, I'd pass. We had nearly the same tempo run and whenever one of us would slow down the other would speed by, thus pushing the other to up the ante. At one point, I heard her talking to a friend of hers and say, "Right now we're running an 8:30 and we're on target to finish in 2 hours." Oh man! I was going to stick with Hillarie. I couldn't let her out of my sight. I fell pretty far behind her at one point, but I gradually worked my way back and kept the lead for the final few miles. So thanks, Hillarie, whoever you are, for keeping me going

As we turned into the campground where the finish line awaited our grand entrance, a guy was cheering us on and shouting, "Only half a mile to go!" AWESOME! I can totally handle 1/2 a mile. Unfortunately, that guy was way off and it was closer to a mile left to the finish--which is excruciating when you're SO ready to be done. My stomach was churning from the water and Gatorade that was sloshing around, and heck, I'd been running for almost 2 hours--I was pretty beat. Just as I was praying, "Lord, please don't let me throw up. Please, Lord." (yes it was that desperate), my phone beeped with a text message notification. Elizabeth--my best friend from infancy--wrote, "You just came to mind at this moment and I wanted you to know I'm praying for you." 

OH SWEET JESUS that was JUST what I needed most. Thank you, friend, for listening to the Lord's prompting.

After nearly slipping and falling in the muddy woods just prior to the finish, I rounded the corner to hear my name being shouted by church friends, Karen & Denise. I waved and smiled and then caught my husband's eye. He was beaming with pride and I blew him a kiss as I cross the finish line. My mom and dad were there to catch me, and Kevin ran over to hold me up as my knees were nearly collasping under me. My emotions were welling up in my tear ducts but I managed to keep them at bay once again. 

I had FINISHED. and finished well. 

My final chip time was 2:00:47--a time I am completely thrilled with and find hard to believe. I was figuring I'd finish around 2 hours and 15 minutes, so I'll take the just-over-2 hours-finish! My average pace per mile was 9:13 and I honestly think I could run it even faster than that--I didn't want to risk burn out. I finished 4th in our group of 9 (7 of whom are men), 165th out of 627 women, and 45th out of 127 women ages 25-29. I think it's ok to be proud of my finish. I am!

I loved my first half marathon. I loved having my husband and my parents there. I loved finishing. And I love the sweet medal. :)


Sheryl and Mel--best friends, training partners, half marathoners!

My husband was incredibly supportive as I trained and as I raced.
He's always bragging about me. :) 

The group of finishers! 

September 20, 2012

How I Fell in Love with Oatmeal

Oatmeal seems to be one of those highly divisive foods--people either love it or they hate it. I think it's really about the consistency or texture. It could added to the list of foods like tapioca pudding (or any pudding), yogurt, and stuffing that has the potential to trigger one's gag reflexes. At least that's what it used to do to me. 
(side note--I have grown to love yogurt and have moments of really loving pudding. But tapioca pudding or stuffing are still on my "most hated" foods list.)

When my sister and I were kids, she was all but obsessed with "ointmeal"--her 3 year old name for oatmeal. She loved the little Quaker Instant Oatmeal packs of peaches and cream, strawberries and cream, and brown sugar. I would enjoy the smell of these warm breakfast cereals from across the table, begin to be convinced that I would love the stuff, give it a taste, and gag my way to the garbage can. Yuck! 

I stayed away from oatmeal of any kind until college. The dining commons produced this extremely thick oatmeal with a side of brown sugar that I just HAD to try. And you'll never guess--I LIKED IT! I quickly realized my previous issues with the oatmeal was the runny consistency. Thanks to the DC, I realized the oatmeal could be made to your desired thickness. 

I was still into the heavily-sugared varieties (included the Brown Sugar instant packets), until senior year of college. On my meager budget, I decided it would be much more frugal to buy a canister of dry, rolled oats rather than the pre-made packages. Thanks to my need to save money, I gradually began to wean myself off of the tons-of-added-sweetener bowls of oatmeal. 


A year or two into marriage, I really began to experience oatmeal to its fullest potential. Now, it's my most favorite breakfast! I combined old fashioned rolled oats with water or milk, a generous sprinkle of cinnamon and chopped fresh fruits like apples or bananas. If I'm feeling especially indulgent, a swirl of peanut butter or a sprinkle of chopped nuts tops it off to perfection. 

And so, my friends, the moral of the story is Give Good Foods a Second (and hundredth) Chance. Tastebuds are always changing and it might become a favorite in the future. 

The end. 

How do YOU feel about oatmeal??

September 14, 2012

How We Manage Our Money

Friday is our day off--our Sabbath, if you will. (Full time ministry necessitates a different day to rest.) Oddly enough, I spent a large part of my morning spontaneously updating our budget based on our expenses from the past year. (You can laugh if you want.) In the midst of my number crunching (who am I trying to kid with my financial record-keeping? The husband is the math wiz. How'd I end up with the figures?), I remembered a friend's request from a long while back. She asked if I'd be willing to write a few blog posts to describe, in detail, how we live frugal yet full lives? What does our budget look like? How do we actually spend our money?

Since frugality is kind of a passion addiction of mine, I decided to make good on my promise. So strap on your safety belts, friends! We're delving in the world of Kevin & Melanie's finances!*

*special note--we're actually on the verge of starting an "exploratory" study of Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey, along with the other ministry leaders and their spouses. Should be interesting to see the affects it might have. 

The first and most important step to our budgeting lives is free accounting software called Gnu Cash*. This program is simply amazing for record keeping and has helped me organize and comprehend the ins and outs of finances at a much deeper level. The only hitch is I don't think I ever could have figured how to use the program on my own. My husband has this super-human ability to innately know or intrinsically discover how to use computer software. He's awesome. 

We've been using Gnu Cash for a few years now, and I've only recently felt 100% competent....but that's because we've expanded our usage of the program to well beyond the checkbook-ledger basic functions. (It's worth it, though, even if you only ever it use for tracking a checking account.) 

*no, I've not been paid to talk to about Gnu Cash. It's just what we use, I love it, so I'm telling you about it. 

Here's what we use Gnu Cash for
1. "Asset" accounts--one for each of the following--checking, savings, credit cards (EACH of our credit cards has its own sub account), cash on hand (for gifts or paychecks, etc). In each of these sub accounts, we record every dollar that goes in or out. 

2. Expense accounts--this is a category with as many sub accounts as necessary for every specific area of expense in our lives (groceries, eating out, entertainment, utilities--gas, water, electric, rent, cell phone, tithing, child sponsorships, gifts, clothing, medical, etc, etc, etc.) The more specific accounts we have, the easier it is to track EXACTLY how we are spending our money

3. Accounts Payable--we set up this function to keep track of the taxes we owe on our incomes. I'm self-employed and Kevin is technically a "contractor" for the church denomination, so we're responsible for writing our own checks to the IRS every quarter. Fun fun. For every dollar we earn, I multiply it by 13.5%. Then, come the quarterly tax day, I write a check for the amount in Accounts Payable, deduct it from the checking account the Accounts Payable account will be zeroed out. Makes tax day(s) so much less stressful

4. Transactions Reports--Here's the function I used this morning. You can set up a transaction report for any account in your Gnu Cash and find out exactly what's been earned/spent over XX period of time. For instance, I made a report for each of our expenses. I started with "Grocery," changed the time period to be August 2011 to August 2012 and clicked "ok." VOILA! I had a list of recorded expenses, with their description, amount per transaction, amount per month, and total amount. I divided that by 12 (months) and found out we spend, on average, $144 per month on food.  

5. Bonuses for electronic record keeping--a) You can search for any transaction by hitting "ctrl f." b) you can change a date or delete any transaction at any time without having to erase your whole ledger and recalculate. (This was a big plus for me because I remember being so frustrated with balancing my checkbook with the paper statement--the order of the transactions were always all over the place.) c) it keeps track of your total Assets (all of your accounts, minus all of your outstanding balances on credit cards, etc so you know EXACTLY how much money TOTAL you have at any given time.) 

There are a million more uses for Gnu Cash, but that's how we've been employing this tool for the past few years. And did I mention it's FREE? 

how do YOU keep track of your money? 

September 8, 2012

My Favorite Relaxing, Productive Saturday

Ahhhhhhhh. The Saturday Morning I've been longing for, but hadn't been able to grasp hold of in so many months. 

Sleeping in until my internal clock wakes me up. No alarms. (This meant 7:17am.)
Lazily rolling out of bed, still deciding what the day might hold. 
Opening the curtains to let the dreary daylight shine in. 
Doing 10 minutes of easy yoga stretches just to get the kinks out. 
No working out. (who, me?)
Showering even before my husband wakes. 
Deciding it's a perfect day for canning. Driving to Sheryl's to retrieve my canning supplies at 8:45am. 
Wanting doughnuts for breakfast and giving in (for the first time in at least a year.)
Bringing home peanut crunch and coconut crunch doughnuts.
Cutting each down the middle to share with my husband. 
Enjoying doughnuts, sipping, coffee and playing Settlers together at the breakfast table.
Starting the canning process before 10am. 
Process 16 quarts of tomatoes to yield 6 pints of salsa and 8 pints of marinara. 
Having only one can not seal. 
Pulling a cardigan over my shoulders because suddenly it's Fall

September 7, 2012

Observations from Mile 12

This morning was my first solo long run besides the 8 miles I ran last fall about this time. I wanted to make sure I was capable of doing the long run on my own because up until this week, I've had someone running or biking alongside me. Running is almost entirely a mental sport. Yes, it requires fitness and endurance, but even those first few runs you take yourself on require mental stamina that says, "I can do this. I'm not going to do. There is no need to gasp for air. Remain calm. Oh! And try to enjoy yourself." Running with a partner means distraction from your own breathing, your own pain, the reality that the end is still miles and miles away and you're not sure how you could possibility get there without a) vomitting, b) dying of an asthma attack even though you don't have asthma, or b) finding yourself in so much pain you just want to curl up and cry. Oh, and beyond the mental games, there's the need to control my pace and keep from burning out before the end. 

Luckily for me, I spent the first 6 years of my running habit completely by myself. It wasn't until this past year that I ever ran with a partner, so I was used to being alone. I don't listen to music or podcasts anymore, either. The peacefulness of being out there by myself is a soothing thing for me. It's like my silly little Bondi band says--running is my therapy. And so, I was confident I could manage the long run on my own. I just wanted to experience it. 

I mapped out a 12 mile route on Google maps, left a note for Kevin with directions of my route (safety first, people!), strapped my reflective arm band on, laced up my shoes and headed out the door at 5:53am. 

My plan included much uncharted (or untrekked) territory for me, but that's one of my favorite parts about running--discovering new roads, experiencing new places, getting to know the layout of the land. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, be it hills or dogs or lack of edge lines, but I was looking forward to it. 

Along my run, I became increasingly thankful for the perfect weather God granted me--no fog, no wind, cool temperatures, lower humidity. Many of my miles were used for prayer, one of my favorite parts of running alone. Sometimes the best way to train your mind is to focus on the Lord, offering your thoughts to the needs and concerns of others rather than your light and momentary troubles of the run. 

Seeing as I didn't want to run with that heavy Camelbak nor did I plan any water stops along the way, I even prayed that I would pass a fruit orchard at mile 9 or 10 so I could snag an apple to refuel. I don't know how ethical that is--what with the taking something that is not mine--but boy was I thankful to come across that Granny Smith tree. 

I passed a few seemingly ferocious dogs who were either chained up or easily soothed by my "It's okay, puppy. Good dog" mantra. 

I snapped a photo of a house that had solar panels covering its roof and a whole separate unit of panels in the side yard. I knew Kevin would be entertained by that. 

My shoes stayed perfectly laced for the duration of the run--up until the last 3 blocks. Ugg. I was so annoyed to have to stop and tie my shoe with my house all but in sight. 

I had a few moments of almost-panic when I wasn't sure if I passed the road I was supposed to turn onto or not, but I decided to remain calm and sure enough, I found my way just way. 

Watching the sunrise is always a pro in the column of "waking up before 6am." 

And I made it. I didn't stop for anything along the way. I felt good. I felt strong. And I was thrilled to find out I had finished my run in 1 hour and 52 minutes--a 9:20 pace.

Bring it on, half marathon. Bring. It. On.*

*I would like to mention that I will be posting my thoughts on the whole "training for a race" thing at some point in the near future. It might not be what you expect. Stay tuned. 

September 5, 2012

The Start of My New School Year

It all began at 3:30 yesterday afternoon when 2nd grader, Zach, walked though my front door. Piano lessons are back in full swing now! Yesterday, five new students had their very first lessons with me and I love each of them already. I can tell this is going to be a fantastic year. 

And to think, I was somewhat nervous about lessons starting again. "Nervous about what?" you ask. That the hours would be too long (teaching till 7pm), that I wouldn't remember new students' names, that I might now have too many students, and the ever-present worry-whisper--that I wouldn't be a good enough teacher

But all of those fears subsided after each student filed in, took their seat at the piano, and opened the first pages of their lesson books. I feel excited, confident, and in love with piano teaching all over again.

My first student for Wednesday will be here any minute. I'd better bring out that plate of fresh baked chocolate chip banana mini muffins!  


September 4, 2012

My Nicknames {revealed}

Melanie Growing 09
What's in a name? Oh, the possibilities are endless. (Or at least they are in my family.) You see, I come from a clan of nick-namers, and oftentimes the pseudo names have no origin and no connection to the person's actual name. 

And for whatever reason, I've decided to share with you all some of the names I've been called over the years, and I'm hoping you might be up for making this a two way street. What other names have your friends and family come up with for you? Do you like them or rather the nicknames die a painful death? 

Melanie Growing 13My name is Melanie, and I absolutely love it. (Good job, Mom and Dad!) I am a proponent for being known by your full first name--you know, the one on your birth certificate. None of this "I've only known you by such and such a name until that moment at high school graduation when they announce your name and I am completely unaware that that person even existed." I like that people call me Melanie. I think my name is beautiful

But I also like it when people get to feeling comfortable enough with me that they naturally progress into the "Mel" version of my name. I like Mel too. It's fun and relaxed sounded, very girl next door.   
Melanie Growing 05
My maiden name was "Fish." (If you must know, it was shortened by my great-grandpa Luigi from the original Italian of "Pescatelli" meaning "little fish.") When people find out about my maiden name they are found in utter disbelief and are convinced that I'm attempting to pull the wool scales over their eyes. And then they stifle a laugh. 

But I don't mind. I was never made fun of for my last name because I embraced it. I loved my last name. Many classmates in high school (and also my history teacher, a football coach) called me "FISH," which I was totally cool with. I was bummed I never played a sport that warranted my name on the back of a jersey. 

Melanie Growing 07For whatever reason, there have always been a handful of friends--in both high school and college--who loved calling me by my first AND last name, as if they were one cohesive unit. And I have to admit, it does kind of roll of the tongue. "MelanieFish" (or, if you're Sarah Lane, "MelFish"). One of my guy friends in college also enjoyed calling me, "Miss Fish" and we were both sad when I became a "Mrs" and that name no longer applied. 

My aunts have always called me by my first and middle names--Melanie Marie. Again, the combination flows from the lips in a lovely fashion. 

My dad used to always call me Mellie, as did a few friends in elementary school. I like "Mellie." I think it's adorable. 

My mom and my grandma have, for as long as I can remember, called me "Melanee-nee" and my Grams is the only person on the face of this planet whom I allow to call me me "Nee Nee." (I love that she calls me Nee Nee.)

Melanie Growing 17Little kids often have trouble pronouncing my name so it ends up sounding like "Meny" or "Noni" (if your Jillian). As a grown up, I find many kids referring to me as "Miss Melanie" which is pretty cute too. It has a nice ring of respect and familiarity

One boy in my 4th grade class took to calling me "MelonHead" which I totally despised and was embarrassed about. He finally got in big trouble for it. 

I've also heard Mel Bell, Mellie Belly (not my favorite), Fishy Girl (by Kevin), mon frere ("My brother" in French, by my sister--yes, we're weird), Madeleine (my name in French class--pronounced "Mad-a len"), Poisson (by a classmate in French class, it means "Fish"), Bees (by my husband, as a reference to my Pam Beasley similarities), and "Ralph" (by a developmentally disabled friend in Michigan who couldn't seem to pronounce my name. So I just went by "Ralph.")

I know there are more I have missed, but that's the general history of Melanie's nicknames. 

Your Turn! 


September 3, 2012

A Foyer's Invitation

It's amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do to a space, especially if the color is something beyond the ordinary eggwhite

I walked into our church on Saturday night for worship practice and my jaw had spontaneously dropped open. The color was beautiful, giving off the feeling of cozy, intimate conversation, ushering you in and inviting you to stay a while. Mocha it is being called, and I am love. The furniture had been moved out or rearranged. Tables previously littered with papers and the "this and that" of church handouts had been removed. A book nook that no one ever frequented was in the process of becoming a coffee bar, complete with chalkboard paint back ground. And bistro tables, the perfect height for standing around with a cup of joe and catching up with friends, are being spread throughout the space. Our church foyer, which had previously been known for exuding any feeling but warmth, is becoming a place to gather. Rather than grabbing coats and heading to the double doors, people are going to want to stick around now, getting to know one another, sharing renewed vision and passion for Christ, laughing about the silly and sharing the burden of the painful. 

All because of leaders with a vision and push to move. And that mocha colored paint

I love seeing changes happening to a church building. It tells me the people inside--the church herself--are vibrant and passionate, excited about progression and wanting to stay relevant and effective. 

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