...because home doesn't happen overnight.

1st 5K

After mentioning the completion of my first 5K a few weeks ago, I received some questions regarding my training. I thought it would be most helpful to just lay everything out in post form for ease of reference. FYI: I’ve always been a physically active person but never by means of running. This information is meant for novice runners like me whose goal is to run an entire 5K. If you have any running experience you may find these tips to be too rudimentary. On your mark. Get set. Let’s go!

1. Runner-friendly apps. When I signed up for the 5K, I had no idea how to train for a long distance race. I had no internal gauge to determine how fast or how far I was running. (Spoiler alert: I was slow and not running very far at all.) Steve downloaded 5K Runner onto my iPhone and I used it for the first month or so of my training. It’s basically an audio coach that talks you through a walk / run / walk workout three times per week. For the first 2-3 weeks, I was extremely discouraged. I could finish the workouts but felt completely spent during and after. My breathing was erratic when I ran. My legs hurt like crazy all the time – even on my rest days. I was seriously doubting my ability to run 3+ miles without stopping to walk when I could barely finish a 1-mile walk / run at a snail’s pace. I said things to myself like, “I’m just not a runner.” “Something isn’t right. My legs aren’t supposed to hurt this badly.” “It doesn’t feel natural when I run.” “I can always back out.” I even half-wished I would pass out like I used to so I would have an excuse not to run.

But somewhere around the 4-week mark of training, I noticed a shift. I had more control over my breathing. My legs weren’t hurting as much. I was experiencing natural “highs” after my runs which kind of made me look forward to the next run. Instead of focusing on how far away I was from my goal, I was able to reflect on how far I had come.

The kids and I visited my grandparents in Florida in early August. I mistakenly forgot to pack my phone. My first thought was, “Well, guess I won’t be able to run because I can’t run without someone / something telling me when and how.” It was a lame excuse and I knew it but that was my rationalization. Then I saw my grandma (who had a knee replacement last year) waking up early every morning to meet her girlfriends at the neighborhood pool for water aerobics and I thought, “If she can do that, I can make an effort to run a few times this week.” And so I did.

Without my 5K Runner app, I decided to borrow a wristwatch from my grandma and run until I needed to walk. To my surprise, I ran for 11 minutes without walking! It was the longest continuous run I had completed. I walked for two minutes then ran for another eight. My phone showed up in the mail a few days later but I ditched the 5K Runner app and stuck to my 20-25 minute wristwatch workout, running until I absolutely had to walk, walking for 1-2 minutes then finishing with a shorter run. By the end of my visit, I could run ~15 minutes without stopping to walk.

When I returned home, I added Map My Run to my phone to document my routes, distances, splits and overall times. I was running 2-3 times per week. Seven weeks into my training, I was able to run two miles without stopping to walk. That was the moment when I actually believed I could reach the 3.2-mile mark if I kept at it. I gradually added snippets of distance to those two miles and I completed my first unofficial 5K two and a half weeks before the race.

2. Runner-friendly gadgets. Starting out I ran with my phone in hand and the volume on high so I could hear the audio coach. Steve made fun of me and quickly bought an armband holster for my phone. (For the record, he’s the gadget lover in the relationship. I avoid them at all costs.) I tried adding a pair of basic ear buds from our junk drawer but I was continually adjusting them so they wouldn’t fall out, which they did regardless. And what to do with the dangling, bouncing wires?! It was annoying. Reluctantly, I shelled out money for wireless bluetooth earphones. They made me a gadget lover. They didn’t fall out (they come with ear buds and ear loops in various sizes for a custom fit) and they blocked out the sound of my ragged breathing. Not being able to hear myself breathe made such a difference to me! It’s as if I couldn’t hear how tired I was. The wireless aspect was completely freeing, too. I could focus on my form and pace instead of wrangling wires.

3. The right footwear. As mentioned above, pain in my legs from the knees down was my biggest hurdle early on. I had expected some pain but this was almost unbearable at times. I tried improving my gait by emphasizing a midfoot strike. It definitely felt better than my natural (i.e., very wrong) side-to-side stride but I was still in pain.

I did some reading online and determined improper support of my high arches was partly to blame. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t own true running shoes. I read a bunch of reviews online and ordered a pair of Brooks Pure Cadence 2 running shoes. I didn’t care what color they were. I just ordered the cheapest ones in my size from Amazon. I loved them right out of the box. There was no break in period, no blisters. With proper cushioning in all the right places, my gait improved even more. Maintaining proper running form required less effort and felt “natural” for the first time in my life. (I followed these guidelines for proper running form.) The pain in my knees, shins and feet improved almost immediately. My arches never felt better.

However, the pain in my calves did not improve. In fact, I even experienced intense swelling at one point. My legs never swelled during any of my pregnancies, but the pain reminded me of how my legs used to feel after a 12-hour workday standing in the pharmacy while pregnant. Back then, I wore compression stockings for relief. I wondered if it would be weird to wear them while running. A quick Amazon search revealed that compression socks for runners actually do exist! I had no idea. I snagged a highly rated pair of performance run socks in pink. (Because it was the cheapest color and I don’t care what I look like when I run.) THESE SOCKS WERE GAME CHANGERS! For me, the claims of more comfort, less fatigue and quicker recovery completely held up in real life. It should come as no surprise that my first run in the socks was the 11-minute wristwatch run I mentioned in #1. Sometimes I even wore them for comfort on rest days. #sohot

4. Ideal running conditions. At first, I ran whenever I had a break in my schedule. The kids were home from school for the summer and squeezing in a run wasn’t always easy. I ran when I could. It didn’t take me long to figure out I was NOT a night runner. I didn’t like not being able to see what was around me and I had trouble falling asleep afterwards. Running in the stifling hot summer afternoons was excruciating. Also, I learned that running shortly after eating gave me intense runner’s heartburn. For these reasons, I made every effort to get my runs in first thing in the morning. Later on as summer dwindled and the temps cooled, I was able to go for pleasant afternoon runs but morning time really was my running sweet spot.

When I started training, I had visions of running in all these cool places around my city. But what I realized was that if the location required me to get in a vehicle, I was less likely to run. It seemed like too much effort. Eventually, I settled on a route in my neighborhood. (After all, a legit running club runs through our ‘hood every Tuesday.) It’s mostly flat and quiet with little to no traffic and the kicker is that it’s just steps from my front door.

I had a few friends offer to run with me but I never took them up on it. For one, I thought I was so terrible that I would hold them back. But mostly I preferred running alone. It was me time, albeit grueling. (That might be an introvert thing.)

So, yeah, my ideal running conditions involved cool temps in the morning, an empty stomach, my trusty neighborhood route and just me. That’s when I felt and did my best. (Luckily, the conditions of the real race were quite similar.) Once I tried a different route on a HOT afternoon and it went horribly. There were hills, a construction zone, heavy traffic and no shoulder to run on. I walked a lot and it took me >45 minutes to finish. I vowed never to take that route again.

5. Patience. I don’t like doing things I’m not good at. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t attempt to run before this summer. (Fear was the other big factor.) I’m old enough to know that accomplishing a lofty goal requires hard work and time. I knew training for a 5K would be strenuous physically. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run 3 miles overnight. I gave myself ten weeks to train for the race. Still, I expected to see results sooner than I did. I had no choice but to be patient with my progress. I’m not going to lie. The first month sucked. Big time. I couldn’t run longer than a minute without needing to stop and walk at least the same amount of time or longer. The entire time I was running, I couldn’t wait to walk. I told Steve I would rather go through another au naturel birth than run a 5K. That’s where #6 came in and kept me going.

6. Inspiration. I found inspiration everywhere. For starters, Steve organized the Lift Up Autism 5K. I watched him spend so much of what little free time he had setting up an event website, getting people registered, creating the race route, organizing a group of volunteers, contacting sponsors, etc. all for a good cause and I wanted to support him. I also found it extremely inspiring to read about others’ first 5Ks. There’s a lot to be found by googling “first 5K race.” Dipping into others’ experiences helped me focus on endurance, reaching that 3.2 mile mark and finishing strong with a smile on my face.

I thought about my childhood neighbor and friend who now has the extremely challenging job of raising three children, two of which are severely autistic.

I thought about my dear girlfriend who experienced a traumatic labor and delivery which ultimately resulted in her losing her baby the same day he was born.

I thought about my own son, Layne, who was once on the autism spectrum and has grown into the most intelligent and sweetest ten-year-old I know.

I thought about my kids seeing me cross the finish line.

When my legs wanted to stop I thought about all the chronically ill people who would give anything to have healthy, tired legs.

During one run in Florida, I had just reached my goal for the day when a golf cart passed me carrying a severely disabled elderly woman. I was so ready to quit but I ran another two minutes just for her.

During a run in my neighborhood, I passed an elderly woman who frequently runs in the area. She looks as if she’s been a runner all her life and has the injuries and crippled posture to show for it. I had only planned on running 2 miles that day but ended up running 2.5 in honor of her.

During a week that Steve was out of town for work, the only way I could get in my run was to push Mabrey in a (non-jogging) stroller. The stroller is over a decade old. It’s the only stroller we’ve ever owned. The wheels are terribly squeaky and I fear it could collapse at any moment. That stroller was all over the road that day! I kept thinking it was too hard to run behind but then I thought about Mabrey and I wanted her to see me do something difficult. I finished a 5K run that day. Mabrey had no clue. She just liked going fast. The next time I ran stroller-less, it was so easy relative to that stroller run.

You get the point. Inspiration is everywhere if you want to find it. It’s yours for the taking. Use it to do good, hard things.

1st 5k 3

I completed a total of three 5K runs before the actual race. I posted a PR of 25:09 on race day. Out of 70 participants, I placed second. I was the first woman to cross the finish line. And I did it with a smile on my face.

After the race, my sister (who is an avid runner and has completed several marathons) asked me if I was hooked. I’m not entirely sure what my relationship with running is from here on out. I feel great. I’m probably in the best conditioning shape of my life. The fighter in me wants to get my time down but I don’t want chronic injuries. That being said, I ran a mile “for fun” this past weekend and posted my best mile time ever – 7:14. I read somewhere that a 37- to 41-year-old is in the top 1% of their age group if they can run a mile in 6:48 or better. I turn 37 next month. I kinda want to try. For fun.

For me, the weirdest part about all of this is that I run for fun now?! Who am I.

Reading others’ experiences inspired me so much and I want to pay it forward. Have you ever completed a 5K? What were your training must-haves? One more thing: Do you use a music app or create playlists for running / working out? That’s the one thing I haven’t been able to nail down. Any songs you would recommend? I’m all ears. Hehe.


It’s hard to believe it has been a year since we spontaneously adopted Cheetah. I can still remember the entire family driving to pick her up. We had no idea what we were doing. At the time, we had no experience with cats and quite frankly we were skeptical of, even frightened by, them. But she needed a good home and I couldn’t think of a really good reason not to take her in. Plus, she had the saddest lil’ eyes. I couldn’t say no.

layne + cheetah

I’m so happy I didn’t say no. Cheetah has been the best pet ever for our family. She’s protective, mild-mannered, hilarious, cuddly, intuitive, well-behaved, quiet, independent, lazy and at times playful. Personally, I think she’s waaaaay easier than any dog I’ve ever encountered even though she is very dog-like. Coming from “not a cat person” whose family bred beagles growing up, that’s saying a lot. I would have never guessed in a million years that we would own a cat and love her as much as we do. Cheetah has converted many cat skeptics over the last year including family members, friends and complete strangers.

cheetah morning

Cheetah has her own little daily routine which cracks me up. She starts the morning by coming into our bedroom when she hears Steve getting ready for work. She sits on the bed and waits patiently for him to scratch behind her ears and rub her face. Then she bounds down the hallway (seriously, you can hear her galloping these days) to the kitchen and quietly mews at the doors to the backyard until someone opens them so she can watch the birds and squirrels. She stays in the kitchen while we eat breakfast. The boys tell her “goodbye, be a good girl” before heading out to catch the bus. She follows them to the mudroom and sees them off.

mabrey + cheetah

cheetah + nursery

cheetah in a basket

cheetah + play kitchen

legos cheetah

After the morning rush, Cheetah spends most of the day playing with Mabrey and napping in random places. She’s so great with Mabrey who can sometimes be rough. If I were Cheetah I think I would have scratched her by now, but she hasn’t. Some of the places I find her sleeping are quite comical: the kids’ beds, in baskets / bags / boxes galore, on the mantel, in closets, on Mabrey’s play kitchen and even in the kids’ Legos bag. She will sleep almost anywhere. Her favorite spot is wherever she is at the moment. On the weekends, she follows the kids around lounging while they play. During the week, she greets the boys after school by flopping down and rolling over for belly rubs. Everett always asks her how her day was and then asks me if she was good.

While I’m making dinner, a neighborhood cat usually strolls through our backyard. Cheetah follows it from the mudroom to the kitchen to the master bedroom, watching through the french doors and windows. It’s the fastest she moves all day.

cheetah tub

For not liking baths, she sure likes the clawfoot tub – especially right after the kids have bathed or showered. Similarly, if a glass of water is left within her reach, she gently splashes her front paws in it and gives herself a bath. We can’t leave drinking glasses unattended!

everett + cheetah

cheetah cuddle

In the evenings, Cheetah is extra cuddly. The less time we spend at home during the day, the more cuddly she is. She accompanies Steve and me as we make the bedtime rounds. She sits quietly in the boys’ room as we tell them goodnight. She waits in the hallway just outside Mabrey’s door for a minute or two after we’ve put her to bed to make sure all is well. The way she looks after them is the sweetest. Then she’ll join Steve and me in the living room while we watch Netflix, read or talk. If she’s really exhausted or hot, she rolls onto her back, belly up, to let the ceiling fans cool her fluff. (see first image above) I laugh every time. Before bed, Steve cradles her like a baby and rubs her belly. He’ll probably kill me for sharing that but it’s true! Then we’re off to bed and she has free rein. I have no idea where she sleeps unless she sleeps behind the crook in my knees.

When we first brought Cheetah home, I worried about her destroying our furniture and/or rugs. I worried she would have accidents. I worried I wouldn’t be able to handle the cat hair. But so far, she hasn’t destroyed anything or had any accidents. The DIY hidden litter box has been awesome. We still have the cardboard lounger and carpet tree found in this post. The latter is beginning to come undone so a tweak is on the horizon. As long as I brush her regularly, Cheetah doesn’t shed too badly and when she does it’s mostly clumps that can be easily picked up or swept up. (I still swear by the vacuums I mentioned here.) She sometimes gets on the countertops which I really don’t like but it’s usually because she’s hungry or thirsty and needs food or water. The kids take turns feeding her. Once you feed her, she’s a friend for life ;)

I don’t really know the point of this post except to say that I never thought rescuing a pet could be so great and maybe more people should try it if they can. And if you think you aren’t a “cat person,” think again. Our vet guesses Cheetah is at least part Maine Coon. I’ve heard from so many Maine Coon owners professing their doglike qualities and kid-friendliness. If a dog-cat sounds like a good fit for your family, maybe give Maine Coon varieties a look.

Have you ever adopted a pet? Were you surprised by how much they improved your family life? Here’s to many more happy cativersaries!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

09.01.15 / Some Outdoor Stuff

How exciting is that post title? It just grabs your attention and pulls you in, right? Haha.

outdoor 5

I like a good renovation as much as the next house-loving person. But I have to say it’s been nice living in a post-renovation home. We’re able to make it through entire weekends with no dust flying, no rooms off limits, no major disruptions. It feels like we’re finally living in our house. Maybe that doesn’t make sense but, if you’ve ever lived through a major remodel, maybe it does.

When/if we get the itch to DIY, we have several little projects still on the to-do list. This summer we crossed off a few of those things and even tackled some projects that weren’t on the list. We built screens to disguise the trash and recycling bins and the electric meter. (So far, we haven’t received any hate mail from the meter reader.) We also added a refrigerator side panel and organized the garage. I haven’t written about the garage yet, but we parked a vehicle in it for the first time ever! #postrenovationgoals

Today I’m sharing a few more outdoor projects we worked on this summer. They aren’t really post-worthy as stand alone projects so I’m lumping them together in one meaty post.

outdoor stuff 8

We added snow rails to the metal roof. (And by we, I mean Steve.) You may recall that we originally installed clear plastic snow guards on the roof above the exterior man doors and garage door. (You can spy them here and in most of the exterior shots of the house.) They were *supposed to* prevent snow and ice from avalanching off the metal roof in the winter to protect our gutters and any humans on the ground. But after our first heavy snowfall two years ago, the guards over the front door slid right off with the snow. (!) It wasn’t exactly the protection we were hoping for. We think their failure had everything to do with the pitch – or lack thereof – of our roof.

The good news is we found a local company that was able to manufacture snow rails for us. The bad news is it took TWO YEARS to finally get the snow rails in our hands. (For the company’s sake, I’m not naming them publicly. While their product is excellent, we can’t vouch for their customer service.) The snow rails were color-matched to our existing roof and set us back $500. Steve easily tapped off the plastic snow guards with a rubber mallet. Then he cut sections of the snow rail to length and screwed them into the metal roof ribs with stainless steel screws. (The ribs are the raised “lines” on the roof.) The screws are rustproof and boast rubber washers. The major stipulation was that each continuous length of rail had to end on a rib. You can see how each rail ends on a rib in the photos above and below.

outdoor stuff 6

outdoor stuff 7

The rail extends around the entire perimeter of the roof – front, sides and back. With help from his dad, Steve knocked out the job in two hours. We actually love the aesthetic of the snow rails and we’re glad to have the rails in place before winter hits. Of course, this means we’ll probably get no snow this year. So be it!

$500 plus two hours of DIY labor isn’t the end of the world but if you’re considering metal for a low-pitched roof in a colder climate, it’s just something to keep in mind. Learn from our mistakes, people. We’re your guinea pigs ;)

outdoor stuff 2

We made an outdoor shelf for the kitchen window. (And by we, I mean I told Steve what I wanted it to look like and he built it.) I’ve always thought the window needed a shelf to better connect it to the deck area.

outdoor stuff 4

The shelf is constructed of cedar boards and off-the-shelf exterior brackets – both from Menards. The brackets are screwed into the brick facade with Red Head wall anchors. FYI – Red Head refers to the type of screw, not the color ;) Steve added a lip of trim with nails and wood glue. I like that the lip provides a little security for loose items.

outdoor stuff 3

The shelf is a great spot for drinks, napkins and dessert plates when we eat outside. We purposely didn’t make it deep enough for dinner plates because it’s not really conducive to acting as a pass-through… which would have been a cool idea but not practical. The kitchen sink is just inside the window but it’s difficult to access the shelf through the window.

outdoor stuff 1

While I’m thinking of it, many of you want to know how the outdoor furniture is holding up. The plastic wicker-like bases are in mint condition. No breakage, no fading, no rust. Covering them in a high quality cover during the winter helps immensely. (See how we store the outdoor furniture here.)

The cushions are a bit more needy. They aren’t meant to be left out all the time. I only place them on the sectional when we’re using it. In the summer, I stash the cushions behind the sectional under the deep eave for added protection from the elements. In the winter, I store them in the attic. The covers are machine washable and I wash them each fall before stashing them away for the winter. They’re in pretty good condition. The zippers still work. There aren’t any tears or holes. There is a spot on one cover where a pile of dead leaves left a stain. The cushions are reversible so I just turn that side down. I line dry the covers after washing but there has been some shrinkage. They still fit the cushions but you can see how the piping doesn’t line up perfectly now. It’s not a deal breaker but, again, something to keep in mind.

Also, those Woolly Pockets are the bomb. I love them.

shade sail hooks 1

We added hardware for future shade sails. Adding shade sails above the deck and dining patio has been on our wish list for a while. A few readers suggested checking out Costco for affordable options. Thank you! We did give them a look but we really feel like our space would benefit most from custom sails. We’ve determined a larger rectangular sail over the deck and a smaller triangular sail over the dining patio is the ideal setup for us. Because of ongoing insurance quandaries resulting from Everett’s accident earlier this year, we don’t feel comfortable shelling out money for the actual sails this year.

shade sail hooks 2

Instead, we purchased and installed the hardware (basically a trio of heavy duty rings) along the eave and have loose plans to put in a trio of posts in the yard this fall. (I marked out the general locations of the rings in the photo above with red X’s.) We’re hoping to add the sails next summer. I’ll keep you posted. Sometimes, this is how bigger projects go. We piecemeal them into smaller projects as time and money allow.

outdoor stuff 9

We put in two garden beds. I wish the picture better portrayed how much joy this project has brought to our lives. I also wish our neighbor’s fence was charcoal or black.

backyard clearing

backyard clearing

backyard clearing

One side of our backyard was overgrown with LARGE random shrubs. We cleared them out earlier this summer with the help of a chainsaw and a rented stump grinder and paid a tree trimming crew to come out, mulch everything and haul it off. That brush pile was three times bigger when it was all said and done. Then we made two basic 4′ x 8′ raised garden beds. We had rich soil + organic compost delivered to fill the beds. Layne had grown a few hot pepper and cucumber plants from seed at school last spring so we plopped those in one of the beds and let nature do its thing.

Clearing out the space for the beds opened up our backyard to a neighbor’s backyard. His name is Bassim. He’s Lebanese and the sweetest person. As soon as he saw we were attempting to grow a garden, he offered up two tomato plants from his garden that weren’t doing so well. He thought they would fare better in our raised beds. Plus, he’s just really nice. The tomato plants took well to the transplant. We had a decent first harvest: first cucumbers, then tomatoes and now hot peppers. I have no idea what we did right but we’re so into this gardening thing now.

garden harvest

The kids LOVE going out and checking the garden everyday. They pull weeds and pick whatever is ripe. They bring in their mini harvests and wash it all by hand. The cucumbers usually don’t make it to the fridge. The kids eat them fresh of the vine. I’ve been making all of my favorite tomato recipes including this one. Bassim lets me clip fresh basil from his garden. It’s so good as a garnish.

Everything you’ve heard about growing your own food is true. It’s opens you up to whole new community. Okay, maybe one neighbor isn’t an entire community but still. When Bassim sees us outside weeding, watering or harvesting, he comes over to say hi and talk garden talk. And seeing the kids’ sense of pride and excitement in growing, picking and eating their own food is priceless. It’s something I want to continue to nurture.

The second bed is growing impressive weeds. Cue the womp, womp sound effect. We didn’t plant anything in it because we wanted to see how the first summer went with one bed. I thought about making it a cutting garden so I could grow flowers to bring inside for decoration, but our family has enjoyed growing food so much that I think we’ll plant more veggies next year. Suggestions?

That pretty much brings you up to speed on outdoor projects around here. Have you crossed off any outdoor projects on your to-do list this summer?

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking