rise and run

 

For two and a half weeks prior to the start of school, Molly and Finn have joined cross country teammates for sunrise workouts on the grounds of the U of I’s Arboretum. It’s a beautiful place to watch the sun come up, especially on misty mornings while the dew still clings to the plants all around.

 

Newbies like Finn typically run one loop of the course, which is about 2.5 miles and encompasses a couple of rare-in-central-Illinois hills. Returning runners usually complete two loops. 
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I usually spend the hour the kids are with their teammates on a brisk walk around the southern part of campus or the leafy “state streets” in Urbana. It’s a fun change of scenery from the regular routes we take near our house. On the last of the early morning practices this month, though, I trailed a fair distance behind the kids, poking around the beautiful course and spying the group pausing atop one of the hills. When I asked Molly later what they were doing, she said, “Coach told us to stop there and asked the 8th graders to share inspirational advice with the younger runners.” She said she told the kids that one way they can improve is to think about trying to “beat themselves” — by focusing on decreasing their own race times, instead of comparing themselves with other runners. IMG_6544

IMG_6493The group cools down with calisthenics and stretches led by the 8th graders. I’ve enjoyed watching these kids gradually become comfortable with this leadership role (and expect to see a lot of examples of that this year). On the first day, they mumbled instructions and petered out when counting for holding stretches. Coach told them if they didn’t speak up, they would be leading the group running back up and down the hill. That was quick motivation to expand their projection! 

IMG_6494Coach does an outstanding job making practices fun. In fact, Molly and Finn say they wish they could just participate in practices and opt out of the races! Tradition dictates that one of the morning practices ends with “Water Wars.” Much screaming and scrambling ensued. Everyone went home wet from head to toe — certainly including the kid Coach saw wandering into a grove of trees to hide. Once Coach spread the word, the boy was quickly surrounded and soaked.
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IMG_6512IMG_6545 Family tradition also calls for at least one post-practice cafe visit: mocha for Finn, hot chocolate for Molly, and a latte for Mama.IMG_6549 All this training (combined with a summer of semi-regular jogging) culminates in a short season of intense races. Yesterday, Finn participated in his first-ever meet, which was hosted by the kids’ school. Finn ran two miles in 22:02 in 99% humidity and heat index of 100 degrees — without vomiting, thank goodness! IMG_6550 IMG_6551 IMG_6552 Molly completed the course strongly in 16:10. She’s hoping to shave a few minutes off her time in order to qualify for varsity status on the team. I think she’ll be able to do it. Weather has such a big impact on runners’ performances, and yesterday was far from optimal.IMG_6554 IMG_6556We’re so proud of our young runners! Running doesn’t come naturally to anyone in our immediate family. As Molly’s and Finn’s coach says, “Running is hard and it’s painful. You have to learn how to manage the pain. You have to push yourself.” We could substitute “life” for “running,” couldn’t we? So true, so true.

 

13

Last Friday morn dawned beautiful and bright — another of these perfect summer days we’ve been blessed with this season and just right for ringing in our daughter’s 13th birthday. Thanks to “Camp Rose,” her cross country team’s annual running/pizza/pool party, being scheduled in the late morning hours, Molly was able to sleep in and linger in the dining room with her requested breakfast: steamy chai and raspberry ricotta scones. I plucked a few of her dahlias to add to the serving box. She was elated to see such a pretty set-up, just as I had hoped! IMG_6516

After our morning at Mahomet, we showered and then, while the boys hung out at home, Molly and I visited a salon for pedicures — Molly’s first. She totally deserved the relaxing treatment. She’s been doing so well at cross country practice, hoping for a chance to be on the varsity team and bring home some ribbons this fall. Meanwhile, she’s been gracefully managing chronic pain and swelling in both her feet, for which we’ve recently discovered the source: an extra bone near the arch of each foot, resulting in bone rubbing on bone and simultaneously grating against tendons. (She’ll most likely have these “navicular accessories” cut out surgically later this fall.) Thus, soaking her feet in a warm whirlpool, plus having her lower legs scrubbed, massaged, and slathered with lotion, was pure bliss. We came home with some funky colors on our toes!IMG_6526

That great morning workout helped stir up an appetite for more sweets in the afternoon, and I delivered. Molly’s chocolate cake with whipped mascarpone and cream frosting, sprinkled with (edible) dried rose petals, was yummy. (Finn was a little salty about it, noting that his most recent birthday cake was half the height of Molly’s and lacked frosting.)IMG_6519 IMG_6518IMG_6521Time to open presents! Molly and Finn picked out new bikes for their birthdays this year — big gifts that we hope will last a very long time. So, there was not much to open, but we had been holding onto a couple things Molly had selected from the antique store down the road months ago. You can tell how imperious she feels in her satin kimono robe! The unique Miss M is also now the proud owner of a brass and crystal duel inkwell/fountain pen holder. And then there’s the requisite book.  🙂
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While Finn attended a friend’s birthday party sleepover, Shane, Molly, and I went to Sushi Kame for dinner, then returned home to sit outside on the patio under the stars. We spoiled our girl all day! 

Molly measured a quarter of an inch taller (less short?) than me at the doctor’s office today. It is an odd feeling to have one’s child surpass one in height. It’s been a long time since I could comfortably carry around my girl, but I know I could and would if she were hurt or in jeopardy. Her adult stature represents a growing maturity in many other regards, too, and brings with it the realization that her pool of knowledge and experience is also deepening. When our kids are little, we frequently use our advantage in size and wisdom to swoop in to protect, guide, and override. With the loss of that advantage, I think we do lose some of that power, but hopefully by the time we’re looking eye-to-eye with our progeny, we have cultivated a shared outlook and mutual respect. I know there’s much refinement to practice, but I believe we’re on that road.
IMG_6530Happy birthday, dear baby girl! We love you so, through and through.

Molly’s Favorite Raspberry Ricotta Scones (from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe)

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 cup fresh raspberries
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bottom of a large, wide-ish bowl, whisk flours, baking powder, sugar and salt together.

With a pastry blender, add the butter (no need to chop it first) and use the blender to both cut the butter into the flour mixture until the biggest pieces are the size of small peas. Toss in raspberries and use the blender again to break them into halves and quarter berry sized chunks.

Add the ricotta and heavy cream together and stir them in to form a dough with a flexible spatula.Using your hands, gently knead dough into an even mass, right in the bottom of the bowl. Don’t fret if the raspberries get muddled and smudge up the dough. This is a pretty thing.

With as few movements as possible, transfer the dough to a well-floured counter, flour the top of the dough and pat it into a 7-inch square about 1-inch tall. With a large knife, divide the dough into 9 even squares. Transfer the scones to prepared baking sheet with a spatula. Bake the scones for about 15 minutes, until lightly golden at the edges. Cool in pan for a minute, then transfer to a cooling rack.

11

“Home boundward, home boundward, home boundward…” That’s our Finny, smiling and singing from the backseat of the van on the way home from swim lessons earlier this week. He’s a little mixed up, a lot happy, very funny, and entirely lovable. He says his favorite places are HOME, the library, and Jupiter’s (local pizza place). His favorite things to do? Read, EAT, play video games, watch TV and movies, wrestle with his dad, play catch, kick around the soccer ball. Finn’s also mentioned recently how he really likes to visit other towns on trips (where he also enjoys eating at new places!), and he’s developing an interest in golf. He doesn’t care for shopping at all and does not like large crowds, unless they are part of the scene at an amusement park. Mostly, he is content being at home with family and doing low-key things. Finny’s our kind of guy… And this past Wednesday, his 11th birthday, we honored him all day long with festivities and affection.

We started the day with apple puff pancakes — Finn’s special birthday request — then headed out to Sholem Pool for his and Molly’s swim lesson. Finn caught a couple episodes of “Johnny Test” and played with Shane and Molly while I went to the Illinois Radio Reader. We went to Jupiter’s for lunch and arcade games. Then we began a serious session in the kitchen, making shrimp & veggie wontons, marinating vegetables to grill, and baking Swedish mud cake. I popped beef brisket in the oven, and we awaited the arrival of beloved family — grandparents & their new puppy, Teddy Bear; plus two uncles, two aunts, and a cousin. We shared dinner & dessert before watching Uncles Austin & Nathan play in a softball game.

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Accompanying the card was a coupon for “3 favors from Molly”

These are the best days… when we all are together, the mood is happy, and we hold at bay most of our outside obligations. I think we’re especially lucky that our kids have summer birthdays, so we don’t have to think about school and can do lots of outdoor activities! I know we won’t always be able to spend the day with our kids when it’s their birthday, but I hope they’ll always recall these celebrations with great fondness.