Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Christmas letter, 2012

Swenson Family Awards show 2012
taking the art of Christmas card bragging to a whole new level…

Best long distance parenting/ most shocking vacation photos:  Matt (Went to Germany for 2 months and cared for wounded soldiers at Landstuhl Medical Center.  Really proud of him.  Really, really glad he took those amputation pictures out of the slideshow.)

Best family vacation:  A tie between Pescadero, CA (Swensons, redwoods and beaches in Northern California) and Park City, UT (long weekend with Lewis family. Ben fell in pond.)

Most “participant” medals earned:  5 (Liz: 2 marathons, 2 half marathons and the Las Vegas Ragnar Relay. Honorable mention to Jack and Charlotte for their fancy new soccer trophies!)

Easiest to blame for household mayhem: Ben, 2. (“I think Ben did it!!” has become the chorus of our domestic symphony.  Most of the time, he did do it.  Too bad he’s too cute to discipline.)

Most improved fitness: Matt (caught the fitness bug with a biking twist.  He no longer teases Liz about her crazy running antics, and Liz *tries* not to tease him about the bike shorts.)

Best actress: A tie between Charlotte for her role as the Mommy in every single game of house, and Anna for flapping her pretend wings and ‘flying’ to the school each day.

Best self-hummed theme music: Jack (Yes, he’s still doing it.  It’s still awesome.)

3 ½ years down, 1 ½ years to go in surgical residency.  We’re enjoying all the moments we can between long shifts and active kids, and we’re trying to not play the “when residency is over…” game too much.  Our kids are creative, happy, and all around great people.  2013 is already filling up with assorted races and events for all of us.
We hope 2012 has treated you well.  All the best in 2013!  We love hearing you from all of you!

Love from the Swenson Family: Matt, Liz, Jack (7) Charlotte (6), Anna (4), and Ben (2)

3732 Ashling St, Las Vegas, NV 89129     eliswenson.blogspot.com

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Second Helping of 26.2 miles

There is nothing like a good first.  From first kisses to first days at school to first babies, I love experiencing something new.  It makes me nervous and excited.  It makes me feel wide awake, nerve endings firing.  With a first looming, I find it hard to talk or think about anything else.  I have whole photo albums filled with the evidence of firsts.  And I'm not alone in this love of firsts:  gold medals, pop songs, and a good portion of the Guiness Book of world records all celebrate firsts.

Seconds, on the other hand, can go unnoticed.  They can sometimes get brushed over in the journey towards "bests" and "mosts" which go side by side with "firsts" as coveted life experiences.  Seconds lack the drama. Remember McKayla Maroney's reaction when she accepted that silver medal?  Need I say more about our lackluster relationship with seconds?

But after running my second marathon this weekend, I want to sing the praises of second chances.  Let me tell you why:

1.  You learn from the first time.
When I ran my first marathon, I was absolutely sure that I could not tolerate more pain, and that my legs were surely going to fold like a wobbly newborn giraffe's if I took one more step.  When lo and behold, they carried me miraculously over that finish line, my subconscious took note.  When the same pain started to creep in yesterday, my brain drew upon those memories.  I remembered what it was like to hurt before, but more importantly, I remembered that the pain stopped and the finish line beckoned.  I was able to push myself with more confidence, knowing that I was indeed as strong as I hoped I was.

2.  Seconds are more fun.
I think I had the majestic "Chariots of Fire" soundtrack playing a loop in my brain for 3 days surrounding my first marathon.  It was a dream, a vision, a goal.  I was breaking barriers and changing my whole story.  I was making history, baby and taking myself very seriously.  But this second time around, with some of the pressure off, I let myself have more fun.  I joked with ladies in the port-o-potty line.  I goaded on a suffering runner by telling him he was about to get chicked. I elicited applause from a group of tired spectators by shouting that "I just ran 23 miles, and I'm tired, Come on!!"  Did I annoy people?  Undoubtedly.  Did I have more fun? Absolutely.

3.  Seconds make you feel like you belong.
This time around, I had the confidence to belong.  I was among those giving encouragement and advice to nervous first timers.  I had a story of my own to recall.  I was no longer an imposter and a wannabe, but among friends, having already earned the right to be there. I greeted the rituals surrounding the race like old friends, and felt more 'in my skin'.

4.  Seconds lead to 50ths.
On the bus on the way up to the starting line, I sat next to an energetic 55 year old (who went on to beat me by a solid 5 minutes, btw).  She was there, partly, to celebrate with a friend of hers, who was running his 50th marathon that day.  As I ran my measly second, I greeted each turn in the race and tried to imagine revisiting the same tough moments again and again, 50 times.  To my total surprise, I found that I couldn't wait.  I wanted the good, the bad, and the ugly of marathon life to become a natural rhythm.  I wanted to feel at home on the race course.  I wanted to spend my life exploring the world 26.2 miles at a time.

There were moments yesterday when things got hard.  4 hours is a long time to be on your feet and it gives you plenty of time for self doubt and self loathing.  But knowing I had already conquered once made a huge difference.  I was able to dig deeper and do more.  I was able to push the final miles and finish with a smile.  And I was able to shave over 10 minutes off my time.

Someone yesterday was holding a sign that said, "The strong get stronger".  It reminded me that as I was testing my limits, I was expanding them.  I am capable of more now than I ever have been.  And that is something I am willing to run 100 marathons to keep on saying.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Getting weepy over a plant

Ok, I am not exaggerating when I say that one of the reasons I chose our home here in Las Vegas was this larger than life spiky prehistoric wonder of an agave plant in the front yard.  It was novel.  Edgy.  Tried to gore unsuspecting visitors as they walked up our sidewalk.  I loved it.
agave in this picture is larger than it appears.

So 3 years pass, and the agave plant and I settle into a happy coexistence.  It grows.  Our family grows.  I ignore the dead leaves trapped under its thorny spines, and occasionally trim back its needle sharp ends.  But mainly it stands as a cheerful, spunky "welcome home" sign to me in all my coming and going.

Then one morning this May, a small shoot appeared in the middle.  The next day, it had grown a foot and resembled a large stalk of asparagus.  Days later, it was taller than me.  Then, the garage.  Then, it towered over the neighbor's house and sprouted magnificent leafy branches.  Like this:

i-fcf863a3ec28df8a0612e9b08ede5331-Century Plant3.jpg
not my agave.  or my house.   But this is pretty much what ours looked like.  

In my curiosity over what was happening to my wonder of a plant, I took to the internet.  It was there that I learned that my plant, also known as a "century plant", was shooting forth its life force into one grand finale of reproductive fervor.  It would sprout, go to seed, and die.  Knowing the end was near, we watched the plant wistfully each day as it grew taller, as the branches grew wider and began to flower, and as the bottom "mother" plant began to brown.  Then, it started to lean.  A lot.   

Finally, on the morning after a windstorm with the plant at nearly a 45 degree angle, leaning directly over my neighbor's roof, he finally caught up with me in the driveway and demanded in a very nice, neighborly way that we remove the thing before it came crashing into his roof/car/children.  

And so that evening, Matt tied a rope around the trunk and heaved the entire thing out of the ground: 

it came down easier and faster than we expected.  Despite the size, its root system was very superficial.  Because we were neglecting Family Home Evening to deal with the plant, we even came up with an on the spot lesson about building a strong foundation.  The neighbors may have stared when they saw us all straddling the spent tree singing, "The wise man built his house upon the rock!"

Yes, I know it's ridiculous to get sentimental about a spiny succulent.  But this wild and unwieldy plant was kind of like a pet to me: loyal, friendly, and full of heart.  It gave up its life in a spectacular fashion and gave us one last marvelous show.  Not to get sentimental.  About a plant.  

It took all evening to saw the remains of the trunk into small chunks, and 3 weeks worth of garbage pick-ups before all the remnants were taken.  Matt finally had to cut off all the leaves and roll the naked pineapple shaped core awkwardly into our garbage can before they would haul it away.  

We planted a new, much smaller agave plant in the hole left by our old beauty.  It is young and lacks the ancient character of the first.  But with any luck, it will grow into a part of someone else's story, somewhere down the line.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Lark and Parker's going away party

The Fillmores were the kind of awesome friends who live down the street and trade babysitting and carpool your kids and teach their primary classes and feed your fish while you're away and come over for holidays and commiserate about the tough and wonderful life of surgical residency.  Our kids would bike cheerfully between the two houses and could be bribed to do just about anything with the promise that "you get to go over to Lark's house afterwards!"  Unfortunately, Parker decided to graduate from residency, get a hot-shot fellowship at Johns Hopkins, and pick up and move to Baltimore.  We didn't know what we'd do without them.  And my philosophy is "when in doubt, throw a party." 

Yeah, so that's what we did.  To send the Fillmore family off in style, we invited the whole ward and made tex mex food by the pan-full.  Everyone who loved the Fillmores---which is to say, everyone in the entire ward and a good portion of our neighborhood--came out to wish them well.  

Ana Wagner
Lark with the Turners
Zach and Summer 

The Airds

Jamie Jones with Cassidy and Dakota, Lisa McIntyre, Thavrin Sok, and Diane Stephens

The Peltons

At one count, there were as many as 11 children in the sand box. 

We loved the Fillmores and we'll miss having them around.  But I'm so glad we got to know them and their great kids, and we hope we'll bump into each other again.  
Jack, Paul, Charlotte, Afton, Mimi, and Anna

Charlotte, 5, and Afton, 8
Anna, 3, and Mimi, 4

Jack, 7, and Paul, 5

the marathon

Things I hope I won't forget about running my first marathon

Night before: Left my children with my in laws and drove down to Provo.  Upon noticing that the distance between Riverton and Provo is 26 miles, I hyperventilate the entire drive down.  Look for steel cut oats at the grocery store and come home, instead, with a large loaf of frosted apple cinnamon dessert bread.  Ok, well, actually only half of the loaf made it home.  Nervous eater.  Jenny stayed up and played cards with me until 1:00 am.

3:45 am:  Oatmeal (non steel cut) in hand, phone charged, dressed from head to toe in geeky running gear, Jenny drops me off at (what I thought was) the bus stop.  Jenny fusses over me like I'm a kindergartner on the first day of school.  Then, I realize that I have been dropped off at the "marathon maniacs" reunion bus instead.  Flee back to Jenny.

5:45 am:  I don't know if it's runners, or if it's Utah, but everyone at the starting line was really nice.  And as far as I can tell, everyone else has run at least a few marathons before.  The number of people willing to repeat the experience encourages me.

6:00 am:  Get lined up with the balding, smiling pacer wearing a "100 marathon club" singlet and holding a "4:00 marathon" sign.  He is full of encouragement and bouncing from foot to foot, anxious to get started.

Miles 1-7: Beautiful.  Keep the headphones off and talk to the racers nearby.  Wave at the few people who have come out of their farm houses and ranches to cheer us on.  Everything is green and smells like earth and I'm making plans in my head to move here someday.

Miles 7-9:  What?  A hill?  I thought this course was all downhill.  Untangle my headphones and plug in some hill-killing tunes.  This is about the time I start to notice the wind, too.

Miles 10-13:  Lost sight of my pacer when I take a quick porta-potty break.  Start rethinking my ambitious pace.

Mile 13: Catch up with the pacer around the half marathon mark.  Ask "Am I supposed to feel like this only halfway though?"  He keeps stride, doesn't move his head and say, "Nope.  You should feel great."  I am really hoping he is being sarcastic.

Mile 15:  I start looking forward with longing to seeing my family cheering up ahead.  Start counting miles by how close I am to mile 22 (our rendezvous) and then, by how close I am to mile 19 (when I plan on calling to give them a heads up.)

Mile 19:  Call Mom.  I am informed that Matt has driven all night to come cheer me on and is now somewhere between me and my family, walking ahead. I am expecting to see Matt waving on the sidelines any moment.  During all this, I lose sight of the pacer for the last time. And in an instant, I don't care how long it takes me to finish anymore.  I understand that just finishing at all will be an accomplishment.

Mile 20-21:  Where is Matt?!?  Seriously, how slow must he be walking?!?  I vow not to let him catch me walking, but my calves are starting to ache.

Mile 21.5:  Finally see Matt, holding a sign up high that says, "I drove all night to see you".  I nearly knock him over.  He runs beside me until we catch up with my family.

Mile 22:  Kids waving cow bells, holding signs.  Hugs and smiles.  I am so happy to see them all that I just want to quit right there and maybe sit down in their cooler.  Matt gets a bike and prods me onward.  I burst into tears.

Miles 22-26.1:  This is where I learn the difference between saying something will be tough and knowing how tough it is.  This is when I pull up every cheap mind trick and mantra I have to keep my legs moving. This is where I begin to form metaphors in my head between running and childbirth.  This is where I see the finish line ahead, but feel like I'm on a treadmill because it doesn't seem to be getting any closer.  This is where runners are stopping to rub their legs with ben-gay and slug down painkillers.  This is where the crowds thicken and a little girl waves a sign that said, "Don't stop now, people are watching!"  This is where Matt stays beside me on a bike, holding my popsicles and offering me water and telling me to get going again every time I start to walk.

Mile 26.2:  This is where I transform from a girl that runs sometimes to marathoner.  I am a different person than I was 4 hours and 7 minutes before.

Right after we crossed the finish line! 
  Even though I started the race with a goal of running under 4 hours and ended up at 4:07:02, I'm surprised by how little my finishing time matters to me.  I think with awe and respect of all the runners that surrounded me and finished near me and think, "Yeah.  I don't mind being one of these people." I might break 4 hours someday--might even go on and qualify for Boston--but maybe I'll just come back and toe the line for the joy of running and finishing and becoming a different person all over again.

I'd like to thank Mom, Dad, Carolyn, John, Jenn and Chris, James and a whole cadre of small children for coming out to support me.  Big kudos to Jenny for volunteering as team mom and dropping me off in the middle of the night.  I'd also like to thank Creamies for donating ice cream to all my children after the race.  Oh yeah, and Matt, for driving all night, and then walking a mile, running a mile, and biking 6 more.  And for shoving me out the door on the mornings my alarm clock was "broken", pretending he enjoyed hearing play by plays of all my long training runs, and everything else.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Highlights for a New Year

I'm not nearly as good at taking pictures as I should be, considering how absurdly attractive my family is.  Here is a smattering of the last few weeks.   

This is: a pictures of Charlotte showing off her finished Christmas cookies.

The pictures I did not take:  anything at all of the 20+ people we had in our house one afternoon during Christmas break when we hosted a cookie decorating party.  Together, we managed to decorate well over 200 cookies.  I was inspired to host this party by Matt's work friend, Terry, who has hosted a similar party for many years and who has invited us to come and frost her home year after year--despite having no children of her own.
These are: pictures of the kids in their new Christmas jammies.

The pictures I did not take:  the kids running around the house searching for "Christmas angel" clues, "mary" (Charlotte) riding on "the donkey" (Grandpa), while the "angel" (Anna) stands on the coffee table and shouts, "Behold, I give you good tidings of great joy!"

This is:  a picture of the kids on Christmas morning, ready to go downstairs.
The pictures I did not take: Charlotte and Anna throwing up on Grandma right before bed on Christmas Eve.  Matt sneaking downstairs to turn on my new iPod dock (which started playing manheim steamroller while it was still wrapped under the tree.)  A morning full of  frenzied, noisy joy, crinkled paper and "oh, mommy, I LOVE it!"

This is: a picture of the girls painting each other's nails.

The picture I did not take: Anna opening her nail polish straight out of her stocking and proceeding to paint her lips with it...like lip gloss.  Also, token splotches of nail polish that ended up on Jack and Ben's church clothes.

This is: a picture of Anna's stitches, the morning after her unfortunate disagreement with our TV stand.  (January 7th)

The picture I did not take: blood streaming down Anna's head as I yell up the stairs for Matt, who was mercifully home and ready within minutes with lidocaine and sutures.  Anna, crying but holding remarkably still as Matt put 7 stitches into her forehead right in our bedroom.  The 6 OTHER children (ours, plus Lark's) that sat downstairs while all this was happening, being considerate enough not to break their heads open, too.

The picture I did not HAVE to take: Liz sitting with 6 other children in a crowded ER into the early hours of the morning, waiting for someone to get her 3 year old's head to stop bleeding.  Wow, am I grateful at times like this for the highly specialized talents of my superhero husband!

Friday, December 9, 2011

For my tech-savvy friends (especially the ones for whom I have no valid street address), here is our 2011 holiday letter, complete with charming pictures. :) 

There’s a first time for everything…
Swenson Family 2011
In February, I was inexplicably inspired to start running and started the Coach to 5K training program.  Subsequently, I ran my first 5K (April 23), my first 12K (Thanksgiving), my first half marathon (July 4th), and my first Ragnar relay (October).  I offer cheerful apologies to all the runners I have taunted in the past, as well as all the non-runners whom I now badger to run with me because “it’s just 3 miles, come on!” (Since we’re on the subject, you know you really want to run the Salt Lake Marathon with me next spring…!)
Anna has transformed into a dangerously charming young lady this year, earning nicknames like “bombshell” and “Miss America”, in part because of her cascading blonde hair.  She will stormily protest if you accidentally call her a “little” anything (“I am NOT a little lady.  I’m a BIG lady!”)  She has yet to experience her first haircut, as Liz is still remembers Charlotte’s own haircut from last year all too clearly. 
Charlotte started Kindergarten and Jack started first grade, and with those first days came hectic schedules and a flurry of other firsts.  For example, my first carpool, the first time I made a loaf’s worth peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and froze them, and the first time I fell asleep on top of my kids’ homework.
Jack signed up for his first organized sport --coach-pitch baseball.  Although it took some time to learn the rules (once, he got to second base then kept running straight into the outfield) he enjoyed it.  He also loved having Matt there to cheer him on, even when that meant Dad sacrificed sleep to be there. 
Do you remember the first time you read James and the Giant Peach or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?  Matt cuddles up with Jack and Charlotte each night and reads out loud from our old childhood favorites.  It’s been wonderful seeing our kids experience these classics for the first time!
Matt has always loved fish, but recently took his first steps into the complicated world of salt water reef aquariums.  He takes great joy in watching his new coral thrive and agonizes over unexplained fish deaths (Matt’s mom: “Honestly, Matt, you should know better than to name a fish!”). 
Ben’s first words so far have been “Yeah!” “Uh-oh!” and a fuzzy version of “Look at THAT!”  He hasn’t yet taken his first steps, but since he can make it from my lap to the open toilet bowl in 2.3 seconds, there’s no rush.  He is as charming, happy, and googly-eyed as ever.
While we’ve had plenty of new experiences this year, lots of things have stayed the same.  Matt enjoys his work and I thrive as a stay-at-home mom.  Jack continues to constantly hum his own theme music, Charlotte still gets lost in art projects, and Anna can still get out of trouble with a charming smile.  We still miss our scattered friends, and we still invite all of you to stop by our house if you ever come our way. 
Love, Liz, Matt, Jack (6), Charlotte (5), Anna (3) and Ben (1) Swenson