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When I was a sophomore in high school my PE teacher made my class run one mile every Friday. It was terrible. After only a couple of laps around the gym, I was a sweaty mess and felt like I was going to puke. I *might* have found some creative ways to occasionally miss class on Fridays.

Fast forward 19 years. My sister Abby asked me to train for a half marathon with her. I love the idea of a good challenge and am always eager to spend time with my sister, so I agreed. I had no idea how I was going to run 13.1 miles, but if I've learned anything since becoming a mom it is that I can do hard things.

And I did. I crossed the finish line of the City of Trees Half Marathon last October. It was hard...

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Annabelle is really into belly buttons. If you come over to our house, there is a good chance she will attempt to pull your shirt up and squeal, “Bell-bean!!” Each time she delightfully discovers another belly button, I’m reminded of how a thin cord used to connect us. Her belly button, her first (and dare I hope only) scar will forever be a physical reminder of this incredible bond. But today, only 20 months after the doctor instructed Curt to cut the umbilical cord, Annabelle seems very much her own person. Determined and ever so persistent, her preferences about food, toys, clothing, and even which books we read before bed are crystal clear. And she wants to do everything on her own. She scoops oatmeal up with her spoon and feeds herself (or flings it to the ground!), brushes her teeth quite thoroughly, and even takes her clothes off by herself. Each day she seems to need me just a little bit less.

So now that Annabelle and Asher no longer rely on me as much to take care of their most basic needs, what is my role? How can I be a great mom to these amazing little...

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Asher has been fascinated with the concept of growing up. Every time he puts on a shirt or pair of pants that doesn’t quite fit, he excitedly pulls it off and runs down the hall to deposit the item in Annabelle’s room. He understands that his little sister is also getting bigger and will soon be able to fit into the clothes he has outgrown (although she might not want to dress in dinosaur t-shirts and cargo pants). Asher is also recognizing his developing independence. He is excited to graduate from the mommy and me class to “real preschool” next year. And when I ask him what he wants to do when he is an adult, he proclaims, “Drive a car and drink out of a big boy cup! I can’t wait!”

Clearly, I should add “not letting my three year old regularly drink out of a cup” to my list of parenting fails. But among the minefield of mistakes and things that will probably turn out to be mistakes, I am completely confident about one of my parenting decisions: I read to my...

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When I was tucking Asher into bed the other night, I asked him if he needed anything. Often he will want a sip of water or a “Prince Asher” story. But on this evening, my sweet three-year old wrapped his arms around my neck, looked into my eyes, and said, “I need you.” I tilted my head and asked, “What do you need me for?” Asher smiled and replied, “I need you for you.”

Each day Asher, Annabelle, and Curt teach me new lessons about how to live joyfully, laugh freely, and love unconditionally. When they look at me, they don’t notice a bad haircut, a few extra pounds, or the worry lines around my eyes because I have a to-do list a mile long with nothing checked off. My kids and husband see love and kindness and strength and joy — the best parts of me.

During these last six weeks, I have focused on improving my body, mind, and spirit through the Body Back Transformation program. And while I have made significant progress toward reaching my...

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The start of 2017 has been . . . rough. Boise has been covered with snow and ice for much of the last two weeks. And when our street has been drivable, I've often chosen to stay home rather than expose my little ones to the freezing temperatures. It's been challenging to do things that make me feel strong, connected, creative, and joyful when I've been stuck at home, reading Is Your Mama a Llama? and watching episodes of Daniel Tiger over and over and over again. I'm struggling (and often failing) to reach my step goal and I can't seem to stop myself from sneaking into the pantry every twenty minutes for a handful of chocolate chips. I haven't seen nearly enough of my family or friends, and I am experiencing a bad case of writer's block. But today is a new day. And it is a day particularly filled with hope and possibility because it is the first day of Body Back Transformation.

I originally started...

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Witnessing Asher and Annabelle grow up has taught me that it is possible to change a lot in the space of one short year. At the beginning of 2016, Asher was still very much a toddler — in terms of his physical abilities, speech, sleep, and sweet little baby face. But now he confidently runs, holds lengthy conversations, sleeps through the night, and even looks like a little boy. Annabelle’s growth is even more pronounced. As a three month old, she slept, ate, and pooped. Now she walks, talks a bit, flips through books on her own, cooks meals in the play kitchen, and chases after her brother to tickle him. In just twelve months, Asher and Annabelle learned so much.

My kids’ development inspires me to be more intentional about how I want to grow this year. So much is possible, but the days seem to slip by. Taking care of two little ones (and a husband!) is exhausting and completely time consuming, so I need to have a plan for how I hope to change this year.

In the past I have focused on things I want to accomplish — find a new job, travel to a different...

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Several weeks ago our furnace broke. And, of course, this happened at 8pm on a Friday night. The repair company could not get replacement parts until Monday morning, so we hunkered down for a long weekend of cuddling under thick blankets by the gas fireplace. For a while it was a fun, mini adventure — something different to shake up our usual routines. But when we put Asher and Annabelle to bed, I couldn’t take my eyes off the baby monitor. I watched the temperature indicator drop from 68 degrees to 67 to 66, all the way down to 61 degrees. Despite the space heater in the hallway, their rooms were chilly. I woke up throughout the night to check on them. Are my kids ok? Is it too cold in their rooms? Will they get sick?

By Monday the necessary parts had come in and we once again had a working furnace, but for a few nights I had a little window into what it might be like not to know that my kids are warm and safe. Of course, at any time we could have gone to my parents’ house or checked into a hotel. Thank goodness I don’t truly know what it means not to...

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This week I'm participating in a 10,000 step a day challenge with a few of my Stroller Strides friends. This would have been a piece of cake several months ago, but now that it is COLD outside, I just want to cuddle up under a fuzzy blanket with a warm cup of tea and watch my kids play.

So last night I was dismayed, but not surprised, to learn that I only had about 5,000 steps by 9pm. I really didn't want to fail the challenge so spectacularly and on the first day. With some encouragement from my friends, I laced up my sneakers and dragged myself onto the dreadmill. I mean treadmill. I do love to run, but the lack of fresh air and changing scenery makes clocking miles inside a little less appealing. But after the first mile, I was able to settle into a nice run. Listening to Ruth Ozeki's intriguing book A Tale for the Time Being also helped the miles pass quickly. And before long my FitBit buzzed,...

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"So you used to look terrible, right?"

No one has actually said this to me, but I hear it over and over when well-intentioned friends, family members, former co-workers say things such as . . .

"Wow, you look good. What did you do?"

"I'm sure you have had to buy a whole new wardrobe!"

"Look at how tiny you got!"

My parents taught me to be gracious, to smile, to assume people mean well, but I feel compelled to come clean about how horrible comments like these make me feel. There are so many more important things to notice about me than the fifteen pounds I lost over the last four years. I have given birth to two amazing children. I have built beautiful relationships with new friends. I have read at least 100 books. I can run 13.1 miles without stopping. I try to be kind and generous and thoughtful. Please notice these things instead.

This is a hard post to write. I certainly don't want to make anyone feel badly, but I can't continue to feed the damaging narrative our society tells about women -- specifically about women's bodies...

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I was first introduced to the concept of planking during the the 2011 season premiere of The Office. It was the episode where many of the employees were lying face down in random, and often ridiculous, places. Andy, who had just taken over as boss, implores Dwight to take care of the situation. And he does.

I learned about a less dangerous and more useful version of planking when I started attending Stroller Strides a couple of years ago. Toward the end of many workouts we would be instructed to hold a plank for thirty or sixty seconds. Sometimes we would do side planks, planks with shoulder taps, or even plank jacks. All of these plank variations aimed to strengthen the core, shoulders, arms, back, and glutes. Engaging more than twenty muscles at the same time, a plank really is a total body exercise. (I can't find a list of these twenty muscles, but three different websites claim it, so it...

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If you have ever played Monopoly with me, you know that I can be a *bit* competitive. And, I promise, it’s not about winning. (Ok, except when I’m playing with Curt. Few things give me as much satisfaction as bankrupting him in Monopoly.) Mostly, though, I just really like a good challenge and proving to myself that I can meet it. This probably started back in the second grade when my classmates and I had the opportunity to collect stars for reading books through Pizza Hut’s Book It! Program. I think we had to read ten books to receive a star and get five stars to earn a personal pan pizza. Now I didn’t even really like pizza as a kid, but I loved filling up my Book It! button with stars. When I moved into middle school, the challenge progressed to racking up Accelerated Reader points. But my desire to take on ridiculous challenges peaked when I joined Academic Decathlon in high school. I voluntarily signed up to study ten subjects (in addition...

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At about this time last year, I was snuggling a sweet, six-week old baby. I fell in love with my precious Annabelle each time she smiled up at me while I stroked her soft tufts of hair. But then she would cry. And need a new diaper. And want to nurse. All. Night. Long. My heart was so full, but life was seriously hard. The first few weeks had been dream-like. Curt had been able to spend time home with us, family came by frequently to check in and give some much-needed attention to Asher, and we were treated with delicious meals from friends every other day. But then–all of a sudden, it seemed–life went back to the way it was before. Except now I was responsible for an almost two-year old and a baby. Changing diapers, dressing, and carrying them both down the stairs each morning felt like a monumental feat.

We struggled through those days, trying to find a new rhythm. I desperately wanted to enjoy this time with my kids, but I was stuck in survival mode. I needed something, anything to help me emerge from the sleep-deprived and completely overwhelmed haze....

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A few of my friends are into streaking.

Jonelle streaked for 365 days – every day that she was 43 years old. Laurie started streaking nine months before her 50th birthday and is still going strong 500 days later. These amazing ladies and a handful of others committed to running at least one mile a day. Regardless of where they were or what was going on in their lives, they always carved out the ten minutes or so it took to lace up their sneakers and run a mile. Their run streaks continued through vacations, illnesses, holidays, busy days, and even those I-want-to-hide-under-a-blanket-until-its-time-to-go-to-bed kinds of days. They didn’t let anything ruin their streaks.

I haven’t started a run streak of my own, but I am intrigued by the idea. Everyone has ten minutes to run a mile, but so few people actually do it – let alone every day for months or even years. It takes a special kind of grit to streak for an extended period of time. And streaks often aren’t very glamorous and don’t get much attention, but a few have. Cal Ripken’s ironman streak and Ken...

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When I was home for the summer after my freshman year of college, there was a game show on television called “The Weakest Link.” Contestants took turns answering trivia questions, and the more questions they collectively answered correctly, the larger the pot of possible winnings grew. At the end of each round, competitors voted for the person they wanted to get rid of – the weakest link. My dad and I would take turns imitating Anne Robinson, the angry British host, saying to each other, “You ARE the weakest link!” I laugh when I remember how much fun we had with that silly line.

I wasn’t laughing this week as that line ran on continuous loop through my mind. Abby isn’t angry or British, there is no million dollar pot at stake, and none of the ladies have ever made me feel badly about myself. But I would be oblivious if I didn’t notice how much stronger and faster everyone else seems to be. There is embarrassingly little movement when I do push ups, I can only plank for a minute and a half, and it probably looks like I’m moving through molasses after about twenty...

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When I was pregnant with Asher I read a parenting book – ok, I actually read an embarrassing number of parenting books. This one has stuck with me, though, because the author introduced what I found to be a very interesting concept: the pause. Rather than immediately rush in and scoop up your child the second he fusses, she advises parents to pause and take a moment to observe. Often, she claims, babies are just transitioning to a new sleep cycle. By leaving them alone, they can do this efficiently and get themselves back to sleep. I’m hardly one to offer any baby sleep advice – Asher has only slept through the night a handful of times in the last nine months and I still hold him during most of his naps – but the idea of taking time to carefully observe before responding resonates with me.

So many of my regrets as a mom, a wife, a friend, a teacher stem from times when I reacted to a situation without thinking. If only I would have taken the time to pause, observe, and think before responding perhaps I would have been kinder and more helpful. I’ve been reflecting...

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Abby’s voice was everywhere – behind me as I panted up the foothills, in front of me as I pushed through the last tabata round, next to me as I jumped into another burpee.

“Just. Keep. Moving.”

I wanted to stop. I wanted to collapse to the ground, catch my breath, and be still.

“Just. Keep. Moving.”

Each time I was tempted to ignore that voice and give in to the part of me that says I’m weak and I can’t do this, I would glance up at the women surrounding me. They were all moving. I couldn’t be the one to stop.

So I kept moving – through two Body Back workouts, a couple of Stroller Strides sessions, runs on the treadmill, ab video workouts in my living room, and yesterday’s Push 5K. There were definitely moments when it probably looked like I was moving in slow motion, but that’s ok. I kept going. And through that movement there was growth; I can feel the bulge of developing muscles and a surge of power when I jump. I am getting stronger.

I want to celebrate this growth and my renewed commitment to keep moving, but it’s hard not...

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I am not as strong as I want to be.

Tuesday’s workout was hard. I tried to relax my body during our closing meditation, but my head was aching and my stomach was turning. Why did I think it was a good idea to give up Diet Coke this week? Caffeine withdrawals are not fun. And it wasn’t just the migraine that was tearing up my body; I had worked my muscles hard and they were letting me know that they were not pleased. I tried to focus on what I had accomplished. During our forty-five minute, high intensity interval training workout I pushed myself and only had to really slow down or pause a couple of times. Not bad for my first Body Back workout. Of course, I would love to be able to do more push-ups in minute and jump a little higher with each burpee, but that’s what the next two months are for, right?

Before we started the workout, our instructor Abby gave us an overview of the eight-week program and then had us introduce ourselves. I loved meeting the other ladies and learning about their fitness journeys. We all have different backgrounds and unique...

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The midmorning sun beat down on me as I stole a few quick sips of water. It had been a challenging Stroller Strides workout – too many squats, lunges, and rows to count. But I felt strangely energized as I listened to Abby describe our last cardio burst.

“See that hill behind me? I want you to run up it and back. Really push yourself. This is your time; make it count!”

I smiled as I looked up at the grassy hill. A decade ago, a year ago, even a month ago I would have grimaced. But something was different today. I wanted to run up that hill. I wanted to feel it. And I knew I could.

When I reflect on all of the times I have been faced with physical challenges, I realize that I didn’t want to run up those hills because I didn’t think I could – at least not very well. Just like so many of my former middle and high school students who didn’t put much effort into their schoolwork, I chose to opt out because I didn’t believe in myself. I was stuck in a fixed mindset in which I thought that some people are strong and athletic and others – like myself –...

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Jess Westhoff lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband, Curt, three-year old son, Asher, and one-year old daughter, Annabelle. Before becoming a mom, Jess taught language arts and social studies at the middle and high school levels. Like most English teachers, she is a total book nerd and loves all things literary. Jess also enjoys traveling, spending time outside, and hanging out with her little family. She feels blessed to be supported by the amazing community of moms in the Fit4Mom Boise Village. You can follow her blog here or over at https://powerofyetblog.wordpress.com/.