Friday, October 16, 2009

Hey...This Will Only Take a Minute!

Alright Girls on the Run fans. I was in Cincinnati the last couple of days and had a fabulous time meeting with some of our "networkers" and contributors there as well as the fabulous folks at Proctor and Gamble with the "Secret Deodorant" Brand. (Secret is one of our Girls on the Run corporate sponsors!)

I got home last night after numerous delays...around midnight! Being a bit wired after some roller coaster flight turbulence, I tried to wind down by reading through a few emails.

That's where "Kate" comes in. Kate had just finished reading my book, "Girls Lit From Within: A Guide to Living Life Outside the Girl Box."

One chapter in that book (it's for girls ages 8 and up!) encourages the girls to make a gratitude list.

Well, Kate really wanted to share her list with me and so I'd like to share it with you! (These are her words...)

My Wonderful Family;
My Friends in the Different Cities Where I Have Lived;
My Education;
Girls on the Run;
My Sports Ability;
My House;
My Books;
My Thoughtful Brain!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So...Kate got me thinking. When I started Girls on the Run, thirteen very brave girls showed up! And now...NOW, we are in more than 150 cities across North America with over 60,000 girls currently participating! Those of you, who know me personally, know how important it is (and how invigorating it is) for me to spend time with our girls. As the founder of this organization, I must keep my finger on the pulse of the girls we there is, at least in my opinion, no better way to stay REAL, GENUINE and AUTHENTIC, than by hanging out with kids. They teach us so much about being ourselves!

However, due to the extensive amount of travel this wonderful growing program now requires of me, I don't get the one-on-one experience with our girls as much as I'd like.

Therefore, thanks to Kate, I'm launching another blog specifically designed for girls...girls both in and out of Girls on the Run. The topics will be relevant to their lives and each post will explore a variety of "tactics," girls can use to stay "out of the Girl Box."

So...if you feel like check it And please, if you know any girls (whether they are in or out of Girls on the Run), let them know I'd like to "meet" them...over there on the fun, wacky and girl-side!!!

Thanks to all of you for your belief in this program and choosing to live the authentic, genuine and real lifestyle we encourage!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What Does Make-up, Make Up?

I think it's always important to be honest. So, true to my word, I should tell you at the outset, there will be nothing of particular significance shared in this post. Basically I'm just trying to kill some time until the sun comes up so I can head out on a long, glorious Saturday morning run!

Yesterday afternoon, my daughter and I went to the mall, for no reason other than to just hold hands (can you believe my 11 year-old STILL holds hands with me?) and look at “stuff." (Yeah, like Buffy, that’s so awesome…oh my GAWD.) After the obligatory stop at Abercrombie (I can still smell the store this morning) and Delia's we stopped by a make-up and skincare store.

I am 49 (not even close to old) but am starting to show some signs of aging on my face. (Like this is a bad thing?) Years of training in the outdoors will do that to a woman's skin. I’m not concerned about it one bit…but thought, for the fun of it and because Helen and I were enjoying each others company, I would ask this wonderful teenager,who worked, in the store for her assistance. (Alright she probably wasn't a teenager, but I felt like I was old as I asked for her help. Funny, I didn't feel old before I entered the store. What's that about?)

So anyway, this very young and very confident make-up/skincare consultant is going to consult with me and teach me how to apply certain products on my face. I sit on a stool. Helen is on my left, said skincare/make up consultant is slightly to my right. "These products will eliminate some of those obvious signs of aging and sun damage.” (May I interject a quick comment here. I think my teenage friend was trying to make me feel good, but this statement somehow didn't help.) She applies something first…that has a very important medical name. I am afraid of it, but she applies it anyway. She applies the product in what I would call "military fashion." My head is pushed back several inches with each application. My daughter Helen thinks this is hilarious and begins what eventually turns into a running commentary of the entire event. "Mom...gosh...PLEASE stop making those faces!"

Layer number one, completed, my personal make-up/skincare consultant now applies something else with a brush. We have several "something elses" to go. By the end of this consult, I feel as if I have several inches of “something else” other than me, on my face.

Furthermore, she applied the something else’s so close to my eyes they are now hot red and beginning to tear up.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Yes,” I said stoically, trying to be sure that the make-up warrior in me didn’t reveal the fact that my eyes felt like they were going to permanently rebel against the mysterious-named-store toxic poison and close forever.

Meanwhile, Helen, my eleven year old is telling me in my left ear (loudly by the way) in a kind of sing-song voice and in no uncertain terms, "Doesn't look any different." My make-up consultant continues to apply another layer of something else and Helen is persistently telling me throughout the latter stages of my makeover, "Doesn't look any different, Mom. Doesn't look ANY different."

When the consultant is done, I feel as if my face will crack if I smile, wink or speak. I am blinded at this point by that darn third layer and weave my way dangerously toward the check-out counter. I opted not to purchase the "something elses package" and ended up purchasing some fruity lip gloss for Helen and blush for me.

On to the food court.

I washed my face three times last night before bed…and still this morning woke up to eyes that are beet red.

I think I’ll just love my face the way it is and save the money for my children's college tuition.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What Role Does Food Play in Your Life?

My Sexy Insides

I run and eat my veggies
to my body I must be kind
but just as important
is how I feed my mind

Unclenched and wide open
my mind and heart must be
this is the only way which
allows for me to see

How beautiful the world is
and all that it does hold
whatever my thoughts create
is what I'll see unfold

Feel free to call me pretty
but look deeper to find what hides
what I am truly proud of -
that is my very sexy insides

Amy Penwell

Alright. This post will be short and sweet. Like my daughter or the birthday cake I ate last Friday at her birthday party. Short…sweet.

Let’s just go there. Come on. We haven’t visited a hot topic in a while.

So, here it is.


Yep, that’s right.


We all have a relationship with it…kind of like a family member. We bring her in, sit her down and spend a lot of time with her. Sometimes she is entertaining, at other times she is comforting and then there are other times when she is all business, satisfying our hunger and strengthening our bodies.

Our relationship with her is often rooted in the messages we got as young girls from our “girl boxes.” As a matter of fact, in one study, the number one fear for 81 percent of 10 year old girls was "getting fat."

That’s right. It’s not nuclear war, death or global warming. It’s getting fat.

My first peek into an awareness of how food can be so deeply entrenched in our psyche occurred when I was 26. I was training for my first triathlon. I became increasingly concerned with what food I put into my body. The caloric count, number of carbohydrates, fat grams and protein amounts I ingested were an important part of my training regimen. To be honest with you, I wasn’t a whole lot of fun to be around.

I was eating out with friends at a Mexican restaurant and per my usual and much disciplined self, ordered the salad. “Would you like that in a bowl or a tortilla shell?”

I rolled my eyes. “Dang. You mean I have to decide. Why don’t you decide for me?”

“Tortilla, of course!” the waitress responded.

I devoured that salad. I was hungry. Training for an endurance event like the Ironman requires a lot of fuel and RE-fuel after an intense series of run, bike and swim workouts.

And there I was, at meal’s end, up against the ropes…it was me versus the tortilla bowl. Our boxing gloves were on and the fight was fueling up. Who would win? I backed into the corner of my mind and tried to pretend it wasn’t there. But it just kept taking those visual jabs at me.

A left first, next a hard right and then I caved. I broke off a small piece. I ate it. It was good. So I broke off another piece. I ate that one too and I’ll be darned. It was good too! I ate that entire bowl, in teen tiny bits and pieces.

By the time I was done, there was nothing left but the oily wax paper on the plate beneath. My plate was empty, my stomach was full, and the shame was initially unbearable. Her voice was whiny, shallow and judgmental. “Molly, you were doing so well…at least until you got to that bowl. How could you? Is this in line with your training program? Is it? Molly, I’m asking you? Is it? IS IT?

And in that moment…a little light bulb went off. I realized, as simple as this sounds, that the Molly who walked into the restaurant is no different as the Molly who just finished that darn bowl. I am strong, athletic, articulate and funny. I am kind, caring and compassionate. Whether the tortilla bowl is in or out of my belly has absolutely NO effect on who I am. The food I put into my mouth doesn’t define who I am. I do!

I'll admit I'm a little embarrassed to be sharing this moment with you. I'll also admit that I'm 49 now and had plenty of time to develop a "functional" relationship with food, but it can all still be very, very complicated. Most of the time it's healthy, but sometimes when I'm stressed, tired, or anxious I may reach for those boxing gloves again and go a few rounds with myself. And if I'm really honest about it, to suggest that it can sometimes have a kind of power over me…well…makes me feel shallow, hollow and a little silly for admitting it. Talking about it is a bit like being caught right out of the shower. Somehow owning up to how we view food reveals something about our vulnerabilities, bared there for all to see.

Believe me; I’ve had my share of issues. (Who hasn't?) As many of you know, my numero uno challenge was alcohol…but food, exercise, relationships…they’ve all sat down for dinner with me on occasion, to test, challenge and, at times, shake me into confronting my own feelings of self-worth and where my real power comes from.

These days, Tortilla bowls, Reese’s peanut butter cups and my daughter’s birthday cake all have a place in the Molly Barker “food for life” pyramid. So too does moderate exercise, veggies,daily hugs, plenty of water, fresh fruit, my best try at 8 hours of sleep and love. Yep, that’s right love is on that pyramid, right there at the top!

It’s all connected to my living a healthy, honest, forgiving and full life.

What role does food play in your life and how has it changed over the years? Let me know right here or email me at If you don’t want to share, that's cool. Try journaling about it or take a minute and consider where and how food plays a role in your life.

And to see the fact cited here and other ones as it relates to our behaviors around food, check out this website:

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Mother's Touch

Every fall I feel my mother's presence. September marks the anniversary of her birth. She died in April of 2002, alone in the steam room at our local Y. She took to the steam room, as she did regularly, after her daily run, to relax a bit before heading to dinner with my daughter and son. She was found by a friend of mine, only minutes after her heart stopped beating.

I really miss her touch, even now. Her tender touch...the touch of her fingertips, the stroke of her hand across my face as she would gently push aside strands of stray hair from my eyes...her strong embrace and the reassurance that only a mother can give. "It's all gonna be okay, Molly. Trust me, girl. You'll be okay."

Only a few months after her death in the fall of 2002, I remember so vividly, even now, showing up to coach a group of girls in Girls on the Run. Thirteen bright and enthusiastic girls anxiously awaited their first day in our program. I walked up to them, all of us so full-up with anticipation. Seven years prior, I had started Girls on the Run. I remember walking up to the original thirteen little girls at this same location--nervous and unsure of myself but fully convinced that something powerful was about to occur. Many of the thirteen on THIS day in 2002 were younger sisters of that inaugural class. One of those was an innocent and wide-eyed Sarah. "I recognize you," I said. "I know your sister, Katy."

"How did you know she was my sister?" she asked.

"You look just like her, only you are you." Sarah smiled at me and skipped ahead to join the girls ahead of her.

Sarah was a lot like her sister, Katy. She appeared unfocused--somewhat disconnected from herself, with a strange, detached smile tucked neatly and quizzically between the corners of her mouth. Her big sister Katy, had been like that. Katy used to walk next to me--as close as she possibly could without actually getting in the way--always helpful and always with that smile--awkward, mournful and beautiful all at the same time.

It was the fall of 1996. I was coaching my first season of Girls on the Run. Katy's mother called me. "I'm going to the hospital for a few days. I just can't shake this depression that's eating me up inside. I wanted you to know because Katy feels a real connect with you. And while I'm completely useless as her mother right now, I need others who can stand in to support her."

"Of course I'll support her," I replied. "But is there anything I can do for YOU?"

I was humbled by this woman's willing vulnerability. "No," she cried. "There's nothing you can do. There's nothing anyone can do."

Hearing the desperation in her voice, the crying out...I wanted to hold this woman--this mother--stroke her hair, embrace her, lift the mother-guilt from her shoulders, and tell her that everything would be all right. "There is nothing you can do," she told me. "Nothing."

Katy continued to come to Girls on the Run--brought there by her grandmother, babysitters, and occasionally her father. Her mother was in the hospital for weeks.

Several years later, in March of 2002, I was at our Y. Seated on a couch in the ladies locker room Katy and Sarah's mom was there. "I'm working again now," she said. "I'm trying to quit smoking but having a tough go of it." She smiled that detached smile, as if she knew this was the point in the conversation when she was supposed to feel something. "I'm divorced and getting on with my life," she said. I sat down next to her, placed my hand on her shoulder, and told her how strong she was and how good it was to see her taking care of herself. Her eyes looked deeply into mine, as if begging me to make it so, to make her strong. "Tell Katy hey, would ya?" I asked her. "What grade is she in now, anyway?"

"She's in 9th grade now," she replied. "She misses you. This fall you'll meet my youngest, Sarah. She has been wanting to do Girls on the Run since her big sister did it." She smiled.

I went for my daily run, did my grocery shopping and went to work. I picked up my kids, squeezed them tight, kissed them on their cheeks and cooked dinner. Another ordinary day in March.

And now here was her youngest,Sarah, lined up side by side with her teammates. One of the Getting to Know Each Other exercises we play on our first day together is a game called the "I like Relay." The coach shouts, "If you like chocolate chip cookies, take off" and all those little girls who love chocolate-chip cookies fly around the assistant coach who is standing thirty years down the field or track. "If you think school is fun, take off." All but two ran. "If your parents are divorced, run on." Three girls took off.

Sarah was one of those. When she returned to her spot, she said. "My parents were divorced before my mom died."

I looked at this beautiful little girl. "Your mom died. I'm so sorry, Sarah." I asked the assistant coach to continue the game while I walked over to her. "Come with me a minute," The two of us walked a lap together. She talked animatedly about how school was going, what her big sister Katy was up to and what it was like now that her Mom was gone. When we finished that lap, I took her hands in mine and looked deeply into her eyes.For that moment the rest of the world ceased to exist and in this moment it was me and Sarah and the bond being formed between us.

"This past March, she suffocated, in her bed." Sarah could hold back the tears no longer and we sat there together, cross legged on the track, both of us with tears rolling down our cheeks, holding hands and being...together.

Eventually the silence came.

I flashed back to my March conversation with Sarah's mom, there on the couch at the Y, and wondered about the true circumstances of her death. I fondly caressed the memory of my own mother, often seated there on that same couch, after a long run, resting a moment or two before she slipped into the steam room. I held one of Sarah's hands in my one hand, brushed aside the strands of hair from her eyes, with my other, and told her "Honey, everything is going to be okay. Trust me girl. You're gonna be alright."

We sat quietly for several more minutes and then she said, "I guess I better get back to the group now."

And I said, "Yes, I guess you better." We walked back the last hundred yards, holding hands and missing our moms.

I miss my mother so much, her embrace, our early morning runs and her words of soft assurance, but oh how fortunate am I, to have the privilege to feel her love, embrace and comfort every time I spend time with the girls in our program.

It's all in the circle...the coming, the going and the rounding out. The soft, the tender, this moment and my mother's love. "Molly, it's all gonna be alright. Trust me girl. You're gonna be okay."