Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A Year of Celebration

In January I posted a blog that this year I would seize the day, run faster, and push my own limits. I am happy to declare that I exceeded each of these resolutions in ways that I couldn't have imagined when I wrote them. In a lengthy cocktail-filled brunch earlier this year with dear friends we proclaimed 2014 a year of celebration. In 2014 I ran faster than I ever have, I pushed my own limits, and I fell in love over and over again.

Before writing this blog I started thinking that I hadn't traveled very often this year. It turns out that isn't true. I rang in 2014 in Los Angeles and visited Chicago, Louisville, Washington, DC (four times), Buffalo, Montreal, Quebec City, West Virginia (four times), Atlanta and Norfolk, VA throughout the year.

I got to play a small part in some place based projects for work, and I fell in love repeatedly while doing it. I fell in love with Michigan cities like Marquette (where I traveled three times this year), Holland, Midland and Kalamazoo. I fell in love in ways that were unexpected. I didn't expect to have Marquette and Holland in particular capture my heart. They are small cities located on different great lakes (Superior and Michigan respectively). Their downtowns are vibrant and walkable. Their community vision is infectious. Those cities have made me love Michigan (and winter surprisingly) in ways that I didn't before this year. They reminded me that having a part, even a very small part, of seeing change in a community feeds my soul. I fell in love repeatedly this year, and it was amazing.

I didn't run nearly as much this year as the last few, but I had my fastest times ever. I had a goal of breaking my 26 minute PR in the 5k, and in May I shattered that by running a 23:55 5k. I did it again in November running 24:12 in the Harbor Lights 5k in Norfolk, Virginia.  

I resolved to run faster than 57 minutes in the 10k, and I shattered that PR running 53:26 in October in the Wicked 10k in Plymouth, Michigan. After more than 10 half marathons, I had never broken 2 hours. This year I did it twice running 1:58:59 in April in the Cocoa Classic Half Marathon and 1:58:12 in May in the Kalamazoo Half Marathon. These times weren't just fast for me - they were blistering paces. They all led up to my first triathlon in June, and at 35 I felt the fittest I had in my entire adult life.

July threw a curve ball when a routine abdominal surgery turned into a bowl obstruction requiring another surgery. I then developed a blood clot. I spent the better part of the month in the hospital and lost nearly 20 pounds. It was not how I planned to spend the summer, but it helped me refocus my attention on what's important to me. Despite the chaos of being in the hospital, I felt oddly relaxed and peaceful. I was reminded to enjoy every chaotic minute of life.

My husband and I moved to Downtown Lansing. Living Downtown is everything I thought it would be and more. It's amazing to walk everywhere, and my heart is full.

2014 was indeed a year of celebration. My resolutions for last year were so great that I think I'll copy them again this year. I'll fall in love, run fast, and push my limits. After all isn't that what makes life great? Here's to a fabulous 2015 my friends!    

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

When I was a little girl I used to wake early before the rest of my family and just sit quietly in front of the Christmas tree. It is one of my favorite holiday memories, and every year I promise myself that I'll slow down and recapture that magic. Every year I fail miserably. This year, however, is the year that has changed. This year, as I promised I would be, I am reflective and content. I haven't been for a run in over a week, and we don't have our next vacation planned (things that generally drive me crazy), but I feel sated nonetheless.

We moved into our new house in June, and it's a gorgeous 1884 Victorian. I felt a large responsibility to decorate the house appropriately for the holidays, and I think we've done it justice. In honor of my relaxed attitude this holiday season, I present you holiday decorations that I think have at least in some way contributed.

Our smallest tree in the entry

These deer (from Target) are my FAV new decoration this season.

Our main Christmas tree (and the only real one)

These vases were centerpieces at our wedding. I love getting them out every year.

Ornaments that were favors at our wedding.
I have vases filled with Christmas bulbs everywhere. This little tree I painted in 1980.

The mantel. Yes, our pets have stockings.
Holiday tabletop
Our West Virginia tree. Obviously we have one of those.
I love this ornament I got on Etsy a few years ago.

Geno and Tavon the snowmen made by my lovely friend Deb last year

One of the built ins. The little fox is one of my favorite new decorations.

There's no place like home (West Virginia) for the holidays!

Target took a lot of our money for new Christmas swag this year.

Slaton the Snowman! (Do you see the WVU player pattern?)
Small things in the kitchen.

Me too, buddy. Me too.

Looking into the kitchen.

Wrapping paintings is such an easy way to add holiday cheer!
We have three of these lines displaying holiday cards!
This holiday season enjoy the beauty around you. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer on a Super Wide City Street

Earlier this week I talked about some of my favorite running things, and it got me thinking about my favorite city things. The key to what makes all cities great is walkability. The foundation for a great community is being able to walk safely across the streets and on sidewalks and destinations to visit.

Washington Square in Downtown Lansing is pretty walkable. It's one lane in each direction, has lots of well marked crosswalks, and has angled parking. It could teach pretty much every other street in Downtown Lansing a valuable lesson. Many of the other one-way, five lane streets in our downtown are just absurd. Yes I'm talking to you Grand Avenue, Capitol Avenue, Pine Street and Walnut Street. Santa would land his sleigh on Capitol Avenue at basically any point in the day and hand out toys. There's not enough traffic to sustain that insanely wide street, and that needs to be changed.

I should NOT be able to do this easily in Downtown Lansing.

And please don't even get me started on Michigan Avenue.  You have this beautiful view of the Capitol Building as you drive from East Lansing to Lansing. It's also two lanes in each direction, a turning lane and parking on both sides. It should be a boulevard leading up to the Capitol. I know the City is working on Michigan Avenue, and I'm excited about its great potential. It's a project that should be pushed sooner rather than later. The walkability of Michigan Avenue is critical to expanding downtown towards the eastern neighborhoods in Lansing. 

Traffic engineers will say these lanes are necessary for traffic safety and for public safety vehicles. Shenanigans. Those theories have been debunked in new urbanist texts across the board. What's really detrimental to public safety are wide streets with speeding cars that pedestrians have to dodge to cross.

As I think about cities that have great Christmas vibes, I realize it has everything to do with walkability. People crowd sidewalks in Chicago and New York to look at Christmas window displays. Even here in Michigan cities with dense, walkable downtowns like Holland and Ann Arbor have a great Christmas feel. The key is walkability. The longer we ignore obscenely wide streets like the 10 lanes of Michigan Avenue running through Detroit's Corktown neighborhood, the longer it will take for those communities to be able to capitalize on being places that will grow economically and attract and retain talent.  

The places that I love the most - Portland (Maine), Marquette (Michigan), Boston, Chicago - all have one major thing in common: walkability. It's time to think outside of our cars to how the streets feel to pedestrians. That, my friends, is a real economic argument. If you want people to come and enjoy your downtown, it has to be a walkable place.

As I look for the next cities I want to visit and/or run, walkability is a key factor in why I'll choose it. As an avid walking resident in Downtown Lansing, walkability has become my rallying cry. This Christmas all I want (besides all of the running gear from my last blog) is at least a willingness to tackle some of these wide streets in Michigan but particularly in my town. Traffic engineers are on the naughty list, so how about if we don't reward them with perpetuating the wide street cycle?     

Monday, December 8, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite (Running) Things

Every year my husband tells me he doesn't want to get me running gear for Christmas. He finds it annoying that it's really all I want, and then he tries to be creative and buys me something else that I don't really use. When he does this I think if he'd just bought me running stuff like I wanted we wouldn't have this issue. So to make it, ahem, easier for my husband, I'm compiling a list of a few of my favorite (running) things.

Compression leg sleeves are the best. I LOVE them. They are the perfect running accessory for most of the year when pants are really too hot, but shorts are really too cold. Also they look adorable. I have one pair of Zensah leg sleeves that are yellow, and they are fabulous. I'm thinking I need at least one more pair...maybe two. Pink? Purple? Both?

Running tights are where it's at. I live in Michigan, and it's cold here a lot of the year. Running tights are very expensive, and that makes them the best gift. Right now our fabulous local running store, Playmakers, has an adorable pair of purple striped SmartWool tights. I love them, and I want them. Hey Santa (Honey?), are you writing this down?

Sweaty Bands headbands are the best thing to ever happen to a runner with short hair. I have five of them, and I wear them all. They're pricey for a headband ($15 each), but I love them so much. Sassy headbands are like high heels - one can never have too many. My favorite Sweaty Band is my silver sparkly one. There are so many adorable styles to choose from that I would love to have more. Sparkles are optional.

An argyle Sweaty Band? Yes, plesae.

Another winter must have here in Michigan are running hats. Last year my husband got me a great SmartWool running beanie, but I need more. When you run several days a week your hats get gross. You don't want to wear the same one every day. Plus you need different hats for different running outfits. Obviously.

SmartWool beanies!
Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year.  I love buying gifts and decorating and drinking coffee out of my favorite Tiffany Christmas mugs. Those are my actual favorite Christmas things. The only thing that makes those activities better is following them with a run while wearing a cute outfit.  'Tis the season!

Just My Imagination

I have an extremely active imagination. It even transcends into the world of dreams. I have very vivid dreams and almost always remember them. Last week, for example, I dreamed that I was sitting in a group of friends (maybe 6 or 7 of us), and Taylor Swift was with us. I dreamed that she was whining about how kids were mean to her, and I said, "So now are you just like 'What's up, bitches? I'm Taylor Swift!'" And in my dream she started crying, said I was mean to her friends and ran away. Then I woke up with that wretched "Shake it Off" song in my head. It was a nightmare the rest of the day.

Running is the best way to deal with my active imagination. You won't believe the number of imaginary confrontations I've had (both work and personal) while running. I've come up with brilliant ideas and dismissed silly ones. Running is where my best thinking happens. I've written legislative testimony and dozens of these blogs. I insist on running naked (without technology) so I can get lost in my own thoughts and daydreams. It's my version of meditation.

In Michigan legislative sessions are two years long. At the end of every two-year session the month of December is a crazy feeding frenzy of legislative "priorities" that haven't been important enough to pass in the preceding two years. Lame duck is a political minefield of craziness where anything can and does happen. I honestly don't know how people who don't run make it through.

During these lame duck days my schedule looks like a game of Tetris. I have meetings on top of meetings, and nothing gets my full attention. It's about triaging issues and somehow making sure everything is covered.  Tempers run high during lame duck as contentious issues that have been buried for two years somehow make their way to the surface. Although my feet are generally killing me (because only quitters wear flats), the only way to work through the frustration caused by lame duck is to abuse my feet a little more with a run.

My imagination nearly keeps up with my schedule and inexhaustible energy during lame duck.  Sometimes I wake up from some weird dream, mentally walk through some legislative testimony, and I somehow manage to get myself back to sleep. I think about all the things that need to be done in addition to work: Christmas shopping, cleaning, dogs to the groomer, trips to be planned. All of those things are worked through while I'm running, and I can burn off some of my active imagination as well. Now if I could just get that damn Taylor Swift song out of my head...   

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Love a Turkey Trot

I'd never done (or heard of) a turkey trot before I moved to Michigan. My first was in 2008 when I ran the Lansing Turkeyman Trot. I ran that race in 31:56, nearly 8 minutes slower than I ran the Harbor Lights 5k a few weeks ago. It turns out I've gotten a touch faster over the years. 

With a young Murphy after the 2008 Lansing Turkey Trot

I ran the Detroit Turkey Trot a few years ago in 2011. It was my first race post abdominal surgery.  That race is almost unmanageably colossal. I'm glad I ran it, but I'm happy to never run it again. There were 20,000 people running the 5k and 10k. It was relatively organized, but it was really just too much.

In Detroit after the Detroit Turkey Trot in 2011
In 2012 and 2013 we ran the inaugural and the second annual Morgantown Running Turkey Trot. The one in 2012 was my husband's first 5k, so that race has a special place in my heart. I was sad to not be doing it for the third consecutive year. We stayed in Michigan for Thanksgiving, so I decided to give the Lansing Turkeyman Trot another go.

Morgantown Running 2013 Turkey Trot
I love doing races that start downtown. My husband and I walked to the race from home. There were thousands of runners which made me realize how the race has grown since the last time I ran it. The start was extremely crowded. My husband and I just pushed into the crowd from the sidewalk and jumped into the race. 

I was running with my husband and knew I wasn't pushing for a PR. If I had been attempting to run fast I would have been really frustrated with the crowds. But I forced myself to relax and enjoy the race. The course ran through downtown Lansing which is beautifully decorated for the Christmas holiday. On Washington Square Christmas music was piping from speakers. I found myself smiling throughout the race just enjoying the crowd in my downtown.

Crossing the finish line
After the race we walked back home. I love having so many people downtown enjoying what is always the most fun race of the year. We then headed to my mother-in-law's house for dinner. I felt like I could eat a few more carbs because I'd run a 5k that morning. Running a turkey trot has become as much a Thanksgiving tradition as green bean casserole. It's one of my favorite races of the year, and it is a great reminder of how grateful I am for running.
All smiles when it's over

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pause in our Pursuit of Happiness and Just Be Happy

It's easy to take the good life for granted. Life gets stressful and busy. Things that should be wonderful - Christmas shopping, decorating for the holidays, baking, spending time with friends and family - start to feel like a chore. The to do list is so long that these blessings start to feel like burdens. 

There's been a lot of unwelcome drama in my life in the last few years, and it's been easy to ignore the blessings. But sometimes that drama is what makes you appreciate what you have. This summer my world was rocked as I spent several weeks in the hospital. When I was informed I had a blood clot, I had a moment where I wondered if this was it. Maybe this was how I was going to go out, and that wasn't acceptable. I've spent a lot of time the last few years lamenting the things that went poorly instead of being thankful for the things that have gone well. The news of that blood clot made me realize I had to reassess how I was looking at my life.

There are so many cheesy sayings about thankfulness that I could throw in here, and at this very moment I believe every one of them. This morning I looked into the now white face of my 8-year-old Golden Retriever and got tears in my eyes. Even as I am typing this I tear up just thinking about how much I love my pups. It doesn't matter that Izzy went to the bathroom in the house last night. One look at those big soulful eyes, and I'm over it. I will work to not lose my patience with them and appreciate the joy they bring into our lives.

Every woman gets annoyed with her husband, and I'm certainly no exception. But I'm pretty lucky to have mine. He's my biggest cheerleader, my staunchest supporter and my absolute best friend. I think it's annoying when people say that about their significant other, but it's really true. When I'm at my worst, he's at his strongest. I don't know what I'd do without him.

There are so many blessings - family, friends, work, a new home we love. This holiday season I will forget the stressful and busy. I will appreciate every single moment. I'll force myself to stop and be present. I won't just cross another thing off the list and move mindlessly to the next task. Guillaume Apollinaire said: “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” This holiday season I wish that for all of us. 

From our Christmas card photo shoot. Our little family makes my heart happy.

Welcome Home to Norfolk

When I moved to Norfolk, Virginia in 2003, the mermaids were relatively new. In 1999 the idea was introduced to have "Mermaids on Parade" with mermaids being displayed throughout the community. Around the time I moved there was also a campaign to bring people back to live in the City. You could pick up signs that said "Welcome Home to Norfolk" in businesses across town. I have one in my office at work to this day to inspire me by the vision of leaders in that community. Working for the City of Norfolk is what piqued my love of cities, and it will always have a special place in my heart. 

My brother and sister still live in Norfolk, and I went down for the weekend to visit. I also registered for the inaugural Harbor Lights 5k, so I was looking forward to running the fun downtown course. I was actually registered for the "Get Lit" challenge to run the 5k and then the half marathon the following day, but some health issues put the kibosh on that idea.  I arrived Thursday night, and on Friday I headed to visit my old city stomping grounds at City Hall.  

Going to Norfolk City Hall feels like a time warp. Everything is the same, yet everything is completely different. I have a number of former co-workers who still work there, and I had fun surprising them. We chatted for a while, and then I had a meeting with the mayor, my former boss. After we caught up we talked a lot about the many projects happening in the city from light rail to new anchor institution buildings like the courthouse and downtown library. The list of large projects either in progress or on deck was staggering. Norfolk inspired my love for cities, and it continues to inspire me to this day. It makes me realize that getting things done in communities requires vision. If you have a visionary who is willing to think big and brush off the naysayers, you can really accomplish a lot. Downtown Norfolk is a prime example.

Light rail outside Norfolk City Hall
Friday evening was dinner at No Frill Grill, my absolute favorite restaurant in Norfolk. I always love it there, and it's a must when I'm in town. The tuna melt never disappoints, and it has earned its good Yelp reviews. While we waited for a table we were chatting with some people who had just returned from a deployment in Afghanistan. They had never been to No Frill, and I was extolling its virtue. They mentioned that it had great Yelp reviews. I laughed thinking that we've been loving No Frill long before Yelp was a thing.  

On Saturday morning I was downtown early for the Harbor Lights 5k. It was chillier than I thought it would be - around 28 degrees - and I was not dressed appropriately for the weather. It's ironic given that I live in Michigan, and I have tons of cold weather running gear. It was a sunny morning, however, and I loved being in Town Point Park 2700 of my closest friends.

Downtown Norfolk. Loving the new light rail stop in the center of town.
The course was awesome. It ran all around downtown and highlighted some of my favorite spots. It was awesome running right by the gorgeous USS Wisconsin and along the river at the finish. The only downside is that I did not see any mile markers, so I felt a little disoriented. I know the area well enough to have an idea of how far I'd gone, but that was a challenge.  I had a fantastic race. I took 2 minutes off my 5k PR earlier this summer, and I ran almost that fast again. I ran 24:13, my second fastest 5k ever. At the end of the race when I was struggling I just kept thinking it's only been 4 months since I was in the hospital. Now I'm running sub-8 minute miles, which for me is extremely fast.

The USS Wisconsin Memorial
My sister, brother and niece met me after the race, and we had breakfast at D'egg Diner downtown. I spent the afternoon shopping with my sister and niece before we headed out to Ghent for my brother's birthday. I lived in Ghent when I lived in Norfolk, and it's my favorite neighborhood in the City. It's a great mix of retail, restaurants, bars, and residential. It's the perfect neighborhood. When I visualize the kind of neighborhood I want to live in, it's always Ghent. 

With my niece after the race in the Selden Arcade

Sunday was a lazy, relaxing day hanging out with my siblings and parents. I was sad to see the weekend come to an end.  Being in Norfolk is always good for my soul and my city inspiration.  I spent a lot of quality time with the fam and ran an incredible 5k. My heart was also filled by the ingenuity of everything happening in the City of Norfolk. I've lived in Michigan for nearly a decade, but Norfolk occupies some valuable real estate in my cityphile heart. It always feels good to come home to Norfolk. 

One of Norfolk's mermaids downtown

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Of Mothers and Mothering (The Sequel)

Last year I wrote the first edition of this blog about how hard the wait for a family is, and how running and traveling are my sanity. That is still true, but the extra time has given and continues to give me time to reflect about the kind of mother I want to be.

For a lot of my impressionable young life I felt that I didn't really get along with other girls. I had some girlfriends, but I also had a time in junior high where not a single girl in my class would talk to me. I remember going to class and all the other girls were sitting on the other side of the room talking about me loudly, to ensure I would definitely hear them. I came home crying every day for months.  I remember being on the school bus and girls in my class passing me the nastiest, name-calling notes. I have those notes to this day somewhere in my basement. I've kept them as a reminder that people can say terrible things to me, but I'm stronger than whatever they're dishing out.

When I was a little girl my mother often called me "tenderhearted". I seriously doubt anyone would call me that now, and those mean girl notes are part of the reason why. People don't mess with the tough guy.  The tenderhearted person gets nasty notes passed on the bus. As I got older and didn't care as much, the meanness stopped. People only want to hurt people who appear to be vulnerable, and I wasn't going to be that person.

I hate the constant talk of "bullying", and I think we really overuse that term. The bottom line is that kids can be really mean. It's one thing if there's physical violence, but it's a fact of life that kids tease other kids. Sometimes it's vicious. Sometimes it really hurts. I've been on the receiving end, and I've been the one dishing it out. How you handle it is a testament to who you are and what kind of adult you're going to become.

As I continue my journey to become a parent, I think a lot about being a mom. What kind of mom do I want to emulate? I have a few friends who I think are incredible moms, and I want to strive to be like them. They aren't perfect, but they are great examples. And of course there is my own mom who raised me to be a strong, confident woman with a great sense of who I am.

When I came home every day crying when other girls were mean to me, my mom constantly reminded me that I was smart, I was funny, I was strong. It wasn't about me, she'd tell me. These girls needed to be mean to someone else to feel better about themselves. If they weren't mean to me, they'd be mean to someone else. In retrospect I'm glad I was their target. I was strong enough to handle it, and I had a mom who instilled in me a sense of confidence and self worth that has made me the woman I am today.

I hope that I can instill in my children that they can be strong, confident, smart and witty just like my mom did with me.  I know there will be times when others will be nasty, and it's how you handle those situations that says a lot about your character. I want my kids to see their mom as a woman who has a career she loves. I hope they'll see me as as woman who pushes to be my best self even with health issues. I hope they'll see the importance of commitment in my dedication to running. I hope they'll know that there will always be people who are mean, but they will always have the same kind of support I had.

It's been nearly two decades, but that girl who cried every day is still a part of who I am. It may be deep inside, but there is a part of me that is vulnerable and tenderhearted. There aren't a lot of people who get to see it, but it's there. I hope to teach my kids the tipping point between vulnerable and tough guy. I'm also hoping to still figure it out for myself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Anti-Tourist

Last weekend marked by 4th trip to Washington, DC this year, which is actually down from the last few years. It's one of my favorite cities, and I'm always looking for a reason to go there. We go to DC so often that we have a weird ritual of things we do that are not at all touristy.  As a matter of fact when I travel I generally try to be the anti-tourist. I want to see cities like a local, especially if it's somewhere I've been repeatedly.

Here are some ways in which we are anti-tourists in Metro DC:

We always stay on Courthouse Road in Arlington. There are two hotels across the street from one another: a Hilton Garden and a Clarion. We stay at one or the other depending on who has the best rates. Last weekend the Clarion won, and we had the largest hotel room I've ever stayed in for $87 a night. We had 1½ baths, a separate bedroom, a full kitchen. I'm not sure how we ended up with this room, but it was ginormous. It's a few blocks walk to the Metro, and it's not at all a tourist area. There's a great little farmer's market between the hotel and the Metro on the weekend. It feels like we're part of the neighborhood when we stay there.

We always end up at Ragtime located right on Courthouse Road in Arlington. Ragtime is the DC area's West Virginia fan gathering spot, and I discovered it by accident about a decade ago. We arrived at our hotel around 10:30 on Friday evening, and I decided we should go to Ragtime for late night sliders and a few adult beverages. A trip to DC isn't complete without a stop at Ragtime.

We don't make a plan. Every few years we do the touristy thing (we did it with family back in the spring), but for the most part we amble around the Metro DC area doing anything except being tourists. It may be shopping in Dupont Circle or dinner in Adams Morgan. It may include taco trucks and the little farmer's market near our hotel. It could be shopping and eating at Clarendon. This trip was shopping and meeting friends for lunch in Old Town Alexandria. Whatever our destination it's rarely the National Mall. I've been to DC dozens of times in my life, and I've never been to the U.S. Capitol. I have, however, been to every Pacers running store in the Metro area. Priorities.

I always run in DC, and I usually run outside. The Courthouse neighborhood is very hilly, and it makes for interesting (and often less than productive) running experiences. I needed to get in a solid 8-mile run before my races this upcoming weekend, so I opted for the hotel treadmill. As much as I hate the treadmill, I knew it would be the most effective way to get in a solid long run. I had the hotel gym to myself and rocked out the run aggressively, with negative splits.

It was a whirlwind less than 48 hour trip to our nation's capitol. The closest I came to a monument was looking out the window of the Metro as we headed to the airport. One of the things I love most about living in Michigan is the cost of living is low enough that we can head to DC relatively frequently. This weekend I head to another of my favorite cities, Norfolk, VA, to visit my family and run a few races. So many races and towns...there's not time to be a tourist. 

Ready for this weekend's races!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Do I Want to be When I Grow Up?

For a brief period of time when I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian. I love animals, and I loved the idea of working with animals all the time. Then I found out that vets have to put animals down, and the idea lost its luster. Then for the bulk of my life I wanted to be a journalist. I remember writing extensive stories in second and third grade. I would fill journals and notebooks with the things I would write - stories, poetry, anything. I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life writing, and journalism seemed like the best path for me.

I told my junior high gym teacher that I wanted to be on SportsCenter. This was back when women were not on SportsCenter. Maybe Linda Cohn was...I don't recall. I went to college as a broadcast journalism major. My first class at West Virginia University was an introductory journalism class. I took it with several hundred of my closest friends. I liked it well enough, but that same day I went to my first political science class. I was hooked. Most WVU freshman who have a polisci requirement take the huge classes who at that time were taught by the infamous Dr. Robert DiClerico and the Silver Fox Dr. Alan Hammock. I took my introductory political science class with a guy named Lyn Dotson. He works for the WVU Foundation (is kind of a big deal there now 18 years after he was my teacher.) His class changed my life. I fell in love with political science, and I wanted to do something (anything) with it. I decided to double major in broadcasting and political science.

My first two years of college were an ambitious quagmire of classes, work and 6 am sessions at the gym. I carried 18-20 credit hours, worked at least 20 hours a week and maintained fabulous six-pack abs. Ultimately I decided that the broadcasting just wasn't for me. I didn't love it. This was back in the days before digital recording, and I hated sitting in a lab splicing together tape for stories I was working on. I no longer enjoyed one of my two majors, and I dropped to solely political science at the beginning of my junior year.

I had no idea what I wanted to do with a polisci degree, but I knew I loved the subject matter. My senior year I was starring at acceptance letters from both grad school and law school wondering what on earth I should do. During an internship with the WV legislature my senior year, I worked with a legislator who was an attorney. He suggested that for the extra year law school was worth it, and I took his advice. I was off to law school with no intentions of ever practicing law.

My law school experience was probably unlike a lot of other people's. I had three surgeries my first year. I visited by third year at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, leaving my friends, family and familiar school behind. It was disjointed, and I made it through with average grades and an extreme distaste for personal injury law after a stint at a law firm in Texas my third year.

I left Texas and went to Virginia where I lived with my sister and brother-in-law for a while. I answered a classified ad and applied for a job as Executive Assistant to the Mayor.  I got the job. I did everything from writing speeches to attending meetings to working on the Mayor's float for the Christmas parade. It was exhilarating and wonderful, and I fell in love with a city and with my boss' vision for his hometown. 

I was dating a guy from Michigan, and it seemed like a fun(?) idea to move here. I was offered and accepted a job working on local government policy in the Michigan House Republican Policy Office. I will never forget a few comments when I took the job. Norfolk's vice mayor at the time incredulously asked me, "Wait - you're a Republican?" And the Mayor's first words to me after I gave notice were: "You know it's cold there, right?" I arrived in Michigan on a 7 degree day in February, and my life changed forever.

Two years later I began working at the Michigan Municipal League, and I'm now leading the lobbying team. Working in the legislature is crazy and awesome and frustrating and exhausting...there is nothing quite like it. If I had told 8-year-old me that one day I'd be a lobbyist and love it, I don't think that would've gone over extremely well.

As much as I love this job, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. All I know is that I want to be involved with communities. I want to be a part of community projects. I want to see change happen. I get to see it now, and I can't imagine not working with communities in some capacity. It turns out that answering that classified ad in Norfolk changed everything I thought I knew about what I wanted to do with my life. 

Last week I stumbled on this blog titled "7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose". I love question number two: "What is true about you today that would make your 8-year-old self cry?" My answer is that I don't write regularly, although this blog is a band-aid to that problem. I love writing, and it is good for my soul. Growing up in a small town my 8-year-old self didn't know I loved cities, and I didn't know that I'd love running. But writing was my jam. My childhood self would weep that I don't do it often enough anymore.

Me at 8 years old (front row, second from the left). I also loved cheerleading back then.

I'm 36 years old, and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I know it involves cities and writing and being true to what I believe in. I incorporate much of that my current job, and I'll continue to work on the things that feed my soul. We're constantly evolving as people, and maybe one of these days I'll figure out the answer to the question as part of my own evolution. Until then I'll work hard at the things that would make my 8-year-old self happy.     

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Running the Neighborhood

I am effusive about my love for living downtown, and I continue to sing its praises. Walking downtown for dinner or brunch is fantastic. Walking my dogs around the Capitol is lovely. Walking to work is amazing. The one and only snag I've found is a new running route. It's been quite the challenge to find the right route.

In our old neighborhood I had a perfect 3 mile running route. I ran along Moores River drive in Lansing's fanciest neighborhood, and I always felt safe. I'd run in the dark, in bad weather, almost always by myself. It was a great route, and I've run it more times than I can count. I have also logged lots of miles on the Lansing River Trail, but always in daylight hours generally on Saturdays when I know it's well populated. There are portions of the River Trail that seem unsafe, so I've always been careful about it.

I love our new neighborhood, and I don't feel unsafe in any way. The safe pocket we live in, however, is a bit limited. I'm having a difficult time finding my running groove in the new 'hood. I like to run early, and that inevitably means it's dark. I've promised my husband I won't run alone on the river trail in the dark even though it's a pretty short distance. A promise is a promise, right? So I've found myself running shorter distances trying to find the right route that is both safe and long enough.

I hate running on the treadmill. I could pretty easily head to the Downtown YMCA just a half a mile from home and hit the treadmill for a few extra miles. Perhaps that will be an option this winter. But right now it's fall and it's fabulous, and I want to be outside until the snow and ice force me indoors.

I've decided this winter I'll have to adjust my schedule and run in the evening. A few weeks ago my husband and I were out to dinner downtown, and we saw a group of runners coming in for a drink. I jealously watched the runners gathering together, and I wanted to be part of it. I signed up for the Mid-Michigan Running Meetup the next day. My running and travel schedule has been crazy the last few weeks, but I plan on running with the group. I want to enjoy running in my neighborhood with other people who have chosen to be part of downtown.

It's going to take a little planning, but I'll figure out the best routes to run in my new neighborhood. Living and running downtown is my dream. I'll be running this 'hood before you know it. 


Wednesday, November 5, 2014


In the last few weeks I've had a couple of people characterize me as "fearless", and it's the best compliment ever. I love that description, but it's had me wondering if it's true. Am I really fearless?

The dictionary defines fearless as: without fear; bold or brave; intrepid. (Also intrepid is another fantastic word). I'm admittedly not afraid of a lot of things. I think sometimes people confuse my being fearless with being aggressively candid, but I suppose that's another kind of fearlessness. It takes cojones to say what you think, and I do it often, without reservation. My general thought process is that I like to know where others are coming from, and I hope people appreciate that they always know where I stand. It may be something simple like the abomination of wearing leggings as pants or a complicated legislative issue, but my opinions rarely come as a surprise to anyone. In that sense I am perhaps fearless.

But what about overall? I'm certainly afraid of things. I'm afraid of failing to the extent that I won't even start something I know I'm not good at. I don't love driving in bad weather although it is a necessary evil. I have an irrational fear of driving off a bridge into a body of water. When trying to capture a bat last weekend in my house I discovered that I definitely am afraid to be too close to a bat. I'm sure there are other things I'm afraid of, but I don't dwell on them or worry about them. What's the point? Worry, particularly about things we cannot control, is a useless endeavor. Worry creates fear, and that's a vicious cycle in which I refuse to get swept up.

Before my first triathlon. I was petrified.
For me being fearless isn't being without fear; it's how you handle the fear. We can give in to it, and we can let it get the best of us. Or we can push through the fear and challenge ourselves. It's good to force myself to do something that scares me. I use fear as a motivator, and it works like a charm.

When I started running I was terrified - terrified of failing, of getting injured, of looking silly. Then I realized that was the reason I should do it. Things that have meaning should be intimidating.  Whether it's taking a new job, taking on a new life challenge (like running), traveling someplace where you don't speak the language, starting a family or falling in love - anything worth doing is scary. Being fearless doesn't mean you're not afraid. It means you've taken afraid and made it your b*tch. 

I spent my 20s making fearless decisions, and I spent a lot of time handling the terrified. I moved to Texas and visited my third year of law school at Baylor (a terrifyingly good school where I knew no one). I moved to Virginia and applied for a job with the Mayor from a classified ad. It turned out to be a huge catalyst for my love of cities. I moved to Michigan for a new job in the state legislature. I didn't know anyone here, and the move changed my life. I met my husband, amazing friends, and have fallen into a career that I love. I would be lying if I said all of these large changes weren't scary, but the fear is what drives me to conquer new challenges.

Before my first marathon - Detroit in 2010. I was a bundle of nerves.
Fear is natural. There is nobody - even the most adventurous and bold people - who don't feel fear. Being fearless is about conquering the fear and using it to your advantage. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world." Being fearless is about beating down the fear and taking control of it. Are there things I fear? Absolutely. That's part of what makes me fearless.    

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What Part of 'No' Don't I Understand?

The answer to my question is all of it. The word 'no' isn't in my vocabulary. This isn't because I'm a pushover or because I think I have to be everywhere. It's because I want to be everywhere, and that's maybe even harder.  For more than half of a decade I've been at a point in my life where I was first trying to have children biologically and then have been waiting for an adoption for going on three years. In my head is always the thought, "once we have kids we won't be able to do _____ (fill in the blank) as easily". So I incessantly say yes - to work, to friends, to family. 

Last year I wrote a post about learning to say no, and I declared I would start with baby showers. That has actually been surprisingly easy. First off I don't have a lot of friends having their first children (most of mine are on child number 2 or 3 or more), so there are way fewer showers than there were for a while. I also think the people who know me and love me understand that it's hard. So I'll happily send extravagant gifts to get out of the showers. That part has been easy.

What's harder is saying no to work (in particular travel) and to all the fun things there are to do - football games, tailgates, parties, dinners, drinks, having people over in our new house. I want to do it all - travel for work, have people over, enjoy cocktails, get up and go for a run. I don't want to pick and choose. But then there come those things I have to find time to fit in, things like laundry, trips to the vet, doctor's appointments (of which I have many), reading good books, fitting in running and swimming. It's too much to do it all, and yet I keep trying. I keep pushing, and then I crash. I'll be in bed by 9:15 on the one free night I have in a week. I find it harder to do a long run on Saturday morning because I'm groggy and need an extra cup of coffee. My blood work last week indicated I'm anemic again, so I'm tired in general and pushing through the lethargy to keep going. Saying no doesn't seem like an option.

But why isn't it? I mean really...why not? This upcoming weekend I was registered to run the New York City Marathon, a feat my body decided wasn't going to happen. I said no...although not by choice. My Mountaineers play TCU in Morgantown this weekend as well, and once the weekend opened up I assumed we'd go to the game. But my travel schedule is out of control. When we were in Morgantown for the WVU/Baylor game a few weeks ago, I decided we needed to sell our TCU tickets. I needed a definitive decision about what we were going to do; otherwise I would feel compelled to go to Morgantown instead of having three whole weekends in a row at home.

We sold our TCU tickets for a decent price. The check has been cashed. Then College Game Day announces that they're coming to Morgantown. Damn it! I was immediately regretting that we sold the tickets even though I love the idea of not packing a suitcase for a few weeks. Ultimately this is the right decision, but I'm kicking myself for saying no. We went to College Game Day when it was in Morgantown a few years ago, and it was amazingly fun. I don't want to miss the fun, but I have to say no for my sanity. 

College Game Day in Morgantown in 2011. So. Fun.

It's such a simple word, but it's really difficult to say. I'm in a continually failing effort to be more protective of my time, and that will require saying "no" more often. The brilliant and incomparable Steve Jobs once said, "People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that are out there. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things." Excellent, excellent words to live by.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How Samantha Got Her Groove Back

Four months of not racing feels like an eternity for someone like me who generally has races 2-3 times a month. My last race was the Tri Goddess Tri in June, and then my life ground to a halt. I've been recovering and getting back into running, and last weekend I decided it was time to get back to racing. That meant waking up at 4:45 am on a Sunday and driving to Plymouth, Michigan for the Wicked Halloween 10k

I ran the same race back in 2012, and I also ran the St. Patrick's Day equivalent (same race company, same course) in 2012.  I haven't found an overabundance of 10k races in mid-Michigan, so I was excited to get out there again. The 10k distance is perfect - enough to feel like I've really challenged myself yet short enough to be able to walk without pain the next day. I ran the 2012 Wicked 10k in 58:52, and the Shamrock 'n Roll earlier that year in 57:22. I've been having a fast year pre-surgeries/hospital stay, but I didn't expect to break my PR of 57:15. My unspoken goal was simply to run it in under an hour. 

I don't run a lot of 10ks, and the 55 minute mark has been my nemesis. I had no illusions that I would conquer it on my first run back after this summer's drama. I woke up at 4:45 Sunday morning wondering, as I always do in those wee hours, why on earth I do this. I arrived Plymouth around 6:30 am to pick up my packet.

Same day packet pick-up was pretty seamless, and I drove toward the starting line. In the past the city had ample parking, and we were warned on the website that this would no longer be the case. I ended up finding a perfect spot on the street near the start (yet out of the way of runners). It was early, and I smartly brought a book to read. I sat in my car where I could hear pre-race announcements, and headed over about 5 minutes before the race started.

I really love downtown Plymouth. It's a great, intimate downtown with lots to do. Kellogg Park, where the race begins and ends, is a fantastic central community gathering spot. I love the race course a bit less than downtown Plymouth. It is flat but quite winding. There are dozens of turns as it twists through the city's neighborhoods. The benefit is that Plymouth has beautiful downtown neighborhoods, and there was a lot of crowd support as always.

I started the race near the 55 minute pacer, and around mile 2 he inched toward passing me. At the same time I had a runner right in front of me speeding up and slowing down, and the annoyance was enough to make me speed up again. I realized that I felt better than the pace the 55 minute pacer was using, so I decided I'd leave it all out on the course.

My running watch battery died a few weeks ago, and I have yet to replace it. I had no idea how fast I was going. I only knew I was ahead of the 55 minute pacer. I rounded the corner to Kellogg Park and gave it a last good kick. I felt incredible.

I crossed the line and grabbed my medal, winded by the final effort. I knew it was around 54 minutes, which was my PR by more than 3 minutes. I found out later that my official time was 53:26, nearly 4 minutes off my former PR. I ran 8:37 minute miles, and I rocked it out.

I've continued to remain really disappointed that I'm not running the New York City Marathon this weekend. I know, however, that there's no way my body would've been ready for it. However my first race this fall was amazing, and I feel incredible. I feel like I've got my body back. It may not be the New York Marathon, but right now it feels like it. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Just Say No to the Casualization of America

The casualization of America is gross. Seriously. The public places of America are not your living room. For the benefit of the rest of your fellow humans, please take off the yoga pants and pajamas and wear real clothes. Once a year or so I feel this blog is important to remind people that you'll like yourself more if you look cute. Trust me. I'm an expert.

I love cute clothes. And shoes. God I love shoes. I think dressing well says a lot about who you are, and you'll never (okay VERY rarely) catch me in public without real clothes. Even (especially) when I'm traveling. Sweatpants are for working out or lying on the couch clearing out the DVR. I'll wear them walking my dogs (in the dark early in the morning). But to the store? To the movies? To dinner? Never, never, never. Even when I came home from a 3-week hospital stay I asked my husband to bring me jeans and a t-shirt. Two surgeries and a blood clot? Not reasons to look like a degenerate in public. 
A rare occurrence: wearing running clothes to breakfast a few weeks ago.
 I was stressed about it the whole time.
This morning I was getting tea at the coffee shop next door to my office. I was wearing my mid-weight pink pea coat (adorbs), tights and this season's cutest booties. A stranger grabbed my arm and told me she loved my shoes. After a 2-3 minute conversation about shoes she said, "Girl you're working it today. You inspire me."'s an outfit. But it's what the outfit says about who you are and how you feel about yourself that makes others pay attention. And maybe even inspires them to want to feel better about themselves.
My fav booties this season.
I've gotten to a point in my life where I comment enough about attire that it's become a thing. I recently ran into a friend while getting my hair done. She was wearing her work clothes and flip flops. I honestly didn't even notice the flip flops; I was just glad to see her. She was mortified and posted something on Facebook about how she couldn't believe she ran into me looking like that. I felt badly because I didn't want her to think I really cared, and she looked lovely. But on the other hand? I like that I'm making people think about how they present themselves. We all should be. What Not to Wear was a hit television show for a decade for a reason. How you look matters. It matters in how others see you, but more importantly it matters in how you see yourself. I'm 100% sure nobody wears pajamas in public and thinks, "Wow I feel amazing in this outfit". It doesn't mean wearing a ball gown to Kroger, but if you look good, you'll feel good too. (As an aside I'm not opposed to wearing a ball gown to Kroger...or anywhere for that matter). I won't spend any time railing on capri pants (which I honestly hate so much) because I know so many people wear them. See...I can restrain myself on occasion.

I'll admit it - I put nearly as much time planning an outfit for a race as I do actually training for it.  It's my goal to be the best dressed runner at a race, and I'd say most of the time I reach that goal. It also helps me actually run better. I swear! Wearing something cute motivates me to work out. If you look good and feel good about yourself, I guarantee you'll be more motivated. 

At a 5k earlier this year. Running skirt, cute top, compression socks. Boom.
Life is too short to not feel amazing all the time. I love to get home from work and put on WVU sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Being comfortable is awesome. But if I'm commanding a room during a legislative committee hearing or working toward my PR at a race, it's about looking and feeling the best that I can. It boosts confidence, and I am sure helps you get closer to whatever goals you want to accomplish. When in doubt, wear the skirt. And the cute shoes.  

A Happy Heart

I love writing. It's one of my favorite things to do and one of my favorite stress relievers. Unfortunately over the last few weeks it's taken a backseat while I've been focusing on everything else - work, family, college football (you know...priorities). Both writing and running have been put on the back burner while I manage my completely insane schedule. 

Last week I spent the entire week with my lover....or at least one of the many cities with whom I am in love. I headed back to Marquette, Michigan for the third time this year for my work's annual convention. I love Marquette so much I can barely stand it. Being there feels like an alternate reality. I feel more relaxed. I love everything about the city - the downtown, nature, the way the rolling hills kiss Lake Superior. I arrive in Marquette and forget that it took a nearly six hour drive through the middle of nowhere to get there. All I think about when I'm there is how much I love it, and how much I'd live there in a minute. I even thought this when I was there in the dead of winter, so my Marquette love affair is obviously very real. 

The week was busy as a week-long work event tends to be. A lot of it is just being on for days on end. My face hurts from smiling, but I love every minute of it. I love our members. I love and believe in the mission of this organization to create great places. I hear about great projects happening all over the state, and it feeds my soul. 

With a friend/colleague during our convention. The fall colors were brilliant.
Despite the socializing and myriad cocktails consumed last week, I still managed to fit in two really solid runs on Marquette's bike trail. I picked up the trail on the hill behind our hotel, and it was a beautiful path. Even though it was dark both days when I ran, the trail lights highlighted the peak gold of the autumn leaves. Even with the the busy schedule my heart felt complete.

An early morning 5-miler in Marquette
On Friday I left Marquette, and I was barely out of the city limits before my attitude changed dramatically. It was a grey, rainy and windy fall day, and Lake Superior was angrily churning alongside the road. I drove more than five hours back to Lansing feeling frustrated and unhappy most of the way. I stopped in Lansing to pick up my husband and dogs, and we were off on the next 400 mile part of our trip to Morgantown, West Virginia.

We all know how much I love Morgantown, but I found myself wondering why on earth we were going there at the end of convention week. I slept in the car most of the trip, and we arrived early Saturday morning. My brother and sister-in-law were also in town to celebrate my nephew's second birthday. I hadn't seen any of them since Thanksgiving last year, so I was excited to see family despite my exhaustion.

Saturday morning we headed out in the rain to my happy place - Mountaineer Field. The Mountaineers were taking on 4th ranked Baylor. We tailgated with one of my oldest friends and his awesome wife, and headed into the game. It was a cold and dreary day, but my team was amazing. Our defense rocked it out, and despite the cold I couldn't make myself leave. We ended up winning the game, and I had tears in my eyes as the stadium sang Country Roads after the victory. The extra 400 miles was worth it.

Tailgating with one of my oldest friends
We had a fantastic weekend visiting with family. My nephew is the cutest, and we got to hang out and go to some great restaurants. A week in Marquette followed by a week in Morgantown was exactly what my heart needed. Now if I could just blink and be in either location without the travel, my world would be perfect.

We arrived in Lansing on Monday evening, and the madness began again. This week I have three presentations - in Livonia, Sterling Heights and Holland, Michigan (all at least an hour from Lansing). My head is spinning with busy, and I find myself looking into next week wondering if it will get less crazy. Spoiler alert: it will not. But my heart is happy and full with family, placemaking and the happiness hangover from having spent a week in two of my favorite places. When the busy is over, the happy is all that is left.