Friday, February 28, 2014

Thanks for Making me a Fighter

I don't remember ever not being super Type A. When I was a little kid I used to get bored when I was visiting someone and would actually clean their house (as either most offensive or best visitor ever). I like things to be neat and tidy and efficient. Life, however, doesn't really care about those things. As a matter of fact it likes to scoff at you for thinking you're ever really in control. Intellectually I know this, but it doesn't make me less of a control freak.

Two things in my life - Crohn's and the adoption process - have been the ultimate tests of my ability to be in control.  I remember telling my surgeon a month before I was starting law school that emergency surgery was not an option, and we would talk about doing it during Christmas break. Life laughed hard, I had an emergency colectomy, but I still started law school three weeks later. Take that life, I thought at the time. Unpredictability has made this Type A person a fighter.

I had three surgeries my first year of law school, the other two being over Christmas and spring breaks. Many of my classmates didn't even realize it. I pushed hard to ensure that I didn't miss a beat. I was tired, and it was difficult. But now when I hear people complain about their first year of law school (which in fairness does suck), I like to tell them they should add three surgeries to the mix and see how much harder it is. My expectations of the level of excellence I expect from myself keep me pushing back against whatever the universe is throwing at me. While I've been Type A for my whole life, but it took health adversity for me to realize what a fighter I am.

I've had a crazy busy few weeks at work, but apparently that just isn't enough for me. I'm running, swimming, cross training and in my free time still trying to carve out time to relax. Let me just say that the relaxation is falling to the bottom of the list. I did a blog a few weeks ago about hard being what makes something great. But the only way to get through the hard is to fight for it. Sure, maybe my level of energy and obscenely packed schedule can be a bit much, but to me it's worth fighting for.

March is a ridiculous month for me. I'm in DC, Louisville, and I have my legislative work conference. I look at the calendar and wonder how I'm going to fit it all in. Starting in the pool for triathlon training has also added a huge challenge in my life. I'm getting up at 5 am two days a week to get in the pool. But these are challenges, things that will ultimately be the moments in life where I look back and think wow, I did some really cool stuff.

Maybe I'll never really be in control, but the hard stuff makes me a fighter. And this blog makes me have Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" in my head. It's about a breakup, but I dedicate it to the hard stuff (I'm talking about you, Crohn's and baby stuff) and say thank you. In Christina's words: You "make me that much stronger. Make me work a little bit harder. Make me that much wiser. So thanks for making me a fighter!"

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hello, Lovah.

Remember that guy (or girl) you dated in your mid-20s? The one who had a lot going for him, but somehow you couldn't quite make it work? That's how I feel when I go to Chicago. I think this time it will be different. I won't get there and spend the whole time wondering why I don't live there. Then I arrive (via train which is sexy in and of itself), and the city sucks me in with its public art, walkable streets, vibrant downtown, parks and transit.  I know I can't make it work. We have jobs and friends and family and a life here in Michigan. Yet maybe somehow we could try. Chicago would be worth it, right?  Maybe it would be a commitment worth making.

I'm not sure when this happened - when I started thinking of cities I adore in terms of a love affair. Chicago and I have been in an on again/off again thing for years. I feel like the city gets me. It just feels right. Of all the cities I've visited in the last decade, Chicago is one that keeps pulling me back.

This trip was a much needed girls' weekend with two of my besties. One of the best things about Michigan is that I've made some of the most amazing friends a girl could ask for. It's been a crazy busy few weeks, and a weekend in one of my favorite cities was just the ticket.

We stayed at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel located in a perfect spot just off Michigan Avenue. With its proximity to Water Tower Place and Bloomingdale's as well as great restaurants it was the perfect place to host girls' weekend.  We arrived on the South Shore commuter train in the early afternoon and headed to 676 Restaurant located in the Omni Hotel. We immediately ordered a round of delicious bloody marys. Our server was right that the Chicagoan bloody mary was more like a salad than a cocktail. It had relish, onions and pickles (with a side of vodka), and it was incredible.

Bloodies at 676
Fueled by cocktails we started our shopping marathon. I was on the hunt for a dress for a wedding in a few months, and we hit all of the department stores along the Magnificent Mile. It was easy to work up an appetite for dinner at one of my favorite Chicago places.

The Purple Pig is indescribably delicious. The flavor profiles in the food there are incomparable. We had fried brussel sprouts and a smear with Mortadella, balsamic and pistachios followed by scallops, pork osso bucco and rib tips. It was paired with a full bodied wine that I could've drank all night if it weren't obscenely expensive. I don't have a sweet tooth, but this was among the best dessert I've ever had. We each ordered one, and they were amazing. I had no idea that peanut butter and ginger were such a natural pairing, but in the semifreddo they were beautiful together. And olive oil cake is potentially the best dessert I've ever had. Incredible.

Saturday morning I needed to run off all of the pork with a 4-miler out and back by the lake. I love running in Chicago because there are people everywhere. It was a brisk, sunny morning, and I was enjoying my first solid run outside in several weeks. The lake was calm and beautiful, and I loved the sky line views as I headed back toward the hotel. It was the perfect warm up to continue the shopping marathon.

We started with breakfast at Oak Tree Restaurant in the Bloomingdale's building followed by shopping for furniture and shoes (we've got diverse interests). Bloomingdale's has extra discounts for visitors, and it helped me get Badgley Mischka shoes that match my fabulous new dress for a steal. We rocked out every store on the Magnificent Mile before realizing it was late afternoon and time for a cocktail. 

Who doesn't love a good deal on shoes?
We found one at NoMI, a chic spot near the hotel. I love both creative cocktails and gin, and NoMI had just what I was looking for. I had a cocktail that was essentially a gin Manhattan, and that is a genius concoction. We enjoyed a late afternoon snack of brussel sprouts (the food of the weekend) and a meat and cheese board. 

An afternoon cocktail/snack
After fashion shows with all of our new gear and some relaxing at the hotel we headed out to Rosebud, a very traditional Italian restaurant. I had the tortellini carbonara, followed by desserts that were enormous and delicious. It definitely negated all of the running from earlier in the day. Totally worth it.

These desserts at legit.
On Sunday morning we enjoyed a quick breakfast at Tempo Cafe near the hotel. It was probably the least satisfactory dining experience of the weekend, but the place was packed with people. That's generally a good sign. 

This weekend was about fabulous friendship, delicious food, great shopping, and for me to visit Chicago, Mi Amor. I definitely came back with the usual enamored view of the city...looking for ways to make it work. But maybe it's better as a long distance thing. My wallet can't handle being that close to Bloomie's and Nordstrom. The long distance thing helps keep the flame burning, so I'll dream of you until we meet again.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My New Diet: Red Meat and Red Wine

It's no secret that I find healthy eating annoying. I understand the importance of fueling your body particularly when you're as active as I am. But I do find the preachy extremes irritating. I don't care what anybody else eats, but the judgey "if you eat this stuff you're a terrible human" attitude makes me seriously want to pick up a Quarter Pounder on the way home.

Having Crohn's has always made nutrition challenging for me, and even after working with a nutritionist last year I still feel like I haven't quite gotten the hang of it. I know how to keep my Crohn's under control, but fueling for intense races continues to be a challenge. This year my body decided to throw me a huge loop. I have been lightheaded and dizzy for a few weeks, and I went to my family doctor to figure out the deal.

I found out last week that I am severely anemic. I've been anemic before, but the last time my levels were this low I required blood transfusions (thankfully not necessary now). I've been obscenely tired and sluggish, and now it makes sense.

I have a difficult time digesting iron-rich, dark, leafy greens. So my doctor suggested my new diet plan should include red meat. Lots and lots of iron-rich red meat. And what pairs better with red meat than a nice red wine?

Stag's Leap Cabernet - my fav.

Being anemic is inconvenient. I have a lot to accomplish, and it's cramping my style. I'm on a slew of new vitamins, including a hard-core iron supplement, that should have me up and running at my normal speed in no time. My thoughts? When life hands you anemia, cook a giant steak and open your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Road to New York

Last weekend I kicked off the 2014 race season with the Chocolatier's 5k in Lansing's Old Town. I decided this would be a great idea after my first stint in the pool for triathlon training. I've had better ideas. This year, with every race and every workout, I'll be pushing toward my 4th (and I swear final) marathon - the New York City Marathon in November. 

I started last Saturday in the pool at the YMCA with my super patient girlfriend (who is an awesome swimmer). After just a few lengths of the pool I was winded. I felt like I had been sprinting a mile. My heart was pounding, and it was hard. I don't like to do things I'm not good at, and it definitely felt like this was something I wasn't going to be good at. It was a short workout - maybe 30 minutes or so - but it got me in the pool. Now the goal is to do at least two days a week until I start triathlon training intensely in April.  One big negative was hitting my toe on the side of the pool (I am the world's most accident prone human) which resulted in a delightfully bruised toe. That helped tremendously during the 5k later in the day.

So that left a mark.
Around two we headed to Lansing's coolest bar, Zoobies, for packet pick-up. I have to say that the location was the best part of packet pick-up because otherwise it was a bit slow. Zoobies reopened last summer, and it's one of my favorite spots in town. The cocktails are creative, and the snacks are delicious (the black pepper truffle oil popcorn? In-sane.) Don't even get me started on the wine list, which I think is one of the (if not THE) best in town. I'm not a huge white wine fan, but the "electricly dry" Gruner Veltliner is crisp and delightful.

Unfortunately I wasn't having a cocktail before the race (although I did drink two martinis once before a 15 mile marathon training run a few years ago...true story). We headed to the start near the Brenke Fish Ladder in Old Town. The course was an out and back on the Lansing River Trail, a course I've run in several 5ks and on multiple long training runs. One of the biggest negatives was no bathrooms near the start. One thing that is consistent in every race is that runners need bathrooms. Even if you don't actually need it, you think you do. I had to run to a gas station a block or so away for the bathroom which was rather irritating. I am not sure I've ever seen a race, even a 5k, without bathrooms at the start. 

The fish ladder on a brilliant winter afternoon

Chilly at the start

The start was very crowded. Not only were there lots of people, but given the amount of snow we've gotten the course was a understandably a little slushy. It would have been extremely helpful to have at least little signs suggesting runners/walkers line up by time. It was nearly impossible to pass for a while, and I kept passing walkers who started out at the front of the pack. It was very frustrating.  

A really crowded start
It was the slowest 5k I've run in a number of years, but given the icy conditions and the crowded course it felt okay. It felt good to get outside and race again for the first time in over two months. On Sunday my shoulders and calves were so sore from my two workouts, but I know the cross-training for the tri will help me run faster. I've got five boroughs coming up in nine months. There's a lot of work to do. 

A happy finish

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Time to Tri a New Challenge

This is it - the year I do my first triathlon. I've considered it for years, but this is the year I'm pulling the trigger. June 22 is D-Day, and I'll be rocking the Tri Goddess Tri sprint triathlon. It may be four months away, but that doesn't make me less terrified. Biking and running are no problem; it's that bloody swim that has me nervous.

All of the pieces are falling into place. I have a sassy new pink and black swimsuit. I have goggles. I have a membership to the YMCA of Lansing. One of my besties is a triathlon veteran, and she's helping me out. Now is the hard part - actually making myself do it. I'm excited to have some more focused cross training, but the idea of swimming in the dead of this brutally cold winter is challenging.

It's no secret that I like a good challenge. While competing in a triathlon seems scary now, it's the exact type of challenge I need to keep me motivated and focused. Plus I like the idea of having really sexy arms for tank top/bikini season. Hey...whatever motivates, right?  I'm sure solid preparation will help with some of the nerves. Besides I'm really only competing with myself. 

I've blogged before about the doubt that sometimes creep into one's head. When doubt rears its ugly head, it's the new challenges that help me rise above them. Pushing through the scary stuff is a way of telling the doubts to suck it.  As long as I'm striving to be the best, most motivated version of myself, the doubts always lose.

I'm psyched to do a triathlon. It'll be hard. It'll be fun. It'll be totally worth it. And if you see me on the beach this summer, I'll be the girl with the sexy arms.
The goal: this version of my arms circa 2004.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Art of Waiting

If you asked those closest to me how they would describe me I can imagine the answers you'd get. I'd like to think they would say I'm wildly candid, witty, inappropriate, loyal, loud, brash and funny.  I'm quite sure the word "patient" wouldn't be brought up by anyone. Ever.  Perhaps that is why the universe has presented me this challenge of waiting to have a child. What's the best way to teach an extremely impatient person to be patient? Make them wait for something over which they have no control. I wouldn't say I'm the world's most patient person yet, but it has certainly pushed me out of my patience comfort zone.

We live in a world of instant gratification. It's amazing that we want it all, and we expect it to just be there at our fingertips. I'm as guilty as anyone else. I find myself checking Facebook on my phone while waiting in line at Target. What happened to just waiting? When did I become that person who has to constantly be entertained instead of just waiting patiently?

I always thought I would have lots of children. I am one of four, and I can't imagine not having my siblings. My brother and I are only 15 months apart, and I do not have a single childhood memory where he's not present. I want that for my own children - those people in your life who remember the same things you do, who are your constant friends and companions. Sure I haven't always gotten along with my siblings 100 percent of the time, but they're the best link to my past and the ones most certain to be there in the future. 

Here I am at age 35, and the window to have lots of children is slowly closing. We started trying to have a family five years ago, and we've been waiting on the adoption approval list for two full years at the beginning of March. I'll be honest - the wait can be torture. I don't think about it constantly like I did the first year, but it's always in the back of my mind...the what if. What if today is the day someone picks us? What if today is the day our lives change forever? Or even worse...what if it isn't?

After nearly two years my level of hope has really gone down. It's too difficult to constantly be hoping that today is the day. I spent months jumping every single time the phone rang, hoping THIS was the call. Now I try to prepare myself for the worst...what if it never happens?  I still know that it will, but it doesn't make the wait any easier. 

Waiting is an art; not a science. I'm not sure I've got it down, but at some point I don't have a choice. One day the phone will ring, and our life will change in ways I know we cannot even imagine. I will continue to try to enjoy these days and moments where we can do whatever we want without thinking about it. It will happen soon enough, and I will probably find myself wishing I could run out the door on a whim. I know anything good is worth waiting for. Besides it builds character, right?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Falling in Love Easily and Often

Journalist Mignon McLaughlin said, "We all become great explorers during our first few days in a new city, or a new love affair." 

I fall in love often, and I fall in love hard (with cities, that is). Cities have become one of my life's greatest love affairs. The beauty is that they're all so unique, and there are so many places to explore. Even if I find a city I'm not that into, there are plenty more to fill the void.  My passion for communities has gone from just liking cities to really falling madly in love with so many different places. I visit new cities and can't wait to check out physical design and walkable downtowns, green space, public art, and transit. These assets are part of what make great places, but there are also those indefinable characteristics that make you fall in love. Some cities have a heart and a soul that just reach out to you and keep you coming back. They've got that indescribable spirit that makes places great.

In our busy lives it's sometimes hard to separate work from the rest of your life. In my case it's nearly impossible because loving cities isn't just what I do; it's who I am. How else could I go to Marquette, Michigan in January and come back smitten?  How can I explain the palpable need I have to travel to cities who've got it all? It wasn't an accident that I went to Washington, D.C. more than a half a dozen times last year. I find myself riding the metro even when I don't need to because it's transit...and I don't have that here in Michigan. I crave transit. That's weird...I get it. I get away, I get my fabulous city fix, and then I come back more passionate than ever about why Michigan's cities are important.  It's not just fluff. Cities are an economic driver, and that's real. Falling in love with them is just the icing on the cake.

It's not just me. Research shows that millennials (kids from their early 20s to mid-30s...I just squeak into the category) are moving to cities in overwhelming numbers.  They want to be where the action is. They don't want to own a car. They feel that unmistakable energy that you get by visiting or living or just being in a city. So sure, I'm a bit promiscuous with my love for cities, but at least I'm not alone.

When I embarked on this blog project nearly three years ago, I didn't realize how much sharing my love for both cities and running would continue to fuel my passion for both. I've run in so many different places, and each one has been intriguing for its own reasons. I've seen communities in ways I never would've seen them otherwise. I've seen bustling downtowns, quaint neighborhoods, and country roads. Running has been a way for me to quietly reflect on cities and on life, which are not that mutually exclusive for me. I'll be in Chicago again in a few weeks to continue our torrid love affair, and I can't wait to lace up my running shoes and fall in love with the city all over again. Don't judge me. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Life is short my friends. Find something that you love, something that ignites your passion and inspires your soul. Because falling in love over and over again never gets old.

*I tried to find the perfect song to end this blog that would describe my city love affairs. I narrowed it to two very different ones.The titles are really what's perfect...and they're two super catchy songs. Also please forgive LL for dissing the bus stop at the end of pro-transit post.



We We all become great explorers during our first few days in a new city, or a new love affair.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Motivation Buzz Kill, Brought to you by Winter

I actually really love running in the winter. There's something about the absolute calm of the season. I love running in the dark, seeing puffs of my breath and appreciating the silence, because I can't even hear my own footsteps as they're muffled by the snow.  This winter, however, has stolen the calm winter running moments from me. This winter has been brutal.

Lansing, Michigan averages 51.1 inches of snow per year. In the month of January alone we accumulated 40 inches of snow, about ten inches more than normal.  Even for a die hard runner like me it's hard to get out there when sidewalks and roads have not been cleared. On the rare occasion I have been able to get outside, I dutifully note the houses in my neighborhood who haven't cleared their sidewalks for a few days so I can report them to the city. Yes, I'm that neighbor. And for the record if you can afford a tennis court in your ample front yard, you can afford to have someone clear your snow.

Running on the treadmill is a buzz kill. I know very few runners who enjoy toiling away in a smelly gym, the sound of the spinning belt on the treadmill becoming like a song you can't get out of your head.  When I'm running on the treadmill, it's the only time I listen to music while running. I find myself blasting those awesome 90s hard rock bands I used to work out to in high school and college, bands like Seven Mary Three and Rage Against the Machine.  I need the energy of songs like "Cumbersome" and "Bulls on Parade" to push through a workout on the treadmill. 

Sometimes I mix it up with a little 90s rap or R&B (I'm partial to Blackstreet's "No Diggity" and Warren G's "Regulate"), but even with the music it feels like work. The treadmill takes all of the joy out of running.

Despite my treadmill hatred, I've logged some miles on the treadmill the last few months. I also invested in a pair of IceTrekkers for my running shoes to give my shoes a lot more traction outside during this snowy winter. And if I'm being honest I feel kind of bad ass wearing them.  The problem with running outside in this snow is that it can be like running in quicksand. It's a hard workout, and it's tough to really get in some solid running.

And please don't get me started on the cold. I am not extremely comfortable running outside when it's less than ten degrees, and unfortunately that's been most of 2014 thus far. Last week it was 24 degrees, and it actually felt warm. The temps are in the high teens and low 20s the next week, so I'm hoping to get outside a few days.

Last weekend I was supposed to run a half marathon in Grand Rapids. We got about six inches of snow on Saturday, and the roads were not great. The idea of driving an hour at 6 am on questionable, snow covered roads did not sound fun. Saturday night I made an executive decision to not run the race. Instead I got a workout having dance parties with my dogs.

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Sunday, and that is supposed to mean six more weeks of winter.  i'm itching for a solid run outside, preferably with temperatures at or above freezing. Instead, thanks to Phil, I'll have to charge the iPod and hit the treadmill. Regulators! Mount up!