Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Washington, DC + Me = A Love Affair Going Strong for Nearly 20 Years.

Washington, DC is the place that first made this small town girl fall in love with cities when I was 16. I go to DC relatively often, and each time I am reminded why I fell so hard. I was standing outside of the Foggy Bottom Metro Station this past weekend listening to a street musician, watching all of the people walk by and sitting on patios enjoying an afternoon cocktail, and it struck me once again. Cities are where it happens. People want to be in cities. And I fell in love all over again.

Vibrant scene outside the Foggy Bottom Metro stop
Last weekend we took a family vacation to DC. My husband and I are frequent DC visitors, but his family had never been.  While I generally want to spend my time in DC checking out all of the diverse neighborhoods, every few years it's fun to play tourist. We flew into Baltimore and took the Amtrak to DC. We've flown into BWI before, but this was our first experience with taking the Amtrak. It was relatively painless, and the substantial savings on the plane tickets made the extra time worth it.  Upon arriving late Thursday evening we headed to one of my favorite metro DC establishments, Ragtime, which just happens to be the favored West Virginia bar in DC. Total coincidence? 

On Friday morning we headed out to the District to get our tourist on. We saw all of the good stuff including the Washington, Lincoln, Vietnam and Korea Memorials. We went to the World War II Memorial, a personal favorite, and there was a high school band playing patriotic tunes. I was struck, as I am every time I go to that memorial, by the poignant realization of how lucky I am to take so many things for granted. There are always a number of World War II vets, many of whom are being pushed around in wheelchairs. I cry every time. The presence of the band playing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" certainly helped bring the tears.

With our cousin at the World War II Memorial
We spent Friday afternoon at the Smithsonian's Air and Space and Natural History Museums, and then we darted through rain showers to get back to the hotel. We had dinner at Ragtime again 1) because it was convenient and 2) because I love it there. My husband and I then headed to my absolute favorite DC area eatery, Bayou Bakery, for cocktails and dessert. I love everything about that place - the food, the drinks, the decor, the music. I really could not love it more.

If I could fly a plane, this is the face I would make.

I love monuments!
I got up early on Saturday morning to go for a quick run. I ran from our hotel on Courthouse in Arlington to Rosslyn. It's a beautiful run downhill toward Rosslyn. It's less fun running uphill on the way back, but I love running hills. It was the perfect way to start the day.  I followed my run by meeting up with my best friend and goddaughter at Whitlow's on Wilson in the Clarendon neighborhood for breakfast. It was great to spend some quality time with both of them; it makes my heart happy. We had to make a quick stop at my hometown running store east, Pacers, where I picked up another cute shirt. I may or may not have three Pacers shirts. It's a bit of a thing.

I headed back downtown for more tourist time at the Smithsonian's American History Museum. We walked by the White House and then headed to Arlington National Cemetery to round out the weekend's emotional experiences. Arlington is so peaceful and beautiful, and it was a stunningly gorgeous spring afternoon. If one didn't already love DC, that experience would push you over the edge.

This view is breathtaking
My husband's family is comprised of huge hockey fans, so we stopped for a beverage and to watch the end of the Detroit Red Wings Playoff game. The loss led for a need for more cocktails, so we walked back to Clarendon where I had my second Whitlow's meal of the day.

There are so many things to love about DC - the vibrant walkable neighborhoods, people everywhere, food trucks, public transit, the fact that the grass is a brilliant green and the trees are bursting with color at the end of April. I love it for all of these reasons and more. It is truly one of my happy places. I must admit that I felt a little panic all weekend at the thought of doubling down on Michigan and not ever living in DC (although I guess I'll never say never.)  No worries, DC. I will be back, and I will be back often. We've had a good thing going for nearly 20 years, and I don't see it ending any time soon.    

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Possibility.

Lobbying is a cynical business. Working in politics every day has made this former idealistic thinker a bit of a Debbie Downer. There are lots of great policy ideas that get nixed every day because of politics. It's the nature of the game, but in my job it's the communities themselves that keep me focused on how I'm doing the right thing. Everyone wants to love where they live, but communities matter for many more reasons than that. They are the center for economic growth and job creation. They are attracting talented workers and entrepreneurial ideas. Working for cities matters because cities matter. It's enough to help me put my cynicism aside even if only temporarily.

Yesterday some of my colleagues and I had a joint retreat in Detroit. When you talk about the value of placemaking in communities, Detroit is ground zero for that conversation not just here in Michigan but across the country. I've blogged about Detroit on a number of occasions (even just a few weeks ago after I ran the inaugural Cocoa Class Half Marathon there), and everybody knows how much I love it. Sure, the City is embroiled in the nation's largest ever municipal bankruptcy. Sure, there are miles and miles of infrastructure that are seemingly impossible to manage. Yet those challenges create possibility - possibility that Detroit will rise from the ashes to be the City those of us who know it and love it believe it will be. 

We took a two-hour bike tour of the city with Wheelhouse, a company located right on the Detroit river. We hit many of the hot spots - the beautifully renovated river walk (where I ran during my work convention last fall). We saw an urban farm, toured the Heidelberg Project, and rode through beautiful and historic Elmwood Cemetery and Eastern Market. It was a fabulous sunny day in downtown Detroit, and my heart was happy.

With my colleagues in Downtown Detroit before our bike tour
After our tour we headed to 14 East Cafe to spend several hours talking about ways to make communities in Michigan better. I had this moment during our retreat where I was struck with the realization that I am so lucky to not only do something I believe in but to be surrounded by brilliant people who are passionate about the same goals. I left the meeting stimulated by the brainstorming and zeal of my colleagues. 

I stood on Woodward Avenue chatting afterward and was again struck by the sheer magnitude of what we're working to accomplish. Communities all across Michigan are doing some pretty amazing things despite state disinvestment and hard economic times. The City of Detroit is filled with so much possibility that my heart sometimes feels like it may burst because I want so badly to be part of the City's comeback. It's going to happen, and I refuse to give up on Detroit or any of our communities. Passion and possibility together defeat negativity. Even this cynic knows that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Purging

Running is one way for me to relieve stress and relax. Another way is purging. I love to get rid of things. Sometimes it's gotten me into trouble when I've thrown away something that I needed or wanted later. But it's essentially another form of therapy for me to get rid of things I don't need. 

Moving is the ultimate in eradicating clutter and unnecessary things from my life. Just a week ago our attic was full of things we didn't need and hadn't looked at in the seven years we've lived in our house. Today it's nearly empty, the recycling bin is full, and labeled plastic containers are neatly stacked in the garage. It's a sight that makes this Type A lady nearly giddy with organizing pleasure.

One thing that has been difficult is packing up our nursery, a room we set up nearly two years ago and have never used. Last year I posted a blog about how hard Mother's Day was as another year passed without us having a child. Taking down all the things in the nursery has been meltdown inducing on several occasions, but I take comfort in the fact that when our baby arrives, he/she will be living in our dream home. We won't be moving for a while, and this is the house our children are going to grow up in. After a quick crying bout I'm generally back to packing with a vengeance.

While I throw away a lot, I'm still sentimental about some things. Old basketball cards for example.
Add my high school cheerleading megaphone to the few things I can't let go
 I've approached moving like I approach everything in my life - I don't slow down, and I really feel like I'm moving in my free time. Several weekends ago my parents come up to help us do some projects around our current house to prepare it for renting. That was a very productive and helpful weekend. This past week we had plans with friends several nights, and it was Easter weekend. So we got a little bit done but not nearly as much as I'd like.

It's looking like our closing date will be May 9. We're going to DC this weekend on a family vacation. Next week I'm in Kalamazoo one night for work, and the following weekend we're staying in Kalamazoo the night before I run the Kalamazoo Half Marathon. My sister is visiting the weekend of May 9, so I hope she's ready to do some work. I plan to pay her in bottles of wine. Seems like a deal. 

The following week I head to one of my favorite places, Marquette, Michigan for a few days for work. I fly back to Detroit on Saturday in time to attend a friend's wedding that night. Oh and at some point we have to move. You know...in our free time.  I'm extremely efficient. Everything will get done. Maybe at some point I should consider my excellent organizing skills to clean up the calendar a little bit. But how fun would that be? 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Who Needs Two Sinks?

I have a love/hate relationship with the television show House Hunters. I love houses, and I love to see how real estate markets work in other communities. I am convinced, however, that in order to be on the show one must be a total self-centered moron. I still DVR the show and watch it on occasion, but it makes me weep a little bit for America (the international version is WAY less objectionable). 

As someone who is in the process of purchasing a house built in 1884 in the heart of downtown in an urban Mid-West city, I clearly have preferences about how houses should look and where they should be located. I HATE sprawl. I also hate new houses - if it was built before 1960, I wouldn't even look at it.

I get it - to each his or her own. Some people want to live in a new house in a green field right by the freeway (lovely view) developed with horrible land use policies and brand new infrastructure instead of investing in a developed community that already has all the infrastructure you need. Good on you, people. But when I drive by a new development that you can see from the highway with these giant houses, it makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. It represents everything that's wrong with America. 

I also get the convenience of a new house. Did you know you can build a new house in a densely populated community? True story. Take a look at Plymouth, Michigan. It's a great city with tons of new houses being built within walking distance of downtown. It works people.

There are so many reasons why House Hunters makes me crazy. People would want to live downtown, but it's too noisy. We Americans need giant yards and enormous houses. The charming cape cod in a dense city neighborhood that housed a family of 6 in the 1950s is too small for a couple and their one baby. Instead we need a 4,000 square foot McMansion with a bonus room. (Surprise! The bonus is you're an a-hole). Everybody has to have two sinks in their master bathroom, otherwise their life is going to end. How could you possibly have less than 4 bathrooms for a family of four? Tragic. And we wonder why other countries hate us...you know like Europeans who live in small apartments downtown, walk everywhere and take transit. Oh how I envy them.

One of my favorite books on sprawl, Suburban Nation, details the havoc sprawl has wreaked on America. It has led to less independence because we have to drive everywhere. We live our lives in our cars shepherding between work, school, shopping centers (in disgusting strip malls). We're obese. One of the premises of the book indicates that we created wider streets to accommodate firetrucks, yet this results in traffic accidents kill way more people than fires. The evils of sprawl are numerous, and yet we don't get it.

I could not be happier to be moving half a mile from my office where I can walk to work. I can walk downtown for dinner. I can walk or bike to the Lansing City Market for groceries. I intend to drive significantly less, and I'm looking forward to living my urban American dream. And maybe my new master bedroom does have two sinks, but I swear it wasn't a real consideration in the purchasing of the new home. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

No One Alive is Youer Than You

Dr. Seuss said: "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than you."

Despite my general state of rapid movement, I spend a lot of time reflecting. That self reflection manifests itself in the form of writing. It (along with running) is my outlet for stress and self expression. I feel like I'm an open book both in this blog and in my life in general, but I also realize there are so many things that make up who I am. Someone asked me recently what my favorite album was, and I was stumped. I have so many varied music interests that it's hard to think of one thing in particular that encompasses everything I love. I listen to country, R&B, rap, 80s music...the list is endless. I finally landed on Alanis Morisette's Jagged Little Pill, which I think is brilliant. I have listened to that album hundreds of times. But that doesn't take into account some of my other favorites like Michael Jackson's Thriller and The Eagles' Hotel California or Brad Paisley's Mud on the Tires (the album that helped me fall in love with country music.) I also have this random thing where I love it when people talk during songs. It was tragic when Mike left Boyz II Men. Who is going to talk during their songs now?



I'm not the sort of person who often has one specific favorite of anything; I love too many things. It makes it hard to narrow it down. For example:

Favorite song? Take it Easy by The Eagles. Or Bring it on Home to Me by Sam Cooke. Or Head Over Feet by Alanis. Or Crazy by Gnarls Barkley. Who can pick just one? 

Favorite book? The Great Gatsby AND Gone with the Wind. Oh and I love The Time Traveler's Wife and Devil in the White City. See? I can't choose.

Favorite movie? Seriously...who can narrow it down? Gone with the Wind, Steel Magnolias, Sweet Home Alabama, 13 Going on 30, Black Hawk Down, Wedding Crashers, The Devil Wears Prada (I kind of want to BE Miranda Priestley)...and there are more.

 
Favorite television show? Friends, Beverly Hills 90210, Entourage, House of Lies, and I'd include HBO's True Detective in that list as one of the most brilliant things I've ever watched.

It turns out I'm more complex than any list of favorites can tell. I love rain, and words that end in "que". I LOVE animals especially my snuggly pets. I love all types of good food - Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Mediterranean, sushi. I favor gin in the summer, whiskey in the winter and red wine all year long.

With my precious pups in Maine in 2012
I have been an avid reader since I was a kid. In the 4th grade I read both Stephen King's The Stand and It. I used to get in trouble in school for reading books for fun instead of paying attention to my teachers. On vacation I can (and often do) read more than one book a day. When I am reading I tune out the world and find it very inconvenient when the world tries to intrude on my thoughts.  I'm impatient, I'm impulsive, and I'm loyal to a fault. I love summer; the hotter and more humid it is, the happier I am.  I hate earthworms.

Does it get hotter than summer in Jamaica? The answer is no.
I love clothes. I love shoes. I will often refuse to do things I'm not good at. I hate to talk on the phone (SERIOUSLY email me or text me), but I'm always game for a cup of coffee or happy hour. Just text me, and I'll meet you there. 

You already know that cities and running are two of my biggest passions, and I can't imagine a life in which I wasn't constantly traveling, constantly moving and pushing myself. I don't take criticism well because there's no way anyone can be harder on me than I am on myself.  I live life at 110 percent. I laugh a lot, I cry easily, and I love so much that it makes my heart feel like it's going to explode. All of these things (and more) make me who I am. I'm not perfect, and I haven't come close to figuring life out yet. But Dr. Seuss is right - nobody is more me than me.
   

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Will Run my PR for Chocolate

It's no secret that I am in love with the City of Detroit. I am also in love with running. Combining the two things means I'm likely to have an amazing day. Last weekend I ran the inaugural Cocoa Classic Half Marathon in Downtown Detroit, and it was amazing. It's one of the most fun races I've run in a really long time. In my 14th half marathon I also finally broke the two-hour mark. It's been the bane of my running existence ever since I set my half marathon PR of 2:02 in 2012. 

I will start with probably the only negative thing to mention about the Cocoa Classic - packet pick-up. It was terrible. First off it was in Birmingham which, for those of you playing at home, is not downtown Detroit. It was inconvenient to get there, and pick-up was outside on a sidewalk. I also had to deal with two kids fighting over who wanted to give me my swag (a hoodie and a knit hat which are great). I have about zero tolerance for teenagers in general. I want to get my stuff and go. I also had a few questions that the teenagers shockingly couldn't answer. I will admit packet pick-up made me wary about what the race would entail. Thankfully it was not indicative of the rest of the race.

On Saturday morning we headed to downtown Detroit early. It didn't have a ton of participants, and it was actually quite nice. It was the first time ever before a half marathon that I didn't have to wait in line for a bathroom. It was amazing (those of you who have stood in line at a porta potty for 15 minutes or more feel me). It was still dark when we arrived, and the morning light around the gorgeous buildings in one of my favorite cities was inspiring. I felt motivated by the city and knew it would be a great run.


The course started at the intersection of Fort and First Streets. I have this really bad habit of feeling great at the beginning and running way faster than the pacer. Then, inevitably, the two-hour pacer passes me around mile ten, and I miss my goal again. On this beautiful morning I decided that I would stay with the pace group no matter what. It was hard because I felt like I could've gone way faster at first, but I pulled back and stuck with the plan.

At the start
We ran along the beautiful Detroit riverfront and down Jefferson Avenue to Belle Isle Park. Belle Isle is a gorgeous island on the Detroit River that is now being leased by the State of Michigan to be a state park. It's a beautiful, nearly thousand-acre gem in downtown. The sun was shining, and the park was stunning. The last time I ran through Belle Isle was miles 19-22 of the Detroit Marathon in 2010, and I can say emphatically that it wasn't nearly as enjoyable. The challenge with Belle Isle is its isolation, and there were very few spectators on the course (the same was true with the Detroit Marathon). Regardless the scenery was worth it. 

The course headed back through the lovely Lafayette Park neighborhood. Our two-hour pacing pack grew smaller as we headed toward the finish. The lack of spectators on the course made the ones we did see even more important. The two awesome gentlemen at mile 11 water stop were loud and cheering, and it pushed me even harder.  As we ran down the last stretch of Lafayette Blvd within about a half a mile to the finish, my awesome pacer asked how I was doing. I was breathing hard, and my legs were screaming, but I knew I was going to reach my goal. I rounded the corner onto Third Street and broke into a sprint. I was smiling and also trying not to cry because I knew I had done it. I crossed the line and turned around to give the pacer a huge hug. Who knew the 14th time would be the charm? It felt amazing. I ran my last half marathon (and fastest of 2013) in 2:09:38. My half marathon PR in the 2012 Lansing Marathon was 2:02:04. I ran this one in 1:58:59, more than three minutes faster.


Sprinting focused to the finish


Nearly dancing with excitement across the line

I was elated as I took my medal (take note on the medal Papa John's 10-miler). I hugged my husband and high-fived the rest of my cheering section before heading to the recovery area for chocolate treats (including hot cocoa in a great reusable cup with the race logo). Downtown Detroit was alive with people and energy, and it helped propel me to my fastest half marathon ever.


Following the race we headed to The Hudson Cafe for brunch with a group of friends. I had the best huevos rancheros I've had north of Texas. If you understand my snobbery for Mexican food north of the Lone Star State you will realize what a compliment this is. It was delicious and perfect refueling for a long run. Then we headed to see a friend's new house in Detroit's incomparable Indian Village neighborhood. It was a perfect morning.

I am so glad that I broke my PR in this particular race. Detroit is a city with endless possibility. Each time I go there I'm inspired by the amazing things happening. I was getting tired of running half marathons with this mental block at the two-hour mark. The energy in Detroit is exhilarating, and it helped me push in a way I haven't before. I love running, but part of the joy of running is experiencing places in a unique way. Thank you, Detroit, for the inspiration you give me as someone who loves cities, and thank you for your infectious enthusiasm that helped carry me to a new level in my running.  I look forward to the continuation of our scorching love affair.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Go Big or Go Home

I've always been a commitmentphobe when it comes to staying in Michigan. Part of me always thought that I would eventually end up somewhere else - probably closer to family in Virginia or West Virginia. Even after eight years in Michigan I always kind of assumed at some point we'd move. It has been really difficult to wrap my head around staying here for the duration.

Somehow, like that guy in his late 20's who finally decides to propose to his long-term girlfriend, the decision has been made. I'm staying in Michigan.  Last year my husband and I looked at a fabulous historic home in downtown Lansing. We dreamed of buying it. This week we made a deal with the owners to do just that. We're moving to downtown Lansing, about a half a mile from our offices (assuming there are no surprises with our inspection...which would break my heart.)

There are a lot of reasons to stay in Michigan - family, friends, jobs we love, the inexpensive cost of living that allows us to travel at will. And then there are the things that make me hesitate - the weather, being so far from my family, not having public transit or the foresight to invest in place for the obvious economic benefits. 

The question I've had to ask myself is whether I want to go where it's done or if I want to be part of it. There is so much opportunity for placemaking in Michigan. Let's be honest - this state has done a lot of it wrong in the last quarter century. Now is the opportune time invest in communities in a real and meaningful way.  We have the country's largest metropolitan region without a legit public transit system. We have miles and miles of unnecessary road infrastructure (ahem Capital Avenue outside of my office in downtown Lansing). There needs to be a HUGE culture shift in Michigan to invest in communities, and this is a prime opportunity to do it. 

We're placing our bets, and we're doubling down on Lansing and Michigan. I can't wait to live downtown, walk to work, live the downtown lifestyle that I think is so important. But I need you to do something for me too, Michigan. Think big. Think outside the box. Let's stop talking about tax cuts and focusing on divisive social issues to the point of distraction. Let's invest in transit, walkable downtowns, public art, and creating entrepreneurial opportunities. I'm going to be here for a while, and there's a lot to do. Don't be safe, Michigan. Go big or go home. I have big standards. Don't disappoint me. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spring in Detroit

After a long, brutal winter, I think we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel (knock on wood). Last weekend during my run I had to take my gloves off because I was too warm. Yesterday I attended my first ever Tigers Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit. The weather was flawless - sunny, temperatures in the low 60s. Detroit was humming with anticipation of Tiger baseball, but there was more. It is springtime in Michigan's flagship city, and the air was filled with hope and (dare I say it?) idealism.

Enjoying a great lunch at Fountain Bistro with my friends
Detroit hasn't had the easiest road. It's easy for people to look at what's happened in Detroit - political scandal, the nation's largest municipal bankruptcy - and write it off as untenable. Those people, however, just don't get it. They don't understand that the City of Detroit is the linchpin in making Michigan the kind of state that is attractive to young, talented workers. As long as Detroit lags behind, Michigan lags behind.

Many of the headlines for Detroit can be brutal, but the positive headlines are numerous and inspiring. Young, talented entrepreneurs are flocking to the City because its possibilities are endless. Last year Fast Company magazine did a piece on the community of entrepreneurs rebuilding Detroit. Despite its financial challenges, the City of Detroit is ground zero for placemaking and entrepreneurship.

On Opening Day the City was filled with optimistic people enjoying the best of what Detroit has to offer. My friends and I enjoyed lunch and a bloody mary bar at the always delicious Fountain Bistro in beautiful Campus Martius Park followed by drinks at Centaur before the game. We hit up American Coney Island after the game (which in my opinion is far inferior to its rival Lafayette...but had no line to stymie for our starving group).

This weekend we're heading back to Detroit for me to run the inaugural Cocoa Classic Half Marathon. We'll be in Detroit for a weekend in May to attend a friend's wedding festivities and a Detroit City FC soccer game. While it's always good to get to the D for a Tigers game, this year I will finally honor my 2013 resolution to spend more time in the City.  As a lover of cities, Detroit fills me with this zealous need to somehow be part of the bright future of the City.  I'm not sure a little 13.1 mile jaunt along the Detroit River and Belle Isle will do for Detroit, but it seems like a start, right?