Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New Definition of Summer Madness

Memorial Day is the traditional start of summer. Normal people are barbequing and heading to the pool. In my typical crazy life fashion we spent Memorial Day weekend moving into our new house. I had several people ask me why I'd choose to move over a holiday weekend. All I saw was three uninterrupted days of unpacking and organizing. Is there a better way to spend a long weekend?

My parents came up to help with the move, and they arrived on Thursday evening. The movers came on Friday, and they were insanely efficient. I could not have loved them more. One of them also happened to be from West Virginia. I don't think that was a coincidence. Mountaineers climb higher after all (literally three floors in this case.) After getting everything moved from one house to the other we spent Friday evening relaxing (and drinking...let's be honest). 

Right during the middle of moving weekend I thought it would be a great idea to run a 5k. On Saturday morning we walked (yes walked!!) downtown to the Adado Riverfront Park about a half a mile from our house for the Capitol Memorial Run 5k. I'd signed up for it just a few days in advance, and it turned out to be a great small race. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day perfect for racing. 

Stretching and showing off my skin cancer bandage (kids - wear sunscreen!)
I love this game.

I was determined to beat my 5k PR of 26:00 set in 2011 in Portland, MI. I've been working my tail off to beat that time, and I've never been able to do it. I started off really fast during this out and back on the Lansing River Trail. About a mile in I knew I was probably pushing too hard, but at that point I figured there was nothing to lose. 

I love the Lansing River Trail and use it for all of my long training runs. The course was familiar, and I found myself getting in the groove after a few miles. As I got to the last half mile or so I began struggling, and I had to dig deep to keep pushing. I crossed the bridge over the Grand River and finished strong.

When I passed the line I couldn't believe my time - 23:55. I didn't just beat my PR; I destroyed it. Taking two minutes and five seconds off a PR in a 5k was shocking for me. Once again the triathlon cross training has paid off. I won my age group my almost a minute. I could not be more thrilled.
So excited when I saw my time!

The second time this year we've been photographed together. Scandal?

Getting my medal for winning my age group. Also check out this sassy, cut out North Face shirt!

A medal AND wing sauce? Yes please!
On Sunday morning my parents left, and before we could do more unpacking I had to fit in a brick workout - combination biking and running workout. Whoever invented these workouts is a sadistic person. I biked for an hour and ran on unsteady legs for 15 minutes. I followed the workout with about 8 hours of unpacking and cleaning which made it a pretty crazy day. Later that evening we walked our dogs to the Capitol building where I frolicked with my Portuguese Water Dog/Poodle Izzy on the Capitol lawn. Have I mentioned that I love living downtown?

We had dinner in downtown Lansing, and it is so great to be able to walk everywhere. I'm already loving our new urban American dream. Monday morning was a flawless warm day, and I started it with a quick run on the River Trail to Old Town in Lansing with my husband. It was another long day of unpacking and working around the house, but it was worth it.

When my alarm went off this morning at 5:15 I wanted to cry. But you don't shatter your personal bests by hitting snooze. I headed to the pool and did a quick 1,000 meter swim - the longest I've done so far. It was challenging, and my shoulders have been screaming all day. Watching the minutes fly off my running times makes every early workout worth it.

My kickoff to summer was anything but relaxing. I fit in a great running achievement, some other intense workouts, and had zero boxes left to unpack when I walked out the door to walk to work this morning. I'm hoping the entire summer won't be this busy, but who I am kidding? This is my new definition of summer madness.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Being Well-Behaved is Overrated

I know many women who love and identify with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's notorious quote: "Well-behaved women seldom make history."  I find behaving well to be entirely overrated. It's always a challenge as a professional woman to walk the right line. You don't want to be too much of a bulldog because then you're seen as a bitch. But you can't be too nice or you'll be a pushover. I've decided that my style in lobbying and in life is to just be myself. Fortunately my natural personality is brash, candid and somewhat (mostly?) poorly behaved. Somehow I think it works.

My frankness is either how I've been successful, or it's going to get me in trouble one of these days. It's probably some sort of combination of the two. Life is too short not to say what you think. Sometimes candor needs to be tempered, but I'd like to think that people appreciate knowing where someone is coming from even if they don't like the direction.

I'm never going to tell you what you want to hear. It may be something as simple as complimenting someone's hair or as complicated as telling a legislator I don't like their bill. Either way I'm going to call it like I see it. If it comes out of my mouth, you can be assured that I mean it. 

Sometimes calling it like you see if means getting called out, and there's that awkward moment where I feel like Kathy Griffin facing off with Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the view. But I'd rather be known for being sincere and brash (both in lobbying and life) than as someone you can't trust (there are all too many of those people).

I recently read a novel where this line popped up: "Nice is just powerlessness with a smile." I loved it so much I had to write it down. It's not that I'm opposed to nice as long as nice still equals honest. Being powerless is not my jam. Nor is being well-behaved. Life is short ladies (and gents). Say it like you mean it. Even better yet - say it if you mean it.    

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Tale of 536 Cities

I love Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. The first line is apropos to advocating for communities in Michigan: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..."

I'm often asked if it's hard to represent so many different communities in Michigan. They are all different, and that's what makes them great. Kalamazoo is completely different from Traverse City, and yet there are similarities that make all of our communities a family.

Last week I spent time in two of my favorite Michigan communities, and they could not be more different. I flew to Marquette on Thursday for a Friday presentation. I was in Marquette in January and was completely swept off my feet. I fell in love with its downtown, sweeping lakefront views and was even charmed by the winter cold. When I was asked to come back for a presentation I didn't even look at my calendar before saying yes.

This trip was a little different and a little less fast paced than January's. I once again stayed at the historic Landmark Inn downtown, and this time my room had a lake view AND a fireplace. I love the charm there. 

On Friday morning I slept in and then headed out for a long run. I was surprised to step out of the hotel and into blowing snow, yet somehow it was quite beautiful. I headed down the hill toward downtown and onto the lakefront trail (an 18 mile trail no less). The snow was stunning, and I was glad I'd grabbed my phone at the last minute (usually I run naked) to snap some photos.

The Ore Dock, snow and frozen lake

The run started off cloudy and snowy, and about a mile in the sun came out. It was a breathtakingly beautiful day along Lake Superior. The lake is still largely frozen after the brutally cold winter, and the result is a stunning view.

The sun peeks out over the frozen lake.
This view is spectacular.
After running I headed to Northern Michigan University to present as part of a panel. I also got to go to the NMU bookstore and get a t-shirt. I love college bookstores - it's some sort of weird obsession. As a result I have a plethora of running shirts and t-shirts from random colleges I've visited all over the country.

I met a friend for a Manhattan at Northland Pub in the Landmark Hotel (they have fantastic bartenders), and then I headed out to explore downtown. The weather was a little chilly, but the sun was shining. It was a beautiful afternoon to explore. There are so many unique and locally owned shops, and I spent several hours browsing. I also indulged in some frozen yogurt...because what mixes better post Manhattans than fro yo? 

Early Saturday morning I flew back to Detroit for a wedding we were attending there. Detroit is very different from Marquette. The City is much larger (both geographically and in population), it's 455 miles south of Marquette and has a completely different footprint. Yet like Marquette there is passion and promise. It has a great downtown that is redeveloping, entrepreneurs are flocking to Detroit from all over the world, and it's a vibrant, beautiful city. 

We stayed at the always fabulous Book Cadillac Hotel. With our life that is constantly on the go, it felt insanely indulgent to snuggle up in the comfortable bed and take a nap before the party. We had cocktails at the hotel bar before heading to Trinosophes for the party.

Cocktails at the Book Cadillac. I love an excuse for a sparkly dress.

It was the first ever wedding I've been to with a food truck and a Klezmer punk band, Golem. The combination of the band, good friends and Maker's Mark made it a really fun evening.

Sunday morning was less fun as I was dragging to Craft Work in West Village for brunch. I had never been to either Craft Work or West Village, and I loved both the neighborhood and the eggs benedict. It was a great cure for a bourbon hangover.

As I was driving home on Sunday afternoon I was thinking of how much I love both Marquette and Detroit and so many other communities in Michigan. The challenges each face may seem different, but they really are only different in their scale. In Marquette and 455 miles away in Detroit people get it - they get that people want to be in cities both large and small. People want walkable downtowns and places to shop and eat. People want transit options and other multimodal transportation options. And that, my friends, is why advocating for 536 cities, villages and urban townships is easy.       

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Main Street is the Climax of Civilization

Sinclair Lewis declared Main Street to the climax of civilization. This is one of my all-time favorite quotes, and it is the reason why I am so excited to be moving downtown. It's taking a lot of energy, a lot of time, and it's all so worth it.

At the end of last week we closed on our new house - our dream house in Downtown Lansing. I'll be honest - I'm exhausted, and the fun is just getting started. Last Saturday I did my first "brick" of triathlon training - I biked an hour and ran for 15 minutes. I was warned about how my legs would feel after the bike, but nothing could've prepared me. They felt like Jello, and the first few minutes of my run felt like I was running under water. 

Later that day we took possession of our fabulous new house, and we spent the afternoon taking multiple full car loads of stuff. I love books (we have hundreds of them), and there are built in bookshelves in our finished attic. It seemed like a great idea to trudge up two flights of stairs carrying boxes of books for several hours. My legs and arms were on fire by the evening.

The alarm went off at 5:15 this morning, and I forced myself to head to the pool. After a really strong 40 minute swim I was out and getting ready for work work. By 6:30 a.m. I was completely exhausted.  

Despite my general, self-inflicted exhaustion first thing this morning, I have entirely more energy than I'm entitled to have. I'm so excited to be moving to Downtown Lansing. Main Street IS the climax of civilization. Nobody has ever said a mall is the climax of civilization or a cul de sac or a cookie cutter subdivision by the freeway. They are what is destroying downtowns.

When I sit on our new front porch and check out the view that includes the Michigan Capitol dome, I know we're making the best decision. Cities are where it's happening. There are festivals, 5ks, restaurants - all within walking distance. I can't wait to be in the middle of the action. It's worth a few tired mornings.

The view from our front porch

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Hey Kids - Wear Sunscreen!

I'm completely amazed that tanning salons still exist. Not only are they generally located in some godforsaken strip mall entrenched in suburban sprawl, but tanning is just disgusting. If you are a fan of going to the tanning bed and this offends you, good. I hope this is as offensive as possible. You should be thinking about how horrible it is for you. It causes cancer, it causes wrinkles, and it makes you smell like burning flesh. Still think it's a good idea?

I used to go to the tanning bed a few times before prom in high school. All the cool kids were doing it. I begged my mom to let me, and I'd go lie in that UV ray death chamber for 20-30 minutes. Everybody likes the way they look when they're tan, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I never wore sunscreen as a kid. As a matter of fact I loved to load up on some Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil and get as tan as possible. I spent all day every day at the pool in the summers. It never occurred to me that there were consequences.

In 2001 I had an irregular mole on my shin. I ignored it...because that's what I do. My doctor spotted it during a physical, and he made an appointment for me with a dermatologist that same day. It turned out to be melanoma much to my complete surprise. We caught it early, and we were able to get clear margins with subsequent tissue removal. Who knew all that tanning would lead to this?

It was then that I became a disciple of sunscreen and being out of the sun as much as possible. It's impossible to live a normal life and not have some sun exposure, but I wear sunscreen every single day, 365 days a year. It's in my moisturizer, in my make-up, in my lotion. It's everywhere. I can spend a week at the beach, and due to my floppy SPF sun hat, sunscreen and umbrellas, I'll be just as delightfully pale as I was when I left.

A few weeks ago I was having my annual check-up with my dermatologist, and he noticed an irregular spot on my forehead that is basil cell carcinoma, another form of skin cancer. He removed the spot, and I'll be back in a few weeks to work on ensuring that the margins are clear. This is even AFTER my vigilant anti-sun regiment. I will be extra careful in the future.

I love the sunshine. There's little that feels better than lying outside on a warm summer day, cruising the lake on the pontoon boat or going for a run with the warm sun beating down on my face. But I enjoy all of those things with a layer of sun protection. I think it's possible to enjoy the sun and also protect your skin from it.

If you're still heading out to the strip mall in sprawl central to get your fake bake on, you should really think twice. It is a vile thing to do to your skin. And if the cancer doesn't scare you enough, who wants wrinkles?!?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Yes There Really is a Kalamazoo Michigan

We've established that a lot of my leisure travel in Michigan happens in Southeast Michigan. My husband is from Metro Detroit, and we generally head east. The beauty of my job, however, is that I get to do lots of traveling. As a result I have discovered the gem that is Kalamazoo. It's inching in on Marquette as my current Michigan city love interest.

I've been to Kalamazoo several times in the last month or so. At the end of March I attended Populus, a cool placemaking event hosted by Kalamazoo based economic development consulting group Southwest Michigan First.   Then earlier this past week I headed to Kalamazoo for a reception and some networking. I had registered for the Kalamazoo Half Marathon months ago before 1) I knew I'd be spending so much work time in Kalamazoo and 2) before I knew we were buying a new house in our free time.

I have to admit I wasn't super psyched to head back to Kalamazoo twice in the same week. My stress level has been off the charts for weeks because of buying a house and renting our current home as well as just general work related stress. For those of you who know anything about Crohn's you will know that stress is great for it (is the sarcasm translating?) It's been a rough couple of weeks, and I was really dragging at the thought of another overnight trip and another race.

What I have discovered in the last few weeks, however, is that Kalamazoo is a fantastic town. I wouldn't say I'm quite in love yet, but there's definitely a serious lust situation happening. We headed to Kalamazoo on Saturday afternoon and went straight to Wings Stadium for packet pick-up. The race expo was small, but it was well organized and efficient. I LOVE the shirt (which is always a big deal), and I found myself getting in the race spirit.

We checked into the Radisson Hotel in Downtown Kalamazoo and immediately headed out to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange for some mid-afternoon snacks and cocktails (as you do the day before you run 13.1 miles). The Beer Exchange prices its draught beers based on real-time sales as a sort of beer stock exchange. It's an interesting concept, and for those of who don't drink beer the cocktail menu is legit. It was Kentucky Derby day, and this girl discovered $5 Woodford Reserve Mint Juleps. They were fantastic. The bar snacks were also delicious. Fried pickles and bar chips have carbs right?

After a few cocktails I was losing steam fast, so we headed next door (essentially) to Water Street Coffee Roaster. This place is adorable. Super charming, delicious coffee. Their rich and delicious cappuccino was exactly what I needed to get my second wind.

The best part of this trip (along with the race) was our Saturday night dinner at Food Dance. I must announce that the dinner we had at Food Dance was the best food I've ever had in Michigan. It was amazing. And the cocktails? The Ginger Rogers was the ABSOLUTE best cocktail I've ever had. This is saying a lot if you know how much I love cocktails. Gin, muddled mint, ginger syrup, lime juice? Shut up.  No competition. It was so amazing that I quizzed our server on how they make their ginger simple syrup and will be attempting to make my own for porch parties at our new house this summer. Food Dance and I are having a serious food love affair.

The incomparable Ginger Rogers

Following our food coma we went to be relatively early, and I was up bright and early for the race on Sunday. There was a shuttle from the Radisson to the start and finish which was extremely convenient. I'd also forgotten to bring a granola bar for breakfast, and the Radisson had snacks out for runners. Very handy. I was extremely impressed.

The only downside was that the shuttles were so early. I ended up waiting almost two hours for the start of my race. I did find an indoor area (a fitness center near the start) to wait inside. The race started promptly at 8:20, and we were off. Similar to the Cocoa Classic in Detroit a few weeks ago I resolved to stay with the pace groups to meet my goal of under two hours.  The race had excellent fan support. I had heard there were spots where it was quiet, and there were. But overall Kalamazoo fans made a great showing.

I saw my husband just before mile three. I loved the huge two hour pace group. I had no idea until I saw the photos that there were so many people in the group because I was staying just ahead of the pacers. After we saw my husband we turned onto the Kalamazoo Mall, a great, narrow downtown street. There was a band and spectators everywhere. I had tears in my eyes the whole time. It was an awesome race atmosphere. Way to bring it Kalamazoo.

Excited to see a familiar face

All smiles

Love this one of the runners and the city
My husband was there again around mile seven after the fans started to thin out.  Our pace group was still going strong, and I still had a smile on my face. 

Big two hour pace group still going strong

How can I not smile when doing something I love so much?

Around mile 11 I realized I was pulling away from the pace group. I was feeling great, so I dug in and pushed through the last few miles (even the giant hill toward the end). I was all smiles as I crossed the finish in 1:58:12, 47 seconds faster than my Cocoa Classic PR. That meant I had run my personal best in three out of the last three races. I couldn't be more thrilled.

So psyched to finish with another PR...and I totally blew past this girl beside me.
Snacks, hydration and hardware.

We took the shuttle back to the hotel and then headed to Studio Grill for brunch. Studio Grill boasts the best burger in Southwest Michigan, and I had to give it a try. I had the BBQ bacon cheddar burger and sweet potato fries. The burger was tasty...although I'm not sure it was the best ever. The atmosphere and service were both fantastic though, and the overall experience was great. 

My husband and I both really needed a night away from work and new house stress. A night in Kalamazoo was the perfect quick getaway. I am intrigued by all that Kalamazoo has to offer. It's a really cool town, and it feels like it's on the verge of some really great things. I have been comparing every recent city experience to Marquette, and there was something magical about those few days there in the winter. But Kalamazoo has something...and it's something I like. The race was fantastic, the city charming, and Food Dance was ridiculously good. I'll be back soon, Kalamazoo. Let's keep this good thing going.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Gotta Get Up and Tri

I love a good challenge. After years of playing with the idea of doing a triathlon, I registered for one back in February. I immediately joined the YMCA and started swimming a few days a week to start getting used to it. This week officially starts my triathlon training, and I have to admit that I'm not looking forward to it.

Here's the thing - I don't dig the swimming. As a matter of fact I find it extremely inconvenient. Running is easy - I get up, throw on running clothes and shoes, and I'm out the door. Swimming is a process. I get up, drive to the Y, change, swim, change again, drive home. It's a whole thing. I don't mind the actual swimming once I'm there, but it's merely bearable not enjoyable.

I know the cross training is good for me. My running times this spring have been really great. I just love running, and it's really all I want to do. I'm forcing myself to push through in order to cross the swim days off the list.

I'm sure that finishing the triathlon will be an amazing experience. I love the idea of crossing it off my bucket list. It's just that a busy job and travel schedule combined with moving to a new house AND triathlon training is a bit much even for me. 

I've talked about doubt and motivation, and it's taking a lot of energy to push through the doubts and remain motivated to do this race in just under eight weeks.  It would be easy to decide I don't enjoy the swimming, and just change my mind. I could easily not do the race and sleep in on June 22 instead of barrel into the water with several hundred of my closest friends. But that would be the easy route to take. Anything worth doing should challenge you and make you stronger. So I'll be at the pool tomorrow at 5:30 am. I may grumble, but in the end the challenge will be worth it. 

For no real reason - a pic of me zip lining in Northern Michigan a few summers ago. I like challenges.