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.