Thursday, July 30, 2015

Falling in Love Every Day

There are some days where I can't believe I get to do something I love so much, and I've had a few weeks of falling in love every day. Last week at the City Manager's conference at Boyne Mountain I got to hang out with people I love, present to a large group for the first time in my new job and watch placemaking in action at a great event on Boyne City's waterfront. I had great meetings in Traverse City with potential partners/funders on ways we can work together. 

This week I got to focus on my own town as we sought to convert Capitol Avenue in Downtown Lansing (#ConvertCapAve). Back in February we had a design firm review Capitol Avenue, and it needs a lot of help. It's a main artery through downtown with no retail or life (it's mainly office space). We decided to inject some life into it by turning two blocks of parking spaces into "parklets" (inspired by the park(ing) day movement). We reserved parking spaces and closed one lane of traffic in the extraordinarily wide street for two days and created public space instead of car space.

Do I think we should have parks on the street on Capitol all the time? I don't know. What I do know: 

1) Capitol Avenue is way too wide. There was never, even for a minute, a backup of traffic with one driving lane closed. Also I could do this for several minutes mid-day:

You can't even SEE a car in the background.

2) There is an overabundance of parking in downtown Lansing. Just because you can't park directly in front of the Capitol doesn't mean there's "nowhere to park". Stop being lazy people. Walking a block won't kill you. The amount of parking downtown is a little ridiculous. Do you know what happens in vibrant cities? You have to circle the block sometimes repeatedly to park. Eliminating those parking spaces for a few days had zero impact on anyone's ability to find parking.

The project was intended to get people to think differently about using the space and how Capitol Avenue would feel if it were more narrow or two way. The response was exceedingly positive. We have dozens of great suggestions from citizens about what they want to see along that stretch. People were engaged. People were excited. Random strangers sat down and enjoyed the parklets. I got to spend two days outside in the gorgeous hot summer weather talking to people about my neighborhood, and that's pretty much the best work week ever. 

Starting city indoctrination young with my son in our parklet's sandbox

What do I want to see on Capitol Avenue? People. Life. Street cafes. Storefronts in the parking garages instead of faceless brick. A hotel with first floor retail and a great restaurant where city hall currently sits. I want downtown to be more than one street. Capitol Avenue fronts arguably Michigan's most beautiful anchor institution. I want an invitation to slow down and enjoy it. 

The last two weeks have reminded me repeatedly how much I love communities and being part of creating better places. I'm behind on marathon training, emails and I have four presentations in the next two weeks that I haven't started working on yet. But I've fallen in love every day, and that is what really matters.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I'm in a Hurry

Here's a poorly kept secret: I don't want to run another marathon. Maybe never, but definitely not now. I'm only running it because it's likely my last shot at running one of the world's greatest races. I have been searching for motivation that is evasive. I haven't run more than nine miles at a time in the last month. It's pretty much the least productive marathon training schedule ever. I am in such a rut, and it's been really challenging to get out of it.

As I'm rushing through life trying desperately to be the best version of myself on every front I realize the constant hurry is ensuring I am not the best version of myself right now. My friends who have children tell me that it takes a while to adjust, and after seven months I'm still not sure I totally have. I feel unfocused in a lot of ways. Work is hectic (by my own doing), but there are days where I feel like the task list is insurmountable.  My running lacks motivation, I barely have time to see my friends and I feel like I'm behind on every single house project on the list. I realize the expectations I have for myself are grand, but that doesn't make me happier to know I'm not meeting them. I feel...somehow disconnected. It's like I'm going through the motions, but it's not the level of excellence I've come to expect from myself. That's very hard to admit.

I have tried my hardest to be present with my son. I know this time is going to fly by, and I want to remember it. I want to harness every snuggle and smile and open mouthed drooly baby kiss and save it to pull out of my memory bank and treasure when he's a teenager. I'm blessed with a very supportive husband who encourages me to travel for work and do activities that are important for me like running. He kicks me out the door to do a long run when I'm struggling to leave Will on the weekends. When I call home from a work trip feeling sad that I'm not with the baby, he reminds me that Will is going to appreciate me more because I'm a strong, independent mom. He's going to like me more because I'll like myself more.

Despite that reassurance I feel like I'm rushing through the rest of my life other than motherhood. It's a mad dash to be good at my job, fit in solid training runs, remember to call and be a supportive friend, send birthday cards, shop for groceries and all of the little tasks life demands. I could let the small things go, but that's not in my nature. It's my nature to keep up with everything all the time beautifully. That is a challenge.

This week I'm in northern Michigan for work meetings. My passion is ignited by innovative communities. Seeing crowded downtown streets in Boyne City and Traverse City sparks my community ardor. It reminds me why I love what I do and why I love great places. It's invigorating.

I've spent time with community leaders and my phenomenal colleagues. This morning I ran to the top of the ski hill at Boyne Mountain resort and marveled at the beautiful view as I sought desperately to catch my breath. I feel refreshed, yet the entire time I feel stressed for not being with my family. My husband finds this annoying as if I don't have confidence in him to handle things while I'm away. He's an amazing dad, and I know everything is fine in his more than capable hands. But I'm missing snuggles and baby kisses. I'm praying that my son holds off on crawling until I return tomorrow. My heart is torn between being professional, charming me and being mom. I know I can be both, but I have not yet mastered the art of being in two places at once.

Mobile office on my hotel balcony in Traverse City
Meanwhile I'm missing this preciousness.

The mommy guilt is real, but it's different than I thought it would be. I worried that it would come from some sort of outside/peer pressure, but I honestly and truly do not care what anyone else thinks of how I'm handling it (other than my husband and son obviously). I incite peer pressure; I don't response to it. I only care about my own impression of how I'm handling the lofty expectations I have for myself. Am I doing enough? Am I being enough? At home? At work? For my friends? I am not sure it's possible to have it all with my high expectations, but I've got to figure out the balance. 

This is why I run - to work through the thoughts tumbling through my head. This morning on the top of the ski hill I felt still. My mind felt quiet for the first time in days. As soon as I got to the bottom and stopped running the clutter was back in my brain, but for those brief moments of running (maybe 20 minutes) I was totally at peace. Maybe that's all it takes - a few minutes of peace every day to refocus and remember what's important. Maybe I'll find that running or sitting on the porch with a glass of wine. Maybe I'll find it in a beautiful new dress or an ice cream cone. I'm really not sure it's possible to have it all, but I'm not sure I'm ready to let the dream go. I just have to remember to slow down every now and again. The hurry will still be there in 20 minutes.
Learning to be still.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Was it Something I Said?

George Bernard Shaw once said, "The secret to success is to offend the greatest number of people." If that's the measure I'm fabulously successful.  I don't get offended easily. As a matter of fact I can't think of the last time I was really and truly offended. People disagree. People have different interests, different viewpoints. If I was offended every time someone vociferously disagreed with me I would be offended a lot...but people can have their opinions and express them emphatically.  Disagree with me. I dig it.

Social media is a funny thing. As a loudly opinionated person it gives me the opportunity to express my opinions for all the world to read. I'm continually amazed at how people get offended and take my viewpoint personally. Here is the thing about my opinions: they do not have any bearing on how I feel about people who disagree with them. Here's an example: I was once visiting Michigan (before I lived here), and we were out at a bar. A Kid Rock song came on. I wrinkled my nose and said, "God I hate Kid Rock." I swear the music stopped and the entire group glared at me. I remember thinking, "Huh...people actually like Kid Rock?" I didn't think badly or judge the group I was with for liking his music. It's their preference. I like country music and lots of people hate that. If someone says to me, "I hate country music. It's gross." I think...okay. That opinion would not be a personal reflection on my choice.

Last weekend I wrote a Facebook post about how I don't like camping. Camping isn't my thing. I also HAVE to have a bathroom close. When you have Crohn's and are up 3-4 times a night, having a bathroom adjacent is a big deal. I don't like being so close to strangers without doors. Camping isn't for me, but I have good friends who love it. My friends who know/love me and love camping probably rolled their eyes at me and went on with what they love doing. They knew that post wasn't about my judging them. But the people who took it just shocks me. I don't like camping. I feel gross when I'm that dirty. I need a bathroom. I don't like strangers being near me. It's not about you.

I have a laundry list of things I hate. Let's do some of it shall we? In addition to the aforementioned camping and Kid Rock I include Wal-Mart, casinos (with a much so I wouldn't even stay in one last weekend), Crocs, the song "Mambo No. 5", unnecessarily wide highways, tank tops on grown men unless they're at the beach or gym, sprawling subdivisions with cookie cutter houses, and the phrase "it is what it is". That only scratches the surface. Yesterday one of my colleagues said to me (mockingly...and rightfully so), "To use your favorite phrase: it is what it is." Make fun of me for it. Really...I can take it. Call me a prima donna because I don't like camping. You would be correct. 

I love pets. LOVE them. I have some really close friends who don't like dogs. I don't take that personally. It has nothing to do with me. I don't know how they can't love my sweet, snuggly pups, but it's not for them. When they come over I make the dogs scarce. I never take it personally because it's not about me. Getting offended about the differing opinions of others, no matter how vehemently they're expressing their opinion, isn't worth it. Their opinions do not effect me or what's important to me.  

Like or don't like whatever you want. My opinion really shouldn't matter. My good friends know to ignore me or tease me about it because they know I'm just opinionated. When I disagree with someone's comments on social media I ignore it or hide them from my news feed. Done and done. I don't strike back with personal remarks because I know whatever they're saying isn't about me. I firmly believe that getting really offended by the comments of others is really one's insecurity with their own choices. If you love something own it. If someone else says they don't like it and that bothers that really about that person's comments?

I don't get offended easily. You may hate running, high heels, dogs, short hair, or people from West Virginia, and it's your right to have and express such contradictory opinions. That's what makes us interesting. I have a really good friend who wants to convert me into enjoying camping. I'm open minded and will try anything...but I'll have a hotel room reserved just in case.   

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Northern Exposure

A few years ago I wrote a blog about the Michigan phenomena of going "up north". Northern Michigan is beautiful, and people drive hours sometimes every weekend to enjoy it in the summer. I think it's lovely, but it's hard for me to imagine spending hours in the car just to go up north. I appreciate the hypocrisy of my saying this given that I have WVU season football tickets and go to Morgantown regularly all year. That's my biggest issue - if I'm going to drive 3-4 hours, I'm going south to see my family or somewhere different. I don't want to always go to the same place. I need a change of scenery despite northern Michigan's charming ambiance.

In the past many of my northern Michigan trips have been fraught with weather problems. I've been there in the summer when it's been rainy and in the 50s...actually that's generally been my northern Michigan weather experience. I've had a couple of decent weather trips but nothing that has made me want to make going up north a regular thing.

This weekend changed my perception. While if we're looking at a second home I'd still rather do buy in West Virginia, I definitely appreciated the beauty of northern Michigan in a way I never have before.

My husband's cousin got married just outside of Manistee, Michigan, a cute community on Lake Michigan. The wedding and reception were at a pavilion overlooking Lake Michigan, and it was a stunning backdrop for a wedding. It was a lovely ceremony with the most heartfelt delivery of vows I've ever heard. I was crying for most of the gorgeous bride's vows. 

It was our son's first wedding, and I realized quickly why it's less fun to bring kids to weddings. It was great to have family there to play with him and entertain him, but by 7:30 (the wedding was at 2:30)  he was ready for bed. We regrettably left the wedding and headed to the hotel. I was in bed by 10 am on Saturday night. Ah parenthood.
My beautiful family at the wedding

On Sunday we had an entirely free day.  I think it's the first time we've ever been to northern Michigan together for a day without a work agenda. First thing that morning I went for a run through downtown Manistee. I was impressed with its charming downtown, businesses, river walk and particularly the Vogue Theatre. The Vogue is a community based project that revitalized a downtown theatre, and it reopened last year. It's an amazing display of community spirit. We had breakfast and then headed to First Street Beach for Will's first time at the beach. He loved the sand and the water, although it was a little cold for him. We were there for several hours enjoying the sun and sand before nap time called.

Beach bums

Later in the afternoon we had delicious ice cream at House of Flavors. Any ice cream called "ultimate peanut butter brownie" has to be amazing...and it was. We walked around Manistee's quaint downtown loving the local businesses. I could not be more impressed with this community. I know I fall easily, but I must admit I fell pretty hard.

We had a fabulous dinner at Bluefish in downtown Manistee. I had the duck which was delicious. I am a sucker for well-prepared duck. We had several cocktails, enjoyed key lime pie for dessert and had a great experience.

Bluefish's most adorable fan

I don't relax easily, and anyplace where I'm able to unwind earns a special place in my generally agitated heart. I love Manistee, and for the first time I really get why going up north is special. It doesn't mean we'll be changing our flight pattern to give up the southern route anytime soon, but perhaps we could make room in the schedule for the occasional northern excursion.      

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

525,600 Minutes

One year ago today I went to the hospital for a (relatively) routine outpatient surgery. It was a Wednesday, and I fully anticipated being back to work by Monday. I was so sure I'd be back that I even had speaking engagements set up for early the following week. It was not supposed to be a big deal...until it was

Last summer I was in the best shape of my adult life. I completed my first triathlon. I felt strong, I felt healthy, and all I needed was to fix a pesky little painful abdominal mass and I'd be back at full speed. Life had other plans and a bowel obstruction, second abdominal surgery and blood clot later I could barely walk out of the hospital on my own. It derailed my plans to run the New York Marathon last year, and it took me months to get back to feeling like myself.
I was not as happy about the blood clot as I looked.
When I was staring down the barrel of my second surgery last summer I felt frustrated, but I knew I'd bounce back quickly. The first time I felt scared and uncertain was when I heard I had a blood clot. Blood clots are a big deal, and I was shaken.

Of course we know this story has a happy ending. I got out of the hospital, ate a ton of food, regained the weight I'd lost and my strength, and in just a few months I felt mostly back to my healthy(ish) self. In just three months I was back to running races and feeling like a rockstar again.

The problem with Crohn's, however, is that healthy is a relative concept. My healthy is a lot of people's sick, and I'm generally used to it. It's part of the deal. The last few months, however, my body has taken a beating. I'm severely anemic, and it's not the first time that's happened. It IS the first time my doctor has threatened me with iron infusions. I really thought he was just being dramatic. We settled on my taking liquid iron (the iron pill supplements I've been taking apparently haven't been cutting it). You know how it tastes to have blood in your mouth? That's how it tastes to drink liquid iron: disgusting.

I've been very lightheaded to the point of barely being able to run. I'm so frustrated with my body. Just. Keep. Up. Is that so much to ask? I expect a lot from my body, but I don't understand why it can't just hang with me.

When I get frustrated I think back to last year when I could barely walk to the door of my hospital room. In the last year my life has been filled with immeasurable joy, love, family, friends, travel, my fastest running times and a challenging new career move. My frustration with my health is trumped by the last 525,600 minutes of beautiful. A year ago I didn't know the remarkable love I'd feel for my son. I didn't know how strong and amazing my husband would be when I was at my worst. I didn't know that my friends would flood my hospital room with flowers, visits, cards, and bring me meals for weeks once I got home. I knew I was strong, but what I didn't know is that last summer would make me stronger. 

Feeling super strong at the Deckers Creek Half Marathon last month

Much like the cast of one of my favorite musicals, the incomparable RENT, I have largely measured the last 525,600 minutes in love. When I reflect on how hard it can be to be sick, I am reminded of how much extraordinary love I have in my life. 

The last year has been exceptional, and I'm a different person than I was 525,600 minutes ago. And by different I mean stronger, happier and more grateful.

And now this gem: 


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

You're the Only Ten I See

I love Tennessee. If I were planning to move outside of Michigan, Tennessee would be at the top of my list. It has great cities, mountains, and SEC football. Check, check and check. Heading to Tennessee seemed an obvious choice when trying to find a place where my parents (in WV) and sister and family (in VA) could meet us for a vacation. 

I went to Nashville for the first time in 2010 to present at a conference. My love for Tennessee had me worried that I'd visit Nashville and be hooked. On my first visit I wasn't able to get a good feel for the city, and I wasn't extremely impressed.

On this trip we stayed outside of town near Gallatin (northeast of Nashville).  We rented a house on the Cumberland River, a serene spot just outside of town.
Enjoying a rainy morning on the porch
The week was filled with relaxing, trips into Nashville, southern food and a few hard, hilly runs. On our first morning I went for a quick run near our rental house. It was SO hilly. I love running hills, and I got my fill of them in the Tennessee countryside. Later that morning we visited the Tennessee Capitol Building because my husband and I are political nerds who are intent on visiting every state capitol building. Tennessee's was a little disappointing, but it's another box checked on the way to 50. (We've seen 14 together and several more separately...we've got work to do). 

Lunch at 417 Union followed the capitol tour. I had a pulled pork hash that was delicious, but the best part was the southern biscuits and sweet tea. In our first vacation with our son we quickly realized that traveling with a 6 month old is way different than traveling without. The day in downtown Nashville was interrupted by nap time. We made up for our short day later by visiting Top Hog for barbeque. It was incredible, and the sweet tea served in mason jars was amazing.

On our second full day we headed back to Nashville after our son's morning nap to have lunch at Merchant's on Nashville's infamous Broadway. It was awesome. We had cocktails (Pimm's Cup for me), duck fat tator tots and I had mac 'n cheese (I'm a connoisseur of fine mac 'n cheese). Merchant's mac 'n cheese was among the best I've had; I credit the scallions. 

I love exploring city neighborhoods, and we headed to Hillsboro Village near Vanderbilt University. It was a charming area with shops, restaurants and frozen yogurt (a perfect follow up to lunchtime pasta). I found myself warming to Nashville.

The President was visiting Nashville on Wednesday, and we decided it was best to stay close to Gallatin. I headed out for another very hilly run, and I was joined by dozens of cows as I ran past sprawling farm fields. My cow friends helped push me through a hard run. I may have stopped once and talked to one particularly cute cow. Don't judge me.

Gallatin is an extremely charming town. We checked out quaint local stores before having lunch at Swaney Swift's. I indulged in a dessert known as the "couch potato": ice cream, peanut butter sauce and potato chips. It sounds weird and kind of is, but it was also kind of awesome. The texture was impeccable. After lunch we discovered the Amberleaf Marketplace, an indoor collection of artisanal goodies. It was such a cool space.

We were back in Nashville the next day for my favorite day of the trip. We decided to wander down Broadway Street and found ourselves in the Swingin' Doors Saloon. It was quiet just before lunchtime, and I decided it was a great idea to have a baby in a bar as we ordered cocktails and fried pickles. The musician on the stage, Jimmy Charles, was awesome. As we walked in he asked what our son wanted to hear, and he played Country Roads immediately for this West Virginian. His music was fantastic. The staff (bartender extraordinaire Dana Marie) was awesome. We were there for several hours drinking and enjoying the music and atmosphere. Thankfully my baby carrier helped Will nap.

New Jimmy Charles fans
A sleepy honky tonk baby
The infamous Ryman Auditorium beckoned, and we headed there after hanging out at the Swingin' Door. Ryman is an incredible space. My only regret is that we didn't see a show there. What a great, intimate venue.

Toward the end of the week we visited more Nashville neighborhoods by checking out East Nashville. We had a late brunch at Marche Artisan Foods. From the pomegranate mimosa to the insanely good grits, it was everything I expected from East Nashville and more.

On our final day of vacation my sister joined me to head back into the city early for the Music City 10k. While I've been raving about the great food and fun we had on vacation, I haven't talked about the fact that I was struggling with my health all week. I am severely anemic, and my doctor asked me to take liquid iron. I had looked for it in several pharmacies and couldn't find it, so I did the smart thing and ignored it. 

At the start of the race I was feeling lightheaded, but I thought it would be fine. At mile two of the race I had to sit on a curb with my head between my knees to keep from passing out. The race was humid and hilly, and normally that's my jam. This time though I knew the smart thing was to stop after the 5k, and I did while being extremely disappointed in myself. The bonus is I got a medal for the race even with the 5k. 

Pre-race in Printer's Alley
We had lunch at charming Monell's, a family style restaurant in Gallatin. The food was...indescribable. Heaping portions of fried chicken, chicken 'n dumplings, green beans, salads, cinnamon apples, corn pudding, meatloaf, biscuits and cornbread. We topped it off with sweet tea and cherry cobbler. The best part was the inexpensive all-inclusive price. I left there feeling like I couldn't breathe and knowing if I lived in Tennessee I'd gain 20 pounds.

We had family from Alabama come up to visit in the afternoon, and we had dinner on the sprawling patio at AweDaddy's on the marina. My last southern meal of catfish and hushpuppies was the best way to cap off the week. Southern cuisine and I are in love.

I could've eaten 47 of these hushpuppies
A week in Tennessee was just what I needed to regroup. Quality time with family, incredible food, challenging runs and exploring another city. Coming back to the real world is always shocking, but it's good to get back into life's routine. My waistline is also slightly relieved to have less southern food. Okay...I can't even say that with a straight face. I miss biscuits and sweet tea. Until we meet again, southern goodness.