Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: In Joy and Sorrow

In the nearly five years(!) since I've been writing this blog, I've found it fun to reflect on the passing year before setting goals (i.e. making non-resolutions) for the upcoming year. I set a lot of goals at the end of last year, and this has been a pretty epic running year for me. It has also been the most challenging year of my life (in both good and bad ways).

On January 1, 2015 I had a two-week old baby. My eyes felt like they were filled with sand. Sleep deprivation is legit. I gained a new appreciation for all the parents I knew who appeared to be functioning like normal humans. I learned that new parents are, in fact, wizards. I discovered an all-consuming love that I'd never known. My son is a joy every single day. It's the hardest and most rewarding job I've ever done, and I love every second of it.  

With my little dude when he was about four months old. This love is the best.

I returned to work the first week in February to a new job. I am with the same organization, but I transitioned from lobbying to running our foundation. When I look back at my travel schedule this year, I honestly don't know how I did it. I was on the road 3-4 days a week to Michigan cities like Traverse City, Boyne City, Port Huron, Midland, Benton Harbor, Monroe, Freemont and Mackinac Island to name a few. I attended a great training in June in New York City at the nationally renowned Foundation Center. My new position has a lot of flexibility, and for that I am infinitely grateful. However being a Type A crazy person means I still try to cram in something into all the hours of the day plus more. But I love this job and the work we're doing for communities. I can't imagine doing anything else. 

Preaching the placemaking gospel to a legislative committee.

We had lot of personal trips too. We went to West Virginia seven times (including spending the bulk of October there). We spent a week with my family near Nashville,Tennessee, and I am so grateful for that last vacation with my dad. We attended several weddings including one in Manistee in northern Michigan. My son visited Lake Michigan for the first time on a beautiful summer day. My husband, two of our best friends and I went to New York City where I ran the marathon. My son and I went to Austin, Texas to visit my best friend/his godmother and also went to San Antonio to cheer her on during her first half marathon. Finally we spent the week of Christmas with my family in the Outer Banks. At the age of one, my son has visited twelve states. Not too shabby.

Ryman Auditorium with the fam

I've run faster than ever. I ran five 5ks, one 5k/10k combo, five half marathons, one ten mile/5k combo and a marathon. I ran a personal best at every distance including slicing five minutes off my half marathon time and a half hour off my marathon PR.  I trained less than ever, somehow miraculously remained uninjured, and I got faster. There is no scientific logic that supports what happened to my running speed this year, and I chalk it up to stress relief and pure tenacity. I'm psyched to focus on the 5k in 2016, a goal I set for this year on which I did not make time to focus.

All smiles after a serious PR in the NYC Marathon
This year wasn't all about my being a speed demon in love with a baby boy. My health took a beating as a result of stress and pushing myself too hard. I was having dizzy spells in the spring/summer, and we discovered my stored iron levels were dangerously low. Thanks to some iron infusions I've felt much better this fall. My Crohn's had a few rough spots as well, but again pure stubbornness pulled me through.

In October I lost my dad, and I've spent a lot of time talking about it. Nearly three months later my heart is still aching. If you buy into Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) I'm currently hovering somewhere between denial and anger but leaning toward the anger stage. I'm pissed that my dad isn't here. I'm pissed that I think about him so much more now that he's gone. When he was here he was just here, and I took it for granted. You expect losing a parent to be awful, but you have no idea how awful it's going to be. Then there's the bonus awful: nobody prepares you for the worry and hurt for the parent who's still with us. I worry about my mom constantly. She's a grown-up who has spent 63 years on this planet, but I find myself fretting about her all the time. This year contained both the most joyful and most painful moments of my life, and it's given me extraordinary perspective.  

I just found this photo of my dad and my son in Tennessee last summer. Heart wrenching.
I rarely say no to any of the adventures life throws my way, and the result is my constantly moving. Given the perspective of this year I don't expect that to change much. I intend to celebrate every day. I intend to drink the good champagne on a Tuesday. I'm going to hug people I love and laugh a lot. My goal is to tell people the positive things about my life first instead of the negative. I've got a great life, and there's a lot for which to be thankful. 

Let's do this 2016. Let's make this year rock. Let's remember that life is short. Let's love too much, and celebrate everything. My favorite country singer, fellow West Virginian Brad Paisley, said: "Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one." Cheers to you all my friends!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Relaxing Christmas

I don't relax easily. It's always a challenge for me to let go. After two of the busiest weeks in recent memory I was looking forward to getting out of town and leaving the busy behind. That meant one final day of driving to Ann Arbor for my work Christmas lunch, my son's daycare party in the late afternoon and then finally hitting the road around my son's bedtime.

After weeks of unseasonably warm temperatures on the day we were to leave we had the first bout of winter weather in a while. A weird lake effect system made roads icy and nearly impassable. We left around 8 pm and still had slick roads through most of Michigan. Thankfully weather in Ohio and Pennsylvania were better. As we got into West Virginia near my mom's the weather was a little dicey, but we were almost there and not really worried. My mom's neighborhood requires driving up a steep hill to get into it, and we discovered quickly that said hill was covered in ice. We discovered this as our car was sliding backward into a ditch, and there was panic at 3 am. We ended up having to get out of the car and walk (with a baby in a car seat) to my mom's, up that hill and about a half mile. So much for relaxing.

The next morning the weather delayed our departure until midday. We arrived in the Outer Banks around 9 pm. I was not relaxed. At all. We started the next day slowly, lounging in our pajamas later than normal, drinking too much coffee, and just hanging out. I could feel the stress of life melting away as I hung out with my family. 

Hanging out in Duck

In the last few days I've walked on the beach we've essentially had to ourselves, the crash of the waves lulling my son to sleep in his carrier. I've gone for a few solid runs: one with my brother and one cloaked in a blanket of humidity. After not running for several weeks my body immediately adapted to the familiar rhythm. It was like hanging out with an old friend.

It's unseasonably warm everywhere it seems, and it feels more like late spring than Christmas. While I can tolerate the white Christmas, I generally don't enjoy cold weather. I love a warm Christmas. This weather is flawless. 

Enjoying the beach

It doesn't entirely feel like Christmas, and that's actually okay in this first holiday without my dad. We're all together, I'm relaxed, and my heart is both happy and sad. I've been eating too much (oysters = amazing), drinking too much (both alcohol and caffeine), and I feel disconnected from real life. I can say that for the first time in a long time I'm entirely relaxed. It's an unfamiliar and yet pleasant sensation. Wishing you a relaxing holiday! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It's Gettin' Kinda Hectic

For most of us the holidays are the busiest time of year. Our holidays are generally b-a-n-a-n-a-s, and I love every single minute of it. I hate it when I hear people complain about how busy the holidays are. This is the most wonderful time of the year! There are songs about it! This is the time of year to think of others, donate to charities, attend festive gatherings, wear cocktail dresses because it's Wednesday and soak in every minute of the sesason.

I recently saw someone on Facebook complaining about how they stopped sending Christmas cards because 1) they were too busy and 2) because social media fills that need. Let me just stop them right there. If you don't want to send Christmas cards then don't. But don't make excuses. The holiday season is only as busy as you allow it to get. If you want to eliminate certain traditions do it, but don't pretend you don't have time or that Facebook meets that need. It's just not the same thing.

You can insert any holiday tradition the place of sending holiday cards. I don't care what your holiday traditions are, but if you want to eliminate them have at it. But we always have time for the things that are important to us. I am slightly obsessed with my family's holiday card. I send 150 of them on November 30 every year. I spend months thinking about it. I'm probably the busiest person I know, but I make that time because it's important to me. This year I powered through addressing the cards (by hand...I don't do labels) during my son's nap time. I was so proud.

This December is the busiest we've ever had. I spent the first six days of the month in Texas. I returned home on Monday. I had my office holiday gathering on Tuesday. My mom arrived in Detroit (3 hour drive to the airport round trip) on Wednesday. On Thursday evening I had a hair appointment. On Friday I had 50 people over to my house. On Saturday I nursed a hangover and went out with my husband for our anniversary. On Sunday we hosted 25 people for our son's first birthday. Monday night was my son's one-year wellness visit (plus five vaccinations). On Tuesday evening we bought a new car. Tonight we had my husband's office (35 people) to our house for their holiday party. Thursday is a free(!) night. On Friday we have my son's daycare's Christmas party, and we leave at bedtime for West Virginia. On Saturday we drive eight hours to the Outer Banks for a week where I will sit comatose and do nothing (in my head...it won't work out that way). 

With my girlfriend at a party at our house

I rattle of this schedule to illustrate that despite how busy you are, you will find time for those things that are important. It's not a competition, but if there was a competition for busy, I'd be hard to beat. There are things I let go. I've gone for one run in three weeks. This holiday season I've let running slip. It was a conscious choice. It's not because I can't make the time; it's because I've chosen not to. I won't complain that I'm too busy for running. If it's that important to me (and this month it isn't), I'll make time for it.

I've always heard life is a marathon. I choose to live it more like the 100-yard dash. Whether you slow down this holiday season or not, remember it's all supposed to be fun. For me being that busy is fun. Don't make excuses for what you are or aren't doing. Do what's important to you and don't worry about the rest. With less than ten days to go, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! 

Monday, December 14, 2015

How Do You Measure a Year in the Life?

Before you ask let me say that yes, this is the second blog this year with a title from "Seasons of Love". I love RENT and that song...so humor me. 

Last weekend we celebrated December 13, my favorite day. On that date seven years ago I married my husband in the best party we've ever thrown. On that date one year ago our precious son was born. It is a day filled with so much love that my heart can barely handle it. 

Everyone thinks their wedding day is perfect, but mine really was. It was cold with snow on the ground, but it wasn't actually snowing that day. We had the most incredible day, and I worked hard to take in every moment. I look back at those photos and am still in love with that day. It was exactly the day that we wanted, and it officially started this adventure. 

We buy Christmas decorations when we travel, and I love decorating our tree and recalling the amazing trips we've taken in seven years: Sweden, Maine, Boston, New York, the Outer Banks, Nashville, Mount Rushmore, Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal, Pensacola, Washington, DC (dozens of times), San Francisco and the Rose Bowl and dozens of small weekend getaways. We've seen concerts and had dinners with friends. We've laughed and cried and struggled through some of life's hardest losses (both of our dads). But we've come through all of it together, and we try to make the most of every moment of our life. We've delighted in the joy of our child, and I realize how lucky I am to have this husband and amazing father of my son.

Our son was born last year after years of waiting for his arrival. When we found out about Will people kept saying, "You must be so excited." At that time my overwhelming emotion was anxiety. I was worried it wouldn't work out. I was worried he wouldn't really be ours. I have spent the last 365 days loving this little boy with every fiber of my being. The moment we met him I knew he was meant to be our son. His joyous wonder in every new detail of life is infectious. He loves his dogs, balloons, cars, going for walks, his pacifier and snuggling. His smile (those dimples!) lights up any room. Sometimes I feel like my heart might explode with love for him. 

The cast of RENT was right: you measure a year in love. The last seven years have been filled with so much love, and this last year has added joy and wonder as well. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is so fun. Happy birthday little dude, and happy anniversary to my husband. Thank you for sharing this adventure with me!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Birthday Celebration

Today would've been my dad's 67th birthday. My heart hurts. My chest literally hurts like someone has punched me. I'm distracted. I'm so, so sad. What did I do last year for my dad's birthday? I don't remember, and that makes me sad. A card? Some gift that my mom suggested because Dad was impossible to buy for? A quick phone conversation because my dad hated talking on the phone even more than I did? It should've been more, right? If I had known that was his last birthday I would've done more. But how can you ever know that?

My dad turned 60 two days before my wedding. His birthday was overshadowed by my big day, but my dad never wanted anything to be about him. His focus in life was his wife and his children. He was happy to let his birthday go by without celebration. We surprised him at our reception with a cake for his birthday. I love the look on his face as he was surrounded by his family. He was looking at my mom in surprise as if to say, "Did you know about this?" 

Seven years later our family is different. My brother and I both have children. My youngest brother is now married. We have new homes, new jobs, new responsibilities. In the last days of my dad's life we were blessed with time to talk to him and leave nothing unsaid. Right now I can't remember everything that we said. We just talked. If you know our family that's what we do. Talk. Generally very loudly. 

I hope we told him that he raised an amazing family. I hope we told him that we owe all of our success to him and our mom. I hope I told him that I am so glad he got to meet his grandson. I hope I told him that I am so proud to be just like him. 

Every day should be a celebration. I know it's hard. I know life bogs you down, and it feels like too much. But it could be the last birthday, the last dinner, the last time you're together. Today my dad would've turned 67, and as sad as I feel, I will celebrate. I'll wear a cocktail dress and sequined heels. I'll drink champagne. I'll raise my glass to Dad and thank him for the ability to do all of these things. Happy birthday, Dad. Thanks for the reason to celebrate. 

My all-time favorite picture with Dad

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My First Rodeo

I lived in Texas for a few years in my early 20's. I mostly remember finishing my third year of law school at Baylor and partying with my friends. We were young, had money for the first time, and the drinks flowed. It was fantastic. I've got some of the absolute best drinking stories from my time in Texas (including being kicked out of a martini bar in San Antonio...I'll tell you about it in person if you want to hear it). Those years were really fun.

The last time I was in Texas it was in 2004 when my sister and I packed up my apartment, and I officially moved to Virginia. It was a sad time with a lot of change. I mostly associate Texas with my first time really being a grown up, and I also associate it with the demise of my first real adult relationship. It's a weird connection.

Last year my best friend moved to Austin, a city where she and I have spent many nights imbibing in cocktails, dancing and singing along with the musicians in the many bars on 6th Street. I went to visit her last week, and it was a very different feel 12 years and five collective children after we were last there together.

My son and I flew to Texas on Wednesday. It was his first flight, and he was a baby rock star. A number of people on the plane commented on how good he was. I was so, so proud. Exhausted but proud. It turns out traveling alone with a baby is hard work. As we were driving away from the airport I had a knot in my stomach. Texas looks and feels like nowhere else. It's hard to explain. When I moved there from mountainous West Virginia I would sometimes feel lonely when faced with the vast expanse of space. Those first few moments were disconcerting, but it passed quickly.

My bestie and I have known one another for 13 years. Other than that first year of nights we don't quite remember in Texas we've lived far away from one another. It isn't easy. But I've been able to visit her when her kids were born. I was in Sweden when her oldest daughter (my goddaughter) was baptized. We were there for one another when both of our dads passed away. She was here in Michigan when my son (her godson) was baptized. As an avid running it only seemed fitting to be there for her first half marathon, the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon in San Antonio.

I admit it - I'm not a great spectator. I'm not great at planning ahead like my husband who will map out points to see me. I also find myself being a little (ahem a lot) envious of being on the sidelines instead of running. I know it's important for me to rest right now, so I was trying to keep my envy level at a dull roar.

We had a lovely few days enjoying the gorgeous 60+ degree weather. We had Mexican food outside, played on the playground and just enjoyed being together. It was awesome. On Saturday my friend and I headed to San Antonio with just my little dude. We did the typical pre-race day stuff: went to the expo and had dinner at a lovely Spanish place on the San Antonio Riverwalk.

It was weird to not be racing. I felt both calm and agitated by not running. I did get to enjoy a few glasses of wine with dinner and relax on race morning. We walked to the start, and I was struck by the pre-race energy. I love it. We took photos and I hugged my friend as she went off into her corral. I was so excited for her that I could barely stand it. The first big race is such an exciting event.
After the start we headed back to the hotel for breakfast, and I took a shower. We then walked back toward the finish to see Charlotte. Online race tracking is an amazing tool. I knew she'd be finishing just around 10 a.m. I ended up right by the finish line and got to see the first four male marathoners cross the finish. It was insanely awesome.
I was so emotional at the finish. In typical fashion my son was asleep during the chaos at the finish. I was dancing to the music, singing and cheering for runners. When I saw my friend I thought my heart would explode. I was so thrilled for her. She looked great and had a really good time.
What happens when you've spectated more races than your mom
We met her in the family reunion area, and I was just so, so proud. I wonder if this is how my husband and friends are when I race. While I love being on the course, it was nice for me to be on the other side. Charlotte had a great run, and I loved being there to cheer her on and give her unsolicited running advice.

I've run 20 half marathons, four marathons, and dozens of shorter races, but this was my first half marathon as a spectator. The atmosphere is electric. I love seeing it from that angle. I am so thrilled that I got to be there for my friend's first half. My first spectating rodeo was fun, but next time I think I'll stick to the course. I learned that I love racing too much just to watch. I'm not really a watch and see kinda girl.  
Don't mess with Texas or these dimples!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Being Present

It's December, and the holiday season is officially upon us. I love Christmas, and I've decided this year I'll really focus on being present in the season and being grateful. By "focus on being present" I also mean travel to Austin, Texas and the Outer Banks, throw three relatively large holiday gatherings at my house (including my son's first birthday party) and live the rest of my life in a somewhat normal fashion. This has been a hard year. While I may not be slowing down by my (or any) standards, I am attempting to be present during one of my favorite times of year and be kind to my body.

Being kind to my body includes a small break from running. Last week I ran my final race of the year, the Lansing Turkeyman Trot, on Thanksgiving morning. It was relatively warm, but it was raining off and on. That always makes dressing appropriately a challenge, and I failed miserably (I was way too warm). I sidled up to the start with several thousand other runners and pushed off fast. I told myself I had no illusions about this being a fast race. I love a turkey trot, but they're always really crowded. I was not going to PR. I was just taking it easy.

At the two mile marker I realized I was on PR pace, and of course I couldn't just let that go. I pushed the last mile, and unfortunately was ten seconds slower than my PR at 24:00. I finished hard, and I was as tired after as I have been after a half marathon. My body is still pissed at me, and it's time to give it a little break. Being mindful starts with being kind to myself.

That brings me here we are in the final month of the year with so many bittersweet things to celebrate and no racing. My son and I are heading to Austin, Texas this week to visit my best friend (and his godmother) and cheer her on through her first half marathon in San Antonio. It's weird for me to be a race spectator instead of running. I'm like an addict watching someone else getting high. But it's important to be supportive and my body needs a break. I keep telling myself that when I feel envious that I'm not running. 

Part of my cheering section (including my BFF on the right) before I ran the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon

I'm so excited for my son's first birthday. He's such a little love, and I am thrilled to have our family and a few friends here for the occasion. I'm heading with my family to the Outer Banks for Christmas, a trip we did four years ago as well. It's hard imagining the holidays without my dad, and I haven't really been letting myself think about it. I know it'll hit me hard when I least expect it, and I'm glad I'll be with my family for a week.

I want to focus on this little face. The best.

This holiday season I have so much for which I need to be grateful. I'm trying to remember and appreciate each moment knowing I'll never get them back. 'Tis the season - enjoy it!