Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Believe in the Magic

I love Christmas. It's long been my favorite time of the year. I wanted to have a Christmas wedding because I love this season so much. It's the season that also hosts my son's birthday. The Christmas season is filled with magic. Do you believe in magic?

Christmas is also a time of reflection. This year I've been basking in the magic of the season and reflecting on magic elsewhere in my life. I see magic in my son's eyes every day as he learns more and looks at every day with wonder. This year has reinforced that love and support are magical. My husband has stood by my side and held down the fort in the roughest health year I've had in more than a decade. His love is magic. 

In a year that could have rattled me professionally the exact opposite happened: I feel more confident in my professional relationships and ability than ever. The incredible affirmation I received from those with whom I've worked the last decade was flattering and humbling. I learned that hard work, dedication, being genuine in relationships and passionate about your work matter. While hard work isn't magic, the results can sometimes feel magical. 

The unconditional love of a pet is magical. We may have lost our beloved dog Murphy this year, but our decade with him was filled with love and joy. The unconditional love of our dog Izzy and our cats (if cats can indeed love unconditionally...that's debatable I suppose) fills my heart with joy every day.

In 2016 my health was a significant challenge. I had a week-long hospital stay, months of steroids, half a dozen cycles of antibiotics, a major medication shift (I now do self-injections every two weeks), four iron infusions and many days and nights of feeling generally crummy. Even given that and the frustration that has resulted I am amazed by the human body. While it doesn't always cooperate in the way I want it to, the human body is remarkable. I may have to pare down my ambitious 2017 running goals to continue to let my body heal, but it will heal, and I'll be back with a vengeance.

I am typing this blog by the light of our Christmas tree. I can see the Capitol dome from the window in our living room. The landscape is blanketed with snow, and life is magical. There are so many blessings in life even when they are hidden by challenges. How can you not believe in the magic of the season?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vacation Fatigue

I've decided I suffer from the most first world of problems that I made up and diagnosed myself: vacation fatigue. We love to travel, and we do so liberally. We are rarely home (maybe 1-2 weekends at month at most), and that's the pace we like. Even after our son was born we have rarely deviated from this blistering travel schedule. There are so many places to see and really so little time. 

In the last six months we've spent long weekends in northern Michigan in Traverse City and Boyne City, we've vacationed with my family in Canaan Valley, West Virginia, we've been to Portland, Oregon, Norfolk, Virginia, Las Vegas, and a cruise to the Bahamas. I also went to West Virginia three additional times including a week-long stay in September and an extended stay for Thanksgiving. This amounts to a total of 48 days away from home in a six month period or being gone just over 1/4 of the time. We also had a few getaway weekends in Detroit, and this does not count my husband's additional travel for work. We're gone a lot. 

Following three consecutive trips to Las Vegas, West Virginia and then the Bahamas last weekend, I find myself exhausted. You know the saying "I need a vacation from my vacation"? I desperately need a vacation from my vacations. I need some quality time at home. 

Last Friday my husband and I left for a cruise to the Bahamas with a large group of 17 others. It was part of the continuation of a good friend's 50th birthday year of celebration. We knew about half of the crew, and we took off from Miami in a rain storm for the long weekend. The weekend also preceded my husband's and my 8th wedding anniversary, so we were looking forward to some relaxing time together.

The crew. #bobis50
And relax we did, although maybe even a bit more than we intended. We spent Friday evening drinking. A lot (you'll notice a theme). The rain made the boat rocky, and I needed the alcohol to balance least that's my story. I revised my own drinking rule, that I only drink rum south of Cuba, to instead be south of Miami. That meant bottomless pina coladas and mojitos for me!

First night dinner with the hubs
On Saturday morning I was sluggish but still pushed myself to run on the ship's jogging track with my husband. The day was cloudy and windy, and the cruise did not make a planned stop at its private island as a result of the weather. We did sit on the sunny deck in the morning, but by mid-afternoon driving rain had taken up residence on the ship's decks, and we took refuge by the bar. I took a long nap on Saturday afternoon and completely unwound. My phone did not connect to the internet, and it was glorious. I was 100 percent disconnected.

Obligatory cruise sun selfie.
Saturday evening my husband ended up being sick and left dinner to go to the room. When I checked on him after dinner I decided the most wonderful thing ever would be to take off my dress and makeup and crawl into bed. I was not disappointed.

After a very restful Saturday evening I was up early at the gym on Sunday. My husband was still under the weather, so I ate breakfast and then read on the upper deck of the ship. I am a terrible relaxer, and I had nowhere to be and nothing to do. Later in the morning I disembarked to explore the Bahamian capitol of Nassau. It was not dissimilar from every other cruise port I've been to. I did a quick lap, found the capitol building (nerd alert!) and headed back to the ship where I took another long nap.

Parliament building in Nassau
Beautiful views leaving Nassau

By the time we went to dinner at the ship's delicious French restaurant on our final evening of the cruise, I realized we'd spent a lot of money for me to sleep a lot. Apparently this is what it takes for me to relax. The French restaurant was amazing (I'm a sucker for buttery escargot and duck), and we once again headed to bed relatively early.

The hubs snuck this pic of me and said "This is what you look like actually relaxed."
When we got home after the long weekend I was totally exhausted. It doesn't make sense, does it? I spent the weekend getting tons of sleep and having absolutely nothing on my agenda, yet I returned home exhausted. The weather change was shocking (it was in the teens in Michigan), and there were 100,000 things that needed to be taken care of once we got home. 

As of right this minute I don't have a single trip on my calendar, and it feels both amazing and terrifying. I love traveling, but we need a slight break. I'm sure in a few weeks I'll be itching to leave again (especially if these frigid temps don't let up). But for now I'm content to baby myself to treat my very serious case of vacation fatigue. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

3,657 Days of Joy

Ten years ago my now husband and I decided to get a dog. We'd been dating for almost a year, and we were looking at houses together. Getting a puppy seemed logical at the time (we'd later learn nothing about puppies are in any way logical). For some reason I insisted we get an Irish Setter puppy. We found one in the classified section of the paper, and I called the breeder. She had one puppy left that she was going to save for us to pick up the following morning (a Saturday). We went to Petsmart and bought all of the puppy essentials. We went out to dinner where we decided we'd name our Irish Setter Murphy after Murphy's Irish Stout. We were ready to be canine parents. 

The next morning I called the breeder to learn that she'd sold our Irish Setter puppy the night before. We were upset, but we were already ready to get a dog. We had our minds made up. We shifted and talked about a Golden Retriever instead. I checked the paper and we called about a puppy. Later that morning, on a wet January day, we drove about 40 minutes west of Lansing to a farm to look at Golden puppies. The mom Golden was in a crate in a sunroom as we walked in. She seemed happy and sweet. There were three puppies: two boys and a girl. For some reason we decided we wanted a boy (I don't recall the rhyme or reason behind it). That left us with two choices. One Golden puppy was a hulk of a guy the breeder was calling "Tank". He was large and boisterous. He attacked his puppy siblings with glee. The other boy ran up to us and gave us kisses, and we were hooked. Later as we paid for him we saw him in the corner humping a stuffed toy. That was our Murphy. As we left the farm we saw a flash of yellow fur as a colossal Golden ran behind the barn. We learned that was Murphy's dad, and it was foreshadowing for our life with our big yellow dog.

Getting a six week old puppy is a life altering experience. People think I'm kidding when I say our life was more rocked by a puppy than newborn. I stand by it. We didn't realize how hard it would be to have a puppy. At six weeks old Murphy was used to sleeping with his siblings. He didn't like his big crate and whined incessantly, a challenge in a one bedroom loft apartment with two shared walls. Potty training in January meant multiple trips outside in the middle of the freezing night. We didn't want him sleeping in our bed, but he was awake all night and crying unless he was with us. We finally compromised by putting him in a box beside our bed where we'd wake up at night to the thumping of his little tail on the side of the box.  There were times when we both cried with exhaustion and frustration. Having a puppy isn't for the faint of heart.

Murphy's first day at home, deceiving us with this sleep.
Murphy grew into an amazingly fun and sweet dog. Three months after we got him we closed on our first house. Murphy loved running around the house and destroying it. He chewed a hole in our dining room carpet shortly after we moved in, and we had the hole there until we replaced the carpet upon moving out. Murphy's nails tore holes in our comforters and my husband's hideous leather bachelor couch. He dug holes in the back yard. He was the joy of our life. 

My all-time favorite photo of us, the night we closed on our first home
We took him to obedience class where the crazy teacher chastised us for our lax training. We brought a dog trainer to our home, and Murphy proceeded to hump her for no less than 20 minutes. A typical male Golden is 65-75 pounds, and Murphy catapulted past that to weigh 100 pounds of solid muscle by the time he was a year old. He was larger than life in every way. 

Despite his precocious and sometimes naughty behavior, I've known few other dogs who've had a fan club quite like Murphy's. Maybe it was because he demanded attention. Maybe it was because he was so joyful and it showed. Murphy loved every human and every animal and was generous with his love.

With a bone bigger than his body
Four years after getting Murphy we took him to Cleveland with us on a whim to rescue another dog, our Izzy. While it took Murph some getting used to that he wasn't the only dog, he and Izzy quickly became inseparable best friends. They joined us on trips to Maine, West Virginia, the Outer Banks. We took walks every day, and everyone in the neighborhood knew them. They were a dynamic duo.

Happy on a road trip to Maine
When we suffered heartbreak Murph was there while we cried. When we brought home our son Murphy was the most patient brother. He let Will take food and toys right out of his mouth and other than the occasional knock down with his missile-like tail was a gentle giant from the beginning.  Murphy survived dog skin cancer, many floppy eared dog ear infections and skin infections. Murphy was invincible.

Last January the groomer discovered a tumor on Murphy's chest. The tumor was large, and we immediately braced for the worst given that Goldens are prone to cancer. Testing showed that the tumor did not appear to be cancerous. We were told it would grow and ultimately affect his mobility, but we'd deal with those issues as they arrived. 

Late this summer Murphy started limping. The tumor was getting bigger, but he was still his happy Golden self. X-rays showed calcification of his lymph nodes, and the tumor was reassessed to be cancer. The vet prescribed a hardcore antinflammatory that appeared to be working. Unfortunately the drug that helped gave him a massive skin infection on his face, and we treated it with a month of steroids and antibiotics. Murphy thrived under the steroids, and we started almost pretending he would be okay.

Only a few days after he went off the steroids he was back on the antiinflammatory and pain medicine. I picked him up from the boarder a few weeks ago after our Las Vegas trip, and he could hardly walk. One of our vet techs helped me get him in the car, and I broke down sobbing to her in the parking lot because I knew it was getting bad.

We took him to West Virginia with us for Thanksgiving. Although he was limping badly he managed to enjoy the car ride and sneak onto Grandma's couch. Watching everyone say goodbye to him was agonizing. Murphy had been part of our family for a decade. We celebrated his 10th birthday in West Virginia by giving him copious amounts of human food and lots of snuggles. He loved it. 

Supervising Will on his last road trip
Sneaking onto Grandma's couch

By the time we got home we knew he was not going to be strong for long. On Monday evening we made an appointment for Murphy on Thursday. My husband and I cried off and on all week. We snuggled him and played ball and gave him all the cheese he wanted. He no longer wanted to go outside, and I bribed him with cheese to get him outside a few times a day.

As handsome as ever
We were a mess at the vet, and the vet told us everyone in the back was crying. She said Murphy was like their mascot, and she cried as we said goodbye to him. Of course my husband and I were a disaster. We petted and snuggled him and left him there in no way comprehending the huge hole we'd now have in our lives.

In the few days since his passing our house is like a tomb. We've had two dogs for six years, and we didn't realize how quiet Izzy is. She's still mourning, and she seems very sad. But it's agonizingly quiet, and I keep waiting for Murphy to loudly lumber down the stairs or to trip over him while I'm cooking.

I am so grateful for the years we had with Murphy. He taught me so much about myself, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to be the human he thought I was. He adored us, and we could do no wrong. Murphy lived for a week past his 10th birthday, and every single day was filled with so much joy. I'd had a sign in my office for years with a picture of a Golden that says "Live with Joy". That was Murph. He wanted nothing more than love and to make people happy, and it's how we should all aspire to live.

Monday, November 21, 2016

What Happens in Vegas...

There are a lot of things I don't understand in this life: wearing pajamas in public, the existence of PT Cruisers, rooting for Pitt. And while I have places I've traveled that I love more than others, there are very few that I basically loathe. Las Vegas is at the top of the loathing list.

My husband had a conference in Vegas, and I decided to tag along. It seemed like a nice time for us to get away together and for me to give Vegas a do over. I've been once, more than seven years ago, for a wedding. At the time I did not enjoy it at all. I don't gamble, and while I love food and cocktails, I honestly found it boring. We were there for a long weekend, and it was probably two days too long. I thought this was an opportunity for me to reassess my thoughts about Vegas. It turns out my opinion did not change. At all.

My first time in Vegas in 2009. My hair is...fluffy.
We arrived Wednesday evening and stayed at the Paris. On our first trip our hotel wasn't great, so I hoped staying at a more central spot on the strip and a nicer hotel would be better. I was assaulted by smoke when we walked in, and I'd somehow forgotten that everyplace in Vegas smells super smokey. We checked in and had dinner. I was in bed by 9 pm local time (which felt like midnight) because I have a two-year-old and I'm perpetually exhausted.

Naturally we were up at 3 am on Thursday but managed to fall back asleep. My husband's conference and my workload took up much of the day Thursday, although I did manage to get in a good workout at the hotel gym. My husband and I had a quiet dinner at The Palm Thursday evening, and by 10 pm local time I was exhausted. When we got back to the hotel I looked at myself in the mirror in the elevator. I looked like a zombie, and I felt okay crashing. We are wild Vegas partiers.

Dinner at The Palm. I look absurdly tired.
On Friday I had a good bit of work to do too, but I managed to fit in some shopping at Caesars Palace before a conference call and a lunch meeting. Friday evening my husband's company hosted a dinner for legislators and staff attending the conference, and it was a beautiful night with a lot of people with whom I love working. Being in a marriage with two lobbyists means my husband's work events can be work for me too if I organize it right. It's not the worst thing.

I don't hate the sunshine
Early Saturday I hit the treadmill to walk which, by the way, seems to take forever. Last week I ran for the first time since my surgery last month, and while I was slow it felt pretty good. Later that evening, however, I realized I was not ready to run. I was in a lot of pain, and it was apparent that my body is still expending a lot of energy to rid itself of this massive infection. I ran for ten minutes on the treadmill my first morning in Vegas, and I paid for it all day. I have my next appointment with the surgeon next week, but I realized it's not worth it. It's not worth it to push myself to run again before my body is ready. My body has always cooperated and bounced back nicely, and if I push it here I may do irreparable harm. Even though it's hard I'm going to make myself wait. 

My disappointment in not running helped me appreciate day drinking (okay I always appreciate day drinking). We watched my Mountaineers get eviscerated by Oklahoma Saturday evening, and I may or may not have enjoyed a lot of champagne. By the time we got up to leave on Sunday I was more than ready to go.

Our last morning. I woke up with a wicked cold, and it shows.
I understand there are things to do in Vegas off the strip like going to the Hoover Dam or hiking. People go to shows, but there wasn't really anything we were excited to see. My husband and I travel to visit cities, and Vegas feels like a forced place. I don't mind crowds or busyness (as evidenced by my love of New York), but Las Vegas does not feel authentic. Add to that the fact that we don't gamble (other than my ill-fated bet for my Mountaineers), and Vegas is kind of boring. Sure there are lots of restaurants, but they all feel like they have the same menu. And don't get me started on the lack of walkability; having to take walkways over ten lanes of traffic below. It was nice to have quality alone time with my husband and get lots of sleep. Next time I propose we do it somewhere a little less shiny.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Things I Didn't Know

Four years ago I wrote a blog about how amazingly supportive my husband is of my running/traveling addiction. I've had friends remark that it must be nice to have my own paparazzo at the finish line (it is). When I wrote that blog we'd been married about four years, and up to that point things had been pretty easy for us.

When I wrote that blog there was a lot I didn't know about my husband. I didn't know that 2013 was going to be a shit year and test everything we thought we knew about one another. I didn't know that he'd shortly face the greatest pain of his life in losing his dad, and I still am unable to take that pain away. I didn't know that he'd patiently sit next to me as I sobbed when the vet was euthanizing my 15-year-old cat in the middle of the night. I didn't know that he'd be my rock when we had a birth mother change her mind after the baby was born. I didn't know that 2013 would contain all of that heartbreak and be a devastating year. There were times when we looked at each other, and I wondered if we'd get through it all. We're strong but how much can one couple take?

I didn't know that in the summer of 2014 I'd be hospitalized for a month, and he'd drop everything to be there for me. He never wavered in taking care of me and our life so I could focus on getting well. 

I didn't know (but suspected) that he would be the most amazing dad in the entire world. From the moment the nurse walked into the hospital room surprising us with the tiny bundle in her arms he has been a rockstar. I have had friends complain about their husbands not doing their share and leaving bottles in the sink and not getting up at night. I don't have those complaints. I am lucky. We are a true team, and we pick up the slack when the other one is busy. I hear him playing with Will in the other room and the happy giggles coming from our child, and sometimes I can't even breathe from the tears that surprise me. I think back to the dark year of 2013 and realize if it hadn't been for that dark year, I wouldn't be able to appreciate the light and joy in our lives now.

I didn't know that my husband would hold me when I collapsed onto the floor in tears while picking out clothes to wear to my father's funeral. He knew better than anyone the pain I was feeling, and he never wavered for an instant. 

I didn't know that 2015 would be my toughest Crohn's year in fifteen years including a week-long hospitalization and another surgery. He took care of our son and our pets and our house while working. When I feel unattractive and frustrated and sick he reminds me that I'm beautiful and patient and strong. 

He's still at the finish line of nearly all of my races, but it's a footnote to everything else in our life. I am so, so grateful to cross the finish line and see him there now with our son in tow. I always feel strong at the finish line, and I want my husband and son to see that side of me. I have finished way fewer races this year than in the past few, but I couldn't do any of it without my husband's support.

My all-time fav photo after a race - New York Marathon 2015
With my boys after shattering my PR in the Deckers Creek Half Marathon, June 2015
He doesn't make me happy 100 percent of the time, but every day he makes me happy. Some days are rougher than others, but every single day is worth it. While this year wasn't like 2013 in its brutality, 2016 has had some unexpected challenges. My husband has never, even for a second, doubted me or hesitated to have my back. As I count my blessings entering into Thanksgiving week, you can bet he's at the top of the list. 

There's nobody I'd rather have by my side.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Embracing the Chaos

Some days I feel one errand or one more obligation away from losing my mind. I sometimes don't know how we (the collective busy "we") do it all. Being a wife and mother plus having a career is a lot, but then there are those events on which I don't that take up time in a schedule already bursting at the seams. I got the oil changed in both of our cars last week, and in one of them they forgot to put the skid plate (whatever that is) back on properly. I unexpectedly had to go back to the garage to get it fixed early this morning before going to the gym and then working the rest of the day. We've had two sick dogs the last few weeks, and it's meant multiple vet visits, tears and lots of money. I woke up yesterday to our Izzy having peed all over our couch, and she was lying in it. She's on steroids which make her go to the bathroom more, and she was wearing the cone of shame, so she wouldn't move. Sunday morning started by waking up my husband for toddler duty while I bathed the dog and tried to figure out how to clean an insane amount of dog urine from my couch cushions (update: they cannot be salvaged.)

Oh we have cats too. They are largely ignored, but here they are at their annual checkup last week.
A regular day, with no unforeseen errands (if such a thing exists) means dropping my son off at 7:30, working out, tidying up the house (because I'm too anal to leave beds unmade and toys on the floor) working all day (including travel several days a week), picking up my son, dinner, playing, bath, books, bedtime, packing lunch for the next day. Somewhere in there I do laundry, walk the dogs, empty the dishwasher and any type of leisure activity. It makes life chaotic and crazy.

I will add to it the fact that my husband and I rarely spend weekends at home by design. We like to travel, and when we are home for a weekend we're not entirely sure what to do with ourselves (because catching up on all these mundane things seems bo-ring). We are heading to Las Vegas this weekend, heading to West Virginia for Thanksgiving (where I'm co-hosting my sister-in-law's baby shower), we are home for one weekend and then go on a cruise. We return on the day before our son's second birthday and our eighth wedding anniversary. We will likely have his birthday celebration on a Tuesday evening because we are hosting our annual holiday party the next weekend. Then it's Christmas. We don't know how to do down time.

I am not complaining because this is the only pace I know, and I love it. It's hard though when I have health issues and keep pushing. I am often admonished by family and friends for not slowing down, but I don't understand slow. Three weeks post surgery I'm feeling like myself with a few challenges from my surgery site. I'm both champing at the bit to be back at 100 percent and allowing myself the luxury of being a little slower. 

Yesterday, on a rare Sunday at home, my husband spent about five hours outside doing yard work and cleaning up the garage. My son and I played, watched Elf for the first time of what will be dozens this holiday season, and I did work inside during nap time. When my husband was done I headed to the grocery store for a rare toddlerless shopping session. While part of me wanted this alone time to last for hours, I was rushing through the store because that's what you do when you're a busy mom.

Watching Elf with my little man.
In one aisle I saw an older woman slowly putting things in her cart. I know nothing about this woman but made some assumptions. She seemed to be buying single serving things leading me to believe she lived alone. I watched her and had a light bulb moment where I realized my busy wouldn't last forever. It'll be a few years, but at some point I won't have my son's laundry to wash. At some point he will drive himself and not need us to shuttle him from Point A to Point B. There will come a time where it's just me and my husband again, and our lives will be quieter. God forbid there will be a time where it's just me, and the silence will be deafening.

I made a decision at that moment that while realistically I'm not going to slow down, I will embrace and enjoy the chaos. After getting everything I needed I leisurely walked back through the store looking at Christmas decorations and possible Christmas gifts. Life is loud and bustling and hurried, and that is how I want it. But I need to stop rushing through the chores and the errands and the moments. I need to be mindful. When my son wants to put on his Halloween costume and "help" with yard work, I will lend him my gardening gloves and head outside.  If the clean laundry sits in the basket for a day, the world will not end. If my Golden Retriever, who won't have much longer with us, wants me to play on the floor I'll do it. 

Our yard work helper
While I like my life to be busy, it doesn't mean I have to rush through it looking forward to the next thing. I am making a point of being more mindful and more joyful even in the midst of the chaos we've created.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Bob Dole for President!

Twenty years ago I cast my first ballot in a presidential election. I was 18 years old, idealistic, bright-eyed, bushy tailed and uninformed. It was perfect. I, like many teenagers, didn't know a lot about politics. Many kids get their political views from their parents. My parents voted but did not (at that time - it's changed) have extremely vocal political views. I made my political choices in 1996 to be antagonistic. I'm sure that's not surprising.

My high school brought all the members of my senior class (all 35 of us!) into the auditorium, and we were given the opportunity to register to vote. All of us but two registered as Democrats because that's what their parents were. Granted in a Dixiecrat state being a "Democrat" means being pro-life, pro-gun, pro-death know, a Republican. I talked one of my friends into registering as a Republican with me, because we didn't want to be like everybody else. That was really the extent of my thoughts. Well and that and I like argyle. I also grew up watching Family Ties with a huge crush on Alex P. Keaton. He taught me much about politics.

That year Bill Clinton was the incumbent and Democratic nominee. He was being challenged by Republican Senator Bob Dole. I decided to vote for Bob Dole for one main reason: decorum. This was actually before the Lewinsky scandal broke, but there were lots of rumors that painted Bill Clinton as a cad including the accusations by Paula Jones. My young, idealistic self didn't know what the truth was behind those allegations, but I knew one thing: I wanted my President to be steadfast, honest, and not someone who would have sexual relations with that woman. 

As I cast my ballot I talked my mom into voting for Senator Dole as well. One of my elementary school teachers was fighting a tough election for the WV House of Delegates, and I told my mom I wouldn't vote for him unless she voted for Bob Dole. My mom will learn for the first time in reading this blog that I always intended to vote for Mr. Pethtel but I wanted to get her to vote my way. I didn't know it then but it was my first time lobbying. It was certainly not the last time I played hardball to get the vote I want.

In 1998 my study abroad roommate in Germany was from College Station, Texas. Her parents were friends with Texas Governor George W. Bush. She had great things to say about him. She, being an opera singer, sang at his gubernatorial inauguration. In the 2000 Presidential election I voted for him because he seemed like a good dude. Also how often do you know someone who knows a Presidential candidate and vouches for him? 

I hated and still hate the Iraq war. I spent much of 2003 and 2004 being angry. I was alone at Fort Hood, Texas while the man in my life at that time was overseas fighting some enemy that we're still fighting (only now it's a different enemy?) Don't get my started on my feelings about the war. But even with that I stood by W. in 2004 and voted for him over John Kerry.

In 2004 I took a job working for the Mayor of Norfolk, Virginia. On my first day we were chatting in his office and started to walk to a meeting. He stopped me in the doorway and said, "Are you a Democrat or a Republican?" I told him I'd always identified as a Republican, and he told me to never tell anyone that as long as I worked for him. It was in that job that I learned how to be politically agnostic.

Fast forward two years and I've decided to upend my life by taking a job working for the Michigan House Republican Policy Office.  When Norfolk's Vice Mayor found out I was leaving she said incredulously, "Girl I cannot believe you're a Republican." I moved north, threw myself into partisan policy and learned a lot including that I'm not really very Republican. I also discovered I'm not a Democrat either. Neither label works for me. It turns out I really AM politically agnostic. 

In 2008 I looked at the ballot that held a one-term US Senator in Barack Obama and a grizzled veteran of both Congress and the military, Senator John McCain. I was unable to wrap my head around a one-term US Senator being President. Regardless of political views it seemed like he was not qualified. Even when McCain went with crazy town Sarah Palin as his running mate I voted for him.

I did not make the same mistake in 2012. At this point I'd been lobbying for five years. I have seen both the inside and outside of the political system, and I wasn't going to vote for Mitt Romney. You know what actually gets me about Romney? I think he was a good governor. He made some very moderate decisions as Governor of Massachusetts including universal health care. I loved that about him. But as he threw it all away and ran to the right, I cast my first ballot for a Democrat for President. You're welcome, Barry.

And then we come to the dumpster fire that is 2016. I am voting for the exact same reason I did in 1996: I cannot vote for someone who is a total cad and does not possess the decorum required by the Office of President of the United States. In retrospect I think Bill Clinton was an excellent President, but I stand by my 1996 vote. I haven't always been pro-Hillary. I read her book Living History when it came out 2003 and really disliked her. I felt like she spent the book making excuses for all of the challenges in their political life. 

Now I see it a little differently. One doesn't spend decades in public service without their every move being scrutinized. Hillary lived out the pain of marital infidelity in the press. Also Donald Trump needs to STOP comparing his behavior to Bill's. Bill is not running for President, and last time I checked I am not responsible for my husband's behavior any more than Hillary is responsible for hers. Even if Hillary's email situation gives one pause, there is zero comparison to the behavior of her opponent. 

The Access Hollywood tape is indefensible. Making fun of immigrants and people with disabilities is indefensible. I actually turned the TV off during Hillary's ad asking if this is what we want our children to see because I did not want my two-year-old seeing Donald Trump's behavior. My political views have evolved and will continue to evolve, but I remain committed that being President requires both experience and decorum. There's no room for racism, sexism and a running mate that is disturbingly homophobic. What scares me the most is that the widespread support for Donald Trump actually means that so many in our country believe in his tenants of hate and vilification. That is terrifying.

I'm voting because I shouldn't have to say "ear muffs"to him when our President is speaking.
Running for President on a whim doesn't work for me. It's got to be earned. Hillary has earned it. I could not possibly care less about what's happened with her emails, and if you're hung up on that take a watch of the other nominee blatantly mocking a disabled person and bragging about sexual assault.  I voted for Bob Dole for the same reasons I'm voting for Hillary Clinton: decorum and experience. Sometimes sticking with your designated party and usual political views just isn't good enough.  #Imwithher 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Marathon of Parenting

Being a parent is the hardest, most exhausting and most rewarding job ever. Everyone tells you how amazing parenting is, and there's really no way to know it until it happens to you. When our son was born I told a colleague I realize why everyone thinks their kid is perfect: because they all are to their parents. 

Parenting is also unequivocally the most exhausting thing I've ever done. When my son was a newborn I got through the sleep deprivation on adrenaline alone. That time is mostly a blur, but I remember being awake in the middle of the night and looking down at my wide awake newborn. I forced myself to take in the moment and remember it. It wouldn't last forever. When he was about 18 months old the sleep deprivation caught up with me, and I've been feeling like a zombie for nearly six months. Thank God for facials to help with the bags under my eyes.

I may tell humorous (and frustrating anecdotes) about my child, but I'll never complain about the crazy moments. I waited six long years to have our son, and even the frustrating moments are worth it. Take this morning, for example, when I asked him to come inside and he ran away from me into the yard. He stepped in dog poop, which I did not realize until I was carrying his kicking toddler body back inside and it was already all over my dress. This was at approximately 8 a.m., and I had to do an entire costume change before my 8:30 meeting.  Even though I was frustrated, I love seeing him challenging his boundaries and becoming his own little person.

Refusing to wear the hat for his Halloween costume. Sassy.
My son loves "feeding" baby dolls (or stuffed animals) shortly before he throws them on the ground and jumps on them (he's all boy energy). Yesterday I swaddled a baby doll and then he wanted me to swaddle him instead. I swaddled my little boy and carried him around like a baby which he found hilarious. I felt nostalgic back to a few years ago when he was a less than six pound newborn, and the world was so shiny. This time is way more fun, but I miss that helpless little human. 

Every few months we write a letter to our son's birth mom telling her about him. It's so hard to encompass on an 8½ x 11 piece of paper how wonderful this child is. I want to gush but it feels weird to gush too much because she made this incredible sacrifice so we can be his parents. He will be two in December. He has such a sassy personality. He loves asking "why", playing with cars, snuggling and milk. He likes to "help" around the house whether it's mowing, cooking, or doing laundry. He likes to dance, watch Sesame Street and loves trains. He loves our dogs but really loves our cat Archie who is so patient with him. He loves to jump and climb everything. He's fearless and will jump off of anything - toys, steps, you name it. He loves to push his boundaries, but as soon as he's startled he jumps right into mom's or dad's arms. He's a good sleeper, and it's only partially his fault that his mom no longer is. He attended his first race expo when he was only three months old, and he loves watching Mama run races. I would love it if he's a runner, but really I hope he's a happy and healthy little guy. 

When it's a beautiful day in Colorado and your son wants to sit on the ground and play trains, you oblige.
This ottoman is for climbing into, right?
"Helping" make cupcakes
He hates eating because that means he has to stop running/jumping/playing. He's really into licking things (my favorite was when he licked the dog's paw - gross). He's the love of our life, and I cannot imagine our world without him in it.

Running marathons is hard (the hard is what makes it great, remember?) In that blog I wrote a few years ago I said: Running is hard and amazing and terrible and gratifying all at once. Some days I feel like running ten miles is the easiest thing I've ever done, and the next day I struggle with running one or two. I've never, however, finished a run and regretted it. For all of the hard stuff mentioned above, running is my sanity. It clears my head and helps me focus. Every single run is a challenge, and it is the hard that makes it great.

As hard as running is, I've learned that parenting is even harder. Even on my hardest long runs I get to control the outcome, and as a control freak I like this. Raising a child means you're not in control. You're not in control of when they're sick, when they're sassy, when they're whiny. My son is on rather rigid schedule, and yet he has days where I have no idea why he's so tired or crabby (not unlike adults.) But like running parenting makes me a better person. It's hard and amazing and terrible and gratifying all at once. For nearly two years I've loved every single minute of being a mom. Even right before Easter Mass where my son projectile vomited on me. Even in the ER in the middle of the night with hand, foot and mouth disease. Even in the middle of the night when I hear, "Mama?" being yelled from his room. While I'd like to change the circumstances and never have him be sick or tired, I love being his mom 100% of the time. 

Seeing this smile is everything.
Running marathons is hard, but it doesn't compare to the marathon of parenting. Parenting is more of a life-long ultra race where you have to pace yourself and fuel appropriately (I'm convinced parenting is why coffee and wine exist). You have to balance 1,000 things including work, friends, family, exercise, a clean house and of course that marriage that led to the desire to have this adorable child.  The vomit, the poop and the tears are footnotes to the amazing story of my little boy and the absolute blessing it is to be his mother. Life is long and it is hard, but there is joy in every moment. My son doesn't know it, but he taught me that.  

Halloween's happiest skunk

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Luxury of Being Sick

Last month Hillary Clinton was under fire for not informing the American public that she had pneumonia. She was called "weak". In what was not America's best moment we vilified a woman for contracting an illness that any of us could get. Apparently getting sick makes one "weak". I'd say sticking to a brutal schedule with pneumonia actually makes her a badass, but then again, this is coming from a sick person. 

I felt a lot of empathy toward Hillary because I know what it's like to be sick and feel like you have to hide it. I truly believe if we want to succeed women don't have the luxury of being sick. I would say this also applies to any person with a chronic illness. Moms don't get sick days. To keep up in the professional world we're expected to suck it up or be seen as weak. In Notorious R.B.G.: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it's noted that RBG was never gone from the bench while battling cancer. She quickly went back to law school classes after giving birth. Women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to child birth and maternity leave. We can pretend like it's not true, but it is. We don't also have the luxury of being sick. 

When I was in law school I worked at a firm in Texas. I had a severe Crohn's episode and spent the night in the ER. When I tried to call off the office manager insisted I come to work. My sister happened to be visiting and drove me there because I was on morphine and couldn't drive. I could not even stand up I was so much pain, and I was sent home. But they had to actually see how bad I was before they'd send me home. Amazing.

I've returned to work from hospital stays and been told the next work day that I am being pressured to show more results. I've returned emails in the hospital and pushed myself to come back. People tell me not to worry about work, but when push comes to shove if I want to be a successful professional I have to. Otherwise, as Secretary Clinton's incident shows us, I'm "weak". If I want to be seen as a serious professional then I have to at least appear to be well.

Having a chronic illness is weird. My level of "sick" is different from most people's. I regularly have stomach issues, fevers, infections and pain. This is my normal. My "sick" means I'm in the hospital. There's no in between. And because it's a disease nobody sees it's hard for others to grasp that I'm sick.  

Last week I wrote my recap of the Detroit Half Marathon and how grateful I was to be able to run it. What I didn't say was that in the ensuing days I began having tremendous pain. On Thursday (four days after the race) my doctor told me to start Humira, so I gave myself four injections before heading to a meeting. On Friday I started a my sixth course of antibiotics in as many months. Over the weekend I was in so much pain that I could barely walk.

Yesterday I went to the ER where I was told I had a very large abscess that would require surgery. By 2 pm I was in the OR and I was home by the end of the work day having had a surprise outpatient surgery. I was in so much pain before the surgery that I actually felt better when I woke up. I also felt dizzy which is fair given morphine, anesthesia and Benedryl in my IV. I've been told I can't lift more than 15 pounds for two weeks. For the record my toddler is 24 pounds, so that's an impossible ask. The surgeon looked at my husband after the procedure and said he couldn't believe I was functioning with an abscess that size. The day before the surgery we had spent a beautiful afternoon at Greenfield Village in Dearborn. I was actually feeling okay for much of the day (thanks tons of Ibuprofen!) but by the time we got home I was wiped out. The photos show me looking healthy and happy. One of the two is true. Twenty four hours later I was in the OR. My pain tolerance is epic.

Taken at Greenfield Village about 24 hours before my surgery. Like you do.
I have spent much of today sleeping but I've also returned a few work emails. It's frustrating to be on week four of a new job and say "sorry I'm out for a few days. Surprise surgery!" My new boss has been nothing but understanding, but it's not how I want to start a new gig. I had 14 years of hospital free Crohn's, and as we regulate my meds I am hopeful that this year will be a distant memory soon.

I realize I'm harder on myself than anyone will ever be on me, but I'm not wrong about the pressure put on working women or anyone with a chronic illness. I don't have the luxury of being sick when it comes to every day illnesses: colds, allergies, headaches. I have to save my sick time for my surprise surgeries or when I pass out unexpectedly twice in the doctor's office. My almost two year old doesn't understand sick days. I have a very supportive husband, but he's got a job too. Our life is a lot of busy, and I won't leave it all to least not for very long.

Secretary Clinton is not weak for having pneumonia anymore than I'm weak for having Crohn's. Crohn's has made me stronger. It's made me a fighter. I will have to miss the 10k I'd planned on doing this weekend (no running for me for a few weeks), but my running goals for next year are intense. I don't feel sorry for myself for having Crohn's because it's made me who I am. Some days (like ones this week) are really frustrating, but it could be so much worse. I'll be at a few meetings tomorrow although I am missing the conference I'd planned to attend later this week. By next week I'll be back to full speed. Crohn's is an asshole, but it makes me a tough guy. Let's just hope this surgery (lucky #7!) is my last for a while. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Reasons to Smile

I've had a rough year of barely running. I've written a lot about it, and I've tried not to make excuses. I simply haven't done the work, and I haven't been motivated. Period. It's been health issues/grief issues/plain lack of motivation. But somehow this past weekend, in a half marathon I had no business running, I found my motivation in the driving rain on Detroit's Belle Isle.

I registered for the Detroit Domestic Half Marathon on January 11, 2016. I was still in my serious running hiatus after New York, and I thought having races on the calendar would help. Two of our good friends were also running, and it would be my girlfriend's first half marathon. It's always such an awesome thing to share someone's first race with them, so I was really excited to register.

Fast forward ten months and the year has not gone as expected. Instead of my achieving my original goal of breaking 20 minutes in the 5k I ended up in a Crohn's downward spiral punctuated by a week-long hospital stay, months of steroids, and five cycles of antibiotics. Even once I started feeling better my motivation was shot. I ran the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in April and a few 10ks over the summer. That's been it. I haven't done a training run longer than five miles this entire year. I was not ready for Detroit.

I listened to my friend talk about half marathon training for the first time. She was running distances she'd never ran before. I was excited for her but felt disconnected from my own training (or lack thereof). We met on Saturday in downtown Detroit for the race expo, and it still didn't hit me that I was running the following day. I bought some cool swag, we had snacks and cocktails in the afternoon and a pre-race dinner at the Detroit Athletic Club.

Pre-race #WVU125
The domestic half is strange because it doesn't start until 10:30 am. The international half is well over by then, and we joined marathoners on the back part of the 26.2 course. I remember running the full marathon in 2010 and feeling like the last 13.1 miles were so dead. The international half has injected some life in those final 13.1 miles of the marathon. We took off in Cadillac Square promptly at 10:30 and headed toward the Lafayette Park neighborhood. I love Detroit so much, and I was determined to take in the course and crowds and enjoy the race without focusing on my time. I started with the two hour pace group knowing it was unlikely I'd finish there.

Taken by friends at mile 1
As we got into the stunning Indian Village neighborhood the heavens opened and it began pouring rain. It was so muggy the rain felt good. Indian Village houses brought the fun; there was music, beer, fun and frivolity. The first few miles flew by. As we turned onto Jefferson Avenue the rain was pretty significant. My shoes were water logged and squishy. 

The bridge to Belle Isle passed quickly, and as I ran onto the island right before mile seven I got my second wind. I remembered that point vividly during the full: it's where I hit my wall. A volunteer jogged beside me and encouraged me. She told me that if I completed this feat I'd be a marathoner, and I could do anything. I wish I could find that woman and thank her because that advice has helped me so many times. 

As we rounded the back side of the island the rain and wind hit their stride. We were running into nearly sideways rain, but I still felt good approaching mile eight. As we ran toward the riverfront I found myself smiling and continued to smile the last few miles of the race. The rain let up before mile 12, and spectators started commenting on my smile. "Look at her! She's got this with that smile!"  and "You look too happy! It's not supposed to be that easy!"

I felt so, so blessed. I ran down Larned Street and started reflecting on this year. I recalled barely being able to bend down and play with my son because my joints were swollen from steroids. I remember those runs in June and July where my body refused to cooperate. I knew this race was far from a personal best, but I felt great. I felt strong and healthy.

In 18 years of Crohn's (including six surgeries, numerous hospitalizations, about 125 IV infusions, countless CT scans, MRIs and lab work) my body has always bounced back. In my darkest days of the hospital last spring it never occurred to me that I wouldn't run again. I registered for races to motivate myself. I bought cute running clothes. Five months ago in the middle of the night in the hospital I KNEW my body would come through on race day. It would not let me down.

I smiled those last few miles because I have so much to celebrate. I got to see my absolutely amazingly supportive husband and son at the finish. I had a rock star cheering section and got to see my dear friend destroy her first race. In the wind and rain I took on 13.1 miles without training and ran 2:08:33. How can I not smile?

Finishing strong
My friend KILLED her first half. So proud!
Running the Detroit half gave me back my motivation, and I'm so excited for some big goals in 2017 (stay tuned!) I feel emotional for all the blessings I have but particularly for the ability to run. Race day has never let me down.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Does Slow and Steady Really Win the Race?

I started this year with a serious speed goal: break 20 minutes in the 5k. I knew it was a really challenging goal, but challenges are my favorite. I started the year by shaving 41 seconds off my PR at the Super Bowl 5k. That PR still stands: 23:09. I knew taking another three minutes off would be tough, but my training was going really well.

It was going well until it wasn't. I started having dizzy spells and health issues at the beginning of May and spent a surprise week in the hospital. All of a sudden I knew running a 5k at that speed was unlikely particularly when my GI doctor prescribed several months of steroids. The goal changed to simply getting back into running.

The problem with getting faster is it increases my expectations. My PR of 26:00 stood from 2011 until the spring of 2014. I couldn't break 26 minutes to save my life, and once I did it's been a huge disappointment the few times I've gone over it. I've run 20 half marathons and have only broken two hours in 3 or 4 of them. Now if I run longer than two hours I'm so disappointed, and that is frustrating. I'm never going to win the Olympics. My focus needs to go back to the love of running not this obsession with time. 

Last weekend I ran the Dino Dash in East Lansing in 26:03. I felt really good. I've had a rough few months with hip and back pain, and running has been really hard. This is the best I've felt while running in months. I'll admit when I crossed the finish line and saw the clock above 26 minutes I was disappointed, but I forced myself to let it go. Feeling good and enjoying the beautiful fall morning was way more important than shaving a few seconds off my time.

The old adage "slow and steady wins the race" is an interesting one, and I guess it really depends on how we define the race. I've loved getting faster. It's been a run way to challenge my body and my mind. I also need to realize being faster isn't always the best thing for me physically or mentally. As I look toward the Detroit Half Marathon next weekend I am tempering my speed goals because I want to enjoy the race. Initially I thought I'd like to break 1:50 which would take a few minutes off my PR. Then I thought I'd just like to break two hours. Now I'm looking at my less than impressive training schedule and realizing I just want to enjoy the race. Whether it's 1:58 or 2:15, I will enjoy the race. I'll thank volunteers and high five kids and read all the signs. Slow and steady will win that race. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Reset Button

Very rarely do we have the luxury of pushing the reset button. It's hard because as spouses, parents, family members, friends and colleagues there are always so many obligations. I hate the word "obligations" because it implies something unpleasant, but even when they are things one loves to do the calendar fills up and it can get overwhelming.

I had a sabbatical planned in August, and I was hoping to hit the reset button. I ended up having free time earlier and had nearly three months off before starting a new job this week. While at first it was a shock to the system to not have the calendar filled with work, it turned out to be magical. For three months I got to do whatever I wanted to do. I spent time in Portland, Oregon and a week in both West Virginia and Virginia visiting family. I spent afternoons by the pool and read dozens of books. I walked my son to daycare and then went for long runs. I got groceries during the middle of the day and took naps. 

I looked for jobs, but mostly they came to me, which was the most flattering thing. I found something that keeps me working with the communities I love and provides a new challenge. I genuinely hit the reset button and it's been fantastic.

Last week my husband, son and I spent a few days at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. My husband was there for a conference, and we tagged along. The Broadmoor is a five-star resort nestled in the Rocky Mountains, and it's stunning. It's unequivocally the nicest place we've ever stayed, and I didn't want to leave. We lazed about the resort and went to top of Pike's Peak. We checked out the Garden of the Gods and had breakfast in downtown Colorado Springs. In my last week before starting a new job I was clinging to precious moments of quiet, work-free time. I didn't run because I have been having hip and back pain, so I swam laps in the amazing outdoor lap pool. 

Deer at the Broadmoor
Garden of the Gods
At the summit of Pike's Peak
Swimming laps
When we got home I spent my last few unemployed days doing what I love most: spending time with my husband and son. I ran a 5k, and my son helped me cook. He LOVES to help me cook. My husband and I shared a bottle of wine and watched a terrible movie. I could feel my complete reset coming to and end, but I was the most relaxed I've been in years.

Cooking with my favorite toddler

My cheering section
I had a friend tell me a few months ago that I've had a lot of moments that would make most people take a step back: my health, the birth of my son, losing my dad. And if none of those things would do it maybe having a few months of quiet would help. And it did. I'm so excited about my new job, and I'm in the best place I've been in my adult life. I have the most perspective, and I'm ready to take on the world. Not everyone gets this opportunity, and I'm so glad I allowed myself to appreciate it.