Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Twenty Years of Going First

It is unfathomable that I am old enough to remember events from 20 years ago. Let's be honest - I remember events from 30 years ago too. Ouch. Twenty years ago I graduated from high school. Twenty freaking years. That's insane.

Twenty years ago I took my tour of West Virginia University. I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else, and it shaped who I am in a significant way. I loved being at WVU. I bleed old gold and blue to this day, and I am a rabid Mountaineer fan. My years in Morgantown were so fun. That's why it remains, to this day, my happy place.

My husband's cousin (and my son's godfather) got accepted to WVU and wanted to do a tour. We happily brought him to Morgantown for the weekend so I could show off one of my favorite places in the world. The city has changed tremendously since I started there in 1996. In a lot of ways the surrounding community is unrecognizable from the way it was 20 years ago, but the campus has remained relatively the same. Gone are the large computer labs and dot matrix printers, but otherwise many of the buildings are caught in that academic time capsule that makes old college campuses so charming.

The tour reminded me of how much has changed even though in my head it's just been a few years since I was a student there. We toured Wise Library which underwent a large renovation in the early 2000s. When I in college the stacks in the library were a little more *ahem* private. Kids these days can't get away with our shenanigans. But as we toured the library with its floor to ceiling windows and study rooms with giant TVs I noticed the books smell exactly the same. It took me back to college immediately.

Campus has some new buildings, and the Sunnyside neighborhood no longer smells like pot and dirty feet (which is sad because it was part of its charm). There's also a Sheetz in Sunnyside (first floor retail in a mixed-use development - perfection!). If you're reading this and don't know what Sheetz is, run don't walk to your car and drive to the nearest one and experience it. According to Google that's approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes away from Lansing, Michigan in the Village of Sheffield, Ohio. Worth the drive.

As I showed our cousin around campus, I marveled at how much it changed. Yet my heart realized much had stayed the same. It's really a lot like me: in 20 years there's a lot of that wide-eyed 17-year-old idealist left in me. She's mostly covered up by my acerbic wit and charm. I've changed a lot, but deep down there's a lot of the same person.

What has changed? My attire. This photo from freshman year shows my FAV Adidas pants and my boyfriend's t-shirt. I wore this all. the. time.
On Sunday morning my dad and I hit the trail for a quick 3.5 mile run. Oddly even though my dad wasn't a runner, my beautiful, quiet runs on the Deckers Creek Trail remind me of our last days with him last fall. It's one of the places I feel the closest to him. It's so quiet, and I may see a few other people on the trail. But I am mostly alone with my thoughts and reflection, and I can feel my dad everywhere.

Sunglasses hide my ugly cry face.

The 17-year-old version of me would be happy with the 37-year-old version of me. I'm married to a hilarious and brilliant man. I have a precious little boy. I have a job I love and about which I am passionate. I have a great group of friends. My life is certainly not without its (sometimes huge) challenges, but it is those challenges that have made me the strong, passionate, tenacious person I am today. 

I like to think embody WVU's #GoFirst campaign. I LOVE this:

Before pride, before recognition, there is first. The first thought, the first step, the first breakthrough. At West Virginia University, we are determined to go first. It's in our blood. It's in our sweat. And it's in our nature. Here, going first means we're bold enough to dream big, to take risks. It's why we go to the edge and instead of going back - we build a bridge and we keep going. So we will go above. We will go beyond. And when everyone else goes back, Mountaineers go first. #GoFirst

Yeah...that's pretty much what I've spent the last 20 years doing. Here's to the next 20! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Life Through the Eyes of a Toddler

I'm often asked what is the best part about being a parent. It's been an incredible 16 months filled with new discoveries, and seeing the world through my son's eyes lets me notice things in a unique way. The best part of being a mom is discovering the joy in every day.

In the words of John Mellencamp: "Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone." In particular these middle years, 30s and 40s (and maybe older) are challenging. Your 20s is all about new challenges: college, falling in love, the start of a career, buying houses, pets, children. It's a revolving door of challenges and opportunities.

By the time you're in your 30s you've kind of settled into life. I've been married for seven years, have had a great job for eight years, live in my dream house and have an amazing child. Life on paper (and in actuality) is pretty amazing. But unlike my 20s there's not the obvious or necessarily exciting "what's next". I've answered that question with running challenges, vacations, drinking the good champagne on Tuesday and lingering Sunday brunches.

We waited six years to have a child. It was a long wait filled with fertility drugs that made me a crazy person followed by three long years of waiting in adoption. The wait was agonizing at times. Then he arrived, and it was even more amazing than I thought it would be. When you first have a child it's a blur. It's a whirlwind of figuring out what the heck you're doing and how to keep this vulnerable, small human alive. Then you settle into parenthood, and it's not easy. It's certainly the most challenging job one can have. And it can be mind numbingly tedious. Sometimes my son wakes up at 6 am on a Saturday, and by noon I feel like I've put in two days. 

During a sick day a few weeks ago. Check out the attitude with this one.
But those long, exhausting days are offset by the wonder of seeing the world through a child's eyes. I love watching my son discover life. Small things - clapping his hands, waving, saying hi to everyone, watching birds on our feeder - are monumental things. His smile is infectious. He loves to climb everything and then has the biggest smile when he realizes what he's accomplished.    

He has such a fun personality, and not only am I in love with this little dude, but I really like him too. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is certainly the greatest gift of parenthood. He has no preconceived notions, no biases, no worries. He's a fearless little guy who puts 100 percent of his curiosity into everything he does. It's nothing short of remarkable.

This kid loves his dogs.
Yes the middle years are hard. Sometimes I look at my days and think wow, this is 37. It feels really adult. Our six year wait to have a child was long and emotional, and it took up a lot of time in my 30s. However I am grateful every day for that wait. Not only did we fill that six years with great travel and memories, but it gave me the perspective I needed to enjoy my child more. When he throws a tantrum instead of being frustrated I laugh at how cute he is. I'm patient and appreciative of being a mom.

We should all strive to see life through the eyes of a child. It's strange and wonderful, and it reminds me how momentous every day can really be. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Gazelle Girls Gone Wild

I've been pretty open about my running funk of late. It's been a real struggle to get motivated. Late last year my friend and I registered for the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon. At the time it was months away and during my post-marathon running hiatus. It seemed like it was so far away. As it crept closer I kept thinking I need to do some long training runs. I was doing my short tempo runs for 5k training, but I kept putting it off.

I ran the Shamrock Shuffle 8k in Chicago a few weeks ago, and then didn't run for two weeks. That 8k (4.97 miles) is the farthest I've run since my last half marathon in November. I had zero business running 13.1 miles.

On Saturday morning my husband and I decided it would be fun to head to Grand Rapids for the morning to pick up our race packets. We walked around downtown, ate breakfast, and then headed to the race expo. I'll be honest - the race expo was terrible. There were so many people crammed into a small space. Luckily we'd taken our son out of his stroller; otherwise I don't think we would've been able to get in. 

I walked in and asked a volunteer where to pick up my packet. She starred at me blankly. I told her it was my shirt and number, and then she directed me through the crowd and up the stairs. I grabbed my and my friend's bibs and shirts and we left. I had zero interest in lingering.

On Saturday morning I was up at 5:30 to head out and meet my friend on the way to Grand Rapids. I've posted about Nikki before. She was my colleague for eight years until earlier this year when she took another job and broke my heart ( was a great professional move for her).  I honestly don't remember how many races we've done together, and we've done countless training runs. She's one of my closest friends and always helps motivate me. I knew I'd get through the race even if it wasn't pretty.

We parked near the start and got into the starting area immediately before the race start. While we're both used to challenging ourselves and pushing pretty hard, I knew this wasn't going to be a fast race for me. We stayed together at a solid pace for most of the race. It was a crowded field of women for most of the course. I wish the course had been a little less off the beaten path, but I knew it's easier and more convenient to take it out of the city a little bit.

Love this photo taken mid race by one of our city managers. Also my outfit is cute.
The race went by so quickly because we spent the entire time chatting. Now that we don't see one another every day we have a lot to catch up on. As we passed the mile markers we marveled at how quickly they were flying by. At mile 12 Nikki pulled ahead (even though I'd been bugging her to for a while). I knew she had a lot more left in her because she trained like a smart person. I crossed the finish at 2:04:07. Of my 21 half marathons it was my sixth fastest. Not the best but certainly not the worst race I've ever had. Given my lack of training I felt pretty good. 

So fun.
Even more than my physical condition at the end of the race I felt like I'd gotten my groove back. It was so great to spend that time with my friend and to have her help push me to the finish. The race atmosphere was fantastic, and I remembered on every step why I love this sport. It was a great morning. One of the great things about representing communities all across the state is that we also saw some people we know. These race photos were taken by one of our city managers in West Michigan! Great shots.

One of my fav ever post-race shots. Did we discuss my cute outfit yet?
Today the lecture I got from my physical therapist was less fun, but I have to admit I felt like a real athlete when she was working on my feet and calf muscle. Gazelle Girl was a great race, and it was the boost I needed to get out of my running funk. Now back to my regularly scheduled 5k speed training.   

Current view.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Remembering How to Fall in Love Every Day

I've been skimming back through blogs from the last few years, and although there have been a lot of life changes (a new baby, a new house, new jobs, losing our dads) I was always falling in love. I was discovering new cities to love, running new races, spending time with my friends and family. Even when things were tough I was still falling in love.

In the last six months or so I've stopped falling in love. I've stopped seeing the world as someone who falls in love easily and started being on autopilot. While we're still traveling, I've not been running as much. I've been checking things off the to do list, even things that are supposed to be fun, instead of living in the moment. Love, or at least the art of falling, has been elusive.

In early 2014 I wrote a blog post about falling in love easily and often. I feel wistful when I read it for the easy passion with which I penned that blog. I was coming off the high of falling in love with Marquette, Michigan. We had recently returned from a week in California that included San Francisco, Monterey and Los Angeles. My running was in full swing, and I felt every day, every feeling so intensely.

Today I am sad to admit I've been feeling a little dull. I still say yes to everything. This weekend I'm having breakfast in Grand Rapids, celebrating a friend's milestone birthday, running a half marathon and celebrating that with bloody mary's. Next weekend I'll be in West Virginia visiting my mom. We recently booked a cruise in December. I've got a sabbatical in August, and we're planning a vacation (top contenders now Vancouver, Nova Scotia and Utah). 

Life is filled with fun and blessings and happiness. I see it right there in Arial font, yet I'm not falling in love with it. Part of it has been my struggle with Crohn's and being insanely exhausted over the last month or so. I woke up this morning and my first thought was 'how many hours until I can go back t sleep?'

I need to fall in love again. I want to look at a city with fresh eyes and feel the passion of a vibrant place. I want to focus on running (I haven't run in nearly two weeks) and feel the rush of pushing my limits. Of course you can't find love. Love finds you. You don't force yourself to fall in love. It happens when you least expect it. I need to make sure I'm open to the experience.

Cities and running are two of my biggest passions, and I'll admit that I'm feeling like we're in a bit of a rut. We may need to spice things up a bit. I think I have the cure for this: booking a fabulous vacay, registering for a challenging race and buying new shoes. New shoes are really the cure for everything.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Neighborhood of Make Believe

After an idyllic weekend in Chicago my husband and I came home to chaos. When I landed in Detroit my mother-in-law (who was watching our son) texted me that both she and the baby were sick. They both had a stomach bug, and she hadn't told us while we were gone so we wouldn't worry (which was extremely considerate). I picked up my needy little guy and headed home assuming he probably had a quick bug and was on the mend. 

Over the next week Norovirus raged through our home making my son, my husband and me all very, very sick. The week is a blur. On Wednesday, my sickest day and before my husband got sick, I don't even remember the day. I barely left bed. I knew I was sick because I didn't even care what was happening in our house. Usually I want to be with my husband and son, and I didn't even have the energy to be curious about why my son was squealing with joy downstairs. 

By the time the weekend rolled around we were all starting to be on the mend, but we were exhausted. The second weekend in April came in like a lion with snow accumulation and freezing rain. It was gross, and with the weather and our illness we barely left the house. 

Days with a 15-month-old child when you're all recovering from illness are long. My son wakes up around 6 am, and naps for two hours if we're lucky. His bedtime is 7 pm, and that is a very long and exhausting day when we're sick and barely leave the house. I'm not opposed to my child watching television, but I definitely believe in a balance. Until recently Will hasn't really been too interested in TV, but he was sick and snuggly during this week. We ended up watching Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood for hours. 

Growing up I was a huge fan of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I loved it so, so much. I grew up an hour south of Pittsburgh, and I think it was a childhood requirement to adore his Pittsburgh based show. I particularly loved the forays into the Neighborhood of Make Believe and visiting my favorite character Henrietta Pussycat (meow meow). Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood is a spinoff of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and takes place in the Neighborhood of Make Believe. While children's television programming generally makes me cringe, I love the nostalgia of the show. Daniel even sings part of the Mister Rogers' theme song and changes his sweater and shoes like Mister Rogers. Precious. 

Fred Rogers/Daniel Tiger. The cutest.

As I watched hours of Daniel Tiger over the last week, I came to the realization that the Neighborhood of Make Believe is the perfect city neighborhood. Daniel Tiger and his family and friends get to their destinations by walking or riding Trolley. Main Street in the Neighborhood of Make Believe is a vibrant street filled with local businesses. There is lots of parks and green space.  The neighbors work together and help one another out. There is diversity - not only racial diversity of the human characters but tigers and owls living together in harmony? Priceless.

As a cityphile I would love for my neighborhood to be just like the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Daniel Tiger and his friends and family live in an unspoiled community that could be the model for every great place. Maybe it's the sickness, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about how amazing it would be to live in the Neighborhood of Make Believe. We should all strive to be good neighbors, walk and take public transit, shop local and utilize our green space. Also having a tiger as a neighbor would be pretty bad ass. 

The incomparable Fred Rogers once said, "You can think about things and make believe. All you have to do is think and they'll grow.” That also applies to placemaking, but it starts with that vision and takes someone willing to see it through. Let's all strive for a beautiful day in the neighborhood. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Shuffle On, Chicago

I've registered for three races in Chicago. In 2011 I registered for the Hot Chocolate 15k, and I ended up having hernia surgery. I cheered my friend on during the race and shopped a lot. In 2013 I registered for the Soldier Field 10 miler, and we were matched with a birthmother who was due that weekend (the situation did not work out). Seemed like a good idea at the time to cancel the trip. 

My husband was asked to be on a panel at an event in Chicago, so we decided to head to Chicago for a babyless weekend of fun and frivolity. On Friday evening we dropped our little dude off at Grandma's and flew to Chicago from Detroit. It was after 9 pm central time when we arrived. As we were in the plane I said to my husband, "As soon as we get there we're going to..." and at the time I said "drink" he said "sleep". Needless to say I won.

We dropped bags at the hotel and got a (very) late dinner at Miller's Pub near our hotel. Fried cheese curds and a burger at 11 pm is always a good decision. We headed back to the hotel just after midnight and crashed. I woke up at 8 am marveling that I'd slept that late. We were planning to go for a run, but we woke up to cold weather and snow flurries and decided that vacation would be enjoyed more by a slower start to the day.

First stop of the morning was McCormick Place to pick up my packet for the Shamrock Shuffle. The shuffle is one of those races I've always wanted to do. It's an 8k (just under five miles), so it's a weird distance. I'd heard it was fun and seemed like it would be. When I discovered it was the weekend we were going to be in Chicago I had to do it. 

For a really large race (over 30,000 people) the expo ran seamlessly. I picked up my packet and adorable Nike race shirt quickly. We browsed the expo for a bit and then headed closer to our hotel for brunch.

We discovered a movie was being filmed right by our hotel. This movie set, Office Christmas Party starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, resulted in closed streets and Christmas decorations all over the block around our hotel. We settled into The Marq for lunch with a front row seat to the movie festivities. We watched a line of cars drive forward and reverse backward over and over again. I've never given much thought to how tedious filming a movie could be, and it was fascinating to see.  

Hanging out on the movie set near our htoel
Lunch and cocktails were great, and after a few hours we decided to walk around the city. The snow flurries from earlier in the day turned into a full snow squall with bitter winds. We quickly decided to head back to our hotel bar for more day drinking and less winter. 

In the late afternoon we headed to Logan Square to meet friends at Scofflaw, a gin bar. One either loves or hates gin, and fortunately I'm in the former category. We had cocktails and snacks before I decided I needed real food to 1) soak up the booze and 2) have any chance of a productive race in the morning.

We headed down the street to Ugo's for dinner. Their drink special, "Ham on Hamm's" featured a shot of Evan Williams and prosciutto perched on a can of Hamm's beer. My husband and our friend thought this seemed like a great idea at the time (it wasn't). The result was my laughing the hardest I have in a very long time. After 11 hours of fun and frivolity I had to call it a night or risk being a zombie the next day.

Race day started the way race day always starts: too early. I pulled on my running clothes and headed next door to Starbucks to get the day started appropriately. As I headed back to the hotel with my venti cappuccino and oatmeal there was a group of runners heading to the race (about 90 minutes before it started). I used to do that: get to races really early. Then I realized I would just end up standing in the cold being miserable, so now I make it a point to wait a little longer. Plus the espresso is necessary for my physical and mental well being.

It was only a 15 minute walk from our hotel to the race start behind the Art Institute of Chicago in Grant Park. We joined the throng of runners walking toward the start, and I felt my heart growing full. I love racing, and this is only the second race I've done this year. I've missed it.

Race day never gets old!

A gorgeous day.
I headed into my coral and chatted with some other runners for about 15 minutes until we started. The race start was full, loud and energetic. I crossed the start line fast with a smile on my face and headed out into the streets of one of my favorite cities. I loved the course. It was fun to run through the downtown streets and hear all the spectators and music along the way. It was the perfect distance to feel like you've accomplished something but not feel too exhausted afterward. 

I was all smiles the entire race.
I assumed with my 5k speed training I'd be faster, but I'm pretty sure that drinking a lot the day before isn't the best pre-race plan. I finished in 41:31 with a pace of 8:22/mile. It certainly wasn't my fastest run (I've run half marathons that fast), but it was so fun.

After a shower we were off to explore downtown Chicago. We grabbed breakfast before walking around and exploring some of the stores. One of my favorite stores is the Chicago Architecture Foundation Shop, so that was our first stop of the day.

Obligatory Chicago tourist shot. Millennium Park is always amazing.
We wandered down Michigan Avenue while I tapped into my inner Carrie Bradshaw to try on some unique outfits (none of which I was brave enough to purchase). Mid-afternoon we headed to Old Town to meet our friends at Woodie's. I'd never been to the neighborhood and immediately loved the busy yet quaint street. We took advantage of Woodie's bloody mary special and later their Fireball shot special. Why not on a Sunday?

After cocktails we explored Wells Street including Judy Maxwell Home, a very fun store owned by actress Joan Cusack. After spending too much we ambled a few blocks to our friend's condo where the rooftop deck offered spectacular views of the Chicago skyline. 

This city, this view, this man. Perfect.
The apex of Sunday was at the Purple Pig, one of my favorite restaurants ever. My husband is generally not a fan of small plates, so I was thrilled to get him there. Their wine list is phenomenal, and I finished a beautiful day with a perfect Pinot Noir.

We were in bed by 10 which was fortunate because I had a flight leaving at just before 7 am. I originally had a meeting on Monday that I needed to attend, and I scheduled an early flight to be back for it. It was rescheduled, and I decided to keep the flight in order to get home early and get some work done.

When my alarm went off really early on Monday morning I was so sad to leave Chicago even though I was happy to snuggle with my son. My body was also surprisingly sore for a relatively short run. I am going to be in trouble running a half marathon in a few weeks.

The weekend was nearly flawless. I got all of my favorite things in two days: a fun race, my big city fix, delicious food and cocktails and time with my favorite guy. It was exactly the reset I needed, and my mental well being thanks me for it. My therapist was right - I do need to play more. I guess that means I need to start planning our next trip. Doctor's orders.