Tuesday, August 30, 2016

There's a Difference Between Living and Living Well

I've often blogged about my affinity for Norfolk, Virginia, a city I feel was my first grown up home. I've lived in Michigan for a decade, and it still doesn't feel the same way to me as Norfolk. As our plane descended into Norfolk International Airport two weekends ago, I teared up seeing the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, the world's largest Navy base and East Beach from the air. The only time I cry about Michigan is deep in the bitter cold of winter. And it's not a sentimental cry.

I got to spend an entire week with my siblings, sibs-in-law, niece and nephews (including meeting my newest one who's only three weeks old). Generally my trips to Virginia are over long weekends, and it's been a long time since I've gotten some serious quality time there. The last time I visited, nearly two years ago, we'd just found out we were matched with our son's birth mother. I knew life was about to change forever, and that visit had a desperate quality to it - trying to soak in my city for the last time as my childless self.  While traveling with my son is certainly different, the kid is a rockstar. Vacations now include nap time, but I've found that isn't the worst thing. It makes me relax too, something we know I'm not good at.

Our first full day there was super hot. We visited my old neighborhood, Ghent, for lunch and shopping. I can't possibly be there and not buy anything in one of the many adorable local stores. I coveted houses for sale and imagined how much I'd love to live in that neighborhood again. It cultivated my love of walkability, and it does everything - from street design to its dearth of off-street parking - perfectly. 

It was a busy week that in retrospect leaves me wondering how we filled our time. My husband and I knocked another state capitol off the list by visiting Virginia's State House in Richmond. Despite Richmond's relatively close proximity to Norfolk, I never visited there when I lived in Hampton Roads. I was there once for a debate tournament in college, but I don't remember much. It turns out I LOVE Richmond. Three years ago I interviewed for a job that would've been based in Richmond, and it wasn't a good fit. Now having visited Richmond I am kicking myself. It's a fantastic city.

My usual - jumping in front of a Capitol
After visiting the Capitol we drove down famed Monument Avenue on our way to lunch. It's a phenomenal street flanked by stunning southern homes and trees. It's a perfect boulevard with historical monuments in the center. It's one of two National Historic Landmark Districts in the city, and it's been named one of 10 great streets by the American Planning Association. Well deserved. Lunch was at the adorable Galaxy Diner in Carytown before walking around in dozens of great local stores. I realize I fall in love easily, but I love Richmond. Love, love, love.

We had a relaxing week spending time with family, playing at the park and pool, and visiting Nauticus in downtown Norfolk, home of the USS Wisconsin. Downtown Norfolk is one of my favorite places, and I got to spend some serious quality time there and in Ghent. I visited my former colleagues at city hall. My sister and I went out with friends at the Ocean View Pier. It was all in all a fantastic week.

Love this view of Downtown Norfolk from the deck of the USS Wisconsin

Drinks on the pier with my sister
I got in three runs while I was there, but given the heat and humidity they were all a little brutal. My IT band injury has also returned with a vengeance. I was having hip and back pain all week. I am popping 800 mg of Ibuprofen in the morning before starting the day and sometimes more after I run. I feel like a retired NFL player. I'm pretty sure this means I need to see my sports medicine doctor and probably need PT, but I'm putting it off. I switched shoes and veered from my usual Brooks Ravenna to try Mizunos. It's been almost two weeks, and I think I'll have to return them. There's not quite as much support, and I can feel the hip and lower back pain immediately at the start of my run. Half marathon training has seen better days.

Love our different philosophies. I think she's onto something.
For the first time in a while I feel really rested after a vacation. My cityphile needs are sated, and my heart is full after time with the fam. Next week I'll be spending a week in West Virginia, so I may be the most relaxed human ever later this month. Y'all will need to see it to believe it. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

It's Fine. I Ran Today.

If running was easy everybody would do it. The hard is what makes it great, remember? I repeat this to myself on a regular basis these days because I've been lacking in motivation for months. I'm much happier doing a cross training workout than hitting the river trail, but I've been running again 3-4 times a week the last month. It hasn't always been pretty. As a matter of fact sometimes it's been downright u-g-l-y. But I've been out there, and pushing through a hard run is always better than not running at all. 

A few months ago I wrote that if this blog was simply about my running and traveling that would be amazing, and everyone would hate me. I stand by that statement with a vengeance. Every single runner I know struggles. If someone tells you that running is easy and everything they say or write about running is all sunshine and roses, they are a total liar. It's misleading to all runners, especially those starting out or struggling to increase mileage/lose weight/meet new goals, to pretend this is easy. If an experienced runner gives you the impression that this is an easy sport, you should never believe another word they say. For real.

I've been running more the last few weeks, and it's slowly getting easier. But my body is doing its absolute best to not cooperate. Allow me to provide you some examples. Two weeks I was poked with needles on four different days. I had a second Hepatitis A & B vaccination because apparently patients getting biologic therapies like my IV infusion have been contracting Hep A & B at alarming rates. Lovely. The next day I had my regularly scheduled IV infusion. The next day I had labs drawn in advance of an appointment with my hematologist to check my iron levels. Later that week I had an MRE (basically an MRI that also has the patient drink contrast and have IV contrast used similar to a CT scan). I looked like I was driving nails up my arms. 

The MRE showed that I have a fistula (basically a tear) in my small intestine which is part of what has been causing me some issues. I don't know what's more frustrating: the times where they can't figure out what's going on or the times when I find out and it's not information I want to hear. I'm on another course of antibiotics (my third in three months) to try to heal the fistula and fervently hoping it works to avoid another surgery.

When I saw my hematologist last week he started the appointment by saying, "I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you're having Crohn's issues. Your iron levels have plummeted since you were here three months ago." So that means more iron infusions.

Last weekend I decided the best way to combat my body's stress was to run a 5k in oppressive humidity the morning after I managed to drink an entire bottle of Sauvignon Blanc while watching the Olympics with friends. At 27:00 it was my slowest 5k in a long time. I still managed to run second in my age group so apparently it was a slow day for everyone. My face was so hot and flushed that it wouldn't cool down for hours. But I did it. It was not pretty. Honestly I didn't feel like doing it, but once I was finished and cooled down I felt great. I pushed through. 

The things I'll do for hardware.
Yesterday I had my first iron infusion in a year. I had a reaction last year, so the upside is I received IV benedryl which knocked me out (helpful after being up at 5 am with my toddler). It takes a few days to affect me (and I get another infusion in a few weeks), but I know this will be the fastest way to boost my iron and get me ready for the Detroit Half Marathon in a few months.

All I need is IV iron and coffee.
Running is hard, and it's even harder when life throws up roadblocks. Embrace the hard. Love the hard. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking it's easy because that's unrealistic. Because if you're doing it, you're a bad ass. Embrace your inner bad ass even when the negative part of your brain wants to keep you on the couch. You don't need to run fast or long or hard. Just get out there.

LOVE this.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Don't be Dead Inside. Love Detroit.

When I moved to Michigan a decade ago I was already programmed to love the underdog cities. Working for the City of Norfolk, Virginia gave me that chip on my shoulder any time people talked about forsaking Norfolk for the shiny newness of its suburban neighbors. I didn't know it at the time but this would lead me to be a lover and advocate for Detroit and other urban core cities in a way I would not be able to anticipate.

When I met my now husband, a native of the Detroit suburbs, he was (and remains) a huge supporter of the city. The struggles of the city were real then, but it was before a scandal jailed the former mayor and bankruptcy seized the city's resources. When we first started dating my husband and I spent lots of time in Detroit attending sporting events, going to bars and visiting friends. Our first date was hosted by the Traffic Jam & Snug in Midtown. At a time when our conservative colleagues couldn't find a nice thing to say about Michigan's flagship city, we were falling in love - with both the city and one another.

In the ensuing ten years Detroit has faced monumental challenges, but it still remains one of my husband's and my favorite cities. With every struggle and every misstep we loved the city unconditionally. 

Last weekend we decided to get away for a night and headed to Detroit on Saturday morning. My awesome mother-in-law watched our son so we could have some time together. As unexpected life events are wont to do we've been putting our heads down and pushing through. I feel like we've sort of been orbiting one another. We're in the same space but not really connecting. There wasn't an actual problem, but we just needed some quality time together away from the distractions of life. 

Our first stop was Bobcat Bonnie's in Corktown for brunch. We had delicious food and cocktails (awesome bloody mary bar). I watched the table behind us wrangle several toddlers and felt both wistful and relieved that our little guy wasn't there. Following brunch we sampled spirits at Two James distillery down the street from our brunch locale. Two James had great cocktails and whiskey, and we were reminded of our pre-children days when the only consequence to day drinking was a headache.

I had the inaugural Belle Isle Art Fair on our calendar for months, so we crossed the bridge to the island to explode the art offerings. Belle Isle is a Detroit gem, and I'm amazed every time we visit at how much I love it. It feels frozen in time with its fountain, conservatory and beautiful landscaping throughout the island. We strolled around the iconic fountain and through the art fair with the ease of a couple who isn't pushing a stroller. We held hands and enjoyed being together. It was amazing.

Belle Isle. Love.
We checked into our hotel (the Marriott in the Renaissance Center) before heading out to meet one of my girlfriends for drinks at Standby. The cocktail menu was legit. We enjoyed several creative cocktails, friendship and laughter. I don't remember the last time I was so relaxed. After hugs and more laughter we split off from my friend to head to dinner at Savannah Blue. I am a sucker for soul food, and Savannah Blue did not disappoint. It unequivocally has the best sweet tea I've had north of the Mason-Dixon line. The fried chicken and collard greens were insane. With every bite I rolled my eyes in pleasure because it was delicious. De-licious. If you are a Detroit fan and haven't been there, stop what you're doing and go right this minute.

Cocktails at Standby
We had a relatively early night because being without our child means we can sleep. It's amazing. On Sunday morning I headed out on the Detroit Riverfront for a quick run. It's one of my all-time favorite places to run. I love the landscaping, the state park, the views of the river and the city. If you can run on the riverfront in Detroit and not fall in love with the city, I contend your heart must not work.

Don't be dead inside; love Detroit.
I love my son more than is possible to quantify, but I love his dad like that too. It was a quick overnight and the exact reset we needed. It hit all the right notes - time with my love, getting my Detroit fix, time with a good friend, cocktails, delicious food and running. There's nothing I could ask for to make it more perfect. 

The irony about a perfect getaway in Detroit is that the city is far from perfect. But it's imperfection is what makes it wonderful. If you hear people saying negative things about Detroit send them to this blog where in this case only nice comments will be tolerated. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Messy Head Baby Commercials

One of my absolute favorite times is rapidly approaching: the Olympics. I could qualify and indicate that it's the summer Olympics but 1) that's obvious because it's August and 2) the winter Olympics are sub par and contain boring events, and everyone knows they aren't the real Olympics. I am madly in love with the Olympics. Ask me if I watched badminton two weeks ago, and I'd tell you that you were crazy. Ask me next week and the answer is obviously. The Olympics change everything.

A lot can change in four years. Four years ago I wrote a blog about how excited I was for the London Olympics. They didn't disappoint. I remember watching the Olympics in 2012 and crying every time I saw a Proctor and Gamble "Thank you, Mom" commercial. (They still make me cry for what it's worth). We were six months into our adoption process, and I was bright eyed and optimistic that we'd have a baby any minute. London was filled with promise for the athletes, but 2012 was filled with promise for my future as a mom too. After four years of desperately wanting a child it was going to happen for us that year!

And then it didn't. It was more than two years after the London Olympics before our son was born, and it was worth every single minute of the wait even though those minutes felt interminable at the time. In 2013 Pampers had these commercials I called the "messy head baby commercials" that would make me bawl hysterically every time they came on. They still make me cry, but it's because of the love that I feel for my own little sweaty, messy head baby guy. 

Four years later my toddler is obsessed with running. We are watching clips from the track and field Olympic Trials On Demand, and he yells "Go go go!" and "More running". We're working on our starting block form.  I hope he'll love the Olympics just as much as we do, and I don't think I'm going to be disappointed. 

Captivated by the Trials
Four years is a long time. The lifelong dreams of Olympic athletes are being realized, and the lifelong dreams of regular people are being realized too. I may not be competing in Rio, but I'm working it every day in the Mom Olympics. Four years after London I have my own messy head baby, and my heart is full. I can't wait to watch the games with my boys and share the magic of the Olympics for the first time with my son. Maybe this will plant the seed for his 2032 Olympic dreams. 

Also try to watch this without crying. If you can you may be dead inside:

Monday, August 1, 2016

Certain Inalienable Truths

Welcome to August! At the end of this month I will celebrate my 38th birthday. I've never been the kind of person who stresses about getting old because I wouldn't trade my current life for the drama of age 18 or 21 or even 25 for anything. I like myself at almost 38, and I understand myself. At this age I've also acknowledged certain inalienable truths: I will never slow down; I will promise to slow down repeatedly to my family and in writing in this blog but will fail to actually do it; and it turns out I am a sick person.

I've pretended the latter isn't true for a long time. If you read this blog regularly I have promised time and again to be kind to myself and take it easy. Do I ever? No. I've also pretended that I'm not a sick person despite 18 years of dealing with Crohn's. I've worried that acknowledging that I'm a sick person means I'm defined by it. I have recently decided that is not true.

I promised, promised that after my hospital stay in May I'd do better. I'd slow down. I'd take it easy. In some ways (with exercise in particular) I did, but it's really not in my nature. I have to be realistic about it. I spent my entire week in the hospital doing work. I responded to email. I caught up on writing. I worked the entire time.I remember a city manager contacting me and saying "Why are you responding to email? Aren't you in the hospital?" In retrospect it was ridiculous. I felt like if I didn't work it would prove that I couldn't handle it. But what I've realized at the wise age of almost 38 is that working hard enough has never been my problem. The quality of my work, proven by my connections and professional reputation, has never been a problem. The problem has been the voices in my head telling me to push harder because it would never be good enough. But today I acknowledge that truth: it's always been good enough. And being sick doesn't mean I am failing either professionally or personally. It's part of who I am, and I can give myself time to heal and figure it out without compromising myself or my work. 

But that doesn't mean it's in my nature to slow down. I'll do the best I can to accept that I've got to heal, but I will still jump back into life more quickly than I should. It's a weird balance, and I'm not even sure I've got the balance figured out. Okay obviously I don't. I will always be a work in progress.

A few weeks ago I had a large, stressful life surprise, and it's turned out to be the push I needed to really do some brave things I've wanted to do for a long time. As unexpected life events can be this one has turned out to be a blessing. Over the next few months I'm focusing on life balance. I'm really excited to do some fun new projects and focus on other things I love. I'm focusing on getting back into running and cross training every day when I feel well and giving myself a break when I don't.

I finished my course of steroids a week ago Saturday, and by the middle of last week my Crohn's symptoms were back with a vengeance. It was like I hadn't taken any steroids at all. This week I'll be at the University of Michigan running the gauntlet of tests, and I'm hoping they show something. The most frustrating part of Crohn's is that sometimes it's hard to figure out what's happening. I spent a week in the hospital in May and was released while being told I had an infection "somewhere but we can't figure out where". Terrific!

How am I handling things in the meantime? Yesterday I ran a 10k. I ran 54:23, only my second time ever breaking 55 minutes. It was my second fastest 10k ever, and I was second in my age group. Today I am WAY more sore than I should be after running 6.2 miles, but that soreness makes my body feel alive. It feels normal. It feels like I've pushed my body not like a sickness I can't control. And I love it. 

In the twilight of my 30s I'm finally able to face my Crohn's with the respect it deserves while trying to still be my perfectionist, overachieving self. It's a balance that doesn't make any sense to most people, but it makes sense to me. There's another inalienable truth I've accepted: the race is long, and in the end it's only with yourself.