Friday, August 10, 2018

The stories behind the miles

I ran 50 miles this week. It's just a number. It's a lot and it isn't a lot, depending on who you ask. A lot is relative. I will humbly defer to others to tell the stories of long distances and fast paces and amazing runs because they do it far better than I ever could. And the story I want to tell is not that I ran 50 miles this week. It's that it took me over a year to get back here and in that time I did more not running than running.

The last ultramarathon I ran was the inaugural Many on the Genny in June 2017. The next morning I found out that my dad had died suddenly. Then I got plantar fasciitis, was in denial about it for a bit, then finally took some time off to rest and heal. I did yoga and strength training and climbed the Jacobs Ladder. I got a road bike and Pete and I biked around a bunch of lakes. I fell off the bike, cried, declared that I was never riding a bike again, the promptly got back on the bike (since we were still 15 miles from the car at that point). I ran slowly and built my mileage back up very slowly. Most importantly, I lived. I laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed. I grieved and I loved and I let myself be loved. I volunteered and banana-ed and walked on stilts. Of course I missed running when I wasn't running. I missed it deeply. But my life was full of other things - running was just one temporarily missing piece. I knew it would be there for me when my body was ready for it again. And I knew that the better I was at resting, the sooner I would be able to run pain-free. Even when I started running again, I only ran 3 days a week, then 4 days a week, then occasionally 5 days a week max. I did all the other things I wanted to do. I rested at least one day a week, two if I needed it. I was conscious about giving myself an abundance of sleep and nutrients and especially compassion. Experience gives you perspective and this time I knew that my body was right. I needed this time off, to do other things, to feel all my complicated, overwhelming feelings and not run away from them. It sucked, of course. I would never choose injury if given the choice. But this wasn't my first time at the terrible no good very bad rodeo and this time I had promised myself I would do it better.

I read my old posts from when I had tendonitis in 2012 and they were depressing as fuck. But years later I can laugh about it. Because I now know it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My doctor at the time (who was awesome and reminded me of The Dude) had said "Are you sad because your ankle hurts or does your ankle hurt because you're sad?" And he was right. I was so sad I couldn't run because I needed running as an escape from my life. I needed to be a runner because I was failing at being in a relationship and instead of realizing there was something wrong with the relationship I was in at the time, I kept thinking there was something wrong with me. But I learned. Slowly, painfully I learned. I made friends with cross-training and strength training and trails and myself. I followed my heart to the places and the people that made me feel happy and alive, that accepted me for who I was and didn't make me feel like I had to shrink myself down to fit their version of what I should be. Injury #1 in 2012 led me to the trails, to my tramily and to Pete. Injury #2 in 2017 led me to embrace rest instead of resist it. And that's the story. Not that I happened to run 50 miles this week. But everything that led me to it - the people and the lessons and the person I became along the way. That's where the magic is.

But since you're here, there are stories I want to tell about this week too. It was an especially awesome week in a summer of awesome weeks. Some nights I stayed up way late. Some nights I went to bed at 7:30pm. I hit my highest mileage in over a year and didn't even do a "long run." I wasn't following a training plan, I was just living my life. I got to run four 5ish mile runs between 6:00am on Saturday and 1:00am on Sunday and hang out with my friends all night at Mighty Mosquito relay. I got to run solo miles at Cobb's Hill. I got to run with Eric and Sheila at Letchworth and it felt like all the very best parts of who I used to be and all the things I'm looking forward to all wrapped up into one gorge and rainbow and bug filled run. I got to run our usual Thursday morning breakfast club run (where we meet at 5:00am and run to kill time until the bakery opens at 6:00am).

And this morning, alone in the dark at Corbett's Glen, I was trying to reassure myself that the glowing eyes illuminated by my headlamp were from something cute and probably uninterested in attacking me. Or at least from something smaller than me. Then my face hit every single spider web in the whole damn park (ewwww. and also, sorry my spider dudes for wrecking your dark web). Something reminded me of my dad and I teared up for a moment. This is the feeling that I could never name. It feels like sadness and heartbreak and gratitude and aliveness. And in that moment I realized that heartbreak is not your heart failing and crumbling into pieces, it's your heart bursting open, expanding so that more love can get in and be given out. It's everything there is. Then I felt a weird knot in my right glute and I was like is that what a piriformis is? Like a butt knot? (Trying to remember the names of body parts is like being introduced to 10 people simultaneously at a party. I will immediately forget all your names and then have to make up nicknames for you in my head until you friend request me on Facebook. Sorry, I am terrible). At that moment, I saw two large rocks up ahead and then this happened:

Me: I could massage my glute on that rock! Is that weird?
Also Me: Yes. So weird. But also kind of ingenious.
(Sits on rock and rocks back and forth using the rock like a natural foam roller. Not like I actually know how to use a foam roller. I mostly just lay on it until it gets all wrapped up in my clothes and I give up).
Still Me: Good thing it's 5:30am and no one else is here to see you looking like a spiderweb covered, rock grinding weirdo in the woods!
(Laughs hysterically at own self. Oddly, glute feels better, from the rock or the laughter? We may never know. Runs home to tell everyone on the internet about it).

And it's only Friday. There is so much more adventuring to do this weekend. So many new stories to be made. I'm so excited I can hardly wait.

Photo by Eric Eagan

Photo by Sheila Eagan

Photo by a table at the Village Bakery

Lyric of the moment: "I see your soul shine through to your eyes, when you're here. The moment you stop looking, wherever you go, you'll be in the right place. You'll never know the difference it makes, when you let go, and give up the chase. I'll come find you one of these days..." ~Vance Joy "One Of These Days"

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mighty Mosquito 99: The Return of Team Toucan

It's 3:00am on Sunday and Brooke and I are sneaking into my house to take showers, while trying not to wake up Pete. The first time I met Brooke, I asked her if she wanted to be on our Mighty Mosquito team (I am bad at small talk, what can I say?). Fast forward three Mighty Mosquito Relays later and she's showering at my house at 3:00am. So be careful what you say yes to, my friends. One minute you're like why is this person I just met asking me to run a 99 mile relay? And the next, you're a lifelong member of Team Toucan and the phrase Gold Bond Bonfire makes perfect sense to you. 

This year, the Blue Foundation took over Mighty Mosquito from TrailsRoc. The format was the same: 3 different 5ish mile loops in Mendon Ponds Park that total 99 miles, with a relay and a solo option (for the super-humans out there). The start/finish area was at Stewart Lodge and everyone had set up their tent in the fields around the lodge. Team Toucan this year was comprised of Captain Todd, Bob, Steven, Brooke, Stacey, me and our volunteers extraordinaire Alison, Cassie and Boden.

The relay start wasn't until noon, but I woke up early on Saturday, restless and a little stiff. I ran a few easy shakeout miles around my neighborhood around 6:00am, then ate breakfast, packed up my car and met the team at Mendon around 11:00am. We scored a sweet shady spot under a big tree and set up tents, chairs, Steven's kiddie pool full of ice, and a most excellent snack buffet. Team Toucan's order of runners was: Me, Brooke, Stacey, Steven, Bob, then Todd. I like going first in relays because that was always my position in track relays and it feels the most comfortable to me. I think you're supposed to put one of your fastest runners first, which I am not, but I did the best I could with the day I had (which is all any of us can do). I can only describe the loops from my own perspective of them, but Brooke, Stacey, Steven, Bob and Todd are all super strong runners and they crushed their miles like the badasses they are. 

I was the first runner and I headed out on the pink loop at 12:00pm under a bright, hot sun (89 degrees and super high humidity). The first loop was basically the Mendon 10K loop in reverse, so some long gradual uphills and some steepish downhills. I started off running the hills but my breathing was heavy due to the heat and humidity and I hit an early low point where I thought why do I do this, why do I run? That thought happens at least once in every race, but usually it's much later on. Then my brain was all, this is fun, you're doing this for fun, also let's not get heatstroke today! So I started walking the hills to keep my heart rate down. It's not like we were trying to win anything, but I still wanted to get my team off to a decent start. I'm usually better at uphills, but in the heat that wasn't happening. So I tried to go faster on flats and downhills to make up time. Racing down Kitty Litter hill was slightly terrifying but I turned off the fear part of my brain and just let my legs do their thing. I think this is the first race ever where I haven't been passed by any dudes on a downhill. Also, all my bones and blood stayed on the inside so that made me happy. One day I will actually learn how to run downhill well. I finished the first loop in an hour, then Brooke and Stacey crushed their pink loops. We were sitting around our tent camp eating and chatting when we got a text from Steven: "Did I get lost? Think I am on orange." Which was hilarious because it's so Steven (and we love Steven). Instead of going left up the hill and across the road following the pink flags, he had gone straight and done the orange (third) loop instead. When he finished, he told the race directors he had gone the wrong way and they were very chill about it. They said the first and third loops were similar distance and elevation so it was fine. Bob and Todd were super fast on their pink loops and then it was my turn again.

I headed out on the blue loop around 6:00pm in just a sports bra and toucan shorts. I don't typically run without a shirt, but Brooke and Stacey had taken off their shirts for their loops, plus a bunch of guys were running shirtless. It was far too hot and too much of a waste of time to care what I looked like. Thankfully, it was a little cooler and a lot flatter and I felt good so I pushed the pace a little. I had a side stitch for pretty much the entirety of this loop, and the whole rest of the day, which was super annoying, but my legs felt good so I didn't let it slow me down. I was cruising for the first 3.5 miles, then the course went off trail into a bushwacking section that was too long for my tastes. I slowed down during this part since I didn't want to fall and impale myself on any sticks. Finally I heard some volunteers cheering and they told me to watch out for the yellow shirt on the ground, which was covering up a sketchy fence. It was too late, as I had already tripped on the fence, but at least I didn't fall. After crossing the road, another volunteer told me to run across the bridge, then make a U-turn and run through the pond. "Does everyone have to do this or do I just look super sweaty?" I asked. She laughed and said everyone had to do it. I could have done without that part too, since my shoes were then wet for the rest of the night. But I was lucky to do this loop in the light. Some people had to do it in the dark and that would have been much harder. Poor Bob ended up running extra miles on this loop because there was no volunteer there when he ran over the bridge, so he and several other runners kept going straight instead of making the turn into the water. Lots of people ended up getting lost on the course throughout the day and night, but surprisingly I was not one of them. I have a terrible sense of direction. I never know where I am. But my knowledge of my weaknesses almost becomes a strength in races because I'm hyper-vigilant about following flags. Also, I'm not fast so I have more time to make sure I'm on the right path and to notice if I haven't seen a flag in a while. There were a few times I started to get anxious that maybe I was off course, but just then I would see a flag and be reassured I was on the right track. I think the course was well-marked, but it can be hard to follow even a well-marked course in the dark or when your brain is all foggy and tired from doing more running than sleeping.

Around midnight, I headed out on the orange loop. I was nervous about falling or getting lost in the dark, but once I got out there I was fine. Except for the side stitch that had been plaguing me all day and had now become like an entire abdomen stitch. Not cool, but what can you do except keep going? This loop seemed to go by faster than the others. Or maybe I was just dreaming about taking a shower afterward. A couple times up and down Cardiac Hill (which I actually don't mind because it's pretty much inevitable at this point - I've been climbing this hill since high school cross country), over to Devil's Bathtub and then back to Stewart Lodge. When Brooke finished her last loop, we went to my house to shower quick, then headed back to Mendon. I had made a little sleep cubby in my hatchback and managed to get about an hour and a half of sleep before the daylight and my aching knees woke me up (I am too tall to sleep in my tiny car apparently. My knees were not happy about being curled up in the fetal position and not having room to stretch out.) While Todd was running his last loop, we took down our tent camp and started packing up, then headed to the finish to cheer him in. And to see the first female solo finisher in the history of MM99! Amazing!

While the running is fun and Mendon trails are beautiful, the best part of this race is the hanging out in between loops. It's like a giant, sweaty slumber party. Unless you're with Steven and he gives you Gold Bond powder and calls it an 'army shower.' In which case it's a slightly less sweaty slumber party. I got in about 20 miles of running but I did a lot more hanging out, eating, laughing and peeing. Normally, I'm in bed by 9:00pm but partying it up with my tramily was well worth the lost sleep. I'm going to need another weekend to recover from my weekend, but I would totally do this race again in the future. Good friends, good trails, good times in toucan shorts. It is such a luxury to live this life. 

Lyric of the moment: "All the crazy shit I did tonight. Those will be the best memories. I just wanna let it go for the night. That would be the best therapy for me..." ~David Guetta "Memories"

Friday, August 3, 2018


Pete can pick me up easily. He can lift me over his shoulder like it's nothing. Then he'll say "Ok, now you pick me up." And we laugh as I struggle to lift him and I can't. Except today, I did. I lifted him a couple of inches off the ground. I lifted giant, outweighs me by 100lbs, Pete. (Then I ran around dancing and yelling "I am so strong! One day I'll lift you over my head." It's funny because it's not at all true). I know that Pete is strong. But I forget that I am too. Sometimes I get annoyed that I struggle with the same things for so long. I forget that success is just a side effect. The struggle is what makes you strong. All the times I couldn't lift Pete led me to the time I could. Every situation that almost crushed me led me to being strong enough (and let's face it, weird enough) to handle anything.

A few weeks ago I went to the doctor for a physical. My new GP was concerned that my dad had died at a young age and she wanted me to have a full physical with blood work. The whole thing made me anxious. I didn't think anything was wrong with me as I felt fine. But I kept thinking that she thought there was something wrong with me. Plus I hate having blood drawn because the nurses always tell me I have small veins, like it is my fault if they can't get it on the first try and have to jab me repeatedly and painfully. And I just hate going to the doctor because I find it more stressful than helpful (why is Western medicine so awkward and weird and cold? I'm looking at you, creepy obgyn speculum). The lab results came back normal (I feel very grateful to be healthy and I never want to take it for granted). But there's more to health than test results. The nurse remarked that I'd lost weight since the last time I was there and he said "If you were trying to lose weight, congratulations." I made a displeased face and then he said "If you weren't trying to lose weight, congratulations." All I could say was "I don't weigh myself," but the look on my face must have said everything because then he said "Oh, well that's good." There was a time that an interaction like that would have crushed me, that I would have taken all those feelings I didn't know what to do with and turned them against myself. In the past, my brain would have flooded with thoughts like "You fail at everything, you're not good enough." But that day it was all like "What a fucked up thing for a medical professional to say to you. You know your inherent worth is unrelated to your body size. You're not more valuable if you take up less space - physical or otherwise. And you're sure as hell not healthier if you take up less space." I wish I would have said that to the nurse and to the doctor, who says generic, useless-to-me things like eat less meat and more fiber. I don't eat any meat (because I want animals to be my friends. And I don't eat my friends, as a general rule) and I already poop like three times a day. I don't have time for any more shit in my life. I've got things to do. I felt very sad after this appointment because it should have made me feel better (I am healthy, after all), but it just made me all stressed and despair/rage-y. But then I  realized that I spent years struggling with disordered eating and negative body image and as a result of that, I am at a place where I am strong enough to stand up to all the bullshit cultural and advertising noise out there. I could have been another statistic. But I wasn't. And that is not a thing to be embarrassed about, it's a thing to celebrate.

I used to want to be invisible. To be as small, quiet, unassuming, unmemorable as possible. I thought it was a superpower, that it would protect me. From pain, loss, other people's judgment, things I couldn't control. Spoiler alert: it did not. Mostly it just made me profoundly unhappy. And so very tired. Until one day, it prevented me from running. Physically I just could not make my body run another step. It was obvious to many other people long before that, but that was the moment I realized this isn't working. It would take many more years to fully realize the truth, but that day it dawned on me that I did not in fact want to be invisible. Maybe that's what I thought I "should" be, but it wasn't what I wanted to be. What I wanted to be was alive. To fully inhabit my life and fill it with curiosity and adventure and running and people. And to do that I had to take up more space, with my body and my words and my actions. My superpower wasn't invisibility. My superpower is my extreme enthusiasm and gratitude for being alive. 

I have come too far to ever go back. I'm going so hard at this being alive party. I'm going to say what I think and be who I am and give as much love as I can, for as long as I can.

Lyric of the moment: "I told you to be patient. I told you to be fine. I told you to be balanced. I told you to be kind. Now all your love is wasted. Then who the hell was I? Now I'm breaking at the britches. And at the end of all your lines. Who will love you? Who will fight? Who will fall far behind?..." ~Bon Iver "Skinny Love"

Thursday, July 26, 2018

In front of the table

Monday morning, my alarm went off and I was already an hour into my run. I'd woken up super early, full of energy for some reason (that reason was probably that I fell asleep well before the sun set on Sunday). I was running some solo miles at Cobbs Hill and the lights encircling the reservoir gave me two shadows, a lighter one and a darker one. It struck me as funny, like I was being shadowed by past versions of me. I've been running Cobbs since high school cross country (in the 90s! For real, I am that old). Every apartment or house I've lived in as an adult has been within running distance of the park. There are so many past versions of me running countless miles and countless hill repeats there. Alone. With friends. At all hours of the day and night. But the version of me I'm always seeking when I go there is the one that's an unstoppable force. It's this underlying force of grit and determination and stubbornness. But it's also a force of optimism and love and infinite gratitude. I never knew where it came from, I just knew it was always there, whenever I needed it. As my feet and mind wandered around and around, up and down, I was thinking about some of the low points in my life and I realized those were the times that led me to the high points, and especially to the all the very best people.

Then on the RIO radio show Monday night, we were talking about running an aid station and Eric said the difference between a good aid station and a great aid station is that at a great aid station, the volunteers are out in front of the table instead of behind it. They're not waiting for the runners to come up to them, they're out greeting runners as they come in, taking their water bottles to fill and asking what they need. It really resonated with me, because looking back on my life, I've been extremely fortunate to know so many in-front-of-the-table people. Parents, friends, strangers, dogs (dogs are actually beyond in-front-of-the-table - they're at jumping-all-over-you-like-you're-the-best-thing-they've-ever-seen level). In the ultra of my life, all the aid stations I stumbled into, tired and starving and achy and crying, were filled with all these amazing people who asked what I needed, or just knew what I needed even when I didn't know myself. And Eric's words resonated with me because that's the kind of person I want to be. I want to tap into that unstoppable force and be filled with so much happiness and gratitude and love of life that I can spend as much time as possible out in front of the table, passing it on. I want to be better so that I have more to give back. If you run enough, if you live enough, you will hit low points. You will face struggles and pain and you will wonder if you have what it takes to go on. You do. You most definitely do. Here, come into this aid station. You look great, you can do this. Here's some water, here's some snacks, here's a high five. What do you need?

Lyric of the moment: "Sometimes a bolt of light comes through the sadness. That there is a reason for the madness. And somehow it stirs a joy within me. And I understand that the root of pain is beauty...In my dreams you are alive and breathing..." ~Youth Group "In My Dreams"

Monday, July 9, 2018

Unconventional training methods

I'm not a strict planner. Because I'm just here to run and live and those things rarely go as planned. So instead of making rigid plans, I've focused on becoming more comfortable with uncertainty, more flexible and friendlier towards failure. It's also my natural inclination to do things little by little, consistently (ok, relentlessly) so if there are changes I want to make in my running or my life, I start taking little steps in that direction, trying and failing and readjusting until I get where I want to be (or somewhere totally unexpected that turns out to be most excellent). Since I don't care about things like distances and times, conventional training plans don't really appeal to me. Sure, I want to become a better runner, just like I want to become a better partner/friend/human. It's just that to me "better" doesn't mean I need to achieve a certain time or distance goal, it means growing stronger, wiser, and especially kinder. It means being able to run (and bike and chin-up and stilt walk) but also being able to rest. It means working hard and playing hard, and getting plenty of nutrients and sleep. It means doing what is right for my body and brain (sometimes that differs from what other people are doing). It means racing when I feel like it but also volunteering/banana-ing. And there's no training plan for that. So I've sort of made my own. It's not really a plan per se, more like little challenges to push myself out of my comfort zone and in the general direction of increased awesomeness.

Some of my unconditional training methods are:

Dancing. At home. At the Silent Disco. Wherever. I'm a terrible dancer, but if I like the music, I don't care what anyone else thinks about my severe lack of dancing ability. I just get out there and do my terrible dance moves and have a great time. And to think all it took was enduring several decades of extreme awkwardness and self-consciousness! Seriously though, in time I learned how to care about people without caring what people think about me. I also recommend owning toucan shorts, a banana costume and a giant giraffe. Or whatever it is that you're into. The truth is, when you embrace the things that bring you joy, you'll be too busy enjoying yourself to worry if other people think it's weird/wrong/a horrible, terrible fashion mistake.

Going to the dreaded spin class. There's this one spin class at the gym that I really dislike. I dislike the music. I dislike that the instructor yells into the microphone. (It's a tiny room, you have a microphone - the sole purpose of which is to amplify your voice. You don't need to yell). I dislike that the instructor says a lot of diet-mentality things. But I go to this class occasionally and practice tuning out all the noise (the literal noise and the figurative noise of "wellness" "advice" that is basically just eating disorder behavior wearing a shitty disguise). I practice doing my own thing, going my own speed and deliberately not following the instructions. When it feels uncomfortable (or when my brain is all maybe the instructor is upset that you're not doing what she says or maybe other people in the class think you're weak and out of shape), I just let it pass. There is so much noise out there. Listening to it made me sad. Trying to obey it made me miserable. Realizing that most of it was lies and bullshit and letting it go made me happy (and also healthy, so there's that). The more I practice seeing the noise for what it is and following my own path instead, the easier it gets.

Doing other things besides running. Yes, running is the best. No, nothing else makes me feel the way that running does. But the purpose of this is to cultivate a life outside of running so that my identity doesn't depend on being a runner. As a bonus, it gets me to do a lot of new things and not worry about being terrible at them (not that I'm not terrible at running, but after 20+ years I'm slightly less terrible at it now than when I first started running). There's a lot of freedom in being a beginner (or starting an old thing anew). There's no pressure or expectation at succeeding so I'm more likely to take risks and less likely to feel embarrassed or self-conscious. And honestly, that space is where most of the magic in life happens.

Climbing the Jacobs Ladder (this machine at the gym that is basically a neverending ladder to nowhere). I love it. I don't know why exactly, it's kind of meditative in a way. Or maybe I just really like climbing on things. So about once a week, I climb to nowhere for however long I want. Some days that's 20 minutes. Some day it's about 68 minutes, which is how long it takes me to get to 5280 ft (and about how long I can go before the ladder rungs get sweaty/slippery. I know, so hawt). I don't think this is providing me with any running-specific fitness gains but it's fun to put in my headphones and just climb to nowhere. One time I turned my head to wipe sweat that was about to go in my eye off on my arm (so classy) and I happened to catch my reflection in the gym window. My calves looked legit jacked and I thought cool. My arms looked almost like they were actually partially composed of muscles and I thought cool. My thighs looked all cellulite-y and I was like cool cool cool. Ok, so I had been watching a lot of Community reruns at the time. But still. I was having such a good time climbing and listening to my jams that I totally did not care whether my body failed to live up to someone else's beauty standards. And suddenly I realized I can do this all the time. Cellulite? Cool. Bruises? Scratches? Cool cool cool. Poison ivy rash? Damnit! Not cool. Not cool at all. Well, it's a work in progress. One rung at a time I guess.

Other weirdness, I mean 'training': Tree climbing, lawn mowing, lion taming,
Vitamin D making with George

Lyric of the moment: "At seventeen, I started to starve myself. I thought that love was a kind of emptiness. And at least I understood then the hunger I felt. And I didn't have to call it loneliness. We all have a hunger...Don't let it get you down, you're the best thing I've seen..." ~Florence And The Machine "Hunger"

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Things I want to say

My heart breaks on a daily basis. There is so much suffering in the world and to witness people inflicting more suffering on each other with their words and actions and policies is overwhelmingly depressing. When I read the news or the no good, very bad internet comments, I hear that Kate Nash song playing in my head: "Why you being a dickhead for? Stop being a dickhead. Why you being a dickhead for? You're just fucking up situations." I have thought of writing that on so many posts. But I don't. Because it wouldn't make anything better, it would only make things worse. And it's kind of a dickhead move in itself. Thinking like that makes me part of the problem. Besides, what I really want to say is this:

That is a person you're talking about. 
A living, breathing person with thoughts and feelings and struggles and problems.
Just like everyone else. 
Just like you. 
It's a fallacy to think you're separate from them. 

So you don't agree with someone? Disagree with them while still seeing them as a PERSON and respecting their humanity. 
So you want to fight for change? Fight with with love and compassion, not hate and vitriol. 

When I find myself getting worked up about a post or comment I don't agree with, I remind myself to pause and breathe. I say to myself this is a person, just like me. Then I comment or I don't or I donate money. But I do whatever it is after calming myself down and removing my own ego from the equation. This is harder for me to do during live in-the-moment encounters, but I am working on that too.

There is obviously so much more that needs to be done, so many things that need to be made better for so many people. But this is something I can do every day, as a start. I'm not perfect and nothing I do is ever going to be perfect. I have a lot of strong opinions and feelings about how the world should be. Whether or not you agree with them, I care about you as a person. Whoever you are, you deserve safety and shelter and food/water and education and human rights and love. You deserve that. And so does everybody else.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

This Is Marriage: Day 1018

It's 7pm on Monday night and I'm about to head home after the radio show when I notice a missed FaceTime from Pete. I call him back and he wants to call in an order for Chinese food and have me pick it up on my way home. I don't want Chinese food. I want to go home, edit and post the radio show online, eat cold food (I dislike eating hot food when it's hot out) and go to sleep. I can tell that Pete is starting to get irritated by my lack of enthusiasm for Chinese takeout. He is telling me he just spent several hours and several trips to Home Depot to install a new antenna on the roof (we don't have cable so this is how we watch Jeopardy - the only show for which I will endure commercials). I am starting to get grumpy too, then I realize what Pete wants is not necessarily Chinese food, he's just tired and hungry and wants food to materialize with little to no effort on his part (and I'm like Dude, same. Story of my life.) So I say "How about subs instead? I'm headed home, I'll pick you up." And he agrees and we get subs and chocolate chip cookies and everyone is happy and cookie-filled.

This is a very minor example but it illustrates a point I've been trying to work on. Most of the time we want the same thing. Maybe we're not always great at saying or even knowing what it is we actually want. But if we're willing to work together, we can figure it out. Together. And then everyone is happy and gets what they need. Sometimes that's easy to do. But not all problems can be solved with subs. Not all problems can even be "solved," per se. (Of course, we are very privileged and pretty much all our problems are minor).

Because Pete and I are different people. Pete sees chipmunks digging holes in the backyard and mounts a tactical operation involving a precise vantage point and a BB gun (but apparently not any sort of crime scene cleanup plan). I find a dead chipmunk while mowing the lawn and start crying, ask Pete about it and get very upset. There are some things we are just not going to agree on (though I feel like No Murdering Things should be one of them. Or at the very least be better at hiding the bodies. It's like I'm the only one in this house who's watched all 12 seasons of Murder She Wrote. Ok, so I am. But I regret nothing. The 80s outfits, guest stars and those track suits are just beyond).  Pete wouldn't have become who he is and we probably wouldn't have met without the military/seaman part of him. I wouldn't have become who I am and we probably wouldn't have met without the bleeding heart/give-the-spiders-in-the-house-names part of me. So we're different in some ways. But everyone is. We don't always have to agree, we just have to be open to understanding each other and remember that we're on the same team (Team No Murdering Chipmunks. Maybe I need to get shirts made so it is more obvious to everyone on the team). Love isn't agreeing on everything all the time, it's fully accepting each other as we are, all that we are, whether we agree or not.

We were at a wedding a few months ago and Pete made a comment to his friend, the groom, that marriage had taught him to say "Do you need space?" At first I was a little offended, like he was insinuating that I was this terrible, difficult person to live with. But then I thought, you know, that is pretty accurate. Actually, that is exactly right. As a person, I require a lot of space. Space to be as opinionated and weird and adventurous as I am (plus at least 3/5ths of any bed). Pete loves me in a way that is spacious and expansive, not restrictive. With Pete, I get to be on a team and still be my own separate person. I don't feel like I have to shrink myself down to fit someone else's expectations of what I should be. I don't feel like I am too much. I feel like I get to be all the things I am (the good, the bad and the covered-in-poison-ivy-and-bruises).

Sometimes, especially times that involve travel or waiting in line, Pete will get very upset about some minor thing for like 10 minutes and then he's over it (and secretly I find it funny and cute so I just let him freak out while I go look something up or ask someone for help or just say "It's ok"). Sometimes I will get very stressed out (usually when I am trying to do too many things at once because it's still hard for me to say no to things) until I run or cry or eat or nap (and Pete finds it funny and cute so he just lets me work it out while giving me a hug or trying to make me laugh or saying "It's ok").

Apart, we are two imperfect people. Together, we are one hilariously imperfect team. Marriage is making space to be imperfect together (and taking turns being the one who freaks out and the one who says "It's ok").

When Pete and I disagree and I'm like "George agrees with me." And Pete is like "How come George always agrees with you? I'm going to get an animal that's always on my side." And I'm like "mwahahaha, my plan is working." Then I find a stuffed fox at a store and text a picture to Pete. This is what it's like to be married to me. 

Lyric of the moment: "All of your flaws and all of my flaws, when they have been exhumed. We'll see that we need them to be who we are. Without them we'd be doomed..." ~Bastille "Flaws"

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Adventures in France & Monaco

The guttural wails reverberated through the aisles, rendering useless my ear plugs and the over-the-counter sleep aid I'd consumed. Either there was an extremely unhappy baby on this plane or someone was staging a very convincing re-enactment of The Exorcist. This was not a normal crying baby sound. It was a relentless piercing, raspy howl, more gargoyle-like than human. Pete and I had driven to Toronto Friday afternoon for an overnight flight to Paris, where we would catch a short flight to our final destination, Nice. I had expected a long, sleepless flight. Cramped airplane seats are not conducive to quality sleep, or really any sleep for me. And especially not with this demon baby on board. But the sounds emanating from this tiny gargoyle were so bizarre that we found it more funny than irritating (plus I also felt really bad for this baby that was either in pain or just really hated air travel).

Once we arrived on Saturday at our Airbnb rental in Nice, a 3 hour car ride, 7 hour flight, 1.5 hour flight, 20 minute bus ride, 7 minute walk and 2 very overtired bodies later, it was all totally worth it. The best adventures typically require a bit of discomfort. And I love everything about France - the language, the architecture, the ease of public transportation, the fact that people bring their dogs everywhere. (Except for the prevalence of perfume and smoking, both smells that I find intolerable and give me a headache). While I really love the kind of adventure vacations that involve long runs on new-to-me trails, this was going to be more of the walking all over/taking pictures of everything because everything is so beautiful and old and amazing/eating all the bread and gelato kind of adventure. I did a few short runs along the Promenade des Anglais but mostly I walked and ate a lot of crepes and laughed and slept. And I actually really enjoyed it. Maybe I am finally learning how to rest. I might have to add some "France mode" into my running routine at home, where once a month I take a week to cut back on running, walk more and eat crepes and croissants.

We arrived in Nice on Saturday afternoon to beautiful sunny skies (Nice typically gets 300 sunny days a year! Dogs and sunshine and carbs - this is my kind of place). After a much needed nap, we walked around town towards the waterfront and ate dinner at one of the many outdoor restaurants (we ate nearly every meal outside, which was great except for when there were people smoking nearby). Seated next to us was a couple from the UK who were traveling around Europe in their sports car to celebrate the husband's 70th birthday (so cute!). Our Airbnb was perfectly located only 0.25 miles from the train station and 0.5 miles from the Mediterranean Sea so we could easily walk or take the train everywhere we wanted to go.  Basically, every day we picked a town or two to explore, then walked around finding cool things to do there.

Sunday morning we walked to the train station, grabbed some coffee, a croissant (Pete) and pain au chocolat (me) and took the train west to Cannes (you can buy a roundtrip ticket between 2 destinations, like Nice and Cannes, then get off at any of the stops in between that day). Cannes is filled with high-end designer shops and it's so fancy even the buildings have Rolexes (seriously, we saw a hotel building with a giant Rolex clock built into it).
Fancy Cannes Hotel with Rolex

Fancy Cannes Giraffe

Fancy Cannes Helicopter

We walked around for a bit, then took the train back towards Nice, stopping in Antibes. We wandered the streets, ate lunch (or actually a second breakfast since I ordered a sandwich but the waiter brought me eggs, bread and jam instead. I felt bad correcting him so I just ate the bread and jam - it was really good bread. He ended up giving our order to a couple at another table and they didn't correct him either). After lunch we checked out the Picasso museum, which I found underwhelming (but maybe that's just because I don't understand art. Pete and I joked that we couldn't tell if some of the art was done by Picasso or a 5th grader).


"All around the world statues crumble for me. Who
knows how long I've loved you..."

How is this dude's head looking at his butt. And what
is he doing with those sheep? 

We took the train back to Nice and ended up eating an overpriced fancy dinner. I never enjoy expensive food, it just never seems worth it to me. But I ignored my instincts because the menu had something called a vegan salad and I just really needed to eat some vegetables. The salad sounded and looked delicious but sadly tasted kinda meh (it was just missing something, namely flavor - which I totally realize is a very First World problem). I was just mad at myself for wasting too much money on food that I didn't really enjoy. Pete's dinner was basically 3 meatballs and a teaspoon of mashed potatoes. He also ordered a bottle of wine that he thought was a small bottle but in fact turned out to be a large bottle. But he drank the whole thing because it cost 30 Euros. After dinner we found a crepes/gelato place where Pete wanted to order both crepes and gelato. He was all "This is what happens when I drink a bottle of wine and my dinner is only 3 meatballs." And I said "So, basically you turn into me?" We ordered crepes, which turned out to be huge and delicious and then Pete decided against gelato since he needed 2 hands to eat the crepes.

Monday morning we were planning to take the train East to Ventimiglia, Italy and eat pizza for lunch. But when we arrived at the train station, we found out the workers were on strike (to protest the government's proposed labor reforms) and all stops East of Monaco had been canceled due to electrical problems. Pete looked crestfallen as he said "So I'm not going to eat pizza in Italy for lunch?" C'est la vie. Sometimes adventure requires a change in plans. So we decided to explore Nice instead, via the Hop On Hop Off Bus. First we explored the neighboring town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, including the 16th-century Saint Elme Citadel (now the site of the Town Hall), the Roux Museum (a collection of hundreds of figurines depicting Renaissance/Middle Ages life) and the Chappelle de Saint Pierre (Saint Peter, patron saint of fishermen). This was one of my favorite towns we visited during our trip. The winding stone streets and colorful old buildings were gorgeous, the ice cream was delicious and admission to everything was free. It was overcast with a 50% chance of rain all day but it only sprinkled a bit here and there. We rode on the top of the double decker Hop On Hop Off Bus all day. 


Peter in front of Saint Peter's Chapel
Roux Collection

Heading back towards metropolitan Nice, we saw LaTête Carrée, a giant square headed statue designed by Sacha Sosno and housing the offices of the municipal library (sadly, you're not allowed to go inside the head, which looks like solid stone from far away, but if you get closer you can see through to the shelves of books inside it). We also saw the 7 Statues of the Massena Square, which look like 7 people sitting on tall poles (Created by the artist Jaume Plensa and called Conversation à Nice, the statues represent the 7 continents and communication between different societies). Next we hopped off at the Matisse Museum, which I liked better than the Picasso Museum) and then later at the Promenade des Anglais along the waterfront. I picked a Mediterranean restaurant for our late lunch/early dinner and it was the best meal I ate during the trip, including the best dolmades I think I've ever eaten. 

Square Head

The 7 Statues

Delicious plate of vegetarian Mediterranean foods

Matisse Museum

On Tuesday we tried to go to Italy again, this time with great success! There was still a strike but no more electrical problems, so we made it to Ventimiglia, walked around exploring the town and Pete finally got his pizza lunch. 

Jen & ice cream

Pete & Pizza

After lunch we took the train headed back towards Nice and decided to stop at Roquebrune Cap Martin because I'd read there was a castle there. It was supposedly a 20-30 minute walk from the train station to the Château Médieval de Roquebrune (a fortified castle built in 970 bConrad the 1st, Count of Vintimiglia). Pete was initially skeptical of the climb and the route we should take, whereas I was all like "Look, you can see it way up there, this is a small town, we'll just walk uphill and find it." Pete looked up the Google Map directions, but it was basically just walk uphill and climb this really neat old stone stairway for 20 minutes. It was not a strenuous walk - I did it in flipflops, proclaiming at the top "It wouldn't be vacation if I didn't make you climb something" - and it was totally worth it. The castle was one of my favorite things we did during the whole trip, and there was hardly anyone else there. The views from the top were well worth the climb (but then again, I always think the climb is worth it). 

Castle up top

Add caption

That view though

Wednesday morning we boarded a van at the train station for a day trip tour to Canyon du Verdon (Europe's biggest canyon). I had originally wanted to run the trails there, but we would have had to rent a car and also Pete isn't really very excited about running right now, so we decided to do the small group tour instead. The van drove us the 2.5 hours from Nice to the canyon, around the canyon to several scenic overlooks, and finally to the village of Moustiers Sainte Marie, where we had free time to explore. The gorges were gorgeous (more Letchworth-esque than Grand Canyon-esque). 

Moustiers was one of my favorite places we visited. I took so many pictures on this trip because everything was just so interesting and aesthetically pleasing. There's a gold star hanging from a chain over the Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel, high atop the village. Legend has it that the star was originally hung by the knight Bozon de Blacas after he returned from a long imprisonment by the Saracens. The star itself has been replaced several times since then. We climbed up to see the chapel (of course! another climb!), ate lunch, accidentally left our backpack at the restaurant, were nicely chased down by the waiter who returned the backpack, and checked out a few of the shops. Then it was back on the van for the return trip to Nice. 

Gold Star

Pete made a friend

Thursday we did another day tour, this one to Monaco and Eze. On the way there and back our driver/guide, Victor, stopped at some amazing scenic overlook areas. Eze was one of the towns I most wanted to visit, but I kind of wish we had just taken the train here ourselves. The tour involved a stop at Parfumerie Fragonard, which was less a tour and more of a sales pitch (at one point our perfume guide told us that everyone over the age of 25 needs this serum for their face, as if it was some epic tragedy or horrible failure to be or appear to be older than 25. I am quite content to not pay 100 Euros for a kit of face creams and serums to fix my apparently unacceptably old and flawed face). Aside from the make-you-feel-insecure-so-you-buy-our-"beauty"-products sales pitch that I did not care for, perfume gives me a terrible headache. I wish I had just asked to wander around outside instead of going on the 30 minute tour of terrible awful no good very bad smells (not the official tour title). After being released from the perfume prison (not the official name), Victor dropped us off at the part of town where cars aren't allowed and we got to explore the non-perfumy parts of Eze. Which were far better and more candy filled. 

Then we headed to Monaco, the second smallest country in the world (and one of the richest). The yachts in Monaco were several times bigger than our house. Pete was like "I've just accepted that's a life I'll never have." And I was like "That's a life I never want to have." It just seems like an empty, super expensive life to me. I'd rather be rich in friendships and non-yachting adventures. Victor drove us along the route of the Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 race (which had just taken place earlier in the week so they were still in the process of taking down all the stands/fancy 800 Euro seats). We also went to the Monte Carlo Casino and another casino where Pete lost 20 Euro at Roulette. Casinos are not my thing because if I'm going to lose money, I like to get candy in return. 

The Prince's Palace Guard

Monte Carlo Casino

The entire country of Monaco 

Grand Prix Route

Pete & Balls

Jen & Birds

Victor dropped us off back in Nice and we took the train back to Antibes to go to a restaurant called Key West that Pete had seen on our first trip there. We wanted to see if the key lime pie from the French Key West tasted as good as the key lime pie from the Florida Key West. I'm happy to say that the pie definitely did not disappoint. And that pie is a good way to end vacation. 

That Key Lime pie though

We had a disagreement when Pete "surprised" me by upgrading our return flight from Paris to Toronto to Economy Plus. I still think it was way too much money and not really worth it, but I have to admit that the seats were very nice. We were in the first row behind the wall separating the First Class passengers and I got to sit with my feet stretched out on the wall, plus the flight attendants kept giving us things like face wipes, snacks, candy and drinks. And I really can't begrudge Pete wanting additional leg room. The man is a giant and regular plane seats aren't made for giants. (Plus we got home late Friday night and he had to get up early Saturday and Sunday morning to do his Navy Reserves work). While we were waiting to takeoff we heard a familiar raspy cry and Pete said "Is that the demon baby?" It was, though he was surprisingly less upset on this flight and I don't remember hearing his wails again after that. Though maybe I was just distracted by that Economy Plus life, laid back, sippin' on ginger ale. 

But for serious, I am living a very fortunate life and I feel infinitely grateful for the places I get to go, the things I get to do and especially the people I get to know. I spent a lot of time feeling like I had no idea what I was doing with my life. Hell, I still feel like I am failing at most things most of the time. But I got to spend a week in the French Riviera/Côte d'Azur, I get to be married to a person who says things like "I love everything about you, even when you're frustrated" (though I don't know how that could possibly be true) and I get to come home to weekend runs and weird conversations and delicious breakfasts with friends. And that is worth more than all the yachts in the world. 

Lyric of the moment: "May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows. And may the road less paved be the road that you follow...Here's to the lives that you're gonna change. Here's to the infinite possible ways to love you..." ~Jason Mraz "Have it All"