Wednesday, December 28, 2016

This is Christmas 2016

I wake up at 4:00am and I smile. It's adventure time! It is 18 degrees Fahrenheit. Two plane rides later, we exit the airport and it's 80 degrees. We have lunch with my dad in Melbourne, FL then drive six hours to Key West. We have traveled from Monroe County, NY to Monroe County, FL. It's the Monday before Christmas. Lights and tinsel abound. Christmas songs play on the radio and I laugh at the nonsensical juxtaposition. There is no White Christmas or Winter Wonderland here, only palm trees, sunshine and ocean breezes. This, I think, is how to December.

I wake up at 4:00am, bewildered and borderline poultricidal. Roosters are crowing loudly outside of the condo we have rented on the Navy base in Key West. What cockamamie fowlplay is this? Pete deadpans "So, do you feel like chicken for breakfast?" We move to another bedroom (luckily the condo we have rented has 3 bedrooms), where we are able to almost fall back asleep before being awoken at 6:00am by more ear-splitting caws from the cursed alarm cocks! Later, our bike tour guide, Bruce, tells us the chickens were brought to Key West by Cubans for cock fights, then released into the city when cock fighting was outlawed. I sleep with earplugs for the remainder of our stay.

We go paddleboarding at Boca Chica Navy Air Station, even though it is far too windy and the water is too shallow for paddleboarding. My board's fin keeps catching on the sand and vegetation and jolting me into the water. My legs get all scraped up but I don't mind because the water is warm and we get to watch the fighter jets practicing overhead.

We visit Ernest Hemingway's house and look for six-toed cats. Some of the 50-some cats who live on the house/museum grounds today are descendants of Hemingway's polydactyl cat, Snow White. Pete exclaims "This is the best $6 I ever spent. There are cats everywhere!"

Hemingway's house

Cool dude I found in Hemingway's garden

Hemingway's cats don't give a shit about your signs

We climb the 88 steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse tower. Later we will learn from Bruce that the lighthouse had a female keeper for 30+ years, until she was fired for distributing Confederate propaganda from the top of the tower.

Pete is using his phone to navigate to Mallory Square, where we are planning to watch the sunset. He inadvertently directs us to the end of a street where a line of people has formed in front of a concrete buoy. I realize we are actually at the Southernmost Point in the continental US and Pete says "oh I wondered what all those people were standing in line for." Throughout the rest of the trip, he says things like "Who took you to see the Southernmost Point in the US?" and "We're the Southernmost bike tour in the US right now."

Southernmost Pete & Jen in the continental US

Kapok tree outside the Monroe County courthouse

We eventually find our way to Mallory Square to watch the sunset and see the unicyclists, fire jugglers and this weird, creepy statue made out of natural sponges.

I run. In shorts. Every day. Around town. On the beach. To the Southernmost Point early enough to have it all to myself. I create my own faux Fit1 workout on base. It is glorious. This, I think, is how to vacation.

We go on a boat tour where the food is surprisingly good and the "entertainment" is too bad to even be hilarious. Unless the guy was a professional drunken karaoke singer, in which case he was superb at his job. This, I think, is not how to boat. There isn't even any dessert here. I do, however, have the most excellent and tallest of company. 

We walk and bike around town, eating our weight in Key Lime Pie. Mini pies, pie slices, chocolate covered pie slices, key lime sugar cookies. I cannot overstate how legit delicious that pie is.

We drive back to Melbourne, stopping for lunch in Miami Beach. Pete has now driven 12 hours in a rental car without cruise control. Yes, apparently they do exist. I have now spent 12 hours singing to every song on the radio and asking if we can stop to pee. I am also in charge of buying the Diet Mountain Dew at gas stations and rest stops. This, I think, is how to roadtrip.

It is Christmas Eve. Pete and I swim in the ocean. We watch football. Later we eat Chinese food and mini mince fruit pies with my dad and family friends from England. It is laid back and perfect (except for the people smoking at the bar where we watched football. My lungs were horrified to learn that some places still allow smoking indoors).

It is Christmas Day. I run 6 miles on a soft, white sandy beach, past people who smile and wave. I read "Ready Player One" while Pete is swimming. We eat Christmas brinner (or whatever the word for lunch-dinner is) with my dad at the Hilton Melbourne Beach's buffet. Later, Pete and I go in the hot tub and the heated pool, then order room service (I chose chocolate lava cake. I chose wisely). This, I think, is a pretty awesome way to Christmas.

Lyric of the moment: "You and I would have our first Christmas in space. Space Christmas. Maybe it'd be better if I didn't spend at all. Sometimes the bestest presents don't cost anything at all... ~Allo Darlin' "Space Christmas"

Monday, December 12, 2016

Holiday partying when you're not Martha Stewart & Snoop Dogg

Saturday night we hosted a Welcome Home Pete/Trail Family Holiday party at our house. I love people, I love parties. But party planning quickly devolves into a panicking party as I am faced with the harsh reality that I have zero hosting skills. I would love for my hosting level to be Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, but it's barely even Frat Party Without The Keg. Basically, it's just red Solo cups and a plastic tub of Cheetos. Our 1200 square foot house is too small for a party of 30-40 people. I am averse to holiday decorations. (While I can appreciate them aesthetically and think they look lovely in other people's homes, the thought of buying and displaying decorations in my own home induces stress not joy). As for my cooking skills, the most charitable thing you could say about them is that I have yet to burn anything down. So I tend to be anxious whenever people are coming over to our house. I want to have people over. I want them to feel welcome and be well fed and have a good time. But I have strong doubts about my ability to deliver on those promises.

Pete wanted to keep things simple for the party so we ordered meat pizza, veggie pizza and wings. Then I made vegan and gluten free pizza so we had all the dietary needs covered. Though when I say made I really mean that I helicopter parented it (I was putting all my non-dairy eggs in this basket and I had to make sure it was at least edible and not on fire). I roasted the butternut squash. I massaged the kale. That is a thing people do to kale apparently (or else Mark is laughing maniacally somewhere at having convinced me that is a thing people do to kale). I bought what in hindsight was an excessive amount of vegan cheese. I practically climbed in the oven with it trying to determine if the crust was lightly browned enough. (WTF cooking directions?! What does lightly browned even mean? Ecru? Beige? Khaki? Burnt Umber? No probably not that last one. Why can't food just be all "Stick a fork in me, I'm done." I'm not a mind reader, pizza!)

Then I had a moment of sanity where my brain decided: You can just be who you are. And I finally relaxed. People are well aware than I am not Martha Stewart or Snoop Dogg. No one comes to my house expecting a gourmet meal or a Pottery Barn catalog or Gin & Juice. People come to my house bearing cookies and dressed in a banana costume. I am never going to throw a Pinterest-worthy party. That is not my thing. And that's ok. I am going to throw the kinds of parties where everyone is welcome, where love, laughter and chin-ups are plentiful, where somehow we always end the night dancing in the living room (and by somehow I mean because of Pete). Because those are my things.

Holidays are for dancing, bananas, cookies and Tramily.
(Thanks to Amy, Sheila & Stephen for the pics!)

At the party, I looked around and marveled at all the people who had come to see my funny, strong, remarkable husband, all the people who had filled up my 2016 with so much happiness and love. Steven pretended he was leaving every 5 minutes and went around giving everyone goodbye hugs. And I realized that was the perfect metaphor for how I want to live my life. My time here is short. I don't know when exactly I'm leaving the party of life (hopefully not for many decades). But I could be tossed out of this aliveness rave at any time. As long as I'm still here, I want to embrace it. Might as well do it literally. And Jenuinely.

And so my very best good friends, if you ever feel overwhelmed by expectations or pressures to be a certain way or do a certain thing, remember that you can just be who you are. You can say no to that thing you don't want to do. You can opt out of the traditions that don't bring you joy. You can make the holidays whatever you want them to be. Party on.

Lyric of the moment: "The moon is right. The spirits up. We're here tonight. And that's enough. Simply having a wonderful Christmastime. The party's on. The feeling's here. That only comes this time of year. Simply having a wonderful Christmastime..." ~Paul McCartney "Wonderful Christmastime"

Monday, December 5, 2016

This Is Marriage: Day 456

I wake up next to Pete! In our bed! In our house! I have had this dream so many times over the past 10 months, only to wake up and feel disappointed. But now I wake up and it actually is real. We go to the gym and work out together. We come home and I make pumpkin bread french toast (and I realize I haven 't ever made french toast before. I know, who even let me into the adulting club anyway? Someone left the door unattended for a minute and I ninja-ed my way inside, skipping right over making basic french toast and jumping face first into making fancy french toast out of bread I made myself. Ok, bread I made with the help of a bread/muffin mix). We run errands. Pete cannot find the toothpaste and I remind him it's in the medicine cabinet hidden behind the mirror. He has been away so long he's forgotten all the secret compartments (Note to self: more secret compartments. Secret compartments everywhere!) Pete builds a closet. I bring him a snack and laugh, because it is such a Pete thing to do. When we first moved into this house, his main priority was building a shelving system and adding doors to the bedroom closet. The first day he is back in our house after his deployment, he builds a standalone closet in the basement for all of his Navy uniforms. These quotidian moments suddenly feel anything but ordinary. After the year we've had, they are extraordinary.

People refer to your wedding as "the happiest day of your life." But I always secretly thought what does that say about your marriage if the best day is the first day? That it's all downhill from there? Our wedding day was an epic day for sure. We laughed, we danced, we walked on stilts and juggled and played frisbee, we ate both cookies and cake (because why choose?) But we also had so many amazing days before we got married and I knew that we would have even more amazing days in the years following our wedding. That is why I married Pete. Because every day is an excellent adventure. An adventure like picking up seaman at three different airports in three weeks (And getting the chance to use glitter and poster-boards for the first time in over a decade! And finally figuring out what to do with that weird little drawer in the kitchen: create a batteries & glitter drawer! Because really, that's the perfect blueprint for building an awesome life: energy & sparkles!) An adventure like wandering the streets of Virginia Beach, spotting a building labelled iFLY and wondering aloud what it is. And having a husband who doesn't give you that exasperated look that you have received so many times from others when you ask questions aloud as if the entire world is an oracle or Google. And then later when you send your husband a link to the iFLY website and a message that says "Indoor skydiving!!!!!!!!!!" he good naturedly says "So I'll get us tickets then?" AND THEN YOU GO INDOOR SKYDIVING! An adventure like waking up next to your life partner and realizing your life has far surpassed your most spectacular dreams.

Marriage is oodles and oodles of very best, happiest days.

Lyric of the moment: "I've come so far so fast. And it feels like a hundred years. Am I dreaming? Is it gonna last? I could be better still than anything I've done. I know you think you could do too. I know you think you feel it's true. It's the little things in life that I feel..." ~Big Gigantic "The Little Things"

Friday, December 2, 2016

Things I want to say to you

Hi Friend! (To those of you who just thought "Who are you weird person from the internet? We're not friends," Why are we not friends? Let's be friends!)

Infinity of thanks for being here. Infinity of thanks for being you! I'm so happy that our paths have crossed, whether on the internet or in person, on or off the trails. My life is better for having known you. That is the truest thing I know. I want to give you an epic hug. Like an almost uncomfortably long hug. But maybe that would be weird? I dunno. If I'm wrong and you want hugs, by all means come get some. Anytime! My door is always open to you. (Literally and figuratively. I am not great at remembering to lock the doors). In the meantime, here are some word hugs from me to you. I don't always say these things out loud in your direction but they are always true.   

You are awesome. There is no one else quite like you. You are the you-est person in the entire universe! Probably in the entire multiverse, if that is a thing. You are interesting. You are lovable. You are enough. The world might not always treat you as such. Sometimes some people might treat you poorly. But you should know that is on them and not you. Everyone struggles and sometimes people take out their struggles on others. It is not right, but it happens. Try not to take it personally. Keep doing the best you can at each particular moment in time and space. Assume others are doing the best they can.  

Life is unbelievably awesome. We are so lucky to have been given all this aliveness. But sometimes life is unfair and unreasonable and downright sucky. Sometimes it's hard out there for a carbon-based lifeform. My experience of life, reality and everything is different from your experience of life, reality and everything. So I don't know what it's like to run a mile in your shoes. But if you need a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold or an ear to listen, I have two of all of those things! And if what you want is someone to just sit with you in your sad/mad/bad place for a little while so that you don't feel alone, I will do that with you. And if what you want is someone with whom to run all the miles/go on all the adventures/eat all the cookies, I will totally do that with you.

From Robot, With Love. All of it. All the love.

Monday, November 21, 2016

This Is Marriage: Days 437-441

I exit the plane and make my way into the terminal of Baltimore airport. Standing at the gate is a Seaman dressed in "Guacs," the Navy's green uniform. To say he is a sight for sore eyes is a vast understatement. As we embrace for the first time in 8 months, he says "You're my wife" and I laugh. It is true, yet I still find it unbelievable. I don't know how I got here. All I know is I want to stay.

It's almost midnight. We're in a rental car outside of the hotel on the Navy base. I've been awake since 4:45am (because I was too excited to sleep so I got up to run hill repeats under the supermoon). Pete has been awake for more than 24 hours. The Navy's hotel is full so we are calling local hotels from a list they have given Pete. This, I'm coming to realize, is the thing about the military. Sometimes you end up in some ridiculous situations. Welcome back, thanks for your service. You can't go home and you can't stay here! We are tired, we are scrambling to find somewhere to spend the night. We are laughing. It's moments like this where I fell in love with Pete. Moments when we're tired, moments when we're stressed, and we come together instead of falling apart. And we laugh. Because it's absurd. Because that's what we do.

I'm running through the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, after having dropped Pete off on base. Everything is sunny and beautiful. I don't know where I'm going, but I don't feel lost. I am exploring. I find lion statues and fountains and lakes. It is glorious. Later I am sitting in a coffee shop eating avocado toast and reading a book on happiness. I find it disappointing. Maybe it's because one of the chapters advises "Never retire" and I'm all like "Screw that, I'm retiring as soon as possible." Maybe it's because I already know my own personal happiness equation and it is this: People + Adventure + Effort = Happiness. Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place" is playing in the background. And I think this is happiness too: everything in its right place. Life is a crapshoot of sweetness and suckiness. The more I can be in my own "right" place, feeling at peace with myself, making the best of whatever happens, the happier I will be.

View from the Botanical Gardens

We are shopping at an outlet mall. We are eating wings and calzones (Pete) and pizza (me). We are going to the movies. We are having conversations about everything, from the mundane to the deep. We are holding hands and we are joking around. We are not the same people we were at the beginning of this year and yet we are still the same Pete and Jen, picking up our excellent adventures where we left off. We're still us, only better, stronger, individually and as a team.

I am running on the Cape Henry trail in First Landing State Park after dropping Pete off on base at Muster Time (The military calls it muster when they have to assemble, i.e. Muster at 0700 means to meet at 7am. I love saying this word. I say things like "Ketchup and Muster" and "Relish the Muster" and then laugh. This will never cease to be funny. To me at least). I stop to do the obstacles along the way - abs, chin-ups, tires, monkey bars. The woods are gorgeous, as always. And there are monkey bars along this trail! This is the best ever!

We're driving on a highway in Virginia. Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At" is playing on the radio.
Me: "This song is grammatically incorrect. You're not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition."
Pete: "Can you end a sentence with a proposition?"
Me: (laughing) "Yes, always. It's recommended."

We're eating breakfast at Anchor Allie's in Virginia Beach. It's a sailor themed bar/restaurant. We are eating pumpkin french toast and I am doing a shot of milk (I asked for coffee with milk and the waitress brought the milk in a shot glass and I was all like "Now this is a shot I would actually do!" Pete is eating his breakfast plus half of mine after saying, when I was about to order my breakfast with no meat and only one egg, "Honey, never turn down food. I will eat it." and the waitress said "I'll just put her bacon and egg on your plate."

Milk shot. That's just how I roll.
We're walking on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, talking and holding hands. I forget what we are talking about, something that I want to do but Pete doesn't. I say "How come when you suggest things I always say yes but you only say yes to like 50% of my things?" Pete says "Because you're off the wall, honey. Your things are like let's go to the moon." I cannot stop laughing. Then I see a sign pointing the way to Ben & Jerry's. This is one of my suggestions to which Pete agrees. It is an excellent choice. Obviously. Later we are talking about something else and Pete tells me I am "squared away," Navy slang for someone who is tidy and in good order, basically someone who has their shit together. That about sums me up: off the wall and squared away.

Virginia Beach

We are playing Pirate Mini-Golf. Half of the time I get a hole-in-two and half of the time I hit the ball in the water. Pete is a much better mini-golfer than I am, but he insists that I am winning. I say "There's no way I am winning." (We have already fished my ball out of the water at least 4 times). Pete says "You're having more fun so you're winning at adventuring."

We are back in the same country. Soon we will be back to living in the same house. But I have to leave soon to catch my flight back to Rochester. This is making me sad. I don't want to leave. I have a Pete in one hand and a waffle cone in the other and if there is a heaven, this is it. Pete says "You'll be back in 4 days and then we have 5 days together and then I'll be home 5 days after that." I am thinking of outlandish suggestions I can make so that more Ben & Jerry's seems tame in comparison. Mwahahahaha.

We are at Mount Trashmore Park. It doesn't look like a mountain, it looks more like a big hill. We wonder if it's just a mound of garbage with grass on it. Later Mr. Internet confirms that it is (it was made by compacting layers of solid waste and clean soil). We walk up and across the "mountain" and around the lake. A man on a bicycle is yelling "Andy! Andy!" Or so we think. Turns out he is actually saying "Handy!" Then he says "Handy Pete!" He is talking to Pete, calling him some nickname from Afghanistan that apparently only a handful of people know. That is my husband, Handy Pete.

We're at the airport, saying goodbye again. Airports are my favorite when we're saying hello and my least favorite when we're saying goodbye. But all the days I get to be married to Pete, whether we're together or apart, whether we're doing things extreme or ordinary, are my favorite days.

Marriage is the privilege of being with the person who makes all the days your favorite days.

Rochester from the sky at night

Lyric of the moment: "So let's hang an anchor from the sun. There's a million city lights but you're number one. You're the reason I'm still up at dawn, just to see your face. We'll be going strong, with the vampires baby. We belong, we belong awake, swinging from the fire escape..." ~Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness "Fire Escape" (New suggestion: swing from fire escapes. Also Ben & Jerry's).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So your Seaman got deployed: An adventure in 13 steps

In February, prior to Pete's deployment, we went to a pre-mobilization meeting in Virginia. I found it to be largely a waste of time. Not to mention that when I got up to use the restroom during lunch, I came back to find my half-eaten apple pie slice had been cleared away. The Navy took my Pete and my pie! To be fair, the meeting was full of earnest and lovely people. I got the impression that they wanted to be helpful. It's just that no one was offering any answers to the things I very much needed to know. Like: How do we stay happily married when we're thousands of miles apart and we are limited to electronic (monitored) communication? How do I not feel guilty going on runs and adventures while Pete is working long, hard days far away from home? How do I keep myself from automatically assuming the worst if I haven't heard from him in a few days? How do I stop feeling such profound disappointment in humanity for being at war with itself? How do we come back together at the end of all this? 

No one provided any answers to these question, so in the months that Pete was away, I set out to figure it out for myself. This is what happened and the adventures that ensued:

1. Drop your new husband (You have a husband?! This may never cease to astound you) off at the airport, not knowing when you will see him again. Cry. Experience a tornado of WTF feelings. WTF Navy? WTF humans? WTF is the point of any of this? 

2.Go to Alison's house and do intricate, infuriating, strangely soothing wooden puzzles with Alison, Danielle and Laura. Thus begins the tradition of ladies night dinner/puzzling get-togethers. As it turns out, wonderful friends, delicious plant-based foods and Liberty Puzzles are a surefire way to fill your heart with so much gratitude and happiness there is scarcely any room for sadness or worry.

3. Get two chances to go visit your Seaman in Virginia during his stateside deployment training. The trip to get there requires two planes, one rental car and one tunnel under the water. Even as you are thinking "This is why we need a teleporter," you cannot help but wonder at the magic of your life. You literally traveled through the air and under the water to get here, to spend these last few days together. You try your best to savor these moments, the zip-lining and trail running and mini golf adventures. But long weekends are never long enough. Soon you are driving away from him again, heading for the new home which you should be sharing together but cannot. The Navy did pay for the two of you to go to Busch Gardens, which was roller coaster filled and awesome, but this does not seem like a fair trade-off. 

4. Buy a banana costume from Mr. Internet. This will be the best $20 you have ever spent. Wear it to volunteer, cheer and dance at races. Because it's ridiculous. Because it's hilarious. Because you can say "I'm just happy to see you" and it is both funny and true.

5. Go on roadtrip adventures. With Chris, to run the Celebrate Life Half Marathon in Rock Hill, NY. With Alison and Bob, to run past waterfalls and through hail and to eat breakfast at the Ithaca Bakery. With Steven, to spectate at Muddy Sneaker and to cheer/tree climb in a Tigger costume. With the Eagans and Valones to Letchworth for running and rafting. With Alison, Bob, Steven, Mark and Todd to run Thom B. Trail Run in Hammond Hill State Forest (and sadly, to experience the thuds heard 'round the Gus). To Albany for solo adventures in Mike Doughty Living Room concert-going and to Saratoga Springs to hang out with Alison and Bob in their lake house rental. With Laura and Alison, to the Adirondacks for a ladies-who-adventure mountain climbing, cake eating birthday weekend. 

6. Discover the shortest, most toucan-and-awesome-filled running shorts online. Talk about them incessantly until you have formed a whole posse of toucan short-shorts wearing friends. Feel self-conscious about the extreme shortness of these shorts and wish that your ratio of squats done to cookies eaten was much, much higher. Realize that you can spend your time feeling self-conscious or you can spend your time feeling awesome. Go with awesome. Time is short. Wear the short shorts.  

7. Write ridiculous limericks and haikus and other terrible poetry. This starts as a way to fill up the emails, funny cards and weekly care packages you send to Pete, a way to occupy your racing brain with silliness instead of worry. And then it spills over into race reports and Facebook posts to friends before their big races. No worries, be happy, get limericked. 

8. Run. Run at all hours of the day and night. On trails, on roads. Dodging logs, dodging frogs. Run all the hill repeats. Run through the mud in a fancy dress at Mess The Dress. Run Cayuga Trails Marathon, a gorgeous elevation and popsicle filled romp in the woods. Run a 99 mile relay with your SWAT Team, which is not the fastest team but is most definitely the best dressed. Run an impromptu 50K at Mendon, burst into tears on your 4th ascent of water tower hill, yet somehow beat your previous time at this race by almost an hour. Run for 12 hours and 55 miles overnight, through sunset, moonrise and sunrise, until everything hurts and nothing hurts and you feel unstoppable and dead and so fucking lucky that this is your life. 

9. Use your muscles. Do push-ups and squats and bunny hops at Fit1 until it feels like your legs and arms have fallen off. Buy a chin-up bar and struggle until you are strong enough to eke out one unassisted chin-up. Keep struggling. Be grateful for your muscles. Use them well. Especially your heart. That's your very best muscle.  

10. Despite your best efforts to avoid them, have doubts. About your ability to run, to be a good friend/wife/person, to spider crawl backwards up the stairs (why is this so impossible, arms?), to produce anything edible in the kitchen. Instead of being consumed by the doubts, shrug them off. Embrace your weaknesses and gain strength through struggle. Practice the things that are hard until they become less hard. Be where you are without judging or feeling bad about it. (If you succeed in doing this on the regular, please send me your advice).

11. Feel the acute ache of absence, and the frustration at this third wheel in your marriage, let's call him "Navy," who is super good at making things inconvenient and complicated. Find yourself Googling "Weird facts about the Navy" to find things you like about your third wheel (because you don't like disliking things). Things like how MC Hammer was in the Navy before he developed his affinity for parachute pants. And how Navy Seals do not have pet seals (sadly), but they do have dogs, some of whom are trained parachutists! Then whenever you get upset by this whole deployment thing, your imagination kicks in. And in your head the Navy ceases to be this conglomeration of ships and weapons and stuff your pacifist brain doesn't want to think about. Instead it is replaced by images of puppies being parachuted in to fix everything with their adorableness while everyone dances to "U Can't Touch This." And you relax and realize that the Navy is just an organization of people (and parachuting dogs!) And (most) people are awesome (most of the time). 

12. Feel extreme gratitude for your people, the ones with kindred genes and the ones with kindred spirits. The best part of life is people. And for reasons unbeknownst to you, all the very best people have elected to be a part of yours. This is true wealth.

13. Finally, after the better part of a year, which has felt like an entire eon, travel once more by the magic of airplanes to meet your Seaman as he arrives in the US. Feel extremely grateful that you can afford to buy last minute plane tickets to make two trips to Virginia, so you can be there for his arrival in the States and return to spend Thanksgiving with him (He cannot return home home until December, after he completes all the post-deployment debriefing and what-not. Because deployment is the gift that just keeps on giving!) Hug your husband man for the first time in 8 months and feel a happiness like you have never known before. (And you have known happiness. As a kid, you had not one, but two treehouses). Though you are two airplane rides away from the house where you reside, the moment you run into his arms, you feel like this, this is home.

This is the path I blazed through this year of Pete's absence, a trail of laughter and tears and challenges and joy. So what do you do when your Seaman gets deployed? Everything. You cry until you laugh and laugh until you cry. You fill your life up with people and adventures and runs and ridiculousness. You go all extreme aliveness on that shit. And you feel like the the luckiest person in the entire universe. That you live a life of options and opportunities and experiences. That you are surrounded by amazing people who accept you for who you are, in all of your ridiculousness. That you have found a love that can go any distance. 

Picked up some Pete and some Pinkberry at the Baltimore airport

Lyric of the moment: "I'll be loving you always. With a love that's true always. When the thing you've planned needs my helping hand, I will understand always. Days may not be fair always. But that's when I'll be there, always...." ~Leonard Cohen "Always"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How To Be Awesome: A reminder

When my brother and I were kids, my mom said to us "I may not always love everything you do, but I always love you." That is how I feel about America. Nation, I do not love all your actions, historically and recently. I think you need to take a time out, go to your room and think about what you've done. But I love you, Americans. All of you. This nation is a melting pot. Founded on the ideals of equality, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. FOR ALL. Let us not forget that. We are stronger together. We are the UNITED States of America. We are HUMANS. Let us be humane. 

I understand that some of you are struggling, that some of you feel unheard, marginalized, unwelcome, that some of you are angry, fed up. Some of you don't feel all that great. So not great that you voted for a man who promised to make you great again. But I'm sorry to say, America, that you were lied to. The man used the magician's greatest trick: misdirection. He shouted about Muslims and Mexicans and Nasty Women, trying to make them the scapegoats for your struggles. But here's some truth for you, America. Your economic struggles are not caused by immigrants, they're caused by a vast income inequality where the wealth is concentrated in the hands of the 1%. Why do you think the man whose millions were handed to him by his father, the man who used his charity's money to purchase portraits of himself is going to help you? He's not going to help you, but he's going to try to distract and divide you so that you don't realize he's not going to help you until it's too late. 

He's not going to make you great. Greatness is not achieved by hate speech or mean tweets. America is greatest when we are inclusive rather than exclusive, when we tear down walls instead of building them. You are already great, Americans. Look at you. You are a beautiful rainbow of existence, people of all different races, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages. You've fought so many wars against fascism and totalitarian regimes abroad. Don't let that authoritarianism happen here. Americans, you have done great things. The greatest of those things are the ones that work to provide equal opportunities and options and basic civil rights, basic HUMAN rights, to ALL. But there is more work to do, people. Don't settle for being great, be AWESOME. 

Maybe we could all use a reminder, so here it is:

How To Be Awesome: A reminder

  • Think. Really think about what it's like to live someone else's reality. You can never really know what it's like to be someone else, but you can realize that everyone has struggles and that other people's experiences in the world are different from yours, sometimes unfairly so.
  • Work. Work hard on yourself. Change starts with you. Work together to make things better. Work through your disagreements respectfully and compassionately. 
  • Speak up. Use your words and actions to show that we will not tolerate racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia or prejudice.
  • Do not give in to fear. Fear divides, paralyzes and hurts us. Be bold. Be brave. Be curious about life and about others. Ask questions. Read. Think critically. Discuss. Learn. Grow.  
  • This should go without saying, but history has shown us that it does not. Do not do any of the following things. They are NOT OK. EVER. EVER. EVER. Do NOT commit sexual assault. Do NOT brag about committing sexual assault. Do NOT draw a swastika on anything ever. Do NOT invalidate other people's struggles by saying things like "All lives matter" or "Police lives matter" in response to the "Black lives matter" movement. Do NOT engage in Us vs. Them mentalities. Do NOT ban transgendered people from using public restrooms. Do NOT tell women what to do with their own bodies. Do NOT judge or disparage people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality or religion. Do NOT vote for legislation that limits the rights of others. Civil rights are not a zero sum game. The more basic human rights everyone has, the more we all win. As a country. As a species. 
  • Let go. Of your attachments, your entitlements, your past. You cannot go back. You can only go forward. 
  • Remember that you are not just an American citizen but a citizen of Earth. Be kind to your fellow carbon-based lifeforms. All of them. Be kind to your earth. Treat it like you would your own home. Because it is your home. It is all of our homes. 

I love you, my fellow Americans, my fellow humans. I love you wholeheartedly and unconditionally. You do not need a tiny handed, insecurity plagued, hate spewing orange man to make you great. Screw that. You are great. You are so much more than great. Build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Love each other. Love so much it crowds out all the fear and hate. You are capable of immense awesomeness. I know you are. Go forth and be awesome. 

From Robot, with love. Always and forever. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Mendon 50K: Because why not?

I pity the fool who signed up for Mendon 50K on a whim at the very last minute. When she hadn't trained for it. And then she promptly got her period and was like fuuuuck, well this is not ideal. Oh yeah, right. That fool was me.

I hadn't planned on running any races in November, as I needed to be free to make a short notice trip to Virginia to meet Pete when he returned from Afghanistan. But when I found out he'll return stateside later in the month and the forecast for Saturday predicted perfect running weather, I thought about registering. Then I hesitated. This wasn't one of my goal races for the year. I hadn't trained for it. Though when I say I didn't train, I don't mean that I didn't run. I run 4-5 days a week year round, plus strength training and cross training. Had I planned to do this race, I would have upped my mileage a bit, but regardless of my race calendar, I try to stay in decent enough shape that I can run 20+ miles whenever I want to.

Mendon was my first 50K, two years ago. It rained the entire time. I enjoyed the race but I remember thinking never again. Five loops is just too many. Last year I ran the 30K, loved it, yet again thought never again. But then I turned 35 and I started to get that time is running out and I'm still not good enough at any of the things angst. And Pete's return was rapidly approaching and I had failed at my plan to become super awesome in his absence. I only managed to do one chin-up, my chainsawing was mediocre at best and my attitude towards cooking had only improved slightly, from "never!" to "meh, sometimes." Plus I still don't have abs. Because cookies. There was a lot going on in my brain. And Saturday seemed like an ideal day to spend hours in the woods, so I did.

The adventure began on Friday night, when Alison, Bob and I went to packet pickup at Medved, to Core Life for dinner (Thanks Bob!) and to Red Fern for cookies. Most importantly, I introduced Bob to the awesomeness that is TLC's "No Scrubs,"which he has somehow never heard! (Next time we'll advance to TLC 201: "Waterfalls").

Bob and Alison picked me up at 7am on Saturday and we headed to Mendon. At the starting line I had the typical Oh shit, what have I gotten myself into? moment. And then we were off, down to the beach, around the shelter and up the long sloping field that is in my opinion the worst hill on the whole course. I've run this 10K loop so many times over the years. But the conditions on Saturday were ideal. Dry, cloudy with hints of sun here and there, not too hot, not too cold. Basically it was the Goldilocks of days. Just right.

The first two loops felt like just another Saturday long run. I was running with Sam and Jeff and races are always more enjoyable with company. Sam and I were chatting away about life and politics and slippery banana peel jokes, ticking off miles without my realizing it. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with Sam for the whole time, since he is much faster than I am, and partway through the third loop, I lost sight of him. I kept trotting along at a fairly decent (for me) pace and was never alone for very long without passing or being passed by another runner or seeing someone I knew at an aid station (the volunteers were amazing as always!).

As I started the fourth loop, part of me wished I had signed up for the 30K instead. My calves started to cramp up on some of the hills, but I figured out that I could ease the cramping by adjusting my gait. So I was doing this weird swagger-waddle walk up the bigger hills. Downhills and flats were fine so I tried to go as fast as I could on those. A woman passed me and randomly said "Have you tried the pickle juice here? It's amazing." It seemed like some kind of a sign so I made a note to get pickle juice at the next aid station.

The fourth loop was very emotional for some reason. I kept thinking about Pete and then I had to tell myself "don't think about it, don't cry." This has been a challenging year, but I felt like I was making the best of it and the time was passing quickly. Now I am thisclose to seeing husband man again and it's like suddenly time has slowed to an infuriating crawl. I am so ready for this whole deployment thing to be over. It's just not the same to cross a finish line without holding Pete's hand. As I was heading up water tower hill, a little white dog ran over and started licking me. He was so cute, like a miniature Mozzie, and my heart exploded in feels. When I turned to continue up the hill, I lost it and burst into tears. I may have to rename it waterworks hill. But that is how feelings work I guess. Sometimes the only way past is through. Once the tears came out, I felt better and kept going. I made it to the aid station, where the lovely volunteers filled my hydration pack with water while I did shots of pickle juice. That seemed to do the trick and I finished the fourth loop with my legs and brain back in the game then headed back out. For One. More. Loop.

This is the point in every race where my brain rationalizes, the faster you go the sooner you get to stop. I was going as fast as I could on flats and downhills and hiking as fast as I could uphill. It was not actually fast, but I was moving steadily and ticking off the miles, only 10K to go, only 5K to go. To me, the last 5K of this race always feels longer than the previous 4 loops combined. But then I saw Valone! And then the Lopatas! Things were looking up. I finally made it back to the fence, crossed the road and cruised across the field to the finish chute.

Thanks to Todd for the photos!

My stomach was a mess for the rest of the day, which was not cool. But otherwise things were good. I was filled with the tiredness and happiness of another beautiful day in the woods with some of my favorite people. This is my life and it is the best. But seriously Mendon, never again.

Lyric of the moment: "Well I'm pushing myself to finish this part. I can handle a lot. But one thing I'm in your eyes. In your eyes, in your eyes..." ~Rogue Wave "Eyes"

Monday, October 24, 2016

3 chicks and 1 stony cold bitch: Birthday adventures on Esther

A few weeks ago, we planned to go on a ladies-who-adventure trip to the Adirondacks this past weekend. A few days prior we were inundated with winter storm warnings for the area. Rain! Flash flooding! Up to 15" of snow! It was not the fall forecast I was expecting and my excitement was soon dampened by nervousness. I don't have much mountain climbing experience. I'd like to change that but I don't want to be an idiot about it. I'm not an aspiring 46er, I don't care about peak bagging. I just like climbing on things. And not being broken or developing hypothermia. So we let go of our original plans to hike a peak like Skylight or Panther and decided to make a day-of, weather dependent agenda, whether that involved a hike, snowshoeing or, if it got too bad, staying inside to play games and watch movies.

We stayed at The Little Peak Chalet, an adorable A-frame cabin in Wilmington, NY. Friday night we stopped for dinner at Strong Hearts Cafe in Syracuse, then continued on to the Adirondacks. It rained for the entirety of the trip there and was still raining when we woke up Saturday morning. It was damp and chilly but there was no snow yet so we decided to attempt hiking Esther, the little sister of Whiteface Mountain.

Ladies who adventure!

We parked at the secondary trailhead on Reservoir Rd, went up Marble Mountain and then on to Esther. It was a beautiful trail, particularly with the rain glistening on the fallen leaves. At first it was a pleasant, albeit wet, fall hike.

In the beginning...still Fall

But as we climbed higher in elevation, the temperature dropped and the pine trees were covered in ice. Esther was turning into one stony cold bitch. We were nearing the peak on Esther when we came to a section of trail that was more like a mini pond. We were wearing waterproof shoes, but the water was deep enough that our feet and legs would have gotten wet anyway. The visibility was so poor that there wouldn't be much in the way of views at the peak and then we'd have to brave the freezing wind at the top with drenched feet and legs, so we decided seeing the top wasn't worth the wet and cold we'd have to endure to get there and back. This was perfectly in keeping with our goal for the weekend: do something active and not be miserable. So we turned around and headed back down the way we'd come.

Up until this point we hadn't seen another soul on the trail. It was only on our way back down Esther that saw our first fellow hikers, a yellow lab and a woman who succinctly summed up the conditions with a friendly smile and an "It's not a nice day." As we continued our descent, we passed a couple of big groups a few more hikers on their way up, plus a couple of dudes headed down from Whiteface. The way back was less rainy but increasingly more windy. Other than my hands getting cold, which was remedied with hand warmers and gloves (Thanks Mort!), it was a very enjoyable hike. There's something about being in the woods that is very soothing, despite the weather. I suppose it's sort a of a zen place for me, where I don't have to think about anything except putting one foot in front of the other. And luckily, we arrived back at the car just as fall was turning into winter.

After showering and changing into warm dry clothes, we drove into a snowy Lake Placid for warm beverages and window shopping. Which turned into actual shopping when I saw some elephant pants (!!) in a storefront display (once I got home, I got rid of a few articles of clothing, in keeping with my one in/at least one out policy on possessions). We spent the night eating soup and cake, chatting and watching a movie at the chalet.

And now it's Winter.

Sunday morning we awoke to howling winds and started our drive home through snow covered trees. We stopped at Buttermilk Falls in Long Lake, NY, for an accidental detour down a super long (but pretty) dead end road (thanks Google Maps!) and then to eat at Keye's Pancake House in Old Forge (buckwheat pancakes are an excellent second breakfast and it's totally worth paying $2.75 for the tiny bottle of Adirondack Maple Syrup).

The other Buttermilk Falls

It was a fantastic weekend and a most excellent start to my 35th year of aliveness. I am infinitely grateful for the past 35 years of life and especially for all the carbon based lifeforms I have been lucky enough to meet. I hope the next 35+ years are filled with more mountains to climb, friends to love and experiences to share.

Bear! For obvious reasons.

Lyric of the moment: "Climb a mountain to reach yourself. Climb a mountain to find zen. Free your mind and drift away. Free your tribe and float away..." ~The Cult "In The Clouds"  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

This Is Marriage: Day 408

I was browsing the EMS website and this awesome sauce happened:
EMS Lumberbear T-Shirt

And then this happened:

Me: Do you think we need matching Lumberjack Bear T-shirts? I agree!
Pete: I didn't answer honey. And what are these websites you are looking at while I am away?
Me: Eastern Mountain Sports. They sent me a $10 off coupon.
Pete: The T-shirt looks nice.
Me: They have a matching one in lady sizes!
Pete: You're so funny. I'll take an XL.
Me: I know, it's already in my cart.

In little ways and big ways, during moments of stress and moments of silliness, I've found myself thinking that this marriage thing is the best decision I've ever made. That's particularly funny coming from someone who spent three decades having no interest in marriage whatsoever. But then I met Pete and suddenly it seemed like the obvious and best thing to do was share all our money and our living space and spend the rest of our lives adventuring and wearing ridiculous outfits.

Marriage is more awesome than a bear lumberjack.

Lyric of the moment: "Well you work in the woods from morning to night. You laugh and sing and you cuss and fight. On Saturday night you go to Eugene. And on Sunday morning your pockets are clean..." ~Johnny Cash "Lumberjack"

Monday, October 17, 2016

Full moon, full heart

I was in Danielle's car. With a puppy on my lap. Marveling at the enormous moon and my iPhone camera's inability to adequately translate its awesomeness into pixels. We were dropping Petra off and then going to see Pushing Dead at the Dryden Theater, part of the ImageOut Film Festival. We were wondering if the Eastman House was haunted and asking our phones if George Eastman killed himself. And our phones were telling us that he did, after suggesting that we call a suicide hotline (in what was either a comedic misunderstanding of the nuances of human speech or a complete understanding of human nature and touching attempt to protect us from ourselves). Like all the best plans, this one was hatched just moments earlier, while eating falafels and vegetables outside on a gorgeous fall night.

The moon was full and so was my heart. Full of love for weekends like this, with their spontaneous adventures in trail running (see also: Meandering Around Mendon and Near Death Experiences on the Crescent Trail) and seeing friends move into their dream house and watching quirky, comically tragic movies. Full of love for friends, because of whom this year, which threatened to feel so empty, instead overflowed with camaraderie and escapades. Full of love for this life and its ever increasing awesomeness.

Lyric of the moment; "Out of the darkness came a light. Turning the stars and diary pages. I'll tear out the day our stars aligned. And fold it away for the ages...It was one of my best days on earth, one of my best days on earth. I'm a satellite of you..." ~Trashcan Sinatras "Best Days on Earth"

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Heavy Metal Yoga

Yoga Vibe's Heavy Metal Yoga class is as contradictory and fantastic as it sounds. It's a laid back vinyasa flow class set to instructor Jesse's heavy metal playlist. This time it happened to be Electric Wizard's Dopethrone album. I will not pretend to know who Electric Wizard is, other than someone who is awesome at naming things.

I thought it might be a little jarring, the juxtaposition of loud, heavy music and the calm zen-ness of yoga. But once I was in class I didn't feel that way at all. I liked the contrast between the intensity of the music and the relaxed nature of the movements. I found it metaphoric, like the metal was all the chaos of life swirling around me but I was content in the eye of the storm, going with the flow. At the beginning of class, Jesse said "It's not about feeling good all the time. It's showing up where you are and being okay with that." Which is good advice for the practice of yoga and for the practice of life.

Surprisingly, I felt more focused in this class than I usually do in yoga. The music simply became part of the ambient noise. Probably because I don't normally listen to heavy metal. I don't know any of the songs or the words, so the music didn't evoke any memories or emotional responses like familiar songs would. Basically, there was nothing to distract my brain from focusing on the present. Usually the only place I ever find myself completely "in the moment" is during a trail run where all my attention is concentrated on the current step (to avoid faceplanting or falling off a cliff). But now it seems I have two meditative places: trails and heavy metal concerts.

At the end of class, Jesse said "The darkness in me recognizes the darkness in you. Party on." Which makes more sense to me than "Namaste" ever has. It's like those moments where I hear someone's life stories and recognize myself in their struggles. And suddenly I realize the reason we became so close is the instant connection that results from understanding both the darkness and the lightness, and especially from bringing the darkness into the light. And then partying on through the chaos together.

Lyric of the moment: "Millions are screaming, the dead are still living. This earth has died yet no one has seen... Nuclear warheads ready to strike. This world is so fucked, let's end it tonight. Fuck..." ~Electric Wizard "Funeralopolis" (If Mr. Internet hadn't told me that this song was released in 2000, I would have thought it was written by someone watching the current presidential election season).

Friday, October 7, 2016

On age and abnormality and awesomeness

This week I went to the Muscular Rehab Center and as Benson was fixing my right vastus medialis, he said "You're not in your twenties anymore" (in reference to my apparently advanced age of almost 35) and "What you do is not normal" (in reference to ultrarunning). I think his comments were meant to be cautionary more than anything else. But I found them mostly comical. I can't argue with the validity of either statement. Currently, I'm the oldest I've ever been. And let's be honest, I did not acquire the nickname Robot due to an excess of normalcy. The thing I find humorous is the implication that either of those things - age or abnormality - are negative or undesirable. Age is an accumulation of adventures in aliveness. Abnormality is what happens if you go about being who you are instead of trying to contort yourself to fit into the box of other people's expectations.

Personally, I don't think I run all that much. I haven't run 100 miles or a 24 hour race, which is what I would consider to be "a lot." That's not even on the horizon for me. Though admittedly, my perspective is skewed. I've been a runner for two decades. I've been active pretty much since birth. Physical activity is so much a part of my life that not running feels abnormal. If I had to be someone else's idea of normal, to "settle down" and "sit still," I'd be restless and bored and terribly unhappy.

And I know I'm not in my twenties anymore. But I don't think I could have been an ultrarunner in my twenties. I didn't have the muscles or the mental resilience for it. Not that I have any discernible muscles now, but at least I've built up a habit of consistent, weekly strength training (compared to the approximately zero strength workouts I did in my twenties). Age has been kind to me so far. Probably far kinder than I deserve, given the shit ton of sugar I ingest (that is the focus of my next life improvement project). So I'm not getting any younger, but that only makes me want to cram in as many miles and adventures as I can into whatever time I have left. I don't want to be an action figure preserved in its original packaging, unused. I want to use my allotted aliveness up, to be active for as many days as I get. I suppose that some age related decline is inevitable, but I'm going to fight it off as long as possible (or get bionic parts!). Because I intend to be active and abnormal and awesome until I die.

Lyric of the moment: "Running now, I close my eyes. Oh I got stamina. I see another mountain to climb. But I got stamina..." ~Sia "The Greatest"

Monday, October 3, 2016

Chin-ups, trail run, chainsaw: an inadvertent triathlon

Triathlons are not my thing. Except for the kind that happen accidentally and involve chin-ups, trails and chainsaws. Saturday got off to a gloomy, overcast start, but as the day wore on, more and more awesomeness ensued.

I am not registered for any races this fall or winter. I actually enjoy training far more than racing so I decided that's what I'd do: run and strength train for the pure enjoyment of it. If I end up doing any races, it will be a last minute decision. If I don't, I'm perfectly content with that too. In lieu of a goal race, I set a different fall goal for myself: do at least one full, unassisted chin-up or pull-up. This may or may not have been the result of all the detective shows I watched on Netflix all summer. I noticed that the person-hanging-off-a-building was a common plot device. (Why do people always run up to the roof of buildings when being chased? Unless you're meeting a helicopter up there, this is a terrible plan since you have limited your means of escape to 1) the way you came, which is now blocked by the person pursuing you or 2) plummeting to your death. Lose-lose.) This got me thinking how long could I last if I had to hang off a building? Not very long. A pitifully short amount of time. Which got me thinking I should do something about that. And that's how I ended up ordering a chin-up bar from Amazon. I assembled it and put in the guest bedroom doorway. It's very easy to put up and take down, but I leave it there all the time so I see it whenever I walk down the hallway. Which I have to do anytime I go to the bathroom or bedroom. Whenever I see it, I jump up and try to do a chin-up or pull-up. So far, this consists of me jumping up, lowering down halfway, pulling myself back up, holding and lowering slowly. I can't do a full chin-up yet, but I'm hoping that will happen eventually if I keep at it. At least, that's how the plan formed in my brain at 5:30am on Saturday, day 1 of the Cockamamie Chin-Up Challenge.

Why was I awake and doing chin-ups at 5:30am on a Saturday? This may or may not have been the result of the overactive and apprehensive brain of which I am the owner. Tuesday morning's run and Wednesday morning's hill repeats had felt fine. But Thursday morning when I tried to run, my leg hurt, the kind of hurt that's inadvisable to run through. I stopped a mile into the run and went to spin class instead, where nothing hurt except for the terrible, terrible music. I'm still awful at pain-to-English translations, but I interpreted this particular leg pain as a signal to take a rest day. So on Friday, I stretched, foam rolled and iced and on Saturday I hoped for the best. Alison was planning on running four of the Mendon 10K loops. I decided to play it by ear (leg?) and join in for however long my legs felt like going that day. It was cloudy and in the 60s when Alison, Bob, Stacey and I headed out to get loopy. That first uphill out of the parking lot always makes me feel like oh shit! this is a very bad idea. But a funny thing happens on long runs. I get in this zone of happiness where I'm just running along chatting and the miles and hours pile up without my realizing it. Soon we had finished the third loop and Alison was heading out for her fourth. I felt pretty good but didn't want to push things too much. So I decided to follow Alison up to the water tower, then head back to the parking lot while she continued on (She would go on to run a total of 28 miles that day! Like it was nothing!). Once we arrived at the water tower, I had intended on taking the short cut back down to the parking lot. But somehow I did not do that. My legs took off the other way before I realized what was happening. It's true that I have a terrible sense of direction and little to no spacial memory. But I also think my legs have a mind of their own. So I did not end up doing what I planned to do, but I did end up back at my car at exactly 20 miles. And all's swell that ends swell I suppose. I chatted with Bob, who was back at his car after running three loops, and with Steven and Chris, who had just arrived and set out to run a loop. I went home to shower, eat and run some errands.

Then a very exciting thing happened! I got a message from Todd saying that he was coming over with saws!! There was a large tree branch in our backyard that had cracked - from lightning or tree disease or overzealous woodpeckers - I don't know. At this point, it was probably one windy day away from crashing down into the backyard. Luckily, it was too far away to have fallen on the house. Even more luckily, I have a Todd in my life (Everyone should have a Todd. He's the best). And Todd has lots of fun tools. Tools I didn't even know existed. Like a saw on a long extendable pole. So Todd got to work sawing through the rest of the branch with the extend-o-saw (I'm pretty sure that's what it's called). Meanwhile, I practiced my Karate Bo moves with this long bamboo pole Todd had brought to duct tape to the end of the extend-o-saw if needed (Bo and stilts, these are my only life skills. What can I say, I know my way around a pole). Once it was mostly sawed through, Todd threw a rope over the branch and pulled it down. It was an epic and very satisfying crash (sorry neighbors)! This was where the real fun began, as Todd gave me a chainsaw (possibly poor judgment on his part) and I cut the branch into firepit-sized chunks. Chainsawing is loud and sawdusty and so much fun! I don't think the chainsaw liked me as much as I liked it though, because periodically it would just give up and stop working. I gave it back to Todd, as it seemed to like him better. Infinity of thanks to Super Trail Steward Todd for helping me turn a dead tree branch into firewood! Fall firepit fiestas coming soon!

And thus concludes my very first triathlon, a trifecta of chin-ups, trail loops and a backyard chainsaw massacre (sorry trees).

Lyric of the moment: "No I don't wanna sit still, look pretty." ~Daya "Sit Still, Look Pretty" (This song is hilarious. See also: "Snow White, she did right in her life. Had 7 men to do the chores. 'Cause that's not what a lady's for.")

Monday, September 26, 2016

Autumn Adventures

There are some things in life you can't control. Like the weather. (Unless you are a superhero or supervillain with weather controlling powers. In which case, please be my friend and make it sunny and warm 80% of the time). If you don't like the current weather, you can complain about it. (In which case, do so in a way that is amusing and not annoying). Or you can find ways to enjoy it until it changes. Which, if you live in Rochester, could happen any minute. I am happier when I focus on the things I like about something rather than the things I dislike. As for Autumn, other than not being Summer, there are a lot of things to like:

  • Those sunny, 60 degree days are perfect for running and adventuring. This past Saturday was the epitome of a most excellent fall day, perfect for going on Autumnal Adventures with Alison. Including: an 18 mile trail run at Mendon, the most underwhelming 2nd birthday ever (The vendor market to celebrate Hart's Local Grocer's 2nd birthday. It was mostly just samples of beer and hard cider. And there wasn't even any cake. They did, however have samples of the phenomenon known as "tomato jam," which was quite delicious), getting honeycrisp apples and apple frosts at Schutt's Apple Mill, going to Art House Day at The Little and trying to convince John that beets are delicious (he remains unconvinced). 
  • For some reason, it's the only season that has two names, Autumn and Fall. Maybe one of them is an alias! Because Autumn is a spy! Mystery and intrigue!
  • Wearing sweaters and hoodies but no coats! My favorite fall days are the ones where you can wear shorts and a sweater or hoodie, but pants and sweater days are nice too. See also: still being able to wear sandals. And those moccasin-like shoes that are basically slippers you can wear outside.
  • It is super dark in the mornings! Which does not seem like much of a plus. Except that you can totally feel like a ninja while running! But be a ninja with a headlamp unless you want to trip and fall. (Falling is a very literal way to experience Fall. Not recommended, due to problems like gravity being a real downer.)
  • Roasted vegetables! I don't like using the oven when it's 90 degrees out. Who am I kidding, I don't like using the oven at all. But I do like eating roasted vegetables and I do not have a personal chef. I am working on getting The Cheat to be my personal chef, but he remains unconvinced. 

  • Did I mention roasted vegetables? I bought a white eggplant from the Farmer's Market. It probably has some official name but I decided to call it Ghost Eggplant. Then my brain exclaimed What if it was a boat?! Filled with pizza?! Ghost Boat Pizzas!! And the captain said Make it so!

Ghost pizza boats taste way better than this picture makes them look.
I am much better at eating food than cooking or photographing it. 

  • The expression to be in the autumn of one's life means a time of full maturity. So Autumn is prime time for some good ole adulting. Like finally getting around to digging out that now giant weed that is growing from your neighbor's yard through your fence. So you get a shovel and start digging away. Then your neighbor comes out of his house because technically you are trespassing on his property and you're all like Sorry, I am massacring your yard, I am trying to get rid of this weed. And then he comes back with a pick ax and helps you and says I didn't like it either. And you have yet another reason to love your neighborhood. 
  • Saving the best for last: the colder and darker the days get, the closer we are to Pete's return home! Cold days are better if you have a manheater!
Lyric of the moment: "But I miss you most of all my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall..." ~Eva Cassidy "Autumn Leaves"

Friday, September 23, 2016

This Is Marriage: Day 383

I arrived home last night to find a large black box on our doorstep, a package of Pete's things he no longer needs overseas. I carried it inside and down to the basement. It was heavy. Fitting I suppose. This year is heavy. The box had a lock on it, but Pete had given me the combination. I could have opened it but I didn't. What's inside is just stuff, and I didn't want it to be Pete's stuff, I wanted it to be Pete. The box was not big or heavy enough for that to be true. Also, there were no air holes.

In this house, I'm surrounded by Pete's stuff. Their presence amplifies his absence. So much so that I avoid his closet at all costs. The closet is full of his clothes, it smells like him. If I go near it, I will cry. I want more than this evidence of his having once been here, these faint traces of his molecules. I want all of his atoms to be here, uniquely assembled in the way that makes up his Peteness - those arms, that laugh, those jokes.

I put the black box of Not Pete in the basement. Then I did a HIIT workout video I found on The YouTube. So the sad feels would seep out through sweat and not sobs. And because, even though I fear it is a hopeless cause, I still want to have muscles. Sometimes life is heavy. If you have muscles, you can carry the heavy things.

Over the weekend I Skyped with Pete and it was the first time I'd seen his face in over a month. It was the best. Well, second best. The best will be seeing him in person in about a month and a half. In that moment I realized my definition of home has been forever changed. Home is not this house, this stuff. Home is no longer even a place, it is a face, an embrace.

Marriage is spending your life with the face that you call home.

Lyric of the moment: "Home, let me come home. Home is wherever I'm with you..." ~Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros "Home" 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Things I learned whilst making sweet potato toast

Mr. Internet told me that sweet potatoes can be made into toast. Like most things on the internet, this turned out to be half true. You can in fact cut a sweet potato into bread-sized slices, put them in a toaster oven, then add toppings. But the result, while delicious, will not be toast. The recipe for toast is:

Bread + Toasting Device = Toast

There are few certainties in life but this is one of them.

Not Bread + Toasting Device = Not Toast

Sweet Potato = Not Bread


Sweet Potato + Toasting Device = Not Toast

Don't get me wrong, sweet potatoes are great. As it turns out, they also make convenient slabs capable of delivering other foods into your mouth. While they can approximate the requisite crispiness, sweet potatoes are lacking in breadness, the very essence of toast, therefore they can only ever be a pale imitation at best.

Last night I made sweet potato "toasts" for dinner and topped one with almond butter, one with a fried egg and one with applesauce and cinnamon. There are a lot of other topping options I'd imagine would be just as good, but those happened to be on the ones I had in the kitchen at the time. I ate them with a side of pickled beets (because sweets and beets are good eats).

Then I made actual bread toast with almond butter and ate that too. Because it's fun to branch out and try new things but at the end of the day, just be who you are. If you're a sweet potato, be a sweet potato. Be the best sweet potato you can be. Don't try to be toast. Like my second favorite sailor man said, "I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam."

I'll probably make sweet potato toast again. It was quite scrumptious. And I'm all for foods that can be eaten sans utensils. But I will call it something else, sweet potato slabs or crisps or whatnots. Probably whatnots. Because I just want things to be as they are. Whatever they are, the weird, the wonderful, all of it. I crave honesty and authenticity. I don't want a life of pretense. I have no interest in superficial relationships. I want a life rich in experiences and balls deep in friendships. Don't give me a tuber and tell me it's bread. Come as you are and let's toast to that.

Lyric of the moment: "Come with fear, come with love. Come however you are. Just come, come alone. Come with friends, come with foes. Come however you are, just come. Come, come along. Come with sorrows and songs. Come, let yourself be wrong. Come however you are, just come..." ~Damien Rice "Trusty and True"

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The heart is a muscle

I got out of bed this morning and felt strangely off balance. My legs were unsteady, as if one was longer than the other or they were a brand new pair I hadn't yet figured out how to use. It took a few steps for my legs to settle back into themselves. I think it was the result of the massage I'd gotten the day before. My right quad and hamstring had been so much tighter than my left for so long that my body had adapted to it. Once Strat worked everything out and loosened the right side up again, it was like getting brand new legs. How amazing is that? Just a little loosening in the muscle, a bit of readjustment and BAM! I was standing on two relaxed, renewed, raring-to-go legs.

Muscles are incredible in their ability for transformation, to grow bigger and stronger through exercise, to improve in functionality and efficiency through use. The heart is a muscle. The brain behaves as a muscle, in its capacity for plasticity and growth. They too can be transformed, through the exercise of empathy, compassion and critical thinking.

I often struggle to respond to instances of hatred, ignorance and intolerance on social media and in people's words and actions. In those words and actions I see unhappy, suffering people. I wish I could find the words that would ease their suffering, that could possibly loosen up their hearts and minds, that would maybe prompt a change in perspective, that would maybe ripple outward into a paradigm shift, away from fear and towards love. Because that's what hate is - it's just the outward expression of inner fear, hurt and insecurity. Happy, self-actualized people are filled with love, not hate. They don't feel the need to blame other people for their problems or partake in Us vs. Them mentalities to feel superior over others. They can see the reality of the world, the inherent beauty and the inherent suffering. They recognize and appreciate the advantages they have been given and work to build others up instead of pushing them down.

I'm not religious. I don't think there is one book of stories that is the "right" one. I don't have the answers to the universe and all things. To me, the purpose, the meaning of life is this: work hard, love hard, play hard. Work. Put in the effort, into your life, your relationships, your community. Struggle through the challenges, the discomfort, your demons. Do the work and let it make you stronger, more compassionate. Love. As unconditionally as you can, as many people as you can. Love yourself, your life, your fellow carbon based lifeforms, your environment. Play. Be silly, laugh. Don't take life too seriously. Or too personally.

Work hard, love hard, play hard. Use those muscles as much as you can. Especially that heart. It's your very best muscle.

Lyric of the moment: "Change your heart, look around you. Change your heart, it will astound you. I need your lovin' like the sunshine. Everybody's gotta learn sometime..." ~Beck "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime"

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Happiness and sweetness and imperturbability

My baseline happiness has always been pretty high. I'm lucky to have been programmed that way. But in recent years, my happiness has skyrocketed to previously unfathomable heights. To be sure, a lot of that is due to exceedingly good fortune and privilege. I have the luxury of being able to not sweat the small stuff and of having been largely untouched by the big stuff. But part of it is that the older I get, the more imperturbable I've become. Maybe it's some kind of inner peace or self-possession. Or maybe it's just that my ego has left the building, chased off by my inner Dude. The ego frets, whereas the Dude abides. So there's just not much that bothers, upsets or embarrasses me anymore. Maybe I've just grown into myself. Maybe I just realized that my time here is finite, that there is so much I want to see and do, so many people I want to know, and I am running out of time in which to do it all. So I want to spend more of that time caring about people and less time caring about what people think of me. Maybe I've filled my life up with so much love and adventure that there is no more room for self-consciousness or worry. My life is rich in relationships and experiences. And that is true wealth. Maybe it is some combination of all those things.

I'm not sure how it happened. It still catches me by surprise sometimes:

Like when Alison, Laura and I went Extreme SUPing with Jude and Sherry and it was so windy and choppy that I fell off the paddleboard (twice!) and instead of being embarrassed by my total lack of skill and grace, I was delighted by the adventure, the sunshine, the warmth of the bay. Actually, I think falling in the water was the best (and funniest) part of the whole adventure.

Like when Pete says he is going to call or Skype video me later and then sometimes he's unable to do that and my brain is all meh, it's probably not about you instead of what if he just doesn't want to talk to you because no one likes you and you're the worst at everything ever!?! And sure enough, later on he'll tell me that comms were down or they couldn't get a flight back to base that day or offer some other perfectly logical and totally-not-about-me explanation.

Like when I decided to give up dessert for the month of September to tame my voracious sweet tooth and I thought it would be difficult but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. Then Steven and I were having a conversation about diet and sugar's effects on the body and he asked me if I noticed any irritability or mood changes and I said I felt just as happy without dessert as with it. And I realized it's not sugar that makes my life sweet. Being here, this aliveness, is the ultimate sweetness.

So my friends, be sweet on each other. Be the smart and tough cookies you are. Share your slice of the pie. It's a piece of cake. The proof is in the pudding.

Lyric of the moment: "Make a list of things you need, leave it empty. Except for number one, write "love, gamble everything...If you gamble everything for love, you're gonna be alright, alright." ~Ben Lee "Gamble Everything For Love"