Medal # 17

Last weekend, I participated in my first 5k in about a decade. I started out running 5ks back in the early 2000s, and when it got to the point that I was running over 30 races per year, I figured that I needed to run longer. I have been running half and full marathons for the past 12 years.

The 5k last weekend was a fundraiser for a program very near and dear to me, given my educational and professional background. The 5k raised funds for our local community policing initiative. Having completed the Run to Remember half marathon a few times, and numerous other races that support our emergency responders, I was totally on board to do a 5k for community policing after a 10-year hiatus from the shorter distances. Plus, this one supports our local community police officer, who is an all-around amazing person.

I just ran the 1812 Challenge half marathon a few weeks ago, and signed up for this race totally in support of the cause. I did my Canadian 10:1 run:walk method that I instituted this year. This meant I had two walk breaks for a 5k. I also had an unanticipated third walk break in this race, as there was a hill on one of the streets. I don’t do well with hills, so I walked up it. In total, I had 3 walk breaks over a 3.1 mile run.

The weather was perfect. It was 55 degrees at the start, which is my favorite temperature in all of life, and also optimal race weather. Given my hiatus from the 5k distance, I was just treating this as another 3 mile run. I was not expecting any certain time or accolades. The only expectation I had for myself was to finish in under 30 minutes. Based on my race pace a few weeks ago in my half marathon, I was hoping for about 27 minutes, but I figured under 30 minutes was a reasonable expectation.

My fastest 5k time back in my 20s was 25:10. Now at age 40, I knew I would not get near that. I just wanted to run a decent 3 miles. 

I crossed the finish line in 26:17, far exceeding even my wildest expectation of 27 minutes. 

When checking the boards for race times, which were marked “unofficial,” I was surprised to notice that I had placed 2nd in my age group!

I was surprised and elated! While I consistently perform in the top 10% of runners in half marathons, this was the first time I have ever placed in my age group in any race ever. Well, not in the top 10 anyway. 

At age 40, a 5k time of 26:17 is a new PR (personal record) race for me. Placing in my age group was the icing on the cake. When I turned 40 this year, I have now entered the Masters category of running, and I finally feel like I am coming into my own. I may not be as fast as I was in my 20s, but I am a well-seasoned, experienced runner, and to place in my age group felt amazing. I was so excited. I could not wait to tell everyone.

Running awards were announced at the end of the race. The first place finisher in each category received a prize. As second in my age group, I knew I was not going to receive anything, and I was totally okay with that. I was so happy to place second and have bragging rights. I ran a good 5k and then stayed near the finish line to cheer for everyone who came in after me. It was a great race and just a happy day to be part of the running community.

Imagine my surprise, when the female age 40-49 age group first place finisher was announced and it was me! Apparently, the other woman in my age group was the first overall female finisher, which bumped me up in the standings to be the first finisher in my age group. When I looked online later this week, I also noted that I was the third overall female finisher for the race! 

Welcome to medal # 17! This is my first 5k medal and the only medal that is for a distance shorter than a half marathon. However, I am so honored to have placed first in my age group! I am so proud of this 5k! I had a great time and a great run on an awesome course with amazing people! 

I will now officially say that my 2019 running season is over and I am in the off-season. Medal # 17 was a complete surprise, but definitely one of my most favorite medals. I am so looking forward to planning the 2020 race season over this winter and to resume “recreational running” for the duration of the off-season.

Thank you so much to all the volunteers, the spectators, and every one who has supported me in the 2019 race season. This is the best race season I have had in 5 years and I am so grateful to be able to continue to compete in this sport. I truly consider my ability to run to be a gift from God and every step I take is a blessing. I love all my medals and consider it an honor and a privilege to have earned each one. I’m so happy! Medal # 17 rocks!

Five Reasons the 1812 Challenge Rocks!

So if you haven’t heard, I ran the 1812 Challenge half marathon on September 1, 2019. It was my comeback race. It was amazing. This race is so awesome, I decided it needs its own “Rocks!” post similar to the Garmin one. In random order, here are the five reasons why the 1812 Challenge is my new favorite race. 

  1. Volunteers

Any runner from 1 mile to a full marathon will tell you that every race is about volunteers. We cannot run without them. No volunteers, no race. Kind of like mornings – no coffee, no workee. Yeah, yeah, we hear it all the time. 

Seriously, this race has the best volunteers. It has an army of volunteers. The race field was 1,200 runners. There were 200 volunteers. Our every need was taken care of in every way possible. Not only were the volunteers plentiful, but they were insanely happy. You could tell they genuinely wanted to be there and cared that we had a great race. 

These volunteers did not need coaching to smile, cheer, or encourage us on our way. They just did it and it was genuine. They wanted to be there and the runners were the center of the universe. I have never before gotten that vibe from race volunteers before. 

By the way, have you ever volunteered for a race? If you haven’t, then you should. Don’t be that runner that just races all the time without giving back by volunteering for someone else’s race. We’re the ones that know all the little tricks like how the person with the box of kleenex is an angel because when your legs run, your nose does too. If you are racing, you should be volunteering too. Give back. Pay it forward.

  1. Spectators

This course has the best spectators. It was the first time I ever had people say “good morning” to me on a race course. There were people outside in their yards with a mug of coffee (as in the ceramic 12 oz mug from your kitchen, not a travel mug) enjoying watching us go by. People turned up their stereos for us. 

One person was playing violin on course. Another person played the bag pipes. None of these people needed to be outside. But they were. They were cheering us on. They were awesome. I especially enjoyed all the Disney characters at mile 12. There were people of all ages from children to adult, and everyone was happy to be there. It wasn’t like in the big cities when you get the feeling that the spectators are just there to party. These people were spectating the 1812 race for us. Now, its possible some of those coffee mugs held vodka, but I don’t think so. 

This course was pretty rural. If it wasn’t for the spectators, it would have been lonely and boring. Thank you to everyone who came out to sit in their yard and watch us. You’re awesome. 

  1. Organization

The 1812 Challenge has flawless organization. From the expo to the finish line, everything went off without a hitch. I’m sure there was a lot going on behind the scenes, but from the runner’s perspective, this was a perfect race. 

First, the Expo was held on Saturday at the same location as the start/finish for the race. I’m so glad this was the case. I probably would have gotten lost on race morning if I had not been to the Expo the day before. The Expo had plenty of things to do and was not boring like some other expos. There was swag, music, and running gear sales. 

Parking was surprisingly easy, free, and did I say easy? For both race start and also for leaving the race location afterwards. One of the most stressful moments of race weekend is getting to the starting line on time. It can also be stressful trying to leave a race to get back to shower, rest, and have a full meal. The parking for this race was amazing. It was easy in, easy out. A big part of why race day went so well was that I was not stressed and frustrated trying to get to the start line. Finding the start line was easy, so I could relax and focus on my race.

Another impeccable part of organization with this race was directions. You would not believe how many marathons I have been in and the runners are frustrated because we get confused on turns and where we should go. This course was very well marked and very well staffed. There was no question at any point in time regarding where we should be. We knew at all times that we were on course and were well aware of turns. 

Especially for a race with multiple distances where the 13.1 runners sometimes diverged from the 18.12 runners, there was no question about who was supposed to be where. This is in marked contrast to large races I have ran where we get confused on where the full marathon splits from the half marathon. If it’s not organized well, that’s a horrible mistake to make. Luckily, the 1812 Challenge is organized with precision at every aspect.

Another thing that was impressive was porta potties. Porta potties were plentiful and had short to no lines. I used a porta potty at mile 5 and really appreciated it. This was one of the very few races where I did not just run behind a tree somewhere and squat. I am super impressed with the porta potty situation for this race. 

  1. The Course

When they say this course is flat and fast, they mean the course is flat and fast. I have ran races listed as “flat and fast” only to have the huge hill from miles 10-13 completely slow me down and cramp up my legs. The course map was also posted well in advance of the race. I often use course maps when considering a race to decide if it is something I can do based on elevation. 

The course was also well laid out. I was not bored. I had plenty to look at. I enjoyed having multiple turns. I tend to get bored if I’m just running a straight-away for 4 or 5 miles. We were able to see the beauty of Lake Ontario, the tranquility of cows on a farm, and the gorgeously quaint main street of Sackets Harbor. One of my favorite activities is learning about a new place by running their race. This course definitely allows you to see the sights.

  1. Timing

Apparently, this race used to be at the end of August and was moved to Labor Day weekend this year. Some people have complained about the change, but personally. I love it. Even though the change is only one week, pushing it a little into the fall brings me hopes of lower temperatures. My optimal race temperature is about 55 degrees. If it is 70 degrees or above, then I need to use my MS cooling vest and we may be looking at physical problems/symptoms.

The weather was perfect for this race with 56 degrees at the start and a high of about 72 for the day. I liked having it Labor Day weekend because the end of August tends to be feast or famine – everyone is either running around trying to get ready for back to school or every one is on vacation. For me, Labor Day weekend was perfect because I had the time to enjoy the race without needing to worry about idiots around me. 

I was really happy with the 7:30 am race start time. Again, this is for temperature reasons related to my functioning. Some half marathons start later in the morning and it is too damn hot! The 1812 Challenge has nailed the timing aspect. 

I was also impressed with the on the course race timing. When finished, I was able to punch my bib number into a little machine, and it printed me a slip of paper with all my race stats. This is one of the most incredible pieces of technology I have seen in the course of my running career. I love it! No more standing in front of boards and saying excuse me to the group of people around you trying to find your bib number and times. Then try to find a pen to write it down because who carries a pen to a marathon? I love the new timing technology. That race stat slip is my favorite piece of paper.

Bonus Reason why the 1812 Challenge Rocks! Because I could not stop at just 5 …

Bonus = Theme/Swag

I love how this race commemorates the 1812 theme. From the medals to the race swag, the theme is just awesome. The visuals are great. I love the artistry of a patriot from that time period. 

This race also ties in with the 1812 beer and has pint glasses and other swag that goes with the theme. Not to mention, an 1812 beer is included with the race. The beer ticket is attached to the bib. 

The challenge theme is awesome because 18.12 is an unusual distance. It’s more than a half marathon, but less than a full marathon. It’s the perfect way to challenge yourself for those scared to make the jump between distances. While everyone else has stickers that say 26.2 or 13.1, you can have one that says 18.12. Just so that people are like what? And it will be cool. Do the 1812 Challenge. Put the 18.12 sticker on your car. You will start a thing. You’ll see. 

I am so looking forward to returning to the 1812 Challenge in 2020. I can’t wait to figure out which challenge is in store for me next year – 13.1 or 18.12! 

The Comeback Kid Runs Again

A half marathon is just a 5k with a 10 mile warm up. 2008 was a rough year. In February of that year, I broke both arms at the same time in 4 places. I spent the winter training for a spring race in casts. In May, they sawed my casts off on a Tuesday, and I ran a half marathon that Sunday. Little did I know at the time, but my race in Ottawa qualified me for Boston. When I finally figured that out, I did indeed run Boston – in 2010.

In the fall of 2008, I ran my first full marathon in Philly. It was my third medal. The day of the race, it was 23 degrees for the entire event. It was so cold, the air horn would not work to start the race. At every water stop, as soon as liquid hit the pavement, it was instantly ice. Shortly after I crossed the finish line in Philly, my running coach passed away from cancer. Since then, I have trained myself.

When I ran Toronto in 2009, I was stoked. Toronto had perfect weather and I had a great training season. Even though PRs (personal records) are technically only good for two years, my time in the Toronto Marathon is the PR of my entire running career. It was my best race ever for the full marathon distance.

While in Toronto, I was fortunate enough to meet and have deeply personal conversations with some of my running heroes. I had the privilege of spending quality time with Roger Robinson, Kathrine Switzer, and “Boston Billy” – Bill Rodgers. Kathrine Switzer was the woman in the iconic Boston Marathon photos that the race director was trying to pull off the course because there “wasn’t supposed to be women in the marathon.” Bill Rodgers won the Boston Marathon four times. He also won the New York City Marathon four times.

In my conversations with Bill, I learned a little about running and a lot about life. I told him of the challenges I had in the 2008 running season and how I was so happy and excited to be running in Toronto. The race was bittersweet, as it would be my first full marathon without my running coach. Bill gave me great advice, words of encouragement, and called me “The Comeback Kid.” I definitely came back. Toronto was my best race ever.

Fast forward a few years.

My 2015 running season was okay. I did a half marathon in the spring. Everything went normal. I ran the half marathon in under 2 hours (typical for me). I ran a full marathon in the fall of 2015. It was my worst marathon ever. It was my slowest time and I was starting to have physical issues.

Those physical issues would persist into 2016. I ended up in the hospital. The 2016 running season was completely lost. They thought I had a stroke.

I struggled through 2017. I did a small, local half marathon with about 100 runners. I was happy to get a medal, as it was unexpected for such a small race. My time was well over the 2 hour mark. It was one of my slowest half marathons, but I did it.

In 2018, I had more set-backs. My 2018 running season was completely lost. Between 2016 and 2018, that is now two years where my running season was just plain gone and I was not liking the pattern. I changed doctors and have been pushing them for answers. Why is my body betraying me? I have 15 medals – 10 half marathons and 5 full marathons. Something is definitely wrong here. 

In 2019, I have found out that the stroke diagnosis was wrong. I have a neurological disability. They are looking at MS. I am still technically “pending diagnosis,” but after having three different doctors tell me they all suspect MS and “failing” all the MS tests, getting confirmation from the neurologist is almost just a technicality at this point.

With MS in mind, I got a cooling vest to help with my symptoms – which was actually prescribed by one of the doctors who thinks I have MS. It helped with my physical symptoms enough for me to train. Previously, it would take me 9 weeks to train for a half marathon. With my new neurological problems, it has taken me 4 months to train for a half marathon. I also changed my training plan for the first time in my career. I now use Canadian John Stanton’s 10:1 method for both training and racing. 

On September 1, 2019, the Comeback Kid Runs Again. 

Given that my neurological condition (lets just go with the MS thing, since I see the neuro in October, mmkay?) affects my vision and my driving, I took a short trip north to the Watertown, NY area. I needed a “big” race that was close and easy for me to get to. I also needed one with a medal, because we all know, it’s all about the bling. 

I ran the 1812 Challenge Half Marathon, which was my biggest race in four years, and my first “official race” back on the race circuit. In the words of Neil Diamond, it felt “so good, so good.” I love being an athlete. I love being a runner. Most importantly, I love being a marathon runner. I do not remember the last time I was as happy as I was during 1812 race weekend. It has literally been years since I have been this happy.

First off, the people are amazing. I even met the race director. The 1812 Challenge is only in its 8th year, but it is run with a level of organization, thoughtfulness, and love, that I am sure this is a race we will see going for 40 or 50 years like the big ones in the cities. As a comparison, the 1812 Challenge allows 1,200 runners. Philly allows 40,000 runners the last time I ran it. I am used to big races. Not only does the 1812 Challenge rival the big cities, but it has a lot of extras that big races don’t have. I never would have guessed a smaller race could be so beautifully done. 

Hands down, the 1812 Challenge is the friendliest race I have ever completed. Keep in mind, this was medal # 16, so this is saying a lot. There was so much support and everyone was happy to be there. Even the NYS Trooper who was stopping traffic for us at one of the intersections was in a great mood. There was a violin and bag pipes on course. 

I even saw Cinderella and a bunch of other Disney characters at about mile 12. They completely rival the Scream Tunnel at the Boston Marathon. Sorry, Wellesley, Sacket’s Harbor has you beat on this one now. 

There were people standing in the front yards of their homes cheering us on. This was the first time I have ever ran a race and had people say “good morning” to me as I ran past them.

Not only are all the staff, volunteers, and spectators friendly, but somehow this race draws the best of the running community. I don’t understand how that is possible, since runners are a pretty great bunch of people to begin with, but the people who ran the race with me exceptional. I had conversations with other runners while we were on the course. It was awesome.

Even though this race is in a rural area, I did not miss the crowds of spectators in the cities. There was so much hometown pride in the people who were spectating from their front yards. I did not go a single mile without seeing someone. The water stops were plentiful and well staffed. 

Yes, I did run by a barn full of cows and it was awesome. I would much rather run past cows then spend 3 miles running on a lonely bridge in a city with no spectators. I was a little worried at the start about not running with music, as I usually use the city crowds to “carry” me through the race. Races are so exciting that I never run them with headphones because I do not want to miss a single moment. I have had times at larger races when I wanted my headphones because there would be stretches that were so lonely. 

I had no need and no desire for headphones in this race. I always had either something to look at, someone to talk to, or people cheering for me. It was amazing. I ran my race. I ran a good race.

This is the first race I have completed in a long time that reminds me why I love to run. I know I love to run. Sometimes I get caught up in the competition, trying to beat the clock and get the PR. This race I just ran for the love of running and what made it better was that you could tell that everything about this race was designed with love. The staff, volunteers, and spectators were all there because they loved being there. This was not just another race or a notch in the running belt. 

My goal next year is to return to run the 18.12 portion. It will depend on how my doctor appointments go and how I’m feeling through the winter on whether I do the 13.1 or the 18.12. I had some troubles in the morning with the shaking (I have tremors came up in my last doctor appointment) and my right side was having troubles about mile 11 (my right side overcompensates for the left side that is being attacked by the MS). One thing is for sure, I am definitely running this race again.

The weather was perfect. The finish line was beautiful. I love the theme and the medal is one of my personal favorites. I feel so honored I get to wear my medal this week. I can’t wait to show it to everyone. 

The Comeback Kid ran again. I cannot wait to do it again next year. The 1812 Challenge is my new favorite race, and you will see me again at their race in 2020. I’m not sure if I will be in the 13.1 or the 18.12, but I will be up for A challenge and toeing the line. 

Baby Skunks, Dead Birds & Crazy Squirrels

 

Reason # 538 why I am not equipped to be a home owner. I pet a baby skunk this morning on accident. I didn’t know it was a skunk when I started petting it. I thought it was one of the homeless cats in my neighborhood. I have never seen a skunk in person before.

This morning, I went out to the outdoor cat shelter that I constructed this winter for the homeless cats at about 6:30 am. With the 80 degree heat, I have been leaving bowls of water out for the outside cats. The homeless cat for whom I made the outdoor cat shelter, Clarence, is a black cat with one little patch of white on the front of him.

When I went outside at 6:30 am, there was a little furry butt sticking out of the outdoor cat shelter. It looked like Clarence was having a drink. For the first time, he did not run away. I took this as a positive – he must be getting used to me.

I started petting what I thought was Clarence. Then, when the animal finished drinking and turned around, I was able to clearly ascertain that it was not a cat, but in fact, a skunk. I’m pretty sure it was a baby skunk, as it was about half the size of one of my indoor house cats. 

I slowly backed away and left the garage. 

No, I did not get sprayed. The baby skunk did not seem fazed by me at all. 

Tonight, when I got home, I removed all water bowls from the outdoor cat shelter. I wiped everything clean. I completely closed the garage door. If I happen to notice a cat outdoors when it is below zero again this winter, then I will reopen the door so the cat can have shelter. But I can’t really encourage skunks to hang around. I have no idea where baby skunk came from, but that was not the best surprise at 6:30 am.

The baby skunk incident comes about a week after the dead blue jay incident. One morning last week, I noticed a blue jay laying in the grass next to the bird feeder. It was my first encounter with a dead animal for which I was responsible for disposing of. I used a shovel to pick it up and throw it behind the garage. It had a broken neck. I’m not sure if it flew into a window, a building, or what. What is even more weird is that a few days after that, I was outside doing yard work, and the carcass was completely gone. No idea what happened to the dead bird. 

There are two squirrels terrorizing my bird feeders. These things are getting bold. You would not believe the acrobatics they are doing to reach the feeders. I was going to get a super soaker to start spraying them, but every time I open my door, they run away. There is no way I would be able to attack these things with a super soaker. They are annoying just the same. 

I’m having adventures in wildlife just as I am beginning to adult this summer.

More on adulting to come. I’m quite impressed with some of the positive changes I have either made this summer or have in the works.

The best part is, that baby skunks, dead birds and crazy squirrels are no big deal. They are no big deal because I have slowed my life down to a point where I am calm and able to handle the crazy. I’m pretty sure that if I had encountered a baby skunk, a dead bird and crazy squirrels a few years ago, it would have been a crisis because I was so overwhelmed with life that I was not able to handle anything extra being thrown at me.

One of the benefits of minimalism is that when you slow your life down enough, events like wildlife encounters are no big deal. As they should be. 

My summer is wicked busy, but busy in the best possible way. I have not had a summer this good in at least 4 years. Expect to hear more from me in the coming weeks about the positive changes I have made and the ones in the works for the fall.

For now, let’s hope my adventures in wildlife are coming to a close. Hopefully baby skunk will get a clue to go elsewhere when he sees the garage door closed tomorrow morning. I pet a baby skunk and remained scent-free to tell the tale. How many people can say that? 

Pumpkin Time

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Cinderella has a midnight curfew when the illusion ends. The carriage turns back into a pumpkin, the gown back into rags. I have pumpkin time too. Right now it seems to be about 3 hours. Three hours is the amount of time I can be out in my cooling vest before I become absolutely exhausted.

Yesterday, I pushed it. I did my long run in the morning (without cooling vest because it was only 60 out). Then, I was outside in the heat for about 2 hours doing yard work. Thankfully, I have a really awesome person who helps me with yard work, otherwise it would take me an entire day. 

After my two hours of yard work, I was inside resting and having lunch. Yesterday afternoon, it was in the 80s, and I used my cooling vest to spend 3 hours at an outdoor birthday party. It was great, but I got tired fast. I felt like a pumpkin because I kept to my 3 hour time limit, afraid if I pushed it longer, I would not be okay to drive home. Just like Cinderella, the illusion would end at the appointed time. In my case, the illusion is “normal human being.”

I really appreciate the cooling vest so I was able to be there for the 3 hours like normal person. Without it, my body would have had the “drunk” symptoms and I definitely would not have been able to drive home. I told someone this week that I am a cheap date. There is no alcohol required for me to feel drunk – all I have to do is hang out in the heat for awhile with no cooling vest and my body will have all the symptoms. I do not understand how I was able to cope the past few years before I got the cooling vest.

Earlier this summer, I had posted about wanting to say “yes” more. The cooling vest gave me the ability to say “yes” to going to a birthday party without having to worry about my symptoms. Without the cooling vest, I would have been less likely to go because I cannot handle the heat. 

I should be thankful for my pumpkin time. I have not had a summer this good when I have been this functional in a really long time. But it’s hard. I know how good I used to be, and I don’t think I will ever be at that level again. I have brief – maybe 5 minute – moments of normality when I think I can do it all, only to realize I can’t. My 5 minutes of normality usually comes when the cooling vest clears my brain fog. Those moments are fleeting.

This morning, while listening to another of my favorite radio programs, the Sounds of Sinatra, I heard a commercial for little red and yellow pills for a male dysfunction disorder. It got me thinking about the red and blue pill dilemma in The Matrix. 

We have a similar scenario in the running community. In the online running forums, one of the games we like to play is discussing this red/blue pill scenario. In running, we usually say that the red pill will allow you 5 amazing running years of reaching PRs and breaking records, followed by 10 years of not being able to run anymore. The blue pill would allow you 15 years of being able to run continuously at an average level. 

I have always responded to this that I would take the blue pill. I would want the 15 years of running, even if it was only at an average level. I cannot imagine not being able to run. I would take the illusion to be happy.

However, now that I am experiencing this situation in real life, I’m not quite sure. It currently appears I have been handed the blue pill. I am functioning at an okay level. I’m not as good as I was, but not horrible either. I know there are people who “have it worse,” but that doesn’t help me  at all when I am the one trying to live THIS life in THIS body. 

Mainly, I’m just tired. I wish pumpkin time could last for an entire day, not just 3 hours. Maybe in time, I will get there. It would be no problem to continually recharge and change the phase change packs in the cooling vest so I could wear it all day. The problem is that my body physically gives out to exhaustion after about the 3 hour mark. 

My goal over the next two years is to hopefully be able to extend pumpkin time to 5 hours. I want to be able to run a full marathon again. Right now, I am pretty sure I am okay to run my half marathon this fall. The big question is that I want to be able to run another full marathon, and I don’t think my body will cooperate for it. My body betrays me. 

While most people this summer are popping a top proclaiming “miller time,” “molson time,” or “whatever your poison time,” for me, it is putting on a cooling vest for pumpkin time. I have about 3 hours a day to be normal before exhaustion claims my body – what will we say “yes” to today? 

 

That Thing Won’t Make It Better

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Go ahead, you deserve it. That message is pervasive in advertising in a litany of various incantations. Want to look and feel younger? Get the sports car. Want to feel attractive? Buy this dress. Bad day at work? You deserve ice cream. Good news? Time to treat yourself.

We all fall prey at some point or another to the allure that we deserve this thing or that buying an item is a reward. However, once the item is bought, the excitement wears off and we are on to find the next quick fix. This is how our homes become cluttered and our wallets become empty.

I admit that I fall prey to this phenomenon myself. It’s even harder now that I am a homeowner. It is challenging to differentiate sometimes between buying something “for the house” and buying something for me. 

For example, this past winter, I bought a new comforter for the spare bedroom. Was that for the house or for me? I put comforter for the spare bedroom under the category of “house” because I do not personally use that room. However, this Christmas, I am looking to purchase a new comforter for my bed to replace my 22 year old comforter, and I put that under the category of “for me” as opposed to for the house. I also have a tendency to prioritize house things over items that are just for me.

The bottom line is, that thing won’t make it better.

I currently have a perfectly fine 22 year old comforter. It does not need to be replaced. I take it to the laundry-mat every so often to wash it in the big machines and sew places where it needs mending. I may want a new comforter, but I do not need one. The only thing that a new comforter is going to do is temporarily increase my level of happiness and make my wallet a little lighter.

I actually want to buy a new comforter right now. I don’t want to wait for Christmas. The summer colors and patterns are available, and I like them more than the winter colors and patterns. I’m sure I can work up reasons inside my head to justify the purchase. I deprive myself of even small pleasures to focus all my resources on the house. I have had some majorly bad news. The comforter I want is currently on sale. I can come up with reasons to buy it now.

The thing is, buying it now won’t make anything better. Instead of spending money on a comforter, I need to take that money and buy paint to paint the woodwork around my house windows. I have work that needs to be done on the car. I should get more money into my savings account before making a major purchase. I struggle with grocery money with multiple food allergies.

I have plenty of reasons why it is better to wait to buy a comforter sometime in the future instead of buying it now. In fact, buying the comforter now will not only NOT make things better, it would make things worse. I would be behind on other items I need to purchase for home maintenance this summer. 

Many times I think we purchase items based on emotion. I deserve a treat. In the long run, a thing won’t help. Treats are nice occasionally. However, in today’s society it seems treats have become an every day thing.

Maybe if we want to treat ourselves, we should choose treats that aren’t things. Go for a walk. Meet a friend for coffee. Take a child to the movies. Those are the types of things that will make it better. You will have the memories of spending quality time with someone to keep coming back to over and over again.

One of my new goals for this summer is to practice saying “yes” more. As a minimalist, I have gotten really good at saying “no” in an effort to slow down my life and make it more manageable. While I still do not want to be overbooked, over-scheduled, or worn out, I think that saying yes to more experiences will make life better for me in a way that things just can’t.

You deserve time with friends. You deserve time with family. You deserve to see the sunset over the lake. You deserve to see the sunrise on the hood of a car parked near a beach. These are experiences we typically do not see advertised in the media, but are the treats that really will make it better. 

That thing won’t make it better because things come and go. People come and go too, which is why we need to spend time with them while we are here on this Earth. The next time you think “go ahead, you deserve it,” think about what you are saying yes to. Ignore the car, the dress, or the perfume. Say yes to the birthday party, the bonfire, the hike through the woods. That thing won’t make it better. Time with people will. 

Home of the East Wind

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As we read the book of Job, we see a man with great integrity who has everything taken from him by Satan. In Job 1, God gives Satan permission to test Job with the caveat: “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically” (1:12). We then hear Job and his friends talking about the adversity he is all of a sudden experiencing in life.

Finally, in Job 38, the Lord challenges Job about his complaining. In Job 38:24, the Lord asks “Where is the path to the origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind?” These are very big questions. I certainly don’t know the answer. God asks these questions to basically say that us humans on Earth are not able to comprehend the extent of God’s power. God created everything. We can’t answer all of those questions.

I may not know where the home of the east wind is located, but I do know that the sun rises in the east and signifies the start of a new day. Each day is a new opportunity to try to live life the best that we can. To this end, I ask, “what gives your life meaning?”

We may not know where the home of the east wind lies, but usually when the wind blows, that signifies change. What is the meaning of your life and what needs to change?

These are very big questions and they can get really intense.

I’ve had many changes in my life recently. Use whichever euphemism you want – a new day, the winds of change blowing … what I have come to realize is that my entire life has changed in a drastic way over the past three years. I have experienced at least 8 of the 10 major lifetime stressors during that time. I have also been grieving at least four different extremely significant loses.

A light bulb recently went off in my head. When life feels really overwhelming and there is a lot going on, the best people are able to overcome and plow through by slowing it down.

Simplify the situation and it is easier to deal with.

In Job, we read 42 chapters of trials, tribulations and complaining. Then, the entire situation is simplified, solved and ended with one statement. “I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:6.

Sometimes we have to just sit down and simplify life to deal with it.

I have been on this journey to simplify my life and it wasn’t helping. It wasn’t hurting either. Simplifying my life allowed me to face my trials these past few years without losing my mind. That’s a positive. However, it did not help to give me a direction for improvement.

When I read Job 42:6 about sitting in dust and ashes to show my repentance, I think that it is all about getting back to basics. How can I be the best me I can be? How can you be the best you that you can be? You can sit there and complain and wallow about adversity, or you can sit quietly and come to a peaceful conclusion.

I realized that I have been drifting since I finished school in 2015. I spent 20 years as a college student and now that I am done, I have no direction in my life. I have no passion. I have also been in a period of grief, as I have experienced at least one major loss in my life each year for the past four years.

It’s time to get back to basics. I need to focus on my health, running and nutrition. I need to have goals. My half marathon this fall is a good goal. I need more goals for when my race is over.

For the first time, I think I’m done grieving, so hopefully I won’t have any more losses any time soon. I kind of get what Job was lamenting. I have lost a lot these past few years too.

The east wind comes to remind us to be the best we can be. What gives your life meaning? How can you set new goals and move from a place of brokenness to a place of repentance and peace?

I have no idea how to redirect my life now that I am no longer a student. I need a new goal other than “survive.” I am going to start with focusing on my health, running and nutrition, but I know I need something bigger than that.

Maybe in the silence, something will come.

4 years, 1 month, 28 days

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Normal (noun): The usual, average, or typical state or condition – as defined by google.

I’ve had this un-diagnosed neurological condition since at least 2016, but probably longer. 2016 was the year I was in the hospital and my symptoms not only worsened, but whatever disease I have decided to ramp itself up to the Next Level like a video game on steroids.

First, I was told it was a stroke. Now, they are looking for multiple sclerosis. I’m having problems getting medical care, which does not make life any easier.

Going with the idea that I might have MS, pending neurology confirmation, I ordered some MS cooling vests to see if they would help at all with some of the “imaginary” symptoms I get when it is hot out. Imaginary is according to the primary doctor, who does not seem to take me seriously (even though she was the one who referred me to neurology).

I took great care to measure myself for the MS cooling vests and I am glad I did. When I put one on, I discovered that the phase change packs were situated so that there are two on either side of my spine. I say phase change packs because that is what they actually are – these are not ice packs, but some other technology. The placement of the phase change packs is key to their efficacy, which we will get to in a moment.

I wore the cooling vest for my run tonight. I had this idea that it would just keep my body cool similar to air conditioning. Boy, was I wrong.

But I was wrong in the best possible way.

Those phase change packs are situated on both sides of your spine not to cool your body, but to cool your central nervous system. Apparently, in people with MS, if that is what I have, heat causes your nerves to misfire. By cooling the central nervous system, your nerves are less likely to misfire, and you are less likely to have heat-induced symptoms.

My central nervous system was definitely cooled by the cooling vest. My spine was cool. My brain inside my head was cool. It was the weirdest but also the best feeling. It felt similar to an ice cream headache, only without the ice cream and without the headache. I did not have a headache. Nothing hurt. Yet my brain inside my head physically felt cool while the outside of my body was sweating buckets.

It was 86 degrees out when I went for my run. Not the best running conditions, even if you do not have a neurological problem.

It was the best run I have had in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days.

It’s been a long time since I have been this happy to be that miserable.

I was sweating buckets. I was uncomfortable. But it was a “normal” uncomfortable. It was the type of uncomfortable that you get when you run 4 miles in 86 degree weather like a crazy person. It was the best feeling.

What made it so great was that it was the first run I have done in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days where I did not experience any of these neurological symptoms while running. I was not dizzy, I did not feel like passing out, my vision was not blurry, my vision was not black, I did not trip, I did not fall. I had no brain fog. I was able to think clearly for the first time in a long time.

I felt normal.

I felt like any other idiot running 4 miles in 86 degree weather, because, really, you shouldn’t do that.

I basically wanted to see if this cooling vest would work. It does. It doesn’t work in the way I thought it would work. It works even better than that.

I thought that the cooling vest would cool my whole body down and kind of give me a competitive edge to run in that heat. The vest did no such thing. The vest cooled down my central nervous system so that I could run normally. I had no neurological symptoms. I was just a crazy runner sweating buckets on the outside. Only my spine and my brain inside my head were cool.

The cooling vest makes me normal per the definition at the beginning of this post. The cooling vest puts me back on level playing field again. It was just me and my body pounding the pavement on the road minus all neurological symptoms.

Now granted, running in 86 degree weather is completely stupid.

The point is that if the cooling vest lets me run normally again, what else can I do like a normal person that I have not been able to do for the past four years?

I’m excited to find out.

I want to surf. I want to drive further than 8 miles. I want to be able to go back to the beaches. I want to go to a baseball game without getting all these neuro symptoms where my body feels like it’s drunk when the only thing I have had to drink all day is water with lime slices in it.

I want to feel like a normal person and not have my body betray me every time I try to do something.

Tonight, I had my first normal run in 4 years, 1 month and 28 days. I cannot say how grateful I am to have this cooling vest. I feel like I might be able to actually get my life back.

With the doctors around here being absolutely stupid, I may never find out whether or not I have MS. Whatever it is that I have, this MS cooling vest is looking like it is alleviating all my heat-induced symptoms.

I can’t wait to use the cooling vest more and see what else I can do like a normal person again. Summer is one of my favorite seasons and I have not been able to enjoy it for years.

Bring on summer. With my MS cooling vests, I’m ready.

Update:

So, I’ve had some people ask me about which cooling vests I chose. I went with these really great vests called Under Cool from Therm Apparel in Rochester, NY. Many people have asked me recently if I’m wearing my vest because they don’t see it. Yes, I am wearing it! The fact you can’t see it is the whole point!

The Under Cool vest goes under my shirt. As a runner, I chose this vest because it weighs just under 2 pounds. Other cooling vests I researched were about 6-8 pounds. When I run 26.2 miles, I don’t want to feel like I’m in Marine boot camp lugging around a bunch of extra dead weight.

Sizing was a huge selling point for me. I weigh about 96 pounds. Most cooling vests I researched were bulky and only available in S,M,L sizes. Under Cool was available in XS (which I have), as well as youth sizes. Some of my baseball shirts are actually youth sizes, so having a wide range of sizes was key. Measure carefully, and your vest will fit well. XS is doing it for me.

Please note, I do not usually push specific items, but since you guys have asked, it is definitely Therm Apparel. I have not received any sort of compensation for giving them a plug, but if you need a cooling vest for neuro issues and run marathons like I do, then this is the vest for you! I also got the “adventure bundle” so I have one vest for running and one vest for “every day use.” I have two sets of phase change packs that allow me to be out longer. So far, I have only been out in my cooling vest for a maximum of 3 hours, but that is only because I get so tired.

I will be sure to post another blog on my vests!

Where We Left Off

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One of the joys of life are those friendships that you have for a decade or more, maybe several decades, where the depth is so strong that no matter what happens in life or how long its been since you have spoke, you always have the ability to pick right back up with that person where you left off. Maybe its your best friend from college that you rarely see because they live in a different state. Yet every time you get together, whether its once a year or even less frequent, things just naturally pick right back up again.

These are the friends that you know you can call in the middle of the night. They are the first number you’re dialing when anything major happens – a new baby, a death, a promotion. You want them to hear your news. You want their input for major decisions. They may not see you everyday, but you still think “omg, what would they think of my hair?” when you get a new do.

These are the people that you would drop everything to help. All those sappy country music songs about hopping into your car and taking off on an hours long road trip to help someone out when they call – those kind of ties are real. They may be a rarity, but they exist.

Sometimes you do all that to help someone with the big stuff. Sometimes you drop everything to rush to their side just to silently hold their hand. Silence in person is more comforting than silence by phone. You know that this person would not have called unless they really need something. You know that since they called, you really do need to drop everything to be there.

These are the people who sometimes know you better than you know yourself.

I have the privilege of having this type of relationship with a select handful of people in my life. Perhaps one of the most treasured is someone who I have known for over 30 years. Yes, I know, I’m showing my age. I recently tried describing this relationship into the 21st century by saying it’s my “ride or die.” While there are boundaries in this relationship, I will say that those boundaries are pretty much – I will – unless I absolutely can’t (physically, financially, emotionally, etc.)

I’m not saying that the word door mat should be on your forehead and it’s not on mine. This type of relationship goes two ways.

Life takes you different places and through different situations. Yet somehow, you keep coming back to this one person. It may have been years since you have spoken, and yet when you reconnect, everything is the same.

Some of these relationships can be unhealthy. Some are healthy relationships, yet simply a casualty of geography and circumstance. There have been moments when this particular relationship has been unhealthy for me, but as we have gotten older and life circumstances have changed, it is once again healthy. Sometimes you have to figure out if its toxic or just a phase of life.

Every time we pick up where we left off, I’m ecstatic. I don’t know how long it will last. That is the unhealthy part. The part when it ends and we have to go our seperate ways breaks my heart every time. But I also know that we will come together again and pick up where we left off. That part brings me hope. I also have hope that at some point geography won’t be an issue, and we won’t have to pick up where we left off anymore because we will just be fixtures in each other’s lives again.

Years go by and people change, but at the core, we’re still the same. It’s this consistency that keeps me going. No matter the circumstance, you know the person is the same. You know that’s the same person you fell in love with or first made friends with.

We never say goodbye because it never is goodbye. You may see someone only once every few years, but you still have other ways to communicate – by phone, by letter. It could be months between correspondence and yet you always just continue the conversation.

The relationship keeps going … from where we left off …

A few months ago, my local newspaper had a poetry page. I submitted two entries to the poetry page, one short and one long. The rules for the poetry page was that it had to be original work and that it had to be poems that had never been published. The work I submitted met the requirements; I had not even posted the poems ever to this blog, so they were truly unpublished pieces.

The longer poem that I submitted and was published was one that I had written about my “ride or die” person with whom I have this “where we left off” relationship. Since it was published in the newspaper’s poetry page a few months ago, this will be the second time it’s been published. I’m just going to leave you with this piece of original poetry here:

Innocence Lost

We were 8 years old

Out on the playground.

You asked me out.

I laughed and ran away.

 

10 years later,

I’m in college

And you’re fighting a war.

It’s like we don’t

Know each other anymore.

I’m still dreaming

While every boot print you’re leaving

Takes you further away

From the boy you once were.

 

10 years after that

And I’m not surprised

At the man you’ve become.

I always knew you would

Be someone great.

Too bad the hand of fate

Took the best of you

And left it in some cave

When you were off in that war.

 

We try again. And again.

I know you’re in there,

But things you’ve lived

And things you’ve seen

Well, the Army took

More from you

Than anyone would believe.

 

If life were simple

I would go back to

8 years old

On that playground

Waiting to be found.

Water

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One of my favorite reggae tunes is “Bread” by John Brown’s Body. This group is made up of band members from both Boston, MA and Ithaca, NY which combines two of my favorite places and makes it even better. When I hear this tune, it reminds me to be thankful for everything that we have.

Do we ever think to be thankful for water? We hear about people in other countries who do not have access to clean drinking water. We have heard the stories from Flint, MI and from areas in California that are still trying to recover from the fires and do not have access to clean drinking water.

The concept of water struck home for me, when, for a period of four months, I did not have it. Sometimes, you do not appreciate something until you have to go without.

As you may remember, last summer I was in the throes of my housing crisis. Part of that crisis was the fact that the new owner who bought my apartment building hired this company who was clueless about wells. To make a long story short, our well water got completely screwed up.

This 12-unit apartment building with 1-2 people and 1-2 cats per unit was on a well for 20 years. Everything went fine. We always had water, and it was good water. The water tested well and tasted good.

Then, this water management company came in and the water was completely messed up the last four months I was in the apartment. The water was not drinkable. It sometimes came out a blue-purple color. You could no longer do laundry on-site because clothes would be stained with the blue-purple color. I only used the water for washing dishes and for bathing. Yet even using the water to shower only, all of my bath towels ended up dyed that funky color just from toweling off after a shower.

I had to buy new towels when I moved into the house.

You can imagine, then, when I first moved into the house, all I wanted was a shower. I wanted to shower in clean water. I delighted in turning on the tap in my kitchen sink and drawing a glass of water to drink. I am fortunate in that the area where my house is located has the water that tests the best and tastes the best in the entire county. According to our village newsletter, our water even won some award. I love the water at the house.

Not only am I able to shower at the house, but I can drink water whenever I want. So can the cats. The last four months in the apartment, I was constantly buying gallons of water for us all to drink, which only added to my expenses when I was trying to scrimp to get into the house.

In the house, I am also able to do laundry on-site. I can do laundry whenever I need to do it. It doesn’t matter the day, the weather, or the time. This is truly a luxury and a privilege.

I was thinking lately about how privileged I am to have water.

Being a home owner has been a struggle for me. I call myself a reluctant home owner because I never wanted to buy a house. I bought this house because it was the only way to keep my family together. Everyone around me seems to think I have some problem because I hate being a home owner.

However, on the news recently, a study shows that as much as 60% of home owners in this country have regret or remorse over the fact that we bought a house. We all bought for the same reason – it was cheaper to buy than to rent. We all are depressed and resentful about our home purchases for the same reason too. We hate the responsibility and maintenance.

I am again fortunate in that I have people who have been helping me with the house. I am so appreciative of the help. However, there is a difference between having people who lend you a hand with things and then having a life partner to shoulder the responsibility, joy, and anxiety with you.

Reading the studies and knowing that there are people out there who feel the same way I do helps.

Being thankful for my water helps me appreciate the house even more and also be less resentful.

Out of the 12 apartments in the building in which I lived for 14 years, I have kept in touch with a person who is still there. I had lunch with that person a few weeks ago.

I had seen in the newspaper that the person who bought the building decided to add on more apartments. More apartments means more people means more stress on that well.

I have also heard that instead of 1-2 people in each apartment, there are now 4-6 people in each apartment. Seeing as how the rent more than doubled, I am not surprised. You need 4-6 working adults in each unit now to be able to afford the rent.

So with more units and more people, I asked my friend if the water situation was ever remedied from the mess it was last year.

It has not. Not only is the water still contaminated and coming out that blue-purple color, but apparently there has been no hot water for weeks even though each unit has its own hot water heater. They are essentially all cold water flats. My friends says that she has not said anything because she does not like to deal with the new landlord.

Hearing this situation makes me very thankful for my house. I was so stressed those last four months in the apartment. I had to take all my laundry to the laundry mat, and I was spending exorbitant amounts of money on gallons of water for me and the cats.

I still resent buying a house. I find it overwhelming. But I am thankful that we have a place to live that has working, clean water. We have both hot and cold water. We can drink water right out of the tap.

I have been trying to find ways to be positive about the house to try to decrease my stress levels. Being thankful for water is one way to be thankful for this house.

Even though owning a home is hard – it is damn hard – it is the hardest thing I have ever done – at least we have clean drinking water.

I listen to the song “Bread,” and all I can think is that I have water to make bread. Owning a home is hard, stressful, and not a responsibility that I want. But I am so thankful that this home gives me clean water and that my little family is together.

Thank you for clean water.