Time is a Gift

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I’m not going to lie. The past month (the first month) of my retirement has been wicked hard. No matter how much I giddily anticipated the slow down, transitions never quite go as planned. As mentioned in an earlier post, my life did not just slow down. It came to a screeching halt.

As painful as that transition was, it served as a wake up call. I definitely got a reality check. I have always thought of time as a commodity. I have never valued my time. My time has always been bought, bartered, or sold, and it has never been my own. In the past few weeks that my life has slowed down, my time has been my own. When you are so busy going from one thing to another, you never have time to think. When your life slows down to a point where you once again retain ownership over your time, it can be an uncomfortable process if you are not used to having time on your hands and are unsure of how to handle this newfound gift.

Old coping skills die-hard. My first thought, in a moment of panic, was that I have to go back to school. I need a fifth degree. I don’t know from where or in what, but I need another degree. Then, I was able to stand back and ask myself, “Do I really want to go back to school?” The answer is no. Twenty years of college was enough.

This transition probably would have been easier on me if it had occurred at another time of year. In spring and summer, my life is full of outdoor activities such as running, surfing, and spending time at the parks. In the winter, I have a tendency to hibernate. While I have plenty of things to do and plenty of ways to entertain myself and stimulate my brain, what I lack is human interaction.

The biggest benefit to slowing your life down is that not only does it leave you with more time on your hands, but also gives you the power to control what you do with your free time. Once I determined that I do NOT, in fact, want to return to school, I asked myself what I do want to do.

I came up with some ideas.

Some of those ideas I decided I do not want to do right now, but in the fall. Some of those ideas I decided were more of a time commitment that I am willing to give right now. While I need human interaction, I do not want to trade school for some other all-consuming activity. I want my time to be my own.

I have identified two activities that I want to do that seem to require a level of time commitment with which I am comfortable. After the holidays, I plan on putting my plan into place to engage in the two activities and hope to pull myself out of the rut into which I have fallen.

I have checked into many different volunteer opportunities with a great many deserving entities. While I would love to help them all, I simply cannot. The beauty of having time on my hands is that I get to choose what to do with my time. Time on my hands is not only a gift to me, but also what I choose to do with the time I have been given can also be a gift to others.

Part of my intention in slowing down my life is to identify what is important and what is not and to be able to focus my energies on the important things. Life is too important not to do so. Time is a gift and not a commodity has been a very challenging but very deserving lesson I have been learning the past few weeks.

Do you view your time as a commodity? Are you constantly working just to get ahead when really, it would mean so much more to your family if you could come home even an hour earlier one day? At the holidays, we purposefully take the extra time to spend with family and friends and to engage in activities that bring us joy.

We should be doing that all year round, not just at the holidays. Time is a gift both to you and to others. Take this time of year as an example of how much joy could be in your life year round if you only view time as a gift and not as a commodity. We have so much when we rewind real slow.

 

Digital Sabbatical

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An update on my pulling the plug post, as one of the intentions of this blog is to hold myself accountable to my goals; I have not done well with pulling the plug on technology and making my interactions more meaningful. I was successful for awhile, but then discovered that I was not getting the type of engagement in real life that my brain required, and I tend to get more attention online than I do in real life.

The past two months have been a learning experience in how I interact with the world and have forced me to take a step back and evaluate my relationships more critically. The benefit to having an online presence is that it results in more interactions than in real life. By the same token, the detriment is that constantly being plugged in results in increased levels of anxiety and decreased ability to focus on the task at hand.

I took a digital sabbatical this weekend to unwind after a particularly challenging week of all things grad school on top of my normal day-to-day responsibilities. While my phone has been off and I have not been on social media, I have used an Ethernet cord to plug into the internet when I have needed to do something grad school related. Yes, I know the purpose was to unwind, but I am nearing the end here, and need to seriously get some work done.

What I have discovered these past few days is that the people who matter most in my life are already with me – my cats. Other than that, people so rarely contact me that I am sure no one is having meltdown over the fact that I have been unreachable the past few days.

I have discovered that I do, in fact, have a healthy relationship to the internet when I must access it old school via Ethernet cable. I only plugged in when I absolutely needed something this weekend, and not for more than 20-30 minutes per day. My downfall with internet and social media comes from my smart phone. That little square glowing diabolical hand held device that allows instant access to the internet at all times and from all locations.

With my phone off these past few days, I have gotten more accomplished on grad school, I have spent more quality time with my cats (those who are most important), and have even managed to read a novel for leisure that is completely unrelated to any of my degree programs.

I had a real-life in-person discussion a few weeks ago with someone whom I greatly admire about my desire to completely shut off my internet after grad school. That person persuaded me not to, arguing that internet is now a utility much like electricity or gas service, and that the internet provides me with a way to communicate. This is true. So while I will not be getting rid of internet service completely, my goal instead is to put better boundaries around its use.

Saved by the Ethernet cord is how I am going to accomplish this goal. Given that I do not have self-restraint with my so-called smart phone – once I am on the internet for one thing, I am looking at all the things – I will be turning my phone off more and plugging in my Ethernet instead.

I am quite sure that if it was not for the fact that I needed email for things grad school related that I probably would have only been online once in the past 4 days – and that would have been to double check the ingredients for a recipe about which I was doubtful.

I have not missed the status updates, the rants, the raves, or the photos. I more thoroughly enjoyed all my activities this weekend because I was fully present. I enjoyed the sunset. I enjoyed the beach. I enjoyed music. I have had the opportunity to plan my cross training schedule for when I am fully recovered from my running injury.

I am coming up on my last few weeks of grad school before my final defense. I may take a sabbatical every weekend I have off. Really, the only time I need my phone is if work needs to find me or I have to email for things grad school related. My stress levels have been a lot lower the past few days. I am looking forward to returning to work tomorrow energized and focused without the distraction of grad school panic and everything else that overwhelms when you are trying to finish a degree and do 10 million things.

Have you taken a digital sabbatical? Has it been relaxing for you? Have you noticed less anxiety when you turn the smart phone off?

If you are not on social media, how do you improve your in-person interactions? My problem is that I tend to get more interaction with people online than I do in real-life (even though the people I know online I also know in real life). With everyone so busy these days, how do you find or make time to spend with those important to you?

Baggage Check

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One of the great things about trying something new is the ability to experiment. Minimalism has been an experiment for me in being able to find balance in my life and focus more on experiences and people than on things. One of the more drastic ways in which I engage in this experiment is through travel.

The origin of the word vacation means to break away. Vacations are appealing because they are a respite from our everyday life. When we go on vacation, we have a break from our everyday responsibilities, which includes all our stuff. You only take what you need to survive and you leave all your other belongings at home without having to worry about cleaning or transporting them.

The past few times I have traveled, I have made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of luggage I take with me. To illustrate, perhaps the most extreme example of my tendency to over pack comes when I run a full marathon. I remember a race, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, to which I traveled and had 9 pieces of luggage.

Nine pieces of luggage.

My reasoning in this was: “26.2 miles – what could possibly go wrong?” I packed all the things. Every single bit of running gear I owned I took with me, because I was uncertain of the challenge I was facing and wanted to be prepared. It was like an episode of preppers for the insecure athlete.

I am happy to report that since that time of packing nine pieces of luggage for a full marathon, I have been able to pare down significantly. I flew to Chicago a few years ago for a 4-day trip and took only a backpack and my purse. I had no checked luggage. Given some of the transfers I had to make in certain airports, I was thanking my lucky stars I had no checked baggage to keep track of as well.

Not only did I take only one backpack, but also that bag had room to spare. I was able to take a few gifts for my hosts in that bag along with the essentials I needed for the trip. Before you gasp in shock and exclaim that this is an exercise in self-deprivation, it was nothing of the sort. I did not repeat a single outfit the whole 4 days I was there and even had an outfit for a more formal outing.

Back to running. Carrying nine pieces of luggage is challenging and problematic. It is even harder trying to deal with so much luggage when you have just ran 26.2 miles and your legs are oscillating between feelings of warm Jell-O and leaden concrete. Sometimes, your legs give out, other times they lock stubbornly, but either way, having to contend with nine pieces of luggage in this state is not happening.

I am happy to report that the last time I ran a half marathon; I was able to decrease my luggage count significantly. The last time I ran a half marathon, I had one backpack (the same one I had taken on the Chicago trip), and one cooler on wheels. I always have a cooler on wheels when running a race as I have multiple food allergies and it is helpful for me to have food and snacks on hand in case I have trouble finding food I can eat that won’t kill me right away.

The more challenging concern than packing for a half marathon was packing for a full marathon. The race I just completed I had two pieces of luggage plus the cooler on wheels. I had the same backpack, plus one additional small size boat and tote bag. I consider this to be a significant improvement from nine pieces of luggage. I was able to take everything from the car to the hotel in one trip and had fewer belongings to keep track of. How many times have you left something in a hotel room because you simply had too many things to remember to repack?

I am happy to report that with a backpack, boat & tote, plus the requisite cooler for food allergies, that I had everything I needed to not only be out of town for 3 days but also to run a full marathon. 26.2 miles what can possibly go wrong indeed? I learned that all I can do is prepare the best that I can. In 26.2 miles there are many things out of my control such as weather and course conditions. The only thing I can do is pack for what is reasonably expected and hope for the best.

In streamlining my packing, I have learned to be more mindful of what I am packing. Rolling clothes instead of folding them allows me to fit more. Rolling underclothes and putting them in large Ziploc bags keep them organized, easy to find, and dry. I say dry because I also used this packing method on my last two camping trips, and when you are camping in the middle of nowhere, dry underclothes are tops on the priority list.

I have learned to pack more tops than bottoms. The jeans I wear to travel someplace can be worn again on the trip back. If you do wear the same pair of pants two days in a row, no one is going to care. Even if I do spill something on myself, most places have laundry facilities onsite or nearby. Plus, there is always the old spot clean in the sink method.

When I would pack for a race with nine pieces of luggage, I learned that I was so focused on what could potentially go wrong and ensuring that I was prepared for every scenario that I failed to enjoy the actual experience I was there to have. The best memories are not often the ones where you arrive impeccably dressed and have a mediocre time. The best stories often come from the times when you were so connected with your experience you were having that it didn’t matter what you were wearing or those times when things went so wrong that it was hilarious.

I consider my new methodology of packing to be trial runs for my ultimate dream of being able to backpack through Europe. I have a passport that has never been stamped, and if I ever get the opportunity (read: have the funds) to cross the Atlantic, I want to be sure that I am fully engaged in the experience and not worrying about the luggage I am dragging with me across a continent.

My new method of traveling with simply a backpack (and sometimes the food allergy cooler depending on the scenario) has given me more freedom to be more present in my experiences, more freedom to actually explore new locations, and has gotten me asking harder questions about the state of belongings in my home.

If I can survive for 3 or 4 days with only a backpack, what items in my home are really necessary? What could I get rid of or live without if that magical moment ever came where I had the opportunity to do a large inter-state or cross country move?

Traveling with less is a safe way in which to experiment with living with less in general but also with having a smaller wardrobe specifically. Having a smaller wardrobe means less laundry, less decision fatigue, and less stress in the mornings as I no longer stand in front of a closet with “nothing to wear.”

If you are looking for ways to experiment with simplicity in your life without making a full commitment, then travel may be the option. Think about how much luggage you typically have on a trip and think of ways in which you can cut it down.

I did not go from nine piece of luggage to one backpack overnight. It was a gradual process over the past few years (and marathons) that I worked to cut it down. I went from nine piece of luggage to seven, to five, and on down. At one point, I fit everything into a medium size duffel as my one piece of luggage. Then, I reduced the medium size duffel to a small size duffel, and finally a backpack.

How much freedom would you have while traveling if you could transfer planes or simply come off the plane without having to wait for baggage claim? You just grab your bag and explore the new place where you have landed. There is a lot of freedom in that. You can explore your surroundings immediately without having to check in to a hotel right away or trying to find someplace to store your luggage while you wait for it to be check in time at the hotel.

Let your next trip be an experiment in living with less. This is not about self-deprivation. This is about freedom. What do you really need to survive?

Seattle #TBT

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Monthly #TBT from when I returned to the east coast from the west, and all the thoughts and feelings a decade brings.

When I think about leaving the west coast and returning east in 2005, I think about freedom. Everything we owned fit right into the back of a pickup truck. I took one backpack with me on the plane from Sea-Tac to Upstate New York. I was perfectly content with being able to wait a week with the contents of that pack while the rest of my belongings arrived. While books, CDs, and other household items make one feel comfortable and help to fill the time, they are not necessary to survival.

Fully embracing your local community and taking advantage of what is readily available is key. Using farmers markets and shopping locally not only helps your neighbors financially, but helps you to make friends as well. When we were in Seattle, we were constantly going to this show and that show, and having the best time with people – all by word of mouth without things such as Internet and social networking.

While it took time to build this same foundation and network on the east coast, we did build. It started with a poster. Go to a show. Talk to like-minded people who hang out in the same places as you, and suddenly you have a group of friends with common interests.

What I miss the most about the west coast is that it was affordable to live right in downtown Seattle and be within walking distance to practically everywhere. While we did have a truck, it often set idle in the driveway. Many times, we could bike or walk any place we needed to go.

On the east coast, housing is too expensive to live in a city or town to be able to walk or bike anywhere. On the east coast, vehicles are a necessary evil, as housing prices are more affordable in the suburbs, and things that you need like grocery stores and medical care are too sparse and spread out to be able to rely on public transportation. Not to mention, public transportation on the east coast often runs infrequently with limited routes.

Seattle reminds me of being able to throw the surfboard in the back of the truck and spending a day at the beach. Literally everything you needed was readily available. There was no need to have a vehicle on a daily basis unless you wanted a beach excursion or other type of road trip.

I’m sure that things have changed since I left the west coast- housing prices and availability for one. There is something to be said about being able to pack up all your belongings in two or three storage totes and pick yourself up for a cross-country relocation. There is freedom in not having to spread yourself thin trying to get to work, obtain groceries, or run other errands. On the east coast, the geographic challenges tend to contribute to more social isolation, and thus I feel it necessary to have more entertainment and distraction options in my home – movies and books for when the snow flies, and everything shuts down for a day, buried under feet of white stuff.

While hindsight is 20/20 and often viewed through rose-colored lenses, the aspects of coming back east that stick with me the most is how much I experienced on the west coast with so little belongings. When you settle in one place for an extended period of time, as I have been on the east coast, you accumulate stuff. Life was so much simpler without all the things.

It is thoughts such as these that contribute to my wanting to rewind real slow. That yearning for the wanderlust of youth when you had exactly what you needed, and nothing more, and if someone said, “let’s do this,” you enthusiastically replied “okay.” Seattle also taught me that I was put on this planet to live. Living is not simply working and paying bills. I deserve to have experiences in my very short time I have to be on this planet. That is a lesson I often forget in the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality of east coast workaholics.

Seattle is also special because it is the last large expanse of time in which I remember being present. Before the widespread use of smart phones, constant pings and notifications, social media, etc, we lived every day in the moment. Life really was much simpler when if you wanted to see or talk to someone, you had to find them, and if you could not get there due to distance, you wrote them a letter. The mail takes 3 days.

Ten years of living the grind on the east coast has definitely taken it’s toll. In my efforts to rewind real slow, I am hoping to return to some of the ease I felt on the west coast. Not only the relaxed pace, but the ability to live in the moment without fear of the future. The desire to recreate that feeling anywhere without being geographically bound to a particular location is what I am hoping to achieve. They say home is a place you carry with you. I am trying to build that feeling for myself where I presently am.

Is there a certain place in your life that elicits certain feelings? How can you recreate those feelings in your current location? Whether nostalgia or rose-colored glasses, how can you work to create experiences you envision?

Beauty in the Breakdown

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In 14 races, I ran my worst marathon this past week. It was wicked hard, but it was also an amazing learning experience. They say you can’t enjoy the good runs unless you know what it is like to have a bad run. Well, now I can appreciate the good runs more.

In this race, I learned what I like and don’t like in a race. I learned how to push myself way beyond my comfort zone. I learned to rely on my training. If I had not been adequately trained and prepared for the challenges I faced, then the outcome would have been a lot worse that what occurred.

As far as the race itself, this is what it taught me: I do not like small races. With only 3,000 runners, this was my smallest marathon ever. I usually do the large city races with 30,000-40,000 runners. In such a small race as the one I just did, there is not a lot of crowd support, and medical care is so stretched out that it’s scary. I am used to the big cities where thousands of people line the streets screaming each and every mile unless I’m running on a bridge. I am used to having a medical professional within eyesight for the entire 26.2 miles. The positives in running a small race and learning this, is that I was able to prove to myself that I can make it without those amenities. I was able to push through and finish the race without an iPod, without cheering crowds lining the streets, and without the constant presence of medical support. I can run a marathon without those amenities. Do I want to run a marathon without those amenities? No, I don’t.

I sustained an injury to the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) muscle in my hip somewhere between miles 18-22. If I had been on a course in a much larger city, medical professionals would have noticed the injury sooner and pulled me off the course. I would have been a DNF (did not finish). Instead, I pushed on to make the finish line. First, I did not understand exactly what was wrong or was happening, and second, I am one of those stubborn runners who push on just to get the medal.

I am fortunate in that I was adequately trained to be able to handle this injury in such a way that it will eventually heal and I am expected to make a full recovery. However, sustaining the injury has led me to a second reason why this was my worst race ever.

The course description was not accurate. Most course descriptions are not accurate. I have run marathons described as flat that were in fact gently rolling hills. I have run marathons described as gently rolling hills that were in fact downhill. While most race descriptions are not entirely accurate, they are usually pretty close to truth. This particular course was described as downhill, so I trained for a downhill race. What it was, in fact, was a hilly race. They were not gently rolling hills. They were not rolling hills. These were hills. There was a huge discrepancy in the description and elevation maps compared to reality. Sure, there were many course changes prior to the event, that required re-certification and new measurement, but there was a gross discrepancy in what was described and how I spent 5 months training.

After my injury, the medical personnel confirmed that the injury would have been much worse if I did not have the muscle tone that I have. I trained for a downhill course, and that was what I was prepared to run. A course that was extremely hilly put more pressure on my body that it could handle; I was not prepared for hills. HILLS. They were not rolling, nor were they gentle. I have run hill races before. I have done fine on hills courses, when that is what I have trained to run.

This race also taught me that the 2015 training season was my best training season ever. I was very well prepared to run a marathon. At my 18 mile split, prior to injury, I was on track to set a PR and within minutes of a potential BQ. At the end, it all fell apart due to injury and ended up being my slowest marathon time by over an hour. The important part was that I was able to finish and was not a DNF.

I have learned to do better research when looking into races to run. I usually try to choose established races so that kinks like this have already been worked out. This marathon was the 20th anniversary – I figure 5+ years to be my barometer for “established.” However, due to the drastic course changes that occurred in the weeks right before the race, the course I experienced was way different than the one for which I trained.

I will definitely be making changes and improvements to my training for 2016 to be able to strengthen the muscle currently injured. Right now, I am thankful that the surrounding muscles are strong enough to be able to support the one that literally took one for the team.

I am so thankful for every single day that I get to run. I can’t wait to heal and to come off the injury list to be able to run again. This race and this injury have taught me that I am so blessed to have been able to participate in 14 races so far. While I am looking forward to many more, I need to be able to continue to run smart.

I can’t believe that it took me 14 races to learn that I do not like small town venues. You grow through pain. You also learn so much about yourself once you go beyond your comfort zone. While this was my most challenging race in 14, I feel like I have learned so much about myself that is only going to improve my race decisions, training, and preparation for the future.

There is beauty in the breakdown. Without this experience, I would not have learned what I was capable of doing, or how adequate my training is, or what I don’t like. Sometimes knowing what you don’t like in life is as valuable as knowing what you do like.

I have been very fortunate in my running career thus far in that my good runs and races have way outnumbered my bad runs and races. This is pretty much only the second time in 14 races that I am saying, “I will never run that one again.” For the record, the other race I have said that about is due to logistics of the host city surrounding the race, not the course or race itself. This is the first time in which I loved the host city, but loathe the race.

I have learned so much through this negative experience than I have through my positive ones. The beauty in the breakdown is being able to take this knowledge to ensure that my race schedule for 2016 is amazing.

I’ll be on the injury list for the rest of the 2015 season, but I’m looking forward to the 2016 running season as being stronger, faster, and better. That’s the beauty of the breakdown.

Running Down A Dream

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Boston. It’s the Holy Grail of running. Every runner strives to earn a Boston Athletic Association medal. We throw around acronyms like BQ, PR, maxO2, and Gu. Ok, so Gu is a food group, but you know what I mean. Most likely when you meet a non-runner who finds out you run marathons, one of the first questions they ask is, “have you done Boston?” If you are in the Midwest, they probably ask, “how many Grandmas have you done?” referring to Grandmas Marathon, not your beloved senior citizen relative.

Everyone knows about Boston. Boston is the oldest, most prestigious, and has the strictest qualifying guidelines of any race outside of the Olympics. Qualifying standards for Boston are like Victorian chastity belts with a lock and key. Each year we look to see if the standards have changed, and pray for more birthdays so that we can change age groups to perhaps a less competitive one, or simply to get that extra 5 minutes to qualify. Many non-runners do not even know or understand that you have to qualify for Boston. You have to be invited. It’s like waiting for the fancy invite in gold calligraphy to be delivered to you by a guy in tuxedo tails wearing white gloves on a red carpet. You do not just “sign up for Boston.” It’s an elite club that not everyone can join. It’s kind of like a country club, except this one has lots of sweat and trail mix involved.

It is every runner’s dream to cross the finish line in Boston. It is truly the people’s Olympics. The finish line in Boston is the physical manifestation of everyone’s hopes and dreams as they sweat, train and run to achieve what less than 1% of the world population does – run a marathon. The magic of Boston is that in addition to all the professional runners who have 7 hours a day to train with professional trainers and chefs, it is also the housewife who rolls out of bed at 4am to get 15 miles in before the kids are awake and works in a supermarket that can qualify for Boston. You rip a training plan out of a magazine, and say, “I’m going to run a marathon.” Maybe your sister just got a cancer diagnosis, and you’re going to raise money and work with Team in Training (lymphoma and leukemia research). Maybe your mom just passed away from breast cancer, and you are going to run 26.2 with Donna (the marathon in Florida where all the proceeds go to breast cancer research). Maybe you ran a 5k with your kid and remembered how fun and free it feels to run and just “caught the bug” to run a marathon. Maybe you want to lose 40 or 60 or even 100 pounds, and start out just by walking around the block.

Whatever your story, wherever we come from, we are runners. We all have the same dream. The beauty of Boston is that the dream is attainable by any of us. Boston is not just for the people who have the privilege of making Olympic Dream Teams. Boston is the dream that many of us everyday people who have mortgages and kids and work 40 or more hours a week can make true.

Personally, I do not run fast enough to qualify for Boston. Maybe in a few years, once I reach the Masters category, and some minutes are tacked on to my qualifying standard, I will, but I’m not going to hold my breath. I would have to shave at least 40 seconds off of each and every mile to qualify for Boston. The full marathon is not my fastest distance. It is my most favorite distance, but it is not my fastest. Something happens between miles 22 and 26 where, even if I have been on track to earn my BQ, I completely lose my mind and blow it.

My best distance is the half marathon. I have qualified for and ran the Boston Half Marathon, which is how I earned my Boston Athletic Association medal. I don’t mind running half marathons. I do like to change up my race distances every now and again. The half marathon is not my favorite distance. The full marathon may be my most challenging, but is also my favorite.

As I have gotten older, and am approaching the Masters category in a few years, I still have a dream of Boston and getting my BQ. I am not going to kill myself for it. Yes, I can sit there and crunch the numbers and amp up my training, but what is more important to me at this point in my life than achieving my BQ is ensuring my health and safety to be able to run as long as possible throughout my life. Getting a BQ is not going to mean anything if I push it so hard that I sustain an injury that ends my running career. I have already overcome so much to be able to run marathons: a total of 10 broken bones, which includes breaking my spine in three places and spending time in a wheelchair, to 5 concussions, to a patella tear that almost did end my running career.

I am part of this magical community called runners in which we wave at each other as we pass on the trail, we help each other when we are struggling, and we line the streets to cheer for random strangers as they participate in their distance event and run pass. Yes, I am screaming for you, Random Citizen! You are not almost there, but you do look amazing, even if you are grimacing like a monkey humping a football because you are living your dream of running a marathon! That makes you look beautiful.

It doesn’t matter if you get a BQ or not. It does not matter if you come in first, middle or last. It doesn’t matter how many people have crossed that finish line before you, as long as you cross it. Many of us will never get our “15 minutes of fame.” But, you will get 1 second. That one second that your foot hits that finish line and clocks your time for completion, that one moment that you finish your marathon, whether it is your 1st, your 15th, or your 20th, that one moment YOU are the greatest athlete on the planet. That one-second is yours to own. You can say, “I did this.” “I ran a marathon.” Less than 1% of the world’s population can say that, folks.

Boston is every runner’s dream and it is always out there. For me, what is most important is not that I cross the finish line in Boston, but that I continue to keep crossing finish lines anywhere. We are all part of the same community. Boston is the oldest, most prestigious, and most beloved race. Even if you never achieve your BQ, that finish line belongs to all of us. It is the embodiment of all our hopes and dreams. If you never qualify for the bib, you can go spectate. You can still be part of the dream. Whether you are on the race course or part of the crowd, the magic that is Boston will course through your veins. A popular saying has been attributed to many, so it’s origin is uncertain states: “If you ever lose faith in humanity, go watch a marathon.” It’s true. Even if you never get your BQ, the magic of Boston can be experienced just by being there. Boston is every man’s dream.

As I approach medal # 14 this weekend, Boston is still my dream. Always was, always has been, and always will be. I chose one of the top ten fastest race courses in the country with a net elevation drop of 800 feet for my 14th race in an effort to qualify. Will I get my BQ? Probably not. But I will cross the finish line, and I will be able to train next year to cross a finish line somewhere else again. I will cross the start line. I will cross the finish line. I will run a good race.

Every April, whether we have achieved a BQ or not, the world watches with love and hope as people run the Boston Marathon. We are all running down a dream.

Portage

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They say portage comes from the Native American practice of carrying a canoe and all of your belongings over a body of water. Everything that you own travels from one side of the river to the other. While the most freeing moments in life have been those that I was able to carry everything I owned in a backpack or duffle bag, they were also the most challenging. There is something comforting and stable about the notion of home.

In the same manner, turtles carry their home on their backs. With the contraction of some muscles, they can put all their extremities inside their shell. If a turtle looses his shell is he naked or homeless? Turtles have freedom to go where they please, and home is always with them.

When I attempted to move back to Boston a few years ago, I started by taking everything out of my storage unit and putting it into my house. If I was going to complete an interstate move, then I needed to pack everything up and take it with me. In retrospect, I am glad that my plans fell through. Downsizing and minimizing has shown me that I would have been lugging a whole bunch of unnecessary items across state lines. This is a hardship that I do not need to endure. As I have gone through my belongings, I have not only learned what is important, but have come to realize that the timing of that “move” was completely wrong. I was not ready in any sense of the word. Sometimes, answers come in the form of not getting what you want.

In the past three years since my move fell through, I have taken the opportunity to pare down. I opened every box that was in storage. If you have things in storage that you are not using every day, do you really need them? Are you keeping things “just in case?” Has that “just in case” event happened in the last 3, 5, 10 years that you have paid to have that item in storage? As I went through everything I had in storage, I did pull out a few items that are now in use. Those items are the exception. I saw that many of the items in storage were unneeded or redundant. I am glad I have had this time to shed those items and did not lug them through a few states. Moving is expensive enough without hauling things you don’t need.

Going through the process of downsizing and minimizing has been very freeing these past few years. It has helped me to realize what is important and what is not. I have realized that the accumulation of stuff is sometimes a defense mechanism – a sense of false security – after having nothing for so long – to accumulate items in an effort to feel accomplished. These items are not comforting at all. I have been weighed down by baggage both physically and metaphorically.

While I doubt that I will ever return to the days of having everything I own fit into one backpack, it is freeing to have less. I am not one of those minimalists who count my belongings and strive for a certain number. Rather, my goal is to have enough; enough to be able to experience my life in a way that brings me joy and no more.

As I pare down my house, I try to keep in mind that the next time I plan an interstate move, I want it to actually happen, not fall through. I am trying to prepare myself to be able to pick up and go if the chance arises. If that opportunity never knocks, then I want to be able to enjoy my life where I am while living lightly.

Going through and getting rid of the items in storage was relatively easy. Now everything I own in this world is inside of my house. I am free of the monthly payment to store stuff I did not need – the ultimate definition of pissing your money away.

The hard part now comes of being able to establish the limit of what constitutes enough. The hard questions now need to be asked: Is this item useful? Does it bring joy to my life? How do you know how much you need?

I have tried to set limits on certain items to ensure that I am only surrounded by that which I love and get rid of the excess. All books must fit on the shelf. If I want to keep a novel, and the shelf is full, then one book must go to make room for the one I want to keep. I have been trying to engage in the practice of joy without ownership. My library card has been getting quite the workout, as I check out books, DVDs, and even CDs to enjoy media without the responsibility of possession or ownership of the item. My barometer has been if I check an item out of the library two or three times, then that is an item I probably need to look at owning. If I only check it out once and then forget about it after, it was an item that I did not need to have in my house long-term, and I was better off borrowing than owning.

It is a delicate balancing act trying to figure out one’s comfort zone. I still look around and think that I have too much stuff, especially when contemplating a(n imaginary) move. Yet now it is more challenging to be able to figure out what is necessary and what is not.

Some of it is fear. Where I am now is the longest I have lived in one place in my life. I feel stifled by complacency. There is the fear that how I am living now is too good to be true and that it will all fall apart someone how. There is the fear of returning to the world of my 20s in which my living situation was precarious, and a car is simply a house on 4 wheels.

Yet overriding the fear is hope. There is hope that I am not done yet in this journey called life. There is hope that the best is yet to come, and that I must be prepared to answer its calling. If I am asked to cross the torrents of the river, then I am readying my canoe to be portaged across that river. While most of my life has been a struggle to survive, I am now at a point where I am ready to live. I do not want to be weighed down by stuff that may stifle opportunity to experience some of the best moments of my life.

Like the turtle, I have finally come to realize that the notion of home is something that you always carry with you. It is in the journey, not the destination that life’s greatest moments occur.

Are you ready for portage? If someone offered you your dream job tomorrow in a city that was 5 states away, would you be able to pick up and go? Are you tied down by your stuff? Would you run around frantic trying to figure out how to pack and move the house? Many times, opportunity only knocks once. Letting go of what holds you down will enable you to live the life of your dreams. You do not need to have a certain number of possessions. What you need to have is enough to make you happy, without having too much that tips the canoe.

The Best Summer

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Despite the still balmy temperatures we have in September, the leaves are starting to turn, the kids have returned to school, and summer is quietly sliding into fall. Summer 2015 is the best summer I have ever had in life. I do not remember a summer like this since 1988. I tried to think about why this is so and to isolate the commonalities that seemingly exist between two so disparate years.

In 1988, I was still a child. This was before I started working at age 14. While my childhood was nothing pretty and everything I have been trying to overcome as an adult, I distinctly remember the summer of 1988 as having a slight respite from the challenges through which I lived in my youth. I remember reading lots of books. I was in Virginia that summer, and the people with whom I was staying had a pool membership. When I was not in the pool, I was next to it reading. Those were the most carefree days of my life. Granted, my tastes have changed. I did not re-read Jurassic Park and all the other Michael Crichton novels this summer, but I actually had time for leisure reading; a rare treat as a grad student.

This summer, I had the gift of time. For the first time in my adult life, I have employment that actually allows me days off. Prior to my current position, I was always working 7 days a week between two or three jobs. The only time I ever got a day off was a holiday. Holidays were not really holidays, they were days to be home and get caught up on school and everything else in the middle of my 60 hour plus survival schedule. My current position gives me at least one day off per week, and often more. I had several days this summer where I had the day off and the freedom to recreate that feeling from 1988 of being free from responsibility and worry. I spent many days this summer at the various parks in the state, on the beaches reading, and doing some light surfing.

Beach days were not relaxing at first. I was so accustomed to the schedule of having to pack school into every free moment due to my work schedule, that my first few beach visits I took my school work with me. Then, as I started to realize my current employment situation allows me privileges I have never before experienced in life, I made a conscious decision that I would not take any schoolwork with me.

That’s where the magic begins.

Beach days became carefree and reminiscent of that childhood summer of 1988. I simply put some food in a cooler, grabbed a towel, a book, and some sunglasses, and off I went. The most “difficult” decision I had to make was which bathing suit to wear, and even that was not hard: wear the dry one that is in the closest reach.

This summer was great because it was probably the first time since I started working at age 14 that I actually had “holidays.” Now I know what the Europeans are talking about. I took off for beach days this summer without school, without work, and without worries. That has never happened for me before.

In some aspects, I feel I was able to reclaim some small portions of my childhood lost due to the difficulties I faced as a child and being forced to grow up way to soon to face them. I felt a little irresponsible “blowing things off” and taking beach days, but in reality, all my work and schoolwork was done, and my bills were paid, so really I was not blowing anything off, I was doing the best thing possible. I was taking care of myself. I was able to experience childhood delight that I never experienced as a child, and able to fully relax and be present in the moment in which I was living. It was one of the best things I have ever done.

As summer slowly changes to fall, I feel I am also losing that feeling. I feel I need to recreate it somehow, so that I do not lose the beauty of my summer beach days. What I am learning, as I rewind real slow, is that peace and relaxation may not necessarily be about your location (although beaches and crashing waves are very helpful), but rather a state of mind that says: “I am here. I am at peace.” Most importantly: “I am enough.”

I have gotten caught up in the whirlwind of fall. The anxiety of back to school (although my grad program runs continuously until its conclusion); it’s that Pavlovian response to the change in season. I find myself trying to jam pack my schedule again.

Then I realized that having the best summer of my life need not be an isolated incident. It is also possible to have the best fall of my life.

Now I’m putting on the breaks.

In the next few weeks, my goal is to refocus myself for a new season not only in weather, but also in life. I am going to remember to enjoy my days off. While I may not be spending them at the beach right now, I need to remember to not fill them with useless and unnecessary things. That beach feeling is something I can recreate in other ways. I just need to figure out how.

Do you get caught up in the fall whirlwind? Is this the time of year you pack your (or your child’s) schedule with activities, meetings, and things to do? Summer is not the only season for relaxing and joy. Fall can have the same feeling of peace if only we know how to find it.

As the breeze blows gently, I am enjoying a fall morning now on my deck with my coffee, and some radio. If this summer has taught me anything, I have learned that it is ok to just sit and be. Doing nothing is not necessarily lazy. Sometimes doing nothing helps to replenish us so that we may fully do something.

What ways are you learning to slow down this fall? Are there things that help you to feel relaxed in the middle of the bustle of back to school and new schedules? Times of transition are often stressful. This is the time when we need to take care of ourselves the most.

Take time to rewind real slow.

36

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36 life lessons from 36 years of camping, running marathons, teaching preschool, and living life.

  1. As we get older, the quality of our friendships is more important than the quantity of them.
  1. Always pee downhill. Not only should you pee downhill, but also not too close to a tree in case some woodland creature decides to exit their home and accidentally gets a shower at the moment you decide to squat.
  1. If a child gives you a rock or some other small treasure, smile, say thank you, and keep it. Children do not have money to buy things. They do not have jobs. The rock/leaf/whatever is probably the only thing they have to give you of value to show that they like you.
  1. No matter how cute they may look, squirrels and chipmunks can be aggressive. This also goes for kittens, puppies, children and other things in small packages.
  1. Always take rain gear, even if there is no rain in the forecast.
  1. No matter which direction the wind is blowing, it will always send campfire smoke in your face, so do yourself a favor and remove your contacts first.
  1. Sneakers melt when kicking logs that are on fire.
  1. Always take time to look at the stars. They remind you of your place in the universe.
  1. A great radio station can totally make your trip.
  1. You can start a good fire with just wood and matches in about 15 minutes. Add empty toilet paper rolls filled with dryer lint, and you can decrease that time to about 5 minutes.
  1. Obtain wood within 50 miles of your campsite to avoid destroying ecosystems by introducing new predators.
  1. Pack light. The bears aren’t going to care if you wear the same pair of shorts two days in a row and it’s less stuff to haul.
  1. Nap time, time outs, and coloring are all for adults.
  1. While the first and last miles of a marathon are very exciting, its what happens in the middle that makes or breaks your race.
  1. Everything you ever wanted to know about yourself, you can learn in 26.2 miles.
  1. Baby wipes solve a lot of problems – even if you don’t have a baby. Keep a pack in the car – you will be amazed at what you use them for.
  1. The best friends are the ones with whom you can go days without talking to them, and then when you do reconnect, able to pick up exactly where you left off.
  1. If someone fails to communicate with you, and then accuses you of making a bad decision, it is not your fault! You made the best choice you could on the information available, and if the other party properly communicated, you would have made a better choice. Don’t beat yourself up for doing the best with what you have.
  1. Do not live like you are dying. We are all dying every day. Live like it is the first day of your life. You will not be this old or this young again.
  1. Always take time for your grandparents and those older than you. You may have “all the time in the world,” but they do not. Let them know how you feel before they are gone and remember that the greatest gift you can give is your time.
  1. Always ask before touching someone. Always. This goes for children, animals, pregnant women, senior citizens, everyone.
  1. The best times in your life are the moments where you were too busy to take a photo, post a status update, or write something down about it.
  1. “Please” and “thank you” never go out of style. They are timeless. Use them.
  1. If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember or worry about lies.
  1. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you are able to sleep at night, content in that your words and actions for the day were your best effort.
  1. It is okay to say “no.”
  1. Take time for you. You cannot pour juice from an empty pitcher. Refill your cup, and when it overflows, you are able to give.
  1. Batting averages are based on best 3 of 4. You don’t have to be perfect to be great.
  1. You may spend 40 hours a week working, but what you do with the other hours of your life is up to you.
  1. It is okay to distance yourself from toxic people, relationships, and situations.
  1. It is okay to sit and do nothing every once in awhile. Really.
  1. Run like you are 6 years old again. Rediscover joy.
  1. If you adopt a pet, remember that this is a commitment for life. Your pet may live for 18-20 years. It is like having a child. Are you ready for that type of responsibility? Do not be flippant with this decision.
  1. If you decide to downsize or minimize, you will not miss or remember the things you get rid of. There is too much clutter in our houses and lives. Let it go.
  1. If you love someone, tell them. Tell them before it’s too late. Tell them because people are not mind readers and they may not know. Tell them. Even if it is not reciprocated, it is important for people to know that they are valued.
  1. Always be thankful for something. Every single day, no matter how small, find a piece of gratitude in every day. Life is too short to be miserable.

From the back of a jacked up tailgate

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On this 4th of July holiday, I think we all take the time and opportunity to appreciate the good things in life – family, friends, and leisure time. Weekends like this make me wish every day was Independence Day. Oh wait, it is. You are in control of your own life. The choices you make decide what you do today, and what you do tomorrow. Granted, some of those choices are constrained by societal constructs and standards, but for the most part, we have a lot of freedom to decide the intricacies of our days.

Some of my favorite moments have occurred during 4th of July festivities, and I look forward to creating many more memories not only on 4th of July, but every day, as I orchestrate my life. Some of my favorite memories include:

  • Sleeping in the back of the pickup truck on the beach of the Pacific Ocean looking up at the stars after a long day of surfing, and an evening of bonfires, singing, and spending time with good friends both new and old.
  • Going to the drive-in to watch the latest movies with the one with whom you really want to spend your time.
  • Hiking the state parks and being able to see waterfalls along the way. For some truly spectacular views, check out Watkins Glen State Park in New York, which boasts over 100 waterfalls along their trails, the most of any park in the state.
  • Barbequing with friends after a game of ultimate Frisbee on the lake and spending time talking well into the night.
  • Fishing on the waterways, enjoying the quiet of nature, and the peace of the waves.
  • Tailgating prior to the DMB concert at VA Tech in the 1990s.

By far, one of my favorite views of the world has been from the back of a pickup truck. Whether transporting surfboards, hanging out with the dog, or sleeping under the stars, there is just something about feeling the calm and enjoying the scenery and the ones you are with.

What are your favorite ways to spend the holiday? While holiday weekends allow us a break from our normal lives, we don’t necessarily need a holiday to take that break. Yes, we all need to work to make money and live, but do not allow your occupation to define your life. You are not your job. How you spend your time when you are not at work is entirely your choice. Many of life’s greatest moments are experiences that do not require money, only time.

Happy Birthday, America.

Remember the freedom for which we have fought and obtained.

Embrace it. Fully. Rewind real slow.