Living life one pair of running shoes at a time.

During my freshman year of college, the thing to do (for girls, anyway) was to make expansive collages. We would sift through magazines, looking for pictures and phrases that inspired or amused us. Then we would cut them out and glue them to whatever surface needed decorating: notebooks, binders, boxes, or good old posterboard for a dorm room wall-hanging. It was a low-key activity that offset the stress of that first year of college beautifully, and politically incorrect hilarity often ensued.

One of the phrases that I remember cutting out was “Never underestimate the power of a Tuesday night.”

The inspiration behind that was a tradition I’d cultivated with two friends: we had a late-afternoon Tuesday class together, and afterwards, we would always trek over to one of the dining halls for a good grub & gab session. It was a chance to hang out, catch up, and commiserate, and it spiced up the middle of the week. I loved it.

***

Fast-forward a bunch of years to 2013, when I met my husband. After a couple of dates, he introduced me to a similarly-beloved, slightly more grown-up tradition: Beer Tuesday.

Beer Tuesday began among a small group of Albuquerque engineers who would, every Tuesday, meet up after work at a bar called Horse & Angel. Why Tuesdays? Why that bar? Because Horse & Angel offered Tuesday beer specials, and it was close to where they worked. Hey, the simplest explanations are the best.

Over time, the Beer Tuesday crowd has expanded and shrunk. Some folks go almost every week; others when they can find the time. We’ve branched out from the original location to explore the plethora of microbreweries that have popped up in Albuquerque over the last several years, but the spirit has remained the same.

And just like those Tuesday nights in college, I love it. It’s a mid-week adventure. It’s a chance to try new food or a new beer or enjoy old favorites. Most importantly, it’s a chance to spend time with friends. And I’d wager that everyone reading this, especially those of you older than 30, knows the value of that time, and how hard it can be to find.

***

My most recent Tuesday tradition — okay, it’s not quite a “tradition” yet, but I’m working on that — is one that’s just for me. Well, me and my dog.

I take Ann, the redbone coonhound that Robin Hood and I have had for seven months now, on plenty of walks, but I’ve gradually been trying her out as a running buddy. Since she’s still pretty young, I’m easing into it. We run together once a week, and I figured, hey, why not do it on Tuesdays?

Running with Ann not only enlivens the middle of my week, it also enlivens my running. It teaches me to be lighter on my feet. It reminds me to get out of my head, to be supportive of those around me (yes, I’m the dog owner who encourages my dog, out loud, as we’re running along), and to be patient.

Good mid-week lessons, don’t you think?

 

What Gives You Strength?

I needed a hilly run last Sunday morning, so to the hills I went. As I ran up and down along one of my favorite routes, I got to thinking (so easy to do on weekend runs, no?) about the “need” for hills. Why is it that on some days, I regard hilly runs with ambivalence, if not aversion, and on other days I crave them like chocolate cake?

The answer I came up with was strength. I crave hilly runs after stressful days, or if I’m trying to work something out in my head/heart/life. I draw strength from them.

Once I figured that out, I thought about other sources of strength in my life – after all, it’s good to have more than one, in case one of them becomes inaccessible. Here are three that I settled on:

  • Hilly runs. Yep, this one’s a classic. It may sound odd to think of hills as a source of strength; I mean, hills are tiring. I don’t know of any fitness magazine cover shot taken immediately after a steep hill climb. But hills remind me of the strength that I already have, that sometimes I forget about. When I feel beaten up by stress or mental struggle, charging up a few hills reminds me that yes, I can face that situation, or yes, I can get over those emotional hurdles. And frankly, it’s hard to feel anything after climbing a hill other than relief and relaxation. Hilly runs offer peace and empowerment in one neat, if sweaty and panting, bundle.
  • Target practice. Unlike hilly runs, I don’t crave target practice (although I’m still pretty new to the world of guns, so that could change). But whenever Robin Hood and I drive out to the desert to do some shooting, even when I’m initially reluctant to go, I always end up grateful that we did it. In practicing my aim, not to mention getting more comfortable with loading, clearing, and general gun-handling, I’m honing a whole new skill set and slowly but surely nudging the edges of my comfort zone outward. I still have lots of progress to make in my marksmanship, but with every [careful] heft of a gun, every good shot, I feel stronger and more confident. And yes, even a little more serene.
  • Devotionals. I’m covering the gamut, aren’t I? But devotionals really are one of my most valued practices. I began reading them a little while back, but then for no good reason, fell off the wagon. I’ve picked the habit back up recently, and I am so, so glad. Walking the dog at zero-dark-hundred wakes up my body, but morning prayer time wakes up my heart and mind. Currently, I’m making my way through Psalms, and I’m reading books by Joyce Meyer and Kristin Armstrong. It’s all great stuff, and it’s both strengthening and comforting to know that, whatever the day brings, I’m starting it from a good place, with my focus on the right things.

What gives you strength?

 

JoyceMeyer

Hanging Pictures

We all have projects that get shuffled to the side during the holidays. After New Year’s, when we’ve put away the decorations and we’re rubbing our eyes and re-entering the orbit of normal life, those projects inch back up the priority list. Then one day, the stars align in just the right way, and suddenly: I have the time! I have the energy! Holy moly, this is actually going to get done!

It’s a happy feeling. There’s usually dancing involved.

For me, the project was hanging up wedding photos and the time was last weekend.

I love hanging pictures. I love finding the perfect frame, the perfect spot on the wall, and ESPECIALLY those instances of hanging a picture perfectly on the first try. O little glorious victories!

It makes me feel like a homemaker, in the most literal sense of the word. Like I’m making a home. Pictures on the wall give a house warmth. Pair them with a dessert baking in the oven, a dog lounging with a chew toy, running shoes in a heap by the front door, and ahhhhhh.

Plus, in getting those pictures on the wall, I feel like it’s the beginning of a new chapter.

I’ll explain why in just a moment, but let me say first that I still feel like a newlywed most of the time.

  • Exhibit A) I just called my insurance company to change my last name and to, oh yeah, let them know I got married. Turns out I could have been saving money on insurance for six months now! Let that be a lesson to you recently- or soon-to-be-married people!
  • Exhibit B) During that call, the woman I spoke with called me Mrs. Sapp — it was the first time anyone other than a close friend has called me that. Strange but wonderful.

That said, I think Robin Hood and I are shedding our marriage training wheels. We continue to learn every day, and I can’t even imagine the lessons that the future holds for us, but we’re finding our stride, and that’s a great feeling. We’re getting better at communicating. We (and by “we” I mean “I”) don’t think, startled, “Wait, we’re MARRIED? How did THAT happen?” as much anymore. We’re getting organized. We’re hanging stuff on the wall.

Hanging pictures not only makes me feel caught-up (at least in terms of home decor); it also motivates me to do more. I think, What else can be done here? What needs to be cleaned, reorganized, or discarded?

And how can I apply this philosophy to myself, in order to become a better person and a better wife in 2016?

Robin Hood and I have just started the second half of our first year of marriage. You folks who have been married a long time are laughing at me, but it does feel like time is careening right on by. So many questions still! So many pictures that have yet to be hung!

But for now, the walls look good. We have a dog who lounges with chew toys. We have the desserts, we have the running shoes, and we even have a freezer full of game meat (thanks Robin Hood!). Most importantly, we have love.

By golly, we have made a home.

 

Pup

 

weddin

Farewell, ABQ Running Shop

In April of 2007, about two months after I moved to Albuquerque, I ran a 10k. One of the sponsors of the race was a local business called ABQ Running Shop, and after the race, a representative from the shop mentioned that they hosted weekly group runs.

Normally, I would have heard this and ignored it, since I’m more of a solo runner. But that day, the words sunk in. I thought, “I just moved here, and need to meet people. Why not try a running group?”

I visited the shop, made some purchases, and got more information on the group runs — it turned out there was a run that weekend. In the blink of an eye, it was Saturday and I was walking into the shop, nerves a-flutter at meeting these new people.

That day I met my first Albuquerque friend, Jessica. Through Jessica, I met a group of other people, and wham-bam I had a social circle!

Little did I know how much my life would change when I walked into that shop.

And now ABQ Running Shop is closing.

It makes sense, I suppose: the owner now lives in Arizona, and sometimes life just moves on. And it’s not like Albuquerque has been left without a running shop — there are several in the area, and they’re perfectly fine.

But still, I’m sad.

This running shop and I have been in Albuquerque roughly the same amount of time. The shop’s owner, Randy, and his wife, Tara, have become close friends of mine; my husband and I are godparents to their son. And of course we’ll still keep in touch and visit each other.

But still. I’m sad.

I’ll miss the shop. Since moving to Albuquerque, it’s where I’ve bought all of my running shoes. I’ve bought clothing for myself and various family members there. It’s where I bought my first “big gift” for my then-boyfriend – a pair of running shoes. When that boyfriend and I decided to get married, it’s where I bought a maid-of-honor gift for my sister.

I’ve watched ABQ Running Shop grow from the small “new guy” of the local running market into a valued part of the community. It has not just sponsored, but organized some really cool races (ah, the World’s Toughest 10k – my quads burn just thinking about it). Several years ago, the shop moved across town. It got a little bigger, but retained its superb customer service and friendly atmosphere.

Days after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the shop announced that it would host a group run to raise funds for those affected, and what started as a spontaneous idea turned into an EVENT, with hundreds of people, news crews, and thousands of dollars raised. I went, and have rarely witnessed such a concentrated, impressive display of community spirit.

Local running shops are treasures. They’re good for the health of a person and they’re good for the health of a town. Every town needs and deserves one; not every town is lucky enough to have one.

Thanks for everything, ABQ Running Shop. You were there exactly when I needed you. You’ve made me a better runner and probably a better person.

 

Tshirt

Someone’s in the Kitchen

I’m not the world’s best cook. I don’t cook every day, and you’ll probably never find any of those shiny, spotless, professional-looking food photos here.

But I love to play in the kitchen. Like writing, it’s a chance to get creative and combine pieces to form one (hopefully good) whole. On top of that, food is my unofficial love language. If I’m happy for someone, trying to cheer them up, or just thinking about them, my favorite thing to do is make them food.

I can trace this to two root causes. First, my mom is a terrific cook. Growing up, I regularly saw her cruising effortlessly around our kitchen, whipping up delicious meals like she was born with a spatula in her hand. You can’t live in an environment like that without at least a few of those genes landing on you.

Secondly, my running habit. I’m hungry a LOT, which yields two options: 1) Dine out, which is fun, but gets costly; or 2) Feed myself. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown increasingly appreciative of having money in my bank account. Plus, when I cook at home, I can be barefoot, or in sweaty running clothes, or in pajamas, listening to whatever music I want, while an adorable puppy stares at me. Case closed.

Most of my cooking happens at the end of the day, after work and a run. By this time, I am FAMISHED, and this leads to dinners best described as “chuck a protein, veggies, and a starch towards the stove/oven and pray for the best.” It’s exciting.

But! Then there’s the other kind of cooking.

This is the kind that I really like: where I can take my time, where I’m not starving, where I might even (!) peruse cookbooks and use a recipe.

For instance:

On New Year’s Eve, I got off work, went for my run, and came home itching to make a pie. Celebratory baking is the best kind, and I had two reasons to celebrate: New Year’s Eve, and Robin Hood’s return from a spectacularly successful hunting trip (two deer and a Barbary sheep!).

I decided to make an apple pie. I’m still looking for a rock-solid apple pie recipe; for this go-around, I tried Matt Pelton’s “All-American Apple Pie” from his book Dutch Oven Pies. I didn’t use a Dutch oven and it didn’t seem to matter.

Shuffling around the kitchen, bits of dough clinging to my hands, I fell into the comfortable rhythm that is making a pie. I snacked on the apple peels. I slowly, carefully overmeasured the cinnamon. Because I ALWAYS overmeasure the cinnamon. Doesn’t everyone?

And the result? A good pie. With a couple of minor tweaks, it might just become my go-to apple pie recipe. And Robin Hood was appreciative.

The kitchen called to me again on Sunday morning. I slept in and considered Golden Pride’s drive-through, but then I thought, “No! We’ve got pancake mix; we’ve got eggs. It’s go time.”

Breakfast rhythm is different from pie-making rhythm, but it’s still lovely. Sipping – oh, who are we kidding? GULPING – coffee as I mixed the batter. Standing in a patch of morning sunlight. Gently, watchfully, proudly producing my first perfect over-easy eggs!

This is bliss.

 

applepie


2015.

My God. What a surreal, glorious, life-changing year it’s been.

On New Year’s Eve last year, I had no idea — no idea — how much my life was about to change. And from the moment when the clock struck midnight right up to now, as I’m writing this, I’ve felt like I’ve been tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole. Only without the scary parts.

Okay, there have been some scary parts. But mostly great parts.

I’ve been trying to reflect on everything this week, to let it all sink in. I figured this would be an opportune time to do it, since Robin Hood and Ann* have been off hunting (puppy’s first hunting trip! Sniff! She’s growing up!) and the homestead is quieter than usual.

But then I decided to finally find homes for the wedding gifts that have been patiently waiting in our guest room (does this tell you what kind of year it’s been?). So quiet, indoor reflection didn’t work.

Then I thought, I’ll go on a lovely meditative run, during which I’ll bid a graceful adieu to 2015 and spiritually prepare myself for 2016! It’ll be straight out of Runner’s World!

But that didn’t go according to plan, either. I went for a run, but instead of taking it easy, my legs informed me that they wanted a hill workout. Then I had to deal with a minor wardrobe malfunction. Sigh.

I did, however, catch several glimpses of an absolutely beautiful sunset. So there was that.

I’m starting to think that this year is going to defy “sinking in.” Or at least any speedy sinking in that happens just because I want it to. 2015 will, I believe, require a slower, longer absorption process for me. Kind of like the upside-down-wine-bottle-garden-watering trick. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. It’s fabulous.

And maybe that’s okay, the slower process. Maybe some years, whether they’re good or bad, aren’t meant to be digested, reviewed, and judged over the course of one evening, or a couple days.

Maybe the lessons and blessings of these “big years” take longer to sink in because they’re important ones. We just need to have faith in the process.

And always keep an eye out for beautiful sunsets.

Whatever kind of year you’ve had, I hope it’s coming to a peaceful close, and I wish you all a spectacular start to 2016!

*Speaking of redbone coonhounds, here is a brilliant blog post on the importance of Where the Red Fern Growshttp://charmingfarming.com/2015/10/10/10-reasons-every-boy-should-read-where-the-red-fern-grows/

**And speaking of great books, if you haven’t read American Wife by Taya Kyle (widow of Chris “American Sniper” Kyle), I HIGHLY recommend it. I can’t remember the last time I read a book in less than 24 hours, but I did it with this one.

image

The fudge has been made.

The peanut butter cup cookies have been made.

The pecan pie has been made.

The date pinwheels have been made…by my mom. And then carefully packaged and shipped to New Mexico. Yes, I DO have the best mom ever.

All of the above, in addition to the remains of a rum cake that my husband felt compelled to make [and who am I to stop him if he’s compelled to make a rum cake?], have been wrapped and made ready for our voyage to Ft. Worth.

As for me, I’m not quite ready yet. The last batch of dirty dishes still needs washing, and the dog needs to be walked, and…I can’t remember if I’ve packed my deodorant!

I’m taking a break. Right now. I invite you to do the same.

It is so, so easy in these last few days before Christmas to get caught up in frenzies (plural). Before we know it, we find ourselves hustling through each day and collapsing into bed at night without having taken any time to stop and relax. The stress builds until we’re sorely tempted to get aggressive with an empty roll of wrapping paper; until we’re slamming a peppermint mocha latte and calling it lunch; until we’re arguing over the best way to cut and store fudge.

It does not lead to anything good.

Stop.

Relax.

I went for a run today and started off at a fast clip, thinking about the things I needed to do after the run. But after a mile or so, I caught myself. I asked, what is the point of taking time for exercising in the fresh air if I’m just going to rush through this, too?

So I slowed down. I breathed more deeply. I thanked God for everything I could think of to be thankful for, and then I asked him to take the reins. Not to help, but to take control. Of me and my life and how I live it.

It’s not easy relinquishing control. I don’t know about you, but personally, I like control. I like certainty. I plan. I over-pack. This time of year, that can get downright exhausting. And I’m realizing more and more that it’s not just exhausting for me, but for those around me.

As we continue through the holidays, I’m going to let myself take more breaks. I’m going to let go of the reins and let some peace in, instead. I’m going to enjoy my exercise, my food, and most of all, my people.

I wish the same to all of you.

 

Fudge

Cookies

Pinwheels

 

 

On a cold, drizzly Saturday afternoon, I walked into my second gun show. Having been introduced to the world of gun shows by my husband last year, I knew a little about what to expect, but I found that I still basically know…zilch. Strolling up and down those aisles, looking at vendors’ wares, and listening to a lot of conversations made me realize how full of surprises these events are, and how quickly any preconceived notions evaporate into thin air.

Before learning otherwise, I personally had more than a few misconceptions about gun shows, which I will freely admit to. Here’s a sampling:

  1. Gun shows are about guns and nothing else. Nope. While there are plenty of firearms to be bought, sold, and ogled, there’s no shortage of other ways to spend your money. There’s food, of course (think festival-style food vendors), but also art, jewelry, purses, clothing, housewares (there was a Pampered Chef booth!), wind chimes, toys, books, and more. It’s almost more like a flea market.
  2. Gun shows are a boy’s club. True, men do make up the majority, but women most definitely have had a strong presence at the shows I’ve attended, and not just as bored wives/girlfriends. At this last show, we stopped at a booth run by a woman who teaches gun safety classes and sells stylish, practical concealed carry vests. We walked away with her card and a brochure. Talk about shattering a steel ceiling!
  3. Gun shows are free-for-alls. Actually they’re very well-controlled. Anyone who brings any firearm into the show must get it tagged, or “checked in,” before entering, and then have it “checked out” upon exiting. No shooting of guns is allowed. Folks tend to be pretty laid back about the business at hand; there’s a little haggling, a lot of moseying and a lot of (ahem) shooting the breeze. Again, more like a flea market.
  4. Gun show attendees are nothing but a bunch of fervent gun rights activists who talk about nothing else. Nope. Most of the people I encountered seemed perfectly amiable, and chatted about a variety of topics. I heard conversations about cooking, about football, about music, about outdoor adventures…and hey, look at yours truly. My fervency tends to dwell more in running. And homemade desserts.
  5. Gun shows do not make you a better person. I’ve learned from both of the shows I’ve attended. I’ve learned, obviously, about guns and their accessories. I’ve learned how to do a classy haggle. I’ve learned how to listen to what a vendor has to say, and then graciously say no and move on (ok, I’m still working on that). I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the craftsmanship and, yes, elegance that a gun or knife can show. I’ve been humbled at the confirmation of just how little I know about guns. Do these lessons make me a better person? I’d say so.

We didn’t buy any guns on Saturday. But we did buy this:

 

Cowboy

Home décor at a gun show. Yep, it happens.

Here’s to surprises.

 

gunshow

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Hey, how’s everyone’s December going?

For me, it is flying by, as usual, but [knock on wood] it hasn’t reached the red zone yet. You know the December red zone – when you find yourself at Target, or the grocery store, just staring blankly into space with eggnog stains on your shirt?

Again, knocking on wood.

I’ve got my Christmas shopping done. DONE! But I can’t really gloat, because those gifts still need to be a) wrapped and b) shipped…which involves placing a whole lot of faith and trust in the postal service.

This will be the first Christmas I’ve spent away from my parents’ house. I’ve got a hodge-podge of feelings about that. On one hand, I will miss my parents and siblings and nieces and nephews terribly. I’ve even asked my mom to mail me some of her mouth-watering date pinwheel cookies. On the other hand, I love my in-laws, and I’m excited to celebrate a Texas Christmas!

Robin Hood and I will be spending the holiday with his parents and brother – it’s only fair, since he came with me to Virginia last year (little did I know that he would propose less than a week later!). We’ll be bringing the puppy, and I’m sure we will all have a fabulous time. Will it snow? It’s possible — Fort Worth has been known to get some wacky weather.

In the meantime, like I said, December is just whirling by. We’ve got our Christmas decorations up and are in the process of getting cards mailed. I’m trying to think of a cool way to display the cards we receive. So far, the one card we’ve gotten is, uh, on the kitchen counter.

As for our Christmas tree? Yes, we’ve got one; yes, it’s artificial; and yes, we LOVE it. It’s the tree I had as an apartment-dwelling single lady, and we chose to dust it off and give it some attention this year. It stands about three feet tall and it is absolutely bursting with ornaments.

The ornaments are the main reason why we love it. Robin Hood and I go more for the “personalized” ornaments (e.g. an ornament from an alma mater, or one made by a 6-year-old) over matched-set ornaments. Nothing against the matched sets; I have seen gorgeous ones. They are classy and elegant-looking, no doubt about it, but…I dunno. I like my trees to have personality and stories.

And our puppy! Is she trying to eat all the decorations, you ask? Actually no, she’s been pretty good around them…I suspect because she’s been distracted. By the torment of The Cone.

Yep, she got spayed. On Black Friday. And no, we didn’t get a discount…but! The good news is that tomorrow we bring her in for her follow-up appointment, and if all goes well, that cone will come off for good. If she could sing Christmas carols, she would be singing ALL of them right now.

Amidst all of this excitement, I slip away for a run whenever I can. Because a) neighborhood Christmas lights, and b) if eggnog doesn’t soothe holiday stress, a good hill workout will.

Hope all of you are having a smooth December!

And I have a question: Are you a “personalized ornament” person or a “matched-set ornament” person?

 

xmas tree

Personally, I say THANK YOU to Sandee M. at Forty-Something First Time Bride for nominating me! I’m honored.

The terms of the Blogger Recognition Award are: to reflect on why I started my blog, offer a few blogging tips, and nominate bloggers who inspire me.

Let me put my pondering cap on…

I started Running Sunflower in April of 2011. There were a lot of ingredients in the stew that bubbled up to become my first post. Here are a handful:

  • Restlessness. I was in the middle of an “I’m tired of Albuquerque and want to move but don’t know how” phase, and I needed an outlet.
  • My age. I was two months shy of turning 30 and felt like I hadn’t done much to make a contribution to the world. A blog may not be much, but it’s a start.
  • My pesky love of writing. I had written for my high school and college newspapers and at one point had an online newspaper column, but hadn’t written on a regular basis in years. I missed it.
  • Peer pressure. A lot of my friends were doing it, so hey, why not?
  • Running. This blog started with running at its heart, and running still is at its heart. I wanted to write a blog that was more than just “here’s today’s workout,” more than just the occasional race report, and more than post after post about running’s benefits for the soul. I also, from the get-go, gave myself permission to stray from the running theme. It was a tall order back then, and it still is, and I continue to work on it. That’s frankly part of the fun :)

Now for my advice on blogging…yikes! Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Have a schedule. However often you want to write, pick a schedule and stick to it. I recommend having one day of the week (or month, or whatever) that is Blogging Day. Repetition begets routine, and that begets loyal readers. That said…
  • Don’t be a slave to it. Mae West said “Keep a diary and one day it’ll keep you,” and the same applies to blogging. Live your life. If you miss a post occasionally, the world will keep turning and you’ll probably be a better, healthier person for it.
  • Use SEO tactics. My day job involves editing press releases, and that means being aware of SEO (Search Engine Optimization…basically formatting content in such a way that people will want to read it and share it). What are SEO tactics that I can use in my blog, you ask?
    • Good headlines/titles that are informative but succinct.
    • Pictures!
    • Bullet points and short paragraphs. Break up text into digestible pieces. That said…
  • It’s okay to throw those tactics out sometimes. Because my biggest tip is this:
  • It’s YOUR BLOG, so make it what you want. Do what feels right.

Finally, blogs that deserve recognition:

Emily’s House of Thomsen. Emily is one of my favorite people in the world, and if you are at all into DIY projects / home improvement, this blog’s for you.

Charity’s Blowin’ Around. She’s a hot air balloon pilot and a fabulous writer! What more do you need?

Whitney’s It is pretty. I forget how I found this blog, but I love it. She’s from my home state of Virginia and she writes beautifully about all sorts of things. Definitely worth checking out.

Thank you again to Forty-Something First Time Bride for the nomination!

What Are You Thankful For?

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone is having a peaceful day. As you read this, there’s a chance I’m dotted with flour and bits of dough, while still wearing the clothes that I ran in earlier, but that’s okay. That means I’m happy.

Here are seven things for which I’m giving thanks, in no particular order:

1) Homemade pies. From the crust to the filling, I can think of fewer foods that show as much love as a homemade pie. They don’t have to be beautiful – mine rarely are. Making them, sharing them, giving them away – that’s enough.

PieTurkey

2) Long voicemails. Robin Hood recently took an extended work-followed-by-hunting trip to Texas, and on his way home, he called me to chat. I couldn’t answer, but I found a voicemail waiting in which (on which?) my husband told a story of how he stopped at a roadside fruit stand, intending to buy some apples and pecans. Sadly, he didn’t have any cash, and it was a cash-only business. But since he was there, he started shooting the breeze with the owners, and lo and behold they wound up giving him apples and pecans. So, to the owners of that fruit stand, thank you, and I wish I could give you some of the pie that will happen as a result of your kindness. And thank you Robin Hood for the story.

3) Buddies…and their buddies. I’ve told you about our puppy, Ann, and I gain a new appreciation for her when Robin Hood goes out of town. She’s my buddy. She goes on the occasional run with me (she’s up to almost three miles!), she hangs out with me in the kitchen, she sometimes drives me crazy, but she’s good company. I love that her enthusiasm for playing is equaled by her enthusiasm for relaxing. And I love that SHE has a buddy – a stuffed dog we call Cuddle Pup, who originally was equipped with a “heart” that we activated at night so Ann could be comforted by it. Ann doesn’t need that fake heart anymore, but Cuddle Pup is still her favorite toy, and this just makes me happy.

AnnTurkey

4) Quickly-melting snow. We’ve had one snowfall so far in Albuquerque, and the snow was gone 48 hours after it arrived. Our snow usually lasts just long enough for us to appreciate its prettiness and play in it, but not long enough for us to resent it, and for that I’m thankful.

5) Photo cards + annual holiday newsletters. I dig sending photo cards at Christmas time, but I also love my dad’s annual family newsletter. So I’m doing both, and hopefully I can maintain it for years to come.

6) Running. Even though the shorter days make running more of a challenge this time of year, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Being out in the fresh air just makes life better.

7) Friends. Robin Hood decided to give ourselves a break and spend Thanksgiving here in Albuquerque this year, and our friends Meghann and Jay were kind enough to invite us over to a get-together at their place. I have no doubt that it will be a fantastic time, and I can’t wait.

I wish you all full bellies and full hearts today!

I’ve never been an MMA fan.

So, when friends invited Robin Hood and I over to watch the Holly Holm-Ronda Rousey fight on Saturday night, my initial reaction was “eh.”

Living in Albuquerque, it’s hard to avoid MMA — we have a big training facility here, and lots of folks are fans of it. Me? The little I’ve seen has mostly involved the participants grappling on the floor, not moving much. Yawn.

But it was Saturday night, and we wanted to get out of the house, and our friends had gone to the trouble of paying to get the fight on their TV, so we headed over. I had a vague inkling of the hype surrounding this fight.

Little did I know the education I was about to receive.

We arrived at the party between 6:30 and 7 pm, in the thick of the preliminary fights. Between socializing and scarfing tasty snacks, I watched and learned.

I learned that “Mixed Martial Arts” does indeed mean a mix of all kinds of fighting. It’s not just grappling on the floor: it’s boxing, and kick-boxing, and…er…other stuff. People of all shapes, sizes and ages participate. There’s a lot more to it than just brute strength: there’s strategy and finesse and stamina, which touches my runner’s heart. There’s even some class, in the moment before each fight when the opponents touch fists [is there a more technical term for this?] — although, as I would find out, that fist-touch is not mandatory.

Throughout the evening, commercials for the main event aired to build up the hype. In watching these, asking questions, and listening to the conversations around me, I began to understand a little more about the Holm-Rousey match.

And I began to get excited.

Two strong, determined women, each one at or near the top of her game. They’d never faced each other before in competition, they’d trained long and hard, and they, two women, were getting top billing at a UFC event.

I know an awesome display of girl power when I see it. Even before the announcer began introducing them, I sat on the edge of my seat.

Now I’ll say this: I know nothing about these two women. I didn’t do any research; I don’t know if they’re nice people; for all I know, both of them run red lights and never buy Girl Scout Cookies. All I know is the fight I watched.

I was riveted.

Ronda Rousey was heavily favored, while Holly Holm was (here in Albuquerque anyway) the hometown hero. At the beginning of the fight, when Holly reached out to do the fist-touching thing, Ronda opted not to do it. Okay, I get it, mind games and all that.

What happened next is something I am still, as I write this and probably as you read this, marveling at.

It reminded me of a perfectly-executed marathon. Holly Holm was the underdog, but never once appeared intimidated or rattled. She displayed composure and stellar stamina (training in the foothills of Albuquerque will do that for ya). She showed intelligence and the exact-perfect balance of aggression and restraint.

All of this, even my newbie eyes could tell, caught Ronda Rousey by surprise. She faltered. She, and lots of other people, figured this match wouldn’t last 30 seconds, much less make it to a second round. Yet it did, and there in the second round — kind of like the 20th mile of a marathon — Holly figured the time was right and made her move. Not just that, she made it with authority, just like a running coach would instruct, and the fight was hers.

I felt like jumping in the air and shrieking with joy. I cried a little bit. I can’t explain why. Was it the girl power thing; the underdog thing; the breathtaking, attention-commanding quality of Holly Holm’s performance; or something more primal?

I’m still trying to figure it out. But this sport sure isn’t as boring as I thought it was.

Getting Back Into the Groove

Every time I train for a marathon, I tell myself that I will get so much done during my post-marathon recovery period because I will have so much free time. Has it ever worked out that way?

Not once.

Sure, I get stuff done; it’s not like after a marathon I just park myself on the couch for hours on end. But it never pans out the way I plan. It’s like I need running to give my life structure: without running, life is a bunch of dots. With running, those dots have numbers and can be connected successfully.

It’s good to be back.

I took twelve days off from running after my marathon. On the thirteenth day, I decided it was time to shake off the cobwebs. I trotted a distance of maybe three miles. I’d like to be able to tell you the weather was perfect, but it wasn’t – it was windy and damp and chilly. I pretended to ignore all that, and tried to just tune in to my body.

My legs itched and tingled with the increased blood circulation. Various other body parts whined a little, as though they were being shaken awake from a pleasant dream, but nothing serious flared up.

All in all, a solid reunion run.

Some folks don’t care for the return to running after a break. They don’t like that their fitness has receded, or that the weather has changed, or that it’s harder to find motivation.

This time of year, I can understand that. It’s noticeably colder outside than it was a couple weeks ago, it gets darker earlier, and shoot, the holidays are right around the corner! Why not just put off the return to running till January 1?

Because I don’t want to.

I’m fond of this reunion time. It gives me the chance to get reacquainted with my running. I don’t get overly concerned with pace or distance. I explore streets of my neighborhood that I’ve always been curious about but never took the time to see. That’s the best part – not just straying from the usual routes, but straying from running routine in general.

The other day I took a major leap from routine by taking my dog for a run. We’ve gone running before, but those times have always just been a lap or two around the block. This time, we covered a distance of about two and a half miles – a distance PR for us! Our pace slowed a few times, but we kept moving, and I think that was the most fun that she and I have had together. In fact, that leap from routine might just become part of my routine.

Here’s to getting back into the groove, and making it better.

If you had told me in 2013 that in 2015 I’d be hunting elk, I would have laughed in your face.

Walking through a forest of Ponderosa pines, though, with the sun on my shoulders, pine needles beneath my feet, and a rifle at my side, I was as happy as I’ve ever been.

Ah, the zig-zags of life!

Robin Hood convinced me earlier this year to put in for an elk tag, despite the fact that until then I had only accompanied him on hunting trips as a supportive girlfriend (now wife). Sure enough, I drew for cow elk, and after lots of practice with Robin Hood’s .270 Winchester, there we were on a late October evening, driving north towards the Santa Fe National Forest.

Our party consisted of myself, Robin Hood, his dad, and our friend Paul. It was raining during most of our drive, which dampened (heh!) our excitement, but not by much. Thankfully, it stopped by the time we got to our campsite.

The next morning, a.k.a. The First Hunt, we got a dark and early start, and wouldn’t you know we saw two elk…on…private property.

Nuts!

Further observation and tracking were fruitless. Unfazed, we kept at it.

Hunt1

We went out before sunrise each morning and shortly before dusk each afternoon. We saw tons of deer, rabbits, and fox squirrels. The elk proved much more elusive, but I honestly didn’t mind too much – I was distracted by the beauty of our surroundings.

I think that in order to see New Mexico at its best, you have to go into the wilderness. Walking up and down steep hills was hard work, but it was worth it. Stepping from the woods into a mountain clearing felt like entering a majestic cathedral. I found myself compelled to be not just hunter-quiet, but silent. I almost looked around for holy water to dip my fingers in.

Hunt2

The depths of the forest had their magic, too. I saw one-time creek beds, now grown over with moss, that so help me looked straight out of Bridge to Terabithia. I saw vibrant fall foliage, and breathed in the scent of pine till I got a little light-headed. I rode on the back of Robin Hood’s four-wheeler through the whole spectacular landscape, hanging on tight but feeling a joyful, reckless freedom that I haven’t felt in a long time.

It was the kind of weekend where you can just tell God is winking at you.

But back to the hunting.

On our very last excursion of the weekend, we elected to hunt amidst a fairly dense cover of juniper and sagebrush. We hadn’t been out for very long when Robin Hood, who was just ahead of me, stopped and pointed. I looked where he was pointing and saw definite movement. I couldn’t tell, though – was it an elk? Deer? Raucous squirrels?

Elk, my husband whispered. We moved oh so carefully forward.

The elk, no fool, used the juniper and sagebrush as cover and slipped away, but we were hot on its trail. We followed fresh tracks and fresh droppings, and I wondered, is this finally my chance? Every time we crested a rise, we were sure we’d see that elk. I had my rifle at the ready, safety off.

It wasn’t to be.

The elk stayed two steps ahead of us, used its cover shrewdly, and with rapidly diminishing daylight as the proverbial cherry on top, got away.

I conceded defeat for this hunting trip, but without any hard feelings.

And I’m already looking forward to doing it again.

Hunt3

I’m happy to report that I’m starting to walk normally again.

As many of you know, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. It was my 13th marathon (still can’t wrap my mind around that!) and my second Marine Corps. Here are the highlights:

Autumn in Virginia. Virginia is my home state, but since moving away, most of my visits back have been for Christmas. The holidays can be pretty there, but the fall foliage is gorgeous, and I haven’t seen it since November of 2007. Eight years ago! Not okay! It was a lovely reunion.

foliage

Hanging out with my parents. Always good.

The Marathon Expo. This year, MCM moved the pre-race expo from the D.C. Armory to a convention center downtown. I don’t remember enough about the Armory to compare the two, but the convention center was spacious and conveniently located close to a Metro stop. As for the expo itself, I loved it, but then I’m a sucker for expos, especially when there’s a big race involved. It’s a veritable running festival: Shopping! Free samples! Stellar people-watching! Palpable optimism in the air! Just remembering it makes my adrenaline buzz.

Butterflies. I don’t get nervous for all of my races anymore – I don’t know if that’s good, bad, or just inevitable. But the butterflies still flutter for marathons, including this one, and that makes me happy. I figure it means the spark is still there.

The race. The Metro train that my support crew (Mom, Dad, and Robin Hood) and I boarded that morning hit a deer. Yes. Our train hit a deer. I knew then that it was going to be an interesting day.

We eventually made it to the starting area…sort of. This year, MCM introduced a security checkpoint, and…they have some kinks to work out. We made it through with just enough time for me to visit the PortaPotties a couple of times, shed my extra layers of clothing, hug my loved ones, and drift towards my starting position.

Did I mention it was raining?

Due to the time factor, and my refusal to bring any more stress on myself, I wound up starting a tiny bit farther back than planned. Not that much farther, but still. I found myself running in what felt like a pack of sardines for the first six miles or so. I did my share of weaving and darting, but after a while I thought to myself, “I can either stress out and mentally exhaust myself in the first half of this race, or I can pull my head out of my rear end, relax, and have faith in the miles ahead of me.”

Things got better after that. The crowds did thin out, and the rain stopped around mile 10. I was able to pick up my pace a little, and clung to it with grim determination.

It was hard. That’s all I have to say about that.

I kept track of the minutes and seconds ticking by. It became apparent that I wouldn’t run a PR, but no way was I going to allow this to be my slowest marathon.

With that bit of resolve; with the support of the cheering crowds; and with more than a little help from God and a fleet of guardian angels, I pushed through the last few miles and across the finish line, in a time of 3:26:24.

Not my fastest, not my slowest, but an effort I’m proud of. Yes ma’am, I’ll take it.

My Support Crew. I can’t thank them enough. All weekend long, they were fantastic, and Robin Hood handled his first marathon experience like a champ. Also, kudos to MCM for having such a spectator-friendly course. I saw my crew three times during the race, which was a HUGE morale boost.

sign

Would I recommend the Marine Corps Marathon? Absolutely. It’s a fabulous course, and a beautiful time of year to run and sight-see in metropolitan D.C. And if being surrounded by hundreds (thousands?) of Marines doesn’t inspire and motivate you, I don’t know what will.

SEMPER FI!

medal2

iwo

My dear,

I’m so happy that you’re coming to watch me run a marathon. You’ve seen me run a few shorter races, but marathons, I have to tell you, are something else. As much as you’ve seen me run and as casually as I may talk about running, marathons are in fact a big deal. They’re not something I just breeze through, though some runners do. And marathons in general, especially one like the Marine Corps, aren’t just fun little ways to spend a weekend morning like the shorter races you’ve attended. They are EVENTS.

In light of that fact, here are a few tips from me to you. Also I love you.

DO expect my emotions to run the complete gamut…multiple times.

DO feel free to ask questions – about marathons; about the Marine Corps Marathon in particular; why I’m rubbing that stuff under my arms, etc.

DON’T worry if you have a hard time spotting me amidst the other runners.

DO wear layers. You’ll be moving around some, but there will also be a fair amount of standing around for you, and D.C. can be chilly this time of year.

DON’T use the on-site PortaPotties within the last 30 minutes before the race. Hold it and give the runners the right-of-way. Believe me, it’s better not to agitate a runner(s) who have a full bladder.

DO bring cowbells. Plural.

DON’T be shy about ringing them.

DO cheer loudly. It doesn’t even matter what you’re saying, as long as you’re making noise.

DON’T walk onto the race course unless there is a seemingly absurd amount of space between you and the next runner(s) coming along. As in, a quarter of a mile or so.

Did I mention cheering loudly?

DO feel free to talk to the Marines. They may not be very chatty, but sweetheart, you’re a military geek. Live it up.

DON’T be sad if I don’t acknowledge your cheers as I’m running along. Big races with lots of spectators are awesome because they have lots of spectators, but unfortunately it’s not always possible for a runner to pick out his/her support crew in the crowd.

DO keep your eyes peeled for cool D.C. landmarks – there are plenty of them on and around this course!

DON’T be alarmed if you see runners crying, slobbering, or vomiting as they finish the race. This is normal.

DON’T worry if I myself look…how shall we say…wretched…at any point during or after the race. If I’m on my feet, I’m okay.

DO expect a sweaty, staggering hug from me after I finish.

DO savor every moment. Seeing a marathon is seeing humanity at its finest (okay, I’m a little biased).

DON’T forget this: no matter how distracted I am, no matter what kind of race I have, I know that you’re taking time to be here with me and for me. Thank you. And I love you.

And I can’t wait for you to see this!!!

Yesterday I decided to skip my run in favor of a longer-than-usual walk with my puppy, and it was the best decision I’ve made in days.

My last couple of runs have been…not great. Oh, pace-wise and distance-wise they’re fine, but mentally? UGH. I started them in bad moods and finished them still in a bad mood. Or a worse mood.

When my runs dip into this territory – the territory of hurting more than helping – I’ve learned to take a breath, take a step back, and take a stinkin’ day off, marathon training or no marathon training.

Actually, my impending marathon is one of the reasons I did skip yesterday’s run. I’m in taper mode, with less than two weeks until race day. And I present you with two facts:

Fact 1: Skipping one day will not kill my physical fitness, nor will it mentally turn me into a weakling.

Fact 2: Tapering means mental AND physical tapering. Is a frazzled runner who can barely remember her own name likely to run a PR, or anything close to it? Nope.

Knowing these things, and not having time to squeeze in a spontaneous yoga class, I opted to hang out with my dog.

Is it me, or are dogs (pets in general, really) unbeatable in their ability to remind us to chill out? They tell us: Life is simple. Food, playing outside, a few good toys, a cozy spot to relax, and the occasional belly rub or ear scratch. What more do you need?

Ann1

It occurred to me that I hadn’t been following my dog’s example in this area nearly enough lately, so on our walk, I paid attention. For once I didn’t worry myself with whether or not Cesar Millan would approve of my dog-walking style, and I wasn’t worried about trying to get back to the house by a certain time (usually, our walks fit into a neat, tight morning or afternoon routine).

Instead, Ann and I made our way around the neighborhood, strolling along streets that are usually reserved for weekends. I let her sniff things that normally I would hurry her away from; she met her first sprinkler with no resulting trauma; and we even hung out in a public grassy patch for a little while (hey, that’s a big deal in Albuquerque!).

And when we finished our walk? I wasn’t in a bad mood. The endless loop of things to do that usually runs through my head was, for the moment, muted.

I was content.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to give yourself a break.

It wasn’t long ago that I shot a gun for the first time. I was with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and I described the experience here. I remember feeling curious, but nervous. Was this really a skill I wanted, being able to shoot a gun?

That day, I shot a .22 pistol, everything went fine, and I wound up enjoying myself.

My subsequent gun lessons have been good, but sporadic, and earlier this year, Robin Hood (that’s my husband) called my bluff. He convinced me to enter the draw for an elk tag this fall, and wouldn’t you know? I got that darn tag.

So long, friendly, fun .22…hello, high-caliber firearm that can kill an elk and feasibly dislocate my shoulder!

Yay?

This summer, we drove to a remote desert area south of Albuquerque several times to practice. We would start with a .22 rifle and end with a 20-gauge shotgun. In those sessions, I would hit my emotional limit with the shotgun, and we would call it a day.

Think it sounds silly to hit an emotional limit when shooting a 20-gauge shotgun? Do you remember the first time you shot one?

Frankly, I was proud. I was testing myself, pushing my limits, and learning a hard skill. The first time I fired that shotgun without shrieking or crying (yep, did both), I felt strong. I felt capable. I was Sarah Connor in Terminator 2!

I knew, though, that a bigger test awaited: the .270 Winchester. This is the gun I’m going to carry into my elk hunt, so this is the gun I need to learn.

Last weekend, it happened. We drove to the desert, and Robin Hood only brought two guns for me to shoot: the .22 rifle (to warm up) and the .270.

If you’ve never shot a high-powered rifle, I can assure you that it is not as easy as it looks in the movies.

Like the shotgun, the .270 requires very deliberate shoulder placement so I don’t hurt myself (much) when shooting it. However, Mr. .270 also has a telescopic sight which, yes, helps with longer-distance targets, but requires concentration to get the hang of.

Nope. Not easy.

Between getting a firm, comfortable grip on the rifle; confirming a bullet was in the chamber and the safety was off; establishing a solid visual on the target through the sight; remembering to breathe (hello); and oh yeah, casually brushing off the anticipation/anxiety that always comes right before you make something go BOOM, it took me a while to pull the trigger.

As in, I had to put the gun down, drink some water, and try to feel as Zen as one can feel when sitting in the dust listening to gunfire.

But I didn’t have a choice. I needed to learn to use this gun for my hunt. Period.

I plunked myself back down in the shooting chair, and started over again. It came a little easier this time. I peered through the sight at my target: a 2-inch-square piece of fluorescent tape on a cardboard box, 100 yards away.

Aim small, miss small. I’d heard that from Robin Hood at the first archery shoot he ever took me to, and I’d heard it again in American Sniper.

I pulled the trigger. It was still scary, but I didn’t shriek. Or cry. And, just a few minutes later, I did it again.

I discharged a total of five rounds that day. Not a whole lot, but those five rounds increased my respect for that rifle and VASTLY increased my respect for myself.

Now that’s high-caliber.

Gun1

Gun2

Rising to Fall

apple

Fall is here!

I would have published a post on Wednesday, but I was too busy buying caramel apples. Caramel apples are one of my favorite ways to ring in fall. Priorities, people!

One of my other favorite ways to ring in fall is by cresting the peak of marathon training. Tomorrow, I’ll be doing the longest run of my training cycle, and a month from now, I’ll be boarding a plane to Washington, D.C. Final destination? The Marine Corps Marathon.

!!! Insert high-pitched dolphin-like squeaks of excitement here!!!

A new season seems like such a fitting time to begin tapering. I’ll miss the summer a little – it was a great one, after all – and I’ll miss the mileage build-up a little. Weird as it sounds, in these next weeks I’ll savor every minute of wearing my compression socks, every foam-rolling session, and yes, every drop of Gu, because I know that in a flash, the marathon will have come and gone. Life will move on, and so will fall. Heck, by the time I return to running after the requisite post-marathon recovery, we’ll be out of Daylight Savings Time.

Savor, indeed.

Marathon training aside, I’m learning to embrace the transitional seasons more and more with each year. And this fall brings two new kinds of transitions for me.

One: my name is changing! Yeah, I know, I got married three months ago, but I’m finally jumping through the legal hoops to get my new last name. I visited the social security office earlier this week. Next stop: MVD (a.k.a. DMV) for a shiny new driver’s license. This ball is rolling!

Does it feel weird, this transition? Of course it does; I was a Banks for 34 years. But I’m telling myself that I’m not losing any part of my identity. Rather, my identity is growing. See? That sounds better. Not to mention when I pick up a pen and sign “Shannon Sapp,” it looks like “Shannon Jazz,” which makes me happy.

Two: I’m turning into a hunter. I’m still definitely, definitely a novice, but a hunter nonetheless. I told you about my squirrel a couple of weeks ago, and it may not seem very impressive, especially to you experienced hunters out there, but it gave me a huge confidence boost. Just in time, too – over the next month, I’ll be practicing with significantly higher-powered firearms, because my next live target will be significantly larger than a squirrel. It will be an elk. I intend to go about this hunt the right way, which means practice and more practice.

Practice + practice + practice = experience = respect for what you’re doing = confidence in what you’re doing = confidence in yourself.

Marathon training and getting ready for a hunt aren’t so different, are they?

It’s time to let go of summer. Bring on marathon tapering. Bring on a new name. Bring on target practice. Bring on harvest festivals and the aroma of roasting green chiles and Balloon Fiesta and cooler weather.

Bring on fall!

p.s. To anyone else running the Marine Corps Marathon: May your last long runs be great and your taper peaceful :)

My husband and I dropped off our puppy, Ann, at the vet last night to be boarded over the weekend. We experienced a mixed bag of emotions — sadness at leaving her for the first time since we brought her home; pride at how quiet and (relatively) well-behaved she was in the vet’s lobby; some unnamed combo-pack o’ emotions when we went back home to a puppy-less environment.

One of the strangest parts for me was waking up this morning about half an hour later than usual. Usually, since we’ve had Ann, I get up at 5:10 on weekdays so I can let her out, feed her, and take her for a walk before I go to work.

Let me be clear: I don’t enjoy waking up that early. It’s not fun. Rarely do I (does anyone?) spring out of bed at that hour with glee in my step.

But there’s something about that pre-sunrise walk. It’s still dark outside. The night sky is veeery slowly starting to fade. It’s a transition time. It’s cool. The air is also pleasantly cool — although ask me in three months and I’ll probably use a different adjective.

Our morning walks are when Ann is most energetic, and she doesn’t always want to behave. Even so, there’s a certain peace there. The neighborhood is all quiet, and but for the handful of folks slipping off to an early commute, we have the world to ourselves.

I try to take this time to breathe; to savor the peace and quiet before the hustle and stress of the workday begins. Even though I’m usually carrying a bag of dog poop in one hand, it’s nice.

It is a fabulous time to pray.

The reason Ann is getting boarded this weekend is that Robin Hood and I are heading to Phoenix for the baptism of my friend Tara’s son, Luca. We’re going to be his godparents.

My faith isn’t perfect. Far from it. This year, between planning a wedding, adjusting to married life, adjusting to a new puppy, and training for another marathon, my faith has been tested, and I have not always come through with flying colors. But I keep working on it, and thankfully, God has surrounded me with some terrific people to help me when I need it.

Luca, as your godmother, I’ll tell you right now I don’t have all the answers. But here’s what I do know:

  • God will never leave you. Period.
  • Your faith doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, sometimes it will be torn, ratty, crumpled, stained, and downright ugly. This is totally normal. But don’t ever let go of it.
  • You have people in your life who are here for you — your parents, your godparents, and MANY others. And we always will be.

And last but not least: If you just look around a little bit, you can find beauty in the world, even when you’re carrying dog poop.

Tara and Randy: thank you for having faith in Robin Hood and I. We are honored beyond measure to be Luca’s godparents.

Just a walk in the woods…

Last Saturday, Robin Hood and I went on an overnight camping/hunting adventure into the Santa Fe National Forest. If you’ve never been, or if your idea of New Mexico is a roadrunner chasing a tumbleweed, I recommend it.

forest

We found a campsite and settled in for the evening. Thankfully, with all of the rain we’ve been getting this year in the central and northern parts of the state, there weren’t any fire restrictions, so it wasn’t long before we had a cozy campfire crackling. However, with all of the rain we’ve been getting this year in the central and northern parts of the state, it wasn’t long before…it started to rain. Whomp whomp.

But! It didn’t last long, and we successfully kept our campfire alive. Which meant dinner could proceed as planned… which meant absolutely-knock-your-socks-off-delicious campfire tamales. Forget hot dogs!

After a mellow evening (well, mellow for Robin Hood and I. Ann the coonhound puppy did not have a mellow evening, as she had a strong need to sniff ALL THE SMELLS), we got up early the next morning, breakfasted, and broke camp. Then we drove to the top of the mountain we had camped on. We had a mission.

That mission? Small game; i.e. squirrels, grouse, and turkey. I counted my blessings that this kind of hunting a) did not require waking up before dawn, b) did not happen in frigid temperatures, and c) did not require head-to-toe camouflage (although admittedly, that’s kinda fun). Basically, it was a leisurely nature hike. We just happened to be carrying a .22 rifle and a recurve bow.

Our first foray yielded no grouse or turkey, but Robin Hood did get one squirrel with the .22. We…er…hauled back our harvest (squirrel gumbo, anyone?) to the truck, where Robin Hood cleaned the squirrel, bagged it, and put it on ice.

After a quick couple of sandwiches, we ventured back out in a different direction. In no time, Robin Hood had another squirrel, which he stashed alongside the trail. We walked on.

Now…I am a teensy bit competitive. No matter that my husband has been hunting for over a decade and I’ve never killed anything bigger than a cockroach. I wanted a squirrel.

We walked on, steadily scanning the tree tops and the ground. And then, there it was: a fluffy, darting movement amongst the branches.

I moved closer, quietly, and readied the .22. I found a good spot, took aim, and…the squirrel ran. Vaguely aware of my husband’s presence nearby, I kept scanning. There! One of us – I’m not sure who – spotted the squirrel again. Again, I got close, took aim, and this time, fired. And missed. The squirrel, not being dumb, fled into a tree.

A few minutes passed; we thought he was gone. I was ready to move on, but then! Another fluffy movement! The squirrel was moving slowly but surely down a nearby tree. Closer, closer…

I moved into position and lifted the rifle. I had time. I was going to be careful. I aimed, breathed, aimed, breathed, and…POP! And then watched, a little wide-eyed, as that squirrel fell out of the tree.

Robin Hood got there before I did and confirmed: a bullet through the heart.

My first kill.

squirrel

Sara Evans, finally.

Fourteen years ago, my oldest brother and his wife moved from Virginia to Florida. Several members of the family, myself included, tagged along to help them get settled. We took multiple cars, and I rode with his wife, Jessica.

As we cruised down I-95, Jessica, being the driver, controlled the music. I don’t remember everything we listened to, but it included a healthy smattering of country. And that included Sara Evans.

Now I didn’t hear her music and immediately fall over or anything, but I liked it enough that it stuck with me. Over the years, I bought more and more of her albums, and she became one of my favorite singers. I told myself, “Someday, I will see her in concert.”

It didn’t happen. I was convinced that it just wasn’t meant to be, because she toured through the Albuquerque area twice – twice! – and both times I couldn’t go. Resignation began to set in.

Life went on, and 2015 rolled around. Occupied with other things, I didn’t even bother to check the concert schedule of local venues. Then, a month or so ago, it happened.

I saw a billboard. And the billboard proclaimed “Sara Evans! August 28! Sandia Casino Amphitheater!”

I checked my calendar. No plans. Robin Hood would be hunting. My schedule was wide open.

!!!

Then, a choice: do I invite friends or go solo? I do have friends who like country music and probably would have gone with me, but I decided…no. I wanted to pay a brief visit to my old self, the Shannon who was single for a long time and had all sorts of adventures by herself with no qualms.

So I bought a ticket, and on August 28 I hustled home from work, fed and walked the dog, fed myself, and drove to the amphitheater. [Side note: if you ever get the chance to see a concert at the Sandia Casino Amphitheater, take it]. I bought a beer, found my seat, and exhaled.

The concert was fabulous. With a full moon shining over the stage and the breeze of an Albuquerque summer night dancing through the air, Sara and her band were everything I had hoped they would be. She opened with “Born to Fly” and just kept going. She played songs that I had forgotten I loved (“Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” live, under a full moon! Bliss!!), and even an obscure one that I thought she wouldn’t (check out her cover of Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No”).

I drank it in eagerly and un-self-consciously. A few times, I admit it, I missed Robin Hood. But mostly, I was glad to have the experience all to myself. I admit that too.

Being married is wonderful. Having someone who loves and supports you no matter what? Not to be taken for granted. The same goes for having someone who shares your interests and introduces you to cool new ones.

But you know what else is wonderful? Keeping some contact with your old self. Not letting every piece of you get swept away by your new life, even if that new life is happy beyond your wildest dreams.

I’m trying to find that balance. I know it’s out there. And I figure this, as Sara Evans would say, is a real fine place to start.

ticket

SandiaAmp

One Monday night

I took Robin Hood out on a date. I owed him one, and lately we’ve taken to doing date nights during the week. This stems from our recent flurry of weekend activities: wedding! Honeymooning! Puppy wrangling! Four-wheeler fetching! And the less exciting, but so, so lovely sleeping!

It likely will continue this way, because we’re on the brink of hunting season*, which means that unless I go with him, my weekend sightings of my husband will be few and far between.

Anyway. Monday night. I had some post-weekend energy, so I asked Robin Hood out. One thing I’ve gleaned from a whole two months of marriage: never stop asking your spouse out on dates!

On a recommendation from my boss, we went to Kasey’s for dinner. I was starving (hooray for marathon training and frequent dog-walking!), so I was happy when we walked in to find the place quiet. Score one for dining out on Mondays.

Sure enough, service was speedy, and before we knew it, we were sipping wine and munching red chile pulled pork egg rolls. I noticed the cool art on the wall, but it was Robin Hood who pointed out the subject of one particular piece. It was a photograph of sunflowers past their prime – a little wilted, a little stooped, dark; not proud and tall and brazen like your typical sunflower photo.

The more I looked at that picture, the more I liked it. Maybe because that’s the state of my own garden’s sunflowers right now, so I felt a connection, or maybe because it made me realize that sunflowers are too great to only be photographed during their [sadly short-lived] prime. It inspired me to go home and take this picture:

sunfl

Now back to the food. Because OH MY LORD. I got a bison burger with macaroni and cheese on the side, and Robin Hood got pork chops with potatoes au gratin. Sounds simple, right? Roadside diner fare? Ohhh no. There were figs involved. In both dishes. FIGS! Not to mention all kinds of marvelous secret sauces.

Did I mention the figs? Robin Hood and I are now big fans.

I was full after that. Really, I was. But, but…I saw bread pudding on the dessert menu. For me, that’s a no-brainer. I informed my stomach that it wasn’t done yet.

Quick note about bread pudding: it’s one of the few foods on which my husband and I disagree. I prefer a firmer bread pudding; he likes his to lean more towards a pudding. We make it work.

Kasey’s bread pudding didn’t disappoint. It was a little softer than I normally like, but I came very, very close to lifting the plate to my face and licking that thing clean. Robin Hood and I just sat there for a few minutes after the last bite with glazed, dreamy looks in our eyes.

Some meals are worth writing about.

wine

*Early bear season notwithstanding.

P.S. If you have a dog, check out this app.

P.P.S. I can’t say enough about Molly Wizenberg. The woman writes about food, family, and life like none other.

The 4-Wheeler Mystique

Robin Hood brought home a 4-wheeler last weekend.

He’s been wanting one for a while, and he’s been casually shopping around for one for almost as long, so really, it wasn’t a surprise. But still. When he pulled up with that shiny red number sitting jauntily on its trailer, there was no denying it.

We are now a 4-wheeler family.

I don’t know what this means. Does it mean anything?

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. We rode 10-speed bicycles – as much as I like cruisers, I pity the kid who tries to ride a cruiser up those hills – or in cars, or took the Metro. We played youth club sports and went on hikes with our families. In the summer, we splashed around at local pools.

No one I knew had a 4-wheeler. Maybe there just wasn’t enough open space for them? At any rate, I had barely even heard of them before I moved to Florida. After that move, it was still just peripheral knowledge. Friends would mention in passing how they’d ridden 4-wheelers when they were younger, in rural parts of Georgia or the Panhandle. They made it sound fun, but I never gave it serious thought.

Then I moved to New Mexico.

Suddenly, the people I met didn’t just have childhood stories about 4-wheelers; they had 4-wheelers. Or their parents did. Or one of their friends did. And they used them regularly – not just recreationally, but to do work, like hauling firewood or bringing back the results of a successful hunt.

I listened and observed with interest, but still never gave the idea of owning one, or even riding on one, much consideration.

I’m not a 4-wheeler girl. I’m a big fan of leg power: running! Hiking! Riding cruiser bikes! Dancing like nobody’s watching! I’ve even been spotted inside a Zumba studio!

Well, this leg-power girl married a hunter. And hunters, at least the ones I know, are big fans of 4-wheelers. For practical reasons: it’s no fun schlepping a bull elk over a mile(s) of hilly, uneven ground. Nor is it fun to beat up your primary vehicle on a narrow, rutted, overgrown back road.

So when my hunter began telling me about this purchase he wanted to make, I listened, and I supported. He (we?) could afford it, and it would make his hunting more enjoyable. Case closed.

I should be thrilled that there is now a 4-wheeler in our garage. It’s new! It’s red! It’s sooo shiny! Robin Hood even took me for a little ride up and down our street the day he brought it home, and I will say that my first-ever ride on a 4-wheeler was…fun.

But it still startles me every time I see it, and the fact that I banged the bejeezus out of my knee on the trailer the other day doesn’t help.

I ask myself: Really?

And the answer is: Yes. Because of the look on Robin Hood’s face when he came home with it. Because, darn it, I want to be there when it gets dirty for the first time. And because life is all about learning to embrace new things.

Here’s to becoming a 4-wheeler girl.

4whlr

Cross-Training the Fun Way

I have a question for you: when was the last time you rode a cruiser?

Not a motorcycle or a souped-up car. THIS kind of cruiser:

jensie

A while back, my sister and brother-in-law gave me this bike, and I wrote about it here.

I was so excited to have it! It was a cruiser, just like I wanted. It was purple, just like I wanted. It had a basket! It even had a “water” bottle holder!

I loved that bike. I named her Jensie, after the [male, yes] rider Jens Voigt. Jensie and I enjoyed fun adventures on a fairly consistent basis…for a while. Then things began to encroach on our time together: running, my budding relationship with Robin Hood, life in general.

I kept Jensie, refusing to give her up. She has stood in the garage, leaning on her kickstand, waiting patiently for me to dust her off, put some air in her tires, and let her out again. Waiting, waiting…

Until now!

Robin Hood now has a bike, thanks again to my sister and brother-in-law.

Jan

It’s not a cruiser, but it’s a cool bike nonetheless. I’m thinking of naming it “Jan” after Jan Ullrich, because then we would have Jan & Jensie and I’m doing a gleeful dance just thinking about that, but I suppose I should get Robin Hood’s input first.

I suppose.

The point is, we both have bikes now, and we went on our first-ever ride together this week.

And we still like each other!

I felt a tiny bit of trepidation as I snapped my helmet on and rolled Jensie out of the garage, but mostly I was excited. Our neighborhood is pretty quiet, meaning not a lot of vehicular traffic to contend with. More importantly, it’s flat. Prime cruising country!

After a few warm-up rides up and down our street, we felt bold enough to – !!! – go around the corner.

It was a big deal for me.

We ventured further into the neighborhood, riding carefully on the right side of the street. A couple of cars rolled by without incident. I let myself coast a little and felt the breeze on my face.

Yep, it’s definitely been too long since I’ve ridden a bike.

Our (read “my”) confidence somewhat inflated, we decided to ride along the perimeter of the neighborhood. That perimeter parallels a rather busy road, and while there is in fact a lovely paved path to ride on, you have to, you know, turn to get onto that path.

My approach was beautiful! The turn started off so well! Then, before I knew it, I was going too wide, too wide, and stopped just in time to avoid coasting directly into traffic.

Maybe this is why I’ve never gotten that invitation from the Tour de France?

I did my best to shake off my shaken-ness, and climbed back on the bike. I couldn’t end my comeback ride on that note! I pedaled up the path, made a few more careful turns, and finally came to a delicate stop at our driveway, with Robin Hood right behind me. I ended the ride a little wiser, but I remembered that breeze on my face.

Oh, there will be more of this.

Between the lovely little heat wave that has decided to grace Albuquerque, and a sort of life-clumsiness that’s been tenaciously nipping at my heels, I’ve had to make a concerted effort to stay focused on the positive this week.

Maybe you’re going through something similar. I can’t guarantee these will work for everyone, but here are some things that have helped me so far:

1) My sunflowers. For the loooongest time, they were just these tall, gorgeously sturdy green stalks, with…no blossoms. I (and Robin Hood) watered, weeded, and waited. And waited. Finally, last week, the first blossom showed its lovely face, and now we have an outright profusion of sunflowers! I cannot look at them without cheering up. They’re tall. They’re sassy. They are the perfect picture of audacious faith, which, hey, is pretty much my mantra for the year.

sunflowers

2) Confidence-boosting runs. A lot of my training for this fall’s marathon has been unremarkable, but during this week’s hill workout, things clicked and I actually felt good! I would have done a dance, but…the hills.

3) This beer:

beer

This was one of the beers served at our wedding, and it currently holds the title of My Favorite Beer. It’s refreshing. It’s delicious. It comes in a pretty can. If you like IPAs, get yourself some! I recommend it after a hard workout, in between guzzling water and taking a shower.

4) The way Ann looks when I let her out of her crate. Her anticipation! Her excitement! The hilarity of her stumbly-puppy gait as she tries to carry multiple toys and blankets at once!

5) Malachi 4:2 : “But unto you who revere and worshipfully fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings and His beams, and you shall go forth and gambol like calves [released] from the stall and leap for joy.”…because I imagine my puppy, and how great, to feel that kind of bliss?

6) Learning new skills. The past three Sundays, Robin Hood and I have gone out for target practice with different guns in preparation for an elk hunt this fall. I’ll write more about the target practice in a later post, but for now I’ll just say that I’m enjoying it more and more, and it is incredibly empowering. And humbling.

7) My husband. He drives me crazy sometimes, and I drive him crazy a LOT, but man is life better with him around.

famly

8) Making tiny steps of progress in cutting myself some slack. Kristin Armstrong wrote a column on embracing imperfection which I’m tempted to print out and post on my refrigerator. I probably should. If I don’t show myself compassion, who am I going to show it to?

9) Weekends. Yes, week days and work days are necessary, but weekends are vital. Spending more time outside than in! Having a go-bag with sunscreen and water already packed! Cruising through a drive-thru en route to adventures! Falling asleep halfway through a movie from all that exertion having fun! Yup. Love the weekends.

10) Staying connected. Whether it’s date night on a restaurant patio, visiting with family, or traveling to spend overdue quality time with friends, this time of year is terrific for that.

What’s putting a bounce in your step these days?

The answer, rather anticlimactically I’m afraid, is more running.

A few months ago, I registered to be in the lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon. Lottery day came, and I was one of the lucky ones that made it in. I cheered, I probably drank some wine, and then I put all marathon thoughts on a back burner.

With race day less than three months away, however, the contents of that back burner are now at a rolling boil. I’ve begun the long runs and the hill workouts. And, while wading into the waters of marathon training always feels a little disorienting, this feels…good.

For one, it makes me happy that my 20th running anniversary coincides with the start of another marathon training cycle. Lord knows there’s time for reflection when you’re out there logging miles, and these days I’m reflecting on my running life thus far. I’m thinking about:

• My first 5k. It was in Reston, Virginia. I was in middle school and I walked part of it.
• My first high-school cross-country practice. I was soooo nervous.
• Running in college – not on the team, just on my own. Running where I wanted, when I wanted. That’s when I really started to fall in love with the sport.
• The Anheuser-Busch Colonial Half-Marathon, where I cut my teeth for longer races. Also the first race I ever ran that gave out beer afterwards!
• My first marathon: New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Marathon on February 29, 2004. That was the first and last marathon in which I didn’t use energy gels. I learned my lesson.
• Drifting in and out of several running groups, and meeting some of the nicest people ever.
• My first long trail race, which I hated.
• My second long trail race, which I loved.
• Allllll of those bathroom stops.
• My family, whose genes, support, and occasional butt-kicking are behind it all.

And that’s barely skimming the surface.

It also makes me happy that Robin Hood will finally get to watch me run a marathon, and that it’s in the fall. I was thinking about it (okay, I was reflecting again) and it’s been five years since I ran a fall marathon!

There’s just something about a fall marathon. Training in the heat of summer, with the air gradually taking on a crisp edge as your fitness takes on its own crisp edge…developing unusual tan lines and drooling at the thought of ice-cold Gatorade…ahhh.

Last but not least, training for the Marine Corps Marathon feels good because it’s somehow both comforting and challenging. In this year of blessings and change and more blessings and more change, I sometimes feel, quite frankly, overwhelmed. Like when you’re bobbing happily in the ocean, and then you realize you can’t feel the sand beneath your feet.

Running – consistent running, the kind marathon training requires – is my sand.

The challenge comes with this new phase of life I’ve entered. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like training is impossible with a husband and a new puppy. Heck, my husband gets me post-long-run breakfast burritos, and the puppy is all about going on warm-up and cool-down walks with me. But it’s an adjustment. I don’t always get the “optimal” amount of sleep or eat the “optimal” diet, and I’m learning not to care. Running isn’t the center of my life anymore.

It’s just a glorious, glorious part of it.

Here’s to 20 more years :)

We Bought a Puppy

Twenty-four hours after we got back from our honeymoon, Robin Hood and I hopped into his truck and drove to a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood in Albuquerque’s South Valley.

When we drove back, not much had changed except the contents of the truck’s back seat: namely, one squirmy, copper-colored, frankly apprehensive redbone coonhound puppy.

Pup2

Ann!

Ann, a.k.a. Little Ann (from Where the Red Fern Grows), a.k.a. Annie Oakley, a.k.a. Anna Banana, a.k.a. Ann Trason, a.k.a. Annette Coonicello, came into our lives in May. We had known that we wanted to get a dog in the near future, and we wanted a puppy. We had discussed various breeds, writing off Chesapeake Bay Retrievers for being too hard to come by in Albuquerque, and Labradoodles for being too expensive.

We were considering Poodles when two things happened: Robin Hood and I both finished reading Where the Red Fern Grows for the first time in decades (I went through a “classics of young adult literature” phase this spring); and then he stumbled upon a website, www.puppyfind.com.

What did he find on that website? A breeder of redbone coonhounds – the breed from the book. And where was the breeder? IN ALBUQUERQUE. And yep, there was a litter of puppies just about ready for adoption.

It all seems too perfect, right? Like the cards weren’t just falling into place but avalanching into place?

I thought so.

This was a month and a half out from the wedding. A new puppy and wedding planning do not mix well. Robin Hood conceded that this was true. But when he talked to the breeder, he found out this was the last litter they were going to have.

What to do?

We did what any couple who’s considering getting a puppy, who’s interested in getting a puppy but doesn’t want to do anything rash, who wants to weigh the information carefully, would do:

We visited the puppies!

I know. Stop laughing.

Naturally, once we visited those puppies, we had to have one. But the fact remained: we couldn’t.

Thankfully, when we explained our situation to the breeder, she graciously offered to keep the puppy for us until we were ready to bring her home. So that’s how it happened. We picked out a puppy, paid a deposit, promised to visit, and continued on with the business of getting married.

pup1

Fast forward to…now!

Life has gotten very surreal. Actually, that’s not accurate, because this entire year has felt surreal. Maybe what’s happening is that the surreal is [gulp. deep breath.] turning into the real.

I now have a puppy in my life, and it’s been a learning experience from day one. I can’t believe how much I love her already. I can’t believe how exhausting she is. I can’t believe how cute she looks when she sits in anticipation of a treat. I can’t believe I’m now A Pet Photo Person [with most of those photos capturing nothing more than a blurred furball].

Who knows what she’ll be like when she’s older? With luck and a little more training, she’ll be a hunting buddy for Robin Hood, a running buddy for me, and all-around cool dog.

For now, she’s got a healthy appetite, she rocks her pink camouflage collar, and she fetches really well sometimes!

That’ll do.

Pup3

Adventures in Key West

Two days after our wedding, at an hour sometime between night and morning, Robin Hood and I shuffled onto an airplane in Albuquerque. Two transfers and 10 hours later, we arrived at our honeymoon destination: the Conch Republic.

Key West!

Immediately upon exiting the Key West airport, we felt the tropics. The air was so thick we could have cut it with the edge of a conch shell. Palm trees fringed the streets. The smell of the ocean flirted with our nostrils. Chickens roamed free throughout the town.

We definitely weren’t in Albuquerque anymore.

We took a cab to The Mermaid & The Alligator, a bed-and-breakfast we had found on the Internet, and promptly fell even more in love with the place than when we had originally booked our stay. The owners were friendly and helpful, and our room was lovely, comfortable, and had a balcony. As if all that wasn’t enough, the owners’ dog amiably patrolled the property, charming everyone she met. The place was perfect.

hblog1

Our first night there, we made a beeline to Mallory Square to watch the sunset. It’s a popular spot – besides the restaurants that line the waterfront, folks go there to just hang out. There are street performers, food carts, a coconut man (you just have to go and see for yourself), and a generally festive yet mellow atmosphere that was exactly what we needed.

hblog2

And for dinner? Cuban food, naturally! We dined on the patio of El Meson de Pepe, where our drinks sweated a little, we sweated a little, and everything was delicious.

In the days that followed…oh man. The days that followed.

We slept in. What usually woke us up were church bells: across the street from our B&B was the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea (is that not the greatest name for a basilica EVER?) and its bells began their hourly tolling at 8 am. I guarantee you won’t find a more peaceful wake-up call.

We went to the beach, which proved a little rocky for my taste, but hey, a beach is a beach. We splashed! We soaked up the sun! We were very glad that we got out of the water minutes before a pair of stingrays drifted practically onto the shore!

We went fishing and caught a dozen yellowtail snapper. We kept four and had them cooked harborside at a floating Thai restaurant, and we ate them on the rooftop as the sun set.

We visited the Ernest Hemingway House, and saw where he lived, where he wrote…and many, many cats.

Yep, cats just lying around everywhere.

Yep, cats just lying around everywhere.

The base of this fountain was a urinal from Hemingway's favorite bar!

The base of this fountain was a urinal from Hemingway’s favorite bar!

We went on a late-night Ghost Tour, where we got to ride in a trolley; and on a daytime “Conch Train” tour, where our tour guide sounded eerily like Joe Pesci.

We ate. We ATE! Never a lot at once, because it was too hot for that, but our bellies were so happy. Fresh breakfast every morning at the B&B! Seafood! Cuban sandwiches! And, of course, key lime pie. YUM.

On Saturday, the 4th of July, our last full day there…well, Jimmy Buffett would have been proud. We took a seaplane ride to the Dry Tortugas, reportedly America’s most inaccessible national park. There were ten people on the plane, we only flew a few hundred feet above the water, and I will never forget how that water looked. So many shades of blue, and so clear we could spot sea turtles paddling along.

Our destination was Fort Jefferson, which dates back to the Civil War (fun fact: it’s the largest masonry structure in America). We had just a couple of hours to spend there, so Robin Hood and I divvied up our time exploring the fort; snorkeling; and picnicking on the beach. Try as we did to savor it, though, the time flew, and before we knew it we were making our return trip (just as magical as the first leg) back to Key West.

We watched the fireworks that night from the Southernmost Beach in the United States, held hands, and smiled.

Not a bad way to start a marriage.

hblog6

My Enchanted Wedding

It’s done: I’m a married woman!

To anyone currently planning a wedding, I can now assure you that it does all come together, and yes, it is wonderful, even if it doesn’t go exactly as planned. It will probably be better than what you planned.

Mine was just that.

Here’s how it played out:

Family started coming into town on Tuesday afternoon. Robin Hood and I met my parents and grandparents for dinner that evening, and the celebration was on!

We still had a few loose ends to tie up, but with guests steadily trickling in, our immediate support network grew by the hour, and it was easy to go from “How is this going to work??!!” to “You know what? This is going to be great.”

bag

On Wednesday night, with a lot of family from both sides having arrived, we had an impromptu group dinner at Sadie’s, a veritable Albuquerque institution. New Mexican food + loved ones we hadn’t seen in ages + mariachi serenades = joy.

On Thursday, I had lunch with the ladies of my family. It felt like an important thing to do, and it was a blast. We ate at St. Clair Winery & Bistro, one of my favorite restaurants, where we enjoyed delicious food and quality female bonding. And wine.

Before we knew it, Friday morning arrived, which meant: rehearsal! All the necessary parties showed up at the venue, we did a couple of run-throughs (with a break for water and application of sunscreen – gotta love New Mexico summers!). By the end, we felt confident that we would at least all be able to walk in the right direction.

What happened that evening I do believe could be called The Greatest Rehearsal Dinner Ever.

We gathered at El Patron Cantina, where Robin Hood and I had gone on our first date. The restaurant has live music on Fridays, and for our rehearsal dinner, it proved a splendid complement to an already-festive atmosphere. Add to that the magical combination of good food, good margaritas, and good people, and voila: it became a dance party! Now that’s the way to spend a Friday night, with or without an imminent wedding.

dance

Saturday: WEDDING DAY!

Everyone says your wedding day flies by, but to me the pace felt just right. This is where all of that prior planning paid off ENORMOUSLY. After going for a run (a no-brainer) and showering, I gathered the stuff I’d need later in the day: wedding dress, overnight bag (we didn’t leave for our honeymoon till Monday, but we did spend Saturday night at a hotel), etc.

That didn’t take long, so I spent the next couple of hours just hanging out with my friend Hillary, watching TV and relaxing. Occasionally I thought, “Should I be worrying or doing something right now?” Turned out, nope! Soooo nice.

My sister/Maid of Honor showed up around 11 with sandwiches. We dug in, did a final house-check, then loaded up her car. It was showtime! Well, the beginning of preparing for showtime, anyway.

We drove to the hair salon, got our hair all wedding-pretty, and started making our way to Nature Pointe (the venue). Here it got funny, because Robin Hood was driving there at the exact same time [we didn’t want to see each other on the wedding day before the ceremony, so we exchanged a couple of texts in order to avoid that]. Luckily, our car made it there a few minutes before his, so I was able to hustle in without incident. Nothing like some Bridal Special Ops!

Events flowed from there. First came make-up, then a wee bit of downtime, then on with the boots, dress, and veil.

And I didn’t break out in a flop sweat or throw up from nerves or anything!

Before I knew it, my entourage was drifting out of the dressing room to go outside. I was left by myself briefly. Frankly, I got a little bored, but then….

The Nature Pointe handler (Ha. She was actually extremely nice.) beckoned to me. It was time.

Well.

I don’t know what to say about the ceremony, other than it was perfect. The sun was shining. We both said the right names during the vows. I baaaarely managed to avoid bawling; even that felt right.

I loved it. I loved having so many friends and family there. I loved seeing all the planning, all the anticipation, come to fruition. I loved that I was doing all of it with a man who I’m confident that God made exactly for me, who I’m crazy about, and who I can’t wait to share a life with.

As for the reception? It rained, but no one cared. The feast was inside, the music was inside, and the dancing was inside. Lots and lots of dancing. Oh, and cake:

cake

Eventually, Robin Hood and I made our exit, but we made it in especially delightful style, with boisterous cheers and cowbells filling the air. I couldn’t have asked for a better send-off.

Or a better wedding.

Or a better beginning.

Thank you to all of our friends and family who helped – and yes, just showing up and being your fabulous selves counts as helping.

Robin Hood, here’s to many more years of dancing, cake, and love.

Finally, attention must be paid to the vendors. Thus, a gigantic thank you to the following:
– Hyatt Place Uptown for being stellar hosts to our out-of-towners
– Giovanni String Quartet
– Shirley Giron (hair)
– Jiji Hise (makeup)
– Jayme Parker (photography)
– Savory Fare Catering
– Lina Guzman (cake)
– Too Hot To Stop DJ Services
– Afloral.com
– Oriental Trading (party supplies)
– Lucky Boyz limo service
– And last but probably greatest: Nature Pointe and everyone who works there, for capturing our hearts two days into the search for a venue, and just getting better from there.

smooch

7 Days Out

Forgive me if this post is scatter-brained. My attention span has left the building.

Seven days out from my wedding day, and how am I feeling? Am I giddy? Or am I floating serenely through the hours like a perfectly-polished wedding goddess?

No. I’m tired. And happy. And dazed. And baffled, really, over the fact that one little week…one little week from today I’ll be donning a lovely dress and my cowgirl boots and starting the rest of my life.

Our life. Mine and Robin Hood’s.

Sometimes we look at each other and kind of go “Whaaaa?? Hey, we’re getting MARRIED!” Luckily, this has to date been followed by goofy smiles and hand squeezes, and not by either of sprinting far, far away. A good sign, right?

Mind-bogglingly, we’re still checking things off our to-do list. That’s a lesson I’ve learned: no matter how organized you are, no matter when you start planning, little things keep popping up. Oh well. I’m just telling myself that a week from now, I’ll be putting my feet up with all the to-do lists mercifully behind me.

Ahhhhh.

The last six months have been a wild ride. A mostly good wild ride, but a wild ride nonetheless. There’s been joy and frustration; victory dances and tears; bickering and hugs; running; traveling; drinking; thinking; and the support of oh so many friends and family (thank you ALL).

There’s been the finding of vendors, the losing of vendors, and the finding of new ones. There’s been the hating of snow and the loving of snow. There have been viewings of wedding movies and viewings of things that are blessedly unromantic (anyone watched The Pacific lately?).

There have been times when I’ve utterly lost my senses (agonizing, agonizing over whether dinner should be served at 5 or 5:30), and times when Robin Hood says something that makes me throw my head back and laugh, and then I remember what all of it’s for.

Love.

It took a while for love – the real kind, that is – to plunk itself down in my life, but the wait was absolutely worth it.

Love makes the stress manageable. It makes being tired manageable. It motivates you into wanting to make everything awesome, and then it makes you realize that everything already IS awesome (if that song is in your head now, you’re welcome).

I wouldn’t trade one minute of the last six months, or the last 34 years, for anything. And I can’t wait for what the next seven days will bring.

I’ll be back in blog land in three weeks…thank you all for your support along the way!

And one last thing….

To Robin Hood, constant source of love and smiles and yes, awesomeness: It had to be you. Here’s to forever.

Photo courtesy of Jayme Parker.

Photo courtesy of Jayme Parker.

A Year in the Life

I turn 34 in less than a week.

My oh my what a difference a year makes.

I celebrated my 33rd birthday by going camping with Robin Hood and a group of friends, and we had a blast – so much so that we’re going back to that site for another camping trip next month.

Little did I know that it would mark the beginning of such an eventful year. At that time, I still lived in the apartment I had called home since February of 2007, although Robin Hood and I were making plans to move in together. I had run a marathon two months prior. I had met Robin Hood’s parents, but he hadn’t met mine. I had no pets, and the biggest thing on my horizon was…well…probably what I would do the next weekend.

Fast-forward 365 days. Robin Hood and I now live together (although moving seven years’ worth of stuff out of an apartment is NOT an easy task, nor is combining two furnished homes into one. All I can say is thank God for dumpsters, Goodwill, and a certain guy going out of town for a long hunting weekend!).

Robin Hood has met not just my parents, but my entire family. And apparently he’s okay with them, because now, as most of you know, we’re engaged!

Wow. In just a little over two weeks, we’ll be married. MARRIED.

But that’s not the only big change! In addition to planning and eagerly anticipating our nuptials, we’ve also gone and gotten ourselves a puppy. A PUPPY! (Puppies deserve all caps, too). She’s a Redbone Coonhound, so theoretically she’ll be a good hunting buddy for Robin Hood and a good running buddy for me. No, we haven’t brought her home yet, because brand-new puppy + house full of wedding stuff + wedding stress = nothing good. We’ll bring her home after we get back from our honeymoon.

Oops. Pardon me while I add “buy puppy supplies” to my to-do list.

Oh, and I registered for another marathon: the Marine Corps! Only this time I, thinking ahead, registered with my new last name.

Not gonna lie. It felt a little weird. I guess I’ll just have to sign up for a lot more races to get myself acclimated to it. The things you’ve got to do…

33 has been one heck of a year. 34 has huge things in store for it, and the year will be launched in style (er, my style, that is), with a viewing of Jurassic World and a trip to the spa for a massage. I cannot WAIT for the weekend to start!

I have no idea what I’ll be writing about at this time next year, but you know what? I think I’m ready for it.

Bring on 34…and Happy Birthday to all the other June babies out there!

Last year's birthday photo. Who knew?

Last year’s birthday photo. Who knew?

I have just over three weeks until my wedding, and somehow, the list of things to do keeps growing instead of shrinking. I swear, for every one thing I cross off, two more things pop up to take its place.

But I know, if the past six months are any indication, these last weeks will pass in the blink of an eye, everything will manage to work out, and before I know it, I’ll be standing in front of friends and family, exchanging vows with an extraordinary man.

Which seems like a great reason to stop the frenetic scrambling for just a moment and recognize something important:

It’s June!

If you’ve been following my blog for a year or more, you’ll know that I love June. True, it’s my birthday month, but I love it for more than that. I love it because where I come from, that’s when school ends and summer vacation starts. I love it because that’s when the heat of summertime, even if it’s been dawdling through May, finally plops itself right on the front porch, wagging its tail. I love it because its full moon is called the Strawberry Moon.

It’s June!

I have a tradition that I started a couple years back called Joyful June, where I take time out every day to do something that brings me joy, even it’s just for a few seconds.

What brings you joy this time of year? Is it the first outing of the season to a nearby ice cream shop? Is it going to watch a baseball game? Is it those first few slurps of ice-cold water after a hot run? Or is it the small yet delightful convenience of going out and knowing that you won’t need to bring a jacket, even at night?

If you have something big going on in your life, it’s vital, from a mental health standpoint, to remember these things. They are anchor points.

We’ve all heard “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and that statement is true when it comes to petty grievances – but it doesn’t mean we should forget the small stuff entirely!

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the big stuff that it’s all we think about and all we’re aiming for. Before we know it, sure, we’ve gained a lovely wedding, or new house, or great job…but we’ve lost weeks, or months, or a year.

The small stuff makes us who we are. The small stuff is life.

This month, I’m going to look for joy in the small stuff. I figure if I can get good at that, then when all the small stuff comes to fruition in something big…well, I can’t even imagine.

What small stuff brings you joy this time of year?

1) When planning your bachelorette celebration, do what YOU want to do. I picked Denver over Vegas. It sounded more fun.

2) Driving from Albuquerque to Denver is SO much nicer in late May than in winter. More daylight = good. Daylight while going over the Raton Pass = really good.

3) When tackling long road trips, stop at least once. Always. Is making great time worth it if your body is so stiff that you can barely extricate yourself from your car at the end?

4) If the forecast calls for wretched weather throughout your travels, pray. I did it before my last two trips, and you know what? It worked.

5) A friend who kicks off the weekend with champagne in a glitter-covered bottle is a fabulous friend.

6) Come to think of it, a friend who agrees to host your bachelorette weekend is a fabulous friend, glittery champagne or no – thanks, Emily! 

7) Don’t set your alarm clock unless absolutely necessary.

8) Any offer of food made by this guy should never, ever be turned down.

9) Bachelorette parties should involve baseball. If you’ve got a Major League team anywhere near you – including neighboring states – DO IT.

10) If there’s a rain delay at the ballgame, stay! Have faith. Eat a hot dog.

11) Stay for the whole game, even if your team is losing.

12) Local beer tastes better.

13) The burger I ate after the game, packed into a booth in a crowded restaurant with my ladies while it poured outside, was the best burger I’ve had in ages.

14) If I lived in Denver, I would eat at the Denver Biscuit Company way more often than necessary.

15) I wouldn’t care.

16) I’ve learned that one of my favorite souvenirs to buy is a t-shirt from a local running shop.

17) The Denver Art Museum is enormous and lovely. I already want to go back. [See? You can totally mix a little culture into a bachelorette weekend!]

18) You can never watch “The Big Wedding” too many times. Look it up on Netflix. Now.

19) No matter how big you think the BolderBoulder 10k is, it’s bigger.

20) Everyone needs friends who sweat through 6.2 miles with them, and do it with smiles on their faces.

21) Veils and tutus are surprisingly aerodynamic!

22) For this run, I traded my watch for my phone (to take pictures) and I don’t regret it.

23) If race spectators have set up a homemade slip ‘n slide and a) the line is super-long and b) it looks a wee bit dangerous, it’s okay to say no.

24) The same does NOT hold true for spectators handing out cupcakes.

25) When one of your ladies acquires a beer mid-race and gravely tells you that you need it, you’ve probably begun to display alarming signs of exhaustion and dehydration, so you should drink it.

26) 20 years of slurping water from tiny cups at aid stations really came in handy.

27) Thank you to Boulder’s 29th Street Mall Starbucks for the free coffee.

28) As huge as the BolderBoulder is, it is a magnificently-organized race.

And finally….HUGE THANKS to Emily, Erin, Antoinette, Meghann, Jax, and Robbie (you’re a dude but you still count) for celebrating with me!

Bach2

Bach1

Bach3

Bach4

Tour of Texas

If you’re going to take a road trip, you could do a lot worse than travel through Texas in the springtime.

Robin Hood and I began planning a Texas adventure back in March, partly for practical reasons and partly for whimsy. I needed to get together with his mom for the final fitting of my wedding dress (she’s making it), and he wanted to take me to a big Renaissance festival called Scarborough Faire.

Those two plans begat others, and just like that, our Tour of Texas took shape. Our itinerary was:

• Drive to Lubbock on Wednesday. Spend the night there.
• Drive to Austin on Thursday. Spend Thursday evening and all of Friday in Austin.
• Drive to Waxahachie for Scarborough Faire on Saturday.
• Drive to Ft. Worth after the Faire. Spend Saturday evening and all of Sunday in Ft. Worth.
• Return to Albuquerque on Monday.

Sound ambitious? It was. Sound like a scheme to temporarily escape a house that’s rapidly filling with wedding paraphernalia? Well, maybe.

But as soon as I stepped outside to go for a run in Lubbock, I knew there was more to it. Something in the warmth and humidity said, You needed this.

What was “this”? I don’t know, but it was in the not-home-but-still-familiar feel of our friend Brian’s house in Lubbock. It was in the rolling, blossoming scenery of the hill country that led us to Austin. Most people bemoan long car rides through Texas (and New Mexico), but I love them. Something about being surrounded by all that open space, that just seems to open up more and more with every mile, gives me the feeling that my soul is getting a much-needed stretch.

It was in the welcoming arms of my aunt Paula, one of the best women in the world. It was in every bite of every meal we ate while we were in Austin. I swear, you cannot throw a rock in that town without hitting a terrific eatery.

It was even in my rainy run on Friday – complete with huge puddles; ducking under one saturated tree limb only to get face-swatted by a bigger one; and a comically tangled ponytail (not to worry, I had plenty of conditioner!).

It was at Scarborough Faire, and in seeing Robin Hood’s wonderful parents. It was in my introduction to this fun event that’s been a tradition of their family for years. I already want to go back, and who knows? I might even wear a costume next time.

It was in Ft. Worth, and getting to meet some of my fiancé’s extended family for the first time. It was in being surrounded again (this seems to be a theme of mine this year) by incredible women at a shower/brunch on Sunday. I was touched and humbled at what a warm, generous, awesome group of people I’m marrying into.

It was in putting on my wedding dress…and not wanting to take it off.

And it was in my last run of the trip, pumping my arms as I ran in the cool, damp morning through quiet, tree-lined, hilly neighborhoods, feeling my skin soak up the moisture, the warmth, and…that.

Whatever it was, I needed it, and Texas gave it to me.

Safe and happy travels to anyone taking a trip this weekend!

trip1

trip2

trip3

trip4

It was a bittersweet moment.

I stood in the beer garden of the ABQ Brew Dash 5k, having just completed my last competitive race as a single lady [I’m doing the Bolder Boulder 10k later this month, but fun will be the operative word there]. As I drank my beer and tried to keep warm, I felt the tired afterglow that comes with a satisfactory race performance, but I also felt a tiny bit forlorn.

I didn’t have anyone to share it with – Robin Hood was out hunting, and none of my runner friends could make it.

Apparently I’ve entered a new phase in my proudly-independent life.

To be clear, it was in fact a positive experience on the whole. I had looked forward to this for weeks – running events in Albuquerque that serve beer afterwards are rare, as are evening races that aren’t held in summertime heat. A free beer with my race bib AND I don’t need to wake up early? Sweet!

Here is a fact: May weather in Albuquerque changes its mind constantly. Sunny, warm and calm one day; windy and cold the next. Brew Dash Day leaned towards the latter, which made warming up and hanging out before the race interesting.

But! God decided to favor us runners, because there was only one brief stretch on the course where the wind blew directly in our faces. Whew!

As far as my own race went, I knew on the starting line that I faced some stiff competition. After enough years of racing, you develop a sense for these things. It has nothing to do with what a runner looks like or what she’s wearing or whether you saw her warming up. Maybe it’s some sort of alpha female pheromone.

Anyway. The starting horn blared, and we were off. One girl left the rest of us frankly in the dust, but a group of five or six of us stayed fairly close together. I decided to keep in contact with them and see what happened.

I passed one girl – hooray!! I passed another one – hooray!! At this point, coming up on the last mile, I was tiring but trying to be steady. I was close behind one girl in particular. Come on, I told myself. She’s RIGHT THERE!

It didn’t happen; she edged me by a few seconds. I gave it all I had, but that day, she was the faster runner. I can’t complain, though – I ran 21:37, good for 5th overall female!

I got in line to get my commemorative pint glass and free beer. About then, the temperature dropped noticeably, and the wind wasn’t getting any weaker. No matter! I ran hard, and I was going to celebrate my performance and my last race as a Banks with a tasty beverage, gosh darn it!

So I did. And I did feel a little lonely, but maybe that’s natural. Maybe, when you’re about to commit to spending the rest of your life with someone, it’s right to miss them when they’re not there to celebrate the good times with you.

Does that mean I’ll never go solo to another race? Heck no! After all, if you always have someone to carry your stuff, you’ll get spoiled.

Here’s to my years of running as a single gal – and many more in the future as a married one!

brew

Young at Heart

This week, I came upon the following question:

What is it that makes you feel young?

The question made me stop and stare at the page from which the words peered up at me. I think I even answered out loud: I don’t know.

Good grief!

A tiny bit horrified, I rattled off things in my head: Running? Well, that usually makes me feel good, yes, and empowered…but young? Hmmm. Prayer? That’s a source of comfort and peace, and also, in its own way, empowerment…or what about reading a good book? Relaxing, yes. Fountain of youth, not necessarily.

The point of the passage containing that question was that we shouldn’t lose touch with what makes us feel young. Whether it’s catching rays at the beach, or going out with friends, or just dancing in your living room — it’s important. Knowing what it is, and actually doing it from time to time, is an excellent way to recharge and renew ourselves. We do that magical thing, and when it’s done, we’re better people for it. Probably so much so that the people close to us notice it.

After reading that, I knew I had some homework to do. I am NOT going to end up like one of those grim-faced grown-ups in a Disney movie, who don’t know how to get to NeverNever Land, who think Mary Poppins is certifiable, and who lose whatever it is that grown-ups lose in The Polar Express.

Oh dear. It’s happening already.

I embarked on a mission: figure out what makes me feel young. This week, I’ve concentrated on doing some of my favorite things:

• I’ve run every day.
• I’ve consciously taken time, between buzzing around from task to task and tumbling into dreamland, to slow down and relax in the evenings with Robin Hood.
• I’ve made two pies, because I love making pie, and as I like to say, when the pie spirit moves you, it’s best to let it have its way. Side note: savory pies are delicious, and easy. Give them a whirl!
• I even nurtured a little spontaneity when Robin Hood and I strolled over to the nearby Little League fields to get a dose of America’s favorite pastime, and found the refreshment stand open. How can you not support a Little League refreshment stand?? Our dinner that night was hot dogs, a green chile cheeseburger, and a hot pretzel. We were in heaven.

Did any of those things make me feel younger? I don’t know. I do know that, while doing each of them, there was a moment when I lost track of time. Somewhere, in the act of gently positioning the top layer of pie crust, or not-so-gently (heh heh) pushing a chunk of pretzel into Robin Hood’s mouth, I stopped thinking about what time it was. I wasn’t thinking about any to-do list. I was just enjoying.

Is that what feeling young is all about?

I’m going to continue my mission. This is the kind of homework I actually like!

What is it that makes you feel young?

Go do it.

In 2009, I ran the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. Not only was it cool because it entailed a visit to San Francisco, which is always fun, but also because it was the biggest group of women united for one cause that I had ever been a part of. I stood on the starting line surrounded by thousands of women who were passionate about running, who had trained for months, and who, no matter what their background, were focused on a common goal: run this race.

It was awesome.

Never since then have I experienced such a tidal force of, for lack of a more academic term, girl power.

Never since then have I realized I missed it.

A month ago, my friend Carrie invited me and a few other friends to attend Living Proof Live, a Christian women’s conference led by a woman named Beth Moore. I had never heard of Beth before, but Carrie had heard great things, so last Friday night we all trekked out to the venue, curious and excited for some good female bonding time.

The place was PACKED. It turns out Beth Moore is a huge deal [if you are a Beth Moore fan, please be patient with me; I truly had no idea]. She informed the audience that there were 5,500 of us there.

5,500!! Have you ever experienced anything like that??

I loved it. Like the marathon I ran in 2009, here was an immense gathering of women united for a common goal. Only this time, instead of 26.2 miles, the goal was spiritual growth. Hey, both require passion, focus, and stamina, no?

Now: about the message laid out before us that weekend. I’m not going to give a summary of everything, because that’s about five hours’ worth of information, and that’s a lot. But two things really hit home for me:

1) Eliminate what you don’t want to generate.
Meaning whatever baggage you are carrying, put it down. Don’t shift it to another part of you; don’t give it to someone else; don’t share it so that both you and someone else carry it. Put it down. And don’t pick it back up. Because whatever we are carrying, whether it’s good or bad, we eventually pass to other people. We might not even notice, but it happens. The question we have to ask ourselves is, are we passing good or bad?

2) Think of three people (or more) whose faith you admire. Guess what? That same God – the one they’re so adept at praying to; the one in whom they have so much confidence and trust – He is with you.

This seems so comforting, and at the same time so empowering. To me, it says that you don’t have to be florid or even eloquent with your prayers. You don’t have to be a shining pillar of faith all the time. You don’t have to be perfect. God’s with you. And knowing that? Well, it’s like getting ready for a run when you’re feeling fit, you’ve got your favorite outfit on, it’s a beautiful day, and you’ve just slurped down an energy gel. You can do ANYTHING.

Here’s to that feeling. And to passing it on.

Womenfolk

Last weekend my friend Alissa threw me a bridal shower. It was, from the first sighting of the balloons on her mailbox to the collecting of the parting-gift favors (starter containers of herbs, and sunflower seed packets), everything I could have possibly hoped for in a shower, and more.

I knew the weekend was going to be good because both my mom and sister Erin would be in town, and the last time they visited Albuquerque simultaneously was…well, I’m not sure that it has actually ever happened. That’s just what happens when you have family scattered all over the country: people have different schedules, and you take visits where you can get them. So all of us ladies under the same roof for an occasion other than Christmas? Pretty special.

We got the visit off to a solid start on Friday evening with dinner at one of my favorite New Mexican restaurants. The boys – Robin Hood and Erin’s hubby – accompanied us to that, but we parted ways the next morning. The boys headed out early to an archery shoot, while we girls got some exercise around the neighborhood, then ate a leisurely breakfast and just…relaxed.

We went over to Alissa’s house shortly before noon, and it wasn’t long before her living room, kitchen, and dining room were filled with chatter. Some of the ladies were good friends; some hadn’t seen each other in ages; and some had never met (it was Mom and Erin’s first time meeting most of them), but the shower unfolded beautifully. Champagne was poured, tasty food was dished out, and the chatter continued.

I wish I had words to describe how I felt, being surrounded by these fantastic women and knowing they had all taken time out of their lives to come and celebrate with me. But I don’t.

Instead, I’ll just say that I’ll never forget it. Also, ladies – thank you for the cards full of memories and marital advice. After poring over them, I put them on my bedside table, where I plan to keep them for a long, long time.

**********

As for the rest of the weekend? On Sunday, the ladies’ goal was to find dresses for Mom and Erin to wear to the wedding. The gentlemen busied themselves with paintball.

Our eyes on the prize, we ladies arrived at the mall right as the stores were opening. We picked our first mark – er, department store – and attacked.

Now I didn’t need Mom and Erin to match perfectly; I wanted them to wear things that they liked and felt comfortable in. And if the color resembled lavender (the more-or-less color for my wedding)? Super.

We were done in an hour.

What can I say? When we Banks women are focused, ain’t nothin’ stopping us.

We had time to kill before our rendezvous with the boys, so we cruised through a couple of errands, enjoying the lovely April day, and then made our way back to the house.

And it was good to see the guys again, after they’d had their adventure and we’d had ours. But I couldn’t, and can’t, help thinking how fortunate I am to have such awesome women in my life.

blogshower

Keep Calm and Pull Weeds

“Only __ days until the big event!”

How do you react when you read or hear that phrase? Does it excite you, scare you, or make you just want to shut down? Personally, I haven’t decided yet.

Between my love/hate relationship with TheKnot.com and my registration success with this year’s Marine Corps Marathon (hooray!!), I’ve seen quite a bit of that phrase lately. And you know…once you give countdowns an inch in your brain, they take that proverbial mile. Or five.

Thus, I found myself compiling a list of events in my future. I could add more to it, but a woman’s got to draw the line somewhere.

Here it is:

1 day until my bridal shower.
8 days until the 2nd anniversary of my first date with Robin Hood.
27 days until Robin Hood’s birthday.
68 days until my birthday.
78 days until THE WEDDING!
197 days until the marathon.

That’s a lot of numbers.

I will freely admit to not caring much for numbers. But the thing is, I actually feel pretty good about everything.

Okay, that was a fib. I’m REALLY excited about the bridal shower. Hey, I get to hang out with fabulous ladies – some of whom I haven’t seen in years – enjoy scrumptious food and champagne, and yes, open presents. What’s not to be excited about?

As for the marathon? Frankly, I’m not even thinking about it right now. I’m keeping my running consistent, and it feels good. 197 days out, I’d call that a win.

And the stuff in between? Well, the birthdays probably won’t be anything too extravagant this year on account of item #5 on that list up there, but they’ll be lovely anyway. I’m not worried.

Item #5, now…you know the feeling when you’re running a race, and you still have a ways to go, but you feel good and comfortable with your current pace? That’s how I feel. I feel content.

Maybe it’s because, several weeks ago, the pastor at church challenged the congregation to have audacious faith. The message stuck with me, so I told Robin Hood about it, and now he reminds me of it when I get anxious. I’m thankful for this.

Maybe it’s because my morning devotionals keep reminding me that “I have strength for all things in Christ who empowers me” (Phillipians 4:13) and I’m finally starting to believe it.

Maybe it’s because of the organizational / get-it-done genes that I got from both my mom and my dad.

It could certainly be due to what I fondly think of as little mundane blessings – those tasks which may not be fun and glamorous, but keep you anchored in the real world. Tasks like pulling weeds; grocery shopping; laundry, etc. Getting tired of planning for something that’s still months away? Just go out and pull some weeds. Boom: instant gratification!

Or maybe I am very, very naïve and will be scurrying around like a chicken with its head cut off come mid-June.

I’m guessing it’s a combination of things. Whatever the explanation, I’m enjoying it.

If you’re counting down the days to a big event, I wish you contentment…and at least one day in a row when you completely forget what that number is.

My grandma turned 90 today. 90! What do you say to one of the most influential women in your life as she enters her 10th decade?

It seems right to say thank you.

So, thank you, Grandma.

Thank you for hanging out with me at the bus stop while I waited for the bus in elementary school. We played “Mother, May I?” and it distracted me from any anxiety that I may have had about the upcoming school day.

Thank you for teaching me the card game classics: Steal the Old Man’s Bundle (sadly, I’ve forgotten how to play that one – you’ll have to refresh my memory during our next visit), Go Fish, and Crazy Eights. If there was some minor gambling involved, too, I swear I won’t tell anyone. I keep looking for a Go Fish table in Albuquerque’s casinos, but no luck yet.

Thank you for giving me the first memory I have of baking. It was during one of our annual summertime visits to you and Grandpa in Buffalo. The boys had gone off on a fishing adventure. You and I didn’t feel like fishing, so we stayed at the house and made brownies, and you showed me how to use a toothpick to see if the brownies were done. As I recall, those brownies were absolutely delicious. And we probably saved at least a couple for the boys. Maybe.

Thank you for your dancing genes. Okay, I say this loosely, because you actually went out on the town and won dance contests, and when I dance in public, the general reaction is equal parts humor and horror. Still, I love dancing, and I don’t care how I look, and I credit you for that.

Thank you for keeping lots of family photos on your walls. There’s no easier, faster reminder of how blessed – and awesome – one’s family is than to have photos of them and look at them regularly. I may only have a smattering of family photos in my own home, but I’m working on that!

Thank you for the Irish heritage. Do I really need to explain that one?

Thank you for instilling in me a love of chili. Now I will admit that it took years for me to gain a proper appreciation of that hearty stew, but it has become one of my favorite dishes in cold weather. Shoot, in any kind of weather.

Thank you for the stories you tell. One of my goals in life is to be able to tell a story half as well as you. Including the off-color ones.

Thank you for being such a tolerant, supportive matriarch to a family of nutty runners.

Thank you for being sassy.

Thank you for showing that keeping a healthy sense of humor goes a long, long way – and that the occasional healthy shot of Bailey’s doesn’t hurt, either.

Thank you for all the hugs.

I guess it all just boils down to this: thank you for being such a terrific grandma.

Happy birthday, and here’s to many more!

Gone to the Dogs

I relish new running experiences. Fun-sounding race making its debut? Sign me up! A friend tells me about a cool trail or road route they’ve discovered? Point me in its direction.

So when Robin Hood and I were dog-sitting for a good friend of ours last weekend, I decided that the time had come.

I wanted to try running with a dog.

Now it helped that the dog – Kiva, the prettiest little pit bull you ever saw – behaves almost absurdly well. I actually don’t think I have ever heard her bark. It also helped that I knew her level of fitness is pretty good, and I knew that virtually any time spent outside makes her ecstatically happy.

Still, I didn’t want to get cocky my first time out, so I planned conservatively: Kiva and I would run a short couple of loops through the neighborhood, early on Sunday morning. No busy intersections, no unfamiliar streets, not a lot of traffic, vehicular or otherwise.

Sunday morning came around, and Kiva knew something was up as soon as I started putting on running clothes. By the time I picked up her leash, she was practically levitating from excitement.

When was the last time you were that eager to go for a run??

I snapped on her leash and we trotted out into the gorgeous spring morning. I had the leash in one hand and a plastic grocery bag – because you just never know – in the other. By then, we were both excited.

I loved it. There is just something about running with a dog that changes your whole perspective of running. As I ran along beside Kiva, I wasn’t thinking about my pace, or how nice it would feel to be back in bed snoozing a little longer. I wasn’t thinking about my plans for the rest of the day.

I wasn’t thinking about myself at all. I was enjoying the scenery around me. When you’re out with a dog who in that moment is just thrilled with fresh air and sights and smells and sounds and life in general, it’s hard not to pick up a little of that feeling. Maybe you hold your head a little higher. Maybe you’re more alert. Maybe you smile, or even laugh, for reasons you would have rolled your eyes at on any other run.

Kiva impressed me. When other dogs barked loudly from behind walls and fences, she cantered on, totally unfazed. When we passed other pedestrians, she gave them a glance and not much else. She didn’t seem to tire at all, and probably could have kept going for a while, had I been able to figure out a way to gracefully run while carrying a bag of dog poop. Turns out it’s harder than it seems [that’s another benefit to running with a dog – it keeps you humble. It’s tough to have a big head when you’re carrying poop].

Would I do it again? Absolutely. That was the most fun I’ve had on a run in a while. The appeal of running with a dog – I finally get it.

Here’s to our four-legged friends.

Kiva

The First Day Of…

Spring is here! Lovely, gracious Spring: that time of blossoms, breezes, balmy temperatures, and…

Ow.

Ow.

Please excuse me, I’ve been a little sore lately. Last weekend, I ran Albuquerque’s (technically, Rio Rancho’s) Shamrock Shuffle 10k. I was happy to keep up with my goal of racing more in 2015, and I was satisfied with my performance, but good LORD, those hills. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. My legs felt like they were some place less amusing. You know those races where you can practically hear your body snickering even as you try to move around and eat protein right afterwards? Yeah…

In addition, I’ve started doing knee-strengthening exercises, courtesy of Runner’s World. Showing my knees some love in order to prevent future injury has been on my to-do list for years, but I’ve never addressed it consistently. I figure if I plan to run a marathon this fall, there’s no time like the present to improve my habits. A good idea, right?

Well, it turns out that in order to show your knees love, you work all the muscles around them. I mean you WORK. ALL. THE. MUSCLES. Around them.

Guess what this causes?

I’ll just say that there is no such thing as being too experienced to feel soreness in all kinds of fun new places.

So please excuse me if I’m wincing as I write this.

But really, isn’t this what Spring is all about? Launching into new pursuits? Coming out of dormancy, shaking things up, and showing reinvigorated signs of life?

And how often is all of that done easily, with no growing pains? Never.

It doesn’t happen in nature: sure, we may think it happens overnight, but it takes a long time for buds and blossoms to burst forth into the world.

It doesn’t happen in running: how frequently do we set PRs in our first race or two of the new year? Doesn’t it take pinning on a couple more numbers before we really reclaim our rhythm – or adjust to a new method of training, racing, and recovery?

It doesn’t even happen at home. At least not for me. When I look at my yard these days, I remember how it looked mid-summer of last year: flowers poking up happily, vegetable plants offering up their goods, and the weeds more or less under control. Remembering all that, I survey my presently desolate flower pots, and the first weeds taunting me, and I go “ulp!”

Progress takes effort. It takes effort, sweat, and, yes, soreness.

One of the many great things about this time of year, though, is that everyone is in it together! All of those plants are working hard at their blossoming business; animals are working hard dragging themselves out of hibernation; and people are working hard finding their groove again, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. Hard work is easier when you know you’re not alone.

And, hello, it’s Springtime. Beauty everywhere! Birds chirping everywhere! No more scraping frost off the windshield!

Okay, so I won’t complain about sore muscles. I will savor them. Because I know that when the soreness dissipates, whatever is left behind will be stronger and better.

Progress takes effort.

Happy Spring, everyone :-)

Losing Wait

There is a WHOLE lot of hurry-up-and-wait in the air right now.

Part of it stems from nature. We’re in the almost-Spring homestretch, when trees are blossoming and flowery fragrances are starting to hit our noses. It’s lovely. But we can’t quite shake out all of our t-shirts and tuck away all of our sweaters, because it’s only mid-March. In Albuquerque, that usually means we have at least one more cold snap before warm weather settles in for good.

Part of it stems from life transitions that seem to be everywhere. I’m in the thick of planning my wedding; my friend Carrie just started planning hers; two other friends are expecting babies in June. Preparing for major events is both incredibly fun and incredibly taxing. We can’t wait for the big day, whether it’s committing to the one we love or welcoming a new life into the world. But between wanting to tie up all loose ends right now (if not sooner) in order to alleviate nerves, and facing the stone-cold reality that loose ends often have obstinate little minds of their own, frustrations can pop up quicker than an overly-eager tree blossom.

Then there are the hurry-up-and-wait situations that just happen. I’ve decided I want to run the Marine Corps Marathon in October — my first marathon as a married woman! But MCM employs a lottery registration system. Meaning I’ll put my name into the lottery today, and then, with butterflies in my stomach…wait. Wait, more than a week, for an email that says Yes or No.

Yup, I’ve realized that trying to get into a lottery marathon might not be the brightest idea for someone who’s 105 days out (thanks, TheKnot.com) from her wedding. I’m hoping that the anxiety from one will deplete the anxiety from the other, leaving me completely serene. Yes, that’s what I’m hoping for. Let me have my fantasy.

In the midst of all this, I do have moments of clear, rational thinking, and I try to make the most of them.

From one of these moments, and after consulting with friends who are or have recently been in the same boat, I’ve come up with this:

Reject the idea of “hurry up and wait.” Just let it go. Let go of the “hurry up” part and let go of the “wait” part.

You ask, “Uhhh, doesn’t that leave nothing?”

Yes. It leaves nothing. But nothing could also be interpreted as:

* Peace
* Stillness
* Calm
* Mindfulness
* Health
* Openness
* Reflection
* Happiness

If we’re constantly chomping at the bit to get things done, to check off one step and move immediately to the next, or anxiously keeping our eyes on the horizon without noticing what’s right in front of us, we lose a lot of those things I just mentioned. At least I do.

This week (one step at a time, people) I’m going to stop trying to do everything at once. Actually, I’m going to stop trying to do everything, period. I’m going to take more deep breaths. I’m going to give more hugs to the man I’m marrying. I’m going to go for longer runs. And I’m going to inhale the fragrance of the blossoming tree in my yard without a single thought to future freezes.

flowers

Snow Truce

Last Friday I was supposed to drive to Denver. I was looking forward to it; I was planning outfits…and then Winter decided to crash the party. Observing what was happening between Albuquerque and Denver on Thursday (snow), and observing the weekend forecast for Denver (snow), not to mention observing that I would be driving solo and my beloved Toyota Corolla does not have four-wheel drive, I canceled my trip.

I was NOT happy with the white stuff.

And then, as if the snow wanted to throw in a touchdown dance, Albuquerque got hit with it on both Thursday and Friday nights. I wanted to declare, “Excessive celebration!” and demand a penalty.

But then I realized snow doesn’t play football, and doesn’t care about its rules. After a good night’s sleep on Friday, I peered out the window on Saturday morning and thought, Ok, yes, I made the right decision in not driving up there. I thought, Ok, yes, having this much snow in a land of persistent sunshine is…kind of cool.

My attitude needed more time to improve, though. Robin Hood and I eased into the day. I had a gloriously long catch-up chat with one of my best friends; he played video games; the fireplace earned its keep. Finally, in the early afternoon, we both got restless. Which meant: snow walk!

We snow-suited up [read: I had plastic bags taped around my legs because I didn’t have actual snow boots to wear] and stepped out into the winter wonderland.

Sort of.

The snow was already melting. Such is Albuquerque and its sunshine.

Nevertheless, we romped along the sidewalks and streets of our neighborhood, exchanging greetings with sledders, shovelers, and anyone else who had ventured outside. We had a snowball fight – really, multiple snowball skirmishes all along the way – and I swear it was one of the most romantic moments of our relationship.

My anger towards snow began to ebb.

The next day, we met up with friends to go inner-tubing. Now I have done plenty of sledding in my time, but tubing? Never. I was intrigued.

We wound up at one of the designated “snowplay” areas on the East side of the Sandia mountains. Once again, I wore my makeshift bags-and-tape gaiters, but no matter. As we trudged through the snow to the picnic area that our friends had claimed, I was already imagining the feeling of skimming down a hill, wind against my face.

While lunch cooked on a grill, Robin Hood and I got impatient and trotted over to the hill where folks were sledding/tubing. I looked at it and got all giddy. It had been so long. Feeling generous in my giddiness, I let Robin Hood have the first ride. As soon as he returned to the top, though, I eagerly took the tube into my arms, carefully selected a good spot, and launched.

It lasted all of 12 or 15 seconds, but those seconds were pure unfiltered joy. My first thought afterwards was, How have I let so much time pass since I last played in the snow??

Snow can be maddening. I’ll be the first to say that. But it does have its redeeming moments. And…every once in a while…it’s actually pretty darn fun.

snow

The Faith Muscle

The other day I got home from work feeling tired, irrationally cranky, and utterly unmotivated. I kicked out of my work clothes, tugged on my running clothes, and headed out the door despite my lack of motivation, because…well, that’s what we runners do, isn’t it? We lace up even when we’re not in the most ideal condition or frame of mind and we get moving, confident in the power of the run to cure all, or at least put things in perspective.

This particular day was mild as far as winter days go, but with a good stout breeze. I began at a comfortable shuffling warm-up pace. I was following a familiar looping course near my house, with the breeze shifting from my face to my back and back to my face. Blocks turned into minutes, which turned into miles.

And…nothing.

My pace didn’t change – if anything, I think it got slower. And my mood didn’t improve one bit. I chalk up the fact that I finished without taking any shortcuts to nothing more than stubbornness.

Let’s face it: some runs are just like that. Real life isn’t a Runner’s World ad. We don’t always attain a “runner’s high”; we don’t always have magnificent epiphanies; we most certainly don’t always look glamorous and serene. Some runs are just…runs.

What’s the point of them, then? Some people would call them “junk miles,” implying that they serve no purpose. They’re not speed workouts, and they’re not long tests of endurance. They’re not even gut-wrenchingly gritty experiences that we can take pride in (e.g. running through a downpour, or in sweltering heat, or in dire need of a bathroom).

Junk, right?

Wrong!

It occurred to me after that run that maybe the point of these seemingly pointless miles has nothing to do with improving physical fitness, or honing skills, or bragging rights. Maybe the point of them is to exercise an entirely different muscle: faith.

The fact that we go running even when we don’t feel like it is a sign of faith, right? As I mentioned above, we’re confident in the power of the run to cure all. But that is just our faith getting warmed up! When the run comes to an end and all has not been cured, what happens then?

That’s when our faith muscle starts flexing. And we don’t even realize it.

What happens after an un-stellar run? Do we give up running? Do we say, “Ehhhh, forget tomorrow’s run; it’s a hopeless case”? No. We don’t give up. We get on with our lives, and when the time comes for the next day’s run, we lace up our shoes and step out again, because we have faith that not all runs will be like the one before.

When we’re in the middle of a run, whether it’s long or short, race or relaxation, and it starts to feel like drudgery, do we throw in the towel and just stop? Nope. Again, that’s the faith muscle going to work.

Faith is the muscle that keeps us going and brings us back. And I for one intend to start giving it a lot more attention – and respect.

Some weekends are all about doing things that need to get done. Those weekends are necessary. But what about weekends devoted solely to doing things we want to do? Aren’t they just as necessary?

I stumbled upon one of those last weekend. Actually, it was more of a splashy belly flop, resulting in a little soreness but also a big grin.

Robin Hood and I got Valentine’s Day off to an early start with Albuquerque’s Sweetheart Run 5k. Our plan was for me to run and him to cheer. As I got dressed, I heard a racket coming from the other side of the house. Shortly thereafter, Robin Hood came strolling into the room, and I gave him a questioning look.

If I had any doubt that this guy is for me, it was erased at that moment. Not because he was coming to watch me run; not because he was bringing a cowbell; but because he was practicing ringing the cowbell.

I nearly swooned.

Off we drove to the race. The weather was fantastic. I was excited to toe a starting line again (my first since September), and to test my fitness.

The starter’s horn sounded, we all surged forward, and…I heard it! The unmistakable clang of a lone but assertive cowbell sending us runners on our way. Pride washed over me. All those spectators along the course, and mine was the one ringing the cowbell. Best fan EVER!

I dashed through that race. I started too fast, but I didn’t care – I felt good. I passed a few people, then settled into a steady-ish pace. The manic energy of the start wore off, but I pressed on, successfully navigated a section of the course comprised of loose sand without falling (hooray!), and finally found myself in the last 200 meters, which were on a track. Time to kick it in!

I don’t know how my finish looked, but I do know that I heard the cowbell again. It pulled me along and I saw a flash of numbers as I crossed the finish line: 21:26! And 3rd place overall female!

sweetheart2015

From there, the day flowed like a happily babbling brook. We ate brunch at one of our favorite restaurants. We visited a Western wear store we’d never been to, just out of curiosity. We went to an expo hosted by New Mexico’s Department of Game & Fish, where Robin Hood was basically in an ecstatic trance for a couple of hours. We ate a steak dinner, with chocolate cake for dessert. YUM.

Our night, however, was not a late one, because our alarms for the next morning were set to…4 a.m.

A-hunting we were going. Specifically, hunting in an area about two hours south of Albuquerque, for a creature that sounded wildly exotic to my ears: Barbary sheep.

Four a.m. arrived too soon (doesn’t it always?). We rolled out of bed, got dressed (thankfully most of the prep work was already done) and hit the road. After some coffee and breakfast tacos, we were doing pretty well – awake and coherent!

We arrived at Robin Hood’s pre-selected spot just after sunrise, strapped on our packs, and started hiking. It began easily enough. We walked up through a valley and kept our eyes peeled. I practiced my “keep quiet and don’t lose your balance” walk. Conditions were favorable, but the sheep stayed hidden. Robin Hood decided we needed a better vantage point.

Riiiight.

The “better vantage point” could only be attained by climbing a steep hill with no trail, lots of scree, a few snowy patches, and mostly dead tree stumps to grab onto.

I don’t recommend grabbing a dead tree stump for support.

Eventually, we made it to the top, and that was something. The view was magnificent, tall grasses waved in the wind, and we had a chance to catch our breath.

After Robin Hood thoroughly examined the surrounding area with binoculars (still nothing), we had a snack and moved on. The wind picked up, but the warm sun compensated for it. We eased along a ridge, keeping quiet, but didn’t see anything. All of the critters apparently were staying out of the wind.

We made our way back downhill. And I was reminded of a great hiking truth: if a hike up loose rock seems tough, just wait for the hike down!

After my nerves were rigorously tested and Robin Hood assured me repeatedly that I would NOT, in fact, start a human landslide, we got past the hardest part blessedly unscathed. Our efforts were rewarded by the sight of four mule deer! I wish I had taken a picture, but all I could do was stare. They were beautiful as they bounded along. Robin Hood muttered something about wishing it was mule deer season, but he had a smile on his face.

We stopped for another food break and started back to the truck. The wind was calmer in the valley, layers came off, and drowsiness began to settle in. It was time to call it a day.

A successful hunt? Maybe not. A great hike on land that rarely sees a human footprint? Definitely.

Thanks for the experience, Robin Hood. :)

barbary

Language Lessons

When was the last time you read a book that changed your life? A book that, as you read through the pages, kept making you pause, look up and make that thoughtful “huh” noise?

I just finished reading such a book: The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. It’s not a new book, and I’ve occasionally heard people talking about it, but I’ll be honest: if I hadn’t received it as a gift, I probably never would have picked it up. I’ve never been much into, how shall we say, touchy-feely books. I guess I figured, I’m a runner and a writer – how much more introspection does one person need? Another way to phrase it: how much more introspection can one person take?

It turns out a lot.

The book, in case you aren’t familiar with it, was written by a guy who’s been a marriage counselor for years. Over that time period, he developed a theory that there are five “love languages”; that is, five primary ways in which people give and receive love. They are: words of affirmation; gifts; quality time; acts of service; and physical touch. The key to a great relationship, he says, is to figure out your partner’s love language and become fluent in it.

Reading the book was like being a new runner and picking up a copy of Runner’s World for the first time, or having someone with a few marathons under their belt hand me a really good book on running. Similar to those feelings of “Oh, THAT’S how I run faster??” or “Wow, I never thought of looking at my body that way,” The Five Love Languages opened my eyes.

In past relationships, I’ve banged my head against the proverbial wall so many times I’m surprised I never got a concussion, all in the name of trying to show my love. Why can’t they see it? I would wonder. Why don’t they love me back?

I never considered the idea that I was going about it all wrong. I never even considered the idea that it was possible to go about it all wrong. I thought “love is love,” and proceeded from there.

Whoops.

I was expressing love in ways that just didn’t register with the intended recipient. I may as well have been in Italy, speaking Spanish loudly and frequently, and getting frustrated as to why no one could understand me.

As for the “Why don’t they love me back?” question – well, maybe they were trying on their end, and were just as blind as I was. No one can unlock a door if they don’t have the key.

Talk about a change in perspective.

Love can be difficult, and messy, and it’s sooo easy to do a flat-out face-plant in the dirt. And then do it again. And again. But the cool thing is that it’s never too late to learn. And no matter how much experience, good or bad, that you’ve got under your belt, there is always room for improvement. The only perfect love is God’s. Working on love, though – the polishing, the improving, putting in the training, so to speak – therein lies the joy of it all.

Here’s to embracing love with all of its imperfections, and never giving up on it.

lovebook

Yes, please.

Asking for help has never been one of my strong suits. I’m getting better at it, but for a long time I was determined to figure things out on my own, due to a potent cocktail of pride, shyness, and plain stubbornness.

I applied that determination to every area of my life. Work: I can totally craft this resume by myself; I don’t need anyone’s help. Running: I can find and follow a marathon training plan on my own, thank you very much. Relationships: Books? Oprah? Asking older, more experienced people for advice? Please!

Thankfully, an even more potent cocktail, called age and experience, has watered that other one down quite a bit. I’ve realized that I don’t and never will have all the answers, and that asking for help is not a sign of weakness at all. I’ve realized the inherent problem behind the phrase “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone” – if I don’t ask for help, it will probably cause much more inconvenience, and maybe even harm, down the line. By swallowing my pride and asking for help, I’m becoming a better employee, co-worker, runner, and overall person.

There’s another side to this “asking for help” business, however, which has proven a much greater challenge. And that is: accepting unsolicited offers of help.

It’s a lovely gesture, right? Someone asking “Is there anything I can do?” So why is it a snap response to say “Oh no, I’m fine,” or “I’ve got this – thanks though!” I know I’m not the only one who does this. Is it because we feel guilty about off-loading some of our burden onto someone else? Or a desire to prove how much we can handle?

These days, I am learning what a load of garbage that is.

I am learning that when someone offers to help, it’s not because they think I’m incompetent. They’re not doing it because they’re convinced they can do it better than me. They’re doing it out of kindness.

I am a firm believer in hard work and perseverance. But now I’m seeing that if I take on everything alone, keeping all the burden and responsibility to myself, I’m like a house whose doors and windows are never opened. Sure, great things can happen inside the house. But how much nicer is it when a cool breeze is allowed to enter? The house feels lighter, cheerier. Healthier.

When I think of moments in my life in which I’ve accepted proffered help without hesitation, most of them are times of great vulnerability – when I physically need help. Immediately after finishing a marathon, for example. Or when I’ve been sick, or hurt. I would like to reach the point where I no longer need to be in such extreme situations in order to readily accept help. Where I can be healthy as a horse, with a smile on my face, and grab that extended hand.

It’s happening. Slowly, but it’s happening. I’m learning that people offering to help is a gift. I’m learning that by accepting that offer, my own time opens up to perhaps help someone else.

Help isn’t a two-way street. It’s a 5-way traffic circle, and it’s way easier to navigate than I ever imagined.

Fresh Air

For all of you New Englanders who are shoveling snow right now, I apologize.

Here in Albuquerque, we hit the mid-60s this week. I went for a walk during my lunch break without a scarf, gloves, OR a jacket. And I was almost sweating by the end. On two of my runs, I wore capris and a short-sleeved shirt. As I trotted along, I felt the strangest sensation on my skin. I was suspicious of it until I realized….wait a minute…

It was fresh air!

I know I’m jinxing myself to an immediate and extended bout of car-encased-in-hard-frost mornings, but I don’t care. I also know that such warm temperatures in January mean nothing good as far as global warming goes, but I don’t – well, okay, I do care about that. But still. I’m going to enjoy this for as long as it lasts.

This is a great time of year to get some fresh air.

During the holidays, we spend lots of time indoors. Indoors to hang out with family, indoors to shop for presents, indoors to watch football, indoors to travel to far-off destinations via plane, train or automobile. And all of that indoor stuff is great! But indoor air, no matter how much we fill it with wonderful holiday aromas, gets stale. We get stale.

After the holidays, there’s a lull. Call it post-holiday blues or a massive sugar crash or whatever you like. The point is that it’s frustrating. We’ve finished the revelry, we’ve put away the decorations, and we’ve gone back to work or school. Time to get back to real life with refreshed enthusiasm, right?

Wrong. It’s winter! The weather outside may still be frightful, but the fire? Instead of being delightful, it just seems like a lot of work (or a higher gas bill). There aren’t any big holidays to look forward to. It’s just…winter.

Or maybe you face the flip side of the coin. Maybe you’ve done such a stellar job of jumping on your resolutions and coming back from the holidays with a bang that you don’t even realize that January, an entire month, is done. Lost to a productive, blinding blur of activity.

Not exactly a picture of shiny optimism, is it? There’s a fix for it, though.

Fresh air!

Fresh air does wonders. In the literal sense, certainly – try spending just a little time outside every day (scuttling to and from the car doesn’t count) and see what happens. There’s something about the feeling of fresh air on skin, even if there’s a chill to it, that acts as an instant livening-up agent.

There’s fresh air in the figurative sense as well, and it can be just as helpful. Want to instigate change in your life? Who says you have to do it on January 1? Why not on February 1? There’s nothing stopping you from adding fresh air to your life. And if you’re one of those who dove fast and deep into 2015, why not come up for a breath of fresh air?

I vote that we all treat 2015 like a long race. Let’s go into it with purpose and smiles on our faces, but pace ourselves, knowing that (happily) we have the whole rest of the year in front of us.

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