Eight Years Down, A Lifetime to Go

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At least one person in my world thinks I’m number 1!

Eight years ago, I overcame my insecurities and lined up for my first timed race in decades.  I had decided to become a runner after indulging in too many chips and margaritas, waking up hung over and seriously questioning my unmotivated self.  I had just gotten borderline news from my primary care doctor that implied if I wanted to continue indulging in chips, I needed to start moving more.  A plus size gal in my early 30s, several acquaintances raised their brow at me when I declared I was going to be a runner. The only logical response for this Fin was to sign up and complete a half-marathon because the best way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t. My time was mediocre at best but I finished.

Thirty plus races later, I’m currently carbo loading for another Whistlestop Half Marathon. I’m still insecure. I’m still overweight. I still enjoy too many chips and margaritas. And, my finish line time is still mediocre. My health indicators, such as cholesterol and blood pressure, are better but in every other realm I have failed at running. And, here’s a dirty secret, I don’t even like running.

There, I said it. I actually hate running. I love buying shoes, socks and stretchy black running pants. I love checking out new trails, reading inspirational running stories, posting selfies from gorgeous vistas, and runner swag. I love the running culture—the kind strangers you joke with on the trail or catch a ride with on the shuttle bus.  The ultra-fast marathoners who pass me on the trail and take time to tell me I’m doing great, even though they’ve ran 13+ more miles than me and can run 2-3 miles to my 1. I love traveling to new places and meeting the volunteers who dedicate their Saturdays so I can run.

It turns out you can do all of that without actually running.  When push comes to shove, though, I absolutely hate running. I’m sure this is partially due to my size.   But, if I’m honest, I realized that deep down I hate running because I’m mediocre at it. And, I’m mediocre at it because I’m not willing to put the work in to be a good runner. I’m not willing to do the stretches, train regularly, eat healthy and lose weight so that my legs aren’t carrying an extra hundred pounds.

Why after 8-years do I keep showing up? Who knows. Who cares. I certainly don’t. Because at the end of the day, something keeps bringing me back to the trail. Perhaps it is my inner Sisu—this gritty hustle deep within me that says I’m running for me and that’s enough. It doesn’t matter if I’m first or last. That instead, this run reminds me that you get out what you put in. And that at times, that needs to be enough.

I’ve had one of the most lackluster trainings in the past 8-years. I haven’t run 13-miles since I crossed the finish line at Grandma’s Half-Marathon in June. I’ve done minimal training and thoroughly enjoyed a summer of over indulging. In all tangible ways to measure my training, I have failed. Except I haven’t, because I keep showing up. I’m not willing to let the dream of someday being a good runner and everything I could have, should have done, prevent me from just being a runner today. I’m not willing to let the part of me that longs to finish first or to be the best, prevent me from doing something folks said I couldn’t do.  Call it cliché, I run because I can folks, and for someone who had a one-legged dad right now, that means something. And come Saturday, I’ll cross that finish line—not for him but me. It won’t be pretty but it’ll be me doing me.

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Say What You Mean to Say

This post is in honor of an extraordinary woman who I had the opportunity to meet by chance. This weekend, she’s fighting her final battle. It was an honor and privilege to know her. And, today I’m reminded of how we never just know how much time we have left to say what we mean to say to folks.

This is a story about an unlikely encounter with an extraordinary woman named Kendra Williams. I first learned of Kendra Williams in 2007 while querying Midwest Living Magazine to write an article about our local mead shop. I remember looking at the Midwest Living masthead and seeing her listed as travel editor and thinking to myself, wow, I sure would love to have her job. I mailed my query, and while hopeful, realistic I would never hear from Ms. Williams. This would be the first of many times she proved me wrong.

In the fall of 2007, I started an unlikely after hour job scouting for Midwest Living Magazine. I explored state parks and public campgrounds; sought out scenic drives and island getaways; taste tested burgers, pizza and fish galore; and shared with Midwest Living readers why I love skipping rocks. I wrote about my experiences, uploaded reports, and filled out databases, all under the guidance of Kendra. And then there were the cats.

Thanks to Facebook, Kendra and I were connected outside of Midwest Living. She was in need of a quality home for her two cats. My husband and I had room. We met up in Duluth for our first non-virtual connection. I left with Chickpea and Mischief. These cats became a part of our annual Christmas card photo and appear on our Christmas tree ornaments. In other words, they became family. But, they also taught me about faith. Several years into our journey, both cats wandered away at different times. It pained me to notify Kendra of my inability to keep her pets safe. Rather than question our parenting abilities, Kendra prayed to the Saint of Lost things. In both cases, the cats returned. Perhaps it was coincidence, but her faith was unwavering and I couldn’t help but wonder, how can someone have such faith?

Kendra’s prayers for my family and I continued. As we grew closer over email chats and some serious redline editing, I discovered what an amazing editor, mentor and friend she was to everyone who crossed her path. She was honest with me about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and offered me real life advice about the journey to whether I wanted to transition from occasional freelance to full-time writer. It is because of this, I have finally found a career I love, while not losing sight of my desire to put words on paper daily.
Soon after, I discovered myself seeking out Kendra for more than professional advice. I shared my adoption struggles and sought comfort in her wisdom. Kendra could relate—because her journey to motherhood was similar. More than once, a kind email, message or tweet would lift my spirits. And when the pain hit of a heartbreaking failed adoption, Kendra sent messages of strength, hope and prayers. Months later I would become pregnant and my prayers would be answered.

Soon after, Kendra was diagnosed with MS and in 2014 officially left Midwest Living Magazine. While our professional relationship had come to a close, I continued to stay in-touch. Her posts from Des Moines offered inspiration and courage and reminded me of the power of resilience. And then the cancer came. It was aggressive and mean and relentless. It was painful to watch someone go through so much heartbreak, even virtually from hundreds of miles away. I didn’t understand why someone or something would do this to anyone, let alone to Kendra.

Even in her suffering, Kendra continued to draw strength from God. Over the past few years, she has shared her journey of hope. She has found humor in her pain and beauty in her life, even on the darkest of days. She’s fought harder than anyone I know and still continues to be grateful for all she has in her life. There’s making lemon-aid out of lemons and then there’s Kendra—a woman who has found a way to make life out of death.

This past month, she announced that her primary care doctors were in discussions with her about hospice care. Yet, she still continues to fight, taking baby doses of chemo to see if she can extend life just a little bit longer.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want? To just have one more moment with those we love. To have one more conversation. One more interaction. One more memory with those whom we have lost. But, how many of us would continue to fight the fight like Kendra? It was during these moments that I truly began to understand the power of faith.

Eleven years ago, an ordinary letter created an extraordinary impact in my life. The recipient was Kendra Williams. And today, I just wanted to let her know that I’ll always be grateful for our connection. I pray she continues to find love, hope and strength in the coming days and weeks. I am forever grateful for this connection.

Six Going on Sixty!

Jake here again! Mom took a hiatus from updating this blog but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped aging. The last trip around the sun was CRAZY busy. I honestly don’t know how kids have time to be kids now-a-days.

Topping the list, I graduated from kindergarten this year with off the chart testing scores. I enjoy school, especially recess, gym and lunch. I’m a really good reader and sometimes I humor mom and dad and pretend I enjoy reading. I own so many books. But, if given a choice, I’ll take playing over reading any day.

I really love to play. I love playing Guess Who, card games, chess and checkers. I have dozens of games loaded on my Amazon Kindle and sneak as much screen time as mom and dad will allow. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly enough. But, they say it is the only way to make me sit still and rest. I hate rest. Seriously folks, you can rest when you are dead.

That means, I’m what many folks would call an overly active little boy. AKA I love to play. Are you sensing a theme here? This past year I mastered wrestling, or at least took first place in my age and weight division. I can dribble with both hands, kick a soccer ball and make a basket on a 10-foot high hoop. And, you should see me dominate at baseball. I bat leftie like mom and can knock them out of the park… or at least past the bases. I love pitching, catching and tossing the ball around. I even love the occasional run around the bases. Plus, I look pretty cute in my uniform.

I still live on Moon Lake. As part of mom and dad’s irrational fear about me accidentally drowning, we’ve really been working on my swimming skills. This has resulted in some fish like tendencies, especially if jumping off the pontoon or dock at Moon Lake Park, or tubing at the Green Cabin.

Speaking of fishing, it turns out the fish in Moon Lake LOVE hot dogs. Who would have thought it? The hot dogs are a big hit and I’ve caught dozens of sunfish. They are so cute but mom and dad never let me keep them.  That said, I did with a pet goldfish named Goldie during Blueberry Festival, despite mom and dad’s best efforts to make me lose. My luck ran out, though, on the blueberry pie eating contest and tractor pull. Next up, is a rematch with the sheep at mutton busting. This year, I’ve convinced the sheep hoof will NOT get the best of me.

I’d like to think I’m a pretty creative kid. I like to tell stories (occasionally made up ones) and I’ve really worked on controlling my temper. I’m learning to use my words to express my feelings and what I want (and have even been told I occasionally talk too much).  I have lots of friends at daycare and at the big brown school and my teachers are great.

I still love eating. I can now pack in an entire Jack’s Pizza or a bag of cherries. Despite my best efforts to eat mom and dad out of house and home, I’m losing weight and gaining inches. I also keep having these growth spurts that really hurt my knees. Pretty soon, I’ll be taller than mom and dad.

Mom and dad kept me pretty busy this past year. In addition to school, I joined wrestling, cub scouts (and my first Pinewood Derby) and bible school. I got my own popcorn at Toy Story 4 and worked with dad in the workshop. I also get to cut my freezie pops open with my own green knife (with supervision of course). I occasionally collect eggs from our chickens and am starting to master cracking them. If nothing else, the chickens really love me petting and chasing them. We vacationed in California and mom took me to the Disney castle. I also got to see Storm Troopers and ride the Toy Story ride at Disneyland. We swam in the ocean and visited an aircraft carrier.

Looking ahead, this weekend is my football themed birthday party and mutton busting. We have one more cabin weekend, a trip up the north shore (and some racing on the alpine slides) and then back to school we go. I’m not super excited for school but I do get a pair of new gym shoes, so that’s cool.

All in all, it was another exciting adventure around the sun. Looking forward to what’s in store next year!

Jake from Moon Lake

I’m Five!!!!!!!!!

JakeHey folks – I’ve successfully completed another trip around the sun which means it is time for me to hijack mom’s blog. Today I turn five. This is a big deal. You want to know why? Many moons ago my mom went to bull riding at our local county fair. At intermission she saw her first mutton busting competition. She knew then that if she were ever lucky enough to be a mom, her kid would compete. Turns out you have to be five to ride a sheep bareback. It also turns out that bull riding happens to be at our fair in 48-hours so alas, that’s what I’ve been up to.

I will say this, there is something entertaining about mom and dad pretending to be a sheep in the living room so I can work on my form. At this point, I’m confident that with enough promises of ice cream, no bedtime and maybe a pet goldfish, that I will maybe even get on the sheep’s back. Stay tuned for however many images one can capture in a 2-3 second ride on my mom’s social media accounts later this week.

But, that’s just this week in our house. My life is so much bigger than that. I’m not sure if you’ve heard but in the past year I became a Ninja. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate super heroes like Batman anymore, but I’m finding the combination of strength, wisdom and strategy of a Ninja to be much more a reflection of who I want to be in life. I’ve also decided that I love sports – more specifically – sports that involve swinging bats, knocking people over, or throwing balls in the house. Dad just made me my first wooden bat for my birthday. It is pretty awesome. In other words, I am 150% boy.

Despite my love for sports (and Nerf guns), I’m not letting that define me either. I also enjoy painting my nails and being my own stylist. This includes doing my hair and dressing myself in a combination of GQ meets country boy meets wanna be professional athlete. I especially like Puma, clip on ties and crocs.

I still love food. I’m not a huge fan of sweets. But, if you put a taco, Jack’s pizza, hamburgers or fruit in front of me, don’t plan on me sharing. I love chicken wraps. But, after becoming a bit addicted to apple juice, I was weaned of all juice at home this past winter. It was a bit rough at first but it has led me to sneaking the occasional lemon-aid when we go out or have guests over. Mom also allows me to chew bubble gum.

I hate to brag but I’m also pretty smart, when I choose to. My pre-k test scores, which are a big deal if you are 4 and trying to get into the big brown school, were off the charts high. In other words, I’m totally qualified for kindergarten. I know my letters, can count, and am even starting to spell cool words like bee, bat and stop.

I’m obviously potty trained. But, I even wipe on my own now. Occasionally I miss the toilet but let’s be real, what man doesn’t? That’s right, man. Mom says I’m now a little man.

This past year was marked with quite a few adventures. We went on our first real family vacation on a plane. We went somewhere called Florida, where I got lots of time in the water and picked shark teeth on the beach. I also hit up a flurry of community festivals, the science museum, Airshow, petting zoos, green cabin time and lots of time at our local library. I even managed (with the help of dad) to get mom’s card blocked due to too many overdue items or something. But come on folks, I don’t drive so I really don’t think that’s my fault. Speaking of driving, I’ve been improving my bike riding skills. This summer the training wheels came off and as long as I don’t have to stop I’m good. The whole stopping thing (on pretty much anything in life) is still a bit foreign to me.

What else can I tell you? I’m still rocking daycare 40+ hours a week. A new girl moved in across the street named Gracie. Next month I start kindergarten. Last month I did my first week at Vacation Bible School. I took third place in the 4-year old boys tractor pedal pull. Oh, and I dunked our town’s police officer after leading off the Blueberry Festival Parade with dad. Yep – I’m still a big deal. There’s a reason I wear a shirt called I run this town along with another that says meet the next president.

Seriously, though, it was another great year. I’m learning and growing (upwards not sideways anymore). I occasionally get angry but am finding ways to control my temper. I find sorry goes a long way, especially when I’m tired of being in time-out, and that I definitely inherited my mother’s stubborn gene. Someday that’ll pay off. In the meantime, we’ll just call it Karma, mom.

So much more going on in life right now but time to get back to living it versus writing about it. So, for those still reading, I hope everyone is enjoying what is by far the single most important day of the year!

Jake

Do the Work

https://www.cbsnews.com/video/diving-into-the-unknown-student-athlete-proves-the-merits-of-hard-work/

I’ve been a little MIA lately. But, then I saw this yesterday (sorry for the link/it won’t let me embed the video). And, it comes at a time I’m diving head first into trail running—yet another sport I will 100% suck at. This of course follows a spring where I totally sucked at training and packed on a few pounds. It should come as no surprise to anyone, including me that this resulted in finishing times far from a PR. I didn’t really write much about my spring races in part due to my lackluster performance but also because I was having a bit of a pity party. More simply put, I misplaced my mojo.

Some of this is self-inflicted. I’ve been watching more television than normal and slacking on healthy eating habits. It turns out these things really do impact my overall mood. And, like so many families, we got busy. Busy means less down time. It means more running around getting the important stuff done, but actually not doing anything important. It means burning the candle on both ends, only to realize when you do that, there is nothing left. This came to a screeching halt last week when I had 9 glorious days off. It was spent at our family cabin. No television. Plenty of quality Jake time. Time for morning runs, lakeside reading, evening s’mores and self-reflection. A rare date night. And, a quiet ride home listening to podcasts.

I returned, refreshed to take on life. That last all of two days until my morning training run today. It was hot, humid and buggy. And, I’m not talking the occasional fly. I’m talking the flesh eating deer flies that leave you begging for mercy and dotted with mushroom sized welts up and down your legs, arms and neck. The only reason I didn’t quit was every time I slowed down, they multiplied biting harder and faster than I could swat. I arrived home depleted, wondering what I was thinking. And that’s when a recently purchased present reminded me of why.

Simon Sinek says “start with why.” Michael Pollan quotes Oscar Wilde saying “everything in moderation including moderation.” Gerald from Arlington, Texas says “I felt like if I couldn’t handle not being good at something, then how could I consider myself a successful person.” And I say, “do the work.” This past spring I acquired a Greenstonecustom made Greenstone (chlorastrolite) ring by Silverwaves Jewelry. I’m calling it my do the work ring. Why you might ask? The rational part of me would say because I need to justify splurging on something this purposeless for myself. But, the larger part of me can honestly say, I needed this daily reminder to rediscover my mojo.

I know it sounds silly. But the truth is, there is a lot in life we cannot control. The current political climate does not help, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum. And, despite my intention to make a dent on the world, this hopelessness can get overwhelming and at times downright frustrating. There are a number of things out of my control right now that directly impact my future. I imagine that’s the case for most of us.

So today, I want to take a moment to say this. I’m training for a Trail Run this fall because I get to write my own story. And in my story, I know this is something I will absolutely accomplish. And, my success will equal exactly how much effort I’m willing to put in. Am I going to win? Hell no. Am I going to finish? Hell yes. Why? Because I can. Why won’t I win? Because even though my Under Armour beginner trail run schedule says I need to run at least 2, 12-mile training runs to do a 10k race, I’ll follow the words of Michael Pollan and recognize trail run plans are meant to be broken. I’m not willing to put in the work both physically and mentally needed to even come close to the front of the pack. But, I’ll still show up at Mount Bohemia October 6 because similar to Gerald, success isn’t measured by crossing the line first. It is defined by pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. I’ll tell you right now, the welts on my legs on week 2 of training are proof, this is as far out of my comfort zone I can get right now.

So I’ve been MIA lately on here. Doubtful anyone has noticed but me. But, I find if I write my goal on here it happens. So now you know what’s on the horizon for me. I promise to share some shots from the trail. I’ll spare you the shots of my welted legs. But I will say this, there is something extremely liberating about doing something you know you’ll be bad at. You remove the expectation, other than to show up and try. To do the work. And enjoy the journey. As sweaty as it might be, it is pretty amazing. And, I’m really looking forward to the swag at the end. Happy Running!

Hello 40!

yourlifeDo you honestly think a writer would let her 40th birthday pass without spewing some thoughts about the day? Here’s the thing, I’m struggling a bit to really shine in this major moment. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to interview some healthcare workers for a campaign I’m working on. During one of the interviews, someone shared a patient story about an elderly lady who said, “You know what the hardest part about being old is? That when I look in a mirror, I see a 30-year old but everyone else just sees an old lady.”

This really resonated with me not because I’m an old lady by any means, but this week I realized just how often we’re judged by our age. Not necessarily good or bad, but rather just educated on how we’re either too young or really old or in some cases both. But here’s the thing, I’m just not buying it.

I assumed given my dramatic quarter-life crisis and then thriving thirties struggle, that 40 would play out like a really bad Lifetime movie. If ever there were a year to have an existential crisis, this would be it. But, if I’m being completely honest, while I did have that brief breakdown on Pinterest in which I attempted to define my life’s meaning with inspirational quotes and unattainable Bucket List items because the pictures were pretty, it passed. In fact, it passed pretty quickly and now suddenly I’m sitting here on St. Urho’s Eve looking at middle age with a new found appreciation and perspective.

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These first 40 years have been a shit storm of highs and lows that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I earned every inch of the massive crevice of a wrinkle on my forehead overcoming the obstacles thrown my way (and conquered). Those crow’s feet are the result of being blessed with amazing friends who make me laugh so hard my stomachs hurt and my face crinkles. And those stretch marks that span my waistline paved the way for the greatest achievement and challenge of my life—motherhood.

So yes, tomorrow, I turn 40. I’ll pay more for Life Insurance and modify my retirement plan. My metabolism will diminish overnight and I’ll probably spend a bit more time strength training and a little less time with chips and top the tater. But honestly, that’s about all the craziness I can squeeze out of this middle-age milestone. Because when all is said and done, I’m simply happy to be here in this moment.

If you are reading this right now, it means you have somehow played a role in my first 40-years and for that, thank you. The one piece of wisdom I have tonight is I know very little—but what I do know is that the people in my life matter. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without you. What’s equally exciting is I have never been more in the driver’s seat of my own life than right now. I’ve finally reached a place where I am confident saying I’m a work-in-progress but it is my work in progress. So here’s to a new decade and life of living on my terms and to all women who are finding it within themselves to do the same. May we all be so lucky to enjoy so many more trips around the sun.

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Better for It.

dearselfAlas, another year is coming to a close. With that, comes the reflection of goals and dreams unmet in the past 365 days and the opportunity to start anew. This practice is particularly poignant for me this year given the vast number of milestones I anticipate celebrating next year. While some of these are goals, others are just a proof of mere survival, but all hold meaning to me. This includes:

  • Turning 40
  • Celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary
  • My first and only child starting kindergarten
  • Graduating with my MBA

To mark these milestones, I started surfing Pinterest several months ago looking for that perfect bucket list of items to accomplish as I sail over the hill. Many of the lists, memes, and words to live by resonated with me—so much so that I started folders and sub-folders within my Pinterest profile marking running goals, health goals, parenting goals and 40-year old bucket list goals. The laundry list of things I could do got very long quickly… While this all started out as fun, this also happened to be timed with finals, the holiday frenzy of Christmas and complications with an aging father. Needless to say, it went from fun and inspirational to gut wrenchingly impossible, very quickly. I could barely find time to shower let alone conquer the world.

It was about this time Twitter served me up this article from Harvard Business Review. This article focuses on your framework at work but I easily found this applying to my life. In my quest to keep moving forward, I had given up control of some things that really mattered to me. It was easier to keep piling things on than saying no to keep the overwhelming sense of guilt at bay. The task lists piled and life seemed to spiral out of control. As a control freak, this is a quick road to burn-out, irritability and feeling hopeless.

This past month, after hitting submit on my final paper, I took a time-out. No freelance. No schoolwork. Vacation. Reading. I spent time with friends, mailed thank you cards, and made sure I was present at Christmas. I cooked great food and drank cocktails of my choice. I didn’t bake, even when my kitchen-aid mixer glared at me for going unused during her prime season. I looked at my freelance contracts and let go of a few that were far from fulfilling. While it is hard to walk away from money, it was liberating to retake control of the small things.

And so it leads me to this post and the inevitable New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve whittled my list down (thanks to the help of a book called Grit, highly fascinating and I definitely recommend it) to just one with a few milestones to lead the way. It is cliché but as I watch some people near and dear to me struggle with health complications and saying good-bye to loved ones, it has meaning to me. And so, as I fly over the hill, my New Year’s resolution is to simply strive for a healthier and whole me.

Doing so, means saying no more. This will definitely not be the year of yes. It’ll be the year of, let me think about it and get back to you. My time and energy will be spent investing in my family, friends and frankly me. I’ll still volunteer and give back when I can, but honestly, it’ll be a lot more inward than outward this coming year.

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It also means walking across a few lines. Topping the list – my first trail run. Initially, I wanted to think big, so I figured I’d do a complicated half-marathon in my neighborhood. It frankly didn’t even sound fun and to my disbelief, does not award finisher medals. After some soul searching, I thought, Why?!?!? Why set myself up to suck at something so bad?!?!?! I’ve done the whole finishing last thing so no need to repeat that chapter.

So I’ve revised that goal to a 10K at Mount Bohemia in October. Last May, I took a trip that way and really reconnected with myself. I figure what better way to celebrate that, than by crossing a finish line in that same neighborhood. I have a series of races I’ll run leading up to that, all allowing me to train in a realistic manner.

A few months later, I plan to walk at commencement. It is something I’ve never allowed myself to do and I figure after 4-college degrees, it is time. Plus, I’m somewhat confident (as is my pocketbook) that at this point, I’m done with spending thousands of dollars on a sheet of paper to confirm my self-worth. No offense to higher education but it is time to be a lifelong learner outside of the classroom.

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Beyond that, there are a few other things up my sleeves but more on that to come. Bottom line is I’m ready for 40 and am just getting started. Don’t get me wrong, the self-doubt is certainly alive and well but I’ve learned that my Sisu is in fact grit and my passion is improving. So, worse case on this trail run goal, I find myself meandering through the woods of the UP during fall peak healthier than I’ve ever been before… and that’s a pretty awesome consolation prize. In the meantime, here’s a snapshot compliments of Nike of my life in the gym…