The Missing Piece

It took 16-months of a global pandemic before I finally sat down and did a puzzle. About 95% of the way into it, I discovered a piece was missing. It didn’t matter. I was committed to finishing, missing pieces and all. Like I’ve said before, there’s a fine line between stubborn and stupid.

Plugging away at the puzzle, I couldn’t help but compare this to life. How often life hands us a pile of jumbled up pieces that we’re supposed to somehow cobble together into something whole. That how after much trial and error, a pile of mess can transform into something beautiful. Or, how we can get to the end only to realize we never had the tools needed to finish what we started. 

This past year was no exception. I’ve talked a lot about grief this past year. How losing dad left a big void in my life. Not just with grief, but with time and my identity. It was an odd combination that left me struggling with where to go next. I decided rather than bail, I’d sit in it for a while. I gave myself the gift of time and space to ponder what’s next and slowly put things back together one piece at a time. I discovered the absolute joy that comes with productive procrastination. That sometimes, you cannot rush the puzzle because you need some time to find or create new pieces.

2021 was the year I did nothing but something. I didn’t go to school, run a PR, score a promotion at work or publish a book. I started the year with a blank page, lots of questions and not much direction. So I wandered. I polished rocks. I grew sunflowers. I read a lot of amazing books. I traveled. I saved money and spent money. I did a book signing. I plotted my next book. I cried. I laughed. I laughed so hard I cried and maybe even peed my pants a little. I watched my kid play baseball and basketball and wished my dad was here to see it. I cried on Christmas morning. And Easter. And my dad’s birthday. And on random days that end with Y. I also remembered our time fondly and worked to create new memories and traditions. I took up spin. I invested in the people that matter and let some other fade away. I enjoyed a lot of happy hours. I gained weight. I lost weight. I lengthened my plank time. I upgraded my fitness tracker and bought an espresso machine. I got rid of unrealistic expectations and discovered the joy of saying no. I added some boundaries and dropped my guard. I said good-bye to my cat. I was a guest on some podcasts and discovered my love for Teremana tequila. I completed my first real writing workshop. I blogged. And tried new running shoes… only to discover there’s no point in fixing something that isn’t broken. I tried meditating, practicing gratitude and sitting in stillness. I binge watched Yellowstone. I made new friends. I discovered things I never knew about myself and was reminded about things I had forgotten. I got my first tattoo.     

In other words, in 2021 I did a whole lot of life. No matter how hard one grieves, time keeps moving. It is a gift we’re all given each day to create something. This year was no exception. It was hard but beautiful at the same time. Somewhere along the way, the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. I find myself ending the year with new goals and dreams and direction while also never wanting to lose the joy of productive procrastination. I don’t know if I’d feel the same if I had powered through 2021 like year’s past.

But back to the puzzle. I eventually finished it, missing piece and all. I left it assembled on our table for over a week, annoyed about the missing piece but proud of finishing what I started. As I went to tear it apart, I noticed something peeking out from underneath our table runner. Turns out the missing piece was there all along. I just wasn’t ready to see it.

I hope your 2022 is filled with many moments of productive procrastination, moments of discovery, and time to assemble the puzzle pieces of life.

The Reckoning

Two empty seats at the Christmas Table that’ll never be filled, but in the wise words of Pooh, how lucky I am to have had something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Your wings were ready. My heart was not.

This quote popped up in my Pinterest feed last night buried between recipes about homemade chicken pot pies, Christmas appetizers and running exercises. I’m working on a book about grief so I imagine there’s some logical algorithm explanation for this moment of clarity that literally scrolled in front of my eyes.

This Christmas marks one year without dad. One year of reckoning with my faith and trying to come to terms with how things went down last December. How my dad went in for a hairline fracture and in less than two weeks was so isolated, distraught and heartbroken that he was begging ICU staff and his daughters to let him die. I genuinely believe we made the right choice – if choice is the word one uses in a situation like that. I’m so grateful that even with COVID-19, we were allowed to be there to say goodbye. I know many families did not have this luxury. But, the logical side of me struggles with the unanswered questions and lack of accountability in a system that failed.

I imagine in this moment, some turn to faith. To let go and let God – to believe that the universe had decided it was time. Others, want to understand. The past year, I did what any daughter would do. I sought to understand the events that had unfolded by asking questions of those who cared for him in his final days. I expected a logical explanation and medical records that supported that. That this logical information would provide much needed closure and peace. Instead, I was dealt a series of calculated conversations packed with misleading information, missing documentation, unanswered phone calls and shaming family members. Each encounter left me with more questions than answers and heightened skepticism about multiple systems that failed my father and was in cover their ass mode.

This story isn’t about the mistakes made, though. There are countless books about how our healthcare system sucks. That despite having many heroes on the frontlines, the systems they are boxed into are costly, inefficient and at times deadly. This is a story about what happens next. How far you go to get a simple answer.

For me, I sought the most basic of answers and was dealt more heartbreak. The lack of empathy in a world focused on risk mitigation, even though I never threatened litigation, broke my heart. The latest – a so-called investigation in which the Minnesota Department of Health investigated Benedictine Health System in under a few hours. The investigating nurse so “committed” to her case that she left me a voice mail on a Wednesday afternoon stating she wanted to get more information from me and despite me calling her back within the hour – never spoke to me again. The case was closed that same day. After several attempts, I finally got an opportunity to speak to her supervisor. Turns out, that’s the definition of a quality case review, skilled nursing home lie during investigations (her explanation, not mine), and that I wasn’t entitled to any information about the investigation without filing a freedom of information act. As for wanting to talk to me, apparently that wasn’t necessary. This, despite the state’s QI department citing Benedictine for quality issues relating to my father’s case. As for an apology or explanation about the unreturned phone calls and emails – that’s just not a thing. And so it goes.

How long does one keep asking the questions? The truth is, nothing will bring my dad back. But, reliving his final days over and over again, only to get more questions than answers, does nothing in finding closure or peace. It is one thing to set-out on a crusade to make the world a better place. It is another to advocate for change in a system that’s indifferent to your pain knowing nothing will change. That’s the trouble with asking questions. The answers are often worse than the unknown.

Twelve months in, I’m still grappling with how to let this go. A new reckoning so to speak. An attempt to carry on with life and a new normal of no dad, while also honoring his legacy. To advocate for others, including dad, who deserved better those final days but not let it consume me. A man who deserved to die with dignity versus defeat. Perhaps that makes me irrational and angry, a logical stage in grief. Or, perhaps just a daughter with a broken heart trying to bargain for his return. Or, finding meaning in his death by not letting him die in vain. It is a fine line.

Yesterday, my son scored two baskets in third grade basketball. I couldn’t help but think of how proud my dad would have been to see this. A part of me even feels he even played a role in this shot in-between cribbage games with mom, hunting bucks with Uncle Booty and securing the perfect Christmas tree. Picturing these moments bring me peace. It makes the empty seat this Christmas a bit easier to bare. I know I’m not alone in grappling with the reckoning of holidays. Of finding ways to remember those lost while celebrating new moments and traditions with those still here. After more than 25 years of holidays without mom, I know it never gets easier. Different perhaps. But never easy.

For those grappling with these big questions and no answers as well, I can only provide this word of advice. Grace. Give yourself grace and give grace to those around you. Allow yourself to feel all of the emotions. Early on after my mom died, I didn’t do that. I kept it all in. Decades later and some hefty therapy bills, I now understand the value of the human body being able to process multiple emotions. How we’ve been gifted the ability to feel joy and pain simultaneously. To laugh and cry in a single moment. To be grateful and heartbroken. That this is in fact normal. For me, that reckoning has been the single greatest gift I can offer myself this holiday season. I hope it helps you as well.

5 Favorite Memoirs of 2021

Last week I shared my top 5 favorite personal development books of 2021. This week, I wanted to share a few of my favorite memoirs that I devoured in 2021.

I once heard David Axelrod mock David Litt for publishing a memoir about his time speechwriting for Obama because he was so young. Like somehow age determines the worthiness of one’s story. Here’s the thing. I think everyone has seasons in their life that are story worthy. Maybe it is a personal story or maybe it is a universal lesson that someone else could draw wisdom from. By sharing your experience, you give voice to someone else – allow someone else to realize that perhaps they aren’t alone. In a time where isolation can be the norm, that matters.

The following five memoirs helped me immensely this past year for a variety of reasons. Most of the authors are my age, sometimes even younger, but their wisdom is priceless. I hope something here might help you as well.

In no particular order:

Brave Enough. By Jessie Diggins. I’ll be frank. I’m not a cross country skier or a huge fan of the sport. But this athlete continues to amaze me with her sparkle and no-nonsense ability to bring out the best in people. She’s known for her sparkles but this book shares her real-life struggles with body image, even while smiling on the podium. In this memoir, she says “It takes a lot of bravery to ask for help.” Her willingness to ask for help even as she’s garnering gold medals is a stark contrast to so much of conventional wisdom that implies those who ask for help are weak. Add in the fact that she calls out reporters who imply she’s not thin enough and she’s got a fan for life. This winter I’m looking forward to tuning in to see her glitter turn to gold again, and if for some reason it doesn’t, she’ll still be a winner in my book.

Believe It. By Jamie Kern Lima: In things I’m not a huge fan of, make-up ranks almost higher than cross country skiing. But, I stumbled across this book when a sponsored post for a free personal development conference came across my facebook feed (thank you FB algorithm). I signed up not even knowing who this gal was and within minutes I was hooked. Perhaps it was the story of a middle-aged white man saying real people would never buy make-up from a fat gal that resonated with me. Or, the scrapper in me being in awe that she went on to prove that mother-f***er wrong by ultimately going public and making millions. I love an underdog story as much as the next gal. While littered with a few too many rah-rah Miss USA moments, I was able to look past that to the heart of a story about a woman who worked hard and achieved her dreams. I even purchased some IT Cosmetics following this purchase… and that should tell you something.

Bravey. By Alexi Pappas. I first heard about Alexi Pappas on a podcast. I’m a runner but don’t really follow the sport so I wasn’t aware of her story or frankly that interested in it. But, this isn’t really a book about running. It is someone’s life story who happens to be a runner. Pappas shares a lot of life lessons that I think most folks can relate to – only with the added pressure of being a world-class athlete. At one point she says, “grit is what’s left over when nothing’s left.” This is something you’d expect in a book about running – but the added bonus of beautiful poetry and writing snippets about being brave and struggling with mental illness and burn out and the Olympic letdown – read more like a novel that an athlete’s memoir.  All in all, she’s a passionate and amazing writer who is navigating a world where she wants to be a runner and… in other words, running is just one aspect of her life.

Courage to Start. By John Bingham. I first read this book when I decided to take up running. I revisited this book on my 10th anniversary of running to see if it read differently now that I can call myself a runner. It did. This is one of those books that depending on where you are in your running journey, different passages jump out at you. The most popular is “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” That still rings true for me today. Every time I start training for another race, the self-doubt comes rushing in. This book, along with so many other things in my life, have helped me overcome that obstacle. It is definitely running focused so if you aren’t a runner, probably not for you. But, if you run at all, this one will inspire you beyond your early morning jobs.

Untamed. By Glennon Doyle. I couldn’t wait to read this book. I enjoy Doyle’s writing but what I love most about her is the ability to cut out the bullshit and get to the truth. What’s crazy about this book is nearly every page has a passage that if read in isolation would serve as an incredible life lesson, or frankly words to live by. My favorite – “this life is mine alone so I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.” Wowza. When all of these lessons are layered on top of each other, you end up with a story that’s empowering. There is so much power in sharing one’s truth. Doyle takes that power and ups it by taking action in her own life. The end result is an empowering story and a lot of inspiration that we can input into our own story – if we are brave enough to live out our truth.

Bonus Read: If I’m going to talk about being brave, I might as well be brave. One last bonus read to consider this year – my book It Could be Worse. A girlfriend’s guide for runners who detest running. It isn’t Glennon Doyle worthy, but it is my running story. If you’re still reading this post and have always dreamed of running but don’t know how to start? Two suggestions. Just start. And read my book. I promise you, if I can run a half-marathon, you can move mountains if you choose to.  

5 Books that Changed my Perspective

I’m an avid reader so it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that a good book is something I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving. This past year, I’ve really doubled down on my reading and devoured a number of game-changing books that in the words of my 8-year-old left me with my mind blown.

There are so many good books I read this year – all of which are listed on my Good Reads account. That said, there were five in-particular around the personal development space that really hit home for me. These books offered me keys to the kingdom – a better understanding of how my brain operates and why some of the most random things trigger me. Turns out, they aren’t that random.

In no particular order, I gift you these reading recommendations.

It’s ok that you’re not ok. By Megan Devine. I discovered this book by chance (thanks Amazon algorithm). After my dad died, I wanted a book that’d tell me it was ok to grieve my way. I’m convinced that book doesn’t exist, hence me writing my own book about grief and loss. That said, this book came close. Devine spends a lot of time exploring our country’s culture around grief and how sometimes folks’ best intentions in helping someone grieve fall flat. How in our cure all culture, we sometimes do more harm than good. “When you try to take someone’s pain away from them, you don’t make it better. You just tell them it’s not OK to talk about their pain,” she says. She also gives permission for folks to grieve on their own timeline and their own terms. In my heart, I knew I needed to grieve my loss this past year on my terms, but this book gave me the courage to do so.

What happened to you? By Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. This poses the simple question of why we should ask the question of what happened to you versus what is wrong with you. I first bought this because I thought that was an interesting question to ponder. What I uncovered was a deep understanding of how my brain is wired, presented in a way that was engaging, interesting, educational, emotional, inspirational, scary and liberating all at the same time. This book changed the way I talk to myself and how I look at my past. Oprah says, “because what I know for sure is that everything that has happened to you was also happening for you. And all that time, in all of those moments, you were building strength. Strength times strength times strength equal power. What happened to you can be your power.” This book doesn’t try to say everything happens in life for a reason. Frankly, I don’t really buy into that anyway. But, it does reframe the power you have over your past if you do the work. It also draws connections in your everyday life that tie back to experiences from your childhood. Seriously, the connections are eerie, but at least for me, surprisingly accurate.  

Atomic Habits. By James Clear. “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems,” is one of the most quoted lines of this book. It is easy to understand why. In 2020, I attended a personal development conference that was all about goal setting. In hindsight, what I really needed in that moment was this book. If you have dreams and goals and desires in life (which if you don’t, that’s a bigger problem), this book is your guide to achieving them. This book doesn’t coach you into setting big ass SMART goals and then tell you to go change the world. In fact, Clear does the opposite. He says, you want to lose 100 pounds, go to the gym everyday but for under 2-minutes. Don’t go on a diet but instead, if your goal is to be a healthy person, start asking yourself what would a healthy person do. If you want to write a book – don’t drop $1,000 on a weekend long retreat. Instead, write for a few minutes. Every. Single. Day. In other words, we are a product of our habits. I’ve heard that in a variety of ways – often times in fat shaming with the common line, you are what you eat. But, Clear backs this up with science and tools and framework that makes you realize that incremental steps over the long haul is what gets you to the finish line. Seems obvious but in a world of instant gratification and life-changing transformations everywhere you turn, it is easy to forget that most if not all of us actually put our pants on one leg at a time and do the best we can with what we have – and how that’s more than enough if you build a system that supports the life you want to lead.

The 5 Second Rule and High Five Habits by Mel Robbins. Understanding the why behind stuff is one thing. Doing it is another. Clear’s book gave me the framework and set a bar that was achievable. Robbins takes that framework one step further with a self-help hack that’ll get you off the couch. The 5-second rule is a simple countdown from 5 that ends with action. Once you’ve got momentum, it is easier to keep going versus stopping. When I first heard about this, I thought it was lame. Then I watched her Ted Talk and was hooked. After reading her book and trying the hack before many, many summer runs, I can say it works. This fall, she followed up with another book called High Five Habits. This one is about how quick we are to self-sabotage ourself and how a simple act of giving yourself a high 5 in the morning, can rewire how you look at yourself. And frankly, if you don’t believe in yourself, what’s the point. All of the goal setting, habit stacking, momentum building in the world won’t work if at the end of the day, you think you suck. Together, these two books and Atomic Habits in-particular, have provided me more traction on my goals this past year than anything I’ve ever read in the past.

I’ve always been a strong believer that reading can change your life. In the words of someone much wiser than me, Dr. Seuss once wrote “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Happy Reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Wonder and Worry

This weekend, I have the rare opportunity to explore my writing. For the first time ever, I’m participating in a writing workshop at the North Shore Readers and Writers Non-Fest in Grand Marais. The course is lead by creative writer Kathryn Savage. Remember back in early 2020 when I traveled to Florida to participate in a personal development conference? You know the one where I was terrified to dance with 10,000 strangers? Well I upped that today by sharing my writing with ten individuals. Turns out, it is a lot less revealing to dance like nobody is watching, then reveal your soul to strangers. The joys of being a writer.

Anyways, the class has my brain in overdrive. I will be leaving this weekend with so many more questions than answers. But, I’m also leaving a new found appreciation for some new forms of writing. I’m even playing with some new approaches to my non-fiction writing. Here’s a glimpse of just one of my writing prompts today. I hope you enjoy it.

Wonder and Worry

I wonder sometimes if I’m overly ambition. Too extra. Too out there. I worry that I am not enough.

I wonder if we had caught the addiction sooner, my mother would be alive. I worry I’ll follow in her footsteps.

I wonder if my son knows how much I love him. I worry I will smother him to death.

I wonder if I’ll ever lose the extra weight. I worry about the impact diet culture has on women.

I wonder if I love my job enough. I worry I’ll never find my calling.

I wonder about the roll COVID-19 and a broken health care system played in my father’s death. I worry I didn’t advocate hard enough.

I wonder if there’s a greater being in the universe calling the shots. I worry about challenging my faith.

I wonder how I reversed a life of poverty. I worry I am not generous enough.

I wonder why Pet Smart prohibited me from buying a goldfish. I worry about all of the goldfish sacrificed as prizes of the golf ball toss game at summer festivals.

I wonder why I grow so many zucchinis when I hate zucchini. I worry my garden will never grow.

I wonder if I love myself enough. I worry that my ego gets in the way.

I wonder how a dating app brought me and my husband together. I worry about how technology is changing relationships.

I wonder if I miss opportunities because I’m the world’s largest introvert. I worry that I talk too much.

I wonder where these words are coming from. I worry words are never enough.

I wonder if I worry too much. I worry that I wonder too much.

Grief and Gardening

This month, an essay I wrote about dad and gardening was published in Northern Gardener magazine. You can catch a glimpse of it here. It was shortened a bit since in typical Probst fashion, I was a bit wordy – so the full version continues on below. I learned a lot from my garden this past summer, including a bit about faith. There are so many things I never told my dad, but topping the list is just how much of him lives on in me.

Grieving in the Garden

Father daughter bonds take many shapes and sizes. For me, gardening offers me a rare moment to reconnect with dad. At just 42, I became an orphan. The story is complicated but the void in my heart is easy for any daughter to understand. Sure, I knew my parents wouldn’t live forever. But, my dad had 1,000 lives and for a while seemed invincible. Despite defeating the odds over and over again, it was a minor case of pneumonia that blindsided me Christmas Eve and left me alone.

Now, a few months later I find myself looking to the soil for answers. My dad and I shared a common love for making things grow.  Growing up, gardening season started at the local feed mill in early spring. It was there, I’d watch my dad slowly count out the exact number of seeds he’d need and place them gently in a brown paper sack. We’d then move on to the potato starters picking the ones with the funniest eyes. Back home, I’d watch him turn the soil over with fresh manure, prepping it for planting, but not placing a single seed in the soil.

“Is it time,” I’d ask almost daily. “Nope. You must be patient.” This was one virtue I didn’t inherit from dad. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, my dad would determine it was time to plant.

One by one we’d place the seeds in rows marked by twine. We’d round out our plantings with small tomato and cucumber plants from the local greenhouse. And then we’d wait.  As the weeks dragged on, I’d watch my dad lovingly water and weed those tiny buds.

“Is it time,” I’d ask in earnest every day. “Nope. You must be patient.” I’d see those initial white blossoms morph into tiny pea pods knowing that someday we’d finally pick our first super sugar snap pea of the season. I can still taste it. Green beans soon followed with juicy cherry tomatoes, bi-colored sweet corn and bright red raspberries. Endless rows of cucumbers were soon ready to be canned in mom’s secret pickle recipe. Each day, I’d wander the garden in awe of what transpired over the summer. Dad made it seem so simple.

Years later, I’d try to replicate the magic in a makeshift garden in my first home. The veil was pulled back. Without the loving eyes (and watering) of dad, the plants died. I discovered that cheap soil, no fertilizer and an unfenced area in a heavily populated deer area spelled disaster. Weeks later, I glanced at my shriveled up decaying plants and decided I was too busy to tend to the garden. By summer’s end, the once plotted space was nothing more than grassy weeds.

I’d move several times over the next few years. Each move marked a new opportunity to plant. But, something always got in the way. And when it did, dad would share his bounty with me. As time went on, dad’s declining health limited that bounty. I didn’t realize it then, but I wanted to make up for lost time. So I returned to gardening.

I began plotting my vision of the perfect garden. Every year involved bigger and better. My husband tried to keep up with my growing demands of more raised beds, additional fencing, more hoses, more fruit trees, and perennials. We trucked in fresh manure. We fenced and fended some more. Despite being on a small lake lot with acreage under 2.0, the project quickly became unmanageable.  To overcompensate, I planted what was easy and could grow no matter what.

It started with the beans. There were so many beans. Purple beans. Green beans. Beans on top of beans.  And then there were the zucchinis.  I don’t even like zucchini. But it grew fast and furious in my garden, somehow compensating for my missed years.

I proudly shared my bounty with dad. “I don’t even like zucchini,” he’d quietly hint as I brought him baskets of them. “But I grew them, dad.”

“So, why don’t you eat them,” he’d say. (He knew I disliked them as well).

Back and forth we’d banter. He’d hint, in a not so subtle way, what he wanted from my garden. And, I’d try to navigate around the fact that we liked the same things and I didn’t want to give him my cherished sweet peas because I wanted them all for myself. I even attempted to pass off sweet peas from the Farmer’s Market as mine. He instantly knew they weren’t. This push pull relationship continued for years, yet for some reason I kept planting the zucchinis.

After my son was born, my priorities shifted yet again. The balancing act of being mom, daughter, wife, professional caught up to me. Areas of the garden were quickly taken over with mint. My raspberry bushes left untrimmed spreading like wildfire. Asparagus quickly became trimmed to the nub by north woods creatures and my unfertilized lingonberries succumbed to their demise. Areas of fencing now aged, were nothing but a minor inconvenience for the resident deer in the neighborhood. But yet the zucchinis kept growing.

Last summer I finally stopped. The garden scaled back to a mere four, 4×4 beds and a small plot of raspberries, sweet peas, sunflowers and mint. A few fruit trees remain and deer friendly perennials surround a newly made (and easily maintained) rock garden. I fertilized and doubled down on water. My dad, now an amputee, gladly accepted my single, simple offering of sweet cherry tomatoes and a few sugar snaps that I snatched from my son’s hands.  

“You might get this gardening thing down, yet,” he’d say before giving a friendly suggestion on how to improve my outcomes. “You just need to be patient.”

In hospice, dad declined quickly. I suddenly understood we were out of summers. There would be no more garden banter about how to make things better. His parting words of “I’m proud of you girls and I love you” captured a lifetime of love in a single moment. And then he was gone.

Due to COVID-19, there was no funeral and I’m left wondering how to live out my dad’s legacy. There are so many things I could do. Do I plant a tree or an entire apple orchard? A garden statue? Planters? My dad loved blueberries. I thumb through countless mail order catalogs looking for the perfect tribute. I turn to Pinterest. But, each time I’m overwhelmed with grief.

Like clockwork, spring finally arrives in the north woods. I find myself longing to solve this legacy question so I can check grief off my to-do list. If only it were that easy. Instead, bare ground looks back at me. I return to the basics. Prep the soil. Fertilize it. Plant it with what you love. Water it. Nurture it. Each movement is a living legacy to dad. Each time, it gets a little easier.  Turns out, grief like gardening, needs patience and grace.

What If?

Copper Harbor, Michigan

I just enjoyed the most incredible week off. I traveled the UP and listened to great podcasts, hiked, took some photos and curated an incredible piece of artwork. I also played the what if game. I tend to do this a couple times per year – once in the spring and once in the fall. It is an opportunity to reflect on what’s going well and not so well in my life.

For many moons, the what if game tended to lean negative. It was often reflecting on my past and contemplating if I had made the right decisions. In many ways, a game of regrets and being disappointed that I hadn’t accomplished more in life. Rarely, did I flip the switch and say what if this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now to get to the next thing. What if I’m setting myself up for success by being here in this moment thanks to the hard choices I’ve made in life. What if accomplishing more in life looked different for me because I’m actually really happy with the life I’m living – even if others might think rural Midwest living is lame. (PS They’re wrong).

Two things happened this week that steered the what if game in a different direction. First, I had pre-ordered Mel Robbins High Five Habits. It arrived just in time for vacation and my vacation happened to coincide with her high five challenge.  At some point, I need to write a post about some of the game changing books I’ve read that have inspired me to ask some tough questions and make minor tweaks in my life that have made a real impact… but until then, I’ll just say buy the book. Or, check it out at the library. Or, watch the videos about it. It is some super simple hacks to help you understand why you think the way you do and to help motivate you out of bed. Very similar to her other book that is also was a game changer for me.

Ask yourself, if it’s not about winning, then what is it about for you?

Then, my amazing friend Tracy launched a business called Stoneweaver. I ordered one of her custom pieces that comes with a question. The question associated with mine is: if it’s not about winning, then what is it about for you?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, as I gear up for a race tomorrow morning. The race itself isn’t that exciting. I really just want to enjoy the fall colors and it helped motivate me off the couch this summer. But, it is sort of symbolic in that ten years ago, this was my first half-marathon (or any race) for that matter. (Quick plug, you can read all about this adventure in my book!) And, I realized I’m capable of so much more than I ever dreamed, if I only reframed my narrative from I can’t to I can… if I really want to. More importantly, my definition of winning in these races is finishing. For some, that is not enough. But, that’s what is so great about asking yourself what matters. You get to decide. And that’s pretty awesome.

And ultimately that’s the real question for me. This week I spent a lot of time dreaming. Trying to determine my next what if. What if I’m meant to tell more stories. What if I lost the weight. What if I went back to school or opened the business. Or, what if, I spent the next year being curious. Trying new things and seeing what other narratives I can challenge because I think my greatest passion in life is learning.

I’m ending the week with more questions than answers. A sign that I’m on the right path. Curious minds never stop questioning. I challenge you to do the same. Ask yourself what if and dream of what’s possible.

Sisu, Sunflowers and Spin

As I type this, I am less than 2-weeks away from race day. I’ll be going back to where it all started. Ten years ago, I crossed my first finish line after waddling 13.1 miles at the Whistlestop Half-Marathon in Ashland. This time, it’ll be a 10k. It is sort of crazy to think about everything that happened in-between.

I’m not going to attempt to sum up the past 10-years. But, these past few months, some signs reminded me about why I started running in the first place.

Spin. Yep. I purchased a spin bike. It was not on a whim. This summer I experienced my first “real” injury. Real in the sense that it literally hurt to walk in the morning, slept with a brace and donated about a dozen of my favorite shoes that don’t have good arch support. Plantar Fasciitis is no joke. I really wanted to run a race this fall, though, so I opted to cross train. That involved a few feeble attempts at swimming. But, I also decided to hit up a spin class at a local gym very early in the morning (wake up call of 4:45 am). Turns out, I love it. Turns out, driving over an hour every time I want to Spin is not sustainable, so I’m complimenting my in-person weekly class with a new addition to my home gym. I wish it didn’t take an injury (or mojitos) to try something new. But, running constantly reminds me that you’ll never know what you are capable of if you don’t show up and try. And, even beautiful things can be born out of pain.

Which leads me to my next update. Sisu. Don’t roll your eyes. I know I talk about this a lot. But now, it is embedded on my skin. Last month also marked my first tattoo. I won’t say this is something I’ve wanted my entire life. I will say the last time I thought about getting one was while studying abroad after my mom died. I ultimately chickened out (language barriers, alcohol and public health concerns may have had something to do with it as well). After dad died, the idea came back. Only this time, it wasn’t so in memory of my parents, but rather honoring the legacy they left behind. I could write a whole book about the ups and downs of my family (who couldn’t), but the heart of the story is I was blessed to have two parents who supported and instilled me a huge sense of ownership, accountability and determination to create the life I wanted for myself. There were no silver spoon hand-outs or ribbons when I finished last. But, there was always a space and acceptance for me to do me. And wow is that a gift. Plus, YOLO right?

Sisu tattoo

Finally, I grew sunflowers. As in plural. After dad died, I made a promise to myself to focus less on pleasing others. To recognize that the people and experiences that have meaning to me should get the lion’s share of my energy versus strangers, toxic people and inconsequential encounters in my day. Easier said than done. But, this summer, I let that play out in my garden. I know, sounds silly. Here’s the thing, though. I’m not a big fan of green beans. But, I used to grow tons of them because even this black thumb can go beans in northern Wisconsin. They’d often times rot in our fridge (I don’t can or freeze) or become compost in the garden. As would the zucchini and several other easy to grow but less than palette pleasing vegetables to me. I’d post a few pics on Instagram and call the garden a success. But seriously? Not so much.

This year, I didn’t grow beans. This year, I planted 3 rows of sunflowers. And a dozen tomato plants and an entire garlic bed so I could eat bruschetta weekly. This summer, I planted two sets of green peas to pick at after work. And for the first time ever, I experienced actual joy in my garden. Sure, it is covered in weeds and needs some serious soil work, but it was all mine. And, while there is certainly a scientific explanation to all of this, another part of me wants to believe this was partially dad’s doing. Another September sign that I honestly needed right now.

So how does this all tie back to running? Choices. There are so many things in this world we cannot control. But, honestly, sometimes the simplest of choices over things we do control matter most. I broke another narrative in my head about being the fat girl that can’t do things like group fitness classes, I grew the garden I wanted even knowing it might fail, and I literally branded myself with a reminder not only of the person I want to be but the person I already am, should I choose to show up for myself.

Random Moments

The scar looks much larger in life.

Facebook reminded me today that ten years ago I accidentally blended my finger while making guacamole. At the time, it was extremely traumatic. And, as someone with a low pain tolerance, I thought I was going to die. Crazy how surviving pregnancy and giving birth changes that perspective. But I digress.

I still have the scar from that immersion blender. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded how quickly life changes. Not in an overly dramatic way, but how something as simple as making guacamole, can scar you for life. Frankly, I think it is all of those small, simple things that add up to who we are as people.

This week I started training again. I’m nursing a real injury of plantar fasciitis, so I’m taking this slow. But, I’m already feeling life like has a bit more purpose. That, even in the midst of what’s sure to be yet another fall of COVID-19 chaos, that I’m in control of at least a small part of my life.

This summer I mentioned I was taking time to just think and be. A summer of productive procastination. It was an intense summer of Teremana margaritas, adventures with Jake, smut reading, cabin time, cocktails with friends and food. Soo much food. It was great for the soul and my mind. But, the past few weeks I’ve been feeling a bit aimless. A bit out of control. (Plus my pants are getting very tight). A bit like, what’s my purpose.

I opted to return to the basics. I’m ordering a Spin bike. I’m giving myself grace but training for a race again. I’m balancing out my summer reads with some personal development. Topping that list, gaining a better understanding of my PCOS. I’ve set a new writing goal and registered for a fall retreat. I’m making my bed every single day. I’m stretching for 2-minutes before I brush my teeth in the morning. Simple things that the book Atomic Habits (a must-read folks) taught me. I’m dreaming of a winter adventure with the family and maybe one by myself.

As beautiful as productive procrastination has been (and man it served me well), it is time to resume regular scheduled programming. Driving home today, I noticed the first tinge of red and gold on some leaves. A new wool sweater arrived at my house. While I’ve invested in my first pair of Birkenstocks (perhaps the makings of a future post), I am making plans to wear them with socks.

Transitions are always tough. Summer to fall signals a lot in my brain. A sense of urgency to make this year count. To not squander a single outdoor moment before the first snow flies. This year is no different, except that I’m going to try my hardest to balance a life of purpose with enough grace to also enjoy some productive procrastination. I think sometimes I approach life as an all or nothing. I’m finally realizing that maybe it doesn’t have to be this extreme.

More on this to come in the coming months. In the meantime, my latest blog post came out today on Another Mother Runner. They limited me to three of my favorite lyrics (beyond hard) to listen to while running. In case you are wondering, here’s the link: https://anothermotherrunner.com/my-top-three-song-lyrics-for-running/

Facing My Writing Fears

This past week tested my strength as a writer. For years, I’ve had no problem sharing my voice and perspective on this blog and more recently my first book. But, as a huge introvert who is slow to open to up folks, this past week has pushed me WAY outside my comfort zone.

My first book signing.

On Saturday, I did my first book signing at an independent book store. There were three other authors present as well. It was a great opportunity to have some interesting conversations about the book publishing journey and how we became authors. That part I loved.

On the flip side, it was the first in-person time where I was asking complete strangers to buy my book. Despite having a day job as a marketer, wowza that’s uncomfortable.

Then, I had my first speaking engagement as a runner’s group. I knew some of the women, including the organizers. It was even my idea. BUT, it wasn’t until I was reading a portion of a chapter out loud that I realized just how personal my writing is – and how these folks didn’t necessarily want to know what makes a stubborn Fin tick.

Here’s the thing, I didn’t die. I don’t know if the folks I talked to this past week cared about what I had to say. What I do know, is that it is important to me to keep pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I thought I’d share my talk below… and then also put out two more announcements into the world because that’s what I do.

I’ve been nursing a real case of plantar fasciitis (ouch). But, I signed up for a 10k in October with hopes of walk/jogging it. I’ll be following that up with a trip to my doctor and a consult with a weight management doctor to continue along my health journey in hopes to tone up over the winter. In May, I hope to return to Eau Claire or Door County for a half.

My other big news – I signed up for a writing retreat in November. Yep. Time to start book 2. I’ve learned so much the past year and I’m ready to start putting thoughts to paper. I’m also ready to tap into some real professionals to help me. It’ll be tough but time. The topic: It Could be Worse: A girlfriend’s guide to grief. More on this to come in the coming months. In the meantime, a few words about my running why from the Solstice Outdoors Running Group launch event in Ashland.

Running Presentation

I’m going to share a bit more about me in a minute… but first I want to ask you all a few questions.

  • Who here ran as a kid?
  • Who here stopped running at some point… drivers license, gained the freshman 15, it wasn’t cool…
  • How many decided for years they could no longer be a runner?
  • Who here remembers that day they decided to run anyway?
  • Anyone feel like a fraud that day? And maybe even still do?
  • How many folks here consider public speaking a form of torture?

That’s my story in a nutshell. I grew up as a tomboy and would run around for hours without thinking twice about it but at some point, I stopped. And I suddenly had this limiting belief that I couldn’t run anymore… so I didn’t. For years.

Great story. That probably leaves you wondering why I am here… I’ll tell you why. Mojitos.  Yep. Mojitos. Ten years ago, I drank a few too many mojitos at a dinner party and the competitive nature in me heard some friends talking about their races… and before I knew it I casually said, I’m training for a half.

I was not. Straight up bold faced lie. I’m sure nobody would have remembered that… but my husband had given me that look. You know… I think in reality it was confusion because he knew I wasn’t training… but I interpreted it as I couldn’t do a half-marathon…

And so I did what every logical, stubborn Finn would do… I signed up for a half-marathon that was 15-weeks away…

Spoiler alert – I finished. With all my toenails. I didn’t die. And surprisingly, I did not win.

This past winter I published a book… the book was sort of the antithesis of running books… there are so many running books out there that talk about how to train harder, lose weight, run faster, run slower, eat right, exercise… but there wasn’t really a book that said, hey – you over in the corner, if you want to run you can. Just put on some shoes and start running. That you can run a race with a goal of just finishing and that’s enough.

In fact, it is because of us back of packers that Olympians win. I mean think about it, if everyone trained as hard as those in the front of pack… they’d be the losers. So yeah you’re welcome.

In all honesty, though, people run for a lot of different reasons. And I think one of the greatest things holding folks back is this notion that they aren’t good enough. And I’m here to tell you today, that you are … that if this body can run a half, y’all can do anything.

But, before you lace up and do that first run, I want you to really think about your why. Why are you here? What made you decide that this moment is when you want to do a race. And once you’ve determined your why, you can determine your what. By what – I mean training plan or food plan or whatever it is you need to accomplish your why.

Simon Sinek has this quote that I absolutely love… he says “no one likes to lose and most healthy people live their life to win. The only variation is the score we use. The metric is relative but the desire is the same.”

When you start training – you get to decide what your score will be… for me early on it was not dying and keeping my toenails… So I thought I’d share a page from my book about a moment I had in running where I had to decide if my why of finishing was strong enough to sabotage the self-doubt I was feeling.

Excerpt from It Could Be Worse: a girlfriend’s guide for runners who detest running.

Chapter 14: The Bus

By April 30th, I needed to make a decision. I paid the entry fee. I was in.

I’d like to say that once I committed, it was easy.  It wasn’t. I was still injured. I was weeks behind on training. I honestly didn’t know if I’d even get far enough in my training to have the capacity to run thirteen miles. I kept revising and condensing my already-condensed training time. My 10k in May was downgraded to a 5k and then became my first no-show ever. Things looked grim. The clock kept ticking. My chances of finishing grew dim. And then, after six weeks of dismal training, I turned a corner. My legs no longer throbbed on mile-long jaunts. I looked at the calendar, and with some creative math, I discovered that I could pull off enough long runs to at least finish. But that damn bus kept looming in the back of my mind.  I hated that bus. It represented every running insecurity I had ever experienced.

I snapped. Literally. I was on a run listening to Fort Minor’s Remember the Name. And, I got mad. In that moment, I loved running. I loved the fact that I was running. I loved the fact that I kept showing up, even though it would have been so much easier to quit. It was in this moment that I decided that I was tired of questioning whether I was good enough to run. I was running—but on my terms.  Fuck the bus!

From that moment on, I showed up for my runs. I quit caring about my time and focused on finishing the miles. For the first time ever, I ran with a couple of incredible ladies. What started as a five-mile run ended with 9.6 miles and it was fun! I kept going. There was no time for tapering. And then it was race week. I carbo-loaded with conviction. I dragged my husband to the health fair and stocked up on free samples. I posted pictures on Facebook and shared my self-doubts and conviction to finish.

There’s a lot of talk about how challenges are more about the journey than the destination. By race day morning I knew I’d finish. I knew I had it in me to show up and give it my best. I also had peace with the knowledge that thousands of runners would beat me. My goal was to finish strong. To pace myself and cross the finish line with my head held high.  After mile one, I threw that goal out the window. I decided to just run. To quit caring about time or pacing or ensuring I had enough reserves to get across the finish. I decided to be foolish and break all the rules and just run. And, so I did.

I ran for the love of running. I thought of my mom and how proud she’d be of me for not quitting. She never cared about what I wanted to be when I grew up, only that I’d try hard and make my own path. I ran for my dad, who could no longer run, but wanted nothing more than to go for a long walk. I ran for my son, to show him that it isn’t about winning, but showing up and trying. I ran for my friends, who said my journey inspired them and convinced them to try something out of their comfort zone. I ran for every fat girl who sits on the sidelines and thinks they aren’t built to run. But most importantly, I ran for me.  After eight years of showing up at starting lines, I realized that as much as I hate the process of running, I love the act of running. I love that every morning that I wake up, I get to decide if I want to run. I can blow off the training and eat the chips or I can train hard. I get to choose how much or how little I want to do, and then see those results embodied on the road. I get to see experience camaraderie of running, buy overpriced shoes, listen to hip hop and channel my inner grit.

At the end of the day, I’m a stubborn Finlander. At times, there’s a thin line between stubborn and stupid. But that day, my Sisu was strong. I knew when I finally crossed the finish line it would be my best time ever. But more importantly, I had run the race on my terms, finally at peace with the person I am, on and off the course. For anyone wondering, I didn’t beat the cut-off time. I missed it by four minutes. But the ominous bus?  It never showed up. It turned out that I was good enough just as I was.

And that folks, is my story. Does anyone want to share what lead them here today?

I’m going to end with probably one of the most famous but important tips/quotes in running… it is by a guy named John Bingham. And it goes: “The miracle is not that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Kudos to all of you for starting.

And that my friends is the latest on my running and writing journey. I hope you are all finding ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone. As hard as it is, it is nice to be back in the goal setting mindset after a few months of just wandering and being in my thoughts.