The Gift of the Present

A couple of summers ago, I was in a teeny tiny little town in Wisconsin for work and happened to walk past a sweet store on the main drag.  The shop had little gifty things and as I passed the window I saw a hand-painted sign that said "enjoy this moment, for this moment is your life."  I went along my merry way in search of (delicious and amazing) cheese-curds and beer, but that got me thinking a lot about the past, present and future and the careful, but necessary, navigation of the balance of all three in my life.  The past is gone; the future is uncertain.  All we have is the present moment in which we live, and each of those moments becomes the thread that ties together the tapestry of what is, ultimately, our lives.

The lesson from the little wooden sign was precisely perfect. Yet, as much as I would love to focus solely on the present, it's really hard to put that into practice.  I have always been a very future-oriented person.  I set goals - big, juicy goals - and I usually attain them.  It may take time and hard work and there are usually a bunch of setbacks and failures along the way, but I eventually get there.  And then I set another goal.  The goal setting is good, and it's important, and it is part of who I am.  But a constantly forward-looking life misses so many beautiful moments in the present.  I've come to realize that if I set my sights on the day that has yet to come, I am losing the days that are here right now -- a life looking only at the future is not a life well lived.  

Likewise, I find myself thinking about the past a bit.  I try - hard - not to dwell on it, but I can't help but be guided by choices I've made, and things that happened in my life, as I live my life in the present.  The past has made me who and what I am today, and with all my flaws and messes (and believe you me, there are many), I like who I am.  To be sure, there have been some pretty significant peaks and some equally significant valleys, but I am in a place where I really know myself.  But shedding the rough stuff of the past is far easier said than done.  It's like a rear view mirror -- you look back and want to leave the past back where it belongs, but objects in mirror are closer than they appear.  

And now the present, and that delicate balance of being guided by the lessons and mistakes of the past while looking to the future with hopeful optimism, but having just a single big toe dipped in each.  The present is where it all happens: it's the place to feel the feels.  It's the only place to feel joy or to feel sadness.  It's where we laugh and cry.  It's where we can hug and kiss the ones we love.  It's where we touch and hear and taste and see.  It's where our heart swells and breaks.  The present is where life happens and if you blink -- poof -- it is gone.

So, rather than being too forward focused or stuck in the past, I am making an effort to live more in the here and now.  Rather than wring my hands and fret and ask "what is going to happen?", I am changing the punctuation from a question to a statement -- yes: what is going to happen.  What is going to happen, and it's up to me to make it happen.  No matter what the what is that happens, I'll be ready for it.  I am pulling those big toes out of the past and future and jumping - full boar - into the present with the accompanying chance to really experience life, with eyes fully open to the possibility probability of failure and of setbacks, but with the knowledge that with soaking up the moments -- good and bad, easy and challenging, wonderful and horrible -- of the present brings the possibility of life's ultimate reward.

It's the perfect present.

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Stowe In Love

That's right! We got married!  

I mentioned in my last post back at the end of last year that Matt and I got engaged and that we were planning to get married soon.  And marry we did in early January!  We knew that we wanted a completely private ceremony for just the two of us so that we could focus exclusively on the real meaning behind our wedding: each other and our love for, and our promises to, one other.  We loved this plan, and are planning a wedding with the kids that is focused on them and on us all becoming a new family in a few months, with a huge housewarming/we got married! party for our friends and family soon thereafter.  

We chose a small inn, the Stone Hill Inn, in Stowe, Vermont.  It was perfect: intimate, beautiful and, as an added bonus, it catered to people like us who wanted private weddings/elopements -- they had an entire package designed just for that purpose, with a few nights' stay, the officiant, some flowers and even dinner afterwards.  We worked with a really kind Justice of the Peace and basically created our own ceremony and wrote our own vows so that the wedding ceremony was perfectly suited for us.  Our ceremony was sweet, meaningful, and completely us; I can still remember every single moment of it.  One thing we splurged on, which was worth every single penny, was to hire a photographer, Kathleen Landwehrle, to capture the ceremony and some beautiful photos after.  We lucked out with truly spectacular weather: snow on the ground but a warmish 45 degree air temperature and sunshine!  We also lucked out that our photographer Kathleen was a super cool person with a great sense of humor who drove us around Stowe (and her car satellite radio was set on The Bridge, which is my favorite station ever!). Here are few more of my favorite shots.

Sigh ... it was the most perfect day, celebrated in the most perfect way, with the love of my life -- {married} life is good.
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Rock/Paper/Scissors ... shoot!

Or blog, as the case may be.

The last few months of 2016 were a blur of new and good things for me - many major life changes all rolled up together, all at once, all in a firestorm tornado of glitter rainbows craziness.

Rock - We got engaged in September! We are getting married soon. Very soon!

Paper - We bought a house!  Lots and lots and lots of paperwork with that whole process.  Get used to seeing this badboy on the blog. There is so much to do, including and especially new siding and decking in the Spring.  We love our new home - not just the structure (which is super cool), but in what it represents for a shared new space for us and our children to forge our new family.

Scissors - I cut ties with the old and got a new job [and a new commute]! It's a completely different position at a new place doing completely new things.  And while unfortunately, I am beholden to a train schedule again, I love my new job so much that it actually makes the commute worth it. 

Shoot! or, Blog!  With all of these changes (especially the new house), I have lots to share.  I am hoping to blog a bit more in 2017 (which is to say, I am hoping to blog in 2017) and share the good things with you.  
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Hello! It's been more than a minute.  While I am clinging to the last bits of Summer with my super strong grip, it's really almost over.  How does this happen every single year?  This Summer has been fantastic - filled with adventures, fun, trips, laughter, memories, fun and love.  I truly haven't had a moment to crack open the computer.  I think know that's the way it's supposed to be.  

One of the things I wanted to do this Summer was to enjoy running (and swimming and biking [kinda]) for their own sakes and not really "train", but to do them because I love them and not because I am working toward a certain race or time goal.  As a result, I've run a lot, I've swum a bit, and I've biked virtually not at all.  And yet, there was still something tethering me to the whole "training" thing -- this guy:

*note* this is a very old picture
A month or so ago, I was swimming with Matt at an outdoor lap pool that we belong to.  I felt great.  My swim felt strong.  And fast.  And it felt so good to be in the water.  I felt like Katie Ledecky.  Or Michael Phelps.  I did about 1000 yards, touched the side of the pool, hit the "stop" button on my watch and then ... boom.  

In an instant, I went from this:

to this:

Sad kitten.  I looked at my stats and said out loud "ugh. it is so demoralizing to see my pace."  My face fell and the swim that I was just two seconds earlier thrilled with didn't seem so great anymore.  Fast became slow; great became bad; happy became sad.  Matt always tells me that he thinks I am a great athlete, so when he heard me say the word "demoralizing" and get down on myself, he had a little come to Jesus talk with me instantly -- and I came to realize, in talking with him, that I was comparing myself to an unrealistic version of myself.  I was looking at my times now, and even though I knew, and know, that I am not in Ironman or BQ shape anymore, I was holding myself to that standard.  Which is ridiculous.  I didn't become the Ironman athlete that I was overnight: it took intensely hard work and dedication and time.  But, yet, I still couldn't help but see the numbers and compare.  My runs were slower too.  Every run, I'd fire up my watch and when I finished, I'd be glad I did it, but never truly happy with the run.  Matt had a suggestion that seemed almost impossible at first: ditch the watch.  Stop using it.  Run without it.  Swim without it.  Bike (hahaha if I get on the bike) without it.  I wondered how I would track my runs ... but did it matter?  How would I know how fast (or slow) I was going ... but did it matter?  What about the data ... but did it matter?  The answer, of course, is no -- it doesn't matter right now.  So I decided to take the watch off and do all of my workouts without it.  In a bout of serendipitous timing, my friend Heather was wanting to use a triathlon watch, so I happily loaned her mine.  It made me happy to let my sweet friend use my watch: the same thing that was bringing me down made her so very happy.  

I've decided to "re-moralize" myself and run completely untethered to any time or pace keeping device.  To truly just run and swim and bike and not worry about how fast or slow.  I am going to run the Philly Rock & Roll Half Marathon in September and will run without my watch.  I'm kind of training for it (which is to say I am making sure to do a longish run each week ... and having run for so many years, I know all the different distances of routes around here, so I can be sure I am running long enough).  At first, it was weird.  It kind of still is. My hand instantly searches for my watch to hit that "start" button at the beginning of each run. But I've quickly developed a true love of being unplugged.  Some of my runs are still struggles (summer-humidity-heat), but most of them I come away feeling happy and fulfilled.  That's what it's all about for me right now.

Just yesterday I decided to run in one of my favorite places: Peace Valley Park in Chalfont.  I've run there a handful of times, and I love it.  It's around this beautiful lake.  I was telling Matt all about it and I realized I don't have to just tell him -- I could share it with him.  I didn't have to fret about my watch and my pace. I could just stop, take a picture, text it and start running again.  Here are some of my favorite spots from this run.

This is where I start and end (it is a 6 mile loop).  It's so lovely. 

This is about 2 miles in.  I love this little spot because you've been in a kind of wooded spot for awhile and then you turn a corner and see the lake again.  And I know I'm almost at the bridge, which is the half way point. 

The bridge! This is just shy of the half way point, but I love it because it's a fun little landmark.  You know you're about halfway done the loop.  In the second photo you can see the dam allllllll the way in the distance.  That's the end of the loop.

Once you cross the bridge above, you have some really tough climbs.  They are really steep and pretty long.  But, what goes up must come down!  Here I am at the point where you get to enjoy a lovely descent after some super hard inclines.

I normally love this spot in the run - it's just before a boat launch area and there's just about 1.5 miles left to go. I was hot here.  I was not loving this spot in the run. 

This is always a happy place: on the dam/bridge.  My car is less than a half mile from this spot. It's fun to run over. 

And done!  I was stretching and took this last shot. I am also wearing a unicorn/rainbow headband.

The run was hot (and late in the day for me), but it was good.  It was great, actually.  I'm starting to settle into this remoralizing phase really nicely.  It is making me a much happier runner in the present ... which is almost as beautiful a gift as running itself.

Happy running.  
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magic and mystery

I don't feel like Spring happened this year.  I just started to get my head around the fact that it was Springtime when bam - Summer - June 20.  Part of it was the absolutely horrible weather that we had this Spring: rain, dreary days, clouds, raw temperatures, little sunshine if any at all.  That doesn't make one feel very Springy.  

But for me, more than the doldrums of what would be our eternal Winter, it was the loss of my beloved grandmother, or my Mom-Mom as we called her.  She died unexpectedly and suddenly on Saturday May 7, just a day before Mother's Day.  She had suffered a stroke a couple of years ago, which really affected her health.  But in the days before she died, she seemed OK -- pretty stable and pretty good and upbeat.  She was 86.  She loved more fiercely than anyone I've ever known.  And she was loved by many. 

I spoke at her funeral.  My sister and I did, as did my dad who read something that my mom had written.  I have been to so many funerals where the officiant gives a stock speech about the person who died, and I couldn't bear to have that happen with her.  It didn't at all.  I felt that our three eulogies gave Mom-Mom's memory and legacy the respect they deserved.  And while I am normally happy to [over]share with the internet things in my life, I'll have to beg you to forgive me for not sharing my speech here.  It was my entire childhood and my grief and her and me and our family all wrapped up in 8 tear stained pages.  

But I can tell you that she was special.  Grandmothers are special - they all are.  I have said that to so many of my friends whose grandmothers pass away.  And I am lucky because prior to May 7, both of my grandmothers were still alive.  I never really allowed myself to think about a life without them because, well, I didn't know a life without them, and I couldn't imagine one.  I'm still not sure I know what it's like.  

I spent every single Saturday night with my Mom-Mom from the time that I was an infant to the time I was in high school, when I stopped, opting to hang out with my friends instead.  It, and she, was a constant in my life.  I didn't realize how special this was until I was much older.  Mom-Mom was there for every life event: every graduation, every ceremony, every religious milestone, every baby's birth.  She would call me every single birthday.  I still have a couple of her voicemails on my phone.  She would call from time to time to check in.  Or, despite the fact that I am a grown adult and a working professional, she'd sometimes send me some money in a card -- always cash (usually about $50) and always taped to the inside of a card: "I know it's not much..." she would say.  It was always more than enough.   

As the years passed, her writing and her voice got a little shakier.  I tried to ignore it until it was impossible to ignore.  I remember having a conversation with my mom about her and about how we were aware that our time with her was limited.  I certainly didn't feel that her death was imminent.  But I knew it was happening sometime kind of soon.  I just didn't expect it to be that soon.

The kids and I were all set to visit her on that Saturday.  We planned to stop by her house and give her cards and flowers and then head over to my parents' house for an early Mother's Day.  The day before that visit, I was in the car heading to get my kids and had the urge to give her a call.  I am still not 100% sure how to work my new car's phone, so I got to the "M"s in my phone book and was struggling with finding her number and canceled the effort.  I will regret that forever.  My friend Julia assures me that there was a reason I didn't make that call ... that God often directs us to do things that we might not understand.  I am holding out faith that this is true.  But I would give anything to have made that call and to have had the chance to say "I love you" and to hear it one last time.  That was how every phone call, every visit, every card ended: "I love you, Shan."  I can hear it now.  

I find myself thinking about her all the time and how she lived her life.  She was stubborn, yet eminently forgiving.  She was strong and independent, working until she was 85 years old and retiring only because of her health.  In the end, she had the hardest time with allowing others to care for her: it was in her nature to care for others, not to receive that care.  

I realized on a run recently that two things that I love, and that have somewhat jokingly become sort of signatures for me, will forever link me to her: sparkles and unicorns.  I'm a fan of sparkles.  I love sparkly headbands for running.  I know they're silly, but they make me happy and they make me smile.  At Mom-Mom's funeral, the mother of one of my dearest friends came through and paid her respects.  She had known Mom-Mom. She gave me a teary hug and said, "She sparkled.  She was sparkly."  I had never in my life heard anyone describe Mom-Mom like that but it was so perfect.  She did sparkle: her eyes and her laugh and her warm smile.  It was as though her heart was beaming through her entire face.  So now whenever I don my sparkly headbands for a run, I will think of my sweet, sparkly Mom-Mom.

And unicorns. I'll be honest that this was a shock to me as well.  I love unicorns.  I know it's partly silly, but as juvenile as this may sound, I kind of love their silly magic.  I don't even like horses, but I do like the idea of a unicorn with its magical magic.  Life needs a little magic and a little silliness.  The day of her funeral, my mom asked the immediate family to come back to Mom-Mom's house and take a few things that we might want.  That was really hard, but I am glad we did it.  I had taken a handful of things that were very meaningful to me, when I stumbled upon this recessed wall shelf that she had.  It had a bunch of random knickknacks and photos and tchotchkes but in the 40+ years of my life and in all of those 40+ years that I've been to her house, I never really looked closely at them.  One of the little knickknacks was a unicorn.  I took it with me.  

It reminds me that there is a little bit of magic right here with me.  It makes me wonder what else about Mom-Mom I didn't know, and never will know, because I didn't ask or didn't think to ask.  I find myself simultaneously longing to know the story behind this little ceramic unicorn and hanging onto the fact that I don't ... that there is, and always will be, some mystery to her life.  I knew her and I knew her well, but there is so much that I didn't know.  Proof that there is never, ever enough time. 

I miss her.  I always will.  Our family reunion is this weekend, and it is going forward, which is exactly what she would want.  It will be painful and sad to not have her there, but I know I need only look at the smile and love surrounding me by my parents and sister and children and niece and cousins and aunts and uncles and know that really, she is there ... sparkling through our tears and our smiles.  

Hug your loved ones.  Tell people you love them.  Forgive.  And if you are lucky enough to have your grandmother, give her a call today.  Do it for me. 
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