Take me home ... country roads

I have a pretty good memory for even the smallest details.  So my memories of my childhood and growing up are pretty vivid.  I remember at a very young age rifling through my parents' cassette tape collection and playing so many musical treasures on their then-state of the art tape deck, throwing on a sparkly tutu (or way too tight leotard) and ballet shoes and creating dances with my sister.  There were so many songs ... ABBA, Diana Ross, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Olivia Newton John, Kenny Rogers (I am really not doing any favors to my parents right now, but this music was/is amazing).  But the song that most quickly brings me back to my childhood and to a real, palpable feeling, is John Denver's "Country Roads."  I remember playing it, laying on the couch with my legs propped up on the couch back and staring at an old oil painting we had hanging over the couch.  This one:

I have no idea where or when my parents got that painting, but if there's one thing that reminds me of home, it's that.  I remember staring up at it, while listening to "Country Roads" and just daydreaming about the words and letting myself sink into that painting and the dirt roads and the house in the back and into the song itself and the country he was singing about (nevermind that I thought he said "mountain llama" instead of "mountain momma").  

But this one always got me, and to this day sticks with me:  

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong

I took those words to heart and very literally in 2012-2013 when I was newly on my own and felt like I had no real home.  So I went back home - to the place I was born and the place I belonged -- where my parents still lived and my grandmothers and most of my family.  There was no greater comfort than home.  My folks would watch my kids and I'd go for runs, endless runs for endless miles, on those country roads.  

Fields and flowers.  Pickup trucks and creeks.  Puffy clouds and old barely-standing barns.  Trees and windy roads and creaky bridges.  Every run I would head out on my way and feel so much more centered when I came back.  I can't imagine that any other place in the world would have given me that clarity and grounding than the place where I was from ... those country roads at home.  

By running at home -- the place where I belonged -- I felt more me and more able to handle whatever this new life of mine had in store.  It was terrifying.  But I was grounded and centered.  And even as I felt ever more confident and more settled in my new life, I would still return home as much as I could and run those familiar roads and see my family and those familiar places ... home was home was home and always would be and always will be.    

I have a new home now with a wonderful husband and my wonderful children and my wonderful step-children.  My heart (and my home) is full.  Life is good.  I found the love of my life and happiness greater than I dreamed possible.  As it turns out, those country roads did lead me right home ... to the place I belong.   

You took me home, country roads.  
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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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