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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Mother's Day

Happy Mothers Day to me.  It's my 10th one.  A decade of freshly picked dandelions and sweet cards covered in crayon and handmade gifts and smudgey fingerprints and messes and sloppy slobbery kisses and being known as Mommy or Mama or, gulp, Mom.  

My babies are getting bigger.  Every day, every moment, I can see it. 

I remember wishing for this time - this exact moment.  When they were newborns and it was 2 am and I couldn't get them to sleep and I was tired and they were fed and they didn't need a diaper change and they hated me and I hated life and everything was hard and awful and is a mother supposed to feel this way and I'm a fraud and please stop crying and please stop crying and I can't wait until this little baby is older and then - when this little baby is older - I will feel more in control and normal.  And in spite of that and all of the feelings about all of the things, I remember pulling them close and smelling their sweet baby heads and taking it in and saying "shhhhh.  stop.  just for a moment. they will be big soon."

The crying eventually stopped. The 2 month olds turned into 2 year olds, who finally slept through the night in their little toddler beds.  And the 2 year olds turned into 4 year olds who somehow - every single night - ended up sleeping next to me in my bed.  Every night, around 2 am, I would hear the soft pitter patter of little baby feet on the carpet and the heavy breaths attempting to pull their little baby bodies up onto my bed.  Sometimes they would just fall asleep.  Sometimes they would say "hi Mommy".  Sometimes they would talk more at length about what was going on.  I was tired.  I wanted to sleep.  But I would listen and say "ok, it's time to sleep, baby."  They would fall asleep, and I remember pulling them close and smelling their sweet baby heads and taking it in and saying "shhhhh.  stop.  just for a moment. they will be big soon."

Motherhood is hard. It is beautiful and amazing and wonderful, and I will go to my grave knowing that even in a life where I wasn't perfect and did oh so many things wrong, I did two things very right.  But it is hard.  Nothing can prepare you for how hard.  All the while you know that while the days go by so slow, the years go by so fast.  And you try to remind yourself "shhhhh.  stop.  just for a moment. they will be big soon."

But for every moment where I was at the end of my rope and cried myself to sleep with self-doubt, there was a moment where a tiny baby hand reached out for mine and let me envelop its softness in my own grasp.  For every moment of sheer exhaustion and not believing I could do this -- this "motherhood" thing -- there was a moment where my sweet baby child would hug me and gently pat my back - a tacit message of "I love you. I need you. And you're doing fine."  For every moment where I felt like I was The Worst Mother Ever, there was a moment where my little one said, unprompted and apropos of nothing, "mommy, I love you." 

My baby children are 10 and 8.  They're certainly not "grown" but they are big.  And yet, I still find myself reminding myself to slow down, to stop, to take in their sweet still-kind-of-babyness.  "shhhhh.  stop.  just for a moment. they will be big soon."  That state of "Big" is pretty much, but not quite, here.  I still reach for their hands, and they still let me hold them.  I still smell their sweet baby heads, and they still let me.  I still snuggle their bigger (but smaller than mine) little bodies, and they let me.  I still call them "darling love" and they still let me.  And now I find myself begging them, and begging time, to just slow down.  Please slow down.  Please, I am not quite ready for you to be big. 

Yes, Motherhood is hard. But that's what makes it great.  Giving birth is truly an allegory for motherhood itself - it's hard, it's painful, you're filled with doubt, but in the end, you do it, and you do great.  

Happy Mother's Day to me.  And to my sweet baby children.  I am their biggest fan, their biggest cheerleader, their biggest advocate ... but I am also Mommy.  I am bracing myself for what's coming - the eye rolls, the "please drop me off a block away", the "OMG Mommmmmmmmmm".  I'm not remotely ready for it, but I know it will happen -- much like motherhood itself.  And I'm hopeful that when I do, I can think back to when they were babies, and how I took the moment in the middle of the chaos and reminded myself to "shhhhh.  stop.  just for a moment. they will be big soon." Because although they may be big, no matter how big or how old, they will always, forever, be my babies.  
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I heart you.

Happy Valentines Day.  Yesterday.  But better late than never.

Valentines Day is one of those really tricky holidays.  There's a lot riding on it, a lot of expectation, and hope and emotion and pressure.  Sure, you can opt out of the holiday, but good luck trying to escape it.  For all its commercialism and "Hallmark holiday" kitsch, the Valentine message is pervasive and loud: Love! Love! Love! (and, of course, just as pervasive and loud: candy and cupids and chocolates and hearts and cards and kittens and overpriced underwhelming crowded prix fixe dinner.  and kittens.  did I mention kittens).

I don't know what's inside this kitten Valentine box, but I need it because the kitten looks so forlorn.
There are so many kinds of love to celebrate on Valentines Day.  I wrote a Valentine last year to my kids.  I had been alone for three full years and had made peace with the holiday ... and realized that my sweet little loves deserved a love letter of their own.  

I opted out of the holiday for years.  And then, upon my divorce, I was opted out of the holiday. So in  2013 I grappled with that a bit, and I wrote my first post on my own.  I realized that when you cut through the cliches and the saccharine and the over the top nonsense, the idea of Valentines Day was really pretty wonderful.  A day celebrating nothing more and nothing less than love is really not so bad.  I said the following in that blog post, some three years ago: 

But I also want to turn around my thinking and focus on love and the love I want and deserve.  I always think about Carrie Bradshaw's line from the finale of the "Sex and the City" series:

I’m looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.
This is what I want.  I believe it is out there.  I believe in love and all that comes with it -- to love and to be loved; to need and to be needed.  I believe there is someone out there who will love me and get me and who knows that I would rather have one single lily of the valley stem over a roomful of red roses -- someone who knows that despite the fact that I would never ask for them, I actually love receiving flowers.  I am hopeful that this will be the hardest Valentines Day that I ever have.  I feel a lot like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol, because I promise, when the time is right, I will not take Valentines Day, and more importantly what it means, for granted again.  Because, despite the heartbreak and all of the struggle of life and love, I believe in love.  And I believe in me.  

Oh 2013 self.  You had no idea what was in store for you, but you knew.  You knew -- you knew deep down in your heart, in your heart that may have been a little torn and tattered, but that was never fully broken -- you knew that the love you have right now was waiting for you.  That in just a few short years, you would find that someone, and you did.  That you would find your heart, and you did.   And what's funny and ironic is that my darling love gave me a necklace with a heart (and it's just coincidental, or perhaps serendipitous, that I was wearing my running heart headband too).  The necklace is an allegory for life: my sweet love gave me his heart, but he also gave me mine.  

Usually, my blog posts are directed to the world at large and all of the interwebs.  But not today. Today, I am talking directly to my sweetheart.  Please forgive me, interwebs.  It's Valentines Day and I have a love letter to share with my darling love.  

Thank you, my darling, for loving me and needing me.  And thank you for letting me love you and need you.  

Thank you, my darling, for making me laugh and smile, and for smiling and laughing with and sometimes at me ... and for knowing that there is a line there and always caring to protect my feelings.

Thank you, my darling, for "getting" me and who I am.  From moment one.  And for not only letting me be who I am, but for loving who I am and wanting nothing more, and no one else, than what, and who, I am.

Thank you, my darling, for anticipating my needs.  For giving me personalized pencils and books and phone cases, because you know I spent (and continue to spend) my life looking for the elusive "Shanna" bike license plates and pencils and magnets in the souvenir shops to no avail.  For giving me flowers.  And chocolate.  And beer that I love.  Thank you for somehow knowing when I need a text with just a picture of a small soft kitten or other baby animal.  Thank you for encouraging my love of unicorns and rainbows, even though you don't get it.

Thank you, my darling, for loving to swim with me.  And for being patient and sweet and reassuring when we go hiking and I get a little scared.  And for suggesting that we do a 5K at a local brewery in the Spring (even though you hate running) because you know how much I love running and beer.  And you of course. 

Thank you, my darling, for giving up watching a very important and exciting Eagles v. Cowboys game in the Fall to take me to see the band America -- surrounded by people a generation older than us -- because you knew I love their music and you knew how happy that it would make me.  And how happy you were, simply because I was happy.  

Thank you, my darling, for looking at me the way that you do.  For the times we are looking at each other and for the times you think I don't see you looking at me.  

Thank you, my darling, for being you.  You're not perfect, and I do not want you to be, but you're perfect for me.  You make me feel good and alive and loved and safe and adored and respected and liked and all of the things.  You make me feel more like "me" and more alive and loved than I have ever felt.  And you know exactly what to do and what to say.  When I am having a stressful day, you make it better.  You don't (and can't) fix it.  But you listen and you make it better.  

I promised back in 2013 that "when the time is right, I will not take Valentines Day, and more importantly what it means, for granted again."  The time is now.  And I don't and I won't.  

Happy Valentines Day, my sweet Matthew.  My heart is full with our love -- our real love ... our ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each other love.  Thank you for showing me, by doing nothing more than simply being you, that it's true: love always wins. 
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