My Garden Path

This summer’s project can be summed up in one word: landscaping. I was determined to reveal my progress last week until I saw the pictures. Another week of work, I thought, and it will be ready for prime time. It’s been another week and then some. . . let’s just agree to view my efforts through the lens of potential.

Ivy has been the predominant landscaping material house after house – not by choice. I have seriously wondered if there is some life lesson I should be learning that only ivy can teach. It eludes me still.

Ivy was everywhere.

Eradication consumes the larger part of year one. Mine is not a sophisticated approach. Grab it by the roots and pull. One pull always leads to another, and another – and you never know where it will take you. Roots become entangled – a pull here is thwarted by a root crossing over, which can change the direction of your effort 180 degrees, and send you on a wild chase under the fence, across the yard, or straight up the mountain.

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Mounds of ‘pulled’ ivy, and Mr. Boggs

A garden from long ago taught me there is only so much wilderness you can expect to tame, and I’ve attempted to be more realistic in my approach. The best results seem to come about naturally, as if this little spot of ground or that shady area in the corner is ready to become something different.

The dogs always play a role in my landscaping plan as well, and it has served me well to wait a bit and let them chart the path.

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The dogs created a path through the garden before I started pulling the ivy.

This was the year my husband also got involved. His first order of business was to organize a thorough clean-up.

Ardy and his crew spent three days taking out dead foliage, pruning overgrown limbs, and clearing the fallen trees. They sorted out the hardwoods for firewood, and burned the rest in four self-made fire pits around the house. The fires burned for two days after they left.

After suffering through a constant string of poison ivy outbreaks, we realized Bentley must be bringing it back down the mountain and transferring it directly to me. Abel stopped by and weed whacked the whole mountainside, and I’ve been free of a new outbreak of poison for over two weeks.

Dudley, Mr. Boggs and Bentley (right to left)

A Garden of Potential

With a clean slate (or, at least almost clean) we visited the Lowe’s Garden Center discount cart weekly (or more) and it was shocking what could be found there – $5 hydrangea, $2 canna lilies, $1 coral bells.

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The ferns are placed in such an even line around the rock that I wonder if this was a flower bed long ago – before the ivy took over. 
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There were day lilies underneath mounds of ivy on the other side of the path.

The $2 lilies found a home in one of the fire pits on the far side of the front yard. Fifty years of dead trees were removed from behind the house and now we can see all the way through the forest.

The patio being cleaned last August before we moved in, and at its most barren state this February.

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By May, the ferns have taken over with just one lone day lily peeking through.

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The sun hits this side of the house late in the day, and it seems to shine a light on a path that leads through the garden and up the mountain. . . some day.

The excess spring rain has nearly destroyed the potted plants, Dudley chased a critter underground and tore up the herb garden, and Mr. Boggs plows right through the ferns smooshing them flat to the ground.

As with life, each season brings new challenges, unexpected catastrophes. . . and sheer delight. There’s lots of work to be done before this project looks like my inspiration photo at the top of the post, and I wonder what sweet journeys lie ahead on our humble garden path.

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Ivy Hills, forever.

It has been a year since my husband and I made the drastic decision to settle into one house forever. It’s a daunting word in my world. An endless or seemingly endless period of time. I’ve never found anything even slightly interesting about forever.

Plenty of past homes have been worthy of forever. The front door of our first condo in Chicago opened onto a wall of windows that overlooked the Sears Tower. The full east side of the apartment was a wall of windows overlooking Lake Michigan, while the west side overlooked the suburbs. It was breathtaking, and so was the job offer he got from a company in Florida.

When I was in school a few years ago, my 20-something classmates were just beginning to think about their future careers. The subject came up in class one afternoon.

Our instructor would give us the floor to say whatever came to mind after we had spent the week pushing ourselves to the very edge of our personal limits jumping off telephone poles, climbing the Alpine Tower blindfolded, or for me, forcing myself to hang upside down in a kayak for as long as I could hold my breath before escaping.

On this particular day, my classmates were admitting their fear of moving away to some unknown part of the earth. Hoping to relieve their concern, I talked about how exciting it is to move to a new city and to see the world. Trevor very politely spoke up after a bit of silence to say that some people may not be afraid to move across the country, while others (particularly those in our class) may find it terrifying to move down the street.

Here we were, a class full of adventure junkies, and what scared us most was as different as night and day. Move me a hundred times between now and eternity, just don’t leave me in one place.

My husband and I seemed ready for forever though. This is our favorite spot on earth. It’s never too hot, not too cold, but just cold enough. The views will sweep you off your feet – driving down the road, sitting at a red light, hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or in the parking lot at the grocery store.

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A view from the grocery store parking lot.

It’s a quaint, little community. We complain about the tourists all summer, and when they flock in for the prettiest fall colors on earth. As unlikely as it may have seemed prior to this moment, however, this is home.

We also seemed to be ready to stop remodeling houses, although this one will clearly take us forever to finish.

If the weather is nice, we work outside – where there’s ivy to clear, dead trees to clean up, flower beds to be designed. If a limb breaks off anything, it goes into a vase of water and we wait to see if it will take root. After all, we have forever.

Our neighborhood is called ‘Ivy Hills’ by the locals, for good reason. After clearing the ivy from a hidden swan on the back patio last summer, I got the worst case of poison my doctor had ever seen. At the time of this writing, I have poison ivy again on my left shin, left arm, right toe, on my neck, under my chin, and on both sides of my face. Ivy, forever.
Mr. Boggs, Dudley and Bentley (left to right) on the stone wall by the patio – now clear of ivy.

If the weather’s bad, we work inside – where there’s still 8 doors, 12 windows, 2 columns, the master bath, and almost every ceiling in the house to be re-painted.

When decorating previous homes, I raced to finish every room (preferably in 3 weeks or less), and once a room was finished, rarely did anything change – not one piece of furniture moved, drapes never replaced, rarely one pillow changed seats.

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Vases of something green hoping to take root in rooms here and there all over the house.

This time my husband has encouraged me to take it slow, be patient, and enjoy the process.

Suddenly, there’s a seemingly endless amount of time to watch how the sun travels across the garden, to experiment with decorating the bookshelves, or finding the best spot in the room for a plant. . . the pillows have finally changed seats.

Forever is beginning to be a little less scary. In fact, forever can be quite pleasant indeed.

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Oodles of time for cozy naps in the sun with a friend (Mr. Boggs and Bentley).

A Dog’s Life

Give me a day, I’ll be somebody big.

I’ll grow strong, run fast, learn how to dig.

Give me a day, start early if you dare.

The world is my oyster, and there’s no time to spare.

Give me a day, see who I’ll be?

I’ll be yours forever, Bentley B.

Day One: November 15, 2016  Opening my eyes, learning to walk and dressed up for the Holidays.

The first bath.

Merry Christmas to me, and Happy New Year 2017!

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Day 57: January 10, 2017   Going Home.

Meeting Mr. Boggs

The very best way to sleep on the bed seems to be when the bed is upside down.

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“Mr. Boggs, let’s play. . . PLEASE Mr. Boggs.”

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Buddies
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Yours truly, Bentley

 

Losing Weight: My ‘Running’ Story

No carbonated beverages – diet or otherwise. No candy, potato chips, or pizza. Never a glass of that heavenly sweet tea so famous in this part of the land. How on earth did I gain weight? The easy answer is I took my eye off the ball.

My husband downloaded a dieting app as he reminded me that he was not the one on a diet. I told him I understood – which meant I would make the necessary changes to my diet while not imposing those changes onto him. It was only a few days into the process when I realized it was just like him to share this journey with me by logging every calorie I ate into that stupid app on his phone, and I loved him for that support.

WHOA!

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The day’s standard fare was added to the app every morning: cappuccino, yogurt, granola, a small glass of juice. The rest of the day’s menu was always an adventure.

He’d enter the calories from my dinner plate, and say whoa! There were always calories there that surprised us. Sometimes we looked up the calories before he cooked.

I brought out blackberries one morning to add to my cereal. He said, whoa! Each blackberry has a whopping 10 calories!

We sat in the parking lot outside our favorite Mexican restaurant while he looked up my favorite menu items. Whoa!  We drove away.

Red-Lined

img_3210One day we calculated the day’s calories in advance – to the last bite of dinner. It was a long-run day and we had made that our ‘night out’ – going out for dinner being the hardest meal to keep under calorie budget. We finished a glass of wine while sitting at the bar of our favorite Italian restaurant when the bartender topped up our glasses ‘on the house’ – good news/bad news, red-line day.

Obviously it’s easier to manage weight if you don’t eat out. In fact, we have friends that follow this approach quite successfully. Unfortunately, my husband and I enjoy eating out.

My rule of thumb is to never feel shy about special requests (marina sauce instead of a cream-based sauce, for example). My mom almost always orders what she wants to eat even if it’s not on the menu (albeit for a different reason altogether); amazingly they’ve never refused her. Maybe the easiest thing you can do is to always, always ask them to hold the butter (you’d be amazed how much they add!).

Calories In / Calories Out

There’s truly an astonishing number of different diets in the world. I decided to keep it simple and just count calories. In my eagerness to cut as many calories as possible, we eventually eliminated all carbs. Each day I went for a run, my energy dwindled further and further until I could barely finish a short run.

One of our fellow runners and bloggers (Adam from Back In A Bit, Have Biscuits Ready) had also been on a diet and eliminated carbs quite successfully all the while running and racing a lot. I thought maybe I’d jumped ship too soon, but we had already reintroduced carbs into my diet by the time I read his post, and I’ve never looked back.

Timothy Noakes co-authored a report in 2014 referencing a study of elite athletes, adapted to a diet of less than 10% carbohydrates, who produced energy at very high rates purely from the oxidation of fat. The jury may still be out for me, but a low-carb strategy is an interesting alternative.

Most experts suggest a distance runner’s goal is a ratio of 60/30/10 carb/protein/fat (or thereabout). This has always been especially challenging for me (evidenced by the two days on the left where the fat ratio was off the charts!), and it’s one of the best reasons to track calories from time to time.

study for Active.com found that Kenyan elite runners at the peak of their marathon training consumed up to 76% carbs while most of their 10% protein came from the milk in their tea. Despite the growing trend of the low carb diet, some would say it’s tough to denounce the golden standard.

Also remember: the greatest nutritional value is gained from eating a large variety of foods, and the most diverse diets have also been linked to the most successful athletes.

Weight vs Size

January 4-30th: 6 pounds lost (I didn’t think to weigh myself until Jan 30th)

February 4: 2 more pounds lost / February 16th: success!

I’ve never been a big fan of weighing myself regularly. Better to feel good in your clothes. Nonetheless, my weight simply verified the problem I was having with the size of my clothes.

For some folks, not to weigh themselves is comparable to us runners never checking our pace during a run. It’s nearly impossible. However, weight is affected by many factors: the time of day, what you’re wearing (which can add 3 to 5 pounds), how much sodium you’ve consumed, muscle vs fat, when you last went potty. . .

My weight goals have always been related to my dress size. When I turned 40, I was determined to be a size 4, but overshot my goal and landed at a size 2. When I took up running, I was sure I would run faster if I were smaller and decided to drop one more size. Over time I overshot my goal again, and landed at size 00. Although I regularly weighed myself a few years ago to be sure I wasn’t losing too much weight, I couldn’t attempt to tell you what I weighed at any time in the previous 30 years.

It’s not my numbers, weight or dress size, that’s important. It’s the process. Whenever I ‘grow’ out of my current size, panic ensues – rightfully so. For me, it wouldn’t matter if my weight were 125 or 110 as long as I fit comfortably in my chosen size. I’ve spent the past eight weeks getting comfortable in my clothes again.

Keep Your Eye On The Ball!

This process has reminded me of all the ways I took my eye off the ball, and the habits I’ll be more careful about in the future. But the truth of any human endeavor is the same truth I’ve so often mentioned as it relates to running: you have to do what works for you.

These are the rules that will hopefully help me keep my eye on the ball going forward:

  1. If you don’t know what’s in it, don’t eat it.
  2. Serving size is just as important as ingredients.
  3. Push back from the table before you feel full.
  4. Good In, Good Out.
  5. Be Adventurous.

 

 

 

five pounds of rambunctious

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Bentley

Life as we knew it came to a screeching halt six weeks ago. My husband bemoaned him being a puppy, “The animal shelter is full of adult dogs – why did we need a baby?!” Toys are in every room. I step on them in the middle of the night – they go squeak, of course. Potty training is the thought of the day – every day.

I was sure we had added to our family too soon after losing one from our family, and I tried not to fall so hard for him. It didn’t work. Within the first few weeks I realized he would never replace Dakota, and I wouldn’t want him to. He was Bentley, and I already loved him for who he was.

He barks wildly, commands the room at all times, and we’ve barely had one good day of work, or one good night’s sleep since he moved in.

He sits in my lap during coffee, chews my fingers when I type, and growls when we kiss the top of his head. I decided early on he would either get used to my kisses on the top of his head, or he would bite my nose. . . make-up does not cover a bitten nose by the way.

He moves at lightning speed, which took his little catch-me-if-you-can game to a whole new level when he learned to climb the stairs. Getting dressed requires an inordinate amount of focus, and I will admit to having put my running tights on backwards just this week. The first time my husband locked him in the bathroom while he showered, he rolled himself up in the toilet tissue. I babysit while my husband cooks, he babysits while I play the piano. Mr. Boggs babysits when we’ve all lost our minds.

When I realized he was getting too cold in the middle of the night, I put him in bed with me. He climbs on top of my pillow and sleeps on my head, or across my throat. Sometimes in the middle of the night he presses his face to mine, cheek to cheek, as if to say I love you.

 

Maybe life has not come to a screeching halt at all. . .

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Mr. Boggs, and Bentley.

A tale of life as a runner.

Building a house in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador meant something entirely different to me because I am a runner and running at altitude is really hard. And when we spent a full hour diving head first onto a mat during Kung Fu to practice our offensive roll, everyone woke up the next day sore all over; except me and my sore-all-over were in the middle of marathon training.

The year I fell out of bed and broke my little toe put me in a different sort of awkward when it happened just days before the Marine Corp Marathon, and a few years later when I helped establish a health clinic in the Rift Valley of Kenya, it was precisely because I am a runner that I was afforded the opportunity to run with a Kenyan elite runner on the same roads where the world’s best runners train.

Running with an elite runner in Kenya, the view from our home in Cuenca Ecuador, and that’s me sporting a finisher’s medal from the Marine Corp Marathon. . . and a broken toe.

This year marks my 10th year of competitive running, and looking back on these ten years I can see the tremendous impact running has had on my life. Standing at the starting line of a race takes courage, no matter the distance. Finishing a race builds confidence, and that confidence gives you the courage to do other things outside your comfort zone – to live life fully, to take risks. Cases in point. . .

I took up Kung Fu six years ago to build a stronger core for racing, and in the process realized I really like Kung Fu and Tai Chi. The following summer I took up cycling to build stronger legs for running. I was so nervous about riding a bike in these mountains that my husband went with me the first time to show me I could do this. Cycling definitely helps my running, but it wouldn’t matter. I love cycling.

A few years later, I realized there were classes at our local community college that taught hiking, paddling, and climbing. It scared me to death, but I enrolled myself in school. I was 54 years old, and discovered I loved hiking, paddling, and climbing. All of these helped my running that year, but more importantly running had made me fit enough to survive school.

Before the summer break our instructor wrote the fall classes on a white board at the back of the classroom – a sort of advertisement for attending one more semester of school. In a moment of unwarranted confidence, I blurted out right there that I would take the Swift Water Rescue class. I was a nervous wreck every day I went to that class, and came home more energized (and exhausted) than ever before.

Our instructors were clear that it was only after we had learned to save ourselves that we could be in a position to save someone else – a lesson I remembered every day of class, and every day since. I don’t know that Swift Water Rescue helped my running, but I discovered I really enjoy search and rescue, and that class changed my life.

In a consultation with my instructor at the beginning of summer break, we discussed what I wanted to be when I grow up – a conversation we didn’t even pretend wasn’t ill-timed on my behalf. He suggested I take the upcoming EMT class, and in another unwarranted moment of confidence-laden naivety, I signed up. That class gave way to a trip to Africa, and I realized I love working with children and medicine.

It has been three years since I became certified as an EMT. I have not saved one soul, never administered CPR, and when the doctor suggested I could take out my husband’s stitches from surgery last year, I nearly panicked. Being an EMT has not helped my running, but it has made me a better person. It has given me confidence that I can do things I never dreamed.

Running has definitely changed my life more so than any other sport I’ve taken up. But the most rewarding part of running really was when I started this blog so I could write about life as a runner.

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True to my corporate upbringing, the first thing I did after establishing this blog was to give it a name, a defining tag line, and a mission statement: to encourage others to pursue their passion, whatever that may be.

It is said that passion is a state in which the soul is in some sense rendered passive; thus the name passion, and while passion may cause havoc in the soul, the absence of this emotion has been found equally damaging.

Steve Jobs (2011):   We believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.

I was in class last week to begin my re-certification as an EMT when one of my instructors described his work week. He is a substitute grammar school teacher (because that’s what his degree is in), an EMT instructor, a climbing instructor at the community college I attended, a Paramedic at the local rescue squad, and he’s learning to be a fire fighter. His goal, he explained, is to have a different job every day of the week that he loves doing.

Life is so much more exciting when you discover those things you love to do, and then go do them. Yes, I think passion is a wonderful thing.

Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you. – Oprah Winfrey

Calling All Angels

It’s been 47 days, 20 hours and 6 seconds, give or take. I had prepared for nearly a year for that moment, and still found myself ill-prepared. That ‘moment’ was when Dakota, my beloved dog, went to heaven. And I’ve learned the only thing worse than coping with her loss is writing about it.

We’ve lost dogs before, each one very different. When our first dog became unexpectedly sick and was gone within a couple of weeks, it tore us apart.

Then there was Durango. We called him our flower child because he loved eating flowers. But after his twelve year old titanium hips wore out, we promised ourselves we wouldn’t let him suffer one more minute. I packed a bag of his favorite flowers, and after he ate that whole bag of flowers he went to sleep. It hurt, but we knew he was at peace.

On the other end of the spectrum, Damen was the only other small dog we’ve had. When his little body wore out, our vet had given us a moment to be alone with him when he started screaming at the top of his lungs. She rushed back in to console us saying that although rare, some dogs can’t handle that feeling of being relaxed. It was downright horrific for us to leave him on that note, but that was classic Damen.

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Dakota, 2011

Dakota was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in December 2015 after developing a chronic cough. The vet prescribed miracle drugs, and her cough disappeared within a few days. But then she lost her appetite. I spent hours sitting on the floor with a spoon feeding her until we realized mornings were the worst, and she would eventually eat on her own later in the day.

Within a few weeks the fluid build-up became overwhelming, so we took turns carrying her outside halfway through the night. We’ve seen every rainy, snowy, star-filled, full/crescent/half moon night of the past year, and I treasure every minute of those sleepy-eyed nights holding her tight.

Research shows that dogs survive an average of 10 months after this diagnosis. She came within days of lasting a full year.

I wanted desperately for her to live in our new home, to have memories with her here. Halfway through the renovation I brought her to the house worried the renovation would outlast her.

She found the room where we had stored our furniture and clothes and ran back down the hall to find me. She was so excited as if to say, “Look! I found our things!” I begged her to hang on until we could live here together.

When that day finally arrived, I begged her to make it until Christmas. She always watched intently while I decorated the Christmas tree, and then she’d crawl underneath as if I had decorated the tree just for her. She watched me decorate the tree the day after Thanksgiving, and then she crawled up underneath and took a nap.

My husband had said, it’s just like you to set goals for her. She crossed the finish line though, and I couldn’t ask her to go one step further. She had given me everything, and it was my turn to give back to her.

I think the relationship we have with our pets are as different as the relationships we have with people. Each of our dogs have had different personalities – some reserved and quiet, others boisterous and outgoing. Naturally we respond differently to each one. It stands to reason then that their deaths will also affect us differently.

The sudden illness or accident seems more devastating than the quiet passing. But sometimes a pet has worked their way into the very fabric of our soul, and it’s impossible to describe the void their passing creates.

We found Dakota 12 years ago sitting quietly in a kennel at an animal shelter in Chicago. She was quiet, but not timid. A paper atop her kennel included a Polish name I couldn’t pronounce. It said she was two years old with no behavioral problems. I couldn’t imagine what events had left her in this place, and I knew I couldn’t live another day without her.

One day last summer I had made a quick trip without her when my husband called to say she wasn’t doing well at all. I prayed that all the angels would come down from heaven to escort her home – even though I sincerely hoped it would take them awhile to clear their calendars.

I have struggled with allowing myself to grieve. I kept saying, “She was just a dog.” But she wasn’t just a dog – she was my companion and friend.

Joe Yonan, Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post, wrote about the death of his dog in 2012. He said, “It’s been four months, and yet if somebody asks me about that day, my voice will crack.” I understood completely.

There are few things in my life that can’t be compared to training for a marathon, and this has been no different. It takes time to work up to the point that you can run for hours on end. Some days it hurts more than others, and those long runs can be very lonely. It’s only little by little that you get stronger until eventually the memory of those first few painful weeks fade with time.

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Bentley

Through an unlikely set of events, we discovered another little soul had been brought into this world a few weeks before Cody left, and he has just joined our family.

When Dakota was first diagnosed, I told my husband I didn’t ever want to love a dog that much again – it hurts too much. But it’s not true.

It’s one of the best treasures of life to love that much.