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

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17 Renovations, 17 Years, and 5 Lessons Learned

Our last ever renovation is nearing an end. No one seems to believe it will really be our last one. When I make the proclamation it seems to end with a bit of a question mark while my husband makes his proclamation with an exclamation point, “I’ll never do this again!”

You always hope to end on a high note. Some of our past renovations were clearly more stressful while others more tolerable, but they all seem less horrific as time passes. . . which simply means the latest renovation is always the worst.

My husband hates surprises. To him surprises mean more money, and he’s usually right. His most memorable surprise was at one of our Chicago condo remodels when he discovered the new parquet flooring was lifting – a whole house of floors had to be replaced. I came home during a master bathroom remodel to find water pouring through the chandelier over the dining room table. Then there was the renovation before last when our contractor had to call a bee keeper to relocate thousands of bees from the walls of the third floor.

My greatest angst comes from a project careening off schedule. Despite the catastrophic blunder, that master bath remodel was only 2 days over schedule, although a master bath remodel years earlier went a full 2 months longer than estimated. No two projects are ever alike. Some houses have been stripped down to their bare walls, or just one or two exterior walls, and rebuilt in the same amount of time as other projects involving only ‘cosmetic’ changes.

It seemed poetic when we realized just this week that we have finished, on average, one renovation for every year we’ve been married. We spent a full day cleaning the construction dust from one of the rooms in this last project, and sat down with a glass of wine to discuss what, if anything, we had learned from these 17 projects. . . turns out there’s been a very good education indeed.

1. Be flexible.

There’s rarely more than one or two things in a house that are terribly important to my husband. The location of the TV is one. . . neither of us could think of a close second. For me, I’m quite the opposite and no detail is too small.

In all these projects, I can’t seem to find such a thing as perfect. It’s always a great pleasure to work with contractors that have a ‘can-do’ attitude, but sometimes there’s something that can’t be done, or something that would be a world easier if done some way other than the way you imagined.

The fact is, there’s usually more than one correct answer, and a good deal of heartburn can be avoided if you view these obstacles as a design opportunity rather than one more thing that didn’t go the way you wanted. Some of our favorite designs have come about as a result of something that couldn’t be done the way we first envisioned.

2. Focus on what’s really important.

Being flexible should only go so far. If you want your bedroom light in the center of the ceiling, or the tv exactly center on the fireplace, don’t accept 12 inches right or left. Decisions made during a renovation last many years. It’s good to figure out for yourself what’s important, and stand your ground.

3. Pick your battles carefully.

Inevitably the time comes when the renovation has overstayed its welcome, the contractor is ready to be done with your job, and you’re ready to be done with that renovation. Or, it is possible you’ve found yourself in a remodel that is swarming with issues. If every interaction you have with the workers involves a complaint, those fine workers will shut you down, the relationship becomes adversarial, and it is not a win-win. Lesson No. 2 becomes the guiding rule. . . don’t sweat the small stuff.

4. It always takes longer than you think.

Sometimes I’ve packed up my paper dolls and moved in ‘ready or not.’ Sometimes I send my husband in to be the bad guy and declare the project will be finished or else. I would like to report that any approach whatsoever makes a difference, but the things that caused the project to careen off schedule have probably happened long before you’re disgusted with said project and pitching a tantrum will only destroy whatever can be salvaged at the end of the project. Lesson No. 3 becomes the guiding rule. . . (Side note: it almost always goes over budget too. Be forewarned.)

5. The beauty is in the details.

It is in the quality of the smallest details that make a home truly spectacular. You could spend a million dollars, but if the sheetrock is finished poorly, the tile isn’t straight and level, the crown molding doesn’t match up at the corners, or if any one of a long list of details are flawed, the entire renovation will lack the wow factor that comes with a home where these details have been given the appropriate attention.

It’s not the kind of thing you can request be done. A person must take pride in their img_2500work; to produce a quality product because it’s important to them, not you.

After 17 renovations and 17 years of marriage, I could not necessarily advise which of these lessons are more important for the renovation. . . or for the marriage.

 

The House That Changed Everything

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Our agent emailed a picture of a house to us last February. The subject line said, “This might be the one!” We had put our dream home in the mountains of Western North Carolina on the market a few weeks earlier having made the decision to move ourselves to the beautiful city of Greensboro, North Carolina.

It would be a gross misrepresentation if I admitted to you now that my husband was anything less than furious when I had said to him, “What if we moved to a larger city?” For several weeks I failed miserably at answering his question, “Why?” He remained reluctant through the entire house hunting phase until we walked through the front doors of this lovely, old home. This home changed everything.

We bought the house as-is. There was no inspection, no need for due diligence really. Bees had set up residence in the 3rd floor bedroom walls, the kitchen flooded when the water was re-connected, the key broke off in the back door when we tried to escape the flooding kitchen, yet it was the garden that frightened my husband more than anything we faced inside the house. It was perfect.

The previous owners had left a note on the counter wishing for us all the same happiness they had enjoyed here for nearly 50 years. After four months of renovations that took the house down to its bare bones, we had created the perfect home. We moved in the first week of the hottest August I’ve ever met.

imageWe had barely gotten unpacked and settled when the doctors discovered his cancer. Working our way through this experience made us realize life is short, and ultimately the same question entered our discussions again. “What if . . . ?”

It was after we had bought a little cabin in the mountains to escape the summer heat that I discovered the answer to my husband’s question of Why? It seemed to me our move to Greensboro had served its purpose, to discover and treat the cancer all previous doctors had missed, and now it was time to go home.

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On May 4th we put our lovely, old home up for sale. May 6th it went under contract, although that contract was sadly terminated on the 24th. After a 10-day silence, the 3rd person to see this house extended our 2nd offer, and we finalized the deal on June 24th.

Every square inch of this nearly 100-year old home was poked and prodded; every nook and cranny analyzed, discussed, and debated. There were a few surprises. For example, excessive moisture was creeping under the foundation courtesy of the torrential downpours we’ve had all summer. Due Diligence deadlines came, went, were extended, and sometimes extended themselves all on their own. Experts were consulted, repair lists amended. All the while, we waited. It was on July 4th when my husband said to me, “We should write a book on how to inject stress into life.”

We became experts on the installation of a French Drain, compiled a thoughtful reply to our Buyer’s list of concerns, and fiinally finalized the deal four days ago. This weekend our belongings will be moved back to the mountains. . . just shy of 12 months from the day we left.

Our lovely, old home was a good investment, my husband is in good health, we’re ecstatic about returning to the mountains we love, we can finally move into our ‘forever’ home, and as our agent back home says, “Yeah!!!!! Maybe life can go back to simply remodeling.”  My thoughts exactly.

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Our first picture of this lovely, old home. . . It was “the one.”

 

 

The Only Child

In early spring of 1983 I was 23 years old, and 8 months pregnant. Being the first female in our company to teach the male-dominated technical courses, I spent my work days surrounded by a classroom of guys. They were good to me, protective. And it was on this spring day that one of my students asked if I would like to know how many children there would be in my life. “Okay,” I said skeptically. They found a needle and thread, which he stuck through the eraser of a pencil, held it by the thread over my right hand, and watched it move. Somehow that pencil told him I would have one child, a boy.

I didn’t think much of this prediction until a decade later when, after a couple of mishaps, I declared I was done trying to having children. My son would be an only child.

That pencil could not predict, however, just how many dogs there would be in my life, and I seem to have made up for having an only child by ensuring no dog ever lived in my house without a sibling, or two or three.

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2011: my son with (left to right) Durango, Damen, Dakota, Dudley, and Dylan (on the floor)

Dank, a black lab, was our first dog and was 3 years old before we found Damen, a 6-month Japanese Chin puppy, at a cat shelter just off Damen Avenue in Chicago.

A year later my husband and his son browsed through a pet store near our home in Florida while I talked to an old friend. They came out with a 5-week old Golden Retriever the exact color as a leather upholstery sample in my purse. We named him Durango (the name assigned to that leather sample).

For the entire summer of 2004 I visited Chicago’s No Kill Animal Shelter. It was October 21st, the day before we went back home to Florida, that I found her sitting patiently in the wire kennel – a 2-year old Maltese/Shih Tzu mix, and the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. By now we had this “D” thing going, and Dakota suited her perfectly.

A few weeks later, we lost Dank to a sudden illness, but across town a lovely, white standard poodle had already been born. We saw him at the groomer where we had taken Dakota for her first grooming. He came home the day before Thanksgiving, and we named him Dudley.

By 2006, we had moved to South Carolina and were exploring the nearby little town of Landrum when puppies caught our eye in the window of a storefront called Love On A Leash. It was our groomer from Florida who had also made the move to South Carolina, and when Dudley’s Uncle had a baby, we gladly brought him home. It was Dylan.

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Dylan watching TV.

 

The thing about Dylan is that God has blessed him with an over-abundance of nerves. He has every disorder known to man, and a few yet to be identified. Our Vet suggested he may be a candidate for a daily dose of Prozac. We were reluctant.

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Dylan and Mr. Boggs wait patiently for Dakota to walk away from her dinner, and then they race each other to finish whatever’s left in the bowl.

When he was 18 months old, Dylan traveled with me on an overnight trip (to give the other dogs a break) when I realized what a peaceful, calm dog he was without his siblings around. His OCD tendencies diminished. There was no separation anxiety. He was pleasant. Dylan needed to be an only child.

About six months ago, we hatched a plan for Dylan. He would move to Chicago to live with my son and become an only child. The day for that transition arrived late last week.

He jumped into the Jeep before I could even get my bags loaded, as usual. We drove through the mountains to Knoxville, past the horse farms of Kentucky, and the windmill farms of Indiana.

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The Wind Farms on I-65 through Indiana. I snapped this photo from the side of the highway although it doesn’t come close to showing how many windmills there are.

Every few hours we’d stop, stretch our legs, and have a potty break. . . except that Dylan being Dylan won’t go potty when he’s anxious.

Nine hours into the trip, I stood under a tree until he settled down enough to go. It would be 26 hours before he would go again. We walked this dog for hours. He wouldn’t go, wouldn’t eat, barely drank. We went to bed that first night unsuccessful. I cried.

By Sunday morning, my son and I had spent hours talking through the Pros, Cons and What If’s of Dylan being an only child in Chicago. I came to the difficult decision that we had made it this far and should give him a chance to adapt. I sent my husband a text to tell him my decision when I learned Dudley and Mr. Boggs had run away!

Dudley finally came home after 6+ hours in the rain; he was drenched to the bone. 

 

It seems to me that sensitive souls cross our paths for a reason, as if there’s something we should learn from them. Maybe it’s patience, empathy, or acceptance. I suppose I have learned something about each of these, along with a greater appreciation for others who live with troubled souls. In our situation we realized the greatest gift we could give Dylan was the opportunity to be at peace. Loving someone enough to let them go is most certainly the hardest thing in the world I will admit.

Dylan is a scared and fragile soul that just wants to be loved. He is insanely jealous and a caretaker all at once. He paces constantly, circles the coffee table 3 times before lying down between it and the sofa where he must feel secure, and panics when routines are broken. On the other hand, he is immensely sensitive, smart beyond belief, fun-loving. . . and perfectly normal as an only child.

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Dylan holds his own with Mr. Boggs.

We’ve decided Dylan will be the one that ultimately decides whether this is a good transition or not, but as of this writing he’s doing very well – eating, drinking, and going potty.

I’ll always be grateful that my son was willing to open his heart and his home to give Dylan a chance to achieve peace, but no matter the outcome, we’ll love Dylan forever, unconditionally. . . quirks and all.

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Dylan Cole

Season premiere (shocked & breathless)

After making the final edits to the Season Finale script for last week’s post, I handed it to my husband to preview as he always does. He gave me that look with one eyebrow raised, and already I knew what he was thinking. “Are you sure. . .” I stopped him mid-sentence.

Mostly I like for stories to develop before I tell them. In fact, they have sometimes nearly fizzled out before I put pen to ink. Otherwise, by the time you’ve lived through the story and reveal the ending, it’s grandly anti-climatic.

Then there are those times where the superstitious side of me really shows through, and to write the story as it unfolds can only cause an interferance with fate, jinxing the ending altogether.

This time, just for grins I thought I’d let the story unfold in real time. Good or bad; no matter how it turned out.

* * *

 

Season Finale Review: our lovely, old home is under contract with four days left in due diligence, and four days remaining for our Buyers to walk away penalty-free. Meanwhile, my husband and I found the perfect ‘forever’ home, but our offer could not be accepted until the Trustee of the Estate returned to the U.S. to formally give us his nod of approval.

The Buyers had allocated just 15 days of due diligence – a relatively short amount of time to discover all there is to know about our lovely, old home. A whole-house inspection was ordered straight away. Copies of every permit and the Certificate of Occupancy (CO) were requested from when we stripped the house down to her bare, naked walls and rebuilt it to our specifications.

They called our contractor for a discussion about the leaning chimney, and the design of the roof angles. Another contractor gave his independent opinion.

A broad list of furnishings were requested for purchase. They sent us the inspection report, and we repaired the two (2) items identified for repair. . . and then things went quiet.

We knew something was amiss. We were finishing our glass of wine after dinner when our agent called. They had terminated the contract.

The next day the Trustee returned to the States and gladly accepted our offer to purchase the forever home.

* * *

My husband dealt with the disappointment expeditiously and moved forward.  I sulked.

It seemed unconscionable that these two gentlemen would submit an offer the first day our home was on the market, keep it tied up for 15 days, put me through the agony of deciding whether to sell this or keep that, would it make a difference in their view of buying our home if they couldn’t have this perfect thing that fit perfectly here or there, and then tell us, “Oops, we’re sorry. We didn’t want this house afterall.” I fumed, and then I went for a very long run.

As it turns out, one of the Buyers was recovering from hip surgery, and perhaps they realized the last place they should live was in a 4-story home. They loved the house so much, and tried everything to make it work for them. . . but just couldn’t.

On the other hand. . .

The Buyer’s agent had offered us a copy of the appraisal, which came in slightly higher than our asking price. Perhaps they had hoped to negotiate the asking price using a low appraisal and a long list of repairs – neither of which had panned out for them.

Either way, it was over and we had to regroup.

Catherine, our selling agent, wasted no time putting our lovely, old home back on the market, and Julie, our buying agent, negotiated a slightly extended closing date on our forever home to give us just enough time for one more due diligence period, we hope.

Nonetheless, there will not be one further word uttered regarding the entire ordeal until this story has damn near fizzled out.  To be continued. . . (at some later date).

 

Season finale

Life can perk along for months or years without so much as a moment falling out of sequence when suddenly everything shoots sky high leaving us, at least momentarily, with a cliff-hanger. . . this page of life hesitating ever so slightly before it folds down quietly against the previous chapters of life.

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imageIt’s two gentlemen that have made the offer to purchase our lovely, old home in Greensboro, North Carolina. Quite nice folks as we understand, and they seem to have become equally enchanted with this old house. In these modern times of real estate, however, it is the due diligence period that will suck the oxygen right out of a deal.

For eleven days our Buyers have poked and prodded every square inch of our lovely, old home to ensure they are as attracted to everything within the house as they were to its outward appearances. Due diligence ends this Thursday – just four more days.

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imageThe roof of our lovely, old home angles upward at each of its peaks, a common feature of the Tudor Revival, but misunderstood by the inspector as a flaw.

Then there was the leaning chimney and the bow in the garage wall. . . although not one mention of all the ivy I have generously cleared from the garden.

 

Meanwhile, my husband and I have found the perfect forever home midway between Maggie Valley and Waynesville, North Carolina. It is conveniently situated to all the things we enjoy doing about town, a very short drive (or bicycle ride) to my favorite track at the Rec Center, and the house is modestly grand, romantic and elegant all at once. We did not hesitate to submit our offer, except the one and only person that could accept our offer is out of the country. . . for four more days.

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We hope this beautiful French Provincial style home will become our forever home.
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Though it seems it is the Ivy that will be with me forever.

Even before the season finale, producers and writers are concocting next season’s script. We don’t know how things will play out. There will probably be a few new characters. Old contracts will be renewed while others are dropped altogether, and you never know when the season premiere will leave you shocked and breathless.

We’ve decided to wait out due diligence in residence – to wait for the page to quietly fall against the previous chapters of life. And by this time next week, the season premiere will have already begun – shocked and breathless, or otherwise.

Location, Location, Location

If you could live anywhere, and I mean anywhere, where would it be? This has been the question around my house for years. It led us to South Carolina when I was no longer willing to make the 2-day drive (with 4 dogs) from Florida to our summer home in Chicago. A few years later it was the question that prompted us to move our summer home from Chicago to the mountains of Western North Carolina, our main home from South Carolina to Ecuador and then to Atlanta, and finally a consolidated “us” went to Greensboro . . . our new perfect city.

Eventually, you begin to get a feel for places. We’ve lived in California and Texas, Illinois and Ohio, and nearly every state of the Deep South. If we haven’t lived there, chances are one or both of us have traveled there. You look at places on the map, and instinctively have a feel for what it would be like to live there, except for here. I completely miscalculated this place.

Greensboro winters are not so different than mountain winters – maybe a tad less snow, but summers are as hot as blue blazes. Buying a cabin in the mountains was to remedy this problem, but we thought, why have two houses if one place fits the bill? The consolidated “us” decided to move back to the mountains for good.

Quietly, we put the final touches on our lovely, old home: touching up the paint wherever it was flawed, organizing the last closet upstairs, and pulling the ivy from the last flower bed. We would hand the keys over to our trusted realtor for the summer, and see what happened.

imageRealtors do not drag their feet. Pictures were taken, a brochure printed, and our numbers registered in the Centralized Showing Service. Three times in three days we turned on every light in the house, loaded the dogs into the Jeep, and drove to the park at the end of the street for a showing.

The first two showings were a ‘no show,’ and the third was wrapped up in 20 minutes, maybe less. We were discouraged, and ready to take it off the market already. This was a hassle to say the least.

I had left my phone in the Jeep and didn’t see the message for over an hour. Our lovely, old home sold last Friday, and it seems now there very may well be just one more renovation in our future.

Following are the rooms we had not yet revealed. To see the whole house, visit the MLS listing here.

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Originally a powder room, we stole space from the closet of the adjoining office/bedroom and created a full bath downstairs.

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The superstitious side of me believes a house will not sell until you have done everything you are meant to do to that house. Before our last showing, I had moved this key tassel from the office door to the bathroom door, and decided now it was in the perfect spot.  I was finally finished with everything, and I knew it was time to let someone else enjoy our lovely, old home. It sold a few hours later.