Saturday, January 30, 2016

I Forgot Why

For the majority of the last four years, running has been a transformative part of my life.

My day entails me getting up at 4:30am, turning on the coffee pot, grabbing my garb, lacing my shoes and heading out the door.  My practice has taken me to several races, crossing finish lines that I never thought possible. 

Once I got into the groove, the adrenaline rush, endorphin release and general stress relief was unparalleled.  Very quickly after I began, I started seeing visible results.  I lost weight.  I became stronger.  I was able to manage the exhaustion of raising three children without needing narcotics or to be admitted to a mental institution.  And, I found a community of friends who also enjoyed being active and making it a priority in their busy lives.

I started this regimen when my youngest daughter turned a year old.  Last month, she turned five.  And for really the last six months, I've been in a running funk the likes of which I've not seen during this season of my life.  At first, my friends told me to take a break...that I'd been getting up too early for too long and that my body just needed a rest.  Others told me that once you hit 40, you're not exactly able to do the same physical activities with similar gusto.  While another contingent said that I should put running aside and focus on pilates or yoga or spinning or couch aerobics. 

Letting myself sleep in regularly for the first time in a long time, felt really good, until it didn't.  Until I woke up and found myself exhausted, frustrated and feeling guilty for not taking care of me before my family...because once the children rise, well, the world gets busy and noisy and rarely do I carve out time during the day to make a run happen.

Commence this morning.  My husband had warned me.  "Get out the door" was his command.  "I don't care if you walk, run, crawl, skip or hop down the block, but your ass needs to see the sun and lace up your shoes.  And no coming home until you've put in the time." 

And so reluctantly, I did.  It was the first long run in a very long time that catapulted me back to my regular 8-10 mile Saturday morning running regimen.  It helped that it was 50 degrees and the snow had most of the week to melt.  It also helped that I'm a rock star cold weather running girl instead of a summer heat one.  And somewhere in the mix, I remembered what I had forgot for so many weeks and months...why it is that I keep running as a part of my life.

Contrary to what others will tell you, running feels good.  Truly.  It is the only cardiovascular exercise I have ever done that elevates your heart rate, teaching you how to control your breathing and your pace, while giving you a burst of energy in the process.  The primary reason that it feels good is because it's not easy.  You've got to be in it.  Paying attention to your breathing.  Thinking about how to pace up the next hill.  Monitoring your feet and the road or the trail for ice or potholes.

Such that when you finish, whether you've gone around the block, a mile or a marathon, you feel and genuinely deserve to feel, like a rock star.

Miraculously, as I round the bend and return home, all of the same stresses are still who fight, dinner that needs to be made, towels to fold and that same piece of shit couch that needs to be replaced...but for a little bit, I don't care.  Because I've taken care of me and given myself space to breathe and be again exempt of all of the bullshit that really doesn't matter.

So, whenever I'm questioning whether it's a good idea to run or not...I just need to stop, take a breath and remember why I do it...I'm certain at that point, it will be a no-brainer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Apricot Tulips

One of my favorite and least favorite chores is to grocery shop.

I adore the solitude when I'm alone and just try to slug through the list when I'm accompanied by my brood of crazy littles.

The other day, I lucked out and indulged in perusing by my lonesome.  To be clear, my desire is not to mosey up and down the packaged food, I prefer to linger by the fruits and vegetables...admiring the pink Honey Crisp apples, the red organic raspberries, the bluest of blue blueberries and the multi-hued grape tomatoes.  Just beautiful.

Next to the produce live the flowers.  My long-time favorite are the tulips.  I try to adorn them in my kitchen daily in the springtime.  So, to see a patch in the winter brought a huge smile to my face...pinks, purples and a lone apricot colored medley made me want to grab them all.

As I looked up, I noticed a stunning older woman gathering her own floral arrangement.  Taller than me, wiry silver hair and thick black frames, bulky cream woolen scarf, I saw her and blurted out..."Aren't they beautiful?"

She looked at me with a blank stare.  Feeling a little awkward and wishing that for once, I just hadn't tried to make conversation with everyone I meet, I said..."The's so nice to see a splash of color when it's cold outside."

And to that, almost as though she jolted out of her own thoughts, she replied, "Oh yes, dear.  There isn't a trip I make without picking up something to have on my window sill...especially during the winter."

Then, because I haven't met a person who isn't my best friend, I continued, "I love that.  Maybe someday my budget will allow for weekly, fresh cut flowers in my home.  Until then, I'll just have to admire while I'm buying apples, bread and milk.  Do you remember those days?"

"Quite well, " she said, "I miss them.  I also lament buying my own flowers.  My husband brought them home regularly.  He's been gone for over a year, so I'm keeping up the tradition on his behalf."

"I'm so sorry," I whispered.

"Oh don't be.  Whenever I see sweet young people like you, I just say, enjoy it.  All of it.  The best years are often the hardest when you look back...which is why flowers are helpful.  I guess they remind us to stay in the moment, knowing that in time, they'll die in the vase and be replaced by something new," she said grabbing a bunch.

As she left, I took the apricot tulips and placed them in my cart.  Grabbing the cereal, milk and bread, I tried to convince myself to put them back, but I couldn't.

Life's too short.  Sometimes, you need a patch of impermanent beauty in the dead of winter to remind you that life in all of its' colorful and dark moments needs to be celebrated.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Thirty Years Later

It was finally the end of the week.

I was curled up on the couch with a steaming cup of mint tea yearning to close my eyes for a bit, contemplating what the hell to make for dinner, praying for some peace.

That's when I felt her push up on to my lap and in her little voice say, "Mama...where will we be in 30 years?"

Um...huh? groggy and unfocused.

"Well, in 30 years, I'll be 38 and you'll be 70.  What will we be up to?"

Wow...I'm not sure.  That feels like a very long time from now.  But my hunch is that you'll be making your dreams come true.  What sounds amazing to do when you're a grown-up?

"For sure I want to be an artist with a studio that has lots of sunlight and color and I guess, I want to be near you, like forever."

I want to be near you too.  Maybe you could paint and I could write?  Where should we go?  Paris, Tuscany, maybe Africa?

"Or a bookstore?  Maybe we could have a bookstore and sell children's books or a bakery and offer scones or a flower shop and deliver your favorite tulips or a veterinarian clinic and help animals or an ice cream place and create new flavors or a..."

That's the best part of good idea leads to another and another and pretty soon, the world is your oyster.


It means that the possibilities abound.  And while I want to spend my life with you...I suspect that you will have a special partner by the time you are my age to share in your travels and your dreams.

"Well, if that doesn't happen.  We can be together."

For matter what, we'll always be together.

Moments later, she jumped down and started bothering her little sister.  My tea was cold and the clock struck 5pm and there was no time.  I was on to the kitchen and the refrigerator and the dinner ingredients.

But for a brief moment, I thought...30 years from now.  I can't wait to see who she becomes and what she creates in the world.  Whether a canvas, a scone, a book or a remarkable ice cream flavor...she will indeed, change the world.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fight for It

Wanting to jump into the new year with a plan of attack, a resolute path, a mission...two weeks in, I quickly learned that change wasn't going to emerge on its' own.

Much to my chagrin, I really was going to have to assess what I wanted and create an action plan to get there.

Four years ago, when I started running, I hated the idea of being beholden to a training plan.  Forced to log in mileage on a near daily basis felt like an anchor of expectation riddled with inherent guilt if I didn't adhere...but slowly over many months, I started to see results and then, I became an addict...a zealot and there was very little that could keep me from lacing up my shoes...not time of day, pesky weather or sickness...I was out the door, putting one foot in front of the other. 

Many moons later, I've decided that maintaining that kind of regimen in my life makes me a better person all around.  I can more easily contend with the needs of my family, cope with anxiety as it rears its' head over issues with growing my small business and in general, have more self confidence as I go about my place in the world.

So, yesterday, I opened up my computer, clicked on my calendar and started to slice each day into hour increments.  Color-coded, organized happiness was the aftermath.  And, I must say it felt good to see my life laid out in a structure that will hopefully afford me freedom from feeling guilty all the time about not getting it all done.

Time for running, writing, managing my business, volunteering, folding laundry, grocery shopping, chauffeuring and some sleeping.

It was supposed to start this morning with a 4:30am wake-up call.  Upon hearing the beeping of my phone, I rolled over, hacked up a lung and thought...fuck!  I still have this god foresaken chest cold...I can't run.  It felt deflating, defeating and like a set back to the perfect plan.

Until this song came on...

And I realized that life is full of set backs.  It's the nature of the beast.  We get sick.  Our kids get sick.  An unexpected project comes up at work.  A parent needs us.  A spouse can't partner fully this day or that week.  When that happens, the task is to gut check and see how badly that you want something.  Because if you really, really...really...want it, you'll find a way.  You'll evolve your plan.  You'll modify your day.  You'll revise the previous and you'll make it work.  You'll rise up from the valley.  You'll emerge from the depth and you'll choose that which brings you life and makes your heart sing.

In the end, you'll fight for it.  And you'll be better for doing so.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Million Little Things

In the wake of a bitterly cold weekend with multiple family and friend gatherings, I found myself laid out on the couch with a cup of tea, nursing what I presume is the beginning of a chest cold, watching the Democratic debates.

My head spinning mindful of all there is to be concerned about both in our country and our global home, it became overwhelming. 

Just hourly wages, climate change, affordable college education, accessible healthcare, immigration reform, personal privacy measures, security and protection abroad, wealth becomes mind boggling and exhausting trying to prioritize the issues that matter most, while implementing solutions that are realistic and sustainable.

Holding my English Breakfast tea, wrapped in an afghan with fuzzy socks, I thought about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   It seems to me that he knew what mattered deeply to him and what he wanted to leave behind...a world better than when he arrived.

As a wife and a mother circling my home doing the same routine tasks of laundry folding, grocery shopping, meal planning, homework supervising, activity chauffeuring and a million little's hard to know how I'm leaving a meaningful foot print.  I'm certainly not affecting public policy, writing legislation, organizing grassroots movements, conducting protests, inventing innovative technology, reducing environmental, often, I'm yelling at my kids feeling like I'm spinning my wheels.

Until I start thinking about the small sorrows, fears, places of uncertainty that I find myself with my friends and then it becomes clear.

My gift is to listen and to offer a safe space reminding those I love that together, imperfect as we may be, we can do it.  Which is why the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. made me feel grateful and useful in a time where apathy and exhaustion seem to abound.

And so it strikes me, that we all have something to give...we all have a way to be "used" for good in the world.  And most likely, deep in your heart, when your ego is not front and center, you know what that gift is.  It may feel like a burden to share...but in the end, you know that you're both good at it and that it fills a need, a void, and provides a place of shelter and hope for another in this crazy world.

Our task is to do a million little things in a great way...a way that says...we are here together and we all have a responsibility to leave this place better than when we arrived.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Definers Define

In the wake of some bright stars that burned out far too early, I've been mindful of the seasonality of life and more particularly, of mine.

Within days of one another, two extraordinary, an iconic fill-in the blank of everything...singer/songwriter, actor, producer, painter, game-changer David Bowie and the other, an unforgettable, transformational actor, half-blood wizard Professor Snape, Alan Rickman passed away unexpectedly at the age of 69 from cancer.

While lamenting their deaths and celebrating their art, I'm aware that this thing we do on earth is temporal.  None of us knows when our time will be done.

And so, in typical Kelly style, I was standing over the kitchen sink, warm water flowing over my hands, scrubbing dishes, thinking of all of the things I will not be by virtue of my expiration date.  For example, I'll never be an Olympic athlete or an astronaut or a super model or a tight rope walker or a Kennedy Center honoree or an Oscar award winning actor or a...well, you get the picture.

And then, I stumbled upon this quote by Toni Morrison in honor of her 84th birthday...

And my heart began to feel alive again.  "Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined."

Toni Morrison didn't publish her first book until she was in her 40's.  Later in her life, post significant fame and fortune, a house fire burned nearly everything she owned to the ground and looking back she claimed, the most important thing in that house was my son and by the grace of God, he was spared.  She picked up the pieces and rebuilt herself again.

I feel like this must be what the journey is all about.  Defining and redefining the path.  Picking and choosing those opportunities that seem curious, interesting, unknowable, hopeful and trying them on for size no matter one's age or perceived limitations.

It feels good on a January day when the sun is shining to know that giants like David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Toni Morrison serve as encouragement saying...go for it, try it, who knows you might hate it...but then again, you might fall in love, if only for a brief may introduce you to something new, something unforgettable...something waiting on the other side. 

Define it for you...don't wait for the world to tell you what you are, at any age.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Be Still With Your Soul

I have a dear friend.

We met almost 20 years ago in undergrad and I adore her.

She has this extraordinary way of finding the perfect moments to "show up" traditionally in the form of a phone call, sometimes on the pages of a letter, but always when I need her most.

And this is what it looked like today.

Phone rings...I'm feverishly searching for a clean or semi-clean pair of running pants and anything that resembles a bra.

"Happy New Year!  How are you?  How was your trip?  Was Santa good to you?  What's shaking this weekend?" she smiles through the phone.

I begin to lament.  "I'm having a tough time.  I purposely chose not to have a New Year's resolution or mantra.  I specifically wanted to give myself the freedom to not be tied to a list of 'have to's' only to feel guilty or defeated if/when I don't accomplish them.  And now, the only messages that I keep hearing are...those who put in the work and the rigor are the ones who rise to the top....those with a plan and the elbow grease to back it up will reap the rewards...we're not getting any younger...there's no time like the present...your jeans have no more wiggle room...are you living the life you chose or are you living the life that chose you?"

Big gulp.  I can hear her sucking down her coffee and the kids screaming in the background.

She takes a deep breath.

"Jesus Christ.  All of things you're supposed to do are exhausting me and I'm on the other side of the country.  Have you tried just being still for a second before you conquer the world?"

"That's the problem.  By sitting and trying to enjoy the present, I'm not getting shit done while simultaneously getting fatter by the minute."

"I think the reason that you can't fully commit to any one piece of your fabulous life is that you're tired and you're passionate and you need to get behind that which is going to ignite your bones and you can't possibly know what that is until you stop and breathe and trust that with enough quiet, it will come."

Holy fuck.

I hung up the phone with her and went for a run.  I played this song among others and tried to stay in touch with my breath and my heart beating and the fullness of my legs.

And remembered her final words..."the scoop is...just because everyone else chose January 1st as their deadline to know what the focus of their new year would be...doesn't mean that has to be your path.  Cool people evolve.  They don't stay wedded to the thing that they declared the day or month before.  But you can't change or go surging toward that thing that makes your heart sing if you keep charging toward the old.  And the only way to squarely know the new is to be still and see where your soul takes you.  Happy New Year..."

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Broken Man

Here in the Midwest, we've been freezing our asses off.

We expect it.  Come January, we know that its a fucking battle just to get out of bed.  Even if you keep your thermostat at a decent temp, there's invariably this arctic chill that you can never really get out of your bones exempt of the shower or copious amounts of hot 'fill in the blank' in your mug.

So, feeling idol, I've been practicing.  Composing the written word.  Playing with random writing prompts to try to get the juices flowing to spark something, anything that will help me on my way and keep me connected to the process.

First up to start the new year was an exercise on who I value; who I look up to; who I categorize as my hero?

After I got past the specific people that immediately came to mind, I started thinking about the genre of person that I love...the one I'm the most compelled by...the person who I root for every time.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I am in love with the broken man.

Always have been.  There's something enormously intriguing about the person who can't seem to get a break; who grows weary at every turn trying to make a name for himself; and just when he gets close, the dude with his shit together (like his whole life) swoops in and claims the prize.

Now, let me be specific, I'm not an advocate for the chronically broken, unwilling to get back up and try again or worst of all, the bitchy complainer that screams how unfair his life is to the world.

No.  I'm in love with the man who finds a way to get back up every time and is on the lookout for the one chance that this might be his time to rise.

I don't have a bone to pick with folks who experience success with ease or grace; I just happen to love the struggle...the duality of it is rich, complicated, exciting and makes everything sweeter on the other side.

So, here's to the broken man...the guy who's down on his luck wondering how it's going to all work out, feeling like he's given everything he knows to be true in this world, searching for his pie in the sky, believing that today might be the one, hoping against history that his life matters.

This element of brokenness, I think, in fact, I hope is a part of all of us.

It keeps us hungry.  It keeps us humble.  It helps us to remember that life isn't fair, that circumstances don't always work out, but happiness is still there for the taking.  And ultimately, in a culture of extraordinary judgement and shame, it teaches us to be kind and generous.  You may not be down on your luck today or in the way that the man across the street is...but by virtue of your humanity, you too are broken in your own ways.  And, the gift of our shared humanity is that we must learn to recognize the brokenness in each other and lift up the other, hoping against hope that today will be our day to rise.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Rising New Year

After being on the road for seven days followed by four more entertaining out of town family, I woke up this morning in a haze.

Rolling over and stumbling down the stairs post too much bubbly, I realized that an act of God was taking place.

At 8:30am, all three of my children were snuggled in their beds sawing logs.

Holy Mary Mother of God.  This. Never. Happens.

Reaching for the coffee pot, it hit me.  Today is the beginning of a new year. 

Opening the refrigerator door to secure the cream, I felt sad.  I don't have a meaningful new year's resolution in my back go-to mantra that will shape the curvature of 2016 providing renewed hope, promise and vigor for what is sure to be the best year yet.

Somewhere between watching the cream swirl the dark French roast into circles of morning joy, I thought, fuck this.

For once, this year is not going to be about how much weight I will gain or lose.  It's not going to be about how many miles I will run or races I will enter.  It's not going to be about how many pages I will write or the number of blog entries I will compose.  It's not going to be about being a better wife or mother or friend or small business owner.  Or keeping a clean house or taking a coveted trip.  No, no, no.

As I sat over the kitchen counter, I thought, this year will be about rising into and unto myself without requiring a drop more.  Without question, I bring a shit ton to this little life of much more than I give myself credit for or allow others to shower upon me.  For far too long, I have been intimately aware of all of my shortcomings...all of the nooks and crannies that aren't enough.  And, I am a professional when it comes to devising self-help plans to get the most out of me.

What I am not good at is honoring all of the me that is here fully formed, fulled cooked, wholly ready and eagerly waiting to sink into her own shoes, dawn her own cape and experience the world just as she is in this moment...not when she is 10 pounds lighter or published or living in a larger house or teaching in a classroom or not yelling at her kids.

The miracle is the now in all of its' imperfection and glory.

The challenge is to rise to the now exempt of forcing it to be something different or more loveable.

With the last gulp of my liquid gold savoring the quiet of the kitchen and the cold January first morning, I thought...this is going to be good.  I'm going to be more than okay.  Maybe for the first time in a long time, I'll give myself permission to see the unrefined, diamond-in-the rough gem that has been waiting to rise and bring life and strength and hope into the world.

Watch out, 2016...there's a lot of fucking good in store for the both of us.