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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

I miss you literally every, single day.  Just when I think things are getting a little better, I'm hit with a sound or a smell, and all the emotions come right back.

Anna's about to celebrate her 2nd birthday.  You wouldn't believe how big she's gotten.  And your curse worked.  She's just like me (perfect in every way).  A year ago, we were still hoping to get you home for her birthday.  A year ago, we were still fighting the good fight.

When I look back, I can see all the signs.  I can see that this was always going to be the outcome, but I still can't believe it.  I can't believe you're not here. I can't believe I can't just grab a coffee with you.  I can't believe you're not able to hold Anna or tell her how much you love her.  I know you loved spending time with her.  I can't believe Anna won't remember you.  She loved you so much.  You always made her laugh.

You were always the fun one.  You were goofy, quirky, spontaneous...different.  I always joked and called you my four year old, for you always had a very simple view on life.  Sometimes this was frustrating, as I didn't always want to be the adult,but you were fun.  You made me laugh.

I can't begin to tell you how angry I sometimes get.  Angry at what, I'm not sure.  The situation, maybe?  You, who never complained about an ache or a pain. You who helped me carry boxes to a third floor walk up.  You who trained for a 5k and a 10k just because you wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  You weren't supposed to go so soon.

And then there's the guilt.  When I was little, you always told me that if you ever lost me you'd shrivel up and blow away with the leaves in winter.  That last year was so hard for us.  There'd been so much hurt and so much misunderstanding and so much refusal to understand.  Did you think you'd lost me?  Did you just shrivel up?  If I had held you more, told you I loved you more, just sat and talked with you more, lost my temper less, would things be different?  Logic tell me there's nothing I could have done, but I still wish I'd done those things.

You know, and no one tells you about the anxiety that comes with all this.  If someone as seemingly healthy as you can be taken so fast, how easy can others be gone?  I find myself running farther and harder just to keep the anxiety attacks at bay.  And the attacks are worse than they were.  I find myself pacing, struggling to breathe properly, until I wear myself out and just want to curl in a ball under the covers.  Some have mentioned meds, but you know me.  That's just not my style.

In less than a month it will have been one year.  At this point last year you were already in nursing care.  Our visits at this point usually consisted either of me walking with you / wheeling you around the facility or, more often, sitting and reading while you slept.  If it were a Tuesday (like today) I would have stopped in after my early morning run.  I would have quietly entered the facility via the side door, said hi to the nurses, and gone to sit in your room.  You wouldn't be awake yet, so I'd just read until you woke up at which point you'd try to eat breakfast (although I can't really call what they gave you food) and we'd watch some t.v.  Then I'd tell you I loved you and leave to take care of Anna.  If I was lucky, I'd get to see you again that day.  If not, I'd see you tomorrow.

The last few weeks with you were the worst.  Being in the nursing home felt like being in jail.  I wanted to be home with my daughter, to snuggle her and take care of her, but I couldn't leave you.  I couldn't miss the opportunity to have one last good moment with you.  I knew what the final outcome would be, and yet there was always that bitch, Hope.  I kept hoping, praying for a miracle.  I'd tell myself that Daniel survived the lion's din, and David battled Goliath.  And when, at last, there was no more hope, at first I felt relief.  But now there's just disbelief.  Now there are the times that I forget that I can't just pick up the phone and call you.  There's the time when Anna was playing with my phone and almost called your old number.  I should erase you from my contacts, but I can't bring myself to do it.

I know this letter is rambling, but I thought you should know.  I miss you.  I love you.  I wish you were here.

Your Daughter Always

Friday, February 12, 2016

Who Am I?

Who Am I?  I'm Jean Valjean! 

OK, pardon my Les Miserables reference.  I couldn't help myself.

Anyway, as I posted previously, I started grooming school.  Honestly, I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would.  I wasn't really excited about starting. It was something I needed to do for work, but it involves driving 4 hours every day and grooming was never really something I had a lot of interest in.  Still, I knew I had to do it.  What I'm finding is that I'm learning a lot about myself.

I'm the boss.
At first, what I thought I liked most about school was that I didn't have to be the boss.  People weren't looking to me for advice, and I didn't have to be responsible for anything.  What I quickly realized, though, is that I was constantly jumping in to give advice.  I've worked with dogs longer than anyone else in the class, so I'm always giving tips on how to handle a dog or how to trim nails.  I even pseudo-reprimanded someone for leaving a towel in with a dog until I realized it wasn't my job to reprimand (and I quickly changed to just "giving advice").  So, apparently a large part of me enjoys being the boss.  And when I make a mistake, I'm happy to own up to it.   So, here's my new saying:  Some say I'm bossy, but really I'm the boss. 

I know a lot about dogs.
I mean A LOT about dogs.  Sure, this may seem like common sense.  I've been a trainer for 6 years, I own a kennel, and I enjoy research.  Still, there are plenty of times when I feel insecure.  I often feel like the information I know is common knowledge.  At school, most of the students haven't had any dog experience (other than their own pets), so I'm able to find out what's truly common knowledge.  Do you know what I found out?  I know a lot!  A lot of stuff that isn't common knowledge.  A lot of the things that are being taught, I've taught to numerous other people.  I can practically finish the instructor's sentences because they're sentences I've said before.  It's a huge ego-boost.

I kind of like grooming.
While I still prefer training, grooming isn't terrible, and it's actually kind of fun.  I often look forward to school (although not the drive), and I enjoy the process.  Sometimes it's nice to just be able to focus on your own work and not have be extroverted.  Grooming is great for my introvert side.

So, there ya have it.  That has been my life for the past month.  The biggest downside to everything is my lack of time to myself or with my family.  It won't last forever, though, and at least I'm enjoying it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Catching Up

I feel as though I'm constantly apologizing for not writing enough.  I'm sorry, and thank you for understanding that life sometimes gets in the way.  Since it's been so long since I posted anything, let me try to catch you up on a little.

The Holidays
The holidays went well.  I'd be lying if I said they were easy.  This, of course, was the first year without Mom, and it made things difficult.  At first, I didn't think I was that bothered by it.  I mean, people would mention how difficult it would be having that empty spot at the table, or how it was now my job to carry on the traditions, and I'd just shrug and think, "Whatever."  You see, I haven't had a "traditional" Christmas since my parents separated 20 years ago.  It was always Christmas Eve with Dad and Christmas Day with Mom.  Sometimes Mom had to work (which sucked), sometimes we just relaxed.  One year we went to the movies, one year we had take out Chinese.  One memorable year, we flew to Utah to see one of my friends.  So, there was never a pattern to follow.  What made this year so hard, though, was that I realized I'd never taken the time to really appreciate the time I had with her.  Last Christmas, when we knew about the cancer, but while it was still in remission, we focused on Anna.  I have pictures of Anna at Mass, videos of Anna opening presents, and lots of memories of Anna, and while I know Mom was there for all of it, I can't remember anything specific.  Actually, I take that back.  I know I ordered a very special, hard to find present for Mom, and it had broken in shipping.  I was never able to find a replacement, and Mom was so disappointed.  I hated that.

All in all, though, the holidays went well.  We enjoyed a lovely day with my Dad and Cindy.  Hans and I spent a lot of time cooking, Anna was cooperative, and we all enjoyed our gifts.  Oh, and Anna made out like a bandit!  So, it was good.

The Kennel
The kennel has be both awesome and sometimes frustrating.  Let me just say that being a business owner can be fun, exhausting, empowering, and isolating.  Still, though, I don't think I'd trade it for anything in the world.  I have a wonderful staff, and while they don't always do things exactly the same way I would, they try their hardest and they really care about things.  That's all I can ask for.

One thing that's particularly new is that I've started grooming school.  This is more out of needing to learn about that aspect of my business than it is about a desire to groom, but so far it's fun.  It's a 4 month long program and it's 2 hours away, so I'm able to enjoy a "lovely" commute every day.  Thank GOD for audio books!  Honestly, the hardest part is balancing home, work, and school life.  I really wish I had a self-driving car so I could get a little more sleep or respond to emails during those 2 hours.

Anna and the Dogs
All my kids are doing well.  Anna is struggling with me not being home as much, so when I am home I'm dedicating all my time to her.  The dogs need A LOT more exercise, so Hans and I are trying to incorporate them into our daily work out routines a little more.  It's not necessarily easy, but we're trying to make it work.

Let me also take a moment to really praise Hans.  He's really been helping out a lot lately.  This past week he's made all the dinners (although we did eat out a few times), he packed a lunch for me every day, he cleaned up so I could have time with Anna, and he's barely complained.  Of course, all that is on top of his 40 hours a week job.  He's been great.

So, that's my life in a nutshell.  I hope to be able to post more soon.  I love my little corner of the internet, and I so appreciate all of you who find me interesting. 

Thank you!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Post Marathon Blues

Finally, I'm starting to feel slightly back to normal.  The keyword there is slightly.  Let me just say that post-marathon blues are real, and they're terrible.  This year I completely expected them.  I've had them after every other marathon, and I figured they'd be there.  I also figured that, since I was expecting them, they might not be so bad.  Woo-boy was I wrong!

As you all know, two of my dearest friends came to visit right before the marathon.  This did a few things.  First, it boosted my mood and made me feel so very loved.  Second, it forced me to take a bit of time off and rest pre-race.  Lastly, it made post-marathon so bitter-sweet, because it meant I had to bid them farewell.  I very much wish that my friends lived closer to me.  The past week I've been moping around, trying to plan trips to see them.  I've been asking myself if I could fly up in a few weeks (no, I can't), or if we could all plan a mini-vacation together (difficult at best).  I miss my friends!!!  So, that's left me in a funk.

Also, my friends weren't the only ones who left the day after the marathon.  A week before the marathon, Hans' grandmother passed away, so the three of us all flew down for the funeral.  Since the funeral and burial were in different states (long story), this meant quite a bit of flying in a very short period of time.  By the end, I was wiped!  It took a little while for the shear physical exhaustion to set in, but when it did I could hardly move.  Picking Anna up or playing with her was more effort than I could stand, and for the latter half of the week I just wanted to crawl in a hole and sleep.  Of course, my body was completely out of whack, and sleep was somewhat evasive.  To put things plainly, this physical exhaustion did nothing to boost my mood.  I was too tired to be happy (I was grumpy), and I ended up just being sad because I was too tired to do things that usually make me happy (play with Anna, hike, etc).  It wasn't so great.

And lastly, there's the endorphin crash.  Runner's high is real, and after 26.2 miles there's a lovely intoxication.  The world is rosy and everything is wonderful.  And then your body realizes you're not running quite as much and suddenly you crash.  And this crash was so, so bad.  The worst part was that I could think rationally and tell myself exactly what this was, but that did nothing to make me feel better.  I just wanted to be left alone and mope.

Luckily, I have great support.  Hans has been wonderful.  He's pushed me to do the things I absolutely need to do, but he's also made sure I've gotten plenty of rest.  He played with Anna when I couldn't, and he took care of the housework when I simply didn't want to.  He's made sure I've gotten the nutrition I need, and he's taken time to simply hold me and tell me he's here.  Boy am I fortunate!

So, now I'm returning to normal.  I'm hoping I get through this hectic and crazy week, and I'm looking forward to the next big thing!

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Immigrant's Daughter

It's a fact I often forget.  I was born and raised in the U.S., and my dad has lived in the US for the majority of his life, but the reality is that my father is an immigrant.  He could never be president, he taught his mother english, and as much as we sometimes forget, this is not his native land.

My dad was born in 1950 in post-war Germany.  My Baba (grandmother) had been taken from her home in Ukraine during WWII to work as slave labor.  I know very little details about her time there, because she refused to talk about it.  The only things I do know are that the farm she was put on was owned by a family that was relatively kind to her, and she had an acid burn across her chest.  How it got there, one can only guess.

In 1946 my aunt was born.  I don't know the story of her birth or how my grandparents met, but from what I understand she was born out of wedlock.  Four years later, now married, my grandparents were attempting to immigrate to America.  My Baba had a cousin who lived in Philly, and that was helping to speed up the process, because this cousin was able to vouch for this little family.  As it's been told to me, just before everything was finalized, my dad was born, and now they had to wait even longer so they could obtain the proper documents for him.

At 6 months old, my dad was finally granted access to the US along with my Baba, my Papa Joe, and my Aunt Irena.  Baba wasn't extremely educated.  While she was an extraordinary gardener, she only had the equivalent of a 4th grade education, and while she could speak about 10 slavic languages and some German, she didn't speak English.  She had cousins in Philly, but her mother was in Ukraine along with many of her siblings.  Her brother had gone to Australia.  The move certainly could not have been easy for her, especially not with two young children.

So, one must ask why did she moved here?  The answer is simple.  She had no other options.  Germany was broken, and Baba couldn't tolerate living there anyway.  While I never heard her utter one thing against the Germans, she also made it clear she wished to never return.  After the war some of the family returned to Ukraine, but this was during the Stalin era.  Many of these people were lost forever.  Baba went wherever she could get a foothold.  She didn't see her mother or any of the rest of her family for nearly 30 years.

After a while Baba and Papa Joe moved from Philly down to Richmond, where Papa Joe set up shop as a barber and Baba set to raising her children.  When the marriage didn't work out, Baba found a factory job.  My father and my aunt would bring home school work to help her learn english.  My dad remembers helping his mom understand his kindergarten homework.  She worked hard, she pinched pennies, and after 10 years she bought a house- her pride and joy and where she lived until she died.

My father attended college, and when I was born he (and my mom) made sure I was well-cared for and provided for.  It was often difficult, but he made sure I attended some of the finest schools in the area because he recognized the importance of a good education as well as decent connections.  I attended and completed college upon my parents' persistence.  It didn't matter what the degree was in just so long as I had one.  Now, I have my own business, I employ others, and I'm looking to expand. 

Personally, I feel my immigrant family has been a plus to American society.  I may not be Steve Jobs (another child of an immigrant), but I'd like to think we've had a positive influence.  And so, I have to think about something.  What if, as my grandparents were applying for refugee status in the US, someone had said, "No.  They're living in Germany.  They could be Nazis."  What if they'd had to stay in Europe simply because someone saw where they were from and thought they might pose a threat?  How would that have changed life?  What sort of conditions would my aunt and dad have lived in?  Would they have lived at all?

I don't claim to be an expert on world politics.  There's a lot that I wish I knew more about.  One thing I do know, though, is that the immigration policy is not easy.  It's not an open door to anyone.  People work hard to get in, and it's a huge achievement when they do.  And once they're here they have to start their lives all over again, oftentimes without the support of family.  When I think of the Syrian refugees that so many politicians are trying to ban I just think of that mother with two children under the age of 5.  What will she do?  What will happen to her?  What will happen to her children?

It's just something to think about.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Marathon

I had planned on writing this post on Saturday, right after the race, but I was too tired.  Then I thought I'd write it Sunday, but the day got away.  Now it's Thursday, and I'm FINALLY getting around to it.  How did it go?  Let me just put it this way:

HURRAY!!!  YAHOO!!!  YIPPEE!!!

My goal was to finish in under 5 hours.  That was it.  I mean, I had a minor goal of finishing in 4:30:00, but that was quite lofty.  Previously my fastest time was 5:11:00.  That was even when all of my training runs had pointed to me finishing in 4:50:00 or less, so I was really nervous.  When race day came I was excited and nervous, and I wasn't certain as to what would come. 

I met up with my running buddy prior to the race and we agreed to stick together as long as we could, but we weren't holding each other back.  Luckily the weather was beautiful, and I was feeling as great as ever.  Running with her was great.  She and I trained for our first marathon together, and we've been running together ever since.  Finding a great running buddy is difficult.  For shorter runs it's fairly easy, but the longer runs are the ones that get you.  A good running buddy will talk about topics that interest you, but they'll also know how much to talk and how loud to talk.  During a long, hard run a buddy who talks too much or too loudly or simply about things you don't want to talk about can be painful, so it was quite nice to have someone I was so comfortable with. 

Through those first few miles, life was easy.  Hans and the gang missed me at the first stop (we passed sooner than they'd anticipated), but we were able to hand off jackets and what not around mile 5, even though we arrived slightly earlier than they'd expected.  We saw them again at mile 10 where I high-fived Anna and kept running.  Stopping wasn't an option.  At the half way point, a stop I normally don't see them at since they're trying to catch me further ahead, I first saw my best friend, Jessica, and her boyfriend, Andrew, along with everyone else.  I stopped to give them all hugs and hold Anna for a moment before I continued on.  I still felt great.

Around mile 16, we ran into another running friend of ours (he'd finished the Half and had come to cheer us on).  He ran with us and encouraged us on for a little while.  For the most part, we stuck together until mile 16 / 17.  At that point, I was feeling great and she was starting to struggle (she ran another marathon 3 weeks prior), so she walked a bit while I forged ahead.  I saw Jess & Andrew, Jackie, Dan, and Dad at Mile 20.  Hans was with Anna who was asleep in the car.  And then the pain set in.

Oh boy did the pain set in.  I found out later that, in filling up my fuel bottles the night before, Hans had filled them with only water instead of a coconut water mixture.  He's always filled them perfectly in the past, so I'm not sure what happened this time (some sort of miscommunication), but by mile 20 my electrolytes and everything was off.  My left quad started to cramp first due to the angle and slope of the road, and as I tried to alleviate that everything else started hurting.  I hadn't walked for the first 20 miles, but I was walking a lot now.

Just before mile 23 I started running next to another girl who was chatty.  Usually I'd love the opportunity to forget my pain and chat, but I hurt too much.  I just wanted to look at her and say, "Would you please SHUT UP!?"  It was her first marathon, she was from western VA, she wished she and her friends had made shirts, yadda yadda yadda.  I didn't care.  I was just about to start walking or run faster to avoid her when I heard a voice call my name.  I looked back and I saw MY RUNNING BUDDY!!  I'm not sure how I sounded when I said her name, but in my mind it was like seeing a long lost friend after being separated over 20 years.  Oh the joy!!!

She was running faster than I was at the time, but she was also enjoying long walk breaks.  I could run with her.  I  could let her talk and not respond, she knew to not ask questions.  Around mile 25 or so, we saw our other running buddy again.  He was going to take us to the finish (or as close as possible).  I stopped to tie my shoe in anticipation of the huge downhill before the finish.

I was worried about how I'd feel running down that hill.  My legs hurt so bad, and I was worried they wouldn't support me as I raced downward, but I didn't need to worry.  That down hill was an utter blessing.  I let myself free fall towards the finish.  My feet simply followed my body as I got faster and faster.  I past person after person after person, each just one blur after the next.  And then, I crossed the finish line.

I saw Hans and Anna and Jackie and Dan and Dad.  They were all there, cheering for me.  I stopped my watch.  How close had I come to my goal?

4:35:17

I beat my previous record by 36 minutes.  I didn't necessarily hit 4:30:00, but at least that second number was still a 3.  I was pleased as punch.

I stretched out afterwards and then joined my running buddies on the grass.  The one thing I'm still working on is immediate recovery.  I was fine later that day, but at that very moment I felt sick.  I couldn't eat, I was cold, and I just wanted to lie down.  Hans got me home and showered and fed, and after a couple of restful hours (reading, sleeping, etc) I was good to go.  We enjoyed Chicago pizza (Hans had it shipped in special) and pie, and Jessica joined in the celebrations.  All in all, it was a great race. 

I have a lot more to talk about it for post-marathon, but I'll leave this for now.  I'm perfectly happy.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Race Morning

Have you ever been so happy you're sad?  I know it sounds odd, but that's how I feel right now.  I'm so happy I want to cry because I wish every day of my life could be as wonderful as the past few have been.

It is currently 6:15 on Saturday morning.  My bags are packed for the day, and I'm decked out in running gear.  Hans is showering, the dogs are just waking up, I'm getting ready to wake up Anna (a terrifying prospect), and in an hour and a half I'll be staring my 4th marathon (slightly less terrifying than waking the sleeping baby).  In addition to this great day, two of my best and dearest friends, Jackie and Dan, are in town to visit. I couldn't be any happier.

Let me first say that I never really realized just how happy having them here would make me.  You see, I'm not a great long-distance friend.  I don't Skype, I hate phone conversations.  If I'm going to call you, it's going to be to make plans for what we'll do later.  I hate just chatting, (Unless I'm running.  Then I'll chat for hours.)  So, I don't often get to enjoy my closest friends.  While mentally I know they're always there, there are a few moments when not having them around leaves me feeling horribly lonely.  Those moments when life is hard and you just want to circle the wagons and have your dearest friends close around you become extra hard when your dearest friends are spread across the country.  It's just very nice to have them so close.

And I don't want to get sappy or overly-sentimental, but the past few days have been filled with nothing but love.  I love these two people more than even I think I can realize, and it's nice not just to feel that from them but also to be able to exude that love.  I know that sounds like some new-age hippy crap, and I can actually picture my mom saying something like that and me rolling my eyes in exasperation and annoyance, but it's true.  It's an energy, a joy, a happiness that leaves one feeling so happy.  It makes me feel closer to God.  It makes me feel like I've come home.  It makes me feel like I'm wrapped in a wonderful embrace.

Side note: I know at least one of these people reads my blog, and I have NO IDEA how this person will react to this outpouring of emotion.  I would like to tell this person: Yes, this is how I feel.  Yes, it's difficult to put into words.  Yes, it's awkward.  Deal with it.  I love you, and I always will.  Y'all are my giants.  :D

Yesterday, a friend sent me a Facebook message essentially saying that Mom would be with me during this run.  It was sweet, and I loved it, but I realized something.  Since my friends have arrived, I haven't been as upset about not having Mom on the course.  I know I can feel both upset over Mom and joy over my friends, but somehow the joy of having them is too great.  I find I'm thanking Mom or God for all the little treasures.  That beautiful sunrise?  That's a gift.  The little quirky things that happen?  That's a sign.  It's beautiful.

Jackie and I actually had a conversation yesterday about the belief in a higher being.  Is God real?  What are the arguments from people who believe versus those who don't?  I made the comment that I've had too much happen in my life for me to not believe in a higher power.  I've felt too much love, experienced too much grace.  I simply can't believe that there is not a higher power out there.

OK, I'm starting to ramble.  I really didn't intend for this to be a blog post about God or Love or anything else.  I simply wanted to state how happy and excited I am to have these two wonderful people in my life and to announce my marathon.  Ah, stream of consciousness!   Anyway, I have a race to run.  Am I nervous?  Unbelievably so.  Am I excited?  Unbelievably so!  Wish me luck!!