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From Strong Roots…..

Grow Mighty Girls

Second Chance

Nearly 11 years ago I fell head over heels in love with a beautiful, snuggly, strong willed baby girl.  As my first born, she was the force of nature that turned me instantaneously into a mother.  As first born children will do, she consumed my life in every way.

Nearly two years later I found myself pregnant with my soon to be second daughter.  I felt conflicted in a way I hadn’t expected.  I worried that our new baby would take me away from my first born, would decrease the love and attention I had to give to her.  I worried that this shift of focus, from her as an only child to her AND her sister, would ruin her forever.  I worried that I wouldn’t love this new baby as much as I had the first. This struggle is not unique and neither was the solution.  We figured it out, day by day, minute by minute.  So far, nobody seems too scarred.

Five years ago I fell head over heels in love again.  This time I traveled 4,800 miles to meet my love, anxiously leaving my two small children in the care of my parents.  The object of my affection was again beautiful and strong willed.  (Strong willed and I….it’s a love/hate thing.)  and very, very French.

I wasn’t prepared to like Paris, much less love it. I wasn’t prepared to fall in sync with the rhythms of the city, to be astounded by the architecture and awed by the beauty. In short, it was little like parenting. Before I had children parenting was an abstract concept that seemed pleasant enough. After children, parenting was real and gritty and transformative. Before traveling to Europe, Paris was a pleasant enough idea. After spending ten days there, Paris changed me. And left me wanting more.

So in three days I’ll embark again to the City of Light, this time with my daughters in tow. We will meet my mother there and immerse ourselves in the city. I wonder, though, how has Paris changed? How have I changed since my last journey there? How will my children experience this gorgeous city? Will I love Paris as much the second time as I did the first?

They Think We’re Just Riding

People who passed by us today, if they noticed us at all, perhaps observed that we were just another family out enjoying the sunny, early spring weather.  They would have been correct.  Mostly.

It was a sunny day with glorious clear blue skies and crisp, fresh air.  The kind of day we just haven’t had enough of recently.  And we were enjoying ourselves.

Except when we weren’t.

I had 17 miles worth of training runs to complete this weekend.  One 5 mile tempo run and a 12 mile long run.  My husband was out of town and I felt a bit guilty leaving the girls alone while I ran so I suggested they join me on their bikes for the five miler.  They enthusiastically agreed.  We set off on an out and back course over rolling hills adjacent to the river.  A beautiful run/ride although by the end my youngest had to be cajoled along.  To her credit, her bike seat was much too short as she seems to have gained four inches over the winter.  This caused her legs to work less efficiently than is optimal and she let me know about it when she was tackling those hills.  We all agreed at the end that it had been a success, though, and the girls were eager to ride again.

I felt pretty confident, however, that neither of the girls would want to join me for 12 miles today.  After all, it’s more than double what they rode yesterday and four miles longer than any ride they have completed thus far.  I underestimated their sweet optimism and sense of adventure, though.  When asked if they wanted to stay home and play or come with me and ride 12 miles, they didn’t even hesitate.  So I loaded the bikes, the helmets and assorted paraphenalia.  Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t travel light and that includes trips across town to go for a run.  Since my girls are related to me, we probably looked like we were headed out of town for a long weekend, the truck loaded down with biking gear, running gear, a change of clothes, snacks and six water bottles.  Just in case.

We parked downtown and hit the trail, crossing bridges, cruising over dirt paths and through cool tunnels.  The girls pedaled along, not even looking like they were working hard.  They would speed ahead and I would find them around the corner, lounging on a park bench and waiting for me.  After five miles we stopped for a bathroom break and to refill our water bottles.  We started up again but by eight miles in, it became clear that my youngest wasn’t too happy with the state of affairs.  I had raised her bike seat after the debacle of the previous day but hadn’t raised her handlebars.  That required a tool I couldn’t find.  It all looked okay to me in the driveway but after 8 miles of pedaling her back was aching from bending forward too far in order to reach those handlebars.  So we stopped.  We drank some water.  We readjusted the seat.  She toughed it out for another quarter of a mile before the subject of her sore back came up again.  She complained a bit, maybe even whined.  Asked how much longer we had to go and rolled her eyes and stomped her feet when I told her the answer.  It was beginning to feel like the final four miles might get ugly.  She persevered, though, and by 11 miles we were back to where we had started.  I know, I know.  I planned to go 12.  But I compromised  in the face of my child’s abject misery.

It’s hard to know how to feel about that.  We set out to go 12 miles.  Was anything less a failure?  Was I letting her off the hook by “only” going 11?  Was I pushing too hard at 8 miles in when I made her keep riding even though she didn’t want to?  I wrestled with these thoughts over the last few miles of the run and well into the rest of the day.  Then I started to think about what the purpose of the ride/run was.  Obviously to get outside, enjoy the sun, be active, do something together.  Even more so, though, the purpose was to appreciate the crisp spring air and the long-absent sun warming our skin.  The purpose was to do something difficult, something challenging, something neither of the girls had ever done before.  The purpose was to feel the warm glow of pride after accomplishing something that was really hard to do.  The purpose was to learn how to persevere even when you wanted to quit.  When I frame it that way, I think we struck the perfect balance.

We finished feeling tired yet energetic.  A slow smile spread across my youngest’s face as she realized what she had accomplished.  As we sat at brunch a few minutes later, I realized how grateful I was to be able to share that gorgeous morning with my daughters.  I know they think we were just riding but believe me, we were doing so much more.

Napa Valley

Recent travels to Napa Valley for a marathon allowed me to experience and enjoy this charming area for the first time.  I have traveled previously in Sonoma County but hadn’t visited Sonoma’s ritzier cousin to the east.  The town of Napa is nestled in a beautiful valley, adjacent to the river.  Downtown is small but filled with restaurants, coffee shops, wine tasting rooms and small boutique shops.  It is a quiet bedroom community that caters to the tourists and oenophiles passing through.

I had the good fortune to be traveling with my good friend and running partner as well as my sister who resides in San Francisco.  We stayed at a small cottage rented on VRBO.  It was less than a mile from our cottage to downtown which is so convenient when you want to enjoy wine with your dinner.  As an aside, Uber and Lyft do exist in Napa and we availed ourselves of this on a few occasions.

We arrived our first night around the dinner hour.  We hadn’t made reservations because we didn’t want to be tied down.  It quickly became apparent that many of the small, cozy, recommended restaurants were full and couldn’t accommodate us.  We ended up at Basalt, mostly because it was large and had some available tables.  Generally a good experience and they have wine on tap which is always fun.  The lobster risotto was simply amazing and would cause me to return if I were in the area again.  The service was so-so, however, and our waiter wasn’t as knowledgeable with the menu or the wines as I would have hoped.

The next day we indulged in a wine tasting at Domaine Carneros, just north of Napa.  Known for it’s sparkling wines, it did not disappoint.  It is perched high on a hilltop overlooking the valley.  The building and grounds are reminiscent of a European chateau.  The wide veranda would be gorgeous on a warm, sunny day.  Our weather, however, was rainy and cool and caused us to take refuge by the fireplace inside.  The service was impeccable, the wines delicious and crisp and the cheese plate a perfect accompaniment.  We left with several bottles of wine to take back home. Reservations strongly recommended.

Earlier that day we visited the Oxbow Public Market in Napa.  An eclectic collection of food, coffee, spices, kitchenware, bitters and shrubs, this is a fun stop for explorers, shoppers and families alike.  A must visit in the Napa area.

The next day was marathon day and we indulged afterwards with an amazing dinner at Angele.  Words fail to describe this perfect fine dining experience.  The restaurant is cozy, the staff is knowledgeable and friendly.  The food is truly exceptional and will be remembered as one of the best dinners I have ever eaten.  We started with the fried deviled eggs—trust me, it’s amazing.  Dinner was mussels with saffron broth.  I won’t ever eat mussels again unless it’s at Angele because it would only diminish my memory of the mussels at Angele.  They were perfection.  The cheese plate for dessert was generously portioned and a true pleasure.  If you love food and wine, this is a must visit. Reservations recommended.

Our final day in the Napa area saw us traveling north to sample wines at Robert Sinskey and Saddleback Cellars.  Two truly exceptional wineries, although vastly different.  Robert Sinskey offered a lovely tasting along with nibbles and we left again with several bottles of wine.  My favorite is the POV made with grapes from the Carneros district.  The Pinot Gris is also quite lovely and I expect that a case of these well balanced wines will make its way to my doorstep soon.  If you have time, make a reservation for the wine and food experience.  The food here is cooked on site and is an experience in and of itself.  If you want to remain more flexible, tastings at the bar are on a first come, first served basis.

Saddleback Cellars is a rustic, Western themed winery with gorgeous Chardonnay and Cabs as well as red blends.  Go on a sunny day when you can sit outside at the picnic tables adjacent to the growing vines.  Bring your own food and make an afternoon of it.  You won’t regret it.  Reservations required.

Napa is a relaxing escape in many ways.  It is pricier than Sonoma, however, mostly because, well, it’s Napa.  Exceptional foods and wines can be found in both valleys, though, so choose the style that feels best for you.  Or visit both and immerse yourself in amazing food and wine.

Marathon

It’s over now. Finished.  Done.  Fini ou fait.  Finito.  Twenty weeks of training, nearly 100 training runs, 30 strength workouts, countless early mornings, hundreds and hundreds of miles, one frostbitten ear.  All for one 26.2 mile race.

This race was a big deal for me.  Last year, while training for my second marathon, my goal was to finish in under four hours.  After all, I can run a half marathon in under two hours so it only makes sense that I could complete a full marathon in under four hours.  Right?  Except that the marathon laughs at simple math like that.  The marathon is more than the sum of its parts.  Regardless, I trained for it.  I did my tempo runs and marathon pace workouts.  I toed the line feeling confident.  I crushed the first half of the course.  And then the course crushed me.  It chewed me up and spit me out 26.2 miles down the road from where I started, battered, exhausted, pissed off. Because I finished in 4 hours and 12 minutes.  Twelve minutes!  Seriously.

Fast forward a few months and I was taking on the marathon again.  This time with a coach and a renewed sense of commitment.  We laid out a plan that included tempo runs, marathon pace runs, speed workouts, long runs, core work, strength work.  We analyzed nutrition and hydration.  We debated the merits of a 20 mile long run vs a 22 mile long run.  We discussed mental strategies.  I listened to podcasts and audiobooks about getting mentally tougher and developing useful mental strategies for attacking the marathon.  I was immersed.

I approached the start line feeling cautiously optimistic (one should never feel totally optimistic about a marathon).  As we started running I noticed that my legs felt a little more tired than they should.  Hmmmm.  A few miles later I noticed that my intestines felt a little more crampy than they should.  Double hmmmm.  But I had mental strategies I could use and I had a pace to keep.  So we soldiered on.  Soon enough, though, the intestines were unable to be ignored any longer.  They received the attention the needed, at a cost of a few minutes.  Then my favorite running partner and dear friend noticed that her intestines weren’t feeling so great.  Another stop along the way.  I even encouraged it because really, I was tired.  A break sounded good.  A break?!?!?!?  Come on, brain, we are running a race here, not waiting for lunch delivery.  Back to trying to keep my brain on track.  That’s a lot of hard work by the way.

There were some really great things about this marathon, though.  It was a beautiful, rolling course through the Napa Valley vineyards.  The countryside was peaceful.  There weren’t any big hills.  The spectators were fun.  I played a drum along the way.  The weather wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  My nutrition and hydration strategy worked out better than ever.  I kind of had fun.

I finished stronger than I ever have before.  My legs were burning and cramping, my abs were tense, my neck and back ached.  I crossed that finish line.  Exactly 4 hours and 5 minutes after I started.  Initially, I was really happy.  This was my best run marathon ever. My best time ever.  I managed the mental game better than usual.  My sister was waiting at the finish line for me.  I was satisfied.

Then, a few days later, it hit me.  I really wanted that under 4:00 finish.  And I was fit enough to do it.  Any runner knows what this means…….I haven’t finished marathoning yet.

It’s Run Time!

I’ve recently been on a running journey.  A marathon running journey.  To be fair, this is the third time I’ve embarked upon such a journey yet perhaps the first time I’ve really understood what this journey entails.  And what it entails isn’t all that pretty some days.  5:00 AM runs, 14 miles on the treadmill, 18 snowy miles in sub-zero weather, a single frost bitten ear.  It also entails actually running a 26.2 mile race.  Which is no small undertaking.  But certainly an undertaking worth conquering.

On my first two marathons I didn’t feel that I “conquered” anything.  This time, though, I vow to do it differently.  This time I am committed to running this race well, to not giving up along the course, to breaking that 4 hour marathon mark.  Let’s do this thing!

Solo Travels

Ironically, my first travel of the year was a solo trip to Seattle for the weekend.  I went to attend a conference but arrived a day early to take advantage of shopping and city life.  I stayed in a marvelously decadent room at the Hyatt downtown with gorgeous city views.  It was lovely to have a room to myself, a bed to myself, a bathroom to myself.  I slept well and relaxed well.  It was oddly unsettling, however, to have all that space and time to myself.  What does one do when suddenly thrust from a chaotic family life into a peaceful zone with no demands or responsibilities?  Turns out that I shopped and explored, slept in, drank wine in bed while binge watching a series on Netflix and generally enjoyed myself.  But I missed my children and the structure of my daily life more than I anticipated.  I also found myself unfortunately ill with a  GI bug.  There is nothing quite like feeling ill away from home to make one miss home even more.

One of the highlights of my trip was a therapeutic leg massage I scheduled before my arrival.  My legs had been sore and tired from weeks of marathon training.  After an hour in the hands of a trained therapist they were rejuvenated and pain free.  Therapeutic massage will have a place in my running life going forward.

I also enjoyed a relaxed, adult dinner at Staple and Fancy with a good friend from residency.  Such a luxury to catch up and enjoy adult conversation without any interruptions or distractions.

I want to continue to travel solo from time to time and make my peace with taking time for myself and occasionally exploring my life away from my career and family.  But only occasionally.

Welcome!

We are embarking on some rather exciting adventures this year.  I love to travel with my children and have been fortunate enough to enjoy some amazing adventures with them.  Our adventures thus far have taken us everywhere from Mexico to Florida to Hawaii to camping with good friends.  Last year we introduced a new favorite, the Hall Girls’ Hangout, a multi-day affair of mom and daughter camping at the family cabin.  No boys allowed……turns out we can chop wood and start the four-wheeler!

This year the girls will take their first trip overseas.  We will spend three weeks in Paris enjoying the sights and soaking in the Parisian lifestyle.  The girls have been saving their own money for this trip for 5 years.  They are most anxious to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night.  I am most excited for them to experience another country, another way of life, a different way of living.  Travel enhances their world view, gives them a broader perspective and makes them better citizens of the world.

I hope to share some of our broader experiences but also will post tips about restaurants, sights, activities, things that work and things that don’t.  So follow along, we have a few smaller trips planned before we break out our passports this summer.

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