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Michelle Cox Posts

Help Me Write Fiction

The copse of Oak trees formed a canopy over that section of the dense woods, almost completely blocking the light pouring from the full August moon and holding the humid air tight against what would soon become a buzzing crime scene.

Beneath the trees, his small, naked body had grown cold despite the warmth of the summer night, but his dead eyes held secrets — secrets that formed the foundation of a living prison for one woman and that blazed a trail toward freedom for another.

Excerpt from my novel “Half Measures” (working title)

* * *

“My world is spinning out of control. A six-year-old boy is dead and I’m supposed to find his killer. Me — the fraud, the fake, the imposter. I can’t even find the empty bottle of vodka I hid last night. I feel as dead inside as that little boy looked, lying beneath the trees, unseeing, unmoving, unconnected as life pulsed around him and left him behind.”

— From the journal of Detective Laura Rogers Zarrick, from my novel “Half Measures” (working title)

* * *

Laura knew she had a problem. If she had any doubts, they dissipated the morning she found a note to herself tucked inside her blush compact. It was a messy, drunken scrawl that read:

“Bottles in the Christmas tree box.”

She didn’t remember writing the note until the moment she read it, and then it came rushing back.

Excerpt from my novel “Half Measures” (working title)

I’ve wanted to be a writer since a high school journalism teacher entered me into a news writing contest and I won. I pursued that path and am proud to say that I’ve worked as a journalist and writer my entire adult life.

But I have a longing for something else — a desire to write fiction. And I’ve been quietly, almost secretly, working toward that goal for a few years.

I have a story inside me that I’ve thought about for decades, first sparked back when I worked as a reporter covering cops and courts. It’s a story that involves crime, cops, alcoholism and recovery — all things I’ve written about as a journalist, or lived, or both.

Now I’m 50 and it’s time. I have a manuscript that is growing and taking shape, but I need help bringing it forth. I actually applied and was accepted into an MFA program, thinking that might be the path. Until I realized that working toward an advanced degree was simply my way of putting off “doing” in the name of more learning. A way to hide for a couple more years while I sought creative legitimacy.

Then I was introduced to Laura Munson and Haven Writing Retreat. I knew from my first conversation with Laura that Haven is what I need — that amid the mountains of Montana, I will pick up the final pieces of the puzzle to finalize my manuscript and deliver it into the publishing industry to see what happens next.

And so I am asking for your help. Laura has established the Haven Foundation, a 501(c)(3) to help writers attend her retreats. Would you consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Haven Foundation in my name? Your donation will help me (and possibly other writers like me) continue on a creative journey. I would be exceptionally grateful and when the time comes, I’ll sign a copy of “Half Measures” for you.

Can I count on your contribution? If so,  here are two options for sending your tax deductible donation:

1) Mail a check (with the name Michelle Cox in the memo section) to:

Haven Foundation
155 Livermore Flats
Whitefish, MT 59937

**Include your email address on the check so Haven can email you a receipt for your tax purposes

OR

2) Email David Rasmussen at david@lauramunsonauthor.com and request that he send you a PayPal invoice so that you can make a donation in my name.

Thanks for considering a donation. Your support is truly appreciated.

Four Things to Get Started Writing

An alarm began sounding in my late 40s and it wasn’t my biological clock. It also wasn’t a mid-life crisis, although it probably had the makings of one.

The alarm was more of a wakeup call, similar to the one that sounds to announce the start of a new day, this one began chiming in my consciousness, telling me that there was something I needed to commence.

It took some courage to take note, some pushing back on the fear of failure, ignoring the voice that said, “Who are YOU to think you can do this? It’s not time. You’re not ready.”

But it was time. It IS time.

So here I am, with a website that focusing on writing: more specifically, writing in the second half of life, owning the title of writer and encouraging others to do the same in whatever form that title might take. Take a look at my About page to learn more.

I’m excited because I’ve always had this dream, one I didn’t verbalize often, but one that remained since my youth — a dream to be a fiction writer.

But I hadn’t done a single thing to make that happen.

And when that alarm bell began to ring in my late 40s, I asked myself, “What am I waiting for, anyway? My 50s? My 60s? That day when I will have an abundance of free time?

As fate would have it, around the time I started contemplating these things, a friend and former colleague published a fiction novel. I read her book and was proud of her.  She also had a dream to write fiction.

The difference between her and me? She took action. She sat down at her keyboard and got started on her book and she finished it.  (Susan Sagarra, Cracks in the Cobblestone).

The difference between her and me? She took action. She sat down at her keyboard and got started on her book and she finished it.

I went to her book launch party and chatted with several other former colleagues. Guess what?  We all talked about being impressed with our friend. Interestingly, many of us had harbored quiet, private dreams about writing a book, as well.

According to writer Joseph Epstein, about 200 million people aspire to authorship. So my colleagues and I had a lot of company, but Susan actually WROTE her book. What an inspiration!

So, that party not only launched my friend’s book. It launched me out of dreaming mode and into action mode.

Here are the four things I did to get started owning the title of writer and to help me move closer to my dream of becoming a published fiction author.

  • I started journaling.

Writing takes practice. One of the biggest objections I had about establishing a daily writing practice was that I didn’t know what to write about each day. I would sit with a blank cursor or a blank piece o
f paper, and no words would come. So I channeled the inner “middle schooler” and just started  cataloguing what I’d done that day. Really. Boring. Stuff.

But in time, it morphed into more, and sometimes, as I was cataloguing who I’d seen or what errands I ran that day, I’d remember something significant – the way a store clerk treated an elderly patron with kindness or the way the summer heat made me think of my late father. And then I’d be off to the races with more interesting, heart-felt writing. I’ll share more tips on establishing a regular journaling practice in a future post, so be sure to subscribe below. When you subscribe, I’ll send you my free PDF: “Tips on How to Get Started Journaling, Stay Motivated and the Best Journaling App.”

  • I started reading more.

My favorite author is Stephen King. (For real, I’m almost a stalker. I recently drove six hours just to hear him speak. More about that in a future post, too). I listen to his advice like it’s gospel, and in his non-fiction book called “On writing” he says:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” 

This book full of practical advice and encouragement that can make any writer or aspiring writer feel empowered. I cannot recommend it enough. Later this month, I’ll share some of my favorite non-fiction resources on the topic of writing and becoming an author.

The best part of the advice, above, is that it’s a perfect excuse  to curl up with a good book and read. In addition to reading non-fiction to help me with my craft, I also started reading more of the kind of fiction I want to do. No time? I’ve also got some suggestions for that in a future post.

  • I started small.

I want to write a fiction novel. I have a story idea that has been bouncing around in my head for years. But the idea of a whole book seemed too daunting. A short story sounded more doable. I started on my novel,  but I also decided to work on a few short stories as ideas came to me.

I did this for a couple of reasons. I wanted to get feedback on my fiction writing, and there are lots of places to submit short-stories (contests, literary journals, online magazines). Even if that feedback was rejection (and so far it has been, for the most part) I figured that would help me learn.

I also did this because of another quote from my favorite author’s book:

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” — Stephen King, On Writing.

This is not to say that I didn’t get started on my novel. I did. It’s coming along and I’ll share more about it as I go. But I’ve found that I’m learning a lot about writing fiction in crafting short stories. I am applying those lessons to my novel and it’s making my book stronger.

  • I signed up for a class.

This isn’t necessary. In fact, some people avoid “doing” by taking classes. Ever heard of a professional student? I don’t believe that taking a class or a workshop is necessary to get started as a writer. But for me, taking a fiction class at the local community college  and then doing a writer’s workshop were motivating activities that gave me more confidence. I did not, however, wait until I took the class and workshop to start writing.

Most community colleges and continuing education programs  offer classes in writing — fiction and non-fiction. Some even offer a certificate program, which I’ll also write about in a later post.

I’m eight months away from my 50th birthday, and I’m no longer just dreaming about claiming the title of writer and becoming an author. I am a writer because I write every single day. And I will be an author soon enough. My novel is started and I’m making progress. I’ve got a laptop full of completed short-stories that are out for submission, some nearing publication and one that recently was a finalist in the Atlantis Short Story contest.

All of this because I got started.

If you read my About page, you’ll see that I’ve been paid to write my entire adult life. So, you might be thinking that I’ve always been a writer. That’s not true, because it is only in the last few years, as I’ve taken the above steps and started loving writing again, that I have claimed the title of writer. I’m writing with passion, and I’ve never felt more energized or excited.

Callout to Midlifers (not you, never old): If you think you’d like to do the same — own the title of “writer” in your midlife — then stick around, this is the place for you.  I plan to keep sharing my journey and providing content that will help you on your journey, as well.

Memories & Goodbye to My Minivan, Hello Mini SUV

I cried on my 30th birthday. I was sitting in a bar in downtown St. Louis at an impromptu party that my husband had organized and suddenly I was crying.

The nostalgia hit me when I was cleaning out my minivan. I was reaching under seats and into storage nooks, evoking emotions and extracting memories along with loose change and band-aide wrappers, piling it all onto my driveway for sorting.

My friend, Jan, asked me what was wrong, and I said, “I’m 30 years old and I’m driving a minivan.”

Jan snickered and reminded me I wanted the minivan, believing it would be easier on my back to get my 2-year-old in and out of her car seat. That only made me feel worse – I chose to drive a minivan for a practical, “old lady” reason.

“Oh God,” I sniffled. “What’s next? Sensible shoes? Then Depends?” We laughed and the moment passed.

That was in 1997.

It’s 2016 and I’ve owned four minivans since that time: a Dodge Caravan, a Chevy Venture, a Kia Sedona and finally a 2004 Honda Odyssey — My favorite. Car. Ever.

My goal was to drive the Odyssey for several years after we paid it off, which we’ve done. With 207,000 miles on it, it’s starting to need more maintenance and repairs, and the last repair happened when I was out of town, which was a major inconvenience.

It was time to downsize.

But my Odyssey served me well. It was extremely reliable. And kid friendly and comfortable. And best of all, it had lots of Mom-friendly real estate, which means lots of places to stash things and the perfect spot to put my large purse where it wouldn’t tip over and spill its contents all over the floor.

Criteria for a New Car

When I sat in the Honda dealership to choose my next used Honda, our salesman asked me what things were important to me in a vehicle. I said:

“A place to put my purse; safety; good gas mileage; room for family road trips; low mileage; a key fob with automatic door locks; comfort; all-wheel drive; a backup camera; deep cupholders for my coffee; and don’t forget a place to put my purse.”

Salesman: Does color matter?

Me: No.

Salesman: Do you want alloy wheels?

Me: What are alloy wheels?

Salesman: They’re nicer wheels. They come with the higher trim package.

Me: No, I curb my tires all the time. I’ll ruin them.

Salesman: Leather seats?

Me: I don’t care. But I like having an arm rest, and I need luggage racks on top. If I’m giving up the space of my minivan, I need to be able to put luggage on top. I don’t travel light. So I want a trim package that comes with those things. And a place to put my purse.

Salesman: Purse. Gotcha. Okay, well, let’s take a look.

My new Honda CRVWe ended up purchasing a 2014 Honda CRV. It had everything I wanted but the luggage rack, which Honda installed for me. Not surprisingly,  the dealership agreed that we could sell our used Honda for more than they could give us, so we took it home to sell ourselves.

Minivan Memories

The nostalgia hit me when I was cleaning out my minivan. I was reaching under seats and into storage nooks, evoking emotions and extracting memories along with loose change and band-aide wrappers, piling it all onto my driveway for sorting.

This van used to smell like chlorine, because my oldest was a swimmer and I drove lots of carpools, meaning a wet towel was forever being left inside to bake and release its chemical scents into my cloth interior. Now she’s a swammer (retired swimmer).

It sometimes reeked of teenage boy sweat because my son plays basketball and seldom used the locker-room showers before climbing in to ask “What’s for dinner” or “Can we get Qdoba?’ Now he drives himself home from practice.

It used to smell like sour milk because a sippy cup would inevitably roll under the seat to start the process of making cottage cheese. Now she won’t even drink milk.

It’s covered in dog hair from our Golden Retriever and coffee stains decorate the carpet. Well, at least the dog still sheds and coffee still stains.

Here are some of the things I found as I cleaned it out:

  • A complete change of clothes in size 3T – pants, top, underwear, socks, shoes –My youngest now wears a size 8, but in the not so distant past, a mess that would require a complete change of clothes was a very real possibility.
  • Multiple cloth rags, one tucked under each seat in case of a large spill. They reminded me of the time my daughter got carsick on the way to camp; and the time my son had rotavirus; and all the carloads of kids who would spill their slushies, ice creams and milkshakes onto the carpeting, complimenting my numerous coffee spill stains.
  • Two first-aide kits for an emergency that thankfully never came. One kit contained a baby enema and “night-night juice” (aka Benadryl) that I may or may not have used to drug my daughter and my niece on a lengthy road trip that was wrought with whining and fussing.
  • The remote control to an entertainment system that quit working two years ago when a Barbie movie borrowed from a neighbor got permanently stuck inside.
  • A handheld can opener and enough food, some packaged, some petrified, to sustain me on a Whole30 eating plan for at least three days.
  • A stack of bank deposit slips from a bank I left six years ago.
  • $3.57 in change.
  • A princess blanket that I discouraged my husband from purchasing at Disney when my daughter was three because I didn’t think she’d use it. I was wrong, and we never make a road trip without it. It came in quite handy a few years ago when I was snowed in at a swim meet in Crawfordsville, IN and had to stay in a nasty hotel that shared a parking lot with a strip club. I was reluctant to use their bedding, so I busted out the princess blanket for my daughter and I to use.
  • A handful of my late father’s police department business cards, proving he was a detective and giving me some help in a avoiding a few speeding tickets.
  • A Chick-fil-A placemat and a box of melted crayons from Applebee’s.
  • 10 reusable grocery bags from Aldi’s, Wholefoods, Dierbergs and Schnucks.
  • Three lip glosses.
  • 12 pony tail holders.
  • Four road flares (again, the cop thing — no car is complete without government-issue road flares – these are at least 30 years old).
  • And a partridge in a pear tree (Couldn’t resist).

I’m almost 50. My oldest is 21 and moving out for law school in August. My middle child is 18 and will be a senior in high school this year, most likely going away to college in 2017. My baby is 8 (and a half).

It was time to downsize.

So, I cried at the start of my mini-van days and I almost cried at the end of them.

It’s a minivan full of memories, representing an entire era of my life that has come to a close. But I really love the CRV so far and I think we’ll have fun making memories to fill it, as well.

NOTE: We purchased the pre-owned Odyssey and the pre-owned CRV from Bommarito Honda in Hazelwood, MO. That is NOT close to our home, but we had such great service there in 2008 that we returned. We were treated like family and they went above and beyond to make sure we found the car that was right for us. Then they went above and beyond to get my luggage racks installed before we head out on our first road trip. A big thanks to everyone who helped us: Kevin Hall, Randy Graves, Guy Taylor and Jake from service. 

A Lamp, an Engraving Tool and Fishing

When I was a teenager, Missouri driver license numbers had 16 digits. I still know my number by heart because my Dad had an engraving tool and he etched that number on every single one of my possessions with a personal engraving gadget.

Evidence of that quirky habit surfaced as we spent part of our Memorial Day weekend doing some basement cleaning out and reorganizing. My husband came across this desk lamp, which was a high school graduation present from my next-door neighbors. Notice the driver’s license number, (part of which I’ve concealed with photo editing to protect against identity theft in case this number is still somehow tied to me).

When my husband found the lamp, he texted a picture of it to my kids and I. The following text conversation ensued:

Daughter: “What is that?”

Husband: “It’s the base of a desk lamp that your mother used in college. Your grandfather marked all of her stuff with her name.”       Me: “And my driver’s license number which I can still repeat w/o looking.”

Daughter: “Why your driver’s license number?”

Me: “That was an anti-theft thing. Made it less valuable to steal because a pawn wouldn’t take something marked with a dl number. And for sure, someone was gonna steal my lamp to pawn. And my makeup mirror and cooler tool.

Me: “If you didn’t want it monogrammed with your DL number, you had to hide it from my Dad.”

And that was true. My late father was a police officer and he spent part of his career in the detective bureau working in the fencing unit. At some point, he bought his own engraving tool and spent hours inexpertly engraving our belongings. Friends often asked me about the lengthy number etched – sometimes messily — into the front of my lighted makeup mirror, or on the side of my playmate cooler.

Finding the lamp delivered a pang of guilt – it was Memorial Day weekend and I was unlikely to make it to Jefferson Barracks to visit his grave.

That’s because after the basement cleanup, we had plans to go camping with my brother’s family.

While on that overnight campout, my Dad crept into my thoughts several times. I thought of him as I watched my young nephews erect a tent, was we grilled hamburgers and while the kids chased moths with fishing nets.

I laughed when my sister-in-law attempted to demonstrate that she could, indeed, hit a Wiffle ball and my brother jokingly heckled her with each strike. His friendly harassment juxtaposed with memories of my very athletic uncles getting into brawls over similar games at family barbecues when I was a child. My brother reminded me that while my Dad didn’t have anything near my uncle’s sports prowess, he never failed to get into the game and he often enjoyed a private laugh at my uncles’ expense when they took things too seriously.

In the evening, my husband and brother decided to take the kids fishing off a river boat dock, loading up rods and what was left of the bait after the four-year-old spent the afternoon playing with his “pet worms.” They headed out with a five kids, ages 14, 12, 8, 7 and 4. Sitting my lawn chair, enjoying the company of my sister-in-law and 21-year-old daughter, I was impressed at their bravery.

It conjured a memory of the time my Dad took my siblings and I, plus my best friend, fishing on the Lake of the Ozarks when my brother, the youngest, was 5.

On that day, we motored out into the middle of a cove on a borrowed jon boat in the August heat. Lathered in thick sunscreen and anxious for some lake action, us kids were anything but patient fisherman. And my father was not known for being a patient man.

But I distinctly remember him wanting that trip to be successful. He was excited. He had good intentions, seeking to impart his enjoyment of fishing and the lake upon his young charges, even if he wasn’t armed with the skill set to stay calm and collected on a small boat with young, virgin fisherpersons.

He carefully put worms on the lines of four poles, handing the first pole to my brother and helping him cast the line. Then he proceeded to bait the hooks for my sister, myself and my friend. In short order, a couple of our lines were tangled, the clear filament starting to resemble a spider’s web.

My Dad got us untangled with minimal cussing, and then recast our lines with a little less patience than the first time around. Then my brother reeled his line in again and decided to try casting by himself. And that’s when he hooked something – my father’s cheek.

Patience gone, yelling ensued. A lot of yelling. And the fishing expedition ended promptly with no fish caught.

But he tried. And he was successful in at least two aspects. He taught my brother to be undaunted about heading out to fish with five kids in tow. And he created a lasting memory, engraved with all its imperfections on my heart with just like my driver’s license number on my desk lamp.

We didn’t make it to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend. But I think we honored his memory just the same.

 

A Letter to My College Graduate – I Noticed, I Saw

12961568_10153600466870488_6578506396590814839_nYou, the baby who entered the world dramatically, unresponsive and frighteningly silent, the one who made me a mother for the first time and who has only ever been late to one event in your entire life – your due date — and only ever “failed” one test (the APGAR) — YOU are graduating from college.

While you were still tucked inside of me, I wrote letters and tucked them into your baby book. Those letters were written by a woman who didn’t know you. So, they focused on things I thought you might like to know someday: details about my pregnancy, some of your family history, and how Dad and I met, and how excited we were to become a family.

Then I wrote a few letters to you 12987183_10153600466605488_1344644696529580324_nafter you were born. I still didn’t know you, but I was getting hints about who you might become. Your alert eyes and your animated expressions provided some clues about the personality that would soon open like a flower, revealing an explosion of color and beauty that had only been hinted at when it was just a bud.

Now, as I attempt to write a letter that would honor your accomplishments, document your college career and offer some words of wisdom as you embark on the next phase of your life, I find myself at a loss. Every word or phrase seems to fall short of the mark. Picture collages and Facebook posts are inadequate.

I can only offer you what is bubbling up from my heart. And that is an overwhelming pride for who you are and gratitude for how you have handled yourself as you marched (too quickly) into adulthood. I want you to know that I noticed when you sacrificed, when you put in the extra effort, when you made the right decision or the hard choice. I want you to know that I cherish the relationship we have, and that I acknowledge what you have done to make that relationship possible.

What I want to say is this. I noticed and I SAW when you:

  • Never gave up on your goal of swimming in college, even though you faced year after year of disappointing swim meet results.
  • Carefully researched your college options and chose the school and the swim program that was right for you.
  • Navigated a challenging living situation in college with maturity and grace that I know I would not have possessed at 18.
  • Chose your college friends carefully, and chose well.
  • Lived on a budget, and a tight one at that, and stayed within that budget.
  • Opted to get a job – actually two jobs — to have more spending money.
  • Recognized that there was too much on your plate – those two jobs, swimming and school — and wisely chose to live on less money so you could maintain balance.
  • Came home during the summers and assimilated back into our family, honoring our desire to have you home at a reasonable time and to know where you were, while also contributing to the household duties as if you’d never left.
  • Gave us plenty of your time on your visits and summers home, making it to all family functions and holidays and just hanging out with us.
  • Called and texted us regularly, keeping us connected to you and letting us continue to be a part of your life.
  • Said thank you. A lot.
  • Recognized the time when you needed some help from Mom and Dad and had the courage to ask for that help.
  • Worked through some big decisions your sophomore year, not the least of which was the decision that after 14 years, it was time to retire from swimming.
  • Maturely handled a long-distance relationship with the man that you love.
  • Worked full time last summer while also taking an LSAT prep course and completed two college courses so that you could graduate a full year early.
  • Diligently completed law school applications and essays and secured acceptances and scholarship offers from four major schools.
  • Stepped in beside the man that you love during the darkest hours of his life, grieving with him while also supporting him and giving him the space to grieve in his own way.
  • Handled everything your senior year of college, including choosing your law school, applying for the financial aid you’ll need to cover it, while also allowing Mom and Dad the opportunity to be a part of the process.
  • Remained my daughter, letting me remain your Mom, giving me the right to occasionally make a “Mom demand” or request or correction, but also, most importantly, became my friend.

So, my previous baby girl – I see YOU and I am proud. It is my greatest hope that as you head out into this adult world, you can see yourself through my lens, your father’s lens and the lens of the God who created you and abundantly blessed you with so many gifts. If you can do that, you will see a picture of a young woman who can and will do great things.

—– Gretchen Cox graduates Cum Laude on May 14, 2016 from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. In just three years, she completed a bachelor of arts degree, double majoring in political science and history. She was inducted into both the History and the Political Science honor societies, and she just won an award for the outstanding research on a paper she wrote on the Great Depression and Appalachia. She will attend the St. Louis University School of Law starting in August 2016.

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The Journey

I completed the Go! St. Louis Marathon on Sunday, April 10, marking the 4th time I’ve completed this journey and run 26.2 miles.

IMG_0129Statistics say that less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has ever run a marathon. So according to the numbers, I’m in a pretty elite group. But I didn’t feel accomplished on Sunday. I was disappointed with the number on the clock as I crossed the finish line.

Instead of going below my best time , I added 37 minutes, taking 5 hours and 7 minutes to cross the finish line. In my mind, it was a failure.

I trained for the last four months with Fleet Feet to prepare for the event, and my dedicated, loyal coach ran 19 of the 26.2 miles with me, including the grueling back half of the race. I began complaining somewhere around mile 15.

“It’s  hard to keep going knowing that this is going to be my slowest marathon time ever. Why bother?” I pouted.

It's all smiles BEFORE the race and the rain, with Coach Lindsey of Fleet Feet.
It’s all smiles BEFORE the race and the rain, with Coach Lindsey of Fleet Feet.

She went all “coach-y” saying,  “I want you to see this as an accomplishment, a win. You’re running with an injured knee. And it’s your first marathon in a long time. Absolutely everything has to come together perfectly to get a PR (best time). That doesn’t happen often,  so it’s better if you focus on the journey.”

Then she told me that the main reason she coaches for Fleet Feet (a volunteer position that requires a LOT of time) is because she gets to spend time with people who have learned to enjoy the journey. The journey that leads up to the race is the fun part. The race is a piece of that journey, but it’s not about the time it takes to finish it.

“I hope you’ll be able to see it that way, even if you can’t right now” she said.

She was sharing these golden nuggets of wisdom during the worst possible miles of the marathon. Even when I’m having a good race (which I wasn’t) and when I’m feeling great (my knee was howling) and when the weather is good (we were getting drenched in rain and whipped by wind), I am not in a happy place between miles 19 and 23 of a marathon.

So, I promptly ignored her Polly Anna pronouncements. Thankfully, I kept all “shrew-like” thoughts to myself, so I don’t have any amends to make, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t think them. Sorry Lindsey.

The next day, however, it all started to come together for me in light of another statistic and another journey that is tied to my running. And those things helped change my perspective.

About 16.6 million people suffered from an alcohol use disorder in 2013 according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But only about 1.3 million of those adults received treatment in a specialized facility in the same year —  about 7 percent of those those who have a problem with alcohol.

Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t release much information about its membership — thus the anonymous part — but estimates are that there are about 2 million members worldwide.

I am a sufferer of this diseases, but was blessed with sobriety more than 11 years ago through a 12-step program.  That’s also when I began distance running.

Relapse rates for alcoholism are high — some estimate between 50 and 90 percent. By God’s grace, and the fellowship of others in a 12-step program,  I am NOT part of that statistic.

So again, I’m in a couple of elite groups: the group that got sober and the group that has, thus far, stayed sober without a relapse. Truth in advertising: It’s  not my doing. God and the fellowship get the credit.

Recently, however, instead of being grateful for my blessings, I was feeling sorry for myself.

Jan and I in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Jan and I in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

I was with a dear friend in Italy on an incredible vacation where the wine flowed with most of the meals.  It was social drinking, meal-oriented drinking, perfectly normal drinking that was intertwined with food and culture and festivity. But I couldn’t participate in the drinking part of the festivities.

The trip was so fabulous and I was having so much fun that I really didn’t care one iota about that. In fact, I didn’t even think about it while I was in Italy. I was with one of my closest friends. I was seeing the Amalfi Coast, and Capri, and Positano and Rome! I was laughing and shopping, eating and touring. I jogged on trails cut into stone overlooking the Mediterranean below and Pompei in the distance.

I didn’t have the time or the inclination to feel sorry for myself until I got back home. Then, in the days following my trip and leading up to my oldest daughter’s 21st birthday, I began brood about how I won’t be able to enjoy a glass of wine when I return to Italy in a month with my daughter to celebrate her graduation and birthday. Yes, I will be back in Italy in a month!

Instead of focusing on that — on the fact that my 21-year-old daughter chose a trip with ME to Europe as her college graduation present — I was brooding on how flawed I am, how “less than,” how “left out.” And I was letting the time it took me to complete 26.2 miles diminish the fun I had preparing for the race.

But over the past few days, as friends and family have texted and called to congratulate me on the marathon finish, and posted words of praise on social media, I began to reflect differently on both the race and the gift of sobriety.

I am back to seeing the value in the journey — both the journey leading to my slowest marathon ever and the journey that means I am blessed, or so very blessed, to be among the small percentage of alcoholics who GETS to live a sober life. It doesn’t make me flawed or “less than.” Instead, it means He made me for more.

My daughter and husband asked if this is my last marathon. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Miles 19 to 23 are still too fresh in my memory, so it’s not a good time to decide.

But it wasn’t my last race or the end of my journey.

 

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Running With Others Spices Up Training

Running alone is hard. Choosing to run with others is hard, too, but better. In this way, running is a little bit like life.

Last weekend, before, during and after the Run for the Helmet 7k marathon training runningrace in Cottleville, I was reminded again just how much I am getting out of my marathon training with Fleet Feet. More than just professional training and coaching, quality advice on stretching, injury prevention and nutrition – although those aspects are deeply valued – I am getting true camaraderie, friendship, encouragement and support. And Fun! Did I mention I’m having SO. MUCH. FUN!?

I have always been a bit of a loner when it comes to my running. I like to put my ear buds and lose myself in a good book. It’s my “me” time and, always the multi-tasker, I simultaneously indulge my love of fiction and my fondness for running.

In this way, I’ve done most of my distance training alone.

But I wasn’t getting any better as a runner, and I figured I must be doing something wrong. So I signed up to train with Fleet Feet for the Go! St. Louis Marathon this April.

Turns out I was doing more than “something” wrong – I was doing most everything wrong. But that’s for another post.

Fleet Feet Training Program runningThe biggest thing I was doing wrong had very little to do with the science, athleticism, endurance and mechanics of running. It was the people and the camaraderie that were missing from my training. It was the fun that was missing.

Through Fleet Feet, I’ve discovered these essential ingredients to running — people and fun — that enhance my training like a good spice enhances a recipe.

There is something so powerful, so motivating about:

  • Knowing when I rise to the sound of my alarm in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday morning, I can’t crawl back under the covers because there are people expecting me to show up in a cold parking lot near a trailhead somewhere.
  • Running alongside people who know and can joke about:
    • The reality of screaming out loud when you did not know you had a chafing issue until the shower water revealed it to you.
    • The masochistic pain delivered by a foam roller
    • The horror you worry you will inflict upon a nail technician if you go for a pedicure
    • A passionate hatred for hills
    • A passionate love of Aquaphore
    • Strassburg socks (and their torturous appearance)
    • The fact that your running shoes are the most expensive item in your wardrobe.
  • Having people alongside me during a long, grueling training run to encourage me to continue – to pass up my car one more time, to push through to the end even if I have to slow down to do so. And they are willing to slow down with me.
  • Having people at the end of a run applauding my effort and my finish time, sharing their finish time with me, and all of celebrating an accomplishment.

Last weekend, I experienced all of these things and more. After the race, I enjoyed the company of other runners at a post-race social gathering. We talked about their challenges with fitting training in with family and work obligations, about run cruises (something I MUST check out) and about previous training seasons that helped forge the friendships I was observing and becoming a part.

All of it made me look forward to next weekend’s 19 miles. Because it’s fun again.


Fleet Feet has multiple running and training programs (some free, some not)  to choose from and many of the participants train with them year round — the group is like a big family. You can learn more here.

 

 

 

CrossFit GBT, Newest Box in Ellisville, Proves CrossFit is For EveryBODY

My husband and I have been trying something new this year and the vocabulary of our new endeavor includes words like thrust, snatch and jerk.

Okay – minds out of the gutter. It’s CrossFit! And we were fortunate enough to discover Ellisville’s newest CrossFit Gym, CrossFit GBT (Got Better Today) and its owner Karla Bennett.

I had been hearing a lot about CrossFit for a couple of years, but I chose to ignore the chatter. I understand the importance of strength training, but I don’t like it. At all.

Plus, some of what I heard or saw regarding CrossFit (CrossFit myths) didn’t look fun. At all.

People:

  • lifting huge weights over their head
  • doing handstands
  • doing push-ups
  • doing squats with weights
  • getting yelled at
  • flipping over tires
  • and worst of all, doing pull-ups!!

CrossFit Is for EveryBODY

Then a friend told he how much CrossFit changed her life. I only met her a few months ago, but she said she used to be in terrible shape and poor health. She said her husband had to drop her off at the entrance to malls and department stores and then go park the car because she was unable to walk. She said she couldn’t even do one sit-up. And she changed all that with CrossFit GBT!

CrossFit
Karla working with a client

She talked about how she and her husband and several of her friends have improved their bodies, but more importantly, improved their quality of life because CrossFit addresses functional movement. I couldn’t believe this woman had ever been anything but the vibrant, energetic, healthy, beautiful person who was standing before me.

Honestly, I didn’t know that someone who couldn’t do a sit-up could or should do CrossFit. I didn’t think of CrossFit as a beginner’s workout. I was intrigued. And I was looking for two things:

  • A cross training program to compliment my marathon training.
  • An exercise program that my husband would enjoy.

This sounded like it might do both. I still didn’t think I would like it, because I don’t like strength training. But I have promised myself about a hundred times that THIS time when I’m training for my marathon, I’m going to do it right. I’m going to cross-train and not just run seven days a week, and I’m going to stretch.

Crossfit GBT is Like Having a Personal Trainer

And Karla has been helping me do just that. She keeps her class size fairly small, and she scales the workouts for each individual. It is not unusual for three or four people in a class to be doing different things based on ability and experience. And she is always right there, watching carefully, making sure your form is perfect and helping you make adjustments if it’s not.

I thought I’d feel intimidated doing this kind of workout, but the environment at CrossFit GBT couldn’t be more welcoming. There have been a few times when I’ve been anxious to do exactly what everyone else is doing, but Karla’s main goal has been to ensure that you are ready and have perfect form before moving to heavier weights and more complicated moves so that YOU DON’T GET HURT. It’s like having a personal trainer right beside you.

For those more competitive types, Karla’s gym is a certified CrossFit gym, which means that members will be able to eventually compete in CrossFit Open events. Although, Karla stresses that the competition factor will not be the main focus of her box (that’s what CrossFitters call their gym).

“It’s all about being the best YOU can be, working as hard as YOU can. Regardless of previous athletic skill or ability, CrossFit GBT can help you out,” Karla says.

Another thing I love about CrossFit GBT is that Karla is a wealth of information on so many other fitness and health-related topics. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree with a Health and Wellness emphasis.  She is a CrossFit certified Level I instructor as well as a US certified Weightlifting Coach. Because of her background, she can assist with understanding the value of sound nutritional eating habits and how to fuel before, during and after workouts.

CrossFit GBT offers group CrossFit classes, individual lessons and nutrition counseling.

“CrossFit GBT is devoted to educating people on how to live a healthy lifestyle,” Karla says. “We want nothing more than to see you succeed at your goals. We will work to help you with whatever we can. We believe fitness is an ongoing process.”

Contact info:

More about Karla:

Karla holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing with a Health and Wellness emphasis.  She is a CrossFit certified Level I instructor as well as a US certified Weightlifting Coach. She assists athletes to understand the value of sound nutritional eating habits and how to fuel before, during and after workouts. She consults with a variety of professional trainers as well as athletic trainers. Karla has worked with all levels of athletes from children to older adults.

She designs workouts based on personal fitness level, time of season for athletes and personal strength level.  She has each participant undergo a Functional Movement Screen before beginning training to determine movement patterns that are key to normal function and identify areas of weakness to individualize each athletes goals and workouts.

Karla first started doing CrossFit in 2009, her favorite WOD’s are AMRAP’s and her least favorite WOD’s are those that involve any form of wall balls or Overhead Squats. However, she still programs them anyways because she knows that you will never be able to get better if you do not practice.

 

The Valentine’s Box

When I had my third baby at age 40, nine years after my second baby, my heart danced at the prospect of getting to do everything over again as an older, wiser mom. I vowed to appreciate all the moments more, to live in the present and embrace every aspect of motherhood during what would be my motherly swan song, my last “at-bat.”

If I’m being generous, I might say my batting average is about .500 on this score.

But one particular homerun stands out in my memory. My baby, Ginger, was 15 months old and sick with croup. We sat uncomfortably perched on the toilet seat in the steamy bathroom around 2 a.m. She was crying through coughing fits, miserable. I was sweating through my pajamas and from the heat of her feverish body pressed against me, my hair curling around my face from the man-made humidity of the shower spraying scalding water full blast as it tested the limits of our hot-water heater.

As I held her, exhausted from the second night of this, I settled into the moment, savoring it for what it offered me – a chance to hold my baby close and provide some comfort. I appreciated it for what it was and for how fleeting I knew it to be.

I wish I could say that I have demonstrated that fountain of wisdom in all of her eight years thus far.  But I haven’t. I’ve tried. But I’ve failed as many times as I’ve succeeded.

Life gets so busy.

Last weekend went something like this:

  • Thursday night: Bible study for couples until 8:30 p.m. My husband, Marc, goes home to put Ginger to bed. I go to help the moms of the junior basketball players help the make posters for the senior basketball players so we can honor them on senior night. Home around 10:30 p.m.
  • Friday: Client work and finishing up a short story for the fiction workshop I’m indulging in to improve my writing. Meet Ginger at the bus stop and deliver her to my neighbors so Marc and I can get to the senior night varsity basketball game. Home around 9 p.m.
  • Saturday: 13-mile training run for my half marathon. Marc does a CrossFit class while my son, Brad, watches Ginger. Then Marc takes them to the pancake breakfast at Ginger’s school. Marc and I do taxes all afternoon. Drop Ginger off at a birthday party at 6:30 p.m., sneak into church a little late, where Marc is saving me a seat.  After church, Marc goes to pick up Ginger at the party and I head home to make chili for Brad’s Superbowl party on Sunday. Bed around 10:30 p.m.
  • Sunday: Sleep in until 8:30 a.m. What a treat! Then grocery shop while Marc heads to accountants office to do taxes. I get home,  put away groceries and head to my fiction class while Marc and Brad set up for the Superbowl party. I return home around 5 p.m., and then Ginger and run out to buy Valentines for her class party on Thursday, knowing the week will be crazy and we have to get this done tonight. We return home and embark on making the Valentine box and filling out the cards and assembling them with the pencils she is giving as a special treat.

Admittedly, I did not want to make the Valentine box. I hate arts and crafts on a good day. While this had not been a bad day, it had been an overly scheduled one. My tank was empty. I wanted to curl up with a good book and put this busy weekend to bed.

She wanted glitter and sparkles and a hot glue gun and the “best Valentine’s box ever.”

Something made me remember that night she was sick with croup. It seems like it’s been awhile since I held her while she was sick. Then I remembered a poem I read recently about there being a last time for everything – a last time when you feed your baby, a last time when you will hold her on your hip, the last time he will reach for your hand before crossing the street. And you won’t know it’s the last time.

And I thought,  “Savor it.”

So we made the Valentine Box.

Third Child Valentine Box
Third Child Valentine Box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just kidding. I may sometimes forget to savor the moment, but I seldom forget to be snarky. I just had to take that picture.

Before making this box with her.

And then attending this party with her today.

And then she gave me this.

valentine 3

I hope it’s not the last homemade Valentine she makes for me, but I’m saving it just in case.

And I’m hoping to improve my batting average this year.  Because it’s going way too fast.

 

 

 

 

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Gratitude — Hearing the Right Messages

Rejection. Dismissal.

Those are lonely words – words of not belonging, of being on the outside, of being alone.

Yesterday, I was rejected and dismissed by someone I love, someone to whom I used to be very close. I experienced a range of emotions and the symptoms of those emotions – sadness and tears, anger and spitefulness, thoughts of revenge, sarcasm, detachment. I finally settled into sadness and disappointment.

I sat in my family room that looked dreary and neglected and felt sorry for myself. I looked at the layer of dust on the furniture and the cat and dog hair woven into the area rug and gathered like tumbleweeds against the baseboards. I stared through the blinds and dirty windows at the common ground behind our house and the landscape matched my mood – cold, gray, a little dingy from the melting snow. The trees were bare, no evidence of life.

Except there was evidence of life. I was briefly distracted by two squirrels racing impossibly fast across branches that appear too feeble to hold them, then leap from the large oak in my backyard to one of the unknown (to me) species of trees in the neighbor’s yard.

I spent my evening brooding, occasionally tearing up, but basically moving from task to appointment to task. I got some good advice — “Write down your blessings. And thank God for them” — but I didn’t follow it. I’d wasted enough of my day crying over the situation.

No time for gratitude.

Today, I attended the memorial service of a 22-year-old young man. Many people loved him. He was a loyal friend and a devoted son and brother. He was greatly admired because he showed courage in the face of tremendous health challenges, and then he used his compassionately, selflessly help others.His life ended much too soon.

I knew this man because he was a swimmer with my daughter on the Rockwood Swim Team. Not surprisingly, there were dozens of people from our Rockwood swim family in attendance at the funeral.

Just like there were dozens from our swim family in attendance a few months ago when the mother of one of the swimmers died.

Just like a group of them gathered a few weeks ago to help one of the swim dad’s celebrate the arrival of his 60s.

Just like they dropped off meals and gifts when I had a baby at age 40, and helped me get my daughter to swim practice in the weeks following.

Just like they surrounded a widower nearly 10 years ago when her husband died of cancer, leaving her to raise three young children.

Just like they’ve surrounded many others in times of great joy and great hardship.

And it hit me. These people. The people helping to fill the pews at this memorial service. They are the ones who matter. The ones to include on that gratitude list.

Somewhere along the way, probably as children, most likely in a school lunchroom or on a playground or in gym class when teams are chosen for kickball, we feel that first sting of rejection. We internalize that first message that “you’re not wanted” or “you’re not good enough.” The lucky ones get the message from people outside their families; the unlucky ones get the message from those closest to them. But all of us, at one time or another, have gotten the rejection message.

And for some reason, those messages often ring louder, sound truer and echo longer than the messages that say “I love you” or “I’m here for you” or “You’re good enough.”

Why is that?

Maybe because we don’t write that gratitude list.

Maybe because we don’t always see the squirrels racing on the branches and remember that they are reminders of the life that is still present even though the trees are bare.

I think the memorial service for Christopher Parsons was beautiful on so many levels – it was an amazing tribute to his life. For me, it was also a reminder to be grateful for those around me, to notice the signs of life and hope amid landscapes that seem lifeless, and to let messages of love, friendship and affirmation ring louder than messages of rejection.

And those thoughts reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses:

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

NOTE: Christopher Parsons father read this poem at his son’s memorial service. I thought it was beautiful so I looked up the words. Here’s a link.