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Category: Travel

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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Embassy Suites Is An Amazing St. Louis Hotel

ES_extnight_712x342_FitToBoxSmallDimension_CenterThe downtown Embassy Suites is a great hotel in St. Louis and provided a perfect venue for our recent mother/daughter sleepover which coincided with the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour concert last week.

The hotel is located one block from the America’s Center Convention Complex and the Edward Jones Dome at 610 North 7th Street. Valet parking is available out front.

The hotel lobby is beautiful and the staff was extremely attentive and helpful. In fact, I lost my valet ticket when it was time to leave for the concert, but the valet promptly located my car and got us on our way.

The best feature of the hotel, in my opinion, was the size of the rooms. I commented on that to the hotel manager, Wade Thompson, and he told me he thinks they have some of the largest rooms among the Embassy Suites properties. And he said we were in one of the smaller suites in his grand hotel. I’m confident the room was bigger than my first and my second apartments.

My daughter and I enjoyed the afternoon in our room, but took a little time to go exploring around the hotel. Here’s what we found:

There was a daily “happy hour” with free drinks and snack, as well as an amazing breakfast spread the next day complete with made-to-order omelets. The hotel pool and exercise room would make any guest happy, although we didn’t have time to enjoy either one. Maybe next time.

So, if you’re looking for a great hotel in St. Louis, especially if you’re traveling with kids and want a large suite with plenty of space, consider the Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Louis Downtown.

Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour Provides Great Mother/Daughter Experience

Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour St. Louis Concert
Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour St. Louis Concert

My 7-year-old’s suggestion that we do a mother/daughter sleepover, complete with crafts, board games, facials and mani’s/pedi’s became a reality last week with an added bonus – tickets to the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour concert, in the SECOND ROW OFF THE STAGE!

Ginger first suggested this weekend of “funtivities” last spring, offering it as a birthday present from her to me. Since I’m not the type of mom who loves doing crafts or playing board games, I kind of put her off, suggesting a Starbuck’s gift card instead. I know, shame on me.

She was persistent and kept after me all summer. So I began trying to figure out how to make it happen, knowing in my heart that I should cherish these times with her, reminding myself how quickly time passes.

When we lucked into the amazing seats at the Taylor Swift concert, I decided it would be fun to skip school, stay downtown, do our crafts & mani’s/pedi’s and head over the concert to top off the night. We stayed at the Embassy Suites, which I reviewed here.

The concert was amazing – an experience that I think Ginger will remember forever. I know I will. It was magical for my daughter, being that close to the stage, able to see the beads of perspiration on Taylor’s face as she put 110 percent into her performance. Ginger belted out the lyrics to almost every song, and seemed mesmerized by the dancing, the lights, the pure energy put forth by a performer who knows how to interact with and electrify an audience.

It was a transforming 24 hours for me, too – a reset of sorts. It reminded me to slow down and enjoy my girl. It helped me acknowledge a few things that I knew, but had forgotten in my busyness:

  • Ginger won’t remember whether I kept the house clean.
  • She won’t care what I accomplished as a writer.
  • She is unconcerned about my work, my website, my paycheck or my social media presence.
  • She expects to be fed, but isn’t worried about whether every meal is balanced.
  • She desires my attention and my presence.
  • She likes crafts and board games and music just like I like reading, horror flicks, running and time outdoors. I must make a regular effort to engage in her passions.
  • We share an interest in fashion, perfume and all things “girly” so that’s a good place to “hang out” together.
  • Now we also share an interest in Taylor Swift, but it’s because we did it together.
  • She wants me. Most importantly, she wants ME. That’s easy. Give her more of ME, and in so doing, I get the amazing benefit of getting more of her.

One more big plus from the weekend: Ginger and I had a chance to really talk about things going on in her life. At 7, she’s starting to navigate the difficult social waters of “girlhood.” Those waters can be rough, mainly because more often than not, our gender has not figured out how to lift each other up rather than cut each other down.

Mean girls are reality. And I am a believer that EVERY girl possesses a mean girl inside of her. It is our job, as moms, to help our daughters tame the mean girl, keep her on a very, very short leash, acknowledging her feelings, helping our daughters to give words to those feelings, but then empowering them to reach higher – to look up and consider what Christ wants her to do and be. Ginger and I talked about how hard it is to be nice after someone has been mean, and then how to move on. Then we talked about how the Taylor Swift song, Shake It Off, can be a theme song for doing just that.

So, thanks Taylor, for everything! And thanks to the Embassy Suites for providing a great venue for our mother/daughter Sleepover.



Indianapolis Nestle Inn Bed and Breakfast is Five Stars

Originally published Feb. 5, 2012

Nestle Inn in Indianapolis
Nestle Inn in Indianapolis

The Nestle Inn Bed and Breakfast near downtown Indianapolis is one of the most charming, comfortable, character-infused, locationally-gifted B&B’s I have ever visited.

I recently had the pleasure of spending two nights at this urban B&B when my teenage daughter and I were in Indianapolis for a swim meet.  Here are some of the things we loved about the Nestle Inn:

The home has the historic look and feel of an old dwelling, dating back to the mid-1800’s, but it has all the modern amenities tucked within its walls. Our room was furnished with a large, comfortable bed and an awesome mattress, a nice desk for working/surfing, fast, wireless Internet, modern bathroom fixtures and toiletries, and a beautiful antique wardrobe that housed a nice television and DVD player. Plus, despite the frigid temperatures outside, the house was WARM — unusual for an older structure.

The Inn is “nestled” into Mass Avenue in Indy, making it a great place to visit anytime of year because of its proximity to the theatre, arts, shopping, pubs, breweries and fabulous restaurants. It literally is in the heart of the theatre district, and although we didn’t get to enjoy any of the theatre venues because of our swim meet schedule, we loved the environment of the surrounding blocks. The area is busy with foot traffic and abuzz with people having fun, making it a fun place to be, even if you are going to be spending most of your time at IUPUI’s Natatorium. And speaking of IUPUI, it only took us minutes to drive from the B&B to the campus and the Natatorium, as well as all the other downtown hotspots. The Nestle Inn also sits on the Cultural Trail in Indy, which is a bike and pedestrian path that is nine miles long and connects all the “neighborhoods” of the city.

Innkeepers Leesa and Bob Smith strive to deliver individualized service to their guests. They helped us navigate the city (and even “talked me back” to the Inn one night when I managed to get hopelessly lost after leaving the pool); left movies in our room after I had inquired where to rent them because we just wanted to relax after a long day; and prepared a “breakfast care package to go” for my teen and left it hanging on our doorknob after learning that she had to be in the pool for warm-ups by 6 a.m. and would, therefore, miss breakfast at the Inn.

11143334_887458887944133_2824221736198383797_nThe library at the Inn is amazing. My first morning there, I woke before my daughter and carried my laptop into the library to answer emails and do some Internet research. The furniture was comfortable; the walls were lined with interesting books and periodicals; and the coffee, creamers and snacks set out on the table were a wonderful surprise, considering I was up before the sun the house sounded as though everyone was still sleeping.

Parking was easy, which was unexpected considering the urban setting. Most times, we were able to find a spot on the street right in front of the Inn. But, Leesa gave us a pass to a parking lot one block away in case we couldn’t find street parking or were unsuccessful achieving a solid parallel parking job.

The food was delicious and FUN. That’s because during the week, you are treated to breakfast next door at Henry’s Coffee Bistro, an eclectic coffee shop with lattes, hot breakfast sandwiches, sweets and waffles for breakfast and a host other tasty food for brunch and lunch. On Saturday and Sunday, breakfast is at the Inn and the one I enjoyed included delights such as “just right potato bites,” an Eggs Benedict-like entree, fresh fruit and homemade banana-bread muffins, among other treats.

Now that I’ve shared what I loved about the Nestle Inn, let me share some additional trivia about this wonderful B&B:

Bob and Leesa purchased the Inn in September 2011 from the previous innkeepers who wanted to retire. (They had operated the Inn since 2000). Bob is a psychotherapist and a 29-year career firefighter/paramedic. Leesa is an Innkeeper with more than 29 years experience in the hospitality industry and in business and marketing.

In the mid-1800s, Jonathon and Alice Stewart lived in a small, one-story dwelling on the site of the current Nestle Inn. In 1896, John built their residence as a two-family home, adjoining two structures together so that their families could live close to each other. They lived in the home until 1920 and then the entire house was rented to a long series of short-term tenants including Carl F. Mellian, a machinist and Grant Kelner, a cigarmaker. The house also served as a boarding house for young women who came to Indianapolis during the turn of the century to work at the Real Silk glove factory located nearby on Park Street.

In 2000, Steve and Barb Tegaren bought the home and restored it to a five-room Inn. They operated it for 10 years, welcoming visitors and friends and establishing the Inn as the No. 1 B&B in Indianapolis, according to Trip Advisor. (I’ll second that!)

The Nestle Inn has proven to be a great destination for a girls weekend getaway or a family gathering. In fact, Leesa recently rented the whole house to a family who was celebrating their mother’s birthday. Leesa was delighted to watch the kids hanging out in their jammies while parents relaxed drinking wine and the grandparents enjoyed having the whole clan gathered together under one cozy roof. She also hosted a women’s book club that found the Inn to be the perfect spot for their needs.

I honestly cannot wait to return to the Nestle Inn and am already trying to figure out what “occasion” I’m going to use as my excuse. So, the next time you want or need to visit Indy, whether for business, pleasure or kids’ sports, skip the chain hotels and give Leesa and Bob a call. You won’t regret it.

Embassy Suites Best of Hotels in Oklahoma City

ES_atriuminterior_6_712x342_FitToBoxSmallDimension_CenterMy husband and I and our preschooler recently stayed at the Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City and I can’t say enough about the experience. I’ve stayed at these properties before, but it’s been a few years and I’d forgotten how much better Embassy Suites is at making a stay away from home more of a vacation than a stay away from home.

You get a sense of how delightful your visit is going to be when you walk into the lobby to check-in. The lobby area is gorgeous and gives you the sense that you are staying at a resort — plus the desk staff is so efficient and accommodating that there isn’t any lobby chaos.

Our king bedded suites are perfect for the business traveler; offering complete comfort with our new bedding package.
Our king bedded suites are perfect for the business traveler; offering complete comfort with our new bedding package.

The rooms are large and have all the amenities. There’s a spacious front room with a nice television, comfortable couch, good size desk and swivel chair, counter and sink equipped with a coffee maker (an essential in my opinion) as well as a refrigerator and microwave. Of course, the hotel offers free wireless Internet access and I had a lot of work to accomplish while I was visiting, so the Internet speed was important to me. I wasn’t disappointed. At one point, I had a problem accessing a secure site for one of my clients and I called the front desk. I was immediately connected to tech support (which made me groan internally, suspecting that I’d be on the phone until my next birthday). Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at the efficiency and my problem was resolved effortlessly.

The bedroom area of the suite was standard and very clean. We had a room with two double beds, which was perfect for our needs. The beds were comfortable, the room temperature was easy to control, and very little, if any, noise filtered from the hallway into the back bedroom part of the suite. Housekeeping was as efficient as the lobby staff and things we needed (an extra pillow and more coffee) were delivered to our room within minutes of our requests. We enjoyed being able to rent movies in our room that are still in theaters for a cost of about $12 per movie, which made for a cheap “date night” for my husband and I after putting our youngster to bed (another plus of staying at Embassy Suites when traveling with children — there is a separate room to make them go to bed at their regular bedtime!)

The biggest PLUS of this hotel, however, is the amazing breakfast! We honestly could not believe the spread, which is free of charge! It included:

An omelet station with multiples choices including meats, cheese, peppers and even spinach (heaven!)

  • Pancakes
  • Waffles
  • Sausage & bacon
  • Hot oatmeal and toppings
  • Cereals
  • Fruits
  • Donuts and other pastries

The hotel saw to all the details, such as warm syrups for the pancakes and waffles, hot sauces and salsa for those of us who like to spice up our omelets, jellies and jams, and even extra omelet-making stations when the lines started getting long. Even on Sunday morning when it was very crowded, we didn’t have to wait long for a custom omelet and hotel staff kept stopping by our table to see if we needed anything.

Each night, the hotel also offered a happy hour with free drinks and snacks. And we ate at the hotel restaurant one night, which offered a decent menu, good service and good eats.

The hotel is a stone’s throw from the airport and an easy drive to other Oklahoma City attractions. Rates range from about $109 to $144 (these are estimates). It’s a little higher than a few other nearby hotels, but when you factor in the money we saved on breakfasts, snacks and drinks, it’s a wash. Plus, the service, amenities and rooms are superior. I’d give it five stars and recommend Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City to everyone traveling to that destination.