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An admittedly ponderous birthday post

Today, I turn 30.

Thirty years old.

How can this be? Yesterday I was seven … and somehow, overnight, twenty-three years of life happened.

Disney!

Scan

Animal Lover

I have never been one to shy away from an age. When I was growing up, I was proud to turn yet another year older. The funny thing is, the older I’ve gotten, the less I’ve really kept track of birthdays and age, often times having to turn to my husband and ask, ‘How old am I again?’

But somehow, this one is different. This birthday is resonating with me. This age gives me pause – it is placing a mirror of my own mortality in front of my face. Not in a gloomy, mopey why-is-life-so-short way. No, it’s in a  ‘Life is so astonishingly beautiful, Heather, and you better embrace it for all it is’ way.  And the thing is, I know the mirror is right – if the past year has taught me anything, it is that my life is beautiful, just as it is, and a gift not to be wasted.

When we listed our house in PA and made plans to move to Idaho and excitedly laid out a plan for establishing residency and adopting – my life was beautiful.

forsale

When our house sold and the position in Idaho was dissolved as if it never existed, and we were at a loss – my life was beautiful.

When we moved into the spare bedroom of my in-laws’ house and wondered ‘what next?’ – my life was beautiful.

When I broke down Christmas morning because I was not pregnant and not adopting or even moving toward the possibility of children – my life was beautiful.

wallysfirstchristmas

When I woke up during the night, panicked by the questions I didn’t have answers to – my life was beautiful.

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It just took me awhile to see the beauty, for my eyes and heart to fully open. I was so wrapped up in the expectations of others that I felt paralyzed.

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I felt an internal pressure to define who I was based on my academic training and whatever success I achieved from that. When I was in high school, I was voted most likely to succeed, and for so long I equated success with education, with career, with esteem. I thought I had to pursue challenges, overcome them and make a huge impact – anything less and I would be a failure.

But this conflicted with what lay in my heart – at my core, how I want to define myself is not by what I do but who I am. And there’s a difference. I didn’t want to be Heather – scientist, academic, relentless career-woman. Heather – tired, stressed, stingy with happiness.

sashatired

I wanted to be Heather – loving, generous, compassionate.

Heather – wife, daughter, friend and one day, mother.

And so I made a very simple choice to open myself up by giving, by listening, by loving.

Two seemingly innocuous but pivotal events occurred:

1) I started volunteering at our local shelter, photographing adoptable animals.

2) I went to church

These two things, so small at first glance, did nothing short of change my life. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic – just honest.

During my time at the shelter, I am surrounded by love on four legs (and on two legs, in the form of staff and volunteers). It’s impossible for your heart not to grow in such an environment. With my camera in hand, I remembered a joy and a passion that I had buried. And I took a chance, a risk, a dive into the unknown as I opened my own photography business, something that I never believed I could actually do. (Shameless plug: www.heatherhuntphotography.com)

At church, I listened. I didn’t let my mind wander as I have so often in the past. I wanted and needed God’s love. And He didn’t let me down. My faith grew, and with it, my heart.

And amazing things happened.

I remembered who I truly am and what matters most to me in this life.

andrewandheather_2bw_web

I am imperfect, flawed and hopelessly powerless when faced with an open jar of a nutella and a spoon. I don’t have all the answers or even very many of them.

I am not successful by the standards of my academic self, and don’t get me started on the woeful state of my bank account.

But I know without a doubt that I am blessed beyond measure and that I have all that I need at this moment of my life.

I am married to my high school sweetheart and our love is stronger than it has ever been. If you have ever lived with your significant other in a single room, you know that you have two options – to take out frustration at the situation on each other or grow closer together in order to change the situation. We have grown closer than I knew we could and for that, I’m grateful.

I have not one but two families who love me very much. My parents are a constant source of support, love and encouragement and Andrew’s parents treat me as if I am their own daughter.

I have a pack of crazy but oh-so-loveable hounds and they make my life better every single day.

I have a home to call my own … and it even has my lifelong wish of a screened-in porch where I can drink coffee in the early morning or count fireflies as dusk fades into night.

I have a healthy, functioning body that does what I tell it (for the most part).

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I am exactly where I want to be – surrounded by love.

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And so, my big fear as I turn 30, is not that I’ll miss my twenties or wrinkles or gray hair.

It’s that I can’t possibly give as much love as I receive. That I can’t adequately express my gratitude for the changes that have taken place and for the ones that are surely coming. That I’ll fail to share my heart, which is full to bursting.

But I’m ready to try.

 

 

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Help for Sandy Hook

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The lives lost at Sandy Hook are weighing heavily on my heart, just as they are the nation’s collective conscience.

I want to lighten the burden of the families who must move on, who must somehow accept that their child/brother/sister/friend will not be there for this Christmas or any other. These families need time, precious time, to heal and to find peace. These families need love, unconditional and freely given, to remember there is still beauty in life.

Countless other share the desire to help, to support, and have established many, many wonderful ways to do just that.

I thought I’d share just a few in case you too would like to join in the global embrace of the heartbroken community of Newton, Connecticut.

Shop

  • Crafting for Cause : For the week of 12/17/12 through 12/23/12, multiple Etsy shops will donate a portion of their proceeds (ranging from 5% all the way to 100%) to the United Way of Western Connecticut which has partnered with Newton Savings Bank to create the Sandy Hook School Support Fund to provide support to affected families.
  • Publishing Hearts Connecticut Online Auction: An online auction through 12/21/12 to benefit the affected families and communities through Newton Youth and Family Services. Over 50 authors have donated a host of items and services, ranging from manuscript critiques to book packages.

Run

Tons of virtual runs are being organized to raise funds for support – this is a great way to donate to the victims and their families and also spend some quality time with your own family.

  • 5k run for the Children of Sandy Hook: an event in the making which will possibly include a half-marathon, and will definitely include a global virtual component so that people everywhere can run to honor and raise money for the victims of Sandy Hook. The run will most likely take place in the spring to allow time to organize and get the word out.
  • Sandy Hook Virtual 5k: Take off for a jog around the neighborhood with your family this Saturday and join in a virtual 5k; donations made to Sandy Hook School Support Fund through Active.com
  • Sandy Hook Elementary Memorial Half-Marathon & 5k: another virtual run, being held on Thursday January 31, 2013, to benefit affected families through the United Way of Western Connecticut. Miles can be completed anytime between now and 1/31.

Donate Directly

  • United Way
  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Victims Relief Fund: started by a former Sandy Hook Elementary student to raise support for the victims, their families, and the community. Funds will be donated to the school’s PTSA organization. Over $113,000 raised as of this morning (12/19/12)

 Share Words of Support:

  • Send a letter of condolence to:

Message of Condolence

P.O. Box 3700

Newtown, CT 06470

Pray

Lift the Newtown community up in your prayers, that they may find solace, peace, love.

 

We can all contribute in a meaningful way and help help this community pick up the shattered pieces of so many broken hearts. To remind us that we all have something to give, here’s a link to what our four-legged friends are doing to help: Therapy Dogs in Sandy Hook

Have a wonderful Wednesday :)

 

 

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I hate running … but I love it – Part Deux

Part Two

So, let’s see … where did I leave off? To sum up from Part One:

  • I spent most of my life utterly despising Running.
  • After playing on an intramural soccer team, I realized that running around could actually be kind of fun
  • I trained for and ran a half-marathon
  • Toward the end of training and during the half-marathon, my knees H.U.R.T., sooooo…..
  • I decided Running and I were through … at leaast until we worked on some of our issues.

At first, my intention was to only temporarily break up. I would figure out what the heck was going on with my knees, solve it and lace up my shoes again. But as is often the case, life saw a void and filled it with Busy. I wrapped up my research and sequestered myself away into full-on no-I-can’t-shower/get dressed/cook/eat- I’m-writing-my-thesis-mode. Once that crazy period ended and I actually changed out of my pajamas totally professional writing apparel, I successfully defended my thesis and launched myself into job-hunting as winter settled in. I turned my fitness focus to strength training at my nice warm house and circuit training at the nice warm gym, and let running become a distant memory.  Once the snow melted, I found myself with a shiny new job.

A shiny new DESK job.

Stress + being sedentary most of the day does not a healthy person make. Over the next year, I struggled to maintain some level of fitness. I tried the crack of dawn Body Pump class but found it hard to squeeze in a shower and breakfast before I had to commute to work. I tried evening boxing classes but realized that it didn’t relieve stress like I hoped it would – instead I felt worse as my body stayed tense and I tried to keep a ‘tough’ mentality.

What I wanted was simplicity.

What I wanted was a reprieve from the daily grind of responsibility and requirement.

What I wanted was Running.

But I pushed that thought away. Silly. I thought that so much time had passed that it would be like starting over all again, and quite frankly, I was just too tired to try.

But Running refused to take no for an answer and slyly tried another avenue – my mother-in-law. This past spring, Andrew’s mom asked us if we had any interest in running the 2013 Disney World Half Marathon.

My initial response was ‘ H-E-Double Hockey Sticks NO! I’m done with Running! We’re not friends anymore!’

But the idea was planted. Soon, I began to remember all the good times that Running and I had had together. And I wanted to try again. But this time, I was going to do things a little differently.

This time, my training would focus on three areas:

1. My Form

For most of my life, whenever I took a PE class or participated in any kind of sports, people always told me that I ran on my toes and I needed to run on my heels instead. Because I didn’t know any better, I listened to them and when training for the first half-marathon, painstakingly changed my stride to strike my heel first.  Big mistake. This was not my natural movement, and my body paid for it as my heavy footfalls sent jarring impact up my leg and to my knees. The truth was that I wasn’t sure what proper running form even looked like, and in particular, what it should look like for me. So, I studied up. After reading Born to Run and soaking in the details of the legendary Tarahumara runners who cover vast distances in thin sandals, I set one simple goal: to strike softly on the balls of my feet. But how to do this??

My answer was two-fold. First, I switched out my shoes for a minimalist pair, Brooks PureFlow’s, which offered a lower heel profile and the ability to actually ‘feel’ the road.

shoes

I know that sounds ridiculous but in my old shoes, I would strike the ground heavy and hard, relying solely (<–pun, teehee) on the cushioning to compensate for the impact my terrible stride was generating. Second, I leaned forward. Yes, that’s it.  I leaned forward slightly, as if I was going to fall, and moved my arms farther back for balance.  Sounds easy but it took me awhile to turn it into a habit, and I admit, I felt totally ridiculous at first.  I figured I must look silly to any onlookers but soon enough I realized that it only felt extreme because previously, I had run with my back straight, and legs shooting out in front of the rest of my body (again, because that’s what I though I was supposed to do).

As I focused on leaning forward, I found it much easier to land on my forefoot and the minimal shoes insured that I landed softly because, well, landing any other way was highly undesirable. Bit by bit my form changed … and knee pain stayed noticeably absent.

2. My strength

After several months of focusing on form and steadily working on my mileage, I added in strength training. I went back to what worked for me in the past – Men’s Health Power Training. Yeah, it’s from Men’s Health but training sessions are effective for anyone, regardless of chromosomes.  However, these workouts are tough! We’re talking squats, deadlifts, push press, pull-ups, bench press, etc. I maintained a steady routine of strength training three times a week and running threes times a week, usually two short runs and one long run.

fitness

And my body responded. I grew stronger, and I grew more capable of handling being ‘uncomfortable.’ When you’re running, it’s easy to slip into a pace that is simply comfortable and not push yourself. But I derive great joy in propelling myself through a challenge and coming out on the other side a sweaty success. My legs, with their new-found strength, carried me to a faster pace in training and to my greater surprise, in races. After ~ a month and a half of strength training, I was shocked to find myself setting a PR of 55:24 and placing second in my age division in a 10k road race.

10krace

An even greater surprise came two weekends ago, when I ran with my beagle Wally in the Santa Paws 5k at my parents’. Wally howled the entire way, announcing our every step and leading me to finish as the second female overall and first in my age division. Granted, it was a small race but I achieved a new PR, and I felt strong – a win in my book.

santapaws

And all the while, no knee pain.

3. My attitude

One of the hardest challenges I’ve faced with Running is learning how to handle the little voice in my head that tells me I can’t do things. ‘You can’t run that distance’ or ‘you’ll never run that fast’ or ‘you could just walk instead.’

My mantra became ‘Very next steps.’ I would focus on running the very next steps…. and then the steps after that, and before I knew it, the negative voice had no choice but to be silent. I’m not saying that every run is perfect, with Chariots of Fire blasting and my hands up in the air in victory. I’ve certainly had my share of arguments with Running, where I just feel like poop and it’s a total struggle. But increasingly I’ve learned to appreciate the hardness of it. The level of hard is always shifting – what used to be hard for me is no longer, and what is hard for me now will one day be easy.

There will always be a new level of hard, of challenge. It is my choice to embrace that challenge and make it my own.

So it is in life. Running has equipped me with dedication and self-discipline, qualities that keep me grounded and clearheaded. If you had told me five years ago, that I would go for a 13 mile run with my husband on Thanksgiving just for the heck of it – no race, no fanfare, just the two of us- and that I would love all of it, even the last excruciating miles, I would have dismissed you as a crazy person. But I did go on that run, and I’ll cherish that memory for a long time.

This past weekend, Andrew and I joined his parents to run a 5k as a team, and I acted as pacer for his mom. It felt so awesome to be motivating and encouraging someone else to love Running, and I’m proud to say she finished strong with a shiny new PR. And what do you know? Team Will Run for Rein-beer took first place in the team division! I have no clue how many teams there actually were we’ll take it :).

jinglebellrun2

Wow, this has turned into quite the monster post, so I’ll tell you how the story ends.

I love Running.

And we plan to live happily ever after.

I may never run a six minute mile. I may never run an ultra or even a marathon.

But I will lace up my shoes, step out into the cool morning air, and jog quietly down the street, relishing the fact that I am moving of my own accord.

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And for that, I will be thankful.

 

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Light in the darkness

How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a weary world.
~William Shakespeare

 

Yesterday, an unspeakable darkness descended onto Newton, CT. I cannot fathom the evil that occurred.

I can only pray fervently for God to wrap these families up in His comfort and His peace. May we all hold our own loved ones a little closer today and always. May we all be a candle of love and compassion in a world that sometimes feels far too dark.

To brighten your day just for a minute, here’s some puppy love from a local shelter I’ve been helping out through photography.

Have a blessed day.

blackandtan

shep mix pups

shep mix male

male pup

Little boy

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I hate running . . . but I love it

A Tale in Two Parts

Part 1

Running and I have a complicated relationship.

It all started in my college phys ed class when I was faced with the dreaded task of running three miles WITHOUT STOPPING at the end of term. To me that was equivalent to climbing Everest or swimming through shark infested waters with an anchor tied to my leg or beating up Chuck Norris… notgonnahappen.  I fretted and whined and fretted some more but in the end I managed to run those three miles … painfully slow but I did it. And promptly shook hands with Running and went our separate ways.

Over the next few years, we would occasionally meet up again – usually when I was struggling with my body image. I would curse each step as I huffed and puffed, believing wholeheartedly that runner’s high was a sadistic myth, perpetuated to keep saps like me chasing a white rabbit that didn’t exist.  Running and I were not friends. I used it to get what I needed but was never satisfied with the result. Our run-ins (excuse the shameless pun) were few and far between.

When I started graduate school in PA, I met Running again – but in a different light. I played on an intramural co-ed soccer team and, given that I know practically zip about soccer, I focused on running my little heart out and practicing my brilliant defensive maneuvers of simply getting in the way of whomever I could. And I had a blast. I looked forward to each game just for the chance to run around. I had my first taste of running as something other than drudgery meant solely to burn calories. I started jogging and actually developing a little discipline. And then winter hit with all its brutal force. After a few brave attempts with temperatures in the teens, I stowed away my running gear, with the promise that I would pick back up when the ice thawed.

And I did. But boy, did I take it slow. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, a little voice that sounded a lot like Voldemort’s slithery whispers told me that I was only capable of so much – and ‘so much’ meant short distances at a slow pace. And I believed that voice for a long time. But Running still wanted to show me how much fun we could have together, even if we took things slow.

That fall, I played soccer again and I also joined up with Andrew on a team to run the Tussey Mountainback, a 50 mile relay race. I ran two legs,  3.4 miles and 4.2 miles, which was quite a personal achievement.

I have no idea what my pace was but it was my first time crossing a finish line and it felt amazing. The whole day was a positive experience, as we cheered each teammate into transition zones, listened to silly running playlists and traded random stories. If you have never been trapped in a van with a bunch of stinky sweaty runners done a relay race, I encourage you to give it a go – you will not regret it.

By the time the next spring rolled around, I had a crazy idea in my head. I was still in graduate school, and it had hung me out to dry. The experiments I had been working on for the past year and a half were going nowhere. So I faced every grad student’s worst nightmare, pulled the plug and started over, devising a completely new project.  This, quite frankly, sucked and certainly didn’t leave me feeling like I was a winner winner chicken dinner. I wanted, no, I needed something in my life that I could work toward and actually finish.

I wanted to run a half-marathon.

So, I started training. At first, Running and I kept things casual, meeting up here and there for a bit of training and even doing a dog jog with Sawyer and Sherlock, which of course did not at all go as planned.

I started off with Sawyer, who by all previous accounts, we believed to be the slower dog. But as soon as we crossed the starting line, he took off with me clinging desperately to the end of the leash. I quickly traded with Andrew for Sherlock, who was a bit taken aback by the chaos and more willing to stick right.by.me and go my speed. After a couple of awkwardly timed doggie bathroom breaks, we finally finished up the 5k and I found Andrew. Apparently, as soon as Sawyer realized the run was a loop, he stopped running as if he had no interest in covering the same ground twice – silly dog.

Once summer arrived, I began to take training more seriously. I cracked open Jeff Galloway’s Book on Running and made a spreadsheet so I could be a Super Serious Runner to keep track of my runs. Saturdays became Long Run Days. I was slow but consistent. Running gave me a respite from everything else – the chaos of my current experiment, a messy house, bills to pay, all of it. I didn’t listen to music – I listened to audiobooks. It was the only way I could keep my mind from drifting to (a) what I could be doing instead (b) whether I was truly satisfied with the ending of Lost or (c) how much my knees hurt.

And hurt they did. I ignored it at first but after several painful runs, I purchased some knee sleeves and started icing my knees after every run. This seemed to solve the problem.

Running and I grew very close that summer, even as I grew more and more stressed over my research. I steadfastly completed each of my long runs, maxing out at a seemingly endless odyssey of 16 miles through Davis on a trip to California.

By the time the half-marathon rolled around in September, I felt prepared. I didn’t really have a time goal – just a goal of feeling strong and finishing. We traveled to Philadelphia and met my parents who had come up to cheer me on. One of my best friends, Ashlee, was also running and she calmed my nerves. The sheer number of runners was overwhelming but soon enough, I was off and running through the streets of Philly. The first six miles were amazing. I felt strong, I felt good. Miles 7-10 were harder but I still felt capable.

And then mile 11 hit and my knees rebelled.

They just plain hurt. I stepped off to the side, did my best to massage them and then resumed running. No dice. The remaining 2.1 miles were an alternating walk-jog-limp. My pace plummeted but I pushed through to the finish, raised my arms in triumphant victory and … tripped on a cable, crashing to the ground. Not the most graceful ending but I was happy to have finished under two and a half hours, despite my ailing legs.

(hoping for a pic of The Big Bad Fall? sorry to disappoint but alas, I did not purchase that super flattering race photo)

After the race was over, I began to have my doubts about Running. My knee pain seemed to be an issue we couldn’t resolve. I had committed to run another Tussey relay, and after completing my ten miles, I decided Running and I just weren’t working out.

We broke up.

 

Stay tuned for Part Two … Spoiler Alert – we get back together.

 

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