Monday, September 1, 2014

On Being a Black Belt

Before Sunshine and I took our Black Belt test, we had to write an essay about what earning our black belt meant to us. It was both easy and difficult to write. It was a journey that started 7 years ago for Sunshine and 5 years ago for me. Here are my thoughts on earning my black belt.

When asked, I tell people that running saved my life, literally and figuratively. But Tae Kwon Do changed my life. In class I can't think about my worries or my problems or what's for dinner, I can only focus on where to point my toes or how to turn my bottom foot, or is my thumb in and is my other hand in chamber? It is a welcome respite from the chaos that can often surround me.

This journey has been amazing for me; I still remember the first class when I noticed I actually had my foot sideways for a side kick. Taking this journey with Sunshine is precious, something we will always have together. Watching Sunshine earn her different belts, holding my breath and crying as each one was presented. Completing our red belt and stripe tests together has been wonderful. Watching her confidence grow over the years has been a true joy. I imagine I will be sobbing as she is presented her black belt.

And I've seen my confidence grow. As someone who has been fat for most of her life, body awareness is something I have had to learn in my new body. How to move my body in a particular way, how to fight someone to win, how to be the aggressor, how to play offense not just defense, how to fight for me, Shannon, not for my daughter, not for a project I am in charge of, or a cause I believe in, but for me, just me. These are all things I continue to work on, but see improvements in myself, that each time I notice give me confidence and encouragement.

Martial arts has also brought Sunshine and me a family. Everyone in our Tae Kwon Do Dojo have a variety of different interests, backgrounds, goals and personalities, but the martial arts brings us all together, and we support each other in class and in our everyday lives. One of the best things about going to a tournament is the sheer number of hugs I receive from martial artists all over New England, who know me only through tournaments.

The thought of becoming a Black Belt feels scary, and exciting, and I think comes with huge responsibility. Sensei K once told me that earning your black belt is earning the right to begin learning. It is both exciting and scary to think of what the concept ‘just beginning to learn’ could mean, knowing the journey I have been on to bring me to this day of testing, when I hopefully will leave as a black belt; the highs and lows I have experienced, the times I have thought about quitting, but didn’t, the classes (and tournaments) I have left feeling like a complete failure, and others I have left feeling like the ultimate rock star.

I see huge responsibility in being a black belt not only in helping others learn Tae Kwon Do, but in representing Tae Kwon Do at a different level. Judging at tournaments fairly and impartially, continuing to master the art of treating everyone, no matter what, with respect- including myself. Continuing to learn to love myself as I am and acknowledging and realizing that whether I end my day feeling like a rock star or a failure, if I landed in a horse stance instead of a back stance or if I kicked my round kick above Sensei J’s head, if I lost 5-0 or won 5-0, if I lost my balance in a kata, or lost my temper with Sunshine, or helped her make the best science fair project ever, no matter what on any given day I truly am ENOUGH.

Friday, January 3, 2014


I wrote earlier in 2013 about what an epic year I was having. I looked up the definition of epic. I think we all tend to use it is as a term to mean over the top amazing, but I think this definition fits my 2013 best 'of unusually great size or extent'. 2013 for me contained some of the highest highs and lowest lows I have had in quite some time.

What I started to realize as the winter began to arrive here, and I looked back on 2013, a year that has had me experience wide canyons of self doubt that I thought I would never get across, a year where I accomplished things that seemed insurmountable, what I realized is- I do not trust my ability to endure.

I don't know if this is new, or if I am just now becoming aware of this lack of trust in myself. I, like most everyone, have experienced difficult times in my life, that I had to get through, and somehow I have figured out a way. Perhaps those times were like child birth and you really don't remember how you struggled through it or how painful it was, just that you got to the other side- better for the journey.

I'm not sure if it is my innate nature to want to fix things, that causes this, although I wouldn't be surprised if it lies in there somewhere.

Let me explain, people tell me how inspirational I am that I run this or that. But I don't see it that way- I see it as a number- be it time, or miles. Okay- I need to keep moving for 2 1/2 hours to finish this half marathon. Or I need to run on average 3 miles a day to get to 100 miles this month. Somehow I can wrap my brain around that. And even non-physical tasks- you need to complete this TPS report by Monday morning-- great, it has a deadline, and I can give up a weekend and do that.

But when I don't have any idea how long something is going to last, or if it will ever end, I get very antsy and tense about it, and don't trust I can make it through. Be it, a really difficult time at work, or watching a friend in trouble who I can't figure out how to help or not knowing what the outcome will be. Or that I can just be, alone and lonely and not know if or when that will ever change.

I ran a little over 800 miles this year. That's 300 more than I ran last year. I was telling a friend that the other day and I said, that number isn't just because, and they said, its because you were running from or to something. I said, not quite, I think I was running to try to figure out how to fix all the things I couldn't figure out how to endure.

I guess being aware of my lack of trust in myself is the first step, and running a nice crutch. Seems odd though at 42 to have such a huge piece of myself that I don't trust.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

three part duex

As I mentioned earlier, my goal for October 2013 was to run three half marathons. October is over, and so are my three races. Each one was different in its own way, and in many ways surprised me.

The first race, my friend Jen ended up running with me, her husband was running the full marathon that day.

We didn't find each other at the beginning of the race, but she found me around mile 1. I had told her that I probably wouldn't do a lot of talking on the run and that held true. Around mile 2 we ran into a colleague of Jen's who was running the full marathon, we ran with her until the split off around mile 6. It was good because Jen and her friend talked and I didn't feel like I needed to. Overall, I felt good, there were some great crowds and running with Jen and her friend we were keeping solid 10:40 pace which is a really good speed for me at that distance. This was an odd race for me, because even though I had a lot on my mind, I didn't think about any of it on the run, which is not typical for me.
I almost didn't think about anything, except at the end when I started to realize I was close to meeting a PR and wanted to keep pushing. Mile 11 seems to be my nemesis, and is always my slowest mile, and it was again this time, but I kicked it in and ran the last two miles back down around 11 minute miles and finished with a PR. That had not been my plan but I was very excited about the end. I cried when I crossed the line, and got to hug Sunshine who was at the end with my Aunt and Uncle. And I was on cloud 9 with how I felt and my time.

After the race I had some major gastro-intestinal issues which made me very nervous about the next two races. Muscle wise I was sore the next day but nothing horrible.

During the next two weeks I went and bought a new pair of sneakers, the ones I wore in the first half were right near my mileage limit but didn't want get a new pair right before the race, so this way I had two weeks to try them, I went for several runs, including a couple of  6 plus mile runs with a friend training to run her first marathon at the end of the month. My ankle was a little sore after the race, which is unusual for me, and I attributed it to the high mileage sneakers. Also during the two weeks off, during a Tae Kwon Do class I pulled my calf doing of all things, jumping jacks, which in turn started to make my knee hurt. I haven't had any problems with my knees this whole year so this was very disappointing and the focus of my thoughts prepping for the 2nd race. I iced a lot and ended up buying some KT tape.

We headed up Saturday for the 2nd race, and drove the course, although I'd run the last 8 miles of the course, a friend of the people I was staying with was doing the full marathon and hadn't seen the course. It is a beautiful course, so I didn't mind at all.

I iced my knee on the drive up and knew my focus was really on that rather than anything else, I was nervous about being able to complete the route. Before each race, I paint my toe nails a new color, the colors I pick don't always mean anything, this time I let Sunshine pick the color and she chose purple, which worked out nicely because I didn't paint my two toes that are black and blue and you could barely tell. I lost a nail before we headed up, which I was actually happy that it had happened. The night before the race I had a dream that it snowed, which made me laugh, it is October and it is Maine so it wouldn't be out of the question, but really? I wasn't quite ready for that. It ended up raining in the morning and the start of the marathon was in the rain (we started 30 minutes later) but it stopped raining very quickly.  I have to say that this was one of the hardest races for me. I was in pain from just about mile 3 on. My knee with the KT tape held up quite well. But my hamstrings were very very unhappy with me. The majority of this course is up hill and it took all I had to power through.

It was actually interesting for me because the physical pain opened some emotional pain doors, some 'stuff' that has been bothering me and that I've been beating myself up about for who knows how long. As I approach mile 6 and a rouge water stop with awesome signs that said things like 'Hey Stranger, I am proud of you'. I said to myself, okay, you can wallow in this 'stuff' for the next 7.1 miles and then it is gone, you must let it go. And a few steps later with my hamstrings screaming at me the most amazing thing happened, a little voice in my head said- 'When are you going to realize that you are enough?' It caused me to gasp and I spent the next mile crying.  I finished the race, it was slow but ended up falling in the middle, time-wise, of the 8 half marathons I have done, so I'll take it. I sprinted at the end out of sheer will power to not be passed in the finish shoot and cried as I was embraced by my family waiting for me.

I was sore probably through Wednesday after the 2nd race, and was anxious about pain on the final race. I knew the last race was going to be pretty flat, but it required a long drive the morning of, being a planner, I left probably 45 minutes too early, and could have slept in longer, but I didn't want to miss it! I was tired, physically from lack of sleep and also from all of the running, but I had committed to the race and would do it. For the first 5 miles I felt great, I was actually on pace to beat my PR from earlier in the month, partly because it was so flat, and also because we were running on a very busy highway with lots of cheering people. Also, it was very cold, my toes were numb for probably the first 2 miles, but then loosened up. Somewhere just before mile 6 we went through a beautiful covered bridge and I felt like time was standing still, I was probably going very slow at this point, but it was quiet, peaceful, I came around the corner and saw all of the people who I had been running near who had dropped me and thought --catch them. 

This worked for about the next mile and a half and then again, I ran out of steam. That was how the last 5 miles went, push for a mile, dog it for a mile. I was still making good time, I think mostly due to the flatness of the course. I knew I was struggling, so I said, if nothing else, don't let mile 11 be your nemesis this time, it is one mile, run it like any other mile- and I did- it was finally not my slowest mile! And then mile 12 hit, and I had shooting pains in my ankle, something I had never experienced before. Should I have stopped? Maybe, but it was really only 1 mile more, but I couldn't stop, I couldn't walk, I passed two people who were walking the last little bit, but I refused. And really, that was what this race was all about for me, a battle between my mind and my body and negotiations about what we could do. In the end, I finished in a time just about half way between the first and second races of the month. Miraculously, I felt pretty good Sunday night after a hot shower and a little ice on my ankle. I went for a couple slow short runs during the week, and although tender, I was not in pain. 

And just good for measure I ran a 10k this weekend, one I do every year because I love the course, its beautiful and it supports a great cause, I was very tired going in, very tired and really just wanted to finish faster than my slowest time on the course (when I weighed about 30 lbs more than I do now).

To my surprise, I finished in a PR, I felt fantastic on the course perhaps my body and mind were just so elated to be running half of 13.1 miles that they were like- oh yeah baby, let's do this! 

October was tough for me. I am proud of myself for setting my goal and reaching it. I am proud of pushing through the low moments and getting it done. I am still processing the fact that I struggle with understanding that I am really ENOUGH, and it seems like a really great step in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Polite STFU?

A few weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook that got me thinking. I'll be honest, I don't know the whole story behind the post, it was a post by a friend of a friend, someone I know, but not well, and what I conjecture from the post is that she is currently out of work and was very upset that she did not get a job, a job she was one of the finalists for. Her emotions are understandable, the comment that struck me was someone trying to be supportive.. the comment was .. "oh honey, you have such potential."

I read those words and I thought what a horrible horrible comment. I am sure it was meant to be supportive and encouraging, but I read that as.. you aren't ready... you have potential to get a job.

I started thinking about the pieces of advice or words of encouragement that we give each other in those low times, often times when we don't know what to say but we want to say something positive because that is our nature and I was reminded once again that we all come from different places and with those different histories and experience we hear things different. I told myself, don't use those cliches any more, you just don't know what someone is going to hear. And that very next day I used one of them.. "it will all work out". I hit the send button on the text message and I wanted to reach through my phone and grab it back.

I started to list in my head the things we all say out of kindness, out of empathy and sympathy that actually annoy me more than help me, and I say that knowing that the person delivering the words wants nothing more than to be supportive.

* Everything happens for a reason- this one makes me want to scream. Perhaps sometime in the future this may all make sense, but right now, in my pain, my angst, and being a person who is so completely rooted in 'why', this does nothing but piss me off. My brain goes to- really everything happens for a reason? This broken heart, the miscarried child, the young Mom who died from cancer? The person who didn't live along enough to receive an organ transplant? That? Every single one of those things happened for a reason, I really want to call bull shit on that one.

* You're better off with out him/it's his loss. Now unless you are being physically, emotionally or mentally abused, at this moment that the relationship has ended and you weren't the endee- it doesn't feel anything like his/her loss.. it feels totally, utterly and 1000% my loss.

* It will all work out in the end- really? How do you know? And work out, what do you mean it will all work out? In the text message case I referenced above, people's lives will be disrupted for weeks, lots of people will be inconvenienced and the person most directly affected by the events is completely stressed about the effect on her support system. How? How will this all work out in the end?

* This is God's plan- I am sure my response to this will tick many people off, and trust me, I am very spiritual, but am not an avid church goer. I was raised Catholic and have my own issues with what goes on there and am trying to figure out just how I feel about organized religion as a whole. But back to the point at hand- I once read a brutally honest post from a women who had lost her child- I am paraphrasing tremendously here, but I think her point was, do you understand what it feels like to someone like me who prayed that my baby would not die and you say that your baby lived because of your prayers. Does that mean I didn't pray enough? That I didn't have enough people praying? I can't even begin to understand her pain, and I hope I never have to. But I do understand her words, and how it must sound to her or anyone else in her circumstance.

This post has sat idle for awhile because I felt like it wasn't quite there, it didn't really make sense, and then I had a conversation with a friend, who suggested that we should have a word in our language that means a very polite STFU (Shut the eff up), for those times when you are receiving advice, or comfort, and you just aren't ready to hear it, you don't want another condolence at the funeral, or another I'm sorry you got fired, or what have you. A quick and easy way to get your thanks and please be quiet across at the same time;  "Thank you so much for your kind words. Now, unless you want to do any more damage to me emotionally, I humbly ask that you STFU.'

It seems to me that most people, when they see someone in pain mentally, emotionally or physically, the general human trait is to help out, to try and comfort, to have empathy. And the person who is hurting, even though they may want to push the other person away, wants to be polite and thank that person for their comfort and understanding.

Just the other day I was telling my friend who came up with the idea of the polite STFU about something that had me pretty upset, and had hurt me emotionally, and he started to tell me why it would and how it was going to be okay. I just looked at him and said STFU and we both started laughing, because we knew. He knew what I needed was to just spew all this yuckiness that was making me really sad, and I knew what he needed was to make me hear that I wouldn't be sad forever, to make me feel better. And I also knew that at that moment I didn't want to be comforted I wanted to be sad, but that there would come a time when I wanted to be comforted and hear his reassuring words.

It is an interesting dance we as humans do in our interactions. I guess if nothing else, if you can have a few people in your life, who you can say STFU to, you've got some good dance partners, and maybe the time will come when we can all say- thanks for your support, but not right now and no one will be offended and everyone will understand and the polite STFU will end up in Webster's Dictionary.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


As I approached the end of the year and tried to decide what I would set for my goals for running, I was torn. The original plan had been to run a marathon at the end of the month of October with some friends, this friend in particular.

However, I didn't get in during sign ups. It was a bit sad, but in the end, it was probably for the best considering the trip to Alaska and all the other things going on in my life, getting the training in for 26 miles would have been tough.

Bit still, I wanted to do something epic, something that would completely push my limits. And so I found 3 Half Marathons to run in the month of October. When I picked the three there was really no rhyme or reason to them, other than their proximity for driving, as well as not conflicting with anything else already on my calendar.

Just the other day as I approached this weekend knowing it was my last long run before the month, I began to think about how the events I had chose actually held some serious significance. The first one, I have run twice before, it is actually the first half marathon I ever ran.

The second I will run with friends, that's not to say that I won't see people I know at the first one, but at the second one I am staying with friends and we'll do the event together. This is significant because one of the hardest things for me to do when running was to run with other people, I was always afraid I would slow them down, or breathe too heavy, in general just very self conscious about running with others. I have tackled this fear and now enjoy running with people. It was another step in my running process. I have run this race before, as a relay and only 8 miles of the hills.

The last one, I will go to by myself, and more than likely will know no one. This is how I started to run, by myself, it was unknown to me. Although this will be the flattest of the three, I think it will be the hardest, my legs will be tired, so to be on the course with just me, myself and I will be fitting, this will be when my mental strength will be most important.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013



I am sure I say this every year, but I honestly cannot believe you are another year older. 12!! We were talking about this in the car the other day. We actually were discussing how long we've lived in the house, and I said it seems like a combination of both 'we've only been here a few years' and 'we've been here decades'. I feel the same way about you. I almost can't remember my life with out you, yet it seems like you were born last week.

The date of your birth and the week leading up to it have such emotions and memories for so many people, as I was already more than a week over due when 9/11 happened. And I remember the tv on in the delivery room the whole time just playing the coverage constantly, until I finally requested it be turned off.

It amazes me all the time when I look at you, and I know the chaos, sadness, anger and negativity that was going on in the world the day you were born, and yet you are none of that. You are light, smiles, sunshine and joy. You are now a tween, so don't get me wrong, you are chaos sometimes, but you are good chaos, you are growing up and finding your way chaos.

This summer I wrote about how fierce you are. But you are also joy. You were so excited to start school this year, and you still get excited to tell me about something new you are learning in school. You bounded out of the first Social of the year all excited that you asked two boys to dance and they both said yes.

You recently won your first first place in your weapons division. You have been working so hard on this and you were so proud (and I was equally proud of you). That night I asked you, is that your most coveted trophy so far? And your answer was- the one where I placed 4th in co-ed weapons but I was the first girl to place is pretty cool too!

This last year has been pretty amazing for you on many fronts. You went to Space Camp with 17 of your classmates. You went to Alaska on a cruise with your Grandmother and me, you earned a black stripe on your red belt, you were in two plays- Princess and the Pea as Princess Diana Ding Dong of Dingaling and Cinderella as one of her trusty Rat companions. You went to sailing camp, and sleep away karate camp during the summer. You were in a couple Anti-Bullying Public Service Announcement commercials with several of your classmates. At a overnight field trip, you were the first person in your group to volunteer to climb the 45 foot telephone pole! You ran two 5ks. You signed up for a Fab Friday at school to bike 18 miles, you signed up without any of your friends and until the last day, you were the only girl signed up to go. You played lacrosse for the first time and loved it. You started the New Year off by jumping in the ocean, and convincing one of your friends to join you. You saw Big Time Rush in concert. By all accounts that sounds like a pretty fantastic year!

It is hard as your Mom to let go sometimes, to let you wander off with your friends or to let you figure out if you have everything you need for something. It is becoming easier, as you continually show me how ready you are for those new responsibilities.

Besides continuing to be your awesome self, if I had one skill I hope you can learn this year, I hope that you can learn how to 'fake it 'til you make it'. I think this is part of your joy and light, but sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do, and sometimes even when you are tired you have give it your all. It isn't an easy thing to learn, but it is a fantastic skill that will serve you well.

I also hope you continue to realize your skills, your intelligence; build your self confidence even more, realize your skills on the flute and your talents on the stage and that you get algebra even if you explain it differently, that you play lacrosse or whatever sport(s) you choose and enjoy them, and that you continue to enjoy working toward your black belt, and that you continue to be the wonderful friend and human being that you are.

My Love, you are my day brightener and my joy. I am blessed to call you my daughter and I cannot wait to see how awesome you will be at being 12.



Monday, August 19, 2013


Like many people it seems, I'm going through a rough patch. Nothing horrible or monumental, just a time when the negative voices in my head are so much louder than all the positive in the world, and I'll tell you those damn negative voices are hard to silence- stubborn and persistent little buggers!

To fight the negative buggers, I have been working hard to do positive things myself, not rely on the outside positive, so the voices in my head start to become more positive. I mentioned earlier that 2013 has turned into an epic year for me, and I want to keep that going in a positive manner. 

A few years ago, a friend suggested I watch Sex and the City. I had never seen it when it ran originally, so that winter I used it as my dreadmill running show. I liked it alright, but frankly didn't quite get all the hype. However one episode has stuck with me since I saw it.. The Catch. It was after watching that episode that I bought Michelle Branch's Breathe single. I can't really tell you much more about that episode other than the song, that Carrie goes to trapeze school and her ending quote has always struck me.

When you're young, your whole life is about the pursuit of fun. Then, you grow up and learn to be cautious. You could break a bone or a heart. You look before you leap and sometimes you don't leap at all because there's not always someone there to catch you. And in life, there's no safety net. When did it stop being fun and start being scary?- Carrie Bradshaw

At some point in the last couple of months I heard someone else mention trapeze, and it got me thinking, trapeze would be amazing to try, terrifying but amazing. I have a fear of heights, probably more correctly, I have a fear of falling. When I climbed Mount Washington a few years ago, I was terrified of falling, which I did. On my face. The bruise was amazing. The van ride down from the top was in fact the greatest and most welcomed car ride of my life.

I did some research and found a trapeze school about 2 hours away and knowing that stepping off that platform would be terrifying for me, I asked this guy to go with me (by the way he's the foot, not the hammer or the fish)

I've written about him before.. he'll hate that I'm bringing it up again. Here's the thing with him, I'm pretty sure we've been around a few times together, we have this connection, we just sort of fit. He is one of a handful of people that I can sit in silence and be comfortable. He is, geographically the closest of those people. I knew that the car ride down would be pretty quite, my mo is to go inside myself when I am nervous or anxious, and I knew that he would be encouraging while we were there. Of course he would make fun of me on the way home, after he congratulated me, but it would be in good fun.

But the timing didn't work out, and he couldn't go, well he could go, but he couldn't go this weekend, and it became almost irrationally important to me that I go NOW and do this. In the end, that really was probably the best, if only in that it forced me to look fear in the face by myself and do it, just step off that platform.

There it is. That's what I saw when I got there. My feet were a little sweaty. 

I was quiet and pensive during the ground school, and really the shaky nerves did not kick in until I climbed the stairs to the top. What you don't see in any of the pictures, is that you have your 10 toes over the edge, your left hand on a metal vertical bar attached to the platform, your right on the trapeze bar, and a human holding your belt. Another human is on the ground holding your safety ropes. My first jump, I am guessing it took me 5 minutes for each step, feet over the edge, 1 hand on the bar, and then to take that 2nd hand and put it on the bar, because at that point you are hanging over the the edge of the platform, held only by the human behind you. But what I realized during those 5 minutes, was not once did I think, turn, walk away. I just kept telling myself you can do this you can do this. And I did.

I love this next picture, look at the instructor behind me, see how happy she is that I was less scared the 2nd time? And each time it got progressively better.

And here is one of the things I realized, you see below the instructors switched, and now this guy is the human holding me. I was way less scared. Not because he was male, but because he was bigger, he could certainly hold my weight. It was at that moment that realized, even though I see that new number on the scale, I still see myself 88 lbs heavier, and it isn't a fear of falling, it is a fear of my big body, of what it can't do, that people can't hold me. For safety reasons the school has a weight limit, and I am well below that weight limit, on the scale, but not in my mind.

 Here you can see how you are leaning over the platform held simply by the strength of 1 human.

This is one of my last flights, I did 7 or 8, I lost count. I could have done more. Each one get mentally easier, my muscles were sore, but I am used to that, what completely surprised me was how raw my hands got- I hadn't considered that, and it became really painful to hold the bar because of the blisters that were forming- well earned rewards for my hard work.

I learned a lot about myself today. I can look fear in the face and say I just don't care.  (thank you P!nk). I learned that I need to become more aware of my new body, of how completely powerful and strong it is, and that I can do pretty much anything with it. I need to trust myself more, to realize what I am capable of and make sure my heart and head both know that.

This quote actually hung at the top of the platform before you jumped off:

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.- Eleanor Roosevelt

The negative voices have quieted. My soul is full. My muscles ache from a day of hard work. It was an epic day.