Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The only constant is change

I'm truly enjoying being back at writing, capturing some of the moments that have made up the last year. As I think through the last many months, it's pretty remarkable how much happens in any given year. A whole lot of little things which, when added up, turn out to be the big things in life. Along the way, though, there are also the big things. Those momentous events and life changes that even in the moment, you recognize as a big thing.

Not too long ago, you may remember that I made a pretty big professional life decision, leaving P&G to go to work for an agency called Shopper Events. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to accelerate my career from a leadership standpoint, and to expand my skills and broaden my experience by moving over from the manufacturer side of the Consumer Packaged Goods industry to the marketing agency side.

As it turns out, agency life really isn't for me. There were all kinds of challenges with the company itself, from leadership to clarity of purpose to unfathomably unrealistic business objectives. Even so, I learned a lot, and the year I spent there was invaluable. No, it wasn't the company issues that convinced me I'm not quite right for agencies; it was the fact that no matter how good an agency is, no matter how valuable to its clients, the work that we did only contributed to the success of a product or a brand. Even with the best possible plan, I didn't own the sales results of the product, and I didn't have ultimate accountability for sales success.

As it turns out, I love being in sales. Love it. I landed in a sales job when I left the Army way back in 2002 primarily because it would pay the bills and because it was in Baltimore, where we were headed for Justin to attend law school.While I didn't love medical devices, neurologists or operating rooms, I did love the selling. That held true through all of my years at P&G, and after six months at Shopper Events, I knew it was still true.

Now, I'm not one to advocate for job hopping. For years, I truly thought P&G would be where I would retire after a long, successful career selling household staples to America's retailers. Here in Northwest Arkansas, though, you see a surprising number of people who build successful, rewarding careers doing just that. With countless vendors selling to two of the world's largest retailers, there are frequently more jobs than there are qualified local candidates.

Knowing that, right around the first of this year I quietly began talking to friends to ascertain what opportunities might allow me to continue to grow right here in NW Arkansas, but back in the traditional manufacturer's side of the CPG industry. After four years here, I've made many wonderful friends, many of whom are in the industry, so I had the good fortune to be able to "job hunt" just by listening and asking a few questions.

After a few months of casual comments that turned to serious conversations that ultimately led to interviews, I was presented an offer to go to work for the Kraft Foods Group. Kraft, the company I always thought of as the P&G of food! Not only would I have the chance to work for a world-class food company, I would be working for someone I'd known socially for a couple of years, taking the guesswork out of whether or not I'd like my new boss. With visibility to leadership opportunities in the short term, I was excited to be back in a bag-carrying role, representing a company and brands that are in 98% of households in America.

I accepted the job and - no exaggeration - enjoyed the idea for exactly one day before rumors of a merger slash acquisition arose in the press. Heinz, owned by the private equity group 3G Capital, was apparently intent on bringing the two companies together, creating a new mega-company that had the potential for hundreds of millions in cost savings and sales growth through the leveraging of a global business model. Bleh, bleh, bleh... what everyone wants to know, ultimately, is what does that mean for me? As it turned out, it meant a promotion roughly 90 days after my start date. Kraft Mac & Cheese and Jell-O are my brands, and I have the honor of leading the fantastic Kraft Heinz Walmart Meals & Desserts team.

New company, new culture, and new opportunity lie in front of me. I look forward to going to work every day, back in the industry I enjoy and working with fantastic people, every day. I am incredibly grateful for my year at Shopper Events because more than anything, it clarified for me that the CPG industry is the right place for me. It might just be Mac & Cheese to you, but to me, it's exciting and, yes, even fun, to try and figure out each day how to grow this business. While this might sound a little bit like job hopping, I'm approaching this new gig with the same attitude I had at P&G. If everything works out, I may just someday be able to call myself a Kraft Heinz retiree.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Twinnie's a Twinnie no matter how far

My best friend moved away. I feel a little bit like a kid when I say that but the truth is, it's just as hard when your grown up best friend moves away as it was when your childhood best friend did. Maybe more so, because as a grown woman, I've found it's not quite as simple as your neighbor being your new best buddy. It takes time, effort and frankly, a little bit of luck to find a grown up best friend.

Shauna is my Twinnie. I don't think we started out knowing we'd be best friends; in fact, we kind of started out because I knew her husband, and he thought she and I would be excellent running partners. We had met before, occasionally running together on Saturday mornings with the group that are still my best good running friends, but that was the extent of our hanging out - the occasional Saturday just for the couple of hours we were running with the group.

Once Andy connected us, we began running together more frequently, adding weekday mornings to our routine. As it turned out, we were perfect running partners. We're basically the same height with the same length legs and the same stride. Our runs were comfortable and frequently in step; our pace and distances were so similar it was like we were working off of the same training plan. Either that or we were just so compatible from the beginning, we thought alike without even realizing it.

The perfect running partner, though, is more than pace and distance, more than matching strides and agreement on routes. Shauna and I also have daughters the same age and we generally see life through the same lens, so over the mornings and the miles, our conversations turned to things that mattered more than how far and fast we'd go that morning. As we spent an increasing number of mornings together out on the trails, we grew into that rare gem: female adult best friends.

Shauna is one of the most intelligent, accomplished, thoughtful people I know; conversations with her always leave me feeling smarter. Like I've told her before, her brilliance and accomplishments are pretty much intimidating and have the potential of making me feel a little bit less, a little bit smaller. Instead, she lifts me up, makes me think, and has an incredible ability to affirm me and my ideas in a comfortable, authentic way. I have come to rely on her as a sounding board, an ally, a sympathetic ear, a partner in righteous indignation, and everything else a best friend should be.

I can't be too upset that she's gone; she and her husband, both PhD's and professors at the University of Arkansas, earned fellowships at the University of Cambridge and moved to the UK a month ago to spend a year researching and working with new colleagues. It's incredibly prestigious and exciting, and I'm thrilled for her. I'm also incredibly happy that it's only a year fellowship - she'll be back next summer and there's no doubt we'll pick right back up where we left off.

With today's technology, we stay connected almost daily. We text, we email, we have even already Skyped once since she left. I plan on going to visit her next spring and can't wait for that trip. But all of the digital connection in the world can't replace having her here, spending time face to face, being reassured by the physical presence of friendship.

My best friend moved away, and I miss her terribly. I think, though, that I'm lucky to have a best friend to miss.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

On My Honor, I Will Try

Scouting is pretty big in our area for both boys and girls, and though I didn't stick with it for very many years myself, I think Girl Scouts is a fantastic organization that has so much to offer. The local council had an open house type of day that we attended last year, and Caroline had enough fun that she decided she definitely wanted to give it a try.

The 2014 fall semester kicked off with plenty of activities as the girls chose the badges they wanted to work on, not to mention all of the fun activities and patches they would earn for those! I'm a real to-do list kind of person, someone who does best when I have one or more tangible goals that I'm working toward. I loved hearing about the steps the girls were taking toward earning badges, and then watching Caroline learn so much along the way. There was the visit to the fire station, Trunk or Treat at the local Kappa Delta sorority house, caroling at the local nursing home, and volunteering at the local animal shelter where I successfully fended off yet another round of, "when can we get a dog???"
Caroline's favorite thing may have been the archery event in the fall! I'd heard all about archery from her PE classes, and she enthusiastically signed up when Girl Scouts had a class. Man, was I impressed! That kid really knows how to handle a bow and arrow! Over the holidays, she also completed her cooking badge together with Grandmommy May who helped her prepare a two meals, mostly by herself.

As we transitioned into the new year, it was officially Girl Scout cookie time!! I remember going door to door myself, ringing doorbells with my sister in our neighborhood working to hit a certain level to earn either a badge, recognition, or some other type of reward. The cookie kickoff meeting for Caroline's troop had inspired her with the potential to earn cookie cash toward Girl Scout camp - specifically, horse camp. What a great goal, right? Until she explained she needed to sell over 500 boxes of cookies to achieve her goal. WHOA. I'm all for aiming high and giving yourself a stretch goal, but that sure seemed like a lot to me.

Man, did Caroline ever prove me to have underestimated her. She put a plan together, stayed focused on her goal, and worked so hard to sell those cookies! She got her sales pitch down pat, including the one that kept convincing me to go out with her on weekends and her little brother to join her on weekdays when she got home from school. Cold weather, warm weather, didn't matter; she was determined to achieve her goal. School snow day? Just a great opportunity to deliver the goods!
Once the individual sales were done, there was still the opportunity to sell more boxes by participating in the troop booth events. Rain? No problem! My kiddo was a super trooper, enthusiastically manning the booths, talking to customers, making change, and selling those cookies. In the end, Caroline slightly surpassed her goal and did earn that cookie cash toward summer camp. So proud of her!

The weather finally warmed up, we approached the end of the school year, and the troop began planning their first camping trip. Now we're talking! The outdoor stuff is right in my wheelhouse; this is where I could be the mom who happily volunteers! As it was the first time for the troop to go camping together, the plan was to ease them into it with a campsite that had a building fully equipped with electricity, bathrooms, even a kitchen. The goal was to have them sleeping in tents, but who knew how it would go. We arrived at a beautiful campsite not too far from home and began setting up the tents. The gear got unpacked from the cars, and the troop threw themselves into helping the adults set up the tents.

Kristin, our troop leader, was a Girl Scout all the way through high school, and she is awesome. She had spent hours in prep for the trip, and quickly had the campsite set up with a wash station; campfire supplies; and food prep stations. We set the girls to work looking for firewood to get the fire going, and off they tromped on their mission. The traditional foil bag meal was so much fun for the girls to put together, cooked on the fire they had helped build and maintain. I saw first hand the confidence that empowerment can build in little girls, as they learned and tried new things.

After s'mores, stories and jokes around the fire, it was time to get the girls ready for bed. Always easier said than done on a regular night at home, it was mass giggling and procrastinating until we finally got everyone into their sleeping bags and in the tents. I sometimes say that discretion is the better part of valor; into the tent was success. Whether they stopped talking and laughing and finally went to sleep was a bridge too far. The moms all went back inside, where we spent a mostly pleasant night.

Breakfast the next morning was a learning experience for me, too. Kristin has plenty of camping experience, and I was introduced to dutch oven cooking over a campfire! Between the fruit cobbler (hey, it was fruit) in the dutch oven and the eggs in the skillet, it opened my eyes to a whole new way to camp. A morning hike later, we were breaking down the tents and heading back home. The girls all had a fantastic time, and despite my avowal that my camping days were over when my Army days ended, so did I. Next time, I'm even ready to give the tent a chance!

With summer upon us, the troop meetings were on hiatus, but Caroline used her hard-earned cookie cash and began making plans to attend camp. After reading the brochure on all of the camp options, she changed her mind on attending horse camp - not enough actual riding of the horse - and opted instead for the camp themed Ship Wrecked! My kid? Opting into a castaway / survivor camp? To my shock, she was adamant that was the one she wanted to do, and despite my misgivings, far be it from me to talk her out of it. In June, we got her bags packed and headed off to Camp Cahinnio for a week of fun with other Girl Scouts.

Caroline was super excited, even after seeing the platform tents and the outdoor bathrooms! After helping get her bunk area set up, I gave her a big hug and headed home. Over the course of the week, it hit me that as good as it was for Caroline to learn to be away from home, it was equally important for me as a parent to begin learning how to let go. There was no email, no internet, no cell phone connection to Caroline that week. I didn't know at any given time what she was doing, whether she was having fun, how she was getting along with the other girls. It was harder than I expected, but how much harder will it be when she's 18 and leaving for college if I don't learn in baby steps along the way? By Friday when it was time to pick her up, I was both excited and anxious, hoping she'd had a ton of fun, made friends, and learned some cool new stuff along the way.

I needn't have worried; when we arrived, she was in the pool having a blast! When your child's first words are "I don't want to leave!" followed quickly by "Can I come again next year?", you have that parenting moment where you feel like you're winning. What a fantastic lesson Caroline learned about setting and achieving goals, and then what a blessing that the ultimate objective of attending camp turned out to be even more fun than she had imagined.

As we start a new year, our troop has a new look, combining with a couple of other troops at the school. We have a new co-leader who has been doing this for several years, and there is now a group of older girls that Caroline and her troopmates will be able to look up to. We had our kickoff picnic a couple of weeks ago, and our first troop meeting this past Sunday. Caroline's Junior vest is looking sharp with all of the badges and patches she earned in her first year!
I hope to get more involved this year; I've told Kristin before, while I don't want to lead the troop, I am happy to do whatever it takes to support her so that she wants to continue leading! I plan to help the girls earn their First Aid badge, and we're already working on our first fall camping trip. I think this year will be the girls' opportunity to step up a little bit more and make more decisions on what they want to do vs. the adults telling them what they'll work on.

While Girl Scouts is very much about building skills and self-confidence, it has also helped me see that my daughter is capable of so much when given the chance to try. It's helped me raise my expectations where appropriate as well as trust her to try things on her own. It's exciting to see her grow as an individual and, as importantly, as a part of a group. Here's to another year of Caroline discovering what she's capable of when she works together with her friends, sets goals, develops a plan, and achieves extraordinary things!

Monday, September 14, 2015

It ain't Texas, but it's getting closer

I love living in Fayetteville. I probably talk about it enough that a lot of people are all, enough already. Having said that, there are still plenty of things I wish we had here that would make it that much better.

One of those would be a professional sports team. I don't hold out a lot of hope that the NFL will put a team here, or that MLB will see NW Arkansas as the next hot spot for America's pastime. The population just isn't big enough, I assume, to support a franchise in any of the major leagues.

The next big category that would make it even better to live here? Restaurants. And breaking it down from there, I would love to have a truly good pizza place; a killer Texas BBQ joint; and, more than anything, legit Tex Mex. Roll that all together, and what I'm looking for is to turn NW Arkansas into a little slice of Texas with a reminder of my East Coast days in the form of New York style pizza.

Taking one step down from sit down restaurants, though, the next best thing that's happened in the local restaurant scene? WHATABURGER HAS COME TO FAYETTEVILLE. Texans rejoice!!
And man, there are a LOT of Texans here. As the local rumor goes, this was the biggest opening of a Whataburger EVER, doing sales of roughly $1Million a day in the opening week. One million per DAY. That's a lot of burgers and fries, y'all. And opening day was when school wasn't even in session; all those Texas kids who go to the University of Arkansas weren't even back yet.

It was pretty crazy; traffic control by off-duty cops, a maze of traffic cones to manage the parking lot flow, and a wait to just get a parking space, much less to order and then sit down. Given the fact that we pass approximately 50 Whataburgers on our drive to Houston each summer, we decided we could wait until the initial craziness passed before we made our way over. I love that similar to the maroon & white motif unique to the College Station Whataburgers, there's a nod to being smack dab in the heart of Razorback Nation on the building.

After going to the Army-Arkansas volleyball game a couple of Saturdays ago, John and I swung into the relatively-not-busy parking lot on our way home to grab a late lunch. I think there are still some kinks to work out; they're so busy, I'm not sure the kitchen has figured out how to keep up yet. Still, Mama and kiddo were pretty happy to have a little slice of Texas right here in our hometown.

The latest rumor is that the first location has been so successful, the company has already purchased a second parcel of land close to the mall - uptown Whataburger, if you will. The more Texas that comes to Arkansas, the more I'm convinced I'll never want to leave. We have fast food burgers covered now, and breakfast taquitos too, for that matter.

Whataburger - check. Next up? Can I get a Pappasito's up in here, please?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Race Report: New Years Day 2015 Black Eyed Pea Run

As much as I enjoy running marathons, there are other races out there, too. One of the benefits of the grind and pain sometimes associated with the really long runs needed to prepare for marathons is that shorter runs seem easy in comparison. Given my love of and devotion to running, kicking the year off with a race seemed like a great way to get 2015 going!

There are plenty of New Year's Day runs out there; I'm not the only one who loves the idea of accomplishing something physically on the first day of the year. As another example of why living in Fayetteville is so awesome, though, we had the opportunity to join the inaugural Black Eyed Pea run put on by not only locals, but by someone I know!
Jennie, Pauline (awesome race organizer!), me and Shauna
The running community is tight, and that is as true in my hometown as anywhere in the world.

It gets better, though - not only was it local, and the inaugural year, but it was FREE!! Pauline found local businesses to help out, and has enough friends who volunteered to put it on, that it was yet another amazing thing that makes living here so great. I'm not saying I wouldn't have paid for it, but how do you pass up a free race that's in your backyard?! Add to it the best good running friends ever, and I was all in.
Some of my Java Jogger crew, plus kids and Hank the canine member
The atmosphere before the race was unique to any other race I've ever done - it was basically a big group of local friends who were excited to run together on a beautiful, crisp winter morning. There was music, hot chocolate, lots of laughing and a little bit of picture taking, too! I'm not sure if Pauline's neighbors were as excited about the crowd as we were, but I hope they were good sports about it. It cracked me up that packet pick up was in their garage, but at the same time, it ran more smoothly than a lot of races I've paid for in the past! Ha!

Of course, like we say on occasion, we were just running this one for fun. As we lined up at the start line, Shauna and I looked forward to an easy run, knocking out a few miles to help offset the snacks and appetizers I would eat as I watched the New Year's Day football games later. Naturally, the planned easy pace turned into a "let's see if we can make ourselves throw up" pace.
Official time was actually 8:16 pace, 51:13 total. BOOM.
I will someday accept that I cannot pace myself to save my life. Sometimes it's cool that I'm ultra competitive; sometimes I wonder, why?? The thing is, though, Shauna and I didn't really feel like we were going to die for most of the race. We knew we were going fast, but we felt okay, so we kept it up. And the route was along the trails that we know so well, so it truly was like just being out for a run together with no pressure.

No pressure other than the other people running the race who were either just close enough ahead to pass, or coming up on our heels and we wanted to see if we could stay in front of. None of which was ever communicated verbally, of course. But still. Now, when we saw the course photographer, there was the tiny bit of pressure to make your race pictures look like you're having fun and not in pain.
Me and my Twinnie (and random photo bombing runner)!
Any race where my back half fade results in an 8:41 mile, I'll take it. To top it off, the last bit of the race back into Pauline's neighborhood had a CRAZY hill. I'm not sure how I pulled off that 8:41, to be honest. Once that finish line came in view, I must've picked it up a bit, because a sub-8:00 pace of any distance is a rarity in my running these days. With official timing and a finish line arch, this local race felt big at the same time - and then there was bling, too!!
Once at the finish line, the warm drinks and festive atmosphere welcomed us to stay for a while. The problem with perfect running weather, though, is it isn't so great for stand-around weather once you're sweaty. A few more pictures, and it was time to head home, get cleaned up, and celebrate the New Year with our feet up.
Overall, I absolutely loved this race. With both a 5k and a 10k, it was a great mix of casual walk/runners, crazy good runners, and everything in between. It was laid back but super-well run at the same time. It was free to participate, but it still had all of the elements of a bigger race. Packet pick up; swag bag; official timing; arch at the start / finish line; professional photos. And oh-by-the-way, the photographer made all of his amazing pictures available to the race participants for free. Truly, would you find that anywhere other than Fayetteville??

I really, really hope that the Allens put this race on again next year. There are so many reasons I love living here, and this is yet another one to add to the growing list. I love that I've lived here long enough that I know people, and my people are runners. I love that there are people so generous as to put the time, energy, effort and yes, money into something that the local running community can embrace. I love that my friends and I had the ability to not just participate, but to be a part of making it a success. Here's to being a "streaker" and running the local Black Eyed Pea run for years to come!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Divided Loyalties: On Brave Old Army Team, Gig 'em, and Woo Pig Sooie!

Ah, college football season. That time of year when people wear Razorback gear pretty much every day, when I start checking the AP rankings to see who's overrated, and when I upgrade the cable package to ensure I can see every one of the hapless Army team's games.

At this point in my life, I am firmly a divided loyalties fan. My first love, the Army team (also known now as the Army West Point Black Knights, which I'll save for another rant sometime), has had years of performances ranging from lackluster to uninspiring to downright embarrassing. A thirteen year drought of beating Navy has even the most die hard fans like me wondering what has happened to the Pride and Dream of every heart in grey.

Despite knowing they would break my heart with regularity throughout the coming football season, I got online last Friday morning and upgraded our uVerse TV package to ensure that our channels included the CBS Sports Network. In a sign of indulgent modern consumption, we pay well north of $100 a month so that I can watch about five hours of TV a week, more when the Astros are in the pennant hunt as they are this year. Anything for the Army team, my first sports love.

While I'm not a Former Student and have no expectation of ever enrolling in a class, I've been a fan of Texas A&M and its sports teams literally for as long as I can remember. I am the daughter and sister x2 of Aggies, and if you know anything about Ol' Army, you know that I'm as close to bleeding maroon as one can be without wearing the Aggie ring. I could sing the Aggie War Hymn at the age of three, and I can "hump it" like a native for Spirit of Aggieland.

Most college football weekends, I'm grateful for this genetic love of the Aggies because, at least for the last few years, they've provided heart stopping excitement and enough wins to boost morale when the Army team comes up short. This past weekend was yet another thrilling season opener, I'm sure in large part because my super-adorable niece is part of the 12th Man!!

I come by the Army team honestly, being a grad; I bear allegiance to the Aggies by virtue of close relation. My third loyalty is a matter of geography: I live in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the home of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. Make no mistake about it, either - Arkansas is CRAZY for their Hogs. My analysis goes like this: there's only one major University in Arkansas, so you don't have the A&M - t.u. - all the other schools dynamic like you do in Texas. On top of that, you don't have any professional sports teams, so there isn't an NFL team vying for the attention of football crazy, SEC Nation Arkansans. And, when in Rome... well, Woo Pig Sooie (affectionately abbreviated as WPS which, for the first couple of years that I lived here, confused the crap out of me, as I assumed it was West Point Society. Notsomuch).

College town living is fun (except for the college kids, but what can you do about that), and SEC college towns peg the charts on fandom. I look forward every season to this one house in my neighborhood where Superfan lives, to see how he'll display his loyalty. One year he mowed "GO HOGS" into his grass and painted it red; another year he had red and white lights spotlighting lawn decorations. This year is excellent, in my opinion:
However the season goes, for all three of my teams, there's one thing that can guarantee my sports-fan happiness, one thing that qualifies it as a success regardless of what the Win-Loss columns say. All I really, really, REALLY need this year is to

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Strawberry fields for this summer

We are backyard gardeners. For almost ten years, we've always had some measure of produce growing in a plot in our yard, enjoying vine ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, radishes, banana peppers, carrots, green onions, summer squash, zucchini, and butternut squash on occasion.

A few years ago, we planted a blackberry bush and a raspberry bush, harvesting fruit a few times, too.

In Massachusetts, it was a small plot just off of the driveway in the side yard.

In Ohio, we hired some young men to put in a good sized bed just behind the house, next to the deck.

In Arkansas, we had a garden included in the backyard landscaping done not long after we moved in.

Through all of these iterations of our suburban farming efforts, the array of vegetables as well as flowers thrown in have been an alternating source of enjoyment and frustration.

Surprisingly, Arkansas has been the most challenging of all of our backyard gardens. One might think that moving south to the land of sunshine and warmth would encourage abundant growth and overflowing harvests. What we've found, though, is that beyond the lack of rain from the years of drought since we moved here, there is a strange white, powdery fungus that attacks our plants each year. It creeps into the big, beautiful elephantine leaves of the zucchini and squash, slowly wilting and diminishing them until they no longer bear fruit. It attacks the leaves of the cucumber plant, and we watch the leaves and then the stems wither and die, cutting off our fresh cucumber supply halfway through the summer.

At the end of last year, after battling the white powder most of the latter half of the summer, we decided we would cut way back on the variety we planted and just enjoy the sunflowers that seem to thrive under any conditions. With the available space, I decided the summer of 2015 would be my opportunity to knock another item off of my life list: grow strawberries in my garden.

I don't profess to be a true backyard farmer or, really, anything other than an occasional enthusiast depending on how much else I have going on at the time. I'm not a seedling-starter or an heirloom plant kind of person; for the strawberry effort, we just bought them straight off the shelf at Lowe's and brought them home.

The first month or so was promising; the netting kept the birds off of the plants, the leaves turned green and seemed to thrive, and we even got a few fruits off of the plants. As the summer has progressed, the plants continue to grow, sending runners out just as I expected they would. Sadly, though, this has been the extent of the fruit born by the three plants in the garden. Given the lack of attention we've paid to them with the exception of ensuring they're watered, I guess the effort has pretty much met my expectations.
As the owner of the list, I have the privilege of deciding when I've met the criteria of an item and can cross it off. In this instance, I think I've made the effort and realized, I'm not really that into growing things that take anything other than benign neglect. Tomatoes are more my ability level - after years of growing them, I've decided they're basically weeds that thrive in the most god-awful hot and humid weather you can imagine.

So this counts for me, and I'm crossing it off the list. The fungus fight continues, and next year, I may replace the strawberries with more sunflowers, morning glories, and hollyhocks. I enjoyed the idea of growing fruit, possibly inspired by one of my favorite childhood books, Strawberry Girl, but from now on, I'll plan on buying my Driscoll's at the grocery store.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Battle of the (waistline) bulge

Disclaimer: I know I'm not fat. In fact, I'm generally pretty happy with my level of fitness and my ability to fit into 98% of the clothes I keep in my closet and drawers. Despite that, at the moment, I'm back to counting calories and trying to shed a few pounds. It isn't about clothing sizes, it isn't about body image. It's all about race weight and getting faster. I correlate my weight directly to my ability to shed a few seconds off of my per mile pace, and I think that's a reasonable way to think about it.

Try not to judge my runner logic. Or even understand it, if it seems wackadoodle to you. It doesn't make sense unless you're a little bit of a crazy runner. Which, seemingly, is my normal. But I digress.

I actually have a thing about weight - and by a thing, I mean, I stress about not talking about it and not thinking about. I spent most of my life with the knowledge that a woman's weight, in many ways, defines her. Oh, nobody ever said it overtly - who would? - but the constant presence of a scale in the house growing up, then the public weigh-ins at West Point and in the Army, to the post-baby morphing of my body all contributed to my low level obsession with weight and body image. Directly contributing to my stress about not thinking about it when I think about it all. the. time.

That is so far from what I want for my children, I have made an effort to go to the opposite end of the spectrum, at least in conversations in our house.

We don't own a scale; we don't talk about weight; we don't call people fat or chubby or pudgy or anything along those lines in our house. We do talk about being healthy and fit, and making good choices with our food quantity and quality. I figure there is enough pressure in society at large; my kids don't need me adding to it.

Kids aren't oblivious, though - quite the opposite. They see and hear everything (except what you need them to, of course), and when I'm counting calories, they notice. The last thing I want is for either of them to think they need to lose weight. So the other day, when John asked me if I was counting calories "again," I nervously answered in the affirmative. His response?

"Oh, do you have another race coming up soon?"

My kid associates counting calories not with weight gain or loss, or with body image issues. He associates it with races and trying to get faster.

Mom for the win.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Race report: Hogeye Marathon 2015

So far this year, I've run three marathons. One of my life list goals is to run a marathon in each of the 50 states - and I'm never going to make it if I keep running races in the same states over and over again!! In March, I managed my third running of Hogeye (and hence, my third Arkansas marathon). It was my tenth marathon, and you know what? It just doesn't get any easier. No matter how many times you do it, 26.2 miles is still a looooong way.

One big difference in my running the Hogeye Marathon this year was my experience volunteering for the organization, trying to help with the race coordination over the course of the previous few months. It had been quite a learning experience, seeing behind the curtain, so I had a lot more appreciation for what I saw on race day.

Another big difference from my previous Hogeyes is that I had a friend fly up to Houston to run it, too!! Molly has always been a runner - and a wicked good one, at that - with at least six Houston marathons under her belt. I told her my door was always open if she decided to run a race up in NW Arkansas, and it all came together for her to do Hogeye this year! Add to that a classmate's fiance signed up for the half marathon (maybe because I talked it up), driving in from Tulsa, and what a cool way to share my hometown with some friends.
Molly and Cactus, my traveling friends!
The relayers and the travelers - Suzie's (far right) first race in Arkansas!
Being my hometown marathon, I know the Hogeye course backward and forward. Honestly, that should be enough to keep me from running it yet again. It isn't easy, y'all - plenty of not-so-gently rolling hills. And it's not very well supported by spectators. Oh, and it's almost always hot. So it's got all of that going for it. As runners are generally considered to be gluttons for punishment, maybe I should stop trying to figure out why I keep going back for more, and just be glad that the bling is worth it. Mostly.

I actually got two medals this year - I ran Hogeye both as the full marathon as well as being the first leg of a relay team. I had secured sponsorship from my then-employer at a level high enough to get a free marathon team entry, so I got a two-fer. Unfortunately, there weren't three other people in my office I could talk into running the relay. Two, yes. Three, no. Enter: twinnie Shauna!!! And, you know, that whole twinnie thing - she ran both the relay and the full, too, which meant at a minimum I knew I'd have a running partner for the first two legs of the race that we covered.
Relay team, before and after
Race morning was cool and comfortable, and as it was my fourth year to participate in race day (I did the relay as a stand-alone a couple of years ago), I knew the start line drill pretty well. There's still nothing better than being ten minutes from the start and practically sleeping in on race day! We gathered friends together, both local and out of town, took a few pictures, and stepped up to the start line. I was super excited to be running another marathon with Shauna - this was the second race in her three race Marathon Maniac qualifying series, so the only goals were to 1) have fun and 2) finish.

We started out strong - said another way, way too fast, as usual - and we clipped along our well-worn trails and routes in Fayetteville.
Why do I look like I'm having so much fun?
I was doing okay until we got to the lake - for whatever reason, over the course of the years running the trails here in town, I have developed a total mental block when it comes to running around Lake Fayetteville. I HATE it. It's hilly, yes, but not nearly as bad as I've made it in my head. Last year it was where I kind of broke down and decided I didn't care about anything other than finishing (or not dying, honestly). This year, I practically started hyperventilating when I was about halfway around. It was RI-DI-CU-LOUS. My logical brain tells me it's all in my head, but for whatever reason, I can't get past the mental barrier.

After making it around the lake, I could've cared less what my final time was. I kind of just wanted to stop running, honestly. But I kept at it, because who doesn't finish a marathon once they start it? It helped, too, that as I was slogging through the neighborhood part of the course, my friend Mary (who was a bike course volunteer, thank goodness) saw me struggling and stopped to check on me. In addition to the pep talk, she also took my long sleeved layer (because as someone who is perpetually cold, I had unfortunately dressed for the start of the race rather than the end of the race - rookie mistake!!) and got me some fluids to keep me going. I'm not going to say I had a ton of pep in my step after that, but it was MUCH better to not be melting in a long sleeved, layered outfit.

At this point, I was on my own, as Shauna was feeling much better than I was that day and had gone on ahead. I pivoted pretty quickly to walking when I wanted to, running when I felt like I could. I saw some old friends at the aid station behind P&G, which is always great, but then it was a long, quiet, semi-empty stretch of the trail with nothing but my negative thoughts about how much I didn't want to be running that marathon on that day.

In retrospect, I can't believe I thought that or felt that way. I try to be grateful for every day that I'm healthy enough to run, and for a body that's strong and fit enough to make it through 26.2 miles. But for whatever reason, I couldn't get my head screwed on straight that day, and I had a pathetic pity party for most of the back half of the race. One thing that did keep me going - I knew I was going to see my friend Sarah's family at the 1LT Tom Martin Foundation's aid station - right before the last struggle up the hill to Maple, the "Never Quit" aid station. People may think those are just words, but when you know the story behind them, it is so much more than a catchy phrase. Just like the year before, having them there got me up that hill, and from there, it literally was downhill to the finish.
I know that I've never been so happy to see a finish line at a race before; I was totally spent, physically and mentally. My friends were all there waiting for me; in fact, Molly placed first in her age group, which was pretty amazing considering the course elevation profile. I mean, to train for hills in Houston, she resorted to running ramps in parking garages! Hard core!! To make it even sweeter, Shauna finished third in her age group, I think her first age group hardware. Super cool.
That's her trophy, in the box!
I was the last one in that day. I'm cool with that, too - that's the season I'm in right now with my running, where more days are a struggle than are easy, and I'm one of the slower runners in my group. I hope to get back to "fast" one of these days, but I know just how much work it takes and I haven't been able to motivate myself to dedicate the time or energy to it. For now, I lament my loss of speed and try to be grateful for my health.

As I caught my breath and began to recover at the finish line, the pity party ended, and I soaked up the unique camaraderie that comes from the shared relief at finishing another race. It's a strange relief, tinged with exhilaration and pride, that comes from completing the 26.2 distance again. I'm going to assume that it's universal to all marathoners, whether they're elites, consistent BQers, age groupers, or back of the packers. Despite the pain and mental anguish of Hogeye 2015, I'm of course glad I did it. It's my hometown race, and it's another marathon under my belt. I think, though, that the third time was probably the charm - it's time to firmly cross Arkansas off the list, and work on the 43 states left to go.
Me and my best good running friends