Thankful for simple things

Thankful for simple things

When I was a kid, my parents owned a restaurant that was open on Thanksgiving. So my earliest memories of the holiday were sitting in the corner of a very busy restaurant trying to stay out of the way. Once I learned to count I was given a job. Since I guess no restaurant owner wants to be stuck with a whole bunch of drumsticks at the end of the night, they offered an incentive: the waitress who sold the most received some sort of worthwhile prize (I don’t recall what it was). It became my job to keep the tally. I remembered those Thanksgivings as a lot of fun. The restaurant staff was our extended family and it seemed we were all happy to be together even if it was spent serving other families.

I guess because those early Thanksgivings were a departure from what most might consider “traditional” I never felt completely obligated to honor a tradition and therefore that became the one holiday I would often spend with friends rather than family as I got older. In college my childhood friend and I drove to South Carolina for the long weekend one year; another year I went with a dear friend to visit with her family in West Virginia. When I was first married and also launching my career, we would look to spend the long weekend keeping to ourselves decompressing, sometimes away, sometimes just hibernating.

Of course now I long for an opportunity to spend a Thanksgiving around my parents dining room table. I remember succumbing to the big family gathering for Thanksgiving in 2000 – my daughter’s first. We went to a restaurant – all of us – my parents, my aunt and uncle, my in-laws – and that was the last time everyone was together. The years that followed are a bunch of blurs. Time passed too quickly, and there were no real traditions to hold on to.

Holidays since my husband’s death have been hard to say the least, but maybe not having traditions that would further highlight the emptiness is something I am thankful for. Thanksgiving was the first major holiday we had to tackle after he died falling just six weeks later. My daughter and I went to the Macy’s Parade in New York. Something we had never done before. We had brunch in the city and called it a day. We survived. Last year I neglected to make plans. I learned that “winging it” is a recipe for disaster. I stooped to an all-time Thanksgiving low and got dinner at the McDonald’s drive-thru when there was no place open that didn’t require a reservation. This year I vowed things would be different.

Checking in on FaceBook after my Big Mac last year, I saw I wasn’t the only one without plans. So this year I invited those friends to spend Thanksgiving at my house. For the first time in 16 years, I was going to be at a table set for eight! Thanksgiving – the original Thanksgiving – was about friendship and community. And that’s what we represented.

The only problem was my daughter decided to go to a friend’s house. She didn’t want to spend the holiday with my friends who she didn’t know well. I was disappointed to say the least. Here I was trying to create a holiday celebration that would make her feel part of something, and was left feeling like I alienated her in the process

But you know, it all turned out fine. I ran a race first thing in the morning — a fairly new tradition where I attempt to start the day with a calorie deficit. Came home, started cooking and cleaning and then she was off; had Thanksgiving at her friend’s crowded house, filled with lots of other kids her age. I had a nice time with my friends. The meal turned out nice, and I think everyone was glad to be together.

“Black Friday” was a mother-daughter day that involved shopping for some new decorations and Christmas themed scented candles and decorating the house for the next holiday. She was uncharacteristically enthusiastic and helpful. For this, I am most thankful. What took me several days last year, was completed and looked better than ever in one short afternoon. I am thankful for team work, a clean house all decorated for Christmas, and for each and every minute spent with my daughter – on holidays and every simple day in between.

img_5384Thanksgiving Table at my house. November 2016.



“The bus roared on. I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October.”  – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

My father died 10 years ago – 27 years to the day that the world lost Kerouac – on October 21st. That was the beginning of my loathing October.

On October 7, 2010, my beloved Wheaton Terrier, and running buddy, Malachy, died. He wasn’t even 9-years-old.

In 2014, the year I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wrote this on Facebook: So it’s October and although I have felt this way for a long time, I have now earned the right to express my opinion. I HATE PINK! While the “pink ribbon campaign” certainly did something tremendous in terms of creating awareness for the importance of early detection screenings and raised a lot of money for research, the marketing of PINK, IMHO, has gone overboard. There are tons of companies out there making a lot of profit on the backs of survivors and victims. So all I ask is that before you deck yourself out in PINK as a means of “supporting” the cause, do your research and find out the *real* % of your purchase that actually helps the cause and how much is actually “supporting” the business that is selling it. 

Then five days later, when I didn’t think anything else could possible make me hate October any more, my husband died by suicide.

Between anniversaries and pink ribbons, October is an emotional minefield to be navigated with graceful precision. Somehow each year I succeed. And each year I get better at it.

This year I noticed how on a really foggy October morning the bold colors still penetrate the haze, making even the dullest day bright. This year I noticed how the setting sun magnifies the foliage so sky and landscape blend into a blazing fire.

I remember looking out the window in the CCU where my father lay dying and thinking, “It’s a beautiful sunny day. And look at the magnificent colors in the leaves!” When I left the veterinarian’s office the day Malachy died, I didn’t go home. I went to Saddle River County Park where he and I ran so many miles together. I soaked up the natural beauty of the season and cherished my memories. The weekend after Chris’ funeral, my daughter and I went apple picking with some family and friends. Someone took a picture of us hugging at the top of the hill in the orchard. It now hangs in a frame on my bedroom wall. It’s a symbol to me of the continuation of life. I ran a race that weekend too. I always run races in October.

We gather with friends on crisp evenings around the fire pit on the patio. We enjoy hot apple cider and donuts. We plant mums and carve pumpkins, and the leaves in hues of oranges, yellows and browns once again cover the lawn.

The bus roared on…the continuation of life.

For me, October has become a month to mourn those lost; yet be reminded that I am a survivor. With the warmth of sunshine and vibrant fall foliage, I find something to celebrate: the lives once lived and the rest of my life full of Octobers yet to be lived.

Ramsey, New Jersey. October 2015.


This is a time of change. Summer has given way to autumn; the foliage is coming alive with color – a last blast of vibrant warmth before we settle in for a long winter (winter always seems long, doesn’t it?). Sometimes, like the seasons, change is forced upon us and we have to live with it. Often change is something we know we need; but avoid. Comfortable and familiar feels good. Change can be stressful. But not changing can be uncomfortable too.

A good first step in making a change is contemplation. Maybe even unconscious contemplation; you sense something just isn’t right. Then you become conscious; you know something isn’t right and it needs to change. In this stage a “values clarification” can be very valuable. Assessing what is most important to us can be very helpful in making decisions and determining why something doesn’t feel quite right. Not honoring one’s values or feeling your values are being stepped on can create stress.

There are times when our values are in conflict and we need to choose what is more important to us in that moment. I have values around “community” and “family.” I also value “personal growth” and “individuality.” Right now those are in conflict. I need change. I want change. I don’t think I’ve ever been one of those people that fears change and yet I have stayed in one place virtually all of my life. No doubt because I value “community” and “family” and of course, like most, I feel comfortable around what’s familiar. And comfortable is good, right?

I’ve lived in Northern New Jersey since before I can remember. My daughter and I live in a house that is roughly only 6 miles from the one I lived in with my own parents. It was never my plan to stay. When I was my daughter’s age, I had my sights set on far away adventures. My parents had set a “DC to Boston” perimeter by which I could chose a college and I wound up only 2 hours away in Philadelphia. I came home many weekends. My friends were here – and I valued those friendships. In the early years of my marriage we talked about New England or going out west. But days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and years. There was job security, and family ties that I valued more than adventure at that moment. I was growing my career and decorating a home and planting a garden. By the time my daughter was born roots had been well established. It’s those roots – keeping my daughter safe and secure in a great school district where she’s comfortable in the presence of friends she’s known for years – that are still holding me in place. But those roots are the only ones and with her now a high school junior even their grip on the soil is loosening.

She has her learner’s permit. So we practice driving…a lot. As I’ve become accustomed to the passenger’s seat and more relaxed there, I watch the scenery go by; much the same Northern New Jersey scenery that I saw from the passenger’s seat of my parent’s car so long ago. And I see ghosts. Not just my husband’s, or my parents’, but of memories of friends and good times buried deep in my mind. I realize I’m ready to tuck those away in a special place and move on…physically move away. Here no longer holds adventure or anything new to learn; I want more perhaps to honor my value of “personal growth.”

And here lies the conflict. While I am ready to move on, my daughter is not. She still has two years left of high school. So I’m stuck? Not if I change my perspective. This time is a gift; it’s time that I need to plan. Change is so much easier when we can plan for it. It’s easier to take action when we’ve done sufficient planning. Wherever I decide to go, it can be a thoughtful move. Letting go of the comfortable and familiar can be a gradual process. And in the meantime, I continue to honor my values around family, community and accountability by honoring the commitment I have to my daughter and her future.

And in this moment, I am embracing the change of seasons.

img_2440Saddle River County Park, Ridgewood, NJ. October, 2015.

Fall Training

Fall Training

The way I see it, there are three natural times of year for a reset. That is, a time when you can plan for a fresh start. The obvious one is the New Year…January 1, a new calendar; things are changing for everyone whether you like it or not. Spring, that break in the weather from the winter’s cold and the return of flowers and greenery, presents the second opportunity for newness. The third day is Labor Day. The end of summer “vacation” and back to school or work is time to get serious. Those three natural reset times are fairly evenly spaced about every four months. Your birthday is also your own personal new year’s day and another day that people tend to embark on establishing some good habits. So three to four resets per year depending where your birthday falls.

In training for goal races, runners and coaches use macrocycles. Okay, I’ll admit I was running and training for 20 years before I knew there was a term for it, but I did it. A macrocycle is the entire training period leading up to the goal race – a racing season. It’s 16 weeks to 6 months in duration. Most runners split their running year in two — fall racing season and spring racing season. Breaking it up this way allows us to build up appropriately with a specific goal in mind, analyze the results and reset as necessary.

Macrocycles are a good way to approach life as well; use those natural times of year that allow us to start over or reset goals from a new starting point. But even that can sometimes be overwhelming for someone who feels far from a desired goal. So break it down further. In training we use mesocycles and microcycles.

A mesocycle is a specific training phase within a macrocycle (a few weeks or a month) designed for a specific purpose; for example: building strength, endurance or speed. A microcycle is a series of days that make up a brief training period, usually a week. When we create a training plan around these cycles there are rules we follow like the “10% Rule” used for adding mileage from one week – or microcyle – to another. This rule says don’t add more than 10% each week. Doing so usually results in overtraining and injuries. Coaches will also build some flexibility into a training plan allowing athletes to increase or decrease the mileage or time of a workout depending on how they feel. This takes into account that there are lots of other variables an athlete has to contend with including the weather and what else is going on in their lives.

So do you have a big goal? Losing weight, learning something new, a career change, finishing a marathon? Decide where you want to be in a year. Then break it into three 15-week macrocycles. Decide what tasks you want to do in the first one that will put you toward your larger goal. Maybe before tackling a marathon next year, you need to know you can run a 5k first. Or maybe in order to switch to a new career you need to go to school to learn new skills. Whatever it is, break it down. Then break that down to a few mesocycles making those tasks more manageable and finally create a weekly – microcycle – routine that allows you to develop some good habits that help you get to all the tasks. At the end of the 15-week macrocycle (which, if you start now, will put you in the last week of the year), evaluate where you are toward your goal. Reset as necessary. Then develop your plan for the next macrocycle. Always remember “The 10% Rule” – don’t take on more than you need to; that’s when the body gets stressed. And be flexible. You have the weather to contend with. And everything else going on in your life. Roll with it.

“Running has taught me, perhaps more than anything else, that there is no reason to fear starting lines…or other new beginnings.” – Amby Burfoot

There’s a lot to be learned from running that can be applied to life. Whether you are marking the beginning of another year of school, starting a new “training” plan at home or work, or have your sights set on a big race, it’s a wonderful time of year for new beginnings. Good luck with your training.

And let me know if you need a coach.

img_4916Libertyville, Illinois. August 2016