I have come to realize that this trip is another Camino.

It didn’t occur to me till a day or so into the trip that I was leaving on my fourth Caminoversary…on the exact same date I left Virginia for Spain in 2008.  This wasn’t intentional…it was purely because Emily in Richmond was supposed to be my first stop out of town, and she had too much happening on the 7th for me to visit that day.  So she said, “Come on the 8th.”  And thus, Sunday the 8th became my departure date.

Also, like the Camino, I’m heading West.  I’ve come to believe that one should always travel in a westerly direction whenever possible.  If you rise early, you set off with the sun at your back, not glaring into your eyes, something that would be terribly demoralizing at the outset of each day…and by the time the sun IS in your eyes because it’s getting on towards evening, it’s usually a good time to stop, find a place to sleep for the night, and go for a drink or three.

I even decided, independent of all this stuff I didn’t yet realize, to bring my Camino rucksack instead of a suitcase.  So I’m even digging into the same bag at the end of every day.  (Ironically, while I lived out of that backpack for five solid weeks, I now carry twice as much STUFF into the hotel each night, simply because I’m traveling by car and CAN bring all that STUFF.  It’s a little embarrassing to my Camino soul.)

Speaking of STUFF, let me categorize a bit for you.  I’m traveling with:

  • three Vera Bradley bags (one full of yarn I haven’t touched)
  • two receptacles for toiletries (I didn’t bother getting travel-sized anything)
  • a hair dryer (what has this world come to)
  • a laptop
  • an iPad
  • an iPod
  • a smartphone
  • my desktop computer
  • a SWORD…yes, you read that correctly
  • a book on CD
  • an ass-ton of almonds and a grapefruit (neither of which I’ve touched, though I’ve plowed right through the Wheat Thins and Tostitos with Lime)
  • an entire case of Pinotage from Winestyles which I’m trying very hard to keep cool
  • two coolers, one huge and filled with wine, the other smallish
  • make that three coolers, one tiny and filled with crap that would otherwise clutter
  • a shamrock plant that up till Day 3 had ONE stalk…and then suddenly has like SEVEN…OVERNIGHT
  • a monstrosity of a thing in a pot that Mom bequeathed to me when she moved to Reno, and which I couldn’t leave behind because between its raggedy tentacles, it’d started to sprout lovely, brave new growth
  • a down vest (but no jackets or long sleeves…NONE)
  • a TENT…like I was gonna use a TENT….
  • my running gear (which has not yet been used)
  • an extra pair of tennies (so far used only to keep the shamrock from toppling
  • and a camera case with my mom’s fancy-pants adjustable camera that I LOVE using

And yet…


…as stated in the previous post, I packed with the idea that I’d be at my destination in 10 days tops…and I’d have all the contents of the POD in my possession in about 2 weeks.  I could re-pack before heading out to Reno…I could drop stuff off at the house, I could get hold of sweatshirts and such…I could take a few days and “settle” before the second “phase” of my vacation in Reno.

(“The house,” by the way, I probably haven’t explained yet.  In brief, I marketed myself on Craigslist as someone who was looking for housing for a year and wouldn’t have very much furniture…I’d like to have my own bathroom and live with only one other person…I’d like to live with someone who had a cat or a dog, as I missed mine and couldn’t get another of my own yet…and told a bit about myself as a person.  I got a few responses, including one from a 70-something gal in CA who had inherited her mother’s fully-furnished, 3-BR, 2-car garage house in downtown Ft. Collins when her mother had passed away some years ago.  Landlady kept the house because she liked visiting FC, had some relatives in the area, kept a car there, and wanted to let the property value accrue.  Plus, her mother’s 14-year-old Maine Coon cat was still there.  So Landlady rents the house just enough to cover its cost and utilities, and maybe a little extra for travel money, and asks for a week or two a year for her tenant to vacate and allow her to come visit.  She offered the place for a STEAL and, after a few weeks of indecision, I took it.  I’ll take care of Kitty at Landlady’s expense, and won’t have a roommate in order to more easily facilitate Landlady’s visits.)

Just about the time we were closing up the POD, the current, outgoing tenant of my house was writing to the landlady to say that she hadn’t been able to find a place and sign a lease yet, despite the fact that she’d given her notice to vacate back on June 3.  So suddenly there was a conflict of timing…would she be out by the time I’d be in?

Furthermore, Landlady had declared July 13-21 as her summer visit.  The current gal should have been out by then, and I wouldn’t be in yet.  But I’d be in town by that date, and could see the house (as yet I have only seen Google Maps street views, nothing inside), finalize things, and move in around the 21st as Landlady was heading out of town.

Sooo…I told Landlady that I could still come into town on time, stay a night or two, and then head on to Reno to visit my folks and spend some time out there…my nephew would be there soon…I’d see my cousins…hang out with family…just kinda tool around a bit.  I could give the girl till about the second week of August as wiggle room to leave the house.  It meant I’d have to wait on unloading the POD…and would probably end up renting it an extra month ($200 or so), but I wouldn’t start paying rent on the house till later, so that was fine.  I wasn’t PACKED FOR FOUR WEEKS, like I would’ve been if she’d said this EARLIER…but, c’est la vie.  Like my dad says, if I didn’t bring it, they probably sell it.

So there’s upheaval number one.

Upheaval number two came at midnight…MIDNIGHT…before launch.  8 HOURS before I left northern VA.  BEDTIME ON MY LAST NIGHT.

The girl didn’t wanna move out.

She’d written to Landlady and waxed poetic about the breeze through the windows and the sleeping kitty on her bed and the sanctuary of the house and…well, could Christine just be my roommate?  Do you think she might agree?


It’s not that I was opposed to having a roommate.  It’d be cheaper…less worry about the cat if I wanted to take a jaunt for a few days (weeks)…etc. etc.  The landlady didn’t want two people’s schedules to juggle with, but she was willing to give it a shot on her end.  Soft-hearted and all.  Understandable, I suppose.  And no one had signed anything…there was no legal binding to anything yet.

It was just…flaky.

And indirect.  She wasn’t writing to ME.  We were communicating through the landlady in CA, even though the girl had my information and could have contacted ME.

The whole thing just left kind of an icky taste in my mouth.  I resented the last-minute waffling.  I didn’t need the added stress the night before I drove out.  And, truth be told, I’d grown attached to the idea of my two-car garage, even if I did suddenly find I had to share it with the landlady’s car…I didn’t want to be booted out into the driveway just when I’d grown to covet the garage.  And then there was communication between the two of them that was being forwarded to me, about the space available in the house I still hadn’t seen, and where there would’ve been space for one, suddenly it was a furnished house with an extra person’s stuff there already, and just the discussion of it alone began to feel cramped.

I was ticked!

And I knew that I’d end up agreeing with it…I’d given the address to God and everyone already…but also that I’d have a hard time shaking the resentment and being cool with the whole situation as it had come about.

But I couldn’t even absorb the added brouhaha…I had to sleep…and then I had to drive…and the entire day would be filled with goodbyes….

Posted in Moving to Colorado | Leave a comment

Packing Out of “The Saltwater”

(So…I’ve been meaning to start blogging this journey for weeks now.  The intention was to start writing back in the spring and chronicle a bit of the process of moving itself.  But, as it turned out, the only times I wasn’t actively working, packing, running, or spending time with friends, I was either in a catatonic state of collapse from all the DOING, or asleep.

Which means I’m now on Day 3 of “Launch,” and am just now posting.  Which means there’s so much to say…so much I’ve already written in my head, so to speak…that I’m totally overwhelmed by how to write this post.  But I finally decided I couldn’t put it off any longer….)



I’ll start with news from the Saltwater, I suppose…my former address.  The house is empty.  Clean.  Signed away.  Kind of.  It was supposed to close on July 5, last Thursday, but a wild “derecho” storm slammed the eastern half of the county the Friday previous and knocked out power all over the region, including at my realtor’s northern VA office, and contributed to a snafu that ultimately spelled a delay in the paper-signing.  I myself went in on Friday to sign all the paperwork my parents (my co-title-owners) had already signed from Nevada, and was told that the house was still “mine” till Monday the 9th.  (Which was a moot point, essentially, as I’d said my goodbyes to my beautiful home-of-ten-years a few days prior, and would be heading out from NOVA on Sunday the 8th.)  But I found out yesterday from my mom that the loan paperwork from the buyers’ FHA loan had not yet come through. The house is in limbo…the buyers’ realtor is entirely AWOL…and everyone from my folks in Reno to the buyers in VA are up in arms about when it’ll clear.  I’ve been assured, however, that I’ve done all of my business and that (thank God) I do NOT need to go back.  So we’ll see how that goes.  God help us all if this sale falls through.  It’s just a hassle we don’t need.

Ergo, “the Saltwater” is, to my knowledge, empty still.

The PODS unit arrived on Monday, June 25.  It was cool to see it arrive.  It was brought in on what looked like a flatbed truck, but the truck carried a giant frame with a hydraulic (?) mechanism that placed the PODS unit.  The frame lifted the unit off the truck…the truck drove out from under it…the driver used controls on the frame to get the unit in place in its parking spot…the frame lifted off the unit…and connected back to the truck.  That sucker fit perfectly in a parking spot.  (Not mine.  Not even Jesse’s, which had been generously offered to me.  Poached my neighbor’s spot, which worked out perfectly, as his sister was going to be out of town for almost the entire time the unit would be in her spot.)



It was tough to see the house empty.  Not as tough as it was to GET it empty, however.



There were two “big stuff move-out” days…last Saturday the 30th of June, and Tuesday, July 3.  My brother, his friend Jonas, my neighbor Jesse, and my Tony helped on Saturday…Jesse, Tony, Lump, and Lump’s dad all helped at various times on Tuesday.

Four or five different people came from all over to take away couches, end tables, coffee tables, dining set, and deck swing that they’d either acquired or bought from me.




The solid oak computer desk left for its new life in a farmhouse in King George.  The bedroom set went into a storage unit at Lump’s insistence, despite the fact that I was loath to leave my detritus in someone else’s possession to sell for me.  Everything else went into the PODS unit.  Bookcases, secretary desk, bench, bed frame, Clavinova piano, flatscreen TV, tons of framed art, box after box after box after BOX of books, garden items, more framed art, TV stand, a few more boxes of books, crates that’d been with me since college, hanging clothes, boxed clothes, MORE framed art, shoes, barn gear, and, of course, yet MORE boxes of books.  (It was entirely appropriate that I’d acquired some of my boxes from Lisa Renard-Spicer, many of which bore labels like “Books,” “More Books,” and “Dear God More Books.”)


Without help from my brother Mike and my Tony, Lord only knows how I would’ve gotten out of that house.  I would’ve just hit the meltdown point and sat down and cried.  Tony especially.  The boy was a godsend.  I actually DID hit the meltdown point somewhere around midnight on the last night (July 3), when I realized a) we had at least three more hours’ work to do, and b) he wasn’t going to leave until it was done.  He was going to stay and see me through this.  He didn’t have to.  But he was going to.  I realized I could not fathom a way to let him know how grateful I was that he was there, and just burst into tears.  Which was to his dismay, of course, as it was soaking up productivity time and it was friggin’ late.  So he had to walk the line between “There, there, honey…” and “GET UP OFF YOUR ASS AND LET’S DO THIS!!  THERE’S NO CRYING IN MOVING!!”  lol.  Good man.

Anyway.  It’s packed.  Wish I’d gotten a shot of the POD when it was done.  Can’t believe I didn’t.  There isn’t a ton of air space left in there.  (This shot here is the initial pack, which got mostly undone and stacked much higher in the back.)  I pretty much filled the sucker.  It was 8’x8’x16′ and I filled it UP.



At the end it really was a matter of just chucking stuff in there.  The Sleep Number bed comes apart into all kinds of soft, squishy, foamy parts that work as great cushions for expensive flatscreen TVs and space fillers around boxes of china and framed art.  A suitcase with all the clothes I wasn’t going to bring in the car got tossed up into the back.  Thank God I had boys – firefighters, electricians, Marines – who know how to tie rope knots that I may actually be able to UNDO on the other end.  There’s hanging racks built into the POD and I decided to make use of them instead of folding everything and then having to box up hangers (a nightmare, always).  Several small boxes are marked “Deck Whatchagot” and “Shed Misc.” and “Whatever.”  I think one is marked “Bite Me.”  There’s a trash can full of piping for the drip system, though I couldn’t figure out how to uproot the main water pipe and finally decided to rebury the parts I HAD pulled up and just leave it there for the new folks to deal with.  A laundry basket full of this’n’that is perched up high where I know it’ll topple, but not onto anything it’ll hurt.  A lampshade is tucked under the “Buddha-dome” top of my cat’s old litter box, which finally came with me.  Jesse inherited the basil and the deck chair.  The plants went to Andrea and Luke and Lee and the church and anyone else I could foist them on.  Mike got the Adirondack chairs my dad made.  The deck umbrella got left behind as a gift to the new owners, along with a giant ivy pot that had grown into the deck, and the thermometer and the clock that’s only right twice a day.


I climbed up on the deck railing and carved “RLE CME ’09” into the pergola my dad and I built three years ago.


I took pictures of the empty house.  I locked the door and carefully shut the storm door all the way closed.  I blew a kiss at the day lilies along the side of the house that my mom had gotten fifteen years ago with my college boyfriend’s mom, and that I had brought from our old house to plant next to mine.





When everything was either in the POD or in the car, I finally took down the flag and the mounting bracket, rolled it up, and set it inside the POD…the last thing to leave the post, just as my brother had told me.  And I shut the POD and got in my car and drove away, to a song I’d never heard before, and can’t remember the words to now, but was about the concept of “home.”




It was sad.  It was hard.  But I didn’t cry.  Because by now, it felt right.  It felt like it was TIME.  In fact, the whole process has felt totally natural, like just the thing I was supposed to be doing.  It felt very matter-of-fact.  I’ve had no doubts and no second thoughts.  There hasn’t been a moment where I questioned whether I was doing the right thing.  It felt like change…but the kind of change I feel at the end of the summer when it’s time to head back to work and prepare for another school year.  It feels like a big job and an overwhelming amount of stuff to do, but it feels like exactly the right thing to do at the right time.  It just IS.  That’s what it’s felt like.  I don’t know how else to describe it.



Anyway.  Yes.  So my life is packed.  The car is packed.  The POD is packed.

But I packed it thinking I’d see it in about 3 weeks, hire a couple guys to unload it, and have everything I needed again.  I packed it thinking I had everything I needed for 10 days in the car.  I packed it thinking I’d be moving into solo occupancy of a furnished house within a month.

And then the upheavals began.

(to be continued….)


(ps – learning to integrate pics into my blog posts…how’d i do??)

Posted in Moving to Colorado | 4 Comments

“Show Up” – Sermon 6/17/2012

As many of you know, I was asked to give the message at Manassas Church of the Brethren (my home church) on June 17, 2012.  I agreed.  With both giddiness and terror.

I was given a sermon topic: Mark 4:26-32.  And as I dove headfirst into research, like a good little English major, I quickly found out that a close reading of this text, along with sources I found in books and online, could easily hijack me into a written piece that would be more of a thesis than a sermon.  After all, I only had about 10 minutes.  And there was going to be cake and punch that Sunday in the foyer after the service.  I couldn’t drag this thing out.

After outlining and drafting and re-drafting and obsessing and panicking and…in the midst of it all…finding myself completely amazed at just HOW MUCH there was to say about these two little parables…and HOW MUCH symbolism there was to seize upon…and HOW MUCH I could connect these simple stories with a MILLION things in my own life…I finally met with my pastor, Jeff, and he managed to lasso me in and limit my focus to something bite-sized enough to form into some kind of coherent sermon that would both connect the story to my own experiences AND remain focused on the message I felt Christ was trying to get across.

The following text is the result.  (Please note…I could have gone on about this excerpt for hours…so if it seems a bit limited…it was.)

Show Up

So…the kids are out of school.  This is the time of year when, in the midst of all the packing up and signing out, all the jubilation over the start of the summer vacation, we teachers realize that, THAT’S IT.  We’re out of time.  We’ve taught this group of kids everything we could in the time we had with them.  Now we just have to hope that some of it took root and will grow.  It’s no longer up to us.  We did our part…now there’s nothing we can do but hope that some of those kids listened, engaged…as I like to call it, showed up.  Hope that some of our seeds fell on good soil.

In a way, it reminds me of the spring of 2008, when I came across the idea to go on this crazy, 5-week backpacking trip across the north of Spain.  500 miles on foot.  I’d never backpacked before.  I didn’t have any gear.  I had no one to go with.  But with a scratchy old cassette audiobook by Shirley MacLaine, a seed had fallen on fertile soil, and it had taken root.

I did all the research I could, and the more I learned, the more positive I was that I was meant to do this.  I wanted to take this walk and learn everything it had to teach me.  I wanted to rise with the sun each day…and shoulder a pack with the barest essentials, and set out with the sun at my back, knowing all I had to do that day was walk…follow the signs, and keep my eyes open, and find the friends I knew would be waiting for me along the pilgrim road to Santiago.

So I bought some hiking boots and a pack and a plane ticket…flew to France…and two trains later I arrived at the foot of the Pyrenees.

And the most amazing experience of my life commenced.


All I had to do was SHOW UP.  Be there.  Engage.  And I believed that the fruition of my efforts would be INEVITABLE.  Kind of like a farmer who plants seeds in his fields…it inevitably leads to a harvest.  Like that story you just heard from the gospel of Mark, Chapter 4.  Listen it once more…


26 [Christ] said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”


So…all this guy did was scatter seed on the ground, and then…just…leaves.  Goes about his business.  Ignores the seeds.  Doesn’t weed, doesn’t water, doesn’t nothin’.

And somehow, the seed actually sprouts!  It grows!  And he doesn’t even really understand how it happens!  Which may seem bizarre, considering that this is how the guy makes his living…but back then, even farmers didn’t understand germination and photosynthesis and all of that whatever that causes the seed to grow.  All this guy knows is that…it always does.  The seed is that good.

That’s all he needs to know.

And he knows there’s a process.  He doesn’t mess with it.  He doesn’t force it.  Doesn’t hurry it, doesn’t try to slow it down.  Lets it happen by God’s grace and in God’s time.  Look at verse 28: The earth produces of itself.  The sower has done his part to scatter the seed – he’s shown up – and now it’s time to leave the rest up to God.  Which is exactly what he does.

Even the structure of the plant follows a process, and Christ takes the time to point this out: first the stalk, then the head…then, last…last…the full grain in the head.

And then it’s ripe for harvest.


Christ says this is like the Kingdom of God.  That this is what it looks like when God’s people live with the faith and the trust that he intended them to have.

The seed is good.  The love of God, the best possible vision of this world, the way things ought to be…it’s already whole and complete and good, in and of itself.  The sun will shine, the rain will fall, time will pass, and the seed will grow…IF the soil is good.

And that’s where we come in.  We are the soil.


I feel like I got a snapshot of this on the pilgrim road to Santiago.  Every day, I saw evidence of the wisdom of allowing a process to unfold naturally and in God’s time…organically.  Without force.

I learned…

  • To pace myself – that there was a price to pay for trying to forcing myself to go farther than my body could in a day…
  • Not to hurry to walk at someone else’s pace; or drag someone along at my pace…
  • To walk when I felt it was time…not to stop for the day before I was ready, or hurry along and miss the view, simply to stay with someone I was afraid to lose…
  • To be open to the idea that another is coming along from whom I could learn, and whom I might teach…
  • To be present in the moment with the people I was with…to give and receive what each of us has…to walk further with someone or move on from them based on whether they seemed to lighten my load or increase its weight…
  • For that matter, that no one will carry my pack for me, and that I can’t carry another’s for them…

That I’d get there.  Through sun.  Rain.  Time and pace.


Patience…Mindfulness… Wisdom.


After five weeks and 500 miles, I reached the Cathedral of Santiago.  And looking back now, I realize that the joy I was feeling at the conclusion was the result of having watched this kingdom of God unfold in minutiae…in my own little corner of the universe.  Was the result of having showed up…trusted the process to unfold…and reaped the rich harvest that had, indeed, come to fruition.

So, in this parable…what was the point Jesus was trying to get across to us?

Well…that it’s not our job to make the seed grow.  And it’s not important for us to know the mechanism by which the seed grows.  It’s enough to know that it WILL.

And that there’s an order to the process…the fruition comes LAST.  It comes after the foundation is laid.  It comes after the framework is formed, on that foundation, that is capable of producing the fruition of our labors.  Fruition demands patience.

So, if we are the soil, the only choice we get is…How can we be better soil?  How can we be more receptive to the seeds that fall in our hearts?  How can we avoid being hard?  Stubborn?  Shallow?  Rocky?  Thorny?

  • We can thwart hardness by empathizing with one another.
  • We can avoid stubbornness by spending time in prayer and meditation.
  • We can increase our depth by feeding our minds as surely as we feed our bodies.
  • We can remove the rocks by removing the impediments in our lives that fail to align with the best vision we have of our selves and our lives.
  • We can avoid the thorns that come from the company of negative people.

We can keep our eyes OPEN.  We can learn how to identify the good people God brings to us to help us in our walk.  We can find out how to assist others as they walk their own path.  We can SHOW UP.

For me, a new seed has fallen.

And in the spirit of receptivity, in the attempt to be good soil for this new seed…I’ve sold my house.  A week from tomorrow, I’ll start to pack my things into a PODS shipping crate…and within a month I’ll arrive in Colorado with no job and no family and virtually no friends…and without really ever having spent more than a few days there at all.

Why?  Because it’s there.  Because it called to me. Because I want to see what this seed will become.

And as I look ahead to my next big adventure, I realize that, yes…it’s big and scary.  I’m heading out into the great unknown.  I’m quite literally doing nothing more than following a call I feel in my heart.

But I’m trying to be fertile ground for what I know is a good seed.  And I also realize that…well, I’ve got practice at this soil thing.  I’ve done this “trust the process” thing before…and the more I do it, the more normal it seems.  The more it seems like just something you DO.  You answer the call.  So…I will.

I’ll SHOW UP.  I’ll go and do.  I’ll keep my eyes open.  I’ll look for some kind of familiar spark in the eyes of the people I meet, and when I see it, I’ll know that we were sent for one another.  And I’ll build relationships.  And a life. 


And the seed…that good seed…will grow into the stalk that carries the head towards the sunlight, and the grain…the fruition…will show up too.



Posted in Moving to Colorado | Tagged | 3 Comments

Loveland and Estes Park

So here I am in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.  I’m sitting at THE eponymous red table of the Red Table Cafe, enjoying some beautiful music and a mimosa (!!) and watching a very fine snow fall outside in the quaint streets near the pedestrian plaza.  There’s beautiful art (for sale!) on the walls (I’m already in love with one) and I’m the only one in here…and I’m trying to figure out how to engage the staff in the kind of conversation that would give me some insight as to whether or not moving here will mean that my life will become exactly what I’d always dreamed of for the next 60 years.

That’s a far taller order than the mimosa.  Maybe I’ll just let them sweep.

I arrived late on April Fool’s Day with a suitcase full of the kinds of layers I thought would work for a forecast that predicted highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s…which is to say, I didn’t pack for real cold, and I didn’t pack for warmth, either.  Arriving at Denver International Airport for my 10th time in 12 months (this was the first time I actually got to LEAVE the airport), I was somewhat disconcerted to see people in shorts and flip-flops, slightly pink.  I was worried I’d packed way too heavy for warm temps.

From the airport, I took the Avis shuttle to the car rental place some 5 miles outside of the airport, and waited in a 25-minute line with other grumpy, sleepy folks waiting for their cars…and got to the counter…and gave my confirmation number, and got no more than three letters in before the desk girl stopped me with a “What…?”  I didn’t rent from Avis.  Sigh.  She immediately offered to get me a ride to the Fox (?) rental place, where I entered a shady-looking warehouse building and was hooked up with my car by a very friendly and rather attractive guy named Manny, who was just the kind of outdoorsy-looking guy I’m moving out here to find.  I got into my claustrophobic little Chevy Malibu and headed north to Loveland…making it to my hotel room at about 1am local time, 3am by my body clock.  Unpacked everything, set up bathroom and drawers and desk and closet (my favorite part of a hotel stay), and collapsed into a bed that, after having my SleepNumber set on 90 for months now, had me feeling as if I were drowning in the mattress.  Luckily, I was too exhausted to care.

Monday morning I dragged myself out of bed in time for the complimentary breakfast, reminding myself that economy was key, and that places like this sometimes have Belgian waffle-makers.  Aaaand, they did.  YUM.  With a belly fulla waffle, I was ready to tackle the day, which was going to start with coffee in downtown Loveland with my friend Mandy from high school.  She looked exactly as she did in high school, and, to my surprise, said the same about me.  The coffee shop was also a bookstore…mostly used, some new, and had a great little area to sit and chat in.  We started with June of 1995 and caught up on 17 years of college, grad school, jobs, families, siblings, and what it’s like to live in Colorado.  She had a lot of reassurance to offer me about the weather, as she had moved here last summer from Seattle and claimed that this area has 300 days of sunshine a year, just like Reno.  To hear someone say they had moved here “for the weather” made me feel like the cold was something I could handle, and that I had a lot of bright days to look forward to.

When Mandy had to go, I wandered a few blocks of the main downtown on foot and dropped in on a little Reiki-type mystical-spiritual-woman-type shop that reminded me of Woman’s Wish down in Occoquan back home…and almost thought it was the same woman who’d run that shop.  It wasn’t, but she was just as warm and friendly, and we talked for a while about what brought me out here and how she was certain I’d be very happy here and that everything would fall into place.  It was like having a cup of coffee with a rent-a-grandma, and I left the shop feeling like I’d met an angel.

Getting back in the car, I decided to follow Mandy’s advice to drive out to Estes Park, a little resort town in the mountains.  As soon as I passed my hotel on Rt 34, I saw signs that I was entering Roosevelt National Park and the Big Thompson Valley Gorge…and right away, I found myself on a little two-lane road that hugged a river that cut through steep walls of rock on either side.  It was really beautiful (despite the fact that my Malibu is probably the worst mountain-sight-seeing rental car on the planet…no sunroof, low ceilings, small windows).  A few miles in, the cars coming towards me began flashing their lights at me, and I kept an eye out for cops, but within moments, came upon a herd of bighorn sheep crowding the right-hand shoulder of the road, nibbling indifferently at grasses while their ram gazed at us with cocked head.  I scrambled to get a few shots with my phone, which did NOT cooperate, and then swallowed the pictures I eventually did get of him and his beautifully curved horns.  I wondered briefly if he would charge my car and ram my hood…realized I had no idea what the habits of bighorn were.  As more cars came to a stop behind us and on the opposite side, some of the ewes and lambs decided to cross, changed their mind halfway, and crowded back to the shoulder as we all eased past.

Estes Park finally came into view after miles of twisting mountain roads through the river valley, with little homesteads nestled against the rockface, looking like they would be full of hardy, mountain-dwelling folks who were prepared to handle any kind of weather the Rockies could throw at them.  It was picturesque, but tough to imagine the lifestyle.  I kept wondering where the kids went to school, and how they got there, and how long it took, and what on EARTH did they do when the weather turned bad??

Estes Park had the look of a typical resort town…the kind of place a wintry person would pick for a honeymoon.  The mountains rose up at sharp angles, and though there was no snow, I could see ski runs cut into the sides of some of the wider mountainsides.  A fine, misty sleet was falling the entire time, and the tops of the mountains were shrouded in mist.  It really was quite beautiful.

The Red Table Cafe folks just stopped by my table to tell me they were closing (had closed 35 minutes ago, actually), so I have to chug this mimosa and get moving.  I’ll write more later, I’m sure.

Posted in Moving to Colorado | Leave a comment

The Word is Out….

Well, the cat’s out of the bag now.  About a week ago, I posted on my Facebook that, if I called July 15 The Big Day, I was suddenly about 140 days away from packing up and leaving my beautiful green Virginia for a new home in Colorado.  And gradually, the people who follow my online life the most began to perk up and take notice.  They began to accost me in the halls at work, and after church, and in Facebook messages. “Are you really moving to Colorado?”  “Is it definite??”

Yes, I’m really moving to Colorado this summer.

And the “Is it definite?” question kinda freaks me out.  Because, yes, in my heart, it’s definite.  I’ve wanted to move there for over a year now. I can’t explain why Colorado…it’s just something I feel.  It’s somewhere I feel certain I’m meant to go.  I don’t know a soul there…I don’t have a job…I’ve never even been there except to pass through.  And I’m terrified that some bizarre series of life circumstances will conspire to keep me HERE, when I know in my heart I need to leave…and so I cringe when I say, “Yes, it’s definite.”  I’m afraid of being That Girl, the one who always says she’s going to do some big crazy thing…and then never does.  (Although my Camino and my marathon speak for me, there, somewhat….)

So…yes.  I’m going.  Believe it.  I’m determined.

I’ve been meaning to start blogging about it for a few weeks now, ever since I set the wheels in motion.  I want to chronicle the steps I take, because, like my Camino blog and my marathon blog, I want to provide a blow-by-blow chronology of this undertaking for a “me” out there, somewhere…a single girl taking a huge leap in her life and feeling like she’s suddenly become that scariest-of-all-things: a Grown-Up.

I started thinking seriously about making this happen on the first of the year.  I was at my friend Michelle’s house for what’s become an annual Vision Board Day…where we create scrapbook-style posters envisioning what we want for ourselves that year.  The decision that day was Big Leap or Small Leap?  Move way out West to Colorado and leave behind everything I’ve known in my adult life, or move to the neighboring county, Loudoun…far away enough to have to create a whole new circle of friends, get a job in a new school system, buy a home…but still be able to reach my closest friends and my brother’s family in an hour or less.

Michelle, who had taken a similar leap years ago and moved here to Virginia from Massachusetts, told me that one way to decide was to spend a solid week thinking as though the move to Colorado was definite.  And then spend the next solid week thinking as though the move to Loudoun was definite.  And then, see how I felt at the end of the process…whether one felt like more of a letdown than the other.

I never made it off the Colorado week.

So I started researching areas.  Boulder was the town that had been in my head ever since fall of 2010.  My folks retired last spring, and I helped them drive out to their new home in Reno, Nevada…and they kindly planned a route that would have us overnighting in Boulder on our third day.  We walked from the motel through the downtown district for dinner – quaint, beautiful – and woke up the next morning to cruise through the town and the campus of Colorado University, and from there, up into the Flatiron Mountains a bit till we hit an overlook that gave us a view all the way to Denver and beyond.  We stopped at a mountain-lodge-looking Starbucks and an REI, and basically got the feel for the area (as much as one could in a 16-hour overnight).  I liked it.

So I started checking out forums and finding out what I could online.  I found a lot of people who claimed that Boulder was relatively expensive for the area, and more than a bit yuppie-ish.  They said that the little towns to the north along I-25 were much more reasonably priced and down-to-earth, and still allowed for easy access to the cultural draws of Boulder.

Then, my friend Trinity, who had spent some time out in Fort Collins last summer, told me that she and her husband LOVED that area.  She said Walt Disney had modeled his Main Street at DisneyWorld off Ft. Collins’s Main Street.  That it was artsy and eclectic and cultural and beautiful and just a very well-laid-out town.

Just south of Fort Collins, I found a place called Loveland.  Friends of mine had lived there some 27 years ago, and had good things to say about it.  And I liked the name.  After all, if you can’t find love in Loveland…well…you just must not be meant to have it.

So I moved the bullseye north to the Loveland/Fort Collins area and moved on to the school district map.

In the month since, I’ve finished two online applications: one for Poudre District (is it really pronounced “Pooder,” as my former-Loveland friends claim?) and Thompson Valley.  I have Weld/Greely and St. Vrain still in the hopper.

On Leap Day last week, as soon as my paycheck and my tax refund came in, I took a major leap and booked a flight, hotel, and car for April 1-5 out to Colorado.  The whole reservation topped out at just over $1000…my entire tax refund and then some.  And suddenly, this whole thing became Real.  I mean, I’d sunk actual money into the dream.  A LOT of money.  That’s a pretty expensive 4 or 5 days if it doesn’t come to fruition…which is pretty big incentive to really work to follow through on it.  Around that time, I learned that a friend from high school lives in the Loveland area and I’m hoping to meet up with her for coffee while I’m there.  I also learned from my aunt that we have a relative outside Boulder.  I’ve never met her or her particular branch of my father’s very large extended family, but we’ve connected now on Facebook, and she seems lovely.  I hope to meet her, too…maybe not in April, but certainly as I get settled in.

This past Sunday, I spent about three hours in the quiet room of the library (a GREAT place for focused quiet work) and emailed about six principals my cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile just to introduce myself.  I mentioned the window of time when I’d be in town and expressed my hope (my fervent, almost desperate hope!) that they might be interested in interviewing me while I’m there.  Two responded, saying they’d contact me if any positions opened up.  Thrilled for the contact…but a bit deflated at its generic and noncommittal tone, even though it makes perfect sense.

This morning, I spent a good deal of time filling out transcript request forms for JMU and UMW…sending them off to the counties I’ve chosen.  In some cases, I couldn’t put a person’s name on the envelope, so I’m a bit nervous that some HR secretary is going to toss my transcripts because she doesn’t realize why they’re coming from a complete unknown some dozen states away.

I also have to look into Colorado licensure.  And, in looking into it, I find that I can’t even start the application process till I get fingerprinted out there.  So, as of now, that’s the only definite professional chore I have on my agenda for next month’s trip.

It’s daunting.  Other than our four years in Okinawa, from 1991-1995, and while I was away at JMU several months a year from 1995-1999, I’ve lived on these two blocks since I was ten years old.  Montclair is the realest home I have ever had.  I’ve never lived anywhere else longer than a few years.  I’ve been in this townhouse for TEN years.  A decade.  When I moved in, I was dating the last man I was serious about.  That was nine years ago.  It’s staggering to think of leaving here.  It’s staggering to think of prying myself out of this house I’ve dug into for ten years.  It’s terrifying to think of how lonely it’ll be out there for a while, as I try to make friends, and as I miss the people I really love and depend on here in Virginia.  It’s even more terrifying to think that I might not be able to get a job that allows me to live as comfortably as I do here.  If I don’t get a salaried position somewhere, doing SOMEthing (hopefully teaching), things will be rough for a while.  It’s all very, very scary.

“How do you eat an elephant?” a friend asked me.  “One bite at a time.”  I’m eating an elephant.  And I’m trying to find places to start nibbling away.  And it’s a huge task.

But, to answer your question…

Yes, I’m moving to Colorado.

And yes, it’s definite.

Posted in Moving to Colorado | Tagged , | 3 Comments

MCM Crossroads 17.75km

Today I got up at 5:15am, dressed in the dark, wolfed down an English muffin, and headed out to run the Marine Corps Marathon Series Crossroads 17.75km, which wound 11 miles through the Prince William Forest Park, virtually from my doorway to the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Runkeeper told me today that I’ve run ONCE in the past 30 days.  “Training” is a word I basically abandoned about a month ago, when a bout with hip bursitis on my left side convinced me that I had missed too much training buildup to just jump in and try to be ready for the MCM that was then only about eight weeks away (I posted about this dilemma previously, and later agreed with my cousin when he said it was pretty clear I knew that the decision was already made.)  Instead, I’ve been going to physical therapy twice a week, re-acclimating to my work schedule with the beginning of the school year, watching torrential downpours, battling cold and sinus infections, and basically doing everything EXCEPT running.

So I had no idea what to expect from today’s 11 miles.  It was my furthest distance since the Historic Half back in May, and I hadn’t done anything more than 5- and 10Ks in the meantime.  I knew I’d finish, but when and in what condition was anyone’s guess.  I woke up feeling decent, and decided that 2:15:00 would be the ultimate but probably unrealistic goal, and the closer to that, the happier I’d be.  My hip was making a little bit of noise, but didn’t feel TOO bad.

I stood around in the pre-dawn, overcast gloom near the start line with my brother, Mike, his friend Matt, and my friend Leah, all of whom were anxious to start and to hopefully finish among the lead pack.  They discussed recent injuries, questioned their preparedness, and it was clear they were all going to demand great performances from themselves.  I felt kind of small and amateurish as I listened, knowing my pace was far, far slower than theirs, and that they would all be long gone from the site by the time I finished.  In a way, that was good, because I didn’t want to worry about keeping anyone waiting while I was on the trail…I wanted to be able to just do my best and focus on that.  But I knew it’d kinda bum me out to cross a finish line and have no one there to cheer me home.  Still, the desire to avoid anxiety about making them wait prevailed; I knew I’d finish at least 45 minutes behind them, and likely close to an hour.

As the start time neared, Leah headed towards the front of the pack and I drifted towards my usual place in the back.  I was surprised to find Mike and Matt had ended up there, too…Mike said he liked the emotional boost of being able to pass people.  I knew I’d lose sight of him in the first few minutes.  The gun went off…the phalanx of runners slowly shuffled forward, and we were off.

I rolled my ankle in the first few minutes of the race on a rock on the asphalt that I’d failed to see…but I was okay and kept going.  I made it 25 minutes before walking (something that would’ve barely made me break a sweat a year ago, but that is a decently significant accomplishment this year).  The turn off 234 and into the woods is about a mile from my house, so when I peeled off my sweatshirt, I dropped it just off the sidewalk in a grassy ditch on a drainage grate where I hoped it would still be in a few hours when I came back to retrieve it.  If it wasn’t, oh well…but I didn’t want to run the next 9 miles with it around my waist.  (It was there.) =)

As we made the turn into the park, we came upon a lady Marine…in a drill instructor hat.  I had my earphones in, but it was clear she was shouting at us.  Drill-instructor style.  She was intense and intimidating and inspiring and totally awesome.  I sped up a little as I passed her, relishing the boost of encouragement.  Not long after, a woman I’d been leapfrogging settled in next to me, and we paced each other, urged each other, encouraged each other, and chatted with each other for the next 7 miles or so.  It was a good match, and helped me stay positive where I’m sure I would’ve gotten discouraged and disgruntled had I been all alone.

The crowd around us had thinned almost immediately in the first mile…I knew there weren’t tons of people behind me, but I tried not to look, and instead focused on the road ahead.  I didn’t want to feel like a straggler.

And I didn’t feel like a straggler.  I am slow.  My pace at best is in the 10-minute mile, and within 4 or 5 miles drops into the 12s.  But I don’t FEEL slow.  I’m steady and consistent…unless there’s a significantly long and steep hill I don’t have the juice to tackle, my splits don’t vary much, even over a long distance.  I never feel like I’m sprinting, of course…but I DO always feel like I am maintaining the fastest pace I know I can, in fact, maintain.  To go faster feels foolish to me…like I would be guaranteeing that I’d run out of energy, injure something, or fail to finish.  My heart rate is high, my breathing is tough, I can talk a little but not sing…all hallmarks (or so I’ve been taught) that I’m exerting a high level of effort while maintaining consistency.

To say all that feels like I’m getting ahead of myself, but there isn’t much else to say about the race in a blow-by-blow fashion.  I walked some, but ran as much as I could till sore, stiff hips, tight calves, or bourgeoning blisters compelled me to take another walk break.  I kept my walks as short as possible, and frequently pushed myself to run to the next water stop, the next mile marker, the next Marine on post before I allowed another respite.

The only incident happened around Mile 9.5, where I was running along a stretch of asphalt that slanted away to the right.  I ran along the extreme left edge of the pavement, proud of myself for automatically seeking out the most level surface so as to ease the strain on my joints.  Suddenly, though, my foot caught on the edge of the paving and I was sent crashing to my hands and knees on the blacktop.  I immediately got up, looked around sheepishly, and started running again…no one was close enough to have reacted or helped me or even called out to me, which was probably good…there was nothing to do but just keep going, if only to preserve what was left of my dignity.  (I can’t remember the last time I had a skinned knee…it’s kind of funny and kind of humbling.)

There were a few drill instructors along the way, but the toughest one was at the end…another lady.  She might have been the same one as at the beginning…I was afraid to look at her, though, because I was exhausted and the homestretch was on an incline I was too worn out to handle, and she was berating the HELL out of me for having seen me walking so close to the end.  I muscled on past her the best I could, but I had hit the wall and was just DYING.  I saved enough to sprint the finish, and the first mat was far enough ahead of the finishing mat that I got to spring through the calling of my name by the announcer, which you just gotta love.

(I made a liar of myself, though…I’d worn my MCM “In Training 2011” shirt, even though I’m not…and when the announcer called out a compliment on it and asked if I was running it, I nodded…because what else could I do?)

I finished with 2:23:11.  20 minutes under my half-marathon time from May, which is what I’d expected and hoped for.  Reasonably close to my goal time.  I was totally exhausted, and completely convinced I had done my very, very best.  I went into the Museum to buy an EGA sticker for my car, visited my dad’s and brother’s bricks for a quick photo op I’d thought of, and headed back to my car…very proud of myself.

Found my brother at his son’s football scrimmage, where he told me he and Matt finished together and barely passed Leah at the end.  They all crossed the line at about 1:28:00.  Leah was the third in her age group.  Mike finished 96th overall.

I was 631st.  Out of 657.

ALL THREE of them were in the top 100.  I was in the bottom 30.

And the more I thought about that today, the more my proud red balloon leaked helium till it was squealing around the room in a wild, manic spiral till it collapsed, deflated, on the floor.

Disconsolate thoughts plagued me: I am really BAD at this.  Why am I so SLOW?  How come I don’t FEEL slow?  How could I have finished SO FAR back in the pack??  Were there REALLY only 26 people behind me out of almost seven HUNDRED???

I’m usually in the trailing end of the pack.  But not THAT low.  Granted, I was in the bottom 7% of finishers in my marathon last December.  But that was different.  One, my knee had gone out RIGHT at the halfway point.  And plus, it was a MARATHON.  And I FINISHED.  So anyone who laughs at my 5:55:50 can bite me.  But this one messed with my head.

Even the Historic Half in May, when my average pace was nearly a minute faster, I finished ahead of over a hundred people in my division alone.

Soooo…???  Even the good ol’ reliable “I lapped everyone still in bed this morning” wasn’t working.

So I talked this over with my friend Keith after puzzling it out all day.  And he said exactly what was in my head.  And hearing it come from someone else made it feel less like rationalization:

I was no slower in this race than I am in any race.  And my relative placement therefore reflects not on me, but on the cohort of people with whom I was running.  Therefore, I have to assume that the pool of runners in this race was far from the societal cross-section one gets in most 10Ks and nearly all 5Ks.  I simply have to conclude that I was running with a far more elite pool of runners than I normally run with.  This run, 11 miles, coincided with both Leah’s and Mike’s slack week in their marathon training, meaning that this weekend’s slated long run was about 12 miles, sandwiched between two 20-milers.  From that, I must assume that many of the racers there today are 5 weeks away from the Marine Corps Marathon, and therefore are reaching the pinnacle of their training.  They’re ready for a run of this distance; have been doing it for weeks now.  (Whereas I have been able to do little training at all, and nothing over 6 miles.)  If that fact applies to two of the three people I knew at this race, it stands to reason that it also applies to hundreds more who were there.

Therefore, while I may have been among the LEAST badass of Crossroads participants…

…I may possibly be among the MOST badass of runners of my own pace and skill level…many of whom evidently did not choose to run this race.

Is that right?  Or am I just trying to make myself feel better?

I do wish I were faster.  I wish I were a natural like Mike, or totally fit like Leah.  And while I know I COULD get to one or both of those points if I were wholly dedicated to it for a long, long time…I doubt I ever will.

But I will keep hitting the pavement.  Keep trying to heal this hip.  Start over at square one and build myself back up to 30 minutes, and take it from there.  I already know I can do it.

And I DID lap everyone still in bed this morning.  And I beat all my fellow tortoises who didn’t show up.  And 26 of those who did.

Semper Fi.

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A Day in the Life of an American Girl

The last couple years, I’ve wanted nothing to do with 9/11 remembrances.  Just don’t want to relive it. Can’t handle it. This year, ten years out, was ten times worse. The media started hyping it two weeks in advance, and I was sick of it at least a week ago.  Nevertheless, here I am, writing a blog about my day.

And it’s simple, in summary. I spent the day being as American as I know how to be.

I woke up to the radio playing God Bless America. Showered, put on a nice dress and my great-great-grandmother’s diamond ring, handed down to me this past summer, got into my new car and drove to Starbucks. From there to the local Farmer’s Market, where a bluegrass band full of kids no older than 20 were singing “Wagon Wheel,” and where I bought 4 perfect plum tomatoes and a handful of Honey Crisp apples, and made a mental note to set aside $35 or so for six 8-inch mums and some pansies next week for my fall gardening.

Headed off to church with my school-snack donation for the local food bank, and took my place in the pew to listen to the service, which featured candles, beautiful choir music, and our once-in-a-while anointing practice I love so much. I don’t touch my forehead the rest of the day in order to preserve the oil cross Pastor Jeff Carter marks there, and every now and then I can smell the soothing scent of the oil’s incense.  Listened to Jeff’s 9/11 memoriam and his sermon, right on the mark as always and not at all heavy-handed, just perfect, as I worked quietly on baby blankets for my friend George’s soon-to-arrive twin girls.  Chatted there with my girlfriends, a mother of twins and a local lady-cop, as well as my “surrogate family” and the old man who tearfully gave me his recently deceased wife’s yarn stash a year ago and who makes me feel like my hugs make his day.

Hit WeightWatchers, where I disregarded the scale’s indictment (which was a shockingly far cry from the blessing I received yesterday by my own), secure in the knowledge that my Sunday Starbucks guy declared me “beautiful” (he makes a fuss every single time he sees me dressed for church, claiming I’m not being fair to the preacher, who is, in his opinion, likely struggling mightily to concentrate on the sermon).  Got a beautiful little red-white-and-blue ribbon pin, which I wore the rest of the day.

Came home, put on last night’s NASCAR race while I took care of some much-needed housecleaning. Sorted old papers, threw out a ton of crap, dusted, vacuumed, took out the trash and the recycling, brushed and medicated the cat, and updated my finances while the boys on the screen battled Richmond’s .75-mile track and launched themselves into the Chase.

Cooked chicken breasts and chopped bell peppers bought at the local Global Food among other customers from Lord-knows-how-many other cultures (many clustered around those strange, bumpy, rubbery, green cucumber-looking things I can’t identify, which made me very curious). Made my spinach salad with diced grilled chicken and Craisins and hard-boiled eggs and my own homemade balsamic vinaigrette that reminds me of Italy and my mom, and put away the makings for at least three more this week.

Took the laundry in off the line, hung it and put it away.

Poured a glass of Pinot Noir and got things in order for tomorrow’s classes, hoping to engage my students in the beginnings of our English studies for the year.

Even painted my nails for probably the first time since high school, and am pleased to report that my 33-year-old self is no better and no worse at it than my 17-year-old self was. I never do it because, frankly, I can’t stand to sit with idle hands that long, and even typing this blog is likely compromising a few nails.  At least my own efforts are free, unlike the beautiful French I got last Monday that barely lasted four days and cost me $20.

Tonight I’ll try to go to bed early (and probably fail), after writing something in my Gratitude Journal that I’m grateful for, turn on my 10-minute meditation music my phone plays for me, set three different alarms for 5am, and try to fall asleep to good dreams that have nothing to do with planes and Pentagons and how hard I cried that night on the corner of my parents’ street, while my neighbors gathered with candles and a boom box played “Proud To Be an American,” and my mother gripped her arm around my shaking shoulders.  I’ll hope to dream, like last night, about a great 10K run that I inexplicably ran from finish to start, reaching a new PR and experiencing no hip or knee pain whatsoever.

And that’s my day.

That’s about as American as I know how to be.  It’s one of those days in which I know I was my best possible self, all day long.

That’s enough for my observance of 9/11, I suppose.

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