Friday, August 5, 2011

A few pictures from our time in Alaska

These are some of the pictures I texted to Murray to keep him in touch with what we were up to. 

Natty with a view back Eagle River Valley (where I grew up). This was taken on a Thursday Kids' Hike. 

 Sam and Svea chillin' at the Byer's Lake Cabin on the 4th of July. 

 The Birthday Pinata at the Byer's Lake Cabin 

Another Kids' Hike - Bear Mountain in Peter's Creek, looking towards Anchorage

 Watching the Bear Paw Festival Parade in Eagle River - and eating the candy they caught!

Midway on the Ski Hill in Cordova

Our "Bicycle Built for 8" in Portland - the 4 adults are not on it yet, but we did all fit.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

6 weeks later

6 weeks from the marathon, a week after getting home. This morning I finally struggled out the door to run - motivated by my grumpy mood, bulging stomach and the 1/2 of a chocolate bar I ate last night (of course, it was good, dark organic chocolate, but still, it had plenty of calories).

I won't lie -- it was miserable starting out. But there was an undercurrent of feeling Right so I clung to that and kept the feet moving.

A spiral of thoughts circled: 1) I feel awful - how could I get so out of shape in just 6 weeks?  2) Summer mornings in Pomfret are the most beautiful moments. Either Murray or I should be exercising every morning at 6 am from Mother's Day to Halloween just to enjoy this perfect time of day. 3) I really needed to do this. I'm going to keep running 3-4 times a week, and add in yoga the days I don't run. I'll feel so much better if I do that. 1) I feel awful.  Etc.

It was shocking how I struggled through what used to be my short, easy run. But just when I was heading up backstretch hills and toying with the thought of walking I glanced at my watch and saw I was running <10 min miles! I can still run, my legs/lungs/heart do work and I'm not a total lump of fat. Those numbers gave me the boost to get up the last hills and into our driveway. I think I've caught myself before total deterioration set in and I don't plan on letting myself go just yet.

I appreciate that it has been mostly positive motivation to get me moving. I was a more pleasant, serene and energetic person when I was exercising regularly and I missed all that. The negative motivations are mostly weight related - I bought a dress when I was in marathon form and it isn't looking as good on me now (which kills me).

No matter what got me out, I'm happy I went out today. I feel better for it and ate Murray's delicious pancakes without guilt when I got back home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The good, the bad, and the ugly

I ran a marathon! It was awesome - from the first decision to go for a big M to the free massage at the end.

As one would expect, flying across North America with a 2 yr old is not the optimal pre-race day set-up - but that's how the family needs balanced out. It was a surmountable handicap.

We were met at the airport by Ama and Grandpa Greg and a surprise hello from Uncle Jim and Aunt Kathy who were passing through town - a great way to be welcomed home. I went straight downtown and registered for the race (oh my word, this is finally happening!) then Ama and I took Natalie to fun little Elderberry park so I could jog the kinks out on the Coastal Trail:  beautiful. Denali was out in all it's shimmering white glory, the Chugach range was a happy green and Cook Inlet at low tide was glacier mud grey - just the way I like it. 

Grandpa Greg's famous Red Sauce was the perfect carb load dinner and I made it to bed by 7 pm (11 pm my body's time). I slept terribly.  (No surprise there)  And at 4:30 the pitter patter of little feet got Murray and I out of bed. Uuuuugh. 

After psychologically walking away from the lack of sleep, I had a lovely morning with my ritual breakfast, some stretching, playing with the kids and generally preparing for the run. It was another stunningly beautiful day with blue skies, sunshine and light, clear (and a bit chilly) air. Remember, it's the Solstice run in Alaska (although not on the actual day) so it was already light with a welcoming sunrise.

It was a small starting crowd - I think about 1000. The last organized run I did (other than the Cordova ones) was Bloomsday in Spokane which brings in more like 30,000. So this was downright intimate. I tracked down my childhood best friend who battled pneumonia, -10 degree training runs and other injuries to run what was her first marathon too - what an inspiration. She was running with Team in Training - a sea of purple t-shirts with great energy who've raised an immense amount of $$ for cancer research. With the obligatory state and national anthems played, we were off to run for (in my case) 4 hrs, 33 minutes on one of the most picturesque marathons I can imagine. 

  • Running in a silent crowd a mile or so in - that was pretty cool. We were still pretty packed together, but the nervous chit chat was done and people were just getting their pace. 
  • A friendly runner about miles 4-6, just when I was starting to feel lonely and miss Monique. I was replaying some of our funnier conversations and starting imaginary ones with her when he dropped into stride with me and struck up a conversation. Normally I wouldn't have appreciated it, but right then he was a gift. Although I didn't know the correct etiquette when I finally pulled ahead - and I don't know what he looked like or even his name. 
  • The Tank Trail - running on a gravel road through an aspen and pine forest, towards my beloved Chugach mountains - priceless.
  • My family cheering me on - everywhere! After mile 16 they were like jackrabbits, popping up around every corner. It was great. High Five's for all the kids and the joy of brief runs with both sisters. "Go, Mommy, Go!"
  • Feeling so good for the vast majority of the run - hurrah for actually training. It really paid off.
  • Miles 22-26.2. Those were the hardest. It's amazing though - as your mind is telling you that you're going to die, your legs keep moving and after awhile, there's another mile marker, then another and so on. That's how the run gets done.
  • The Train Wreck that was Jen after finishing - my GI system does not like being stressed.  I was one of those runners lying in the grass in the fetal position who occasionally leapt up to cut the line at the port-o-potties. 
The best part of this whole experience was finding a goal, working steadily towards it and finally accomplishing it. With amazing support from my husband (incredible man) and kids. 
Now it's on to spending time with friends, family and the mountains.

Monday, May 30, 2011


20 miles this weekend - I'm now officially into a 2 week taper before the marathon.

Truly, if I can do this (and I realize I'm not quite there yet), anyone can. It's not like Boom, I went out and ran 20 miles. It's been a long, slow, steady road to get here. And I have such a supportive husband and a fantastic running partner for my long runs. I soooo wanted to quit during the last 5 miles of the 20, but I kept staggering on until I got to the end. Nothing broke, I didn't die and now I am pretty sure I can run 26.2. It was a nice enough day for a long run, except the humidity. I was drenched with sweat by the end - so much so I thought my water bottles were leaking. But no: it was me.

If you haven't run a marathon, you might think I have some magical marathon endurance/strength/je n'sais quoi. But that's really not true. Once a boyfriend compared me to an elephant (the point was supposed to be complimentary - something about wisdom and groundedness, but the physicality of the comparison is unavoidable). And then when I was pregnant with Natalie and swimming regularly, I thought of myself as a humpback whale - again, the point was the non-physical - I was channeling a whale's slow, majestic serenity - but the physical association was there. Given these animal comparisons, it is clear that"runner" is not my athletic body type. In fact, another man -who was a huge runner and whom I thought was the love of my life at the time - flat out told me I didn't have a runner's body (the insinuation was, "why bother, you'll never be fast"). That smarted, until he soon thereafter gushed about his infatuation for a woman who won the Boston Marathon with diarrhea running down her leg. At that moment he was no longer the love of my life. Because there is no way I would not duck into the woods (and I do! almost every run) if I had diarrhea.

All this to say, I'm big, I'm heavy, I'm slow and dammit, I'm going to run this marathon (Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise).

Oh, and speaking of heavy - I haven't lost one red pound with all this running. What's up with that? It's inconceivable. That's what it is.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

An audience

This running thing has been good on many levels, but it's also hard, uncomfortable and time-consuming. I have a few things that keep me going, but possibly the biggest motivator that I hold in my mind when I'm tired and have to drag myself out the door is that my children are watching and learning from my life. When Natalie was born, one of the many powerful realizations I had was that I wanted to be a better person for her sake

So I persevere  - against my every inclination - because I want her to see me working through things that are frustrating, unpleasant and difficult in order to reach a goal. I also try to zip my lips when tempted to whine - after all, I don't like her to whine, so I better keep to the standard I set for her.

Even though she doesn't understand why I want to run a marathon (and she really doesn't), I know that I'm modeling what it takes to work hard for a goal. I hope she gets it. I do know she gets that it's good for me.

And I can't wait to cross the finish line and see my kids and Murray cheering for me. Ultimately, they're It - both my reason and my strength. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bittersweet: The bane of my life

Not to be melodramatic, but it has taken up an inordinate amount of my energy lately. 
When we moved into the house, the street front was bordered by a low, wide and kinda scraggly hedge. To build our fence we reduced the width of the hedge, but I wasn't ready to totally scrap it - even though a neighbor offered to bring his brushhog in and do the job. (Boy, do I regret turning down that offer.) 

After watching the "hedge" grow last summer and realizing that it was primarily a horrible, aggressive vine called bittersweet that had been pruned into a semblance of a hedge, I decided to rip it out and overhaul our street front beds.  To that end, a few months ago I attacked the remaining bittersweet "hedge." I yanked, tug and dug vines for 2 days, plus some.  There's nothing like pulling out long, tangled roots for a sense of accomplishment. 
Here are the vines:
(Somehow, the picture doesn't do them justice.) 
I don't have a picture of the pitted dirt that was left there when I stepped away from the project, but Better Homes and Gardens would not have been proud. Nonetheless, I let the wasteland sit until yesterday. Then, with the weather suddenly warming, I leapt into action. 

I plan to to replace the hedge with the wide bed of hostas and mums that were previously in front of the it. The first step was to get the ground ready for transplanting. 

A co-worker loaned me her "Mantis" rototiller and yesterday I started out. Running the Mantis was like walking a little energetic dog; bouncing and sputtering about to my great amusement. Unfortunately, it easily got clogged/tangled/choked by the multitude of roots still left in the ground and I probably could have used a bigger model. The whole process wasn't pretty. 

But by this afternoon, here are the fruits of my labor

And here is the bed, ready for the hostas, etc to be moved back 10 feet into it.
Isn't that nice? 

It would be even nicer to have hired someone to do this for me, but there are 2 reasons I didn't. First off, I'm a near pathological DIYer. Secondly (and more importantly) we need a new sewer system and that is going to take all the landscaping money. Yes, that is correct: New. Sewer. System. 
Aah, homeowner bliss. As I write, we are not supposed to be putting anything down any drain in our house because it could easily "bubble up" (our plumber's words) in our back yard. 
When is this new system coming? We don't know. All we know is that it is Friday night, the weekend is here and we can't flush our toilets, take showers, wash clothes or run the dishwasher. Thank goodness Murray's parents live only a mile away. 

Monday, April 11, 2011


It's not pretty, nice or easy. It's like the common cold of mental health these days. Hard to treat, lingering, off-putting and generally unattractive.

I've stuggled with depression for many years, off and on. I am so grateful for the kindness of my friends when I don't return calls, emails, letters or other generous gestures because I'm in a funk. I am blessed to have them in my life. And my amazing husband, who cheerily trucks along when I'm acting like a Cymbalta commercial. He does the laundry, cleans the kitchen most nights, helps put the kids to bed, empties the garbage and does a million other helpful things around the house. Did I mention he also gets up with the kids in the morning and usually has the coffee water on by the time I stagger out?

I don't takes medications for depression. I've found some treatments within my control that work well. For me, a good analogy is a to treat it as someone else might treat a propensity for type 2 diabetes. Prevention is key. I know that if I don't take care of myself, I will go into a big black place and need to take medication, but if I do the things that work for me, I can keep healthy.

Everyone has activities/people that fill them up emotionally as well as things that drain them. And we all empty and fill at different rates - unfortunately some of us empty faster than others. To keep myself from emptying quite so quickly, here are some things I use:

Exercise. This, for me, is the biggest factor. I beat this drum a lot. Everyone benefits from moving - in many ways. 'Nuff said.

Healthy relationships - also a biggie. I have friends who have know me since I was born: that's a long time. Unfortunately, a side effect of being nomadic means that I've dropped out of their orbit. I'm like a comet now - I zoom by sporadically - which is not conducive for building community or mutually supportive relationships. I haven't given up on those foundational relationships, but I want to put more into them for the long term. Additionally I want to invest in the friendships I have near me. As adults it is harder to make new friends, (than, say, in the dorms at college) but not impossible.

Spiritual practice - spending time with God. I'm obsessive about running by myself in part because it's on of the few times that I have alone to talk to God. Doing 5 minutes (10, 15, whatever) of meditation has never worked for me. But praying and running: that works. (Which means it's a double whammy when I don't exercise)

Productivity - even small things - like hanging a picture I've wanted to get up - help immensely. While it can take a huge effort to get it together to do it, the satisfaction of finishing one thing rebounds me into others and builds on itself.

I'm also a believer in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Basically this theory is that your thoughts form your mood. When you change your thought patterns you can change your depressive cycle. That said, depression, with its lack of self worth and low energy, is a challenging place from which to start developing new thought patterns. But it is a helpful strategy for me.

Light - Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, and winters are hard. Get a full-spectrum light, get somewhere sunny once a winter, play outside every time the sun is shining - all those things.

There's no magic bullet for curing the common cold, nor depression. But my hope is that other people who struggle with it will find their right mix to get and stay healthy. And I want to be a support for those people in my life who need it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

These are quality problems

Yesterday morning, I was up at the crack of dawn to run 10 miles with my running partner. I don't normally function at that hour, but 6:30 was when she could fit a run in, so 6:30 it was. When the alarm went off Murray asked if I wanted a Dr.'s note excusing myself, which made me laugh enough to get out of bed.

Greg, my mom's husband, has a quote: "These are Quality Problems." I'm alive, strong enough to get up and run, have put in the work to run 10 miles, have a great running partner who is willing to slow down to my pace and I have a hot shower waiting for me back at the house. My aching muscles, gasping lungs and all-over misery - these are quality problems. I should be so lucky to feel my muscles, work my lungs and pad slowly down the beautiful country roads.

I hope you have some quality problems too.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The world as we know it

World events these days are momentous and an update on the Buttner family adventures seems inconsequential, but Ruth Reichl's post on the tsunami, revolutions, etc was thoughtful and rather inspiring to me.

Our assistance to the situation in Japan consists of donating money. Which seems so trivial and yet is something we can do that will help those in need. I also have a renewed gratitude for our many blessings - running water (hot! even), electricity, a home and the safety of my loved ones.

In light of my luck and my blessings, I am reminded of one of my life mantras - "to whom much is given, much is required." I am constantly aware of how much I have been given. In this world where most people are struggling to provide food, shelter and safety for themselves and their children, I am putting money away for their college and planning a kitchen remodel. It's humbling. And galvanizing.

Since I'm running these days, I've entered a fun run to raise money for the Women in the Congo through Women to Women International. They help women all over the world, but this run is specifically for a recovery center/ technical school for survivors of sexual violence in the Congo. You can help them too! If you can't come to Hamden Connecticut to run with me on April 23,  you can sponser me for it. Email me and I'll sort it out for you. I'll update the blog as I get the online fundraising up and running. Technical difficulties right now.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Our long-suffering hens

Looking out the window today, I saw Sam toddle up behind one of our hens, reach down and gently pick her up. He didn't have such a good grip and she slowly slipped out of his hands. Lucky he's so close to the ground, she didn't have far to slide. She didn't freak out or anything, just kind of clucked softly and moved off.

Both kids love the chickens and obviously the chickens are used to them. A far cry from the attack roosters of last summer. Maybe the winter spent in the cedar tree mellowed them out.

I poked my head out the door to say, "Sam, pet the chickens, don't pick them up" and he replied, "Heavy, Mama - chickie heavy." Yes, when you're 30 lbs, a 5 lb chicken is pretty heavy.

After he followed them for awhile, petting them when he could, one of them did give him a peck on the hand. I saw it, and it wasn't bad, but he got a little sad that a chickie would do that to him. I carried him in the house, wiped his nose and, at his request, put him back outside. His first words were, "Chickie! 'R you? 'R you chickie?" so I guess he's over it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


is the title of a Frog and Toad story. It's a great one. A friend of mine gave Sam a set of Frog and Toad when he was born with a card reading, "Everything you need to know about life is in these books." And the more I read (and read, and read) them the more I think she might be right.

In this particular story Frog makes delicious chocolate chip cookies and, after eating most of them with Toad, throws them to the birds so he won't eat all of them and calls that willpower. (It's funnier when Arnold Lobel tells it.) I'm not quite sure why Kris always thinks of me when she reads it. Do I have funny ways of expressing my willpower? Do I have poor willpower around chocolate chip cookies? Hmmm.

So, willpower. Mine is spotty, at best. It shines when I'm hiking: alone with a mountain I want to climb, I just won't quit until I've finished it. (This has not always been a good thing, but I'm still alive, so it's successful on that level.) But for the rest of Life, I get easily distracted and poof! there goes my willpower. Unfortunately, motherhood has eroded it even more. Something about starting a project knowing that it is going to be interrupted makes me detach from the need to finish anything.

Running (which I've started doing again, BTW) requires willpower. Especially when you're out of shape and running on a treadmill - without a TV. Running is both the most empowering and the most humbling of activities. Humbling because it has taken serious pep talks to get me to stagger through 3 miles. ("3 miles?! Anyone can run 3 miles. Move. Don't stop. It's only 3 miles! NO, don't stop now either.")  And empowering because I am so freakin' excited for myself when I finish a run.

I feel as if developing my willpower has been harder and more important than getting my muscles back where they belong. I know I am strong and will be fit again, but I'm less confident that I can finish what I've set out to do. Whether that's today's run or the training for - and running of - a marathon.

But every day that I get out and run gives me another bit of confidence. And today, for the first time, once I was in my clothes I actually had a pleasant sensation of anticipation when contemplating my run instead of having to haul myself out by the scruff of my neck. So that's progress!

Now, where are those chocolate chip cookies?

Thursday, February 10, 2011


There's a beauty in skills honed over time; repetition building confidence and mastery.

I don't approach things that way though. I love learning trying new things, learning unknown skills, fresh beginnings, all that. I also am genetically determined to be a DIYer. I talk big about hiring stuff out to the professionals, but when it comes down to it, often I can't stop myself from giving it a go - for better or for worse.

This attitude has it's merits. Murray always says I'm a good cook, when in actuality, I'm just a fearless one. I'll try almost any recipe - and as he likes to eat almost anything, we're a match born in heaven. That old adage about not trying new dishes on guests is lost on me too (although I do often think of it as the food is on the brink of disaster and the guests are 30 min away).
In defense of trying new things, I've served very few inedible meals and a fair amount of tasty ones. And as I age I am learning to repeat the winners - less stress. Still, I'm drawn to try new things... and not just in cooking.

For instance, I'm slowly putting up the crown molding in the kids room. Installing crown molding is definitely new to me, and I can not claim it as an actual skill yet. I have to cut most pieces multiple times - although during my last session, I put up 2 pieces with just the necessary 2 cuts - amazing! I was glowing, even though the third piece required about 8 cuts to get right - grrr.

Such escapades gives me renewed respect for carpenters. Learning something new almost always gives me respect for those who can do it well. Which brings me to Charlie, our Barn Whisperer. He is amazing - he can read a building like a book,  he knows what it needs to stand straight and how to go about straightening it. Our barn is still standing because of him. Sadly, Charlie is in the hospital right now. He fell off a high barn roof onto frozen ground (with all this snow around, how could there not be a snow drift to catch him?!?! But there wasn't.) He's pretty broken up - way worse than just the broken pelvis Murray and I heard he had (which is bad enough). He and his family would appreciate your prayers. On the drive back from visiting him I couldn't stop thinking about the vast trove of knowledge lying there behind his closed eyes. We were lucky to have met him and luckier still to have had him work on our barn. I hope and pray he lives on to save many more.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sam's words

Sam turned 2 today! I started this blog post last week and didn't get back to it. In just that week his language has exploded. He's a little parrot. Sentences are still shaky - and each word in his 3 word sentences comes after a thoughtful pause, but he's on his way to chatterbox-dom. He is patient and persistent and somehow makes himself understood when he really wants something.

Here's an abbreviated list of his words. He doesn't say "r" or "s" so translate these words in light of that.
"Wa-hoo" (waffle)
"Cin-chee" (candy) - boy's got his parents' sweet tooth
"Oo-koo" (orange juice, orange and sometimes yoghurt)
Morning! As in "Morning, Mama!" And "ata'noooon, Mama!"
"Tanks, mamma" he has realized the power of this so he says it often - when you give him things, pick something up for him, help him when he asks for it, etc). He says Please too - "Peez"
"Hewp!" - he uses this liberally
'Tuk" - stuck as in "I'm stuck" "My hand is stuck in my sleeve", "I can't get up", etc.
"Owoow book". His favorite book - that and "Mama Day" his newest favorite book since I can't find Owl Book. Update - for the last  3 nights he also wants "Fwag an' Dod, Mama, Fwag and Dod book!" (five points if you can figure out what characters those are)

Of course, in the past few weeks, his all time favorite words have been those 2 year old universals: "MINE!" and "NO!"

Other cutness:
When he's carrying a cup with liquid in it he walks like he's carrying radioactive material - concentrating so hard he's almost shaking. But he often leaves his cups of milk on the floor for me to trip on and spill. Aargh.

He starts moving his mouth to drink the instant the cup is near his mouth, no matter where the liquid in it is. Little smacking noises go on until the drink actually reaches his lips - which can take awhile, since he's a deliberate little fellow.

He loves playing the piano. Plinking around, up and down. Not banging, and not connecting notes to a tune, just listening to the sounds it makes.

He puts his boots away himself, and helps me take off my coat if I haven't done it soon enough (by his timing). Unsnapping the snaps as high up as he can reach, then pulling on my sleeve cuff. After it's off he tries to hang it up on his hook - which is much too low for my long coat. But the idea is a fabulous one and I'm going to encourage every tendency to tidiness. Hurrah for Murray's genes!

We had such a fun birthday. His big gifts were a train table (to match the train set) from the Carlisle's (BIG hit, Lindsey), a pop-up tunnel and a fish. (I'm sliding down the slippery pet slope. First chickens, now fish.)

Here's his cake:

(Thomas the Train if you're not in the small boy child world) He liked it quite a bit - which is the goal.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A new...everything

Day two at the new office and all's well. We're getting the daily minutiae that matter so much fine tuned. Wireless up and running, lamp shades on lamps, etc. We do still need to get some pictures and instruments hung - - tomorrow, for sure.
 Murray's nurse is great - totally can-do and unstoppable. She's coming over to Quiet Corner Family Practice (QCFP) full time in 2 weeks. I waft in and out, sometimes with kids, sometimes with treats. Murray is a whirlwind of phone calls and techno gizmos. (Reminds me of our wedding week - I swear I thought the phone was going to grow into his ear. Remember he took a call during our toast at the rehearsal dinner? Amazing).
For me, the best part of starting up this practice has been the chance to see Murray work with his patients. I know that they love, trust and respect him and it's obvious why; he's immensely patient, kind, respectful and comprehensive. I don't mean to sound like I am surprised at this, but it is fabulous to witness - and to work with.
One of my favorite things in life is to see friends in a different capacity than I usually do - like when my friend Rebecca painted the tree on Natty's bedroom wall. She was in such a cool zone - her Artist zone that I don't see as often as I see her Momma zone or Friend zone. That's what I'm getting to do with Murray. And it's nice after 8 years together to see sides of him that I don't think about.

As for the rest of life: Natty had a fabo birthday, Sam is getting cuter and cuter (when will it stop?) and New Year's in Vermont was the usual great bash. No snow to speak of here and I'm missing Alaska, but that's nothing new. On the bright side: I'm ramping up to fulfill a 10 yr goal of running a marathon. Mayor's in Anchorage anyone? I'll see you there. You could not be less fit than me so let's get a move on! I'll keep you posted on my progress.