The Joys of a Small House

I know I usually write about running, but I am going to take the time to explore something different today…

More than five years ago, my husband and I started the process of buying our first house. After renting across different neighborhoods and parts of town, experiencing everything from apartments that made you wonder each morning if your car would have all its windows intact, to a sleepy house in a dark wooded community with poor insulation and happy-go-lucky ants, we found ourselves approaching the market with an impending heavy sense of permanency. He is a country mouse and I am a city mouse, but by all standards, we were both very lucky to grow up in spacious family homes with wonderful back yards and, quite uniquely, houses that remain in our family to this day. Neither of us had moved around much as kids, and with our own baby daughter quickly gaining her mobility, we were hungry to put down roots and find our Family Home.

We looked at many different houses. Some were suburban and expansive. Some appeared straight out of the Brady Bunch. Others were Victorian, narrow, and only slightly terrifying. Houses that had curb appeal only to be followed by crumbling interiors. Houses that were beautiful but somehow not quite right. Houses that were right on busy thoroughfares; houses in the middle of developments devoid of sidewalks. Finally, a completely unremarkable house was listed in the area of town of our dreams. A place where tree-lined streets and old houses preserved a neighborhood feel that could not be duplicated by cul-de-sac; a place where overgrown gardens and backyard chickens bordered the alleys; where the local elementary school had no bus service because every child assigned lived within a ten minute walk. We fell in love, and we put in an offer on a house that was home to several generations of college renters, beige carpets oddly stained, white-washed walls hiding, I’m sure, a multitude of sins over the years, and a large fenced backyard overgrown with bindweed.

Over the years, this house has become a member of our family. Slowly, we made improvements to the place; doing what we could afford at a piecemeal pace. The windows were updated and the floors replaced; the walls painted and appliances upgraded. Gardens were built and tended. Our hodgepodge of furniture was configured and reconfigured over and over again to achieve new pathways and spaces. Baby-proofing gave way to play spaces. Play spaces are now giving way to homework spaces. As we embark on the addition of a second child, we must once again find spots and corners for the playpen and the highchair… the swing, the crib…

Our house is small. It is not tiny, but it was built in 1903, when living quarters responded to needs and not luxuries. A transplant from the Midwest built the house for his new bride. There, they lived with her parents and the children that followed. Several other families inhabited the house over the decades, through bad winters, through wars, through illness… and here it is, still standing. As I like to tell my family and friends, the house is full of happy ghosts. Sometimes I think about what it must have been like with several children living under that roof. It gives me pause for thought as I find myself craving, from time to time, the type of basement rec room that could hide away all the toys.

Our house is small, but it is joyful. Of course we dwell on how immediately pleasurable it would be to live in a larger footprint, to have separate bathrooms, rooms tucked away for specific functions, and ample space for guests. But, as I have continued to experience the privilege of living in this old house, there are so many things for which I am grateful. Our family lives a life connected; you can always hear where anyone else is. The creaking floors of an aging house give away clues to the whereabouts, even of our cat, when she attempts to hide. We don’t stay angry, because we can’t stay angry. There aren’t enough square feet to ensconce oneself in a fortress of solitude; the hallways are narrows and the bedrooms are close. One person’s bad day quickly becomes a family snuggle on the bed and an invitation for the sweetest empathy and comfort. Our stuff isn’t that important. We get rid of things without much attachment; there is no garage or basement in which to store crates of tchotchkes we will never again lay eyes on. Over the years, we’ve become much more discerning about what we will bring in. We spend most of our time physically together; our rooms are nearly all common spaces. The activities of living, from making coffee in the morning to brushing teeth at night are experienced in the intimate community of family. The table is a magnet for activity; it pulls us in for meals and for arts and crafts; for math worksheets and dissertation research. Off the kitchen, it is never far from a plate of crackers or a mug of tea. We live at our table. Because our living spaces are smaller… we go outside! A lot! After dinner walks are a ritual that provide us with that breathing space away from the immediate clutter of dirty dishes. We hike, we run, we tend to be active outdoors and tired indoors. A small house is wonderful for being tired and cozy. At night, I can hear the whole house breathe and settle. I can sense my daughter sleeping and well… though down the hall, she is very near. We feel a closeness.

As I reflect on these joys, I feel great fortune to live out a continuing history of family life within the studs and walls of this old house. When I was a child, my family would go to Finland for a few weeks every summer to stay in a rustic summer cabin by a lake. Childhood memory is a fickle phenomenon. Even though those weeks at the summer home were insignificant in length, compared to the rest of the year, they remain the scene for the bulk of my detailed memories. During those summer weeks, we traded our large family home on the hillside for a much simpler life. We slept in a one-room cabin, one larger bed on one side and a metal bunk-bed set on the other. Many nights, and probably at the expense of my parents’ rest, all four of us would end up in the larger bed together. I think I remember these weeks so particularly well because of the fact that we spent so much time in close togetherness. You couldn’t really stomp off and slam a door in any of the small cabins on the property. Stuff was minimal, and most play quickly became imaginary. The outdoors beckoned, and transformed into the ultimate living space. I think of this fondly and bridge it to my own experiences living in our home.

Sometimes I look at newly constructed “family” homes, and I am in awe of the attention paid to sequestering the activities of daily living. I can think of many homes I’ve seen where not even kids had to share bathrooms; each bedroom came with a television; the dining spaces, while expansive, had no marriage to a kitchen. Adults have their own wing; rooms become proprietary… In other words, I could look at the space and appreciate the temptation, but also realize how it invited isolation. Frankly, I think all in my family are better people for the requirement that we share our spaces and our stuff. We must grow naturally to consider each other’s routines, quiet time, needs, and interests. And while we sometimes squeeze to accommodate guests at our table and around our couches, our house is a home that fits us quite well. Let the joy of living closely continue through the seasons ahead.

 

Advertisements

august update

running

A little update about running and this pregnancy. At 16 weeks, I am feeling really good—pretty much my normal self. I am glad to experience higher energy levels and endurance once again. I am back to running 4-5 times a week, which is of great benefit to my mood and my body. I try to fit as much movement into the day as possible, even with a desk job. Even before this pregnancy, our family made it a goal to be in the habit of walking after dinner, and that routine continues to keep me feeling good through the evening. Running itself is more comfortable in the last few weeks, as my physical body acculturates to pregnancy. Earlier on, I carried a lot of bloat and running felt sloshy and off-kilter. Now that my bump is actually uterus, my body mechanics feel more coordinated. I am paying close attention to drinking a lot of water, eating a well-rounded diet, and getting as much sleep at night as I can (it is really difficult for me to nap).

My running practice has always helped to pull me, a very future-oriented person, into a greater appreciation for the present. In this sense, the ability to run more lately is bringing me a sense of harmony with this season of pregnancy. It is tempting and natural for me, right now, to want the fast-forward button. Though infants bring their own challenges, I have, admittedly, felt impatient this time around. For several weeks, I mourned a perceived loss of body autonomy. I am less process-oriented with this pregnancy and sometimes anxious about external expectations to emote/demonstrate/perform differently. However, running cools those flames of worry and also, perhaps most refreshingly, reminds me that I am still the woman inside of me. In a society where pregnancy is often contextualized as medical, delicate, essentially feminine, and perfectly acceptable for objectification, running brings to the forefront several antidotes: strength, resilience, ownership of self and body, independence, and health.

The wildfire smoke haze that dominated much of the month is gone, and last night I woke up to the sound of an unexpected nighttime rain. The breeze touches the skin with a hint of crispness. Dead, dry leaves line the trails, but the ones attached to their branches are starting to redden. Shortening days usher in an earlier golden hour of sunset. I find myself smiling nearly every run these days, because I am here in this movement, and because I am here in this space between seasons.

Happy trails!

Nourishing the process

Yet, we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate… It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when the boat lunges through the waves like a colt—sails, hull, wind, and the sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor’s veins… Contrary to what we usually believe, movements like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience)

Self-esteem…is something completely different in the incremental system. It is not an internal quantity that is fed by easy successes and diminished by failures. It is a positive way of experiencing yourself when you are fully engaged and are using your abilities to the utmost in pursuit of something you value. – Carol Dweck (Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development)

tunnel

Image description: Spring green foliage peeks through a dark sandstone tunnel.

The quest for Optimal Experience is a hunger that I share with many of my closest friends and family members. As an introvert who is completely at peace with introversion, I do not require many in my circle to feel connected and uplifted. However, when individuals radiate intrinsic motivation, I am immediately attracted to their presence. Striving to achieve something in the long-term as an incremental journey is at the core of how I stay motivated. Living in a society that worships instant gratification, short-cuts, and quick fixes, it is sometimes challenging to find opportunities to nurture the internal locus.

When we watch the flames of a bonfire lap up, curving around the logs and branches, they seem chaotic and impulsive. But as Judy Brown reminds us, “the flame that knows just how it wants to burn can find its way.” The seemingly fickle fire is, in many ways, a metaphor for motivation. We often describe motivation as a finite resource, something that is either earned or depleted—or, in a broader extension—the overall label of an individual’s value. “He’s completely unmotivated!” is a phrase I’ve heard rattled off numerous times during my career as a higher education professional. We identify motivation as a quantity, as a measure of judgement. I challenge this assumption through a belief that motivation is an intrinsic and malleable asset we all possess. Like many other dimensions of personality, ranging from grit to empathy, motivation is muscle that must be exercised intentionally and regularly for the purpose of building its strength.

Given that belief, I turn to the idea that motivation, like the flame, finds its way. As stewards of our minds and bodies, we maintain some control over how we stack the logs and feed the fire. We also develop, through patience and observation, the retrospection and experience to understand that obstacles are not failures. Usually, when I am building a fire in the back yard (especially on a windy spring afternoon), it takes several attempts to get going. Then, after the fire establishes itself, it still requires care and attention in its infancy. Each fire is different, depending on temperature, the air, and the moisture of the wood… and while it is tempting to douse a dying flame with lighter fluid, the magic of combustion is short lived. Slowly but surely, the fire becomes a great experiment, as the creator identifies the nourishment that is needed.

Therefore, one cannot claim intrinsic motivation without keeping a watchful eye on what various dimensions of that motivation require. There is a gap between aspiration and practice. Those of us who are future-dwellers may mistake a lofty and distant idea for an exercise in incremental growth. Setting our sights on a hard-earned achievement is futile without daily dedication to the path leading to it. In my life, this often amounts to finding different portals for engaging with my goals. For example, I use this space to reflect on my running practice. Of course journaling is different from logging miles. If I only wrote about running but never laced up my shoes and went running, then I would be deficient in my running practice (and you would likely wonder what I thought I was doing!). However, if we flip the situation, if I ran without reflecting, then I would still lose. Why?

Because for me, writing and pondering is how my running fire likes to be fed. I do not always have time to publish my reflections on this blog, but I frequently journal about the spiritual and emotional dimensions of running. It helps me connect those dots in my mind. Like other humans, my brain works tirelessly to craft a narrative, to find purpose, and to understand the relationship between experiences. These are the building blocks of motivation. Through making meaning, we find it.

I believe it is worth it to reflect on how we are successful in certain ways and why. Remember, our society maintains an extremely myopic definition of success. Think about what produces pleasure, satisfaction, fulfillment, and brings you back time and time again, even when there are episodes of difficulty. Even when not everything works out perfectly. A few examples from people in my life I admire:

-Hand-weeding and tending of a restorative habitat garden

-Regular composition of poetry

-Lifelong practice of Bach’s solo works

-Writing soap opera scripts (for personal enjoyment) for more than a decade

-Recreating and preserving folk quilt patterns

-Regularly participating in a bowling league

-In-depth and ongoing study of maps and geography

These long-term journeys, nourished through intention, appreciation, and hard work, are the successes. It is easy to feel discouraged, to feel left out, and to feel cheated that we haven’t “arrived” at some grand conclusion of happiness and success. As I reflect on these feelings, however, I realize that the process of listening to what fuels my endeavors and passions is the true reward. Here’s to the incremental, the slow, the steady…  to knowing we can find our way.

April Recap

Image description: Full pink blossoms and green leaves on a tree branch with blue sky in the background.

The month started with the emergence of blossoms, and it concludes with nearly full leaf cover, bright green fingers on the edge of the evergreens, and the thick smell of pollen in the air. I enjoyed running in a few different locations, including during my two trips to Oregon. As the trails came alive with new growth, I cherished the gift of taking long walks through the arboretum during my lunch hour. I ran my first half marathon of the year, and it was really enjoyable and comfortable. I am feeling energized about my running practice as the days continue to lengthen and the weather warms. My daughter and I are now running together regularly. I had my annual destination race adventure with my number one running buddy. Overall, April exceeded my expectations.

I am looking forward to the slide into summer. To waking up early in the cool dawn, before the dew evaporates from the pavement. To extended golden hours in the evening. To trekking and running through the many natural beaches mere miles from my house. To continued changes in my own life as I delve deeper into the final push of my dissertation and support my family through growth and love. I feel a sense of peace and excitement.

I am also very pleased to be approaching a summer that does not involve marathon training. While marathon training is a labor of love, I do not feel the drive to shift my running practice in that direction. Rather, I continue to enjoy my intentions of pursuing sustainability and reclaiming excitement. There is something absolutely thrilling and invigorating about leaping out for a sunny evening run, with no particular agenda other than to find joy.

High Desert Hopes

12190080_986461641410286_7237188361059657546_n

Image description: A tray of ten beer samples on a wood table next to tortilla chips.

Bend Half Marathon weekend is upon me! I look forward to a road trip with my running buddy and some new scenery. Destination races are always exciting and provoke some anxiety. Sleeping in a different bed, eating different foods, being away from the comfort and supplies of home… Nevertheless, I always make great memories racing somewhere else, and celebrating post-race with food and drink as a tourist is quite appealing!

When I am packing for a race, I almost always over pack. In the case of a road trip, I think this approach can’t hurt. I like to bring at least a spare set of running clothes, including socks and bra, for race day. I also make sure to bring a few different options for weather, including a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, warmer layer, and did I say spare socks? Because I am nearly legally blind without my glasses or contacts, I make sure to bring extra contacts. Finally, when I am going to run a specific race for the first time, I pack along my own fuel. This necessitates bringing a hydration pack, belt, or some other type of carrier to store items for the run. If you are doing this in the future, make sure you’ve practiced running with that pack/belt/carrier. I think the discomfort of adjusting an ill-fitting fuel belt is far more infuriating than dealing with a food blister. Honestly.

Every race brings with it a different intention. This time around, I am going for the experience and to enjoy running in new surroundings. Between factoring in altitude and my more relaxed training schedule (running several times a week, but a bit less aggressive with sequenced long runs), I am taking a no-pressure approach to the Bend event. I approached Wenatchee similarly this time last year, and I felt like I got a good pay-off. I was able to enjoy my two hours of running without worrying about setting a personal best. I am hoping for a similar experience this time around.

As with any long distance run, staying up and moving both before and after is a gift for the muscles. I plan to get plenty of walking in on Saturday, and plenty of walking in on Sunday after the race. Much of the stiffness and soreness felt after a half marathon may be proactively mitigated by keeping plenty of blood and oxygen cycling through the body. I find that destination races invite this recovery quite naturally, as there is typically much to see and do after the racing events of the morning conclude.

More than anything, I look forward to sharing this time with my running buddy and best friend. There is no richer bonding experience than sweating, agonizing, and achieving together. Off to the high desert!

march recap

More than a month has gone by since I last updated the blog. Winter pronounced itself through several blustery and snowy weeks, and has finally retreated. Cherry blossoms and forsythia dot the streets with vibrant colors. The sun, when it gets a chance to shine through the clouds, feels warm and close. My nose and eyes are telling me that spring is upon us, weaving her delicate changes through the fields and branches.

The entry of spring ushered in another new chapter for me. I successfully defended my dissertation proposal last week, bringing me to the last phase of my doctoral journey. I went into the defense armed with the tools I find to be the most reliable: solid preparation, good old fashioned rehearsing, and a 5 mile run earlier in the day to work out the jitters. I am so glad I had the ability to spend some time outside, working my body, lungs, and legs before sitting down to share a plan for research represents so much of my study over the last few years.

In the coming weeks, I will continue to prepare for the Bend half marathon. I’ve approached this race in a relaxed manner, prioritizing regular running and walking, while also integrating weekly long runs. I am not going into this one expecting a personal best on time, but I suspect that I will come in right around the two hour mark if I pace myself well, especially during the first few miles. I’ve only run one race this year, in part due to schedule conflicts, but also because I am enjoying a flourishing running practice that seems to no longer rely on the promise of an upcoming race to remain regular. So, I look forward to next month’s race recognizing that it may very well be a few months before the next one.

So far, nearly a quarter into the year, it seems that embracing my flow is becoming the natural intention of my practice. I realize I do not have to work as hard on the motivational premeditation before a run. I am much more inclined to lace up my shoes and head out. I am also enjoying my developing love of walking and hiking. They are great companions to running, and have only deepened my appreciation for our local trail systems and surrounding greenways.

The best update that I want to share comes from my mama life. My daughter has fallen in love with running, and evening mother daughter runs before dinner have become a nice little tradition. There is something truly special about a child organically sharing an interest with their parent. I look forward to many years of running together.

What are your spring running intentions?

Happy trails!

projects ahead

fraglake

Image description: A frozen water fall cascades over mossy boulders on the side of a trail.

We are in a new year, and messages about intentions, guiding words, resolutions, goals, and lifestyle changes are abundant. 2017 is upon us. I have no product to sell you, no scheme, and no plan. There are plenty of bloggers out there evangelizing their truths. Pick something that excites you. Pick something that is new, or old, or just right. Do something you love. Do something that lights a fire.

There are two projects I hope to work on this year, both of which are new and exciting. My first project is to become a more seasoned trail runner. My favorite aspect of running, especially over the last year, is found in the time connecting with nature. I love experiencing new trails and geography, navigating my body through different types of terrain. I am investing in better trail shoes, and hoping to add a longer (and more remote) trail run to my weekly rotation.

The second project is really intimidating for me, but something I’d love to try. I am thinking about recording a running-related podcast. I have no idea if this will get off the ground as a final product I’d want to share, but I do appreciate opportunities to reflect on my running practice, and to muse on the creative ways it benefits my life. Obviously, the internet is over-saturated with running content, so, like this blog, the podcast would have a sleepy existence. Nevertheless, I am excited to learn new technical skills and tell a few stories at the same time.

We are about midway through the month, and I am pleased that the skies are staying relatively dry and sunny. I am still daydreaming about a trail run I did last weekend, one which took me up to some snowy foothills. Even though winter is not my favorite, I am doing my best to practice the appreciation of beauty, and to pay my respects to the muted and quieted season upon us.

reflecting on 2016

This year, there were two intentions upon which I wanted to focus. The first was commitment to distal goals. I wanted to feel active commitment; to engage with that life-cycle of working toward something incrementally. I feel like we, as a society, get wrapped up in instant gratification and the short-term. I wanted to challenge myself to dig deep for resilience and something different. The second was to nurture an undefended heart. Last year, my choir director told us that she wanted us to learn to sing with “an undefended heart.” The phrase resonated with me, because I could feel, in that season, that my heart was quite defended. My life was tortuously compartmentalized. I was working in a job that brought me no joy. I felt disconnected from my family life. Really, when I look back at 2014 and 2015, I realize how much depression and anxiety I carried, and yet refused to look in the eye.

I started out the year with a simple desire to run 1,000 miles in 2016. What developed as a result of working toward that goal, however, was unexpected and deeply satisfying. I experienced a great shift in my relationship with running—a deepening connection to the spirituality of the practice. I began to understand running practice as a friendship with the beauty of nature; an opportunity to listen deeply to the trails, to enter their sacred spaces, to respect and admire their dynamism through the days and months. Through the experience of adopting a regular running practice, I felt strengthened, both physically and mentally. My health improved. I became less susceptible to sickness, and I found a reliable outlet that helped me to re-calibrate mentally. I am proud of the metamorphosis. There were days that finding the motivation to run was challenging, but they were far less frequent than I would have guessed. I found, through this lifestyle change, that I picked up other habits, like regular walking. I started using my car less for errands. I found opportunities to get outside and move my body, even when it had nothing to do with running.

I think I made great strides toward nurturing an undefended heart. I pursued a career change that was sorely needed, and helped me re-frame my work-life balance. I found, as a result of this shift, that I was much more present at home. Being present at home helped me to feel comfortable at home. I slowed down. I scheduled less. I have started saying “no” to things, and valuing the unstructured time. The hidden time. I will be honest with you that the current state of national politics nearly broke my heart. It has been a painful month. The temptation to build a fortress around one’s heart, to simply block off emotions in their full spectrum of color, is ever present—perhaps now more than ever before. However, when I reach in and liberate the love, empathy, and hope in my heart, the result is unstoppable. I was at a rally two years ago, and a speaker framed love as a radical action. To love and to hope are courageous actions. To hate is cowardice. This is the dialectic I am working with, and intend to keep front and center in the coming year, as I believe a deep attention to present acts of loving kindness is power.

As I look to 2017, I feel that my intentions are less tied to specific goals (“Run A Marathon.” “Set A New PR.”), and more focused on sustainable habits. What I have learned from this year of experimentation, is that when the driving purpose is sustained, the other goals (both recognized and unexpected) are achieved. When we create a lifestyle that connects us more deeply to living, we make progress toward embodying our best selves.

October Recap

October was a nourishing month for my running practice. The goal was to reclaim the joy of running. I started out with some ambivalence toward running, particularly after an anticlimactic end to my marathon training, followed by a less-than-enthralling half marathon. Nevertheless, I got back in my routine, cast off any expectations for lengthy distance, and returned to running my daily miles.

November 1st is a sweet anniversary for me. It was this time last year that I began “streaking” my miles across the month. I finished October with a total of 85 miles, bringing my total for 2016 to 935. I am close to my 2016 resolution of running 1,000 miles.

Taking some time to enjoy this season of carefree headlamp running, while giving some reflection to what I’d like to focus on in the coming year.

so, you had a bad race

I ran my first fall race yesterday, the Bellingham Bay Marathon Half Marathon. Despite training all summer, I did not end up running a marathon. On top of that, I had a pretty cruddy run yesterday. My time was a 20 minute improvement over last year, but I struggled to run the race. My struggle was not physical—in fact, training for a marathon and then running a half marathon is a great way to go physiologically. However, I encountered many mental walls, including a general feeling of motivational malaise throughout the event.

My brief reflections as I revisit what happened yesterday:

  • This race is so familiar that it has lost all novelty. I run most every part of the route regularly. The scenery doesn’t captivate me.
  • Going from Chicago Marathon to hometown half marathon was what psychologists might refer to as a non-event. I was so focused on achieving a long-term marathon goal for so long, that yesterday’s experience was… well… a disappointment.
  • The etiquette at the start was terrible. I get grumpy when I spend the first two miles weaving because racers didn’t self-select into the appropriate place in the line-up. I was just ahead of the 2:00 pacer, and there were crowds of people running a 2:30 or so ahead of me.
  • I’m suffering under the tyranny of speed. I’ve gotten really competitive with myself, and when I knew I wasn’t going to come in at my goal time, I felt crushed. I know I am in a bad place, because a year and a half ago, I was thrilled by a 2:15 finish at the Whidbey half, and now I am kicking myself for a 2:02.

I think I need a reboot. I need to reconnect with running, and find its love and compassion again. I need a time out from speed goals.

My proposal is to run a trail half marathon next month. It’s a race I have never done before, and the sheer elevation gain will make it impossible to finish anywhere remotely close to what I am used to. It will be about endurance, the process, natural beauty, and making it through. Yesterday felt hollow. I did not feel reborn. I felt, a little less stellar than I do after a regular long run.

And why is that? Because, for me, when I start running for extrinsic rewards, for the approval of others, my soul is diminished. However, when I run from the heart, for nobody other than myself, I feel like I am flying. I transform.

This is where I am right now… figuring things out, trying to navigate how I want to approach running in the coming weeks and months. For now, I am focusing back in on the daily miles, and recovering joy from all paces.