Thursday, April 21, 2016

What books inspired you?

Whether you read fiction or non-fiction, I believe books inspire. They inspire you, the reader, to learn something new, or to reinforce something you already believed, or maybe, just maybe they open your mind to explore. Books give us an opportunity to not just escape from our everyday lives, but to give us an opportunity to experience new places, new theories, and new people without leaving the comfort of your favorite chair.

However, I think a good book will also introduce you to and inspire you to want to explore and experience something in real life. Not just while sofa surfing.
What do you think?

What books have made you get up out of the chair and try something new or to learn something more?
There are several books that stand out in my lifetime of books that have inspired me to expand my horizons, go in search of new adventure, or just to experience something new or different.

Nora Roberts book, Born in Fire had a character who was a glass blower. I had never heard of such a thing so of course I had to look into it and then proceeded to take two classes. The result is I created several glass paperweights that I still have today, and a glass rose.
While reading every book I could get my hands on written by romantic suspense author Linda Howard, I decided I wanted to write a novel. Talk about inspiration, not to mention aspiration! Well, not only did I do it, but I wrote six novels, five of which have been published. This experience gave me the opportunity to explore a creative side I didn’t know I had, made me some great friends along the journey, and learn more of the craft of writing and the publishing industry.

Another book that got to me was a book written by Carla Neggers. The timing of me reading this book was so amazing that I swear to you it was a sign. I wanted to go on an adventure. I wanted to go to Ireland. I just didn’t know where in Ireland. I started searching and one day while online I saw this cottage, this stone cottage in Kenmare, Ireland. Hmmm…where is Kenmare, Ireland? I discovered that Kenmare was in southwest Ireland and is beautiful.
Then I opened the book I had been reading, The Whisper by Carla Neggers, and turned the page to Chapter 26 where the first thing I read were the words; Kenmare, Ireland.

Seriously! If you do not believe in signs then you should. My fate was sealed. I made my reservations that day to stay in the stone cottage in Kenmare, Ireland. I’ve gone back for a second visit where I explored even more of Ireland, ran a half marathon in Dingle and took a one day photography class. Yes, there will be a third visit to Kenmare, Ireland, my home away from home.
One day two years ago a woman in my office gave me a book titled Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. She gave me the book because I love running. Well, it’s actually a love/hate relationship. Depending on the day it can be painful, but when you are out there the mind clears and the feet just like to move. Anyway, at first I was not going to read this book. Sorry, Christopher McDougall, but it’s true. I didn’t want some book to change my new found love. I could not have been more wrong!

There. I admit it. I was wrong. (Don’t get used to it.) Born to Run expanded my horizons. I learned not just about a tribe of amazing runners called the Tarahumara, but I learned about ultra running. What is that you ask? That is a run any distance longer than a marathon. What?! Yeah, exactly my point. I became fascinated. And this book led me to read more books related to long distance, endurance running. And of course…my first ultra marathon. This year I will make my first attempt at a 100-mile run.
Another friend recommended the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History written by retired Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice. The book is the memoir of CPO Chris Kyle, U.S. Navy Seal. If you have not read it, I highly recommend American Sniper. You will get a feel for what our men and women of service go through, and how they struggle to deal with “normal” life when they return home, not to mention what it is like when deployed and on the battlefield, plus a whole lot more. It was this book and the tragic death of Chris Kyle that inspired me to spend the next year running to raise funds for his foundation, Guardian for Heroes Foundation.

Guardian for Heroes Foundation provides free, in-home fitness equipment, facilitation of donated health club memberships, individualized programs, personal training and life coaching to in-need veterans with disabilities, and those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) from combat deployment. With this mission, it seemed only natural that I, a runner, a supporter of our Veterans, find a way to give back.
I encourage everyone to give back. Find a way.

I have always donated to various charities, none more than our Veterans and children’s education. Every year I donate to a local business various gifts that our retired military men and women who live in a home need. They ask for the simplest of pleasures; a new comforter, a tin of cookies, sugar free candy, and everyday toiletries. It is my mission every year on Veteran’s Day to grab several names from the Veteran Tree and make certain those folks get their Christmas gifts.
As I reflect back, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History inspired me beyond just that one year of fund raising, which by the way I am not good at. It inspired me to do something more, to want to make a difference in this world.

That’s where my next book comes in play.
I have been having health issues and it has become more than obvious that much of it is related to stress. Stress on the body whether mental or physical is still stress and the body does not like it. In my case, the universe and my doctors are telling me that my job is toxic. How do you like that word? I’d say that is very descriptive. And I agree, but I’ve known this for four years and have not done a thing about it. Well, I have, but not the right thing. Not the thing that is going to go after the root cause. Not the thing that is going to change my life and put me on the happy path.

Part of that is fear, because let’s face it; we all have to pay bills. But fear is not usually something that holds me back. As my friends and family will attest, I like to go. I like to try new things, new adventures. Part of what is holding me back is the people that work for me and our accomplishments. We do perform some work-related miracles and make a huge difference. But that difference is only affecting the organization for which we work. Not making a difference in the world. Not making us happy.
So here sits me, or maybe it’s running, and I contemplate, and think, and consider, and search…for that thing, that passion that will help me make a difference, help me find my calling. After a ten-miler last Sunday I was sitting in my house or should I say bouncing off the walls. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus. Since I had already gone for a run I didn’t want to do that so, when all else fails I went to the bookstore.

BAM! That’s when the title of this book hit me in the face. Okay, not literally, but seriously, how can you not pick up a book titled Do Cool Sh*t by Miki Agrawal.
I read Do Cool Sh*t in three days. It would have been one if I did not have to work. And wow! I resonated with Miki. At one point in her book she started having stomach pains and I knew exactly how she felt because I have the same thing. Gosh darn processed foods!

Anyway, because of Miki’s book, Do Cool Sh*t, I have new inspiration to go after my dreams and it is not to work for anyone else. It is to jump tracks and start something that will make me happy and make a difference…even if only in a small corner of the world. Her writing inspired me to the point that I signed up for a class this morning in the hopes that this class will help me shift my focus and learn something new that will benefit me in my search for my passion.
To the authors mentioned above and to all the others I've read but could not possibly list, I thank you! Thank you for inspiring!

What about you? What books have influenced and inspired you? Why? How?



Monday, February 15, 2016

Iron Horse 100

There’s an acronym in ultra-running called DNF. It stands for Did Not Finish. Last weekend I received my first DNF.

Am I disappointed? Yes.

Am I upset? No.
First, let me tell you about the race. The race is the Iron Horse Endurance Runs ( held in Florahome, Florida. I was signed up for the 100K. For those of you that are not runners, that is a total of 62 miles.

I was stoked for this race for a couple of reasons; the first that it was in Florida and near my parents. I could visit with family and they could come out and enjoy parts of the event. They had never seen an ultra-running event and I thought they would like to see the difference between it and a shorter road race.
The second reason I was excited is because this was going to be my first 100K and since I had 28 hours to finish there was no doubt I would.

Finally, I was excited because after the Marine Corps Marathon I came back with a wicked kidney infection and all kinds of issues that took a toll on my body. I could see the end was in sight and this was my reward for suffering for more than two months.
Then I went for a walk the week before the event and all the sudden my knee decided to have sharp pain. Sheesh! Seriously? I begged to get into the orthopedic doctor and told him no matter what I was going running. Thank goodness some doctors actually understand this mentality.

Up until the morning of the start my knee was still swollen and achy, but I was ready to go. My dad drove me to the start line where he watched me get all my gear ready to go and then we hung out at a burn barrel trying to stay warm and chatting with other runners and support crew. It was a chilly 30-something degrees at 6:30 in the morning.
The race itself consists of paved rail trail, dirt, and sand. Trail shoes ( and gaiters ( were a must and thank goodness I found that out before the race.

The first 7.5 miles are on a paved rail trail. I went out on the first 3.5 miles of out and back with just headphones and then met my dad back at the car where I picked up my hydration pack. I gave dad a kiss goodbye, he wished me luck, and we decided I would text him when I hit mile 21 so he could meet me back at the start for loop two.
The next 14 miles were a combination of dirt and sand and minor hills marked with yellow pie plates and pinkish ribbon. There was one section where you had to puddle jump, but coming back down this stretch I found a way to walk around it.

Anyway, I went in with the mindset that I was going to walk the majority of the dirt, sand stretch. My ONLY goal was to finish. To help with this I packed two MP3 headsets. One with music for the time I needed a pick me up and the battery on the other one dies, and the other one to keep me slow I had two audiobooks on it. It was fantastic!
First, let me jump in here and say that the volunteers and aid station workers were top notch. Every time I hit a station I my number was yelled out so it could be jotted down and I was guided to whatever I wanted/needed at that time, whether water or soda, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or the antiseptic wipe stuff for after porta potty use.

At the third aid station I didn’t exactly follow the arrow the right way so a young Navy kid came running for me to tell me I had to approach the aid station from another direction. Because of my blunder he decided that he should stand down by the arrow and guide other folks until they had all gone through at least the first time.
(This is what some of the runners termed sugar sand. Very fine dusty sand that did actually get in shoes but didn't disturb the feet).

At aid station three I met Tina and Jennifer who we all started back the second part of the first loop together. We chatted about everything from the running group called FUR (they were both wearing visors), to the Marine Corps Marathon and them doing a half marathon the next day, to politics.

You see, here is one of the differences between ultra-running and shorter road races. Road races are about getting to the finish. Period. In ultra-running you want to get to the finish as well, but it’s about the voyage, not the ending. It’s about the camaraderie, the strangers you meet, and the views.
When we hit aid station two again at Mile 21, I grabbed water and soda, and a handful of M&Ms. Before heading back down to the start to finish loop 1, I texted dad. When I reached the four miles of rail trail back to the start I ran into another runner named Ryland. We chatted about various topics and kept each other company back to the start line where my father was nowhere to be seen. Since he hadn’t arrived, I decided to go on ahead to the out and back 3.5 mile stretch and catch him on the return trip.

Once again, I listened to music in this section and just enjoyed the fact that it was warmer now. After the return I met my father, mother, and nephew at their car at about mile 29 where my dad had the Band-Aids and the duct tape ready to go to deal with the blisters that had started.
My father noted that I was doing really well and was well ahead of what I had anticipated. Again, I had gone in with the mindset of just finishing and walking most of it. But yes, I was cranking. I was having so much fun I was just moving right along.

At mile 29 the rain had just begun. It was only a little drizzle and I debated whether to put on my waterproof jacket or not and in the end decided to wear it. Very glad I did. Because of the rain, my parents and nephew decided to meet me at the top at aid station two just in case I needed anything before darkness set in.
(Here is a stretch past aid station two before the flooding rain. It's what the majority of the trail looked like. Looks like a Jeep or truck travels through quite a lot.)

I reached aid station two in good shape and not too wet. I couldn’t say the same for some of the people I saw coming back down. I saw folks wearing trash bags. Lots of us were not prepared for rain. By the time I reached the second aid station the first time I was ready to put my mid-length tights on over my running skirt. It was getting chilly. Thank goodness my dada and nephew were there with my drop bag. I quickly tugged them on, grabbed a little fuel, and then was ready to go. Oops! I had to run back and yell for my nephew because I almost went off into the woods without headlamps.

We agreed I would text them again when I reached the same spot so they could bring me whatever I would need to make it to the end of the second loop.
Now it was raining! I went out on this six mile section that would take me back to aid stations two thinking it’s all good when I quickly realized I was basically running to avoid puddles. As the sun set in this section I was also trying to determine where the puddles were in the dark with the use of a terrible headlamp and then miss them. The rain was so bad at this point that what was the point of puddle jumping? All I was going to do was screw up my knee. My feet were wet. My feet were soaked and they were going to stay that way. I saw runners coming toward me and instead of the usual friendly wave or quick hello people were vying for higher ground. There was none.

I was less than a mile out from the return to the aid station, thirty minutes slower than I had been on the first trip when I made the decision to stop. Was it a tough decision? Yes. I was doing so well, and even in the rain was still having fun, but I was not prepared for this weather.
I did not have waterproof socks or shoes. I will now be ordering a pair. Puddle jumping was not going to be a long-term solution and my knee was needed for future runs.

I texted my father to meet me.
I really hoped I would change my mind by the time I hit the aid station, but the rain was coming down harder. Dad met me at the aid station and as much as I didn’t want to do it, I threw in the towel. The volunteer who was tracking runners asked me if I was sure and I did hesitate because now I wasn’t. I was offered some hot soup. I declined both offers.

I packed it all in and my dad and I headed back to his car where my nephew had the car running and warm, dry shoes sitting in the footwell.
Am I disappointed? Yes.

I was actually bummed because it was such a great course. My legs were loving it. My feet, in spite of the blisters on toes were surviving. Found out afterwards that I had a huge blister on heel probably due to the rain. I was so thrilled for this race after being so sick for so long and I felt like my body came back. My body wanted to be out there running or walking.
Did I make the right decision? Yes.

After 40 miles, I am pleased to say that I DNFd (Did Not Finish).
Here’s the thing though, I learned from this DNF. I walked away from the race knowing that yes, I could have finished, but what was going to be the physical repercussion if I kept on going? Another injury or illness that would take me out for months? It was not worth the risk when I have more to do.

As of today I am still recuperating from the cold I got from that race. My blisters are healing and I am probably going to lose a toenail or three. But hey, these are all recoverable in the short-term.
I learned I have to be more prepared for the weather changes. Having my waterproof jacket was brilliant. Not having waterproof shoes – not so brilliant. Well, I’ll take care of that.

I also learned that I am one tough cookie. I went out in this race after having been ill and not had enough training since the end of October when I became ill. I learned that sometimes it’s not about your physical strength, but the heart that can get you through a run.
Could I complain? Sure. But what’s the point?

I just went out and did 40 miles in a better time than I anticipated after no training for months. After being sick for months. I got to spend time with family. And I met some wonderful runners and terrific volunteers at a race that I cannot wait to do again next year. I had fun!! You can’t beat that.
Oh, yes, count me in. And next time if it rains, I’ll be prepared. I already have rain ponchos for my dad and nephew…just in case.

Thanks to the folks that put on the Iron Horse ultra, the many volunteers, and my family for playing race crew. It was a great day!

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Resolution of Kindness

Happy New Year! and Welcome to 2016!
How many of you make a New Year’s Resolution? I’m guessing there is a large show of hands. And of course you have every intention of keeping them. I can tell you the first week of the New Year and sometimes even the first month is packed at the gym. But then it dwindles.

The dreaded New Year’s Resolution.

How many of you keep your New Year’s Resolutions? I’ll bet there are a lot less hands in the air. Or maybe you keep some but not others. Hey, some is better than none, right?
Me? I like New Year’s Resolutions for the opportunity to take on a challenge. Do I stick with them? Yes. Why? A resolution to me means growth, personal growth.

Each year I like to learn or try something new, something to take me out of my comfort zone and expose me to new people and new adventures.
This year I’m doing something different. This year it’s not just about my own personal growth, it’s about giving back, paying it forward. It’s about random acts of kindness. It's a New Year's Resolution of Kindness!

Yes, this year my plan is to do at least one random act of kindness a week. That’s 52 random acts of kindness in 2016. If you are afraid you can’t do it every week then pick one month and do one random act each day of that month.
On my birthday I will perform one random act of kindness for each year in my age. Nope, do not ask. I will not tell you my age. Let’s just say it will be a very busy day giving.

I would love for this idea to spread and see more of you do this so please pass the word and let’s make 2016 a year of giving.

Below is a list of some ideas to help you get started. Please share your own ideas or acts of kindness.

 Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness:
  1. Start a piggy bank for a cause
  2. Leave a copy of an interesting book on a train, bus, or in a coffee shop
  3. Pay for the drinks on the next table at a café or restaurant
  4. Call a grandparent
  5. Thank a police officer or firefighter
  6. Share your umbrella
  7. Pick up groceries for a neighbor
  8. Bring co-workers a special treat
  9. Help someone load groceries into vehicle
  10. Bring flowers to someone
  11. Pay the toll for the car behind you
  12. Leave a generous tip for a server
  13. Help someone with yard work
  14. Thank a volunteer
  15. Adopt a soldier:
  16. Adopt a platoon:
  17. Read to the elderly or a child
  18. Return a shopping cart
  19. Volunteer at a food bank
  20. Leave change in a vending machine or parking meter
  21. Use your vacation days
  22. Hold the door open for someone
  23. Let the person behind you go ahead of you in line
  24. Donate clothing
  25. Leave quarters at the laundromat
  26. Buy a lottery ticket for someone else
  27. Buy a cup of coffee for the person in line behind you
  28. Write a thank you note to a co-worker
  29. Give up your seat for a stranger
  30. Say “please” and “thank you” … a lot
  31. Send a gift anonymously
  32. Compliment a waiter/waitress/server
  33. Give another driver your parking spot
  34. Give a landscaper a bottle of water
  35. Treat a friend to the movies
  36. Pick up rubbish in the road and put in a trash receptacle
  37. Tell your family how much you appreciate them
  38. Leave warm clothing on a bench with a note letting the finder know that it’s theirs to use or giveaway
  39. Donate to your favorite charity or donate to my site for Team RWB, which supports our Veterans.   Denise's Team RWB donation site
  40. Tweet a compliment about a vendor
  41. Put your cell phone away
  42. Give chocolate…generously and often
  43. Stop to have a conversation with a homeless person
  44. Write a positive review for a book or a product
  45. Adopt a rescue pet
  46. Leave a bag of microwave popcorn at your local Red Box movie rental stop
  47. Listen to the person sitting across the table from you
  48. Donate a race entry fee to the next random person
  49. Plant a tree or flower
  50. Make two lunches and give one away
  51. Give directions to someone lost
  52. Donate canned goods to a food shelter or at your local grocery store
  53. Buy lemonade from a kid’s lemonade stand
  54. Leave a nice comment on a blog
  55. Wash your neighbor’s car
  56. Keep a pen on hand – lend it to people when needed
  57. Call your mom
  58. Give someone a hug
  59. Smile. . .a lot


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Cup of Christmas Cheer

When I refer to a cup of Christmas Cheer I am not referring to spiked eggnog. Although, spiked eggnog could definitely be considered a cup of Christmas Spirit.

As we’ve done for the last few days, let’s talk about giving. Let’s talk about giving a cup of Christmas Cheer.
While you are standing in line to get a cup of coffee or maybe a cup of hot chocolate, why not buy the person behind you a cup? Not sure what the person behind you is going to have, hand the barista a couple of dollars and ask him/her to buy the next Veteran they serve a free cup of coffee on Santa. Or request they buy the next child a free cup of cocoa...with whipped cream.
Coffee not your drink, then perhaps some tea. Whatever your poison, go and offer up a cup or glass of Christmas Spirit (spiked eggnog or other Holiday spirits). Buy the person at the next table.
See a police officer directing traffic on a winter night? Offer him a hot cup of java to make the night pass with a smile and to thank him for his/her service.
Merry Christmas and enjoy a cup of cheer!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Candy Cane Christmas Giveaway

What is the one candy that says Christmas?

Candy cane!

Candy canes are everywhere this time of year, bringing everyone holiday cheer.

Candy canes are used as decorations on Christmas trees and make a fabulous stirrer in a cup of peppermint cocoa.

Crush a candy, add it to a little white chocolate, top that to a dollop of dark chocolate and you have a holiday favorite of peppermint bark.

A candy can is a sweet treat both kids and adults adore.

How does this fit into our Twelve Days of Christmas Spirit? That's easy.

We're going to give them away!

Here is the plan:

  1. Buy candy canes. Doesn't matter whether the big candy canes or the small ones. They cost about a dollar a box. Come on! If you can buy a cup of coffee, you can buy candy canes to give away.
  2. Take candy canes to mall. Pick a mall, large or small, any mall at all. Malls intimidate you, then go to your local coffee shop. It does not matter where you go, just go!
  3. Open box or boxes of candy canes.
  4. Start handing them out! See that harried, last minute shopper, give her a candy cane and wish him a Merry Christmas. See that dad with dragging his kids through the mall looking for gifts for the wife, give him a candy cane and wish him a Happy Holiday. What about your favorite barista? Give him or her a candy cane and say thank you for a great cup of coffee.
Merry Christmas and have fun!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Give the gift of warmth

It's winter! Have you noticed? Some may have noticed more than others. I live in new England and we are having an unusually warm winter, by warm I mean only down to the 30s.

But it is winter and almost Christmas. With winter and Christmas comes cold and people needing to stay warm, especially those people who walk to work or those people who are homeless and living on the street.

Let's help these people out and give the gift of warmth!

Have you read or seen the articles about people leaving scarves or cold weather gear like hats and mittens on telephone or light poles? Well, let's join the fun!

Do you have any yarn sitting around waiting to be knit or crocheted? Take that yarn and knit up a scarf or crochet a hat and leave them for a complete stranger who could appreciate it.

I will even bet some of you have a scarf that your grandma or relative gave you that you have never even worn and maybe has the tags left on them. Don't let it take up space. Give it away!

Take your hand-knit scarf or your closet hiding scarf that isn't keeping anyone warm to the nearest light pole or telephone, wrap it around the thing and give it away.

Now, if you tie a scarf to a pole most people will probably just walk by thinking it was lost. To avoid this, attach a personal note. Something like you see in the picture to the right or maybe a little more festive.

You could try, "I am not lost, but I am looking for a good home. Take me, I'm yours; a gift of warmth from a total stranger and some holiday cheer. Merry Christmas!" You get the idea.

Have fun with it. Spread warmth and holiday smiles. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas spirit, running style

Following our Twelve Days of Christmas Challenge, I thought of another way we might be able to give. I call it Christmas Spirit, Running Style.

Give a gift from a runner or to a runner.

As a runner, I know I have lots of shoes and T-shirts. At one time or another a runner buys shoes when they are on sale because he/she thinks, "Oh my gosh! I have to get them while they are cheap!" If the word cheap can actually be applied to running shoes. And then he or she falls in love with a totally different pair of shoes and the ones they bought are sitting in their closet in a box never opened, never worn. Aww. Very sad.

Sound familiar? Are you guilty of this? I know I am. As a matter of fact, I have at least three pair of running shoes sitting in boxes in my closet never opened, never worn.

Hmmm...what should or could I do with these? Last year I held on to them and donated them at the Vermont City Marathon. This year, however, I am going to do something similar to the Christmas in Books. I am going to leave a pair of unused shoes in a box with a note inside, wishing the new runner a Merry Christmas!

Did it cost me anything? Not really. I had already spent the money and it was sitting wasted in my closet. Will it make someone's day? I hope so. Could I be contributing to the insanity of a future runner or walker. That would be fabulous! Even better, I would be giving the gift of health. A pair of running shoes that could spur on someone to meet their New Year's resolution to walk every day, or run their first 5K or better yet, get healthy.

There is more. As a runner who regularly participates in races, I have T-shirts. Lots of them! Where are they? In my closet, under my bed, in a chair, or anywhere else I can find space for them.

Here we have two options. If you have a runner in the family and you know where they store all those unworn T-shirts, why not upcycle them into something useful like a quilt or a handbag or duffle bag. Heck, why not placemats for the truly obsessed runner in the family.

If you're a runner and don't wear your race T-shirts and want to see them put to good use then give them away. Wrap them up and drop them off at a homeless shelter or a women's shelter. Or, if you are feeling energetic then take a handful on your next run and tie a few to various telephone poles with a Christmas ribbon and a note wishing the future wearer a Merry Christmas!

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