There’s No Place Like Home

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Our family is moving to Denver.

It’s been in the works for some time now, as the job offer was presented to Jay six months ago. We spent months in prayer, in depression, in arguments, in anxiousness, in excitement, in faith. We traveled there, looking at neighborhoods and trying to decide if it felt like a good fit for our family. We talked to people, did some research. Prayed a LOT… and finally realized that for many different reasons it was the right move for our family.

More accurately, that this was without an ounce of doubt God’s plan for us.

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We’ve struggled with an incredible amount of emotions along the way. South Florida been my home for over 35 years; I don’t think a week has gone by in those six months that I haven’t cried at the thought of leaving all that I love. The list is endless: the humidity, the crazy thunderstorms, the rough-around-the-edges people, the alligators, the colorful vibe, the palm trees, the diversity, the traffic, the year-round vegetation, the heat. I even love the hurricanes. I am a true Floridian, heart and soul, to the core.

There’s the people we are leaving. My parents and brother. Jay’s parents and his grandmother. My best friend, Sanne, who I only met 7 years ago but has become the sister I never had. Kim, the girl who’s been my best friend since we were 6 years old and has been with me through every major stage in life. Christine, my roommate from college who has seen me at my absolute worst and has chosen to love me through it anyway. Tina, the friend who more than anyone has taught me how to love and accept myself. Leanette, who has never stopped encouraging me to move forward and not be afraid to face my fears. Jen, who has become my favorite running partner and motivates me to never quit. And the countless others in my life that have shown me the best and worst things about myself and have never given up on me as I’ve worked to be the best me I can be.

And then there’s our church. We fell in love with the community vibe of our church immediately, and felt like we’d finally found a place we could grow in our faith. And grow we did. Jay and I went through many seasons during our years at Crossway – our struggle with infertility, Emily starting school, job changes, marital struggles, and now this move. And although our church isn’t perfect and there have been bumps and hurt feelings along the way, we have always felt God’s presence while there. God has used the people in our church to shape us and prepare our hearts, very likely for this move, and their loving prayers have been an incredible force in this journey.

But to be honest, this whole thing sucks.

It’s so ridiculously hard to fall so deeply in love with a place and an entire family of friends and then feel called to leave. It breaks my heart. I don’t understand it one bit. Everything around me holds a memory. I can’t look at a palm tree without getting a tear in my eye. I can’t drive down the street without thinking of the roads ahead. I can’t think about saying goodbye without choking up. I just can’t.

I love having connections to people. And when I make that connection, no matter how silly or small or insignificant, that person has officially found their place in my heart. Do you have a brother named Kevin? You’re already cooler. Do you have a fondness for banana sandwiches? You’re awesome. Do you love Criminal Minds and jigsaw puzzles and ironing? Well hey there, new friend. That’s how I roll. I can’t not feel something for you once that connection is there. Because I seek out those connections, I find them. And as a result, I end up loving everyone. I just can’t help it. Yes, there are some people who have gone beyond that surface connection and reached the depths of my undying loyalty and love, and others who have rubbed me wrong, but if you’re in my life and there’s any sort of link between us, I’m happy you’re there and I genuinely mean that.

Yesterday a whole bunch of those fabulously awesome people in my life came together at a local park to say goodbye. Some were those deep-soul people, others I’ve only known a few months. We ate together, cried together, played together, and prayed together. And I left feeling more emotions than I think I’ve ever felt at once in my whole life. I’m overwhelmed with joy and sadness and excitement and pain and nervousness and eagerness and expectations and hurt and gratitude and peace. But the one thing I’m feeling more than anything is love. It’s smothering absolutely every other emotion.

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I look at Jay, who has been so loving and supportive through this whole process, always letting me feel whatever I need to feel. I look at Emily, who has been so encouraging on my worst days – yes, my 9 year old is telling me it’s going to be okay. I look at Julia, who’s just a total bubble of excitement now that she knows moving to Denver doesn’t mean we will miss Christmas. I look to my friends, who have cried with me and made time to be with me before we go and are already planning their trips to come see me. I look at our church, who has prayed with us and encouraged us and loved us through it all. And I gratefully look to God, who has blessed us with absolute peace every step of the way.

So we look forward to our new adventure. We are confidant that God is the Maker of our path, and that His will in our life is what’s best for our family… even if that means His will lies 2,038 miles away.

Just look at what He’s done for us here in South Florida.

We are truly blessed.❤

13.1 with a Dead Battery

After I ran the Ocala Half Marathon last year I was completely convinced that I was done with them. It was my second 13.1 event, and it was two more than I ever thought I’d be able to do. The races were incredible – so much fun and such an accomplishment – but the training! Ugh.

For months prior to each of these events I trained, probably very poorly by any serious runner’s standards. I’d keep my runs short during the week and then complete a long run on the weekend, adding a mile to the previous weekend’s long run until I hit at least 11 miles. Then I’d run my half marathon and that would be that. All that training for one event. All those early weekend mornings spent alone on the road instead of snuggling in bed with my man. All those hours spent listening to podcasts instead of listening to my daughters giggle.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love running. But after the first half I realized that I really enjoy (and only have time for) 3-4 mile runs. I got sucked into the Ocala half because it’s just so gosh-darn gorgeous there, but after that I declared I’d never run another. And I meant it. At least, until a couple of weeks later when I was at the expo for a Valentine’s Day 5K with my friend Tina. She saw a booth for the Key West half, decided to sign up, and, being the sucker I am, I signed up too.

That was supposed to be my last one for sure. I was done. Until 2 miles into the run, when my friend Jen and I started contemplating the A1A half marathon (the first 13.1 I ran), which was being held exactly 4 weeks after the one we were currently running. Truthfully, at 2 miles in we were considering interval running the FULL A1A marathon, but by mile 8 or 9 we’d already thrown that thought out the window. Yes, you can laugh.

Our logic was this: we’ve already trained for a half… we don’t enjoy training for these long races… we were totally fine to do a mix of walking and running… we thought the medal was amazing and too good to miss… and the best reason ever: why not?

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The plan was to at least be able to run 6 miles, or half of the half. We didn’t care whether we broke it up into smaller bites or charged out the first six and then walked the rest, but we didn’t want to be so out of shape that we couldn’t complete it without crawling. So for the short few weeks between the two events, we ran 2-4 miles a few days during the week and a longish-er run on the weekends. I managed to hit 6 miles the weekend before the race, but man, I was pooped and not feeling it at all.

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Race day. We started out pretty chill, not really expecting much out of ourselves. We knew we were good for at least the first 5K, but beyond that we were just going to wing it. Mile 4 comes, we are feeling fine. Mile 6 comes around, and we are still running. I’m feeling great, so I tell Jen that I think I might be able to actually run the whole thing. She wasn’t as optimistic, but on we went. By the time we hit mile 8, we were both thinking it was possible. And once we reached mile 10 – knowing there was only a 5K left to go – we decided there was no way we’d be walking this one. We crossed the finish line about 2:40 later. Boomsauce.

We were flying high. We felt unstoppable. We didn’t do the funny little dance Rocky does when he reaches the top of those steps, but I know I was feeling it inside and I’m pretty sure Jen was too. It was awesome… we had just completed another half marathon – without walking as planned – just 4 weeks after running another. Invincible is an understatement.

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Then we get back to my car. Of the 3 of us that drove there (my car being one of them), apparently Jen and I were the only ones who brought enough energy to get back home. I was trying not to freak out, since whenever anything goes wrong with the engine of my car I’m convinced it could explode. Seriously, just ask my dad. Jen, however, was amazing. I had jumper cables in my trunk, and we found some kindhearted fellow half-marathoners who spent nearly 30 minutes trying to help me jump my car. Jen was the only one who confidently knew what to do, and we all just kinda watched her, commenting on how disappointed our fathers would be if they could see us. In the end, it was useless anyway, the engine refused to turn over. So, I called roadside assistance, Jen called her hubby, and we waited for our heroes to arrive.

Jen left when the tow truck guy arrived, and he took a portable battery out and jumped my car in less than 2 minutes, so I drove home, grabbed my family, and headed to PepBoys to get a new battery.

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❤ Did I mention all this happened on Valentine’s Day?❤

The battery incident put a slight damper on that morning’s earlier miraculous accomplishment. But only a slight one. When I look back on what we did, I don’t even think about the battery. In fact, when I went to start typing this I didn’t even remember it happened until I wrote about crossing the finish line. Because the high was clearly greater than the low.

Free medal engraving was offered after the race, and instead of putting my race time I asked if I could put on a verse from the Bible: Psalm 46:5 – “God is within her, she shall not fall.”

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Seemed pretty appropriate to me!:)

Family Values 5K (again!)

Running is by no means a “free” activity. I mistakenly thought that it was – I mean, you throw on some sneaks, head out the front door, run, get home, shower. But then you find out (via shin splints) that those sneaks you already had on hand are most definitely not intended for running. So you buy new running shoes. Then you realize that the clothes you have are awful: sweat soaking, chafing, and just uncomfortable… and that sports bra is giving absolutely no support. Now you’re buying a new sweat-wicking running wardrobe. Then there are activity trackers, water bottles, headbands, special socks, anti-chafing sticks, and a hundred other doodads that make the “free” sport more enjoyable.

Eventually, if you’re like most runners, you’ll find yourself signing up for a race. These cost money too – I’ve paid anywhere from $15 – $125 – and can come with all sorts of goodies and cool medals and free post-race mimosas. These events can be a ton of fun, and I have yet to participate in one I haven’t enjoyed. The energy at these events can be infectious, but none of them can compete with the emotion that comes with participating in a race that benefits others in a charitable way. And one of my favorites is the Sheridan House Family Values 5K.

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I’ve run this race for the past two years, (see my posts here and here), with the one I ran last weekend being my 3rd time participating. It’s a simple run, just three laps that take you through the front and the side of the Sheridan House property, then out along the road, then back into the property again. There’s only one water station, which you pass three times as you loop. As the name of the event implies, it’s very family-focused, and without a doubt you’re going to find kids on bikes, kids on scooters, and even kids running the course alongside their parents. There are timing chips on the backs of the bibs (which are turned in after crossing the finish line), and medals for the kids when they finish. As a side note, I’m a little worried… the past two years I’ve received a medal, and I’m not sure if it’s because I look like I’m 12 years old or if I mistakenly took one that was meant for a real kid!😮

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It’s a really basic run. No gimmicks, no holiday-themed color scheme. But it’s got heart – more heart than any other run I’ve participated in.❤

Sheridan House Family Ministries serves the local community by meeting the needs of children and families. As stated on their website, they work to train parents on how to lead their families in a godly way; to do marriage according to God’s plan and to raise up children to take responsibility for themselves and to be tomorrow’s leaders  – not followers. They offer counseling services, parenting workshops, a ministry for single mothers, marriage and a residential program for kids in middle school who are demonstrating behavioral issues. It’s a truly amazing organization.

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The best part – my favorite part – about this 5K run (and their mud run, the Goliath Gauntlet), is that 100% of the money raised goes right back into the organization. The 5K run is technically free, but because this is a fundraiser they encourage all participants to create a page to help raise money. Every dollar raised goes directly back into the organization and its ministries. They don’t even charge for the photos and videos they take during the 5K event, which is practically unheard of in the race-running circuit.

In the past I’ve participated with my family, but this year I ran with my friend Jen as a sort of warm-up run for another half we were running the following day. We had pre-registered online a few days before, and made our voluntary donations to Sheridan House online during the registration process. We arrived about 20 minutes before the start time of 9a, checked in to receive our bibs, and picked up our long-sleeve event shirts and bags. After dropping them off back at the car we headed to the starting line, listened to the anthem, and then ran our 3.1. When we were done we grabbed our water and left. That was it!

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The biggest difference between this run and others is that I know my money is being put to good use in my local community. I’m friends with someone who went through the Sheridan House residential program when he was a teen, and he gives the organization a lot of credit for turning his life around. I’ve been to some of the marriage workshops and listened to some of the parenting podcasts, and I’ve always felt encouraged afterwards. I’ve personally benefitted from what this organization does, and I’m more than happy to donate to them.

Running is not as free as it seems on the surface. But like any other hobby, if you love it then you’re going to spend money on it. My advice? Be sure that some of the money you’re spending is supporting a cause you believe in. Those runs end up giving you much more than you’re paying for, I guarantee it.❤

Love (can be) a Many-Splendored Thing

 

Aaaah. The intro song to Grease.❤

In less than a minute Danny and Sandy demonstrate love in all its splendor. The scene is a picturesque and (somehow) completely isolated beach. The young lovebirds frolic and play together all day, laughing and smiling and kissing and holding each other. Their hair is always perfect, and I can’t imagine either of them had to use the bathroom even once. (There is nothing romantic about using the toilet… absolutely nothing splendored going on there.)

Splendor is defined using words like brilliant… magnificent… grandeur… glory… bright… gorgeous. I think Danny and Sandy definitely lived up to their intro song.

The question is, does my love?

I love my husband to the depths of my heart. He’s my soulmate, my lover, my best friend. But if love is a many-splendored thing – and if Danny and Sandy can demonstrate that in less than a minute – then my marriage of nearly 14 years should most definitely demonstrate it, too.

Last April, Jay and I went out on one of our date night adventures. (Read about others here, here, here, here, and here.) We had decided to go on a scavenger hunt through the mall, and we had a great time hunting for things on our list and checking them off as we found them. Then we went out to dinner, where we laughed and talked and reconnected after Jay’s previous 2 weeks of travel.

And then things went sour. As the night went on and we talked more, we started becoming at odds with each other. Feelings were hurt, and for a few weeks following it seemed as though irreparable damage had been done. We began to realize that like most newlyweds, our love was brilliant and glorious in the beginning… but over the years it had slowly lost its splendor. The magnificent brightness of our love began to fade as walls went up. My walls were a result of his constant travels and me operating as the only parent in the home. His walls were a result of my bitterness at his freedom and my envy of his “escape” from responsibilities at home. It was bad.

We hadn’t even realized it was happening. We’d learned to adapt our relationship to accommodate those walls instead of forbidding them to even enter our hearts and our marriage. It got so bad that at one point I was sure he wanted to leave me and he was sure I wanted to leave him – even though neither of us had ever for a moment considered leaving the other at all. But that’s what walls can do. They have the ability to take away the splendor.

I watch a lot of HGTV, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that everyone seems to want an “open concept” floor plan. Homeowners want to knock down the walls and create a much wider line of sight. They want to feel more connected to the other areas of their home and anyone who may be occupying those spaces. Knocking down walls also allows light to flow more freely through the home. A lack of walls can make a home feel airer… less cluttered… open… brighter. You could say that removing walls in a home makes the home a more splendored thing. Removing walls in a relationship can have the same effects as removing the walls in a home.

And it took a long time, but we managed to tear those walls down. It wasn’t easy – just like removing walls in a home isn’t easy. At times it was even painful. We just took it one step at a time, always returning to the agreement that they had to come down and never be put up again.

I’m proud to say that those walls have been gone for nearly a year now. The result is that our love once again feels like a many splendored thing. It’s brilliant. It’s grand. It’s magnificent.❤

That doesn’t mean we don’t argue. I snapped at Jay just this morning because I thought he was trying to get off the phone too quickly and was too busy to talk to me (he’s out of town for work again). So stupid; so silly. But I didn’t snap at him out of jealousy for his “freedom.” That wall doesn’t exist anymore. And he’s not going to be afraid to call me out on my moodiness when he gets home later tonight – that wall is gone, too.

Love isn’t always a splendored thing. It takes work. But it can be everything that Danny and Sandy have… just don’t get your hopes up for the perfect hair and toilet-free days.

❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

Video credit: theamigoamor, You Tube

If You Love Something

Yeah, you let it go. And if it comes back, it was meant to be. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t.

But I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about how sometimes if you love something – heck, even if you just like it a whole lot – you will find people who want to support you and connect with you and help that love grow more.

And it’s totally awesome.

When I was in high school I had a thing for frogs. Clocks, figurines, towels, clothing, wall decor, jewelry, dinnerware, even my closet doors. If it had a frog on it, I probably owned it. I think the last time I counted my collection I had nearly 500 items of frog-adorned paraphernalia. I even had a live pet frog named Captain Smollett (after Kermit the Frog’s character in Muppet Treasure Island, of course).:) Part of the reason my collection grew was due to that support I mentioned before – support of the thing I loved. Friends would travel and bring me back froggy souvenirs. Someone would go to a restaurant and take a photo of themselves with a frog statue. A friend’s relative heard about my collection and painted the purple one in the photo below for me. Birthdays, Christmas, every gift-giving holiday you can think of resulted in more frogs.

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I never asked anyone to stop, because I loved it. It made me feel so incredibly loved and thought of, and I loved every single one.

I had to put my frog-loving days behind me though, because when Jay and I were planning our wedding it was apparent that things had gotten out of control. When guests were asking us if we’d be interested in frog-related wedding gifts or if our wedding was going to be frog-themed (themed weddings were all the rage then), we knew we had to ditch the amphibians. So we packed all the frogs away, and had an almost frog-free wedding. I still love the little wedding cake toppers we chose, and I still love my hubby for being a good sport about it.❤

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Although a few frogs can still be found randomly placed around my house (and I think a few are decorating my parents’ place), the rest of them are still tucked away in a bin in the attic. And I no longer receive frog-related gifts or photos or anything.

But I am still feeling the same kind of love, just in a more internet-y way.

Somehow people have caught on that I enjoy Tiffany & Co., and word has gotten out that I’ll pretty much publicly drool for anything in that color. And as a result, I’m getting the 21st century social media version of the frog-frenzy love.

And I love it.

I’m constantly being sent Tiffany-related images from friends through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or even just text messaging. Anytime someone sees something in Tiffany blue, they send it my way.

These two are the most popular items I’m tagged in or sent:

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Yeah, I’m pretty much dying to have some Tiffany-colored footwear now… and no, I’d never run in those shoes, they’d get too dirty. I’d definitely wear them out on a date night like this though! :D

I’ve also had people share phone cases and beverages/food items a bunch:

I actually tried a Tiffany-colored phone case before, but it was pretty flimsy and I’m just too clumsy for a weak case. I ended up getting this one by Speck though, so I’ve still got my favorite color scheme! (not an affiliate link)

This one wins the prize for most unique share though… gun lover or not, you gotta admit this is a pretty classy looking piece of metal.❤

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I try to pin everything that’s sent to me on Pinterest, where I have a board for all things Tiffany. You know, for those days when I’m feeling kinda low and just feel like visually swimming in my favorite color. Despite the fact that I can’t afford 99% of what I pin, it’s so pretty that it actually does cheer me up just looking at it.

So I say, keep those images coming. They make me feel loved and thought of and I love every single one.

And if you happen to visit a Tiffany store and feel compelled to buy me a souvenir, I’m certainly not going to stop you.😉❤

 

A 13.1 with the Jellies

*Okay, so technically a Portuguese man o’ war isn’t a jellyfish, but I’ve learned since completing my last half marathon that while they are super common where I live, man o’ war aren’t as well known as I thought – hence the jellyfish reference.:)

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I found out about the Key West half marathon when I was at the expo for the Ft. Lauderdale 5K I ran last year. A couple of my friends, Tina and Jen, decided that we should all head down together and have a running adventure. It was supposed to be their first 13.1, but unfortunately Tina’s foot was injured and she was unable to join us. (We missed you so much, Tina!❤ ) Jen and I trained for a few months, then made the 3-hour drive to Key West!

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Jay was originally planning to run the half marathon with us, but due to his work travels he wasn’t able to devote much training time to it, so he decided to switch his registration to the 5K. He and I drove down together on the day of the race expo, checked into our hotel, then took the hotel shuttle to the expo to pick up our packets. The event differentiated between the 5K’ers and the 13.1’ers via the bibs – those running the 5K had a bright, tropical sunny day on their bib, while those running the half had a gorgeous Key West sunset on theirs. We also received a gender-specific shirt (which I love), with the tropical sunny image on the front and the sunset on the back. The medals also turned out to be quite different, but I’ll get to that later.

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The night before the race Jen, Jay, and I were all watching the weather with heavy hearts, as we were predicted to have nonstop thunderstorms for the entire day of the race. Sure enough, before turning into bed that night we could hear the wind picking up and eventually howling, and the rain starting to pour down. We woke early the next morning and checked our email, finding that now there was a tornado threat and that the start time had been pushed back an hour. We kept watch for more updates, but when there weren’t any we grabbed a cab and headed to the start line.

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The weather was super gloomy. The skies were dark, the wind was strong, and it was raining. Nearly everyone had ponchos or garbage bags on, but nearly everyone was laughing at how crazy the situation was. Jen and I found the pace time we thought we could meet and stood with that group, and when the anthem was sung and 8a came, we were off!

The route was amazing. We ran through the streets of Key West’s historic Old Town, past shops and restaurants and the famous “Mile 0” road sign. We ran past the Southernmost Point in the U.S. We ran through some of the neighborhoods. There were huge puddles everywhere, but right about mile 4 we looked at the sky and noticed that it was turning blue and the sun was peeking through. You gotta love Key West!

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Just past mile 3 the course opened up and we found ourselves running alongside the ocean. We ran on a wide sidewalk, which had a wall between us and the ocean – there was no shoreline. The storm the night before had blown a blanket of seaweed over the sidewalk… and also quite a few of the aforementioned man o’ war, which speckled the dark green seaweed with their vivid blue coloring. Peering over the wall, I was able to spot a few more of these beautiful (yet painful) creatures bobbling along the surface of the water. It was my favorite part of the entire course.:)

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The wind was at our back until the turnaround point at about mile 6, and then we were running into a headwind so strong it almost forced us into a walk. There were a few times I could feel it blowing my legs around as they were in the air mid-step. It was pretty crazy. The original course had us running along one of the piers, but the winds were so strong it was unsafe and they rerouted the course. We also opted to not use any port-o-potties in such windy conditions, which proved to be wise thinking:

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The rest of the run was pretty uneventful, although my knee started to lock up around mile 11 and by mile 12 it was better but my left hip started locking up. I think it was mainly due to the strong winds, since I’d run that far before without injury but never in winds like that. Some things you just can’t train for! Jen and I crossed the finish line about 2:43 later, which is a bit longer than we were aiming for, but again – headwinds.

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Now, about those medals. The medal for the half marathon is pretty awesome. It’s a double-sided removable wine stopper, with a lighthouse on one side and an iconic conch shell on the other, in beautiful full-color. The medal for the 5K was, unfortunately, much less impressive. Jay wasn’t able to find a volunteer that had any when he finished his event, but ended up finding one still in the package in a box discarded in the trash. It’s pretty underwhelming as far as 5K medals go, but it makes for a funny story.😀

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Impressive medal or not though, this guy continues to make me proud. About a mile into his 5K he developed a bad case of shin splints in his right leg. He ended up needing to walk a bit more than he’d planned, and as a result his time was considerably worse than when he ran this 5K a few months prior. I honestly don’t care, because he stuck to his goal: to finish. He was in a bit of pain the rest of the day (and pretty much decided that running isn’t his thing), but he did it.❤

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Would I do this run again? Probably not. It was beautiful and fun and I love the medal and the man o’ war were a nice touch, but it was a bit of a drive and a bit unnerving that there had even been a slight possibility the weather could have ruined everything. Of course, it was Key West, and once the run was over this hunky hubby of mine and I hit the town for some post-run fun… so maybe I would give it another go after all!😉

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PSI have a tradition of getting a charm for my Pandora bracelet after completing a half marathon. Key West is known for their free-roaming chickens and roosters – seriously, they walk everywhere and scare the pee out of you when they start crowing from behind a bush. So it seemed perfectly fitting that the charm that best commemorated this race would be a rooster. Isn’t he cute? 

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PSS That beautiful photo at the beginning of this post was taken by Jen’s mom, Lynne.

Ho Ho Hoping this 5K is Enough…

…to burn off all those peppermint cookies I ate over the holidays!

Last year (which in this post means 2014 😛 ) I ran the Jingle Jog 5K, and I loved it so much that I signed up to run it again!

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This event comes with a Santa suit for every participant, and when I ran it last year I wore the whole ensemble (not the beard though, it tickled:) ). Since the suit was made of felt and December in South Florida can still bring 90 degree temps, for this run I decided to chop the sleeves off the jacket and run in that and the pants…

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…but then the entire crotch of the pants disintegrated. I’m fun, but I’m not willing to be THAT fun during a race!😀

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There’s no doubt you’re in the right place at this event. I just love that no matter where you look, there’s a sea of Santas.

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Then there are the costumes! My friend Carolyn ran the entire 5K with a reindeer hobby horse. (She’s the one who ran the St. Patrick’s Day 4-miler in a beer hat.😀 )

This guy ran in a gathered Christmas tree skirt:

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And this guy’s dog was dressed up as a reindeer, with a little stuffed Santa hanging on for dear life:

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But my favorite was the guy dressed up as a snowman from head to toe. My friend Jen pointed him out as he passed us, and I ran to catch up with him so I could get a picture from the front too.:)

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There weren’t any carolers along the route this time, but we did have Santa – the REAL Santa – drive by to cheer us on!

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This run offered free mimosas to finishers, so I passed my free beer ticket to someone and finally enjoyed a drink I love! I think more races need to start offering free mimosas… or Starbucks frappuccinos… or shoot, while I’m dreaming, why not frozen cokes?😀

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It was a ton of fun, and I absolutely LOVE my Christmas tree medal! Of course, as soon as it was over I went home to eat more of those cookies. Hey, I earned it!😉

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A Harry Potter Dream Come True

I’ve had this post on my to-do list for a long time now, and normally I think that a year is probably about 10 months too long to wait to write about something. But in light of Alan Rickman’s recent death and how much the Harry Potter series has meant to my daughter, I thought I’d share it anyway.

When Emily was in second grade, we bought her the first Harry Potter book for Christmas. She devoured it, and eagerly ripped through the entire 7-book series, reading about a book a month. After each book was completed we’d let her watch the corresponding movie, which basically turned her into a total expert on all things Harry Potter by the time she finished the final movie.

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Harry Potter infiltrated every part of her life. She’d make lists of spells and hang them on her bulletin board in her room. She’d write stories for school that were inspired by the books. She’d always loved owls, but after seeing the first movie she renamed her beloved stuffed owl Hedwig and always had to have her by her side while reading the books or watching the movies. There were Harry Potter teacher gifts. We had never-ending conversations about the series, major discussions on character motives, and imagined different outcomes for various situations the characters encountered. And of course we ate Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.😀

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It was a no-brainer that we were gonna have to take her to Universal Studios to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.:)

We really wanted the trip to be as special for Emily as possible, and Julia was still too young to ride pretty much everything. My parents kindly agreed to watch Julia for a day so that Emily, Jay and I could fully enjoy the park together. The next time we were at their house for a visit we woke Emily early in the morning, piled in the car (with Hedwig, of course), and headed to Orlando!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is spread across two of Universal’s parks, with London, Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, and King’s Cross Station all on the Universal Studios side, and Hogwarts and Hogsmeade on the Islands of Adventure side. Jay and I thought that it would be more fun to start where Harry Potter himself began his adventure – in London – and then proceed from there, roughly mimicking Harry’s journey.

First we stopped to chat with the shrunken head on the Night Bus, which was located in London…

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…and then went through the magical bricked entrance to Diagon Alley!

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We hit the super awesome ride at Gringott’s straight away, then headed off to Ollivander’s to let a wand choose Emily.😉

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If you purchase a specific type of wand, you can actually “cast spells” around Diagon Alley and watch things magically happen, like making feathers float. It’s pretty awesome, and in my opinion worth a little extra so that you can discover tons of hidden secrets!

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It seems the power eventually went to her head.😀

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After exploring everything we could, we stepped through platform 9 3/4 and hopped the Hogwarts Express to the other side of Harry’s world.

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We immediately went to one of the places she’d wanted to see the most – Hagrid’s house. It’s not an attraction you can enter, but it was pretty amazing to be able to check out the exterior. Hagrid’s was situated near one of the rides, and while we were in line for the ride Emily was able to see one of her favorite creatures, Buckbeak.❤

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Then it was off to Hogwarts! A word of advice – don’t have too much or too little food in your belly before getting on the ride at Hogwart’s. It’s crazy fun, but crazy intense!

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We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks (which Emily still talks about a year later) with some non-gill-inducing Gilly water – then hit the rides some more before heading back to Diagon Alley.

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We couldn’t help having some fun with the window displays at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. This is one of my favorite pictures from the whole day!

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Emily had hoped and prayed that she’d be able to find a stuffed Buckbeak while we were there, but unfortunately they were completely sold out. She was a little bummed, until she turned around and noticed that they had Crookshanks. That was easy.:)

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Before we knew it, the day was over and it was time to head back to my parents’ house and to Julia. We can’t begin to express how proud we are of Emily. She’s so kind to everyone around her, so willing to help, and works so hard in school. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to reward her with something that meant so much to her. We love knowing that she’ll remember this trip for a long time, and that she had that time with us all to herself.❤

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5K’n with my Man

In 2014 I ran the Castaway Cay 5K while vacationing on a Disney cruise. It was such a unique experience – I mean, a 5K in the Bahamas? And a Disney 5K at that? I knew there was a good chance we’d find ourselves on another Disney cruise in the future, but I also felt pretty strongly that even if I ran this 5K again it just wouldn’t get any better than that first time.

And then Jay decided he was going to run it with me.❤

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A year later I found myself standing at the Port Adventures desk in the lobby of the ship requesting a ticket to run this event again. At the last minute Jay stepped up and asked for one too. He’d signed up to run a 5K a few months away and was training for it, so he thought this might be a good way to see how he might fare later. A trial 5K, you could say. He was worried that he was going to slow me down and that I wouldn’t have as great of an experience as I was hoping for,  but I really wanted to stay with him the whole time so I could encourage him to keep going – even if it meant we had to walk part of the route. That’s love, baby.

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We met the other participants in one of the ship’s many lounges, where we were all given instructions on how where to drop off our kids, the 5K’s route on the island, and any other information we needed to know before disembarking. One of the best things about this event is that Scuttle’s Cove, the island’s kids’ club, opens at 9:00 – but since the run starts at 9:00a and is only open to ages 10 and up, a few Disney crew members open Scuttle’s Cove a few minutes earlier so that parents are able participate in the run. Thank you Disney!❤

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The run was awesome (of course).:) Jay and I started out together, and ran about a mile before walking. It was H-O-T out, and the route has very little shade, but we pushed through, alternating walking and running as we went. Before we knew it, we were halfway done!

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Jay does not enjoy being in the heat, and I was SO proud of him for not giving up – especially since the way the course is laid out it would have been easy to quit halfway through without even needing to complete the whole thing.

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When we were about 3/4 of a mile from the finish line, I sprinted ahead so that I could improve my time a little and also take pictures of my sweaty hunk completing his first 5K. He completed the run in just under 40 minutes, which I think is amazing considering it was his first one and how much of it we walked!

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Last year’s run was amazing, but I just gotta say that I love LOVE❤ that I finally got to take a medal photo with this man. I love that we are both wearing bibs. I love that we are both all sweaty (yet smiling). I love that we are both sporting the same bling. I just love this picture so much!

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Running with Jay definitely improved the overall experience. I love having someone to talk to when I run, and when I’m on vacation I just can’t get enough of him. So spending time with my man while doing one of my favorite things was just perfect. I just ignored the rest of the people on the island who all felt the need to say the same thing: “Why would anyone run on vacation?”😀

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PS CHECK OUT THAT MEDAL! Such a huge improvement over last year! From what we were told, when I ran the Castaway Cay 5K last year it was not an official runDisney event, so they were not sponsoring the medals. The Mickey ears I got were actually the same medals the ship gives out as prizes for other activities, like winning trivia night. But now the Castaway Cay 5K is sponsored by runDisney, which means a much nicer medal!

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What I’m Reading

Well, I completely got out of whack on my reading list.

I usually prefer to fully complete a list before I create a new one, but when I went and checked my last book list update I realized that I only kinda sorta followed it. Not exactly a tragedy, but I definitely want to straighten things out and get back on track. No book should ever be forgotten, after all.😉

So here’s the list I was trying to get through before starting a new one:

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I didn’t get through all of them, although I honestly thought I did. I keep a wishlist of the books I’d like to read on Amazon, that way I don’t forget about any of them. The system has been pretty foolproof – at least, until Christmas came and I removed them all from my Amazon list so that my family wouldn’t accidentally buy me the printed versions (I read on my Kindle). As a result, I completely missed The Vacationers and The Melody Lingers On – although in my defense I did read a Mary Higgins Clark novel, I just got the title mixed up and read the wrong one. As far as Go Set a Watchman, I keep meaning to borrow a friend’s hardcover copy, but I always seem to leave her house without it… :p

Here’s what I did read, and what I thought of them:
The Light Between Oceans – This was a really amazing story, with a plot that centered around right vs. wrong. I absolutely loved the way the author describes everything.
The Good Girl – It was an interesting story until the end. The motives of the characters seemed a bit odd to me.
What Alice Forgot – Another great and easy read by Liane Moriarty.
What She Left Behind – An interesting fictional look at an early insane asylum in the U.S. I liked the story, but the ending was predictable. I’m going to look for more novels that center around these asylums though, I found that aspect quite fascinating.
The Best Yes – READ. THIS. BOOK. Especially if you have a hard time saying “no” to people. I’ve slowly been applying the Biblical truths I learned from it, and I really feel like I’m getting better at identifying the things I should be saying “yes” to.
The Collector – My best friend recommended this, and I enjoyed it a lot. The book is told from the perspectives of two different characters, which made it hard to put down.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin – I can’t say enough good things about this book. I’m actually disappointed that I didn’t read this when I first wanted to as a young girl. It moved me to tears, and was ended so beautifully – yet didn’t ignore the struggles that were the focus of the rest of the novel. I will definitely re-read this again in the future.

I also managed to read a few that weren’t on my original list:

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The Cinderella Murder – This is the first book in a 2-book series, and, like all Mary Higgins Clark books, I totally loved it.
The Scorch Trials – I’d read this before (when I read the series), and had no intention of reading it again. But a good bit of the movie didn’t seem right, so I reread the book to find the discrepancies. There were more differences than similarities. Boo.
The Hunger Games series – The last movie came out in November. I’m a huge fan. Of COURSE I reread the entire series again to prepare!😀

And that brings me to my new list!

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  • Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
  • All Dressed in White – Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke
  • Sundays at Tiffany’s – James Patterson
  • The Vacationers – Emma Straub
  • The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
  • Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
  • The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty
  • The Melody Lingers On – Mary Higgins Clark

Please let me know if you’ve read anything good lately!:)