Carry on Jesus

“I’ll leave these shoes,” my new husband said while he tossed a perfectly good pair of dress shoes over by the trash can. “I guess we don’t need the boxes for all of these things either,” I responded as I removed gifts from packaging and re-wrapped them in dirty clothes. We then rearranged our belongings in our three suitcases desperately trying to  fit an entire Lladró nativity set with all of its packaging along with the rest of our wedding and travel stuff in there. It was like a bad game of Tetris. Thanks to my father in law, Jack McCall.

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Jack never did anything in a small way. He also always did things his way. The first time I met him he asked me if I had closed toe shoes so we could go cut cows. I had no idea what he was talking about, and he was one hundred percent serious. I was horrified. Cut cows? Did he mean castrate? I then learned that cutting cows meant sorting them out so that he could sell some at the local auction, and that the sandals I was wearing were not appropriate for the task because I might get cow poop all over my feet. I guess he thought this was a good way to screen a potential daughter-in-law.

Later that evening, he told me that my then boyfriend (now husband and father of my three children) and I should probably not have children because they would be ridiculously hard headed. He may be having the last laugh about that one.

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My husband and I were married in Spain. To honor his mom who had passed away before we met, we bought a small Lladró angel to place on the altar (small being the key word here) once we had arrived in Spain, but before our wedding. Lladró is a Spanish brand of beautiful ceramic figurines. They are fragile, many of them are expensive, and they come in tons of packaging in order to protect the figurine.

Jack was with us when we bought the Lladró angel. The next day, he and some other family and friends (because it took multiple people to carry it all) showed up at our hotel with four bags of Lladrós containing: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, three wise men, a cow, and a donkey. The entire nativity set. The not religious Jack McCall had purchased the entire nativity set of Lladrós. Which was of course beautiful and very generous, but I also couldn’t help wonder if he was just wanting to sit back and enjoy watching us figure out how to get it all back to the States.

Along with the typical wedding stress, Project Get Jesus and Friends Home Safely was suddenly in full swing. We looked at mailing it. Prohibitively expensive. Other forms of shipping. Same problem. So we went to the local department store and bought the largest suitcase they had. And there we were in the hotel in Spain the night before leaving trying to fit them all in and having to ditch some of our other belongings. WWJD?

In spite of the fact that the Lladrós had lots of packaging, we (read: I) were still worried about putting them in checked bags. I didn’t want them to break. It seemed ok to put the animals in there, maybe the wise men. The wise men were the largest with the most packaging so it made sense to put them in the suitcase. Joseph had a very fragile staff. Maybe we shouldn’t put him in checked luggage. And what about Mary. And Baby Jesus? Jesus can’t go in checked luggage. Jesus goes in the carry on. Amazingly, they all made it back in one piece. They have survived a move and three kids (knock on wood) and every Christmas we bring them out and laugh at having carried them across the Atlantic.

This is just one of the many, many stories that Jack McCall left with us. Everyone I meet that knew Jack has a Jack McCall story. Most of them are not suited for small children. Almost all of them are hilarious. He was a good father-in-law (even if he liked to give me a hard time, all the time) and a good grandfather to my kids. He instilled in my oldest a lifelong love of fishing, and in all of them a deep love of the land and respect for the armed forces.

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Who wore it best?

Even when he was sick, he never lost his wit or sense of humor. In fact, one of the very last things he did on this earth was make fun of my youngest for whining. This year that Lladró nativity set is extra special, as it is out first year without Jack here with us. It is a great memory and a reminder of the importance of family, friends, and spending time with people you care about. It’s also a good lesson on the importance of commas (carry on Jesus v. carry on, Jesus) and that when faced with a packing dilemma, you should carry on Jesus. Always carry on Jesus.

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Date Night (Spudman Race Report)

Most couples go out to dinner and a move on date night. My husband and I do that occasionally too. Lately, however, we’ve been hiring babysitters so that we can go on bike rides and open water swims together in order to train for our first Olympic Distance Triathlon. We were training for Onionman in Walla Walla, but due to my father-in-law’s illness (he’s fine now) we had to cancel at the last minute and did Spudman in Burley instead.

This was a big race, consisting of about 2,000 triathletes. We set up our transitions the night before, which helped alleviate some of the anxiety on race morning. Nevertheless, we arrived at the start only a few minutes prior to my husband’s start time. My wave started 30 minutes later so I had some additional time to visit the port-a-potty and survey the swim. The 1.5k swim was in the snake river and was current aided. I got in the water a few minutes before my start time and noticed that I had to actively swim backwards in order to keep from drifting ahead of the start buoy. Finally, the gun for my wave went off and I was able to stop wasting energy on staying behind the start line.

The swim was fast, fun, and in a straight line down the river. I couldn’t believe when I saw T1 on the horizon. I got out, searched for my bike, and started fumbling with my wetsuit. I am always amazed by the elite athletes that can breeze through the transitions like Houdini. I feel like a teenage boy trying to take a bra off. After I finally got my wetsuit off of my ankles I had to sit down to don my socks for fear of falling over. I finally got myself all situated and headed out on my bike. I am not yet coordinated enough to drink from water bottles so I decided to try a Camelbak. However, I accidentally brought by daughter’s bladder. It seemed to fit in my Camelbak okay though.

The 25k bike is fast and flat with only a few turns. I pass people on fat tires like they aren’t moving and people on fancy tri bikes pass me like I am not moving. I notice several people who appear to be riding in groups. I am fairly new to the sport of triathlon but I thought that drafting was strictly prohibited and even penalized. It kind of annoyed me but I tried to focus on my own ride and doing the best I could. I tried to take a sip of water. Nothing would come out. I tried again. Still nothing. After several attempts I decided there must be a kink in the hose and gave up. I tried not to panic that I would not have any hydration on the bike and told myself it would be good practice for something not going as planned on race day. And since it was my daughter’s bladder in my pack I imagined it was her hand on my back pushing me along. I found out after the race that her valve was just switched to the off position. Won’t make that mistake again!

I came into T2 ready for the run, but with such a large transition area I had a bit of trouble locating my stuff. I definitely see why people use helium balloons. I found my setup after a minute and headed out for the run. There was a spectator at the start offering smoked ribs to runners. Doesn’t that sound exactly like what you would want at that point in a race? He didn’t have any takers, but he got a good laugh out of me.

The 10k run starts with a steep hill. I walked up it and used the time to eat and drink, since I wasn’t able to on the bike. Then I settled in to my pace for the remainder of the run. It was hot, but several spectators were kind enough to set up sprinklers along the course. I thought I might catch my husband on the run, but he was waiting for me at the finish. It was a fun race and a successful first Olympic distance triathlon for both of us. I will definitely be back for more!

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If My Life Were A Bike Ride

This past weekend my husband and I went on a 40 mile mountain bike ride to celebrate his 40th birthday. Somewhere along the way we realized that the ride was a metaphor for our lives so far. The first few miles were a breeze, in fact I can barely remember them. I was full of energy, although a bit wobbly on my bike. Everything was fresh and brand new. I spent a lot of time enjoying the view and some time getting off of my bike to walk the more treacherous parts of the trail. (See Uncoordinated Runner Attempts Mountain Biking.) In fact, in an attempt to increase my bonding with my mountain bike and decrease my fear and anxiety associated with mountain biking, at some point in the first ten miles or so, I bestowed a name upon my lovely mountain bike. Her name is Rita. I am not sure why, it just came to me. She seems feminine and lovely and she is also white and green like the colors of salt and lime that that go with a margaRITA, so maybe that’s why. I don’t know. What I DO know, however, is that Rita is timid on single track trails and steep downhills. She’s a bit claustrophobic, risk averse, and has a fear of heights. But we are getting along well so far.

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Rita, Crossing Trestles Like a Champ

Miles 10 through 20 were also a breeze. Downhill through the mountains following the river with a beautiful view. Much like in my own teens, I did not realize how good I had it! At mile 20, we stopped to turn around. And that’s where the real fun began. The trail we were on had been downhill to our turnaround point, but the downhill was gentle and the trail was loose gravel so we were still having to pedal to go downhill and did not realize how much we had been going downhill. Oops!

When we turned around at mile 20, we quickly realized that we were going to have our work cut out for us. Much like a college graduate at age 22, we realized around mile 22 that we were going to ration out our water (much like budgeting money), and work smartly and efficiently to ensure that we would meet our goal. The 20s were hard but we still had energy to plow through them.

Trucking along!

Trucking along!

The 30s is when the real fun began! And in our real lives, our 30s is when we had our 3 children. So fittingly, miles 30-40 were grueling and exhausting. We took several breaks to laugh at ourselves (Whose idea what this?!) and encourage each other. We knew we would reach our goal, but knew it would take work. And much like parenting, we did it together and with a sense of humor (well, mostly). When we got back to the car (kind of like when we get to the couch after a day of parenting) we were exhausted, but felt accomplished. And very thirsty for beer. We also realized that this is just the beginning of the journey and look forward to seeing what the next 40 years (or miles!) will bring!

On Grandma, the Marathon, and Grandma’s Marathon

My friend Gretchen is running Grandma’s Marathon this weekend (Run GG Run!) and my other friend Emily thought of the fantastic idea for several of us to put together the best advice that Grandma ever gave us to give to Gretchen in a send off package. This got me thinking about my Grandma Vivian (who I called “Nanny”) and the advice that she gave me throughout her life. Interestingly enough, the very last time I saw her was in the fall of 2006 during the weekend of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., which also happens to be the last marathon I completed.

I have a box full of letters from Nanny and went searching through them for bits and pieces of advice from her for one that stood out as both meaningful and applicable to running as well as life in general.

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There are years worth of cards, letters, newspaper clippings and memories in the box. I had not read these letters in years and it was a joy to read through them today (Thank you, Emily!). In many ways, I felt like I was receiving these letters from my grandmother all over again. The one piece of advice that stood out to me repeatedly as I sorted through the stuff was this: Life is so much easier if you have a sense of humor. She had sent me an Ann Landers advice column with that advice (as well as many other jokes and reminders to have fun), and I remember her smiling, laughing and joking constantly. Here is the full text of the Ann Landers clipping that my grandmother had sent me many years ago:

Dear Ann Landers:

When I read the letter from “St. Pete” about the man who dressed up as Batman and ended up hitting his head on the ceiling fan, it reminded me of an embarrassing incident that happened years ago.

My husband and I were newlyweds, getting ready to attend a Halloween party given by friends. I came home from work and asked my hubby to answer the door for the trick-or-treaters while I took a bath. As I was running the water, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to play a trick on him?” So I put on my flapper raccoon coat and a mask, and without a stitch on under the coat, I sneaked around the house and rang the doorbell. When my husband answered, I threw open my coat and shouted, “Trick or treat!” He was so stunned that he backed up, fell down the steps of the sunken living room, hit his head and knocked himself unconscious. I phoned for an ambulance and had to explain to the authorities what happened. My husband was taken to the hospital, where they said he had suffered a concussion. We never made it to the Halloween party, and, of course, I had to tell my friends why. They thought it was hilarious. My husband and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary soon. I still love Halloween but have refrained from pulling any more startling surprises. Life is so much easier if you have a sense of humor. –Toni in Long Island, N.Y.

Dear Toni: What a story! Laughter is indeed the elixir of life, and it can be a great protector. There are times when, if we couldn’t laugh, we’d cry.

If my grandmother were here today, and if she knew Gretchen, I think she would say “Don’t forget to laugh this weekend!” Indeed, laughter is great medicine. My grandmother laughed a lot, and she lived a long, happy life. She and my grandfather were married for over 60 years. Below is a photo of them celebrating their first anniversary on the beach, and celebrating again many years later (after 50+ years of marriage) at my cousin’s wedding:

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So cheers to laughter, to grandmas, to marathons, to Grandma’s Marathon, and last but not least, to Gretchen. May you run fast, run strong, laugh often, and have a big awesome celebration at the end! xoxo