Words That Changed Me

_a record of the process_

Half-Marathon Training

Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 | 0 comments

It’s November which means I’m in the middle of filling up another Grateful Jar:

Grateful Jar 2015

I started this tradition the first year we were married. Each October, I cut up some scrap book pages and stack them in a bowl with a pen. We (mostly me, but Bret sometimes, too) use them to write down things we’re grateful for whenever they come to mind. The jar is full by Thanksgiving, and that’s when we read them all and then seal the jar up as a keep sake. I use the old jars as Thanksgiving decorations and I’m looking forward to being able to go back and read them as years pass. It’s like we’re storing a little window into different points in our lives.

This year, I’ve already noticed a theme. I’m writing a lot about running, and, how grateful I am for the source of support and encouragement Bret has been as my training partner. I’m training to run a half marathon in February, and there have been so many obstacles already. Weeks of rain meant running with soaked shoes and constantly having to turn around since parts of our path we’re closed off for flooding. Training with work travel means waking up EARLY in a conference hotel and hitting the gym before my presentations. And I know more challenges are on the horizon with day light savings being over and winter on the way.

I signed up for this half-marathon on a whim, and I didn’t really expect myself to take it very seriously, but I love working toward big goals and the process has been so invigorating. Some days, like yesterday, I looked outside after a long day at work and saw this yucky cold constant mist pouring out of the sky. It looked kind of miserable and I asked Bret if we should really go for a run today. Should we skip this one? Should we do strength training at home instead? But he said we should run and even though it was tough, once we were halfway through I was feeling great.

It’s such a rewarding feeling a the end of every workout. We still have a long way to go, but we are on track for me to be able to run 13.1 miles in February. I’m trying to remember to document our impressive runs with photos. Here’s a look at our progress over the last few months:

2 hours

This was our first “big” run. We walked most of it, but we walk/ran/jogged for two hours straight and we made it 8 miles. This was back in August, and it’s the first time I thought, wow, I can really do this. Because if I maintained that pace for just another hour, I’d hit 12 miles which is only 1 mile shy of a half-marathon.

Rain or Shine

This was one of my least favorite runs ever because there was so much rain, and when I took this picture I didn’t know that we had another week of rain to go, but we ran anyway. We missed a few days when the flooding was bad, but for the most part, we got outside and we ran and I kept building toward my goal. This was in September.


I’ve had an awful cold and even though I didn’t feel like it, we ran on Saturday. My goal was 10 miles in 2 hours. We didn’t make it to 2 hours, but we did 7 miles in 90 minutes and that was a huge improvement over 8 miles in 120 minutes that we did a few months ago. I love seeing progress!

I’m still new to all of this running, but I totally understand the addiction. We see familiar faces running on the same paths that we run, and it is such a normal part of my routine now. I still have a long way to go, but here are my half-marathon training tips that I’ve learned so far:

  1. Follow a schedule. We’re loosely following this training program which means we run 30 minutes on Tuesday, 30 minutes on Thursday, and then either 30 minutes or several depending on the Saturday. You do not want to run every day. We always give ourselves at least one day in between to recover, and you don’t want to increase your workout by too much a time. It’s a gradual process. We started using the Couch to 5K training app where we were only running for a minute at a time before taking a walking break. Now, a few months later, we can comfortably run a 5K (3 miles!) without stopping. Slow and steady.
  2. Eat real food. I convinced Bret to eat oatmeal for breakfast (REAL slow-cooked oats that I cook on the stove) with peanut butter, brown sugar, walnuts, and bananas stirred in. He LOVES it. We eat this for breakfast almost every morning. I also make us “green smoothies” with frozen fruit, spinach, honey, chia seeds, and water as a recovery drink. I try to remember that everything I put in my body is fuel. Even though it’s tempting, I am limiting sweets and junk food. I can’t tell you the last time I had a soda.
  3. Wear quality shoes that fit. Bret told me about this awesome running store in Harrisonburg, VA where they watch you run and look at how your shoes wear and help you find shoes that are a perfect fit. Unfortunately, the store is gone, but we found a similar one in Hickory, NC called Fleet Feet. We went there and their awesome staff worked with us individually to find shoes that best fit us. I have NEVER had a shoe this comfortable. We also bought inserts that provide a lot of support.

Next up, I want to incorporate more yoga into my weekly routine. I know this will help me take care of my body and stay flexible. Three months to go!

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If you’re on the Fence about the Reunion

Posted by on Sep 26, 2015 | 0 comments

When I think about high school, I generally remember two things: my pre-engineering classes which included everything from designing cardboard chairs, egg shoes, and edible cars alongside my familiar, thoughtful, and kind of nerdy classmates. That’s the first thing.


high school 2


And then, there’s colorguard. Colorguard try-outs. Colorguard practice. Colorguard gift bags. Colorguard competitions. Colorguard 4-5 days a week. I attended every single high school football game during my high school years thanks to marching band. I performed during every half time and 5th quarter performance. And I laughed a lot alongside other people who loved colorguard and marching band as much as I did. These were my people, and, sadly, I have not spoken to most of them in ten years.



I have plenty of good and valid reasons not to go to my 10 year high school reunion.

  1. It’s not convenient.
  2. I prefer to avoid awkward situations.
  3. The past is the past.

I know a lot of people – including my husband – who have elected to skip their high school reunions and I think that’s totally acceptable and often a pretty healthy decision. I’ve been considering what GOOD is going to come from subjecting myself to reliving memories that now mostly teeter somewhere between embarrassing and painful, and then it hit me.

People change.

high school 1

High school reunions aren’t just about 18-year-old you. They’re about 28-year-old you standing on your high school turf with a little bit of life perspective. I’ve changed quite a bit in 10 years, but there’s something about reuniting with a younger version of yourself that’s good for you, in small doses, I think. My friend Kristen has completely transformed from a soft-spoken rule follower, to, well, someone who lives life. I love that. I feel like she is the truest, happiest version of herself now and I want other people to see that.

I can count the number of people who I’ve stayed in touch with from high school on my hands, and two of them are my family members.


I’m really, really, really, really grateful that these people are still in my life. But I don’t see hardly anyone as often as I’d like to.

I’m looking forward to hearing what my fellow Skyhawks are up to now. I’d love to catch up with friends who I lost touch with after we forgot to follow up on those college break “we should get together when you’re in town!” messages, and I’m looking forward to a chance to reconnect.


Life has carried us all in different directions, and I want to see how we act as a group now. Kinder? Less insecure? Simply grateful for an opportunity to catch up for a few hours?

High school reunions conjure all of these ridiculous ideas like wanting to look your best and impressing the jerks who were mean to you. I think everyone has different reasons for wanting or not wanting to attend, but I want to be intentional about how I approach this reunion. Mainly, I don’t want to use this as a measuring stick. We all started out in the same place, but this person is making so much more money now, or this person lives in such a cool city, or this person is married with the cutest little kids. Or this person is driving your dream car because she doesn’t have kids.

Please. The grass is always greener.
high school 3

In the past 10 years, some people have gotten married and then divorced. Some people have walked away from horrible jobs and found something they love doing. Some people are feeling pretty good and others are just getting by. I’ve got some good things going in my life, and some challenges, too, but I’m not going to my reunion to focus on that. Truly, I want to go because I can. I want to watch a football game from the other side of things. And laugh. And, yes, reminisce a little.

If you’re on the fence about attending and maybe these messages are running through your head:

  • What if I don’t recognize anyone?
  • What if I see someone who I never wanted to see again?
  • What if I get there and immediately want to leave?

I’d like to remind you that you CAN immediately leave if you choose to. That’s a totally valid option because you are not a student who needs a hall pass anymore – you are an empowered adult who can do whatever you want and if that means showing up to your high school reunion for five minutes and then bailing, you can do that. Go home. Go out for a drink. Go to Tropical Smoothie. You can do whatever you want.



Basically, I’m begging you to show up even if it’s just for a few minutes. It’s so easy to say, “We’ll get together another time!” … but there is no time like the present.

And even though some of the memories are unpleasant or painful, there is going to be something so sweet and nostalgic about driving up to LC Bird for a high school football game. I can’t wait to see that marching band! I’m going buy myself a hot chocolate and sing the fight song because if I don’t do it now, I probably never will again.

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Essential Oils are not for Cats

Posted by on Sep 11, 2015 | 1 comment

Essential oils are really trendy right now. I have friends who swear by them and use them for basically every facet of their life (cleaning, ingesting them as medicine, diffusing them into a room for a calming mood). I think they are neat, and I like to be trendy, so when my sister surprised me with an essential oil starter set and book for my birthday last year, I was STOKED.

I use lavender essential oils to relax before bed (occasionally putting a few drops on the bottom of my feet like the box said). And I’ve added orange and peppermint to water boiling on the stove make a sweet smelling Fall/Winter  aroma like this. And I sometimes I just like to open them up and smell them. Mmm I wonder what orange smells like today? It smells like oranges! Obviously. Mostly, though, I don’t know what to do with them.

A couple nights ago, I decided to make my own lotion.

I have a friend who does this and I found a simple recipe online that said I could just mix coconut oil with a few drops of peppermint and a few drops of lavender and, there you have it, according to the internet, this is a really wonderful natural lotion.

So, I made some. This stuff is like grease. After rubbing it all over my legs and arms I still had access on my hands so I asked Bret if he wanted some. He said no. So I rubbed it in as best as I could. A few minutes later, I was petting Velveeta. Bret paused and asked me if I’d washed my hands and if essential oils are cat safe.


I assume… I said, I mean, they are naturally occurring essential oils…

After a quick google search, Bret confirmed that peppermint oil is definitely NOT cat safe. Even breathing peppermint oil can cause pneumonia in cats. If it absorbs into their skin, they can have liver damage. Even ingesting one drop could be serious… potentially fatal.

Needless to say, I was no longer feeling relaxed from this lavender peppermint lotion. I snapped into stress-filled emergency mode.

I tried to stay as calm as possible and called an emergency animal hospital immediately. [Sidenote: I’m so grateful that we live within MINUTES of a 24 hour animal hospital. If she needed emergency care, we could have been there in 5 minutes.] The person on the phone told me to give Velveeta a bath with Dawn dish soap and keep an eye on her. I was instructed to watch out for any signs of distress including vomiting, uncontrollable shaking, etc.

All of this happened at 10PM, by the way. I checked on her overnight and watched her all day the next day. I even let her hang out in my office with me during the work day.


Fortunately, if any lotion got on her, it was minimal. There was only a small amount left on my hands and it was really diluted since I only put a few drops in with a whole bunch of coconut oil. Still, I felt awful. Bret googles everything (plants, food, cleaning supplies) before having them anywhere near our pets. He’s such a good cat dad.

Velveeta forgave me.


I love you, Pookie. (Sometimes I call Velveeta “Pookie”). I’ll never use peppermint oil anywhere near her again.

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Our First Hike

Posted by on Sep 2, 2015 | 1 comment

I’m learning that in addition to bluegrass music and local breweries, Boone is known for it’s gorgeous hiking trails.

I’m not much of an outdoorsy person [yet]. I’m one of those people who likes camping and hiking in theory, but not so much in practice. I love fresh air. I love the gentle, soothing sounds of nature. I love food prepared over a campfire. I do not love bugs, snakes, or dirt.

I can’t live here and not at least try to embrace the outdoorsy-ness, though, right? So this weekend, Bret and I went on our first Boone hike.


It started off simple enough:

Hike_1 Hike_7 Hike_8 Hike_5

And then it got a little treacherous (for me):

Hike_2 Hike_4
And then we decided to turn around when we realized we were only at Mile 1 of a 5 mile hike.

Hike_3   Hike_6

I would do the whole hike sometime, I think, if I had a backpack with snacks. I was carrying my cell phone and water bottle and I dropped both multiple times.

I know there are various levels of hiking trails – some are much more challenging than others. This one was full of small children who were comfortable running, jumping, and sliding down rocks so I don’t think it was considered challenging but it was challenging enough for me.

My favorite part of the hike was the crisp, fall air. It is already feeling like fall here. I like it, but I doubt I’ll love when the weather transitions into winter temperatures as early as OCTOBER. I’m hoping for a mild winter, but I have a feeling I’m going to be marathon training in layers and layers of clothes.


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Harrisonburg is my Homeland

Posted by on Aug 26, 2015 | 1 comment

Harrisonburg is my Homeland

When someone asks me where I’m from, I usually answer like this,

“Well, I just moved here from Tallahassee, FL; but I’m originally from Richmond, VA; and I work in Washington DC, so I go up there a lot, too.”

I’ve learned this kind of answer is very normal in academia. In fact, I met someone last week who met me word for word. She responded with, “Oh, I love Tallahassee! I grew up in Jacksonville, FL. And I went to college in DC. And, yep, I lived in Richmond for a bit before I was in Texas.” And, by the way, she just moved here (to Boone, NC) from Cleveland.

I try to keep it simple, but it occurred to me this weekend, that my little spiel is missing the place that feels most like home to me: Harrisonburg, VA. Specifically, the James Madison University community.


I’ve said it before, but going to college at JMU changed me in the best ways. It taught me how to approach unfamiliarity with an open-mind and an open-heart. It taught me how to think critically about things I’d previously accepted as true or right or wrong. It made empathize deeply with people and situations that I’d never really been exposed to.

Because of my time at JMU, I developed a love for student affairs and interpersonal communication. I learned about the world through the lens of my anthropology classes and feminist rhetoric classes. I joined the fencing club and took a self-defense class. I developed professional skills and people skills that ultimately led me to my career. I took on seemingly impossible challenges working in residence life, I learned about the non-academic inter-workings of the university while working in conference services, and I got my first taste of a professional role working on a publication for the orientation office. This university and the people invested in it shaped me into a stronger, more inquisitive, and more compassionate person. I’m immensely grateful, and I want to give back to JMU in every way I can. That’s why I always say YES to an opportunity to donate, to speak, or to join an alumni committee.

My JMU friends keep doing impressive things: moving across the country, taking on awesome careers, and starting their own businesses. Some of my favorite alums, though, have migrated back to Harrisonburg for work or grad school to live and work and thrive in that place that made us. I love the idea of returning “home” to JMU after living in other places. On Saturday, Bret and I drove up to see some friends who are hoping to do just that.

While the boys played frisbee on Saturday morning, I was planning to grab coffee with one of my friends – Adrienne – who moved back to Harrisonburg about a year ago. You can imagine my surprise when instead of my friend, I walked into the coffee shop and saw two of the most wonderful former supervisors/mentors/amazing people there waiting for me. You see, Adrienne was sick. Instead of calling me to cancel, she arranged for these amazing individuals to meet me there instead. Who thinks to do that? Amazing JMU people, that’s who. I love the friends I made at JMU, but I owe everything to the mentors who influenced me there. Getting to catch up with them was wonderful. It made me want to come back for another visit soon.

After coffee, I went to Earth and Tea cafe with one of my best friends and JMU alums. I love her. It was magical and, gosh, my cup was so full after our catch up date. Then we visited the kittens that are up for adoption at Cat’s Cradle. I couldn’t adopt a kitten, but I made a donation. Then we frolicked downtown. Then we went wine tasting at the vineyard where I got married. Then we had ice cream at Klein’s. And then we walked around campus at night.

I pointed out all the magical JMU secret things that not everyone knows about.


Naturally I had to take a selfie with my favorite statue.

In the morning we went for a run (I am training for a half-marathon after all) and I was just in awe of how much my little town is growing up.

 Pheasant Run_1Purcell_1

The park connects to the apartment complex where my friends used to live. I was just running along the path and I didn’t know where we were going to end up. It was a weird feeling being back there without them. Knowing four or five cycles of students have probably moved in and out since then felt extra weird. But, what can you do? Time moves us forward.

Pheasant Run_2

That’s all for now, I guess. I just love Harrisonburg so much, and I promise not to leave you out of my “where are you from?” reply anymore. I lived in Harrisonburg for 6 years… 6 hugely developmental years. I always brag about living alone in DC, but I actually lived alone in Harrisonburg first. It was only for about 3 months, but those were some influential 3 months.

I love you, JMU. You will always a huge part of me.

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Posted by on Aug 6, 2015 | 1 comment

This past weekend was wonderful.

Once a year, three of my best friends from high school get together for a girls weekend. We always go somewhere new and spend a few days catching up and talking about life. And we always pose for a picture like this on a balcony, or, in this case, balcony looking object.

2015_balcony pic

It’s one of my favorite traditions.

These ladies are some of the kindest, most genuinely good people I know, and I’m really fortunate to have them in my life. We’ve been there through so much life together already (we’ve been friends for over 10 years) and I know their friendship is just going to mean more and more to me as time passes.

I don’t really know how to write this post without taking a quick trip down memory lane…

original balcony pic

2004. Myrtle Beach High School Band Trip. This is when our friendship REALLY began.

2008_balcony pic

2007. OBX. Spring Break. A week of sitting on the beach, flying kites, and being happy.

2012_balcony pic

2012. Boston. Visiting Stephanie who was in Law School at BU!

balcony pic

2014. Charlotte, NC. Exploring downtown Charlotte and lounging by our hotel pool.

And then there was this year: The best weekend yet:

2015_balcony pic

2015. Wrightsville Beach. Morning yoga, beach, seafood, wine tasting, pedicures.

We call this weekend “Balcony Fest” because we always take a picture in the same order standing on a balcony. And it’s great. And I hope it never ends.

Our hotel offered beachside early morning yoga and I was DELIGHTED. It’s kind of been a dream/goal of mine to incorporate beach yoga into our of our trips. It was great.

2015_yoga  2015_ocean

We had yummy on-site dining options. We rented some beach chairs in the morning, walked over for lunch, and walked right back to our beach spot for the afternoon. Perfection.


We explored downtown Wilmington and the adorable Riverwalk.

2015_view 2015_riverwalk

We had a fancy complimentary breakfast every morning at our hotel. And we split dessert four ways because we always share things perfectly.

2015_breakfast 2015_dessert

We had delicious drinks and bought friendship rings.

2015_drinks 2015_friendship

We went wine tasting because every year we buy a bottle of wine for the NEXT Girls Weekend.

And if there’s one thing you take away from this post, it’s that you need to purchase a bottle of the pumpkin pie port. It’s really, really, really, really, really, really worth the $25 + $10 shipping. Perfection in a bottle.


It’s hard for me to put into words how important this trip is for my soul. I’ve had “friendships” that are actually quite horrible. Friends can be competitive and judgmental, and well, we’ve all seen the movie Mean Girls, right? I’ve seen friendships like that continue right through adulthood.

These women. This friendship. Sometimes I say things I don’t mean and I don’t even realize how hurtful I was until days (weeks?) later. Any of these people forgive me. Sometimes one of us falls out of touch for a couple months, and we forgive her. I would do anything for any of them. I trust them. I depend on them. I feel like my truest self when I’m with them.

I think it’s really important to maintain friendships with people who have known you the longest. I’ve seen my grandparents do this, and my parents do this, and they always seem “at home” with these friends that have known them since they were kids. So far, we’ve maintained our friendship through different relationships and break-ups, through good family times and tough times, and through a lot of long-distance living (Stephanie has been in Boston; I’ve been in Florida), but now we’re all living within 5 hours of each other: two of us in North Carolina, and two of us in Virginia and it’s so comforting to me. I want us to still be friends when we have our own kids, when we have grandkids. Forever.

I won’t be able to say this as eloquently, so I’m going to quote my friend Tiffany here:

If you have those people in your life who you can be totally yourself around, who get you without you having to explain, who know what you’re really saying when you say something else and who ask you the hard questions nobody else will… don’t ever let those people go. You will never regret making the effort to connect or reconnect. But you’ll regret letting people slip away. — Tiffany Heidenthal

It’s so true. I’m just so grateful to have these people in my life. I really don’t know what I would do without them.

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