Thursday, November 19, 2015

To Run

This past weekend I ran a half marathon.

It isn't so odd to hear that these days.  It seems anyone and everyone has hopped on the marathon band wagon.  Young people, old people, skinny people, heavy people....  everyone and their mother has run a marathon (sometimes together).

But for me, this was a really, really big deal.

Running a marathon (or a half of one) used to be something I joked about whilst tipsy over cocktails. Yeah, lets run a marathon!  I would proclaim, full well knowing it wasn't true and finding the whole thing a bit humorous.  Running a long distance was not something I was interested in doing, and certainly not something I would enjoy.  Besides, isn't it arbitrary?  13.1 miles, 26.2 miles - why? Why not just run a mile or two and call it a day?  It seemed cultish almost - why engage in an activity that hurts your joints and your knees and makes you exhausted?  Surely there are better ways to spend one's time.

But then something weird happened last spring.  I was starting to get into shape, while at the same time going through an existential crisis of sorts.  We had moved into a new house.  My baby wasn't so much a baby anymore, and we knew there were no more kids to come.  For the first time in a long time, I started to think about myself again and who I was and what I wanted to do when I grow up.  I also was not getting any younger, and for the first time in my life I was starting to see it - in gray hairs, in fine lines, in sheer exhaustion.

I needed to shake things up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lawyers are the Best Disney World Planners

Last month we took yet another trip to Disney World.  We are those people.  We go to far too often, and yes, we even went prior to having children.  It's fake and commercial and overpriced and lacking in culture and we all absolutely love it.

I've been going to Disney World every year or two for my whole life, so I know how it all works.  We used to book our flights and hotels with short notice and do little to no planning (my mom was known to book a Disney trip the day before - literally).  But in recent years, due in large part to the expansion of the hotels and the advent of the the smart phone and the internet and all that other stuff they call "technology," it isn't so easy to just hope on a plane, go to Disney World, and actually have a good time.  

Now, months of planning are involved.  People book their dining reservations 180 days in advance. Really.  They do.  I know this because I have waited until 9am 180 days in advance (instead of staying up until midnight), and I still was not able to book dinner at Be Our Guest restaurant.  People also book up to 3 rides per day up to 60 days in advance - this is called a fast pass where you get a certain time slot to go on a ride of your choosing.  This means that two months before your vacation, you have to decide what park you want to go to, and where exactly you want to be at a given time, on a certain day.  The popular rides are booked up immediately.  And if you don't have a fast pass, by noon the ride lines are exorbitant - at the time I am writing this (at 1:30pm on Thursday), the line for the Toy Story Ride at Hollywood Studios is 105 minutes (the Disney app updates wait times every minute or so).  And the hotels are a whole other story - if you want to stay onsite (especially on the monorail), good luck booking last minute during a popular time.

If you don't pre-plan, and you just show up at Disney World with no game plan or strategy, your time there will suck.  You will wait in line for food, for rides, and sweat in 90+ degree heat and high humidity.  You will be trapped by a parade coming down Main Street as you are trying to leave, you will walk needless miles from ride to ride, you will wait for what seems like an eternity for the transportation buses, and you will judge people like me that say it's the happiest place on earth.  

I am not one to brag, but here it is - I rock at planning Disney vacations.  And though part of it stems from my many trips there over the years, the other part comes from an unlikely source - my law degree.  

People often ask if I "use" my law degree at all in my non-practicing life.  To debate with people, to analyze scholarly articles, to negotiate with service providers.  The answer is no.  I hate talking politics, I prefer reading People magazine, and I tend to avoid confrontation.  But for Disney planning?  Hell yeah, I use the skills I learned from being a lawyer.  This is discussed in sections 1, 2, and 3, infra.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

In an Instant

A few years ago I read Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicles her struggles the year after the sudden death of her husband.  In it, she details how her husband collapsed and had a massive heart attack right before her eyes, while they were sitting at the kitchen table having dinner.

"Life changes fast.  Life changes in an instant.  You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends," she wrote.  

That quote struck me enough to stick with me, some three years later.  And this past weekend, it was one of the things I first thought of when in a mere instant, my life changed as well.

One minute my husband was running on the Canal tow path, getting in an 11 mile run before our half marathon in a few weeks.  The next minute, he was flat on the pavement, being awoken by an EMT asking him if he could remember his name or address.

Who knows how long he had been lying there?  Assuming someone found him instantly, called 911, and then another ten or fifteen minutes for the ambulance to get there - 20 minutes?  Twenty minutes of him seizing, and then lying lifeless on the pavement, bloodied and bruised.  Fast asleep.

When I received the call from the ambulance I was lying in bed with my five year old - encouraging him to leave me alone and watch his movie so I could nap.  I was looking forward to a lazy afternoon and an evening of entertaining friends at our house.  And with that call - in that instant, it all changed.

Unbeknownst to me, while I was lying in bed with my son with Aladdin playing in the background, my husband was lying alone, having a grand mal seizure on a gravel path, and a stranger was summoning help.

How could that be?  How could I not know?

I in turn summoned my village.  I texted my close friends and asked whoever received it to call immediately.  Two minutes later I had arranged to drop off my kids, and a few minutes after that my sister had arranged to pick them up later and bring them back to my house, should I be at the hospital overnight.    I arrived at the hospital shortly after that, with my husband conscious, but confused, and so began the medical jargon.  CT scans and EKGs and blood sugar levels and anything and everything and it all came out normal.

My husband had never had a seizure before, so this was all new to both of us.  And in yet another circumstance, I was reminded that although modern medicine is incredible, in other aspects doctors don't know anything, and can't answer the most important of questions.

Why did this happen?  Will it happen again? 

Don't know, don't know.

There are practical implications.  For one, my husband can no longer drive, at least for the time being.  This is a huge inconvenience, but not insurmountable, and we will make due.  We are lucky that we live in an area with a vast network of public transportation, and that someone invented uber.

There are the big questions.  Seeing Daddy walk in the house bloodied and bruised after a visit to the hospital was unnerving for my two older kids.  We have reassured them that Daddy is fine, but my seven year old seems anxious and knows something larger is amiss.

There's the fear of the unknown.  Of why and how and what the future holds and what we should do about it.

There's the introspection.  This incident has reminded me that life is short, life is unpredictable, and life can change in an instant.  It's made me ponder life and death and how we're all just our bodies and our brains, and how weird and bizarre is that?  It reminded me of a quote from a book I, coincidentally, just read: "Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery," a memoir of the career of a neurosurgeon.  He writes:

"In neuroscience it is called 'the binding problem' - the extraordinary fact, which nobody can even begin to explain, that mere brute matter can give rise to consciousness and sensation."  

That brute matter - our consciousness - our brain- how can it just turn off?  Or fire uncontrollably? How can it make a 34 year old man who is jogging fall flat on his face, to the ground, unconscious, in an instant, and jerk uncontrollably?   There's a scientific explanation that my rational mind can understand.  But yet, deep down it's mystifying and unreal and not something I can grasp.

Lastly, there's the gratitude.  That he's okay and home and well and that things could be much, much worse. There's an indebtedness I feel to the random strangers who found him on the ground, who stopped, who called 911, and who stayed there until the paramedics arrived.

Who are these people?  My husband has a vague recollection of people looking on as he was carried off by a stretcher, but no memory of who they were or what they looked like.  How odd that complete strangers can play such a large role in a pivotal moment of your life, and then you never see them again?

Both my husband and I would like to find these people to thank them.  So, for people in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area, if you wouldn't mind forwarding this post around, we would greatly appreciate it.  The incident happened on Saturday, October 24th around 1pm on the Canal Tow Path, near Carderock.

Overall, my husband is fine, I am fine, we are fine.  We are happy.  We are normal.  We are going forward.  It's just another one of life's many twists and turns, and there's nothing to do but go with it with a smile.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Where He Comes From

From the time he was born - five years ago, my baby boy Casey has been unique.

For the first few weeks of his life, his left ear would droop - the cartilage hadn't hardened yet.  He looked a little like an elf.  A cute, adorable elf.

His ear eventually became normal, save for a little indentation, that almost looks like a nibble on the side.  I like to think that it's from me kissing his ears so much.

Casey, unlike his older brother, was a skinny baby.  Long and skinny, with little frog legs.

As opposed to this:

Casey's chubby healthy older brother.  
Given the contrast with his brother, and his little elf ear, when Casey arrived, many would comment, "Where did this baby come from?"

To this day, five years later, we still get that comment often, and I have to say, I love it - I love it because it means Casey is different; Casey is unique; Casey is extraordinary.   And that he is.

We get that comment in response to his appearance.  His older and younger brother look nearly identical to each other.  Casey, the middle child, is his own version.  He is nearly as tall as his 7 year old brother, and has petite facial features, unlike his round cheeked baby brother.

Casey as Batman.
His personality is also in stark contrast to his brothers'.  His older and younger brothers both love to be the center of attention - they love to yell, to be heard, to flirt with that coy little boy smile. Casey, on the other hand, is quiet.  More often than not, he'll have his thumb in his mouth and simply nod in response to a question.  When he does talk, it is often as soft as a whisper, and you have to ask him to speak up.  People that don't know him tend to pass over him, which is their loss.  Because Casey is the funniest, wittiest, smartest, quirkiest kid that ever was.  I mean, just check out his artwork from school:

He may not be verbose, but from the time Casey was a baby, he was physically adept.  He talked late, but walked early, and he hasn't stopped moving ever since.  When watching TV, you can usually find him hanging upside down, jumping from couch cushion to coffee table, or some permutation of the two.  He's had more injuries and ER visits than my other two kids combined.

March 2013- ER visit who knows what for stitches
His physical feats have translated into a real athleticism which is a huge shocker.  There is no one in our immediate, or extended family for that matter, who is athletic.  We just didn't give our kids good genes in the coordination department.  As a result, we also aren't really sports fans.  So the fact that Casey is a soccer star and obsessed with basketball and football and anything with some sort of ball or scoreboard or timer is beyond me.  My husband and I even find ourselves asking, Where did this kid come from?

He got this for his birthday and refused to take it off.  
We ask that question existentially, because in fact, I do know where he came from.  He came directly from me.  Exactly five years ago.

I fell in love with him five years ago and the more I discover who he is, the deeper I fall.

I love that he is different.  I love that he is his own person.  I love that he is quirky and funny and reserved and loud and confident and the best cuddler in the world.  I love that he surprises us everyday with who he is, and I can't wait to see who he becomes.  Because it's sure to be awesome.

Happy 5th birthday to my baby boy, Casey.  I couldn't be prouder.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Double Dipping

My 7 year old introduced a new term to the family last week, when we were talking about how his little brother is about to turn 2 - "double dipping."  In his words, "Double dipping is when you feel two feelings at once.  Like how I feel about Colin - I'm excited for him to grow up and play with me, but I'm sad because he won't be a baby anymore.  I feel both things."

Double dipping.  Probably the best thing he has learned in school thus far.

Double dipping was on my mind when I exchanged some texts this weekend with one of my dearest friends.  She is pregnant with her first child, and due in just three weeks time.  She was describing her angst with the last few weeks of pregnancy - her eagerness to get the baby out, her nervousness about how exactly she will do that, her stress about childcare and maternity leave, and all of those things that occupy your mind when you're in that final stretch.  At one point during our conversation, I sat with the phone on my lap, closed my eyes, and smiled - remembering.

"I am jealous of you and so glad I am not you at the same time," I wrote.

It's a weird thing to say, but so incredibly true.  I feel both emotions deeply.

I am jealous of her because she is experiencing something that one only experiences once - the first time.  The first pregnancy, the first delivery, the first baby.  I think back to August of 2008, when I was in my last month of pregnancy with my first child.  I was huge, I was uncomfortable, and I had no idea what was coming to me.  How could I have?

I love the innocence that I had - the nervousness, the apprehension, the excitement.  I was about to experience a transformation that I intellectually knew was coming, but could not fathom in a spiritual sense.  And spiritual it was - after three hours of pushing, I came face to face with my baby and literally could not believe he was real.  It was the most incredible moment of my life.  For all three of my children, I can remember with clarity what their faces looked like the first time we locked eyes. There was disbelief and the purest of joy each time.

I am jealous of her because she will have a newborn - a time I now recognize as terribly fleeting.  I can filter through memories to the precious, cherished ones, with all of my three children as infants. The way they smell, the way they purse their lips when they are done nursing, the way they stay all scrunchy and cuddly and almost purr in the crease of your neck.  The way they are connected in a primal way to you, how they fit perfectly in your arms and on your chest and how their breath and yours almost feels like one and the same.

I remember amazement and wonder and joy and so much love.  What I wouldn't give to experience it again - to relive it over and over.

But then there's the other side.  The side where I am so glad I am not in her shoes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Netflix Binge for the Month - Narcos

It's been a while since I've had a good Netflix binge.  And by binge, I mean watching episode after episode like a drug addict.  It's not too late - I can watch just one more.  Just one more!  (And then around 2am I finally go to sleep).  

I've done the binge with several excellent series on Netflix:  Orange is the New Black (all 3 seasons), Breaking Bad (all 5 seasons), House of Cards (all 3 seasons), and The Walking Dead (all 5 seasons), among others.  When I'm in, I'm in.  It generally takes over my life for as many days as it takes to watch the season (which I usually do in record time), and my husband has learned accept the fact that he will be ignored until I'm done.  

It's not a healthy way to spend time, to be sure, but it's oh so fun.  It's relaxing and mindless and entertaining.  This past month, when I was immersed in Whole 30 madness, I needed the distraction. Thank you, Netflix, for giving me Narcos.

Narcos is a Netflix produced drama series based on the life of Pablo Escobar.  Embarrassing fact - I didn't know who Pablo Escobar was.  I mean, I kind of knew.  Some drug king pin from the the 80s? I had no idea about his story or his rise or his fall or his impact on Colombia (and the world).

It's one of those stories that seems too bizarre to be true.  And notwithstanding the inherent dramatizations, the bulk of the story portrayed in the series is actually true.  I know this, because I found myself googling throughout each episode.  That can't really be true.  No kidding?  It is true.  

The story follows Escobar from his humble beginnings to drug lord to his virtual hijacking of the country of Colombia.  In the process, he became the 7th richest person in the world (in 1989), and subsequently ran and was elected to public office.  When his drug connections were made public, he was forced to resign, and subsequently waged war on Colombia - bombing airplanes, assassinating politicians, and holding prominent figures hostage (including the daughter of the former president of Colombia, who was killed).  Ultimately, he turned himself into the authorities and went to prison, but it wasn't just any prison.  It was a prison that he built for himself, where he was the only inmate, and Colombian authorities weren't allowed on the premises.  (Picture gambling, women, a soccer field.).  When Colombian authorities eventually stormed the "prison" (because two people visiting were murdered there), Escobar went on the run.  He was killed approximately 18 months later, after authorities were able to track him via his cell phone.  

Already knowing the history of Pablo Escobar doesn't make the series any less compelling.  In fact, the first season doesn't end at the "end," which allows a second season to follow, and will presumably end the way we all know it ends.  But the events were so unbelievable that watching them play out is fascinating.  It also does the really weird thing of, at times, making you root for the bad guy (a la Breaking Bad).  At certain points, my emotions got confused and I found myself questioning who is good and who is bad and if that determination can ever really mean anything. The mark of good television - it makes you think.  

As an aside, right after finishing Season 1 of Narcos, I decided to watch a documentary featuring Pablo Escobar's son, called Sins of my Father (also streaming on Netflix).  In it, Escobar's son tries to make amends with the children of two government officials whom Escobar assassinated decades.  Not only did it give a different perspective of the events portrayed in the series, but it was also strangely uplifting to see the power of forgiveness.  

Netflix has renewed Narcos for a second season (yay!), but there's no release date yet.  In the meantime, anyone have any books to recommend about Pablo Escobar?  I'm weirdly obsessed!



Disclosure: I received a free iPad as compensation for being part of the Netflix StreamTeam.  All opinions reflected are my own.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Healthiest 18 Days of My Life

This summer was one of excess.  Too much food, too much drinking, and too much fun.

It was absolutely fabulous.

We took trip after trip after trip, to see family, to go to the beach, to celebrate good weather and childhood and the freedom to be carefree.  I consciously decided to let go, and then some.  I didn't use my hair dryer once between Memorial Day and Labor Day (summer hair, don't care).  How freeing is that?

Freedom doesn't necessary lend itself to a healthy lifestyle, however.  My summer of leisure and nightly ice cream runs and daily cocktail hours left me feeling like a lazy blob.  I noticed the flab coming on, but I didn't really care.   I shall trash my body for the next six weeks, and then clean it up in September!

Trash my body I did.  And then September came.

After three months of creating bad habits, I needed something drastic.  Weight loss was not the only priority - though it would be nice.  What I needed was a complete cleanse.  A reset, if you will.   I wanted to be healthy.

Enter the Whole 30.

I had heard of the Whole 30 before, and was intrigued by it.  It's 30 days of clean eating.  There's no calorie counting, and you aren't supposed to weigh yourself at all (weight loss isn't the goal).  The idea is to eat clean, whole food, and see how your body changes.  The book makes the grandiose claim that this diet "will change your life."

As September approached, I started to prepare.  I bought the book "It Starts With Food," along with the corresponding recipe book.  As I read, I got nervous.  Turns out clean eating cuts out pretty much everything I like to eat.

There would be NO: sugar (of any kind, aka honey, stevia, vanilla, agave nectar, etc.), alcohol (AAAAAA!), grains, legumes, or dairy.  To break this down a bit, that means no butter.  Soy sauce. Most any salad dressing.  Cheese.  Corn.  Rice.  Bread.  Beans.  Yogurt.  Wine.  Did I mention wine? And did you know sugar is in pretty much everything? EVERYTHING?

That leaves: meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit.

This would be hard for anyone, but it was especially daunting for me for the following reasons - 1) It is basically impossible to go out to eat.  2) We always go out to eat.  3) I hate to cook.  4) Now I have to cook.  5) Did I mention wine?

But I was bound and determined.  I made a commitment, and when I commit to something, I'm all in.

The weekend of August 28th, I started planning.  I researched recipes and made a meal plan and went to Whole Foods and spent an embarrassing amount of money on foods I had never even heard of, like ghee and rutabaga.  On the evening of August 31st - my last "normal" night, I opened up a bottle of wine, ordered in Indian food, and spent the night cooking food for the upcoming week.

Days 1 and 2 were fine.  What's the big deal?  I thought.  I got this! I can't believe people think this is hard!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Lucky Number 7

Seven has always been my favorite number.  For weird, childhood reasons, like the fact that I was born on a day divisible by 7.  And that my first, middle, and last (now maiden) name all had seven letters.  Whatever the rationale, I just love 7.  It reminds me of happiness and aqua blue and daisies.

And now I love it even more, because my baby boy is 7.

In my 7 years as a mother, I have noticed that certain birthdays entail subtle changes, while others feel like huge leaps.  Obviously tons of changes happen between 0 and 1, but I've always felt like going from 3 to 4 is a huge step up, from toddler to little boy.  And now, I'm realizing that 6 to 7 is a huge step too.  From little boy to kid, perhaps?  I suppose the semantics don't matter.  Braden just feels so grown up to me this year.

He's now embarrassed when I sing.  He is learning that it's not "cool" to play with dolls.  He is learning to ride a bike and use public bathrooms by himself and order his own food at restaurants. He has lost four teeth and can easily catch a frisbee and write me a note.  When we were in Bethany Beach, we let him take the elevator by himself and he did it over and over again, so pleased with his independence.  He wants to do things on his own.

Yet, he still has glimpses of being a little boy.  At times he still cries when he doesn't get his way, and he throws the occasional tantrum (to which I usually say something like, You're too old for this!). He still sleeps with his Pluto and climbs into our bed in the mornings.  He still lets me put him to bed, and cuddles with me after I read him a book.  I still nuzzle his neck like I did when he was a baby.

Each night, around 10pm, my husband or I wake Braden to take him to the bathroom.  He is usually very groggy, and occasionally, I will actually carry him there.  A mirror faces us as I enter the bathroom, and last week I was struck by Braden's sheer size.  I can still hold him, but his feet dangle past my knees and his arms hang past my elbows.  This boy - my baby - is so big.

There's that saying - one day you'll pick them up and it will be the last time.  I've been a bit haunted by that saying ever since I heard it the first time, and yet, the last time I pick Braden up may well be very near.  There's the physical aspect obviously - soon he will be too big for me to lift.  But perhaps sooner than that will come the time where it's not something he wants.

On the evening of Braden's birthday, I told him that for a treat, I would sleep with him in his bed.  I would get in bed with him at his bedtime (at 8pm) and stay with him the whole night.  He was so excited all day, and we stayed up past 8:30 chatting about school and soccer and vacations and birthday parties.  At one point I started to get sappy and tell him that seven years prior I had done this very thing - slept with him next to me all night long, but he interrupted me to ask about the playground at his school.

Once he fell asleep I stared at his little boy face for a while, thinking about what I'd said aloud to him just minutes earlier.  Seven years ago I had slept with him by my side, all night long, marveling at his very existence.  Here I was, seven years later, doing the same thing.  And how lucky that I could do that, because how many more years will he let me?  

Braden is 7, and he's a little boy turning into a kid.  And while he is in the process, I want to soak up every moment of his little boy-ness that I can.

Happy 7th birthday to my baby, Braden.  I couldn't love you more.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

What the Kids Can Watch on Netflix (When Everyone Else's Kids are Back in School)

My Facebook feed has been flooded with first day of school pictures.  Tis that time of year! Everyone is heading back to school, dressed in their first day best, holding a chalkboard marking the occasion and smiling for the camera...

Unless your kids go to my kids' school which does not start until September 8th!!!  That's 8 more days (not that I'm counting).  Eight long days with nothing planned and daily temperatures in the 90s.

So we're doing a bit of parks.  A bit of pool.  And a bit of Netflixing....

Specifically, this month the kids are into Dinotrux.

The subject characters are a combination between dinosaurs and mechanical vehicles.  For two boys 4 and over WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE BETTER?

(Oh, maybe your own Dinotrux toy to play with.  Thanks, Netflix!).

From what I can gather from my eavesdropping of the kids viewing, the plot is simple.  Good guys versus bad guys, dinosaur best friends, and an evil Tyrannosaurus, among others.  But at the end of the day, does it really matter?  The boys love watching hybrid dinosaurs, and with 10 episodes of around 23 minutes each, I love the break.

Eight more days...  Sigh.


Monday, August 24, 2015

A Summer of Indulgence Ends with a Run... for Wine

Summers are for relaxation.  For swimming.  For breaking the rules and abandoning a schedule and flying by the seat of one's pants.  Summers are for ice cream and sunshine and family and vacation; for dance parties and friends and overindulging.

I love summer.

This summer has been fantastic.  We've been in swimsuits nearly every day.  We've traveled up and down the east coast.  We've had our moments, believe me, but overall the good times have far outweighed any tantrum filled evening or dime swallowing incident.  It's been a fun-filled, laid back summer - one I'm proud to have added to my kids' roster of summer memories.  We did good.

And now it is coming to a close.

As I write this from our last summer vacation - on the balcony of our rental in Bethany Beach, I am coming to terms with the fact that reality is about to set in.  September brings first days of school and an onslaught of birthdays and commitments and appointments.  The lazy days of summer are coming to an end.

And I hate to admit it, but it's time.  Time to get healthy again.

I mean, lets face it - it's not such a great idea to stuff one's face with boardwalk fries on a regular basis or have a glass of wine at 2pm on a Monday afternoon.

(But it sure is fabulous).

The vacation's over.  It has to be.

September is my month of cleanse and detox.  I will be doing the Whole 30 (which I am sure I will blog about if I can summon the energy in the absence of carbs).  I will be training for a half marathon.  And I will be incorporating vegetables back into my children's diet.  (Unless tomato sauce counts - if so then they have been in the clear all summer long).

I am kicking it off by running a 5K at the National Harbor in DC next Sunday- the day after we return from vacation.  Welcome home!

But this isn't any ordinary 5K, it's the Chardonnay Run!  That's right, we run.  Then we drink wine. At 9am.

So who's coming with me?  It's not too late to register (click here to do so).  You also don't have to run the race.  You can just go and drink wine.  No judgment here.  It's not September yet.

I figure this is a perfect way to ease into my post-summer health.  Run.  Drink wine.

Baby steps.

I was provided complimentary registration for the Chardonnay Run.  All opinions reflected above are my own.  

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