“Maybe you don’t realize the dangers of being by yourself out here in this wilderness. There are loonies and crazies running around all over the place…. and we’re all on a first – name basis.” Erma Bombeck

I just returned from a few days in the swamps of Georgia where the water tastes like sulfur, teeth are optional and Cracker Barrel is fine dining. I came away with a renewed sense of service, friendship and appreciation for good dental care.(I’ve already run Georgia. Stay tuned for my “chase the turtles” or something 5k this weekend in Sarasota. It’s hot and i’m still on European time aka perpetual happy hour.)

The event, the impetus for my early return from Europe, was to support my dear friends of over 17 years who are at the pinnacle of their careers – he is taking command of a nuclear submarine.

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It was a marvelous occasion and people came from all over the country to support this fine officer and his family, culminating in a back yard BBQ with a hundred of their dearest friends and family, an emergency plummer and a backhoe. God Bless the Georgia Burbs.

The best part of family reunions, weddings, funerals, Change of Command’s… is gathering together everyone you love in one place. For me, the chance to break bread with my closest girlfriends was worth the effort of the journey – 36 hours, 2 airports and an international plane ride with my five year old and 100 service members returning from a year in Kuwait who smelled like Axe body spray and day old lamb curry.

These friends are worth it. These are the friends that loved me when I was my most un-lovable. You know what I mean – we’ve all been there. The friends that stand by your side when a parent dies, a spouse leaves, when we lose a job, lose a fortune, when we do the ugly cry. Friends that are there to strengthen us when our spiritual muscle is weak, that encourage us to get back up, put on our big-girl spanx err panties and grow up. The friends that stand by you at the happy times, cry with you in the dark times and hold your hair in the basement bathroom of a New York City dive bar at 2am on a Thursday.

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The best of friends aren’t the ones who give the good gifts, throw the best parties or always say the right things. The best of friends are the ones who show up – in the celebrations, in the darkness and when the septic tank overflows.

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My favorite author, Erma Bombeck, wrote about friendship, “Friends are ‘annuals’ that need seasonal nurturing to bear blossoms. Family is a ‘perennial’ that comes up year after year, enduring the droughts of absence and neglect. There’s a place in the garden for both of them.”

Keep watering, pruning and nurturing the seeds of friendship planted years ago. Keep showing up for those most important to you – backhoe optional.

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While running the European Union (what’s left of it) for EU Parkinsons Foundation, I’ve been based out of a small village in southern Germany. My little town is great for a lot of things like bakeries, wine stores and biergartens. I’ve consumed so much beer and brats I’ll need a large, Hungarian electrolysis to keep me from turning into a middle aged man. We have farms, horses and goats. (So many goats.)

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Eight months later, it’s time to go home. I need to check on my little Florida flop house, replenish my resources, (working remotely is not for the weak) hug my friends and eat my mother’s casseroles. I’m thankful for my little village and the good Germans who have embraced me. It’s been an amazing but often difficult few months. There is only so much planning you can do before the kid gets sick, the plane gets canceled and you find yourself, out of cash, on a city bus in the middle of Italy with a box of bread sticks and day old fake eyelashes.

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I haven’t stopped running! I’ll share my race experiences in the States over the next few months. Keep running with me. We’re in this together. Exercise isn’t just necessary for my physical well being, it’s important for my emotional and spiritual self. It’s where I emote, process the day, lament that I don’t work hard enough, try hard enough, don’t measure up to who I want to be. By the end of the run, with my well empty, I talk to my creator. You may not hear God but I do. It’s the gentle nudge that says, “you’ve got this.”

Today, during a brief respite from the rain, I grabbed the dog, launched my kid in the jogger and we went for a 5 mile run up through rocky trails and over pine needle strewn paths.

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At the top of an intense hill was an incredible vista – the sweet reward for the upward climb.

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Then I had the satisfaction of the downward slope, reveling in the exhausted joy of having completed a long, tough run.

At the bottom of the steep hill, I came to a sign:

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DANGER! I couldn’t continue into town. There was construction or an accident or I was being punished for past sins.

I had to turn around AND GO BACK UP the mountain and down the OTHER SIDE.

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I had just climbed the hill. I hadn’t prepared for having to climb it again. I didn’t have the motivation. I didn’t have the physical muscle to do it all over.

I’ve talked a lot about spiritual muscle. It’s how we deal with peaks and valleys of rugged terrain in life and in sport – how we engage our muscles of hope and faith to get up the hill when we’re stuck in a rut. But what happens when you don’t reach the top? Or when you crest the hill only to find another, bigger climb? We’ve all felt that depression. Sometimes, even when we do all the right things, we don’t reach the summit. Or if we do, it’s not what we’d hoped. The promotion you didn’t get. The job that isn’t fulfilling. A crumbling marriage, a troubled teen, sickness, adversity, hopelessness. That’s when spiritual muscle becomes crucial. We need help from friends, neighbors, family, church, music, reading, respite, running…  to start the climb back up the hill. Running Europe has been amazing. We’ve seen so much. But my tiny tot and I need to plant our feet on American soil. We need Green Tea Smoothies and Whole Foods. And Target! Oh how I’ve missed one-stop shopping for needless things, endless waste and American’s propensity for hoarding consumable goods.

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I need a break from the constant math of converting kilometers to miles. I need a break from all the speeding tickets because I suck at math. This story isn’t over. We’re just on to the next chapter – Run South America! Kidding, kidding. My Spanish is worse than my math.

Keep running with me. Keep running to win. God’s not through with us yet.

I offer up my favorite poem, abbreviated, by Annie J. Flint. I memorized it at a young age before I really understood what it meant. The language is dated but the message is clear – we’re not alone. There’s water in the well – an eternal supply! Read it, then read it again. Print it out. Put it in your desk drawer at work and your sock drawer at home. We all have “multiplied trials,” and we all need His “multiplied peace”.

He gives more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sends more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He adds His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun!

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

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And Run to Win.

Venice, Italy

Tuesday.

I was supposed to go to London for fashion week. But I can’t seem to say “no” to beer, brats and bread. Actually, I’m gluten free – like the trendy hipster I am – so more likely it’s wine, veal sausages and Italian olive oil. Either way, the closest I was getting to a cat walk was the carpet runner from the sofa to the wine fridge. To keep myself in the game, I took a small modeling job in Venice, Italy. I convinced one of my besties and her two tiny tots to join me and mine on a 48 hour adventure to the amazing world of canals and bridges and masks because it’s

VENICE DURING CARNIVAL!

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Let me admit that I had never heard of Venice Carnival. Thanks to wikipedia, my image of it was much more Mardi Gras than 19th century masquerade ball. In truth it was somewhere in between. People were dressed in outlandish costumes that ran in the thousands of dollars, being followed by flocks of hungry pigeons eyeing the feathers and camera totting tourists with the same enthusiasm. We liked the birds better.

One of the advantages of living in Europe is it’s very economical to fly from city to city. We found flights for less than 50 Euro per person round trip for our quick stay. However, everything is extra. Luggage, for instance, can easily cost twice the ticket value. So we packed light. It was only 48 hours after all. How much do we really need?

Upon landing, I received the following email…..

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SHIT.

We immediately squatted in the baggage terminal logging on to book a return ticket before the other 100+ passengers realized their predicament only to find out the next flight off the island wasn’t until Saturday. It’s Tuesday. We were screwed.

We gathered our gaggle of children, bundled up and headed for the 50 minute water taxi. Water taxi = boat. Of course because we’re traveling to a city half under water. This is the part of the story where I tell you I get seasick in the shower.

It gets worse.

Wednesday morning, our only full day in the city (before the baggage strike that stranded us and our 2 pair of underwear for an additional 3 days), my 5 year old wakes up with a fever. In a hotel. In Italy. We hunkered down in bed in our only pair of pajamas for 24 teary, traumatic hours. My friend and her kids dressed up in their fasching finest and headed out to see the sights. I’ll share their photos as mine were of the hotel ceiling and black out drapes.

The next morning everyone was healthy and I had a photo shoot to rush to. Not having an Italian make up artist, my dear friend watched a herculean amount of Youtube videos and was able to transform me from soccer mom to Carnival Queen.

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To my dear friend who turned me into a Kardashian with half a suitcase of make up and false eyelashes, thank you.  To the creator of photo editing, God bless you. You make my eye bags less depressing. To the photographer and the male model on the gondola, thank you for not making us actually leave the pier. It’s hard to maintain a classic red lip while hurling over the side of a canoe.

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Venice itself is an amazing city. You’ll need your weight in gold to afford a cup of coffee but that coffee, with its delicate notes of expresso, will taste like it was poured by Sofia Lauren in a silk neglige at sunset.

Of course we couldn’t afford said coffee because Venice during Carnival is 100x more expensive than Venice in May and by Friday at noon, our budget was blown.

We checked out of our luxurious fabric walled hotel (I became intimately involved in the details of the room as I spent my first 24 full hours in its loving care) and headed for the pier.

Not having the combined cash to take a $150 taxi off the island, we took a water taxi to the main side then hauled our children and luggage on to the city bus.  Our “luggage” now included grocery store bags of juice boxes, restaurant bread sticks and every bit of hotel shampoo which, thanks to desperate ingenuity, made great sink laundry soap. We sat among local Italians, immigrants and the occasional chicken for the 50km ride to the countryside where we’d spend our final romanesque nights.

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Agriturismo.

There’s an amazing movement across Europe – giving families, millenials and busy city dwellers the opportunity to participate in working farms – milk the cows, feed the goats, churn the butter – in exchange for a less expensive stay on the property. There’s something humbling about feeding the birds in Louboutin heels because you couldn’t spring for an international credit card.

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We made it home hungry and humbled.

I have three takeaways from my grand Italian adventure:

  1. Shit happens. Sometimes the plane gets canceled. Sometime people get sick. Sometimes the pigeon poops on your head. You can’t prepare for everything. You’ve got to learn to roll with it.
  2. If anyone tells you to “roll with it” when you’re vomiting over the side of a boat, punch them in the face.
  3. Travel with friends. Good friends. Friends that will help you when your kid gets sick, will paint your eyebrows on when you over pluck, will delete the pictures from their phone when you’re laying on the floor of the city bus singing “Amazing Grace” while Giuseppe chain smokes and tries to grab your ass.

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And, wherever you go, Run to Win.