Having been raised in a military environment, I’ve learned the importance of punctuality. Five minutes early is on time, on time is late, late is unacceptable. With very few exceptions (motherhood being one of them) I’ve kept to that rule. Having modeled for years I understand the complexity of a good winged eyeliner but it’s never worth being late. 

I ran a road race Saturday. It’s been a while – and I needed to get back out there. I run for Parkinson’s Disease – which has sidelined my awesome, athletic father and several other people I know. I run so they know – at least for a moment – they’re not alone. And usually around the half way point of long runs, we’re suffering together.

The race began at 7:30am and it was 3 miles away from my house. I woke up at 6:30 am, made a cup of coffee, got dressed and prepared to head out when my tiny tot woke up super early and despite a house full of visitors to watch her, she needed me. So I snuggled with her until the very last moment. I arrived at the parking lot at 7:20am and It Was PACKED. I had to park in the overflow lot and jog to the start line. I turned the corner and saw maybe a dozen people and another dozen children playing around.

Where was everyone? I went to the packet pick up table to grab my prepaid bib. “I’m here for my race packet for the 5k.”

“Ok! But the 5k started at 7am……”

I was late to the party.

“Good news”, said the peppy volunteer. “We have a 2k fun run at 7:30.”

Deal.

To the dozen or so parents I passed who were trotting along with their kids teaching them about pacing and breathing,

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Suckers.

The lesson was I was given a second chance to run, despite my being late to the main event.

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This weekend was significant for me for another reason – I was Baptized.

Let me back up. My father is a minister. However, he believed that we should make the choice as adults when we’re able to internalize what it means to make the commitment to follow Jesus. I decided, despite his struggles with mobility, my dad had one last baptism in him and I was going to be it! Even though I was late to the party at 40, now was as good a time as any.

First, I needed to build a village to make it happen. I was inspired by a photo of Marc Kapsalis, (West Point class of ’85). He was a big, strong, tough hockey player from Chicago who was baptized by dad as a cadet and he was coming to visit for the weekend. My daughter is about the same age I was when I first met Cadet Kapsalis and how amazing for her to see it all come full circle.

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Next, I asked Chaplain Funk if he and his wife Kathy Ann, (both WP ’80), would make the long drive from the east coast of Florida to help with the ceremony. Rick and Marc are on an advisory board with me and we’ve grown quite close over the past years. (Hence the shirts. Product placement at it’s best.)

We all gathered, with other close friends, around my parents pool and I was fully submerged into the Kingdom of God.

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There are so many times we’ve been late to things. Late to learning life lessons. Late to forgiving people. Late to dealing with the chip on our shoulders. Late to making peace with things. Late to healing past pain. Late to telling people how we feel about them. Late to love. Late to making our health a priority. Late to saying yes to God.

It’s not too late. It’s not too late to start working out. It’s not too late to make good food choices. It’s not too late to find your faith. It’s not too late to forgive, love, learn, grow, change. It’s not! Isn’t that the best thing you’ve heard all day??? IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO BE WHO YOU WERE MEANT TO BE. 

Surround yourself with your people – people who make you better. Find your support system. Plug in to your community. Join a church. A running club. A health club. A spa. Say yes to dinner invitations, to reunions, to old friends, to new possibilities.

and Run to Win.

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“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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When my father turned 80 this past month, I racked my brain to come up with the perfect gift. A new book? A sweater? A fabulous dinner out?

Pot Brownies.

But then I remembered it’s still illegal in Florida so we went to the Netherlands.

My folks came to Europe to visit and we decided to drive up to Holland to visit my father’s ancestral home in the Friesland area of Holland.

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There are 3 notable things about the northern most provence:

  1. There are more cows than people.
  2. It’s flatter than Kansas after a tornado
  3. “The Dutch are Very Practical People.” Famke Jannsen

I tried to find an organized road race where I could talk about Parkinsons, EU Parkinsons Foundation, about my family, about my adventure and about fitness in that part of the world. But I couldn’t find one. So, I just went for an un organized 5k run. It was… practical. I wandered a bit too far down the road and interrupted a city hall meeting with almost the entire town. Despite their physical cues against it, I managed a quick selfie.

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We stayed on a working dairy farm a stones throw from the farm of my forefathers. Farming is no joke – but they’ve mastered it. The barns are functional but not completely mechanical. The houses are built for the strong North Sea winds but not too comfy that you get lazy. The food is good but not that good…  My daughter loved exploring the farm. She pet every cow and calf, every barn cat, every goat, every flea. By day three everything we owned smelled like cow.

Our second night  on the farm one of the cows went into labor. My fabulous farm night sleep was interrupted with horrific sounds coming from the barn. Having had a natural birth, and with my body shivering in sympathy, I leaned out the window and shouted, “HANG IN THERE SISTER!”

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The next day, I made it known that all I wanted out of my Big Dutch Adventure was a photo in front of a windmill. So classic – so Dutch – so perfect! My parents were resting so I grabbed my 4 year old and declared,

“WE WILL NOT RETURN UNTIL WE HAVE FOUND A WINDMILL!”

After an afternoon driving through flat farms, passing cow, sheep, goats, more cows, dodging small bicycles, tandem bicycles, cows riding bicycles? bicycles leaving pot cafes riding two feet per hour….  we found it. WE FOUND A WINDMILL! The clouds parted, the sun shown down upon us and my sidekick took the photo. We climbed back in our car and drove home, triumphant! I finally had my windmill photo!

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Back together again, we explored the downtown and the family butcher shop which, turns out, is still family owned. My father connected with family he hasn’t seen since 1949 and we replicated a family photo 50 years later.

One afternoon we explored the nearest college town called Leeuwarden. I thought about grabbing my father a robust brownie to take the edge off his Parkinsons but that’s just not his style. We enjoyed the view. Canals, house boats, steep pitched roofs and tiny doorways. We ate some marzipan.

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Then we ate some more marzipan.

I’m asked a lot about my diet and lifestyle. It’s become very practical – very Dutch. Drink a glass, not the bottle. Eat a chocolate square, not a chocolate bar. Lean protein, fruits, veggies, nuts seeds, fresh air, a daily sweat, a daily sweet, family, friends, laughter, prayer, contemplation, meditation, forgiveness and thankfulness.

As this election cycle comes to a much needed end, (WTF is going on over there? I leave for 3 months and the whole country goes to hell in a handbasket.) I’m going to focus less on addressing negativity and more on being an encourager, a joy-giver. As the holiday season comes racing towards us like a rabid bull, I’m going to focus less on living a lavish lifestyle of presents and parties and more on living a thankful life.

imgres.png“Theres always something to be grateful for.”

I’m going to be thankful for five things every single day. It’s easy. It’s free. It’s healing. It’s as good for the heart as a long run, takes half the time and you can do it in yoga pants at the grocery store check out or while on a bicycle – in the Netherlands – playing chicken – with a cow.

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I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for the rare opportunity to learn about our shared history. I’m thankful for travel, good food, and windmills.  I loved the Netherlands and I can’t wait to go back.

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Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine.

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I need to start out admitting I missed New York. There are 3 reasons why. First, I ran out of time. Second, I ran out of money half way through New Hampshire. Third, I was traveling with not one but TWO preschoolers. This leads me to the first revelation of this particular run journey:

If you have the opportunity to travel the country with 2 children under the age of 6, go ahead and stab yourself in the ear with a paring knife. It will be less painful.

My traveling companions for this adventure were my dear friend Cherie who I have known for a decade, her  5 year old and my 4 year old daughter. There is something spiritual about 2 preschoolers together. And by spiritual I mean you get to know Jesus real quick because you spend and exorbitant amount of time in the fetal position singing “Jesus Take The Wheel.”

I learned a lot of new things. I heard a lot of obnoxiously loud apps. I learned that my daughter is really a crotchety 70 year old woman who thinks I am ridiculously overrated. It comes from me being the youngest child of older parents and her being the only child of older parents. She doesn’t have any friends under 30. One afternoon our five year old guest was hungry just after lunch. My 4 year old with all the authority of a tiny evil dictator said, “suck it up. it’s not even happy hour yet.” I’m raising a tiny Joan Rivers.

I leaned more important lessons like how incredibly resilient children are. I experienced one of the most beautiful parts of the country through their curious eyes. I saw them struggle to climb rocky gorges and trip over thick roots stretched across pine needle covered paths. I watched their eyes widen as the steep mountain seemed to continue forever into the sky. I witnessed their awe at peaks so high they felt they could touch the clouds. We packed the car like the Von Trap Family Singers on a world tour. All they really needed was a fist full of cheerios and a hand to hold over the mud flats. How often we get so focused on our goals we forget to appreciate the journey. And isn’t it on the journey where we find the most growth? We build spiritual muscle so we are strong enough to keep our footing though rocks and roots cover the path.

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Our adventure started in Connecticut then Rhode Island. For the more northern states, we stayed at a central location near Peterborough, New Hampshire. It was a beautiful house – home to a couple in their 60’s. He was a math professor from Germany, she an artist from New England. Part hippies, part community organizers, part artists in residence, they were truly unique and incredibly hospitable. My toddler liked him instantly; taking his hand around the old farmhouse to look for the cats. Let’s take a moment to talk about the cats. They don’t like me, I don’t like them and a farm house in New England will most certainly have cats. And they will find me. And they did.

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The lady of the house came home late in the evening on our first night to share with me that her father had suffered from Parkinsons Disease. (After the experiences I have had this past year running for Parkinsons, I can assure you there are no coincidences in life.) The next few mornings we spent sharing stories of strength and survivial through perseverence. Her father had led Seder dinners for Jews in Germany during WWII. She has hosted people in her home every night for over 30 years. Sacrifice, selflessness, compassion…. I realized how fear of rejection and failure has hindered my ability to be truly gracious like our hosts.

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There were certainly other highlights. The girls provided comic relief in an otherwise stressful situation. We were traveling to 5 states in 4 days (or was it 6 states in 3 days? Bueller? Bueller?) running, hiking, sleeping in new places and living off of granola bars and boxed juice. They complained on the big hikes but did it. They were perpetually hungry even though we had enough snacks to feed a third world country but the kept going. They craved technology amongst some of the most majestic scenery in the country but they rallied. They cheered me on every time. They hugged me even in my sweat and woke up refreshed and excited for the day even when the air mattress had gone flat and the night air chilled us to the bone.

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They reminded me that attitude is everything.

Laugh and you’ll feel happy. Be enthusiastic and you will accomplish great things. Don’t worry about looking silly – be silly. Don’t worry about what people think. Be who you were meant to be. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. Know who you are and be it proudly.

20 states down. Run to win.top of NH (2)

I never expected to have kids.   No, I don’t want to hold your baby. Please remove your small child from my Prada purse. Smell it? You want me to smell it? Smells like sour milk and crackers. There’s a scene from the movie Overboard where the mother says to Goldie Hawn’s character:

“But darling, if you have a baby, you won’t be the baby anymore.”

Let’s be clear – I’m still very much the baby of the family.

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I’m just not kid friendly. Kids are messy. They leak. They require a tremendous amount of sleep but only when you’re wide awake. Truth is I’m slightly afraid of kids. They’re breakable. They’re teachable and thats REALLY scary. Kids have one volume – loud. Their internal clock is set to “sleep”, “awake” and “kill mom”.

And then I had a daughter.

And all my fears were confirmed.

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This is where I tell you she’s wonderful – I’m wonderful – it’s all wonderful. Lies. All Lies. I haven’t slept in 4 years. I haven’t had control of my own body in 4 years. There are days we’re both in bed, sick, not knowing whose snot is whose and “did I just take the kids elderberry syrup? Does that mean she just had the codeine?” But I’m lucky. My kid is a trooper. She gets up at unholy hours to run races with me in our very weathered jogging stroller.

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I have a great kid and I’m a fairly decent mom. But I’ve had some amazing role models. Mothers can come in a lot of packages. They can be sisters, sisters in law, grandmothers, foster mothers, your best friend’s mother, your mothers best friend…. I’ve been mothered by some incredible women – women whose voices I still hear in my head when I’m scared or sad or struggling.

Sometimes, the best mothers are girlfriends – people that love you unconditionally – the friends that will hold you when you’re sad or hold your hair when you’ve drowned yourself in tequila. Sometimes our motherly comforters are the friends that were there when you needed them most like when you miscarry, when the doctor said, “we need to biopsy” or when the divorce is final.

One of my favorite movies is “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. I love the relationships between mother and daughter, siblings, family, friends and family friends. I’m not Greek, I’m Dutch. While I love my heritage, I doubt the next blockbuster will be “My Big, Blonde, Emotionally Stoic Reunion”. So I’ll share my favorite line from the Greek flick:

“The man may be the head of the household. But the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head whichever way she pleases.”

Virjean, Virjean the Vitamin Queen. My mother. Our family neck. She was the one who came to all our basketball, football, hockey, tennis games when my father was busy saving cadets from themselves. She ran a (fairly illegal) all-natural-crunchy-holistic-grind-your-own-nut-butter food co op in our basement years before it was cool to veto velveeta. She cooked multiple meals every day, feeding the 5,000 on Sundays. She really would feed any cadet who came over. We never had less than 10 and often had more than 20 for Sunday brunch. To this day I have no idea how she fed so many people so effortlessly. (Last week I hosted 7 people for dinner and I almost stroked out.)

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She’s my daughters favorite person. There are about 76 years between them but you’d never know it. They are the best of friends. I see my mother in my daughter every day. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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My mother has this laugh – once you hear it, it fills you with this  happiness  that I’ve never experienced in anything else. She’s a nurturer, a comforter, a fierce protector.  (Rumor has it she may have gotten a basketball coach fired because of the way he treated “her boys.”) Most importantly, she is a woman who believed in all of us and still does to this day. As W.H. Auden penned,

She is “my North, my South, my East and West, my working week and my Sunday rest…”

I believe we were made for relationships – with one another and with our Creator.

I believe we need to love harder. Not just on Mothers Day but every day.

To all the mothers, grandmothers, sister-mothers, friend-mothers out there,

Thank you.

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My parents are in town for a week. Parkinson’s makes it difficult for my father to travel and he doesn’t do well out of his routine but I needed them and they came.

Life Lesson #1: Ask for what you need. Don’t expect to get what you want but ask for what you need.

I wanted to do something special for them while they’re here so I asked them if there is anyone in particular they would like to see in the DC area. They gave me a few names of people – intimate friends – people who feel like home.  Some of them joined us for a few hours last night.

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Life Lesson #2: “Home” is not places but people. The comfort of your childhood living room can be revisited in the embrace of an old friend.

We assembled in the lounge of a hotel nearby. The first to arrive was a wrestler from the class of 1991. A product of my father’s high school in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, though over 30 years a part. President of FCA at West Point, a constant presence in our home. Two more couples came. First, leaders in their life and in their faith. He a strong, calm presence. She an effervescent joy that heals the soul.

The second family are generational friends – parents, children, grandchildren… Our families bound together by faith, hope, service and sacrifice. For years, their Thayer Road home was our family base when we’d return to the Academy for visits. They feel like home.

Life Lesson #3: Relationships rooted in Faith are like a house built on a rock.

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

The last guest was a grad from the early 1980’s that my father had craved a reunion with for over 20 years. He was a surprise guest – a gift I could give thanks to my stalking abilities and social media presence. 20 years but as a day….

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Life Lesson #4: Stalking works. (oh, wait. Don’t do that, kids.)

Life Lesson #4.5: Reach out.

Don’t be afraid of rejection. If it happens, you’ll use the spiritual muscle you’ve been honing to deal with it.

A recent study said the only regret people have is NOT taking a chance. What are you waiting for? What are you afraid of? You’ve been through worse. Don’t let fear paralyze you. Life is too short. You can handle whatever comes. Reach out. Be brave. Be Bold. Love hard.

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We had other reunions. A former cadet from the class of 1988 – one of my first “big brothers” that I haven’t seen in 20 years stopped in while passing through town.

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And a few weeks ago we reunited with a super special couple (whose son was one of my favorite guys growing up) – people that are more than family. (is there such a thing?) Sometimes family is the what we’re born into. Sometimes family is what we put together ourselves. Love them both.

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Life Lesson #5: Love more. Love harder.

Like an athlete playing his last game of the last season, lay it all on the field. Like the last quarter mile of a race, sprint to the finish. Run to win.

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Over the river and through the woods
To Grandmother’s house we go.
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through white and drifted snow.

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I grew up in New York. Every Monday we would leave our Rock Bound Highland Home and head over the river and through the woods for dinner with my Grandmother Camp in New Jersey. My Grandparents were Dutch – a housewife and a minister who had been a Chaplain in WWII. My father was the eldest of 5 children who all gathered for Thanksgiving and sometimes Christmas with our grandmother for the 20+ years she lived after my grandfather died. The New Jersey homestead was in our family for generations although it has since moved on to other families and other Thanksgivings. They say you can never go home again and for me that is true. But the buildings remain and the memories are firmly rooted in my mind.

I’m running all 50 states but not just to accomplish that lofty goal. I’m doing it for my father, for Parkinson’s and especially for the reunions; reminiscing about old times and making new memories. I’ve had the luxury of running alongside some pretty awesome people these past few years but there’s something special about running with family. My cousin Adrienne – an elite athlete, former Cornell soccer star, a PhD AND a mother to 4 girls (Four. FOUR girls) has run with me multiple times. She ran a few races with me last year and joined me on our now famous Army 10 Miler run this past Autumn.

She called me a few weeks ago and said, “We need to run together. What states are left?” (Quite a few, actually. Sigh.) I find races via either active.com or runningintheusa.com. It takes the logistical navigation of an elite Army Pathfinder to plan out my runs. We settled on New Jersey as it’s close to her Pennsylvania home and one of the few northern states I had left. When I looked up a run, there was a 5k in Hawthorne – the town where we spent our youth visiting Gram and feeding the ducks in the park across the street. But there’s more. This run had a turn around point RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR GRANDMOTHERS HOUSE. (You can’t make this stuff up.)  We put the word out and people came – half of my cousins, both of my father’s brothers and one of his sisters.

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We ran together like a roedel honden (Dutch for pack of dogs.) Half way through we stopped, ran across the street and took a picture on the stoop of our late Grandmothers homestead.

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The run itself was a good effort – there were only about 3 other runners besides our pack and our family made up the cheerleading squad. It was cold and snowy (in April. It snowed in April!) but we did it. We came together crossing state lines and logistical boundaries to honor our heritage. Family is special. Sometimes, family doesn’t live up to our standards. Sometimes family fails us. Sometimes, the greatest family is what you assemble yourself out of friends, neighbors, coworkers, my cadets. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be given it. Both take work – like the garden they need to be watered, pruned and fertilized. But like the pine trees anchoring Grams front door, if the roots are deep, the trees will continue to grow.

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We all gathered together to share coffee and companionship (sweat and sacrifice? snacks and sentiment?) post run. I’m proud of my family. Proud of the people they are and the things they’ve accomplished. My cousin Matthew is the Director of Government Relations at Teachers College, Columbia University. But more than that, he’s kind. He fell back in the run when I fell back. He joined me for a 5k in NYC last year in sub 30 degree weather on a moments notice. I’m humbled by my family. This group has eight college degrees, seven masters and four PhD’s. (That baby is six weeks old and i’m pretty sure she has at least one AP class under her belt.)

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But it’s not the accomplishments or accoutrements that makes this group unique. It’s Faith – faithfulness to God as the creator of the earth and sustainer of life. It’s Hope – hope that we’re using the talents passed on to us to do good things. It’s Love – love, affection and appreciation for the generation before us and the future we’re creating.

Over the river and through the woods,
Now Grandma’s house I spy.
Hurrah for fun; the reunion’s done;
Hurrah for our family tie.