Going for It.

I don’t know many individuals that would argue against the assertion that regret is one of the most painful and lingering of feelings.  Regret tends to eat at the spirit and deteriorate forward progress as it forces the mind to torture itself with could have, would have, should haves. Like most, I have, over the years, had to deal with more than one bout of regret.  And by “deal with” I mean allow the passage of time to lessen the sting while simultaneously both attempting to grasp the larger lesson and see what greater good would come of this apparent misstep.  As we all know, anguishing over some lost opportunity or a wrong decision (or indecision) rarely proves beneficial to anyone involved; rather, I have found that it is more constructive to learn to recognize what conditions and situations are liable to leave one in an undesirable, regret prone predicament.  Part of this, in my opinion is having come to the point in your life where you truly know and trust in yourself.

Two years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to travel throughout a bit of Western Europe as a part of a business & leadership program through the university I was attending.  This 17 day trip was the first time that I had ever traveled outside of The United States and proved to be a life changing experience.  I couldn’t put my finger on an exact reason why I felt so much more alive, but there was something exciting and fulfilling about simply seeing new cities, towns, countries and cultures.  I will say that I have always had a curiosity about the rest of the world, but it wasn’t until this trip that I fully realized that crossing the ocean was entirely possible for someone like me; it was not this unattainable dream or wish that only those more privileged could afford. (*travel is quite expensive; that said, with a bit of research, a willingness to travel in the offseason and a flexibility in sleeping arrangements allows for very affordable options)

The trip flew by in a whirlwind like fashion; I enjoyed every moment- even those where things did not go quite as planned.  Somehow, even situations that would be unattractive in most cases were okay when experienced in a foreign land. Whether visiting a museum or city sight, walking the streets or hiking to see a beautiful church; whether simply sitting at a café taking in the moment or enjoying a conversation with a fellow traveler I felt as if I were learning so much more about life than any book or classroom experience could ever teach me. Just as important though, the perspective(s) gained through even just those few days of travel afforded me insight into myself and what I wanted out of life.  I will be the first to admit that my starry-eyed perception of travel was at least partially influenced by the fact it was my first time overseas,  I was on a funded trip with friends and that I had little responsibility in the way of planning the entire expedition.  That said, I have maintained a consistent and unfaltering desire to go back; that said, I not only want to go back to Europe, but I have every intention of seeing as much of this world as I possibly can. 

At the time of that trip I was only in my sophomore year of school and as a member of a collegiate team I knew that it wasn’t likely that I would be disappearing on any globe-trotting trips in the near future.  In my mind, the next best alternative was to see as much of the surrounding area(s) that I could.  Why run to another country to seek adventure and difference when you cannot even say that you know your own?  Having grown up in Pittsburgh and attended school in South Carolina it was easy to indulge in a wide variety of east coast road trips.  Charlotte, Charleston, Savannah, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C.,  Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, and many a small town have all been frequented by my tires and feet.  I enjoy traveling, but more specifically I enjoy traveling solo and discovering both people and places on my own.  This is not to say that I am anti-social, but rather, I would argue that I appreciate solitude and the introspective allowance that it provides.  I enjoy the freedom of exploring as I wish, of talking to whomever, of sitting and reading at a random coffee shop and of simply enjoying the intricacies of life all in my own time.  (All of this said, I could not argue that there is a lot to be said for sharing a moment or experience with someone; I just have yet to find that someone) 

The last year has been a roller coaster.  I graduated in December 2010 and took an opportunity to work and live in Miami, Florida.  The job was not so much what attracted me, but once again, it was that appeal of the unknown as I had never before been to the sunshine state.  While I enjoyed much of south Florida and made quite a few friends and connections, I quickly realized that it wasn’t the time or place for me to be there.  There was simply too much going on at home in regards to my mother’s recovery, my siblings and my father.  After having been away for much of the past 5 years, I felt strongly that I should be there to help in whatever capacity I could.  So, after discussions with family and employer(s) I packed up my Florida life and drove back to Pittsburgh to live at “home” for the first in many years.  This was in July of 2010 and I say, without hesitation, that it was a good decision; while there have been many moments of doubt I would not trade the time that I have had with my family for anything.  I have spent weekends away at music festivals with my father; I have been able to assist in and see first- hand the continuing recovery of my mother; my sister and I have been able to spend time together unlike any that we have ever had in the past and my youngest brother and I have grown close as we realize that we are quite similar in a number of ways.

As the days have flown by I have done what I do best; I have kept busy.  Interviews, part-time jobs, taking the GRE and FSE, working out, researching what to do with my life, maintaining the house and attempting to be a constructive member of my family have all been the focus of my days.  While I have had a memorable few months and I regret very little, I cannot say that I have any better life direction than I did before.  I have put off, quite successfully, a full-time job and entering the traditional work week.  Until I find a job that I am truly passionate about I have a hard time justifying giving someone 40 hours of my week when I can remain financially independent doing work that I enjoy and that affords me time to do otherwise .

Ultimately, I know that my inability to hone in on what direction I want to take is because I know that I needed to get out one more time.  If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me that they wished that they would have traveled when they were young or that “now was the time to do it” I would not even have to worry about work.  I do not want to reach that age and regret never having done what I am so certain I must do.  This aversion to regret is what finds me on a plane to Amsterdam with nothing more than a backpack and a nice Nikon DSLR in tow.  I can’t tell you exactly what my expectations are for this trip, but I know that the people that I will meet, the places that I will see and what is learned (about myself, life and the world) will ultimately broaden my perspective(s) and aid me throughout the rest of my life.

 

Link

Nearly two weeks overdue and likely still very much in need of editing and/or further thought development, it is necessary that I finish this blog as life continues each day at a rapid pace and I am anxious to write about many other topics/adventures.  During my short time as part of the blogging community I have yet to have struggled as much as I have with this entry in being concise and in articulating what was in my head.  I think that the reason I have struggled with this article is that I am writing about an experience that was so fully dependent on the senses in order to fully appreciate and understand.  No matter how well a person describes a beautiful mountain backdrop, a setting sun, or the mind bending riffs of a given musician it is truly impossible to experience through pen and paper what the observer felt when in that moment.  However, that being said, it would not have been acceptable to me to fail to write about my five days of camping, acoustic music and personal encounters; thus I have managed to write a blurb that I hope does the whole experience some semblance of justice. I will preface all of this by saying that if you are reading this and you have not yet experienced a bluegrass festival please promptly put it on your bucket list and waste no time in crossing it off.  You will not regret it.

The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival is an annual New York music showdown that tends to attract the hottest artists from the bluegrass, newgrass and everything in between scenes.  This particular festival has been going on for twenty some odd years and has only continued to grow in popularity and success since its inception.  This year, the festival was held on the beautiful Walsh farm in Oak Hill, New York.  Since early childhood I have been exposed to and surrounded by bluegrass/jam band/acoustic music varieties, dabbled in playing the fiddle and as a young girl, tagged along to quite a few festivals and open stages.   At some point during my high school years I began to stray away from the music scene, from playing my violin and from everything that I should likely have kept nearer to me.  At that point in my life I imagine I thought that athletics were the “cooler” thing to be involved with and opted to drop the violin in lieu of running, soccer, friends and school.  Not entirely atypical I am sure, but to this day I wish that I would have taken a slightly different course in life.  We all know that regret tends to get you absolutely nowhere and so I look at the experience at GF not only as a great one in and of itself, but it has also served to be a motivating force in me picking up my violin again and in making a few changes in who I am, what I want to be and the type of life I wish to live.   The following is a collage of my thought and of different moments throughout the several days in Oak Hill.  They are not necessarily in order, but I am not going to mess with them too much as they capture the emotion and the exact thought(s) that I was having at the given time.  Some pieces were written late at night after everyone else had retired to their tents and others were written throughout the days as I found moments to myself.  Enjoy.

*** Well, the experience has been, without question, the best weekend that I have had in a very (very) long time.   It was the perfect combination of wonderful people, truly jaw dropping musicianship and a big handful of hot, sunny days and cool, clear nights.  Add to that the fact that I was camping under the stars and entirely without any internet access, cell service, or any of the other luxuries and amenities that we all have become so accustomed to using each and every moment.  (It is interesting that when you don’t have the option of wasting time watching TV, being online, texting etc. how much more you seem to actually live life) My dad and I pulled into camp before 8:30 pm on Wednesday night (surprising most everyone as there had been a betting pool running amongst our group about when “Dave would actually get here”) and had camp pretty well set up my shortly after 10.  No real complaints as I have my own little tent, an air mattress (albeit one that has a hole so tiny that I will fall asleep comfortably on a fully inflated bed only to wake up on the cold ground with two big puffed up areas on either side of me) and I found out that there are in fact shower with electrical outlets available. Life is good.  What remained of the first night was largely camp setup, chatting and lots of guitar/mandolin pickin’.  Our tenting area is actually pretty phenomenal as there are about 13 separate canopies of friends all put up adjacent to one another- thus, it has turned into a small community rather than a bunch of separate campers.  One of the men has, what could only be described as a full kitchen set up and has been cooking pancakes, bacon, eggs, fajitas etc.; as a result, this group is far from “roughing it” in regards to food.  Most of the group had been drinking all day by the time my dad and I pulled in so they called it an early night.  I ended up staying up with father for a few hours and we wandered and found little groups jamming well into the night.  One of the many, many aspects of this whole atmosphere that I really enjoy is how a complete stranger can simply meander in any direction through the maze of tents and campers and just stop and join in with a friendly group of musicians pickin’ a way.  I have learned and seen first-hand that my father can hold his own musically with nearly any group; as a result I have had the privilege of being an appreciator of both his talents as well as the collaborations of many a musician.   

*** I will be the first to admit that what was a large part of my thorough enjoyment and what enabled a wholly unique Grey Fox experience was my being on the Stage Crew.  When I made the decision a few weeks ago while still living in Miami to join my father in his adventure I also chose to go the volunteer route (versus the ‘regular attendee option).  If for no other than saving the several hundred dollar ticket price, I have also learned through other experiences that becoming involved at a participatory level is often more fun and allows you to meet a ton of great people that you may not have otherwise been able to meet.  Well, on this particular application, in addition to requiring all of the standard information, I was given the opportunity to tell about myself and basically talk myself into a “good” volunteer job.  So, the Reader’s Digest version is that I said I was a classically trained violinist, had a Bluegrass musician as a father and that I was an appreciator of music, but I was not a groupie.  Thus, I figured that I covered all of my bases…and she didn’t have to worry about me stalking any musicians.  Well, lo and behold, this lovely woman ended up calling me and directly following a very nice conversation I found myself on her backstage crew.   I didn’t know exactly what this would entail, but compared to my trash carrying duty at Bonnaroo I really didn’t think that it could get any rougher.  After arriving at Grey Fox and working my first shift from 1-7pm on Thursday I knew that I had lucked into something pretty unreal.  My “job” was to make sure that the musicians were happy, give them water, chat with them, fetch mints and towels and help carry their equipment on and off of the stage in between sets.  Rough.  In my first day I met Del McCoury, The Gibson Brothers, The HillBenders, Chris Thile, and was able to get a picture with the one and only Tim O’Brien.  Now, getting a picture of Tim may likely be one of the many highlights of my weekend.  I don’t actually know if I would  love his music as much as I do if I had not literally grown up listening to all of his CDs, hearing my Dad and Keith Brown play them around campfire and singing (attempting to sing) the Remember Me CD with a young Casey Brown.  Regardless, it pretty much made my day and may be the one thing that my father was a bit envious of.  Anywho, I was forewarned that the man was a bit of a cynical guy so I approached the situation delicately.  I told him that as much as I hated to be “that” person, I had grown up listening to his CDs and would love to have a photo with him.  We ended up talking for a few moments and ultimately decided to ‘pretend like we had known each other more than 5 minutes’, he put his arm around me and I had a photo snapped.  Simply put, a great guy and a phenomenal songwriter and musician.  In a nutshell, working on the Stage Crew gave me the opportunity to meet and talk to a ton of phenomenal people (both musicians and other volunteers) and to be up close and personal for any of the performances that I wanted.  Similar to comparing hearing a musician on the radio versus seeing him/her “live”, being able to be with 10 feet of the stage only increased my respect and admiration of their talent(s).  I admit that, for a good part of my weekend, I was entirely content camping out solo in front of the stage and just taking it all in.

*** The highlight, albeit hard to choose only one, was Friday evening/night/early morning.   The entire day was fairly ideal and is one that I would happily relive at least once a month for the rest of my life.  I woke the same way as I have been the entire trip- on the ground with two puffed up sides of the air mattress surrounding me.  I imagine that it would be quite a comical sight, but truthfully, it didn’t make a damn difference as by the time I made it back to my tent each night I am pretty certain that nothing could have kept this girl awake.  I enjoy the fact that it is rather difficult to sleep late when tenting because whether you like it or not, come 7 or 8 AM your tent will go from comfortably cool to something that resembles a hotbox.  As a result I found myself up early each day and privy to the sights of those characters just arriving back to their campsite at 6 or 7 AM; this is always a fun sight and provides for great entertainment while enjoying a cup of morning coffee.   While most people might consider a festival and camping trip an inopportune time to work out, I couldn’t help but venture out of the campgrounds both Thursday and Friday.  I cannot even fully describe how incredibly gorgeous the entire area was; think huge blue skies with picturesque clouds, a mountain range backdrop and a clear, sunny day (granted, we were blessed with pretty perfect whether as it did not rain even once).   On both Friday and Saturday I ventured out before it became too unbearably hot and ended up exploring the back roads of two little towns called Oak Hill and Durham.  In my opinion, a run is an almost perfect way to start a day.  After visiting the “shower trailer” (an experience in and of itself) I quite literally spent the entire day enjoying the The HillBenders, Tim O’Brien and his family, The Steeldrivers and the Yonder Mountain String Band.  Not a bad little lineup.  However, what truly made the day/night one to remember was the after hours jamming that took place down at a place that had been christened the Creekside Cantina.  From Day 1 my father had given me the mission of finding him a great place and group of guys to jam with.  I knew that he was partially at the festival to observe, but just as much, he was there to play.  Well, like the good daughter I am, I fulfilled my mission.  I had had the pleasure of befriending one of the bands over the course of several days and as a result was invited back to their camp Friday night.  I am not sure if they fully expected me to show up with my poncho garbed father with his guitar in hand, but no harm no foul as he was quickly accepted into the group of 15 or so musicians/friends as the ‘cool old man that could play.’  What ensued can only be described as the perfect combination of some high quality music, tequila and a full moon (true story- it was a full moon).  I was the slightly inebriated, silent observer to this group of 20 something year old musicians and my father tearing up their guitars, mandolins, fiddles, harmonicas, basses … and I believe that someone broke out a tambourine around 3 AM.   It was easy to see that they were all having the time of their lives playing (yet another thing I love about musicians- it is so evident that that is what they live to do) and I couldn’t have been more content at that moment in time.  Somewhere near 5AM the combination of the late/early hour and the beverages consumed began to take their toll; my poncho-laden, exhausted father and I meandered back to our site in complete agreement that we had just had one hell of a night.

It is interesting how situations and circumstances can completely diffuse a characteristic/trait of a person- in a good way.  Grey Fox has managed to do that to me in a very much needed and very significant way.  From super Type A/college athlete work out/”to-do” list maker/never “waste” a moment/gotta plan everything girl I have genuinely taken a (very) deep breathe and found a lifestyle that I rather enjoy.  Just last week I was in Miami, in a city that could not be more opposite of the campground/bluegrass/tent living place I am now, doing what I largely felt like I was “supposed” to be doing.  Working as many hours as I could, running and working out as hard as possible, applying for jobs/fixing my resume/reading current events, not going out with friends as I “had so much to do” etc. etc.  Sitting here, it becomes even more obvious to me how much I don’t want to live like that anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, I will run until I can’t anymore and am still very much trying to find myself and the type of job/career/life that I want, but I really need to chill the F*ck out much more often (as my Father so eloquently says).   It was during my morning jog(s) and my numerous moments to myself over the past few days that I realized just how content I am…and it becomes so very clear why my Dad does what he does.  Music, good people, a cold beer, a little sunshine, a cool evening = good times for all.  I wish that everyone were as fortunate as I in being able to be exposed to the different ways to go about living. 

As a result of Grey Fox 2011 I have not only added another (very necessary) piece to my personal puzzle (a constant work in progress), but I have also decided to start on a new kind of challenge. (And I am putting this in black and white as a way of further ensuring that I hold myself accountable)  I have started to play my violin again, or should I now say fiddle, after a near 5 year hiatus.  Never content to sit on the sidelines, seeing the countless talented violinists both inspired and challenged me to see if I could break into that world.  My goal is a realistic and fully attainable one- that I be able to participate at some level in the fireside fiddling next year at Grey Fox 2012.  So throughout the next year as I continue on my road trips, journeys (both literal and figurative), and whatever else life might throw my way I wholly look forward to more thoroughly enjoyable and influential experiences.              

Homeward Bound

Well, it is 12:27 AM and I am in an increasingly familiar situation and state of mind; it is the night before I pick up my life and move to an entirely different city leaving behind one and moving to another.  This is certainly not the first time I have experienced this unnamable emotion.  I have tried before and have never really succeeded in finding the right adjective(s) to describe what I am feeling now or the many others times that I have transitioned between various homes.  It is a mixture of sadness for what and who I am leaving behind and largely a level of excitement and anticipation of what is ahead- both known and unknown.   I use the word “home” lightly as I will always consider Pittsburgh to be my true home as my family and the friends that I have largely grown up with are all still there.   However, as I have moved around, spending four years living and going to school in Myrtle Beach and most recently spending four months in Miami I notice how they all, in their own way, become home.  While each and every city, rural town or some type of location in between has their own special attribute, unique selling point, beautiful view, sandy beach, snow-capped mountain(s),  historic architectur etc. etc. for me it has always come down to what kind of connections I make as to how much I will miss a given place.  Granted, I am somewhat known for doing my own thing and not always being the most sociable person, but as someone famous has once said (I’m sure), “Life is about relationships.”   It has been a very good last week in Miami; oddly enough, though not at all surprising to me, I have met and spent more time talking with people this past week than in any of my 15 prior weeks.  Admittedly, this is almost entirely due to the fact that I haven’t worked this past week and have had the time to go to three separate run clubs, meet people for coffee and go out for an occasional drink.  So, I guess it would be accurate to say that the past several days have made very happy and yet very broke.  In addition to the many people I have met through the Miami running scene, I am also going to miss those who I worked with.  It’s nearly impossible spend countless hours day after day working and talking with people and not at least develop a sense of familiarity and comfort; while I wish that I had had the chance to get to know my coworkers more outside of the workplace, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to cross paths with so many incredible individuals.

My bags are packed, my running clothes laid out for an early morning jog, cds have been burned with random mixes and books on tape, directions are printed and good-byes have been said.  One might think that on someone’s last night in a city such as Miami I would be out partying or “making the most” of the evening; I considered this and actually went for a late night walk through the Brickell bar scene.  I felt the same way that I usually feel when I wander out into the nightlife; sort of like an observer or someone standing on the outside looking in.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a night out here and there, but I am entirely content having spent my evening saying good bye to a few people, taking my Specialized out for a ride, writing and plotting out my trek.  The plan is to hit Myrtle Beach by tomorrow late night, crash on a friend’s couch and then continue on to Pittsburgh sometime on Sunday.  Since I made the decision a while ago to leave my car in PA I have had to go the rental route and have a nice little car for the next 48 hours; note, I do not recommend a one-way rental to anyone if you can avoid it as the prices are a bit ridiculous.  That being said, I am very much looking forward to the 25+ hour drive where it is just me, my thoughts, the road, good tunes and the open road. 

I have been keeping in touch with my father on a regular basis regarding the situation on the homestead.  While there is always a bit of drama with Ben and plenty of other interesting developments, I am going to keep my focus on my mother.  Most notably, the hyperbaric unit being used for her treatment arrived in its entirety and her first treatment was administered yesterday.  I have a healthy level of hesitation in being overly excited, but after only one treatment my mother reported feeling energized and well.  The research suggests that noticeable differences could be noticed within a week or two of regular treatment; I can’t even express how much hope is invested in this machine.  For over a year now we have been telling my mother, “Just wait for the hyperbaric,” “Don’t be frustrated Mom, the hyperbaric will be here soon,” “Doctor’s say that the hyperbaric will help bring back your memory Mom” etc. etc.  At this point in time I will not even entertain the possibility that this will not work.

 

Fast forward some 26 hours later.  I sit here in Myrtle Beach enjoying Multigrain tortilla chips, baby carrots and what remains of a nice buzz.  The clock reads 3:45 AM and I wonder, as I often do, what in the hell am I still doing awake.  Compared to most nights though when I end up awake into the early morning reading, applying to jobs and facebooking, tonight I have a bit of a different story.  As is to be very much expected, my 12:30pm departure from Miami was approximately 2 + hours later than I had held out hope for; however, 689 miles, 6 Monster energy drinks (yes, I said 6. and yes, I know I am going to die), 8 Ipod shuffle lists, and 2.5 hours of NPR broadcasting I found myself driving through once very familiar territory.  Not a thing along Highway 501 has changed and I realized that I acclimated instantly back into knowing my way blindly through Conway and Myrtle Beach.  The night has been a good one.  Ms. Addie Freeman was kind enough to be my hostess for the evening and after a quick change at her apartment the two of use headed out to my favorite place in Myrtle Beach – the only bar that I would really even consider last minute at such a late hour.  While I could have easily have passed out after being up at 6AM and driving all day I was quickly assured that I made the right choice to come out as my favorite Italian and Irishman scooped me up for a hug and had lemoncello in my hand before I could even protest. That place was packed, a very good reggae band was on stage and as I chatted with old friends and enjoyed the homemade Italian beverage in I couldn’t imagine a better way to end the night. 

Tomorrow is part 2 of the east coast trek as I make the drive from Myrtle back to Pittsburgh.  I am both excited and apprehensive about arriving home tomorrow night; it has been so long since I have spent any substantial time under that roof and I am therefore not able to feel wholly one way or the other.  That being said, I am very much looking forward to seeing (and trying out) the hyperbaric chamber; still a bit surreal to think that we have one in our basement, but then again not too much surprises me these days.  All I know is that if that thing can help restore my mother’s memory capabilities that I will likely have a permanent smile on my face.                                                                                                                               

 

Well, I have officially made it.  2400 miles and 25 hours of driving went by rather quickly; I don’t know if it is just me or not, but I truly love being on the road by myself.  I had intended to download a book or two on tape so as to better pass the time, but I found that between NPR, my Ipod and my thoughts I was rather entertained.  The drive itself was painless and incredibly gorgeous.  Zero traffic except for a bit on 501 when leaving Myrtle Beach and pretty ideal driving conditions made doing 10 over the entire trip easily doable.  It should be noted that, for the first time in recent memory, I did not get a single speeding ticket.  I suppose that after 4 years of racking up speeding fines that it is about time I learned my lesson.  One of the best/most notable parts of my journey back was my trek down the New River Gorge Trail.  For anyone who has done a lot of east coast driving you are likely familiar with the New River Gorge bridge; located near Fayetteville, West Virginia, this single arch steel bridge is a hair raising some 900 feet tall creation that allows you to see just how high up you really are.  Well, in the near 30 times I have driven over that bridge when traveling between SC and PA I have never once actually stopped at the overlook area and explored.  Well, this trip seemed like the opportune time to do just that.  So, at about 8:30 pm I pulled into the overlook parking lot and was pretty thrilled to find the equivalent of a huge wooden stair case that allowed me to climb a few hundred feet down the side of the mountain so as to allow for a better view.  My timing and the moment couldn’t have been any more perfect had I actually tried.  By the time I made my way down it was getting dark and as I reached the overlook I was just in time to catch the breathtaking view and quite literally watch the sun set behind the mountains.  I can honestly say that I have never watched the sun set moment by moment; the view was mesmerizing and as I was the only one down there it was a nice little moment all to myself. 

 

I have been home for 2 full days now and all is going as well as can be expected.  Aside from my mother consistently acting surprised and confused every time she sees me as she forgets that I am here, my father and I having our normal combative relationship and Ben being effectively MIA life is as normal (ha) as it gets at the Staab house.  I am finishing writing this just as my father and I are about to depart for a music festival in northern New York.  It is a 5 day, bluegrass/newgrass/acoustic goodness festival and is one that I have never been to but have heard great things about.  My father has always been one to disappear for weekends at these various festivals and while I went to quite a few growing up it has been some time since I did one similar to this.  It is only he and I going which could either be a great thing or an absolute disaster.  I have been mentally preparing for some serious alone time with the man and think that I am nearly ready.  Nearly.  For as much respect I have, for as many great qualities that he possesses, for as much as I continuously learn from him and for as much as I love the man it is incredible how much we clash at every turn.  Admittedly, this is at least partially, perhaps more, my fault, but I really wish more than anything that our relationship was solid.  I see this weekend as an opportunity to reestablish some semblance of what we used to have.  It is entirely to be determined as to whether this comes to fruition or not.  On another note- similar to Bonnaroo, I managed to save the $200 ticket price by signing up a few ago to volunteer.  However, unlike at Bonnaroo where I was on trash and compost detail (good times) I somehow managed to talk myself into Main Stage Crew in which I will be working with the artists, setting up and breaking down the stage.  While I only know about four of the twenty something bands going to be there I can’t imagine that this won’t be an overall great job…if nothing else perhaps I will meet myself a nice musician J  All said and done, I am really looking forward to just getting away from it all, sleeping in a tent for several nights, listening to some really good music, staying up late around a campfire, meeting people and just creating another slew of memories.  I was a bit intimidated as the whole ordeal is five days long; I am far from a princess or one in need of luxuries, but that is borderline a bit longer than I want to go in a tent without a real shower.  But hey, in considering my options I really couldn’t even consider missing it.  Penn-Trafford and all that I have going on there will be waiting when I return.  My mother has started her hyperbaric therapy and has thus far completed 5 sessions; she reports feeling more energized and is happy to be doing something proactive.  That  being said, there is not yet any notable improvement.  Much, much more on all of this will be written about whenever I get back to town.  For the next five days though it is into the woods of northern New York for me!

For the Run of It

 

I run.  I run with purpose, direction and a goal in sight.  I discovered long ago that life is not a sprint.  It is a marathon.  To be successful, one must possess a stringent level of discipline, dedication and a personal motivation that is undeterred by the inequities of life. Each step is more than a physical exertion. It is a personal test, a challenge and a testament to early mornings, late nights and hours of hard work.  Running is an outlet, a means to personal growth and an opportunity to push oneself to a clarity that is otherwise fleeting. This competition is not necessarily against an opponent; it is a focused effort towards improvement, a forward progression stemming from intention and an awareness of upcoming challenges.  I cannot allow myself to relax even for a moment; it is unforgivable to finish a race knowing that I could have given more, and “jogging” is not an option.  I am a runner. 

I wrote that little passage several years ago and just found it as I was perusing through the many documents saved on my laptop.  It is always interesting to me to read my own words several years later; it gives me a glimpse into who I was and takes me back to that moment in life.  As I was considering what topic to blog about as I prepare to move from Miami to Pittsburgh I cannot think of anything more appropriate to explore.  For as many places as I’ve lived and people I’ve met, for as much as I have experienced and through the many ups and downs in life, one thing has remained a constant- running.

Running is more than a physical activity; it is a mental release, a personal challenge, a spiritual journey and an unrivaled way to truly get to know oneself. Running provides an escape. It is the ultimate stress reliever. Just head out the door and you are able to run out frustration, fear, sadness and apathy.  Running can be a time where it is only you, the sound of your breath, and the pounding of your footsteps.  For me, a good run, where I am entirely alone with my thoughts, has more often than not, been a time where I have worked through tough decisions, planned out my day or simply came to peace with a given situation.  I have taken up biking, tried yoga, spent time on an elliptical, forced myself to learn how to swim laps, played soccer for ages, walk several miles a day and have been writing for years; I don’t care what anyone says- nothing quite compares to the rewards of running.   

Runners are arguably a different breed.  In mentality, work ethic, temperament, character and general outlook on life.  Who else but a runner can relate to any or all of the following?  6 AM workouts, 3pm weights, doubles, fartleks, water jogging (ugh), black toenails, no toenails, callouses, ice baths, deep tissue massage, negative splits, dog bites (okay, maybe only me on this one), long runs, blisters, bananas, tempo runs, PRs, weekend meets, lactic acid, runners high, chaffing, Accelerade, jelly beans, alumni meets, Lake Busbee, out and backs, race bibs, striders, hitting the wall etc. etc.

I don’t know if it is the constant lack of oxygen to the brain or what, but I have yet to meet a runner that I truly do not like.  It is my opinion that those who run tend to be generally less stressed, more satisfied, less anxious and more content; subsequently, runners tend to have a more mitigated approach to life.  I am, of course, a bit biased, but it is not often that you meet someone who has just finished an 8 mile run or track workout that immediately wants to gripe about something.  I will be the first to admit that when I have been hurt and cannot run that I am not a good person to be around; my mood sours, my patience plummets, I cannot concentrate as well and I just do not feel like me.  From my own personal experience, it never ceases to amaze me how a run can immediately turn a mediocre (or even a bad) day into a good one.  When all else fails, I say, just run.

Throughout my long twenty-three years running is and has always been a part of who I am; I grew up as that young, slightly naïve girl that just ran everywhere for no other reason than she could.  Eventually, I focused this endless source of energy and desire into years of soccer and eventually made the transition to track and cross country.  Fortunate enough to be granted a scholarship, I then spent 4 years competing at the collegiate level.  Those years served as the best and the worst; I ran my heart out, had an incredible experience as part of a brilliant team, and gave the sport everything I had; however, I failed to listen to my body as it threw out warning after warning sign.  Overtraining finally got the best of me as I crossed the line and as a result struggled through more than one injury prone year.  Without question, this was my own fault as I stubbornly ignored the instruction, advice and threats of those who attempted to look out for me.  Running has been the source of joy and despair, sweat and tears, lifelong friendships and fleeting glory, of pain, bliss and of life lessons learned…oftentimes the hard way.  Running, and all that comes with it, has taught me more than I have ever given it credit for.  I have developed as a person, matured, and grown to respect the sport as something that should be enjoyed and kept in perspective to the rest of one’s life.  Over the years I admittedly lost touch and allowed my overly competitive nature to get the best of me.  Injury after injury led to surgery which led to a year in which I simply did not run- both out of fear of ending up back on crutches and also because I preferred to just ignore my pathetic state of fitness.  Thanks largely to an incredible group of people I have come to know in Miami- the “run clubbers” – I have started to consistently run again. 

Since doing so, I can tell you that my quality of life has improved exponentially.  Aside from the fact that running provides me a level of contentment and happiness I have yet to find anywhere else, I have also had the pleasure of befriending quite a few talented and truly wonderful people.  I may be a bit biased, but I can say from years of past experience that runners as a whole seem to naturally gravitate to one another.  It doesn’t matter whether you have known each other for years or only 5 minutes; there is already a mutual understanding and respect. So, I say thank you to all of you who have ran with me, encouraged, supported and put up with me currently and throughout the past however many years.  They say, and I like to believe, that things happen for a reason; while I am not entirely certain why I ended up in Miami, it is becoming clear that not only have I gained quite a few fantastic friends, but I have also “found” running again.

For anyone reading this that has never given running a try, or for those of you that have and are reading this thinking that I am absolutely nuts for loving to run, I ask you to please reconsider.  It is not necessary to run a 7:00 minute mile (or even a 10:00 minute mile) in order to feel the sense of accomplishment, pride and camaraderie that is affiliated with this sport.  In fact, if you are able to take the hardest step, just getting out of the door, you are already well on your way. 

 

Making the Move

For those who have read my last entries you may have gathered that I have been seriously considering picking up my life (again) and moving (again) 2000+ miles away.  This time though, the destination is home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  To the select few that I have actually verbalized my intentions to, the initial reaction has been one of absolute surprise and disbelief.  Having been, for all intents and purposes, on my own for the past 5 years, I could easily liken moving back into 516 Sandra Drive to throwing myself into the midst of a tempest.  To anyone that does not know my family this may sound as at best an exaggeration and at worst, well something much worse.  However, I am fairly confident that if Dr. Phil came to visit he would have himself a regular field day.  I say this with unconditional love as I truly am homesick in a way that I have never known.  It is strange to actually admit that, but I have been away for nearly 6 years and have not spent any real time with my family (with exception to Christmas and the occasional visit) since high school.  Granted, I do talk to my mother every single night (call me lame if you wish) and my father on a regular basis, but as we all know, spending time with people is not nearly the same as a long distant conversation. Another huge factor in all of this is the fact that my family now has a hyperbaric chamber in our basement.  If you are not familiar, think space age machine that increases oxygen flow with the objective of increasing muscle recovery and healing.  Elite athletes (Heinz Ward, Tiger Woods etc) use them for muscle recovery, but ours will be used for treating my mother and her brain.  Considering that they are uber expensive, we never really anticipated being able to treat my mom full-time with oxygen therapy.  However, thanks to my father doing about 2 tons of paperwork and lobbying relentlessly our family received a medical waiver and are now the proud owners of our very own hyperbaric chamber.  Interesting stuff to the say the very least.  Long story short is that I want and feel as though I should be there for at least the initial steps of this treatment.  There will be much more blogging on this topic (including the backstory as to what her condition is), but I wanted to state this here as it is among the top reasons why I am moving home for a while.  I feel as though (and certainly hope that) I am a different (in a good way), more mature person and really feel compelled to stop living half of a country away and spend some time reconnecting at home. 

Well, it is official, the mental tug-of-war is over and a decision has been made.  Miami, “take one”, will come to a conclusion in less than two weeks.  I have weighed the pros and cons, the many factors that play into the decision at hand and have decided that moving back to Pittsburgh for the rest of the summer is the best option.  In short, I do not feel at home in Miami.  Yes, I realize that I have “only” been here for 3 months, but I believe enough in my sense of self that I know when intuition is telling me something.  I must say though that I have met some incredible people in my time here. First and foremost would be the “run clubbers”- an amazing group of people who get together several times a weeks for the love of running; I will admittedly miss both them and the runs. I also thoroughly enjoy the people that I work with and have had a handful of chance encounters with individuals that I will hope to see again someday.  Quite a lot of this has been my own doing; I came down here without a car thinking that I would be okay (okay yes, but I certainly wish I had my vehicle), I am not living by myself (my roommates are very cool, but I am so used to having my own space), and I don’t often relax enough to actually enjoy Miami.  This last part is hard to admit and yet likely very obvious to most people that know me.  I wish I could turn the “on” button off inside of me and just go out and forget about everything, but if I haven’t been able to do it yet in life perhaps it is time that I just accept it.  My situation in Miami is only a fraction of the reason that I am picking up shop.  As mentioned above, I want to be at home.  I want to be there for the beginning of my mom’s therapy, I want to porch sit and listen to my Dad play guitar, I want to take my Mom out to lunch and help out in the garden, I want to be there to help Luke look at a few colleges, I want to go see Kristen in the city and I desperately want to help Ben.  If all goes as planned (ha) this will be one of the last opportunities to just come and go as I please; I imagine that sometime in the not so distant future I will actually get myself a “real job” and settle somewhere (or not).

Yet a third reason that now is a good time to move north is the fact that I have two (potentially) life changing interviews coming up.  They are both at the end of July and will require at least a week on the road (for which a car will be necessary); one is in DC and the other is in Charleston, SC.  I will not talk too much about the interview in DC as it is quite a long shot and I don’t care to have my hopes and dreams publicly crushed.  However, as the time draws closer, and I am spending a lot of time preparing, I will likely blog more about this.  It is a pretty cool opportunity and even the chance to interview is exciting.  Now, the Charleston interview(s) is/are for something called the International Ambassadorial Rotary Scholarship.  I am fortunate enough to be Myrtle Beach Rotary’s candidate for this award and am competing for the chance to study and serve overseas as a student ambassador.  I started this process nearly 6 months ago with initial interviews at the local Rotary Club and have since completed an application including several extensive essays, done a widespread search on hypothetical dream schools and have just recently started preparation for the interviews.  In preparation for both DC and Charleston I would love to be in PA not only so that I can more easily travel to both locations, but I fully intend to seek advice and words of wisdom from all of those that I know.  More on both of these in future blogs as I have barely scratched the surface.

Ultimately, this move will likely be something that I later refer to as “getting back to the roots” (credit for this goes to a Mr. Sean Emerick).  I need to take a few weeks to reevaluate, reconnect with the family, go see some old friends and enjoy some of the more simple things of life.  Miami and the rest of the world will be there for me on the other side.  

 

Zen Amidst Chaos

Captivating

I haven’t written in over a week and I am finally forcing myself to sit down and pen something out.  Trust me, the slack is not due to any lack of interesting occurrences, thoughts or events.  On the contrary, the past week has largely been a blur as I have been struggling with some serous decisions, getting back into running (necessary for my sanity & happiness…finally went to 2 Miami run clubs = greatest group of people ever) and working as much as I possibly can.  I am closing in on a game plan for the rest of my summer/early fall and will share it in not too long.  Until then, allow me to share with you one of the more enjoyable moments that I have had I Miami and one of the wholly enjoyable benefits of living in southern Florida. 

I don’t know what is harder for me to believe- that I have been in Miami for over 3 months or that today marked the first time that I actually made it into the ocean.  When I really think about it though, this shouldn’t be that incredibly difficult to fathom considering that I went to school in Myrtle Beach for over 4 years and very rarely actually made it onto the sand or into the water.  However, life was largely dictated by class and athletics back then and now my excuses are limited to a lack of transportation (as I have left my car in Pittsburgh, PA).  One of the aspects of where I live that I do love is the ability to surviveperfectly well without a vehicle; I am able to walk everywhere that I might need from work and a grocery store to the post office and a myriad of bars and restaurants.  However, it is when I want to venture outside of simply survival mode that I desperately miss the independence of having a car.  I owe today’s beach trip to Mr. Dan Potter (shout out!) who was generous enough to lend me his beautiful BMW for the weekend while he parties it up in LA and Vegas.  I have been a bit stressed (surprise, surprise) between deciding whether to move or not, working 6 days a week, sending out job applications and attempting to stay in shape.  So, this morning I decided to take a “me” couple of hours before I spent the evening and night at work.  I took the car out on I-95, rolled down the windows, turned up the stereo and enjoyed the Miami sun and the simple fact that I was driving.  It’s hard to describe the feeling to someone who has a vehicle at their disposal and is even stranger for me because I have never been without wheels, but that little bit of freedom made me realize that getting a new (used) car was immediately  being bumped to the top of my to-do  list.  (The fact that I was driving a very fine, fun piece of machinery didn’t hurt either) I went to Target, Marshall’s and to a running store- treated myself to an amazing new pair of Asics running shoes and made my way towards Miami Beach.  Once again, I feel pitiful even admitting it, but this was only my second time down to the beach area since moving to South Florida.  I parked and headed out into the craziness that is Miami Beach decked out in my standard running attire- Nike shorts, sports bra, bandana and my new Asics (all black and white. typical.) Think Myrtle Beach on steroids and it will give you some idea of Miami Beach.  People everywhere; food everywhere; hotels/motels/condos/high rises galore; neon lights etc.  That being said, Miami has a few distinct differences- it is largely more Hispanic and Latino, the size has to be at least 4-5 times bigger, there is so much more going on (from street artists and performers to farmers’ markets artisan stands), the shopping extends beyond Wings and Eagles stores on every single street corner and there is a slightly hidden, but prevalent homeless population.  I somehow managed to do 5-6 miles up and down Ocean Drive and the Boardwalk before I decided that I had better call it a day lest I die from the incredible heat and humidity radiating off of the beach and asphalt.  I headed immediately back to the car for relief in the form of air conditioning, but I opted instead to head towards the beach.  Let me tell you, there is nothing better than a refreshing, cooling ocean swim after a good run in the sun.  People are not exaggerating when they say that the Miami ocean and beaches are different than most others; white sand, teal ocean and clear to the floor.  Despite there being a lot of people out, the beach was not overcrowded and I had plenty of room to myself as I jogged into the ocean in my running shorts and sports bra.  Pure bliss.  As I floated along, just out of standing depth, I realized that I have been missing the best part of Miami.  The ocean is incredible.  If I end up back in this city someday there is no question in my mind that I will live on the beach.  I enjoyed the perfect water, chatted up some strangers on the beach and called it a successful afternoon as thunder and lightning rolled in. 

 

Life is Full of Decisions . . .

25+ hours of deck staining

Zen time via 'Redwood 502'

Life is full of decisions.  This is not any type of revelation or secret admission of truth; rather, it is an obvious fact for any of us out there living and breathing in the free world.  I think that most of my fellow young adults would agree that the decisions of life become much more acute following graduation.  Where to live, what job to take (or pursue), what to do with each moment now that it is not regulated by any combination of class, work or athletic schedule and the age old adage “what should I do with my life” are among the questions we face each day.  Aside from the obvious influences such as family, friends, significant others, a perfect job offer etc,, how is one supposed to go about making the “right” choice?  For me, I have noticed that throughout my long 23 years of life there have been critical decision points as well as everyday choices in which I have felt distinctly at peace with (as well as those that I still languish over despite knowing that regret is a painfully fruitless emotion).  When you hear the phrases, “follow your gut” or “listen to your heart” they may sound just a bit cliché; however, I happen to be a big believer in the ability to follow intuition down the best path in life.  From my college choice to the handling of current and past daily situations, to my inability to really figure out my life ambition(s) and my restlessness no matter what city I live in I have found this proverbial peace of mind somewhat elusive.  When I think back to my childhood I feel as though I lived by the adolescent seat of my pants, made decisions on a whim and somehow landed on my feet feeling both assured and blissfully ignorant of what could have been if I had chosen otherwise.  It has been since I quit soccer in high school after 12 years of playing in order to run cross country(heavily influencing where I went to school/who I now know/my current employment status etc) that I felt as “right” about a critical decision.  This is not to say that I haven’t been happy wherever I go; it is not as though I don’t wake up every day thankful for what I have and for the opportunities that surround me; and it is certainly not as though I am sad or depressed.  Rather, I have a restlessness and a certain disquiet about that me that I cannot seem to shake.  I think that it may be partially due to an increased level of awareness of just how many options there are out there.  In daily encounters as well as through my years working within various fine dining establishments I have the habit of always striking up conversation with people and inquiring as to what they do with themselves, how they got there and do they enjoy it.  It is truly fascinating (to me) the path of mazes that take people to their present position(s).  Some good, some bad, some planned (you know, those that knew from conception that they were going to be a doctor/teacher/firefighter etc etc) and some a combination of happenstance and shit luck.  Regardless, I always consider what it would be like to follow a similar avenue as I forever seek that one conversation or bit of influence that leaves with a new found sense of clarity.  I am confident that I could do nearly anything that I set my mind to- I have never in my life had a problem achieving a set goal due to my determined, competitive and persistent nature.  However, a serious problem arises when no end goal exists.  I have struggled (and continue to struggle) to define what it is that I wish to be doing 5, 10 or 15 years down the road.  I have allowed myself to stress about this “life plan” (or lack thereof) beyond a reasonable measure for some time now.  I am slowly coming to the realization that perhaps I am going about it all wrong.  You can’t force things.  And it certainly doesn’t do a damn thing to stress out about anything in which you have very little control over.

 I just made a recent trip home to Pittsburgh and for the first time in a very, very long time I had that feeling of “right.”  For anyone that really knows me this is likely a huge surprise as my family is oftentimes, a bit um, how shall I say, a “unique challenge” to be around.  I love my family to death, but I have in the past fled (both physically and mentally) from the troubles and stresses that are our own.  I really don’t know what it was- the family trip to Bonnaroo, being around my mom for a few days, having the hyperbaric chamber arrive (so much more on this to come), being around Ben (a novel in his own right) or perhaps just spending time staining decks and doing some maintenance on the home I grew up in.  Something triggered an inherent desire to be there, at least for a few months, and see if I can do anything positive.  Someone told me once that in order to help my family I should be “a catalyst.”  At the time this was suggested to me I scoffed at the thought.  Now, I think that if I am able to keep myself together and continue to pursue my dreams (I have 2304892390 lines in the water) while also being a positive force at 516 Sandra that a fair amount of good could come from it. 

The timing seems just about right in all ways.  I have been in Miami for nearly 4 months.  I enjoy much of it, have met a ton of great people, think that it is a beautiful place, but truthfully- I am nearly over it.  Zero regrets as I would have always wondered “what if” had I just taken the job in Charleston, SC and never experienced Miami.  In my opinion, life is largely about people and experiences.  Who you meet and what you do seem to be the two biggest influencers on perspective, decisions and general attitude.  I will likely chalk Miami up as one of those life experiences. As I write this I have a vague shadow of a plan forming in my head as to how I would go about transitioning some 2000 miles north.  As it is just taking form, I will leave my plan and the thoughts that go along with it for a future post.  For those of you who have made it to the end, thank you for reading.  Until next time, best wishes from Miami.