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Three Strangers’ Stories in an Hour in Indiana

February 6, 2020

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a bit know that I’m a huge “West Wing” and Aaron Sorkin fan. One of my favorite episodes is the season four opener, “20 Hours in America.” The episode begins with President Bartlett giving a campaign speech at an Indiana farm. After being left behind by the presidential motorcade, Josh, Toby and Donna are stranded in Indiana and they rely on the help of strangers to get across the state, and at the same time, are exposed to life in rural Indiana.

I like to think of my early love of this episode as yet another example of my fate to live in Indiana one day. Donna is even wearing an Indiana State University (ISU) sweatshirt in this clip of one of the ending scenes.

I’ve thought about this episode a lot over the years and have re-watched it many times, especially since moving to Terre Haute three-and-a-half years ago. I had my own “20 Hours in America” experience earlier this week that gave me pause and appreciate my adopted town and the people who live in it.

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About two weeks ago, I was rear-ended and it left just enough damage to warrant repairs and a rental car (luckily paid by the other insurance provider). This past Monday, I had an appointment to take my car to Scott’s Custom Collision Body Shop on the north end of Terre Haute. After dropping off my car, I sat in the lobby waiting for the Enterprise Rental Car representative to pick me up.

I had my book and phone in hand; but instead of going in for reading, I met Scott, the owner of the shop. He introduced himself and explained what would happen with my car and when to expect a call with updates. We talked about it being a “warm” morning (warm for February in Indiana), but snow was expected later this week. I learned Scott was born and raised in Terre Haute (something I hear a lot from folks around here). He was a nice man, and knew every customer by name who walked through his lobby.

Somehow it came up that I was from San Diego, and Scott asked the question I get from nearly everyone I meet in Terre Haute: “Why on earth would you move from California to Indiana?”

I told Scott my story and I said how much I’ve come to love Terre Haute — the change of seasons, weather, the outdoors, the people, more relaxed pace of life, cost of living — and how I have no desire to move back to Southern California. Most people are surprised at that answer. But I also notice their faces soften a bit and they nod in agreement. I feel an unspoken acceptance of me, almost like they’re saying, “She’s okay … she can stay here.” I got that impression from Scott as well.

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After my conversation with Scott ended, the young man (around 23 years old) from Enterprise arrived to drive me and another woman to the rental car facility on Wabash Avenue, which is in the downtown/central part of Terre Haute. I sat in the front seat of the Suburban and talked to my Enterprise representative (regrettably, I forgot his name). Like me, he is not from Terre Haute, but moved here with his parents from Minnesota at the age of 12. He explained to me the very different regions of Minnesota, and how he’s a Vikings fan.

He played football for the ISU football team and then became one of the few management trainees that Enterprise hired from campus. He’ll soon be training with the NFL as he still has hopes of playing on a pro team at some point. But, he said, if he doesn’t, he’s happy with his job at Enterprise and the opportunities it’s provided him.

I asked him why he chose to stay in Terre Haute after graduating from ISU, especially with pro football dreams. He said he’s raising two kids with his fiance, and they just bought a house. He likes this town, his job, and it’s a great place to raise a family. I nodded in agreement.

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In the car with Mr. Enterprise and me was a woman who was also recently involved in a fender bender (regrettably I didn’t get her name either). Luckily, she said, it was a company car. She talked about being busy with work, which kept her traveling in her car a lot. The company wants her to take on more work and responsibility, but she’s not interested in that. She likes her 9 – 5 schedule and not being responsible for employees. It allows her the time to take care of the sheep at home, she said.

“The sheep?” I asked.

This older woman is also a sheep farmer and raises them on a plot of farm land just outside Terre Haute. Her husband is recovering from a medical situation, so tending to the sheep is left solely to her right now. This made for long days since she had to get up early to feed and care for the animals. I had some admiration for this woman who knew exactly what she wanted her life to be.

The three of us parted ways at Enterprise and I got into a black Nissan that took me five minutes to figure out how to navigate (I’m not used to “fancy” modern cars).

I’m not typically a person who starts conversations with strangers. That element of the Midwest still hasn’t quite infiltrated my psyche yet. But on this Monday morning, something compelled me to dig a little deeper with these people. And I found myself enriched by the stories of these three strangers, all of which took place in the span of just one hour, in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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Hoops, Memories and Community: A Basketball Story

January 29, 2020

I am not a sports person. Most people who know me will tell you that words “Leah” and “sports” are far from synonymous, especially when it comes to football. It’s a shock that I know the teams in the Super Bowl (Go 49ers!). However, there’s one sport that has been somewhat woven throughout my life in various ways, and that sport is basketball.

When I was 11-years-old, my dad took me and my sister, Ellye, to see “Hoosiers” in the movie theater. My dad loves basketball; college basketball to be specific. He’s been following the San Diego State University (SDSU) Aztecs since his days working at the university, and he’s also loyal to the men’s and women’s University of Connecticut Huskies teams (dad’s a UConn alum).

Dad loved “Hoosiers” and the Cinderella story of the underdog team that came together with a broken coach and assistant coach, all of whom worked together to create something extraordinary and made that Indiana town proud. One of my favorite memories is taking my dad to the actual Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Indiana where the movie was filmed, and watching him shoot the ball in the hoop.

I remember being moved by the story of a small town that bonded over the Hickory High School basketball team. I asked dad to take me to the movie a second time. Even at age 11, I loved the beautiful scenery and wondered what it would feel like to live in a small town in the middle of America. … It’s a bit surreal to think that I sat in a movie theater watching a story about Indiana basketball 33 years ago; and today, Ellye and I, call Indiana our home. Perhaps that “Hoosiers” viewing had a deeper impact than we could have imagined.

After the “Hoosiers” viewing, Ellye went on to play basketball in the local rec league and Magic Johnson became one of her heroes. I never had the desire to play basketball, but I enjoyed watching my sister engage in something I didn’t think I was capable of doing.

I attended San Diego State and spent a good portion of my adult life working on the campus as well. Basketball season created an excitement on campus. That’s when the Aztecs soared. They dominated the season games and were regular Mountain West Conference champions. Even if you weren’t a sports fan, everyone became an Aztec for Life when the team made its way toward March Madness. The enthusiasm on campus was contagious. And I thought I was pretty cool for being Facebook friends with Kawhi Leonard when he helped take the team all the way to the March Madness in 2011. That year, SDSU played UConn in the Sweet Sixteen games of March 2011, and my dad had the opportunity to sit in the Anaheim arena and watch his two favorite teams rival each other (UConn won, 74-67).

I continue to follow my Aztecs, from 2,000 miles away in the heart of Hoosierland, wearing my red and black SDSU Aztecs baseball cap on runs. Today, the team is #4 in the nation and undefeated at 21-0. I love the collective excitement that my fellow alumni, friends and former colleagues share on social media together. We have this common bond, and it makes me proud that SDSU gave me my start in so many ways.

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As I began this post, I wrote that I’m not a sports person. And that’s true in the sense that I don’t have the same passion for sports as I do for books, music, reading, TV and movies, and running. But I do appreciate the communal aspect of it, and how it bonds people together.

I’ve seen that this week after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. Whether you are a fan of his or not, or even follow basketball, there’s no denying that the nation has come together in that shared grief. It’s a comforting feeling that helps quell the sadness a bit.

Sophie has been performing on the middle school dance team this year, and one of their obligations is to perform at the middle school home basketball games. I attend every one of those games – of course to see Sophie – but I also enjoy sitting in the bleachers watching the home team play. I like seeing so many of the new friends I’ve come to meet over my few years here in Indiana. I smile watching Sophie and her friends congregate together to chat and watch the game, and it makes me happy to see so many other students choose to spend their evening watching their middle school classmates play. It all gives me a very strong sense of community, very much like how I felt a spiritual connection sitting in the small, local Jewish synagogue.

Maybe it’s my “Hoosiers” nostalgia and that early bond I formed with my dad. Maybe it’s remembering Ellye dribbling across the rec center floor and the Magic Johnson jersey she received for her birthday one year. Maybe it’s the excitement of the Aztecs dominating college basketball this season. Or maybe it’s the fact that I found my community and home in Indiana. Either way, there’s no denying basketball has played a role in my life and I’m grateful for the memories to go with that.

Looking Back at 2019: A Year of Endurance

December 31, 2019

Endurance

noun: the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way

adjective: denoting or relating to a race or other sporting event that takes place over a long distance or otherwise demands great physical stamina

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Several years ago, I started a tradition in which my last blog post of the year was a reflection on the past 12 months, both in words and photos. Many people start January by choosing a word as their guiding theme for the year ahead. I could never quite get into that idea. My custom involves looking back at the past year — reflecting on what I’ve done, learned and experienced, and choosing a word that represented the past year. I knew endurance would be my word for 2019 for quite some time. In fact, the idea came to me while I was running the Great Smoky Mountain Half Marathon in September.

When I started 2019, I had one goal in mind. Naturally, it was running related. I wanted to run farther and longer, and be able to sustain conversations with friends while running. Accomplishing this goal comes down to one thing: endurance. I didn’t realize on New Year’s Day, however, that that goal of endurance would come to symbolize even more as the year went on.

At the beginning of 2019, the longest distance I ran was seven miles and I ran predominantly by myself. I joined the Trained in Terre Haute running program and every Saturday, I joined three girlfriends for weekly runs. My friend, Emily, and I also decided we’d run one race each month, whether it was a 10K or 5-mile trail run. All that while, I ran with friends. I had conversations. I ran for longer, and more miles. On April 20, I ran my first half marathon distance of 13.1 miles, with close friends by my side. On May 18, I finished my first ultra distance of 50K (31 miles).

I spent June through the end of September training for the Indiana Trail 100K (62 miles) race. I ran five days a week, with back-to-back weekend long runs, in the summer heat and humidity. I ran alone and I ran with friends. On September 20, I ran a marathon distance of 26.2 miles and then achieved a personal record (PR) time completing a half marathon the next day. And on October 12, I attempted my biggest challenge, the Indiana Trail 100K. While I didn’t achieve the 100K goal, I did manage to finish with 51 miles. I’m closing 2019 with 1,087 miles run; not bad considering my total miles for 2018 was 315 miles.

Endurance came in more ways than my running. Twenty-nineteen was a challenging and personally transformative year for me as well. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of through experiences I never thought I would go through. I realize I’m being vague, but I cannot go into details about the situations I faced right now (I hope to at some point). I’ve gone through some extremely difficult times, but they’ve also allowed me to grow in ways I never thought possible of myself.

Through personal endurance, I also learned a lot about vulnerability. It’s a scary thing, but can also be transformative and beautiful. I’m incredibly grateful to my friends and family that helped me embrace that. Looking back at this year – my running and personal situations – I honestly don’t know how I endured it all. Yet here I am, ready to “dwell in possibility” of a new decade.

The year also brought other things … One of the best things I did in 2019 was teach kids writing classes at the local library and coordinated drop-in writing sessions for writers at a coffee shop. Sophie finished elementary school and moved on to middle school where she joined the dance team and landed the lead in the school musical. In the spring, I attended the Power of Narrative Conference in Boston with my great friend, Ann marie, and I pitched a writing project idea to a panel of editors. I was fortunate to work with wonderful clients and I restored my freelance business to a new level of success.

I’m grateful my two dogs and cat are still with us, as much as they drive me crazy at times. I saw some wonderful live music shows and spent countless hours with deep friends. I made great memories with my sister, Ellye; and Sophie shared time with her cousins who now live close to us. My sister, Sari, visited over the summer. I enjoyed many long conversations with my sister, Kayli. And my mom made three trips to Indiana in 2019.

These year-end photo collages give me a chance to visually reflect on the past year. I love looking back on all the memories, seeing Sophie grow up and watching the natural environment and seasons change before my eyes. I really love that my physical space is a constant reminder that life passes by, that nothing is permanent, and there is always a possibility to make a change and wake up anew each day. I share many of these moments and “micro-blog posts” on Instagram, so feel free to follow me there if you’re not already.

Thank you for reading Leah’s Thoughts and being part of my journey. Happy New Year, and here’s to 2020 and a new decade!

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Celebrating a Decade of Blogging

December 19, 2019

I went in to write my annual “blog-versary” post to commemorate ten years of blogging and it hit me: Not only is this ten years of blogging, but I started this blog on the dawn of a new decade. Ten years ago this week — on December 21, 2009 — I published my first blog post and Leah’s Thoughts was born. I like to think of it as the day I began writing my own story.

At the time, I was 34-years-old and a fairly new mom with a 2-year-old daughter. I was working in a marketing/communications job at San Diego State University and the extent of my writing was drafting admission letters, student email notices, and recruitment materials. I was starting to feel stifled in my life and had the urge to get thoughts out of my head. I wanted to pursue a writing career, but I didn’t have anything published in my name. Personal blogging was still somewhat of a new phenomenon in 2009, so I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll start a blog and then one day, I can quit my day job and become a full-time writer.”

Blogging in the Last Decade: “An Industry of Cool”

In one of my favorite movies, “Almost Famous,” the character of Lester Bangs (played so brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman) warns a young William Miller of the future of rock journalism. “They will ruin rock and roll and strangle everything we love about it,” said Bangs. I think of this line often when I think of what blogging has become over the last decade.

I started Leah’s Thoughts when blogging was simply about chronicling stories. There was an honesty, purity and rawness to the writing and sharing all that on the Internet. Over the years, that’s changed. It’s became much more about pageviews, sponsored posts, and making money off your blog. Bloggers started to create content based on money for promoting products. Moms who used to share about holiday traditions were now incorporating product placement and photos of Cool Whip and Sarah Lee baked item into their photos and traditions because they received payment for those posts. One blogger – who didn’t even own her own home – wrote an entire post about mortgage insurance because she received compensation for it. Blogging networks started popping up and would award large sums of sponsored content money to bloggers with high pageviews and strong social media follows. Suddenly it became a game of chasing “likes” and “follows,” and less about sharing stories.

Just like what Lester Bangs said about rock journalism, the brands, PR companies and many bloggers changed blogging and took away so much of what we loved about it. The authenticity was gone and all that was left was “fake content” that was more about making money.

While I did get a few free products now and then and wrote about them (books were a big one), that’s never what Leah’s Thoughts has been. For me, writing this blog has always been a way to tell my story. I look around now and very few bloggers are even writing anymore. They’ve given up their blogs or gone to Instagram “micro-blog” posts. I enjoy writing those Instagram posts too. But I still find tremendous satisfaction writing here in this space, and sharing my life’s journey with you all. And, I think, my stories here still impact and help people. And for that reason alone, I don’t want to give this up.

Lessons About Myself Through a Decade of Blogging

In the last ten years, I’ve published 577 blog posts. I’ve shared a lot here in my blog … about my struggles and joys of motherhood (from trying to raise a tween to transitioning to a toddler bed). I wrote about moving my life from Southern California to Indiana, leaving my secure full-time job to start my own freelance writing business, my running triumphs and lessons, and I still have much more to write.

In preparation for writing this post, I went back and re-read several of my posts and I noticed a few things about myself. What strikes me most about myself over these last ten years is that I feel I’ve evolved so much. And I think it’s clear in my writing. Some of this blog content seems so “young” and naive. I guess that’s not surprising; I was young. And as I’ve grown, my thoughts and words have only gotten more reflective and deeper. I think that’s the most striking thing from my early to later blog posts. I’ve toyed with the idea of removing some of the older content, as re-reading makes me cringe. But that wouldn’t be real or right either.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” — Douglas Adams

A friend told me that, after reading several of my early blog posts through now, it seems like I was searching for something throughout these years. That became abundantly clear to me as I went back and re-read these posts. I wrote a lot about feeling like I was on the “verge of something big” or I wanted to discover something about myself. I didn’t know what I was seeking at the time, but I believe that, in moving to Indiana and discovering so much about myself, I have found what I was looking for.

Some of you have been reading here since the beginning. And to those of you, thank you! And to new readers who have joined me along the way, I am thankful you stop by from time to time. As long as I have stories to share and thoughts on my mind, this blog will stay an real and authentic place.

Here’s to the past ten years … and to the future, whatever stories I may write.

A Year – and a Decade – in Music

December 13, 2019

It’s that time of year when all the websites and publications are publishing their “best of” the year posts. I enjoy these posts, as it’s always great to get a “Reader’s Digest” version of the year’s best books, articles, songs, movies, and the like. I used to write year-end blog posts recapping my year in reading and watching; but those things took a major backseat in 2019, while running and music took a front seat. Sadly, I read only four books this year. But apparently I listened to A LOT of music!

This post is not one of my traditional essay blogs, nor is it your typical “best of” list. But since music plays a big part in my daily life, I thought I’d reflect back on a few highlights from this year and the ones that preceded it.

I do the majority of my listening on Spotify. It always accompanies me — while I work during the day, when I run and walk the dogs, and driving in the car. My other music-listening periods are afternoons/evenings when I’m reading on the couch, cleaning the house or cooking. And for those times, I turn to vinyl on the record player.

According to Spotify, I spent 56,632 minutes on Spotify. That’s 944 hours! I listened to 4,005 songs, discovered 962 new artists (of which 25 were from different countries). My top artists of 2019 are as follows:

And since we’re about to start 2020, my top artists of the decade was:

Spotify also told me that I am “genre-fluid” and refuse to let one sound define me. I know a lot of people, including my kid, would disagree with that. But this is what Spotify says I like:

Last year, I wrote about an article that said people generally stop discovering new music at the age of 30. The study said that between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains go through so much change and we’re more receptive to the songs we hear; hence why we are more open to new music. And that after 30, we gravitate to the same songs over and over again because of musical nostalgia.

I’m definitely a person who listens to the same songs on repeat, but I can’t imagine not discovering new music and singers/songwriters each year. I think about how much my taste in music has expanded since 2010. For me, music is about self-discovery. Songs can express exactly how we feel in a way our own words cannot, giving voice to sadness, happiness, confusion, anxiety, anger, disappointment, and love. It’s all about changing the perspective and gaining so much in return. I’ve been told me that if songs are meant to find me, they will, no matter what. Yet, at the same time, I cannot imagine not having new life experiences or meeting new people that helped me discover those songs.

Both my artists of the decade and 2019 — Dawes and First Aid Kit — are bands that I just started listening to in 2016. And the fact that I discovered 962 artists in 2019 alone is pretty staggering. It’s hard to think what life would be like had I not discovered them (I probably would have read more books, but that’s a separate issue entirely).

Live Music in 2019

Other than listening to music on Spotify and vinyl, I also attended a few live shows. In 2019, I had the pleasure of seeing a re-creation of The Band’s “The Last Waltz” performance, Gin Blossoms (welcome to 1992!), Lord Huron, Mary Chapin Carpenter with Shawn Colvin, Trisha Yearwood and Kim Richey, and Itasca.

All of these shows were great, but Spotify said I really jived with Kim Richey. I first discovered her when she opened for Mary Chapin Carpenter some 20 years ago. After seeing her live again this year, I went in for a deep dive of her music and spent over 13 hours listening to 73 of her songs on ten albums. It was time well-spent.

Leah’s Thoughts on Music Over the Decade

As we close in on 2020, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about music over the last decade. Since I’ve been writing this blog for ten years, here’s a listing of all the posts I’ve written about music over the time Leah’s Thoughts has been in existence:

An Epic 1970s Playlist for You to Enjoy

I want to leave you with a “thank you” for reading this post and sticking around all these years (or just joining me recently). Last month, I celebrated my 44th birthday with a 1970s-themed party. My friend and I created (what we think is) an epic 1970s playlist consisting of nearly nine hours of listening. Feel free to take a listen and maybe discover a few new songs to add to your collection.

Also, I typically post a record I’m listening to at least once a week in posts and stories on Instagram. Feel free to follow along.

I’d love to know what your year of music was like. What were your favorite songs, artists and albums of 2019 and the decade?

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