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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?

Let’s Talk About What’s Not Talked About: Parenting in the Tween Years

December 4, 2019

When I started this blog, Sophie was a mere 2-years-old. I wrote about all those new milestone moments of motherhood,  like going from the crib to a toddler bed, saying goodbye to the baby monitors, birthday celebrations, first days of school, how I got her to stop sucking her thumb, struggles with shoe shopping, her extroverted personality … I documented so much of my struggles and triumphs in motherhood here. And so many of you loyal readers have seen her grow up here on this blog.

I don’t write as much about Sophie on the blog for a few reasons. The main one is really that I have more to say about myself and my life, and writing about those things bring me great fulfillment. The other reason is that parenting is different now that Sophie is a 12-year-old pre-teen.

I started Leah’s Thoughts when blogging was in its heyday and mom bloggers were writing similar posts as me. As their children grew up, I noticed that so many bloggers stopped writing about their kids when they turned into tweens and teens. Most of the bloggers said they did that because parenting had become a new kind of challenging, one that was hard to write about, and they wanted to respect their kid’s privacy online. While I understand the privacy issue, I remember feeling disappointed at the same time, because I wanted to know what was it that was so difficult. Why weren’t they talking about these issues? I couldn’t imagine Sophie’s personality suddenly changing to the point that I didn’t want to write about her anymore. So the downside of not sharing these stories is I had no idea what to expect when Sophie became a tween.

Well, I’ve now reached that point where some of those moms were. Parenting has become a new kind of hard, and one I didn’t imagine myself facing. However, unlike the other bloggers, I’m going to share some of my struggles. Because I feel it’s important to talk about these things. I realize Sophie may read this at some point and that’s okay. Because here’s the thing: I’m not writing from her perspective or her voice. This is simply about me and writing helps me process my struggles. And I have a right to share my voice; just like she has a right to share hers if she so chooses to do so.

So let’s talk about what’s not talked about. And let me start by saying I’m talking about being the mom of a girl. I realize it may be completely different as a boy mom. But the hardest thing that I’ve had to deal with as the mom of a 12-year-old girl is the moodiness and disrespect.

Sophie started middle school this year. It’s a HARD age and stage in life! Puberty has reared its ugly head. Friendships change; this is especially common with girls as hormones start flooding the system and relationships with boys, or other girls, start playing a different role. For someone like Sophie, where friendships are extremely important, this has been difficult. The opinions of her friends (and kids who aren’t even friends) suddenly matter a great deal more to her.

Sixth graders are expected to be more independent in school and more responsible for themselves; but often times, their brains haven’t quite caught up with the expectation. Yet, at the same time, Sophie wants to be more independent from me. I encourage this, but she doesn’t often want to take my advice and information that will allow this to happen. And when I try asking her about homework, I’m met with anger and attitude.

I get A LOT of attitude and back-talk, eye rolling and comments like, “You don’t get it!” And when I tell Sophie that it’s not acceptable to be rude to me, what’s equally tough is she doesn’t think she’s acting inappropriately. I don’t necessarily disbelieve her either. I think their brains are still trying to figure out what’s acceptable and not. Yet it’s a fine line between letting her express emotion and not taking disrespect.

So often, I feel full of hope when I pick her up from school, and then end up beyond depleted and hopeless by the day’s end because of an argument about homework, picking up her dirty laundry, or when I tell her to get off her phone. I can’t tell you how many times I look back at old photos and see how happy the two of us were together, and I cry, wondering if we’ll be that way again. I wonder what happened to that sweet girl, and how I screwed things up along the way.

I think the hardest part of parenting at this age is that it feels like this child changed overnight and came out of nowhere, and I wasn’t equipped to handle it. There’s no parenting handbook for this. The doctors don’t go over attitudes at well-check appointments. Most parenting websites focus on raising young children. There’s no teacher telling you you’re doing okay or giving you a grade. And all those parenting blogs I relied on for inspiration and milestone tracking when Sophie was growing from 2 to 10? They stopped writing about how motherhood can absolutely drain the life out of you when your daughter turns into a pre-teen.

I’m being honest when I say that it can sometimes be a daily struggle not to walk away, want to yell at my child from the top of my lungs, and feel like I failed completely. But I don’t walk away (sometimes I walk into the other room), because I know it’s important to show up and be present, even if she acts like she doesn’t want me there. I don’t scream, although I have yelled and said things I regret (I’m far from perfect). And I do feel like I fail on a consistent basis.

I don’t want this to seem like every moment of every day is terrible. There are times, this past week especially, where the good days outnumbered the bad ones. And despite the difficult times, I truly am in awe of Sophie. She’s a smart, creative, talented, energetic, funny, intuitive, deep young woman who is going to do amazing things with her life. And I’m so grateful for all she’s taught me and how she’s made my life a better place.

What keeps me going and gives me glimmers of hope are the small moments we share. Gone are the days that Sophie and I spent the day at the zoo or crafted together at the kitchen table. So right now, it’s things like drinking our first Starbucks holiday beverage of the season together when school had an unexpected 2-hour delayed start. Or the evenings she wants to watch a few episodes of “Friends” with me on the couch, even if I’ve seen the episode at least 50 times. Or the night she wasn’t staying with me, but called me distraught because she had to redo a homework project due the next day. She stood outside, shivering, waiting for me to deliver her school supplies. And I, literally, gave her the socks and slippers off my feet so she’d stay warm. These aren’t the moments that are necessarily Instagrammable, but they’re just as special to me. And I hope they are to her, too.

Maybe this is what parenting is all about when kids are pre-teens and tweens. Unfortunately, I don’t have any advice on what to tell fellow moms or dads facing the same issues. All I can offer is the promise to keep writing about these hard topics, being honest about my feelings, and commiserating with anyone who wants to share with me. Parenthood is hard. There’s no reason we should have to be all alone in it, even when our kids leave us feeling like we are.

Advice to my 16-Year-Old Self

November 14, 2019

Me at age 16 (It’s the best I could do)

Last month I had the great pleasure of seeing my musical hero, Mary Chapin Carpenter, in concert. I’ve seen her so many times I’ve lost count, and each performance brings something different to me. This concert she performed alongside Shawn Colvin. The two of them have been best friends for decades and decided to give a performance that was not just musical, but full of stories; especially stories that related to the songs they sung.

Carpenter sang “This Shirt,” which is a song from her second album and has become a fan favorite (it’s also my mom’s favorite). In this tune, which she said is all a true story, she sings about a shirt she’d since high school and all the memories associated with that piece of clothing. It’s a very personal, yet simple and beautiful song. She and Colvin then reminisced about being 16-year-old high school students, and the advice they would give their younger selves.

Perhaps it’s my reflective mood and the fact that I just turned 44, but that song and conversation got me thinking about who I was at that age. It feels like a lifetime ago that I was 16. In many ways, it was; as that was 28 years ago.

I turned 16 on November 6, 1991, which was during my junior year of high school. The high school years were not the favorite years of my life, but what I remember most about my junior year is being a reporter on the student newspaper (writing was ever-present, even then) and loving my American Literature class. I got my driver’s license the day I turned 16 and my first job at Dairy Queen that December. I wore baggy sweatshirts. (Ironically, so does Sophie today. Baggy is back, apparently.) And I loved U2, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, the “Singles” soundtrack, was intrigued by Nirvana, and a quick Google of the Billboard hits of 1991 reinforced the fact that I wasn’t a fan of Top 40, even at that age.

After listening to Carpenter, I came up with the following 16 pieces of advice I would tell my younger self:

1. Don’t use credit cards. Learn how to budget and save your money.

2. Keep writing, even if it’s bad poetry.

3. Today is just one chapter of what will be a huge novel.

4. Don’t be so afraid of what you don’t know.

5. Life is really hard and it takes a long time to feel like you’re home

6. Leave home and go away to college.

7. Know that a bad grade isn’t going to to make or break you.

8. Stop worrying about whether those guys like you. They won’t mean anything in the long run, and they’ll provide great stories for the future.

9. Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t fit in your clothes. Worry if you feel like you don’t fit in your own body.

10. Don’t hurry to grow up. Being an adult is hard and you’ll never get that time back.

11. Spend more time in the record stores because they’ll be gone one day.

12. Take music lessons. Learn to the play the piano and the guitar.

13. Don’t take AP biology. It seems cool, but the teacher is as much of a jerk as everyone said he was.

14. Don’t quit volleyball tryouts. Go back on the second day and try again. Even if you don’t make the team, you will have tried.

15. It’s okay to lose control every once in a while. You’re going to lie and do stupid things. Doing those things don’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

16. Life gets so much better. Just hang on a little longer. You’ll find your way eventually.

What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self? Would you have headed your own advice?

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