Iditarod Musher’s Ball

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The convention center was packed with $1,000 tables, the dress casual, as all Alaskan events seem to be, and the mushers mingled in the crowds. My favorite part of the night? The clear fact that the mushers would rather be on the trails than mingling, the times their faces really grew animated was when talking about their dogs.

I am here in Anchorage this week by happenstance, others because being a part of the Iditarod is on their bucket list. The Musher’s banquet was filled with the founders, memories of them, and racing legends. The Iditarod has groupies like you would expect at a rock concert. People lined up to have their favorite mushers sign their shirts and take pictures (see picture below of an acquaintance pictured with two identical twin mushers). I saw a book of trading cards even. As with every sport, there is a culture, and the Iditarod is no different.

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The Iditarod Sled Dog Race was co-founded by Joe Redington who wanted the Iditarod trail listed as a National Trail, much like Lewis & Clark. He became friends with Dorothy Page who wanted to save the sport of dog mushing. The combination of their two interests became one and the Iditarod Sled Dog Race was born. It’s the 45th running of the Iditarod this year and Joe’s three grandsons are entered in the 2017 race carrying on the family tradition and his crooked grin.

Sled dogs used to be the major mode of transportation here in Alaska. It was the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the Great Race of Mercy, a transport of diphtheria antitoxin serum by dog sled relay across the U.S. territory of Alaska by 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs 674 miles (1,085 km) in five and a half days that put dog mushing back on the world’s stage briefly before airplanes changed the face of travel completely. The Serum Run saved the small town of Nome and the surrounding communities from an incipient epidemic and the lead dog, Balto, became a legend. By the 1950’s and early 60’s families weren’t passing down methods of dog mushing to the younger generation and it was beginning to die out. The Iditarod Trail race has become the iconic symbol of this state and frontier life. It accomplished both Dorothy and Joe’s goals, to bring life to the Iditarod trail and renewed interest in dogsledding.

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It isn’t called the “The Last Great Race” for nothing. In a world where constant communication is normalized, mechanization is prized, and comfort is sought above all, the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is a uniquely special event. The mushers have to train their dogs all year, yet elements of the race can’t be controlled now, just as they couldn’t in 1925, racing to Nome. Weather can be harsh, dogs can struggle, yet the mushers continue on.

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For me, I started the week not caring a fig newton about this race, and now I’m fangirling. Susan Butcher, the late female racing legend of the Iditarod, named her firstborn after her lead dog, Teckla, that made the first dog-sled ascent of Denali. The Iditarod has strong women, strong men, all heart, and a crazy love of nature and animals. We could use more of this in the world. Iditarod, welcome to your newest fan.

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Forget the guests, use the nice pillows.

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We’ve all heard the battle cries of carpe diem! Seize the day! Use the nice china. Don’t wait. I have one more to add: forget the guests, use the nice pillows.

We were recently preparing to have a guest at our home and I realized that I had given them the very newest pillows we own. How nice. When I tucked my son in for his nap that afternoon, I glanced at his pillow and found that had been through every storm, sick episode, and was likely older than I was. It was nasty looking. What the? I like to have guests, I’m sure you do, too, but they don’t live in our homes.

With this a-ha moment (light bulb!), I started looking around my house. I have a very large, grand sidewalk lined with boxwood shrubs for our guests, while my family comes through a dirty garage to the most confounding pile of crap in a muddy, muddy mudroom every day. My formal entryway is decorated with a theme for every season, in front of a door my family and closest friends never use. (See exhibit B for February). The spaces my family actually resides in? Tag sale city, sweetheart.

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What’s wrong with this picture? Image, I guess? Without being aware of it, I have cultivated some of the nicest spaces in our home for people that I care the least about. Have any of you done this, too? What is it about appearances that sucks us in? I can blame Pinterest and other social media sites, but it’s more than that. I don’t have to give greater credence to any of those sites than you do.

For me, I ordered new pillows in our house, for my family. I switched up our towels and paid someone to come in paint my mudroom. While finishing designing and decorating my home, I’m going to proceed with my family and our style in mind first from now on. Our real style, not how I wish it was, but how it actually is (storage for sweaty gear, heaps of laundry and all). I’m kind of done with appearances for fictional guests. My extended family members and closest friends recall when I barely washed my clothes and ate ramen noodles. I don’t think giving them the highest thread count in the guest room is going to change their opinion of me. Flattering or not, their memories of me have been cultivated over decades. It comes down to this…my favorite people use the back door. I bet yours do, too. Make it nice for them. More than that, make it nice for you. 

Keep sharing moxie.

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Hello, I’m a closeted introvert

fill-your-cupHello, I’m a closeted introvert. Actually, I’m an introvert operating as an extrovert out of professional necessity. Are you? Truth is, my ideal weekend is to come home on a Friday night and not leave, well, ever. Does this sound familiar?

When people talk about what fills their cup up and recharges their batteries? Not spending time with more people. Can I say that? I just did. I have enough people in my professional life that are ready to pounce with a canister of need as soon as my office door is open. I retreat to survive. I need books, coffee, and solitude (rinse and repeat) in order to face the music every week. Can I get an amen?!

Social media gives us the illusion that we are in contact with people, that we know what is going on in their lives when we actually haven’t seen them in 10, 15, 20 years. I love this. The feeling of connection without putting on shoes or make-up? Yes. It’s not real though. I know this, but I’m not sure how much my younger counterparts realize the dimensions of connection that are lost in translation online. Sometimes we need to suit up to do the #wholethingandadeal. Once in a while, we need to change out of sweatpants and see our friends, but most of the time? Nah.

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If you haven’t taken the Myers-Brigg or done any personality typing, that’s ok. I think most of us know what fills our cup up. (disclosure, because I’m sure you’re waiting with bated breath- I’m an INTP, borderline INFP). I had some friends recently confess that they eat most of their meals out because one of them can’t stand to be at home, they just want to talk with people. I must’ve looked at them like they had two heads. I was reminded that there is a very wide spectrum of means to replenish and maintain one’s cup.

 

Over time I’ve come to realize what turns me into a sneering piss ant, it’s when I don’t have time to read and be by myself, when I feel hedged in by people and their tidal waves of requests (even my family, yikes, I’m getting Oprah honest here).  My professional life is filled with people, counseling, and lectures. My personal life? If I see that my calendar has two or three commitments requiring small talk and glad-handing on a weekend, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of dread and foreboding.

If you’re anything like me, perhaps you might acknowledge that you are, in fact, a closeted introvert. Throw off the chains of social niceties and start turning down more invitations than you accept. If you’re going to be a miserable schmuck sneaking off to read in the bathroom, you might as well have stayed home. (confession: I have on more than one occasion snuck out of a wedding, a dinner party and a birthday party to read a book like a junkie).

Let me be clear, it’s not that I can’t interact with people, and it’s not that you can’t either, it’s just a simple acknowledgment of what fills your cup up and what drains it…and the wisdom to know the difference.  

Keep sharing moxie.

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Congratulations!!

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Congratulations to Heidi Lien! Winner of my 1st Anniversary giveaway! I hope you enjoy the Amazon gift card and donation to your favorite library. Who wouldn’t? 🙂

This celebration and drawing brings to mind other moments of unexpected joy… to the Colton Ladies Aid Bingo night with my Grandma when I won $5 and had to split it with two other winners. BINGO! Many thanks to Super America that drew my name and awarded me a 5 foot tall stuffed snowman when I was 13. I was nine kinds of mortified when they posted the picture of me. And most recently, my big winnings of $16 after guessing the first commercial following half-time during the Superbowl. I am a lucky girl indeed.

One thing I never managed to win, but was hopeful every time, was lucky tray day at Riverview Elementary school. NOT ONCE in 6 years was I ever the proud recipient of a lucky tray. Did your school have this blessed event? The line in the cafeteria on lucky tray day snaked out the doors. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the truth. I was still lamenting this (I’m a little pathetic),  when a friend told me the reason I never won. I didn’t shove to the front of the line, grab trays, and feel for the tape underneath. Lucky tray, my Aunt Sally!!

I felt much better after the revelation. I didn’t budge in line and I wasn’t a cheater. I hope I’m still that kind of person. I think I am. If you can’t win while playing by the rules, it’s a bit of a hollow victory. I just really wanted to be lucky.

Heidi, rest easy, you won fair and square. My daughter drew your name out of a bucket. Enjoy!!

Feeding Someone with Love

My new litmus test for humanity is this: are you the type of person to visit someone in a nursing home and feed them soup? There is much banter over kindness, giving of yourself, and loving one another, but at the end of the day, what does that really look like? I’ve seen puffed up pretty boys expounding on good deeds and beauties talking about volunteering, but if I can’t see them feeding someone soup, their words ring hollow to me.

Love? Humanity? For me? It’s the lasting image of watching Bill feed Enid soup. I spent the better part of two years visiting one of my parents on a locked Dementia care unit. Eating was the last thing that my family member still enjoyed, and he did so quickly and with gusto. Enid was on the same unit and shook, so she had a harder time eating. Her husband, Bill, came to visit faithfully and helped feed her, slowly, wiping her mouth between spoonfuls. Talking all the while to her and other residents. After meals, they would often retire to the t.v. area, holding hands on the couch.

If this sounds like a Nicholas Sparks novel, you’re not far off. What’s missing is the banging and the groaning of the other residents. The repetitions of the agitated. There was always a scent diffuser going full blast to mask the smell of urine. It was, and remains, an impressive care facility, so I’m not knocking it, far from it. Alzheimer’s is a lot of things, but beautiful isn’t one of them. Not so for Bill and Enid. They were couple set apart, love personified. It was an inspiration to watch how Bill cared for his wife.

After one particularly trying visit to the unit, my husband asked me what was the matter. “I just watched the most loving thing today. Bill was feeding Enid soup. I don’t think you would do the same thing. I totally bet on the wrong pony.” My spouse assured me that he would feed me in my later years if needed. I hope so, but I doubt it. The way I see it? I have about 35 years to turn him into a guy like Bill. He’s not there yet. To be fair, I’m not there yet either, but I’m trying to be.

This year I’ve watched some of the greatest generation pass away. Octogenarians and their peers that were the backbone of our community and maybe of yours, too. 42 years on the fire dept, 37 years as a girl scout troop leader, veteran, Salvation Army volunteer, Gold Star families. I’m worried that my generation isn’t quite up to snuff to fill these shoes. Most of us aren’t the type to visit loved ones in nursing homes and feed them with love. Every. Single. Day.

My Facebook feed has been as divided as our country lately. Yours, too? I work with teenagers and college students. Their level of narcissistic tendencies, if unchecked, makes me shudder and a little sick to my stomach some days, yet hopeful on others when I see them trying to understand and learn. I’m not impressed with indignant social media posts, they alone don’t accomplish much. I’m impressed with Bill feeding Enid soup. Each person can actually do something to help us all: Raise a Bill in your home, in your community, within yourself, and we’ll all be better for it. Set the bar higher for humanity. Feed someone with love. 

Arrowhead 135: Cowards Won’t Show

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The New York Times showed up last year to cover this race, but they haven’t been here for 10 years. I have. The Arrowhead Ultra 135 started in 2005 with a group of 5 snowbikers that wanted to do something crazy, but maybe a little bit cool, too. Let’s bike 135 miles in January, in northern Minnesota, on a snowmobile trail. Every good thing starts as a bombastic crazy-ass idea first: Climb Mount Everest? Impossible. Women voters? Don’t be ridiculous. Ride your bike through the snow? I don’t think so. Until someone did.

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The Arrowhead Ultra can be completed by biking, running, or skiing. It turns out that biking is the easiest, unless the trail is soft and you have to push your bike. Let’s just swing that idea past you one more time, because it’s worth registering: RUN 135 miles. IN MINNESOTA. IN JANUARY. The trail has hit -40 degrees Fahrenheit during races, and sometimes hovers around 30 degrees. Each year is a roll of the dice. You must carry all the gear you need, complete the race with 3000 calories in stow (my racer carries lard), and finish 135 miles in 60 hours. Less than half finish.

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(photo credit: Gear Junkie).

Once a feat is tackled, the flag is planted and the bell rung, you must make it harder, faster, and more punishing. It’s no longer enough to finish one difficult epic journey. While I write this there is a group of individuals that finished running 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents yesterday.

You get a special trophy -the Arrowhead A’trois- if you finish this winter race in all three modes of propulsion: ski, run, and bike over a period of three years. There is a Brazilian racer this year that is trying to finish the Badwater series. He has run the Badwater 135 in Death Valley (hottest),  Badwater Brazil (mountains), and is now attempting to finish the Arrowhead Ultra (coldest). He has been training in a freezer. Not kidding. Where does one find cold weather in Brazil? A walk-in freezer. I wish him well, but nothing has prepared him for the six inches of snow today expected on the trail and sub-zero temps at night. 30 degrees is balmy here, 30 below is to be expected and prepared for.

I admire people that do hard things, while I recognize that we have a cush lifestyle that allows us to train for these experiences, travel to different places, and the funds to do so. We aren’t fleeing through the mountains being chased by those that would do us harm. We aren’t running through the desert to flee from persecution. My husband doesn’t need to sleep outside in the winter trying to get us food off the trail. We have plenty. It’s a voluntary struggle that all of these racers sign-up for, yet they are the ones that run, walk, and ski it.

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It’s a psychological game at night to take out your sleeping bag and bivouac on the trail. When it’s below zero, your brain wants to survive and may buck the idea of surrendering to sleep. Ultramarathons aren’t for sissies. Winter camping isn’t for the fearful. Racing requires you to step off the sidelines. Arrowhead 135: Cowards Won’t Show. It’s honestly the tagline.

I think everyone can learn something from those that push for more, in every area. For me, if I was hiring, I’d go for a racer. They are tough as hell. Talent only gets you so far in life, at some point we all must do more. Dig deeper. Be better. If you can’t do it, bring a cowbell to cheer on those that can.

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Keep sharing moxie.

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