On the Move with LoveSac

For those of you who live in Boston the phrase “moving day,” has a single definition: tomorrow, September 1st. It’s not your moving day or my moving day; in Boston more than 80% of rental properties turn over on this day, so even if you are not moving, you’re impacted by the thousands of others (many of them students) doing so. Moving trucks double parked, sidewalks blocked, cast-away mattresses and couches littering the streets…it is a hassle for everyone.

Evidence of a move in Beacon Hill

Evidence of a move in Beacon Hill

Curt Savoie, principal data scientists for The City of Boston shared this heat map showing the concentration of moving permits issued by the City for August 28-September 1. It paints a scary picture. And this is only the folks who applied for permits, it doesn’t include all those college students who go rogue and move out of a borrowed truck.

Courtesy of The City of Boston

Courtesy of The City of Boston

LoveSac, the furniture company with stores in Natick and Burlington, will be making moving day easier for one lucky Bostonian by doing the dirty work for them. Through a sweepstakes held last week, folks could enter to win a free move…on LoveSac. I’m not moving, but if you read about my panic attach producing move a few years ago, you know that I can empathize with the cost and stress of moving. I would have done ANYTHING to have an opportunity like this. And not only will the lucky winner get an all-expense-paid move, but they will also win a Sactional. What’s a Sactional, you ask? I’d be happy to tell you.

Bloggers relaxing on a Sactional

Bloggers relaxing on a Sactional

I met the LoveSac team and learned all about the Sactional at a fun event held last week at the Liberty Hotel. (Full disclosure: the event was thrown by LoveSac’s PR agency which happens to be the one I work for. Some of my talented colleagues planned and executed the event, but as always, the observations and opinions I express on this blog, are entirely my own). The Sactional is LovSac’s answer to everything that is wrong with couches: big, bulky, difficult to move, doesn’t fit in your next home, and a color or pattern that you love at one stage of your life, and then seems like worst decision ever. Sactionals can be recovered as easily as changing your pillowcase, those covers are machine washable, and the couches comes apart into manageable-sized pieces that makes moving easy. After watching delivery folk struggle, sweat and swear trying to get my couch up my narrow three flights of stairs, I found myself shocked that the pieces of the Sactional could be taken apart and easily carried down a SPIRAL STAIRCASE at the Liberty.

LoveSac founder Shawn Nelson

LoveSac founder Shawn Nelson

I was convinced from a mobility perspective, but I thought there had to be a catch. Would the scale of the couch be too big for urban apartment living? Would they have enough fabric choices to satisfy a color lover like me? LoveSac’s founder Shawn Nelson squashed my reservations. Shawn serendipitously started LoveSac by creating an over-sized beanbag chair when he was 18. Shawn talked about the 300+ fabric choices and contrasting piping! He had me at contrasting piping! And true, you can build your Sactional to be as large as you like and as large as your home will allow, but the two-cushion option actually has smaller dimensions than the couch I have in my tiny apartment.

These pieces make up the couch, how easy is that to move?

These pieces make up the couch, how easy is that to move?

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Convenience and style notwithstanding, the LoveSac team is fun, and they clearly have a believe in the brand. Shawn, just out of high school, turned his passion for one crazy over-sized beanbag into a company that has a passion for it’s customers’ lives. He says that life happens on your couch with those you love, that time should be comfortable and stress-free. That’s a concept I can get behind!

So for all of you who are moving tomorrow (I have a few friends in that crowd), take a deep breath, stay hydrated, stay sane. Moving sucks, but September 2nd will be here before you know it!

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My Boston Marathon

We are one week on from the 119th Boston Marathon. I sat down to write this post several times over the past seven days, but it almost seemed too soon. I had to spend a few days icing and recovering physically and emotionally. While walking was a little painful, not to mention funny looking (maybe that’s why so many runners insist on wearing their Boston Marathon jackets for days…it explains their awkward gait) I felt as if I was floating on a cloud of accomplishment. True the weather was terrible, the headwind brutal, and my legs painful, but the Boston Marathon was an amazing experience.

I woke up on Marathon Monday and turned on the TV, hoping Mother Nature had made a game time decision and not rain on my parade. It was a total buzz kill when every other phrase uttered by TV journalists was “the weather is not ideal.” Maybe this is what professional football players feel like before a big game played in the middle of winter.

My Dad walked me to the Common where I boarded a yellow school bus for the journey out to Hopkinton. On the Mass Pike the reality that my feet alone would be carrying me back home started to sink in. Thankfully, passing motorists waving and honking jogged my thoughts out of that mental rabbit hole. The stranger sitting next to me was even more nervous than I was, and trying to calm her down (which ultimately resulted in me passing her my People Magazine) actually calmed me down. There was nothing else either of us could do at that point. We had the clothes on our back, it was too late to get another layer. We knew it was going to rain, the only question was whether we would be running in it for all 26.2 miles, or only some of them. I figured there was no point in worrying; basically everything was outside of my control…except for my head. My legs were trained to run this distance, but it would be up to my head, my mental toughness, to get me to the finish line.

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After arriving at the Athlete’s Village and waiting in a 40 minute line for the bathroom, I finally saw a friendly face: a co-worker also running Boston for the first time. It was great to have someone to walk and chat with, it cut the tension building in my mind and body. With 30,000 plus people running this race, I saw another familiar face when I reached corral #7 (actual proof that Boston is a really small town). As we started to trot towards the starting line, the excitement was palpable, and the rain started falling. Hard.

The first several miles were slow, congested and wet. I got into a near shoving match with a Belgian, (thanks to that kind, and cute, stranger who acted as a bodyguard of sorts after the run-in) and I nearly fell after a runner right ahead of me stopped short trying to avoid a monstrous puddle.

The first 10 or so miles are a blur. It was raining, miserable, and the crowds were thinner than I had expected and hoped. My windbreaker was soaking, and my muscles were cold and tight. I had a moment when I wondered to myself: Why did I think this would be fun? Could I call an Uber? But I just put my head down and ran…and ran…and ran.

At mile 13 my right IT band (a polite way of describing my butt) and my left achillies started hurting. I felt pain with each step. This is when the power of the crowds and my fellow competitors meant everything. Between signs that read “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever,” and the herculean efforts of some of my differently-abled fellow participants (including Maickel Melamed) inspired and motivated me to keep going.

The turning point was around mile 17, still in pain, but with a heavy mist instead of a downpour, I heard a bellowing “It’s a Mahlmarathon!” and “Go Mahlman!” From some dear friends. My pace instantly increased, and a broad smile took over my face (Thank you Hannigans! That is exactly when I needed you!). As I took the right at the Newton Fire House with Heartbreak Hill ahead of me, I saw an incredible sight. A man in a wheelchair, using his legs to shuffle himself up the hill…backwards. As I passed him I told him how great he was doing, choking back tears, and nearing causing me to hyperventilate. That is what marathons are all about: individuals of varying abilities pushing themselves as far as they can.

Once I passed mile 20 I realized I was not going to make my goal time, but quickly got over it (pleasantly surprised with myself about that), as the crowds thickened and I started spotting more and more familiar faces among the thousands braving the rain to cheer us on. That’s when I got really emotionally, again fighting back tears because the combination of running and blubbering was causing hyperventilation.

Prior to that day, folks had told me not to weave from one side of the course to the other, it would mean taking extra steps and wasting energy. But when I saw my two besties at Kendall Square, I didn’t care. I swerved, nearly sprinting to the other side of Beacon Street to give them huge hugs. I don’t know if I said anything, but I felt a huge lump in my throat and again had to fight back tears. As I took that famous left from Hereford onto Boylston I saw my Dad waving, I could barely contain my excitement. After shedding that soaking wet windbreaker, hurling it at him, I took off. With about 300 yards to go my legs were hurting and tightening even more, but I felt like I was in a nearly full-out sprint. I couldn’t hear anything, the crowd was so loud.

Crossing the finish line was euphoric, but also a reality check. As soon as my legs slowed to a walk they stiffened up and I started shaking from the cold. Thanks to the volunteers who helped me get into my tinfoil blanket and peeled my banana for me because my fingers were too cold to function. I limped to the bar where I would rendezvous with my Dad and friends. Within minutes I had warmed up, and I chased my marathon with a banana and bubbly (a great combination, in case you are wondering). Celebrating with my Dad and some of my best friends, a celebration that eventually devolved into a 90’s dance party, was the icing on my Boston Marathon cake.

A banana and bubbly

A banana and bubbly

My People

My People

Despite running for 4 hours and ten minutes (although I stopped to go to the bathroom, so really four hours and 8 minutes, but who’s counting. Hint: me.) I had trouble sleeping that night. I couldn’t get over how amazing the entire experience was. I learned about the Children’s Advocacy Center, and helped them with the important work they do. There were so many amazingly generous people who donated to my marathon efforts, plus all the emails, calls, tweets, posts and texts of encouragement I received. Then those brave souls who tracked and cheered me on in less than ideal conditions. And I’m pretty proud of myself as well: other than a less-than-serious passing thought, I never seriously considered stopping. Despite the rain and pain, it was never really an option, I was committed. It’s overwhelming to think about, even now, one week later. Which is one of the reason it took me so long to write this post. I am still so touched by everyone who shared this experience with me.

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In the end, I can corroborate the expression….There’s nothing quite like Boston.

Definition of Bravery

The 2015 Boston Marathon is only five days away. And all I can think about is what carbs I should be eating when, and how it’s ok to run only three miles today, I’m tapering. But in the middle of all of this performance-focused thinking it was good to be reminded why I am running 26.2 miles…for children who have been abused here in Boston.

Last week I attended the Children’s Advocacy Center’s “Bravery Ceremony.” It was a moving reminder of what all this training and fundraising is going towards. During this ceremony victims of abuse were presented with awards from CAC and their “teams,” the District Attorneys and Victim Advocates who helped them get through the legal portion of their journey to recovery.

There was also a exhibit of photographs of victim’s eyes and their advice to other kids on how to get through terrible times. The exhibit was called “Now You See Me, A Celebration of Courageous Kids.” And courageous they are. Coming forward is incredibly difficult. There’s the social stigma attached to sexual abuse, and in many cases these children were threatened to ensure their silence, and/or were abused by members of their family, and coming forward means tearing a family apart.

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The firsthand accounts were at times hard to read, but important to read. Josh was abused by a family member starting when he was 13. He wrote:

“Being in front of a jury was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But I just kept thinking ‘Tell the truth, you know what happened to you. Now it’s your chance to tell everyone else.’”

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Bessie was abused by her uncle started at age five. She wrote:

“Knowing that I endured something so painful allows me to be a stronger person. As a child you don’t have control over ugly things that might happen to you, but as you get older, you will always have the last say. You have survived the battle and you have the opportunity to live and take the good from life.”

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The emotional connection between the victims, their teams, CAC staff, and the detectives who investigated their cases was evident and touching.

I became aware of CAC and all the good work they do through two friends (Laura Montgomery an Assistant DA and Kate Lagana, a Victim Advocate), and now I was able to see them celebrating the bravery of the victim’s they helped get justice. It’s clear that through the judicial process, the victims and their teams get very close; lawyers become cheerleaders, friends…vital support through the most difficult of times. There was such emotion in Laura’s voice as she commended one of her victims, Jennifer, that I had goosebumps on my arms, and tears welling in my eyes. Some of the victims whose bravery was being celebrated  had waited as long as six years to finally get justice.

My dear friend Laura, in green, with one of her victims, Jennifer

My dear friend Laura, in green, with one of her victims, Jennifer

During the ceremony, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley spoke, calling these victims who suffered abuse during childhood, “The bravest people in Boston.” He thanked them and said that by coming forward other victims will know that they too can come forward. He commended the DAs, Victim Advocates, detectives and staff of CAC, as doing “some of the most important work in law enforcement in the Commonwealth.”

This is my last plea for donations before the marathon, I swear. Every dollar I help to raise will help CAC fund a full time position for a mental health professional for the child victims of sexual abuse. If you are feeling generous, even if it is only a few dollars, please donate today.

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To sweeten the deal, the good people at Exhale Spa were kind enough to donate a five pack of Mind Body classes for me to use in my fundraising efforts. You can enter for a chance to win this class pack (retail value: $125), if you 1) like Children’s Advocacy Center on Facebook, and 2) leave a comment below about why you think it’s important to shine a light on the bravery of these young victims.

Thank you for all the support!

22 Miles Down, Two Weeks to Go

The count down is on. There are less than two weeks until the 2015 Boston Marathon and the infamous “tapering” phase is now in full swing for me. But to reach this carb-loading, easying up phase I had to do one last long run a week ago. And it was my first time running the actual course.

After months of training in challenging winter conditions, I was feeling pretty nervous about whether I would be ready for the big day and the notorious “Heartbreak Hill.” I had felt good on all my long runs, but many of the week-day runs had to be cut short or never happened because of brutal cold, ice and snowy roads. So when I heard that New Balance and Marathon Sports were sponsoring a 21 mile run on the course, I jumped at the chance…then got really nervous.

Because so many runners work hard to qualify for the chance to run Boston, it seems the training surrounding this marathon is more intense than others. I did not qualify, rather I earned my bib number by raising money for a very worthy cause (there’s still time to donate, please click here), and I’ve been training in a relative vacuum of isolation; running all by myself, on basically the same course (along the Charles River). I started reading “26 Miles to Boston,” which was recommended to me by just about everyone, but it really messed with my head. Every page had a reference to hill repeats, track work or speed workouts. I had done none of the above. I have just run around the Charles (and a few other bodies of water: the Seine and Wissahickon) a lot.

Suddenly, despite intellectually knowing that I am not a Kenyan, I started getting nervous that I was not ready…to win the marathon. Instead of focusing on the good I was doing by raising money for The Children’s Advocacy Center, or revel in the experience that is running Boston, I felt my competitive juices starting to flow and my mind getting focused on hitting a certain time (my previous marathon time of 3:56:05).

Our sweet ride out to Framingham...courtesy of New Balance

Our sweet ride out to Framingham…courtesy of New Balance

So the night before this last long training run I was nervous the way I would be before a job interview. Yes, I am indeed insane. We gathered at Marathon Sport at 7:15 a.m. and dozens of us filed onto trollies for the 21 mile ride out to mile 5 of the marathon in Framingham.

Our trolly full of runners

Our trolly full of runners

During the long trolly ride it started to sink in how far away we were headed and how far I was about to run…in the snow. Oh, did I forget to mention that it was snowing? Huge fluffy flakes.

It was at that moment when I realized I should have reviewed the actual course before embarking on this run. I asked the person sitting next to me if there was any way I could get lost (because if there was a way I would likely find it). She assured me that there wasn’t. “It’s all straight and then a right at the fire station.” I mused that this fire station better be really obvious. At that point I was really getting nervous, I decided to run with my phone in case I needed to be rescued by Uber, and I missed the group picture because I was peeing behind a tree.

We started out on the road (I guess it was RT 135) and I immediately realized that everyone had been right; there is just something about Boston. My first sign was right there in front of me: hundreds of runner on the shoulder of the road. And there were folks out cheering for us. Some had signs, some had cow bells, some had water, cookies, bananas. This wasn’t even race day and we had a cheering section for 15 miles. Police officers in Newton set up orange cones and stopped traffic so we could run unencumbered by cars.

After about four miles my running watch decided that the only display it liked was the direction in which I was running. Why any runner, unless they were involved in The Amazing Race, would need to know that they are running northeast is beyond me. I could no longer log how long I had been running, how far I had gone or my pace. So I had to rely on more primitive means; I shut everything else out and concentrated on my breathing. I should not be huffing and puffing at mile 6, so if I was, I needed to slow down. I listened for church bells to mark the hours, and when I saw a lot of running related litter (gels, goos, etc.), I had a goo too to keep my energy up.

A long line of runners (I think this was in Natick)

A long line of runners (I think this was in Natick)

It was great to get a sense of the course, because despite how sad this sounds, my first time in some of these towns was running through them that day. And yes, the infamous Newton Fire Station is obvious (thank goodness!). There I took a right turn, signalling the end was if not in sight, at least less than 9 miles away. When I got to BC I asked a fellow runner where Heartbreak Hill was. She said I had already passed it. I was elated, it wasn’t even that bad. Just three hills followed by downhills where you can recover. I told her that was the best thing she could have possibly said to me at that moment. And it was the truth.

the infamous Newton Fire Station, complete with water station

the infamous Newton Fire Station, complete with water station

The runners really thinned out after mile 21 (it seems many planned a run from the start to mile 21, as opposed to mile 5 to the finish), and I did manage to get lost. How did that happen, you may ask? Well, my terrible sense of direction is not solely to blame. A friendly runner thought I was on her Dana Farber team and took me to their meet-up location and I didn’t know enough to realize that the marathon course does not in fact go though the parking lots at BC. I tried to find my way back but ended up on Comm Ave. instead of Beacon Street. I actually had to ask for directions from someone on the street. But I got back on track after only running one extra mile.

When I finally saw the Citgo sign I felt a surge of energy. The end was near. By the time I turned onto Boylston I was dodging pedestrians in nearly and all-out sprint (or as sprinty as I get after 22 miles). When I crossed the finish line (or, more accurately, the sidewalk next to it) I was so relieved, and excited. Relieved because I knew that if I could run 22 I could run 4 miles more on Marathon Monday. And excited because if I had this much fun on a training run, imagine how great the actual marathon will be!

I also felt really proud. I had been training (in one way or another) everyday since December 17th and I was ready. The snow did not stop me, the freezing temperatures did not stop me. I had put everything I could into training, and now it was time to taper, rest up and get ready.

I have just two weeks to go, and I really could not be more excited for this experience. Will I push myself to beat a certain time? Probably (did I mention 3:56:05?). But I also know I want to savor each mile, and all my friends and the crowds along the way. Just like when my watch broke, I am going to try to tune everything out and just be in the moment, absorb everything around me, and enjoy the run.

Yes, there are only two weeks to go before the marathon, and only two weeks left to donate to my fundraising efforts to benefit the Children’s Advocacy Center. If you have not done so already, please consider donating today. You can do so here.

Runnin’ Down A Dream

Is it sad that 38 degrees feels balmy? I, for one, am over winter. The past 6 weeks have been really hard for Boston and for many other parts of the country as well. Blizzard after blizzard, ice sidewalks, unplowed streets. Now imagine you are insane enough to train for the Boston Marathon in this. Yeah, that is really not fun.

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Yep, running through this sucked as much as you think it did.

I have been getting in all my long runs (albeit in freezing temperatures and through snow), but I certainly have not been running as often as I like. That has me nervous about April 20th. So I decided turn to an expert for training advice and to learn how to turn a life’s passion into a career.

The one and only...Bart Yasso

The one and only…Bart Yasso. Photo courtesy of Runner’s World

Bart Yasso is the Director of Running for Runner’s World magazine. He has run more marathons that you can count and is a great ambassador for the sport, attending races and talking to runners and would-be runners across the country. He’s also coached runners of all levels, so who better to get advice on training in these challenge circumstances.

Scenes from a sunrise run along the frozen Charles River

Scenes from a sunrise run along the frozen Charles River

“It’s hard, no way around it,” Bart admitted about winter training, especially training this winter. I can’t tell you how comforting this validation was, especially coming from such a legend.

Bart, who rightfully pegged me as a Type A person—he actually used the phrase “Type A+”—and warned me that getting to the starting line healthy is the most important thing. Although we have the best of intentions, we A+ers often over-train and suffer overuse injuries before we even reach race day. Bart stressed that I should listen to my body. If it needs rest, oblige. He also said that if I was forced on to a “dreadmill” I could do shorter distances, but at a faster pace to make the most of the run. I really appreciated this advice because I really can’t take the boredom of 30 minutes worth of staring at my sweaty face in the mirror on a treadmill.

While Bart’s training advice was incredibly helpful, the best part of our conversation was talking about his life on the run (don’t give me too much writing props for that one, it’s the title of his fantastic memoir). I always love hearing from folks who have managed to follow their passion and make it a career, and Bart may have the best story I’ve heard yet.

Courtesy of Bart Yasso

Courtesy of Bart Yasso

Bart admits, with no air of hyperbole, running saved his life. “Had I not changed my life in 1977 I would not be here,” he told me. While Bart is a natural runner, he did not start running until after an adolescence filled with alcohol and weed. He became hooked on running instead after his first race. “Once I committed to running and changed my life I was going to do it all-out,” he said. And boy did he.

Another scene from a run

Another scene from a run

At 60 years old, he claims his marathon training days are behind him, but he still attends races constantly as an ambassador for the sport, and his employers, looking for great stories while helping runners along the way. “My goal is now connecting with runners,” Bart explains. “Everyone wants my job,” he told me. “I’m very fortunate that I can work in what I love to do, but also change people’s lives.” But Bart is humble as well. “I feel lucky and I never take my job for granted.”

Bart inspires people all over the country, and a dose of that ispiration helped me gain a new sense of excitement ahead of race day. Bart and I talked about the “beauty” of the sport and it’s acceptance of all ability levels. It struck me that in addition to beauty, there’s also a kind of perfection in its simplicity and purity. Each of us, regardless of speed or ability, get out of running what we put in. Unlike other sports there is no team, no judge, arguably no competitor. As Bart put it, it’s you against the clock…and yourself. “It’s the effort you put in and the commitment that you make,” Bart said. “You can’t fake anything.”

In Boston, in particular, you have the most elite runners in the world accomplishing “this amazing feat” (26.2 is a challenge even for them) on the same streets as us mere mortals. “To have all that happen in the same place is unheard of.” As that sunk in, I realized that this is one of the things that makes Boston so special.

I am just like one of the thousands of runners that Bart meets each year. Like I’m sure, I ended our time together inspired. And as the snow in Boston starts to melt (knock on wood), and there are small signs of spring, I am reinvigorated to continue my training…while taking Bart’s advice to listen to my body and “have fun.” That is what its about after all.

While my running of the 2015 Boston Marathon is about the personal accomplishment, it’s also about raising money for a very good cause, The Children’s Advocacy Center. Please donate to my effort if you can.

I’m a Boss…or at Least an Embosser

With just one day to go before Valentine’s I’m sure many of us are running out for chocolates, flowers and cards to express our love. I was no different, except instead of visiting my closest Hallmark, I spent an evening with a friend and wine crafting hand-made valentines.

I’ll take you back to the beginning. About a year ago my friend Jenn Parker and I were having brunch and she shared an idea with me. It was her dream to start a crafty company that allowed people to learn new crafts and skills from experts in a low stress environment. About three months ago Craft Social was born. Jenn holds a variety of classes (knitting, needlepoint and calligraphy, to name a few) at spots across Boston. She serves wine and cheese as her guests get down to business creating.

Last week my friend Rachna and I attended an embossing class taught by Sarah Freni. Sarah is an art school-trained graphic designer who was looking for something she could do from home after her son was born a year ago. She took her skills and started getting crafty making personalized stationary and invitations.

Sarah explaining our stationary-making lesson

Sarah explaining our stationary-making lesson

Over the aforementioned wine and cheese, she taught a perfectly sized group how to use ink and an embossing gun to make valentines. While I usually think of embossing as ink being pushed into cardstock, at this class we applied ink on top of paper (in cute heart shapes), sprinkled pink embossing powder to that ink, which when heated serves as glue, and used the embossing gun to heat the powder to melt into onto the paper.

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Rachna working the embossing gun

Rachna working the embossing gun

We all worked independently, admiring and complementing each others’ work, sharing tips on how to best design our cards or envelop liners. It was such a fun night, and I had a handful of adorable hand-made valentine’s to send to some sweethearts.

The finished product

The finished product

If you are crafty, or want to be, check out one of Craft Social’s selection of classes. You may find a hidden talent, and at the very least you are in for a fun night!

A cute finishing touch

A cute finishing touch

While I did receive a complementary class, all opinions are my own.

Car vs. Blizzard

Many of you have been following the trials and tribulations of my car on social media, and have asked for the full story. Well, here it is!

I left my poor car to go off gallivanting in Paris. While I was not there to defend her, she was viciously pummeled by a bully named Juno. I watched from afar, she did not put up much of a fight.

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Then not even a week later she was kicked while she was down. Another bully came around and added insult to injury (in the form of another foot of snow).  I didn’t catch her name. Then the City of Boston, likely not realizing she was knocked down, licking her wounds, piled even more on top of her. She was no match.

By the time I reached the spot where I last saw her, I thought it was too late. I couldn’t even find her.

I didn’t know where or how to begin to revive her, so I put some orange cones on top of her snowy grave so plows would know she was in there…somewhere.

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I needed back-up. I knew I could not do this alone. I needed someone (or many people) strong and brave who could help unearth her so she could drive another day (and not be totaled by a snow plow that thought she was nothing…or more accurately…thought she was just snow). It was at this point that my mother told me that my life sometimes resembles a sitcom. I tend to agree.

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Thankfully I found just those kinds of people, and they agreed to free her. After several hours (and an up-front payment) my car saw the light of day again. She was cold, and her doors seem to be iced shut, but at least you could can see her now.

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Moral of this tail, don’t leave your car sitting unattended during two blizzards…if you can possibly help it.

But now what to do? There’s another storm coming, possibly another foot! Do I diligently shovel her out every few hours? Or do I hightail it to a suburban garage? I need advice, please!

It’s the Thought that Counts

I love meeting people who have a passion for what they do. Don’t we all? Their stories of finding said passion and following it—sometimes with reckless abandon—are always inspiring. I can always find a tiny element of their story in my own, and that motivates me even more to be bolder in the pursuit of my goals.

I recently spent an evening with not one, but five individuals who have found their passions in some unlikely places including chocolate, Kenya and the South End of Boston.

Sofi  photo courtesy of Olive and Grace

Sofi,
Photo courtesy of Olive and Grace

Sofi Madison is the proprietor of Olive and Grace, the place to find the most perfect hostess gift, yummy treats for your best four-legged friend, and yourself. Sofi hand picks the products featured in her shop. And that selection process is not solely based upon taste or packaging (although they absolutely have to be quality products). She selects items made by emerging artists, gift producers, and small batch food makers and takes their story and sustainability practices into account as well. She knows these products so well she can rattle off the history of every product and artisan featured in her shop, and if she isn’t able to tell you directly, she leaves you cute clues.

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“Their back story has to match the quality of the product,” Sofi told me.

The artisans’ back story serves as pieces of supporting evidence in the trial of whether or not they’ll be featured in Olive and Grace. Sofi wants folks to walk into her shop and see products they have never seen before. Sofi has a passion for selecting amazing products crafted with care and produced by passionate people. I had the privlege of meeting four of those passionate people at Olive and Grace.

Rebecca Ferrel started her cold-pressed juice company, The Ripe Stuff, after moving to Boston and being unable to find the type of fresh juices she loved. Rebecca learned about the power of juice after a stomach illness. Her company now delivers juices A la carte and as part of juice cleans programs (she has a registered dietitian on staff) in a 20 mile radius of Boston. I am not much of a juice person, but I was pleasantly surprised by how tasty Rebecca’s juices were, even the green one!

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After graduation from Bowdoin (we won’t hold that against her) Sara Holby spent time in Kenya and after a visit from her mom, together they launched Ajiri tea to help provide work for the women there. The company’s tea is produced in Kenya and now employees 63 women who make the labels. Their commitment to the community doesn’t stop there, their profits go help send 29 Kenyan children to school. And as if all that doing-good was not enough to impress you, the tea is great as well.

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Russ and Shari are a husband-wife chocolate making machine. They started out as a graphic designer and sculpture, respectively, but wanted to live a slower, cleaner life. That’s when Russ started experimenting, trying to make a healthy treat for his chocolate-loving wife…and Apotheker’s was born. They have since quite those day jobs, but still use those skills. For example Shari designed the honey comb pattern found on their chocolate. The three of us spoke at length about honey and bees, and my stint as a bee keeper. They are great! Their products, like a dairy-free dark chocolate are an all-natural indulgence that you don’t have to feel too guilty about. I am allergic to chocolate, but if I weren’t, I am sure I would be gushing about how tasty their treats are.

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Meeting all of these talented and passionate individuals, and hearing their story, really made me think about what I buy and put in my mouth. The Jolly Green Giant doesn’t exactly take the time to explain to me how he hand-selects the broccoli sitting on my plate. So instead of my favorite food of all time, Skippy Super Crunchy Peanut Butter, I picked up some all natural butter; half peanut, half almond, from a North Carolina-based company. I not only learned that the owner (a fellow peanut butter nut since childhood) started making nut butter while in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe, but also that he named his company after his father’s nickname “Big Spoon.” That made it taste ever sweeter.

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I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Type-A(rtist)

If you are frequent reader of this blog, you know that I love art, and have a soft spot for artists. My brother is an artists and I have friends and family members who are artists. I secretly wish I could sit in front of a canvas and easel and paint a landscape. It seems like a very pleasant way to relax. But I don’t possess one once of technical creative skill. But you would never know it by looking at a recent wee painting I completed under the tutelage of up-and-coming Boston-based artist, Patrick Shea.

Patrick at work

Patrick at work

Patrick is a graduate of the fine art program at Cornell, and while his studio is in the Back Bay, he spends a lot of time traveling, capturing dynamic photographs that sometimes find their way on to his canvases. Patrick focuses on photography, painting and etching using copper molds. During my afternoon exploring his studio, and hearing about his work, I was stuck by how technical his approach is to his paintings, which can best be described as industrial.

Courtesy of Patrick Shea

Crane Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of Patrick Shea

 

Very detailed work

Very detailed work

One of Patrick's sketches

One of Patrick’s sketches

We focused our discussion on painting, seeing that is what Patrick helped me accomplish. Patrick’s process begins with very detailed sketches, not exclusively of what he wants to paint, but also of the dimensions of the canvas and the scale of what will be on that canvas. Patrick makes his own canvases, because these days most wood comes from China, and is prone to warping especially in New England where the temperature varies so much from season to season. He uses a certain type of wood and reinforces the back so that its shape will never be compromised. Each canvas is constructed to accommodate a specific piece of art he is planning to paint on it. Frequently Patrick’s painting are based on a photograph he has taken on his travels. He uses that as a guide before studies because, “a photograph never lies,” he told me.

Courtesy of Patrick Shea

Photo Courtesy of Patrick Shea

In complete opposition to the way I image people painting (“happy little tree” style), Patrick’s work is very studied, with sketches and meticulous planning. It reminds me of one of my favorite artists (and one of Patrick’s as well, no wonder), Edward Hopper. Hopper created dozens of “studies,” or sketches, of different parts of a painting (a couple sitting at a lunch counter, the glow of the street light outside the diner) before he painted the finished piece. I saw an exhibit of Hopper’s studies years ago at the Whitney, and it made quite an impression. Like Hopper, Patrick’s work is detailed, in its preparation and execution. Why does he go to these lengths? “I have to get it right,” he explained to me. Sound familiar? I may have found the most Type A artists out there. How appropriate for me and this blog.

Corita Kent’s “Rainbow Swash” is a Boston institution. What you’ve never heard of it? What if I call it “The gas tank?” Ahhh, now you know what I’m talking about. This is what I set out to paint. Patrick’s preparations for this lesson illustrates his attention to detail even before his brush touches the canvas. Patrick studied the gas tank, figured out what angle he wanted and the ideal weather conditions to have as a background. He waited for that perfect weather day and then he may or may not have waded into Boston Harbor to take this image below.

Courtesy of Patrick Shea

Courtesy of Patrick Shea

I used his photograph as the basis for my painting. Patrick encouraged me to use tape to make sure the lines that would create the sides of my gas tank were completely straight, very much his style, which includes measuring and tracing on the canvas before ever picking up a brush. Once I got my soupy grey background done, and the solid white of the gas tank, it was time to get to the color. That’s when my lack of artistic skill gave way to the strategizer inside me. My painting was not going to turn out well at all if I relied solely on my non-existent skill. So when Patrick offered some heavy gel to thicken the paint, I had a light bulb moment. If I glopped the paint on my canvas, it may look like the large strokes of Corita Kent’s gas tank, without me trying to duplicate the exact strokes.

As I spread the thickened pain on my tiny canvas with a palette knife I realized my plan was working, and I think Patrick thought so as well. While this was certainly not as exacting as his style, he seemed to appreciate my approach, which meant a great deal to me. Best of all for me, I was having fun and not getting too caught up with getting it right. And my water tank turned out very nicely, not to be immodest. I was really proud of myself.

My finished product

My finished product

The best part of the whole experience was getting a window into the mind and detailed work of a very talented artist who taught me that maybe being a little Type A isn’t so bad after all.

I’d like to thank Patrick Shea for taking the time to show me his work and talk art with me. New England art lovers, track this guy down! I was not compensated in any way for this post.

 

Flying through the Flywheel Challenge

The six weeks of the Flywheel Boston Summer Challenge flew by. Not only was it great to get to know the Flywheel philosophy, but each week I received encouragement and tips (what food is best to refuel after class, how much water do we really need) to help me achieve optimal results.

Just to recap: the challenge was to attend four Flywheel classes each week for six weeks. I manages to get to four classes three of the six weeks. I blame a few summer weekends away and a work trip for missing the mark those other three weeks. But even missing a few classes, I could see and feel the progress I was making, and I ended the challenge with one of my best performances ever.

As some of you may have read, my first class left me humbled and exhausted. Not only was the class really difficult—challenging me in a way running does not—but with all of Flywheel’s technology I could see exactly how I stacked up against the rest of the class…and I didn’t do as well as I assumed I would. But over the six-week challenge I could see my improvement both in terms of how I felt at the end of the class (more energized than totally exhausted) and my placement in class (read about my rise up the torq board here).

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What I also noticed was the sense of community that exists when you become a flywheel regular. Going several times a week I started to see the same friendly faces, bumped into friends I had not seen in a while and started to make new ones.

The Summer Challenge certainly earned its name, but with the accompanying support and with Flywheel being as awesome as it is, it was a challenge I was happy to take up.

If you are looking for a physical challenge, even if you are an indoor cycling veteran, I highlight recommend you give Flywheel a try and stay tuned for their next challenge.

While I receive a complementary membership to Flywheel for the Summer Challenge, the opinions expressed above are, as always, my own.