That’s done!

It’s been almost a month since I met my goal of completing a triathlon.  Yes, I did it!

Me, gooey, but triumphant.  : )


In the final week leading up to my planned event, I did decide to register for the “alternative” triathlon — the one with the pool swim and somewhat shorter distances.  This was good!  The triathlon I did was a perfect first event.  I now know what to expect (when I felt beforehand like I was going into a great unknown), and I can build on the experience if I decide to do more tri’s in the future.

So, what did I learn?  I learned that I need to be more assertive during the swim and speed up my transitions (skip the banana next time and have my number already pinned on my shirt!).  I learned that competing in the rain isn’t bad, as long as it’s not cold (which it wasn’t).  I learned that living and biking in Boone has taught me not to freak out on the uphills (gotta say, quite a few people were complaining about the one “really big hill” on the route, which just did not seem that big to me!).  I learned that it’s possible to run a “personal best” 5K time after swimming and biking.  (How weird is that?!)  I learned that lots of the people who compete in triathlons are nervous or scared or have a “weak event” (i.e. everyone is not an uber-confident pro!).  Mainly, I learned that you don’t really know what something is going to be like until you do it.  As much as you prepare and envision and psych yourself up (or psych yourself out), you can’t know the experience — how it will feel, what you will like and not like about it, what you will be capable of — until you experience it.  You just gotta do it. 

It was good for me to go outside my comfort zone and push myself to do something that was unusual and challenging.  I was happy and proud when I finished.  I’m still on the fence as to whether I’ll compete in more triathlons or other crazy feats of physical endurance or whether I’ll say to myself, “OK, it’s over!  I never need to do that again!”  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, my big 50 birthday, which inspired all this, is just a few weeks away.  Does meeting my goal (set almost a year ago) make me feel differently about turning 50?  Have I made peace with all my demons and let go of my regrets?  Am I at ease with the aging process and what it means physically, emotionally, spiritually?  Am I completely satisfied with where I am in my life?  Do I feel financially secure?  Are all my relationships in order?  Is the path forward clear and free of obstacles?  Well, actually…no.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could give an unequivocal yes to all those questions (and the myriad more that are unvoiced or unformulated)?  But I can’t.  As those who know me will attest, I’m a bit of an over-thinker, and I do ascribe to the idea that the unexamined life is not worth living.  But sometimes all the examining in the world won’t give you the answers.  You just gotta do it.  So here I go — moving forward to 50 and beyond with all the imperfections and uncertainties of my life still knocking around — with all the grace and integrity, physical and emotional health, and joy and kindness that I can muster.

For others who have had “big birthdays” (which ones feel the biggest probably varies from person to person), how did you mark the event?  What did you do?  How did you feel?  Please feel free to share below!  : )

Down to the wire…

Once again, it’s been awhile since I’ve written.  It’s been a busy summer.  But, truth be told, I’ve been reluctant to write about my goals because well…  I’ve been having doubts about whether I can accomplish them.  Doubts, tickling my toes, like little baby waves lapping at the edge of a lake.  lap lap lap.  slap slap slap.  death by a thousand kitten licks.

Still, I’ve soldiered on with my triathlon training, hoping that continued activity will resolve the uncertainty.  And, in so many ways, it’s been great.  I’ve scored a wealth of amazing, perfect moments over these past few months.  Feeling, as always, so lucky to live in this beautiful place where the opportunities to be inspired occur daily.


And, without a doubt, I’ve gotten stronger.  It’s cool to hardly notice hills on my bike that I labored to get up a few months ago.  I like the feeling of just itching to get outside and exercise and knowing it will be fun and satisfying because I’m in better shape.

Yet, there remain a few elephants in the room.  The running — still slow.  But, more significantly, the lake swim.  Around mid-July I began to think seriously about the lake swim.  I knew I had to practice.  But this was easier said than done.  There’s a small local lake that I jumped into a few times, but you can only swim in the roped off area, not further out into the lake so, although it gave me a small taste of swimming in the cold, somewhat murky water without lane lines to follow, it was still a far cry from the big lake swim that’s part of the triathlon.

Finally, last week, I asked a friend to go to the triathlon site at Watauga Lake to swim with me.  He had done the triathlon before and was planning to do it this year, and was also interested in practicing the swim.  We got up early and drove 45 minutes to the lake.  I was excited and not sure what to expect.  Other than a little trepidation about crossing past the “Private Property” signs, everything was perfect — beautiful summer morning, lovely peaceful setting, no boats or activity of any sort in sight…  And, the kicker… the water was incredibly warm!  We started swimming and it felt great, very easy and relaxed, in a “Look, Ma, no hands!” kind of way.  But then something weird happened.  At a certain point, I suddenly felt like I was way too far out in the lake and I started to get scared.  I decided to swim back to shore.  Feeling a bit anxious, I even flipped over on my back for awhile to relax.  Everything was fine, and we were both glad we had done the swim.  But those few minutes of fear have made me think seriously about whether I’m up for the .6 mile open water swim.  I’m sure it will feel more secure with lots of support kayaks in the water, and I think I probably would have been fine if I had stayed closer to shore, but…  Is this an obstacle I can overcome in the next week and a half?

watauga.lake  (big lake!)

For some people, I’m sure the answer would be an easy yes:  conquer fear, gut it out, push through the obstacles.  But I’m not one of those people.  Earlier in the spring, I started to write, but never finished, a blog post titled, “How Hard Should a Hard Goal Be?”  The answer to that question is probably different for everyone.  There’s a thin line between “enough” (enough to be different and exciting and truly challenging) and “too much” (too hard, too scary, maybe just not feasible).  My aim in all this, after all, is to feel celebratory and accomplished, not demoralized.

The upshot…?  I’m hoping to swim in the big lake one more time in the next few days to see if the second time’s a charm.  But the weather is not looking good, and it may not happen.  Either way, I need to make a decision.  In the meantime, I’ve been looking for other triathlons that are coming up soon.  I found one scheduled for the same weekend as the Watauga Lake Triathlon.  It’s near Asheville — still Western North Carolina, still mountainous biking and a scenic running route, but with the swim in a pool.  Back-up plan?  Check.  One way or the other, I’m going to get to the celebrating part!

Swimming is relaxing, biking is fun, and running is… [fill in the blank]

My kids are away this week — hanging out with their grandparents in Asheville and going to a really cool “River Camp” on the French Broad. It sounds like they’re having a great time. No worries there. No reason, whatsover, not to accomplish anything and everything that I’ve been storing up to do over, say… the last year. Right?

I began with a basic list: clean, organize, exercise, create, socialize. Perfectly reasonable aspirations for a five day stretch. Or maybe not. As you might guess, this has not been the period of amazing productivity and self-actualization that I hoped it would be. (Could it be I set my sights too high?!) And I’m trying to be OK with that. Sadly, “create” has been given the shortest shrift. My neglected poetry manuscript continues to languish, and even more tangible projects, like working on the kids’ scrapbooks, were not in the cards this week.

But I did exercise. With a little more time and flexibility, it seemed like the right moment to step up my triathlon training. Awhile back, a friend mentioned that when he trained for a triathlon, he made sure to always do more than one activity at a time because transitioning from one event to another was difficult. He didn’t mean the actual transitions (knowing where your bike is parked, putting your shoes on quickly, etc), but the adjustment your body has to go through to shift from one activity to the next. It made sense, and was not something I had been doing, so this week, I gave it a try.

The first multi-event day (on Tuesday) was biking followed immediately by running. It was horrible. Seriously. I couldn’t run at all. I felt hobbled. Very discouraging. My doubts about the feasibility of actually doing a triathlon began to grow and take on a life of their own.

Today (after a one day rest), I tried again — this time adding swimming at the beginning. Swim, bike, run. My goal was not to simulate an actual triathlon. I knew I’d have way more time between each event because I’d be swimming in a pool and then driving home to bike and run. But I wanted to see how it would feel to string all three events together without too much of a break in between. It went better today. Swimming to biking was not bad at all (though, again, I had a pretty long transition in between — say, 30 minutes). And the running was not as bad as it had been earlier in the week, but it was still the weak link. The triathlon I’m planning to do has a five mile run (long for me!), so this is definitely worrisome.

Actually, I’ve been stewing and grousing to myself about running for awhile. In my mind, swimming is relaxing, biking is fun, but running is… unpleasant. painful. clunky. discouraging. The more I thought about it, the more I resented the running. I’m just not good at it. I can’t do it! I’m so slow. Well, it doesn’t take a rocket science (or a self-help guru) to recognize that these kinds of thoughts are not helping me do better. Today, I realized I needed a word for running — something to add to “relaxing” and “fun”. But what? Running is “difficult”. No. Running is “bumpy”. No. Running hurts my knees…? No, no, no! So, finally, this is what I came up with: Running is challenging.

Swimming is relaxing, biking is fun, and running is challenging. Maybe this is a trifecta I can work with. I will try.

What about you? What are your three words for swimming, biking and running? Please tell! : )

I got this reeeally tight shirt…

So, yeah, I ordered a special triathlon top, and it arrived in the mail a few days ago.  Several of the reviews on the website (Athleta, by the way) said that the top was “hard to put on”.  This is an understatement.  Once you pull it over your head and shoulders, there is this complicated heavy-duty bodice thing made of mesh and padding and super thick, strong elastic that you get stuck in.  This is where your boobs are supposed to go. But while you’re putting the top on, your boobs are trapped outside and it takes some major adjusting to get everything in the right place.  Even in the complete privacy of my own home, I felt fairly ridiculous trying to get this top onto my body.  Definitely not something I will be whipping on and off at the race site.  Yet amazingly, once it’s on, it’s remarkably comfortable (which the reviews also said), and nothing is moving.  That’s for sure.  It’s like Spanx.  (At least I think this is what Spanx might feel like.)

Special shorts are on the way.  Similar to biking shorts but, somehow, so much better (?!).  I know, I know.  I’ve been swept up in mindless consumerism!  I probably have a top and shorts that would work just as well.  But, what the heck?  You only turn 50 once.  And this stuff can double as “control” undergarments, which I may need somewhere down the line!

Really, this is so comfy…

The perks of “training”

The landscape has changed since I first got on the bike this spring.

Early April Mayview/ Wonderland Trail view spot: mayview.spring

Late April:         mayview.view

Spring training included a 32 mile benefit bike ride in Asheville in mid-May.  Here we are after the ride:   

 wheel.ride                                                                              (There really are bikes behind us on the car!)       

“Training” can include hiking with the kids, too.  Above the Blue Ridge Parkway in early June:



Turkeybeard and Mountain Laurel:

turkey.beard         mtn.laurel

And finally, a poem from a few years back about running in the Moses Cone Memorial Park.  As much as I am, and will probably always be, a slow and labored runner, I was reminded again this morning, when I passed within feet of a group of shiny black cows lying in a grove of rhododendron, that I almost always see something beautiful and interesting when I’m running.  And I almost always feel some glimmer of insight or inspiration that I might not have experienced were it not for the run.

What Crosses My Path

A pileated woodpecker, straight arrowed
tree to tree, ancient hatchet head.  Two deer,
in my near-sightedness, I momentarily mistake
for silent bounding golden retrievers.
Noble air of national park and the sanctity
of old land.  Ghosts of gentry
picnicking in the overgrown orchard.
Hand-laid stones.
My own heart thumping before me.
My inexorable thoughts.
Firepinks, scarlet stars, joined by spiderwort
spike and mountain laurel, convened
to tell me again
of what has come and gone.
And what will remain.


Slow and steady does not, in fact, win the race — and other revelations from the life of a non-athlete in training

Sometimes, particularly when grinding uphill at a snail’s pace on the bike, the chant, “slow and steady wins the race” pops into my head, almost unbidden. It’s comforting. There’s a mantra for athletes like me. One day, however, when I happened to mention my tortoise-and-the-hare-inspired slogan out loud to my husband, he bluntly pointed that this was not actually true. Slow does not win the race. Fast and steady, maybe. But slow, no way. Not gonna happen. This is the same guy who, when I moaned to him about my pokey times in 5Ks, suggested helpfully, “Run faster.” Um. Yeah.

Armed with these pithy home-grown truisms, I decided it was time to get more information about preparing for a triathlon from the font of all knowledge: THE INTERNET. I needed answers to questions such as, “what the heck do you wear?” and, “are other people also afraid of the swim?” and “why do we swim, then bike, then run, in that order?” The information I found was the usual mix of useful, irrelevant, alarming, and confusing typically available on the web. I learned that there are many options for triathlon apparel and discovered that, yes, lots of people (including much fitter, more experienced athletes than me) are apprehensive (even panicky) before and during the open water swim. As for my question about the order of the events — three words: drown, crash, trip. Great…

In the meantime, I have, in fact, been swimming, biking and running. Things are going pretty well, but not amazingly. I’m still primarily just putting in time and distance, trying to increase my stamina and comfort level in the the three activities, but not really “training” in a rigorous, disciplined sort of way. In my mind, I envision a distinct turning point — still somewhere in the future, but coming soon (soon!) — when things get hard core and I ratchet up the intensity of my regime. When I really start pushing myself. But what if I’m just not a hard core kind of gal? Can I still pull this off in my incremental, moderation-in-all-things, slow-and-steady-wins the race kind of way? The answer is murky. Two months out, I’m not feeling as confident as I’d like to be. Will keep you posted. Suggestions for tapping into my hidden hard core self are welcome!

One week, two weeks — who’s counting?!

OK, I’m back to report on what I’ve done to work towards my goals since my last post. I didn’t post in one week, as promised — but I did accomplish a few things.

Training for a triathlon:

A) Swimming: 3x = 54 laps = 2,700 yards = 1.53 miles.

Swimming was great — relaxing, peaceful, and invigorating, all at the same time — a perfect exercise — except for the part where it may tend to get boring. I felt really good in the pool, but I have a long way to go before I’m comfortable and confident swimming .6 miles in open water. I’m hoping that putting in a decent amount of pool time and building stamina will move me forward to where the lake swim doesn’t seem so overwhelming. I’ll also need to practice in the lake once the weather gets warmer.

B) Running: 2x = 3.81 miles.

Trying it out and not pushing for much distance — felt good — weirdly ran faster than usual. This may be because the gps on my iPhone app wasn’t working right. It seemed to be recording everything, but the run was in an area without much signal, so wondering… However, for now, will go with the theory that I’m stronger and faster than I realize! : )

C) Biking: 0 (i.e. big fat goose egg). : (

Cycling is the least intimidating — the thing I know I can do (and probably not be last!), so I guess I’m not as worried about that as the running and swimming. Nevertheless, I need to get on it! Literally. The bike.

Things I need to get better at:

Seizing the moment when there’s an opportunity to exercise. We had a spring snow storm this past week, so that was a set-back. (The kids even missed three days of school — groan!) But right now it’s actually pretty nice out (though still snow on the ground). A real runner would probably be out on the trails sloshing through the slush, but I’m lolling around the house with the kids. Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me that I could get outside until it seemed too late. It’s true what they say about making yourself go [running, biking, etc.] being the hardest part. I can’t wait around for the perfect convergence of convenience and motivation before I exercise!

Recognizing that friends can help. I’m a self-conscious athlete who generally feels silly (even ridiculous) while athleticizing (silly made-up word). This stuff just does not come naturally to me! However, I think I need to realize that friends can provide motivation and inspiration — try that out — let go of feeling dorky and inferior and exercise with buddies from time-to-time!

Well, I had a few more things to add to this — and was even going to give an update on my other goal (aka “the poetry project”). But my son is agitating to use the computer so, for the sake of posting something, I’m going to cut it short. Will try to come back soon. I hope you all are enjoying the spring! I love the changing of seasons and always find each turn in the yearly cycle exciting, as well as being a natural time for contemplation and new (or renewed) visions. What about you? What is this spring bringing for you?

Does anyone really “just want to finish”? Really???

March is here.  It’s been months since I’ve written anything on this blog.  I feel guilty.  Not just because I haven’t followed through on my commitments to myself but because, as ridiculous as this might sound, I feel as though I’m letting down “my readers”.   I mean I said I was going to pursue these goals and write about it along the way.  Unfortunately, there just has not been much to write about in the way of goal fulfillment.

Triathlon training has, so far, been pretty non-existent.  These first few months of the new year have been busy and stressful in ways that have just not been conducive to exercise for me.  Add to that the whole winter thing, and there you go.  I have been downhill skiing quite a lot with the kids (probably close to 30 times this season), which has been great, but I can’t kid myself that this has done anything for my cardiovascular fitness. Bottom line (i.e. confession):  I’ve run outside twice since the start of the year; “worked out” in a gym (stationary bike or elliptical) eight times, and swum not at all.

As the days and weeks have passed by, I’ve vacillated between feeling panicky (the triathlon I’m hoping to do is now only five months away) and reassuring myself that there is still plenty of time to make this happen.  As my once distant goal grows closer, images of swimming in the open water of a large lake, surrounded by other swimmers, flash through my mind, and I know with cold hard certainty that this will be an incredibly scary and challenging event for me, mentally as well as physically.  Then I think about coming out of the water and hopping onto a bicycle to ride 22 miles.  And then getting off the bike and, groan, running for 5 miles.   Riding a bike and running are not frightening in the same way as swimming in a lake is.  But, at this point, it’s still a pretty huge leap for me to think about doing these things in quick succession and in any way competitively.  Somewhere along the line, in my hazy vision of how this may all go down, the concept of “just finishing” the event creeps in.  “I’ll be happy if I just finish it.”  I’ve heard people say this a lot when preparing to participate in an athletic endeavor.  Sometimes these people are fairly good athletes (fitter and more experienced than I am, at least).  I’ve never really bought the idea that people want to “just finish”.  In my mind, this is kind of a face-saving statement used to lower expectations and pressure.  Not that there is anything wrong with that!  But I think most of the time people, in their heart of hearts, want to do more than “just finish”.  However, what that means to them (which they may want to keep to themselves) is going to vary a lot from person to person.  The individual, perhaps unspoken, goal may be based on past performance, looking at other people’s times in similar events or, perhaps, just some arbitrary bench mark that seems suitable to strive for. I’m more likely to think in terms of finishing in a “respectable” time than “just finishing”.  Of course, what’s “respectable” is also going to vary widely from person to person based on their abilities and expectations for themselves.

For me, respectability has often hovered around the magic number 12.  For running, this means an average time of less than 12 minutes per mile .  For biking, it means averaging more than 12 miles per hour.  I realize that these are terribly humble goals and, at times, in the handful of organized biking and running events I’ve participated in over the years, I’ve thrillingly exceeded these benchmarks.  But still, the baseline of my personal “respectable” time, hovers in the back of my head as something achievable that I will be satisfied with — and which, based on past experience, will probably not put me at the very back of the pack in a mixed field of participants.  Because, let’s face it, being last is something that nobody wants to be.

This brings me back to the idea of “just finishing”.  Could this be a helpful concept?  Right now, “just finishing” paints a picture of literally crawling across the finish line, like Wile E. Coyote after he gets blown up and then falls off a cliff and then smashes into a rock wall and is flattened.  But could the image of “just finishing” or simply “finishing” be transformed into something more triumphant?  Could I really let go of ego and expectations and comparing myself to others and feeling embarrassed and just do it?  Whatever that might mean.  And finish.  And feel good about it.  Hmm…  Interesting questions to ask.  I don’t think I have the answers yet.  But I do know one thing:  If I don’t get my ass in gear and start doing something, even “just finishing” may  be a lofty goal!  With that in mind, I plan to report back, no matter how mundane the report may be, in a week, to detail what I’ve done.  Hold me to it, OK?

Let me know what you think.  What’s your approach to motivation, finding a finish that makes you happy, and the mind game of meeting hard goals?

A little touchy-feely every once in awhile never hurt anyone

2012 ended rather gloomily, and 2013 was starting slow and creaky.  I was talking the talk of being a goddess of self-actualization, but I was not walking the walk.  Inspiration and motivation were in short supply.  Something had to give.

I read the essay (below) from Keri Smith’s “Living Out Loud” a few days ago, and it seemed fitting as I tried to find the right approach to achieving my goals for the coming year.  It made me realize how much I compare myself to others and/ or worry about what other people think of me.  I don’t think this is a huge issue for me, but it’s funny how it can still creep in from time to time, without me even knowing it, and create unseen obstacles in my life.

In terms of my goals, I had especially been thinking about how intimidated I felt about attempting a triathlon.  A lot of my fear comes from the fact that I’m pretty much surrounded by super-athletes.  OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.  But  a good portion of my close friends and broader circle of acquaintances are very athletic, many of them quite accomplished.  I’m not sure if it’s because we live in an area of the country renowned for its outdoor recreational opportunities, which tends to attract a lot of adventurous sporting types, or if I’m just drawn to healthy active people (a good thing!).  Either way, for the kid who grew up being picked last in elementary school gym class (not just a cliche — but actually true!), it’s hard not to make comparisons and feel intimidated about athletic endeavors.

Sometimes reading an essay or article like this one provides exactly the little jolt I need to bring things into perspective and start moving forward again.

Below is the piece from the book (which I keep in my Zen Kit, by the way, with all my other slightly touchy-feely stuff…).  And here is a link to a longer version on Keri Smith’s website.

Facing the Fears

The week I turned thirty I made a list of “30 Things to do in my Thirtieth Year”.  I wanted to move forward into a new decade with power and excitement.  Many things on the list were relatively small and easy to accomplish:  Enjoy a long walk on the beach, eat a fresh lobster, plant a rosebush for my mom.  Some of the things were more difficult and intimidating:  Write a book, learn to drive.  These things were a way of trying new things and pushing myself “out there” beyond my known world.

One of the difficult things for me to do was singing in public.  When I mentioned this to one of my friends, an accomplished folk singer, her eyes lit up, and she invited me to do a song with her grop at its next show.  My reaction was one of giddy excitement, which quickly gave way to fear.  (Singing around a bonfire is more what I had in mind.)  “But isn’t this what you wanted?” I asked myself.   “What better than an opportunity with a deadline?” I had to try.

The show was more than a month away, providing ample time to rehearse and work on my voice.  But could I sing?  I had not sung since sixth-grade choir, when my best friend at the time let me know that I might better spend my energy on things.  Even though, I loved to sing, I had never sang again.

I was pleasantly surprised by my first rehearsal with the group.  We managed to learn the song and get some harmonies down relatively quickly.  To my untrained ear, it sounded on key and actually quite good, but could I really pull this off?  We had chosen was “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls, a tune that talks about moving beyond comfort zones and taking life less seriously, something I had hoped this whole experience would help me with. 

After weeks of practice and lots of support, I had an epiphany:  I cared too much about what other people thought.  I worried that if I san poorly, people might think less of me.  I had to be willing to fail!  I had to surrender to the process and let it happen.  I finally realized that I made my list to push MYSELF, not to impress OTHERS.

On the night of the performance, the cafe was packed.  There was an electric buzz and energy in the place.  Although I wasn’t singing until halfway through the second set, I started to lose feeling in my arms.  I said a silent prayer to whoever would listen.  When it was my turn I seemed to float in the direction of the stage.  I pulled up the stool for support.  The audience, which had been so rowdy, now sat silent and transfixed with all eyes on me.  And in that moment all my fear vanished.  

I told the audience about my list of thiry things, and people cheered.  Then I knew that everyone in the room was with me.  I had no fear because they had joined me in my journey, I could not fail because I had already succeeded in pushing myself.  As we held the last note, the place errupted into wild applause.  I screamed into the microphone, “I did it!”  More applause.  I was on top of the world.  People ran to hug me as I left the stage.  A woman with tears in her eyes said, “Thank you.  You’ve given me courage to face my own fears.”

I have learned that we must never underestimate the poer that facing our fears has on other people.  We help the world to be stronger when we ourselves become stronger.

So there it is, a little reminder not to get caught up in comparisons and worrying about what other people think.  Easier said than done sometimes.  But reminding yourself does help.

Here’s a link to the Indigo Girls singing “Closer to Fine.”

And here’s some more cool stuff on Keri Smith’s website.  Because a little touchy-feely every once in awhile never hurt anyone.

Last word:  Finally went running today for the first time in weeks.  It was good.  : )

beginnings and endings

The world surely started to spin faster and more madly in the month of December 2012.

Sadness and unease floated through our lives in the weeks leading up to the holiday. The killing of children and teachers in Connecticut was the stuff of waking nightmares. The fiscal cliff was an ominous cloud looming over the nation, threatening not only to create further economic turmoil, but sucking us, once again, into political angst and disillusionment.

On a more personal level, my aunt who lives in Maine died of cancer in early December. Dirk’s aunt in Iowa is terribly ill and dying. A very active, loved and admired member of our local community (a strong, beautiful woman in her early forties) died suddenly of pneumonia. And the mother of one of Zoe and Alexander’s classmates (who we did not know well, because the family had only recently moved to the area) died of cancer, which she had spoken to almost no one about. Just a few days before Christmas, my father emailed to say he had gotten a bad report from the doctor about a spot on his skin and would be going for a follow-up appointment to find out more in early January.

Mortality, loss, and the potential for loss was pushing at me from all directions, and I felt it keenly.

And yet joy crept in. As it will. Christmas was nice. Lights sparkled, candles glowed, cookies were baked, presents were opened. We spent time with friends and family and, somehow, it was just right — actually, one of the better holidays I can recall — festive and fun, but peaceful and relaxed, as well.

And then, just when I thought we were out of the woods — happy holiday accomplished, bills paid, resolutions made and ready to be launched — another body blow. On the morning of December 30, my mother slipped on the snowy floor after taking a bird feeder out onto her deck and fell, injuring her hip and leg. She was transported to the ER by ambulance and then admitted to the hospital for observation. Although she hadn’t broken anything, she was in terrible pain and could barely move. The suggested cause of her condition (more of a speculation than an official “diagnosis”) was severe trauma to the area around her sciatic nerve, a part of the body (and on the side of her body) where she has already had a lot of issues and suffers from chronic pain. As several days passed and she actually felt worse instead of improving, her situation became more uncertain and the outlook more discouraging. Communication with doctors in the hospital (known as “hospitalists” under a new model of health care our local hospital network has adopted) was hard to come by and, to make things even more stressful, my mom’s scenario placed her in a position where Medicare would only cover a certain number of days in the hospital and would not pay for inpatient rehab, despite the fact that she could not even get out of bed by herself.

For those who don’t know me, I’ll explain that I’m my mother’s only child and that she moved to North Carolina from Minneapolis about eight years ago to be near us. My mom is not terribly old (for the mom of a forty-nine year old, that is), but she’s been hit by an array of orthopedic and other health issues over the past ten to twelve years that have seriously challenged her quality of life. It makes me really sad to see how limited she’s become (though she’s one of those people who pushes herself and is still very active in many ways) and how she really cannot do any of the physical activities that she used to love (walking, hiking biking, birding, canoing, camping, cross-country skiing).

And so, we return to December 30 and the call that my mom was in the hospital. After a brief period, it began to appear (though things were still murky and uncertain) that this might be a complicated and prolonged medical situation. Somewhere along the way, I thought to myself: How will I ever be able to accomplish my goals with all that is going on and everything I will have to do to help my mother? It was a selfish thought, and I felt embarrased for having it. But there it was. I felt overwhelmed by the immediate situation and the obstacles ahead.

But with a little time, I began to have a somewhat different perspective. I saw how following through on my goals — the small daily ones that help me stay healthy and the bigger ones I’ve tossed out into the universe for the year ahead — was more important than ever during times of challenge and adversity. There will always be something.

You do what you can. And you do what you must. Or as Bob Dylan said, “You do what you must do, and you do it well.”

So begins 2013.

Please share your stories of challenging situations, how you handled them and whether they turned out better or differently than you expected or feared.