Monday, April 25, 2011

Goodbye Sasha

Sasha, 2000-2011

Today, my dog Sasha passed away. She is the only dog I've ever had in my life, and biased as I am, I think it's safe to say she is now up in the creme de la creme of doggie heaven that they reserve for the best of the best pets out there.

There will be no right words to describe the sadness and loss I feel - the sense of yet another chapter of my childhood coming to an end - but I would like to spend this moment dwelling not on sadness, but on celebration of a wonderful animal who blessed my life for ten years.

I spent the better part of my youth wanting a dog. It took a family trip to Arizona and a long weekend spent with my aunt and uncle's wonderful Rhodesian ridgeback, Riley, to convince my mom that not all dogs drool and shed and are otherwise awful. I spent the entire car ride back to Kansas borrowing familiar tunes and rewriting the lyrics to describe why I wanted/needed/deserved a dog, and howling them aloud from the backseat. ("99 reasons I want a dog, 99 reasons that I want a dog..." You get the idea.)

The dog search process was long and arduous, but eventually the three of us - my parents and I - agreed on a breed. After falling in love with a friend's silver standard poodle, we opted for the same. Sasha was born in October 2000, a black ball of fur.

She loved learning tricks, wrestling, tearing stuffed animals to shreds, and playing soccer with me in my kitchen; I'd score by getting a deflated soccer ball into our mud room, and she'd score by grabbing the ball in her teeth and dashing into her kennel with it. After each point, we'd drop the ball again in the middle of the kitchen and start another round.

She was a smarty pants from day one. Eager to have a dog that might someday make it to the bigtime (this was pre-Youtube, but I had such aspirations for my puppy), I worked relentlessly to teach her tricks: the usual repertoire of sit, stay, shake, roll over, all that - but bonus ones, too, like wave, crawl, the infamous "back away" (see video below), and to ring a bell with her paw when she needed to go outside. Bright as she was, she started abusing that last trick in her teenage years...a squirrel outside in the yard, and Sasha would be rushing to go ring her bell.

Here's a couple of my little cousins playing with her at a family reunion years ago.

She was wonderful with kids - patient, friendly. She was a big fan of pulling her own stunts, though. Her favorite trick was with strangers at the dog park, trotting over with her frisbee or tennis ball and dropping it at their feet. "Aww, how sweet!" the stranger would think and bend down to pick up the toy. Just as their fingertips would reach it though, BOOM there was Sasha, pouncing back on the toy in a playful and defiant "Ha, gotcha!" sort of maneuver. She'd shake her toy ferociously back and forth in her mouth, drop it on the ground again, back up several steps, and sit innocently looking up at the stranger with her smiling eyes, waiting to do it all over again.

I've always had backwards pets, in that my cats are the cuddly, needy ones, while Sasha the dog was always an independent soul. She never slept on my bed like I always dreamt a dog would - but she did like to hang out. She always wanted to be in the same room as us, whether in her kennel, on her bean bag, tucked into a cabinet when she could still fit inside one, stalking the cat, or getting into some other kind of mischief.

Sasha saw our family through many transitions in our lives. She came on many road trips and family vacations; she loved traveling in the car. She knew three different cats that graced our family over the years. She's also seen me through three significant relationships; there are home videos of me and Mike playing with her as a young dog still, videos of Daniel doing tricks with her, and videos I made for Alan when I first met him and wanted to share with him from afar my beloved dog. She stuck with my dad when the other two ladies in his life moved out of the house, and carried him through what were probably some of the toughest times in his life.

Check out her mad skills: (okay, the "bow" is pretty half-assed, but cut a girl some slack; she was excited about those treats.)

She was truly an amazing dog. Thank you, Sasha, for a decade of delight, and may you rest in peace. I will love you and cherish your memory always.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Yoga and black bean fudge brownies? Yes please.

Favorite salad of late: chopped Swiss chard, topped with quinoa, orange slices, mushrooms, and homemade dressing

Ironically, I am writing this blog entry on wellness while battling a bit of a cold. Nevertheless, health and wellness are on my mind, and I've done some fun projects lately I feel like writing about here.

First of all: A little over a week ago, I hosted a "Wellness Wednesday" for a few friends. I invited them over early-ish in the day, and made green smoothies - pineapple, kiwi, mango, spinach, etc. - for all. Then we cleared the furniture out of my living room and rolled out yoga mats for a solid 45 minutes or so of gentle vinyasa yoga.

Back in Kansas City, I had a wonderful yoga teacher named Martha, who led yoga classes several mornings a week, for free (with a recommended $5 donation, but truly a no-obligation, contribute-when-you-can set up, most of which was donated to local charities anyway) in a neighborhood church. I think it was Lu who invited me the first time, and soon after, I brought my mom along, and Martha Yoga became tradition - 90 minutes, three times a week, of blissful stretching, muscle awakening, meditation, and fun, too.

Getting licensed to lead yoga classes costs upwards of $3500. Not in my budget for now, but I do feel pretty knowledgeable about yoga, pose modifications, proper form, and breathing techniques in general - enough to at least reasonably lead sessions for friends. I have always admired and envied what Martha was able to do for a community of people back in Kansas: grant us a space to come together with others, relax, reflect, and rejuvenate. She was able to give so much, and at so little cost. I aspire to do the same in my life...what more can we ask of ourselves but to share with others everything we have to offer?

Martha would always finish our sessions by having us gather in a circle, and by reading to us a passage from a book that had spoken to her that week - often some sort of meditation or anecdote intended to inspire self-reflection. Again, I always admired the effort that I knew she must put in every week to selecting meaningful passages to share with us. I knew I wanted to do the same for my trio of wellness-seekers last week, and I felt surprised the night before at what an incredible pleasure it was to comb through dusty books from my shelves...books on spirituality and wellness that I hadn't really looked at in a long time, but books, nevertheless, with the capacity to inspire truly transformative thoughts. Books are powerful.

I settled on a passage from Seyeon's favorite book, The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear - an excerpt from Mary Catherine Bateson's "Composing a Life Story." However, there was another passage that I came across in John Heider's "The Tao of Leadership" that I want especially to share here now on my blog. My mom gave me this book of 81 Taoist principles for my 18th birthday. #54 is The Ripple Effect.

Do you want to be a positive influence in the world? First, get your own life in order. Ground yourself in the single principle so that your behavior is wholesome and effective.
If your life works, you influence your family.
If your family works, your family influences the community.
If your community works, your community influences the nation.
If your nation works, your nation influences the world.
If your world works, the ripple effect spreads throughout the cosmos.
Remember that your influence begins with you and ripples outward. All growth spreads outward from a fertile and potent nucleus. You are a nucleus.

Amen. After yoga, we had tea, and I made a giant pot of quinoa porridge (recipe courtesy of Trail Runner magazine!) with diced apple, dried fruits, flax seed, almond milk, walnuts, and more yummy things. All vegan and gluten-free mouthwatering deliciousness.

I also made my favorite raw/vegan/gluten-free energy bar recipe ever, for my guests to take as to-go goodies:

So how, after all my greens and focus on wellness, did I wind up with this minor cold? A few things happened, I guess:
1. The virtual knock on wood must not have been good enough, when I wrote that blog entry on never calling in sick to work. The good thing about being friends with my coworkers, is that word gets out fast when you're sick, and friends come bring you pho at home. Friends are splendid.
2. I was on this pretty clean diet for awhile, but last weekend derailed me: the extravagant sushi and ice cream on Friday night, eating glutenous pasta Saturday night, rewarding myself post-half-marathon with a DQ Blizzard and more dairy over the course of a couple hours than I'd put in my body in the last month altogether, more ice cream (Molly Moon's salted caramel, yum!) after dinner with Ruth on Monday, and finally...late at night on Tuesday, baked deliciously scrumptious browned butter toasted coconut chocolate chip cookies, ala Joy the Baker, to bring to work the next day...

I halved Joy's recipe, and remembered to half everything except the butter. Whoops. Mine look nothing like hers, but an extra stick of butter, shockingly, didn't hurt the taste too much.

...but I popped a couple the night before and felt dizzingly drunk off the butter/sugar rush. Whew.
3. So when Seyeon came over Wednesday night with a bit of a cold, I think it just did me in. My poor immune system was down, from lack of the usual antioxidant-packed goods, and I woke up feeling not so hot.

Today, as I've been snacking away at home while trying to let my health make a recovery, I've been utilizing awesome recipes in my latest issue of Women's Running to pack in as many nutrients as possible. Below: homemade kale chips, a blueberry/chard/almond milk/flaxseed/pinapple smoothie, and an amaaazing fudge brownie made with black beans (!), Dutch cocoa powder, and sweetened purely with agave nectar. No refined sugar whatsoever. Incredible stuff.

Come on, body, work with me. I'd like to be able to run tomorrow.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Life Report + my second half marathon

This life I lead is a good one.

I worked this weekend some, but all in all, it felt a lot more like heaven than it did work.

Friday: writing projects during the day (work on my trail running stories for Outdoors NW, green smoothie blogging for a website I'm doing some writing for), beaches and sushi and magic with good people in the evening

Work or Heaven?

Saturday: 3rd Annual Running Shoe Expo, i.e. spending the day outside geeking out about running shoes with vendors and customers, then driving up to Deception Pass State Park with Lauren to meet up with friends and camp by the beach

Lauren and me at Deception Pass

Sunday: Running the Whidbey Island Half Marathon, relaxing afternoon back in Seattle, potluck dinner up north with many wonderful people

Today, the sun is out, and I get to spend my day: in my PJ's, eating good food, interviewing trail runners I admire, writing for work, and meeting Ruth for dinner in Wallingford tonight instead of going to class. After much deliberation over the matter, I decided to let go of my web databases classes this semester, and drop down to halftime school, rather than doing another full time quarter.

I'm still taking a few classes I'm pretty pumped about - user experience design (creating e-commerce websites) and writing for the web (would like to teach this in the future!) - but there was no way I could keep my life balanced and thriving with any more schoolwork on my plate. While many people in the web design program I'm in are there to make a 180 career shift and get a full time design job, I will maintain that writing is, and probably always will be, my primary passion. Web design and development, while very exciting to me, are merely hobbies with which I hope to supplement and support a career path of writing and creating.

But enough of the overarching life reflections I tend to litter my blog with..let's talk about running! (...because that is something I never talk enough about on my blog...) The Whidbey Island Half was my second half marathon I've ever done. The first was the Cleveland Half nearly two years ago, and I thought I'd never be able to beat that race: the weather was perfect, my body was humming, my friend Aseem was a rockin support crew, I ran faster than expected despite it being the longest race I'd ever run, and I loved every moment of it. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I think I've avoided running any more halfs because I was scared I'd never run one as great as the race that day.

Aseem and I enjoying brewskis after my first Half.

But! Yesterday reminded me how much I love the 13.1-mile distance, when it comes to road running. It's long enough to get in a groove, but not so long that the finish line is ever impossibly out of sight. The weather was everything that Washington state is known for this time of year: gray, overcast, icy cold, brutally windy, and on the verge of pouring rain the whole time. On a clear day, the Whidbey course features spectacular mountain views (earning it its title from Lonely Planet as one of the top ten most scenic marathon courses in the WORLD) - but even with the mountains in hiding and the sky resembling a slate blanket, it was an unbelievably gorgeous course.

The ladies at the finish line

It was fun to run it with friends, too. I'd never run a road race with a friend before. We all ran at slightly different paces, but because of certain out and back sections of the course, we passed each other often and were able to exchange cheers and high fives at points. Several boyfriends came along, too, to cheer us on along the course and at the finish line. (Boyfriends were also responsible for helping put together the rockstar carbo-load dinner at camp the night before: grilled salmon with pesto pasta, zucchini squash, and portobello mushrooms...who knew camp food could be so gourmet?)

The course was pretty hilly, and I realized how much I have grown as a runner since coming to Seattle; hills used to terrify me, but these days, I embrace them. They make me feel hardcore. It's admittedly very empowering to cruise up them when others are slowing down, because of all the mountains and hills (thank you, Queen Anne!) that I've run in training; my muscles were all, "Hey now, we know what to do here!" Uphills generally mean downhills, too, which are pretty much like free periods of rest for my legs and heart while clocking sub-7-minute miles: awesome.

Overall, I finished with a chip time of 1:49:23 . I maintained an 8:21 average pace, which was an improvement over my 8:33 pace at Cleveland two years ago, but still with a big window for future improvement and PR's - the best of both worlds. Also placed 7th in my age division, woohoo!

Here's me approaching the finish line at close to a full-out sprint: so much energy still left in the tank!

Lauren also had energy left in the's her prancing around on rocks a couple hours after running her first half-marathon.

Running is delightful. It is a framework for me to understand, interpret, and process my life. I love trail running for the scenery and laidback nature and solitude and more intense mental challenge...but there's still a place in my heart for a good road race with cheering crowds, camaraderie, and course support. Really looking forward to a solid running schedule in 2011. Also, big thumbs up for camping out the night before at the world's most beautiful campground!

Next up for me: Eugene full marathon in three weeks!