Hello again: Work / Life Balance

I’ll skip the part where I list all the reasons excuses for why I have posted in a while. I’ll also accept your forgiveness for my absence and my learning to write again. My paucity in posts could essentially be boiled down into one reason: a lack of work / life balance. This blog was never work but more about life; it lost out when I took on more responsibilities at work. Over the past month, I have recognized the problem and am taking necessary steps to resolve the issue.

The past year I have become immersed in work. This is due, but not limited, to an excitement about the possibilities, an inability to say no, an avoidance of other potential problems in my life and a lack of a fixed schedule. Being so involved in work meant losing out on relationships, events and most of the enjoyment that came along with them. Don’t get me wrong, I was still enjoying work but unhealthily neglecting everything else; even to the point of beginning to resent the work.

Recently, I have take a few steps to remedy this. Recognizing the problem is a big part of resolution, so I am on the right track. I have also begun meeting with a mentor, that understands the work that I do. He had some good advice regarding some beginning steps to take.

  1. Do not be an item on somebody else’s to do list. I would reply to texts, phone calls, and emails immediately, regardless of the urgency, time or day. One could argue that I was almost waiting for the next one to come through. Moving forward: I will have a certain time of day where I check and reply to emails. I will update my settings to eliminate every email from coming to my phone will put my phone away at night, only responding to personal (non-work) calls and texts. These two actions are combined with the new expectations and boundaries I will set with colleagues and clients.
  2. Take some time for yourself. I did not have a regular day off; a day that I could take care of me, relax, explore, learn or enjoy. I plan to take at least one day a week and also capitalize on the time I have during the summer.
  3. Set a schedule. I had failed to define a daily schedule. So I was flexible, which is good (yes, very go with the flow), but it also allowed me to fall victim to the flow. It didn’t give me any reason to say no – which meant I was overeager and vulnerable to overuse. My schedule will be another post altogether but involves: running, coffee, writing, learning, community, etc.
  4. Live with a Growth Mindset. In some aspects of life, I felt I was open to change or development. With others, I was closed off, thinking it is what it is. This topic is also post in and of itself. I look to continue to nurture that mindset and a “not yet” mentality.

An additional bonus is that for my job next year, I will be at set location so my vehicle will no longer be a storage unit. It will be nice to have my vehicle and my life back.

Looking forward to finding that balance.

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little rock marathon, a visit home

At the end of January, as I have blogged about, I attended the Arkansas Heart Association Heart Ball. During the event, there were a number of things in the auction. I chose to bid on an entry to the Little Rock Marathon. The package included registration fee and a $50 gift card to a local running store, Go! Running. My starting bid of $60 won; meaning I would return to Arkansas only five weeks later. This made me glad to have a race on the schedule and happy for the opportunity to return home. Since my training had not been in full swim and I had such a short time to prepare, I opted for the half versus the sold-out full.

Last Wednesday, I began my journey up from Austin for this half-marathon. I stopped in Magnolia to visit family there, including my 92 year old grandmother (sharing stories), and stayed until Friday. On Friday, I finished my trip to Little Rock. Just outside of the city, my aunt Amy and uncle Pat have a home set on 20 acres that looks up to West Pinnacle.  It is one of my favorite places in the area and since my parents no longer live in Little Rock, I decided to stay here. When pick up my packet on Friday I ran into a friend from high school, Thomas Chapin. He is now an ultra-marathoner, runner-up in the 2012 Arkansas Traveler 100. Thomas said it best with, “a half-marathon is a great excuse to visit home.”

This is really what this trip has been about, a trip home. During this trip, I have been able to see most of my family. The race may have been the instigator for the trip but it was never really the focus for me. Turned out to be a good thing too. The weather for the race was not ideal. It was mid-50’s at the race start and 38* when I finished – raining, to some extent, the entire time – with winds ranging from 15 – 25 mph. This was my first time for me to race that distance in the rain, first time to run that untrained, first time to run with the temperature dropping and first time I was super thankful to have simply run the half versus the full. I typically prefer to keep running.  All in all I was happy with my 1:43 time. Though some around me found ways to complain about the conditions, I did my best to just enjoy being out there. The marathon was eventually (around 11:30) rerouted due the weather; the race officials and organizers handled everything wonderfully.

Today, I am iced in. It is the coldest day in March, in Arkansas, EVER. The weather that came through yesterday, Winter Storm Titan, left a blanket of ice on the roads from Central Arkansas north to Missouri. As the day goes on, the roads are fine about 45 miles south of here but getting to the interstate is one thing while driving on that ice for 45 miles is another. That said, I will spend another day here enjoying family.

a heart filled weekend

Heart Ball_4Last weekend, I took a quick trip to Little Rock, Arkansas for the American Heart Association Heart Ball. As you have probably presumed, this is a fundraising, black-tie, gala of an affair. My connection with this particular heart association is my mother, Roxana Whitner. She served on the committee for years organizing the sweethearts (teenage girls that volunteer hundreds of service hours). This year, the association honored her with the Worthen-Cornett Award. As a family, we attended to celebrate and recognize her. The ball raised money for the association through tickets, donations and an auction. My mother even made a beautiful heart-themed quilt which brought in over $3,000 for the AHA. Visit the AHA website to donate and even specify a particular branch, maybe local to you, where you wish the money to help.  Local heart balls can also be found on the website or possibly just googling heart ball in your area.

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Lindsey and I had an amazing evening and enjoyed our time with family but I should point out that the ball means so much more to me. The American Heart Association is important to me in a deeper way, more personal even than its relation to my mother. I was born with a congenial heart defect – Pectus Excavatum, which also affects the respiratory system. I had successful corrective surgery and now run marathons. My story seems so familiar that I feel it pales in comparison to that of my younger brother. This past weekend was spent with my mother’s side (or three sisters’ side) of my family but on my dad’s side I have four brothers. My brother Robert was born with a heart condition Tricuspid Atresia. He underwent many surgeries as an infant and was prescribed a daily medicine. He couldn’t play contact sports in a town that bled football but maintained a sport’s identity by excelling in tennis and baseball. Now a college graduate, he is entering into his second year as a landscape architect in Houston. Though his condition still affects some areas of his life, the research, operations, and medications, often products of organizations like the AHA, have allowed him to live. Combined with his personal strength and strong personality, they have helped him to become an active, vibrant young man.

never look back, never give up (a year end review)

Today’s title comes from the band Haim’s song, Falling.  Haim is just one of the bands that I fell in love with this past year. Others include Air Review, Lord Huron, Chvrches, Poolside, Phantogram, The Joy Formidable and St. Lucia.  Phosphorescent’s Song for Zula takes my song of the year, at the least.

White Lies, Local Natives, The National and Arcade Fire gave us new albums. I was able to catch a Mumford & Sons‘ show with my brother Joe and two of my cousins, Mary Elizabeth and Annie.

My year began with a snowboarding trip with my brother Joe. He is a skier but gave boarding a go. It was a good, yet cold adventure. At the end of the month and in contrast, I took Lindsey to Playa del Carmen, Mexico for her 30th birthday. We enjoyed the warm weather and beach views from the pool plus its fruity and sugary drinks. The few days we were there reminded us that we could take a vacation and simply relax versus go – go – go.

Three other trips that Lindsey and I took, and I have already blogged about include, Vancouver, Chicago and Charlotte.  Vancouver, in May, to visit the fabulous city and I ran the marathon. The Chicago trip was to visit some old friends and celebrate the 4th of July. Charlotte was to visit her family and explore what the city has to offer; we took a second trip there for Christmas.

Two of my favorite places to eat in Houston grew this past year. Good Dog, formally a food truck, opened its brick and mortar in the heart of the Heights; walking distance from Lindsey’s. Liberty Kitchen, still a favorite in the Heights, opened a second location that has a gorgeous interior and a Japanese influenced menu. My final word regarding food and drink in 2013 would be the introduction of the Untappd app. It allows me to find, track and rate the many craft beers I get to experience.

Finally, some life experiences of note. Two of my brothers graduated from college. One of which, Robert, has been living in Houston for all of 2013, meaning I was able to see him more. Some of my most memorable dining and concert experiences included that young lad. Running is a major part of my life. This year I ran fewer marathons and less mileage overall but found joy in coaching running. I helped a few friends run their best races, whether it was a 10k, half marathon or marathon. Coaching two soccer teams, I was reminded the happiness that can be found in coaching soccer, the fun to be had while learning. To top them all, last Saturday my niece, Mary Elizabeth, said “Wuv you!” for the first time, it was to me, her uncle John.

I look forward to the adventures, meaning and moments that 2014 will bring!

where are you going, where have you been

I stole the title of Joyce Carol Oates’ beautiful short story to write a little about transition. The past three weeks I have been on a whirlwind of many mini-travels. Which may sound more exciting than the actual relaxing atmosphere they presented. During my trips to Arkansas, back to Texas, Florida, Arkansas again, Texas, then to North Carolina and finally back to Texas, I did some writing and reading, experienced some new places and feelings but neglected to report them here.

The first trip was to Arkansas for one of my youngest brothers’, Daniel, college graduation. I am proud of his journey into adulthood, which is maybe more of a fatherly or grandfatherly thing to say. My brothers and my sisters have all made me proud in their own way. Honestly, no two of them have shared a reason for me to think highly of them. Their uniqueness surely spawns from my unique upbringing, our one-of-a-kind relationships. 

The back to Texas portions of my trip were simply to regroup, repack, and reset in order to set out again. 

The Florida trip was to meet up my mom and step-dad, Flip. For mom’s 60th birthday, she would stop along the way at sewing and quilting shops. She has surely found her niche. The quilts in my living room are regularly enjoyed by roommates and myself. I enjoyed playing three rounds of golf with Flip, including twice at the beautiful yet challenging course at Magnolia Landing. These Florida courses played host to a number of amazing birds and few alligators. 

From Florida we drove, along scenic highways and busy interstates, back up to Arkansas. We made in time for a family Christmas that featured more children than ever. Even though we were missing a couple of the cast, we managed to have a good time catching up and may have begun a new tradition of driving to Haynesville, LA for a Rita or Pina Colada. I look forward to seeing everyone again at the end of January. 

The final portion of my trip, after another reset in Austin of course, was out to Charlotte, NC to spend Christmas with Lindsey and her family. Everyone has their own Holiday traditions, it was good to see Lindsey enjoying hers with her family. One of the things I personally liked best was that everyone put a little something in everyone else’s stocking. A manageable task since there were only 5 of them. 

That is where I have been, exploring without reporting. Where I am going constitutes keeping a better record of such travels as they occur. As I use the turn of the calendar to regroup, repack and reset, I also hope to be better about making sure these people in my life know how much I love them.

miscellaneous monday: thanksgiving “break”

Thanksgiving to me is a time to celebrate the things I am thankful for. Naturally, this will vary year to year but there are some standards. Family, friends, food, football and fun are five of my standards; this year especially.

The family I enjoyed this season was on two separate occasions. My nephew Josh invited me to his pre-school’s thanksgiving lunch, an event in which I did Instagram. I enjoyed this invitation and secretly, until now of course, was happy he preferred my participation to that of his mom and dad. The second family edition for me this year was at my dad’s house in Warren, AR. Lindsey and my brother Robert rode up with me; additionally, Robert pointed out that this was his and my first long road trip. Lindsey had never been to Arkansas, seen the country life, or shot a gun before; all three were remedied on this trip. I was definitely happy to have her there and am pleased to announce that she has recovered from her culture shock.

Friends-givings are becoming more and more popular these days. Or maybe now that I am older, they are becoming more familiar to me. I met up with about two dozen friends this season, some that I have met more recently mixed with others I’ve known for a couple years. We passed around a bottle of champagne to cheers the things we were thankful for: our friendships, fellowships, fun, Austin, and music were among the top mentions. The event began around 2 p.m. that Saturday and didn’t wrap up until 2 a.m. the next day.

The food at both family and friend events was incredible. I was also able to enjoy Good Dog, Liberty Kitchen, and Onion Creek, all of Houston.

The past two weekends have featured some amazing football games. Saban’s poor coaching decision aside, Auburn’s last minute victory over Alabama was incredible. Whereas I agree with Michigan going for two. The NFL is finally seeing some good match-ups as well: Tom Brady come-backs, Peyton Manning, the Chiefs, and tonight’s Monday Night Football – Saints vs. Seahawks game.

Finally, the fun!! Anytime I get together with my family, whether my mom’s side with sisters and cousins or my dad’s with all my brother, we find a way – even create our own way sometimes – to have fun. Lindsey and I also enjoyed the company of a couple friends over this past weekend. We went to a show at Stereo Live in Houston for Paul Van Dyke on Friday and seemed to lose time as the night faded into the morning. We even met some new friends in the heights and have plans to continue the fun.

I love this time of year, not because of the cooler temps or Christmas lights, Holiday giving or receiving but because of the love and fun shared with others.

miscellaneous monday: thank you veterans

Though I have never served in the military, I have many friends that have. Some to the point of giving their life for our freedom. This particular video from ESPN came out last summer but moves me to tears every single time I watch it. In this season of Thanksgiving: Thank you to all of those who serve and protect this country.

miscellaneous monday: family & vacation

Last week, I traveled up to Arkansas to spend some time with family. My typical trip up there includes Magnolia (southeast), Little Rock (central), and Warren (southwest); this makes for a nice little triangle of travel. My mother now lives southwest of Little Rock in Hot Springs Village; still a triangle but not as equilateral. Little Rock provides more entertainment while HSV gives me more of a chance to relax. Last Monday, I wrote a little about the drive and my first impression of the Village – today, I’ll nail down the rest of the week.

One thing that I do religiously, even on vacation, is run. The hilly runs through the community, surrounded by pines and small ponds, with golf courses spread throughout were challenging but refreshing in a way. My brother Joe, who grew up in Warren, while I was raised in the Little Rock, agrees with me – there is something nostalgic in the presence of towering shadow of pine trees. I hadn’t know how much I missed them until I had returned.

In the same way I renewed my affection for the natural state, I was able to spend some quality time with my family, My mom and step-dad live in Hot Springs VIllage, where we enjoyed morning walks (after my run), home-cooked meals and twilight rounds of golf. One evening in particular I was the only one on the course. http://instagram.com/p/c7LBb0SPWf/ I also fit in a trip to the family golf shop in Benton and a lunch with my Aunt Amy and sister Mary Jane. My grandmother, on my mother’s side, is in Magnolia, where I was able to enjoy more home-cooked meals with Aunt Molly, Uncle Bob, cousins Robert and Rebecca, and even played an “instructional” round of golf with Rebecca at the country club. Warren, has been my dad’s home for over 30 years. They live out of the city limits and have quite a bit of land surrounding the house. My brother Daniel and I spent an afternoon watching Jason Dufner dominate and playing our own round of golf behind the house (hitting to tree shadows instead of greens). Then we helped my dad strip the counters in the kitchen prepping for new granite. This is the type of DIY project that every young man has a desire to help his father with; it finally came to me at the budding age of 34.

The trip was just what I needed. Coming off the life-change of leaving my day job and jumping head-first into writing full-time, there was just the right mix of family, fun, relaxation, home-cooked meals. Hopefully, you can take a similar trip soon and my next one isn’t too far in the future.

miscellaneous monday: magnolia

Have you taken the scenic backroads through small town America? Have you seen her architecture, her town square? Do you know the history she has witnessed?

I have family in Magnolia, Arkansas and my mother is from there; one of my sisters was born there. Several branches of my tree began in this town and many parts, including a part of me, live there now. From Austin, I travel north on Highway 79 across east Texas toward Shreveport, LA then north again to Magnolia. My only company is the towering loblolly or short-needle pines. I pass by fields and farms or through squared off towns and townships with slow moving traffic and slower moving citizens. It amounts to a literal journey “over the river and through the woods” to my grandmother’s house.

Of all the things I have said or could say about my grandmother, I wrote this quip for her ninetieth birthday celebration invitation: Life like a rose, blessing the lives of others, one day at a time. She has an exquisite, envy-inducing rose garden that has flourished since 1960. Behind her home is a towering Magnolia tree, which played host to a number of my adventures when I was younger. Both the garden and tree had existed longer than her house, as she lost a home to a fire in the early 90’s.

This past weekend was the annual, since 1988, Magnolia Blossom Festival and World Championship Steak Cook-off. The event does not have grillers from across the world but does carries that much excitement and weight for the community.

The square is wrapped with festival staples such as classic carnival food trucks with foot long corn dogs, funnel cakes, blooming onions and other treats. Craft and game booths, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and bouncy castles surround the exterior. To fill the middle, they parade in the cookers; grills and smokers ranging in size from backyard friendly to a towering truck trailer. The community comes together the third weekend every May to celebrate each other, life and their love for both. Family is defined on the streets of this town as they serve each other and eat together.

Maybe it was only because of my family’s involvement and rich history there, but I never once felt like a visitor. I hope you will put such an experience to the test. Rather you visit for the Magnolia blossoms, the smell of pine, the taste of the town or to visit family, find your way to small-town America. Even better, find a festival and experience the community.

(not so random) acts of kindness

The more I think about this bombing, I am more disturbed as a runner, an American, and a human. The Boston Marathon plays host to many countries and creeds and those there to spectate are selflessly standing by, sometimes for hours, to witness their loved one or even a complete stranger accomplish a feat. My heart certainly goes out to the loved ones of the three and those recovering from amputations. I look forward to reading more and more of their accounts and stories of survival; inspirations to myself and many others.

The past couple of days, the news has been filled with stories of people helping people in response to the blasts in Boston. I think it is great to report on these. Let’s not call them random though. As brothers and sisters pick on each other from time to time, antagonize one another and even harm (rarely maliciously) one another, so it is with our American family. We stick together and stand up for each other in the time of need. Whereas regular circumstance might require one to label these acts of kindness as random, once the situation has been altered so are its descriptors. It is not random of us to help one another in a time of need. This tragedy has proven once again, the strength of this country and its people. Though we are still running – we have not forgotten, will not forget and the memory will power us on.