• Nowhere else I should be

    I began this post on March 8, 2017, the morning after I accepted a final job offer. I started writing that day with the words, “there is nowhere else I should be,” and I almost clicked the “Publish” button a few paragraphs later. But I hesitated to tell the world that everything felt perfect when I hadn’t even yet moved or started the new job. I came back to this post a couple more times, always with the same content feeling, but I was in classroom training and still had yet to do the real job. So I waited some more. You see, this new venture of mine has a high washout rate, and often half the people hired are gone in a year. I’m an optimist, but I’m also realistic and felt that it would be unfair to shout from the rooftops before I even started the real job.

    Well, I have now worked five full days on the operations floor and I still have the same sentiment 15 weeks later, so I’m finishing this post and publishing it. I’m green and need the constant words of my coach in my ear, but every time people ask if I have any regrets about turning my life inside out, my “no” is an easy answer. I still want to shout from the rooftops, “Keep fighting to be happy! Make changes! Take chances! LIVE LIFE.”

    Find beauty. And really look at it.
    Find beauty. And really look at it. (This time, in the Columbia Gorge.)


    Written on Wednesday, March 8, 2017: Only once in a great while do we get that distinct feeling of “there is nowhere else I should be,” and I was fortunate enough to feel it twice in one year — when I got on a plane in January 2016 very shortly after my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and when I clicked the final button to submit a job application nine months later. Last night, I received a telephone call that I had gotten the job.

    Exactly 13 weeks later, on another Tuesday afternoon, the same woman who called me about the job was congratulating me for passing academy and moving to on-the-job training.

    From my desk, I see a cloud. Or maybe it's a bird.
    From my desk in my Portland apartment, I see a bird-shaped cloud, telling me to fly.


    In each of the many hoops I jumped through for this job (and there have been many), I never once hesitated or questioned it. Instead, as I passed each test and interview and subsequent test and subsequent interview, the feeling intensified: I was on the right path, and I really did want this job. Only time will tell if my instinct was correct, but I woke up the morning after that March phone call with a sense of peace and excitement. That’s a good combination, and it has not faded.

    I try not to look back on my life events and decisions with regret, because I cannot change the past and because I know that, no matter how bad something was, it could have been worse. Of course, this knowledge doesn’t help me immediately after an unhappy event, and that’s where time and perspective help. I believe two tumultuous times in my life contributed heavily to my latest life change, and that’s why I can now see that good things came out of hard times.

    My friend Kristen sent me this during a rough time. It's true.
    My friend Kristen sent me this during a rough time. It’s true.


    First, in August 2010 I upended my life. I look at the “Timehop” app that shows my vague Facebook and Twitter posts from that time, and I see how incredibly unhappy I was for the year leading up to the breaking point. I almost included a screenshot in this post, but the sad reality is that there were too many screenshot options. I was miserable and didn’t realize how much so. The diagnosis of a stress fracture in my leg was the final crack that shattered the increasingly fragile glass of my well-being. Suddenly, I could no longer run and train for the Portland and New York marathons, which were the only bright spots in my life. Everything that remained was negative.

    And so, in a few moments of desperation that caused my family more than a little worry, I quit my job, thus ending my 10-year journalism career. I also ended a dysfunctional three-year relationship. I suddenly had spare time and a lot of vacation pay-out, and then my old friend Ryan, whom I had recently reconnected with after an absence of 15 years, suggested I move my Portland trip to August, since I wouldn’t be going for the marathon in October. A few days later, I packed two weeks of belongings in my car and drove 10 hours north. Ryan hosted and showed me around Portland, as did my friends Becky and Frank, whom I hadn’t seen since I was in their wedding 10 years earlier.

    December 2000
    December 2000 (see, this post isn’t just words)


    I loved Portland. It just felt right. However, I needed a job, and a great opportunity came along in the Bay Area. I took it, and occasionally visited Portland when I could. I’ve never regretted moving to the Bay Area, because I made lasting friendships there, and I grew and learned a lot along the way. I also had no idea that it would allow me to take on the other tumultuous time I referred to several paragraphs ago.

    In January 2016, my mother was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic colon cancer that had spread to her liver. What followed was a whirlwind of cancer doctors and surgeons and hospitals. That soon became chemo treatments and prescriptions and medical decisions. I was able to fly back and forth a number of times while still paying my rent, thanks to a compassionate boss and remote work access. My sisters and I watched as my mom fought cancer. Chemo wreaked havoc on her, and then she had to make a big surgical decision. In June 2016, I spent an anxious day in a waiting room while two surgeons operated, and then we spent more than a week in the hospital. Recovery at home was also very hard on my mom. But she kept going. It was inspiring.

    Light at the end of the tunnel (this one is just east of Portland).
    Light at the end of the tunnel (this one is just east of Portland).


    Along the way, I had started pondering jobs in Chicago, knowing I couldn’t sustain the time away from work. It was not my first choice, though, and when my mom continued to rally despite undergoing more chemo, my thoughts again turned to Portland. We only get one chance at life, and I knew it now more than ever. If I never took a chance and tried Portland, would I look back one day with regret? The answer was a firm, resounding “YES.”

    On the wall of a Portland coffee shop
    On the wall of a Portland coffee shop


    In early September, Becky randomly sent me a picture of the two of us from that first visit to Portland six years earlier. She said it was a nice photo of a time in my life when I was going through a lot of changes. Her timing was, as Becky later said, “providential.” I told her I was again thinking about moving to Portland, and she said to send her my resume. A month later, her husband Frank emailed me a job posting, asking if I’d be interested in being a 911 call taker.



    My first instinct was another capitalized “YES.” I made myself think about it for a week, considering the shift work and the stress that I knew about from my years as a crime reporter who listened to thousands of hours of scanner traffic. I looked at several dispatcher friends’ Facebook pages to remind myself of what they gave up on countless holidays and weekends. When I looked at the application again as the deadline neared, I had answers for every question. There were no feelings of doubt.

    My application — one of 150, I later learned — made the first cut and I then snuck away to Portland and sailed through a two-hour test with what I was later told were “incredibly high” scores. I got to an in-person interview and found myself wearing a new outfit while sitting at the head of a table in front of an interview panel. I had all those answers, too. Then another interview felt right. Sure, I had prepared for each one, but the answers came naturally and I never had a feeling of incompetence, or the thought of “well, that was a long shot, but at least I had interview practice.” The process continued (and I owe heartfelt thanks and drinks to the nearly 20 friends and family members who were contacted during the background investigation). More tests ensued, and along the way I confused a doctor and nurse with a perfect hearing test (what?). The vision test said something about my astigmatism (oops), and the psychological evaluation was the most exhausting part of all. [Note: All of these requirements and procedures are listed in the public job description. I will not reveal anything that is confidential. Also, any opinions expressed here are my own and not my employer’s. This was written on my own time.]

    I received a “conditional” job offer, pending that daunting psychological evaluation, and found an apartment in Portland. I even had a backup plan in case the new job fell through — but that made me want it even more. When I received the call with a final job offer on that Tuesday evening in March, I sat in my car in a parking lot, filled with a kind of electrical shock and excitement.

    And so it was that old friends introduced me to Portland during a rough time in my life, made me smile when I struggled, and were there for me years later.

    A little less than three weeks after that job offer phone call, I had moved 650 miles to a new state.

    Empty old apartment
    Empty old apartment
    I kept what fit in a storage/moving pod.
    I kept what fit in a storage/moving pod.


    Then I started a full-time academy. It was generally harder than I had imagined, especially the vast amount of geography I was required to learn in a short amount of time — Portland is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, I moved here five days before work started, and I already have a knack for getting lost. One day found me crying in my car after scoring 20% on a geography quiz, and another day I was sent to a different instructor to see if maybe SHE could work some magic on me. As I type this, I still don’t fully know all 71 on/off-ramps of Interstate 5, plus the ones for I-205, I-84 and I-405, or all the bridge ramps. But I kept going. I gave up most morning runs so I could study when my brain was fresher, and I made many flash cards. And, to my utter amazement, I scored 100% on a subsequent geography quiz.

    State training
    State training


    And then, after two days of exams, academy was done. I was officially on the work schedule, with my name on a mailbox and permission to park inside the secured gates. That said, this next level of training is going to be a different kind of exhausting than academy — and it will last at least four months. And then I’ll start an even more intense, longer phase of training. All in, this will take 18-24 months.

    I still have no regrets. Every single day, even the time I was hating myself for crying over geography, and the unpleasant calls I’ve already taken, I see funny, beautiful things that make me so glad I took this big plunge.

    Life is meant to be lived.
    Life is meant to be lived.

  • February

    February. It’s that mix of winter with a hint of spring, when the days are finally, noticeably getting longer again. Where I grew up, it was when the manzanita flowers would bloom. It’s a short month, and sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to have a presidential holiday added to the equation.

    Not rough: Bike riding between rain showers with these clouds and this greenery.
    Also a bonus in February: Bike riding between rain showers with these clouds and this greenery.


    February has always been a mixed bag for me. When I was a child, I spent all of January looking forward to my February birthday. Yes, I just mentioned the b-word that my friends know I dread. I don’t like to make a big deal out of my birthday, mainly because I always feel that I haven’t done enough yet in life, so I don’t want to get another year older. To me, it feels like a day of failure, and of things not done. I’ve also had some rather interesting birthday experiences over the years that have made me a little jaded:

    • My 10-year birthday party had to be postponed two weeks because whooping cough broke out in the neighborhood, and I had a 3-week-old sister who couldn’t be immunized yet. (I don’t have hard feelings toward her; whooping cough can kill infants. Whether I have hard feelings toward the people who didn’t vaccinate their kids and thus caused the breakout that threatened my sister’s life is another story for another blog post.)
    • An on/off quasi-boyfriend brought a new girlfriend to one of my birthday parties.
    • I was dumped on my birthday.
    • A lawyer’s body was found buried in a vineyard, an event that actually launched my professional journalism career.
    • I was extremely ill but desperate to get to trial, where the afore-mentioned case was reaching its peak. I convinced a doctor to give me a shot — and I promptly had a reaction. But I did get back to trial!
    • I was kicked out of a law firm’s offices, so then I went and snooped through their trash in the dumpster behind the building. That was actually one of my favorite birthdays, because shady things were going on involving millions of dollars, and I was allowed to drive two-plus hours just to visit their office. (The next night, that office was “burglarized” and all of the computers and hard drives were taken — nothing else. But it was clearly an inside job, because all the glass from a broken window fell outside, not inside.)
    • I moved. I hate moving. Then we celebrated with champagne with a flower in each glass, and that’s when I discovered that such flowers give me bright red hives.
    • I dropped out of a 31-mile race at mile 16.5. It’s my only DNF (did not finish), and that race would have qualified me for something I’d sought for a couple years. I did finally qualify 10 months later.
    • I cried in my surgeon’s office, then scheduled the second surgery in five months.

    And that’s just the day of my actual birthday. February as a whole has contained some pretty gloomy things over the years. But the thing is, I could single out any time period and create a bulleted list of “disappointing things that have happened to me.” I could also create a list of “awesome things that have happened to me” (like seeing Metallica almost-on-my-birthday last year). For that matter, each day and month and year is a chance to do things better and more fully.

    Sunrise runs are always good.
    Sunrise runs are always good.


    Ultimately, it is up to me to turn those negative events into something memorable, whether it’s a good story to tell later or a lesson to be learned. (The same guy who dumped me on my birthday also dumped me on Valentine’s Day and Christmas, so that’s a two-in-one deal.) When I look at that list up there, it doesn’t make me depressed. I see a list of non-boring things that are just a fraction of the events that happened over the course of my life. Maybe I haven’t done enough things to appease myself, but at least I’ve gotten this far.

    Despite my rather strong ambivalence toward my birthday, friends and family members still insist on sending me cards, gifts and cheer every year. I do truly appreciate it, even if I don’t feel worthy. Maybe I should be a bit less critical of myself. I am grateful for the life I have, so I should try to be more grateful for each day, whether it’s my birthday or not. (For the record, today is not my birthday. It will take longer than a blog post to fully reverse that ingrained train of thought.)


  • It’s okay

    On the afternoon of January 11, 2016, my mother went to the doctor because she had noticed a lump in her abdomen and thought she might have a hernia. The doctor ordered blood work, then scheduled an ultrasound for the next day. That ultrasound was conducted at 11:30 a.m. (9:30 my time), and the doctor immediately ordered a CT scan — not for the next day, but for that same night.

    That’s when my mom emailed her three daughters to say her liver appeared to contain multiple tumors.

    One year ago, a tweet of desperation and hope.


    On January 13, 2016, doctors told my mom that she had four masses in her liver, what looked like another mass in her colon, and that they suspected she had metastatic cancer that had started in her colon. According to the internet search I conducted in about three seconds, that meant she probably had stage four cancer — and there is nothing beyond stage four. Each tumor was the size of a chicken egg. Six days later, I was on a plane to my mom’s house. And the day after that, on January 20, I cried in a hospital room as another doctor, a gastroenterologist who had just conducted a colonoscopy, told us that such cases were “typically inoperable.”

    Two things are fairly normal for me: I rarely cry; and most memories are blurry. That day in the hospital defied both norms. One year later, I still clearly remember that room in the Highland Park Hospital. I remember the look on Dr. Chiao’s face, and his struggle to meet my gaze as he watched tears well up in my eyes. I remember trying so very hard to keep those tears at bay, and the maddening frustration as I failed. I remember my mom saying a slow “okay” as the doctor talked. I remember looking at the pictures he had taken during the procedure, and already knowing what they meant because I had been Googling for days. I remember hating the fact that I was sniffling, and that one or two sniffs didn’t suffice. I remember sitting back so that I would be behind my mom and she wouldn’t see me trying so hard to keep control. I remember her, always a mother, looking for a box of tissue, and the doctor handing me a slim, red box. I remember my mom sitting back and saying, “It’s okay, Layla.”

    For a long time, things were not okay. A lot of 2016 was not okay. For that matter, the fall of 2015 was also not okay, and my family even said, “things will get better in 2016.” We had no idea.

    But that “typically inoperable” phrase didn’t come true for my mother. She rallied and fought back. We went to multiple doctors and surgeons. She jumped through so many hoops in order to start chemotherapy less than three weeks after her first visit to the doctor. I strongly suspect those hoops, maddening and bewildering as they were, saved my mother’s life because, in the three weeks between her first and second CT scans, the tumors in her liver grew half a centimeter each. When colon cancer spreads (metastasizes), it typically goes into the liver and then the lungs, and that’s when it’s finally detected — and by then it’s too late to treat. One of my mom’s tumors was on the outside of her liver, so combined with being a small woman, she noticed it in time.

    Chemotherapy, with all of its terrible side effects, stopped the tumors in their tracks. As quickly as they had grown, they began shrinking. Surgeons had various opinions, but my mom chose the liver surgeon who wanted to try teaming up with another surgeon to operate on her colon and liver all at once. Surgeons at a bigger hospital with a big university name hadn’t wanted to attempt such a thing, because that’s just not how it’s done. Even a week before surgery, my mom’s chosen surgeon said they could do the operations separately, but my mom stuck to her decision. Dr. Talamonti, her ever-calming liver surgeon, said “okay, let’s do it.”

    On June 2, 2016, surgeons spent six hours operating on my mom’s abdomen. I hung out in the waiting room, later discovering more than one error I made while valiantly attempting to work remotely. I was nearly numb when Dr. Talamonti came to tell me that it was complete and looked good. I think he was expecting me to cry because he had taken me into a private room, but I stuck to my tear-free norm — until he left and I started to walk back to the waiting room. I suddenly turned into the bathroom, and then I cried for the first time since that January day in the hospital.

    After nine days in the hospital, my mom went home. Recovery was not easy. And then chemotherapy started again.

    On October 31, I was at a beach town in Mexico a couple days before a friend’s destination wedding. I got to a wifi signal and checked my email, knowing my mom was hopefully having her last chemo treatment if it wasn’t postponed, which had happened more than once due to white blood cell counts being too low. My mother had emailed an audio recording of the visit with her cancer doctor, where she received her last chemo treatment and he told her she was done. He then talked about the timing of future CT scans and other maintenance.

    And there, beside a pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean in central Mexico, I cried for the third time. My mom was okay.

  • 2016 in books

    To my pleasant surprise, I finished 36 books in 2016. (The number nerd in me liked this, and promptly decided 2017 should have 37 books, but we shall see.) Goodreads tracks this info via a website and a phone app, and while I’m not thrilled with countless time-sucking semi-social sites, I think the site has encouraged me to read more and to stay a bit more organized. The payoff: their year-end “My Year in Books” summary.

    Look, geeky numbers!
    Look, geeky numbers!


    Full disclosure: The site doesn’t differentiate between physical, electronic and audio books — and I plowed through a number of audio books in 2016. Am I cheating by including audio books? I’m not sure, but my conscience rests easily if I say I “finished” the books, rather than saying I “read” them. Regardless, I did consume the entirety of each book (including the lengthy end notes in a couple of them).

    Of these 36 books, I only gave a full five-star rating to three. Coincidentally, they were either set in the Pacific Northwest or about WWII, which really isn’t much of a surprise.

    1. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, a well-researched account of poor, hard-working young men from the Pacific Northwest who set out to beat the Ivy League crew teams and then take on the Nazis. I have a life-long fascination with WWII, I didn’t know much about the 1936 Olympics, and I could picture the area.
    2. Burying Water, by K.A. Tucker, about a woman who was left for dead but survived — with no memory of what happened to her. It wasn’t quite the typical “girl suffers amnesia, falls in love, lives happily ever after” type of plot. The characters pulled me in, and I just wanted the story to keep going.
    3. The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman, a story of a young couple who are separated by WWII. The novel switches between his and her perspective, present and past, and somehow it works without confusion.
    I'm not sure if 3.6 stars is a good or a bad average.
    I’m not sure if 3.6 stars is a good or a bad average.


    In no particular order, the four-star books:

    1. The Long and Faraway Gone, by Lou Berney. Two separate crimes and two separate characters are woven together. I really wanted the story to keep going!
    2. Happiness For Beginners, by Katherine Center. A light-hearted, funny tale of a newly single woman who has no business signing up for a rugged wilderness survival course.
    3. Black-Eyed Susans, by Julia Heaberlin. A suspense story of the sole survivor of a serial killer, successfully told in both present day and 20 years earlier.
    4. The Spy’s Son, by Bryan Denson. Subtitle: “The True Story of the Highest-Ranking CIA Officer Ever Convicted of Espionage and the Son He Trained to Spy for Russia.” I came close to giving this one five stars.
    5. The Lake House, by Kate Morton. A tale about a missing person. This was a toss-up between three and four stars, but I liked the writing.
    6. An Irish Country Doctor, by Patrick Taylor. Cute little tale set in the Irish countryside: I was biased because I’ve been there and could picture it, and this was an audio book with a fantastic accent.
    7. One Plus One, by Jojo Moyes. Good blend of humor, non-cheesy romance and funny characters. Bonus: They’re on a road trip.
    8. Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson. One of my favorite non-fiction authors, Larson brought a 1900 hurricane to life. This was closer to five stars.
    9. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes. A young woman takes a job caring for a grumpy man in a wheelchair. Her character is hilarious.
    10. After You, by Jojo Moyes. Sequel to the above, I continue to like the character.  (It helps that she is delightfully British.)
    11. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I’ve read this book at least once before, but it’s been about 20 years. This was the folding pages version; I am a bad blogger who hasn’t taken a photo of it, but you can buy it here.
    12. The Diplomat’s Wife, by Pam Jenoff. A WWII story of love and heartbreak, with a plot turn that is a little too far-fetched but made it a good airplane read.
    13. I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. The story of the remarkable teenager who stood up to the Taliban — subtitle: “The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.”
    14. The Short Drop, by Matthew FitzSimmons. Another mystery of a long-missing person. Strangely, I read this in July and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I barely remember it.
    15. Anonymous Sources, by Mary Louise Kelly. When a former NPR reporter writes a crime novel about a reporter, of course I will read it.
    16. Split Second, by David Baldacci. Two former Secret Service agents team up on a crime case. This is my guilty pleasure reading at its finest.

    Moving along to the three-star books:

    1. Hell’s Guest, by Glenn Frazier. First-hand account from a survivor of the Bataan Death March in WWII, which I finished just before running the marathon that honors the victims. I wanted to love this, but the writing was mediocre and it was a little too preachy. The passion was genuine, though.
    2. Killing Floor, by Lee Child. Bad writing made tolerable by the audio book factor and the “fun action story with a cool main star so you can suspend all deep thought and just enjoy the ride” notion.
    3. Seabiscuit, by Lauren Hillenbrand. A well-written, well-researched book about the legendary race horse, which took me a very long time to read because I’m just really not a horse person. (I loved her book “Unbroken,” though.)
    4. The Girl You Left Behind, by Jojo Moyes. More Jojo Moyes fiction, this time set in WWII. This was more of a 2.5-star book.
    5. Hour Game, by David Baldacci. The second book in the “King & Maxwell” series about the former Secret Service members turned private investigators.
    6. Simple Genius, by David Baldacci. The third book in the series. This one’s plot was kind of ridiculous, but I just really get a kick out of the two main characters.
    7. First Family, by David Baldacci. Fourth book in the series. I often run without music, but when it’s a three-hour run that will get tough, this kind of audio escape is the best.
    8. The Sixth Man, by David Baldacci. Book number five. More guilty pleasure fun.
    9. King and Maxwell, by David Baldacci. The sixth, and apparently last, book in the series. Wait, that’s it? No more PI capers?
    10. The Black Echo, by Michael Connelly. Crime novels by a former LA Times crime reporter: Books I will explore. Harry Bosch, the gritty detective, is my kind of character.
    11. Black Ice, by Michael Connelly. This one took Detective Bosch into Mexico. I was a bit generous with my stars.
    12. The Concrete Blonde, by Michael Connelly.I started plowing through these Harry Bosch books because I discovered the Amazon TV series that’s taken from the books. The show is fantastic, but I wanted to read the books before seeing the episodes.
    13. The Last Coyote, by Michael Connelly. This one explores more of Bosch’s history.
    14. Trunk Music, by Michael Connelly. I polished off the second season of Amazon’s show, which ended with this book. I have a feeling I’ll binge both when the third season comes out this year.

    And then we have the two-star books. Like the five-star ones, I only gave this lower honor to three titles:

    1. The Rumor, by Elin Hilderbrand. I’ve read a couple of her books in the past and remember liking them, but this one was just too fluffy with zero substance.
    2. The Heist, by Janet Evanovich. Her books can be fast-read fun romps, but this one was ridiculous to the point of being absurd.
    3. The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth van Arnim. I really wanted to like this one because it was recommended as an antidote to a book that was miserable. But it was just so slow and seemed to have no point. A guy on an airplane was impressed that I was reading it, so maybe I am just not sophisticated enough for fine literature.

    And that last book leads to the one book I abandoned this year. I didn’t give one one star to any books, and I’m really not one to abandon books because it bothers me to leave pages unread, but I finally decided that I simply could not waste my brain cells on a book I hated. The book that gets this rare honor: Alibi, by Joseph Kanon. Another novel set in WWII, this one brings up moral questions that could be good things to think about but instead made me not want to read at all. I’ll be donating this book, which is also rare for me, though I just got the idea to leave it in my unused fireplace for the next tenant who moves in.

    And that’s a wrap for 2016 in books. What else should I read, aside from/in addition to the books on this never-ending list?


    Other things? Hmm, definitely not crocheting or cooking or quadratic equations.

  • 2016 in cities and flights

    I stole this idea from Kimra last year, and I decided to do it again in 2016. It was easier this time, because I started it in January and then added to it — I feel so accomplished! Here is a list of cities in which I spent at least one night between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016. An * denotes those cities in which I spent multiple non-consecutive nights.

    1. Beaverton, OR *
    2. Dublin, CA *
    3. Lake Forest, IL *
    4. Upland, CA *
    5. Las Cruces, NM
    6. Green Bay, WI
    7. Camp Meeker, CA
    8. Evanston, IL *
    9. Santa Rosa, CA
    10. Vancouver, BC (Canada)
    11. Sayulita, NA (Mexico)
    12. Gresham, OR
    13. Charleston, SC

    Also for fun, how about the flights I took this year? These do not count layovers.

    1. Portland to Oakland – January
    2. Oakland to Chicago – January
    3. Chicago to Oakland – January
    4. San Francisco to Chicago – January
    5. Chicago to Oakland – February
    6. Oakland to Ontario (California) – February
    7. Ontario to Oakland – February
    8. Oakland to Chicago – March
    9. Chicago to El Paso – March
    10. El Paso to Oakland – March
    11. San Francisco to Chicago – April
    12. Chicago to San Francisco – April
    13. Oakland to Chicago – May
    14. Chicago to Oakland – May
    15. Oakland to Chicago – May
    16. Chicago to Oakland – June
    17. Oakland to Chicago – June
    18. Chicago to Oakland – June
    19. San Francisco to Vancouver (Canada) – August
    20. Vancouver to San Francisco – August
    21. San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta (Mexico) – October
    22. Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco – November
    23. Oakland to Portland – December
    24. Portland to Oakland – December
    25. San Francisco to Charleston – December
    26. Charleston to San Francisco – December

  • 28,000 days

    This 4-inch circle of stiff paper has been floating around my work desk since mid-August, when I picked it up for free at a clothing store in Vancouver, British Columbia:


    “Life is short; live it” has been a mantra of mine for years now. It’s a phrase that wormed its way into my head after seeing someone nearly be murdered in 2009 and then witnessing a double-fatality car wreck three months later. I’ve also phrased it “life should be lived, and dreams should come true” when thinking about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing victims. And a friend who died of cancer in 2012 inspired me to write that “life needs to be lived, and that it’s worth fighting for as long as possible.”

    To say that the past year has been hard is an understatement. My immediate family has been dealt the cards of injury, death, ongoing sorrow and stage 4 cancer. Through it all, my first instinct has been to LIVE. Each new blow has made me more determined than the last: If this is how life will be, I need to make the most of it NOW rather than wait until the unknown future. I need to chase dreams and sign up for races and see friends and visit new places NOW.

    In response to the above 28,000 days thought, my friend Desiree pointed me to this video. I’m not always a video person (reading is faster!) but this was an instance where the visual representation really shines through:

  • Tuesday Time-Waster: P.O. Box 1142

    I might have a lifelong fascination with WWII, but that fascination always seems to reveal how much I DON’T know. For instance, a Virginia park just outside Washington D.C. was actually a top secret place codenamed P.O. Box 1142, and it’s where Nazi POWs were interrogated — by Jews.

    P.O. Box 1142 was the American government’s first foray into interrogation, and they kind of learned as they went along. And then, when the war ended, the place shut down and became Fort Hunt Park. Those who worked there had been sworn to secrecy by the U.S. government, and they only consented to interviews after the National Park Service, seeking to preserve history, got the military to send them written releases.

    I learned about this place while listening to a “This American Life” podcast (“Act 2″ of that one). I naturally turned to the Internet for more information. The podcast site has this blog post with old documents and photos. And NPR’s “All Things Considered” previously did a feature on the place.

    I’ve wanted to return to Washington D.C. for years, and now I have yet another site to add to my list. History is so fascinating.

  • Tuesday Time-Waster: I wrote about music

    Yes, this is self-promotion. And it’s shameless. I have TWO articles published this week at Riff Magazine, an online venture started by a friend/former colleague.

    Today’s just-published article is located here, where you can read about the upcoming Treasure Island Music Festival. It was fun to interview head honchos at the companies that started the event a decade ago.

    And yesterday’s piece was a concert review of Gwen Stefani’s show last Saturday. Confession: It was my first-ever concert review. For someone who wrote mostly hard/breaking news for 10 years, this was a new adventure. Sure, I also wrote plenty of GA (“general assignment” in journalism jargon) articles, and breaking news stories (i.e., car wrecks, fires, homicides) were often followed up with profile stories. However, my stuff was always “news” rather than in the “features” or “lifestyle” sections. I was admittedly nervous, but this No Doubt fan couldn’t say no. And it turned out that I loved being on deadline again. Who knew?!

  • Seawheeze 2016 Half-Marathon report

    One-word summary of the Seawheeze 2016 half-marathon: Fun.

    Version 2

    One-sentence summary: A long weekend in lovely Vancouver was punctuated by a steady run with a truly good friend.


    Spoiler: Run time was 2:13, which is 28 minutes slower than my personal best. And I’m fine with it. So are my Achilles’ tendon and IT band.


    And now for all the details about the weekend and the race. I never wrote a race report after running the Seawheeze half in 2015. I wish I had, because it was a good time with my training buddy Kristen, with a bonus side trip to see Deb in beautiful Victoria.

    Seawheeze 2015 with Kristen had much cooler weather.
    Seawheeze 2015 with Kristen had much cooler weather.
    Lynn Canyon was lovely.
    Lynn Canyon was lovely.

    I had good reason to not blog: I broke my thumb four days after the race while still in Canada, flew home late in agony due to canceled flights, saw two doctors, had surgery, was in a cast, had to cancel a marathon due to medical bills, and I couldn’t run for awhile because of the swelling. I only got this far in a rather sad blog post: “Last week at the end of the half-marathon, I received a carrot-shaped medal that was the most appropriate medal I could have ever received. Standing by the Olympic Cauldron, it felt like I had walked through a door into a ray of light, and that another door was finally opening ahead of me. Four days later, I smashed into the asphalt. The sound I heard was that of a door slamming shut.”

    This year, I returned to run the Lululemon Seawheeze Half-Marathon, and I once again got to spend a long weekend in Vancouver. It’s a great city, and I could easily spend many more vacations there. The people are nice, the weather is lovely in the summer (and I hear the winter isn’t too bad), the views are great, and the U.S. dollar has gone a lot further there in the last couple years. (British Columbia has 12% sales tax, but once I factored in my taxes and the exchange rates, everything was about 22% cheaper for me.)

    English Bay
    English Bay

    I flew into Vancouver on Thursday morning and promptly began walking.

    This is an Inukshuk, an ancient Inuit symbol used as a landmark and to show hospitality and friendship.
    This is an Inukshuk, an ancient Inuit symbol used as a landmark and to show hospitality and friendship, according to a plaque at its base.

    Since I’d been to Vancouver a year earlier, I tried to see new-to-me parts of the city, but I generally stayed near downtown. Between the Inukshuk above and the wishing tree below, I was once again smitten with the city.


    Words from a 7-year-old.
    Deep thoughts from a 7-year-old.

    Michaela arrived that night, and we were up early the next morning to go stand in a line to shop. Because of course that is a wise thing to do 24 hours before a half-marathon.


    But we could watch sea planes take off, which was cool.



    So, about this whole “line up to shop” thing. Lululemon, which puts on the whole race, creates limited-edition clothing sold only at the expo one day before the race. The clothes kind of go along with the whole theme of the race, which this year had a fun spy theme (and was totally up my alley). Every year, people have gotten more fanatical about the clothes, and Lulu encourages it by only making small amounts of clothing. Well, this year the first person got in line at 10 a.m. the day BEFORE the expo. It turned out she’d been paid to sit there, which I think is a bizarre way to spend money, and this had the effect of getting people in line even earlier. Some had already been planning to camp out, and they brought inflatable beds, blankets, etc. And, get this: The clothing is not sale priced.

    These were the only free things.
    These were the only free things.

    The store opens to runners at 7 a.m. We got down there at 6:30, and it took us THREE FREAKING HOURS to actually get inside.

    Let's pose for photos, since there's nothing else to do.
    Let’s pose for photos, since there’s nothing else to do.

    They put the clothes out in order by size, so when you actually get inside, you rush to your section and see what there is to see. You can’t buy more than 15 items, and you can’t buy more than three of the exact same thing (for friends back home). So people generally grab a bunch of stuff and then get away from the madness to ponder how much money they really want to spend on running clothes. I fully admit to liking the company’s clothes, because the anti-stink material helps, and because the bras and shorts actually do not chafe me; I will spend many dollars to avoid raw skin. But I was not about to reach the maximum amount of items — I ultimately bought one pair of shorts and two tank tops. I later heard some crazy stories, like people who grabbed entire piles of clothes and then sat on them while deciding what to buy. Then there are the people who buy stuff and immediately post it at much higher prices on eBay.

    Free yoga to calm down after the shopping madness. (Butt shots are free of charge.)
    Free yoga to calm down after the shopping madness. (Butt shots are free of charge.)

    Michaela and I were both about to lose our minds, so we went and ate brunch. Then, while 500+ people did the free waterfront yoga, we took advantage of short lines at the various free stuff being offered as part of the race expo: sticker tattoos, photo booths, food and drink samples, and hair braiding and manicures that we skipped.  We finally got around to picking up our race packets, which contained our timing chips, a nice water bottle, actually cool sunglasses in a case, a whole tube of Nuun, and a mesh duffel bag. Every entrant also received a pair of shorts earlier in the year.

    Rather than another "maybe it fits" shirt, runners got to pick their size and cut of shorts, which were mailed in May.
    Rather than another “maybe it fits” shirt, runners got to pick their size and cut of shorts, which were mailed in May.

    At some point, we ate again.

    Serious business.
    Serious business.
    This is my serious face.
    This is my serious face.

    And again.


    And then I actually took a “flat runner” picture, which I rarely do.

    (Note: Dirty shoes are not directly on the bed.)
    (Note: Shoes are not directly on the bed.)

    And then at some point we went to bed and woke up. Yes, this is a very precise blog post. Here, have a sunrise photo.


    Our hotel was about a 15-minute walk from the start line, which was perfect. I did that last year, and it’s so nice to avoid vehicle traffic before and after a race. (And, really, weekend tourists staying in Vancouver don’t need a car. I do wish Uber and Lyft were allowed, though.) The race started at 7 a.m., and we got down there around 6:30. We made last stops in port-a-potties that had no lines, and then we went to the start corrals and said, “Hmm, what are we going to run?”


    Michaela was coming off a half-Ironman and I was coming off a two-month Achilles tendon strain, so neither of us had any dreams of speedy times. Michaela figured she would just stop and take pictures along the way, and I figured I would just try not to run my slowest time ever (the bar is low on that, if you count trail runs…) So we stopped at the 2:20 pace group and figured we would just start there to avoid racing at the start.

    They released the runners in waves to avoid too heavy of bottlenecks, and with each wave, bursts of steam would shoot from an arch. Finally, it was our turn to go under the arch. GPS signal was a bit spotty around the buildings, but that soon straightened out as we ran. The race goes through a bunch of downtown Vancouver, and past “cheer stations” that Lulu puts some effort into. A whole spin class was riding hard in one section, and Michaela and I both said we really just wanted to stop and join in. Some actors were dressed up as detectives or spies or something to go with the theme.

    Within a mile or two, we’d both had enough of the cluster of people around the pacer, so we sped up and passed them. Things became much less congested. We were still running together, sometimes chatting and sometimes pointing at the various attractions (and NOT talking about the woman whose skirt had ridden up or the young guy who was holding up his pants while trying to run). The miles rolled on, and we just never stopped or drifted apart. We did walk briefly through the aid stations because it was warm out, but we picked up the pace right where we left off. I’m terrible at aid stations and drinking from cups while moving, so I usually sped up to catch Michaela the Ironman. There was no walking. No stopping to stretch. No sitting on the side of the road. Just like last year, I discovered that I could simply keep running.

    Best cheer group EVER. (Photo is not mine.)
    Best cheer group EVER. (Photo is not mine.) Well done, Vancouver PD and Lulu.

    We ran over the Burrard Street Bridge and back, and did airplane arms in the process, then entered Stanley Park to run for miles along the lovely and, thankfully, shaded seawall. A woman had something like seven yapping puppies in a carriage, which boggled our minds and made up for the lack of a promised puppy cheer station. A bunch of people were dressed in nude bodysuits, and they creeped us out while successfully distracting us. People in fantastic mermaid costumes were perched on rocks in the water. A full-blown cheer party was happening on a yacht out in the water, and I was wondering how to get on THAT volunteer job which clearly involved alcohol at such an early hour on a Saturday. A guy was doing some crazy jetpack-waterski-hoverboard thing in the air over the water, and we were impressed but both knew we’d fall on our faces on top of the board if we ever tried it.

    And then we had about 1.5 miles left, and we both wordlessly picked up the pace. We passed a sign that said we had one kilometer left, so we pushed harder. Then we encountered some turns, and more turns around buildings, and people saying “you’re almost there,” and I’m pretty sure that kilometer was actually a mile. The last part of the course had changed so the finish area would be off the street, and the vast consensus was that the course was long.

    But we did finally finish, and we were given a huge medal, a bottle of Smart water, a nice hat, a damp towel (amazing in the warm weather), Saje essential oils, Nuun, Kind bars, and a bag to put everything in.


    Then we got into a too-long line for food. Granted, it’s nice that they served hot breakfast sandwiches, cherry tarts (delicious) and grapes, but if we had finished 20 minutes later, the line would have been insane. I later heard that some people received frozen sandwiches because the big ovens were just not big enough. And I’ve heard first-hand accounts that they ran out of water, which is a big no-no and a bummer for such an overall phenomenal race. I think a critical error was that volunteers should have given runners one bottle each and told them refill stations were available near the food; nobody near the finish line knew this, and I saw runners with arms full of bottles. This is one of the two most well organized races I’ve ever run, so I’m not sure where the communication broke down. Given Lululemon’s track record, though, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of water next year.

    Letters around the edges are in code. Break it to read, "mission accomplished."
    Solid medal. Letters around the edges are in code: Break it to read, “mission accomplished.”

    We headed back to our hotel, but were sidetracked by a McLaren car (they start at around $300,000, and I have no idea why I knew this but I did). Itwas painted to look like a Pokemon and even had little Pokemon characters stuck to the dashboard. That poor, poor car.


    Is this how I play Pokemon Go? Do I need an app??
    Is this how I play Pokemon Go? Do I need an app??

    That detour led us into a store that had animal masks, which you’ll learn about if you keep reading this never-ending blog post. Anyway, after showers we went out for more food, Japanese this time.

    Then we went to the Gastown area of Vancouver, because why not walk more miles since you’ve already run 13.5?? (Side note: My ankles killed me the whole trip. I need to do more walking, apparently. Or maybe I should actually get into running shape…)

    Gassy Jack, who founded Vancouver.
    Gassy Jack, who founded Vancouver.
    Mannequins made of Legos at The Lab.
    Mannequins made of Legos at The Lab.

    And then we met up with a couple more of Michaela’s friends, and had more food, which is not pictured.

    Beer flight = yes.
    Beer flight = yes.

    Now, about those animal masks. This is what happens when you’re kind of delirious after a race, when one of you owns three orange cats (but wants many more), and when you’ve just taken pictures of a Pokemon car. We found ourselves inside a store, looking at facial masks that make you look like an animal. And this is what happens when you try them that night:


    The funniest part — possibly — is that these masks were clearly not made for someone with a big head and a Jewish nose. I suspect the mask would have done more good if we hadn’t been laughing so hard that they kept lifting up. Hey, Lululemon, here’s an idea for a cheer station next year.

    Michaela left at the crack of dawn Sunday morning, and I watched the women’s Olympic marathon, which was live in Canada but stupidly tape-delayed in the U.S. Score another point for Canada! Then I packed up and set out for Granville Island, because of course my feet were thrilled to do more walking.

    Even the graffiti in Vancouver is done with taste and approval.
    Even the graffiti in Vancouver is done with taste and approval.

    I wandered around the tourist-crowded area, ate more food (not pictured, shockingly), and then walked back across the Granville Island Bridge.

    Best cement plant EVER.
    Best cement plant EVER. Click to see the full-sized photo.
    Seriously, best ever. A strawberry-painted cement mixing truck!
    Seriously, best ever. A cement mixing truck dressed up as a strawberry!

    I wandered around Yaletown a bit, but my feet were really tired so I headed to the airport a little early.

    Well done, Vancouver.
    Well done, Vancouver.

    I eventually boarded my plane, settled into my window seat, and heard a loud THUNK as we backed away from the gate. Then we stopped moving, and about 10 minutes later the pilot told us the airport crew had forgotten to disconnect something from the plane, thus causing the noise, and maintenance had to inspect the plane. Well then. But all was well, only putting us 20 minutes behind — which then caused another 20-minute delay when we landed and SFO had apparently given our gate away to some other plane.

    But, hey, this time I did not return from Canada with a broken thumb. A year later, I can say: “1.75 thumbs up!”

    On the Granville Island Bridge, with the Burrard Street Bridge in the background.
    On the Granville Island Bridge, with the Burrard Street Bridge in the background.

  • Tuesday Time-Waster: Ana the spy

    I recently came across the story of Ana Montes, a U.S. government analyst who also spent 17 years spying for Cuba. I’d never heard of her, but a random CNN article caught my attention and then sent me to Google for more information. This 2013 Washington Post article by Jim Pompkin is a great read and has fascinating information if you have any interest in this kind of thing.

    Interestingly, Montes escaped a lot of publicity because she was arrested 10 days after 9/11. Dozens of federal investigators had been building a case against her for several years, but 9/11 suddenly changed everything: She was given a bigger role with security clearance regarding the U.S. response to 9/11, and investigators couldn’t risk having her give THAT information to Cuba. And so, while everyone was still reeling from 9/11, a spy was arrested. She could have face the death penalty, but she plea bargained to a 25-year prison sentence and thus avoided a trial.

    The man who first suspected Montes wrote a book about it, and I’m tempted to buy it. Reviews are good but it sounds like a lot of the intriguing details were left out (not surprising; since it was written by a former government employee, he’d have to get it cleared by them for publication). Speaking of true spy books, though, I thought “The Spy’s Son,” was fascinating and well-written — that one was about CIA employee Jim Nicholson who dragged his son into his saga.