Fundraising Update + NYC Dreams

First of all: WOW. I’m overwhelmed by the response to my previous post and the support you’ve shown for my NYC Marathon fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. The fundraising commitment to earn my spot on the team was $4,200; you all exceeded that in nine hours! 🤯

Given that more than six months remain until race day, I’d be remiss not to increase my goal and create space for more donations. My new goal is to raise $10,000 by November 5. If you haven’t already donated and would like to, you can do so here.

To everyone who already donated: thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! I wanted to create a tsunami of funding to help wipe out Alzheimer’s; you all did that and then some. Your support means more than I can put into words. 💜

So many of you reached out via Instagram DM to share kind words or your own stories about parents lost too soon to Alzheimer’s, cancer and other illnesses. Each story touched me deeply. This lonely journey of losing a parent is made better by connecting with and learning bits of wisdom from those who’ve walked it before. I have found it so therapeutic and freeing to write about the hardest parts of this experience and then release them into the world; it’s almost a physical relief to gather up these things that weigh on me—grief, guilt, helplessness—and get them out of my body. Thank you for reaching out and trusting me with the things that weigh on you, too. I’m happy to help carry your load.

I’m so excited to share all about my NYC Marathon training once it begins. After my very flat half marathon on May 6, I’m going to start running hills like there’s no tomorrow. I’m thrilled to have access to the Alzheimer’s Association team coach, Amanda LaVergne, for all the info and training tips I need to run my best race.

NYC isn’t the easiest course, but make no mistake: I will be running for a PR. I want to soak in all the sights and sounds and excitement of one of the greatest marathons in the world, and I want to absolutely crush it. I ain’t flying across the country for a fun run!

I know I haven’t reached my full running potential yet, and I’m excited to chase it. I still want to qualify for the Boston Marathon someday. I’ve got 13 minutes and 26 seconds to chip away at over the next marathon (or two, or three, or more), at least until I turn 40 in 2027; then I get an extra five minutes. It seems quite doable to me if I put in the work, and I’m laser focused this year on working harder than I ever have before.

With the support of the Alzheimer’s Association team and all of you who’ve given me such a boost with your donations and words of encouragement, I’ll have the metaphorical (and hopefully literal) wind at my back on November 5. Plus, my mom will be with me every step of the way. For her, I’ll run like hell.

Is This the Year My Mom Will Die?

“No matter how prepared you think you are, nothing prepares you for the death of someone you love. No amount of time. No amount of suffering. No amount of wishing for the end to come. It still feels unexpected. It still seems sudden. It still hurts like hell.”

Lauren Dykovitz, When Only Love Remains: Surviving My Mom’s Battle with Early Onset Alzheimer’s

Before Christmas, I talked with my therapist about my mom’s drastic decline in 2022. Shortly after we moved her into a new memory care facility in March, she lost the ability to feed herself and required an aide to feed her at every meal. In the fall, she became incontinent.

“I haven’t been keeping close track of her progression,” I said. “What stage would you say she’s in?”

My therapist, who previously worked for the Alzheimer’s Association, referred me to the Global Deterioration Scale for primary degenerative dementia. As we read through the characteristics of each level, we agreed that my mom was transitioning from stage six to seven—out of seven total.

I was shocked. My mom was diagnosed three and a half years ago, in November 2019. The neurologist told us that people with Alzheimer’s can live from two to 20 years after diagnosis, and the younger they are, the longer they’re likely to live. I’ve met a handful of Alzheimer’s daughters online and their parents seemed to live about 10 years beyond their diagnosis. I’d been gearing up for a long haul.

The realization that she might die much sooner, maybe even in 2023, smacked me across the face.

Death aside, the deterioration that occurs in level seven is incredibly sad:

All verbal abilities are lost over the course of this stage. Frequently there is no speech at all—only unintelligible utterances and rare emergence of seemingly forgotten words and phrases. Incontinent of urine, requires assistance toileting and feeding. Basic psychomotor skills, e.g., ability to walk, are lost with the progression of this stage. The brain appears to no longer be able to tell the body what to do. Generalized rigidity and developmental neurologic reflexes are frequently present.

The Global Deterioration Scale

Of course I don’t want my mom to die. But she is going to die—there’s no way around that—and this is no way to live. My feelings are complicated.

Is this the year my mom will die? Maybe. If not this year, then certainly the next, or the next after that. The disease is progressing so quickly. How do I prepare for the end?

Should I pre-write her obituary? It feels wrong to write about her in the past tense while she’s still alive. But in many ways, her story has ended; there are no more achievements to come. In an episode of the hilarious and moving Apple TV+ series Shrinking, Jason Segel’s character pages through a scrapbook his late wife made chronicling their relationship. He’s looking at the photos with tears in his eyes when, suddenly, he flips to the first of many blank, unfilled pages. “I guess that’s all we get,” he says.

Should I start going through the boxes and closets of her things that we didn’t move with her into memory care, that sit untouched and remind my stepdad every day of her absence? Or should I just try to live in the moment, enjoy the time I have left with her, and not wish it away by jumping forward to the inevitable end?

My instinct is to work ahead on the things I know will hurt more to do after she’s gone. But it hurts now, too. The worst is finding unused items in those boxes and closets: a brand-new Clinique eyeshadow palette; a woven leather handbag with the tag still attached; so many pristine three-packs of her favorite socks ready to replace the ones with holes in the bottoms. All emblems of the life she won’t get to live.

I have an unworn black dress in my own closet, still wrapped in plastic. I won’t open it until I need to.

I steeled myself for Christmas. I was determined to be present, take lots of pictures and videos, and soak everything in on what could very well be the last Christmas we’d celebrate with my mom at her house. Once she’s unable to walk, it might be too physically and emotionally stressful for her to travel. We can visit her in memory care, of course, but it won’t be the same.

In reality, that Christmas celebration was a stark reminder of all that had been lost. We still enjoyed a nice dinner and exchanged gifts and admired the Christmas tree, but my mom—previously the orchestrator of festive fun—was a blank-faced bystander to it all. Rather than being present and soaking everything in, I felt myself mentally curl up into a protective ball.

When my mom is gone, I’ll try to skip over the memories of that evening and live instead in the warm glow of Christmases past. My job, now, is to create that magic for my own daughter, so that her holiday memories will be just as wonderful as the ones I cherish.

The longer my mom is ill, the farther away the mom I used to know—my Real Mom—seems. I hope when I do sort through her things, I’ll be able to piece together who she was through the things she loved. I hope to find her in her vast collection of quilting fabric, her books about English gardens and the royals, her memorabilia marking her time as a tour guide at Disneyland. I hope to find things she’s written, things that will help me see her in a new light and answer questions I can’t ask her anymore. I hope, instead of despairing over the emblems of her stolen years, I will feel something akin to happiness sitting amongst piles of evidence of the life she lived.

“How will she die? “I asked my therapist. “Will she forget how to swallow and just starve to death?”

Maybe, she said. Often, people with Alzheimer’s have more and more difficulty chewing and swallowing, and will aspirate a piece of food into their lungs, where it can lead to pneumonia—the ultimate cause of death.

My mom frequently coughs after being fed bites of food. Every time she does, I wonder: Is this it? Is this stupid chunk of chicken the one that will end it all?

So far, she’s made it through our Saturday lunches unscathed. But each time I see her, she is noticeably thinner.

Before we first moved her into memory care in 2021, she’d wasted away to 99 pounds—frightening for her 5’5″ frame. She ate well after the move and packed on nearly 30 pounds. She continued to do well in early 2022, then began to eat less once she needed to be fed at every meal. Over the past few months, her weight has dropped precipitously. We’re back to where she was when she first forgot how to prepare food, whether she had already eaten or not, and whether she was even hungry. Her caregivers report that she only takes a few bites at each meal.

We used to be about the same height, but I’ve noticed her head drooping lower and lower, and her neck and shoulders hunching farther forward, so she now looks primarily at the ground. My mom, who was once roughly my physical equal, is shrinking in every direction.

How long until she disappears?

My mom is going to die, probably much sooner that I thought, and it’s going to be horrible to watch. What I want more than anything is for the end to be as pleasant as possible for her, on the inside. When the time comes, I hope she will slip into a coma and go on a nice journey, like Rebecca Pearson does in the penultimate episode of This Is Us. I hope it’s like “The Train.”

For my part—and I’m painfully aware of how self-absorbed this sounds, worrying about surviving this thing when my mom is the one suffering and dying—I hope I feel at peace. Maybe even happy for her. Her confusion, aimlessness, loneliness and frustration over not being to hold a thought long enough to properly express or act upon it are completely gutting. She sobs every time we visit. It is heartbreaking to the highest degree, and the best I can do is hold her hand and tell her that I’m here, that everything is going to be okay.

Nothing is okay about any of this.

I knew 2023 was never going to be the best year ever. If my mom survives it, she’ll be a shadow of the person she was even at the end of 2022. She may be in a wheelchair. She may not be able to communicate at all.

The thing I feared most—my mom forgetting who I am—may never come to fruition if she completely loses the ability to indicate recognition or the lack thereof. Her communication is limited as it is. She may very well already think I’m a kind stranger who makes her lunch and paints her nails on weekends. I don’t ask, and I don’t care. As long as she feels loved and comforted by me, that’s enough.

It turns out that bearing witness to her ongoing physical and emotional suffering is far worse than that clichéd Alzheimer’s milestone anyway. Despair threatens to drown me some days; lately, more often than I care to admit.

I need to keep busy to stay afloat. I’ve got a lineup of fun trips to look forward to this year—LEGOLAND with my little family, a Scottsdale spa weekend with my best friends, and more—plus some big running goals to tackle. I’m training to PR in the half marathon at the Snohomish Women’s Run on May 6, and I’m thrilled and honored to be part of the Alzheimer’s Association team to run the TCS New York City Marathon on November 5.

It was last fall, while listening to an Ali On the Run Show episode about the NYC Marathon, that I was moved to tears by the guest’s experiences at the race and vowed to run it myself. My mom’s decline has given me a hunger for more challenges, more adventures, more life. The NYC Marathon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, at least for this West Coaster. I don’t want to wait until I can no longer run 26.2 miles and always wish I’d made that journey on foot through the city’s five boroughs.

Fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Association adds meaning and purpose beyond measure. When I ran the California International Marathon in 2021, I had an amazing experience raising money for HFC—Seth and Lauren Miller Rogen’s charity that supports Alzheimer’s families and caregivers with support groups and respite care grants. I set out to raise $2,500 and exceeded $5,000 by race day, thanks to so many generous Internet friends and real-life loved ones. I felt my mom with me through every mile of the race, and finished strong with nearly a six-minute PR.

The Alzheimer’s Association is tackling another side of the disease. As the largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research, the Association is committed to advancing vital research toward methods of treatment, prevention and, ultimately, a cure. It’s also the leading voice for Alzheimer’s disease advocacy, fighting for critical Alzheimer’s research and care initiatives at the state and federal level. And, like HFC, the Association helps provide care and support for those affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias with support groups, a 24/7 helpline (800.272.3900), and more.

I know donating to nonprofits like this can feel like a drop in the bucket toward tackling a massive problem. But for my mom, for families like mine, for your grandparents and parents, and eventually for you and your kids and grandkids—every donation counts. Let’s make it rain and build a tsunami of funding to wipe this thing out for good. Nobody should have to suffer like my mom, and I have to believe treatment methods and a cure are out there, waiting for a team of neuroscientists to hit the jackpot. I’m happy to throw money at that if it means other families won’t have to walk this devastating path in the future. More life for everyone.

I’ve made the first donation toward my $10,000 fundraising goal (extended since we exceeded my initial $4,200 goal in 9 hours!). If you’d like to join me—in support of my NYC Marathon training, in support of my mom, in honor or memory of someone you love, as a big FUCK YOU to Alzheimer’s, or all of the above—please donate here.

If it’s not within your means to donate right now, I’m also accepting good vibes for a successful marathon training cycle and a beautiful NYC Marathon experience. Bonus points if you can manifest perfect running weather for me and approximately 49,999 other runners on November 5.

No matter how you show it, thank you, as always, for your support.

For me, 2023 is a year of pain and uncertainty. It’s also a year of endurance and resilience. I’m determined to feel all the feelings, the unimaginable lows and the euphoric highs—all the things that make up this singular human experience. I want to navigate it in a way that would make my mom proud. She’s the one who prepared me for this life. In honor of her, I refuse to drown.

A Month of Eating Vegan

Aaron and I usually do Whole30 and dry January to reset our eating and drinking habits after the holidays, but this year I suggested we try going vegan.

Ever since my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 61, I’ve done a lot of reading about how to maximize my healthspan, and nearly every resource has encouraged eating more plants and fewer or no animal products. I wanted to commit to a month of eating vegan to find out how it made us feel and whether it was a sustainable way for us to eat long term.

I believe everyone needs to find their own way of eating to feel their best. No matter how desperately I wish I could enjoy dairy, it will always make me feel miserable the next day thanks to increased phlegm and post-nasal drip, so I choose to avoid it while many people can eat it and feel just fine. Food is a touchy subject and I’m not here to advocate for a single best diet for everyone; I’m just exploring for my own health and happiness.

There are also plenty of moral arguments around eating animal products, but for the purposes of this experiment and post, I’m not going to touch those. I welcome you to do your own research and do what you think is right.

I’ll also say that I wasn’t 100% perfect and did eat a few animal products in January, but I didn’t stress about it; the perfect is the enemy of the good. But for transparency, here’s what went down:

  • On January 2, we went out to happy hour with friends and I had tomato soup that probably had cream in it.
  • I had a bunch of Superhero muffins in the freezer that I made in December with eggs in them, and I wasn’t about to waste those; I typically eat one first thing every morning before I walk the dogs. It helps get things moving, if you know what I mean.
  • I made a triple batch of Superhero muffins in January and used eggs again since I didn’t want to experiment with flax eggs and potentially ruin them; all that almond flour is expensive!
  • On January 29, we celebrated a friend’s birthday and I ate beef and pork at the catered taco bar. The margaritas were flowing and it was nearly the end of the month anyway. Sue me!
  • On January 31, I majorly craved a salmon filet and made one from our freezer for dinner. It was so, so good; no regrets.

When we went out to eat, I also didn’t go so far as to question whether vegetables were cooked in butter or if French fries were fried in beef fat or anything like that. We didn’t eat out often, so it wasn’t much of an issue.


In short: great!

I didn’t feel depleted or lacking nutrients. I didn’t even crave anything non-vegan until the very last day, when that need for salmon took me out.

I felt energetic, well-fueled and light in the sense that no meal felt like a brick in my stomach afterward the way a meal with meat sometimes can.

I had no trouble ramping up my running in January from less than 15 miles a week to 25+ miles a week. I noticed it was easier to keep my heart rate low (under 145 bpm) on easy runs than it had been previously. I have no idea if this is connected to the way I ate, but wanted to note it since it was unusual for me.

My, um, bathroom output was fantastic.

I did not lose weight, nor was that my intention.

I embraced processed carbs in a way that I haven’t in a long time. I got on a grilled-vegan-cheese sandwich and tomato soup kick for a while, and started eating bagels with vegan butter a few times a week to fuel longer runs.

I also tried (and really liked) some vegan processed foods, like Impossible plant-based chicken nuggets. It’s probably not something one should eat every day, and I sometimes went a little hard on processed stuff as comfort food when I was feeling low. Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy, and you can certainly follow a vegan diet but eat like total garbage if you want. The more I stuck with whole plant foods—like stuff from the produce section—the better I felt.


I continued to eat mostly vegan through the first half of February since I felt so great. Then we went to Phoenix for a week, and I wanted to try all the delicious foods at a bunch of restaurants, as I always do on vacation, without any limits. That kind of reset me to an anything-goes (minus dairy) mentality ever since.

But ideally, I would like to eat a plant-based diet—which is different than vegan, I discovered, even though I feel like the terms are often used interchangeably. According to the fine folks at Harvard:

“Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.”

Katherine D. McManus, MS, RD, LDN

That sounds great to me. I couldn’t say I’ll never eat meat again, and I wouldn’t want to live without seafood (salmon! sushi! yum). I avoid dairy, but I’ll often have a slice of regular birthday cake at a party or eat regular ice cream on vacation. Being strict about not eating something feels so restrictive, which will ultimately not work for me personally. Again: The perfect is the enemy of the good.

I would like to eat mostly vegan at home, and sometimes eat seafood and less often eat meat. When I eat at a friend’s home, I’d like to eat what is served and not make a bunch of requests. When I go out to eat at a restaurant, I’d like to eat whatever sounds good to me; probably something I wouldn’t normally prepare at home.

People really like to identify with and advocate for the specific way they eat, which is fine. My approach is: You do you, I’ll do me, let’s all mind our own business and be happy. (Should I put that on a T-shirt?!)


When it came to planning meals, I really only had to figure out dinner since my go-to breakfast and lunch are already vegan (aside from the aforementioned Superhero muffins).


After my morning workout, I’d make a green smoothie. See recipe below in the Instagram caption!

I switched to vegan protein powder for January, and I liked Four Sigmatic plant-based protein powder in Creamy Cacao so much that I continue to order and use it today.

My favorite non-dairy milk for smoothies is Milkademia macademia milk or So Delicious unsweetened coconut milk (both found at Costco), but choose your own adventure!

I also started adding Kuli Kuli moringa powder after I heard about its brain benefits on the Huberman Lab podcast. You can read more about it on Good Housekeeping as well. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t use it while pregnant or nursing.

Finally, sometimes I use blueberries instead of strawberries, or a combo of the two. You could also substitute your favorite fruit, like pineapple, mango, raspberries, etc. Go wild!

I didn’t track calories or macros in January, but one day I input all my food into My Fitness Pal to see how much protein I was getting. I discovered this smoothie is indeed a meal in itself with 610 calories and 31 grams of protein. I find it very filling. If I have a lighter workout or am not super hungry, I leave out the almond butter, and then typically eat almond butter with an apple as a snack between lunch and dinner.


I’m a creature of habit and have eaten the same salad for years.

Some of the veggies vary, but it usually consists of:

  • 1 small head Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 3-4 white button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, mashed
  • 2 Tbsp hemp hearts
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 Tbsp homemade lemon Dijon dressing
  • Salt to taste (I do 5 turns of a sea salt grinder)

Specific! I’ve honed it to perfection.

The homemade lemon Dijon dressing is based on the lemon-miso dressing from Run Fast, Eat Slow. I used to make it as written, but discovered in 2019 that garlic gives me terrible intestinal gas pain and was the reason I felt bloated and like I needed to lie down after lunch every day. So, I started leaving that out, and the dressing was still delicious. Then I did Whole30 and had to swap Dijon mustard in for miso to be Whole30 compliant, and I liked it so much that I kept it.

Here’s my version of the recipe; I always double the following amounts so I have a lot on hand:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper

I use an immersion blender to combine the ingredients, but you could also whisk vigorously or shake in a jar to emulsify.

The dressing is pretty tart, and the key for my salad enjoyment is mashing up the avocado and mixing all the ingredients well so the avocado, nutritional yeast and dressing combine to make more of a creamy/cheesy/lemony dressing. Hard to explain, but trust me, it’s good!

The salad pictured above also contains a serving of black beans (1/2 cup), which I added the first few days of January to get extra protein, but it made the salad way too filling. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but this salad fills a medium-sized mixing bowl, so it’s already quite satiating due to the sheer volume of food. If I were in the middle of marathon training and running a ton, the addition of black beans might be just right. Again: choose your own adventure.


This is where it was fun to try new recipes and make some of our old faves vegan. I usually double recipes to make a ton of leftovers so we can eat the same dinner 3-4 nights in a row.

Clockwise from top left:

Pinch of Yum red curry lentils. This has been a favorite for years! I like to stir in chopped kale at the end.

Figs Not Pigs unstuffed pepper skillet. My vegan friend Hallie recommended this and it’s so good! We’ve made it multiple times. Aaron isn’t a huge fan of vegan cheese, so I leave it off of his half.

Minimalist Baker tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich made with with Violife vegan cheese slices and Miyokos spreadable oat-milk butter. This combo is the ultimate comfort food for me; I crave it on rainy days and after a hard workout or long run. The tomato soup recipe is top notch and even drew wild compliments from my picky Italian stepdad. The Violife cheese slices get nice and melty and approximate real cheese just fine for this former cheese lover. I could (and for a few weeks in January did) eat this every day.

With so many amazing food blogs out there dishing up free vegan recipes and plant-based food products tasting better than ever, it’s never been easier to be vegan (or vegan curious). If you have any vegan favorites you’d like to share, please send them my way via a comment below or on Instagram. I always love to try new things!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

2023 Lake Sammamish Half Marathon Recap

I’ve run the Lake Sammamish Half three times before (2013, 2014 and my 1:46:00 PR in 2018) because it’s flat, fast and falls at the perfect time to give me a reason to keep slogging through cold, rainy winter runs: the beginning of March. In previous years, it’s also been dry and sometimes even sunny, with the promise of spring just around the corner.

This year we were missing the “flat” and “dry” elements I loved so much, but that’s okay! We can’t get too greedy.

After I ran the Cascade Express Marathon in September and got Covid for the first time in October, I really struggled to get back into running regularly. Once I recovered from everything, it was the holiday season and food and wine and blah blah blah. I take an “off season” every year—usually the month of December—to just relax, indulge and work out whenever I happen to feel like it, but last year’s was a bit longer than usual and I entered 2023 feeling out of shape and ready to recommit to running.

I jumped right into the Snohomish Running Company’s 100-mile challenge for the month of January, as well as half-marathon training using a modified version of Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 1 plan. I went from barely hitting 15 miles a week at the end of 2022 to 20+ miles a week, eventually peaking at 34 miles two weeks before the race. Since I started on January 1, I really only trained for nine weeks.

That said, I’m super proud of how fit I was able to get in that amount of time. I started training with very low expectations for the race; sub-2:00 felt like it would have been a huge win. But as the weeks progressed and I began to do some speed work, I was pleasantly surprised with the paces I was able to hit during goal-pace runs. My goal time began to creep lower and lower until eventually I was convinced I could PR (sub 1:46/sub 8:05 average pace).

I went into race day feeling confident, but not pinning all my hopes and dreams on a PR. I had already signed up for the Snohomish Women’s Run half marathon in early May (because Des will be there!), so I knew I had that coming up as another chance to PR if this one didn’t work out. I really just wanted to run strong and have a great race.

Finally: race day! I woke up at 5:00, ate a lemon chia blueberry Superhero muffin and an everything bagel with oat milk butter, and left the house at 6:00. I carpooled with my friends Chelsea and Beth to the finish at Lake Sammamish State Park, where we picked up our friends Kyra and Brad to drive to the start near Redmond Town Center; we left Kyra and Brad’s car at the finish so we didn’t have to take the shuttle afterward.

Race morning is always more fun with friends! It was in the 30s and lightly snowing as we drove, so we were all nervous about exactly which layers to wear and how wet we might get during the race. I wound up wearing a thermal pullover hoodie over a merino wool base layer, which was perfect.

We parked at Redmond Town Center at 7:00, which I thought was perfect for the 7:30 start time (lol, no). I even stayed warm in the car for five minutes since I figured I had plenty of time to go to the bathroom and warm up. But after I said goodbye and good luck to everyone—they all stayed in the car even longer, since they were just running for fun—and walked five minutes or so to the start, I found a super-long porta-potty line and immediately jumped in since I really had to go. I must have spent 10-15 minutes in line, munching on two sheets of graham crackers the whole time. By the time I did my business, I had only five minutes until the start time, which wasn’t nearly enough to do the warmup run and dynamic stretches I’d planned to do. NOTE TO FUTURE SELF: leave plenty of time for these important things!!!

On top of that, the narrow start corral was already packed with runners. There were little offshoots of people lined up just to get into the corral, but there was no room for them to do it until the race started and pockets of space opened up. I could have and should have squeezed my way into the corral, found the 1:50 pacer and made sure I was ahead of them. However, my PNW politeness and deference convinced me that wasn’t fair, and I should wait my turn to feed into the corral once the race started. (What?!? No!)

The result? Once I started running, I was well behind the 2:00 pacer. Disaster! Not only was the field super packed for the first mile or so, but I was behind people running much slower than I intended to run. I guess the plus side was that I hadn’t warmed up, so the first mile (9:21) served that purpose. However, it immediately put me over a minute behind on my time goal.

I simultaneously tried to weave around and pass people, but not waste too much energy in the first mile. I was also mentally split between losing hope for a PR and convincing myself I could make up the time with several sub-8:00 miles later on. I just decided to run my best and see what would happen.

One new thing I did in this race was keep my Garmin on the screen that shows only the pace/time of the mile I’m currently running. In training, I did this during my goal-pace runs to more accurately pace each mile and found it worked really well.

In the first few miles, I tried to keep my pace in the neighborhood of 8:05 and not too far under. I didn’t want to do sub-8:00 miles quite yet and risk blowing up later.

Mile 2: 8:08
Mile 3: 8:02
Mile 4: 7:58
Mile 5: 8:06

I took an orange UCAN Edge energy gel just before mile 5 and another just before mile 10. I also sipped Nuun throughout the race from both of the bottles in my hydration vest. I felt perfectly fueled and hydrated and didn’t need to use the aid stations.

Mile 6 is where the course diverted from the flat East Lake Sammamish Trail up to the shoulder of East Lake Sammamish Parkway. The trail was formerly all dirt/gravel, but has been in the process of being paved, section by section, since 2011; three miles of the trail are currently closed for that reason. I knew there would be a short, steep hill to run up to get to the parkway, and I powered up it as best I could, having done zero hill training. Once I was up, I figured I was good and only had a downhill to look forward to once we rejoined the trail in a few miles.

Mile 6: 8:20
Mile 7: 8:05

While I’m intimately familiar with running the trail, I have only ever driven the parkway (and biked it once) and didn’t realize there was a pretty decent hill (117 feet) in mile 8. Ruh-roh. This is the part of a half marathon where I kind of start hating running anyway, so the hill wasn’t great for my mental game. Again, I just did my best, but my legs were gassed after reaching the top.

Mile 8: 8:36

But I should be able to make up time on the downhill, right? I’m a terrible downhill runner, so no. 😂 For some reason I’m unable to let my stride open up and take advantage of gravity; I tend to put on the brakes instead. I suppose I’m afraid of losing control and falling. Anyway, we lost 104 feet in mile 9, but I didn’t have a great split to show for it.

Mile 9: 8:12

Here’s where I needed to really kick into gear and run all sub-8:00 miles to even come close to a PR, but I didn’t have it in me after that hill.

Mile 10: 8:03
Mile 11: 8:05

It started raining with two miles to go—big, fat, freezing-cold drops—and I wanted to give up, but instead resolved to get to the finish as fast as I could so it would be over sooner.

Mile 12: 8:03
Mile 13: 8:05

Those last miles seemed to take forever, per usual. I finally caught sight of the 1:50 pacers and used them as my rabbits. I passed them in the final stretch and was super proud of that.

Final 0.1: 7:32 pace

I had no clue what my time was until I stopped my watch and was pretty happy to see 1:47:54 (official time was 1:47:50)—only a minute and 50 seconds off my PR! If I had warmed up, seeded myself with the correct pace group and maybe done a little hill training, I probably could have PR’d. I’ve got another shot at the distance in May, so we’ll see.

Once I collected my medal, water and a few snacks, I took a quick selfie and hightailed it to Kyra and Brad’s car to change into dry clothes and shoes. Then I went back to the finish to cheer as all my friends finished—so fun! They had to endure the brutal rain for longer and crushed it. I’m so proud to have such badass friends.

The half remains not my favorite distance. I’d much rather run a 5K, 10K, 15K or even a marathon. But it’s great for its accessibility, and the training feels like so much less of a lift than marathon training.

I underestimated my recovery for this one, though; my quads were very sore for three days, so even easy recovery running didn’t feel like a great idea. I went into the office to work on the fourth day, so my day felt too busy for a run anyway. I finally ran an easy three on day five, and whew, it was not a picnic! Even a week and another easy three-miler later, my body still feels a bit beaten up. I guess that’s an indication I gave it my all, so I’ll take it.

I have fresh determination to see what I can do at the Snohomish Women’s Run in eight weeks. Let’s go!


Merino wool base layer: Rapha
Top: Brooks Notch Thermal Hoodie (old; current version)
Leggings: Zella Live-In Leggings (old; current version)
Shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam 880v11
Sports bra: Brooks Dare Strappy Run Bra (old; current version)
Hat: Oiselle Runner Trucker
Hydration vest: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta (old; current version)
Hydration: Nuun
Fuel: UCAN Edge

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Hot Tub Time Machine

“We still need things from our parents—some understanding, some piece of love, whatever it is. There never comes a time when you … don’t sort of hope, even in their decline, that they can still be there for you.”

Anderson Cooper on anticipatory grief

This is a story about getting drunk in a hot tub, but it’s not quite as exciting as the circumstances imply. For that, please proceed directly to a very different corner of the internet.

It was a Thursday, two days before my thirty-fifth birthday. I had a shitty workday and, by quitting time, needed to soak in our hot tub with a big glass of sparkling rosé in hand.

We hung out in there for a while as a family, and I had such a lovely buzz going that I fetched another glass and returned to the hot tub as Aaron and Evie got out. I sipped and scrolled on my phone as both forms of bubbles melted away my tension. I must have exhausted the content on my social media feeds because I ultimately found myself in my voicemail archive, staring at dozens of entries indicating messages from my mom.

Since her early onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2019, my mom has slowly slipped away. It happened so gradually that every time I visited, her general reticence and increasingly jumbled words seemed normal. But I remembered, staring at those voicemails, that she was once upbeat and articulate. She once knew how to call me, and did so often to confirm plans, thank us for coming by the house, or check on us during inclement weather. And she always called on May 21 to sing happy birthday to me.

Two habits that drive Aaron crazy—my tendency to keep my phone on silent and never answer calls, and my total disinterest in deleting anything—proved valuable in that moment. My voicemail archive held pieces of mom I thought were lost forever.

I began listening to her messages and transported back in time. It was 2018, and my mom was wondering what time we were meeting at the mall for our Mother’s Day shopping trip. It was 2019, and she needed to know my Social Security number to update her beneficiary information for a new insurance plan. It was 2020, and had I heard about this virus going around?

I closed my eyes and listened to the mom I used to know, the mom who no longer existed—at least in any way she could communicate to me. I let my now intense buzz convince me that I had just missed those calls, that she was still the same. I could call her back right now and say, yes, I will stop by the store on my way over and pick up a bag of ice; no, don’t worry about paying me back.

And then I listened to the birthday messages. She and my stepdad sang an exaggerated version of happy birthday, with my mom replacing “dear Devon” with “dear sweet Devie Doodle Bug.”

It was then I started crying, realizing I’d never get a birthday phone call or voicemail from her again.

This is a small loss in the grand scheme of everything Alzheimer’s has stolen from us. But that evening—thanks in part to potent rosé—it unleashed a tsunami of grief.

In an effort to Be Okay and enjoy my life, I rarely tap into that deepest level of hurt. I’ll shed a few tears every now and then, particularly during therapy, but mostly I keep things tight. With my defenses down, I gasped for air as sobs overtook me.

I found myself wrapped in a towel, crumpled on my bedroom floor, raging over the phone to my stepdad about how fucked up this whole situation is. Why her? Why us? He understood and talked me down from the height of my hysteria.

Eventually I pulled myself together enough to get dressed and take Wally for his nightly walk. As we set out around the neighborhood, I called my mom on the off-chance she’d answer the phone. I just wanted to hear her voice. I just wanted to know she was still here.

She didn’t answer my call. Normally I would leave it at that, but something compelled me to try again.

“Hi, Mom?” I said, my voice cracking. “How are you?”

“What’s wrong?” she asked, concerned. I couldn’t believe she’d recognized the heartbreak in my voice.

“I just miss you,” I replied. “You… live so far away.” Our physical distance wasn’t the problem, but I didn’t want to mention the real issue.

“I know,” she said. “I miss you, too.”

I started crying again, struck by her clarity. It was 8:30pm and she was probably exhausted, yet she was able to express herself in a way I hadn’t witnessed in a long time.

Our phone conversations—on the rare occasions she answers—typically last about five minutes. I tell her everything that’s happened in the few days since I saw her last, then run out of things to say. She doesn’t contribute much, and there’s only so much silence I can bear to let hang between us.

On this night, we talked—like, a real back-and-forth conversation that mostly made sense—for 19 minutes.

We talked about my birthday coming up in a few days, and she asked how old I was turning. “Thirty-five,” I said, and she laughed: “How can that be? I still feel about forty!”

We talked about memories from when she really was forty and I was eleven, which were much more vivid for her than anything that happened in the past week. We talked about how she was worried that she hadn’t heard from Don lately, even though I know he calls her multiple times a day, every day. And we talked about how we missed each other, and how she was sad to hear me sounding sad. We said we loved each other, and that we’d talk again soon.

After we hung up, I took huge, deep breaths and tried to memorize everything about what had just happened. I had taken a photo of a stunning sunset during our chat. I took a screenshot of the call log. I wanted tangible evidence that I had gotten my mom back, if only for 19 minutes.

It struck me that I hadn’t been mothered in a long time. It’s not something I really appreciated when I did experience it, and it’s not something I realized I’d missed until that moment. My mom and I always had a good relationship—except for a few teenage years, when my hormones may as well have been napalm—but it’s not like I constantly turned to her with my boy troubles or friend drama. I didn’t seek from her the words of parental wisdom you hear at the end of every Full House episode.

But she was always there for me for the big things, like when my BAC was higher than my GPA the first quarter of college and I was hospitalized with pneumonia from wearing only skimpy going-out tops to freezing frat parties. Or when I wanted to go on the pill and asked her to take me to the doctor since I was still on her health insurance, and she did so without judgment. Or when I revealed I was thousands of dollars in credit-card debt after graduation, and she helped me make a plan to pay it all off instead of admonishing me for my stupidity. (She was relieved since she thought my big secret was that I was pregnant—which I never was, thanks to the pill.)

I still try to rely mostly on myself (and my therapist) to manage life’s everyday struggles. I like to keep my sadness contained, not wanting to infect others. Keep things tight, right? But it turns out I do still need my mom.

I went on to have a lovely birthday weekend, celebrating in person with friends and all different parts of my family, including my mom. I didn’t get a happy-birthday voicemail, but I did get an in-person rendition, which is definitely better. Someday that will be gone, too.

As a mother, I now understand my birthday means even more to my mom than it does to me. It’s my birthday, but it’s her Birth Day. I think about how April 29, 2016, is the most special day of my life, and figure May 21, 1987, must be right up there for my mom. I’m her second kid, but she made it no secret she wanted a girl and would keep trying until she got one. I may have come bursting out before she could get a desperately wanted epidural, but I think I made up for it with the fact that she’d never have to go through that again.

I try to be grateful for what I have left of my mom and not focus on what we’ll lose next, or guess at when she’ll leave us for good. I’m conflicted between wanting to keep her earthside forever and wanting her to be released from her pain.

She endured my excruciating arrival; I’ll endure her excruciating departure. Love is at the center of it all.

I don’t know what happens to us after we die. I’m humbled enough by the magnitude and mysteries of the universe to admit that. I respect anyone who possesses the faith to be certain that heaven or hell or some other manner of afterlife awaits us. There is safety in certainty. I prefer to marvel at all the possibilities.

My mom has always said, half jokingly, that she’ll haunt me when she’s gone. If she has any choice in the matter, I’m sure she will. But if there is some grand plan for our existence, I don’t believe hanging around my house and flickering the lights is her destiny. I like to think she’ll move on to something better.

I hope her energy, unleashed from the plaques and tangles that choked it in this lifetime, finds freedom as something wonderful in the next. Maybe she’ll be a bird or a butterfly. Maybe the universe has a sense of humor and she’ll be an elephant. Or maybe her energy will disperse, becoming one with the elements. Maybe it will coalesce, on occasion, when it feels some force pulling it back together and toward something it once knew.

When my mom is gone, on my birthday, I’ll listen for her. Maybe I’ll let my skin go wrinkly in the hot tub and remember that night it was a time machine. Maybe a spring breeze will tickle my neighbor’s wind chime. Maybe I’ll close my eyes and believe it’s my mom calling to sing to me.

Wally: Part 2 (and More Life Stuff)

Wally turned out to be everything his foster Karen said he was and more: an incredibly sweet little guy who loves all people and dogs; calm most of the time, yet super bouncy and energetic when he’s ready to play; remarkably quiet, unless he feels like he’s not getting enough attention; and so loving and loyal to us, his new family.

Karen did a great job potty training Wally, so aside from a handful of accidents in the first few weeks, we successfully skipped that hurdle of new dog ownership. Our only challenge was that Karen had allowed him to sleep in her bed, so he repeatedly tried to join Aaron and me in ours the first few nights, but eventually got the memo and learned to settle into his dog bed in our room.

I figured January would be a slow month after the holidays when I could really focus on getting to know Wally and establishing a new routine with him. I was wrong.

My mom contracted Covid at her memory care facility, and my stepdad and I heard the news from her on the phone before we ever heard anything from the facility. She isn’t the most reliable source, so we were left wondering if she really had it or not until we could get ahold of the head nurse. It turned out she had indeed tested positive during regular testing of the entire facility—and was luckily asymptomatic—but for some reason it took them nearly 24 hours to contact us, her family, and let us know.

That was the cherry on top of a huge pile of grievances we had with that facility, and we decided then and there she needed to move ASAP.

Moving is stressful for anyone, but especially for someone with dementia who needs to be in familiar surroundings to feel secure and grounded. The first time we moved her into memory care, in January 2021, it took her about three months to settle in. That period was extremely stressful for her and for us, with many phone calls and visits that ended in tears on both ends. I was not looking forward to going through that again, but we knew it was for the best.

I chose that initial facility under impossible circumstances, in a pre-vaccine world when we weren’t allowed to go inside most facilities to tour them in person, when I was desperate to give my stepdad some relief from being a 24/7 caregiver, and desperate to help my mom—who had lost an alarming amount of weight and struggled with paranoid delusions at home—in any way I could.

I don’t blame myself for choosing the wrong place, but I did see this new move as a way to right that wrong.

I started from scratch all over again, calling every memory care facility I could find on the Eastside and gathering all the information about availability, pricing, activities and more. I narrowed the options down to six—a mix of assisted living/memory care, dedicated memory care and adult family homes—and scheduled three intensive days of in-person tours and assessments.

The thing about memory care (and I supposed regular assisted living) is that you can’t get the full picture of how much it will cost each month unless you do an assessment with the facility’s nurse, where they ask all sorts of questions to determine the level of care a person will need. The higher the level of care, the higher the cost, on top of the monthly rent for the room itself.

For example, a room in memory care might run $4,000 per month in rent, but care might start at $3,000 per month for a low-needs person and go up from there if they need more assistance dressing, bathing, eating, etc. There’s also a one-time “community fee” due upon move-in that can be $1,500 to $5,500 or more, which really makes it painful to move.

(Is this the first time you’re realizing how much memory care costs? Did you know most families have to pay out-of-pocket? In the Seattle area, $7,000-$10,000+ per month is the norm. Here’s your nudge to make sure your parents have long-term care insurance!)

Because cost was a decision-making factor for us, I scheduled the tours and assessments together so we could walk away from each facility knowing exactly how much it would cost—which was super efficient, but made for three very long and exhausting days. We’d do one tour and assessment in the morning, eat lunch, then do another in the afternoon. Talking with strangers about the specifics of your mom’s terminal illness for an hour twice a day is draining. Touring sad little hallways filled with people who aren’t sure where or who they are is heartbreaking. Trying to decide where your mom is going to live—and quite possibly die—is… I can’t think of the right word, but it fucking sucks.

After the last appointment of each day, I had about a 45-minute drive home by myself when I’d blast loud, happy music and drink in all the lovely sights of the world—puffy clouds, streaks of sunset—and transport myself from the land of the dying back to the land of the living.

And when I got home, there was Wally.

Not to say that I didn’t find comfort in Aaron and Evie, but dogs bring a different sort of joy. They’re invariably, unabashedly, ridiculously thrilled to see you each time you walk in the door. They give amazing, furry snuggles. They don’t ask questions, however well-intended, that might make you cry.

Sweet Wally came right when I needed him most.

The great thing about this journey to find a new place for my mom was that she came with us on all these tours. Last time, my stepdad and I peeked into memory care windows and talked to facility directors without her, worried that she would get confused or freaked out by the process.

This time, she was ready to get the hell out of her old place and was thrilled to see all these new places. She had definite opinions on which places she did and didn’t like, and best of all: the winning place was a clear, unanimous, enthusiastic yes from all three of us.

We chose a dedicated memory care facility, which has three floors that my mom can move about freely, including a secure outdoor garden area she can access at any time. It’s clean and bright and cheerful, with friendly and helpful staff that seem happy to be there. It was the only place that brought me to tears as we toured it; the only place where it felt like she could really live, not just exist, before she dies.

It was such a relief to choose this wonderful new place in early February and give notice to her old facility, making plans to move her in March. And then! Evie got Covid.

It was inevitable, since Covid seemed to rip through her elementary school after the holidays. Luckily, she was fully vaccinated and only had a day or two of mild cold symptoms, and Aaron and I somehow never had symptoms or tested positive. Still, it was another challenge to have her be home and contagious while Aaron and I tried to keep her busy and keep up with our work, plus quarantine ourselves. Walking Wally (while wearing a mask) was my only escape.

In March, my mom’s move went as well as it could go. It took us from very early morning to late evening, but we got her completely moved in and set up in her new space. Unlike last time, when we had to direct people through the window on where to place her furniture, my stepdad, brother and I were able to set up everything just how she liked it. I carefully made her bed and folded her clothes. My brother organized her bookshelves and placed her framed photos just so. It felt amazingly redemptive to do it right this time.

And then I figured life would be good for awhile, having accomplished this herculean task that consumed the first few months of the year.

But remember the three-month settling period I mentioned last time we moved my mom? It was hard this time, too.

Despite the fact that we knew this place was such an improvement from the last one—better food, nicer people, brighter and more beautiful surroundings—my mom still had her complaints. It was after a few of these unhappy phone calls that I realized no place would satisfy because the real problem wasn’t the place; it was the dementia. And there was no place I could move her and nothing I could do to fix that.

I realized this in the midst of a session with my therapist. “All solutions with dementia are imperfect,” she said. I wrote that down because I have to accept that as badly as I want to make things right for my mom, there’s only so much I can do.

As much as I hoped this move would improve things, the satisfaction I got from it was short-lived. I got so caught up in the doing, and didn’t anticipate the rush of sadness that would fill me once the doing was done.

I desperately looked forward to the first day of spring, craving literal sunshine to brighten up life. And wouldn’t you know, we had the gloomiest, rainiest Seattle spring in a decade.

But Wally got me outside three times a day regardless. We walked and walked, rain or (rare and blessed) shine. We went to the off-leash dog park any time it wasn’t too rainy or muddy, and I loved watching him goad bigger dogs into chasing him around in big circles. He kept me moving in a season when I wanted to get back into a regular running routine, but just couldn’t bring myself to endure the rain when I wasn’t training for anything.

It also made such a difference to wake up each morning to his little face peeking up at me from my bedside; to have his constant companionship throughout mundane days working at home; and to have his quiet, loving presence in the room during my biweekly therapy sessions. He’s not an emotional support animal, but he manages to be more than just a dog, too.

Maybe part of it is that Wally has given me the opportunity to save him in ways I can’t save my mom. She had to leave her home; I took Wally into mine. I can derive daily satisfaction from meeting Wally’s needs by feeding, walking and playing with him; but even when I try my best to give my mom a better life—by spending quality time with her, taking her shopping, moving her to a new place—I still feel like I’ve failed her because the inherent cause of her pain remains. All solutions are imperfect.

And Aaron? Despite not wanting to get a dog in the slightest, even he had to admit early on that Wally is a pretty great dog. Over the past six months, I’ve watched Aaron go from cautiously tolerating him to actually liking him to downright loving him. He’ll swear otherwise if you ask, but he has indeed said the L-word, and you can see it plainly in the way he always sprinkles a little rice on the floor for Wally as he cooks, and chases him around the living room, and clearly enjoys it when Wally chooses to snuggle with him instead of me.

Wally brings joy to my stepdad and mom, too. He comes with me and Evie on our visits every weekend, and we take him on walks around the neighborhood and to the park. We toss his squeaky toys down the hall and laugh as he chases and pounces on them. He and Evie bring energy and levity to these visits. Together, they bring my mom firmly back to the land of the living, if only for a little while.

Now it’s summer. The days are brighter, literally and figuratively. It’s hard to remember a time before Wally was part of our family. And I hate to think of a time far in the future when he won’t be, because there will surely be a huge, Wally-shaped hole left behind.

I’ve always been a dog person and now, I think, I’ll always need a dog. I have the love to give, and I need the love they give.

I sure am grateful for his.

Wally: Part 1

Aaron and I had a deal: when Evie turned 18, he could get a motorcycle and I could get a dog.

I’ve been firmly anti-motorcycle since 2010, when I met him in the midst of his recovery from a horrific accident. He was extremely lucky to survive, and still experiences pain and discomfort from the injuries he sustained.

I wasn’t about to lose him to another motorcycle accident—especially once we had Evie. Over the years, he asked dozens of times if he could get a motorcycle, and I always answered that he could once Evie was fully grown.

As for the dog, I figured I’d need to get one when Evie (presumably) moves out so I’d still have someone to take care of. I’ve always been a dog-lover. Aaron… has not.

He had a bad dog experience as a kid and at his former office, which allowed dogs that would apparently whine and bark and annoy him while he was trying to work. He also hates slobbering, shedding, wet-dog smell, etc.

So it seemed like a fair compromise for Aaron to get the thing I hate and for me to get the thing he hates in the distant, hazy future, circa 2034. Yay, marriage!

Then my mom got sick, and I began to rethink everything about how life should and would unfold.

My mom should be planning to retire soon so she can spend time enjoying her hobbies: quilting, gardening and more. It breaks my heart that she’ll never be able to do those things again.

I realized 2034 isn’t guaranteed, and I didn’t want to be the one who held Aaron back from one of his life’s greatest passions because I was afraid.

In October 2020, he bought a motorcycle—a project to take apart and rebuild more than to ride.

In August 2021, he ask if he could get another motorcycle—and I thought, what’s one more?

In December 2021, he asked if he could get a third—and I threatened to get a dog if he went through with it. It was a bluff that I felt sure he wasn’t willing to risk calling.

Well, meet Wally.

I began searching Petfinder for rescue dogs before Christmas. We went to the Humane Society to see some dogs in person (in dog?), and even met up with a 40-pound dog who needed to be re-homed due to the family’s baby developing a dog allergy.

We realized that we couldn’t handle a big dog, but didn’t want a super tiny dog either, so I narrowed our search to dogs between 18-30 pounds. I chatted on the phone with a few rescues and discovered a terrier mix or poodle mix would be ideal to keep shedding to a minimum. I also wanted a young or adult dog, not a puppy; I’ve been catching up on my sleep ever since Evie was born and didn’t love the idea of more sleepless nights. I saved searches on Petfinder for all my criteria and checked for new arrivals several times a day.

After losing out on a few dogs and submitting other applications that went unanswered, on December 29 I searched “terrier mix” in our area and clicked through pages of dogs until I found one named Rocko who’d been on Petfinder for 19 days. He only had a single photo: a closeup of his face with one ear flopped back.

His description said:

Rocko is 1.5 years old and 20lbs. Up to date on vaccines, microchipped and neutered. Good with other dogs, kids and cats. Rescued in Tijuana. Arrives 12/17.

It was very little info and I had no clue what his body looked like, but his coat looked wiry so I figured he wouldn’t shed a ton. Why not submit an application and find out more?

This was my first time applying for a dog through Casa Dog rescue, and I was shocked when they reached out to the friends and family I’d listed as references within hours of submitting my application. I heard from a volunteer later that same day, who answered a few questions and put me in touch with Rocko’s foster, Karen, a kindly woman in her 60s who lived alone. She spoke glowingly of Rocko, telling me how loving and calm and quiet he was. He was potty trained and had been sweet with her five-year-old grandson on Christmas. He sounded perfect.

We had a huge snowstorm right after Christmas, and Karen lived an hour away, but we made plans to meet Rocko once the roads weren’t so icy. It took a week and a half, and I used the time to buy dog supplies and make sure our house was ready in case we took Rocko home with us. I was terrified someone else would swoop in and take him, but Karen and I kept in touch and exchanged photos and videos, and she felt certain we were the right family for him.

“I’m so glad he’s going to have a whole family to love,” she said.

I was so nervous on January 8, the day we met him—nervous he wouldn’t be anything like I thought he was and we’d walk away disappointed, and also nervous that we’d take him home and discover we were in over our heads. Most of all, I was nervous Aaron would hate him.

I can’t say it was love at first sight once Karen opened her front door. He was shaggy and unkempt looking, with wild hair sticking straight out from both sides of his neck like a lion’s mane. But as we petted him and took him on a walk around the neighborhood, I saw he walked so well on a leash and was the perfect size for then five-year-old Evie to handle. He had a long neck and body, a curled tail and short legs that made for the cutest little trot. It was a no-brainer that we’d take him home for a two-week trial adoption.

Karen was the sweetest and packed up a few of his favorite toys and treats to take with us. She was sad to see him go and offered to watch him for us if we ever had the need. She asked if we had a new name in mind for him and was delighted with the answer: Wally.

The ride home was when I fell in love. With Wally awkwardly curled up in my lap, shaking, I knew as I snuggled and comforted him that he wouldn’t be going anywhere.

To be continued!

Autonomous Bombs

“The problem with Alzheimer’s is the problem of losing our autonomy—losing the ability, early on, to self-determine our lives.”

Dr. Jason Karlawish in conversation with Brené Brown

My mom is like Beyoncé: she keeps shit to herself until she’s good and ready to let you know.

It’ll be crickets for a year, and then one day—boom—Queen Bey drops a visual album packed with generation-defining music, choreography and cultural commentary. She just blew up your life, and you’re welcome.

My mom’s bombs are a little different. She doesn’t aim for shock and awe; rather, she tries to figure out all the messy details behind the scenes and minimize the damage before making her big reveal. But there’s fallout nonetheless.

I woke up early on the first Saturday of summer vacation in 2003. I had just finished my sophomore year of high school and felt excited, free, like anything was possible. I was cutting strawberries for breakfast when my mom came into the kitchen and asked me to follow her outside.

Uh-oh—what did I do wrong? She instructed me to get in our car.

In the two minutes it took us to drive from the newer end of our apartment complex to the older one, my mom explained very simply and with little emotion: “I am asking your father for a divorce. I am moving out today. I have my own apartment with a bedroom that’s yours if you want it.”


We parked and walked up to a second-floor apartment. She pulled out a key and opened the door. I walked into a fully furnished home. There was a couch, a coffee table, a dining table and chairs. Throw pillows. A painting on the wall. This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision; she’d been building a new life for months.

I don’t know how long we were there before she said this next, but I feel like it wasn’t long: “I have a TV being delivered and I need you to stay here and sign for it while I go tell your father.”


Alone, in an apartment I’d never seen before filled with furniture my mom chose, I understood life would never be the same again. I wandered into the kitchen and opened a cupboard. It was full of canned soup. And it was only then that I started to cry. 

The rest is a blur, but my mom did move out that day, and so did I. I didn’t choose my mom over my dad; I simply wanted my brother to have a bedroom. Money was tight, and my brother had slept on a mattress on the living room floor of our two-bedroom apartment for months. If I left with my mom, he could have my room. So I did, and he did.

It’s not for me to detail what went wrong in my parents’ marriage, but I will say that my dad was (and is) a very sweet guy, and we didn’t flee from abuse or violence or anything like that. My mom didn’t want to split our family up any more than she had to. She stayed in the same apartment complex so I could walk just a short distance to see my dad, and my brother could pop over to our place whenever he wanted.

I think it’s fair to say my mom believed the marriage had run its course. I also think she knew my dad would try to talk her out of leaving—and he did still try. But by Monday, we were gone, and she had officially filed for divorce.

With hindsight, I realized she must have been stockpiling money from her job for quite a while to afford a whole separate apartment. And that new hobby she’d taken up over the past year—running—served as her alibi while she shopped for her secret TV, arranged her secret furniture and stacked her secret soup.

These are the things I think I know. I can’t even imagine the things I don’t. I try to put myself in her shoes for just one second, executing this escape plan completely alone, and I find myself breathless from the weight of it. Also, simultaneously impressed and heartbroken by the ingenuity of it.

She’d waged a secret battle for her autonomy, revealing its very existence to her opponent only after she’d already won.

My parents’ divorce was finalized in the spring of 2004, and one month later, my mom closed on a modest home of her own. The furniture she chose moved into the house she chose. So did the man she chose as her partner. 

Together, they built the garden she’d always dreamt of: raised beds for vegetables, lavender for the bees, sunflowers for my mom since they’re her favorite. I lived there, too, as I finished high school, and intermittently during and after college as I found my footing. I helped water the garden whenever I lived there.

When my mom married her partner in 2015, she reclaimed her German maiden name, Behrens—derived from Bernhard, a compound of the elements “ber(n),” meaning bear, and “hard,” meaning brave, hardy, strong—and hyphenated it with her husband’s Sicilian surname, Macaluso—meaning freed, liberated.

Janet, brave and freed.

In December 2020, my brother, stepdad and I gathered around the dining table with my mom, masks on. The three of us had privately agreed it was time to look into memory care. As the death toll of the pandemic peaked, her cognition and ability to live independently plummeted. She was no longer safe in the home she chose.

This was not like one of her bombs. We explained to her the benefits of moving to a place where there were other people like her who had trouble with their memory, and how she’d be well taken care of by professionals. We showed her pictures of private rooms and read aloud from activity calendars. She cried with joy at the thought of being able to socialize with other people and participate in activities tailored for her abilities. She gave us the green light to begin the process of choosing a new home for her.

My stepdad and I researched places together, but he left the final decision to me.

I tracked down nice second-hand furniture for my mom’s room, and Aaron and I drove all around the Eastside in a borrowed truck, picking up the pieces of her new life.

We sorted through her belongings—clothes, books, quilts, photos—to decide what would stay and what would go. Everything we packed got a permanent label. I wrote her name hundreds of times.

And on January 29, we loaded the last of her things into our cars and held our breath when it was time for my mom to say goodbye to her home.

I gasped for air beneath my mask as I held back tears. My brother’s brow crumpled. But my mom was placid and detached, not quite sure what all the fuss was about. This house she’d chosen, the garden she’d planted, the autonomy she’d fought so hard to seize meant little to her disease-altered brain.

I’d pictured so many scenarios playing out in this moment, but never this one. Compared to all the scenarios I’d imagined, I found this one to be the saddest.

Due to COVID restrictions, we were not allowed to help set up my mom’s room. We simply dropped everything outside the building and relayed basic directions through the window regarding furniture placement. Her clothes, books, quilts and photos were tucked away and arranged by strangers. We said our goodbyes in the lobby, our masks absorbing our tears as she was led away to her new home.

I imagine her standing there alone, in a room she’d never seen before filled with furniture her daughter chose, with the vague feeling life would never be the same again.


I hope she forgives me for blowing up her life. I’ve long forgiven her for blowing up mine.

I understand now we were both just doing the best we could for each other.

Today, my mom lives a life she didn’t choose. Alzheimer’s continues to steal her autonomy each day. She can’t decide what she’ll eat or when to take a shower. She can’t pick out her clothes or put them on without assistance.

But inside every shirt, every pair of pants, every sock and every shoe, I have written her name.

Inside, she is still Janet, brave and freed.

All Your Joys & Sorrows

“Pa threw mattresses into the wagon. Ma carefully spread their patchwork quilts over them. ‘We can’t leave these behind,’ she said. ‘All our joys and sorrows are sewn up into the patches.'”

Eleanor Coerr // The Josefina Story Quilt

The quilt my mother made for my daughter tells a story she didn’t intend.

The front, meticulously pieced together in 2015 when she found out I was pregnant with a girl, features strips of brightly colored fabric cut on the bias, perfectly straight, edges crisp—the work of a lifelong quilter.

The colors were chosen with intention: pink, of course, but well balanced with sunny yellow, sprightly green and a rich purplish-blue. You’d find these colors just before dawn on a spring morning, when the dusky sky gives way to the sun’s rays spilling onto new shoots of grass. 

Evie was born on such a morning in late April 2016, just before dawn. By the time the light and those colors crept in through our window, we barely noticed; she had already illuminated everything.

The back of the quilt bears Evie’s full name, birth date and statistics, machine-embroidered by another woman onto a patch that my mom then sewed on by hand. The stitches are clumsy, like the ones I made when my mom taught me how to make my own little quilts when I was eight years old. I can’t remember exactly when she sewed this patch—2018, 2019 maybe—but I remember it took a long time for her to do it and to return the quilt to me.

Somewhere in those years, between the front and the back, when I was busy feeding, wiping, shushing, bouncing, not sleeping and falling deeply in love—learning to be a mom—my own mom began to slip away.

There’s a feeling that accompanies the deepest hurts, in the very back of the throat: an involuntary clenching that can’t be relieved by methodic breathing or swallowing hard. When I get that feeling, I know the best course is to surrender to the tears, let myself make the ugly, contorted faces, scream if I need to. 

That feeling means something different to everyone. For me, it’s the feeling of missing my mom. Not the one who’s here now, but the one who was lost between the front and the back. The one whose wry observations and easy laughter grew quieter until they disappeared. The one who danced around the room when she found out she was going to be a grandma, then hesitated to play with her granddaughter for fear she would do or say the wrong thing. The one who booked flights and ordered catering for years as an executive assistant, then struggled to make sense of a digital clock.

Sixty-one is not an age at which one should be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, yet there she was. Sixty-two is not an age at which one should be moved into memory care, yet there she is.

There are so many losses to grieve. And the trouble is the losses continue to mount as my mom’s cognition declines. There are days I wonder if things will be better when she’s further along and not so acutely aware of what’s happening to her. I almost want for her to slip into some blissfully ignorant state, like floating on her back in calm, cool water on a stiflingly hot day. Then I panic that she’ll disappear beneath the surface for good, and I hold onto her tighter.

She recently said to me, “I’m afraid one day I won’t know who you are.” I’m afraid of that, too. I took a deep breath and said, “I know. That might happen. But that’s OK. I won’t hold it against you.” Another deep breath. “I think even if your mind doesn’t recognize me, your heart will still know who I am.”

I think of the hundreds of hours I’ve spent with my daughter pressed to my chest, my skin alive with the warmth and sweetness of hers. I think of the searching eyes that have stared into mine since the very first time they opened. Could I ever be in a room with her and not feel, somewhere in my bones, the pull of those invisible threads that bind us?

The mind may fail, but the heart still knows. 

I will meet you wherever you are today, and tomorrow I’ll meet you there, too. 

I will walk with you to the very end, holding your hand, holding nothing against you. 

And when I have to let you go, I’ll gather the quilts your hands made, sewn up with all your joys and sorrows, and crawl beneath them, awash in the warmth of your love.

Summer 2019 Road Trip: Bozeman, Yellowstone & Jackson Hole

Oh, man—the world is much different than it was the last time I posted! What a carefree summer I had last year, running a marathon with a bunch of other people and not worrying about them breathing all over me. Masks were for Halloween; Corona was still just a beer. It was a simpler time that I hope we can all enjoy again someday soon.

It’s now been five months since COVID-19 first sent Washington state into lockdown, and the isolation has had me dreaming about future and past travels. We did an awesome road trip last summer, so I thought it would be fun to relive and write about it here. It was also the next big life event right after the marathon, so I’ll pick up right where I left off. It was so nice to go straight into vacation mode and rest my legs, taking two weeks completely off from running and formal exercise.

Every other summer, Aaron’s dad’s side of the family does a big reunion, which is always so much fun and a great way to catch up with family members who are scattered all around the country. In years past, we’ve gone to Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, Washington; Union Pier, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan; and Monument, Colorado, just outside of Colorado Springs. Last year, our destination was Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Our first stop along the way was Kellogg, Idaho, where we stayed one night at an Airbnb near Silver Mountain Bike Park so Aaron could do some mountain biking. We had fun riding the 3.1-mile gondola to the top of the mountain—it’s the longest gondola in the U.S. and takes just over 30 minutes one way! Evie and I hung out at the top and played in a very convenient bounce house while Aaron did several runs down the mountain. If we’d had more time, we would have loved to go to the resort’s indoor water park (now a terrifying idea in the COVID era!).

Then we continued on to Bozeman, Montana, where we stayed three days with our friends the Pacinis, who moved there from Seattle a few years ago. We had a blast hiking, swimming at their country club, eating at some amazing restaurants (Jam! and Blackbird were faves) and visiting the Museum of the Rockies. The Pacinis have three kids—at the time, their son was eight and their twin girls were four—and three-year-old Evie had such a blast playing with them.

Palisade Falls in Bozeman.
Evie wished she could be triplets with Ava and Brooklyn!

Museum of the Rockies has the largest collection of dinosaur remains in the U.S.!

We loved Bozeman and could totally live there if it weren’t for the brutally snowy winters. We’ll definitely be back!

En route to our final destination for the family reunion, we swung through Yellowstone National Park and put in a solid half day seeing some amazing sights, including the artist paint pots, Grand Prismatic Spring and, of course, Old Faithful. Then it was time to head to Jackson Hole!

Grand Prismatic Spring.

Well, we actually stayed in Swan Valley, Idaho. Turns out that large rental houses are crazy expensive in Jackson Hole! So we stayed in essentially the middle of nowhere, but the house was incredible and the scenery was unbelievably beautiful. Despite how small the town was—not even a grocery store for miles and miles—it was the perfect place for lots of family fun.

The view from the front of the house—stunning!

We spent a day exploring Jackson Hole proper, enjoying lunch and beer at Snake River Brewing and then walking around the cute downtown.

Another day, Aaron and a group of guys went four-wheeling at some sand dunes, and I went with Kelsi on a horseback-riding adventure with Swan Valley Outfitters! (Evie stayed at the house for a fun day with her aunties and cousins.) A guide took just the two of us on the most beautiful three-hour trek through fields and woods to the Snake River, where we ate a picnic lunch before heading back. It was so lovely and peaceful.

Another little adventure that was super close to our house: a trip to Fall Creek Falls. Who knew Idaho had this incredible scenery?? You could even climb down into a cave and look out from behind one of the waterfalls.

Back at the house, we had a “field day” that Aaron’s sisters set up with all sorts of fun games to compete in—and like with any family, the teams got super competitive! The kids loved running through the sprinkler and jumping in the bounce house, too.

It all culminated in a big water balloon fight, then s’mores around the campfire. Ahhh, summer! Does it get any better?

So brave.

Once the kiddos went to bed each night, the adults got into some serious cards—euchre is this family’s game of choice, and it gets vicious! As fun as all the daytime activities are, my favorite memories from these reunions tend to involve the late-night tension and shit-talking from these games. All in good fun, of course. 🙂

Ahhh, what a nice trip down memory lane. Love these people!

Anyway, now I’m feeling slightly less resentful that we don’t have a big trip like that this year. I suppose lots of folks actually are on road trips right now, since there are ways to do it somewhat safely. The Swan Valley house looks like it’s still getting plenty of use, anyway! I look forward to when we feel comfortable traveling again, and I certainly hope it’ll be safe to do our next family reunion in summer 2021.

Next, I’m excited to write all about my attempt to train for the 2019 California International Marathon (key word: attempt), the beginning of my yoga practice and my experience at the Nourish + Escape Retreat in Bend, Oregon, this past October! It was a wonderfully relaxing weekend of cooking, yoga and hiking, and it came at just the right time in my life. Stay tuned.