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The Undeniable Ruth

Ironman Lake Placid – The Swim

Six years ago, I said I’d never do an Ironman race because I don’t like swimming. It’s monotonous and boring. And yet, there I was, standing on the shore of Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York. I spent more than 4 years swimming laps at the pool at 6 a.m., rain or shine, preparing for this swim.  

Pre-Race Swim with my Coach

On the Friday afternoon before the race, I had a special swim lesson with my coach, David Roher, that he calls Direct Recovery of Open Water Navigation and Guidance (DROWNG).

Yes, I paid him to try to drown me.

As we swam together in the lake, he purposely bumped into me, grabbed my foot, and even tried to swim over me, all things that could happen during the race.

I have a history of panicking during open water swims. My wetsuit will feel like it’s choking me, and my brain can’t perceive that I’m propelling my body forward. The most recent incident was only a few weeks ago when I bailed less than 400 yards into a 1500-yard swim. I was dedicated to staying in the lake with my coach until I was immune to his attempts to rattle my cage.

Guide Cable = Linus Blanket

I acclimated to swimming in Mirror Lake remarkably quickly thanks to the guide cable. There is a yellow guide cable submerged about 3.5 feet under the surface of Mirror Lake’s navy blue water. This cable was my “Linus blanket.” As long as I could see that cable, I was fine, both during practice and on race day.

Race Day with Team Roher

Coach David is dedicated to taking care of his athletes all the way to the starting line. On race day, I’m a bundle of nerves and my anxiety can cause me to wander. To keep from losing me, Coach David literally had me hold onto his shirt as we walked to the transition area to put our water bottles on our bikes and put last-minute items in our bike and run gear bags.

Once we were in our wetsuits, we were literally wearing leashes (attached to the zippers on our backs). I held onto his, and my teammate Shimon held onto mine, as we navigated through the packed crowd of athletes lining up at the lake’s edge.

The race began with the elite triathletes entering the water first, and then a “wave start” for the rest of us. Every few seconds the race official would release the next group of 4-6 athletes into the water. David, Shimon, and I clasped hands and raised our arms high as we walked into the water. From there, each of us was on our own.

Lap 1: Thonk

The swim in an Ironman race is 2.4 miles. In Mirror Lake, that meant two laps where we had to exit the water after lap one, walk/run back to the starting line, and swim lap two.

At the athlete briefing, they told everyone to stay outside the rectangle of buoys. This was to ensure that everyone completed the distance without cutting corners. It also makes it easier for people who breathe to their right to keep an eye on the guide cable.

In truth, we could be on the inside of the rectangle, as long as we went around the outside of the furthest buoys. I breathe to the left. I made a conscious decision to take the “inside track,” and watch the guide cable as much as I could.

Before I left for Lake Placid, I counted how many strokes it took me to get across the pool where I swim laps. Depending how hard I push off the wall, it took me 10-11 strokes. In open water, I figured 12 strokes would take me the same distance. For the first lap, I mostly counted strokes, knowing every time I hit 12, I’d gone another 25 yards.

Everything was going great until THONK!

The top of my head hit a wall. What was a wall doing out in the middle of a lake?

I popped my head up in confusion and pain and found myself looking directly at the red plastic side of kayak. The volunteer in the kayak apologetically said, “I meant to hit you with my paddle.” I was approaching the last buoy, and she needed me to change my trajectory to go around it.  

Lap 2: Holding My Own

I walked between the end of Lap 1 and the beginning of Lap 2, giving a cheesy double-thumbs up to the camera. My goal for the swim was to survive. I didn’t care about my speed.

Some of the other swimmers were so fast! One passed me during the beginning of Lap 2 and at first, I thought she was wearing (illegal) paddles on her hands. It took me a few seconds to realize there was an orange logo on her wetsuit near her wrist. She was moving so fast that it was hard to tell where her wetsuit ended and her hand began.

During Lap 1, I was passed by elites who were already on their second lap. When I was on Lap 2, I was passing people who were still on their first lap. By Lap 2, my confidence was growing. As a rule, swimmers ahead of you have the right of way, and it’s your job, as the passer, to navigate around them. As I zipped between other racers, I refused to be pushed around, staying in my invisible lane, undeterred by the errant arms of less experienced swimmers.    

I do not have a swimmer’s build with my long torso and short T-rex arms; however, my arms were an asset at the end of each lap. Coach David said don’t stand up to walk out of the lake until your fingers can touch the ground. Shorter arms meant I could swim longer than many of my counterparts.  

77 Minutes

As I got out of the water after Lap 2, I looked down at my watch – 77 minutes! In the workouts leading up to the race, the fastest I ever finished 2.4 miles was 82 minutes, and that was with pushing off the wall every 25 yards. I wasn’t trying to haul ass, and yet, somehow I managed to do it.

I also wondered if there was a whirlpool effect happening in the lake with 2,200+ people moving in the same direction.

Once I was out of the water, I headed over to the volunteers we lovingly call the “strippers.” These are volunteers who work in pairs and trios to efficiently unzip and peel your wetsuit off your body. As I approached them, I said, “Who wants to touch me?”

After the strippers handed my wetsuit back to me, I walked the blue carpet back to the transition area. Others opted to run, but I know I’m clumsy enough without outside help. Both sides of the blue carpet were packed with supporters cheering and holding signs and giant heads of their loved ones doing the race.

Next week’s post: Ironman Lake Placid – The Bike

50 Days Until Ironman

Smiling at the Beginning of my bike workout on South Mountain

It’s 50 days until my first full Ironman race – Ironman Lake Placid. It’s taken nearly 3 years to get here.

After my coach and I did the Half Ironman Maine in 2019, we signed up for Ironman Mont-Tremblant (near Montreal, Canada) for 2020.  

And then COVID hit.

Our race was cancelled, and all got deferred to Ironman Mont-Tremblant in 2021. Then that race was cancelled, not because of COVID infection rates, but because the Canada-U.S. border was still closed. Ironman gave us the option to change to a different race that year or get a refund. I took the refund, and we signed up for Ironman Lake Placid 2022.

What is an Ironman Race?

The Ironman race is a 140.6-mile triathlon consisting of:

  • 2.4-mile swim
  • 112-mile bike
  • 26.2-mile run

The race will start at 6:30 a.m., and you must finish by midnight to be an official Ironman.

Many people have asked me why we swim, bike, and run in this order, and my best guess is because they want the risk of death to decrease as we get more tired throughout the day. If you get tired and stop while swimming, you could drown. If you stop pedaling on your bike, you’re going to fall. If you stop running, you’ll just be standing there.

How’s Training Going?

I’m quite pleased with how my training is going. Each week, my coach sends me my custom training schedule that currently consists of 2 swims, 2 bike rides, and 3 runs. My hardest workout of the week is a “brick” workout, which is a bike ride followed immediately by a run.

It’s getting warm in Phoenix, so I try to start my workout early, at sunrise when possible. The bike course at Lake Placid is hilly, and I’ve been preparing by riding my bike at South Mountain, which has steeper inclines (up to 7%) than what I’ll have to ride on race day (up to 3%). I want to be in a position where nothing I do on race day is more difficult than anything I’ve done in a workout.

I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been heading into a race. My coach, David Roher, is diligent about getting his athletes to race day without injuring them along the way. He understands that the goal is to finish the race, not kill myself on my way to the starting line. I also see my physical therapist (who is also an Ironman) twice a month for maintenance, primarily focusing on my hips, quads, and back.

My workouts from this week and last week.

How am I Feeling?

I oscillate between squee-we’re-doing-Ironman and holy-fucking-shit-how-am-I-going-to-do-this. I’m trying to enjoy the excitement as we ramp up and do final preparation for the race. When the scared voice creeps into my head, I try to remember to breathe, take it one thing at a time, and remember that 1000s of people have done this before me. If I stick to my training, I’ll be more than ready for race day.

With each hard workout, I feel my confidence growing. This week, I ran 16.5 miles, and while I was tired by the end, I could have done another 10 more if I needed to.

Why Lake Placid?

I’m going to Lake Placid because Coach David is going to Lake Placid. I didn’t want to do my first full Ironman without him, so that means I go where he goes.

Actually, it was his wife who picked our race. Based on our availabilities, we had our choices down to two, Lake Placid and Maryland, and she said she wanted to go to Lake Placid. My coach’s race weekends often mean a vacation for the rest of his family.

Lucy Jane likes to lick the sweat off my face after my workout.

How Do the Next 50 Days Look?

I’m probably at the point now where I could complete an Ironman race, but it wouldn’t be pretty. Then next 50 days will be the buildup of my strength and stamina, doing my hardest workouts in early July, and then tapering down for the last few weeks before race day. In the process, I’ll be working on my mental as much as the physical as well as practicing my nutrition and hydration strategy for race day.

An important part of the next 50 days will also be getting enough rest. On my Rest Day each week, I won’t be partaking in any major activities, nothing more extensive than running errands. Getting enough sleep will also be imperative. I can’t let myself stay up late, lying in bed, dicking around on my phone.  Instead, I’ve been making myself put my phone out of reach when it’s time for bed.

Undeniable Recap of 2021

We didn’t do it gracefully, but we survived 2021. Holy f^¢king sh*t it’s been a roller coaster of a year. Here are some of the highlights.

Lucy is such a happy dog!

Lucy Jane Carter

On April 28, 2021, I got a call from the president of the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue asking if I’d take in a foster. A 3-year-old basset was found wandering by herself in Tempe – no tag or microchip. As I loaded this hound into my car a few hours later I thought, “Here’s to another 10-year commitment.” I named her Lucy Jane.

Lucy Jane came into my life exactly when I needed her. I’d survived a car accident and sustained a concussion only a few weeks earlier. When I noticed her mellow loving temperament, I registered her as my emotional support dog. We’ve barely been apart since then. She goes to work with me every day, and we even turn my trip to Cleveland for Content Marketing World into a road trip so she could come with me. She’s brought so much love into my life.

Faith wearing Rosie’s sweater. She was so little!

Faith Helen Carter

The reason why I could take in a foster in April, was because Faith, the basset hound I adopted at the end of December 2020, only lived 36 days. For those 36 days, my life was focused on giving this little girl the best life I could. Rescued from a breeder in Tijuana, Faith came with a host of medical issues, including renal failure. On February 1st, after rushing her to the ER for what would be the last time, I accepted that my job was to give this little basset a soft place to land and surround her with love for her final days.

We did it!

5K Ocean Swim with the Jews

Thanks to the pandemic, I’ve been training for my first full Ironman race since the fall of 2019. My race was cancelled in 2020 and 2021. (Hopefully third time’s a charm in 2022.) I still flew to New York to do the 5K ocean swim. My original plan was to do this 3.1-mile swim so that a 2.4-mile swim on race day would be easy in comparison.

For context, my coach, David Roher, and his friend and my teammate, Shlomo, swim in the ocean at least once a week all summer, and several friends periodically join them, all of whom happen to be Jewish. It was important to me that I could hold my own with this group, not just as part of my training, but also because I didn’t want to be the weakling who couldn’t keep up.

It turned out, I had nothing to worry about. My training paid off, and I held my own just fine with the “Jewish Swim Team” as I lovingly called them. Coach David swam behind me, just to my left, and I when I periodically drifted out to sea, he grabbed my foot and pulled me back on course. (Swimming in a straight line isn’t my strength.)

Cow hugging with Moothias – he’s such a sweetheart.

Volunteering at Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary

I changed my work schedule at the end of 2021. Now on Monday mornings, when everyone else is heading back to work after the weekend, I head out to Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary. This sanctuary is home to over 100 cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and other animals, many of which have special needs. A lot of the time, my job there involves scooping poop and laying out fresh straw, but it also includes spreading love, petting the animals, and singing to them.

JK and I decided that we’re in a boy band called Boy Band.

Hugging my Friends

As I went through my jar of happy memories while I worked on this Undeniable Recap for this year, I noted that a lot of them were notes about hugging various friends. Between the pandemic and busy lives, I don’t get to see my friends as much as I’d like, so when we do get to meet in person, it’s so wonderful to have that moment where we get to hug.

We drove out of our way to stand on the corner in Winslow, AZ.

Firsts in 2021

Rushing a pet to the ER; Having a pet hospitalized over night

Cooking with a BBQ

Using a composting service

Staying at a Getaway Cabin (I hope they create an outpost in Arizona.)

Hosting a law graduate for a bar exam

Getting Experience Points on Sigler in Place

Getting a concussion as an adult

Washing my car using a drive through car wash

Biking at South Mountain on Silent Sunday

Sights: Standing on the Corner in Winslow, AZ; Singing at Knight Rise in Scottsdale, AZ; Fearless Girl in New York, NY; Captain Janeway Statue in Bloomington, IN; Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX

We really drove out of our way to visit the Future Birthplace of Captain Janeway.

Lessons Learned (or Re-learned) in 2021

I’m a better person when I have a dog.

Do not perform home surgery on yourself.

Time is our most precious resource.

Make time for self-care before you’re forced into it.

If you answer the phone with, “It’s done. There’s blood everywhere,” the cops may show up at your front door.

Dairy Queen has pup cups.

Hooman and Hound – I love this dog.

In Memoriam

Hoomans: Ron Flavin, Joanne Rogers, Ethan Pleshe, Jane Murdock, Beverly Cleary, Carolyn Lange, Jason Wright, Michael Berch, Stephen Sondheim, Paul Saviano, James W. Trumpy, and Betty White

Critter Friends: Jager Martin, NASA Shankman, Athena Takaha, Jasmine Guerrero, Wooliam Takaha, Violet Takaha, Rambo Inman, Pearl Takaha, Bart Isaacson-Ortmeyer, and Bunny Reilly

Answering the Phone Turned Into a Welfare Check from the Police

When my phone rings and I don’t recognize the number, I assume it’s most likely a spam call for a car warranty or someone wanting to buy my condo (which is not for sale). To entertain myself, I started answering the phone with:

House of Pain. How can we whip you?

Photo by phit2btyd from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve been answering the call like this for over 20 years. It’s still funny, but a friend suggested I might want to change it up and answer my phone with:

It’s done. There’s blood everywhere.

I don’t remember which friend suggested this. I would give you credit if I did.

Making an Appointment to Cash in my Stimulus Card

Last month, like many people, I received a $600 stimulus payment from the government in the form of a debit card. I go to the public pool to swim multiple times a week, and I like to pay in cash, exact change, so I can get from the lobby to my lane swiftly. I regularly go to the bank to get $40 in singles. (There’s also a strip club down the block from my bank. I assume they think I’m a regular there.) When this debit card arrived, I decided I wanted all of it, in cash, in singles, so I wouldn’t have to worry about having exact change for the pool for two years.

I didn’t know if the bank had restrictions on how many of a certain bill you could take out at a time, based on the amount they kept on hand, so I called the bank. I went through their various menus trying to speak to a human, only to be told that they were all busy and to try again later. I tried again later – same result.

When calling didn’t work, I decided to make an appointment. That would give me the ability to tell them in advance why I was coming, so they could plan accordingly if need be. I didn’t want to show up and be told that I couldn’t get my entire $600 in singles. I made the appointment for Friday morning at 10 A.M.

Friday Morning – 9 A.M.

On Friday morning, I arrived at the office a little after 9 A.M. As I was setting up my laptop, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number.

It’s done. There’s blood everywhere.

There was mostly silence on the other end. I think I could hear someone breathing. I figured it was a spam call, so I put my phone down on the desk without hanging up the call, and continued on with my morning. If they’re on a call with me, they can’t annoy someone else. I hung up the call a few minutes later when I wanted to use my phone for something else.

A little bit later, I ran the number that called me through the Google machine. It was my bank. Oopsie! I figured they were just calling to confirm my appointment.

Friday Morning – 10 A.M.

I arrived at my bank right at 10 A.M., rushing from the office to get there on time. This was the first time I had made an appointment with the bank and wasn’t sure what to expect. I was surprised that I had to wait for a bit before a bank associate was available to talk to me about why I was there. I mean, they knew I was coming.

The associate essentially said, “Oh, you’re the one who wanted the singles. You can get them from the teller.” I gave the teller my photo ID, swiped my government debit card, and walked out with $600 in singles. It was a straightforward process.

Friday Morning – 11 A.M.

After I left the bank, I went back to my office and was getting work done when my phone rang. This time it was from “Restricted.” I answered it:

Hello.

Yes, sometimes I answer my phone like a normal person. I couldn’t remember if one of my parents had a restricted number.

Photo by Tony Webster from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It turns out it wasn’t a parental unit. It was a Phoenix Police Officer. They had been banging on the door of my condo doing a welfare check. I later learned they were so loud that my neighbor popped his head out and told them I was probably at work.

Apparently, the bank called the police to do a welfare check on me because of “something about blood.”

I explained to the officer how I answer the phone to unknown numbers and apologized that they were taken away from situations that warranted their attention to deal with me. I was very much alive and well in my office.

At 1938 East Osborn Road?

Ok, how did you know that?

We Googled you.

Here’s the weird part – the earlier number that called me was from the bank branch I went to less than an hour later. They saw me in the flesh, with no evidence of blood on me. They saw my ID. They had me on camera. There’s probably footage of me walking to and from, and in, my car, by myself.

Needless to say, I’ve gone back to “House of Pain. How can we whip you?”

Triathlon Training in the Winter

This photo is not of Phoenix, but it can get pretty cold here in the winter. Photo by NOAA Photo Library (Creative Commons License).

It’s 201 days until Ironman Mont Tremblant 2021, just over seven months until race day. There are very few valid excuses for not doing a workout, and “It’s cold” is not one of them. Suck it up, Buttercup. Triathlon training means training in the cold.

My triathlon coach, David Roher, has recommendations for when his athletes can switch from wearing shorts to tights. When I’m doing a long workout, I dress based on the temperature it’s expected to be at the end of the workout. Actually, I like feeling a bit cold when I start my workout. It helps me notice when my body warms up during the workout, and there is less risk of overheating.

Swimming in the Cold

I train at an outdoor pool. Thankfully, it’s heated. They say that the pool thermostat is set for 82 degrees. What’s not heated is the area outside the facility’s door where I wait for the place to open while standing in flip flops.

The most uncomfortable part of winter swimming is the few minutes after I’ve stripped off my sweats and I’m sitting on the edge on the pool putting on my swim cap and googles before getting into the water. That ground is cold against my butt.

A few weeks ago, the heater was on the fritz over the weekend, and when I arrived to swim on Monday morning, the water was only 72 degrees. That was chilly, but still nothing compared to how cold it’s likely going to be in Lake Tremblant on race. The race is expected to be “wetsuit legal” and “booties legal.”

Biking in the Cold

Cycling outside in the winter is when I notice the cold the most. When you ride, you generate your own wind, and then there is also a headwind for half my ride. I also prefer to ride at sunrise (the coldest part of the day), and get my workout done early in the day. The path where I ride has a lot of shadows, and so it takes a while for the ground and surrounding area to warm up.

Coach David’s recommendation is to wear tights if the temperature is below 50 degrees. I’ve been riding up to three hours at a time, and in the cold, that means cycling tights, a long-sleeve shirt, cycling gloves (with full fingers), and heavy socks. Unlike sneakers, the tops of cycling shoes are open. Before I switched to heavy socks, my toes got so cold on these early morning rides, sometimes I couldn’t feel them.  

Running in the Cold

Coach David’s recommendation is to wear shorts until the temperature drops below 40 degrees. I recently modified this rule to allow tights if the weather report says it feels like it’s below 40 degrees. (I live in the desert for a reason. I’m not a fan of being cold.)

Right now, my run workouts are less than five miles each, so even when it’s cold, I’m not outside for very long. It was a different story a few years ago when I was training for a marathon in January.

I have access to treadmills, but I don’t like running on them. It’s so boring. I call them they human hamster wheel. I much rather run outside, even when it’s cold, windy, or raining. The same is true when it’s hot and humid in the summer.

The Evolution of this Vegan

If you told me 20 years ago that I was going to be a devoted vegan, I probably would have laughed. And the reason would have been simple: animal products taste good.

  • Burgers are delicious.
  • Pizza is awesome.
  • Cheesecake can be so good, it’s “orgasmic.”

I’ve never been opposed to veganism; I just didn’t think it was something I would want to do. As a student at Oregon State University, I learned a lot of the basics merely by being around people who were vegan. When “The L Word” came out, two of our friends were roommates and they got Showtime. Every Sunday, we’d all come over to watch it, and everyone had to either bring a dollar to offset their cable bill or vegan snack.

Omnivore to Vegetarian

I love documentaries, and a few years ago, I started watching films about food including, Food Inc., and it churned my stomach to see how factory farming works in the United States. The conditions in which these animals are raised and killed are despicable. I agree with the saying that if more people knew how factory farm animals lived and died, they couldn’t eat them.

After seeing a number of these films, I didn’t feel comfortable eating meat, knowing what I knew about how farm animals went from birth to packages of meat in the store. I thought fish didn’t have feelings, so I decided it was ok to still eat them. When I learned that that wasn’t true, I gave up fish.

Going Vegan

It was actually Dog by Dog, documentary movie about dog breeding that made me think, “If I’m not ok with any animal suffering, then I need to give up dairy and eggs.” I was deluding myself into thinking it was ok to eat these because an animal didn’t die for my meal, but often still live horrible lives. If I wanted to have integrity around this issue, then I needed to be vegan. One thing that I can do is vote with my wallet and lessen the demand for animal products.

I let myself finish the animal products I had in my house, and started looking for vegan replacements. I had already switched out the meat in my diet for more grains and legumes. I replaced the half and half in my coffee with vanilla almond milk. I bought vegan butter. I was grateful to see that my favorite soup base also has vegan varieties. I bought vegan cookbooks and searched the internet for new recipes.  

I am sensitive to soy, so I eat mostly low soy and soy-free products. Sometimes that limits my options for vegan products, but that’s something I mostly encounter when I’m looking into meat-replacement products, which is something I rarely do. The only meat substitute I buy with any regularity is Trader Joe’s Hi-Protein Veggie Burger patties, which are made with pea protein.  

This was the day I knew I never wanted to eat a beef burger again.

Caveats and Exceptions

I used to have caveats or make exceptions to being vegan. Early on in my journey towards veganism, I use to eat animal products if they were from a certified humane source. My justification was that these animals were well-treated and had a good life before they became my lunch. That worked for my for a while, until I spent a day volunteering at Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary, cuddling Adorabull, a newborn calf who was brought to the farm after being abandoned in a ditch. He was sick little guy, and as I stroked his head, I knew I never wanted a beef burger again.

Apparently, others who have visited the farm sanctuary have come away with similar thoughts about changing their diets. Aimee doesn’t tell anyone who visits what they should or shouldn’t eat. Merely being with the animals inspires some people to re-think what they eat.

I also used to have an exception when I traveled and I would shift to vegetarianism if it wasn’t convenient to be vegan. I don’t give myself that out anymore. When I go to a restaurant, if there isn’t a vegan option, I look at the menu as a list of ingredients and make my own meal or I end up ordering a bunch of sides instead of an entrée. Thankfully it’s become easier to find all-vegan restaurants or restaurants with plenty of vegan options.

Committing to Full Veganism

It’s actually not hard to be vegan. I usually have oatmeal for breakfast and add in vanilla protein powder, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sliced banana. For lunch and dinner, a common meal for me is rice, beans, and a vegetable or I meal prep soup over the weekend. I’m on a lentil soup kick right now. Between meals I like to have fruit, dried fruit, veggie sticks, almonds, pretzels, and/or chips. It’s rare if I’m craving something that there isn’t a vegan option or something that is “close enough.”

Being vegan has been great for helping me avoid a lot of junk food. It’s easy to say no to things like cookies in the office, or when I get pizza now, it’s just crust, sauce, and veggies, which is much healthier than what I used to order.

About a year ago, I saw this video by Merle O’Neal talking about why she went vegan, and her words embody a lot of why I went vegan, more than what I could put in a post.

When Your Kid Says They’re Non-Binary

A few weeks ago, I received a message from one of my classmates from high school that said her child recently came out to her and her husband as non-binary and said their pronouns are they/them. My friend asked how she can educate herself and what guidance I could offer for dealing with relatives who may be less accepting.

When I responded, I started with, “Oh geez – your life just got a lot more complicated, but in a good way.” I gave her my number and asked her to let her kid know that they have an Oggy Ruth that they can talk to if they need a non-binary grown-up to talk to who “gets it” in ways they’re afraid that others can’t understand. (Oggy is the title I chose since there isn’t a gender-neutral term for aunt/uncle. It rhymes with “doggy.”)

This button is on my backpack.

There’s No One Way to be Non-Binary

If your child was assigned male a birth (AMAB) and they’re actually female or assigned female at birth (AFAB) and they’re actually male, the expected trajectory is more clear and can include a new name, new hairstyle, different clothes, hormones, and gender affirming surgery. If your child is non-binary, it’s best to follow their lead. Invite them to tell you what they need, whether it’s a new name, new hairstyle, or different clothes. They may want some specialty items like a chest binder, stand to pee (STP), or a packer. Ask your child about their thoughts about hormones or hormone blockers. (Hormone blockers didn’t exist when I was a kid, but if I knew I was non-binary back then, I would have wanted them.) They may also want counseling. It’s not easy to navigate a binary-centric world as a non-binary person.

Ask your child what they need from the institutions in their life. They might need gender neutral bathrooms at school. Some schools won’t address a child by their new name unless you legally change it. Your child may want to have their birth certificate and/or driver’s license corrected. Hopefully, you live in a state where you have that option.

In regards to resources, I recommended Free Mom Hugs’ resource page. I love this organization, and this page has a wide variety of resources listed. I love seeing people in the audience at the Pride parade who wear t-shirts that say “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs.” I always try to stop and hug them.

Dealing with Less Than Accepting Relatives

As the parent, you are your child’s advocate. Ask your kid how they want to tell the relatives, and as long as it isn’t inappropriate, support it.

You may have to have a heart-to-heart with a relative if they are struggling to accept that your child is non-binary. They may have known your kid by a different name and pronouns for over 10 years, and adjusting to the new name and pronouns will be hard. Tell them it’s ok if they make mistakes, as long as they’re trying, and they correct themselves when it happens. Give them a chance to practice by talking about your non-binary child with them. (I have a co-worker who is working on using my correct pronouns. I’m tempted to tell him to talk about me with his family to practice.)

Note: I have a friend who has had a non-binary kid for years. She still occasionally refers to them by the wrong name or pronoun. It’s ok if you or your family doesn’t adapt overnight.

Your relative may have trouble wrapping their head around the idea that a person may not be male or female. That’s ok too. As long as they respect and accept that your child is telling the truth about who they are, I suspect your relative will be fine in the long run. Here’s my favorite video to share with people who are new to learning about what it means to be non-binary. (It’s also quite validating for me.)

Whether your child is a different gender or sexuality than what you originally expected (or both), assume there are going to be inappropriate questions. I tell people that it’s fine to ask me all their potentially inappropriate questions as long as their coming from a place of respect and curiosity. There may be times when it’s best to respond with, “I understand that you’re curious, but that’s a very personal question. My kid will talk about that if and when they decide they want to bring that topic up with you.”

Don’t be Afraid to Go into Mama/Papa Bear Mode

If you have a non-binary kid, there may be times when you need to go into full-on mama bear or papa bear mode on their behalf. It may be with your child’s school, doctor, a relative, or even the government. Going to bat for your kid validates their experience, even if you don’t get the outcome you want.

When your child tells you about a frustrating experience as a non-binary person in a binary-centric society, acknowledge it, even when you don’t understand why something is a big deal to them. Their feelings are valid, whatever they are. Hold space for your child so they have at least one place where it’s safe for them to be themselves and explore what their gender means to them.

Finding Faith

Shortly after Rosie passed away, I said the over/under for when I got another dog was six months. Who had 145 days?

Searching for a Dog and Finding Faith

About three months after Rosie passed away, I was ready to start looking for my next basset hound. The Arizona Basset Hound Rescue didn’t have any hounds available for adoption, so I expanded my search to include my local animal control, basset rescues in southern California, Craigslist ads across the entire southwestern U.S. I was even looking as far as St. Louis, Missouri because the humane society there took in 55 dogs (mostly bassets) from a bad breeder situation.

I spent way too much time on Petfinder, looking at adult and senior basset hounds. I wanted a dog that was past the puppy stage and deep into the lay-on-the-big-pillow-all-day stage. One day, a listing was added for a seven year-old basset named Faith at Priceless Pets in Chino Hills, CA, but there was no picture. I contacted the organization who had her and asked for a photo. This is what they sent.

They say every basset has a hidden heart in their fur. Faith’s is clearly on the top of her head.

I knew she was my dog. They said she was sweet and small, like a miniature basset hound. She was only 33 pounds. (For comparison, Rosie was between 57 and 68 pounds.) I put in an application, and shortly thereafter, I received the email that I was approved to adopt.

The rules of this rescue are first come, first serve. You can’t reserve a pet. The next time they were going to be open for adoptions was Wednesday, December 30, 2020, at noon, so I made plans to take the day off and drive out to California.

Leap of Faith – for a Dog

Chino Hills is about five hours away from Phoenix. Now, I’m not a fan of road trips in general, but the idea of driving five hours for the possibility of adopting a dog did not phase me. I was oddly calm the whole drive out.

I arrived at the rescue at 11:45am, and there were already six people in line outside the door. I prayed that no one ahead of me was there for Faith. When it opened, they only let in a few people at a time, because of COVID. When an animal was adopted, one of the workers would pop their head out of the door and announce that that particular pet was no longer available. By the time I made it to the front of the line, there were at least ten people behind me.

When I made it into the door, the clerk asked if I was interested in a particular dog. When I said, “Faith,” they said, “Did you drive from a long way?” The clerks couldn’t believe that someone drove five hours for the chance to adopt a dog.

The clerk showed me to Faith’s kennel. I sat on her bed and she laid next to me. I pet her while the clerk tended to other would-be adopters. There was no doubt that she was coming home with me that day. She was so small – bony to be exact. She felt like she needed to gain at least five, if not ten pounds.

Taken inside Faith’s kennel

When the clerk came back to check on us, I got up to finish the paperwork to make the adoption official. As I left her kennel, Faith tried to follow me out, her eyes gleaming with anticipation. About ten minutes later, we walked out together, hooman and hound.

Saving Faith

I don’t know much about Faith’s history. She was rescued from Tijuana where she was used for breeding. Now, I want her to live the comfortable life she deserves as a distinguished older lady. I gave her the middle name Helen, after my grandmother.

I put Rosie’s sweater on Faith for a walk on a chilly morning. It’s huge on her!

It’s been about two weeks since her adoption, and the focus has mostly been on her medical care. When I adopted Faith, they told me she had tested positive for a tick-borne illness and gave me her antibiotics. I noticed she was drinking a lot of water, so I took her to our vet to be evaluated. The next day the vet called with the results – Faith was in renal failure and I needed to take her to the emergency room immediately.

It had only been five days after her adoption, and I had to hospitalize my new baby. As the tech carried her into the hospital, I hoped she knew I wasn’t abandoning her. After two days of fluids and medication, she was ready to come home again, with even more medication. The tech said she hadn’t seen Faith so energetic than when she realized I was back.

Faith is so small, she can lay on my lap at work.

Yesterday, we got even more medical news – Faith has tapeworms and giardia. Now, she’s on a dewormer and more antibiotics. On one hand I think, this poor dog cannot catch a break, but on the other I’m so grateful that I got her out of there. Most rescues only do a basic medical overview and spay/neuter before making a pet available for adoption, and when you adopt, you take the pet as-is. I knew the risk when I adopted Faith, and I have no regrets. On the contrary, I’m so grateful that I can give her the love and care that she needs.

Training for Ironman Mont Tremblant 2021

I’m doing my first full Ironman race in 229 days – Ironman Mont Tremblant in Canada. I was supposed to do it last year, but the race was cancelled, and we all got deferred to this year.

I’ve never done heroin, but this is what I say every time I pay for something expensive related to my race.

What is the Ironman?

The Ironman is a triathlon, composed of the following distances:

  • 2.4-mile (open water) swim, then a
  • 112-mile bike, followed by a
  • 26.2 (full marathon) run,

All in under 17 hours.

The race starts at 7am, and you must finish before midnight to be an official Ironman.

Why Are You Doing This?

I learned a long time ago that if I don’t have a race or other athletic event on my calendar, I will not be motivated to work out.

I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to do something I’ve never done before. Races like this take dedication and mental toughness to get through not just race day but also the training to prepare for the race.

In 2017, I hired David Roher to help me train to complete my first marathon. During Mile 20 of the race, even though every part of my body hurt, I knew I wanted to do more marathons. I knew David did triathlons and coached triathletes, so I expanded my training in the off season to include swimming and biking as cross-training. Within months, I was signing up for my first sprint triathlon. About 30 seconds into that race, I knew triathlons were for me. I did the Half Ironman in 2019, and after that went well, I signed up for a full Ironman.

Are You Following a Program, Have a Coach, or Creating Your Own Thing?

Coach David is overseeing my training. Every Sunday, I get a text from him with my workouts for the week. Most weeks, I have two swim workouts, two bike workouts (one on the stationary trainer, one outside), two run workouts, and a rest day. I also have strength work that I do three times a week and stretches that I do every day. 

In addition to this, I also go to physical therapy once a week. I’ve been having long-term issues with my hips and back. My physical therapist is also an Ironman, which is helpful, because she has a greater understanding of my goals as well.

How Many Hours Are You Spending Training, Prepping, and Planning?

Oh geez. Right now, my shortest cardio workout is about 28 minutes (1,500-yard swim), and my longest is about 3 hours (48-mile bike ride). My strength workout is probably around an hour each time. Stretching takes around 30 minutes each day. A physical therapy session can last over 2 hours with all my exercises.  

In addition to all of this, there are other activities like checking on airline ticket prices for the race, bike maintenance, and replacing gear when it wears out like running shoes, workout clothes, and swim goggles.

In terms of diet, I mostly try to eat healthy, avoid excessive sugar, salt, and white flour. I also try to make sure I have enough protein in my diet, which might require more planning since I’m vegan.

Triathlon Shoes: Flip flops for the pool, bike shoes that clip in to my pedals, and running shoes.

What Will be the Longest Training Workout/Brick in Your Ramp Up?

That will be up to Coach David. In passing, he’s mentioned a 50-miles bike ride/5-mile run and a 100-mile bike ride/3.1-mile run.

I’m also planning to fly back East to do a 3.1-mile open water swim with my coach and the rest of the “Jewish Swim Club” in the Atlantic Ocean. During the race, I’ll be able to remind myself that swimming 2.4 miles is easier than swimming a 5k.

What Are You Most Looking Forward to Related to This Race?

So much. I’m excited to be an athlete who is capable of completing an Ironman race. Every time I can go faster, go farther, or see more muscle developing, it’s exciting.

What’s especially exciting about this race is the fact that I’ll be doing it with my coach and almost all of his other triathletes. There’s a strong sense of family and camaraderie in this group.

What Are You Least Looking Forward To?

My race is in August in Canada, but most of my training will be in Arizona. My longest workouts will be in June and July, when the low for the day can be in the high 80s. We’ll have to be careful to make sure I don’t overheat. On my long workout days, I may have to start at 2am or 3am to beat the heat.

Are You Practicing Peeing on the Bike or While Running?

To date, I haven’t needed to use the bathroom during a race. I’ve heard this is a thing. I even heard from another triathlete who was peed on by another racer while they were both on bikes. That must have happened while one was passing the other, because Ironman has strict rules about maintaining a minimum distance from other cyclists unless you’re passing.

Are You Going to Get the Tattoo?

Oh yes! I’m looking forward to getting the classic “M-Dot” tattoo.

Undeniable Recap of 2020

Oh my goodness – I’ve been living in a pandemic-based society for over eight months. All of my in-person conferences were converted to virtual ones this year, and my Ironman race was deferred until 2021. For the bulk of the year, I worked and trained. I only left the Phoenix metro area once since we all started needing masks to leave the house.

Even with the monotony, there were still some important events that happened this year:

Helping Rosie Over the Rainbow Bridge

I’d had a suspicion for months that Rosie wasn’t going to make it to end of 2020, and as her arthritis and doggy dementia added more and more challenges to her life, I helped her over the Rainbow Bridge on August 7, 2020. My eyes still well with tears when I think about losing her, but I know I made the right decision and gave her a good death.

Photo by Lauren Ellis Photography

Officiating Sarah and Thomas’ Wedding

My friends and neighbors, Sarah and Thomas, got engaged last year. I thought they were going to ask me to watch their dog while they were getting married, but to my surprise, they asked me to be their officiant. I had a blast spending time with each of them individually, asking about how they met, their relationship, and their hopes for the future. From their stories, I found themes, looked up quotes about marriage, and wove them into a short ceremony that was customized to them.

I also felt like a bit of a MacGyver that day because at the beginning of the ceremony, I had the bride and groom’s rings on my fingers (because they didn’t have a wedding party), and the bride’s handkerchief tucked into the back of my belt to hand over when she started crying since neither of us had pockets.

Singing at Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary

I love spending time at Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary. In the winter, I was out there to help with Gracie the baby lamb with the crooked neck. At one point, I was snuggling her on my lap, and I started to sing. Aimee was awestruck and said I have the voice of an angel. Since then, she invites me out to sing whenever an animal needs extra love and attention – like Peanut the pony when he was new to the farm and scared, Duke the cow who was born without elbows, and Wooliam the sheep after he had surgery (neutered). I love when I start to sing to one animal and other animals wander over to listen too. Aimee even had me out on the Fourth of July to help keep the animals calm while the fireworks were going off.

Photo by Aimee Takaha

Releasing the Lights Camera Lawsuit Online Course

It’s been about three years in the making, but I finally finished and released my first online course, Lights Camera Lawsuit: The Legal Side of Professional Photography. I wanted to create a course that gave the photographers the information about copyright and contracts at an affordable price, so could avoid making the painful and avoidable mistakes that I see photographers making all the time.

This course has been a journey, and probably the start of more courses to come. I had to form a separate business, create the website, hire people to create the logos and slide templates, create the lesson outlines, record and upload each lesson, and promote the course. It felt so good to bring this to market. 

Every Time Miss K Says “Oggy Ruth”

I have a nibling who lives across the country. She’s two and has brilliant blue Disney eyes. She’s so expressive. Now, I’m not a fan of children as a species, but I adore this little creature. If her parents don’t post pictures of her often enough, I’ll send them a text that says, “Send proof of child.” Since there isn’t a gender-neutral term for aunt/uncle, I picked “oggy” as my title (rhymes with “doggy”), and everyone in this kid’s life is completely on board with it. My heart melts every time I hear her say, “Oggy Ruth.”  

There were a few things that didn’t make my top five for 2020 – including going to my friend Cora’s wedding and participating in multiple Love and Compliments rallies. The thing that made these and the other top events from the year so important was that I got to spend time with my friends, even when we had to stay at least six feet apart at all times. Being away from loved ones has been one of, if not the biggest challenge of the COVID pandemic.

Photo by Liesl Pimentel

I didn’t have many firsts or any celebrity sightings in 2020, so they’re not in this Undeniable Recap. Hopefully, they’ll be back next year.

In Memoriam

Humans: Mary Griffith, Maggie Griffin, Katherine Johnson, Grant Imahara, Justin Lutch, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sean Connery, Alex Trebek

Other Creatures: Ziggy Moriarty the Boston Terrier, Moonflower Takaha the Cow, George the Corgi