Healthcare Advocacy in D.C.

Well, I went to The Hill.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation asked if I would, so I said, “OF COURSE!!!”

My professors were kind enough to let me get finals out of the way early so I could go make noise on Capitol Hill for a couple of bills:

1. The Medical Nutrition Equity Act H.R. 2501: Currently, health insurance in America will cover medical foods as long as they’re inserted through a nasogastric (NG) feeding tube, even if there’s no clinical indication for insertion of an NG tube. We need these medical foods covered orally! Medical foods are NOT groceries…that seems to be the consensus on The Hill, and I had to explain from the position as a future registered dietitian:
– Medical foods are broken down into single amino acids, digestible monosaccharides (single sugar components) and lipids, so the body can absorb them easier. These are especially important in patients who are malnourished.
-Medical foods are important, especially in pediatric patients, to prevent or prolong the need for more expensive/potent medications.

2. The Safe Step Act H.R. 2279: There are laws in 25 states currently that protect patients, but not in Oklahoma where I live. In Oklahoma and states like it in this respect, insurance requires patients to first fail a medication before they can then be prescribed a medication that would be helpful. However, there’s no burden of responsibility on the insurance companies to review the appeals process submitted by the doctor stating that the patient is failing a drug. This could mean up to 6 months time would pass before a patient finally receives permission from the insurance company to try a new drug. I experienced this firsthand in Oklahoma last year:
– My drug of 6 years, remicade, began failing me because my body developed antibodies to it since my doctor repeatedly forgot to write the order for it, delaying the time between infusions of remicade.
-I “failed” the drug, meaning I began to experience uncontrollable symptoms. I was told that it would take “several months” before insurance would approve another drug. I was missing work and knew I didn’t have “several months”. Literally, I was scared that I would die. I was violently losing blood 30 times daily, losing weight, and I couldn’t stay hydrated. I was hospitalized twice last year because of issues associated with failing remicade.
-I moved my care to Texas, which is a 6 hour round-trip ordeal for me to receive treatment. Because Texas has laws in place that protect patients, I was able to get my infusiong within 72 hours of finding my new GI doctor in Dallas. When insurance acknowledged that I was “failing” remicade, I was able to get on a new treatment within 48 hours of the doctor submitting an appeal to insurance.

The Safe Step Act would require insurance to make timely decisions so patients could receive the treatment they need as prescribed by their doctor, potentially avoiding missed time from work, loss of employment, surgery, hospitalizations, or even death (in extreme cases). The Safe Step Act saves healthcare dollars and lives!

A local GI doctor (George) and I spoke with the staffers for Senator Inhofe and Congresswoman Horn from Oklahoma, and then we met up with friends from New York and Kansas (Sarah and Tyler) to speak with Congresswoman Davids and Senator Roberts from Kansas (side note: Kansans are truly some of the kindest people I have ever met). Our goal was to get co-sponsors for these bills so we can make them into laws, bettering the lives of IBD patients and beyond. Most, but not all, of the legislators were receptive and even supportive! Contrary to what we see/hear in the media, Republicans and Democrats CAN agree on some things, and since these bills are bi-partisan, that made this whole, “please support these bills” requests much easier.

I saw Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York from afar- SO exciting to see women MY AGE in Congress! I also saw Senator Ted Cruz from Texas about 127 times.

Between our meetings, we grabbed lunch underground at a cafeteria and waltzed over to the U.S. Botanical Gardens for some peace and quiet from the hustle and bustle. Shout out to Sarah from NY for knowing D.C. like the back of her hand, because I felt like we had a tour-guide, and this was a gem:

Since the 20 days that have passed since meeting with legislators, we have gained 22 co-sponsors for The Safe Step act. I sent another follow-up email to some staffers today, and we are actively seeking more support.

If you’re interested in these bills above and want to make noise where you are, email your representative and ask them to co-sponsor the above bills. Tell your story, and let them know how these bills would help you. These bills are currently both on the House of Representatives side, but we will have Senate call to action soon!

I’m learning that advocacy is so, so important. If you’re affected poorly by the systems in place, we can make a change…but we need to tell our stories. Lawmakers need to know how we can change our world, and advocacy is the perfect space to not only let people in positions of power see how we need change, but also to offer a solution through these bi-partisan bills.

Keep moving forward!

Not pictured: coffee shops, crab cakes with my friend Hope, riding bikes through a thunder storm, touristy monuments, and a cocktail reception with new friends

P.S. If YOU want to support medical research directly, please consider donating to my fundraiser here!


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Austin Half Marathon Race Weekend

Man oh man. It felt so damn good to be back in Austin.

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I have been reading “The Alchemist” (I know- I’m late to the party), and it has me lookin’ for good omens. On Friday, our first day in Austin, we ran into the UT baton twirler from when we were students who was TWIRLING OUTDOORS in this very spot. You guys. It was an omen.

I taught baton twirling in college, and I was maybe her biggest fan. Twirlers are a rare breed, and we literally ran into her, and then stopped to talk to her. Made my day. As weird as that sounds, it was an omen. Not sure what it meant, but it was a good sign- promise.

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We happened to be in Austin for two reasons:
1. Hope! She’s a friend that I met on instagram, and she flew to Texas to race.
2. And race we did! Pictured above, we were at the Austin Half Marathon expo on Friday.

Then we ate. That’s actually what we did the majority of the weekend, but I need to give special thanks to:
-True Food Kitchen
-Picnik
-Hank’s
These places were especially kind about my dietary restrictions, and the food was incredible.

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True Food Kitchen was so enthusiastic to help with my food restrictions. ENTHUSIASTIC. They didn’t make me feel like the difficult customer that I hate to be, and they were fantastic. They helped me craft my own menu item to suit my weird dietary needs, and I left feeling great knowing that the food didn’t contain the stuff that my autoimmune disease won’t let me have right now. If there’s something I can learn from this experience it’s BE KIND to the wait staff, and gently explain/advocate for yourself. Be vigilant. But be gentle, and people will bend over backward to help you and your health.

It was breezy and 80something degrees. We walked back across the bridge to the car and called it a night. Austin, ya look good.

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On Saturday, we ate at Picnik for brunch after a warm-up run, and had a very similar experience to True Food Kitchen- everyone was so helpful. Then we took Hope to see some touristy sites, like the Loop 360 Bridge overlook.

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And stayed hydrated via Juiceland. Pictured here: “The Rehydrator”.

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Sunday morning was race day, and it was a cool, crisp 55 degrees at the start on Congress Avenue. The first three miles were gradually uphill, but we were on South Congress, and there was live music. No complaints! All four lanes of the road were open for runners, so even though the start wasn’t in waves, there was plenty of room. I never felt crammed.

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I HIGHLY recommend running Austin without headphones- there was live music EVERYWHERE, and I loved the course. I stayed hydrated via my own sports drink: water, lemon juice, lime juice, and salt. I brought along banana slices with a smidge of peanut butter and rice cake in my spi belt for fuel once I got to mile 9, and it was perfect. I had previously been a tried and true gatorade gels fan, but I recently discovered that I’m sensitive to the dye that’s on the ingredients list (womp womp), so I have been DIYing my fuel instead, with great success.

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I wrote a positive mantra on myself for the race. I NEEDED this around mile 10 through the finish line, because those hills weren’t playin’. I ran this race because I paid for it, and I love to run. I love a good race- I do. But in all honesty, I had no business running. Let me tell you why:
– Shingles! I had the shingles virus, and while it was (almost/mostly) gone, my energy levels were NOT up to par.
-Symptoms. I had to go off my immunosuppressants to try to heal my body quickly from the shingles virus, and my GI situation was very touch and go.
-Training. My training for this race was very lacking.
-Rest should’ve been priority. Shingles + GI + a rough week of tests in grad school calls for ample rest, and 13.1 miles wasn’t ideal.

If you’re strugglin’- solidarity! One foot in front of the other, friend.

Am I glad I did it though? Shoot yeah. Can’t you tell? Honestly- I had the most fun.

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Hope had a really great race though! A new PR for a half!

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And Zack was at the finish AND a cheer station at mile 9.

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Afterward, we all went to Hillside Pharmacie for brunch, and I inhaled my breakfast and coffee so fast. We sat outside and the wind was COLD! But we had the very best time.

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If you’ve never been to Austin, you should definitely visit, but don’t move there. I’m planning on moving back one day, and there’s really not room for all of us to play.
Sorry not sorry.

Highly, highly recommend running the Austin Half Marathon. The more races I run, the harder it is for me to pick a favorite, but this race is up there. It’s not a fast course- very hilly, but the crowd is great, the live music is unbeatable, and there’s no place I’d rather run than under the sun in Austin on a 55 degree Sunday morning.

Keep moving forward!

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A Weekend in San Francisco

This past weekend Sydney, a close friend from back in the high school days, and I traveled to San Francisco to celebrate a wedding. We had zero plans after our plane landed, so we decided to take a drive across Golden Gate to Sausalito!

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I actually thought Sausalito was a sleepy little harbor town in a quiet dreamland, but after breakfast the town started to come alive. We really loved walking around and exploring this place!

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We found a coffee and breakfast nook called Cibo that I HIGHLY recommend if you’re ever in the Bay Area. I had a smoked salmon panini with black coffee that tasted nutty and strong, and the prices weren’t outrageous. I’d give them 5 stars!

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Then we walked along the harbor, hitched a Lyft, and journeyed to Muir Woods, down and around switchbacks that our driver navigated at brisk, daring speeds growing faster as the curves got steeper, and Sydney and I both ended up carsick…

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…But seeing this forest was well worth it!

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These trees were sacred. I mean it. I felt so incredibly enchanted and peaceful walking through their cool shade, looking up high into the sky to see their leaves while tripping over their strong, gigantic root systems in my tiny shoes, laughing at myself. I thanked God for this magical experience.

Just as I was thinking, “I am so small and insignificant” I ran into my roommate from Houston, Christy (and the world suddenly felt even smaller)!!! I had NO IDEA that we were going to be in San Francisco the same weekend, and we had ZERO cell reception in Muir Woods, so we honestly couldn’t have planned our reunion any better than fate.

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Remember when I said we had zero cell phone reception? That also means no Lyft or Uber…so after Muir Woods we called a (very expensive) taxi cab driver from the Muir Woods Visitor Center to take us back into Sausalito…where we ended up carsick (again).

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But nothing a glass two glasses of California Pino Noir couldn’t fix.

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Then we ferried back across The Bay for an affordable $12 and met Christy for dinner…

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…after coffee and bookstores, of course.

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They didn’t have Rupi Kaur’s new book that I was looking for, “The Sun and Her Flowers” *womp*

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The next morning we slept in and enjoyed the sun beaming in through our AirBnB before taking a walk under the warm sun in the cool, windy air to breakfast.

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We walked through a nice, beautiful neighborhood with large, manicured yards, which seems to be rare in SF. Sydney said these trees “looked like giant broccoli”- ha!

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We went to Cafe Antigua in Japantown where I was pumped to drink this almond chai, and it was delightful. But I made the mistake of ordering a breakfast taco (sorry guys, the Texan in me strikes again), which I’m pretty sure made me violently symptomatic…or maybe it was the chai. Who knows!
The rest of the day was spent napping/recovering while Sydney bossed an economics exam.

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Followed by ice cream from Cream

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And then the wedding! So beautiful. This was my first time at a Muslim Palestinian wedding, and if I’m being honest- I have never felt more alive at a wedding reception before in my life! From hours of dancing to live drums and tambourines to the food-I loved every soul I met- the families were so hospitable and accommodating “be sure to dance all night long!” and celebrating Waleed and Amany until late at night was a real treat.

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I got a pic with the King! Groom Waleed and I met while we were both working at a hospital in Houston. He was counting down the days until he and his roommate got to move back home to San Francisco, but in the meantime he adopted me as his little sister, and I am so thankful. I couldn’t be happier for he and his Bride- she is a true beauty inside and out. So much happiness!

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The next morning we said “Goodbye!” to our sweet, little bnb and headed back to the airport.

I missed Zack (and Jaxon) A TON, so it was great to return home.

Until next time, California 🙂


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A Weekend in LaLa Land

Hey Ya’ll!

Hope your week is off to a great start! Thought I’d update you on some real life events:

We went jet-setting for a weekend…

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…to the City of Angels!

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We hiked to the Griffith Observatory after a quick breakfast at Roosevelt Cafe where they served copious amounts of avocado slices with my spinach and mushroom omelette, and not skimping on the extra avocado is my love language.

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Here I am modeling in unnatural poses at iconic tourist locations in an attempt to make Zack as uncomfortable as possible in public.

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The switchbacks on the trail were NO JOKE, and we got a decent little workout in during our short hike. California is beautiful.

What possessed us to go to L.A. just for the weekend?

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Football.

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at the Texas Exes tailgate at Exposition Park

The last time our Longhorns competed against the USC Trojans, we were the underdogs for the 2005 Nation Championship at the Rose Bowl. We were the underdogs for this game too, but we lost…

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…but it was by one field goal in double-overtime. In case you don’t keep up with football, all you need to know is that my Longhorns have been sucking it uppppp for far too long, so I was quite pleased that we kept up with a top 5 ranked team. Hit me right in the feels.

That night we went for a live show at The Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd (where Robin Williams, Dave Chappelle, Steve Martin, and more got their starts!). Entry was free with minimum purchase of two drinks, so I ordered two hot and fresh out ‘the kitchen chocolate chip cookies and a water, naturally, because I’m seven years old. HILARIOUS. Crude and witty, my favorite combinations. I want to return to at least a dozen more shows.

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Then back to our quaint little bnb before a late brunch and a plane home the next day.

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Once we returned home reality set in and I had to continue fighting with my doctor’s office and the infusion center to get me scheduled for an infusion.

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Sometimes managing a chronic disease feels like a part-time job…Jaxon agrees.

After returning from L.A. I was about a week past-due for my infusion. I had been sending emails and making calls the week leading up to our trip whenever time at work allowed, but I had no luck getting anyone motivated to send a doctor’s order to my infusion center.

Basically my infusion center discontinued my drug, Remicade. “We no longer carry that drug because it is too expensive.” But no one bothered to let me know BEFORE my infusion, so I had to find out once I actually arrived to get infused and there was no order written for the new drug.

So after enough back and forth communication to make me lose my mind, I showed up to my doctor’s office with an order. “I’m not leaving this office until he signs this order.” All he needed to do was fill it out. DONE!

…But he didn’t fill it out correctly. To make a long story short it took nearly two weeks after my scheduled infusion time to get everything sorted, but finally I GOT INFUSED!

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I have fought for over five years to reach remission. I’m finally here, and I’ll be damned if I begin having symptoms again because of a flawed healthcare system and people who won’t do their jobs. Being your own health advocate requires that you raise hell from time to time as if your life depends on it…because it does, friends. It really does.

But I must give a shoutout to my infusion nurse. She was a heaven-sent angel.

The rest of this weekend was spent napping (because infusions = the best naps evahhh), getting pizza (because infusion days always call for pizza)…

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…and (sour) beer…

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… and more football at quaint neighborhood bars

(if you’ve never visited OKC, you should. It’s tremendously underrated).

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Hope everyone has a great week. Hang in there and keep fighting, all my fellow IBD and/or chronic disease warriors! You life is worth it.

🙂

Stacey

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Quick Guide to Austin Favorites + Weekend Recap

Have you ever been to Austin, TX?

Austin is one of my favorite cities, not just because it’s where I did my undergrad (hook ’em!). I love how it’s completely Texas but also energized with expressive people, entrepreneurs, and creative-thinkers from all over. If I’m being completely transparent though, I’m a little worried with how crowded it’s getting, but it’s still one of my favorite spots to grab a taco and explore outdoors all.day.long. No place like Austin.

Zack and I spent a few weekends ago playing and visiting friends down in Austin

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Clearly, he was thrilled^ 🙂

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And I got to see my sister!

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And most of my bridesmaids (minus three!) 🙂 Picked them for obvious reasons…

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We stayed at the brand new Archer Hotel near the Domain, an up and coming area of shops, restaurants, and Rock Rose (all new bars and clubs). I can’t say enough good words about Archer Hotel.

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We had complimentary “sweet dream” wishes delivered daily to our room, and there was a fancy espresso maker that Zack enjoyed. This hotel was truly mindful of their guests!

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Also- heteronormative SLIPPERS! Honestly though, I loved these. ^ 🙂

The shower was big enough to fit some friends with space for a dance party, but I only photographed the entrance…

I also wanted to take this chandelier home.

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And the pool area…

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…we took note of the giant TV at the pool area. We’ll be back for football season. 😉

Homemade brunch in the hotel restaurant was reasonably priced, and the salsa was great. Win/Wins in my book!

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In honor of our fun weekend in Austin, I’m making a list of favorites! If you’re in Austin, try these and let me know what cha think 🙂

Favorite sno-cone:
SNO-BEACH. Bring cash. They give complimentary ice to your fur ballers, and that kind of love goes a long way. They’re delicious to boot- I never knew I could love a sno-cone so much!
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Breakfast Taco:
Juan in a Million, specifically the Don Juan. Do it. Thank me later. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to shake the owner’s hand…he’s actually won awards for “best handshake”. 🙂

Tacos:
Torchy’s Tacos (the OG is from Austin!). Texans know there’s a difference between breakfast tacos and just plain ‘ole tacos. You’ll see, too.

Breakfast:
Biscuits and Groovy. This is a food truck! I always forget to mention that. Plan to nap afterward; you’re gonna need one. If you’re in the mood for lighter fare, I suggest Bouldin Creek Cafe. The kick-ass granola and fruit is my favorite. They’re pet friendly with lots of vegan options!

Soul food:
HOOVERS. Casual, relaxed soul food at a good price. Get the Beet-A-Rita and DO order some cobbler. If you’re lucky, Anthony will be your server. I’m sure he has NO IDEA who I am, but the best service I’ve ever received at a restaurant was from him. I haven’t seen Anthony in at least three years, and I remember his name. BECAUSE HE WAS THAT GOOD.

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Thanks, Austin Eater, for the photo via google images

Margarita:
Matt’s Famous El Rancho– specifically, the skinny ‘rita

Pizza:
Homeslice Pizza on South Congress. WORTH THE WAIT!

Burger:
Hopdoddy, the OG on South Congress. My favorite is the Greek (probs because I don’t eat beef). My mouth is watering.

Nighttime bar:
The Handlebar. I’m not sure what it is about this place, but it’s SO.MUCH.FUN.

Texas BBQ:
Franklin’s (it’s an experience you’ll never forget) or The Saltlick, but we had our rehearsal dinner at The County Line. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

Running routes: (duh)
Austin is a very active city and a runner-friendly place! Lady Bird Lake Hike-and Bike Trail is my favorite, but go early in the morning before the city awakes. This is when it’s the most peaceful and it really feels like it’s yours. Cool down by kayaking on the lake after.

Hill routes:
HILL TRAINING LIKE A MOTHER on the hill at the intersection of Lamar and MLK but be aware of traffic. You’ll know this hill when you see it.

Best outdoor atmosphere:
Spiderhouse, they also have coffee AND alcohol AND food, so whatever you’re in the mood for.

Parks:
Pease park is nice and shady and Zilker is iconic for the pups. Can’t go wrong with either!

Coffee:
Epoch. Or Bennu for their chai teas, aka my kryptonite.

Hiking:
Loop 360 Bridge is iconic and picturesque, but I love taking dogs to Bull Creek.

Cheap, quick food that won’t kill you if you have digestive diseases:
P. Terry’s. I always get the #5 veggie burger, and it makes me so happy.

Hope you found these suggestions helpful 🙂


Sister Trip 2017 Recap

Hope you had a lovely weekend 🙂

In an attempt to not completely procrastinate, this blog post is a Sister Trip recap from last weekend: Northern Virginia Wine Country and Washington, D.C.

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Every year since 2015 we take a “Sister Trip”, just the two of us (woo-hoo three trips and counting!). In 2015 we went to Napa Valley, California while I ran the Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half. Then last year we went to Charleston, South Carolina- our favorite trip to date, Lindsay’s choice. And last week we took this year’s trip, also situated around another Destination Race: Virginia Wine Country Half-Marathon (my choice again-see a theme?). It’s a fun excuse to get together in a fun place since we don’t live near each other any more, and it’s always a good time.

We began our United Flight, Basic Economy level with ONE single personal item (not even a carry-on) due to our limited space of conveniently being assigned the last seats on the plan, so we fit EVERYTHING into a backpack each. We miraculously made it back home with our souvenirs, too.  I honestly have never packed so light in my life…and I’m a little embarrassed by that.

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We picked up our car in the passenger pick-up line that we rented from Turo- it’s an app that allows you to rent cars owned by locals at their own discretion. Such a fun, easy experience! And it was slightly cheaper than renting a car. Then we drove to downtown D.C. and ate crab cakes and fruit at Old Ebbitt Grill at the bar- so good!

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With satisfied appetites and happy hearts we walked to the White House and, to our surprise, we were able to get right up close to the lawn without security barricades. The crowds weren’t bad either!

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Next was the beautiful Jefferson Memorial. I excitedly called Zack to tell him how thrilled I was to see one of my favorite historical quotes engraved in one of the giant walls, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” He was quick to remind me about Jefferson’s owning slaves/having an affair with slave Sally Hemings, which basically served as a grave reminder not to romanticize people…which is hard not to do when you’re standing inside a giant monument erected in their honor. But I digress.

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Next was patriotic popsicles, because we are children. Then we drove off to the race expo in Leesburg to pick up my bib number and race shirt.

Finally, we made it to our AirBnB which was more enchanted than I could’ve dreamed up. Meet our greeters, Brandy and Whiskey:

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And our cozy cabin

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Complete with entertainment

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As an IBD patient, I appreciated this ^.

We ended the night early after carbo-loading at a local Italian restaurant. The next morning was an early one for race day, but I wasn’t tired after sleeping nine hours.

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^Morning view near the starting line at Doukenie Winery. Lindsay dropped me off near here. I loved the views!

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The race was overcast and in the upper-seventies, perfect weather!

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Girl YAS- LOOK at that ponytail action

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Best part of the day.

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^Best part of the day 2.0

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Followed by dinner at Finn Thai and [another] early bedtime.

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The next day we went into D.C. for some quality American tourism…

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…and paid our respects to Texas veterans at the WWII memorial…

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…and visited Honest Abe (worth the walk and climbing the steps and the heat).

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We chewed on lemon Italian Ice as we sat in the grass of the National Lawn listening to peaceful protesters, then headed to find lunch.

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^ Hamilton’s! I LOVED this place. My turkey burger was amazing, and so were Lindsay’s California rolls and shrimp tempura.

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Next we went to the Holocaust Museum, a place I’ve wanted to visit since reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel in junior high school. This place shook me to my core, and I was struck by how subtle, gradual-changing political agendas gave rise to hatred. The world allowed this hatred to perpetuate by its lack of opposition and ever-increasing fear of peoples’ differences in the place of tolerance and compassion. It was so gradual and so real. I will never be the same after this museum. Never stop speaking up for people around you who are persecuted. Support others, because they need you.

We ended the day on a light-hearted note at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, which was really TOO COOL. HOW can they fit so many planes INDOORS?

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That night at our AirBnB we drank local wines and ate snacks on our hosts’ patio of their house until the wee hours of the morning- I felt like we were old friends, and I loved their company.

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And that about wraps up our journey. We had a turbulent flight back to Texas where we promptly stuffed our faces with Mexican food and guac upon our arrival.

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Then Jaxon and I headed back to Oklahoma for another work week- he’s a great little traveler. Honestly, such a FUN weekend, and we can’t wait to return to Norther Virginia- we couldn’t get over how GREEN all the scenery was this time of year. We are so thankful to have experienced Virginia’s Wine Country AND D.C. What a cool little time.

Hope your Monday is better than most!

-Stacey


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Race Recap: Virginia Wine Country Half-Marathon

Happy Global Running Day! I was a little sad there wasn’t a SnapChat filter to celebrate this fun day, but that’s okay.

In honor of Global Running Day, I’m hittin’ you with a little race recap from this past weekend. Lindsay and I go on a “Sister Trip” every year, and this year’s was Northern Virginia and Washington D.C., conveniently planned around the Virginia Wine Country Half-Marathon (my idea)- But more on Sister Trip next post.

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This past Saturday I woke up at 5:30, and I made conscious effort not to think about losing an hour of sleep by waking up in East Coast time. On a very positive note, I had zero symptoms before this race (remission is still bliss). The sun also rose with me, and by the time we were ready to leave the house at 6am the sky was colorful and bright.

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Lindsay dropped me off near the start at Doukenie Winery and headed back home to sleep (really, y’all. The girl loves her sleep and has no shame). I felt weird being alone in the corral to start without knowing anyone, and most of the runners seemed to be locals. I missed running with my Team Challenge people, but I listened to my music and stretched and all was right in the world. The weather was just barely under 60 degrees at the start- just the way I like it. The race kicked off a few minutes after seven (maybe around 7:10?).

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Around mile six I thought of a new strategy, “I think I’ll only run downhill.” We don’t  have hills like Virginia Wine Country where I live…and if I’m being 100% honest…I did zero long runs before this race. Honestly the one of the dumber decisions I’ve made, and I’m lucky I didn’t walk away injured. I know better. Kids, don’t try this at home. 

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The course was beautiful, but miles 6-10ish were all gravel/dirt and rolling hills through a heavily shaded area, which was a challenge for running. I loved the scenery and tried to focus on being present, feeling pain where it hurt, listening to the sound of my feet swinging beneath me, enjoying the view, breathing in the cool wind, being happy, and loving this time walking/running/trotting through Virginia.

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Even though running by myself sounds like a bummer, I appreciated the solitude.  I was exploring new places all by myself, and it was a fun experience.

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There were many horse stables along the route, and I wished I would’ve gotten a picture! “Horse and wine country” didn’t disappoint!

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At one point I rounded a corner and saw this little church. I couldn’t get over how enchanted it looked!

I actually purchased the race photos from this race, for obvious reasons. I’m a morning person, clearly.

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This race had more water stations than any other race I’ve finished. I’m not actually sure if that’s true, but it definitely felt like it. I didn’t run out of my fuel belt gatorade/water mixture until just after mile 12, which is a new record for me.

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At mile 12 I heard someone cheering my name- turns out it was Hope, a fellow Crohnie on the run and instafriend who I never got to officially “meet” but it was so encouraging to know someone was rooting for me to finish! I WAS STRUGGLIN’ (hi I think I’ll train properly for the next one).

Lindsay was at the finish line, texting me warnings about one final hill that separated me from the finish. I carried my empty water bottles like maracas, just waiting for that finish line fiesta.

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When I saw Lindsay I yelled, “Help!” and she ran through the finish with me for the last few strides up and over the hill…because that’s what sisters are for :). What a fun moment!

And then, just like that, it was over and time to celebrate!

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Destination Races always have the COOLEST medals! My medal from Napa is a wine cork opener, and this one had a spot to hold your wine glass- purposeful and humorous, my favorite combination.

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Then we went to the Wine and Music Festival on the grounds of Doukenie Winery. The lines for wine tasting were quite long, and I had already made the grave mistake of purchasing a breakfast burrito in a New England state (no offense intended, but that was not a burrito with jalapeño chorizo, I assure you). So we bought a bottle of wine from a local winery to drink by the pond.

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Bliss .

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My goal of this race was to enjoy it and to finish- and that I did. I didn’t run my nike app, and I didn’t wear a garmin to record my time. I simply trotted along in a new place in a sea of unfamiliar places, and it was truly such fun.

Race days are some of my favorite days, all thanks to memories like these. Races only last a couple of hours, but the memories are enough to satisfy you for a lifetime. There’s something invigorating and addicting knowing that you just tested some physical parameters and succeeded, and if you get to explore new places along the way, all the sweat and sore muscles are well worth the race.

And it’s always fun to defy medial diagnoses and run for cures and awareness while feeling a hight off contagious race day energy. I have experienced nothing more empowering.

Happy running 🙂 wherever you are.



Just Maui’d

Hi, Friends!

Did you make it to the New Year? 2017! Hope it’s the best yet.

Because I’m finally getting settled down in my new life with Zack, I’m making a completely selfish post about our Honeymoon. Maybe you can use it as a travel guide? I hope it’s at least mildly useful and not entirely for my own enjoyment.

I’m still dreaming of Maui, mostly because of the weather.

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And the beaches. Okay. Here we go.

DAY 1: Arrival.
We departed Austin at 6:30 AM on Saturday morning and even ran into some Austin friends at the airport! Felt like home. Hope your anniversary trip was a blast, Anne and Brad!

Then we had a very turbulent ride to LAX and connected to OGG. Around 12:30pm we arrived in Maui. Our flight attendant said in 25 years of flights, she had never had so much turbulence on a flight to Maui. So that was cool.

Jet lagged and exhausted, we finally agreed on Cafe O’Lei, right up on a golf course. I had a crab salad sandwich, and Zack had a burger with local beef. Amazing. There’s nothing like eating a good, solid meal after traveling for hours. The view didn’t hurt either.

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We went back to the hotel and crashed, hard. I’m not even sure the sun was down. This was a SUPER CLEAN, family-owned hotel with a 60s vibe. We stayed in Kahului to be close to the shuttle for tomorrow’s excursion.

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Day 2: Haleakala National Park

3:00AM, Zack wakes me up. I could’ve slept all the way until my body was on Hawaiian time, but we had to board our shuttle to the top of Haleakala, due for departure at 3:30AM.

Haleakala is Hawaiian for “House of The Sun”. The volcano is what formed the island of Maui, and we wanted to see the sunrise.

1.5 hours later, we bundled ourselves in layers and stood at the edge of a cold, metal railing. I had no reference for how high up we actually were standing other than how close we were to the bright, expansive night sky. A tour guide next to us explained that we were looking at a meteor shower, and sure enough, I probably saw 8 or 10 shooting stars just above our heads. He kindly pointed out mercury, gleaming red right before our eyes. Just above mercury was jupiter. To our left we saw the brightest star in the sky, twinkling over the dark- the star historically the Polynesians used for navigation.

And then we waited.

Suddenly

And then.

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Below us was the 3,000 ft. crater of the volcano. Just across from us was the edge of the 7 mile diameter of the crater, beyond that, clouds.

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Pictures don’t do this experience justice. Seeing a meteor shower, followed by a sunrise from the top of a volcano is surreal. I thanked God the whole time.

I asked someone to take our picture, then forgot to remove the gator from my face. Enjoy.
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Then, we biked down from Haleakala National Park. We biked down a volcano. In Maui. Fan-girling over nature, here.


I cannot recommend this experience with Maui Downhill enough. Our fearless leader, Steve, even doubled as our photographer. His sense of humor was an added bonus. Getting to see the island through gradual descent and smell the eucalyptus, guava, and lavender farms. agh. Nothing like it.

Then, we stopped for breakfast

We had breakfast tacos made by a fellow Texan! The chef at this food truck was from Austin! We loved the owner, too. Their service gets 10 stars, and their homemade Kombucha gets 11, if that’s possible. AMAZING.

Then we picked up our Jeep and drove to Makena (Big Beach) until our vacation rental was ready. We loved this beach, but only spent a short amount of time here. Highly recommend, especially if you’re into hammocking (is that a verb?)
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We literally honeymooned in someone’s garage apartment, which we thought was kinda funny. We stayed in Kula, a little town on the side of Haleakala in the upcountry. We slept with the windows open, napped on the porch, cooked our own dinner a couple of nights. Incredible.

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Fresh flowers and home-grown fruits. MY PARADISE.
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Day 3: “Relax day”

So we actually needed three more of these days, but that’s okay. We had brunch at our favorite breakfast nook, Grandma’s Cafe, in KeoKeo

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I announced to Zack that I had “accidentally entered through the emergency exit.” He replied, “Did you set off the alarm? Oh.” (see below)

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Everything is so surreal and enchanted.

Then we headed to explore Paia, my favorite little surfing town! I would love to be a stocker or a cashier at their grocery store, no joke. We bought a few postcards here.
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Befriended a sea turtle (more fan-girling over nature)
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Beached (shoutout to SipHipHooray on Etsy for making my can cooler design a real thing!)

I loved this day.

Day 4: Lanai


Over 80% of the world’s supply of pineapples came from this island until the mid-90s. Crazy! Lanai is just a short ferry ride from Maui, so we caught the sunrise ferry, headed to Lanai, and grabbed our jeep upon arrival in Lanai City (the only city on the island. There are no traffic lights).

Most of the roads are dirt and require four-wheel drive, but if you like seclusion, this is your kind of adventure. See below for Garden of The Gods. We walked around in this volcanic land for about half an hour, all by ourselves!

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Next, Polihua Beach (about 1 hour dirt road driving from Lanai City)

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No one here but us. We actually BOTH had to go to the bathroom (tmi?) but no one was around…it was actually quite liberating hahaha

We did a lot of running around, cartwheeling, chasing sand crabs, teasing the ocean (too dangerous here to swim), and lying in the sand saying, “I can’t believe this is real life today.”

That’s the island of Molokai you can see in the background below. We snacked on EPIC stuff the whole time. I have to find snacks that don’t aggravate my symptoms, and EPIC is one brand that doesn’t. I learned about them from doing the Whole 30. Rock your world amazing snacks.

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Then we headed back into Lanai City to refill on water and headed to Shipwreck Beach. Note: This road is much rougher than the road to Polihua Beach, although it is much shorter of a commute from Lanai City. Be ready to use that 4×4.

You can actually see the WWII concrete barge off in the distance. We didn’t hike to it due to wearing the wrong shoes…

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…But we found a pretty nice spot to picnic our peanut butter sandwiches, potato chips, and fresh pineapple. We reminisced about how perfect our wedding day was. We talked about the people who mean so much to us. We plotted our return with friends one day.

For the night we slept where historically Dole Pineapple Executives would stay, Hotel Lanai. I felt like we were staying in someone’s house! Such a cute, cozy hotel. Fresh fruit and granola for continental breakfast. It’s like the people here get me.

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For dinner we went to The Four Seasons Lanai, because we foolishly thought their sports bar would be affordable. $28 tuna burger later…yikes. We could literally hear our parents laughing at our naive thinking. Silly kids, The Four Seasons is for real adults.

The next morning we slept in, then caught the 10:30am ferry back to Maui. We met a nice couple from Chicago who vacation on Maui annually for three weeks. We added that to our goals list. I spoke about how I REALLY wanted to see a humpback whale since it’s primary whale migration season on Maui this time of year, and not even thirty seconds later one JUMPED out of the water about 20 feet away from us. She’s somewhere under the water in this picture. I WAS IN LOVE. What a cool experience. Completely unreal!

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Then we napped and had a nice dinner at Merriman’s in Kapalua. Zack got steak, and I got mahi. Incredible. Then, we [strategically] reminded our waiter that it’s our honeymoon and got free dessert, flourless chocolate cake.

If you like fine dining, do yourself a favor and make a reservation at Merriman’s at sunset. Tell them if you are celebrating something special; they’ll really treat you.

Day 5: Road to Hana

Zack loves selfies.
Honestly, this was the most touristy thing we did, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We wanted to adventure and explore, and that’s what we did. But the Road to Hana is worth every bit of those 618 curves, and this is coming from a girl who gets car sick.
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Our first stop: Twin Falls. I loved the fruit stand here. I actually loved how fresh fruit was EVERYWHERE along the road to Hana.

Poor quality of the photo below, but the moral of the story is that there are waterfalls at EVERY turn on the Road to Hana. Keep your eyes peeled for mile marker 19 for Waikani Falls and mile marker 45 for Wailua Falls, which are especially breathtaking. I was determined to not get car sick, and we were chasing daylight so I didn’t get pictures of these falls. Something to know is that you do not have to hike to these falls like you do Twin Falls. They’re literally RIGHT next to you.
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2nd stop: Black Beach, Waianapanapa State Park. Did I spell that right?

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This place reminded me so much of Greece. I loved every part of the views here. The hiking was great, too!

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3rd stop: Koki Beach for Huli chicken.
We were hungry. We saw a sign, and we had amazing chicken from a sweet lady in a tent. Not even sure what Huli means, but it was terrific. Unfortunately, we missed the red sand beach…next time.

We continued past Hana and took the road all the way around the island, which is maybe the best decision we made the entire trip.

Pacific to the left, volcano to the right

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Also, I don’t think we were allowed to remove the top of our Jeep rental, but I assure you there’s no better way to experience the Road to Hana than feeling the wind.

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Oh, if you looked over the Pacific you could see whales jumping EVERYWHERE, undisturbed by tourists or boats on this side of the island. I WISH I had binoculars!

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Many of these roads were one lane, so you have to drive cautiously. You’re also driving through one of the largest cattle ranches in the US during some parts, so you need to keep your eyes on the road with only micro glances to take in the views. But it was entirely worth the trip to Hana and around the volcano. I was happy to be in the passenger’s seat.

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That night, we had dinner at Kula Bistro, which is a sandwich shop during the day and a nice Italian restaurant at night. Zack and I agreed that this was one of the BEST meals we had, and all of our meals were superb. Just know that it IS Italian food, so butter and cream are to be expected. I had a slab of fresh-caught ahi tuna, recommended by Matthew, our free-spirit of a waiter. Boy knew what he was talking about.

Final day + flight home

Zack and I tried to do the whole mai tai thing on the relax day as we watched the National Championship (yay, Clemson!) at a place called Rock and Brew in Paia. Cool place, but I am not a fan of the mai tai, and I really tried. I just. buh. I like piña coladas better. So we were on a quest for finding a place that served a piña colada, while trying to maintain as much Hawaiian culture as possible.

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Spotted on the menu at Milagros Food Company. It was just as good as it looks. Please appreciate the man in the background.

We shopped around Paia for a few souvenirs and boarded the plane home. And that about ends the best honeymoon in the history of ever. We are stoked to save up and return to Maui, but in the mean time I’ll keep you in the loop for our future adventures. Nothing is better than traveling with your favorite adventurer.

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Keep moving forward, even if you have to switch time zones.

XO,
Stacey

Coolest place you’ve ever visited and why? Are you a mountains lover or a beach lover?


One Year Race-iversary

My very first half marathon was in wine country.

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Apparently I can be convinced to run if I know wine is waiting on me at the finish line.
I ran (and walked and trotted) the forever sold-out Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, exactly one year ago from today’s date.

I was never a runner before this race- not even a little bit. Before Napa the greatest distance I had ever committed to was a 5K years before this race, and I distinctly remember walking alongside a participant who was drinking a beer between strides…if that tells you anything about my speed situation. I honestly just decided to start running, which is the best advice I can give to anyone who is thinking about running.
Just go for it! 

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Why now? I’m a Crohnie, and I needed to prove something to myself- I stumbled across the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s website after I discovered that my Crohn’s disease wasn’t going away, which took a couple of years for that sweet news to really sink in. I honestly didn’t realize there wasn’t a cure, and after nearly three years of on-again-off-again symptoms between infusions at the hospital every six to eight weeks, I was disgruntled and began searching for answers. That’s when I found Team Challenge.
(I know, this sounds like an infomercial. It’s not! Hang in there with me…)

Team Challenge is a fun-loving group of crohnies and/or caretakers or strangers who fundraise for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and train together for half marathons near, far, and beyond (they also do triathlons, too!). The funds raised support patient programs, provide education to the public, and my personal favorite, fund research. The particular season that I joined happened to be training for Napa. Sign me up!

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It was tough, especially balancing active Crohnie probs with running. But I was running with people who understood, or at least cared for someone who understood. Some mornings were amazeballs and I’d pump out a fast ten miles like it was nothing, but occasionally I’d have to cut a run short and sprint home to make it back in time to be sick. Other days I just couldn’t get out of bed, but beyond all the trials running changed me. Team Challenge changed me on a molecular level, and helped me accomplish more than I ever imagined for myself. Because of Team Challenge, I now identify as a runner (which in my mind sounds like I’m a little badass)

After the first couple of months of training, I actually began enjoying running. I even enjoyed early mornings (see? it changed me!)! Some runs were HARD, as in listening to the nike lady congratulate me through my headphones for my 12:30 pace hard. Others were amazeballs, and the good, brisk runs made me thankful for all the hard, terrible runs. Without perseverance through the hot, hard days of training, I wouldn’t have so many good runs. Every time I got a new PR, I cried happy tears- what a nice, normal sight for strangers to see. But I wasn’t in a hospital bed. I wasn’t in a fetal position on the bathroom floor. I wasn’t in my bed fatigued. I was defying sickness. I was testing the limits, and I was feeling truly alive.

Life is like that, too. Sometimes you wake up thinking, “How did this happen to me? How did I end up here?” Well. It’s not the end. You are going to be looking back one day thanking God and your lucky stars for keeping you through all the rough times, because they truly do make you stronger. Strength is something that’s hard to develop, but persevere. Reach, persist, believe, be determined, and stick it out. You will rise above. You’ll look back and marvel. And you’ll live to tell about it.

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Lindsay greeted me at the finish line with the biggest smile and sweetest hug (even though I was sweaty)! I don’t know my time from this race, but it was something ridiculously slow. The point to me was to finish, and that I did! I ran up hills and down through valleys next to family-owned vineyards and past small children with lemonade stands. I ran in wine country, yall! And I did it for cures.

One year race-iversary, and I’m hooked. Never.looking.back.

Keep moving forward 🙂

-Stacey


P.S. I am tremendously grateful for each of you who supported me through prayer, good ju-ju, or straight up financially so that I could cross the finish line and raise hell on behalf of fellow Crohnies. Thank you for believing in me, and thank you for believing in cures! I am always thankful for you (Phil 1:3)!