The Year in Review

New Year's Eve came and went
and brought January in tow
It was a cold month as usual
but I had fun in the snow

February brought Valentine's Day
but Cupid didn't shoot me
Instead I had a Girls' Night
and enjoyed the company

March was really great
I went to Washington D.C.
I got to see my friend Jane
and take a bus to NYC

April soon bounced my way
and the year picked up its pace
I spent Easter with the Ernsts
and prepared to run The Human Race

In May things warmed up
and unearthed beautiful tulips
I ran my very first 10k
and dreamed of tropical trips

June brought a business trip
and some good summer fun
I played some stake volleyball
and went on several runs

I took a roadtrip in July
Stella and I split the driving
We saw Mt. Rushmore in SD
and Yellowstone in Wyoming

In August I met a miracle:
My niece ("Lil Miss Jay")
I visited her in California
and couldn't tear myself away

September, can I remember
what I did in September?
I scored two goals in soccer!
Yeah, that's all I remember

October was crazy, like super insane
I turned 28, ran 13.1,
became a zombie, and ate a brain
Boy was I glad when it was all done!

November means turkeys
and turkeys mean stuffing
I ate everything in sight
and joined Gold's to prevent puffing

On a more serious note
I was blessed to see
Two friends get married
and my dad post-surgery

December was so much fun
and brought the year to a close
Have a very Merry Christmas
and let me know how 2012 goes!



Tonight I descended a hill and was surprised to see a veritable barricade of fire trucks and police cars come into view. They had taken over more than half of the road and I had to carefully navigate around two firemen who were conversing in the middle of the road. As I passed them I glanced toward the side of the road they were protecting and I saw a crumpled bicycle. It was white and the once perfectly formed rims looked they had been in the hands of a giant. The handlebar tape was still tightly wound and the paint on the bike frame betrayed no sign of distress. The surface of the bike was smooth and shiny enough to draw the eye. The form of the bike was destroyed. I thought to myself, “Tonight someone’s life has changed forever.” I could not tell if the driver was present or where the cyclist had been taken. The possibility that a moment of inattention or carelessness could cost someone their life or damage their body permanently jarred my steady mind and sent it searching for empathy for someone I had never seen and probably will never meet.

A few hours later I was at the theater to see my friend Scarlett perform in a musical version “A Christmas Carol.” The only version of the story I’ve ever seen is “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) which I watched once as a nine-year-old in the movie theater, once or twice on video and then once two weeks ago. If it hadn’t been for the recent review I probably would have been a bit lost as the wrath of Ebenezer Scrooge coursed its way through well-wishers and do-gooders. Each person he scorned was momentarily surprised by his behavior but they continued about their business and settled in for another warm albeit chilly Christmas Eve. Scrooge closed up shop and made his way home after deriding his employee, Bob Cratchit, for requesting Christmas Day off.

As soon as Scrooge’s front door came into view his night of visions and wonders began. He thought he saw his deceased business partner’s face in the familiar brass knocker. He wrote it off. A short time later, after changing into his nightclothes, he spotted that same familiar face in a dark corner of this room. The vision was accompanied by what must surely be an auditory hallucination – the scratchy voice of Jacob Marley and a terrible rattling chain dragging along Scrooge’s cold floor. As Marley’s body came into view his death-white face and choking chain caused Scrooge to laugh in disbelief and attribute the strange vision to indigestion. Marley would not be ignored. Scrooge glanced at Marley’s strange metal accessories and asked, “What chain is this you wear?” Marley only let a half of a moment pass by – enough time to press one of the links between his fingers – and answered, “It is the chain I forged in life.”

I have to admit my jaw dropped a little. I tried to listen to the rest of the dialogue but I was carried away by this idea – a simple idea – of how our actions can shape (or in this case forge) our fate. I hadn’t understood why the Marley ghost (or in the Muppets’ case ghosts) wore chains. Now after looking up the Muppets version on YouTube I see the explanation was there all along, “Captive, bound/We’re double-ironed/Exhausted by the weight/As freedom comes with giving love/So, prison comes with hate.” I wondered if, say, this was literally how things worked, “How many links would I have formed at this point in my life?”

My thoughts traveled along as Scrooge’s journey began. He was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past who reminded him of the joy he once felt at Christmas. Sadly Scrooge didn’t stay a joyful boy forever. He, like us, had to grow up. Memories often serve up helpings of feelings we wish we could forget. Scrooge saw himself fall in love as a young man and then abandon his beloved as he sought out worldly success (aka money). Long forgotten joy could only momentarily lift Scrooge before the memory of lost love cast a shadow dark enough to hide even the brilliantly white Ghost of Christmas Past. No worry, the Ghost of Christmas Present soon bounded toward him, ready to celebrate with revelers and show Scrooge how happy his nephew was (making fun of Scrooge, that is) and how content the Cratchit family was in their simple home. Tiny Tim lit up on the room as his father carried him into the house on his shoulder. Scrooge immediately felt something for the boy – first affection, then concern. In a time when life was as fragile as a fine glass ornament Scrooge knew the life of this small boy with twisted legs and weak lungs could be snuffed out like a candle if the wind blew a fever his way. He asked the Ghost of Christmas Present if Tiny Tim would live. The ghost read the shadows in the room – shadows cast by present actions which lead to future consequences – and told Scrooge that if things continued as they were currently set in motion, the boy would not live.

Pleading for the life of the boy, darkness fell over Scrooge. The merry ghost left him and I cowered in my seat in the theater because I know who was up next: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. As light retuned to the stage I could make out the profile of a reaper. I think the scariest thing about these hooded figures is our habit to search for eyes in the place where a face should be. In the split second my eyes involuntarily search for another’s and realize they’ve found nothing they also manage to form eyes in the place where there are none. Usually the resulting illusion is small, red, glowing eyes faint as cooling briquettes. I’ve long since known my mind can construct nightmares from empty spaces. Scrooge cowered at the ghost’s feet and confessed he feared nothing more than that which is to come. The ghost showed him villagers who had robbed someone recently deceased (that someone being Scrooge) and transported him to the home of the Cratchit family. Bob’s wife was awaiting her husband’s arrival from the cemetery and the children were dressed in black. There was one child missing. Bob was late returning and one son remarked his father walked a bit slower nowadays. The mother’s eyes widened in pleasant memory as she recalled a time when her husband walked quickly and joyfully. It was when he carried Tiny Tim on his shoulder.

How can it be that carrying another person actually lifts us up? How does it give us the strength and motivation to quicken and even lengthen our stride? And, when they’re gone, how can we find peace knowing we’ve laid them in a safe place covered in green grass near a protective wall?

The ghost carried Scrooge to a lonely graveyard in which only headstones kept one another company. There, before Scrooge’s bowed body, stood a lowly grave marker bearing a very familiar name. “Ebenezer Scrooge.”

Sobbing for a chance to make things right Scrooge grasped the headstone, burdened by all he had done, all he had seen, and all it could mean for his future and the future of those he inexplicably loved. Darkness once again surrounded him and in the black night he closed his eyes and vowed he had changed. When he opened his eyes he was clutching the blanket of his own bed. When he realized his good fortune he declared, “I don’t know what to do. I’m light as a feather!” He played the rest of the day by ear – generously tipping an errand boy and a poulterer, sending a generous feast to the Cratchit family, donating to charity and joining his nephew for dinner all the while plotting to give Bob Cratchit a raise the very next day. As he partook in the joy surrounding him he shook his head. “I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve to be this happy. But I can’t help it.”

Tonight someone’s life was changed forever. I may never find out the fate of the cyclist or what caused the motorist to mangle the white bike but I have a feeling someone will be carrying a burden because of it. It may be mental, physical or emotional. It will almost definitely be financial. I just hope the rescuers involved were quick enough to prevent a life being lost. If not I hope they don’t partake in the burden, shame and misery caused by what was most likely an innocent mistake.

This evening’s events reminded me of the fragility of life. Mortality is a fickle creature, accompanying each of us in a different manner for various amounts of time. Scrooge had everything to fear and everything to lose but he relearned how to love by observing a peaceful family and the loving relationship between a father and his smallest boy. He took charge of his life and rerouted his heart in search of good things to do. Like the character Jean Valjean in Les Misérables he dedicated the remainder of his life to fairness, charity and a higher power. In the end of the musical Les Misérables an angel appears and beckons, “Come with me, where chains will never bind you/All your grief at last, at last behind you/Lord in Heaven, look down on him in mercy.” Prepared to move on Valjean adds, “Forgive me all my trespasses and take me to your glory.” Another angel joins the first, “Take my hand, I’ll lead you to salvation/Take my love, for love is everlasting.” As Valjean departs they sing together, “And remember, the truth that once was spoken/To love another person is to see the face of God.”

What carries you? Perhaps it’s a homemade crutch hidden in the corner. Maybe it’s a crumpled bicycle. Or could it be the strong shoulder of your father? Sometimes the sheer need to carry on can be enough. I hope for you, especially during this season, it is love. I hope you find the strength to be everything you are you meant to be and that your burdens are lightened at every turn. More than anything I hope, when the time is right, love will carry you home.


Update: The bicyclist who was hit on Wednesday 12/14 was Bridgett Noland. Please keep her in your prayers. For more information visit this blog:



Night of night and day of days
Hours pass and darkness stays
Moon shines strong and all along
Stars keep singing the same song

One small candle dispels the gloom
Doesn't disguise impending doom
Where once was freedom now is night
What once was life now seems trite

Winds whip sharp and waves roll deep
A fury with no secrets to keep
All is revealed and all is expired
All will tremble at what has transpired

Earth burns anew as the skies unfold
The dead bring forth all stories untold
Secrets of now and secrets of then
Tear me in pieces again and again

On this eve so brisk and so bleak
So full of voices I dare not speak
I write and hide in my lowly lair
All the while knowing you're out there

Your voice of reason, hope, belief
Sends me in spirals of deepest grief
You wander the land of long-lost dreams
As my world rips apart at the seams

Keep your pity, spare me your glance
At least I can say I took a chance
In this world dark and so dire
I was the one caught in the mire

Let the wind sweep me up
Let the waves wash me away
If this is what it takes
To see the light of day


Thanksgiving in Rio (2009)

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil

Yesterday I woke up and it was Thanksgiving! Jane and I had a jam-packed schedule. We ate breakfast and then took our first metro trip to Rua Urugaiana. We were very careful when we were walking through the market and shops. Jane took a couple pictures and that was all we dared. We bought some cute magnets and I bought a R10 shirt that said “Ipanema” and had a cool design on the front.

After that we headed to the Cinelandia Station. I wanted to show Jane the Teatro Municipal but it seemed to be under heavy renovation and wasn’t too exciting. Luckily we found a stand selling the tamale-like thing that I remember from my mission. We got it and Jane liked it a lot.

We took a few pictures and jumped back on the metro and rode to Catete. It was a bit surreal coming out of the station and seeing the all-too-familiar Rua do Catete. We went right into the Palacio do Catete and were told that there were three musicians from West Virginia upstairs doing a free classical concert. We watched a little bit but it was so HOT in the room and we had to get out of there. I don’t even know how the musicians could stand it. Okay they were probably miserable but how did they manage to play??? (Bassoon, Flute & Piano.)

We walked around the Palace (where the President of Brazil used to live) and took a bunch of pictures. I wanted to go to the art museum next but was discouraged when I didn’t see any signs for the display. Instead we went into a gallery display and then down the hallway to the art store. Jane saw some stuff she really liked (a painting and a purse) and ended up buying a table runner for her mom. On the way back down the hallway I realized there was a pay phone right there in the quietest place imaginable. I called Mariangela in Itaborai and she answered. She told me she had been worried about me because I hadn’t called sooner. Of course I felt bad but I had technically called the day before but with no luck. Anyway I told her it would be very difficult for us to get to Itaborai but she said she could meet us at Praca XV (the ferry station) on Saturday morning. We decided to meet sometime between 10 and 10:30 (Jane and I will have to wait at a ticket station. I really hope this will work out!)

After I talked to Mariangela we walked out and on a whim I turned back and asked if there was an art museum upstairs. We were told that the entrance to the museum was the next door over. We walked through the door and I immediately recognized the display. It was exciting! We walked through and I told Jane what I could about Baianas and Gauchos which wasn’t much. We had a fun time in there (except for the part where I got major chills in the Macumba section). We talked to one of the workers and he said he preferred to sit and wait for visitors in the Carnaval section instead of the Macumba section. I can totally understand why! (I should also mention the adorable middle-aged worker who turned on the mechanical miniature displays “just for us.” He was so cute!)

After we went through the museum we walked outside and found a street vendor selling these cool sculpture pieces made out of aluminum and wire. (I had seen a similar set of pieces as a missionary on the same street but I knew they’d be impossible to take home with me.) I talked to the guy for quite a while. He was from the Nordeste and he had a dream to ride his bike to the United States. He got as far as Panama! That is just amazing. He is now a big time surfer and we talked about the mad waves at Itacoatiara. He told me he plans to go back home sometime soon because people from his region are not “very well accepted” here. Sad. I ended up buying his surfer piece and it was only R15. I couldn’t resist at that price! I’m pretty sure I’m going to give it to Naomi and Pehr. I just hope their son doesn’t poke his eye out!

We walked on to Rua Dois de Dezembro and took a picture in the lobby of the old mission office. (The headquarters of the mission is now in Vitoria, ES.) We walked to Largo do Machado and I was a little sad we weren’t hungry enough to eat at Parme. (I’m glad I had gotten to eat some banana pizza the night before!) I was also sad that I’d had no luck getting a hold of the lady Eliana and Victoria are living with or Dora who had Ana’s new home address. I wasn’t sure at that point how any of the visits were going to work out.

After we took some time walking around Largo do Machado we went into the metro entrance. Then it hit me that I wasn’t ready to leave. That place really felt like home to me and it was hard enough leaving it the first time. I pulled myself together (tears were falling and Jane said we could go sit on a bench for a while but I decided we should go). She remarked, “It’s hard, not knowing when you’ll come back.” So true. We went down the escalator and I got some concerned looks from people coming up the other escalator but it was all good.

We went down to board in the Zona Sul direction but sat for a bit to make a plan. We decided to go to Botafogo and find Botafogo Praia Shopping to search for a new blue Brasil jersey for my sister (which she had asked for over email). We found the mall without a problem but had no luck finding the jersey. The only women’s jerseys were yellow. We went up to all three above-ground floors and then decided to see what was in the basement. Turned out it was Lojas Americanas. I bought a box of Garoto chocolates for Jane and me to share. We went all the way back to the food court and planned our next move.

Jane had a brilliant idea. It was only about 4:30 and instead of sitting around in the mall and then taking a taxi to the sweet restaurant where we were going for Thanksgiving dinner, we could go home and shower and put on nice clothes and then go to the restaurant. It worked out great.

We changed into our Sunday outfits and just took Morgan’s camera in her pocket so I wouldn’t have to carry around my camera case or a plastic bag. We caught a taxi and did what I had been hoping to do for 3.33 years: return to Marius Desgustare. (I had gone with my sister, brother-in-law and father for dinner on our last night in Rio in 2006 but we didn’t take a camera!) I can’t exactly explain what a tragedy that was except to say we have been kicking ourselves for the last three years.

When we first got to the restaurant Jane had no idea what she was in for. It’s the most crazy yet wonderfully decorated restaurant EVER. Sooooo unique. We took tons of pictures and all of the guys working there were incredibly nice. The price had definitely gone up a bit (R92/churrasco de carne w/buffet and dessert buffet included) but it was AMAZING. A dinner like that could easily run for $100 in the US. The food was all so beautiful and Jane and I were two of the first people there for dinner. Gorgeous! We took tons of pics before we actually got food. I think we stayed in the restaurant for at least an hour and a half and Jane discovered her love for Brigadeiro which is good because it’s somewhat easy to make at home. We caught a taxi back to our street after taking more pictures outside.

We got out and went back to the street fair and as soon as we walked up to Thiago’s booth he pulled out the two paintings he had shown us on his cell phone. They were MUCH bigger than I had expected (though I must say - incredibly awesome) and I wasn’t sure if I could afford one since dinner had been so much more expensive than I had thought. LUCKILY Thiago said they were only R60 and if I wanted one of the other larger ones he could do one for R70, but no lower. I ended up picking the one of the Santa Tereza cable car because that was a place I had actually been to and was very fond of.

I couldn’t manage to leave the fair without buying another small painting (one of Pao de Acucar). We passed by the hostel to get Ivanilde’s umbrella which we had forgotten to give back to her the night before. We decided to walk to her house (it was already 9ish) and I figured it wouldn’t take too long. However, we got to talking about the visits I’d been unable to coordinate and she picked up the phone and called Dora. I talked to Dora too and she said, “Que saudades!” and I was sad I hadn’t kept in contact with anyone and I just figured they’d forget about me soon enough.

Dora didn’t end up having Ana’s address but she said she’d call Ilta. In the meantime we called Maria Elena (who had already hung up on me twice that day) and woke her up. Oops! She must have been ticked because when Ivanilde passed the phone to me and I asked about Eliana she just kept saying, “I don’t know.” I passed the phone back to Ivanilde and shrugged my shoulders. Dora called back and said she couldn’t get a hold of Ana. Ivanilde was gracious enough to call Ana’s cell (very expensive) and it worked! I got to talk to Ana after an unacceptable amount of time. I have no excuse for this. She didn’t seem to be mad at me which was a blessing. I told her that Dora suggested we all meet at Ilta’s house on Saturday and Ana said most likely that would work for her. Luckily she has a cell phone now so I can get a hold of her as long as I have a phone card.

The only bad thing is that by this time it was already 10:40 and I was worried about getting home okay. Ivanilde walked us to the elevator and said, “Say a prayer so you get home safe.” I said I would say one in the elevator but when the door opened the answer to our prayer was standing inside. Her name was Jade. I told her where we were going and asked her if she wanted to walk with us. She said she would. She’s a hairstylist and she showed us her salon by the beach. It was such a good thing she was with us – there was hardly anyone out and that’s very unsafe in Rio. We made it back safely and the whole way there she told us tips for how to be a street-smart tourist. She even walked three blocks out her way in order to leave us on our front step. What an angel!


The Marathon Week

It all began with a routine Sunday. Well, one thing was outside of the routine. On Sunday, October 23 I went running. I knew it would be my only chance to fit in a 9-mile run outside during daylight hours. The run didn’t go very well and as I ambled through the last mile at a 13-minute pace I wondered how on earth I was going to complete a half marathon six days later. For the first time I experienced pace-killing pain in my feet – and this was only a nine mile run! After I got home and took a shower I tried to put my worries on the shelf and get back to my normal Sunday routine, hoping the pain in my body was just residual from playing soccer the day prior. Before I fell asleep on Sunday I tried to soak in every bit of tranquility this ‘calm before the storm’ had to offer.

On Monday I had a very specific list of tasks to complete at work and it all had to do with Halloween. Why might I be so worried about Halloween? The reason is because at work we throw a huge (and I mean huge) trick-or-treating event for our families and friends. Every department chooses its own theme (i.e., Star Wars, Superheroes, Pac Man, etc.) and receives a generous decorating budget. We use the money to completely transform our workspace – wall to wall, floor to ceiling. Each employee dresses up according to its department’s theme and is allowed to bring up to six guests to trick-or-treat through the building. Since 800+ employees work in my office (divided up between three buildings) that means we can easily anticipate having 5,000+ people come through for trick-or-treating. Not only do we have to decorate to the nines and dress to impress – we also have to bring in a few tons of candy so no one walks away empty-handed.

This was my fourth year heading up the marketing department’s Halloween decorations. (We did Wild West, Las Vegas, and Cereal in the past. That’s right, I said “Cereal.”) Normally we choose our theme 4-6 weeks in advance but this year I kept pushing off the inevitable. We finally had a team meeting three weeks before the event and squeezed out a few theme ideas (Angry Birds, Alice in Wonderland, Quarantine) but when I tried to submit the first two themes HR told me they were already taken. Although it was my team’s last choice I must admit Quarantine was my first choice because I thought of it. I believed we’d have a blast if we all dressed up as zombies and decorated our area as though it were a condemned site. I knew most of the responsibility would fall to me and I wanted to be able to work through a theme I was excited about. (I never play Angry Birds and I knew Alice in Wonderland would be extremely ambitious.) The only thing I wasn’t excited about was the date chosen for our over-the-top Halloween celebration: Friday, October 28th. That’s right folks – ‘Halloween’ landed smack dab on my birthday this year. Not only that – I was registered to run the Provo Halloween Half Marathon the following morning.

I have to stop right now and tell you that I love Halloween. Or I did. Or I do. It’s one of those two. When I was a kid I looked forward to Halloween all year. I drew sketches of costumes with my best friend Naomi and searched through pattern books at the fabric store with my mom. Oftentimes I had a birthday party on the night of Halloween or a costume party just a few days prior. Halloween is forever fused with good birthday memories – everything from receiving my dream Ariel doll from Naomi and Bonnie when I was a kid to getting an Airhead- and Sour Gummi Worm-slamming sugar high when I was in middle school. Halloween never failed to flood me with creative enthusiasm and leave me in a chocolate-chomping stupor. This pattern continued through my first two Halloweens at my current place of employment. However, somewhere between ‘Cereal’ and ‘Quarantine’ Halloween kind of lost its mojo. Really what I’m trying to say is it became too much work.

When I signed up for the Provo Halloween Half Marathon I thought to myself, “This will work out fine as long as I don’t do anything to celebrate my birthday.” I really did try to sell myself on this idea but Solange, one of my good Brazilian friends who is exactly two days younger than me, talked me into having a joint birthday party on the same day as the half marathon (Saturday, October 29th.) In short, at the beginning of last week not only did I have to worry about finishing my department’s Halloween planning – I also had to worry about the actual set-up (all day on Thursday, October 27th), the execution of the event (Friday, October 28th), waking up early and running my first-ever half marathon (Saturday, October 29th) AND keeping myself together long enough to celebrate Solange’s and my birthday on Saturday night. Oh and somewhere in there I had to bid the age of 27 adieu and deal with a new age. No big deal!

Okay, okay. Back to Monday the 24th. I had a monumental set of tasks ahead of me. Thankfully I was able to work in some fun. On Monday night I got to carve pumpkins with my ward (I carved an Angry Birds pumpkin in homage to ‘the theme that might have been’). I blinked and it was Tuesday. I tried my best to complete all of the normal tasks for my job but as the week went on it got more difficult. I sneezed and it was Wednesday. My co-lead for Halloween was planning to stay late and begin some decorating but I just didn’t have it in me to stay – plus I had to go to violin. Leah called me and said that her family had an extra ticket to see a play that evening so after my violin lesson I drove straight to the theater. At this point I was getting a little hyper thinking about all of the fun I’d have the next day decorating. I just had to make one more trip to Wal-Mart…

I opened my eyes and it was Thursday. I got to work and did ‘normal’ work until noon. At 12 the team gathered for lunch and a decoration plan briefing. The turnout was tiny but I still had hope we could complete the decorations by 7 pm. Boy was I wrong. My co-lead is in charge of Facilities and as a result everyone and their grandma was calling him for tools, ladders, help and spiritual advice. Okay I’m kidding about that last one but whenever he got a call he was gone for at least an hour. There must have been at least one spiritual emergency in that time. (He later told me he got upwards of 125 calls that day alone.) At one point in the day I went back to my desk to find it was completely barricaded by black plastic, strips of secured wood, and a neatly arranged line of corn stalks. If that weren’t enough there was only a 12” aisle between my now invisible cube wall and a 6’ tall pyramid of hay bales. (My work area fell into the hands of another team which was decorating the place as a haunted corn maze. To say the least it was a complete transformation. The only thing missing was a P-O’ed woman screaming at the top of her lungs, “Where’s my desk? I need to get into my desk!” Let’s just say I filled the niche.) After a colleague cut a 2’ vertical slit at the bottom of the plastic and I crawled inside I decided to stay put for a while.

Finally around 6 pm my coworker was freed from his endless calls and we were really able to get to work. There were only about six other people left by then and as our numbers continued to taper off the hours just rolled on by. I fit in that last trip to Wal-Mart somewhere between ‘second wind’ and ‘I’ve just gone insane’ and we called it a night at 11:30. I crawled back into my desk and finished as much work as I could before I started imagining ghosts sneaking up on me. I went home at midnight. Ah, midnight – my birthday arrived after all.

After all of the preparation it was time to have some real fun. On Friday morning I arrived at work in time to do my boss’s make-up and review the plan for the show we wanted to put on for the judges (a panel of our company’s executives). They were due to come anytime between 11 and 12 and I waited out front for them. I was wearing a white blood-stained biohazard suit, a white beanie and a gas mask. When they came up the stairs I warned them the area was quarantined and no one was to go inside. I pointed their attention to looping video of the emergency broadcast message my team had filmed on Monday. I gave them two options: ‘search for survivors’ or ‘save yourselves.’ Of course they opted out of taking the evacuation route and instead entered our area which was full of zombies waiting in the wings to scare the crap out of them. I think I got the biggest kick out of hearing the GM scream a couple of times. I even got to scope out a hiding spot and scare one of our tech execs. After they passed by a grisly laboratory scene they went into the zombie shooting gallery and fired ‘live’ (Nerf) ammo at five zombies wearing t-shirts with our competitors' company names on them. Before leaving our area they were encouraged to vote for the next zombie president. (The two candidates were Barack and Mitt.) It was great.

Once the judges were gone I got to run through the rest of the buildings and take pictures of the other themes. Then everyone gathered for lunch and the judges announced the winners. Alice in Wonderland and Angry Birds took two of the top four prizes. (Harry Potter and ‘Revenge of the Pumpkins’ took the other two.) Before I knew it guests were gathering in lines outside the building and I had to take my place to greet trick-or-treaters. I decided to go back to the entrance and stand there with a bowl of candy. My dear coworker took one look at little exhausted me and said, “You don’t want to do this anymore, do you?” I replied that I could keep going for another four hours (trick-or-treaters come from 2-6 pm) but instead she offered me a chair. I gratefully took it and sat down. As a joke I leaned over and put my face it the candy and it was so comfortable I just decided to stay there. I heard people approaching at the bottom of the stairs (they were talking excitedly about their Angry Birds experience) and I tried to gauge how quickly they were coming. The gas mask cut off my peripheral vision but my coworker whispered “Amber” at the perfect moment and I bolted upright. I scared everyone and told them to “take the vaccine” (a packet of Smarties) before entering. Over the next four hours I had a blast sitting in my chair, dying at various intervals and jolting awake as people approached or reached for candy. Talk about a sweet gig.

Six of my friends came through as trick-or-treaters and it was great to see them. We planned to go to dinner afterwards (something quick and easy so I could get to sleep early) but first I had to pick up my race packet at the mall. I drove straight there and as I walked into Nordstrom in full zombie attire I checked my pride at the door. As I walked through I heard tons of people say, “Look at the zombie!” After I got my packet a little boy asked me, “Are you a zombie?” and I happily said I was. Luckily I had time to go home and take a shower before going to dinner. When I arrived at the restaurant I asked my friends how they liked the event. One said she loved it and she couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew I’d have the same problem that night. I was supposed to be back at the mall to catch a bus to the start line at 5:30 the next morning. I had no idea how I was going to pull that off.

After a few hours of distraction it was time to go home and get my stuff together for the race. I kept staring at the neat pile of running clothes and accessories with the price tags still attached. I placed everything as carefully as possible but I knew no amount of extra organization was going to help me wake up the next day. I finally collapsed in bed and when my alarm went off I couldn’t get up for 30 minutes. Finally at 6 am I rolled out of bed and called my friend who was also running the race. She scared me half to death when she told me she was already on the bus (the race was starting until 9 am) and I had better get to the mall as quickly as possible. I did exactly that and arrived at 6:28. I was panicked that I would be turned away and I’d have to call one of my friends to give me a ride to the start line which was way way up on a mountain above Provo Canyon. When I pulled into the mall I saw a ton of cars in the parking lot but I didn’t breathe easy until I got out of the car and saw there were at least a thousand people standing in a line that spanned hundreds of feet. Great, another line. Good thing I (unknowingly) prepared for this part of the marathon in Disneyland two weeks prior.

I stood in line, in the dark, in the cold, in a daze for 1 hour and 10 minutes. No more and definitely no less. There was apparently some problem with the first round of buses and they missed a turn and took a 30-minute detour. I’ll never know if that story was completely true or just a rumor the bungling race organizers spread through the herd of rabid runners. All I knew was I was grateful to finally board a heated bus and make the ascent to the start line. I arrived at 8 am but it took me almost 20 minutes to find my friends. I only knew one other person in our group of six but the other four quickly became my sisters as we prepared ourselves for this daunting task in less-than-ideal circumstances. We huddled in the event tent and stretched and laughed nervously. When it was finally time to go outside and stand in line for the port-a-potties I had gained enough mental control to harness the creeping stress and start churning positive energy instead.

The six of us followed the mob to the start line and chose our positions within segments of racers demarcated by people holding pacing signs. I picked a spot behind the person holding the bright green “2:30” sign. The race began and it was a hoot watching all of the characters zoom by me. Racers were heavily encouraged to wear costumes which made for great people watching. Using my Garmin Forerunner watch I kept myself to a strict 11-12 minute pace. The first 2.5 miles or so were downhill and I heard people on the bus warning each other to take that segment very slow or else they’d be toast for the rest of the race. At the 3-mile mark I lost sight of the pacing sign. I tried to not let it get me down. I made a mental note to stop for a short break somewhere between the 6 and 8 mile mark.

It was a beautiful day – definitely chilly enough for calf-length pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a beanie – and the canyon was as gorgeous as ever. The 6- and 8-mile markers came and went and I realized I could complete the race without stopping. That made grabbing water at two stations rather difficult (drinking out of a cup while running is nearly impossible) but it worked. Every time my GPS watch buzzed at a mile mark I grinned in delight – especially the 10-mile mark. (I never in my life thought I could run this many miles. I remembered back to March when my mom suggested I run the 10K in my home town and I told her there was no way I could run 6 miles.) At the 11-mile (1 hr 10 min) mark I gauged my remaining energy and decided to push myself to finish the race in 20 minutes. The end of the race was great, grueling fun and the only frustration I experienced was searching for some indication of the finish line. I wanted to see a giant balloon arch or a stampede of elephants or people being shot out of cannons or something. Instead we had to make three right turns, squeeze onto a sidewalk and find the finish line in a wooded area.

As I neared the finish I searched for Bonnie who had driven 45 minutes to cheer me on. Just before the 13-mile mark I caught sight of her familiar hair, glasses and smile. I yelled out her name and when she spotted me she yelled, “Yeah! Go Amber!” Finish line or not, that was all I needed. I could go another mile if I had to, even though I really didn’t want to. I finished the race just shy of my goal – 2:31:28. I was so happy to be done. Bonnie found me and we took pictures as we waited for the rest of my crew to come in. Bonnie drove home for her granddaughter’s 1st birthday party which I was very sad to miss. (If I could have changed anything about last week I would have found a way to fit in that birthday party.) My crew reunited and we all took the bus back to the mall. The day was far from over but I’ll try to wrap up this blog as succinctly as possible. I did some grocery shopping for the party, I took a nap, I woke up feeling nauseous, I was late getting to my friend’s house to help set up, and the party started with a bang at 8 pm. I was feeling a little better but Solange had to snap me into shape before I really let myself have fun. This was her first-ever Halloween party and it didn’t take much coaxing for my mind to wander down memory lane – when Halloween was synonymous with birthday euphoria, when age was a cause for celebration, when the promise of candy sped my stride, and when a pinch of imagination could transform my world into a thousand endless fantasies. There my body wanders and there my mind rests.

Disneyland & California Adventure Photos

Jungle Cruise

Sally & Jack Skellington

Mark Twain Riverboat

"This is Halloween!"

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Mad Tea Party

Fantasmic! Night Show

Fantasmic! Night Show

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Disneyland Main Street

Ariel's Undersea Adventure

Disney California Adventure Park

Silly Symphony Swings

Army Man

Buzz Lightyear

Mickey's Fun Wheel

View of Tower of Terror from Mickey's Fun Wheel

California Screamin' (yellow blur on coaster rails) taking off