This Is Why You’re Not Getting a Christmas Card From Us This Year (or maybe ever again)

6 12 2012

No More Christmas Cards explains how we came to our decision to NOT send Christmas cards this year.

So, the winner of what would have been our Christmas money was Safe Haven Family Shelter, by almost a 3-1 vote.  I was introduced to Safe Haven almost two years ago, and since then, both Caleb and Jason have joined me on various occasions to help provide dinner for the residents.

Besides the money issue, the other reason you are not getting a Christmas card from us is because this is it!  SURPRISE dear readers!  We’re going all-digital this year.

Many of you keep up with us via Facebook anyway, so you already know our year in review.  For those who don’t, here you go:

The Huddleston 2012 Year in Review

Matthew continues to teach physics and launch high altitude balloons at Trevecca Nazarene University.  He loves his job, and even took on the challenge of hosting a national high altitude balloon conference at TNU in June.

He finished his first (and possibly, probably, hopefully last) full marathon in April.  His goal was an ambitious 4:00, but he made it around 4:25.  This is incredibly impressive considering he only “trained” once each week . . . most of the time.

He has also completed several mud runs, the latest rage in running races around the country.  Now that he’s in a new age bracket, he will probably start placing and winning some nice prizes.

On a heavier note, Matthew’s dad, Mark, was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.  He had surgery just a few days after.  The doctors thought they got all of the cancer, but subsequent tests showed a spot on a lymph node.  He is currently undergoing chemo therapy once every two weeks for six months.  His doctors remain very optimistic, but we’d still appreciate your prayers for complete healing and for strength and endurance for Mark and Martha during this time.

Kelly (me) continues to teach technology and journalism/graphic design at Franklin Road Academy.  I also love my job.  I did NOT do a ½ (or full) marathon this year, and I feel great!  Triathlons are my new thing (My First Triathlon).  Having successfully finished three of them, I can no longer qualify for placings in the Beginner category.  However, being really a really weak swimmer, mediocre bicyclist, and slow runner, I wouldn’t qualify for placings in any category anyway.  Maybe when I’m 80 and still doing triathlons will I win something.

Gourmet cupcakes are my newest indulgence so if you are ever looking for a gift . . .  (I also love chocolate and a good extra sharp cheddar cheese.)  However, I really need to be eating more fruit and vegetables, so a membership in some sort of fruit-of-the-month club would be a better gift.

Matthew and Kelly’s (our) international trip this year took us to Nicaragua in July.  We met another one of the kids we sponsor through Compassion International.  Always an eye-opening, life-changing event, you can read about it here:  Open My Eyes.  You can also read about the amazing amount of fun hell we had as we hiked a volcano on Ometepe Island.

Next year’s trip is another once-in-a-lifetime trip:  india!  For three weeks we will traverse a good chunk of the country in June.  The first 10 days or so will be spent in Chennai and traveling up the Indian Ocean coast of south eastern India, mainly to visit two more kids they sponsor through Compassion International (link) as well as spend some time with a friend who pastors a church in a small village there.  During the second half of the trip, we will get to play tourist:  visit the Taj Mahal, ride elephants and camels in the dessert, visit Agra, Jaipur, New Delhi, and take a boat tour along the Ganges River in Varanasi, the heart of the Hindu culture.  Expect great blog posts to come from this adventure.

Other big news for 2012 included placing membership in a new church, Priest Lake Christian Fellowship.  Our former home church group, the Gathering, fizzled out as families found new churches around the Nashville area, so we started looking, too.  Being less than a mile from our home was a great benefit, but the people were the main draw.  We have never been to a more humble church where the Holy Spirit is so alive and thriving among its members.  It’s inspiring and challenging and moving each week.

Caleb is in fourth grade at Franklin Road Academy and continues to love school and excel in his academics.  To brag on this child for a moment, he has yet to receive a B in any term grade since he started PK.  He’s got his Daddy’s brains and aptitude for math and building things.  Caleb continues to love all things Star Wars, but his Pokemon obsession (thank goodness!) has come to an end.  If you know of anyone interested in buying a 700+ card Pokemon collection, please let us know.

Caleb’s newest obsession is legos.  The kid lives and breathes legos, which we are fine with.  He actually builds some really cool things, like a working flashlight—complete with an on/off lever and working bulb.

Caleb is also learning to play the recorder and trumpet, and we (as in Kelly) are trying desperately (and futilely) to get him to sing “This Song is Just Six Words Long” by Weird Al Yankovic in the Fourth Grade Variety Show in January.  Weird Al is another recent obsession of Caleb’s, and being the cool parents we are, for his birthday we bought him tickets to see Weird Al in concert in April when he comes to Nashville.

Caleb is a Webelo scout this year, and is a popcorn selling machine!  He sold over $1500 to win first place again in his cub scout pack.  He won an archery set, 8% of his total sales in cash, a $50 Walmart gift card, an LED head lamp, a patch, Predators’ tickets, and a trophy.  (Don’t get me started on winning trophies for something like selling popcorn.  Let’s just say, I’m not a fan of the practice.)

Caleb’s most exciting adventure this year, though, was his ER trip that led to a hospital stay for a couple of days at the end of August for pneumonia.  Despite this bump in the road, we are still tremendously blessed.  His asthma and allergies have plagued him something fierce this fall, much worse than normal.  We have an appointment with an asthma/allergy specialist next week so we are praying for something to help manage this better.

Jason started preK at FRA this year, and is loving it.  Being the second child, we did not work with him on things like the alphabet, drawing, writing, or reading much (hardly at all) before he started school.  Thankfully, the kid has a mind like a sponge and is taking off in the writing and reading department.  He also loves to draw.

Jason, too, is obsessed with Star Wars and legos.  At three he could recite entire scenes from Star Wars.  I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by this.  Did I mention he was three at the time?  The kid can build lego creations with the best of them . . . well, maybe not a working flashlight yet, but he can build really cool spaceships, race cars, jails, mouse traps, and monsters.

Jason and Caleb took their first official swimming lessons this summer.  Lesson 1 involved Jason crying and screaming for the full 45 minute session.  He had snot running out of both nostrils to his belly button when I picked him up.  He only cried for about 15 minutes of lesson 2, and by lesson 3 he was actually excited to go.  Now, of course, the kid is terrified to put his head in the water, which reminds Kelly of herself as a child forced to take swimming lessons.

Packer, our dog, continues to love to eat anything that falls on the floor including baby spit-up (true story) as well as grass to later make herself throw-up said baby spit-up.  She loves to sleep during the day and wake us up around 4:00 a.m. to pee and play.

Finley Bubbles the VIII, our beta fish, didn’t last the year.  At this time, we are uncertain if we will buy Finley Bubbles the IX.

Hopes and prayers for 2013:

  • Good health for everyone
  • A safe and amazing trip to India
  • Jobs we love
  • Caleb and Jason would continue to grow and mature in their faith, following Christ
  • Matthew and Kelly possibly beginning a new Marriage Builders home church group
  • Kelly hopes to begin working on her MBA at Trevecca in the fall

As we reflect back and look forward, may we always remember WHY we celebrate.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:14

Love and prayers to all,
the Huddleston Family

PS.  If any of you find yourselves in Nashville and need a place to stay, we’ve got plenty of room and love house guests.


Hiking Volcan Concepcion

24 07 2012

This is the second of three posts about my recent travels to Nicaragua.  The first was about visiting a child we sponsor through Compassion International:  Open My Eyes.

Volcan Concepcion (1 mile high)

Volcan Concepcion (1 mile high)

I have run three half-marathons, two Ragnar Relays, done four triathlons, hiked the Grand Canyon in one day and the Inca Trail, and have given birth twice without drugs.  “Hiking” Volcan Concepcion on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua was by far the most grueling and physically challenging activity I’ve even done.  It was actually referred to as a “tour” in the printed literature from our travel agent.  Tour is much too gentle a word to describe what we did.  So is hike.  I enjoy hiking, but I did not enjoy this.The hike/tour, or as I like to call it, the ascent to Hell, began at 6:00 a.m. and consisted of a 3.5 mile trail with a 1 mile vertical ascent.  We had two tour guides, and two other American med school students, Angelica and Chase, joined us.  The normal completion time is 10 hours—five up and five down.

It began easy enough traveling on a dirt road through a plantain plantation, but that lasted all of .10 miles before it started getting hard.  After about ½ hour on the trail, our little group paused for a break.  We were all sweating and breathing hard, and us Americans were commenting on how difficult it was already.  Our main guide, Naphtali, chuckled quietly before telling us that the difficult part had not begun yet.

The deceptively easy part of the trail.  It lasted all of 10 minutes.

The deceptively easy part of the trail. It lasted all of 10 minutes.

Another ½ hour later, Angelica was cussing to herself and her boyfriend, and I silently agreed with everything she said.  At this point I overhead her tell her boyfriend that this was way more difficult than the Tough Mudder. 

Sidenote:  The Tough Mudder is a race I was recently introduced to and one that I want to attempt in May 2013 in Nashville.  It consists of a 12-14 mile trail run with 20-25 obstacles interspersed.  Obstacles include cargo net climbs, balance beam challenges, rock wall climbing, jumping off small cliffs, and crawling across a mud pit with live electric wires hanging down and shocking you as go.  And people spray water on the wires to give you even more bang for your buck.  I’m not sure that is legal, but the Tough Mudder series has been around for a while.  Anyway, I thought the Tough Mudder would be the apogee of my physical training.  But according to Angelica who had recently completed a Tough Mudder, the Tough Mudder was easier than what we were currently doing.  Nice.  It actually made me feel better about the Tough Mudder, but not about the climb we were currently doing.

Sorry for the butt shot, but this shows the steepness of the trail.

Sorry for the butt shot, but this shows the steepness of the trail.

All the way up, I was worrying about the way down.  Hiking implies you stay upright and use your feet to get you from point A to point B.  In most regular hiking, going down is easier than going up.  Neither was the case.  This was the most technical hike/climb/ascent to Hell I’ve ever done.  A good percentage of the time we were using our hands to climb up rocks—the kind of climbing where you have to pause and feel around to where your finger and foot holds will be to get you up that next six inches.At one point we climbed through a lava canal.  This was the route lava flowed down the volcano during the last eruption in March 2010.  So how was climbing over volcanic rock, you ask?  I can’t repeat what was going through my head, but to put it mildly, it was not fun.  At all.  I wanted to die.  Or at least turn around.  But I am not a quitter so onward we trudged. 

This area of the trail, the lava canal, was over loose lava rocks.  The slope was over a 45 degree angle.

This area of the trail, the lava canal, was over loose lava rocks. The slope was over a 45 degree angle.

And we weren’t even to the half-way point yet.  So, so depressing was that thought.

We climbed through a cloud forest for a good deal of the hike.  If you’ve never been in the middle of a cloud, it’s very damp.  And dark.  And windy.  And chilly.  That combination as I traversed wet, slippery rocks at a 45+ degree angle brought out a lot of prayers.

A typical prayer went like this:  I cussed first, but that was followed immediately with, “Dear Lord.  I’m sorry.  I don’t want to use those words.  I also don’t want to die.  Please help me not die.”  I was completely serious.  I also prayed over and over for our safety and health.  I prayed there would be no injuries.  I prayed I wouldn’t start or be in an avalanche.  I prayed for my strength and energy to hold out till I could collapse—on my bed and not on a large boulder of lava that would impale me.  I think my favorite prayer was asking God to give me feet steady and sure like those of a deer on the side of a mountain.  However, no deer would be stupid enough to try to climb this thing.

This shows the angle of our climb at the top.  Notice how all the rock is loose and unstable.

This shows the angle of our climb at the top. Notice how all the rock is loose and unstable.

Nearing the summit, the wind and moisture became ridiculous.  The big boulders that offered some stability were long gone and were replaced with loose lava rocks ranging in size from gravel to watermelon.  Did I mention it was all loose?  And wet due to the fact that we were in the middle of a cloud.  Volcan Concepcion is an active volcano so add in sulphur smoke fumaroles to the mix for a delicious atmosphere and breathing experience.  Notice I did not say “breathtaking” experience.We finally made it to the top, and the view was . . . stunning?  Gorgeous?  Amazing?  Nope, nope, and nope.  There was no view except cloud and rock.  We couldn’t see more than 20’ in any direction.  I guess being on the literal edge of an active volcano was cool, but it would have been nice to have an amazing view to go along with all of our hard work.  Or at least half of our hard work.  We still had to get down.

Did you notice the spectacular view from the summit?  Neither did we.

Did you notice the spectacular view from the summit? Neither did we.

Everything was completely soaked, and the wind was incredible.  I remember thinking about movies of people who climb Mt. Everest.  At Base Camp, they always show people in the tents and the wind is roaring outside.  That’s how it felt.  We were all scared to stand and even our guide—who is the king of the mountain and my new hero—didn’t recommend it.  This, of course, meant that my dear husband was off and walking around peering over the edge.  I had to close my eyes to him and pray.

Our guide told us that Catholic priests from the 1800’s who came to colonize the island believed that a volcano was the gateway to hell.  Before the island became predominantly Catholic, the natives would offer sacrifices to the volcano.  Both Chase and I offered ourselves as sacrifices at the top.  Sadly for us, this volcano only accepted thin, young, virgin girls as sacrifices.

My gimpy hand.  Thank God for duct tape!

My gimpy hand. Thank God for duct tape!

We only stayed at the crater for a few minutes.  We were all eager to get back to flat terrain.  About four feet from the top—remember it was all loose lava rocks—I slipped and started a mini-avalanche.  Reaching out for anything to slow my descent, I grabbed a larger rock.  Said rock, too, was loose so I let go.  My hand slipped below me, and said rock came crashing down on the palm of my left hand leaving a deep gash.  The blood started flowing, but there was nothing that could be done until we got to more stable ground.  Yay me!  I would have to make my descent with one good hand.  Going up with two working hands was hard enough.  Going down with one was going to (insert unrepeatable words here) stink.  Once we made it down to an area we could stand on safely, we put a tissue on my gash, and our guide wrapped it with duct tape. Now I have to share about the awesomeness that is Naphtali, our guide.  He is 38, likes to run, and does this volcano trek 1-3 times each week.  His fastest time was two hours up, two-and-a-half down.  He is a trained EMT and has carried people down this volcano.  Let me repeat:  He carried another person.  On his back.  Down this trail.  I couldn’t carry myself up and down it very well, but Napthali can do it with another human on his back.  He was going to compete in a salsa dance completion that same night before heading out for another trek the next day.

Naphtali - pure awesomeness in another human I have not seen.

Naphtali – pure awesomeness in another human I have not seen.

At a rest stop, we asked, foolishly, what the most common dangers were of this trek.  I was thinking it was twisted ankles or even a broken leg.  Only two weeks prior, Naphtali shared, he fell asleep at the same place we were currently resting.  He woke up to a coral snake (poisonous) attached to his arm.  What do you do when you are two hours from the nearest medical help?  Naphtali had to go old-school with his treatment:  he made a tourniquet, sliced his arm around the bite, and sucked out the blood.  His only other option was to die, which he also shared happened to a German tourist not too long ago.  “Ten minutes, and he was dead,” said Naphtali.  I should add that there is no way a horse or donkey could do this trail to transport people.  Severe injuries require a helicopter drop; there is nowhere safe a helicopter can land anywhere on the volcano.

Due to my gimp hand and having no energy, I butt-scooted most of the way down.  It was slow, but steady.   I asked Naphtali to duct tape my other hand to offer a little more protection against the jagged rocks.  At least twice on the descent I averted mental breakdown despite my rapidly increasing physical breakdown.  Those two times when I felt the tears coming on and my throat tightening, I was able to pray and do some mental cheerleading to get out of the funk. 

Smiling for the camera, a little over half-way down.

Smiling for the camera, a little over half-way down.  I’m only smiling on the outside.

Half-way down the clouds started to clear and finally gave us an amazing view.  However, the thought that we were only half-way down was really, really overwhelming.

Half-way down the clouds started to clear and finally gave us an amazing view. However, the thought that we were only half-way down was really, really overwhelming.  The other volcano was smaller than the one we were on.

The third time was the charm, so the saying goes.  I sat down on one big boulder about 3 feet high, strategically placed my hands to lower myself down, and then I made my mistake.  I looked up.  I looked ahead, and what I saw did me in.  I couldn’t handle what I saw—more of the same big rocks, loose rocks, sharp and jagged rocks—and I lost what little emotional stability I had left.  The tears flowed, and I just sat there.  I couldn’t even tell you what was going through my mind at that point.  I just cried.

I only smiled on the outside.  This is how I really felt.  (But isn't the view incredible?)

I only smiled on the outside. This is how I really felt. (But isn’t the view incredible?)  This was actually before my final breakdown.

I’m not sure how long I sat there as I was the last in line.  At some point, Matthew must have noticed my absence, and I heard him walking back to me.  This is where I get to tell you what an incredible husband I have.  Very gently he said, “You can do this.  Let me help you.  You can lean on me as much as you need to.”  I thought Jesus himself had spoken those words.  They were the energy I needed to continue.

I wasn’t in pain, as you might have thought.  (That came the next day.)  I simply had no energy left.  Each step I took made my legs wobble and my knees buckle.  I didn’t trust that I could take another step without collapsing.  If you’ve ever seen a baby taking his first rickety steps on legs with barely enough muscle to hold up his weight, that’s how I felt.  And I still had 2-3 hours to go before reaching the end.

Back to my incredible soul mate.  Matthew was perfect.  With each step down, he would hold out his arm and let me lean on him with as much force as I needed.  He would tell me in advance where each rock was, where there was tree trunk or branch I could use for extra support.  He even put up with my quiet cusses and negative comments without any kind of reprimand.  I’m not proud of what came out of my mouth at times, but Matthew handled me with grace and tenderness.

Almost 12 hours from when we began, we finally made it to the end.  Our host at the plantain farm we were staying at met us with his truck.  I got the coveted middle seat in the front while everyone else who was not a physical gimp sat in the open bed of the truck.  It was pleasant inside the truck, but once we got out at the plantation, I immediately began shivering violently, and then it hit me why I had been so miserable for most of this trek.  I didn’t not have enough calories (energy) for my body to work properly.  The night before I had chicken and vegetable soup, but barely ate half of it as I just wasn’t hungry.  Breakfast that morning was maybe 300 calories, and while on the trail for 12 hours of difficult climbing, we had been given only some granola and a sandwich for lunch.  We also had two small candybars we consumed, but all in all, I had not nearly enough calories to see me through the day.  Afterwards, I didn’t have enough energy in my body to keep myself warm.  Despite my feelings of being really hungry, I couldn’t keep food down for the next 48 hours.

On the ferry back to the mainland the day after the "hike."  How much fun can one person have?

On the ferry back to the mainland the day after the “hike.” How much fun can one person have?

When all was said and done and I’ve had some time to think back on this experience, this was one of those things I wish I had never done.  I can’t think of any other physical challenge where that is the case, but this volcano beat me to a pulp.  There are only two things for which I am thankful:   1) living through it, and 2) experiencing the sweetness that is my husband.

Overflowing with Thankfulness

22 11 2010

“So then . . .
continue to live your lives . . .
overflowing with thankfulness.”
Colossians 2:6-7

As Thanksgiving approaches in a few days, the question “What are you thankful for?” has been entering many conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks.  Here is a sampling of what I am thankful for.

  1. The cross.  The blood of Christ.  He who died for my sins.
  2. God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness that he offers me on a daily basis.
  3. Peace and joy that God offers me on a daily basis, if only I am willing to accept it.
  4. The working of the Holy Spirit in my life.  Hearing that still, quite voice convict me when I need to be convicted and encourage me when I need to be encouraged.  Taking my heart’s cries to the Lord when I’m not sure what I even need, but knowing God does.
  5. God’s word.  Life-giving, life-sustaining, life-changing word.
  6. My husband.  Renaissance Man.  Wonderer and wanderer.  Creator and blower-upper.  Pyromaniac.  Stargazer.  Talker and listener.  Coffee brewer extraordinaire.  Pig manipulator.  Man of God.  My foundation.
  7. Caleb.  My sensitive, creative, artistic, inquisitive, perceptive, insightful, inventive, imaginative, resourceful one.  Expert Lego builder.  Walking Star Wars and Pokémon encyclopedias.  Comic book author and illustrator.  Top popcorn salesman.  Giver of amazing hugs.
  8. Jason. My stubborn, headstrong, fierce, funny one.  Thomas the Train lover.  Busy, busy, busy little boy who needs far too little sleep, especially on the weekends.  Creator and perfector of silliness, chaos and messes.
  9. Passing on a legacy of following Christ and serving Him to my children.
  10. My parents and their unconditional love and support and the way they love and adore my children. 
  11. My job.  My amazing coworkers.  My students and their parents.  I am having the best semester I’ve ever had and am completely refreshed by my choice of career.  I am confident I am where I am supposed to be.
  12. FRA education for my sons.  An amazing education at an amazing school with amazing teachers.  You are my second family.
  13. My home and the place of rest and refuge it is for me.
  14. My neighbors.  I can’t begin to tell them thank you enough for the way they take care of us and love on my boys.
  15. My friends, teamship, and community that matters.  They have opened my closet, pulled out and dusted off the skeletons, and walked with me in love and grace through the mess of dealing with them.  What a blessing it is to be free to be real, ugly, messed up and still adored.
  16. Financial discipline.  We have been tremendously blessed living with the philosophy of “if we can’t afford to pay for it in full right now, we can’t afford it.”
  17. Giving of our time and resources.  We are usually blessed more than those to whom we are giving and serving.
  18. Good health.  Even amidst the colds and sniffles, we enjoy tremendously good health.
  19. Running and being able to physically challenge my body in ways a few years ago I would have thought impossible.
  20. Music.  How quiet and sad my world would be without the music of my husband, my sons’ silly songs or the CD in my car (or even ridiculous commercial jingles that stay in my head for hours on end.)
  21. Learning and reading; they have transformed my life.
  22. Traveling the world.  Nothing compares with being able to experience a life drastically different from my own.
  23. Hope.  Without it, where would I be?

What are you thankful for?

Ragnar Relay 2010 – Running in Honor of a Norse King

9 11 2010
Ragnar logo195.5 miles + 10 runners + rain, snow, sleet + total sleep deprivation + temperatures between 20-40 degrees + 31:15:01 hours of non-stop running from Chattanooga to Nashville = Ragnar Relay = one of the most amazing, brutal and rewarding physical feats I’ve ever accomplished.

I first heard about the Ragnar in late April, right after I finished my second ½ marathon.  Ragnar is a 9th Century Norse King:  a pirate, an explorer, a raider, a conqueror, a wild man.  The Ragnar Relay embodies all these qualities and is definitely not for the faint of heart, mentally or physically.  Teams consist of 12 runners (or six runners if they do the ultra) who each run 3 legs ranging from 2.7 to 8.9 miles, non-stop from Chattanooga to Nashville, 195.5 miles total.  (Or in our case, 198 miles due to a missed turn on leg 34.)

Ragnar TN 2010 course

Ragnar TN 2010 course

Several friends and I talked about getting a team together, and by the end of July, we were registered as Team 109:  Smells Like Team Spirit.  By September, our roster was finalized with 10 runners instead of the usual 12.  Two of our runners would be “ultras,” meaning they would run 2 legs back-to-back, three times.  Once we got our order worked out, I was responsible for legs 11, 23, and 35 of the race.

The first five runners (Carrie, Josh, Michelle, Andrew, and Chassi) were in van 1 and had to be at the start line in Chattanooga by 9:30 a.m. which meant a very early start to their day.  I was in van 2 so we didn’t leave Nashville until noon to meet up with Van 1 at exchange 6.  (Each point where runners pass the “baton” is called an exchange.)

Van 1

Van 1 and their "inspirational" message. (Carrie, Chassi, Michelle, Josh, Andrew)

Van 2

Van 2 at exchange 6 (Echo, Lee, Kelly, Meg, Matthew was MIA)

Van 2

Van 2's inspirational message

Van 2

Van 2 - The TN RagMag did a feature story on me overcoming my asthma through running (page 1).

Our excitement was palpable on the drive down, although I was a little sad Matthew, who was the runner right before me, was not with us.  He had a work engagement to attend to, but he met up with us right before his first leg.  The runners in van 2 were Lee, Echo, Meg, Matthew and myself.  Sky, Meg’s husband, drove for us.  We all knew each other pretty well, except for Lee who was a new-comer to our group, but what an amazing blessing he turned out to be!

There are hours worth of stories to tell from our discussions in the van about rotting bananas, body odor, Snickers, Motrin versus Tylenol, and the various digestive issues several runners were experiencing.  However, I’m going to focus the rest of this post on my own experience.

Kelly at leg 11

Waiting at leg 11 for my first leg to start. From 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. all runners were required to wear full protective gear: reflective vest, headlamp, and LCD light on the back.

My first leg was leg 11:  5.3 miles through the University of the South in Sewanee.  I began around 8:00 p.m., and the temperature was already in the 40s, the coldest weather I’ve ever run in.  I was nervous going into the race because cold weather has always been a trigger for an asthma attack, and I do not train in cold weather.  I was amazed that my breathing was fine; I had no issues with my asthma.  This was the first of several victories I had during the race.  Six years ago, I could not run for one minute at a very slow pace without wanting to collapse and needing a puff of my inhaler.  Three days ago, I was running a sub-10-minute mile in 40 degree weather.  Though this was the longest of my three legs, it was the easiest, flattest, and fastest.

Leg 11

Leg 11

Leg 23

Leg 23

My second leg was leg 23:  4.6 miles northwest of Shelbyville (middle of nowhere TN).  I started this one at 4:00 a.m., and the temperature had dropped another 20 degrees.  This was the loneliest of my runs.  In the 4.6 miles, I encountered one other runner.  I am so, so thankful for my teammates in van 2 and their incredible encouragement during this leg.  They would drive ahead a mile, wait for me on the side of the road, and cheer me on ridiculously until I passed.  Repeat four more times.  We did this for all our runners, but that little extreme burst of encouragement meant the world to me.

Physically I was tired, having been awake for almost 24 hours at this point.  Most of my thoughts during this leg were simply:  “You can do this.”  “This is what you’ve been training for.”  “You’re closer to the finish than you were a few minutes ago.”  “A few more steps.”   Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  I also had this horrible, horrible HP commercial jingle repeating in my head for many minutes at a time:  “I’ve got a pair of brand new roller skates, you’ve got a ??? in me. . .”  Only, for some reason I replaced roller skates with underpants thinking it was an ad for some new toddler pull-up training underwear.  I tried to compute Fibonacci series in my head, but that jingle would always sneak back.  I want to scream every time I hear that commercial now.

During this leg, more so than any other, I was struck by the realization that people were praying for me.  I don’t expect anyone was actually awake between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. praying for my running, but I felt those prayers in a very tangible way.

Once we all finished our second legs, we had about five hours of down time till our third legs began.  Lee’s house was only two miles from our last major exchange, so he invited us all to crash at his house.  He called his wife, and a van of six smelly strangers showed up at their door around 5:30 a.m.  Most immediately found space on the floor or couch and promptly fell asleep.  I opted for a hot shower first and crawled into their guest bed.  What a blessing those two hours of sleep were, in a real bed, with access to a real bathroom.  Port-a-potties get really old in below-freezing weather.

After that rest, some lunch at Chick-Fil-A and more driving and cheering, my final leg began around 4:00 p.m.  It was by far the toughest.  I had gotten about two hours of sleep total in the past 36 hours, and the course was incredibly hilly (for me anyway).  I was pretty psyched getting ready for it, but Matthew, who was the runner right before me, missed a turn and ran about two extra miles before finally making it to the exchange where I was to start.  Though I ran this one a lot slower than originally anticipated, I was proud that I ran the whole thing without walking.

Leg 35

Leg 35

This was the only leg I ran in the daylight, but it was still cold and windy.  My body temperature increased enough to make me sweat, but I never felt warm.  In fact, I kept shivering for almost two hours after I finished; I simply could not get warm.

Smells Like Team Spirit at the finish line

Team 109 Smells Like Team Spirit at the finish line, 31:15:01

Our team crossed the finish line together over 31 hours after Carrie started on leg 1.  Team 109 had finished in 109th place.  Though we were elated, amazed, and slightly crazy from sleep deprivation, I found the finish line festivities underwhelming.  Due to the cold, most teams left immediately after getting their medals so there were barely any people around.  We did take advantage of the boxes of free candy, granola bars, Wheaties, and fruit.

This race challenged me like none other.  It was cruel, brutal, and insane.

Sign me up for 2011!

Halloween 2010

1 11 2010
Our 2010 bounty, close to 10 lbs. of candy.

Our 2010 bounty, close to 10 lbs. of candy.

Halloween is a very lucrative holiday in the Huddleston house.  We count on getting enough candy to last us through to Easter.  Of course, six months down the road some of the candy may have turned into a blob of colored sugar, but as long as it is still sugar, someone in our family will eat it.

Our festivities started a few weeks ago when our home church group, the gathering, held its third annual fall party.  We have a potluck dinner, pumpkin carving contest, cupcake decorating and a piñata for the kids, and lots of fun. 

Most kids and adults simply copy off of a pumpkin stencil (and they are usually the ones that win).  Matthew and I try to come up with something creative and original.  We never win despite the obvious superiority of our pumpkins (I’m biased and I’m very competitive).  I often come up with the pumpkin design, but Matthew is the one who does the hard work of making it happen.  Our creation this year was a “Cannibal” pumpkin.  I thought we had a good chance of taking home the prize, but we tied for third.  Creativity and originality lost again to a darn stencil. 

Cannibal Pumpkin, created by Matthew, tied for 3rd place

Cannibal Pumpkin, created by Matthew, tied for 3rd place

Caleb standing over the first pumpkin he completely designed and carved by himself.

Caleb standing over the first pumpkin he completely designed and carved by himself.

I’ve already got next year’s pumpkin in mind.  (Did I mention I’m really competitive?)

This was my entry in the 2009 pumpkin carving contest.  I was very proud of this.  I did all the hot-gluing myself.  However, it didn't even make the top 3.

This was my entry in the 2009 pumpkin carving contest, "Owl pumpkin." I was very proud of this. I did all the hot-gluing myself. However, it didn't even make the top 3.

This was Matthew's entry in the 2009 pumpkin carving contest.  Sadly, it didn't make the top 3 either.

This was Matthew's entry in the 2009 pumpkin carving contest, "H1N1 Pumpkin." Sadly, it didn't make the top 3 either.

Our Halloween festivities continued on Saturday, October 30, with a 5-mile race, the Halloween Hunt, I participated in at Long Hunter State Park.  The morning was sunny and crisp, perfect running weather.  This was mainly a training run for the Ragnar Relay I am running in next weekend.  (I did this 5-mile run Saturday morning, another 5-mile run that night after hosting a dinner party for some colleagues and a third 4-mile run Sunday morning.)

I didn’t care about my time, though I was hoping to finish in less than an hour, which I did.   What I really wanted was to win the costume contest, or at least come in second.  I was a running refrigerator.   I had been working on this costume for about four weeks, and I am really proud of it.  This is the first homemade costume I’ve ever made. 

Running Refrigerator

Running Refrigerator

Running Refrigerator - there's even food inside!

Running Refrigerator - there's even food inside!

Note to self for future use—more padding on the arm holes and make them longer.   They were not quite large enough and resulted in a lot of painful chaffing.  Not a pretty sight.

So 51 minutes later, I finished the race, having run 5-miles wearing a box.  Other than the armpit thing, it was a pretty easy run.

The costume contest took place right after lunch.  I was disappointed that the voting was done in a “Gong Show” manner.  Who got the most/loudest applause won.  I made the top 5, and thought I had a good chance of taking first or second.  The only other creative, original costume was a pair of ladies dressed as the H1N1 “Swine Flu” virus, who eventually took first place.  Second place went to a “Go Go Girl” who literally wore a $20 costume in a bag from Wal-Mart.  Then the judge announced third place, an “Illegal Immigrant.”  The guy who won it was standing right next to me.  He looked at the judge quizzically, then looked at me, and then turned back to the judge and told him, “The refrigerator should have won.”  He then turned to me and repeated, “You should have won.” 

Did I mention I’m competitive?  I tried to keep a smile on my face as I left the area and walked to my car.  Several people stopped me on the way and told me, “You should have won.”  “You were my favorite.”  “You got jipped.”  That made me feel a little better, and the judge later ran up to me with the third place prize, $10.  So I came out ahead in the end since the race entry fee was only $6.  I’ll try again next year. 

Caleb as "Power Man" and Jason as "Bob the Builder"

Caleb as "Power Man" and Jason as "Bob the Builder"

Our festivities concluded on Halloween night with a trunk-or-treat at Lakeshore Christian Church.  Caleb dressed up as Power Man, a comic book superhero he invented about a month ago.  Jason went as Bob the Builder, a recycled costume from when Caleb was that age.  We got a truck-load of candy. 

That makes me very happy.  If it seems like the Huddleston clan is on a sugar rush, you’ll know why.

candy, candy, candy!

candy, candy, candy!

Happy Halloween!

Words I Fail to Say

13 10 2010

Hosea 2:19-20 is inscribed on my husband’s and my wedding bands: 

“I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion. 
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.”

First and foremost, that is a promise of the way God loves us:  for eternity, justly, faithfully, righteously, compassionately.  Secondly, that is a description of the way my husband loves me and the way I love him, though I seem to fall far short of that ideal way too often.

After my husband and I had a long, hard, but ultimately good talk last night about some issues we are struggling with in our marriage, I knew I had to get my thoughts on paper, mainly to bless my husband, but as therapy for myself as well.

To my love,

These are words I need to say more often, every day, probably several times a day.  I have a hard time getting them out, though.

  1. I’m sorry.  I don’t think I can ever say that enough.  For all the things I have done over the past 12 years that have hurt you and laid you low, I’m so, so very sorry.
  2. I love you more than you will ever know.  Ever!  I know I definitely need to say this more.
  3. You are the only one I want.  Ever!  You are the only one I want to walk through the muck and mire of life with.  It’s not fun wading through all the crap, but you are the one I want by my side.
  4. I love you!  (Did I already say that?  I think I need to say it again.)
  5. You surpass all others in being a great dad, especially considering you were one who never really wanted kids.  I look at how you deal with our boys, how you love them, how you discipline them, how you play with them, how you train them, and I am continually blessed that they have you for a dad.  I am confident they will look back on their childhood and realize what an amazing role model you have been for them (and will continue to be throughout their lives).
  6. Your rock-solid faith continually inspires, amazes, and blesses me.  Even in the middle of the pit you feel yourself in at times, you still cling to Christ.  I pity those husbands that do not have your faith, and I hurt for those wives who do not have husbands of such deep, firm faith.
  7. I want to grow young with you.  I want to be 80 years old, holding your hand on a porch swing someday as we look out at the world around us.  I want to live a peaceful, content life with you at my side.
  8. I need to change.  I will always be in a state of needing to change.  I will only stop needing to change when I am face-to-face with Jesus.  I need your patience and lots of grace during this process.
  9. Ninakupenda Mapenzi!
  10. For those of you who don’t understand Swahili, #9 is worth repeating in English:  I love you, my love!


Run Kelly Run (part 1)

22 09 2010
2010 Country Music 1/2 Marathon

Matthew and me after having completed our 2nd 1/2 marathon.

This is my story of how I went from being an asthmatic who couldn’t run one lap around a track without collapsing to completing ½ marathons.

I was diagnosed with asthma when I was three or four years old.  Until the last few years of my life, my asthma was pretty bad and hard to regulate.  Physical exertion such as climbing a set of stairs, laughing too hard, breathing in cold air or even eating ice cream could all trigger that familiar, unpleasant sensation of my airways swelling, my shoulders tightening, my neck straining, and my chin itching. 

(Side note:  My chin always itched.  Even to this day, my chin itches when I start wheezing.  I’ve never really researched why that is, but if anyone has an explanation, I’d love to hear it.)

I was a gymnast in high school.  (You can read about that experience on my post “My Score Was a 2.7.”)  I really did love the sport, but it was also one of the few sports where I didn’t have to worry about extreme cardiovascular exertion during practice or competition.  Even vault only required a sprint of 3-4 seconds.  My body could handle that.

Fast forward a couple of decades to after I had my first son, and I wanted to lose the last few pounds of baby weight.   At the time, the only way I’d ever really exercise was to pay a ridiculous amount of money for it, so I joined a gym.  I tried various aerobic classes, but they just didn’t work.  Then I focused my energy on the treadmill in the cardio cinema; not so much because I liked being on a treadmill, but I really enjoyed watching a movie while I worked out.  Over the next year, I slowly built up my endurance to being able to run for longer stretches of time without needing to walk, although I was very, very slow.

In 2006, I started running with a few friends, and we continued to work on how long we could run, not really worrying about our time.  We decided to sign up for a Fourth of July 5K together.  The race was miserably hot, even at 7:00 a.m., and my time was between 33-34 minutes.  Not bad for someone who—throughout her childhood and even into college—couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without wheezing.

I continued to run half-heartedly until I got pregnant with my second child in 2007.  I took a year off and didn’t run again until May of 2008.  That’s when it turned into something major.  I literally ran my butt off that summer trying to lose all my pregnancy weight before I had to go back to school in August.  I succeeded in that goal, and then a friend suggested I train for the Music City ½ Marathon in April 2009.  My small group of friends all signed up, and I joined them, unsure of what I was really getting myself into.

Training for a ½ marathon is a part-time job, but I endured.  I was amazed each week as my mileage increased.  Running three miles was standard, but then I hit the four-mile mark.  Then five miles.  Then I was running 10 miles at a stretch.  My asthma wasn’t bothering me anymore, either!

At the start line with my two friends, I got so emotional I actually started crying.  I was so overwhelmed thinking about where I had been just a few years earlier to what I was about to accomplish that day.  (Side note:  crying while running makes running really difficult.)  The three of us prayed together, and then we were off!  I developed some knee pain—which I never experienced before—and I had to walk the last three miles, but I did finish with a time of 2.51:14.  I had met my goals of simply finishing, on my feet, without puking or passing out.

2009 Country Music 1/2 and 1/1 Marathon start line  (30,000+ runners)

I'm in the last row on the left wearing a pink t-shirt.

2009 Country Music 1/2 and 1/1 Marathon start line  (30,000+ runners)

I'm still in the last row on the left wearing a pink t-shirt.

2009 Country Music 1/2 and 1/1 Marathon start line  (30,000+ runners)

I'm on the far bridge in the last row on the left wearing a pink t-shirt.

Matthew, Kelly, Phyllis, Echo

Finished! I'm in the front row second from left wearing a pink t-shirt and am surrounded by my running buddies: husband Matthew and dear friends Phyllis and Echo.

After that, I continued running regularly, doing an occasional 5K.  However, I started focusing on my time.  I had been running at an 11-minute mile, and I wanted to get that down.  Over the next year, I got my time down to a 9.5 minute mile, and I completed my second ½ marathon this April with a time of 2.27:55.  My goal next year is to finish under 2.11:00.

I am currently working toward a 9-minute mile for an extended run, and I’m competing in a relay race from Chattanooga to Nashville this November—the Ragnar Relay.  There are 10 members on our team, and we each run about three legs, running non-stop through the night.  I am super excited about this, but my training is about to change radically in October.  I’ll start running three times in a 24-hour period, building up my mileage each week.  The week before the race, I’ll be doing three five-mile runs:  one at about 9:00 p.m., one at 7:00 a.m., and another around 5:00 p.m.  I’m sure I’ll blog about that experience when it’s over.

The biggest blessing running has had on my life is that my asthma rarely bothers me.  As a young child, I was on 3-4 different medications that I had to take several times a day, and I still often wound up in the ER in the middle of the night on many occasions due to my asthma.  Even throughout college, I struggled with asthma and could not participate in activities that required a lot of physical exertion.  As a teen, I was also just plain lazy.  I once asked my parents if we could drive to our neighbor’s house for dinner.  Our back door and their front door were about 20 feet away from each other.  Today, I can run for a couple hours with nary a puff of my emergency inhaler, and I’m getting faster having shaved almost two minutes per mile off my pace in the last 18 months.  I like to joke that if I continue improving at that rate, I’ll be the fastest runner in the world in a few years.

Running has taught me that nothing is impossible.  For my first ½ marathon, I wore a t-shirt that had this saying on the back from Philippians 4:13.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  Amen to that!

I’ve downplayed the role of my friends throughout this running adventure over the past four years.  I run mostly solo these days, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without their constant encouragement and prayers.  I also wouldn’t be where I am without the amazing support of my husband through all this training, considering the time it takes away from him and my children.

There’s a lot more to my story.  Someday soon, I’ll post about why, despite all the incredible ways I’ve been blessed through running, I still hate it.  Stay tuned. . .