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Somewhere after Kelly and before Lauren, I started attending weekly track workouts (speed work) at McDowell High School hosted then by Erie running phenom, Barb Filutze or maybe it was Carmen Garrison, by then.  I’m not sure because it’s been 15 years.

My memory is fuzzy about it now, but I remember two things about after-work summer speed sessions at McDowell: it was hot as hell, and I absolutely hated it. But I kept going back because I started to like the people there and sharing the misery.  Commiserating with other runners while we gasped for air at the end of an 800.

At some point (again, the memories are fuzzy), Carmen invited me to a sleepover at her friend Linda’s cabin-in-the-wood behind her farmhouse in McKean with a handful of other running women. To this day, I cannot believe I said “yes,” and then actually showed up to sleep with a half-dozen strangers, most of whom were at least 10 or more years my senior.

Despite my hazy memories about most things from that long ago, I recall vividly being in my car with my pillow, sleeping bag, snack, and overnight bag, and driving to Linda’s thinking, what am I doing? I don’t know hardly any of these women and I’m going to spend all night with them? This is insane. I’m just going to turn around and tell Carmen something came up. What grown woman accepts an invitation to spend the night in a cabin in the woods with a bunch of people she doesn’t know?

I am eternally thankful that I didn’t turn that car around.

Hanging out with them that night was like being 15 again and having a circle of friends to talk, giggle, and eat a bunch of junk food with. Only we could drink, too, which made it even more fun.

Exhibit A:

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Carmen, Barb, and I in the cabin.

I had an absolute blast that night and the women that I met there (and, later, the women I met through them) have enriched my life in ways I can’t even put into words. Their friendship, advice, support, and presence in my life has been constant and unconditional.

Some have come and some have gone. Carmen moved to Washington a dozen years ago. Karen, Sarah, and Dottie moved, too. Others quit running and then fell away from the group. But, we’ve invited new friends in, too. And, it’s not always just women (though we do love our girls-only events), but the husbands, too. We hang out together on holidays and at events. We started a book club. We’ve gone on a bunch of weekend and week-long vacations together.  Everyone knows each others’ kids.

 

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When I was 7+ months pregnant with Lauren, I went to a girls-night at Linda’s and they had organized a little surprise baby shower. I teared up because it was just so sweet. Also, I was pregnant, so I cried about pretty much everything then. I remember sitting at the table in Linda’s kitchen, opening presents — little yellow outfits, pictures frames, and teething toys.

This weekend, that baby in my womb, now a 14-year-old girl, circled around that same table in Linda’s kitchen, trying to pick which piece of Linda’s homemade pie she wanted. It was cider day at the Huegels’.

Every September, John and Linda invite dozens of friends to bring boxes of apples and make fresh cider using John’s 1800s-era cider press. It’s quite an operation, but one that so many of us have done for so many years, that we easily switch jobs and jump in where needed.

 

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Cider Day a couple years ago.

After the work is done, Linda feeds the whole crew a chicken-and-biscuits dinner, complete with dessert. Every single bit of it is homemade (that’s the only way Linda cooks, thank you.) I think she said she used 17 pound of chicken this year. Dan loves going to Linda’s because, as he puts it, she “cooks with love,” (which in Dan-speak means plenty of butter and natural fats).

Even Lauren, who tends to be a pretty big homebody, gives us no complaint when we say we’re going to Linda’s (which is quite often because Linda and John are the rare breed of people who enjoy hosting parties and having people over for dinner). Lauren who complains about anyplace we ever have to go, jumps right in the car. Ready to go.

Adventure awaits at the Huegels’ house. There’s the creek, the bridge over the creek, the cabin in the woods, the rope swing, the hammock and, of course, tons of other kids to play with, not to mention plenty of food.

My daughters have literally grown up with our running friends and see them as an extended family. In fact, when Lauren was a toddler and we’d tell her we were going to a party or picnic, she’d often ask:  Is it our real family or our runnin’ family?

It’s never lost on me how lucky my daughters (and I) am to have not just our own large families (Dan and I are both from family’s of five), but an even wider circle of adults who love and care for them.

All because I didn’t turn the car around that night.

Here’s a photo of Kelly, my niece, Syd, and another “runnin’ family” friend, Joe Lang, in the loft of the Huegel’s cabin — the very place I rolled out my sleeping bag and slept next to a bunch of strangers that became family:

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Aren’t we lucky?

 

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About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.

“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”