Tuesday, September 29, 2009


It is officially autumn. Actually, it has been for a couple of days. But metaphorically speaking, it continues to be the autumn of my life. I need a rake to keep all of my emotional leaves in check.

This weekend I went through the lugubrious task of giving away nearly all of the girls' baby clothes to sweet Jamie, who is expecting her own bundle of girl in January. (I am so excited! I haven't held a baby in years, it seems; although, I did hold a student's baby last year...) But I also turned over the Medela pump, the Cadillac of breast pumps that cost me about 300 bucks. It was well worth the cost for I was able to out-milk most of the cows at Happy Tails Farm in nearby Longswamp Township. Sheesh, each day I could've made a gallon of ice cream, a few pints of sour cream, and a few balls of mozzarella with the amount I could pump out. It was, indeed, downright scary and unbelievable.

So the Medela was worth the investment. But letting it go, along with all of the gorgeous dresses and adorable footed pajamas, confirmed to me that my days of motherhood are now limited to child-rearing. There is a part of me that wanted another child, the little boy that I sought but never had. Jackson. Jack, for short. And this was long before Jack became a popular name five years ago. Heck, I've been holding on to that name for at least 15 years, back when I went through this Jackson Pollock phase. (I read an incredible autobiography, long before the film.) And the name stuck.

So I secretly longed to have this little boy. And this weekend I realized he will never be. That saddened me, almost as if I was grieving a loss for a child I will not bear. So I had Keni hold up some of her baby clothes, took some pictures for our memory box, and I moved on. We packed up everything, took it to Jamie, and I silently bid it farewell as it will now comfort another babe, another mom, another family.

As for my Jack, he'll never be. But I will always have my Eddie, who I spoiled dearly. I took him, my young four-legged son, to the dog spa on Monday. I got him the full treatment. He is my babe, and that's about as good as it'll get.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It was a day of great escapes.

For one, I started the day with a most relaxing eight-mile run out to Victaulic and back, the run that everyone loves to hate. Except me. There' s something about an out-n-back that just appeals to me. I know where I have to go. I go there, and I come back. Done. The run today was the last of the long runs in this training cycle, and doing it with my "running daughter," as Mark calls Christine, just tied up the loose ends of the past 16 weeks.

It's been a tough cycle, for certain. I stuck to the schedule, did the tempos, did the speed, did the strength. Thrown in was a lot of swimming and cycling, thanks to the three triathlons. I feel that, overall, I'm in better shape and my legs aren't as tired. But I somehow developed PF with less mileage than ever before. Go figure.

But this pinnacle, of getting the hay in the barn and respecting my taper, is very emotional for me. Hanging out with Christine and Jamie on the final weekend before the race was a reward, of sorts. I wish Jill had been there as well, but the business of life has placed a hurdle on our schedules. Christine and Jamie both exude these qualities of a younger life, one that I saw more than a decade ago. Being with them makes me feel a connection to the past, to days before grey hairs and wrinkles and sagging body parts. I love to breathe in their wit and charm, hoping that it will soften the sharp angles of the cynicism that sometimes pervades my otherwise beautiful exterior. (Insert eye roll here...)

Later in the day, I had the fortunate opportunity to leave my girls in the gracious hands of Henceforth, herself an example of beautiful character and charm. My girls chatted endlessly about her this morning; I knew earlier this year that her placement into my life was extraordinarily fortuitous. Cathy told me this when she learned she was on my class roster. Knowing my girls were in her hands allowed me to enjoy a rather lovely dinner of pad thai, crab and mango summer rolls, corn fritters, and pinot. The conversation was rather interesting for it did not focus on our girls. Then afterward, we sat through Inglourious Basterds, a most thought-provoking film of the Nazi-occupied Paris and the Jewish-American bandits who are on a quest to end the war. I loved it. It was one of those films that, when it ended, you said: I must own this.

To know that so many people subscribed to the misguided tenets of an insane Austrian remains unfathomable to me. It should serve to remind us that we need to be thankful for what we have: our family, our country, our freedoms, our friends -- even if they are young enough to be our own children. We learn so much from one another, no matter who they are or where they've been. And we learn from ourselves.

It was, indeed, a great escape of a day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Simple Life.

I don't want to forget my visit to the Lyons Fiddle Fest last weekend. There are many times when I wonder if I was born in the wrong era, in the wrong culture. There is this simple side of life that greatly appeals to me, a world in which money and materials are not necessary for happiness.

And something about the Lyons Fiddle Fest reminded me of the belief that I think I would've been happy had I been born before technology, before television, before inventions that all too often distract us from what is truly important, what truly can make us happy.

So on Sunday, we paid a $1 donation to go into the bucolic Berks County park, which sits across the street from where a tornado ripped through the town of 500 people a few years back, damaging a long row of homes that would later be fixed by the gracious Mennonites. Simple people in a complicated and complex world.

A lot of folks at the festival, I believe, subscribe to similar philosophies of life. Their tenets, akin to many of mine.

More than a hundred musicians of all abilities strolled through the park, falling into impromptu jams of guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin, lute, finger board. Strumming, plucking, stringing. Acoustic patterns woven together by a passion for melody. You walked around with a homemade turkey barbecue and freshly made birch beer, watching Kutztown professors, retired farmers, factory workers from the battery plant, blue-collar, white-collar--all had come together to form small bands for five to ten minutes. They nodded, they challenged, they laughed. And man, did they groove. People tapping feet, slapping thighs, nodding heads to the rhythm beneath the trees where destruction once brought a town to tears, to its lowest point.

It reminded me that we all suffer on various levels at some point. We need to regroup, refocus, rebuild to become stronger, more resilient to the things and people that let us down, that break our spirit.

And so here was the town, supported by people from way beyond the Berks border, to see the modern world step back a bit and make room for an untainted slice of heaven. A community that has come together as one, that has healed from something that nearly shattered its roots. As long as I have access to culture, unprocessed food, good running shoes, and people who love me, I shall be happy--as long as I can be at peace with myself. I know I've cleared most of the hurdles placed before me. Most.

Aside: Ron Devlin, a most talented writer and mentor to me (although I've never told him so), insisted some dozen years ago that I go to the Fiddle Fest. I remember leaning over the wall of his blue-carpeted cubicle in the newsroom, chuckling as Devlin would ruminate about how he relished this gem. Chances are he was holding a cup of coffee and leaning back in a red chair while wearing a patterned shirt with a corduroy jacket that had patches on the elbows. I didn't quite get it then. I thought I did. But I get it now. I do. I really do. Sometimes I'm a slow learner...

Where do munchkins come from?

So we headed to Dunkin' Donuts. Again. Big surprise. It was 10:45 AM. Grace wanted--no, Grace needed--chocolate munchkins. If it was after noon or so, I wouldn't be shocked if the tray of brown sugary balls was empty. But it was still morning. And we walked in. And she ran to the counter. And then she turned to me.

Eyes wide. Tears forming. Hands quickly covering her face.

No chocolate munchkins. Gone. Sold out. Nada. Nothing. A major crisis. We've experienced this before. Nothing good can come from it. But today had to be different. Needed to be.

What to do, what to do. I knew this could be a major meltdown. Quickly, I looked at the trays of donuts. And there they were. The chocolate glazed circles of donut wonder. The mommy and daddy of the chocolate munchkin. But would she buy into this?

And so I told the story of how the chocolate glazed munchkins were made: They each have a mommy and a daddy. And they are those big donuts, the chocolate glazed parents on the tray beneath the strawberry mommies and daddies. And those chocolate mommies and daddies popped out their little chocolate glazed munchkin babies, and today's babies had all been adopted by other hungry people. But the mommy and daddy donuts, who tasted just like their babies, needed a home.

Would she be willing to take them home, to give them the satisfaction of filling an empty belly?

Yes. I'll try them, she nodded. All of which surprised me.

And so I ordered them up. Two chocolate glazed donuts. Big people's donuts. No little kid munchkins today...

We got back, and before I knew it, she had them both on a plate. And she realized that yes, indeed, the mommy and daddy are almost as good as the baby munchkins. And so, within a half hour, this was all that remained:

Everything is gonna be all right. Right?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday sublime

It is dark at 5:30 a.m. in September. And thanks to a clear sky like today, you could see the entire span of constellations. Mark offered to run with me, as I was planning to go solo and still have this fear of tall corn and strange men. I jumped at his kindness.

And so we headed off, me trying to run straight while pointing out Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Orion, and any bright star that caught my attention. (It's tough to run while looking straight up...) I chatted, he ran in silence. Typical. After 20 minutes, I asked him to tell me a story. He paused. After two minutes or so, he recalled something from his Hershey days, I believe, about an extremely talented female runner who asked him to pace her. And by his standards, she was slow. He ran backwards, sideways, almost on his hands, and she still couldn't keep up with him. Yet, she was a state champion in the two-miler. Finally, it dawned me: I was too slow for him! This was the purpose of his story.

Still, I didn't take it personally. That's what happens when you're old like me. You just keep pushing forward; you let stuff roll of the rolls in your back. Well, we continued out out toward Alburtis, past the tall scary cornstalks, turned at the church, and headed back. We watched the sun rise, saw skittering squirrel and rabbits, heard hawks and blackbirds. By mile 9, I knew I was on pace to beat my race time from the half marathon that I did last weekend on the canal path. How was this? Probably the fuel brought on by Mark's tale. I didn't want to be the woman who would have her partner run backwards, or sidewalks, or cross-eyed. I found a nice groove and just kept riding it. By 9.5, we parted. He headed home, I kept going. We kissed at the corner, and I turned just in time to see three red-tailed hawks. Lucky me. By the end, I beat my half time by 5 minutes. It wasn't a true race time, but it was the validation I needed to assure myself that I am ready. Again.

Hours later, recovered somewhat, I gathered up the girls and dogs and piled them all into the Pilot for Dunkin Donuts. I earned a salt bagel. My girls, who are putting up with my hobbling today, deserved their pink donuts. And my dogs (who lost out on their walk last night due to the heel) needed the car ride and the chance to feel the breeze push through their ears. Windows down, Sting playing, kids laughing, dogs sniffing, woman smiling.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Just thinking.

That I have to run 26.2 miles in 16 days. And I'm getting nervous. It's a combination of anxiety and fear. I know how painful this one is going to be. Extremely. Worse than the other five, I fear. Just let the endorphins take over, I repeat. Just let the endorphins work their magic in your heel.

And then I start to wonder...when am I going to plan my races for next year. Is it time to get off this marathon kick. Four in a year. Too many. I love the tri. I really do. I want to complete a HI next year. Can I swim that far without panicking in the open water? I dunno. I can swim a mile in the pool. I've done a mile and a half, in fact, and felt great. Open water. It's something else. But I love looking at my tri pictures and envisioning how relieved, yet how refreshed, I felt when they were finished.

You can run a half marathon and still have a great day. You can run a marathon and still go out with friends. Crunch them together, and I think I can get across the line on two feet. I have to shop races this weekend. I need new goals, new challenges, new ways to remind myself that my time is limited. And I refuse to waste it. People who do are fools.

They need Harold Melvin. Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed. Time for thinking ahead.

Loggins & Messina and one sunrise

So tonight I sit here, knowing that so many of my favorite kids took the field in the Frank Banko Stadium in Bethlehem, squaring off with kids at my new school. I wanted to go, didn't want to go.

I feel quite conflicted. How is this? I guess I am like the general population. Change is difficult. Maybe I linger too long. Maybe it's one of my greatest fears. Perhaps that is why I always feared leaving my newspaper as all of my friends went on to larger and better papers. In the end, however, most didn't do any better than I did. In fact, a lot of them are unemployed, and I feel very safe in a job where I still feel valued. But it pained me to see them leave, and years later it pained me to leave as well.

But still, I sit here and listen to Danny's Song and reflect. It is my song when I need to reach back and hold on to those who have walked next to me over the years, people I cherish so deeply and passionately as friends. I think of Pam. And how much I miss having her in my life. And how she truly was like a soul sister to me. The ups and the downs we so shared. She was the Mother Earth in Danskos and long skirts and pottery. She knew why I loved Willi Singleton, why he'd make a woman swoon with the throw of the clay and his foot-spin of the wheel. And all of the other women who have been my nearest and dearest friends, people who got me, get me. Who cared about me. Who knew who I was (and still am) as a woman, a mother, a partner, a writer, a survivor. These wonderful people who have been daily parts of my life, but only in moments of my life. People who help you erase some really bad, dark events that at one point make you wonder when you will recover, if you will recover from the abyss.

But you can't hold onto people, as much as you want to. I want to hold the world in a paper cup. Drink up my friends, keep them close to me, not let them go. Keep them in the chain of my life. Like Pam. And Marcy. And Cathy. And the women before them. And the women after.

This week I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise as I headed to work. I pulled over at The Hillside School, the tiny facility for special needs kids, kids like my own. My cell phone didn't do the scene justice. But it's verification for me, when I need it, that life truly is a gift. It's not all of this artificial crap over which people fret and fight over. It's the simplicity of life that makes me happy. My girlfriends. My girls. Seeing my students laugh and learn. The sunrise. Comfortable shoes. A potter on the side of Hawk Mountain. Danny's Song. People like Pam. A squirrel when you need one.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I guess the slow progression toward old age is really bothering me. How do I know this? Is it the repetitive checking of grey hairs? Nah. They blend with the blondes. Is it the constant checking of my back-fat in the mirror? Nah. Been doing that for at least 15 years. No, it's the fear that won't be able to do things that I should've done in my 20s or my 30s. And when opportunity knocks, I don't bother looking through the peephole, or whatever you want to call it. (Peephole is just the wrong word...) Instead, I just swing the door open and say: "C'mon in..."

And that's what happened when Terry emailed me.

"Hey, let's do this little triathlon at Bear Creek. It's called the Dirty Grizzly. The shirts look cool."

Hmm...I have three marathons in two months this fall. I've been training fairly strongly and seriously for the past three months. Sure, why not mess everything up? Heck, there's a cool shirt involved!

The details are gory. The race was ugly. Basically, it was a highly technical mountain bike race with a little swim thrown in at the start (oh, there was a ton of goose poopers everywhere...) and a short run (2 miles) up a ski slope to the top of the mountain and then back down on rolling rocks. The bike ride, however, was a task I will not soon forget.

Within the first quarter-mile, I flipped the bike downhill, and over rocks, onto my head. That was, I repeat, the first quarter-mile. What was I thinking? I just kept letting people pass me, people who I had beat in the swim and little transition. People who were not nearly in the same physical condition as me, but who knew how to jump bikes over rocks. Long-story-short: I carried that bike for at least five of the six miles on the trail. It took me an hour and 53 minutes to do so. I rode off the trail, smashed my tailbone, earned bruises the size of cantaloupes on both legs. Three days later, I still feel as though I was in a car crash.

Someday I'm going to listen to my own advice, the warnings that I yell down the street as Grace and Kendall attempt to ride off on their bikes while wearing flip-flops. I didn't listen to my gut, my common sense. listened to my young heart, the one that says I don't want to grow old. I don't want to be left behind. I want to remain young at heart, even if old age threatens to stop that. After the race, we all gathered on the deck of Bear Creek, nursing beers and sharing bloody wounds with people half our age, people who look like they were at mosh pits the weekend prior. Yeah, we held up. We survived. We didn't just roll over.

And the shirt? Terry was right. It's pretty cool.