Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010


2010, you were a dynamic year, indeed.

Despite the passing of George Steinbrenner, John Murtha, Dennis Hopper, and Tyler, I thought 2010 wasn't entirely bad.

1: I fought back injury and completed my goal race in respectable fashion.

2: I started my core book project, although it definitely needs more of my time.

3: I began what I believe is a solid screenplay with a very creative partner, although we still remain in the early stages.

4: I saw my parents both deal with some medical issues, but come through successfully.

5: I prayed as one friend overcame severe complications after delivery of her first baby.

6: And I prayed for the healthy growth of another friend's tiny premature twins.

7: I cried for a family who was robbed of a handsome, charming son who made me a better teacher.

8: I wept for a man who was judged by society and took his life to end the nightmare.

9: I listened to friends who needed me as they dealt with difficult decisions in their personal and professional lives.

10: Finally, I witnessed a marked change in the development of my girls, both of whom seem to be flourishing at a remarkable rate. And for them, I am truly thankful for they are a core part of my second lease on life.

For the record, Kendall's final words of wisdom of 2010 came today amongst racks of bras in the lingerie department of a retail store.

Kendall: "I love these bras. They're so beautiful."
Me: "Someday, you can have a bra."
Kendall: "I want one today."
Me: "Maybe we can look in the girls' department."
Kendall: "For bras?"
Me: "For bras."
Kendall excitedly whispers to her sister: "Did you hear that Grace? It's going down. My boobs are gonna have their own house!"

Ah, the innocence of a five-year-old...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kicking Old Habits


Throughout the week, I converse with a multitude of individuals—ages 14 to 54—from diverse and dynamic backgrounds. No matter the topic, their insights and discourse often teach me some lesson in life. Of course, the tone of their delivery can vary greatly, which is sometimes more interesting than their original purpose. Many of them bear the traits of positivity that spread like wildfire, igniting sparks in the bellies of those who surround them. I thrive in their presence. Some, however, emit a sense of negativity that often pervades an otherwise favorable environment, a bottom-feeder mentality that reeks and yellows the mood like stale cigarettes. Unfortunately, I cannot avoid the fatalists; instead, I just observe them, take note, move forward.

Recently, a friend wrote a missive about the effects that others have on our lives. His words truly hit me, for I feel as though we often choose to spend valuable time in our lives with negative people, when we do have the choice not to. I confess that I have committed this sin in the guise of being “proper.”

Steve wrote: “It is a peculiarity of human relationships that it is virtually impossible for one individual to have a lasting positive influence upon members of a group of negative thinkers. Usually, it works the other way. You cannot maintain a positive attitude if you spend all your time with negative people. Those who have wrecked their own lives are not the kind of people who will help you achieve success in your own life.”

Far too often, friends reveal that they are unhappy in their marriage, unhappy with their colleagues, unhappy with their family. So what is one to do? Stay in the situation? Maintain the relationship because it is what we’re supposed to do by societal standards? If so, how can we ever find success?

To me, the answer is to simply do what’s best for oneself, not for anyone else. People who call it selfish are selfish themselves, for they cannot appreciate that we need to do in order to positively live our lives. There are people who we must weed out of our lives for their negativity saps the energy that we need to spend on ourselves and our personal growth. To criticize anyone for choosing to do what's best for themselves is more egocentric, so long as such decisions are not affecting the safety and welfare of our very young.

Of course, I cannot extract myself from every Debbie Downer and Badmouthing Bob who cross my path. But I can surround myself with those who “get it” and will help me attain my goals, to find my greater purpose, to become whole.

Dumping emotional and psychological baggage gives us a sense of catharsis. It’s like kicking an old habit. My goal is to continue supporting my friends and family who need to kick their habits, and not be judgmental about the choices they make to help them be better, happier people.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Who says egg rolls don't grow in trees?


Sometimes, you just have to believe, even if it flies in the face of what others view as common sense.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Emotional Web


So on Friday night, I took my girls to the high school play. But I did not go to play at my new school. Instead, I drove the 30 minutes to Bethlehem to see Freedom's production of Charlotte's Web.

The show, as usual, was outstanding, thanks largely in part to the talents of my dear friend Jen, an exceptional English teacher but an even more exceptional theater goddess. Wonder Woman has nothing on her.

But the best part of the show, and the worst part as well, was seeing several of my squirrels perform on stage, two years since I had last seen them. They seemed to have sprouted into young adults overnight, no longer the much more shy freshmen and sophomores that I remember. They exuded confidence and bravado as they took the stage and the aisles.

I cried at the end, and not because the spider died. I cried for the slight feeling of guilt for leaving behind people for whom I cared greatly, my students and my colleagues. One of my former students, Robbie, lit up when he saw me, grabbing me for a tight hug and laughing hysterically when I asked him to sign my program. He said: "Oh, Ms. Reaman. You know you are one of the only teachers who has ever made me laugh constantly. You 'got' me. And I sure do miss you tremendously."

On the way home, a way that I no longer drive five days a week, I felt a sense of catharsis. I know that I was but a small influence on their lives as they carry on to new challenges and greater tasks. But I will always feel that this school will be a home away from home, not matter how much time passes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lucky


For several months I labored over the idea of trying to register for a full Ironman race. I know there was only one that I could finish without too much suffering, and it was Florida.

But the chances of getting into the race are rather slim. People fly down for the weekend, just so they can register in person the morning after. And they are in line with volunteers who also fly to Panama City for the chance to have priority sign-up.

And then there are the competitors who can sign up on Friday, the day before they do this year’s race, for the following year.

I knew that I’d have to be lucky to get in.

Well, just like the day I decided to register for New York on a whim, I was lucky.

Within 3 minutes of the race opening its doors for the remaining spots. I got in.

And now? Well, now that my heart has slowed down, I am coming to the realization that a $600 race is really like a $2,000 race. And I can’t screw this up. This is something that I need to do for myself, not for anyone else, not to qualify for something, not to win some age award, not to see some spectacular destination or get a great medal.

This is for me. Because. Because I can, or at least I hope I can.

Someone asked me why. And I just have to say that it’s something I need to do. Not want to do. Need.

I have a few lazy weeks remaining before I need to step back into the water, remount my bike and build up my calluses, step back onto the road and begin building mileage.

I am lucky—lucky to have secured a bib, lucky to have the salary (buoyed by my education) to pay for this, lucky to have friends who will help me train, and lucky to have a supportive family that understands that this is important for me personally, even if they don’t quite get why. And that’s ok, just as long as they are there for me.

Monday, October 18, 2010

One small glass of milk

It's nice to hear parents extol the virtues and accomplishments of their kids, how they scored a goal during the soccer game, how they gained entry into an overpriced college, how they got through AP calculus without ever opening the book. Often, so many parents blather on, almost as if they themselves conquered the task at hand. But in the end, I smile, nod, and think: "You are clueless as to how lucky you are."

For me, I am proud to say that for the first time in nearly five years, my child drank something other than water.

Yep, I know the progenitor of the AP kid will guffaw, roll his or her eyes. Drink? Something other than water?

Yep, that's what I said.

My child has not drank anything other than water since she was two and half, the point in her young life when her disability emerged from the dark crevices and stole her growth, her ability to talk, her level of tolerance to most foods including any liquid besides water.

And so for years, she has not tasted milk or juice of any kind.

But after a long awaited visit with a dietitian last week, we set forth a plan to introduce small amounts of foods into her diet, all with some coercion. That included small sips of chocolate milk, which we assured her tasted like brownies, one of 10 foods that she currently eats. (Of course, brownies may soon fall to the wayside, just as all foods do at some point.) It took us the better part of 30 minutes to get her to swallow the quarter-cup of flavored cow juice, and she nearly threw it up twice due to her gag reflex.

Yes, it was a baby step. But it was a step in the right direction. And I wasn't anything short of proud of her for agreeing to try it, for forcing it down, for not spewing it back up as she often does with foods she deems as foreign.

After she finished, I tried to hold in the tears, knowing that she may just be one step closer to what society deems as "normal." No, she won't score the winning goals in soccer. No, she most likely won't get into a prestigious university. And no, she is not calculus material.

But sadly, I know of children who have hurdles that are far more difficult than Grace's, and I feel for them, for their parents. So we take what we can get, even if it is only one small glass of milk After all, there are many more half-full glasses that await us.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dogs run wild

This afternoon a strong wind exhaled across the path as I tried to reel in the dogs on our daily trek by Tyler’s spot. The terriers steadily pulled, their harnesses firm against their chests, the leashes taut as they extended five feet ahead. They furiously sniffed for trickles of urine sprung from the bladders of bitches unknown.

It was a quick two miles, not nearly enough to satisfy my pressing need to suddenly break into an open sprint beneath the sun. But I couldn’t, and I found myself fighting back tears as I walked faster and faster, a speed that some “runners” call “running.” For me, it is not.

Ever since I decided to follow my doctor’s orders, I have felt overwhelmingly frustrated with the idea of not running for six weeks. Right now, I’m at Day 23. That’s a mere 3.5 weeks in.

So how to sate my need to run?

Bike until my knees hurt. Walk the dogs until they protest. Do P90x even though I’m no longer in love with Tony Horton. So I bike 30 miles in a sitting. I walk 9 miles in a day. I do the plyometrics and the squats and the lunges.

Still, the underlying desire remains, like a stain-seeking terrier restrained by a leather harness. I feel as though I want to pull, pull away from this fast walking pace and find a stride that leaves me breathing hard, makes my heart race, gives me a reality check that life is too precious to not extend myself.

People who don’t run cannot truly imagine the frustration of hearing a doctor tell you that you are sidelined. It’s as if a part of you has been removed, a vital part that largely defines who you are and what you do. And so as I bike and as I walk, I close my eyes and envision that I am running along the path, past Tyler’s spot, beneath the clouds and the azure backdrop. I think of the young man who died too young, a boy who now runs wild only in spirit, in memory.

And so I am like the unknown bitch that runs free, without harness, without leash, without my owner holding me back as I pull steadily away in the fields of bull thistle and dandelion. Free, I run, like a dog who knows no limits. Lucky dog.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I am an Ironman 70.3


It’s official. My seven-month relationship has ended.

As difficult as it was to part ways, I severed my commitment to my bike, to my swim, to my run. OK, sever isn't wholly accurate; we're on a break. That’s because I finally conquered my goal of becoming an Ironman. OK, an Ironman 70.3, but an Ironman, nonetheless.

Deciding to tackle this mighty monster came last year when I realized that running alone was not satisfying my desire to push myself further. And so I signed up for the Timberman Half Ironman in New Hampshire that takes place in late August. It came with trepidation for sure, especially since I knew that a serious injury seemed to be looming. And with full force it arrived in March, threatening my ability to finish this race, let alone start it.

As the official training plan began, the plantar fasciitis in my right foot worsened. I cut back on running—even stopped for several weeks—to curb it. That didn’t work. I endured cortisone, a night boot, ice, heat, a Strassburg Sock [insert trademark], over-the-counter orthotics, custom orthotics, and crying sessions in front of my podiatrist. Eventually, as a last resort before “procedural intervention,” as the doctor called it, he ordered physical therapy three times a week.

PT was my godsend.

Granted, Nick, my therapist, pushed—and continues to push—me to sweat-inducing limits during rehabilitation. I shed a few tears, sometimes wondering if I would ever be able to run 13.1 miles after biking 56. On the Wednesday before my race, Nick seemed to have me run through a gamut of exercises. The result? I had so much pain that I walked out in bitter tears. My damn race was 100 hours away, and I couldn’t walk on my heel.

And so I truly tapered. I did practically nothing for four days—not even bike, nor swim. I kept my feet up, watched TV, rode shotgun for nearly 9 hours to the race, hardly walked at all besides at the expo where I saw Dick Hoyt, an incredible man with an incredible story of pushing his paraplegic son through marathons and triathlons.

Knowing what he has accomplished made me realize how lucky I am.

Still, come race day, I felt like bagging it, for I dreaded the pain that might return, as it did in Philly.

I awoke at 3:30 and headed to transition. In the parking lot, I met a couple parked next to us who also drove up from Bear Swamp, which settled my nerves. But I then met up with Victoria, a woman from New York in my age group who had paid a trainer to coach her through preparation. I felt intimidated by her confidence, her “let’s go” attitude, her knowledge of what to expect. Still, she offered to swim with me, bike with me, even run with me to get me through the race. I declined. I didn’t want to hold her up.

Later, we stood in the water of Lake Winnipesukee and watched the pros make it look easy. I feared the water would be choppy as it had been two days before when I stood on the edge of the finish area in steady 25-mph winds. On race day, the first 600 meters out were smooth; however, that all changed as we swam parallel to the shore. The waves crashed onto our left, the side on which I breathe. I swallowed a lot of water, but forged on as best I could. I need to rely on breaststroke in some portions when I gagged on a wave.

On at least four to five stretches, I ended up swimming too far to the left because the crests in the water prevented me from seeing the buoys. In all, due to my poor sighting, I figure that I swam an extra 50 yards beyond the 1.2 miles. That’s not a great distance, but it’s enough when you’re battling waves, anxiety, and deep water.

But eventually I made it back to the beach where I unzipped my wetsuit and left the “strippers” pull it off the rest of the way.

The next round, 56 miles on a very hilly course, tested my mental and physical limits. I make no secret about it: the bike is my weakest sport. Blame arthritis, blame bad knees that go back to childhood, blame my fear of crashing and losing my front teeth. Blame everything. But I fear the bike.

There were portions of bike course during which I felt like quitting. I wept silently at least twice, when the pain in my knee greatly outweighed my desire to finish, when it rained hard and consistently, leaving me somewhat blinded and nearly defeated.

But in my heart, I knew that I could not quit. I had prepared for this, and so in the dark moments, I repeated my mantra continuously: “Today is not the day to quit.”

When I headed back into transition—after getting passed by nearly everyone behind me, or so it felt—I knew that I could just walk the half marathon and still be done with it. But I’m not a TNTer. I don’t walk races. I run them until I can no longer stand the pain.

And so I laced up my Asics, outfitted with my new orthotics, and headed out along a double-loop course. The first few miles felt great. I remember coming in to finish the first 6.5 miles and thinking: “Great, I’m halfway done…great, I have to do this again and it’s going to hurt.” By mile 8, I was correct. My plantar was calling the shots, but I didn’t let it win. I ran-walked those last five miles as best as I could. My goal was to not have an 8 on the clock, and my stretch goal was to see 7:3X on the clock.

As I looked at my watch, I knew that I would not only meet my stretch goal, but I would beat it. Just knowing that I had time in the bank eased my mind. In the end, with about 100 yards to go, out of nowhere I spotted my family. Keni jumped up and down, yelling for me. She rushed out onto the course, and I began to cry.

Despite my exhaustion, the pain, the doubts, I sprinted as best as I could toward the finish to the sound of Coldplay's "Clocks". They announced my full name, my hometown. And I continued to cry. I had done it, reached a goal that some people thought might be beyond my ability.

My watch read 7:26. I had beaten my stretch goal with 3 minutes to spare. Immediately, I knew I had a new goal: to beat 6:59.

In hindsight, I was far from speedy. I was far from top form. I was injured, and I still am. However, I was there. Unfortunately, Victoria, the confident woman who had hired the professional trainer, was not. She didn’t finish. Somewhere along the race, she dropped out, didn't get to run across the last timing mat.

But I did. I am an Ironman, and I have the medal to prove it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dancing Baby Moment.


Sometimes, it's the little things that matter.

On my run today, I felt a little sluggish, largely due to the resistant right heel that simply prefers to stay home than take it to the streets. But I pushed on in my attempt to run 10 miles, which was eventually successful. Still, along the way, i was feeling the humidity, feeling the pain when I saw a man pulling a sprinkler into the middle of his lawn. He looked over at me, called out: "Hey, how ya doing?" I looked up, managed to say that I was fine, asked about him. "I'm doing great."

But he didn't stop there.

He added: "Hey, you look great! Keep on going, keep on pushing..."

Suddenly, with those small words, I felt like dancing, even if I couldn't run much faster than I already was. I felt like the Dancing Baby.

All too often we try to impress people with hollow promises, opulent materials. None of that matters. What does matter is sincerity, humility, dancing babies.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 1



Oh, and I wish this
To turn back the clock and do over again
I was just wondering if you'd come along
Hold up my head when my head won't hold on
I'll do the same if the same is what you want
But if not I'll go
I will go alone
Oh, I need so
To stay in your arms see you smile hold you close
Oh, And it weighs on me
As heavy as stone and a bone chilling cold
I was just wondering if you'd come along
Just tell me you will



I’m exhausted.

I could blame my Thursday workout when I ran six miles, did P90X, and biked for roughly 20 miles. That night, I walked about 3 miles as well. I can’t blame Friday since I rested. Maybe today is at fault: I ran 9 miles, swam a 1.5-mile pyramid, and did yoga and ab work.

Nope.

Working out didn’t tire me.

Dave Matthews did. Concert number 13, I believe.

We headed to the show after dinner at the Capital Grille, a tony, overpriced steakhouse where middle-age hook-ups of people with 18-karat Big Ben watches and plunging cleavage of overly tanned and sagging breasts seemed de rigueur.

It was a clear dichotomy of where we were to where we were headed, a clash of society, indeed.

We walked through Old City, which is much more my style, to catch the ferry with several hundred other DMBandos for another night of sensual improvisational jamming.

I don’t think we’ve seen DMB since Rhode Island when we drove back through a blizzard only to learn Grace was gravely ill and needed hospitalization. That experience kind of soured me from following tours for a while.

But it was Mark’s 45th birthday, and we have not seen Dave since saxophonist Leroi Moore died in 2008. It was also one of the few times that I’ve seen Tim Reynolds perform. Plus, the band will not tour next year, the first time in their 20-year history. So it was time to return. Lucky for me, the setlist included some of my favorites: #41, Warehouse, The Stone, and Pig, which truly speaks the tenets of my life, my beliefs on seizing opportunities.

I danced most of the night beside college kids, middle-agers, adolescents, folks in their 60s, weeders who toked for two hours, even a balding elderly woman with a cane. I saw medics take out a young girl who got violently ill in the bathroom. I heard the couple next to me argue, with him storming out and leaving her behind. And I curiously watched a former colleague who stood two rows in front of me, clearly uncomfortable in this arena, rigid as a robot as his date shared a blunt with a stranger who I called “The Monkey”.

It was a hodge-podge of society, all collectively singing jazzy, bluesy, soulful songs of life and love. We actually cut out during the encore because my foot was angry and my eyes were tired.

But, two days later, the one body part that remained exhausted were my ears. It’s funny how, during my college days, I worked as entertainment editor of the college paper. And I went to every major concert to hit Philly, never worrying about my hearing.

Now, I go to one, and I feel as if nails are piercing through my head.

This reminds me of how quickly our lives change, how we can try to hold on to the past but our youth quickly slips away no matter what actions we take, no matter what reactions we feel.

We can waste our time simply wanting to turn back the clock. Or we can invest our time just trying to slow it down. I vote for the latter.

On the road


Today I experienced one of the most wonderful bike rides that reminded me of how remarkable life can be when witnessed from two wheels.

In the past, I’ve taken in some vivid scenery while pushing 40 to 50-plus miles through the Green Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire where Brenda and I traversed the Connecticut River, drank iced coffee at Dartmouth, stopped in tiny villages. Lush. Fresh. Pure, indeed--just as life should be.

And I’ve ridden bikes along the coasts on both sides of the country, eyeing the Atlantic and Pacific slowly skate by on many occasions, watching the sun rise, the sun set.

But today, today presented me with a gift from my own backyard when I decided to join a group ride through the virgin farmlands of western Berks County toward Kutztown. It’s an area that I know so very well since it’s just outside of Bear Swamp. However, I’m always weary of biking too far, especially since I was forced off the road in the country last year and ended up spraining my wrist and elbow.

This time, I left comfort at home. In order to ramp up for my race, I need to log more heavy mileage rides, so I went out with the “B” group.

At the start of the ride, we dealt with some traffic as out-of-towners headed toward the Folk Festival to gawk at the Old World traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch, replete with German-rooted foods, ceremonies, clothes. My roots. (My mother, after all, spent some time growing up on a green bean farm.) And so the culturally deprived from Jersey maniacally barrel down the two-lane roads in a rush to see the simple folk and pay through the nose for handmade quilts that you could buy much cheaper at auction.

But despite the traffic, we soon dodged the madness and turned down less-trodden paths, where we quickly pedaled past the fields of corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. The roads turned and twisted by farmhouses, a few trailers, a pet cemetery, laundry on the line, silos, summer kitchens, a patchwork of peace.

A steady breeze made the punishing sun and 91-degree blanket quite manageable. Instead, my greatest worry became dodging the endless horse pies that dotted the macadam. The manure, however, must’ve been left over from Sunday’s buggy rides to service for the Mennonites were nowhere to be found on the road since today, July 5, was a Monday. Farmers don’t honor the holiday observance. Monday is Monday. And so they work.

We headed through small boroughs and tiny villages that dot the edges of the massive land parcels that weave together this agricultural blanket of husbandry. Cars would eventually pass us along the roads; however, it seemed more common to see fellow cyclists who appreciate the untainted area and the horse pies just as much.

Still, the highlight of the ride came on the return leg, not far from Dryville. About 12 feet from the road, two mammoth horses, clearly not trimmed for dressage, slowly pulled a large plow—guided by a middle-aged Mennonite farmer with a ZZ-Top beard—across a parcel just as we passed. The rider in front of me nodded toward the farmer, who replied in kind. With his barn and fertile acreage in the backdrop, the scene was simplistically beautiful. Untarnished.

I realized, perhaps, how fortunate I am to live in area that still has not completely given in to the pressures of money, of commercialism, of a culture that thrives on machines. Granted, I am guilty of falling prey to the whims of emerging technology. But inside, I still feel as though I maintain some semblance of a naturalist.

And I don’t need to go very far to remind myself of that.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tired Legs Tuesday.


At least I have the flowers of myself,
and my thoughts, no god
can take that;
I have the fervour of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light.

~~H.D. 1917


Last night my legs were absolutely furious with me, and I have no one or nothing else to blame other than myself. I own that, as I do with all other results of my actions. Today? We made up like lovers who drifted apart, ready to reignite the fire that smoldered but for a day.

So as the sun rose, I climbed my bike and rode a fairly strong 10 miles as I tried to rid my thighs of the lactic acid. It worked, brought me comfort to know that I can endure pain but continue on, metaphorically speaking.

Now, with my Oly behind me and my gradebook set aside, it feels as though summer has finally arrived since this marks my first full week without "officially" working. Granted, I am taking a graduate course (my last for a while, unless I do decide to go for a supervisory certificate) which ends in three weeks. And I am trying to write some other material, including some sketches for a screenplay. But I need to shoehorn some time in the days for my collaborators' schedules, my training schedule, my family schedule.

I need a personal assistant, to be honest.

Quite often my friends say that I juggle too much. And that probably is true, for many people. But I really don't know how else to live. I always need to have something in the fire, something on fire, something wanting to be on fire. But that is how my presence exists. Without a challenge, I grow restless. Without a career, I feel useless. Without a goal, there is no reason to exist for I cannot be one of those women who rely on a man to keep them, to entertain them, to spoil them.

I have my own fervour. And it does not include driving a mini-van or gossiping with saleswomen in the office or mindlessly lying on a beach with People magazine.

It is rooted in my legs, which take me places that many others won't go, to try things that others cannot fathom. They are tired. But they are mine. They allow me to follow my spirit of light. And for that, I am quite thankful.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Swim, Bike, Run, Repeat.


Sunday marked a humbling experience. And that is completely acceptable to me for it served as a reminder that only I can improve my life and my body—not anyone else.

I finished my first Olympic distance at the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon, which is twice the distance of my previous triathlons. Olympic means swimming nearly a mile, biking 25 miles, and running 6.2. I’ve done all three many times, just not sequentially. So I trained pretty strongly for this event, which I needed to do before I attempt my Half Ironman this summer.

Well, first of all, the swim portion turned into a 5K run after a swimmer from the short race on Saturday drowned during the event. His body had not yet been recovered by the time Sunday’s larger race was to begin. And so the 2,000 of us had to run, bike, and then run again. This, unfortunately, was not good for me, considering that I continue to battle PF in my right foot. The longest distance I have run since March is 7 miles. And now I had to run 9.3.

The first leg went fine, considering I was not mentally prepared. I just wanted to come in under 30 minutes, which meant taking it easy so as to preserve my foot for the longer leg. I made the time, but not without pain. But I managed through it and then rode my bike on a hilly course with several technical climbs and turns, in about 90 minutes. For this, I was exceptionally pleased. Riding through the city, catching the views up and down the Schuylkill, reminded me of how much I loved my college days at Temple and my countless memories that helped shape my early days of writing. As I flew down Kelly Drive, I heard birds singing and my wheels spinning as my mind rapidly processed everything like an avant-garde film at the Ritz.

But in the end, after the wistful moments passed, I ran the slowest distance I’ve ever run in a competition. And the truth is that I did not really run it very much. Due to the humidity, the heat, and the heel, I did the “old lady shuffle,” passing some people who collapsed from heat exhaustion along the way and were now aided by ambulance crews with IV bags.

Overall, however, I was humbled not by the distance, not by the 3.5 hours it took, and not so much by the heat, but rather by the women in my age group who were phenomenally strong and physically jacked. Their bodies were tight, taut, toned. They are the women with whom I want to be affiliated.

I tried to explain to some people that you can go to running events—marathons, half marathons, 5ks—and you will see a lot of people who “run” but who are not really in shape. They say they are athletes (and they are on some level), but if you have big back-fat or a double-wide derriere, you’re just not in the same league as someone who invests in their body. Rather, you are someone who just wants to say they ran a marathon, just for bragging rights. For me, it’s not about a medal or shirt. It’s about saying I did something in the best possible shape I can be in.

And part of it is to role model for my girls, to let them know that just because I’m a girl, I’m no candy ass.

So today, as I take it easy to recover, I am about ready to climb into the saddle of my bike and log some mileage. And I scour my schedule to see when I can sneak in an extra swim this week, just because it’s what I should do to look like the strong, confident women who made me think about how much more I can do to make myself as well-rounded—physically as well as intellectually—possible.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New paths



These past few weeks had hectic written all over them. My training has been intense, my energy level feels depleted. I am in the midst of wrapping up a very trying year in my career, and I'm watching some people around me struggle.

But tonight it all seemed to hit me.

Pre-K graduation.

I didn't quite expect an emotional response. I've been through this before with the others. But as I wrote my status on Facebook, I sat back and realized the tremendous dynamics of my situation: I was heading off to watch my baby graduate from Pre-K, two years after my first-born earned his master's degree with highest honors. My life is so rather divergent.

At the ceremony, I eyed the other parents, all younger than us on paper, but not necessarily "younger" than us health- and fitness-wise. We feel fairly strongly about this since we are "older" parents, and I won't see Keni graduate from high school until I am in my almost-late 50s. Still, I expect that I will still be younger than many parents of her peers.

About two hours later, I had to run over to Christine's. We joked about the complexities of having kids. Namely, my complexities. After a while, I headed back home where I knew the girls would be waiting for me. As I drove the back roads, over the train tracks, the bridge spanning the creek, past the willows and the wild raspberry bushes which I will visit in early August, I heard The Beatles--Across the Universe. And the pensiveness settled in.

Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe


I felt the tears that I had held back during the ceremony creep back, staking claim to say that I remain sad about seeing her become a big girl, even though I am proud of her.

In fact, I shamelessly confess that absolutely adore the innocence of my girls, their take-hold bravado, their fearless charges and extreme wit. They truly embody qualities that make me so proud, indeed. And I know I can only do so much for them, that these passages will continue to present themselves as they begin their own journeys across the universe. I can only hold their hands for so long, but I will hold them for as long as I am permitted.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Life in 3D




So my girls had their first 3D experience.

Shrek -- The Final Chapter.

They. Loved. It.

I. Loved. It.

The big seats at Rave folded around their tiny bodies. The big glasses overtook their faces. The floating objects made them weave and bob like Larry Holmes in a fresh round.

And all I did was watch as Shrek experiences his epiphany, one which made me cry. Not once. Not twice. But three times. Three times I wept over the tale of a green ogre. Frustration and monotony caused him to forget the importance of children, of family, of friends. The message, rather simple, hit not only me, but others taller than four feet, I'm certain.

My girls, however, were not as perceptive. They were just thrilled to sit in their own row, with their own snacks, with their Waldo glasses. And I was thrilled to just watch them in the process.

At the risk of being cliche, the experience was priceless.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Farewell, Toddlerhood


It is written that toddlers are babies ranging from one year to four years. After tonight, my toddler officially joins the ranks of childhood. Cinco en Mayo.

It is with conflict that we jointly cross this five-year milestone. For one, I welcome the opportunity to know that the last of my small brood will enter the realm of public education, come September. But in another breath, I think about how this, the autumn of my life, continues to change colors. The greens begin to yellow so slightly, and people around me know that I do not embrace aging with welcome arms. Thus, this transition marks yet another change in my journey--accepting that my baby begins her own new passage.

Today we had a modest celebration for her, and I watched as Kendall commanded the room, as she does have a strong, independent spirit. She is the kid who everyone follows at preschool, at the playground, in the 'hood. She is the card, the tease, the muse. Funk and spunk, full of spitfire and wit well beyond the toddler years. Yet she seems troubled at times, not sure if she wants to be like the big girls or remain the baby.

In the early evening, after everyone had left, I asked her if I could take her picture as she cheered in her new uniform, pom-poms by her side, long blonde mane swept into a shiny pony.

"No."

No? Why?

"Because I said no."

This did not go over well with me, to be honest. I pulled the adult card, ordered her to smile as I held the camera.

Instead, she pouted. I repeated my request. Soon, pouting led to tears that led to downright weeping.

She yelled at me. I yelled back.

Ugly, it got.

Soon, my veiled threats became every child's penance: Time out.

After a few minutes of listening to her cry, I sat down in front of this mini-me, asked if she knew why she was there. I tried to listen to her, but I could not concentrate on her words. For in the background, the Bose speakers spewed forth the extremely moving "Doretta's Dream" from Puccini's La Rondine. The piece, an extremely moving composition, tugs deeply at one's emotional core. It is one of unrequited love and defeat. And so all I noticed were her cornflower blue eyes rain tears of disappointment that slid down round, reddened cheeks that still spoke to me: baby.

Her small nose twitched and her lips quivered.

I heard no words except the last two: "Hug me."

And so I embraced that child, this girl who would still be a toddler for another 12 hours, and told her how much I loved her. She continued to cry as I began. She is the quirky, brilliant squirrel who is the constant center of attention, the one who keeps me young despite the angry calendar. I hugged her until "Doretta's Dream" ended--and I wished for her to pursue the ones that lie ahead, to chase what makes you happy no matter how difficult some dreams may appear.

Happy Birthday, Keni Jane. You will always be my baby, no matter what year we're in.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cavy culture - an oxymoronic moment


Today I stumbled upon a most unusual subculture in downtown Bear Swamp. And for the moment, I felt as though some mysterious force suddenly plucked me from the suburbs and teleported me to a one-toothed town in Kentucky.

Before me bustled dozens of women and men in flannel shirts and bad hairstyles, humming along to Kenny Chesney and buzzing about the shiny coat on that studly Peruvian: “Honestly, what does she use to get such a sheen…”

Here I had been, knocking around the flea market outside in search of designer herbs for my garden when I spotted a small crowd of people milling inside the park building. To think I had almost missed this cabal of nervous pageant moms and dads, quite unlike any I had ever seen on television. Their contestants, however, didn’t seem to feel the same pressure. Instead, they quietly chewed on kibble, scurried in circles, squealed at one another.

Welcome to the world of cavy pageants.

You know, cavies—the South American rodent of sturdy body, referred to by the civilized world as “guinea pigs.” Basically, a second cousin to the rat. Owners doted on their animals, which were kept in coops atop tables. Some had a handful of critters; others appeared to bring along a dozen or more.

Now, I’m not trying to be too judgmental here, but how can one resist? I watched in silent shock as owners primped their pets to go head-to-head for “rosettes,” small fancy ribbons in numerous categories: Silkie. Teddy. Satin. Silky Satin. Teddy Satin. Silkie wearing a Satin Teddy. Honestly, it sounded like a salacious Victoria’s Secret trunk show, but only with fashion-deprived women in polyester blends from Kohl’s.

If your guinea pig took top honors—Best in Show—you could walk away with 75 bucks and a camping chair. Heck, if your “youth” pig captured Best in Show, you not only pocketed 60 bucks, but a large Hershey kiss.

The pigs also battled it out in costume categories, dressing up as their favorite historical person, athlete, or fantasy character. (Hats were optional.)

But no, organizers from the Mid-Atlantic Cavy Breeders Association (yes, it's authentic) couldn’t just stop there. As if costumes on big hamsters weren’t enough.

No. The true and elusive top honor was Sexiest Sow, the pageant highlight in which grown men and women primped and groomed their female adults to exude sex appeal. Just picture it: some bootylicious critter ba-donk wiggling down the runway… Funny how I always thought French lingerie ranked pretty high on the scale of sultriness. Silly rabbit.

As I looked around, I shot a few pictures for proof and wondered if the woman wearing a tiara and crisp sash would bestow the honors on the medalists. Soon, I headed back outside to scour for diverse basils and treasures from the past. Granted, some people may think I’m just as foolish with my time and my financial investment in antiques.

But at least I wasn’t wearing flannel or dressing a 16-ounce furball in it either. Heck, the pigs deserve some dignity, too.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My friends are my estate

“To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.” Nietzsche

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Everyone has a purpose, a charge for his or her existence. Many of us know our intentions in the Big Picture. We may not know each and every single aspect of why we walk this Earth, but we have the wherewithal to figure out at least parts of it—if we so care to invest the time to deeply contemplate it. Sometimes I question certain aspects of my purpose; however, I remain steadfast in the majority of my aim.

But within recent months, one part of my charge became compromised when a cherished friendship ended rather abruptly. Friendships, after all, nurture my spirit, for I believe that relationships with others allow us to extend ourselves, to learn more about the human spirit, to grow in a dynamic fashion through the experiences of others.

So when this friendship dissolved, I handled it in a most difficult manner. It took several weeks of conversations, of chance encounters, of emotional emails before we quietly threw in the towel. It was nothing short of devastating, for this was someone with whom I had logged many miles.

We had shared stories of troubled relationships, work complications, growing children, family dysfunctions. And surrounding oneself with people who “get” you is a comforting thing.

Halcyon days they were—until a conflict arose.

The conflict itself doesn’t matter. All that mattered was that my friendship was gone, and the void seemed vast.

But recently, another chance encounter allowed me to try to heal the wound caused by my ego and miscommunication. And I simply said: “I miss you. I really do.”

It sounded corny at the time, I guess, because I kind of ran up and just uttered it.

Yet within a day, I got an email: “Do you want to go to lunch?” And now, a few weeks later, we will try to pick up where we left off as if nothing happened. That is more than fine with me because I highly value my friends, as much as I cherish my family. My friendships greatly define who I am as a woman. They are a part of my purpose, and with this friendship, I forgot that.

Nietzsche would agree: Allowing myself to lose this friend was, indeed, a sign of stupidity. And I don’t associate with stupid. I associate myself with folks who are dynamic, educated, driven, independent, focused--people I get, people who get me.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Yin and Yang


Let’s face it: I’ve never been a B-cup. Ever. Well, maybe in middle school. But no matter how much weight I lose, even when I’ve worn a size 2, I am always able to stretch a sweater like Dolly’s little sister. Blame genetics.

So imagine my surprise when the technician at my cardiologist’s office told me on Wednesday that for my stress test, I would need to sprint on the treadmill for as long as possible, at a 10 percent incline. In a hospital gown. And braless.

A hospital gown? OK, it’s not running tights and a tank. So, fine.

Braless? Well, that’s another story.

What were the girls to do?

Honestly, I laughed when I heard this news. Surely, you jest…

Nope. She was serious.

Running. Uphill. For as long as my body would allow. Well, I can run for four to five hours. Certainly, not sprint that long, but I can keep going and going.

But braless? In an unsightly, flapping gown?

Well, I had to do what I had to do. And so I mounted the treadmill, a belt of wires attached to my chest to monitor my heart rate. Soon, the belt began to spin. Faster. Faster. The technician wanted to know: could I run faster?

Sure!

Nearly 90 percent of my body could. Breathing? Check. Legs? Check? Form? Check. Unfortunately, it was the other 10 percent that just couldn’t keep up. Yin and Yang.

First, I compressed my left arm across my chest and used the right one to balance myself. Then, I switched. I kept this up for roughly 10 minutes of an 8-minute mile. Eventually, I ran with one hand cradling each cup to prevent injury to the rest of my body. You never know what can happen when you allow restricted body parts to fly and be free.

After a while, however, I needed to keep up with the belt, which was now at an advanced pace. And I needed to let go so that I could use both arms to balance my stride. I lasted for about 30 seconds. The noise alone—which was audible to my audience of two—was too damn embarrassing for even me. And I’ve done some really cringeworthy things. The pain of flying C’s was simply too unnatural for civilization.

I. Must. Stop. Now.

The technician asked: “Why, are you tired?”

No. But they are.

And so I stopped.

My heart rate had exceeded 180 beats per minute, which was the goal. I hopped off and someone immediately took my blood pressure: 110/67. Sweet. The images on the screen? Looked like everything was still beating in my ticker.

The only pain: the throbbing of Yin and Yang who felt as though someone threw them inside of the dryer with a pair of sneakers. Thumpety-thumpety-thump. Still, as I got dressed, I focused on the importance of my visit rather than a temporary busting of my bust.

For as Buddha said: "To keep the body in good health is a duty; otherwise, we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” Strong and clear. Is there any other way? Not in this temple.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The whole tooth and nothing but the tooth


Four kids shape my life. They span two decades.

Two of them are independent. Two are not--and won't be until I hit the end of my next decade.

And as tiring as my little squirrels can be, I realize they are a gift to me, a late-in-life treasure that keeps me younger than most women my age. This is not to say that giving birth in your 40s automatically makes you younger at heart. But personally, as self-serving as this sounds, I can confidently say that my lifestyle and my outlook (and perhaps good genetics) keep me looking far younger than most women my age, and even those who have yet to even hit 40.

So my littlest gem, who turns 5 this month, hit a milestone this week that made me reflect on how lucky I am to have them.

It was a lost tooth.

I knew it was loose, for Keni boasted about this bottom tooth's ability to bend completely forward and backward. She'd push it 90 degrees forward, then wiggle it all the way back. I, of course, could hardly watch, since I do have a weak stomach and all. So at dinner this week, she marveled: "My tooth! It's out..."

And sure enough, there it sat in the palm of her chubby hand. She gushed a broad smile as blood slowly oozed from the tiny hole in her gum.

There it was: my baby lost her first tooth.

"What's gonna happen now?" she asked.

"Your big teeth are getting ready to come in," I told her.

She inquired: "Do they come out, too?"

"Nope. They're your final teeth, your second set," I answered.

Big teeth. Little girl. Toddlerhood is gone, I silently mused.

That night, we had a big production, hiding the tooth beneath her pillow. She asked for "a hundred dollars, please. No, a thousand dollars."

How about a hundred pennies?

"Yeah, yeah! A hundred pennies!"

And within an hour, the tooth fairy descended from her enamel mansion in the sky, floating into Keni's room and withdrawing the little tooth. In its place, she forked over a dollar.

The next morning, Keni awoke at her usual 6 a.m.

She reached under her pillow for the money, a frantic search for the jackpot.

"A buck? Just a buck?"

With her feigned disappointment, she started to chuckle: "Look, it has George Washington on it." (As compared to other U.S. dollar bills which have Elvis surrounded by laurels.)

She thought about her future purchases, one of which was a gift for Mother's Day.

I assured her. There was no need, for the best gifts in life cannot be bought--no matter how much cash the tooth fairy drops. The best gifts are the people in our lives. And we can reap the rewards of these gifts by showing them how much we appreciate them for who they are now and who they might become in the future, whether they are 5 or 50 or somewhere in between.

Here's to some beautiful Peppermint Chiclet teeth, my little squirrel.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Queen of Sh!t to leave the building


As the trying months of winter descended, my mentor revealed an idea that she had been deliberating.

“I’m seriously thinking about leaving,” she entertained over the telephone. “I might retire.”

“Retire?” I chuckled, my voice rising partly out of amusement, largely out of disbelief. “You’re too young to retire.”

“No, really,” she replied. “We need to look at the money. Can I afford to leave?”

Her tone revealed a sense of seriousness.

Would the season, indeed, change so soon?

Knowing that Marcy could possibly say goodbye to the classroom just was not fathomable to me. After all, she is clearly the person who most shaped my personal philosophy on public education.

Granted, teachers enter the field with their own tenets of how instruction can and should be delivered. However, for the lucky ones, that tenet changes when we cross paths with people who end up molding our own beliefs, making us more dynamic, better cross-trained professionals. This happens when we encounter people who exhibit qualities that we wish to embrace, to embody in our quest to improve our students and ourselves.

And for the past 10 years, the person I so wish to emulate has been Marcy.

When we first met in 2000, my world had just changed personally and professionally. I was still coping with a shattered engagement to a talented writer. Depression owned me. Add that to the fact that I had just left behind the newsroom, my home away from home for nearly 15 years. I had not yet kicked the habits that journalism can nurture: lots of crowing, lots of coffee, lots of cursing. I left behind the familiar comforts of a daily deadline in a busy newsroom of writers and shooters to embark on this new career, tackling the daily stresses of 100-plus high school students in a district with socio-economic factors that weren’t pretty.

An easy transition it wasn't.

And then the bombshell hit when I joined this new venture: I discovered that a stunning, sophisticated former homecoming queen with a penchant for Talbot’s and fine wine agreed to mentor me, a newbie struggling with a serious caffeine withdrawal, a truck driver’s mouth, and bad shoes. Within the first two days or so, I probably shocked her with my constant colloquialism: “This place is a clusterf@ck.” I said it as if I was talking about the weather. But that’s what happens when you’re been breast-fed by gritty editors and jaded writers. Profanity becomes your dialect.

That first year, she scared me like no editor had ever done. Little did I know it, but a few others feared her as well. Confident, articulate, well spoken, and well bred, she wore these reading glasses over which she could peer at me with furrowed brow. For the first few months, I grew worried that this was never going to work. She didn’t like me, I figured. But I would make the best of it.

Within time, however, something happened.

I started to get her, and she started to get me. And that was it. I dubbed her the Queen of Sh!t, my moniker for a woman who rises above all others. It's a phrase I use sparingly.

For the next nine years, my mentor became one of my dearest friends, a woman who I now trust with my life, a woman who works harder than any other teacher I know, a woman who had three approaches to getting kids to reach for the bar: “Rigor, rigor, rigor.” It didn’t take long for me to hang on to her every word, as I still do.

Over time, Marcy’s ability to appreciate strong prose, engaging poetry, and beautiful photography (taken from her talented eye) made me realize how alike we are—an idea I would have never envisioned.

As a teacher, I’ve had frank conversations with students who had Marcy as a teacher. Many say they were scared of her. Why? She made them work, she expected them to work, she demanded their best. She didn’t give grades. They earned them. But what do they all say? That she was the one English teacher who made them learn the most, who best equipped them for college, and for that they were thankful.

And now, now that she has finally made her decision to leave behind Salinger and Shakespeare and SAT prep, my heart grows heavy. For as this chapter of hers closes, the world of education will lose a truly talented, dynamic, and knowledgeable spirit, a person who never settled for mediocrity, for ineptitude, for short cuts that compromised high standards. I cannot fathom how many hundreds of young people she touched. But to me, the fact that I was privy to have her touch my life makes me just as rich as those kids.

Last month, I cried to her on the phone about how I felt Freedom was losing one of its best educators. But as she chooses a greener path, I realized that as long as I command a classroom, she will be right there next to me for I carry so many of her qualities with me. The following day, as I prepared to administer a vocabulary quiz to my kids, I repeated one of her favorite phrases: “Assume the position.”

My professional goal is to do just that. Assume the position. I can do this by emulating the Queen of Sh!t as best as possible, a woman for whom I have the highest respect.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday.

Today is Friday, Good Friday. But it's only been a sort of good Friday.

The best part of the day was waking up and not cringing in pain as I stepped onto the floor. Thank goodness for the cortisone shot that has alleviated the agony that has crippled my running for nearly a year. My hope is that my foot guru knows what he's dealing with, and who he is dealing with. Knowing that I cannot run regularly has only forced me to ride harder and longer, to lift more, to swim with greater purpose.

The upshot is that I feel that my fitness level has improved. The downside is that I feel a great sense of loss, for running is the sport that releases me the most, the time where I can run past the fields and breathe in the smells of the land, when wind and hills serve to challenge me as I try to sort out ideas and scripts.

So that was the good side of Friday, not feeling as though a penny nail shot into my heel.

The bad side was that the girls did nothing more than fight and cry, and to this I do not exaggerate. As an only girl, I never had the chance to share my life with a sister, which is probably why I have forged so many close bonds with my friends. They are my sisters of soul.

So watching and listening to these closest of siblings push, punch, bite, yell is nothing short of disconcerting. Never have I wanted to run so desperately, to escape this anger and frustration that spews from tiny women. How do I convince them to let go of such material objects, that having each other is a gift, that to have this closeness is something that's irreplaceable? This I do not know. But it is a goal worth having.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Big Girls


"Washes and razors for foo-foos—for me freckles and a bristling beard." Walt Whitman, Leaves of GrassSong of Myself

As a former journalist, I learned how to slip into and weave through nearly any social situation with relative comfort. After all, that is a skill that a confident writer has: the ability to adapt in any situation in order to gain information from a wide pool of sources. This finesse afforded me the chance to turn down G. Gordon Liddy's offer to have a drink after an interview, to quiz Fabio about his sex life in a very public setting, to ask probing questions of an alleged murderess who confessed to the crime but escaped a first-degree conviction due to multiple personalities. All took place with relative ease.

But I met my match this weekend in a small retail shop that clearly was beyond my comfort level.

Sweet and Sassy.

Sweet and Sassy is a salon and spa franchise geared toward pre-teen girls and their much younger sisters. It is glitter and nail polish. It is pedicures and curls and feather boas. It is fishnet tutus and neon hair extensions and a pink limousine and a catwalk that unfurls from beyond a curtain of silver beads. It is Barbie's Dream World in person.

It is everything counter to my life and my views.

But Kendall was invited to a party, and she desperately pined to go. Thus, I caved and agreed to take her—with great trepidation, indeed.

After I entered the shop, I cannot even say my comfort level was low, for I had no comfort level whatsoever. I had a discomfort level.

I watched as my baby, who’s nearly 5, slipped into a kid’s version of a diva dress. Soon, an over-enthusiastic stylist swept her mid-back blonde mane into an up-do, sprayed it with glitter. Another spread blue shadow across her lids, painted her face with pink, and dolled her pouty lips with colored gloss. Yet another coated her nails in a rainbow of enamel. She was almost like the lion in the Wizard of Oz.

Now a manufactured package, Kendall hesitantly made it halfway down the narrow walkway. Paparazzi moms called: "Work it, girl." Camera rolled, eyelashes batted.

Standing in the shop and watching this emerge , I felt rather dizzy, as if nausea silently crept up my spine and crippled me into a vacuum of discomposure and disbelief. And then, to make it even more pleasurable, Grace asked me if she could try on every version of fake clip-on hair that sprouted from the sides of each display. It was a moment of heavy sighs.

My girls are not foo-foo. Are they?

After the two-hour facade passed, I could not hustle out of there any faster. That night, the glitter and gore washed down the drain, but she proclaimed that she wanted to return, she wanted her own glittery spray, her own sequined shoes of glam. And after bath time, they both wanted their hair ironed and styled.

Gone are the days of footed pajamas. Gone are the days of sippy cups and simple barrettes. Gone are the days of toddler smell. Oh, how I ache for them to remain, perhaps more than their own longing to be Big Girls.

Whitman can keep the bristling beard. All I want is the innocence of untouched freckles.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mugs


This morning, I broke a promise.

I made the vow at 8:20. But within 5 minutes, I hung my head in shame, although guilt swayed to the light side. I simply shrugged off my pledge and headed to California with 8 ounces of addiction—half decaf that I swore I would not touch until he returned with a handful of bagels.

California is the mug my son bought for me when he went to visit relatives with his father at the tender age of 6. His father and I hardly spoke at the time, so the fact that he allowed the boy to bring me a token touched me. And so the mug has stayed with me for the past 20 years. With Shamu on the outside and a twisting hairline crack inside, the mug reminds me of him—of the hurdles we cleared—whenever I select it from my mug anthology.

Why won’t I throw it away, this faded cup that could snap into two with one slight bag on the counter?

Probably for the same reason I won’t throw away the rest of them.

You see, I not only have a coffee problem.

I have mug issues as well.

Nearly every mug in my cabinet holds a special connotation, and while mugs may be given as a last-minute souvenir purchase, they remind me of certain junctures in my life.

California is clearly one of them. Knowing my child was leaving for several weeks with a man who I could barely face pushed my anxiety to its limits. Of course, he would be fine, but he would be beyond my grasp, my blanket of arms. Each one in my collection has a story, a moment, a hook that prevents me from parting with them.

So when I brew a pot of coffee each day, I find myself standing and swaying in front of the cupboard, deciding who will silently join me for the moment, to know that Life is Good, that I will return to the mountain for my tree, that California was long ago and even with cracks, I can always move forward.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Child of the Sun


Writer Katherine Mansfield, short story authoress and diarist, struggled with how she would cope with the tuberculosis that eventually ended her life at the age of 34. As short as her existence was, Mansfield held the belief that everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. It is up to each of us to embrace change, that we can turn pain into joy, that we can consciously force ourselves to push toward a great love, the love of life.

Mansfield writes:

“Now Katherine, what do you mean by health? And what do you want it for?”

Answer: By health I mean the power to live a full, adult, living, breathing life in a close contact with what I love—the earth and the wonders thereof—the sea—the sun. All that we mean when we speak of the external world. I want to enter into it, to lose all that is superficial and acquired in me to be a conscious direct human being. I want, by understanding myself, to understand others. I want to be all that I am capable of becoming so that I may be (and here I have stopped and waited and waited and it’s no good--there's only one phrase that will do) a child of the sun. About helping others, about carrying a light and so on, it seems false to say a single word. Let it be at that. A child of the sun
. (October 14, 1922)

Mansfield’s power of mind beautifully demonstrates the belief that we have tremendous control in accepting who we are and channeling that into who we choose to become. Change is always a form of growth, and although some change is highly painful, we evolve through it. Change broadens our scope in life, makes us evaluate each step we’ve taken, each path we have yet to take.

Today noted a tremendous change from the path on which I walked a year ago; back then, I was a fretful applicant seeking change in my career situation, taking a risk at leaving a close-knit family of mentors and friends. But today, in my new school, I sat on the other side of the table, assisting with the interviews of applicants. My chairman gently chided me: “How does it feel to be on the other side?” Very good; damn good, in fact.

This reflection of my own changes lingered as I drove home beneath the wonders of the sky which unleashed furious wind gusts and indignant showers. They didn’t affect me, however, for I felt like a child of the sun on that cloudy hour. I, too, want to be all that I am capable of becoming. And nothing can dampen my collective process of inner growth, the power of my mind, the power of energy that stems from living a positive life.

After I pulled into the garage, I walked in the rain to the mailbox where I noticed the burgeoning sprouts of crocuses and tulips, reaching their arms toward the sky. I stopped to look at them, wondered how strong they’ll be this season, this spring of life, this spring of change.

As Mansfield writes:

“It is to lose oneself more utterly, to love more deeply, to feel oneself part of life—not separate.

“Oh Life! Accept me—make me worthy—teach me.”


We can each be a child of the sun if we so choose to teach ourselves how to sprout from the thawing ground of a cold winter. I do teach others, but foremost, I shall teach myself.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Ray Moment...


There may come a time, a time in everyone's life
Where nothing seems to go your way,
Where nothing seems to turn out right
There may come a time, you just can't seem to find your place
For every door you open, seems like you get two slammed in your face
That's when you need someone, someone that you can call.
And when all your faith is gone
Feels like you can't go on
Let it be me
Let it be me
If it's a friend that you need
Let it be me
Let it be me.


It's a Ray LaMontagne kind of Thursday. And I cannot find any of my CDs.

I confess: I saw someone sing "Trouble" on American Idol, and that rekindled my Ray rush. We'd been on a hiatus for a while. But this "kind of Thursday" truly hit me when I saw that Ray is appearing at the very hip Hangout Beach festival in Alabama along the Gulf Shore in May. And I can't go. Can I? I didn't ask.

But as I secretly pine my getaway tonight, I think back to a sweet-sounding sojourn at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which I attended with The Man and another couple back in 2001, nine years ago. It was a wonderful experience, especially since we saw B.B. King open for Van Morrison, who we caught two nights in a row. The first concert, in particular, blew my mind because Van has stage fright, sometimes performing with his back to the house. What a gift this was to us, for we had what most people would think were the worst seats in any house: behind the stage.

Well, eat that thought, doubters. For instead, Van faced the four of us, and a handful of others, and sang beautifully, soulfully, deeply--all while turning his back to the rest of the arena. Of course, he pitched a fit that night, chewing out the sound crew for some bobbles. He is a temperamental artist, we learned then and later at a Philadelphia show (which was one of the most frustratingly short and overpriced performances I have ever seen).

So as an escape, I started my dream getaway: back to Nola and her intoxicating hurricanes, back to days of carefree moments and fresh discoveries. The line-up that beckons me? A harmonious brew for the ears: Better Than Ezra, Simon & Garfunkel, George Clinton, Elvis Costello, Pearl Jam, Jeff Beck, B.B. King and, of course, Van. If only, if only. If only I had the blithe spirit that seems to float beyond my grasp, the one that thought nothing of just picking up and leaving. I guess age makes us hesitant to take risks, to leave caution on the couch, to stop running up the Visa to sate our euphonious impulses.

Fortunately, he has found some Ray to assuage my appetite, and thus my dream will stop--if just for tonight.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday's figurative foray


Tell me why I don’t like Mondays.

Go ahead. I dare you. It’ll be difficult—especially after today.

Today marked a solid way to start the week, mostly because I bathed in the calm waves of an in-service day. Typically, Monday mornings are nightmarish for most professionals, particularly English teachers who need to scurry around, make sure everything is in order for the week, that the scripts are ready for each production, for each show.

But today? Decidedly different.

I used the time to fine-tune my community-based project, to learn about new avenues to help my squirrels improve their interpretive skills, and to sharpen my favorite unit: poetry and literary analysis.

Teaching poetry to 9th grade boys will prove to be a challenge, but I welcome it.

I love word play, the beauty of our vernacular, the specific patois of regions and culture. We are masters of our own language, the owners of their meaning. Sometimes we keep them to ourselves; often we share them with others so that they, too, can soak in their grandeur, how mismatched lyrics perfectly fit in turns of phrase—very naturally, as if this unseemly juxtaposition of words has always been together.

Despite the contradictions, the truth exists. We are each a paradox, waiting to be understood by our audience.

Ah, poetry, I embrace you—now please embrace my squirrels.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Gigi's gift


If you were born on March 5, there is a restless quality to you that is unmistakable, and this can lead you to your share of adventures, but it can also get you into trouble at times! You easily feel stifled and bored by routine, so it is essential that you choose a life path that allows you the freedom to grow and learn. You may move forward prematurely, failing to complete projects you start, until you discover that your talents lie in inspirational, motivational, and other such fields.

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Dear Grace,

Today marks your 7th birthday, and it’s been a long journey, my little squirrel.

Out of all of the children to enter our lives, you will by far always be the most challenging, the one who makes a parent question whether she knows what’s best, wonder what to do or where to turn in a desperate moment. Since you were two, you have been shaped by hundreds of hours of therapy—from speech to occupational to behavioral. So many appointments, so many specialists, so few answers.

And now, now that you’re in first grade, we know that our belief in early intervention has been worth our investment of time. I greatly credit Miss Heather, a gregarious spirit who nurtured you in daycare. Your hand-flapping, tip-toe walking and drop in vocabulary prompted her to advise us to have you evaluated.

That was five years ago.

After desperate phone calls and consultations, we received a diagnosis that no parent wants to hear: autism spectrum. Unfortunately, there is no cure, no one to blame, no specific answer to pinpoint. We just had to make the best of a vague discovery, and we have.

And now look at you.

You’ve made great strides from the days of spinning and banging your head in frustration, of losing your ability to speak and turbulent tantrums. As the astrology forecast indicates, there is indeed a restless quality about you, a trait that leads you to constant strife and an overabundance of drama. Perhaps living in a house full of women adds to that. But we know that your disorder is at the root.

Still, your forecast also suggests that you should choose a life path that allows you the freedom to learn and grow. We know that will happen with the continued support. Right now, as you master math and learn to read—even if it’s with the assistance of an aide—we are all so proud of how many hurdles you’ve cleared, for we know many more await.

Just this week, days before the anniversary of your birth, you selected "Splat the Cat," a book from your personal library that we had never read before, and you read it on your own. Flawlessly. All 32 pages. By yourself. Afterward, you radiated like a candle on a dark evening.

For a child who doctors once said would most likely not be able to live independently, you have overcome the odds placed against you. Chances are you will not attend an Ivy League school; you may not even attend a state school. But you will become someone. We know this. We believe this.

You are a creative, intelligent, humorous ball of spunk with a penchant for creating highly detailed books, for singing, for imaginary play. And in this little journey, you have taught me so much about myself—to be patient, to find alternatives, to look at life in new ways, to never settle for less than what we all deserve on this odyssey.

I will always be your advocate, as long as I walk this land. I will always be there for you, to champion your successes, to calm you when you fall short. Know this, especially on your birthday, that you've been inspirational and motivational without even trying. After all, the best gifts of today are the gifts you’ve given me.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Woeful Wednesday


Wednesday unleashed a fury of pain.

After a 14-mile run on Tuesday evening, I wound up with tremendous agony in my right foot, which is sadly plagued with an angry case of plantar fasciitis. Ironically, long-distance running inseminated this PF, and yet I maintain my commitment and plow forward with my training. And after nearly nine months of carrying this discomfort, I’m ready to give birth to it.

The result? By Wednesday morning, I could hardly stand, let alone walk. And to top it off, I had an appointment with my physician to go over the results of my recent testing. Apparently, one section of my heart is angry as well, so I now must head to the cardiologist to find out the source of the problem. Throw in an echocardiogram and a stress test, and there’s just a lot of my plate.

(The only upsides are that my blood pressure and sitting heart rate both remain very low. And I lost a few pounds in the past two weeks without trying. Who knows what’s going on? I surely don’t.)

So between a cantankerous ticker and an enraged trotter, the focus on my projects has temporarily waned. At the moment, so many things seem to be uncertain, even though I clearly know what I want, what I need. And it’s more than Dove dark chocolate with a sage piece of advice.

What bothers me about this situation, however, is that I push my body to the limits, but two crucial parts of it are not cooperating.

For the past few years, my mantra has always been: “Respect the feet.” I have desperately tried: $15 socks, $140 running shoes replaced every 300 miles, stretching, icing, no high heels. In fact, I wear the oddest Keens; pink and grey they are, and odd-looking as well. But they stave off the pain, so fashion simply doesn’t matter.

But as for my heart? I don’t think there is anything more I can do. I don’t smoke, hardly drink. I eat healthy. I work out five, six days a week. My hope is that this is only a temporary problem, that my heart will heal, that I will be able to finish what I set out to do.

And have many more Wednesdays, only without pain.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Riverbed


“Delta"

If you have taken this rubble for my past
raking through it for fragments you could sell
know that I long ago moved on
deeper into the heart of the matter

If you think you can grasp me, think again:
my story flows in more than one direction
a delta springing from the riverbed
with its five fingers spread


~~Adrienne Rich (1989)

Poet Adrienne Rich writes from the soul, often questioning the falsity and destructiveness of societal expectations, a pioneer unafraid to resist the tide so prescribed by the majority. Similarly, I share a conflict that she endured in her past, a roadblock that seems to linger in my conscience almost continuously—that life’s responsibilities often threaten one’s art, one’s growth, one’s self.

Still, with two children and a marriage, Rich pushed forward, attempting to shed light on the deep thoughts and struggles of contemporary woman, a task that seems daunting to some, natural to others. For me, I find this to be a rather natural extension of self. This, perhaps, is due to what I perceive as a vastly complex adulthood, one mottled with a sweeping array of peaks and valleys.

Many of them are rather fulfilling and comforting—relationships with highly introspective, strong women who’ve served as sounding boards and personal mentors. Some are rather fulfilling and crestfallen—relationships with pensive and brooding men who’ve coveted high honors for their writing successes but could not figure out interpersonal skills.

And then there are the pitfalls of nature, life events that have molded me, for better and for worse. It is with pride that I wear this tapestry of affairs—positive, negative, Switzerland—for every moment had made me into the woman I am today.
In the end, however, this expansive reservoir of experiences has allowed me to question the sheep, those who follow paths without ever knowing what awaits us on the other side. Those who follow standard procedure because, well, that’s what good girls and boys do. They fear change, fear letting go, fear riding the bike with the dog in the baby seat and not giving a shiitake mushroom about what the neighbors think.

Several years ago, I was fortunate to hear Rich speak at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, a haven for beatniks, scholars, free thinkers, risk takers. And the clarity and conviction in her voice remains as a haunting image to me. The unblemished articulation, the emphasis on pause, the depth of vernacular that pierces the tongues of those who get it, of those who want to get it and are trying so desperately.

For my story, too, flows in more than one direction. I cannot be totally grasped by anyone, even my best friends, my mentors, my parents, my husband. Myself. For as each day passes, I continue to evolve into the person I was meant to be, the person who has learned to use her own rubble to rebuild a stronger, more focused woman, a more passionate writer, a more loyal soldier to her charge.

So when he tells me that he had 10 meetings in 8 hours, I want to say: Why? Why do we live like this? Why can we not escape the trappings of corporate, the rigid rules of institution, the repressive collar that chokes the sprinting dog in all of us?

I cannot fathom such restrictions in life, people telling me who I should be, how I should be living. That's why I silently howl that I am the starving animal who must run to the riverbed, drink in its springs, satisfy the thirst that lives within. Keep your leash, for I will not even sniff at the collar. You can wear it; you can live it; you can die in it.

Not I. Not I ever, for I move on, deeper to the heart of the matter, the heart of living.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lone White Wolf of the Great English Prairie


Happy Birthday, old girl.

Today you are 8 in calendar years, 56 in dog. 56. That’s almost as old as the dirt you cherish digging with those long nails, the ones intended to pull rats from deep pockets. Rat dog, some people chide you.

I remember the May afternoon that I drove to rural Berks County, searching for the country house that advertised petite Jack Russells for $250. Once I arrived, the owner unleashed you and your siblings in the living room as your mom and aunt roamed free. It was difficult to choose from the litter of four. Your sisters had those all-white faces with brown ears. You were the only one who wore a mask, but it was brindle, a black-brown blend of mottled hair. Not acceptable for show quality, they said, but I didn’t care. I grew up with hunting dogs—working hounds who roamed the fields.

So I brought you home in a small box, and you cried the entire drive. So much sound for a three-pound pup who took weeks to crawl up one step. We had to keep an eye on you in the backyard, for the red-tailed hawks from the woods of South Mountain often encircled, eyeing you as a potential take-out dinner.

Over the years you grew into a solid addition to our family, proving yourself to be a fiercely loyal companion, a dog who never needs a fence, who obeys the property line, rarely leaves it. You have worn many hats: security guard, lap warmer, pedicurist, vacuum cleaner, wanna-be hunter, running partner. But the best role, by far, has been teacher, and you’ll never realize how grateful we are for that.

For the girl you have mentored relied on you to grow, to communicate, to beat the odds that were once placed before her. And you had no idea.

It’s with Grace that you have proved yourself the most. When her disability stripped her of the freedom to communicate, it was with you that she could speak without words, the pressing of her small face against yours, the sharing of silent conversations. Only locked gazes, smiles, a sweep of your tongue across her cheek, tight neck embraces that you continue to endure.

“Emma.”

One of her first words, one of the words she did not lose the year that this impairment snuck up and robbed her of practically all other vocabulary. And with her you have stayed, constant bed companion, constant collaborator. You were--and remain--her savior, the spark that comforts her in most frustrating times.

So today I honor you, our little dog, our Emma: Lone White Wolf of the Great English Prairie who prances through the fields of Bear Swamp. If you only knew how thankful we are to have picked the brindle pup that didn’t need to qualify for Best in Show. You see, our reward is worth much more than any title could bestow.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Blue Heron


The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
And he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing...


Driving home last Wednesday, I quietly prayed that the storm front headed our direction would suddenly divert its terror in some other direction. This, however, was not what my students wanted; they preferred the idea of sleeping late and lounging in pajama pants. I, on the other hand, shot a bitter eye and furrowed brow toward the grey sky as I headed on my Bear Swamp journey.

Along Sauerkraut Lane I drove. Past the massive homes. Past the stone farmhouses. Past the summer kitchens and the fallen fields of sheered corn and soybeans. As I headed into the dip towards the swollen Swabia Creek, I suddenly caught glimpse of a massive creature soaring not 30 feet above me.

A graceful blue heron.

I slowed the car on the winding road and watched as he flew westerly with me, magnificent wings spanning broadly, beak straight ahead. Slow and methodical, angular to the wind and fluid with motion. He stayed on my course for a half-mile before turning south into the sloping meadow. I pulled over to watch him glide away.

When the so-called snurricane finally descended the next day, I perched my bike and began to pedal a 30-mile ride inside the confines of our library. Throughout the drill, my gaze alternated between my focused image in the mirror and at the snow smacking against the window. And along the way, the thought of the blue heron kept recurring in my mind. He was out there, somewhere, spending his hours the way nature has intended—surrounded by the beauty of the hills, the sound of the breeze, the cold touch of the frozen flakes.

Instead, I remain trapped on a wheel of repetitive spinning and unable to escape. The rhythmic cadence of my legs stayed with the music as I eyed the arch of my back, noticing the definition of my lats, delts, traps. Trapped—like the caged bird, unable to name the sky as my own.

When our wings are clipped and our feet are tied, we cannot live. No one can—which is why we must always appreciate the splendor of life’s gifts and seize the opportunities placed before us.

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.


Until this winter passes, I shall quietly pedal in my cage, waiting for the day that I can finally dip my wings into the rays of the sun, bask in its glory, run to my trail and embrace a hemlock, cross a covered bridge and throw my hands toward the sky after I pass through its simplistic beauty.

Until I can again feel like the broad-back blue heron, searching for a destination of contentment.