Planting Seeds

Posted on October 17, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

THOREAU-EXPECT-WONDERSHard choices. The theme for the day’s lunch. Discuss our hard choices and what we’ve learned from them, how they’ve shaped us.

Was the choice hard from the beginning, or did hardship arise only in the middle, when we were knee-deep in, no going back? Or was it the end of the choice and the bearing of its consequences that brought hardship on?

I immediately thought of all the times I’ve moved, over twenty when I stopped counting several years ago. Some easy–a few blocks away, in college, to the other side of town, same city. Some decidedly hard, requiring the shedding of material, intellectual, philosophical things, like a snake sheds its skin, leaving me feeling naked, exposed. Another state, another country. Back again, and always the question, now what?

I’d taken to thinking of my life as if I was a dandelion spore, blown about by the breeze, landing here or there by chance. Not a lovely thing, not rooted.

Until I landed here, where I stumbled into a community, a home. A place where hope multiplies like dandelions in a field, ineradicable.

I’ve always been a fan of fields and flowers and trees, but I now understand the power of a seed.

 

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Henry D. Thoreau

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Wednesday Night Coffee

Posted on September 12, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

But why don’t you tell me a little about you, I say and raise my cup to my lips to silence myself.

Only 6:30 and a long day already, fourteen hours and still more to do. Fueled by caffeine, I have been talking since she sat down, conveying the usual information about volunteer opportunities, the usual story about Girls on the Run, barely pausing for a breath much less a response.

She sits post straight across from me, deportment suggesting a tightly made bed, sheets taut, covers smoothed, corners tucked in hospital-style, and listens politely. When I say tell me about you her eyes shift right, seek the corner, some point on which to focus other than me. She speaks quietly but directly, measuring words, and I am once again astonished by the honesty, the trust a complete stranger has in me.

coffe

I watch her face as she talks, still taut, no wrinkle to underscore the furrows of her life, like we’re taught to smooth away pain, tuck it under cover, hide it underneath so no one sees.  But for a moment a ripple like wind kissing water passes over her eyes, which widen almost imperceptibly, the only inflection to underscore the agony in broken relationships, loneliness, death of which she speaks.

Why running? I ask, although I too know the answer, but I listen for the epiphany, the connection, her need to say it.

Because it’s not self destruction, it’s another way, a safe way, a path toward community, she says. It feels like what happiness should be.   

She wriggles excitedly in her chair as she says happiness and I think of the girl another coach told me about only an hour earlier, the girl who walked out of math class bursting with joy and said, Math makes me so happy. I love it so much I just have to do it.  I had laughed when I heard this, thought how odd, to get such joy from math, and then, yes but it is the same with me and running, and how odd that must be to some.

She has stopped speaking and once again sits post straight across from me, waiting. Do I gloss over her admission of pain, her declaration of happiness, step back into my own reserve, my own tightly-made bed?

Another sip of coffee as I consider the balance of safety and risk, the imperative of which I have been speaking for weeks of open hearts and connection. One more sip and I venture in. Running saved my life, I say and speak to her of divorce and sickness and death. If only it had been shown me when I was young…

But what do you want? I ask suddenly, surprising myself, as I have not asked anyone so directly before. Why volunteer? What is it you expect to find here?

For the first time she looks me square in the eye. Myself, she says. My way back to me.

 

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But I have promises to keep…

Posted on August 8, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sarah, go to the gym.

That’s what my friend says she needs someone to tell her, to motivate her. It’s not that she doesn’t like the gym. It’s not that deep down she really doesn’t want to go. It’s more that when time gets tight and life overwhelming, the first promise she breaks is the one she makes to herself.

She’s not alone. I can’t count the number of times I wake before my alarm, my daily calendar cluttering my mind, stealing my peace. It’s not just the tasks but the weight of it all that makes me want to lie in bed just a little longer.

So the mental calculations begin. What can I cut from my day to buy some time as I lie here, watching the slats for the first hint of dawn, delaying the inevitable? Never meetings or phone calls. Never promises to friends.

Always meetings with myself. Always promises to me.   milestogo

My workout, sometimes. More often, my writing. Always, something I like to do, just for me. So easy to back out on these things. I am not accountable for them to anyone but me.

But here’s the thing. Breaking these promises to myself, not doing the things that keep me whole, balanced, healthy, at peace with the world, ultimately affects my world and those who are in it. If I don’t take care of myself first, I am useless to others later.

I may become, in fact, a mean old lady with a sour face who lives alone with a dozen Chihuahuas in the house on the corner that’s overgrown with wild roses and thyme, the one that all the neighborhood kids pelt with rotten apples.

Or, worse, I may become a burden in my self-imposed declining health instead.

When I was in college, I visited my dad for the summer. It was his Saturday morning ritual to mow the lawn. Later in the day, he’d spend time with us. One Friday I thought I’d surprise him and mow the lawn while he was at work, free up his weekend time to spend with me.

Late that night when he came home and saw the yard shorn and flowerbeds well-tended, happiness was not the look on his face. His mouth opened, then closed. He licked his lips, inhaled deeply, eyebrows knitted downward into the deepest expression of disappointment I had seen on his face in a long time. I was heartsick and stammered to explain.

“But I like to mow the lawn,” he said. I had stolen his time, his exercise. His peace.

So I say to Sarah what I say to myself. Go to the gym. Go write or paint or walk your dog or any of the private, personal things you need just for you.

Ignore the arched brows when you go to the gym or out for a walk mid-morning, the smug comments about how nice it must be to get away and do something so unimportant when others are working or caring for kids.

Your time for you is your work. It’s your duty to yourself to be healthy, balanced, happy. It makes you more productive at work, more relaxed with your family and friends. Better able to tackle the rest of life.

I never mowed my dad’s lawn again. Now, when I mow my own, when I’m sticky with sweat and plastered with grass clippings and dirt, when I see the wake of clean lines left behind my mower and feel an immense satisfaction, an inner peace, I think of him and smile.

When I wake up tomorrow morning, I hope I remember this, the necessity to write, to run. The satisfaction, the peace. Because I have promises to keep. And miles so go before I sleep, again.

 

 

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Pay Attention

Posted on August 1, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If I had taken a snapshot the last time I was here and held it up in front of me today, I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.  Same people. Same equipment. Same routine. Same pace. Same bodies.

I haven’t been here in months. The gym has never really been my thing. I’d rather be outside in the sun and breeze and sometimes even the rain. But I go because there are things I cannot do outside of a gym. Things I haven’t done in over six months because I have not been inside of a gym.

Half marathon training started this week. Sprints—effective, non-cheating-by-slowing-down-because-I-just-can’t-maintain-the-pace, incrementally faster sprints—is one of those things.

I chose a treadmill in the back corner, far away from other people, the weights, light, noise and glanced around while I warmed up.  Had the layout changed? Was there new equipment? If I was serious about getting back into the gym, I suppose I should know what’s actually in the gym.   cornfields

That’s when I spotted them. The Frontline Treadmill Warriors. The Stairstepper. The Nordic-Tracker.  I don’t know their names, but I know them by their routine. Months of walking, stepping, gliding. Straddling the same machine each day, never varying their routine.

I’d hear them occasionally in the locker room, six months ago and more, complaining about their lack of progress. Occasionally, they’d ask what I think. Invariably, I’d answer the same: Habits make bodies lazy. They stop paying attention. Shock your body. Mix up your routine. Even corn stops growing when the crops aren’t rotated.

The Stairstepper might try the treadmill. A Warrior might try to glide. But habits are hard to break. And routine is like our favorite pair of shoes, so easy to slip into. Before long, maybe a week, each of them would be straddling their old machine.

Six months of a non-gym routine and I’m ready to change it. I’m tired of complaining to myself about my lack of progress. Time to rotate the crops.

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Just the Facts, Ma’am

Posted on June 13, 2014. Filed under: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Tropical-Fish1

You need to post more information about yourself, my editor tells me. People need to know you.

Why? I ask. Whoever reads my blog knows me by what I write. The stories. The struggles. The voice and tone. What more is there to know?

It’s been a battle of the wills for months, but she will inevitably win. Writing a memoir is hard, the distillation of a lifetime through a funnel called Running, Community.

It starts in a blog, a series of posts, and expands ever outward, from blog to memoir to a compilation of runners’ stories woven together like a tightly knit shawl. To be complete by the end of summer. Draft 1.

The hardest question to answer: Tell us about yourself. Writing a bio of even three sentences is excruciatingly hard.

What is it people want to know, the facts (or the truth behind them)?

My favorite colors are blue and green (the colors of peace and tranquility—like floating under water, suspended by saline and waves; the only sound your breath, to know you are alive; surrounded by fish the color of the sun or the sky at dawn, a funnel cloud of rainbow eddying around you).

But this is no longer eighth grade and the relevant facts do not involve (so I am told) colors or music or movies.

Do they want to know the history (or the narrative)? Dates or events comprise the skeleton, stories connect the organs and flesh.

It takes a lifetime to build a body.

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Accidentally Blonde

Posted on May 30, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

animal-adorable-expression-of-little-cat-on-mirror-hd-wallpapers-widescreen-wallpapers-kitten-mirror-cat-in-the-mirror-mary-stolz-cat-mirror-test-mirror-cat-manor-cat-mirror-justin-timberlake-cat-shap

I was a blonde once, by accident. For a year, maybe more.

It started with my sneaky hair stylist, who sported a spiky platinum ‘do herself. I wanted a change, nothing shocking. Just a spot of blonde, a wisp at my temple.

I was mid-divorce and needed something new. Something bold. Something me.

Or maybe something not me.

The wisp became a streak. The streak multiplied asymmetrically and soon became reminiscent of a zebra. Not so much later, the stripes became a layer and, shortly, the layer a helmet.

One morning as I brushed my teeth I caught my own eye in the mirror and gasped, stunned to find that I was blonde. I didn’t know, then, how it had happened, with me unawares.

Maybe I lost sight of who I was.

Or maybe I never knew.

I went out for a run to think on it, and it brought me to my senses.

The next day, I came back to me. Brunette. Mostly. Except for the wisps of gray sometimes peeking out at my temples.

Now in the mornings when I brush my teeth and catch sight of myself in the mirror, I know exactly who I am.

I smile through dribbled toothpaste, and then go out for a run.

 

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To Say It Makes It So

Posted on May 16, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

writer-at-desk

I’m in the process of writing a book about—wait for it—running. I know. Who’d have thought?

The book is part memoir—how running has transformed me personally and professionally—and part community collaboration. It will include the stories of remarkable women I’ve been fortunate to know here in San Antonio and how running has transformed them too.

It’s because of these women that I found the courage to write this book. And I was lucky enough to meet them because of the work I do as council director for Girls on the Run of Bexar County. Through it all, I am learning what it means to be part of a community. And I am learning so much more.

Writing is a tricky process. It comes in fits and starts, and sometimes goes even quicker. There are days when I can’t wait to get in front of my computer to dump out the piece of story that’s written itself in my head, and days when I can’t, for the life of me, string together one true sentence.

But it’s coming together nevertheless, slowly but surely. I’m half way there. Over the hump. Which is why I feel safe enough to say it out loud. And you know how words work. To say it makes it so.

 

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Flat Tires

Posted on March 14, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

flat-tire

I’ve seen this commercial several times. We see the face of a young woman as she changes her tire in the rain.  She appears anguished, there in the rain alone. We are distressed too.  Is she safe? Will anyone stop to help her?  The camera pans out to a man standing next to the car.

Appearances can be deceiving.

“I told you you could do it,” the man says.  The girl, obviously his daughter, smiles confidently in her newfound ability as the rain stops and they get into the car together.

I generally hate commercials, and I particularly hate car commercials.  But I love this commercial. I love that this father empowers his daughter, showing her that she need not rely on others to do things for her unless she wants to.  She can do what she puts her mind to.

I was lucky enough to have a dad like this too.  He believed in doing things himself whenever he could.  This is the man who built most of his home’s second story by himself on weekends, vacations.  The man who always mowed his own lawn, planted his own flowers, painted the house, the deck, the awnings, the lawn furniture.

Sometimes do-it-yourself worked out fine.  The second story carpeting looked fantastic, for instance.  Other times, calling in a professional might have been a better idea. But who needs a level driveway anyway? He was a firm believer in trying.

So when my first car needed an oil change, he took me to the gas station and showed me how to find the right oil and filter, then dragged me under the car to finish the job.  When my headlight went out, I fixed it, with my dad standing behind me. It didn’t feel so empowering, then.  It felt greasy. Dead-buggy. And I felt awkward doing something I wasn’t used to.

A few years ago, I had my first flat tire. I had never changed a flat with my dad, but I had seen one changed.  This tire wasn’t just flat, but blown right the heck out.  My fault. I was new to Texas, not used to the razor-sharp markers sometimes used to separate traffic lanes, and I ran right over a whole stretch of them.  The mechanic who later attempted to fix the tire asked if someone had slashed it with a machete.

I pulled over and sat in my car for a few minutes, hoping someone would stop.  I knew what to do, in theory, but I felt awkward doing it. What if I screwed it up somehow or made it worse?  What if I accidentally fell over into oncoming traffic when I tried to remove the tire?

But no one stopped. I got out of the car, more irritated that I was going to be late than that I had to change my tire. I hate being late. I unloaded the spare and parts from my trunk and watched the road with one eye.

A handful of cars drove by. No one stopped.

I jacked up the car, swearing as I dirtied my shirt looking under the car for the groove to place the jack in, and started to loosen lug nuts. Not an easy task, let me tell you. I stomped on the tire iron and could barely budge them, at first.

More cars drove by. Still, no one stopped.

Finally, I got the tire off.  A semi pulled over a couple hundred feet up the road.

“Hold on,” the driver yelled as he walked my way. “Let me finish that.”

I waited for him to get there, then thanked him for stopping to help.

“I wasn’t going to,” he said. “I mean, you look like you know what you’re doing.  But then I thought of my sister. If she had a flat, I’d want someone to stop and help her.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. How odd that I look like I know what I’m doing, I thought. Sure, I know the process, but I am not at all comfortable actually completing it.

“Do you think that’s why no one else stopped?” I asked him. “Because I look like I know what I’m doing?”

“I guess so,” he shrugged and turned his attention to the tire.

I crouched into a deep squat and hugged my knees as I watched him finish changing the tire, grateful that I did know what to do. And grateful that he did too.

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What Would You Give?

Posted on March 7, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

gift

For years I have not observed Lent. At first because I dropped out of the church, and then later, when I dribbled back in, because I got tired of seeing Lent trivialized. It’s not the latest diet, the Lenten 15, say, a plan to drop those last stubborn pounds in anticipation of swimsuit season. And it’s not an excuse to cut out meat on Fridays, only to show up at your local fish monger and indulge in lobster.

I, of course, have done these things in the name of Lent. Deprived myself of chocolate and Fritos or wine and beer in an effort to reach an objective that was personal and selfish, not communal and considerate of others.  I have established my goal, created my plan, and expected my God to follow along granting my desire. Like Aladdin’s genie, but maybe not so blue.

I have thought that if I could demonstrate to God my ability to deprive myself of certain things, then He would reward me. With what, I wasn’t sure. Nice things, a great job. Happiness, maybe. A medal.

I have even made running my idol, expecting God to affix wings to my heels.

But, as Woody Allen asserts, if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.

What I’m figuring out, I think, is to focus not on the goal or the plan but, rather, on the gift, the ability God has given me. Like writing. Compassion and empathy. Mercy. And even running. And to remember that these gifts are not mine to keep. Gifts are meant to be given.

So the question I face this Lenten season is not what do I deprive myself of. Not exactly. I know that I can be self-disciplined. But what do I give of myself. What can I offer to others so they can be happier, better, stronger? How can I bring someone joy or compassion or love? Consciously and deliberately. Not accidentally or incidentally.

It’s Ash Wednesday today, the day I write this, and I’m still not sure how to observe Lent. A funny word, “observe.” Implying that we will hang around and passively watch something happen rather than actively participate.  But action is required. It is the end of reflection.

And, I think, it’s never too late to pare ourselves down to the bone, to become less in order to give more.

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Do You Recognize Improvement When You See It?

Posted on February 21, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Picture of sand dune in the Sahara desert of Morocco.

Two weeks ago, I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, the steep half-mile hill with the false top three quarters of the way up, my hill-repeat nemesis, and stared up. It was cold that day. Windy. But it was the last day for hill repeats in this round of training, for this particular half marathon, and Carrie and I had just finished our series of repeats. I wanted to mark the hill in my head. Remember the grade, the cold and wind, the burning that did not transpire in my lungs or quads. Not this time. We had improved.

Improvement can be such an elusive thing. Often not because it doesn’t happen, but because it can be so slight it’s almost imperceptible. If we don’t pay attention, we miss it.

Take, for instance, this hill. We were finished and walking back to our cars before we realized some small things.

  • We did five hills—and chatted up and down the entire time.  Previous training days were silent affairs, the loudest and most extended sound often the gasping for breath.
  • Once we reached the top, we turned around and ran down.  Not so on earlier runs.  We breathed too hard, then, and had to walk a good quarter of the way down until we could even begin to run.
  • And once we hit bottom we turned right around again to run back up, no down time in between.  On earlier runs, I would have preferred to camp out at the bottom for awhile. Build a fire, maybe. Roast some marshmallows.  But there was no need to this time. We had improved. And we almost missed it.

Did it make a difference on race day? Training always does. We ran the Austin Half Marathon, the hardest course in my half marathon experience so far because of all the hills.

We finished the race knowing we ran well and could not have done anything different. That’s the best feeling after a race. When you’ve given it your all.

And the second best feeling is knowing that your all is an improvement.  Carrie PRed. I ran my second fastest half marathon time.  It’s the small things that matter. Put enough of them together and you get something big.

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