Thursday, December 31, 2009

Swilling champagne & chilling shrimp

I stopped at Sprouts on New Year's Eve and left with a pound of boiled shrimp. The significance didn't hit me till I got home, unwrapped the package and started eating this longtime favorite treat of mine.

When I was growing up, cold, boiled shrimp signified New Year's Eve as much as black-eyed peas and resolutions. It was my brothers' and sisters' and my favorite part of our parents' New Year's Eve party...one of the few kid-friendly offerings we could nab when nobody was looking.

The parties were legendary. People (some invited, some not) danced. Champagne flowed. People danced because champagne flowed. The dignified SMU dean who lived down the block walked his wife home...then appeared at our front door after making sure she was asleep. On many a New Year's Day, we'd find party-goers in the bushes, sleeping off the previous evening's frivolity.


Tonight, I eat my shrimp and think about those parties, wondering when and why they ended. Only in retrospect do I realize what irreverently raucous evenings those were...ones that, depending on my mood and my level of loneliness, I'd kind of like being part of.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A waiting crate; awaiting fate

I knew Macho would be gone, adopted to his permanent family, by the time I got home from work on Saturday. Still, when I opened the front door, I glanced toward the dining room, half expecting to see the big lug ambling over to greet me. He'd even started wagging his tail (a huge step) upon my arrival.

But alas. On the floor by the front window were the blue quilt and the white one. There were the two Milk Bones he never really liked.

Then I saw the crate (the HUGE crate, I might add) in the kitchen. My heart jumped. Maybe his new family had had second thoughts! Maybe they were still iced in! (despite temperatures that had climbed above the freezing point). Maybe maybe maybe...

Or, the most likely maybe of all, it awaits our next foster dog. One the cats might hide from for 36 hours before garnering their bravado, their affection, their awe for this big ol' lummox. One who loves a quilt fresh from the dryer, a little peanut butter mixed with his food. One whose soulful eyes have seen more than we really need or can bring ourselves to know.

Meanwhile, the crate is empty. The front window is, too. But after my runs, I still glance at it, expecting to see the face that, for two precious weeks, welcomed me home.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Loving Molly. Always.

I admit I have not been a good friend to Molly. I used to walk by her yard almost every day, bringing her three Milk Bones. I'd talk to her, telling her what a good girl she was. She'd wag her tail, trotting to one spot to take the first, another for the second, the last for the third.

I'd say, "OK, Molly, have a good day. Love you," and walk home.

But the last few times I'd seen her, she hardly moved. I'd still talk to her, still drop bones in her yard.  She looked thin, and it broke my heart to see her and feel so helpless. One day I put a bowlful of dog food mixed with an egg in her yard. But mostly, I am beyond ashamed to say, I'd avoid her yard. But today on the way to church, we were running late and so drove right by her house.

In the chain link fence, I saw three white flowers. And I knew. I started to cry. My son put his hand on my shoulder. He squeezed it; he rubbed it; he kept it there till we were almost to church.

"It's OK Mom," he kept saying. "It's OK."

She was a beautiful dog, a white German shepherd. She was friendly and sweet, wagging her tail for kids going to the elementary school a hundred yards away, brightening more lives than she ever knew.


I am trying to console myself thinking she is in a much better place, a place where someone pets her and loves her even when school isn't in session. A place where someone takes her on walks, and lets her run off the leash, knowing she'll always come back to them.


Click here to read what I wrote about her six years ago. Godspeed, Molly. Love you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

(Re)opening hearts


When I suggested to my son that we foster a greyhound, his initial reaction was eagerness. But a few hours before Macho was to be delivered to our house, I found Charlie in the office, lying on a chair, petting his cat, being uncharacteristically silent.

"I'm not sure if I'm ready for another dog," he said.

We lost our Sally during the summer, and have been making do quite nicely (or so we've thought) with two cats. But we've missed her, and missed having a dog. (Click here to read more). My running pal and his wife have a houseful of greyhounds -- dogs I'm quite fond of, dogs that remind me of the pleasures of canine company.

Yet I understood what Charlie was saying. I empathized with his mixed emotions, felt my heart bruise at the idea of another dog stepping (albeit gingerly) into it.

"Charlie," I said, "no dog will ever replace Sally. We don't expect one to. We don't want one to; that's not the reason we're getting (even temporarily) another one."

"I know," he said. "I'm just thinking."

Macho's been here 24 hours now. He has slept, eaten, gone on a few short walks, conked out afterward, and played for perhaps a total of three minutes with a squeaky toy we bought him before he got here.

When Charlie got into the car after school, he didn't even rummage for his drive-home snack before he asked what Macho had done today.

We know Macho has already been adopted. We're just keeping him till after Christmas, when his forever family will bring him home for good. Meanwhile, we delight in hearing dog toenails on the hardwood floors again. Once more, dark-puddled eyes mesmerize us. We've pulled out the Milk Bones we'd bought for Sally and had yet to throw away. Macho doesn't seem that interested, but I rather like seeing them again.  

Macho is big. He is white. He is a bit of a lummox, somewhat of an lug, the sweetest galoot you can imagine.We're pretty attached to him already. He slept in Charlie's room half of that first night here; right now, he's conked out by Charlie's bed for what we hope is a full night of sleep.

A half-hour earlier, Charlie was in the dining room, his laptop on the table, finishing his homework. He said something, which initially I thought was directed at me. Now, thinking back, I'm not so sure.

"I had forgotten," I heard him say, "how much fun having a dog is."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Encountering chance

A few mornings ago, my mom, my dad, and my sister Jeanne were eating breakfast at a known-for-its-biscuits cafe. They were almost finished when Mom spotted a well-dressed woman sitting alone a few tables away.

"She looks just like Carol!" whispered Mom to Jeanne, referring to a woman with whom she used to work. Mom kept looking at the woman, who smiled and waved a bit.

She wasn't Carol, but Mom felt compelled to talk to her anyway. If you knew my mother, this would not surprise you in the least. If you don't know her, well, I wish you did. She is quite possibly the most interested, interesting, energetic and compassionate person you could ever hope to meet. Oh, and she's pretty adorable, too. But I digress.

Turns out the woman is 82 ("I couldn't believe it when she told me that!" Mom said). She's from New York (like Mom). Her first name is Lorraine; her last Coghlin (the same as Mom's sister).

"Honey," Mom told me later, "we probably talked for at least 20 minutes. We just had this connection."

Lorraine said that perhaps fate brought her and Mom together.

"Maybe we were meant to meet each other today," she said. "When I was working, a man came into the office not long after my brother had died. He reminded me so much of my brother, it was uncanny. I almost didn't tell him that, but I did.

"He thanked me, of all things. He said maybe he needed to be at my office that day for a reason. Maybe it was to help me find some peace about my brother's death."

"We just don't know, do we?" Mom said, repeating what she had said to Lorraine. She paused and I sensed she was also asking me, yet not expecting an answer.

In the course of their conversation, Mom told Lorraine how much she enjoys her part-time job in the lingerie section of a department store. By the time the two parted ways, Lorraine had decided to apply at Neiman's or Nordstrom's.

"It sounds like such fun," she said. "I'll let you know."

She and Mom exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. They vowed to see each other again. Before saying goodbye, Lorraine shared one more thought.

"This," she said, "is a miracle."

In 20 minutes, you can get your bangs trimmed. You can fold clothes, or jog two miles, or address a dozen Christmas cards. You can butter your toast and sip your coffee and catch up with those at your table.

Or you can channel my mom as you set your cup in its saucer and catch the eyes of a stranger. Someone who, for reasons you'll never know, just happened to pick the same place to eat, on the same day, at the same time, as you. Reasons that, 20 minutes later, really don't matter much at all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Malaise musings

When you don't feel good, you figure either:
A. Nobody else does. Or 
B. Everyone is perfectly healthy except for you.

You squint when you venture outside to get the mail, whether the sun is out or not. When it's time to pick up your son from school, you hope you remember how to drive, and that your nose doesn't bleed, and that the ibuprofen lasts until you get home.

One day, you are so tired of feeling crummy that you tell yourself: Enough. You put on a red sweater to perk yourself up. You gather your gym stuff, make sure your podcasts have downloaded, make the bed. 

At the gym, you're kind of in a daze. You think you're using lower weights than usual, but truthfully, it seems like so long since you've been there you can't quite remember what "usual" is. You consider trying the Stairmaster, or an elliptical machine, but the thought exhausts you. 

In the dressing room, you're afraid to catch a glimpse of yourself. You haven't exercised in three days; no doubt you're now a certified chunkster with zero metabolism. You can't think of anything funny, or why you once thought you were in shape.


Then you get to your car, and as you throw your sneakers into the back, you realize (dare you say this?) you feel a teeny bit better. You think of the half-marathon you're scheduled to run on Sunday, the one you've all but told yourself you won't be able to do. 

You reread the note from your nephew, with whom you've had a standing date on the starting line for three years now: "Not running? Auntie, you have to run!" 


And you start to believe him (at least a little), and your friend who has all along said a variance on this: "You're not going to lose months of conditioning and training if you take an easy week. Save those legs and energy for Sunday."

So though you're not making promises, to yourself or anyone else, you're at least considering the possibilities. And you're pretty sure that when you pick up your son from school today, you'll talk about something funny, something that makes you laugh. Out loud, and for a very long time. 



Sunday, December 6, 2009

When life gives you lemons...make my lemon bread


In modest estimation, I have baked close to 1,000 loaves of lemon bread. Most, foil-wrapped and bow-tied, I left on the desks of co-workers a few days before Christmas Eve. (The others I ate when no one was looking.)

Anyway, I'd start baking Thanksgiving weekend. By this time in December, I'd have about 30 loaves in the freezer. But I'm not working at the same place any more, and so I have baked nary a one.

Instead, I'm passing along the recipe. OK OK OK. It's no great secret. It USED to be a secret, but I shared it once before....albeit in a Dallas Morning News blog that nobody read (but me).

So here you go: My version of a recipe I kiped from a Farm Journal cookbook, that I in turn had kiped from the food-section office years ago.

Two things I'll admit about my lemon tea bread: 1. It's delicious. And 2. The notes from co-workers who made it part of their Christmas...became part of mine.

Enjoy!

LEMON TEA BREAD
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In one bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In larger bowl, combine one cup sugar, butter, eggs, lemon extract and lemon juice. Beat at medium speed for two minutes.
Add dry ingredients alternately with milk, beating after each addition. Stir in walnuts or pecans. Pour into greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan.
Bake for 50 minutes, or till toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup lemon juice for the topping. Using a fork, prick holes in the bread. Pour lemon-sugar mixture over top.

When cool, remove from pan. Wrap in foil, tie with a bow, and give to a special somebody or two. Yes, they'll probably notice if there's a bite missing. But you may not be able to resist. Besides, once they taste it...they'll understand.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Snow daze

My fingers are too grasped around a tissue to grab a camera and head outside to illustrate this. So maybe you can look out your own window at the snow, or close your eyes and revel in the magic of snow days.

First, much to my son's chagrin, this isn't one, at least not yet. He's at school, no doubt paying more attention to the falling flakes than to Aristophanes.

Here at home, you can't help but watch the snow either. To remember those mornings when you get out of bed and your feet are cold when they touch the floor. Of looking outside, of seeing the slightest whisper of snow on the ground, of having the teeniest of flashes thinking....what if? What if?

You're shivering a little -- with cold or optimistic anticipation, who knows? You smell almost-burned toast and go into the kitchen to eat your oatmeal and the radio is on and the announcer is calling out the school closings. They're in alphabetical order, and if you never paid attention to your ABCs, you can bet you do right now.

And then you hear it. Your school. Closed. All. Day. Long. You run into the living room and the good news is confirmed at the bottom of the TV screen.

You call your friend two doors down and you meet outside. You're freezing, but laughing like hyenas and trying to gather enough snow in your wet mittens to make a snowball to push down her turtleneck sweater.

By noon, after you've burned the roof of your mouth gulping Campbell's tomato soup and wolfing down a grilled-cheese sandwich, you rush back outside. There's still hardly any accumulation. Still, the snow falls.

And still, you snatch it up, practically as it drops from the sky, determined to build a snowman. One that wobbles on the brown grass, one that will be gone by the time school would be let out.

But there is no school. Today's a snow day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giblet musings

We're counting the hours till it's time to niblets

The tasty turkey parts we call the giblets

The mere thought of them makes our vision blurred

Yum!! That tantalizing viscera of our big ol' bird.

How sad that some experience depravity

At never reaching inside a turkey's cold cavity

And grabbing a bag with the gizzard! The liver!

Such delectable thoughts make our legs start to quiver.

Then mincing it mightily with chunks o'the neck

Got celery? And salt? And bouillon cube? Check.

We simmer the mix till the smell from the burner

Starts our noses to hurt, our stomachs to turn(er).

Because, yes, we admit we've been telling a fiblet

We get slightly ill at the thought of a giblet.


HAPPY THANKSGIVING (anyway)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Leafing well enough alone

My Charlie is out of school for Thanksgiving break. I'm glad he has the whole week off; school is tough and his days long.

So sweet mother that I am, I smiled at him as he lay on the couch...at least until the 17th time I walked by. I gently asked what he was doing on the computer (FOR THE LAST FOUR HOURS). I let him sleep, trying very hard to vacuum quietly.

But long about 3 p.m., I'd had enough of sloth. I strongly suggested a little together time; namely, raking leaves.

An hour later, he was still in his PJs. I raised my voice (but hardly at all) saying it wouldn't take long and that it needed to be done.

So out we went. I started putting the piles into bags. He said he wanted to rake a huge one and jump in it. So that's what he did. But not till I found my little video camera and shot this. I haven't mastered the art of editing (or, admittedly, filming). So start this at about Second 11 and go from there.
video

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Raining silence

I am sitting on the porch, hearing the rain before it starts. The air shivers; it rustles; it quivers a bit.

I call my son outside to affirm what I am, or am not, hearing.

"Listen," I tell him.

Charlie is quiet for a moment, then asks: "What?"

"Shhh. The sound. Do you hear it?"

"It's rain," he says.

But when he trots across the porch and stands on the sidewalk, he doesn't get wet.

He goes inside, and the rhythmic sound persists. Hearing it, yet seeing nothing but the orange tint of autumn's air, is an odd sensation. I feel as if I am somehow privy to the future, to a split-second secret of what is a breath away: The last batch of leaves to fall; stars to sparkle; wineglasses and hearts to shatter.

Within minutes, the rain is falling. Oddly enough, without a sound.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Volleybald champs!!



Oh my. What a win! Guess maybe rubbing the kid's head for good luck helped.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Short(er) and still pretty sweet



On Thursday, five days after the initial head shave, Charlie said his hair felt "uber heavy."

So back we went to Huey's barbershop. This time, Huey himself did the honors -- shaving what was left of Charlie's tresses. And not without asking several times if Charlie was SURE that's what he wanted.

Charlie was. So Huey shaved.

His parting words: "Charlie, the next step...is blood."

In the car, Charlie told me he wanted it short so, in case his team made the volleyball playoffs, everyone could rub his head for good luck.

We'll see how well that works. Playoffs are today at 4; the Lions are in 'em.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A shaved head?! Do Tell(y)



About a month ago, my son Charlie (to distinguish him from all my other sons) decided he wanted to shave his head.

The reason? An upcoming volleyball tournament of course. (Why I missed that connection is beyond me.)

"Who else is doing it?" I asked.

He looked puzzled at my question. "Nobody I know of," he said. "Just me."

I asked again today, minutes before our jaunt to the barbershop.

"Because I'm me," he said. "Because I'm a little crazy. Because I'm the unofficial team cheerleader."

These are all true. He is very much his own person. Plus, as the youngest player on the varsity team, he doesn't always get to play. So he screams and yells and whoops during the game, usually coming home hoarse and happily wiped out.

I was fine with his decision. Pretty tickled, actually. So off we went to Huey's, where Charlie has had his hair cut since he was 10 months old.

As we sat and waited our turn, we couldn't stop smiling. When Huey's son called Charlie to the chair, I followed with my video camera (post to follow...soon!) We laughed like idiots as his beautiful dark brown hair fell to the floor.

And we agreed that yes, this was indeed a good idea.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Adam Kaplan meets the New York City Marathon

I met Adam Kaplan at Enterprise, when we were both renting cars while our respective vehicles were being repaired. He mentioned running...and participating in the New York City Marathon...and how he'd lost 70 pounds...and I was intrigued.

So I tracked him down a few days later, met him and his wife at Starbucks, and wrote about him. Here you go: Click here to read more about this fascinating man with a dream & determination.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rooting for my fave half-Ironman'er

My nephew Ben and I have a bit of a running tradition going. As a Christmas/birthday gift two (three?) years ago, I ponied up for his Dallas White Rock Half Marathon registration.

It's something we both count on now. We drive to the race together, chat in the bathroom line, hug at the starting line, and meet up again two hours later. He's always waiting at the finish line, having crossed it 20 to 30 minutes before I do.

Last March, though, he agreed to pace me at the Rock to Victory half. It turned out to be one of my most inspiring and fun and memorable races ever. Read about it by clicking here.

All of this to say that on Sunday, Ben ran yet another half...13.1 miles at an jaw-dropping pace of 7:19. Oh, yes, and that's after having swum 1.2 miles and biked 55 of 'em.

Yep, my nephew is now a half-Ironman'er, having participated in this: The Longhorn Ironman 70.3 He finished 6th of 99 in his age group.

I couldn't be there, but my niece (his sister) kept me posted through text messages:

"He just got out of the lake!"
"We saw him ride by on his bike!"
"This is so cool watching him!"
"We've seen Ben five times now!" "
"He'll be finishing in about 10 minutes!"

I kept peeking at my phone, making sure I hadn't missed a message. It was a chilly and windy day in Austin; I kept thinking of Ben swimming in the choppy water...riding his dream bike...running on those long legs that stayed by my side for 13.1 miles in March.

I alternated between giggles, goosebumps and tears. They were all for Ben yesterday. Yet writing this now, I realize they're a tripod of life, or at least of mine: What strikes me funny, what takes my breath away. And yeah, what makes me cry: Tears of sorrow, tears of joy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Remembering Gary

Twenty-one years ago today, one of the best friends I have ever had in my entire life died. Gary was 32. Thirty-two! With each year that passes, I'm struck anew by how young that is.

Gary was funny; he was smart; he was clever as all get out. We had a friendship whose depth was only equaled by its inanity. Even today, 21 years after he died, I still think of him when certain things (OK, or people too) strike me as amusing or absurd. I want to pick up the phone and call him, or write him a letter -- two forms of communication we relied on. I shudder to think (and am at the same time highly tickled) how little work Gary and I would have gotten done if he were alive in the email era.

After Gary died, I looked for him for a long time. Longer than I should have, really. I looked to find someone I could send silly post cards to; someone who would love the word "pumpkin;" someone whose insecurities surpassed even my own. Maybe that person would even associate gin and tonics with my parents.(They introduced Gary to that drink after he was mugged and, being new in town, could think of no one but my parents to call)

Somewhere in the middle of my search, though, I called it off. It could have been a dozen years ago; it could have been five, it could have been one. But one day I realized I will never find another Gary.

That isn't a bad thing; maybe it's a mature observation of sorts. I realized that what Gary and I had, and what anyone has with a friend or a lover or a family member, is a snowflake, a fingerprint -- any number of nouns singled out for being unique.

Maybe at some point, we accept that, as I did about Gary. We stop listening for an echo; we stop reaching for the ditto marks.

Instead, we take a deep breath, and exhale a thank you. Then we make a wish on that first star..and the second, and if need be, the third. We squeeze shut our eyes, and count to 100 by 2s. We roll the dice and we cross our fingers. We throw salt over our left shoulders, and we take a chance. Maybe we'll be lucky -- call it blessed if you will -- and our spirit & soul & sense of humor will meld again with someone else's. One more time. One more precious time.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Being a gentleman


My son is going to homecoming within a matter of hours. It is his first time to go, his second to be on a date.

I'm not going to get into how handsome I think he looks in his black suit and white shirt, or how beautiful his date's wrist corsage is. Nor will I say how, during the two weeks since the girl said yes, he pops up with questions or comments seemingly out of the blue, seemingly out of context. Yet every time I know exactly what he is means, and I answer as best I know how.

Instead, I'm going to pass along two thoughtful bits of advice from two really nice guys. The first is from Daniel, assistant manager where I work. He said this:

"Tell Charlie that she would not have said yes unless she likes him, unless she wanted to go. So he doesn't need to worry about getting her to like him. She already does. Instead, he just needs to make sure she has a good time."

The other is from my nephew Ben. He's 22, majorly athletic, funny as all get out, adorable, sweet and, like his father and grandfather -- well, listen to what he says, and you'll know.

"Tell Chuckles to be a gentleman. I think that's one thing that girls appreciate, and not all guys are smart enough to realize it."

True words, and so well and sweetly spoken. Admittedly, the white shirt -- and the smile -- certainly can't hurt either.

Weeping for Molly

I am going to tell about a beautiful white German shepherd named Molly. She lives next to an elementary school, and she revels in the hour before school, and the hour after, when children pet her head and talk to her.

Once a week or so, I have walked by her yard at night, carrying three Milk Bones for her. When she was younger, I would give her each one at a certain spot. I would say, "Love you, Molly! Have a good night," when I left.

Lately, she hasn't even heard me approach. She has lain in the yard, and truth to tell I have thought she was dead. I have left the bones, and prayed next time I drove by, she would be at the fence.

Yesterday I brought her three bones. She was thin; for the first time I could see glimpses of her ribs. I cried as I walked home. I watched TV for awhile, then scooped out some of my dog Sally's food -- which I haven't been able to throw away since she died. I cracked an egg on it, stirred it up, and carried the bowl to Molly's yard.

I called to her; I rattled the fence. Molly didn't move. She was lying down again across the yard, close to her driveway and parked cars. I was a little scared to go closer -- scared she might not be breathing, scared she might be hurting, scared the person who owns her would come outside and ask what I was doing. I have never seen him pet her, never heard him call her name...though I have seen him in the yard with her and seen her eyes follow his every move.

Not knowing what else to do, I walked home, crying harder this time, crying like I am right now.

I still don't know what to do. I want to wrap a blanket and my arms around her, like I did my Sally when her life was fading. Instead I will say a little prayer for Molly. A prayer that either she is OK, or that she won't hurt any more. And that maybe, before she says goodbye, one of those schoolkids she loves so much will stop by, ruffle her white fur, and call her by name.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stepping out

In June, I wrote about seeing a man with crutches gingerly making his way around the park by my house. His wife held onto his arm; his daughter was barely a footstep behind.

Click here to read what I wrote back then.

This morning as I finished my run on this glorious morning, I saw the man again. Yes, he still had crutches. But he held them more than used them for support; their rubber-tip ends hardly touched the sidewalk.

His wife wasn't with him; nor was his daughter. A younger man was by his side, a half-step or so behind him -- just in case the older man teetered a bit, or h'd wager, the older man teetered just a little, or lost his balance.

But I'm betting he won't do either. On such a delicious day, when sunlight streams through the not-yet-amber leaves and smoke rises from a chimney, more than autumn is in the air. I could also smell the unmistakable scent of hope.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Missing Sally

Three, almost four, months have passed since the sweetest dog in the world died. Sally came close twice before then, starting last Thanksgiving. But our Lazarus girl survived, surprising us and her vet both times. And in June, she let those she loved know she was beyond tired, and that she was ready to say goodbye.

These days, when I put my lock in the front door and push it open, I expect to see her there. Or, at least, to hear her tail thumping on the hardwood, then her toenails clicking on it as she ambles toward the door. My son leaves a bit of scrambled egg on his plate, and for a split second I start to call Sally to finish it off.

I missed her tonight in another way. I'll preface how by saying I spent four nights in Santa Fe with two friends and two of their greyhounds, so I'm a bit more dog-attuned than usual.

Anyway, I went for a little flip-flops kinda walk awhile ago. I haven't been able to bring myself to get rid of Sally's fave Milk Bones, so I gathered three -- one in each hand, the other in a pocket -- to toss over the fence of a white German shepherd named Molly.

On the way back, I saw a woman walking. The sky was so dark that I didn't realize she had a dog with her until it stepped into the glow of a streetlight. She went ahead; the dog wagged his tail and brushed up against me. I petted him and talked to him.

When the woman whistled for him, I almost hoped he wouldn't hear. Or that another dog I hadn't seen would appear out of nowhere and follow her. And that the black dog would trot along next to me till we got home.

I'd open the front door, and his toenails would click on the hardwood. I'd give him a Milk Bone, and see if Charlie had left a piece of meatloaf from dinner on his plate.

While the newcomer ate, I'd open the cabinet in the laundry room, push aside a light bulb and some loose batteries, and reach for Sally's purple collar. But just as I was about to take it down, I'd pull back my hand. I'd instead kiss my fingertips, and touch them, gently, to what had graced the neck of the sweetest dog in the world. The collar, like the moniker and that certain piece of my heart, will always belong to Sally.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Personal packing

Packing for a trip home, I am realizing, is as personal as the way you walk, or the way you whistle. It's as individual as the color you paint your living room, or what you take in your coffee.

My best friend has her father's packing gene. They pack a car the way they load a dishwasher: Everything fits like books on a shelf, like pieces into a jigsaw puzzle. One item out of place can cause the entire car to be repacked, the entire dishwasher reloaded.

In July, I went to Minnesota with my friend Laura and her family, and stayed in the cabins they rent every summer. They have been going there for so long that they have their own storage shed for items like blankets, barbecue grills, cans to hold gasoline for their boat.

The day before we left, Laura went into packing mode. She turned her sadness at leaving into efficiency: Into boxes went pillows and blankets, spices and life jackets. Into the truck went those boxes, and then to the storage facility. Three trips, three truckloads of stuff.

Hers is a choreography of sorts, one with grace and timing that grows more perfect each year. Though I did whatever she asked me, I also inherently understood that I was basically in the way. So I stood by and watched, mesmerized; half-smiling and clumsy, as I have done all too often on any number of dance floors.

As I write this, I'm in the final hours of my trip to Santa Fe. David and Jennifer, the dear friends who asked me to share their vacation, drove here; I flew in a few days later. We spent today, our last, in town, buying more in an afternoon than we had the entire week.

My friends' purchases included some really beautiful pieces of art. Shopkeepers swaddled each in tissue and bubble wrap, protecting the pieces and, at the same time, putting minds at ease that everything will be safe for the journey home.

We're leaving early tomorrow -- me in the air, they on the road -- so packing has begun. Not in earnest, and not in the stylized way of my best friend and of Laura.

I tossed a few things into my suitcase and gathered my dirty clothes into a pile. Dave and Jennifer carried their tenderly wrapped purchases to the truck, gently nestled them in, and then came back in the house. We're now all reading, working the crossword puzzle, and trying to decide what to have for dinner.

I like this sporadic method just fine. Last days of trips tend to make me sad, so the less I'm aware of packing (and thus, the end), the more settled and serene I feel.

In an hour or so, I'll put everything into my suitcase except what I'm going to wear tomorrow. If you looked inside, you'd see neither neither a jigsaw puzzle of order, nor a dance card filled. Yet it is mine. It is my walk, my whistle, the color of my living room and a cup of black coffee.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Heart & Soles: Saturday at the running store

We at the running store saw our usual assortment of Saturday shoppers.

We'll start with the guy who was waiting when we opened the doors. The one who just wanted to talk: To the woman who was also waiting; to her as she tried on shoes; to me as I fitted him with his.

He told me about his brother and father who had died from heart attacks, and about his own heart attack four months ago. He told me he was running up and down bleachers a week-and-a-half later...unbeknownst to his doctor.

Then there was the charming family from Mexico City: Mom, Dad, 20ish stock-broker son and business-student daughter, and grandmother. I tried speaking my pigeon espanol; they answered me in English, which was fine and fun.

I loved the woman with three kids who is used to being oh-so-casual about her speed while racing. I always like talking to people like her, those who aren't as neurotic about how-far-how-fast as I uh...have been known to be on occasion.

Then she told me she's now training for a half marathon with a more aggressive friend. She made me laugh when she added, almost in a whisper, how she's determined to beat her husband in an upcoming 5K.

The man with bigger-than-big feet explained to me what he'd heard about determining foot size: By measuring the arches. I had no idea what he was talking about; I merely said "Hmmm. Interesting," and proceeded to measure him the old-fashioned way.

I recognized the older couple who came in late afternoon. We'd met a month or so ago. The wife (whose name, I found out, is Laverne) told me about Fit Flops. She even let me try one of hers on. That day, she and her husband had just returned from Hawaii. Saturday, she told me they go there every year. He's a retired Methodist minister, and used to have a church on the big island. Or Big Island; I'm not quite sure.

A really sweet couple came in later. He's training for his first marathon (White Rock in December) with a group from his church and needed a shirt. His wife insisted he get the shirt one that fit and was not on sale, instead of the one that almost fit and wasn't.

He had done a 10-mile run that morning; you could tell she was as proud of him as he was of himself.

"She was my water stop," he said. "She and the kids met me with water while I was running."

I was a bit intrigued by the distance of his long run. I've been building up my own to train for the DRC Half on November 1. I've done a few weeks of 10, one of 11, and one of 12. Which made me realize, after talking to him, that I could be training for the White Rock Marathon. Well, maybe.

I don't think I'm going to -- in fact,I can practically guarantee I'm not going to. But I just like the idea of being at a point in my running where I could (potentially) go for the whole 26.2. (Let's see how I feel in a few weeks when he's running 14 or so).

OK, that's it from here. Just a recap of a good day with good people. People who, assuming I did my job right, are bopping around on what no doubt are the most comfortable shoes they've ever owned.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The grace & guts of Diane Proud

Diane Proud is gorgeous. She is lean and tan, and has big, white, beautiful teeth (yes, I always notice teeth). She is a world-class triathlete who coaches at Cooper Aerobics Center. She's not my coach, but after spending an hour with her -- just talking, mind you -- I felt inspired to do better.

I am honored to have met her. But the reason I did makes our conversation bittersweet: Diane has ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. I met her so I could write about her battle.

Read more about Diane by clicking here.

The irony of her diagnosis is heartbreaking: Here is a woman who has taken care of herself her entire life. At age 50 or so, she turned fitness into her career. Yet she is battling a disease that will take away her ability to run, to swim, to do just about everything.

She smiled a lot as we talked, that beautiful, big-toothed smile. She reached for the napkins on an adjacent table, too, and wiped her eyes at the thought of what awaits her. Her amazing attitude, though, trumps everything. I hope I captured that in the column I wrote about her.

Want to help Diane and her fight against ALS? Then sign up for this Oct. 10 race in her honor. She plans to be on that course, too. Walking? Running? She's not sure; she just knows she'll be there

The race is called Run Proud for Dessert. She'd love to see you there.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

No-cost confidence

In my part-time job at a running store, I sell shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. Shoes to marathoners and half-marathoners. Shoes to people who have run for years; to those who are reviving their running program; to those who giggly tell me they are just starting out.

I sell shoes to teen-agers on track teams, and to those whose basketball coach tells them running will improve their game. I sell shoes to stiff-gaited or limping adults. They bring in printed-off sheets from their chiropractors or podiatrists, with listings of shoes recommended to alleviate the knee or foot or back pain.

Everyone comes in for a different reason. But all, in some way, share the same desire. Shoes, yes. But in another way and to different degrees, confidence.

So I oblige, because I really do believe in these people, most of whom I've never laid eyes on. I watch them walk and I choose the right shoes for their feet. I tell them why cotton is good for pillowcases but not for socks, and I listen to their stories.

I answer their questions. And I try to help them see that running, like life, is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other: Step by faltering, fun, exhausting, exhilarating step.

Saturday was especially busy. And while I know I waited on several adults, the kids are the ones I remember. Like the 8th-grader who was so silly and so adorable that I smile even now remembering how she made me laugh yesterday. She danced, and she jumped around in her new shoes. She nudged her mother because the shoes she liked best were, as her mother predicted, the expensive pair. She ran the circumference of the store and back again.

Another woman came in with her two sons. One was 10, a kid who took off running around the store once I'd laced his new shoes. His brother, several years older, didn't say one word. His mother explained that he plays basketball for Special Olympics.

I keep thinking about the teen-age boy who drove about 30 minutes to get to the store. He's a high-school senior, and needed shoes for cross-country. He has a pretty big foot, and needed shoes with the maximum amount of support.

There were really only two pairs that fit. The first was kind of clunky and, because of the support he needed, a bit heavy. The second pair was lighter, more sporty. He asked how much each was. I glanced too quickly at the boxes, and said each was $100.

He decided on the lighter pair. He was happy, because as a member of a track team, he'd get 15 percent off.

This is when I start feeling awful. When I rang up his shoes, turns out they were $115, not $100. When I told him, his face dropped for a split second. Maybe most people wouldn't have noticed. But I have a teen-age son, so am tuned into his expressions, however brief, however fleeting. And this kid's reminded me of Charlie's.

I wanted to dig around in my purse and give him money to make up the difference. But I couldn't. So I apologized (again), and he handed me his (not his mother's) debit card. I put his shoes in a bag; he thanked me and left.

I'm sure once he gets home, once he wears the shoes to practice, once he wears them in his first meet, he'll forget about the other pair. At least that is what I hope.

I'll also keep hoping he has a PR (personal record) in those shoes. And that maybe, tied into the laces, absorbed in the heel, deep within the supportive sole, he'll discover -- without being quite able to pinpoint its origin -- a bit more confidence than he remembers having.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Missing you

Friday night, my sister Susan met me at my son's volleyball game. Charlie played! They won! But I digress.

After the game, one of the moms Susan knew from eons ago started talking to her.

"I can't remember the last time I saw her," Susan told me when we reached the car. "But she told me she had missed me."

It's not that they were ever even close, so this struck us as a bit funny. Then we remembered a similar encounter at our niece's wedding. We saw a precious family friend we hadn't seen in years. She used to stay with Charlie one day a week, and would bring her granddaughter Genesis.

Genesis is now 14, a year younger than Charlie. When she saw me and her grandmother told her who I was, she hugged me hard.

"I've missed you!" she said.

I don't know if she even remembered me. Even so, she held my hand as we walked to where the cake was being cut. She didn't let it go until she wrapped her arms around my waist to say goodbye.

At the time, it struck me funny, in a sweet sort of way. But these two encounters have helped me see more clearly what missing someone can mean: That yes, you can miss them, even if you didn't realize you did. That seeing them again -- after a day or a week or 20 years -- can show you a bit of a void in your life. One that may be tiny and forgotten, but one only they can fill.

They go from being a hole on the beach that fills with sand and salt water the moment you stick your shovel in the sand, to one in the garden. There, an empty hole is huge, until you pop into it something green, something growing, something full of life.

Missing you indeed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Good times never seemed so good

My son has discovered Neil Diamond. More specifically, my fave song of Mr. D's: Sweet Caroline.

Charlie wasn't perusing a "very-very-old-songs-my-sappy-mother-loves" website. Nor was he listening to a radio station of my choosing.

Instead, he was introduced to the song by none other than his band director. Why? To play at football games, of course. Is that not the first song that comes to mind of that Friday night genre? Yes, and that other crowd pleaser, Steely Dan's Peg (which the band is also playing).

Just makes you want to hum along while listening to "two bits four bits" in the background.

So now Charlie is in the kitchen, doing his homework and revving up for Friday's game...not by choice, mind you. He just can't seem to get Sweet Caroline out of his head. He's humming away, and periodically breaking into song. Well, the words he knows at least.

Admittedly, I fill in the blanks, and we join ranks for "bah bah bah".

Yes indeed, good times never seemed so good.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Short & getting sweeter: the waning days of summer

The temperature, which started in the 60s, will reach the 90s today. But this isn't a 90-degree day of spring. Nor, despite the calendar, a summer 90s.

Instead, it's a autumn kind of 90s. One with green, unripe pecans on the sidewalks; one where shadows fall earlier, and short sleeves don't feel like a sweater.

I started my run at 8:45 -- an unheard of time to begin even as recently as a week ago. But today it was just right. The sun didn't feel harsh. I didn't wish I'd remembered to bring a cloth to wipe my face. Strangers didn't look askance at my sweaty silliness for running in the heat of day.

In a few weeks, my running partner and I will base our 7 p.m. route on where we want to go and how we feel...not on which side of the street the sun isn't shining.

Back when the temperature was 85 at 7 a.m., time seemed stuck in summer's swelter. No shaking of the hourglass could make the sand rush more quickly to the other side, to the bittersweet bliss of cooler days and earlier evenings.

Today, though, was a reminder: Of what will be, and of what can be. Of potential and of promise that we look to the seasons to see, but which they only begin to reflect.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kind words from a stranger

I swam Monday, for the first time in weeks. No one was in the pool when I got there, so I took the lane closest to the dressing room, the lane with the steps leading into the water.

As I finished my first lap, I noticed a man sitting on the top step. He had dark hair and wore yellow swim trunks. His head was in his hands; he stared intently into the water as if he were lost in a deep daydream. I thought maybe he was waiting until I swam by so he could then move across my lane, under the rope, and into one of the empty ones.

But no. He was still in the same spot at the end of my next lap. Then my fifth lap. Then my seventh, and my tenth. For a few moments, I wondered whether he wanted me to leave so he could have that lane.

For several more, I let my imagination take me into the pages of an unwritten murder mystery. Who was he? Was he going to reach out and hold my head under water? Would anyone at the front desk be able to see through the glass what was going on and rescue me before I drowned?

Then he was gone. I didn't pay attention to where he went, but suddenly, there he was again. I finished my freestyle swimming. Then I reached for the two blue kick boards I'd stacked outside the water. I reached my arms across the top of them, then frog-kicked another up and down the lane.

When I reached the end, I took off my goggles. I tend to wear them quite snugly; I've seen my reflection in a mirror after my swim and cringe at my flushed face with their embedded outline.

So what he said to me surprised -- OK, shocked -- me.

"You look so beautiful swimming," he said with the slightest bit of an accent.

I didn't take offense; I wasn't creeped out. Nor did I want to slug him. Admittedly, I did think for a minute he was going to add, "And your face looks so old once you stop."

Truth to tell, I wouldn't have been surprised. I'm no idiot; I know that though I feel 30ish and I have nice shoulders, I am not exactly young looking, especially not after a swim.

But he didn't say that. He hardly even smiled, come to think of it. But I did, and I told him he had made my day.

His statement made me realize, albeit on a small and selfish little scale, the power of words. What it means to tell someone, even a stranger, a positive thought that crosses your mind.

I may swim again today. And no doubt will pay special attention to each stroke, wondering if what he said is true.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's hot. Why won't people leave their dogs home?

No doubt the person whose maroon SUV was on the Target parking lot this afternoon would tell you he loves his dog. Loves his dog sooo much that he doesn't go anywhere without her.

The irony of this is that he could have killed his dog. More quickly, in all probability, than he thought possible. Even when the temperature outside is in the low 80s (as it hardly ever is in Texas during the summer), the inside temp can rise to 102 degrees or more -- higher if the car is in the sun.

When my son and I went inside the store, I asked the woman at customer service if she could make an announcement about the dog. Maybe the owners would hear, and rescue their dog.

Charlie and I had gone to Target for eggs, cheese and Diet Dr Peppers..but kept shopping and buying things we'd forgotten we needed. We couldn't bring ourselves to check the parking lot.

After awhile, I asked the woman at customer service what had happened. She said she had checked with -- I forget the acronym -- security and wasn't sure what they had done.

We finally slinked out to our car with our six filled bags, afraid that the SUV would still be there. It wasn't, thank the good Lord. If it had, I've no doubt the dog would be dead.

A few Julys ago, I saw a dog -- a collie, for Pete's sake -- in a parked car in front of Petco of all places. I watched the owners go into the store and approached them. I was as polite as I could be, telling them I had just read how quickly the temperature inside a car can rise.

They looked at me with contempt and said it was their dog, and they knew what they were doing. When I told the person at the store, I was told that neither he nor the police could do anything about such stupidity.

Today, my friend Laura refuted that. She said that God forbid there's a next time, I need to call 911. Which I most certainly will. The pet owner could (and should) be fined $500.

Totally shook me up, the whole experience. So much so, that $70 and 30 minutes after arriving, as we put the stuff in the car, Charlie asked, "Did we get eggs?"

Um...no. Not that I particularly care.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Here we are, Komen & going in Minnesota

My first morning in Minnesota (yes, I'm in Minnesota!!) my friend Laura (who comes here every summer)and I ran Race for the Cure in Brainerd.

I didn't have my trusty little video camera handy to record what happened after crossing the finish line. But when we returned to the cabin, Laura and I made up a little re-enactment.

video

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pedicure mirth

I love getting pedicures, and Monday night's was no different. My calves were massaged, my toes rubbed, hot rocks held on the soles of my feet. Oh yes, and my toenails painted.

What made this latest one so special though, was the timing. I got there at 6:10; the place closes at 7.

"No problem!" I was assured. "You're not too late!"

Ten minutes later, I realized I was the only customer...client, whatever the proper lingo is.

I must explain here that the place I go employs only Asian women, plus two men (including the owner). The women have names like Heather and Donna and Nancy. They are delightful and friendly and tiny. And, because of the language barrier, they tend to be a bit reserved (except when they're giggling amongst themselves).

Tonight, though, all that changed around 6:30. Suddenly, it seemed, two of them were sharing the chair on my left and a bag of Cheetos. One of the owners produced a fresh deck of cards. He shuffled them and dealt hands to himself, two women, and the other man.

I don't know what they were playing, but it didn't really matter. Whatever the game, they were having an inordinate amount of fun. One would slap his or her hand of cards on the table, face up, and either laugh or make a face. Then someone would reach for an envelope and a pen, and write a score.

I felt as if I were the proverbial fly on the wall, albeit one whose calves were being rubbed and whose toenails were being painted. A rather vibrant shade of pink, I might add. One that I might have changed once I saw it on that very first toenail.

...On any other visit, that is. But I was having such a good time, I didn't really care. And still don't, even in the light of day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sweetest dog in the whole world

When I was in eighth grade, my family's dog Sam died. Sam was black and white and had a funny shape on his back we said looked like a bird. On vacations, he often stretched out on the back seat of the car while we kids sat on the floor. He was sturdy and sweet and we loved him dearly.

The day he died, I wrote this in my diary with the pink cover: "Sam died. Best dog that ever lived."

If I still kept a diary, I would have written this on Tuesday: "Sally died. Sweetest dog in the world."

(Obviously, I deal with superlatives when it comes to dogs I love.)

Sally almost died over Thanksgiving. We thought she was close two weeks ago. But this little Lazarus dog pulled through both times. I'd look at her, and somehow know it wasn't her time. She just wasn't ready.

But Tuesday was different. Something about how she lay on her red blanket. Her cloudy eyes. Her tail that didn't wag every time she heard her name. How, even when I brushed her exactly as I'd done the day before, I never did hit her tickle spot.

My friend Kim crossed the street yesterday to talk about Sally. She reminded me that we humans are given a gift, albeit a bittersweet one: To determine the fate of these creatures who make our lives whole. To decide when this life just isn't good enough for them. To put aside our own pain and realize releasing theirs is more important than anything else.

I still can't quite grasp that Sally, who asked for nothing and was grateful for everything, is gone. I'm sure there will be many times I'll still hear her toenails on the floor. I'll sense her presence when I roll a hard-boiled egg to open it and expect to see her sit so she can catch the yolk I toss her way. I'll see her brown eyes forever.

And in my memory and my dreams, I'll watch her tail wag while I give my litany -- whispered now, or soundless in my heart:

"Who," I'd ask, "is so sweet...[wag wag]...and so smart[wag wag]...so pretty [wag wag]...so loyal [wag wag]...so kind [wag wag]...so wise [wag wag]...so brave [wag wag]...so much fun to be around."

And then with a dramatic flourish, I'd add, "And sooo stinky?! But that's OK. [huge wag]."

Godspeed to our Sally. Sweetest girl in the world.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Music to the ears...and heart

Music is ubiquitous when it comes to exercise. We set up playlists; we charge our iPods. We put almost as much thought into our music selections as we do our running route, or how much weight we will lift.

Some purists swear the only way to run is without distraction of any sort. Other people focus solely on the music, so the exercise itself won't seem so difficult. And some use music as soundtrack, weaving its notes into the rhythm of their breathing.

I tend to fall into the last category. Sometimes I'm aware of what's playing in my ear. Other times, though, by the end of my run I couldn't even tell you a song I'd heard.

This is the kind of stuff I think about, especially at the almost empty gym on a sunny Sunday like today. What ARE people listening to? Maybe they're hearing a song for the first time, one they'll play again until they learn the words -- or will delete when they get home.

Maybe the song they hear makes them call a certain person when they get to their car. Maybe it was playing on the radio on their first date. Or they danced to it at their wedding.

Maybe a song pops up that has long reminded them of someone, of something, of a time in their lives when life was good, and they felt whole. Maybe that song pops up unexpectedly. Maybe for a long time, they couldn't bear to listen to it...but they couldn't bring themselves to delete it from their iTunes music library either.

And then one day, they realize the song is three-quarters through, and they're still listening. They haven't turned off their iPod. Nor have they skipped to the next song. They haven't shaken their heads as if, by so doing, they could get rid of its sound and its memory -- like water in their ears after a swim.

Maybe the notes they never thought they'd listen to without crying are just -- notes. Beautiful notes, combining to create a song that really is pretty. Whether it reminds them of anything, anyone, or nothing at all.

Or maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Holding on for dear life

I ended my run this morning with a half-lap around the park. Not far from finishing, I saw a threesome approaching me: A woman, a man, a kid who looked to be their teen-age son.

One of the man's hands tightly grasped a silver polio-type crutch. The other clung to his wife's arm. She in turn had her other arm around his waist. The boy walked barely behind them, as if ready to catch either one should his father stumble, or the crutch get caught on a pebble or a crack in the sidewalk.

I smiled a hello as I ran by. They seemed a bit too intent on the next step to do much more than make eye contact. I wondered whether the man had had a stroke, or if he had some sort of degenerative disease. Either way, I'm guessing they were walking -- not because they wanted to, but because a doctor had stressed the importance of motion.

A few hours later, I was driving to Barnes & Noble. In front of the Tom Thumb at the same shopping center, I motioned to an elderly gentleman to pass in front of me. He smiled and waved with only his pinkie; he needed the remainder of his strength, and his fingers to hold onto the grocery cart he was pushing to his car.

The two scenes lasted barely a half-minute total. But they made me realize a couple of things: How lucky we are to be able to walk, to run, to move on our own. And that no matter if we are or we aren't able, we all need something, or someone, to hold onto; to hold dear. Just in case we ever catch ourselves falling.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Brushes & bubbles & car washes: Oh my!

I drop off my son at volleyball practice and think, "Hmm. I do believe I have time to get my car washed."

So I pull into my old fave place. I expect the person with the clipboard will approach me, as he always does. He will write down my license-plate number, as he always does. He will ask what sort of wash I want, as he always does.

I'll look at the choice and pick the same. Yes, as I always do. He'll say: "Fragrance?" I'll say, "Um....lemon-lime."

Today though, I was one of only two cars there. Nobody approached me with a clipboard; instead, I was signaled to drive to where the vacuuming usually began. There, a friendly fellow with a belly and a mustache told me the name of the place had changed, and so had the manner of operation.

"You stay in your car as it's washed from the outside," he said, gesturing to what has always been the secret cleaning tunnel where the car-wash drivers went. I looked and saw larger-than-life brushes and tsunami sprays of water. I knew I was in trouble.

"What if I panic while I'm in there?" I asked, only half kidding.

He laughed. "Oh, it's fun!" he assured me. "You'll see those big ol' brushes descending on your car and all the soap suds and it'll be really great!"

I knew I was in trouble. Still, I smiled (albeit nervously) and slowly drove to the entrance. The sign blinked: "Foot off brake. Put car in neutral."

I did as told. And then -- omigosh. Here they came. Huge brushes descending on me and my car. There was no escape. None. No one would hear me if I screamed. If I rolled down the windows, soap would no doubt fill the car and my lungs. Either way, I was doomed.

So I did the only thing I could. I squeezed my eyes shut, leaned onto the passenger seat, and I called my sister Susan.

"You are the only person in the entire world who will appreciate what I am going through," I said, laughing so I wouldn't start to scream or sob.

She appreciated every bubble, every swipe of the guillotine brushes. She stayed with me. After about three hours (ok, three minutes), I began to see, quite literally, light at the end of the soapy tunnel.

I felt as if I had just been on a roller coaster: Terrified. Shaking. Vowing never to do that sort of thing again.

As I was sitting outside, saying survivor prayers to the heavens, I watched a man get out of his fresh-from-the-tunnel car. He looked a bit shaken. I tried to make empathetic eye contact, but he was focused on merely putting one step in front of the other.

And, no doubt, vowing to keep a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels in his car. Cheaper than a car wash and, yes, far less terrifying.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Heart-rate monitor's working again!

My running buddy, who doubles (usually good-naturedly!) as my adviser for all-things-technical, was a bit befuddled when I told him my heart rate monitor wasn't working.

"Didn't you just put a new battery in -- a battery I gave you and you still owe me $5.43 for?"

"Yep."

"Did you clean it, inside and out?"

"Yep."

"Let me take a look."

So he did what I hadn't -- synced it with my Forerunner. Yes, a "well duh" action for most people with a bit of technie sense...

Anyway, it worked. That was last week and it STILL works. I'd forgotten how much having that bit of information helps my running. So now, not only can I keep track of how fast and far I'm going, now I also know how my heart is functioning while I run.

It's a Garmin Forerunner 305, by the way, which is priced pretty well at amazon.com

I'm actually pretty pleased with how fast and how slow my heart is beating. I guess my annoyance when I first started monitoring this stuff has really helped. Hooray.

Wait. Shhh. I hear something. Some mildly irritating whisper in my ear. Oh yeah, it's that again. That mantra. Something about uh...patience (especially with myself) being a virtue.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Porch-sitting mull: Life is too precious to be petty

I sit on my front porch as I write this. An old dog's at my feet. A little black cat paws frantically at the window, eager to be out here with us.

There's one sip left in the wine glass my left hand can reach. The breeze blows ever-so-slightly, though the longer I sit here, the noisier it gets. I'm thinking in a few minutes I need to take the sheets off the clothesline before the rain starts.

But first, I need to mull a little bit. About death, about life.

I just got off the phone from a close-to-an-hour call from an old (as in from elementary school) friend. John's beloved uncle & namesake died early this morning from that horrible ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease). He was 73; he would have turned 74 on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

Not three hours earlier, my sister called to tell me about the death of (bear with me here) the husband of our brother-in-law's work partner. After dinner last night, Diane's husband dropped dead of a heart attack. He was 55.

Two weeks ago, the father of my other brother-in-law died. He was 86, and had outlived his own father by 23 years. Still, Nick's death was still sobering and sad.

Meanwhile, one of my nephews graduated from college. His older brother was offered a job -- a good job! My Charlie is playing in a volleyball tournament in Richmond, Va. My niece, who received a masters degree a week ago, is getting married next weekend.

And somewhere within all those life events is me. Me, who has silly, often petty misunderstandings with people I care about.

What to do? Pet the dog, drain the wineglass, let the black kitty out if he promises to sit on my lap and not run away. To hug my Charlie when he gets home; to bleach his stinky knee pads. To cry at my niece's wedding, and to dance at her reception.

Mostly, to put it all into perspective. Which means, in part, to keep trying to be the person I need to be, and would like to be, and to prefer to think of myself as actually being. And please oh please, to remember what matters.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Runnng with (not like) a greyhound. Or two


I ran with a greyhound Thursday night. Not like -- with. And not singular, but plural. One, two, three. But thankfully, I only held the leash of two at the most, one at the speediest.

My running buddy and his wife adopted two of last night's running team a year ago from Greyhound Adoption League of Texas (a.k.a. GALT).

The other, Chick, the curly-eared cutie you see here, is one of their two foster hounds.

As we all ran at what I considered to be a decent speed, Chick (yawn) barely broke out of a trot. When she or one of the other two did let loose, it was a beautiful thing to see. We forgot our own panting to watch their gentle breaths as they loped ahead of us.

It was a night with the slightest of stars and the mildest of breezes. And there we were, lucky to be leash-holding spectators, mesmerized by these beautiful canine creations moving with such ease, and with such God-given grace.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I saw my dog as a puppy today

After four-and-a-half heavy, humid, breeze-less miles, my run was almost over. Just a half-circle around the park by my house and I was done.

As always on a Saturday morning, soccer-playing kids filled the fields; younger ones climbed on the jungle gym. People and dogs of all ages ran and walked the park's circumference.

I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to those sharing the concrete path. But when I saw a woman -- more accurately, her dog -- I did a double-take. There was my Sally, my soon-to-turn 12-year-old dog, as a teen-ager.

Her eyes were clear; the black of her coat ebony, the white like snow. Even her collar was pure red: Fresh, unfaded, new.

Her whole body moved when she walked. She was eager, curious, attuned to every movment around her. I said a quick "hi" and her ears perked up as if she couldn't wait to hear more.

I turned around once after we passed. The dog's tail was still wagging, her head looking back and forth.

When I got home, Sally was lying on the rug in the living room. She lifted up her head when I came in, and wagged her tail when I called her name. These days, the black and white on her face and on her feet make gray. Her red collar is almost pink. But she is loyal, she is kind; she is smart and she is sweet.

I cannot make her curious; nor can I make her eager or young, and I am not sure I would want to. I am, instead, grateful for the dog Sally was and, more importantly, for the one she is.

I'm going to buy her a new collar today, one that is red and fresh and new. When I put it around her neck and scratch her head, I know she'll wag her tail. She'll sit when I give her a bone and, though she doesn't have the energy to walk around the park, she'll lie down at my feet when I read on the front porch, as happy to be close by as I am to have her there.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cupcakes: gotta love 'em


I'm not a huge cake fan. One bite (usually off someone else's plate) and I'm happy.

Cupcakes are a different matter. They don't tend to be particularly at-hand in my life, but they do have temptation potential. Just think of taking a bite of one, your choppers sinking through the cake part, leaving lickable icing on your front teeth.

Plus the name itself is so inviting: Cupcake. Say it again.

Then think of eating 17 of these pups in five minutes. That's what a New Yorker named Nancy Cummings did. Lest you think she's some jowly gal with permanent chocolate stains on her fingers, she is not. She's a yoga instructor, who called upon discipline, focus -- and a glass of water to dunk 'the cupcakes in --- to win the contest.

Click here to read the Al Dente blog about cupcakes.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Favorite spaghetti

Around 6 on Saturday night, I realized I had no plans for dinner. So I asked my son what sounded good.

"Spaghetti," he said.

"You sure you wouldn't like to pick up Chinese food?" I asked, suddenly feeling a bit lazy or perhaps overwhelmed. "Or a hamburger?"

Then it occurred to me that for the last two nights, he's had pizza and -- I can't even remember. Oh yeah, whatever delights were served after his best friend's orchestra concert; namely, no doubt, cookies and a cupcake or two.

So I offered a staple from my childhood: Favorite Spaghetti.

"Sure," he said.

In my day, FS consisted of chopped (we never called it ground) meat mixed with A&P spaghetti sauce and stirred into (never served atop) A&P spaghetti (not pasta) noodles.

My slight improvise Saturday was adding chopped onion and garlic to the meat, then using Archer Farms (as in Target) brand. I put the pasta -- excuse me, spaghetti -- in individual bowls and ladled the sauce on top. But when I realized the noodles weren't quite done, I stirred the whole mixture together and heated it on the stove.

It was wonderful, and I learned something in the process. Yes, you can use meat with less fat. You can drain the grease; you can chop in an onion. You can serve it atop whole-wheat noodles. But when you end up stirring the whole schlop together, you also realize two things:

1. It's still Favorite Spaghetti. And 2. Try as you might, you can't mess with perfection.

A bit of a P.S. For lunch today, I asked my son if he wanted a sandwich, or leftover spaghetti. He compromised: Two pieces of bread with spaghetti in-between. Yum.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What happens when you reallly don't feel like running?

The "I'm not in the mood to run" grouse is one thing. No excuses on that one, baby. You know the drill: 9 times out of 10, you just get out there and go. And 9.99 times out of 10, you're ever so glad you did.

Then there are the times you just don't feel well. General malaise, perhaps. Or sleep deprivation. Or a cold.

Perhaps you have some form of the dreaded (pardon this shiver-inducing word) crud. The kind you sometimes you forget you have till you start laughing and then can't stop coughing. The kind that wakes you up before dawn with a beyond-scratchy throat.

What to do? Your non-running (and some of your running) friends say, "Rest!"

But you are either so determined or so stubborn you...oh, you knew you'd go. More slowly perhaps, and perhaps not as long. But it's over, and even if you end up conked out for the rest of the day, it's done. And nobody can take that away.

Run run as fast as you can

And whether it's a 6-minute mile or a 15-er, if you're doing your best, you'll feel as if you're flying.

I wrote about that in Tuesday's Dallas Morning News.

Click here to put your pace in perspective.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I want some pancakes

I made my son pancakes for dinner a few weeks ago. He got the hugest charge out of that, for some reason. Maybe because I served them with broccoli and a baked potato.

Yes, I'm kidding -- not about the pancakes, but about the side dishes. Instead, the offerings were Canadian bacon and syrup puddles.

The last time I had pancakes was February 19, 2007, the day after I ran the Austin Marathon. Oh, wait; never mind. That was a waffle.

I need a pancake, though. maybe even two. I venture to say we ALL need more pancakes. Read this link to Mark Remy's Runner's World story and I bet you'll be scouring your cupboards for the Bisquick, and the pantry for some Aunt Jemima.

Mmmmm. We'd salute you, Mark, but we'd probably get syrup in our eyebrows.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finding the extra oomph

Running coach Chris Phelan casually asked whether I'd ever thought about a duathlon.

"Sure," I said. "I think that sounds fun."

Next thing you know, Chris -- whom I have heard referred to as "running guru" and "rock star" -- sends me a schedule. One that I didn't know whether to laugh or sob when I see it. THIRTY MILES OF BIKING?! (Take deep breaths, Les).

I am, however, happy to do the training runs. Which, this morning, was 13 miles. I wasn't feeling all that great, so thought, "Hm. Maybe I'll divide it into three parts, spread throughout the day." (Yeah, what a weirdo.)

Anyway, I ran about 10 steps and thought, "Oh, Lord. I hope I can make it for three miles."

I did make it three. Then four! Which when the rain started. I considered heading for home and thought, "Nah, maybe I can go six." Which turned into seven...and eight...and I ended up running 11!

I was tickled. Then after my son's track meet and a nap, I ran the other two. Truth to tell, I think they were harder than the first 11.

But the experience once again reminded me how amazing the human body is. How, when we really don't think -- physically or mentally -- we're capable of moving, somehow we're able to do both. We're surprised, yes. And even more, we're grateful.

Friday, April 17, 2009

STILL a non-exercise Friday

OK, maybe I really DID need to take the day off...because the idea of moving outside (except to get the mail from the porch) sounds rather exhausting.

After ruling out most categories of Disease Deadly about what was bringing me down, I decided I am merely suffering from a case of GM; a.k.a. general malaise. Back-to-back naps helped. Perhaps another is in my future.

A non-exercise Friday...so far

When I'm training for a race, I don't mind taking a day off. But when I'm not, I feel compelled to do...something! Oh yeah, other than clean the house and organize my life.

Today, I look out the window at the cloudy sky, knowing it would be perfect running weather. But...but...but...I can't let myself think about that. Besides, I tell other people to take a day off, and I know in my heart it's the right thing to do.

My body needs to rest, right? Yes, especially because (a confession here) I ignored my good sense last Friday and ran three miles. But they were three verrrrry slowwwwww miles. Really.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Inside the gym (but with a friend!) on a beautiful day

Was today glorious or what?! Yesterday, too ... so where did I go in the afternoon but to the gym. Silly me. But it was worth being indoors because I roped -- excuse me, encouraged -- my friend and best-sport-in-the-world Laura to use a guest pass and stationary cycle with me. And an exercise I find beyond boring suddenly was rather pleasant!

Yet while we were pedaling away at the same level and the same speed, I was sweating like the proverbial piggy. And Laura? She was coolly chitchatting as if we were sitting outside on a breezy spring day.

Here we are after finishing the Big D Texas Half Marathon on April 5.

Not a DMN staff writer, but still a writer

Granted, this first post will probably put you to sleep (even as it does me). But I have the slightest of reasons for writing it; namely, that you'll click on the link and -- well, I'll get to that in a sec.

Anyway (one of the greatest transition words ever, but I digress), I loved my job at The Dallas Morning News. I covered fitness, which included writing a weekly newsletter and a biweekly (as in every other week, not -- horrors! -- twice a week) column ... well, at least when I had something to say.

I, alas, was one of 200 DMNers laid off on Tuesday, April 7. My last as-a-staffer story ran a week later. Click here to read it, thus generating more hits on its page! I'm tickled that it was the No. 2 emailed story that day; I just like the idea of going out with a bang. Or at least a cap-gun shot.