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.