Crossing a Line

We’ve crossed a line, many times, I’m certain. I’ve seen it. From both sides of the line.

I was on a lovely run the other day. It was warm, but not as hot as it had been the few days prior. There was a breeze, but not a gusty wind as in the past couple of days. It was just a perfect day for a run. The flower gardens are abloom in vibrant color and sweet fragrance. It was Saturday, late morning, so the smell of bacon and pancakes still wafted from homes along my route. I had bacon and pancakes for breakfast, too, a bit earlier, so I was a happy, happy girl who really needed to go out and run!

I ran my “usual” route, a six-mile rectangle through the northwest end of town, south for a bit, then eastward, north along a frontage road, then west along a rural, vineyard lined road and south, again, back to the park where my car awaits. I deliberately run this route in this particular direction because I save the best, the prettiest pert of the run for last. My reward. Though the prettiest part of the run, it is by far the most treacherous part of the run. There is a narrow shoulder, no sidewalk, and no bike lane marked. Cars travel fast. I use this road, myself, as a bypass for the slow, confused and sometimes intoxicated traffic cluster on the main thoroughfares in Napa. The tourist traffic consists of people looking for the next winery, the restaurant entrance or the hotel driveway, and most certainly not for runners, walkers, or cyclists. Marked bike lane or not.

Dazed, confused, lost, distracted, and preoccupied.

The part of my route that takes me along the frontage road, a road that parallels Highway 29, the main highway into the heart of Napa Valley winedom, is littered with hotels, tourist bus outfits and a few restaurants. There is a bike lane, but I usually break the rules and run on the sidewalk. I cross the line. There are rules for the road, for cars, cyclists, runners and amblers. Cars should stay on the road and not fade into the bike lane to cut corners or to “straighten out” their trajectory so as to not have to decelerate or apply the brakes. Bikes should be on the road, in the bike lane, or shoulder, if no bike lane is afforded, single file, headed in the same direction as the cars. Runners should be on the road, in the bike lane, single file, going the opposite direction of cars and bikes. Walkers should stick to the sidewalk, if there is one, or obey the rules of the runners. If everyone follows the rules of the road and kind of looks out for one another, no one gets hurt! Bueno!

Ah, but mutiny is afoot. The bikers want the whole road, the cars want the whole road, the walkers want the width of the sidewalk and/or bike lane and the runners just want to run, red lights and crosswalks be damned! Don’t make me pause my Garmin! Don’t make me have to explain my lousy mile time on “Map my Run” for mile four because I got caught by the “don’t walk” sign at three consecutive intersections. We are all crossing the line.

I’ll admit, even I cross the line on the frontage road, I run on the sidewalk. But, I exit the sidewalk for any other pedestrian I encounter, happily, for those who belong on the sidewalk, and with a great deal of discontent, eye rolling and huffing, when encountered by a bicycle on the sidewalk. I forgot to mention all the tourists with rental bikes and without a clue. Another wrinkle.

It’s funny how our attitude tends to change when we switch our mode of forward motion.

When I am driving, I am always mindful of those I share the road with, both those encased in a large metal and plastic pod, and those who are not. And I am more than a little irritated when I encounter pedestrians who’ve crossed the line; whether they are traveling two or three abreast or have tribed up and just commanded the entire vehicle lane. I can see their point, but I can’t help but feel a bit annoyed that they’ve crossed the line if there are adequate provisions, such as an ample shoulder or a well-marked bike lane. I’m not picking on cyclists, there are other offenders, but, frankly, not as often.

I was running a week or so ago and I observed a woman inline skating. I used to inline skate. I know where my inline skates are. I want to inline skate again. She breezed past me like I was standing still, gliding smoothly along in long, graceful strides. She was sharing the well-marked bike lane with me and passed very courteously. As we were both opposing oncoming cars, when the vehicle lane was clear, she’d cross the line and skate down the middle of the street, a few mere inches from the double yellow line. I understand her reasoning. If you’ve spent any time at all traveling on the side of the road, you know the roads are quite sloped towards the gutter to allow water to evacuate the road quickly. For runners, and skaters, too, I suppose, there is some uneven wear and tear on ligaments and such from always running on sloped surfaces. Another reason why I prefer sidewalks and the dirt shoulder along the vineyards. We all cross lines.

Another time, I was just approaching the park where I leave my car. I am a bit of an opportunist, and when the traffic permits, if I’m within a quarter mile of the park, which is on the opposite side of the street, I’ll cross early and walk “with” traffic. The shoulder is wide and I am certainly visible. On this particular day, as I walked towards the park, I could hear a car approaching from behind. Imagine my surprise when the car passed, well over the line and within a fraction of an inch of me. He crossed the line, but, so, too, had I. I was on the wrong side of the road. Sure, if he’d have slaughtered me, which at the rate of speed he was propelling down the road, I’d have been pulp, the law would’ve been on my side. A great deal of good that’d do me dead. Had I been on the correct side of the road, I would’ve seen him coming and would have stood a better chance of getting myself out of harm’s way. I no longer cross early, I stick to my side of the road and wait for traffic to clear before I cross. I won’t cross that line, again.

What’s necessary here, is to look out for oneself. Just because there are traffic laws to protect you, and general rules of the road, and common courtesies, does not guarantee your safety. Ultimately, it’s up to you to keep yourself safe and to decide if you are in danger and then react appropriately.

This goes beyond running, cycling, walking or even driving. This, I believe, applies to the world in general. Laws are passed by the hundreds, if not thousands, each and every day. Many are drafted and passed to “protect” us, from ourselves, from others. Supposedly. I’m not so sure. I have my theories on this, but that’s a topic for another day. My point is, unless the laws are 100% enforced, which, of course, is impossible, no matter how genius the law is, it amounts to words on a page and has no real ability to protect you. It is up to you, first and foremost.

This can be translated in any way you choose. If you think owning and knowing how to use a gun to protect yourself is a good idea, then do. If you think studying MMA is a good idea to protect yourself, then do. If you think hiding in your family room, cringing in your recliner, clutching your TV remote will keep you safe, that is your choice, I’ll disagree, with that one, however.

This can also be applied to general rules, laws, if you will, of humanity. People should treat people in a certain manner; with respect, without endangering others, without harming others, physically or emotionally. There is a certain “code of conduct” that elevates us to a higher life form, and much of that has to do with how we treat one another. Sadly, I think we all fail, from time to time, in one area or another. How often do we yell at our kids out of frustration, ridicule our mates for something they say or do, or don’t say or do? How often do we criticize people close to us for their behavior, their beliefs? How often do we label people in our lives, creating and affirming false limits? How frequently do we dislike or distrust people out of fear, or prejudice? How often do we not return a kindly smile or a well-meaning “hello”? How often do we go about our day, ignorant of the people we pass on the street, the people we ignore in our families, the friends we don’t make time to visit with? We are crossing a line. A line of civility, decency, respect, friendship, and love. This line is far more important than any line of reflective white paint on the roadway.

And what about the line we cross when we are unkind to ourselves? When we think or speak negatively about ourselves, create limits for ourselves, denigrate ourselves, underestimate ourselves, neglect ourselves, mistreat ourselves, physically or emotionally? This line is, I think, the most important of all. Having self-respect, self-love, a good self-image, to care for oneself, emotionally and physically is crucial, not just for our happiness, our ability to contribute to society in a meaningful way, but also for those around us who love us, care for us, and perhaps even depend on us. The lines we cross.

Start being mindful of all the lines we cross, on the road, and off, with others, with ourselves. We’ve crossed a line, but there may still be time to swerve back into our lane.

 

Well Balanced Diet

I am a proponent of healthy eating, yes. I eat mostly organic food, when possible, and as clean as possible when organic isn’t an option. I love food, and eat very, very well. I am careful to include the appropriate amounts of lean protein, whole grains and fresh veggies and fruit in my diet. And, in my opinion, a balanced diet also needs to take into consideration what we drink; I like to make sure I have one glass of wine for every beer I consume, just to be well balanced!

I am also very diligent about balancing my nutritional intake with my physical activity. I don’t count calories in and out, like I used to when I was trying to lose a ton of weight, but I have a rough idea of what goes in and what is expended, and it seems to be working, for the most part, I’ve maintained my weight for about three years, with about a seven pound swing through my busy travel/eat in restaurants every meal time of year (nine months) and my work from home, eat nutritious, home cooked meals time of year (three months).

But, believe it or not, I don’t want to talk about food, or beverage or exercise, right now. I want to talk about “balance.” And, no, I don’t want to talk about living a balanced life, I’ve talked about that a couple of times before. I want to talk about “balance”, you know, like not falling down!

Gravity is real, undeniably, unarguably real. Some of us have a run in with the law, the law of gravity, more often than others. As we age, sadly, it is gravity and our deteriorating balance that can get us into pretty deep doo doo.

My grandfather lived to be 100 years old. He was in excellent health at 100 years old, and, in fact, still lived on his own in his house and even mowed his own lawn with a push mower, you know, the kind without the motor. Every day, he’d walk a few blocks from his house to the nursing home to have lunch, not with his friends, as they were all long gone, but with his friends’ kids, who were now residents and in need of assisted living. It was on one of these lunchtime jaunts that Grandpa got into trouble with the law, the law of gravity. He fell, broke his hip, went to the hospital and died of pneumonia in short order. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure he’d still be kicking about.

I listened to a great audiobook recently, and have shared it before, “Younger Next Year (for Women): Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Hendry S. Lodge, M.D. With a title like that, how can you resist, right? The book is funny and loaded with great advice and information. This book also addresses the importance of maintaining strength, and thereby, improving your balance, rather than allowing it to deteriorate with the rest of our bodies as we age, or “decay”, as Chris says throughout the volume. As we age, it is falling that is most likely to put an abrupt end to our ambulatory days, if not our life. I don’t know about you, but that’s not in my script, if I have anything to do with writing it!

I am often surprised at how few people I meet that have really good balance. I don’t mean people who don’t work out at all, either, all sorts of people. I am in a running club and I run with folks who regularly compete in 5ks, 10ks, half and full marathons and even ultra-marathons. After our workouts, we dutifully stretch. One stretch we do, of course, is the hamstring stretch, where you stand on one leg, bend the other leg behind you and grab your foot. These fit, runner people are hopping all over the place, falling, leaning on each other and against trees, struggling to stay on the right side of the law. Fit, strong, healthy people totally unable to balance on one foot for thirty seconds. Lawbreakers!

Try this; stand up, move away from anything you can hold on to like a wall, a chair, a table, the couch, a loved one, the dog. Now stand on one foot. How long can you do this? How long does it take before you have to set your foot back down, or grab onto something I told you not to stand next to?

Balance is strength. Good balance requires good core strength and it also requires the use of all sorts of tiny little muscles and ligaments in the lower leg and feet. Try this! Stand up, (yes, again), bend over so your hands are as close to your feet, or the floor, as possible. If you can, grab one ankle with one or both hands, now lift the other foot off the ground and balance. Can you feel all the little, minute adjustments your standing leg is going through to try to keep you from losing your balance? So, to improve balance, to avoid getting into trouble with the law, just strengthen all those little muscles and ligaments, oh, and your core, too!

Personally, I find yoga to be extremely beneficial in developing core strength and in fine-tuning all those little muscles and in perfecting your balance. Ballet is good, too, or gymnastics, tumbling or calisthenics. I like yoga because I get to work on my mind a bit, at the same time. Yoga is a practice. So is balance. Balance takes practice and I combine my balancing practice with my mindfulness practice with my yoga practice. It’s the most productive hour I can squeeze into a day!

But, still, I practice balance even more. I have always been a law-abiding citizen, except for highway speed limits, but I consider that sport, not deviance, a game of cat and mouse, predator and prey; I’m the mouse, the CHP are cats, and I’ve been winning for the last thirty years. Knock on wood. Anyway. Practice. There are so many opportunities for practicing balance that you can incorporate into daily life; no gym membership, no expensive workout equipment, no gimmicky gizmos as seen on TV. Consider the following.

I am avid about dental hygiene. I like to brush my teeth. My childhood orthodontist would be so proud of me now! I was driving through the middle of Indiana some time last year. There isn’t much to see. Grass. Highway. Trees. Grass. Highway. Trees. And billboards. One billboard I passed presented a big, happy, cheesy smiling face and a caption that read, “Brush for two minutes, twice daily.” It struck me that someone, somewhere, paid money to advertise what we should’ve all known, and been doing, since we were two years old. But, whatever. Later that night, as I brushed my teeth for the third time that day, I thought about “two minutes”. I got my iPhone out, opened up the clock app, and set the timer for a minute. As I brushed the teeth on the right side of my mouth, I stood in tree pose (stand on one foot, bend the suspended leg at the knee and rest the foot either just above or below the knee. And hold). I brushed and balanced and brushed and balanced. When the timer went off, I set it for another minute and did the other side, teeth and tree pose. I do this every time I brush my teeth, now.

I ran six miles today. I ran eight miles a couple of days ago. I like to run. Every time my demons start to catch up with me, I go out and run, it keeps them at a distance for a while. It works, I swear by it. I plan my run so I after I complete the planned mileage, I have another half mile or so to walk back to where I’ve parked, that’s my cool down. Then I stretch when I get to my car. I have been running in a suburban neighborhood area, near a park, quite routinely. The other day, after my eight-mile run, I felt so fantastic! The weather was perfect, it was a Saturday morning, so the whole world smelled like pancakes and bacon, and every friendly fitness fiend was out and about, all calling “hello!” and exchanging other kind remarks. I finished my eight miles and as I walked the last half mile, I found myself walking on the curb. I walked the curb, you know, the narrow strip of elevated concrete between the landscaping and the gutter and roadway? It’s like a balance beam, but not so scary high off the ground. I walked a half a mile, on the curb, without losing my balance. After running eight miles. I did it again, today. When was the last time you  “walked a curb”? I walk every curb I come close to; in parking lots, even carrying groceries, even carrying my half-caf, soy latte that cost five bucks, I walk curbs in neighborhoods and in the city, but only if I’m not going to get hit by a bus or a garbage truck!

A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!
A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!

Being well balanced just requires a regular diet of, well, balancing. Find fun ways to incorporate it into your daily life. Do the dishes standing on one leg! If you have to stand in line at Target or the grocery check out, or at the bank, if you’re app resistant and still actually go to the bank, stand on one foot. You don’t have to be real obvious about it, you don’t have to do a hamstring stretch or an arabesque or anything, unless you like to draw attention to yourself. Just lift one foot casually off the floor and rest it atop your other foot. Then switch.

I know, this all sounds pretty loopy, but, seriously, I’m just looking out for you. I don’t want you to get into trouble with the law. Try to stick to a “well-balanced diet” and maybe when you’re 100 years old, you can walk the curb all the way to the old folks home to visit your friends’ kids for lunch!

 

 

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter February 6, 2014

I had a glorious day today. Some people might say it’s raining today. I say it’s just another, beautiful, wonderful, miraculous day.

When I appeared in the dark, gloomy kitchen this morning, the vertical blinds were pulled as tight as possible over the sliding glass door to the deck, blocking the view and the light and the day. Mom was reading her newspaper in her velour bathrobe. I was in my running tights and windbreaker. I quickly prepared my breakfast, ate it heartily, gathered my running pack and keys and headed for the door. Mom looked at me like I was an alien life form. Going out in the rain. She asked if I was wearing something that would keep me from getting wet. I smiled. My jacket is Gore-Tex, yes, but it really doesn’t matter. As soon as I get home I’m going to voluntarily stand under falling water in the shower. And get wet.

“Can’t you see that it’s just raining?
There ain’t no need to go outside.”
― Jack Johnson

So I went for a run. In the rain. I ran eight miles, in the rain. It wasn’t raining hard, just a little, but the wet sidewalks and bike path were practically empty. Normally, when I run, mid-day, whether a weekday or a weekend day, I encounter dog walkers, runners, power-walkers, joggers, runners, amblers, stroller pushers, cyclists and pedestrians of all sorts. Today, I saw one other runner and two cyclists, one of whom was not at all happy to be cycling, I gathered it was not his preferred mode of transportation, particularly when water was falling from the sky.

“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”
― Dolly Parton

An Effort to Evolve

What a treat, a run in the rain. We’ve been begging for rain, this being the driest winter on record, to date. Ever. We should all be dancing and singing in the streets, faces upturned, letting the rain quench our collective thirst. As I ran past the vineyards, hundreds, literally hundreds of robins sang and flitted about from vine to vine. There are always birds, but in a light rain, especially after a long dry spell, the birds come out and rejoice. Their song is bright and cheerful, magical and miraculous. They bathe in the puddles, flapping their wings and tilting their heads back in glee. And I am the only sole who notices. How lucky am I? I’d be happy to share with more fair weather folks, if they’d be willing to step outside and join me.

“Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.”
― Vladimir Nabokov

I almost felt guilty for having this joyful experience all to myself. Where was everyone? Were they huddled behind closed doors and clenched curtains? Fretting at the wetness of the day? I am alone here, is it because I am alone here? I don’t mind the rain. I don’t mind being out in the rain. I’ve backpacked in torrential rain and in thunderstorms with treacherous lightning. Happily. I love the mountains in the rain, I love the beach in the rain. I love seeing the drops disturb the surface of the water on a lake or a river. I like cities in the rain, all of the lights reflecting brilliantly off the thousands of wet surfaces. The sound of rain, the smell of rain, the cool feel of rain. Especially the cool feel of rain on my skin when I am warm from exertion, hiking or running. I love watching the clouds drift and float and shape shift. It is magic. I love that my hair curls and doesn’t frizz. I love the sound of rain falling on the roof, tapping against the window, during the night. I like the noise cars make swishing along on wet pavement. I love the sound of my running shoes rhythmically slap-slapping the wet street. It’s almost hypnotic. I love that I get to wear my shiny, new scarlet rain boots when I go run errands this evening. Rain. What’s not to love? So I have a romance with rain.

“I Love a Rainy Night”
― Eddie Rabbit

An Effort to Evolve

Shame on everyone, hunched in their houses, killing, murdering, this glorious day, wiling away the hours in front of television. Dismal. Morose. Lamenting the water falling from the sky, ruining their day. Shame. It was a perfect day. Even when I am forced to be indoors and it is raining, I spend time looking out, watching the rain. I’ll open a window a couple of inches and entice the fresh smell and the sweet sound inside, so I can almost pretend I am outside. I could watch rain out a window for hours. I find it soothing, calming, centering, cleansing.

“Being soaked alone is cold. Being soaked with your best friend is an adventure.”
― Emily Wing Smith

Everything is enhanced when it rains. Food is never so comforting and nourishing and appreciated as when it is raining out. A glass of rich, red wine is never so enjoyable as when it is raining. Sitting on a porch in the countryside while rain falls just a few feet away, feeling the dewiness accumulate on your cheeks; pure heaven. Walking down a busy urban sidewalk, carefully managing your umbrella amidst a thousand other brightly colored umbrellas, looking into the crowded, cheerful, warm, shops and restaurants you pass. And when the rain subsides and the sun returns, everything is shiny and fresh, like a bright, new penny.

Really, so what’s on TV? The news, perhaps? Did they mention it was raining? No doubt.

“It’s all nonsense. It’s only nonsense. I’m not afraid of the rain. I am not afraid of the rain. Oh, oh, God, I wish I wasn’t.”
― Ernest Hemingway

An Effort to Evolve

And, how is rain much different than life? When life isn’t perfectly sunny, do we cower under the covers and wish it would get better? Sit, comatose, in front of some screen or another, watching other people actually live their lives. Or do we give thanks for the day and enjoy the gift that it is? Do we savor the gift of another day and experience it to our fullest, do we cherish the gift of another day and use it wisely to find a path to a sunnier day, a better self, a more fulfilling life?

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
― Maya Angelou

Much like the weather, life is never “perfect”. Sometimes it’s better than others. Weather is the first topic of almost any conversation. Followed by traffic. Then gossip. Small talk. We use weather as an excuse for so much, an ever-present excuse. And, when life is as imperfect as the weather, we have another ever-present excuse. If we wait until life is perfect, and the weather is perfect, to embark on our life journey, we’ll never get started and most certainly will never get where we hope to go.

“… millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
― Susan Ertz

We must find a way to enjoy our day, no matter the weather. Likewise, we must find a way to enjoy our life, each and everyday, whether it’s sunny times or stormy times. It’s still time and we only get so much of it. The way I see it, we have two choices; make our own sunshine or learn to sing in the rain.

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.”
― Roger Miller

An Effort to Evolve

Will and Grace

I don’t watch much television and what I do watch is a decade or so old via Netflix or something. One of my favorite old series I’ve been cycling through recently is “Will and Grace”. Yesterday, two “Will and Grace” DVDs showed up in my mailbox, so I spent a rather self-indulgent evening enjoying a “Will and Grace” watch-a-thon.

I find inspiration everywhere I look, even the splash screen of a decade old TV series on DVD.

On will. And grace.

We all have things we’d like to improve in our lives. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t. Some folks are able to improve some things in their lives, and not other things. Other folks have a hard time even knowing where to begin with one wish or desire. Whether it’s weight loss or fitness, education, job skills, magic tricks, or career gains, debt, spending, saving and investing, or self-confidence, happiness or spirituality, we all have a wish list.

How are some folks better at making desired improvements and others aren’t? Will and grace.

Most kids, at some point in time, desire to learn to ride a bicycle. There are usually training wheels to assist while the new cyclist learns to balance, then, one day, the training wheels are gone and some family member is customarily tasked with running down the sidewalk, hunched awkwardly over the tiny cycle, gripping some portion of the bike, the child, or both, while the new rider wobbles and pedals furiously, trying to take flight like a fledgling leaving the nest. For most of us, we eventually get it and a whole new sense of freedom and independence opens up for us. By sheer will, we learn to balance, pedal and steer, simultaneously. Those first few rides begin a little shaky as we try to pedal fast enough and prevent seesawing the handlebars back and forth frantically until that magical moment when everything is in synchronization. Within a week, we look as though we’ve been cycling for years. Grace.

Have you ever noticed that children run everywhere? From the family room to the kitchen, from the front door to the car, from the classroom to the playground at recess. At some point in life, we just stop, it becomes “uncool” to run from point to point and we begin a long life of ambling. For most of us, as adults, we don’t run. Period. Don’t run. Ever. Unless zombies attack, and then, as out of practice as we are, we become zombie chow. There are adults who run, voluntarily, without a zombie breathing down their neck. They run for fitness and, yes, for pleasure. A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to move from the ranks of probable zombie chow to “runner”. Have you seen the movie “Zombieland”? Rule number one, of thirty-two, is cardio. To survive in Zombieland you have to be able to outrun the zombies. No, I don’t believe in zombies, but I decided to “learn” to run, as an adult. For fitness and to prove to myself I could. Now I run for pleasure.

My first day of running as an adult, and we’re talking way adult, I’m not twenty-two, or thirty-two, or forty-two. My first day of running as an adult was sort of an “audition” run, if you will. I’d joined a running club on the advice of my friend Miles. I’d expressed an interest in running, he recommended this club. I signed up online and showed up to run. My first run would be a mile and it would be used to identify which “pace group” I would train with. I’d been doing cardio, religiously, at the gym, so I was in pretty good shape. I just didn’t run. Knowing that my performance would determine how far and how fast I’d have to run for the next several months, I was a little concerned. I may have held back a little. When I stepped out onto the paved bike path and was told to begin running, I felt sort of like the tin man from Wizard of Oz, before being adequately oiled. Creaky, kind of spastic and jerky, lurching along, propelling myself forward with a complete lack of rhythm or form. It was my will to run. Two years later, I run a full three minutes per mile faster than that first mile and I’ve finished a full marathon. I have some form and a little bit or rhythm. Grace? Well, yes, comparatively speaking.

I took a job nearly six years ago that required significant travel and having to speak, out loud, for eight hours at a time, standing up in front of really smart people. Neither of these requirements were really okay with me. Like running, I did not fly comfortably and I most certainly did not speak in front of a group of people, voluntarily. Except for Cub Scouts. And Brownies. But never in front of grown ups. But, I needed the job and so I had to do what had to be done. Will.

Six years later, I fly all over the country on all manner of aircraft without a second thought. I’m like George Clooney in “Up in the Air”, but not really. I’m a road warrior, though, but I check my bags, George was all carry-on. I can stand up in front of a group of really smart people and talk and talk and talk. I teach them what they need to know, I tell stories and joke and quite enjoy myself. Grace.

So, what’s on our list? Do we want to get fit? Eat less processed food? Improve our self-esteem? Practice yoga? Learn a foreign language? Learn to master our smartphone? Whatever it is we desire, we can accomplish. “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” to quote Napoleon Hill from his book, “Think and Grow Rich.” We just need the will.

Let’s look at the word “will.” It is used in many ways, both as a verb and as a noun.

will
wil/Submit

verb

1. Expressing the future tense.

2. Expressing inevitable events.

3. To decide on; choose.

4. To yearn for; desire.

5. To decree, dictate, or order.

6. To resolve with a forceful will; determine.

7. To induce or try to induce by sheer force of will.

8. To grant in a legal will; bequeath.

noun

1. The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action

2.  a. Diligent purposefulness; determination.

b. Self-control; self-discipline.

3. A desire, purpose, or determination, especially of one in authority.

4. Deliberate intention or wish.

5. Free discretion.

6. Bearing or attitude toward others; disposition.

7.  a. A legal declaration of how a person wishes his or her possessions to be disposed of after death.

b. A legally executed document containing this declaration.

For the purpose of our discussion, I am particularly fond of the following selections from above:

As a verb, “diligent purposefulness; determination, self-control; self-discipline, deliberate intention or wish.” That is the secret ingredient to accomplishing any desire or goal we have. We’re all familiar with the common saying, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” Sadly, most of us don’t live that truth. We are truly limitless. The only limitations we have are the ones we’ve made ourselves believe. If we set to any one of our desires with “diligent purposefulness, determination, self-control, self-discipline”, if what we desire is a “deliberate intention or wish”, we can achieve it, at which point, “will” becomes a noun; “expressing inevitable events.” With “will”, it “will” happen.

It may be hard, it may take time, and it will likely take commitment and even some set backs to accomplish any one thing on our list, but it can be done. It will be done. With will. And then, we achieve grace.

grace noun \ˈgrās\

1. a way of moving that is smooth and attractive and that is not stiff or awkward

2. a controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving

3. ease and suppleness of movement or bearing

I grew up around the corner from a friend who’s mother taught ballet. She had a ballet school in an old, white Victorian house, with pink trim, that smelled of old wood floors and resin. I was enchanted and wanted nothing more than to take ballet lessons, that is, if I couldn’t have a pony. A pony would totally trump ballet lessons, but I wasn’t making much headway on that “will” at the age of eight. I was eventually enrolled in ballet, along with most of my Girl Scout troop, which was handy, since ballet was shortly after Girl Scouts. We could car pool. I think it worked out well for my mom, too. I walked to school in the morning, stayed after school for Girl Scouts, hitched a ride to ballet and showed up at home, completely exhausted, just in time for dinner. I probably went right to bed after dinner. I was a very busy child with lots of activities. I think I now know why. It was my mom’s will.

Most of the rooms in the old white and pink Victorian were converted into ballet studios. Upstairs, the bedrooms were reserved for the beginners. Once you were “good enough”, you got “promoted” to the big kids class in the living room, downstairs. It had a bay window at the front, barres along one wall and mirrors on every wall. I started lessons after some of my classmates and I remember my despair at still being upstairs when they were all downstairs. As Liz Lemon would say, “I want(ed) to go to there.” I remember trying so, so, so hard to plié perfectly, to jeté just right and to arabesque absolutely divinely, that I might get to practice in the studio downstairs, with my friends. Ballet is not easy, it takes a great deal of strength and practice. That the dancers make it look easy is the magic. The simplest looking move is really a symphony of coordination, strength, balance and, well, grace. Grace does not come easily or naturally for many, for most, it is only achieved when the coordination, strength and balance have been very well developed. Will.

And that is no different than anything else we have to will to achieve. Grace will only come after much practice and after looking like a goof for a while.

I went to yoga tonight. One of my favorite instructors was teaching. Her class is very rejuvenating. The other yoga instructor I like does a lot of power poses and I am left trembling with muscle fatigue afterwards. Tonight’s instructor teaches more flexibility and relaxation. I am left like putty afterwards, sort of like having a glass of wine and a bubble bath after a massage. Same difference. The class is designed for “all levels”, moves are easily modified for the less, or more experienced yogi. Because it is still January and there are still a few resolutionists around the gym, I arrived early. In fact, I was the first to arrive. There was a picture on Facebook of a yoga class at my gym over the weekend with forty people in it! The “energy” studio has room for about twenty, comfortably. So, I arrived early to be sure to secure my spot. I guess Tuesday night and Saturday mid-morning are a bit different. I set my mat front and center, right where I like it. About twenty minutes after I arrived another fellow showed up. I’ve seen him before, he is a show off. No, not really. He has definitely been practicing yoga for a long time, though. He has grace. He set his mat up next to mine and started practicing some flows. I was trying to meditate and his ankles kept popping and cracking. All decorum was lost and we both started laughing, I told him it sounded like firecrackers, he thought they sounded like snapping twigs. Right. Twigs being stepped on by a really, really large animal. Anyway. Soon, others began to assemble in the classroom. I think there were about ten of us, a good number. After a while, the door opened and an older lady, in yoga pants, wandered in one door. She looked around at all of us pretty much just sitting on our mats waiting for the instructor. We were just chilling. She walked through the classroom and exited out the other door. I observed her and wondered why she didn’t just stay in the hallway to get from one point to the other. A moment later, another lady, in yoga pants, peeked into the room. The first lady kind of peeked around behind her and exclaimed, “This is too advanced for me!” We were sitting on our mats, doing nothing, even “snap, crackle and pop” was sitting still. She totally lacked the will, she wouldn’t even try. Her friend advanced cautiously into the studio and asked the instructor a few questions. She was given gentle reassurance and was advised how to modify the moves for her comfort as a beginner and she stayed for the whole class. She seemed to enjoy it and even said she’d come again. She had the will! And, if she comes back, she will soon have the grace, too!  That’s how it goes. Will and grace.

Will and Grace, Jack and Karen.
Will and Grace, Jack and Karen. Actually, Jack, Grace, Will and Karen.

Whatever it is you desire, whatever it is you wish to accomplish or achieve, whatever it is you wish to improve, just remember Jack and Karen, Will and Grace. Especially, Will and Grace.

Scarlett’s Letter December 17, 2013

I’ve been a rebel without a cause for a while now. I’ll always be a bit of a rebel, but, today, I think I found a cause!

I’ve always been very involved in things I truly believe in. Scouting, for example. I was once a Girl Scout and loved every moment of it. I loved the friendships, the potential to earn and achieve, both as a group and independently, and the opportunity for adventures and exploration in nature. I had great leaders, so we actually had opportunities for adventures and exploration in nature, not just arts and crafts. And, probably from the time I first opened my Brownie Girl Scout Handbook in the first grade, I knew, someday, I wanted to be a Scout Leader. And I was. I was both a Girl Scout leader and a Boy Scout leader, for well over a decade, for both organizations, and just like my experience as a young girl, I loved every minute of being a leader, too. I truly feel like I had an impact, and, perhaps, made some small difference in a number of young lives. And it was fun.

The kids are grown and have moved away and are all far beyond scout age. I too have moved away and, yes, while I could still lead, I finally hung up my patch adorned red wool jacket a few years ago when work and travel and attending anything at all regularly became more than I could manage.

I miss having a cause.

I ran today, six miles. I’ve managed to shave a whole minute per mile off my average time since the marathon a couple of weeks ago. Oh, sure, I was capable of a bit more speed before the marathon, but I was being very conservative, making every attempt to avoid injury before the race. Training was about “time on my feet” and “staying on program”. Marathon completed, now I can push some limits. Running, now, is less about “time on my feet” and a whole lot more about “time in my head”.

The best book I’ve never read, recently, was “Younger Next Year for Women” by Henry Lodge and Chris Crowley (and, yes, there is a mens version, the original, actually). I enjoyed every word, on Audible. I have the printed version, digitally, on my Kindle, but have only managed the audiobook, thus far. It is truly a fantastic book and really great narration in the Audible version. It is both informative and totally enjoyable. I highly, highly recommend it. Within the volumes of very well researched, documented and supported advice was the first rule; exercise every day, for an hour a day, six days a week, for the rest of your life. Several of those days, per week, should include aerobic exercise, strenuous enough that you can speak, barely, but you can’t sing. They actually include far more precise measures of knowing whether you’re in your aerobic zone, or not. I achieve this level of exertion on the cardio equipment at the gym, and nearly so, yesterday, in spin class. And, by the way, it was Chris Crowley’s own account of his first spin experience, at the age of 70, that bolstered my courage enough to finally go. Running, however, the way I’ve been running, and even during the marathon, with the exception of those mysterious hills that appeared in my former hometown that I really don’t remember, I could’ve sung the whole time. I did in fact hold several lengthy mid-race conversations.

A gift? For me? Thanks secret pal, long-lost rich uncle or benevolent stranger!
A gift? For me? Thanks secret pal, long-lost rich uncle or benevolent stranger!
Highly recommended book. The Audible version is fantastic!
Highly recommended book. The Audible version is fantastic!

At my “new” running pace, I’ll not be singing, nor will I be saying much. It feels really good to pant a little during my one minute walk break, which occurs after every five minutes of running. My average pace during pre-marathon training was 11:07 minutes per mile. During the marathon I ran 12:02, but there were many more miles and a few porta-potty breaks, with long lines, that contributed to that time. My plan, though, was to run the race at an average pace of 12:00, so I guess I was “on plan”. My new average pace, this week, has been about 10:14. And, like I said, it feels pretty good. I’m not sure I could sustain it for more than the six-mile loop I guess I’d call my regular route. We shall see.

As to having a regular route; running in Napa has been very different than my experiences running in Sacramento, where this whole undertaking began a couple of years ago. In Sacramento, there is the gem of the city, the American River Parkway, miles and miles and miles of paved and meticulously maintained multi-use trail for runners, walkers, cyclists and even equestrians. It is the prize of the community and separates Sacramento from many other urban areas, as, in my opinion, a world-class city. Napa has a little bit of trail here and a little bit of trail there, separated by busy streets with unaware motorists, many of whom are tourists, many of whom have been wine-tasting. Running the streets of Napa, especially on a weekend, is akin to urban guerilla survival boot camp drills. I’d be terrified to cycle, and, in fact, routinely run, respectfully, past a couple of different roadside shrines to fallen cyclists. And then, there are crosswalks. There is nothing quite like watching your running watch displaying a pace of 18:55 while waiting for the green walk signal to appear. I’ve taken to strategically dashing between cars, both stopped and moving, rather than wait for the walk signal. Clearly, Napa, a world-class city in its own right, could use multi-use walking/running/cycling trail. And I’d be more than cool with equestrians, too. Fifty miles of trail would be about right, if you ask me.

I ran a couple of errands, today, on my way to run. Almost as difficult as finding a good and reasonably safe running route is finding a good and reasonably priced dry cleaner. There is one a mile or so away, next to my favorite pizza place and coffee shop. They are convenient, obviously, the people are nice and the prices reasonable enough, and they’ve done a good job, but, they don’t take credit cards. I have to remember to go get cash before I go get my dry-cleaning, which I never seem to be able to do. There is a bank in the same little shopping center, which I’ve resorted to every time I’ve picked up my laundry, but, it isn’t my bank, so I incur an ATM fee, so in the end, my dry cleaning ends up costing me way more. I Yelped dry cleaners and found one with rave reviews, across town, that takes every form of plastic imaginable. Location makes little difference to me, Napa is a “ten-minute” town. You can get anywhere within ten minutes within the city limits. I dropped my black coat there on my way to run, and they’re even going to sew a button back on for me! Cool!

As I turned out of the parking lot of the dry cleaner and headed in the direction of the park I park my car at for my regular running route, I pulled my sunglasses down from the top of my head. It was a lovely December day in Napa, sunny and about sixty-five degrees.  I was in shirtsleeves and a ponytail. It occurred to me that I’d forgotten my hat. I had sunscreen on, so I was protected, but I don’t yet have a nice pair of sports sunglasses. I have really cute gas station sunglasses with bling on the sides that barely suffice for driving into the rising or setting sun. They are miserable for running in every respect; they are heavy and bounce on the bridge of my nose, they have considerable glare, causing me to squint enough to make my head ache, and they are large lensed, sort of wrapped, and block the heat in so I have sort of an “eye sauna” going before the first mile. I’d spotted a little running store, near Massage Envy, when I parked for my two-hour massage the other night. It was on my way to the park, so I thought I’d pop in and buy a hat. True, a hat would cost more than driving home and getting the one I already had, but, well, whatever, they had pink and purple. My hat at home is gray. I pulled into the lot and parked near “Athletic Feat” and walked in. I was greeted and treated. The hats were shown to me and a friendly conversation ensued. During our exchange, I was enticed to join in on the “Resolution Run” on New Years Day, at 10:00 AM, a very polite hour to start a race given the likely activities the preceding evening. Proceeds are to benefit the Napa Valley Vine Trail. Say what? The Napa Valley Wine Trail! A planned forty-four mile, contiguous trail, dedicated to walkers/runners/cyclists. Well, damn! There we go! A cause I am happy to support in any way I can! I’ll be running 10k New Years Day no matter what happens the night before! Even if I crawl the entire route! Even if I sign up and pay and sleep through it! Right? And I will promote this cause in any way I can imagine! Give me a shovel and a pick, I am ready to dig me some trail!

I do, I want to help with this trail, however I can. I had a dream the other night and I remember some little bit of it. I was somewhere, talking to someone, about something and I volunteered to some large undertaking, on the spot. I’ve always been a little volunteer-happy, and, yes, I do tend to overcommit, from time to time. I don’t currently volunteer for ANYTHING, and this has been eating at my psyche a bit lately. I could almost feel the words form on my lips, just like in in my dream, “I want to help.” But, I refrained. For now. I need to reorganize a few things in my current, overcommitted life to free up some time for other, deserving overcommitments.

The only other excitement today occurred when the doorbell rang. I was upstairs, having just finished vacuuming for Mom. I peeked out the front window and, parked at the curb, by the mailbox, my car. Not my little Meep that I currently drive, the car I ordered from Tesla. I didn’t actually order it, I did dream of it, though. It was red, of course, and looked oh so good in front of the house. I think Meep whimpered a little. The doorbell rang again, Mom was in the garage. My mind was working, “who, what, why, how, etc.” I took a picture, of course, to post to Facebook with a snarky comment. The only thing I could come up with, why there would be a Tesla in front of my house, the occupants, apparently, anxious to speak with someone residing here; I test drove a Tesla Model S P85 a couple of months ago. While I may intend to buy one, someday, in my very vivid dreams, I am not currently, realistically, in the market for one. And I didn’t buy a Lotto ticket for tonight’s big jackpot, either. I’ve received a few polite, and really, non-threatening emails and phone calls since the test drive, so, I thought, perhaps, the sales folks were in the area and thought they’d just pop by to see if I had $100,000 laying around. I mean, they brought the right color and everything! Mom and I met in the hallway and whispered, deciding not to answer the door. I returned to my post by the upstairs window, and, by this time, the car was just pulling away.

A gift? For me? Thanks secret pal, long-lost rich uncle or benevolent stranger!
A gift? For me? Thanks secret pal, long-lost rich uncle or benevolent stranger!

I ran downstairs and opened the front door to see if there might be an envelope with keys and instructions to pick up my prize for some contest I’d entered and forgotten about. Nope. A canister of cookies from the First Presbyterian Church of Napa. Mom’s church. The one she’s been to a dozen times in fifty years. She’s been munching on homemade cookies, made by the church youth group, all day long. I think she’s even skipping dinner. I’m wondering just how much money she’s been sending the church every year that they deliver cookies to elderly members in a Tesla! Interestingly, I saw the very same car (yes, I memorized the license plate, it’s what I do) at Round Table Pizza later, when I went to the running store.

So, tonight, when I turn out the light and doze off to sleep, I will have happy little dreams of driving my red Tesla Model S P85 and a sprinting at a sustained and enviable speed along a beautiful running trail through the lovely Napa Valley. Good night! Sweet dreams!

Scarlett’s Letter December 15, 2013

I went to yoga today and it was just the thing!

I haven’t been to yoga in ages and I was relieved to find that I could still bend, in an acceptable manner, in a number of ways. With my exercise focus being exclusively on running, lately, in preparation for my first marathon, it is good to be back to other methods of exertion. I did run yesterday, the first time since the marathon a week ago, and it was amazing. I ran really, really, fast! For me. So, for any casual observer, I probably appeared to be shuffling frantically. For the record, there is a brief moment, each stride, where both feet are, in fact, off the ground. Simultaneously. Yes.

I was so indescribably tired last night. After my run and a shower, and taking Mom on her errands, and grocery shopping for myself, I was exhausted. I can run 26.2 miles, but a day of errands with Mom wears me out. I’ve heard there is a “post-marathon” depression, or malaise, maybe that’s what this mild irritability and exhaustion is about. Or maybe it’s the cumulative affect of my six weeks of east coast/west coast travel. Or, maybe because I stayed up until 1:00 AM chatting with my Sweetie the night before. Or maybe it was the chat, itself. He was being feisty, playing devil’s advocate and just generally being a brat. All in good humor, of course, but I was on my toes and sparring the whole time. Or, all of the above. Whatever the reason, once I finished dinner and dishes, all I could think about was reading one of the four hundred new Kindle books I have yet to start. I awoke with my Kindle on top of  me, unopened, this morning.

I was excited to get up this morning. I have groceries! Real food! Do you have any idea what it’s like to return to the produce section of a Whole Foods in California after being on the other side of the country? Real, local, organic produce! A selection! I almost fell to my knees and kissed the inlaid tile “Whole Foods” logo on the floor in the entry to the store! I bought yogurt, eggs and produce. That’s it. Three heavy to lift, reusable, “Whole Planet Foundation” bags full of produce. And having yogurt again! Today was the day I have been waiting for! I opened the tub of organic Wallaby yogurt, made right here in Napa County, stirred in my local, organic honey, and, the best part, I opened a jar of Alaskan blueberries that I helped pick right off the tundra, that my Sweetie jarred and flat-rated to me, and stirred a generous amount into my yogurt. It was the most divine thing I’ve had for breakfast in a very long time. I can’t wait for breakfast, again, tomorrow. Or, maybe I’ll just have breakfast, again, for dinner! Or both!

Cold oatmeal and the best yogurt in the world!
Cold oatmeal and the best yogurt in the world!
How to make the best yogurt in the world; buy yogurt, buy honey, pick fresh blueberries on the Alaskan tundra, and when someone sweet jars them and sends them to you, open and stir into yogurt with honey!
How to make the best yogurt in the world; buy yogurt, buy honey, pick fresh blueberries on the Alaskan tundra, and when someone Sweet jars them and sends them to you, open and stir into yogurt with honey!

The yogurt was the only part of breakfast I found enjoyable. My oatmeal wasn’t cooked to perfection. My fault.  And it was cold by the time I ate it. I guess I was busy eating the yogurt first.

When I travel, I try to stay at hotels with a fridge and maybe even a microwave. Last week’s hotel was not one. In hotels without such amenities, I usually have fruit not requiring refrigeration and an organic granola bar for breakfast. No matter what I have, it is during breakfast that I check Facebook for interesting news, wish any Facebook friends having a birthday a great day, and write in my journal. I forget, upon my return home, that these activities are difficult to carry out at the breakfast table. I do really like to focus on any articles I click through to from Facebook, reading them from start to finish without interruption, conversation or being read the local newspaper, which Mom seems inclined to do. And today’s article of click-worthiness was awesome! I like to be able to write in my journal with complete focus and attention, since it is my morning affirmations I usually document. I consider this to be practically meditative. I always hope that when Mom see’s my pink journal, she’ll realize that I need a few minutes of complete calm. Nope.

I can remember very clearly, my dad, sitting at the kitchen table, where I sit now, across from my mom. He’d be trying to read something and she’d be reading bits of the newspaper out loud to him, or asking him a string of questions, as she does a lot of. He’d sigh, grimace, as only he could do, mark his spot with his index finger and an air of exasperation and look up at her, impatiently, over the rim of his gold wire rimmed bifocals. When I do that, try to mark my spot with my index finger, as I’m reading on my iPhone or iPad, I end up unintentionally “liking” something or navigating to a link I don’t mean to. I finished my breakfast, my dishes, and quickly retreated upstairs to finish my morning routine. I admit, I was a bit frustrated, which is no way to be first thing in the morning, and I finally remembered that I had altered my routine during my last “at home” stint, to finish those items requiring my focus, before heading downstairs. It was the yogurt and the blueberries, I guess, and my excitement over them, that caused me to forget that rather important little scheduling detail. I am now reminded and will act accordingly.

Yoga, as I said, was great. During our initial stretching, where we are to quiet our minds, to acknowledge and dismiss our thoughts, I was kept pretty busy. Things I wanted to include in any of several articles I’m working on kept drifting through my mind, as did some of my petty frustrations at home. At one point, the instructor told us to let everything “out of our mind”, and, at this point, as only I would do, a song popped in based on those lyrics. I remember my kids’ reaction when I played this song, they find it pretty amusing that I listen to a lot of the stuff they do. The song? “Outta Your Mind” by Lil Jon, featuring LMFAO, the chorus going something like this,

“Get outta your mind, get outta your mind (what), get outta your mind (what)
Bump that shit, get outta your mind (what)
Get outta your mind (what), get outta your mind (what), get outta your mind (what)
Bump that shit, get outta your mind (what)”

So, in yoga, to a hip-hop beat, in my head, I’m singing, “Get outta my mind, get outta my mind, bump that shit, get outta my mind …” It worked. But I almost laughed out loud, just a little, which would’ve been an outward breach of protocol, I’m pretty sure. I’m already about as unconventional a yoga practitioner as you’ll find. By the end of our hour and a half of practice, I was feeling much better, my calm sense of composure, energy and enthusiasm restored. All the bad jou jou of the past couple of days were “outta my mind!”

I didn’t have a text from my Sweetie this morning. We didn’t talk last night, he was headed north, piloting an oversize load to Coldfoot. I fell asleep before sending my nightly, “good night, Love” message. I wanted to send my usual “good morning” text this morning, but thought if he got in real late last night, which was certain to be the case, due to a late start, I didn’t want to wake him. When I got out of yoga at noon, I checked my phone and there were a couple of texts from him. Good, he was home. I don’t worry, remember, it’s pointless and doesn’t change anything, but, still, I am always super happy when I know he’s home again after a trip north. He made it home fine. The million-mile Ford did not. Well, it did, eventually, but they did not arrive home together and the million-mile Ford did not return under its own power. The poor old blue truck won’t be making that trip, again, until it gets a new engine. Zowwie.

The million-mile Ford. Get well soon!
The million-mile Ford. Get well soon!

But, other than breakfast and the news from the north, my day went exactly as I hoped it would. I wrote. That’s all I wanted to do today, write. And, now, it’s time to think about dinner. Wallaby yogurt with local, organic honey and real Alaskan blueberries, picked myself and lovingly jarred by my Sweetie. Perhaps, so. Or for dessert, maybe. Or both!

And, tomorrow, a big day. One I am excited for. Though Monday, it is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day. I will plan ahead, prepare, and even try to get a super good night’s sleep in anticipation of this sure to be magical event! Tidings!

You Lie. Show Some Respect.

I ran a marathon today. I ran my first full marathon. I ran my first full marathon at the age of fifty years young. Twenty-six point two miles. Me.

If you told me five years ago that I’d run a marathon I might not have believed you. I doubt I would’ve said, “I can’t”, because I’d already been baptized in the PMA Kool-Aid, but I might have said, “I don’t run.” And then laughed at the mere suggestion of running a marathon.

My day started early. I stayed at a hotel not far from the start of the race. I selected the hotel because they’d arranged for a “shuttle” to the starting line so I wouldn’t have to hassle with driving and traffic and parking. With over 10,000 runners and the road closures that go along with conducting a marathon, you can imagine the nightmare driving oneself there might present. So, I left my hotel room, bundled up against the 18-degree temperature, and found out front, two school buses. Two school busses with snow on top. I mentioned it was cold, right? I boarded the bus, took a seat and that was the beginning of my education. I got schooled today.

Today, I got schooled.
Today, I got schooled.

As the bus began to fill, a woman asked to sit next to me. I moved my small mountain of gear aside and she sat. We began chatting and during the course of the bus trip figured out we both run at the same “tempered” pace, I admit, I’m not fast, but I’m effing tenacious.

We were allowed, it was, in fact, suggested, that we remain on the nice, heated bus, until we needed to use one of the hundreds of porta-potties, or the race was to start, whichever came first. It is every marathon runners dream, to be blunt, to drop a load, before the beginning of the race. There is nothing quite like running “in need”. We took turns watching each other’s gear while taking care of business. We agreed to try to run together and, after exiting the bus, dropped our extra gear, stuffed into clear bags that had been provided to us, with our bib number adhered to it. Bags were loaded onto trucks based on the numbers. My number was in the 2000’s and hers in the 4000’s, which were to be placed in separate trucks. In the crowd, after dumping our gear, we failed to find each other before the beginning of the race. I wondered for much of the race, how she was faring, this being her first full marathon, too, though a more seasoned runner, than me, and younger by at least fifteen years.

As I waited by the pace sign 5:10, I saw a familiar face hurrying through the crowd. Miles. A quick hug for encouragement and he was off to a far more ambitious pace banner. I hope to run that fast some day. As I waited, hoping my new friend would find me by the pace sign we both noted as the most practical for our start, I was met by a coach and a couple of members of my pace group from SacFit, my running club. They were running a click or two slower than the 5:10 banner I stood by, but I started the race with them, behind the 5:25 pace group. Nearly last, actually, of all the runners who started the race. The race started at 7:00. I take that back. The race started at 6:59:30 for handicapped participants and at 7:00 for the rest of us, with the elite runners at the head of the crowd, so they wouldn’t have to trip over those of us with a more “tempered” pace.

Handicapped runners? Yes. Quite a few. This I was aware of. Last year, in fact, I was at O’Hare waiting for a flight to Sacramento, exactly like yesterday. But last year, in the boarding area, was a blind man and his companion, on their way to run the California International Marathon, with the intent of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Again. So, yes, I knew there were visually impaired runners, I suppose, that constituting a “handicap”, the word being of use only to those less enlightened, if you ask me.

The start of the California International Marathon
The start of the California International Marathon

At 7:06:30, I crossed the start line. I ran with my coach and teammates as the course started out downhill. My “pace group” that we train at is 11:30, meaning we should run at a pace of a mile in eleven and a half minutes. We run five minutes and walk one minute, throughout, so, with walk breaks, our average pace should be around 11:45 to 11:50. We run slower. Which, I will admit, annoys me. Now, on my own, I run between 10:30 and 11:45, including walk breaks. My plan for this race, had I gone it alone, was to try to keep to an average of 11:45 to 12:00, just because of the distance. I’ve never run more than 22 miles before.

At the six mile mark, the coach excused herself to a porta-potty, and as I had a watch that was set to the same intervals as hers, I was “put in charge” of pacing the group. I sucked. We ran at 11:07 and missed the first walk break, but we really covered some ground. At mile eight, I excused myself for a porta-potty and the two remaining team members carried on. I never saw them again. Upon exiting the porta potty, I felt liberated, in more ways than one, and I set off at a comfortable clip. I ran and ran and ran. I felt really good, I was waving at the crowds of spectators, laughing at some of their signs, fist pumping as I passed bands, DJs and residents with tunes playing. I was having a ball! I think I stopped at another porta-potty, I may have over hydrated on the bus, I drained all but a swallow of 1.5 L Smart Water. Upon exiting the odiferous, plastic latrine, there was my coach. We ran together for a bit, she commenting on how we must have been running a bit faster after leaving her at the first bank of potties. I took credit for that, I am always accountable for my actions and inactions, always one to own up to my indiscretions. As soon as we reached the next bank of potties, she, again, broke away to tend to matters. We’d all be Olympians, I’m sure, if not for porta-potties. We’d run like hell if we didn’t have safe, remarkably clean and private stalls to stop at every time we got the whim! Put a big, single bank of porta potties fifty feet past the finish line and watch people run! So, again, I upped my pace and kept plugging away.

I adhered, mostly, to the run five/walk one schedule I’ve used in training. But, now, there were hills, lots of rolling hills. I decided to modify my approach slightly. There is nothing quite so maddening as to run up a hill only to have your watch inform you that you have a walk break at the crest, that lasts for most of the downhill, and, as you begin to run again, the landscape begins to rise again. So, I just sort of altered the pattern a little and walked up the hills and run downhill, letting gravity pull me down. My pace was all over the place between 10:09 and 12:00, the average being right around my comfort zone, 11:07.

Along the course, I saw a couple of familiar faces. A friend, her husband and their daughter. I first met them through Boy Scouting, then, again, in Rainbow Girls, then, again, in the running club. I don’t know why she wasn’t running, but, I got an excited greeting and it made me feel good. I may have had a small, brief pity party a time or two, leading up to the race, at the fact that I had no close friends or family anywhere along the way, and especially at the finish line, to cheer me on. Often, family members and friends will have signs specifically for their loved one and they’ll negotiate their way through road closures to meet them at points along the way, and, finally, at the finish line. My kids live thousands of miles away, as does my Sweetie. Mom, wisely, chooses not to drive as far as Sacramento, and my close friends mostly live in other towns and have very chaotic lives of their own. So, I thrive on reading the signs for the anonymous.

My favorites signs. One I saw several times that said something like, “Go! Random Stranger!” A young lady had an original sign that read, “Hurry! We’re Cold!” Another I LOL’d at, “Make this your bitch” and, not a block later, “It’s long and it’s hard, do it faster!” That one was my favorite. Go figure.

I ran and I ran and I ran. With walk breaks, of course. I ran through a community I used to live in. I ran past the school my kids went to elementary school at. I ran through the village I used to live in where the chickens roam free in the park and cross the street, using the crosswalks. I ran past the park where I used to take my kids to play on the walk home from school, on Fridays. I ran past the bakery we used to stop at first, to get a Danish cookie called a “Hindber Snitter”. I ran past the street I used to turn on to get to my house, the house I used to sleep in on this one Sunday a year when “the marathon” happened. I remember hearing the horns and the bells, the shouts of encouragement from the crowds lining the streets of the village a couple of blocks away, all from the stifling comfort of my house. I ran past the bike shop Santa bought all the bicycles at. Actually, I walked past the bike shop, at mile ten, because that was the steepest hill on the whole course. At mile eleven, I was running again and as I approached an intersection where some Scouter friends of mine live near, I wondered if they’d be out spectating, and sure enough, there they were! A quick hug, including the doggie, and I continued on my way. My friend, Sky, running with me for a short bit to chat, he even took in my next walk break before peeling off the rejoin his wife and doggie. Again, I felt loved!

I continued to run and a few miles on, the family I first saw had made their way down course and, again, I was greeted and cheered on. I ran and ran and ran. I was starting to feel my right Achilles tighten and hurt a bit. My left hip flexor was equally tight and was also beginning to hurt. I crossed the “half marathon” line and kept on going. Stopping here was not an option. I’ve run twenty-two miles and felt, at that point, I could do four more. I was doing this, pain or no pain.

It is at this point when running is much less a sport of physical conditioning and one of mental conditioning. I still felt good, and I just kept telling myself to “stick to the program”. Most of the hills were done with, so it was back to an almost mechanical pace and my run five/walk one intervals. I have always found comfort in rhythm, in cadence. When I backpack in steep mountainous terrain, especially with a pack overburdened with food and water at the beginning of a trek, I find rhythmic breathing to very helpful. And, while I enjoy running with a chatty group of folks, I find as much joy running alone, listening to the metronome like sound of my feet on the pavement. This is “time in my head”. I love that time, when I am physically exerting myself and my brain is just ON!! On with a capital “O”. Or, even, all caps, as I stated above. This is “me time” exponentially. At about mile sixteen, I pass a blind person running. It took me sixteen miles, folks, to pass a “handicapped” person.

I keep running. At mile eighteen, I am beginning to take two sports drinks at the rare aid stations that have any left. I am fatigued. My Achilles and my hip flexor are on fire, and, now, the “chip” that I had to zip tie to my shoe to record my times electronically as I run over sensors in mats at certain points throughout the course is beginning to cause pressure on the top of my left foot. Slowing from a run to a walk is excruciating and the only thing more painful is resuming running again a minute later. But, my mind is more conditioned than my body and I DO keep going. And going and going and going.

At mile eighteen something profound happens. I inch very slowly past a woman, older than me, with a prosthetic leg. And here is my lesson. Who “can’t” do what?

As ten thousand runners ran through Sacramento today, people on the sidelines would shout in encouragement. Often, the encouraging phrases were followed by something like, “I’m glad you’re running because I CAN’T!” Can you imagine what it would feel like to run past these folks, with a prosthetic leg and hear them say, “I can’t”? I’m sorry, I beg to differ. Anyone can, it’s a choice. True, it’s a choice with a great deal of commitment attached to it. But the key there is, it is a choice. People overcome incredible obstacles by choice, but more succumb to the least of obstacles and prop themselves up with the crutch of “I can’t.”

So, why lie? Please. Can we just be honest? How about if we just say, “I’m glad you’re running because I choose not to!” I like that better. Why? Because it’s honest. It’s the truth. “I can’t” is a lie. There was a runner today that was 84 years old. Correction, 84 years young. To be able to run 26.2 miles at the age of 84 is the result of a whole bunch of “I cans”. I know people, my age and younger, who say, with absolution, “I won’t live to be 80.” And, so, they won’t. Their choice.

Let’s talk about respect for a moment. To say, “I can’t” when we can, I think, is disrespectful to people who have greater challenges than we do, and do. The woman with a prosthetic leg who outran me for eighteen miles and chased me for the last eight, we should think of her the next time we catch ourselves saying, “I can’t” for any reason. Yes, we can, we choose not to, so let’s be honest AND respectful. Can you imagine for a moment, having lost your sight, or a leg, and overcoming those challenges to have someone without those challenges whine, “I caaaaannnnn’t”. I’d Kung Fu kick them with my prosthetic leg, and whack them over the head with my white cane, because I know I could!

After my life lesson at mile eighteen, I continued to run, perhaps a tad slower, perhaps with slightly exaggerated walk breaks, and, the whole while, mind was telling body, “shut up, I got this.”

My goal was to finish the California International Marathon, all 26.2 miles. My hope was to finish it within the six hours allowed. My dream was to finish before 5:30. I crossed the line at 5:15:20 and, to my delight, there was Miles cheering me on, a very good friend, indeed. Of course, two years ago, not being a runner, I made myself get up and get ready and drive around all kinds of traffic blocks to cheer Miles on in this crazy marathon at mile twenty, when most runners “bonk”. I cheered as he ran past, but he didn’t even know I was there until I told him later. That’s what friends do. But, it was at roughly that moment, as I waited for him to pass by, as I observed hundreds of ordinary people achieve something their minds told them to do, even if their bodies weren’t so sure, that I thought, maybe, I could do the same. A month later, I joined a running club, on Miles’ recommendation. And I never doubted for a moment, from that instant on that I was a “marathoner”. Today I proved it to anyone who doubted me, which most certainly did not include me.

The California International Marathon finish.
The California International Marathon finish.

I just perused the stats. I’m a stats addict. Any stat, I want to see it. Every coach I’ve had for the past two years finished the race behind me. I’m a wee bit competitive, I know, it’s about finishing the race, not beating people. Not beating your coaches. My point is, mind over matter. I suggested to myself I’d finish before 5:30 and I did, I did not know my coaches’ goals or hopes, I only knew mine. I might have suggested my goal, my hope, to myself repeatedly, I might have “envisioned” it a few (hundred) times, but you see? Mind over matter. I was in real physical pain. Now, a few hours later, after a shower and a rest, no pain. I also looked at the stats for my newfound friend from the bus; she quit at the halfway mark and my heart goes out to her. What happened?

For days, weeks, months, people have been asking me, “are you nervous?” Um, no. Why? The only thing I was nervous about was waking up with enough time to pack, eat breakfast, get ready, check out and cram my suitcases in the car before the bus arrived. That was my only stress factor, and it was a stupid one. I never doubted for a moment that I’d finish the race. I vacillated, a smidge, on my ability to run the time I hoped for, or, better yet, the one I dreamed of. Even though I flew in from New York yesterday and fly out, for the east coast, again, tomorrow, I knew with absolute certainly, I’d finish this race. Even though my workouts have been compromised by my travels recently, even though my nutrition has been completely derailed by having to eat in restaurants two meals a day, I knew, absolutely, without a doubt, I’d finish this race today, just like the lady with the prosthetic leg, the eighty-four year old marathon runner and the generous number of blind runners all knew, without a doubt, they would finish this race today. It’s what we tell ourselves we can do, without a doubt, that we do, with joy and ease and triumph. Because we can. Because we choose to.

Next time you choose to use that horrible four letter word, you know the one, not fuck, not shit, not damn, the four letter word that begins with a “c”, the next time you find your mouth opened, gaping wide, and your palette closing to form the ugliest of “k” sounds, the beginning of the most disgusting and sinful word ever, the word “can’t”, remember, first, it’s a lie and second, it’s disrespectful to those who are labeled as less able, but do.

I have to pee again.

Scarlett’s Letter December 2, 2013

What happened yesterday?

COFFEE GRINDER!!!
COFFEE GRINDER!!!

I got shit done and that’s it. Ten mile run. I finally got the coffee grinder from storage but only after getting coffee at the coffee shop, and breakfast, and running, and a shower. I also got my little Target brand Christmas tree up. Packed. Let Mom cook me GMO laced food featuring medicated, tortured cow. I only buy happy dead cow flesh, you know. Cows that were bottle fed by cherubs in sunny pastures, cattle that were lulled to sleep each night by the voices of fair maidens, fed on only lush, pesticide free grass growing in the richest of soils in some beautiful pasture with a view of the ocean,  treated holistically for any ailment that may materialize, provided with an endless supply of Evian water, massaged, by Swedish masseuses, and then, one day, blammo, hamburger. After a tasty, though suspect, meal, I packed for my two weeks away from home and went to bed. It is so much easier to go to bed at 7:00 PM when it’s actually dark out. I still didn’t end up turning out the light until 9:00. And my alarm went off at 1:00 AM.

Monday, squared.

Nice run yesterday! Warm! Sunny! Napa!
Nice run yesterday! Warm! Sunny! Napa!
Oh Christmas Tree!
Oh Christmas Tree!
Tortured cow. Delicious, though, thanks, Mom!
Tortured cow. Delicious, though, thanks, Mom!

In the few hours I slept, though, I had some crazy, crazy dreams. And I can even explain them! Mostly. I don’t know if my explanation is accurate, but there are some coincidences with what I dreamt and a few things that I viewed in the past couple of days. Either that, or I’m completely off my rails. Or both.

I dreamt, first, that there were a bunch of baby elephants wandering the streets in my neighborhood. Yes. Baby elephants. Just baby elephants. No mommy or daddy elephants. Then, I dreamt there were lions outside my bedroom window, standing on the roofs of the cars in the driveway, roaring, and trying to get inside. Oh, and the only part I can’t explain, I boxed some obnoxious lady in the ear because she was blocking the way to the restroom in some restaurant and she got belligerent when I asked her if I could pass. I’m not normally prone to acts of physical violence, so I’m not sure where that bit of the dream came from. I woke up right then, so I don’t know what happened.

I ground my coffee last night and actually made coffee for myself this morning, just to get me to the Starbucks at the airport in Sacramento, alive. With my “usual” latte, banana, oatmeal and large Fiji water, all in a Starbucks carrier bag, I made my way to the gate. How bad is it that I recognize several people in the boarding area, weekly travelers, like me. The United flight to Chicago every Monday morning is like a commuter train, all the same faces, all the same discussions; mileage, the state of the airline, airports. I look on, and listen, detached. I am not quite yet among their ranks, they all log over 100k miles a year. I’m struggling to make my much desired “Gold” status. Without gold status, I simply cannot imagine travel. I’d have to pay for luggage, I wouldn’t be able to book seats in “economy plus” for free, my bags wouldn’t be the first off the plane and I wouldn’t get premier access to ticketing. I’m not sure what would happen to my TSA Pre-Check status. So easily am I spoiled. I am oh-so close. I was going to book a trip to Hawaii to visit my son, but the ticket prices between now and the end of the year are pretty steep and I’d have to travel before the end of the year, I think, to “get” the extra miles.

The "Monday Morning Line" at Starbucks at SMF 4:15 AM.
The “Monday Morning Line” at Starbucks at SMF 4:15 AM.

The flight to Chicago is miserable. It’s either a brand new plane or a newly retrofitted plane, but, there is no economy plus seating, no extra legroom, it’s like coach. Somehow, after tweeting my complaint @united, I manage to sleep most of the way, just to block out the horrible experience.

No legroom in a seat that would formerly been in the United Economy Plus section.
No legroom in a seat that would formerly have been in the United Economy Plus section.
Legroom! United Economy Plus! THIS is what I'm talking about!
Legroom! United Economy Plus! THIS is what I’m talking about!

I am so excited to have a couple of hour layover at O’Hare! I love O’Hare. I could live in O’Hare! We deplane a couple of gates down from Beaudevin wine bar. It’s noonish. Wine seems fine. But, I am torn. I’d like to have lunch at Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera. There is a bar there that serves Negra Modelo AND has plentiful electrical outlets. Tortas Frontera is very popular, though, I can only imagine the wait in line for food, and then the wait for a seat at the bar or at a nearby table. And especially right at noon. I peruse the food displayed at Beaudevin and it doesn’t look so good. All of the salads feature iceberg lettuce with browned edges. First of all, iceberg lettuce has the nutritional value of water and tastes about the same. It’s only redeeming quality is it’s crispiness, but, the browned edges led me to believe that the crispiness may long since have deteriorated from the salads displayed. I walked past, heading for Tortas Frontera, glance at my watch and turn back, again, towards Beaudevin. I notice they now have electrical outlets beneath the bar AND open seats. I envision waiting for a seat at TF, I think of the limp salads, compared to a Cochinita Pibil torta, I turn, take three steps towards Tortas Frontera, eye the wine selection, again, and the open seating, and turn back. I climb up on an overly padded stool at the bar and look over the menu. I decide on a flight of California Cabs and the cheese platter. You can’t go wrong with cheese and wine that come from NorCal. Can’t. Unless, of course, the cheese is so over-chilled you can’t taste it, so over-chilled it won’t even slice, let alone spread on the oddly textured bread. The wine is good. I pick at my cheese plate, eat about two-thirds of it, and give up.

Very cold cheese with a lovely flight of wine.
Very cold cheese with a lovely flight of wine.
 I shoulda had the cochinita pibil at Tortas Frontera!
I shoulda had the cochinita pibil at Tortas Frontera!
Aaaaahhhh.
Aaaaahhhh.

I pay up and make my way to my gate in the other terminal, and, as luck would have it, is right next to Tortas Frontera, which, by now, is not so busy. There’s an open seat at the bar and I sidle up and order a Negra Modelo. Yes, I enjoy beer and wine, often, but I consume, perhaps, a little too much on travel days. I won’t even begin to try to justify it. Sport? Challenge? Or just seeking an ultra-relaxed and altered state of mind in a “world” of frenzied, unprepared, entertaining, though annoying, casual, infrequent travelers. My subliminal goal is to be the first in my boarding group to board the damn plane, find my seat, and slip into a numbed state of mind, if not sleep. Sleep is preferable.  

This, I accomplish on the flight from Chicago to LaGuardia. I stop at the natural food kiosk on my way to the baggage claim and grab a yogurt and an “Eighteen Rabbits” bar for breakfast in the morning. By the time I get to the baggage carousel, my bags have arrived and been unloaded to the side with a handful of others. They are mighty fast at this airport. And, this is one of the few airports where someone insists on comparing your baggage claim tickets to the bags you’re trying to remove. I appreciate this. I may be the only one.

I catch the bus to the rental car lot and select, as my car of the week, a Challenger. Black. Cool, right? Personally, I prefer the Charger. I have opinions on cars much like I do food, wine, fashion and airlines. It is rush hour and I’m in a muscle car. In Long Island. Talk about a complete waste. I honestly think I could live here for decades, not that I’d want to, and still not be able to visualize the maze of highways, interstates and expressways. It is dizzying, and, not much unlike California, SoCal in particular, most conversations quickly turn from the weather to “how I commuted today”.  I listen to David Zabriskie of Team Garmin on my Nuvii as we navigate fast, then slow, fast, then slow, fast, then slow, the fourteen miles to Garden City where I am to live and work for the rest of the work week.

Challenger; car of the week.
Challenger; car of the week.

I come here, for the same client, every year. Often twice. This is my second week here in the past month. I stay in the same hotel and dine at many of the same restaurants. Tonight, for example, tired and lacking energy and enthusiasm, it will be comfort food; Shake Shack, which is practically across the street from my hotel. A beer there, with my SmokeShack burger, hold the sauce, oh, and fries, don’t tell Jillian, and I am ready to go back to the hotel to get ready for the week.  Iron, organize my training materials, set out the tip for housekeeping for tomorrow and get ready for bed. I need sleep.

Comfort food - the Smokeshack at Shake Shack.
Comfort food – the Smokeshack and a Shakemeister beer at Shake Shack.

Scarlett’s Letter November 30, 2013

When I woke up this morning, my hair hurt. I swear it. This being an indication that I may have overdone a wee bit last night. I took two Excedrin and attempted more sleep.

When I finally did manage an upright position, I felt, perhaps, still a bit compromised. Not so compromised that I couldn’t navigate down to “my office”, the coffee shop, that is, where I still reign as mayor, according to Foursquare. I got my latte, acknowledging the fact that the storage unit that holds the coffee grinder I require to grind the whole bean coffee I accidentally purchased over two weeks ago, is less than a mile away. It isn’t the distance, it’s the fact that the box with the coffee grinder in it is kind of towards the back of the unit, and, when I stacked the boxes and Rubbermaid totes into the unit, I made sure the stuff going to charity was at the front, meaning, I’ll have to unload a quarter of the stuff from the unit to unbury the box with the damn grinder. This is how my mayorhood, or is it mayorship, was won. It is much easier to part with a couple of bucks a day than deal with the storage unit. Especially when in need of caffeine. Latte in hand, I headed home and made myself a huge greasy breakfast. For some reason, bacon, eggs and toast seem to be my breakfast of choice when recovering from a night of overindulgence.

My only mission today, other than, perhaps, getting the coffee grinder out of storage, was to go pick up all my wine club selections for the month/months. Tomorrow, my lovely bottles of red wine, hand selected by the wineries I’ve trusted with my credit card information, turn into pumpkins. Not really, but, after a certain period of time, if not picked up, the wine club selections are shipped to you and it costs extra money. And that certain period of time expires today. It was a lovely, sunny and warm day out, all bright and cheery, so Mom and I piled in the car and took off, first for Healdsburg to Quivira Winery for my four bottles from October, then up and over the hill, through Alexander Valley, to Calistoga and down to St. Helena to pick up my two November wine club selections from V. Sattui Winery.

At both wineries, being an esteemed club member, I was offered free tastings. My eyes crossed, my forehead crinkled into a frown, my upper lip curled a bit in disgust, my stomach flipped, and I may have groaned a little, before politely declining. By the time Mom and I made our way back to Napa, we’d sort of missed lunch and we were hungry. Two weeks have passed since we last had our traditional pizza, salad and beer meal at Bene Gusto, which is right across the parking lot from “my office”, the coffee shop. So, for the second time today, I parked in the little lot between the coffee shop and the pizza joint and Mom and I went in with “The Lunch Bite” special in mind. I wasn’t so sure about the beer, but, it comes with the meal. I asked for the Session Lager, which I usually enjoy quite a bit. It arrived, opened, and was placed before me, without a glass, per request. Mom sipped hers, I stared at mine. Mom sipped a bit more of hers, and I just stared at mine. The salad arrived and, as always, the greens were so incredibly fresh, I devoured the entire thing. And stared at my beer some more. I did drain my water glass three or four times, but continued to eye my beer with wariness and trepidation.

The pizza arrived. I’ve created my own variety; a thin New York style crust, red sauce, chicken, mushrooms and artichoke hearts. It’s on the menu with white sauce, but I’ve convinced them that the red sauce is actually an excellent choice. They have yet to put the pizza on the menu, aptly named, “The Scarlett”. I’m hopeful. After about two bites of pizza, especially with all the red pepper I sprinkle on it, the beer became a necessity I was able to manage. I did, however, refrain from ordering a second one, as I am usually inclined to do.

At home, I found myself just staring at my MacBook, mindlessly, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, WordPress, texting with friends, pretty much just killing time I’d set aside for writing, time I could have devoted to getting the damn coffee grinder out of storage. My friend Miles, Miles N. Miles, the “N.” stands for Nathaniel, was in town visiting family. We went to high school together but didn’t really hang out together. Miles ran cross-country and sang with the choir. I didn’t. I preferred to get into trouble with my friends, the same friends, in fact, that I got into trouble with last night. Miles and I ran into each other at a Catholic church, east of Sacramento, in the foothills, of all places, several years back. Miles, actually, is who suggested I join the running club I’ve been running with for the past couple of years. He is married and has kids, a boy and a girl, a couple of years younger than my kids. Our friendship revolves around sharing stories and strategies for our continued efforts to effectively raise our offspring, running, a little bit of gossip, and our respective careers. We decided to meet for coffee, so, you guessed it, I invited Miles to “my office”. It is good to be the mayor.

The best part of my whole day, though, after my decaf latte with Miles and coming home and writing for a bit, was a nice, long, chat with my Sweetie. And good night.

What I learned today; when your hair hurts because you tested your limits in alcohol tolerance, take two Excedrin and buy a latte. What I learned today that really matters; a day devoted to friends and family, forsaking the “to-do” list is a day to be cherished and in no way regretted. My focus, this weekend, really, was to spend time with family and friends. The list will be there, still, tomorrow, and the next day. Time with friends and family, though, is rare and sometimes fleeting. Sometimes, in our drive to develop, in our effort to evolve, we are so focussed on results and outcomes, we miss the whole point. Isn’t one of our goals better relationships? For most it is. Don’t let “the list” deprive you of spending time with your family, friends and loved ones.

 

Bene Gusto. I should be mayor here, too.
Bene Gusto. I should be mayor here, too.
Group selfie from last night.
Group selfie from last night.

 

Scarlett’s Letter November 17, 2013

Dear Friends,

Today, I ran. It was the only thing on my agenda, so that’s the only thing I did. I ran. Twenty-two miles.

People run for different reasons. A girl I knew in high school went to college at U.C. Davis in pursuit of her “MRS” degree. She ran around the medical school building every morning in her cute, little, running shorts and her perfect, shiny brown hair in a bouncy little ponytail. She is now one half of Dr. and Mrs. So-and-so. Some run for the runners’ high, some strictly to lose weight, some because they always have. I run as proof to myself that I can overcome any self-imposed limitation I may ever have believed about myself. Most of my adulthood, from my late teen years on, I believed I was “not a runner”. Which, of course, is ludicrous. If you can put one foot in front of another at a pace slightly more elevated than a walk, well, then, you’re a runner.

Yesterday, my running club held their annual “long run”. Buses are hired and all who wish to go board the buses well before dawn. The buses are unloaded in Folsom, near Folsom Lake, and the runners run twenty-two miles, along the lovely and scenic American River Parkway, back to their cars, in their respective pace groups. Running in a group is nice, you have people to chat with and the coaches are helpful, there is a strong sense of camaraderie and, with SacFit, there are volunteers stationed behind a folding table, beneath a pop-up sunshade, stationed every so many mile, offering Gatorade, water and healthful snacks, and even a few less than healthful snacks, like Oreos and M&M’s, two of my all time favorite foods I hardly ever allow myself to eat. Yesterday, while they ran, chatting and sharing, eating and having fun, I was flying home from New York.

I knew I HAD to run the twenty-two miles. Last year, I ran with the group, but only because I wanted to. This year, I have to put the mileage on. This year, in three short weeks, I run my first full marathon; 26.2 miles. I’ve never run 26.2 miles before. I’ve run twenty-two, a year ago, and suffered from a pain in my right Achilles for two months afterwards. I had to run this twenty-two, today, and know that this year I’d trained appropriately, that there would be no pain and, three weeks from today, I’d be able to complete the 26.2 California International Marathon.

A bit weary from this week’s travels, and it being an emotionally wearing and a somewhat harrowing work week, too, I did allow myself to sleep as long as I needed last night. On very rare occasions in my life, I have a day where I can sleep without any kind of an alarm to end such sleep, abruptly, rudely, but, necessarily. Today was just such a day. I slept until nearly 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time, and, considering I’ve been living in Eastern Standard Time all week long, that actually equates to the darned near noon.

I arose and went about preparing a large, nutritious breakfast; two eggs, sunny side up, draped over two pieces of sprouted grain toast, a bowl of plain Greek yogurt with local, organic honey stirred in and organic raspberries atop. And a kiwi. And the largest Latte money could buy. I bought coffee last weekend, I’d used the last little bit I had. When I went to make coffee the following morning, I found, much to my dismay, it was whole bean. Whole bean is fine, except I’d just moved all the boxes out of Mom’s garage to a storage unit a few miles away, and in one of those boxes is my coffee grinder. Since then, the few days I’ve been home, I’ve just gone and bought a coffee. This is tomorrow’s goal; go to storage. Get coffee grinder.

After breakfast, I went about preparing for my run, also known as procrastinating. It wasn’t that I wasn’t looking forward to it, but there is a bit of a mental challenge in psyching oneself up to lace up the dusty old sneakers and run out the door. I drove my intended route yesterday, with Mom. I had an idea which direction, which road, I’d run, but I really didn’t know where eleven miles would get me, where my turnaround point would be. We drove and drove and drove. It was really fricking far away! To say this messed with my mind a bit would be a little bit of an understatement. I might have mentioned it on the phone a time, maybe twelve, with my Sweetie last night. This morning, a text that said, “Have a great run and remember, you do this because you enjoy it, not because you have to,” followed by a emoticon winking and blowing a kiss. A man who is supportive, practical, wise and rational. Sigh.

Mom always wants to know how long I’ll be, she wants to set an alarm to remind herself at precisely what time she should begin to worry. No matter how far I’m running, she suggests two hours. I can say with absolute certainty, I will never run at eleven miles an hour. It was, by now, about 11:00 AM, I told her not to begin to worry until 6:00 PM. She questioned me, “seven hours?” “Yes”, I replied, what if I decide to walk the whole thing? I’m going twenty-two miles whether I walk or run, and I like to leave my options open.

Off I went.

It was a fabulous day in the Napa-hood, sunny and about sixty-five degrees. I walked to the end of my street, started my running app on my phone, started my Garmin running watch and started running. I passed a squirrel at about a half mile, he had a walnut in his mouth and eyed me like a lion her prey. “Yes, I know” I said to the squirrel, “I’m nuts!” He dashed across the street, I dashed along the shoulder towards my goal. Before I left the house I’d posted to Facebook, “I missed the traditional “long run” with SacFit yesterday because I was in flight. So, today, on my own, I set out for 20 some miles, the last long run before tapering down in preparation for the California International Marathon in three short weeks. Here is my plan, please comply should you witness me in route: I will do this, by myself, unassisted. I am, however, taking a couple of dollars and a bus schedule, just in case. I am also in possession of my credit card in case I just decide to get a large meal and a hotel room in Yountville, my halfway point, rather than run home.” I got thirteen likes. So far.

I ran and ran and ran. My practice, which we do in our running club, is to run for five minutes and walk for one. My second or third walk break found me very close to my close friend’s house. I run by her house frequently and I have instructed her to do no more than wave should she ever see me. I am on a mission and that is that. Her house is at the bottom of the only hill I must traverse. It isn’t a mountain or anything, but it is a hill and I do pant a little after running up it. I always hope I will reach the hill at precisely the time my watch indicates it’s time for a walk break, but that has yet to happen. Just as I was chugging up the hill, my friend’s husband drove past. I waved. And kept running.

I ran and ran and ran. I need some way to transcribe my thoughts to text while I run. The whole while I’m running I am writing in my head and I write the most perfectly and intricately phrased passages! Articles and articles of them. And when I get home and finally sit in front of a computer I just dither along stupidly patching odd, choppy sentences together. It is maddening. I ran and ran and ran.

You never know what to expect when you run on Sunday in the Napa Valley. I ran last Sunday and saw approximately five cars in twelve miles. Today, there was a great deal of traffic, mostly older people in enormous cars, barely visible over the steering wheel. There were also a number of really defiant young drivers who wouldn’t slow for anyone or anything. They all wore this disaffected expression, head cocked to one side, that said, pretty much, “I see you and I don’t care.” And, on weekends, there are the tourists, driving from one winery to the next, parting with $25 at each for a few short pours of wine, and, when the sommelier offers a bonus pour, no one turns it down. One must get every last penny’s worth and every last drop at every winery visited. Then, behind the wheel and off to the next. On more than one occasion I actually exited my clearly marked shoulder for the ditch. Several drivers crossed the wide white painted line that acts as the only “barrier” between a couple tons of metal hurtling towards me and, well, me, a small, extremely vulnerable and unprotected human form plodding along the shoulder.

When I tell people that I run, often they implore, incredulously, “Aren’t you scared?” No. There is little I am afraid of, I am of afraid, mostly, of fear, and that’s about it. Fear is one of the biggest limiters in life, and that, quite frankly, scares the shit out of me. I married a man ruled by fear; deeply paranoid, anxious, depressed and fearful, his many fears fueled by a constant influx of “news” and “media”, all justifying his usually false and unfounded fears. His fear, his unfounded fear, grew to the proportion that any activity or event that required him to leave home, to pry his fingers from the keyboard of his laptop, to remove his wide, fearful gaze from the internet screen he was currently absorbing, caused extreme agitation, anxiety and physical discomfort in the extreme and debilitating form of fits of irritable bowel syndrome. His fear was so extreme that, eventually, it cost him everything we worked for in life; a ranch, a house in town, all of our savings, his ability to work, and, ultimately, his family. Fear, unchecked, destroys lives. Fear can even kill, that second of fearful hesitation can mean the difference between an appropriate reaction and a catastrophe. I’m not saying not to be aware, perhaps exercise reasonable caution. I am saying don’t be afraid.

Besides, what’s to be feared more, running down a road, able to view and observe and react to danger as it presents itself? Or sitting in front of a televion in a house that could be full of radon gases, the televion emitting electromagnetic waves and the danger of early death from a sedentary, but seemingly safe lifestyle? Yes, I’m being extreme, or am I? Fear is relative and we are all surrounded by fearsome things, if we choose to be, only if we choose to be. Sure, I passed two roadside shrines for those who lost their lives to wayward cars, and this is sobering for those of us who run and ride by. One roadside shrine was brand new, as in, it wasn’t there last week. Shit. So, I pay keen attention. But, think about it, when a family member or a friend or an acquaintance dies as a result of a sedentary life, a life led from the couch, no one ever erects a shrine, no one ever identifies the fearsome danger that caused this unnecessary death. It is just a death, not one to be feared. I so beg to differ! Dying as a result of a sedentary and seemingly safe life is the worst thing I can imagine! Let me out! I want to run, I want to do terrifying dances with speeding automobiles!

It was upon removing myself from my husband’s life that I began to say, “I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living.” I remember, in the last months before leaving my marriage, I was assigned a client in New York City. I’d never been to NYC, but had been eager to go. My husband was beside himself with worry for all that he’d “heard” about New York, all the dangers, the dreadful accounts of horrible things that one believes from only seeing the world through the screen hosted by the media and popular TV crime shows. I remember arriving in New York City on an airport shuttle late on a Saturday night, being driven through Harlem and other more troubled areas. I took everything I saw in and wondered if my husband’s fears were fair, or false. I arrived at my hotel and tried to sleep but the sirens and the shouting on Lexington Avenue below prevented it. The next morning, when I awoke, my plan had been to spend a day sightseeing before working the next several days with my client. But, I was hesitant. To leave the relative safety of my hotel room and step into the world of noise and pressing crowds of people,  a world I saw in some of my favorite TV shows and movies as wonderful, but through my husband’s eyes as wretched and fierce. I stepped outside, I walked and walked and walked. I saw not a frightening world as depicted on the news and in popular TV crime shows, but a wonderful, magical and energetic city where I felt safe and stimulated. I even was so bold as to go to a Broadway show, “Rock of Ages”, and walk back to my hotel, several blocks, alone, in the dark. What I saw was not fearful, not evil lurking at every turn, but, rather, couples, hand in hand, strolling the streets, groups of ladies, chatting and walking, from one club to another. This was not a fearsome place, this was more like an adult Disneyland. I learned to discard fear. I do exercise caution, I do exercise diligence, I do employ knowledge and common sense and I always remain acutely aware, all of this allows me to live without fear and it is so liberating!

So, no, I am not afraid to run on the roadway. I am aware, acutely aware. I pay attention to each and every car and seek to make eye contact with every driver, particularly when crossing the street. The fact that they are required, by law, to stop when a person enters the crosswalk does not mean they have actually seen me. How do I know, for certain, that, as I step into the crosswalk, that they aren’t slowing, coincidentally, because they’ve just received a titillating text message? No assumption can be made until eye contact has been established, then, and only then, has an understanding been reached and my safety assured. I crossed one intersection today and encountered a Fiat, exiting the highway. I paused at the curb and waited for eye contact and an acknowledgement from the driver, and, in this case, not because I was afraid of harm on my part, but that I might run over the car and cause it grave harm for it’s diminutive size!

I reached Yountville, the neighboring town north of Napa. I knew the sidewalks would be choked with tourists. Luckily, I found a path that led along the west edge of town, out of sight of the highway and away from the crowds. The path delivered me to the main street of Yountville a little north of where the crowds seem to congregate. I continued to run. Somewhere, soon, I’d reach the halfway point. By car it was different than on foot. No two mileage devices will ever agree, it is this imprecision that we runners are plagued with. You can have several runners with the same brand and model watch, set to start measurement at precisely the same moment, and there will be as many variations in speed and distance as there are watches. The app on my phone and my Garmin watch were already a good third of a mile in disagreement. I usually run so that the slower of the two reaches my intended goal. On one device I am exact, the other, an overachiever!

Halfway through Yountville, on a walk break, I am feeling giddy. I post to Facebook, “Still running. Eleven miles and turning for home. I forgot to mention; if you happen to find me face down on the pavement, do me a favor, please, pause my Garmin and my running app BEFORE checking for a pulse. If I am dead, stop my watch, and, if my running stats are good, post them to Facebook with my eulogy. Thanks.” I am grinning and laughing at my wit and humor as I continue on, not actually at eleven miles quite yet. On the far northern edge of town is an old cemetery, and it is precisely there that my running app reports that I have run eleven miles. So, to continue on, turning around and retracing every step home, or, perhaps, just be hyper efficient and succumb to death, conveniently, here, at the cemetery. I turn, run, and begin to retrace each and every step towards home. I am halfway there.

As I run back through Yountville, I pass one of my favorite wineries. Apparently, there is an event there today. There is music and there are lots of people standing around outside, cars are parked all along the shoulder and I can hear lots of voices and laughter. It reminds me a little of a race, crowds along the road, cheering runners on. I am hoping someone on the sidelines will hand me a glass, a generous nine ounce pour of “Table for Four”, the most delicious blend of red wine I have ever had the pleasure of allowing past my lips. During races, volunteers will line the road at appointed spots and offer runners Dixie cups of water and Gatorade, why not wine? My hopes are dashed as I dash by and never see a glass of wine extended at the end of someone’s reach, towards me, to grab, gulp and toss.

I keep running. Another couple of blocks and I run past Tom Keller’s garden, I consider stopping and grazing for a while, but, truthfully, I don’t feel like pausing my Garmin. I keep running. Another couple of blocks and I pass one of Tom’s restaurants, Bouchon. Again, I am deluded into hoping that I’ll see a folding table, a pop up sunshade and cheerful, volunteers passing out savory chunks of Bouchon bread to runners like me. Again, I am disappointed. I keep running.

I am taking in fuel with precision, every forty-five minutes. My large breakfast, I’m sure, has long since been converted to fuel and has been burned up. I have in the front pouch of my running pack, six, highly-coveted packets of Salted Caramel Gu. There is Gu, in chocolate and raspberry, blueberry and other flavors I’m not likely to try, and, then, there is Salted Caramel. I buy it by the case. Three quarters of the way through my run, halfway through my return trip home, laughing out loud as I plod along, at my own wit and humor, during a walk break, I post to Facebook, “Still running. I forgot to mention, if you happen to see me face down on the pavement and I recover, I know exactly how many Salted Caramel Gu packets I have in my pouch and if any are missing I’ll know who pinched them and I will seek recompense.”

Shortly thereafter, I reach into my pouch for what should be my last fueling of the trip. There is only one Salted Caramel Gu left. There should’ve been six, this would only be number five. I was short one. I always make sure I have at least one extra, just in case. Oh, sure, I have raspberry Shot Blocks, but I really prefer Gu, Salted Caramel Gu. How am I one short? Did I miscalculate? That seemed unlikely. Then I recalled, I’d shown Mom my Salted Caramel Gu, I speak of Gu and I know she was a bit mystified by the name. A description and explanation didn’t seem to clarify anything, so, while packing my pouch with Gu packets, I gave her one to look at. She cut the top off of it and sucked it right down like she’d been running marathons her whole life. She thought it was quite good. She loves caramel! She asked me where she could buy some. I had two visions; first, of Mom racing around the yard this afternoon, the wheels on her walker causing sparks as they skipped across the brick patio, Mom furiously pruning, weeding and watering, and, second, Mom walking, ever so slowly, with her cane, into the Napa Valley Running Company, in quest of Salted Caramel Gu. I’d meant to grab a replacement pack from my stash, in my running bin, under my bed, which, by the way, I should probably now consider relocating.

I passed the spot where I’d met the squirrel, earlier, and, there he was. Flattened. Yikes. I looked to see if he had a Garmin, I was going to stop it for him. No one wants to die with their Garmin continuing to run, leaving a legacy of really dreadful running stats for that last dash.

A block and a half from home I ran out of water, I was out of Gu, and I had run in excess of twenty two miles according to my iPhone app and exactly twenty two miles according to my lagging Garmin watch. I decided to walk the last little bit home. All I could think about was dinner. I’d run right through lunch, and other than five packets of GU, I’d ingested nothing of matter. My running app said I’d burned 2,553 calories. All I could think about was a large slab of dark, red, flesh of beast and an equally dark, rich and chewy beer.

My friend Miles ran yesterday, with SacFit, and had posted to Facebook a photo of himself, from the knees down, in a bathtub full of ice. This practice is subscribed to by many runners in my club as a method to stop the lactic acid in one’s legs so as to prevent muscle pain the following days. Or the better part of a week. I’ve managed a tepid bath, once, followed by a blistering hot shower. The thought of sitting, for a second, let alone some number of minutes, in a bath of ice sounds far worse than any amount of muscle pain. At least muscle pain and a warm core body temperature coexist. Once my core is cold it takes Herculean effort to rewarm. I commented on Miles’ Facebook post, saying, pretty much, um, never, not even if hell froze over, which, from the looks of his picture, it had. As I was out of beer, and in a wittier than usual mood, I decided to go buy beer and to post a photo in response to Miles’.  I bought two and a half cases of beer. What? It’s not like I won’t use it and it was all on sale. I’m also hoping it will help lure a particular sweet, supportive, practical, wise and rational man southward from the frozen north, even if for just a bit!

When I returned home, I climbed into the bathtub, clothed, and staged a photo; ice cold beer bottles burying my legs with only my feet sticking out. The caption read, “It is my belief that all that has to do with health, fitness and exercise is open to interpretation and adaptation for the utmost benefit of each individual athlete. The practices, methods, treatments and therapies recommended as a matter of course, too, should be modified to suit the athlete. As to ice baths following an especially long run, Miles, this application is offering a great deal of relief. I suggest giving it a try!” I am still giggling at my profound wit and the extreme lengths I will go to try to entertain my Facebook friends. Fifteen likes, six comments. So far.

I reached my goal today, and that’s about all. But, the sense of accomplishment and the confidence in the fact that I know, with a fair degree of certainty, that I could’ve run another 4.2 miles, for a total of 26.2, puts me in a great frame of mind as my first full marathon rapidly approaches. There are few things I say I’m going to do that I don’t actually do. To be able to say that, is as a result of several years of hard work, self-exploration and self-development. I am proud of my growth and my achievements. I’ve also overcome one of the few self-limiting beliefs I’ve ever had about myself. I can run. And, I run without fear. Remember, fear is paralyzing, and limiting, and deadly. Live life with open eyes, open ears, an open mind and an open heart. There is nothing to fear. Life is so good, like Salted Caramel Gu!

                        Scarlett

Pre-run "selfie"
Pre-run “selfie”
Post run "selfie"
Post run, post shower “selfie”