Tagged: Life

A Great Way to Start a Day of Feasting

If you’re an athlete, you love to eat. It’s one of the main reasons I run so much, so I can eat what I want without having to worry too much about putting on weight. Thanksgiving, however, throws me under the bus every year. I love sugary desserts, and can’t resist going whole hog on that one day of the year (well, except for Christmas and my birthday, of course).

The solution: run the annual Turkey Trot in the morning and start the day of feasting with negative calories. Dallas supposedly has the largest Thanksgiving Day run in the country, drawing over 36,800 runners and walkers last year. With temperatures in the low 60’s at the start this year, I have no doubt that the 5K and 8 mile races drew an even larger crowd. I was sick this year and didn’t run, but my better half, Michael, took some awesome photos of the event.

Things always get started off with pre-race warm up exercises.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

Some people really get into the warm up, especially the kids.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

The event begins and ends in front of City Hall, which was featured in that fine 70’s sci-fi flick, Logan’s Run (yeah, the one with Farrah Fawcett).

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

Everyone and their dog comes out for the big day. There are lots and lots of dogs. And strollers.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

It’s more fun when you run it with good friends.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

Come on, Dude. Really? You’re kind of missing the point.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

If you want to race, you better start up front to escape the masses. This guy’s serious about burning off his pre-feast calories.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

A sprint to the 5K finish is a fight to the end for these guys. It was neck and neck all the way to the end.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

Someone forgot to tell him you never run in cotton on a warm day.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

She makes it look easy with both feet off the ground in her super fast minimal shoes.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

Are they giving thanks, or just posing for a photo? I love people who run in costumes, but have no desire to do it myself.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

There’s always one Dead Head in every crowd, in every city.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

You gotta love a guy who runs barefoot wearing a t-shirt advertising beef. Muy macho. I wonder if he’s listening to Metallica, too?

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

The eight mile course has a puke-inducing uphill finish. Bon appetit, guy with the banana!

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

Here’s the real reason most people run the Turkey Trot: to drink beer and bloody Mary’s in the cemetery afterwards with their friends. It’s carbs!

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

And if you can’t join them, you can at least give them a hand.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

Some people remind us just how much we have to be thankful for, and to remember those who can’t be with us.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

Here’s to another year of eating and turkey trotting with good friends. I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Dallas Turkey Trot 2012

The Wildness Without

Why are wild places so vital to our existence?

I’ve pondered this question since my first trip years ago to Yellowstone National Park, and wrote a photographic post about the subject last year. Most people may not think of a national park as being “wild,” but I assure you, once you step off the main road or the shorter, more visited hiking trails and enter the back country, you are indeed in a wild place. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to experience it directly from the main road, such as when coming across a pack of wolves circling a group of elk cows and their calves, like I did one summer, or when you spot a grizzly bear at dusk, just off the road, pawing grubs at the base of a decomposing tree trunk.

Man’s presence is not needed for the wild to flourish, but I’m convinced we need wild places in order to flourish as human beings. We’re not separate from nature, we’re just another part of it. Wild places strip us of our modern contrivances and remind us how simple and present life really is.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

Off the Beaten Path wrote about wild places recently and put into words exactly how I feel. She writes about viewing a grizzly sow and her cub:

For the first time I truly understood what a privilege it is to be able to visit a wild place; a place that provides a space for animals as wild as grizzly bears to live. That just knowing that these places are there adds value to our lives, even if we don’t go there often. This was an epiphany; and silly as it sounds, I realized that I hadn’t really understood why wild spaces are so important until that moment.

When I was still teaching fifth grade, I used to come back from our summer road trips to Montana and Wyoming feeling sad that most of my students had never experienced a wild place, and probably never would. I felt certain that if only I could pack them all into a bus bound for Yellowstone, get them on the trails, and let them spend time in the wild, it would change their lives. Children need to see that the earth is a living thing, that there are wild places with rules all their own, and that everything they think is important in life really isn’t.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

Once in Yellowstone we mistakenly took a left instead of a right and wound up taking an unplanned all day hike up Sepulcher Mountain. For almost an entire day we never saw another human. The weather was somewhat stormy, and I remembered all the warnings I had ever read about hiking in the mountains during lightning. There is something life-altering about spending an entire day in nature, having to be alert and attentive to the possibility of death from weather or wild animal, and yet feeling so completely alive because of it.

We sat at the top and viewed the mountains around us. I had a profound feeling that I was at the center of the world, and that it didn’t matter what happened to the rest of the world, Yellowstone and the wilderness would always be there. It didn’t need us. It didn’t need me. Life would always continue, with or without man.

There was still snow at the top, and because we were lightly dressed we ran down the side of the mountain in our hiking boots. It felt like we were flying. Missing that turn on the road turned out to be one of the best days of my life.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

I think back often on that day climbing Sepulcher Mountain. I can imagine the grizzly bears, the bison, and the wolves going on with their lives, oblivious to anything but survival. Life is harsh in the wild, but perhaps our own modern lives are just as harsh, if not more so, than anything we can imagine in the wild.

Perhaps the need to connect with wildness is why I love trail running. When I’m running on a trail in a beautiful location, even if it’s only half an hour’s drive outside the city, I’m always cognizant of the possibility of danger. I don’t want to get chased down by a bobcat or trip over a rattlesnake, but running through a forest or desert canyon gives me a sense of freedom and being alive like nothing else does.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

So find someplace wild to visit. Spend time in the Needles in Canyonlands, or hike into the wilds of Alaska. Get out of the car. Walk. Make yourself a part of the natural world. Remind yourself that the entire world is your home. See what lessons wild places have to teach you.

What Makes a Place Feel Like Home

They say home is where the heart is, and I believe it. I’ve written before about how being in Wyoming feels like home, even though I’ve never lived there. What is it about certain places that instantaneously feels like home?

I admit that home doesn’t have to be a place. People can also feel like home, and make the unknown places you visit better if that person is with you. But for me, home is a place, where things are open and spacious, inspire awe, and make me joyful to be alive.

On the road to Moab, Utah

On the road to Moab, Utah

For me, a place feels like home when I can be myself, when I don’t have to hide who I am or pretend to be someone I’m not. I can live in jeans and t-shirts, forgo almost all makeup, and not worry about having the latest hairstyle or making enough money. I’ve lived most of my life in Dallas and have spent most of that time trying to get away. Even though my closest friends and family are here, as are years of memories, it’s not where I belong.

The first time we drove out West to visit my then-husband’s family, I felt like I relaxed for the first time in my life, like being surprised to realize you’ve been holding your breath and tightening your shoulders. All that melted away when I saw the beautiful, sweeping grandeur of the West.

Utah

South of Moab, Utah

At first I thought it was just the landscape that made it feel like home, like finally being somewhere I could explore the outdoors and hike and run in beauty. But it was more than that. I lived in Switzerland for seven years in my early twenties, and despite its breathtaking scenery, I never felt comfortable there. I felt like an outsider, and it was a feeling that never left. Switzerland couldn’t have been more different from Texas in every way imaginable, and I was the stranger next door peeking in.

Flaming Gorge

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

There is something about being in the West that speaks to my soul. I can understand traveling across the country on foot, next to a wagon, following a trail that leads to an unseen place to start a new life. I can understand taking that risk, especially if it brought me to a place where life was what I could make it, not what someone else told me it should be.

Oregon Trail, Wyoming

The Oregon Trail crosses through this land towards South Pass, Wyoming

I don’t like crowds, and generally avoid large cities when I travel. I especially take to emptiness and lonely landscapes. I like having space. Most people find the places I love to be boring, a whole lot of nothing. Not me. I imagine lying in the grass, watching the clouds slide by, or viewing the heavens on a star-filled night.

I used to do a lot of that when I was a child. Being outdoors, with no particular purpose, may be my best childhood memory and the thing I miss most about being a child. Just being. Outdoors. Just enjoying.

Moab, Utah

South of Moab, Utah

Some places feel like more than home, they feel sacred. Utah is that place for me. I don’t really believe in energy vortexes and all that stuff, but there is a certain feel about all that dry, barren, rockiness that seems electric. It’s almost an unnameable mystery that makes me want to be there. I think of walking there, exploring, trail running, or meditating, of vision quests and being creative, living in a trailer, rejecting modern society, and making things with my hands.

Utah brings out my inner hippie.

Wilson Arch

Wilson Arch

Home feels like a place where you don’t care what others think of you, because you know most of the people around you either think the same, or you know they will be accepting of your differences. You speak the same language, so to speak. It doesn’t matter your political views, your stance on religion, or what kind of car you drive. When you’re outdoors, you’re a member of the same tribe.

La Sal Mountains

La Sal Mountains, just south of Moab, Utah

Remember that old John Denver song, Rocky Mountain High, about “coming home, to a place he’d never been before?” It happens, and when it does, even if you can’t always be home, you know you can live anywhere because home is never far from your heart and mind.

I hope you find your home.

Moab, Utah

What do you consider “home?” Is it a place, or the people you love? Is it where you grew up, where you now live, or someplace else?

No Words Needed

Sometimes a picture really is worth more than a thousand words.

I have always been a lover of words. As a child, I loved nursery rhymes and limericks, fairy tales and songs, and I lost myself in books. I learned early the power of words, how they could make you feel invincible, or hurt you worse than any other weapon. As I grew older, I loved writing and manipulating words, expressing sorrows, joys, and petty jealousies in long-lost diaries and journals. I went to college and analyzed and argued the classics, and became a teacher to convince children of the power of words.

It’s the unspoken words, however, that are the most powerful and sometimes tell the best stories.

And nothing tells a story better than a great photograph.

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My dog, Shasta, is very high energy. Her looks tell all. After Christmas dinner, while everyone else is hooked up to their gadgets and distractions, and all she wants is a little attention.

Bored Dog

In the summer, we don’t get much rain, but when it does rain it can be dramatic. Even if it spoils your Saturday afternoon plans of sitting on a restaurant patio, tossing back a few cold ones with your buddies, an unexpected rain storm can be a joyous occasion.

Rainy Day in Dallas

On the flip side, nothing says West Texas like a windmill and cattle next to empty railroad tracks on the Llano Estacado. If you follow 287 into Amarillo, this is pretty much what you’ll see, for miles and miles and miles.

West Texas Railroad and Windmill

Remember when you were a kid and you thought if you hid behind something, no matter how small, as long as you couldn’t see the other person they couldn’t see you either? And remember looking at the world through a balloon, and how the world suddenly became wrapped in yellow and you almost stopped breathing because it was so familiarly strange?

Child hiding behind a big balloon

You don’t have to run a marathon to know they’re not easy. In most races the last mile is always the hardest, and at mile 25, with the end in sight, you sometimes need a little help. All you have to do is look at her face to know how many miles she held on, waiting for that hand to give her the strength to finish.

Fatigue at Mile 26 of a Marathon

Photos capture things from the past. We remember the events, but we forget what it felt like to be there. Was it really that beautiful? Did I feel as small and insignificant that day as I look in the photograph? Did I gasp at the grandeur of the vista, or was I too tired to notice? Did I feel joy? Did I appreciate it then as much as I do now looking back at the photograph?

Alkaline Ridge, Wyoming

Words are important, whether spoken or unspoken. Words can paint a scene or an emotion, or they can twist and corrupt with their silence. Be careful what you say–or where you point your camera.

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Here is a great website started by National Geographic photographers who tell stories without words. 

Stealing My Safety

A few weeks ago someone stole our grill. They parked their car at the end of our well-lit driveway, walked past our two parked cars, picked up the grill on the other side of the bedroom window behind our bed, shoved it into the trunk of their car, and drove away. It was 10:30pm and we had gone to bed five minutes earlier. The only sound the thief made was a thump as he tried to fit the grill in his trunk, alerting the dogs. Michael got up to look, saw the car, and only realized what had happened when he saw the wheels of our grill sticking out of the trunk as the thief drove away.

It was a $60 grill.

I was angry for days. I couldn’t believe someone would be so bold. I couldn’t believe the dogs didn’t bark earlier. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t heard anything.

I felt jumpy the next week. I kept the doors locked and the blinds open, and I watched every car and pedestrian that passed the house. I didn’t run or walk the dogs in my neighborhood. I signed up for daily emails listing robberies in my neighborhood. I felt suspicious and unsafe. What if he came back and tried to break into the house?

I wanted to get a shotgun and a pit bull and install cameras and floodlights around our house. I felt like the Clint Eastwood character in Gran Torino.

A few years ago someone stole the hanging flower baskets off our front porch. Michael left the ladder out one night and we saw the footprints the next morning through the backyard where someone had walked in from the alley and taken it. I was angry those times as well, but not like this. This was a seething, vengeful, pit-of-your-belly type of anger. I wanted to catch the thief and spit in his face. And worse.

Police

I got over it, but it took awhile. It felt personal, but I was thankful it was only a cheap grill. It made me think, however, about why I felt so angry.

Years ago, when I was a single mom finishing up my college degree and living in student housing on campus, I came home with both kids and a few sacks of groceries. I took the kids and some bags upstairs to our apartment, and left the rest downstairs. When I came back the groceries were gone. Surprised, but not angry, I remember thinking to myself, “Well, someone must have needed that food more than me.” As I walked back upstairs, the hall director came running up the stairs with the missing groceries. He was prone to pranks.

There’s no way I would be that magnanimous today. Look how I reacted to someone taking our grill. What had changed?

What does this say about me, that stealing something stupid like a grill would make me want to go Rambo? And what does it say about our world, when you would risk jail time or getting shot over something that insignificant?

I was shocked when I started reading the police reports for my neighborhood. Apparently there are a lot of houses and cars being robbed. Even more alarming are the increasing numbers of armed robbery.

And it’s not just my neighborhood, it’s all over the city–and probably the entire country.

The guy who stole our grill was a pro. Stealing is his job. It was too dark to see the grill from the street, which means he had seen it earlier when the cars were gone and came back later when we turned out the lights.

Is this what happens when there aren’t enough jobs to go around? I doubt it. There always have been and always will be people who steal.

The worst part of this minor, insignificant incident was the way it suddenly made me feel distrustful and suspicious. Losing the grill was unimportant. Losing my feeling of safety was huge. I like to think that people are inherently good, and that if I’m careful and observant I’ll stay safe. Having something stolen, no matter how small, reminds me that there are others out there who are lost–and dangerous.

And this is perhaps what made me so angry, that my view of the world could be wrong. I’m not so naive as to imagine the world is like a Disney movie, where the good guys always win and the bad guys always get caught. I’ve known bad people. But knowing there are people who make their living by stealing and threatening and physically hurting others makes me angry. I want them to go away and be better people.

I read a report of an armed robbery a few blocks from my house. A man was walking back to his car from a restaurant and was accosted by two young men with a gun. They got angry because all he had was $23 in cash and an iPhone.

If you would hold a gun to someone’s head for $23, and be willing to take a life for an iPhone, then your own life must be worthless.

And that is truly heartbreaking, for all of us.

The Snow Day and the Thugs

Now that the days are getting long and hot, and I search for anything to get me through to October when the days might cool off a bit if we’re lucky, I dream of snow. White, cold, fluffy snow.

And snow always makes me think of one of my students.

We have a rule in our school district that if the weather turns bad after a certain time in the morning, the buses will run and the schools will open. No matter how bad the weather gets, once the decision is made schools stay open for the entire day.

We rarely get snow in Dallas, but on this one day it started to snow after the cutoff time. By the time school opened at 8:00, the ground was covered in white and the snow was still falling.

Snow in Dallas

As you can imagine, trying to get a bunch of fifth graders to settle down when all they want to be doing is playing in the snow, is tough. School is the last place they want to be.

On days like this you usually have two kinds of kids who show up: the straight A students who never miss, and the ones you pray will stay home just this one day, please dear God.

Ramon (name changed to protect the innocent) was in that first group. He was a smart kid. He never got in trouble, always did his work, and was very well-liked by his classmates. He even had a few girls think he was cute. But there are times when even the good kids go bad.

Like on a snow day.

After picking up the students, walking them up the stairs and past the windows where they could all moan and groan about the fact that they were here and not there, and telling them for the fifteenth time that no, we can’t go outside and play in the snow, the students settled down and got to work on journal writing. The usual suspects stared off into space, not a clue as to what they should write about, and the others wrote furiously about the unfairness of being stuck at school while so-and-so got to stay home and play in the snow. Pencil leads were snapping, sighs and moans were expelled, and even I felt gipped that school wasn’t closed.

A few minutes into journal  writing, Ramon walked up to me with a worried look on his face and asked if he could go to the restroom, it was an emergency. I gave him the Disbelieving Teacher Look, saw the desperate look in his eyes, and decided he was legit. He grabbed the hall pass and escaped.

Class continued. I decided to read a chapter aloud from the book I had been reading to the students, knowing they would lord it over the kids who hadn’t come to school that day. It was a particularly good part of the book, and I was enjoying making the story as dramatic as possible. The class listened intently as I read.

After fifteen minutes or so, I looked up to see the assistant principal standing in my doorway. Mildly annoyed that she was interrupting our right at the good part, I also noticed she had someone with her. Someone who was hiding behind her.

Ramon.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Is this your student?”

Uh oh. I had forgotten about Ramon.

“Yes. He went to the restroom,” I meekly replied.

“Uh huh!” she said. “Do you have any idea where I found him?”

I looked at Ramon. He was looking at the floor. Ramon was in trouble and somehow it was my fault.

The AP called me into the hallway. The class was loving every minute of this. I walked out into the hallway, sweeping the room with my Evil Eye Teacher Look that said don’t even think about it.

Apparently the AP had been making the rounds downstairs after the bell rang, making sure everyone was in class and accounted for, when she heard someone yelling and knocking outside the door to the playground. The door was set to lock when it closed. When she opened the door who did she discover? Ramon.

For some completely innocent reason, Ramon had decided to go to the downstairs restroom. He couldn’t explain why. As he passed the door leading to the playground, he heard someone knocking to be let in. Being the good Samaritan that he is, of course, he opened the door–and was promptly thrown into the snow by some THUGS! They had really done a number on him, too, because his hair, shirt, and jeans were sopping wet.

“Who were these thugs?” I asked. “Just some guys who wanted to be mean” he sheepishly answered.

I said, “Wow, those were some really mean guys to throw you down in the snow like that! That’s awful, Ramon. It’s too bad you opened the door for them.”

He swore it was all true. He even cried.

We sent him into class, closed the door, and burst out laughing in the hallway.

Snow in Dallas

We teased him all year about the thugs. We warned him to watch out for the thugs at dismissal at the end of the day. We asked him if the thugs ate his homework when he didn’t have it in class. We made sure he had a buddy on field trips so the thugs wouldn’t force him to do fun things again.

We were so worried about him, we even had him explain it to his mom on Parent Conference night. After a long look at him, she rolled her eyes and shook her head.

He knew he had been caught red handed, and he laughed along with us. I told him he would never, ever forget the day he went bad. He said he would never, ever do something that stupid again.

So on these horribly hot days of summer, when I’m running in temperatures that are meant for an oven, I’ll think of Ramon and how much fun he must have had rolling in the snow. He said it was worth it, and I believe him.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Texans love their fences. Big, bodacious, imposing fences. Nothing makes us feel safer, or more private, than having our backyards wrapped in the seeming impenetrability of a tall, wooden fence.

Good fences make good neighbors.

We haven’t had a fence for almost four years. Michael is from Ohio, the land of one big communal backyard, unfenced and shared by all.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.

When I went to Ohio for the first time three years ago, I couldn’t believe how neat and tidy everything was. It reminded me of living in Switzerland, where everything runs on time and all signs of imperfection are hidden. The Protestant Ethic is alive and well in Ohio. Must be all that good German stock.

One weekend Michael called over some buddies and tore down our old, dilapidated fence. He even talked the neighbor next door into letting him pull hers down as well.

His reason: we were going to re-landscape the entire yard, front and back. We dug up the entire front and back yard and put in subsurface irrigation. Until it was completed, it looked like a nuclear bomb had hit our property.

Eventually, we planted a beautiful flowerbed in the front yard, added plants along the side of the house, and planted a vegetable garden in the back.

The final piece of the outdoor renovation has been putting in a new fence. Or not.

Being from Ohio, Michael loved not having a fence. I was okay with it until we adopted two dogs–two rather large dogs.

For the past three years, every time the dogs have wanted to go outside we’ve had to attach them to two long ropes that are anchored in the ground. This system has not been perfect.

I planted Canna lilies to make a quasi natural fence. Great in summer, lousy in winter, destroyed by Shasta in spring.

Shasta and my natural Canna lily fence

The City of Dallas spent the past year digging up the alley behind our house. In fact, they dug it up multiple times. Each time I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable. There was no barrier between me and our garden from digging machines and men with shovels. The dogs were not happy with these workers behind our house.

I wasn’t either. One of them knocked on my back door one afternoon to tell me I had “beautiful tomatoes.” He asked if he could buy some from our garden. The next time I saw him, while walking the dogs, he asked about our peppers. He couldn’t believe that we grew hot peppers. Yes, Jose, white people eat peppers, too. I refused to sell him any.

A female worker asked me one day what the compost bin was. She thought it was a snake cage.

The owners across the street decided to renovate their rental house. For nine months we eyed each other, finally made introductions, and then became friends. He enjoyed seeing the changes in our garden, and we enjoyed seeing all the work he put into a new deck and driveway, and eventually the house itself. Shasta found someone new to jump on, and I enjoyed listening to him sing along to classic rock.

Then they put up their new fence and we hardly saw them again. Working in the garden suddenly wasn’t as much fun anymore.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.

The snoopy neighbor on the other side wondered why we didn’t have a fence and what it would do to his property value. When Shasta ran over to his dog once, off leash, he complained to another neighbor that maybe he should report us to the city.

Good fences make good neighbors.

Finally, after three years of harping, Michael decided to build me a fence. He rallied his friends together again the week I was away in Portland and started digging post holes. He came up with the idea of a fence/flower box, with a trellis-like top portion that would allow us to not feel so closed in.

Beginnings of the fence

Laying the drain at the bottom, and Shasta smiling for the camera

Delivery of two types of dirt for the flower box

Filled to the brim after two days of shoveling dirt

First side completed

We’ve just completed one length. Filling up a four-foot tall, 40 foot long flower box with dirt was a massive amount of work. Next we need to stain it, build the other side (without the flower box), and add gates.

And our next door neighbor, the one who Michael talked into pulling hers down as well? Not happy with us. I thought we were going to leave it open? she said.

Blame it on me. And the dogs.

With thanks to Robert Frost’s Mending Wall.

Knowledge is Golden

I’m one of those people who would probably be happiest being a full-time student. I wouldn’t want to write the papers and take the exams, but I would be happy sitting in class, taking notes, reading the material, and taking part in classroom discussions.

I think it all started with The Golden Treasury of Knowledge.

I probably learned more from The Golden Treasury of Knowledge than anything I learned in school. The Golden Treasury of Knowledge was something akin to The Encyclopedia Britannica, only on a much smaller scale. I think my mom and dad bought them on sale at the grocery store. To a shy, nerdy, bookish grade school kid, they were knowledge nirvana.

I had the first six volumes. Each volume spent three or four pages on different subjects. I particularly liked the pages on gems because I loved collecting rocks. I was also kind of fascinated with the medieval ages.

I spent many summer afternoons reading through the books. I went back to them all the way through junior high and high school. They taught me a lot.

I always loved school, especially grade school. I loved learning. High school was different. My senior year I felt like all I was doing was biding my time until graduation. I was ready to be done, and didn’t put much effort into my classes. The sad thing was, no one really seemed to notice.

Maybe it’s blasphemous coming from a teacher, but I don’t think formal education is necessarily the only–or best–way to learn something.

As a former grade school teacher, I have to acknowledge that at least a quarter of the school day was spent transitioning from one class or activity to another. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve never understood the unrelenting push for “time on task.” Try sitting all day in a seminar or conference with no breaks and you’ll get what I mean. No one is meant to spend eight full hours engaged in learning, least of all small children. And the push to get rid of gym, music, art, library, etc. in order to spend more time on “academic” endeavors (i.e. test taking prep) =  complete insanity.

I think anyone can teach themselves anything on their own. In my world, the answer to almost anything can usually be found in a book–or the internet. If I have a problem with anything in life, I usually head for my computer first, a book next, and then all my friends.

Michael and I are teaching ourselves how to garden. We’re building a fence. Neither of us expects perfection, which is key to teaching yourself anything.

When I started running six years ago, before I joined a running group and learned from the experiences of others, I read every book about running I could get my hands on. I still go back periodically and consult the books, especially when I decide to start training for a new race and make a new a training plan.

For me, the best teacher is experience. I’ve learned more about running by just running than anything I ever read in a book.

Michael taught himself everything he knows about computers. Despite a degree in something completely unrelated to computers, he now makes his living from data and computers. He’s also recently taught himself photography and videography.

Hel’s also directly responsible for my own exit out of the technological stone age. A few years ago he showed me how to set up Power Point presentations for my fifth grade social studies lessons. Then he talked me into giving up my Blackberry for a smart phone, and I spent a very stressful weekend reading the online manual trying to understand the mini-computer in my hand.

By the time my son gave me an iPad for Christmas, it took me no time at all to learn the ropes.  Learning to blog and upload photos has been huge for me this past year. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

I still love to read and learn new things, especially science. I wish I’d had better science teachers when I was younger.

I recently read a book by Carl Sagan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, which Wikipedia called “a Roots for the human species.” Sagan is one of my idols, and I wish he was still alive. I have to admit, the book was a little dry, but I learned a lot.

I have no idea what happened to my Golden Treasury of Knowledge, volumes 1-6. Like other things from childhood, I suspect it either found a new home or met its end in a trashcan. I can’t imagine not having computers and the internet, but I think we did okay without them when I was growing up.

I don’t know if there’s some type of internet equivalent of The Golden Treasury of Knowledge, but I hope there is. It taught me a lot about the world.

Every Good Deed Deserves A Bottle Of Champagne

“NICE JACKET!” I was bent over my travel bag in the Portland Airport, putting away my raincoat from the train ride, and realized the loud voice was talking to me.

I looked at my sleeve to see what I was wearing. My Boston Marathon jacket. The one I rarely wear because I don’t like to draw attention to myself.

An older woman and her husband stood just behind me. I noticed he was wearing the black version with green stripes. “I like yours better,” I told him.

“Really?” she said. “I love that blue color. What year did you run Boston? Actually, that’s my jacket. He wears it all the time, though.”

She was probably ten years older than me and didn’t seem like a runner, especially one who had run Boston. She asked me what other races I had run, which one was my favorite, how fast I was, how many miles I logged each week, on and on and on. She was like an avalanche of questions and words, and I couldn’t catch my breath.

She went on to say she hardly ran, she was slow, she wanted to run more, and did I live in Portland? I managed to tell her I had just run the Eugene half marathon and was flying home to Dallas.

“Oh! SO ARE WE!” Her husband grinned and remained silent. He hadn’t said a word the entire time.

I vowed not to sit next to them on the plane.

I didn’t see them again until we boarded. We flew Southwest Airlines, and I was in the last group to board. I grabbed a middle seat fairly close to the front of the plane, next to an elderly woman who looked confused when I asked if I could sit in the empty seat next to her. She made a feeble attempt to get up, decided against it, and gruffly said, “Slide across.”

I smiled at the talking woman and her husband as they passed on their way to the back of the plane.

I wasn’t being rude; I just wanted to read my Kindle and maybe sleep a little on the plane. I needed some time to think about the past week, the race in Eugene, and the time spent with my daughter. I wouldn’t see her again until her wedding in July.

There was a brief layover in Kansas City, and before we landed an announcement was made asking “the couple celebrating their thirty-seventh wedding anniversary” to please see one of the flight attendants before they left.

Thirty-seven years of marriage? Impressive.

When the plane landed, a flight attendant carried back a bottle of champagne to the couple celebrating their anniversary. Most of the people disembarked, and the passengers continuing on to Dallas moved up to the front of the plane. I slid over to the window seat and looked forward to stretching my legs and using the restroom before the plane reloaded.

The talking woman and her husband moved up and sat across the aisle from me. They were holding a bottle of champagne. They were the anniversary couple.

(source)

The elderly woman sitting next to me went to use the restroom. The talking woman and her husband asked if I would watch their things while they went to use the restroom as well. I said, sure, even though I needed to go myself. Surely there would be enough time before the next group of passengers boarded the plane.

I kept looking back at the restroom. Unfortunately for me it was a very quick turnover, and the first passengers made their way onto the plane before they returned.

The plane began filling up and the three travelers still weren’t back from the restroom. Person after person tried to sit in the aisle seat next to me, until I finally put the elderly woman’s travel bag in the seat. Over and over people asked who was sitting in the seats across the aisle. Again and again I had to explain that the seats were taken, the occupants were in the restroom.

It was stressful. I repeatedly got an irritated scowl when I told someone the seats were already taken. People looked at me as if I wasn’t telling the truth, as if I was somehow cheating or breaking the rules. The man behind me laughed and said, “You’ve got a tough job!” How did I get this job anyway???

Finally, the plane was full, and the three passengers came back to claim their seats, oblivious to the stir their empty seats caused. The woman next to me asked why her bag was in her seat, and I patiently explained that I put it there because people kept trying to sit in her seat. She smirked but didn’t thank me.

The talking woman and  her husband settled in and immediately started up a conversation with the young businessman next to them. He had earlier asked me who was sitting in their seats, and frowned when I told him they were taken, as if it was my fault his business partner couldn’t sit next to him.

I never made it to the restroom during the flight. I was too worn out from saving the three seats to squeeze past the two pairs of legs next to me. I was ready to be home.

Just before we landed I saw the young businessman looking at the label on the bottle of champagne, discussing it with the talking woman and her husband. I watched them from my seat, thinking what a nice thing it was that the flight attendants had given them a gift for their anniversary.

And then, incredulously, I watched as the young businessman stood up and walked off the plane with the bottle of champagne still in hand.

I hadn’t expected or wanted that bottle of champagne until it was given away. The young businessman had done nothing other than sit next to the talking woman and her husband–and he walked away with an unearned prize.

Which is exactly why I didn’t deserve the bottle of champagne.

Instant karma. If I couldn’t do a good deed without the expectation of getting something out of it, especially from someone I found irritating and a bit of a nuisance, then I certainly didn’t deserve to be rewarded.

Even if the reward was an expensive bottle of champagne.

(source)

Baby, You Were Born to Be Something

A couple of weeks ago I experienced some problems with procrastination and motivation, especially in the area of writing. It happens fairly often and tends to coincide with a random change in routine (like being out of town for a week). For inspiration, I downloaded the book The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, by Steven Pressfield. It’s a short, easy read on fighting Resistance.

I’m terrible about trying to get everything done in my day before sitting down to write. I like to save the best for last. Of course I never get everything done that I want to, and writing usually pays the price. And to be honest, there are many days when I question putting so much time and effort into writing posts that are sometimes very personal and that very few people actually read. Writing takes a lot out of a person, and sometimes I question why I spend so much time doing it.

I remind myself that Vincent van Gogh never sold a painting his entire life either, except to his brother, Theo. Obviously, he wasn’t doing it for the money.

So I turned to a book to help me out of my slump.

As these things often happen, the last part of the book synchronized with a post I had recently written on being who we are, as opposed to who we are meant to be.

We’re not born with unlimited choices.

We can’t be anything we want to be.

We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.

Um, I’m not so sure about that. Mostly, I just don’t believe in a “specific, personal destiny.” I don’t believe there’s that one, true thing everyone was meant to BE, kind of like I don’t believe in that one, true soul mate. He continues:

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

If we were born to paint, it’s our job to become a painter.

If we were born to raise and nurture children, it’s our job to become a mother.

If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.

Well, maybe I do agree with that.

I have two children. Both kids came into this world with distinct personalities, interests, and talents. Each have their individual strengths and weaknesses. One is very artistic and creative, the other very logical and mechanical minded. I could not have molded them to be otherwise. They were literally born that way.

Ironically, the creative one became a geologist. Her saving grace: she makes sure there’s enough time in her life for artistic, creative endeavors after work to be happy.

Getting my other child to read anything other than maps, cross-sections, or Tin Tin–and that’s if I could coerce him away from his Legos or video games–was like pulling him from the jaws of a grizzly bear. He now builds wind turbines and couldn’t be happier. And he still doesn’t really like to read.

(Remember, I’m a teacher. Having a child who hated to read was tough.)

In twenty years of teaching, some children’s natural talents were like billboards in the classroom. I’ll never forget third grade Madai and her incredible artistic talent. She made beautiful drawings in class (she was constantly drawing), and was also emotionally mature beyond her years. When I read a picture book aloud to the class about Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio as a child to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics in 1960, I looked up to see tears streaming down Madai’s face. She was absolutely born to be an artist. She felt everything so deeply.

I can honestly say that if she does anything other than something artistic, it will be a terrible shame for herself and the world. She was born to create art.

Other children were fantastic athletes, eloquent speakers, and gifted mathematicians. Most students didn’t display their talents as brightly as a select, dominant few. I was often surprised–and relieved–when the music teacher would tell me one of my academically struggling students was musically gifted. I suspect many quiet students had talents they chose to keep hidden after years of testing and being forced to conform in the classroom.

For me, I’ve always loved to write. From the time of my first lock-and-key five-year diary to journals in high school, to English Lit papers in college to this blog, writing is a natural love. I suspect almost everyone feels the need to express themselves in some manner, and for me writing always met that need.

I never had enough confidence or courage to make it a career, or never made enough time after earning a living to do something with it. I don’t feel like I’ve disappointed myself, or haven’t lived up to my potential, however, because the desire to write is not going to suddenly disappear.

It’s just there, like breathing. It always was and always will be. And as long as I respect the urge to write, and keep writing–even if it’s junk–I’m being true to myself and the person I was “meant to be.”

It might not pay the bills, but it will keep me happy.

Perhaps life is nothing more than figuring out what you were born to do (which to me is the same thing as figuring out who you were meant to be), even if you never make a penny doing it. You may put in the hours at a lackluster job to pay for the groceries and that great vacation you’ve been saving for, but hopefully there’s something else, something meaningful, that makes you feel like a whole person.

Make it your job to make it happen. Life is too short not to.