Monday, December 29, 2014

Why Do I Bother

Oh, how many times I have heard that muttered and said it myself.  "Why bother?"  There's always an answer, even if we don't want to hear it.

It's been a good year, a busy year.  A year of so many firsts.

I completed four sprint triathlons, the bike portions for both half-iron and full-iron distance triathlons, several metric centuries, a solo century, and a half marathon.  It was a long season, and I didn't train as much as I should have.  Crashed and burned in November, then got sick.  Now I am struggling to get my groove back and be consistent.

I turned 40.

I've made a few good friends from exercising.  I also lost a few friendships this year.  I've angered several people, I have been shunned.  I was unfriended by someone I had considered a good acquaintance - I still have no idea what happened there.  I suspect it's simply that I am me.  

I am liberal and outspoken.  I take a lot of pictures of my kids and their firsts, their seconds... their everything.  I show up at baby showers in jeans.  I don't get into jewelry or clothes.  I don't wear make-up very often anymore.  I make stupid jokes.  I have a big nose and crooked teeth.

Today is one of those days I really want to tell everyone to flip off.

Seriously.  I want to crawl into a hole, eat hash browns and drink beer until I forget I our cats' names.  

But I won't.

I will keep wearing fur-lined crocs to the grocery store.  I will keep being liberal and unapologetic.  I'll still plaster your newsfeed with pictures of my kids.

    Like this

I can only be who I am.  I will never please everyone.  I will NOT let others rule my happiness.

And eventually when my efforts at being friendly are clearly not wanted - I will leave.

Not going into my hole today, but some time soon, I just might.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Waiting is the Hardest Part - Indeed

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.  Christmas is, of course, a special holiday - always has been in my family.  When I was young, we celebrated Christmas Eve at my Grandma Green's (my dad's mom) apartment in Hobart, then Christmas morning by ourselves, followed by Christmas Day with my Grandmother (my mom's mom) and her son.  It was always so pleasant and felt ..... just right.

This was our first year in our own home without plans to travel back to Indiana with our extended family, and I really wasn't sure how it was going to feel.  I was surprised at how many other Carolina transplants with children the same age as ours were also staying put for Christmas this year.   Even so, everything felt perfect leading up to today.  The kids enjoyed decorating, using their Advent calendars, and watching gifts appear under the tree.

                   The tree and a few decorations
        We baked and baked and baked some more.

Speaking of waiting - managed to squeeze in last-minute shopping, and a last-minute-for-insurance-purposes physical.

       Feelin' hot hot hot

It's important to take care of yourself - all year long.  That doesn't just mean getting in a run.  It means listening to your heart as well, listening to when stress is ruling too much of you.  And making the right choices to address it.

Anyway - last night we spent part of Christmas Eve with friends.  We were so blessed to be invited to two celebrations, actually - and we enjoyed an early dinner with great company.  It definitely took the edge off  being "alone" on Christmas Eve.

            Santa likes soymilk, FYI.
Then it was Christmas morning. The magic was in full force.

So, now we are recovering from the morning...

And making homemade gravy for the baked ziti this evening.

Sometimes, it's hard to wait.  To wait for that goal PR in a race.  Waiting to see family again.  Waiting for a moment to relax.  But sometimes it's all worth waiting for...

So keep being brave, continue being strong, continue cherishing your moments and memories.  Make your goals - you WILL reach them.  And try to find the good, because I assure you it's there. 

Merry, Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

What's WRONG?

A FB friend shared an awful story about a woman who left her 4yo son with a stranger at Wal-Mart in Portage, Indiana (my hometown).  I didn't want to read the article comments, but the comments on his page included something along the lines of "seriously - what is wrong with people?"

What is wrong with people?  We look down on poor people, we look down on minorities.  Some lives are worth something, others are not.  Plain and simple.

And before you accuse me of overgeneralizing, consider the following things that are discussed all of the time:

1.)  That poor family shouldn't be asking for an X-box.  They should sell all extra things and just worry about food and clothes.  (Because poor children aren't allowed a nice toy now and then, if someone wants to give them one.  They aren't allowed to want to be like their friends.)

2.)  Don't send your child to a school that has too many free/reduced lunches.

3.)  Anyone who has used the word "thug" on Facebook over the last four months.

4.)  Anyone who uses the word "justice" when another person has been killed.  Period.

I could go on and on.  My "haters" on my FB friends list have already stopped reading, and/or are preparing some "liberals are ignorant," "gosh, I hate some people" or something similar to share on Instagram, etc.  And we just continue to promote this "my life is more important than yours."  My life matters more.  Her life matters more than his, etc.

We don't understand that our lack of compassion, our willingness to judge others, to say nasty things, to not care, to not try understand what it's really like to walk in someone else's shoes because "that second cousin of my friend's neighbor scams the system" or "my friend who is black said they were thugs", etc.  We look for every excuse to justify our own terribly selfish remarks.

That's not a society.  That's not what community is about.

What's wrong with people?  We all need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves that question.

As for that poor kid - he's going to bounce in and out of the system.  He may be lucky enough to have a teacher who cares.  Most likely, he's going to feel people looking down on him his entire life - I am sure people already have.  And as a teacher and someone who has spent a lot of time studying this, I know what his fate is - and so do you.

Sometimes when people tell you that you're worthless, that you aren't as important as they are - you start to believe them. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Adieu, Adieu to You and You and You

When my Alex was around 16-months-old, Derek and I vacationed to Lakeland, Florida to visit his grandparents.  We swam in their community pool - my son's first experience with water other than bath-time - and he *loved* it. He enjoyed it so much, as soon as we got back to Morrisville, I enrolled him in Mommy & Me swim classes at Triangle Swim School.  The instructor was outstanding and had Alex going under water, turning over, floating, etc.  We both adored her, but unfortunately she left the swim school to return to teaching preschool full-time.   

Alex "swimming" at a hotel this past July 4

Fast forward three years, several swim instructors, a sensory processing disorder diagnosis, and a household move later - we ended up registering for the same swim school again but in a different location.  And wouldn't you know it - the same teacher.  :-) After a conversation with her, I realized she understood my son so much because she, too, has a child with SPD.  Within three months, she had Alex go from a strong doggie-paddle to understanding the free-style stroke, dolphin kick, backstroke and starting to side stroke.  And he loved every moment.
We still enjoyed our super fancy backyard pool this summer­čśé

Was so disappointed and heartbroken for her (and selfishly for us), to discover her health had taken a turn for the worse, and she was not going to be working anymore (at all).  Alex had his last lesson with her today.

It's really hard to find people who understand Alex.  Even more so, it's hard to find people who can balance the gentle yet firm tone needed for swimming.  We will miss her on many levels.

Not sure if Alex will ever want to try triathlon, but I do know - out of this great, big, scary world - he has enjoyed swimming *so* much.  And this woman had everything to do with it.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Not Bird, Nor Plane, Nor Even Frog

It's just little old me... (Splat) UNDERDOG!

Pretty much when it comes to trails.  Well, pretty much when it comes to walking on flat land, zumba class... I am not full of grace.  But there is something magical about trail running (when I am not rolling my ankles or falling, of course).

My workout called for a "long" run today. I asked my coach if I could trail run instead, and she gave me the O.K.  After eating breakfast, emptying and refilling the dishwasher, feeding the cats, getting dressed, I headed out the door and drove down to Umstead Park.

       Compression.  Ahhhh...... (And the world's shortest toes)

Umstead Park is truly an amazing resource in Raleigh - bridle trails for horseback riding/biking, paved trails and several technical trails with a few difficult climbs.  My favorite (admittedly only one I've tried) is Company Mill - a 5.8 mile loop with some difficult terrain and gorgeous views.

         Well - time to do this!

The amazing aspect to running early at Umstead are the people who show up before the park opens - there are always ten cars parked on the side of the road before the gate.  The parking lot is also very full - everytime I've been there.  The Triangle definitely embraces fitness, I guess!

This trail starts downhill, and I quickly realized I forgot what it felt like to run on trails.  So many leaves on the ground make it difficult to see roots and rocks, but you sure feel them (ankle rolls... be careful).  The first mile is mostly downhill, then you cross the river and can choose clockwise or counter-clockwise for the actual loop.  I prefer counter, because you get a nice easy downhill for the fourth mile - it's a good and much-needed "second-wind."

What's a technical trail?  It means you climb over things like this sometimes.

And this is not the most difficult part of this loop, not even close!

My pace Was. So. Slow.  (For me. For what I can/used to/want to do.  For me.).  A few people passed me, "I'm just gonna squeeze by really quick."  They weren't lying!  They would run by and be gone.  *poof* And that's when it dawned on me.

Where's the ski lift?

This is stupidly hard.  This isn't fun.  This hurts.  It's cold.  I don't look like these underwear models running around (seriously - why are so many trail runners gorgeous??).  I am so much slower than I was a year ago.  I can't even run this hill. I can barely keep walking up it.  I am suddenly craving nachos.  I can taste them.  Or am I tasting last night's dinner?

Here's the secret.  It does hurt.  It isn't always fun to scramble around with your heart rate elevated.  There are always a billion other things you could be doing.  I don't enjoy most workouts *while* I am doing them.

And none of that matters.

You do it for the finish.  You do it so you can be alone.  You do it so you have a valid excuse to tell an inanimate hill, "UP YOURS" or to yell at a tree root.

It doesn't matter if you don't look like the underwear models.

It doesn't matter if you walk up every hill.

It doesn't matter if you are slow, just starting out, or have been doing it for a while and are still slow.

You're moving your body because you can.  Because life.  Because you just get the one chance.

  It's a good time to pull this out.

It's not easy, I am not going to lie.  There are TWO times I have embraced the pain and the hurt in the nearly two years I've been running/riding/tri-ing.  TWO.  The bike portion of Raleigh 70.3, and my bike ride for Beach 2 Battleship.  That's it.  The other times - I hated the during.  Hated it.  But I sure loved the ending, and I was certainly glad I did it.

  Yeah, you're allowed to swear at hills like this.  It's ok.

Please keep your chin up.  Take the chance.  Push through it.  Because when you do, something beautiful happens.

You see the possibilities.  You eventually see results.  And you and your muddy feet and bottom get to enjoy some nice views along the way.

And the last part?  You will inspire me to keep going.  So, I need you to - just as much as *you* need you to.  Get moving, my friends.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What's Cookin'?

Know what I usually cook on the weekends?  Not much!  :-/

While I have embraced my No Meat Athlete journey, the rest of my little clan has not.  My daughter will crunch veggies all day, but my son is all about that chicken, 'bout that chicken, no tofu...  My husband doesn't say it anymore, but he coined the phrase, "Salad is what food eats."  Hmph.

Ask any parent of young children what is challenging to do with littles around your feet and they will tell you 1.) Cleaning 2.) Preparing non-box meals and 3.) Not wanting to drink yourself to sleep each night after the kids go to bed.  Well.  Perhaps "3" is just me. 

A friend mentioned on Facebook something called "Blue Apron" and took a few pictures of fancy meals she prepared.  At first I envisioned a pre-packaged food delivery service: heat and serve.  It's not! (I should insert this here - in case someone other than my mom reads this blog - that this is just my personal review, I am in no way affiliated with Blue Apron and no one has paid me to review the product.)

So, after I ooo'd and ahh'd, my very sweet friend offered me a free trial of their service!  Free works for me!  I signed up and saw they have vegetarian options, as well as the choice to eliminate specific meats (for carnivores).

Our box finally came today!  In it was the ingredients to prepare three meals for two people.

          Carefully and safely packaged with ice packs.

The first thing I noticed was that (I guess I still didn't fully understand...) they send you the whole produce, the parts to make sauces, etc. - YOU do the work.  I like that - it really is a program for people who enjoy cooking (which I do, I just don't have the time, energy, etc.).

I stashed everything in the fridge.  As you can see, they separate the ingredients for each meal.

       Kind of a lot of plastic... sadface. I'll talk about that later.

I decided to make the first meal tonight - tempura-battered acorn squash tacos.  Uh, yum!  I fetched the ingredients, and followed the very easy-to-read instructions (which are also available on-line, if you prefer to use your iPad in the kitchen).  It gives a time estimate, 25-35 minutes for this meal, as well as nutritional information - a whopping 700 calories per serving, but that's not too awful if you plan for that the rest of the day.  Regardless, this wasn't the healthiest meal - but it was delicious!

      Getting started.  I am not good with avocados, in case you didn't notice.

Actual cooking/preparing time for me: 1 hour

Why?  I was also making the kids Mac 'N Cheese, answering their questions, stepping over cats, etc.  If you are only focusing on the recipe, it might very well only take 35 minutes.

So, how was it?

    Tempura-Battered Acorn Squash Tacos

It was outstanding, if I do say so myself.  So, here's my take...

Who Is This Program For?

1.) People who enjoy cooking.  You do the work.  You cut things up, you cook, you are the chef.  You have been wanting to try something new, you get bored with the same thing - this helps you experiment with new menus!  And you keep the recipe cards, so you can always make a recipe again.

2.) People who want to save money because you eat out too often.  It's a wee bit less than $10 per person each meal, including delivery fees.  We don't always eat that expensively, but when you figure in tip, gas - it averages out to more than that, I'm sure.

3.) People who don't have time to go to the grocery store.  It's a huge benefit because Blue Apron includes *everything*.  Tonight's ingredients called for mayonnaise - they included the two tablespoons.  It called for smoked paprika - there was a little bag.  You aren't buying a $5 jar of mayonnaise that's going to go bad in your refrigerator.

4.) People who change their minds.  You have the option of holding your delivery.  Something sounds gross?  Going out of town?  Just don't do delivery that week.

What are the cons?

The cons are MY cons.  Maybe not yours.  But these things might eventually be a deal breaker for me.

1.) No totally-vegan options.
2.) It's a lot of plastic.  They tell you how to recycle and reuse everything, but I wish they used non-plastic reusable bags and pouches, and had a way for you to send it back each week.  I cringe at the potential for so much waste.
3.) The produce isn't organic.  Ugh.  Granted, it's rarely organic when I go out, either.  But 99% of the produce I buy is organic.  

In summary, I like this.  I love that it's a simple way for me to get involved with cooking at home.  What will the kids eat, you ask?  I don't mind making them something simple ahead of time - veggie burgers, pasta, even leftovers.  Hopefully they will try a little of what we eat each meal and broaden their food-choice horizons.  A toddler-mom can dream...  We will keep trying it for a while, for sure.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bob. Goldfish. A Lot of Kid

Well, I said I had ENOUGH.  That means you have to throw yourself back into it.  If I want a finisher's medal, well - I have to do the work.

I had dinner with a friend last night and we ended up talking for a long time, it was a very pleasant evening - but we suddenly realized it was 11:15!  PM! Way past my bedtime.  But worth every moment.  I feel very blessed to have such good people in my life.

I had intended to run my scheduled four miles today at 6:30AM, but instead I hit snooze and waited for the kids to wake us up at 7.

Guess I'll run with Mads in the morning!

Instead I finished most of our Christmas cards while Mads (2yo) played and Alex (4yo) was at preschool.  No run with Mads.  :-/

When Madeleine slept on the way to pick up Alex (which also included a stop at the post office), continued to nap *through* pick-up and didn't wake up until we got home - I knew afternoon nap was shot. 

Better get that run in, H.  Oh no.  Does that mean ...

Bundled up the kids after snuggling on the couch for a bit after lunch, loaded up the Bob and headed to the trail.  Neuse, that is.  Neuse River, running stars...

It's pretty brisk for North Carolina right now (40's), I decided to use a blanket and the weather cover in case it was breezy.  The kids seemed to stay nice and warm.  Of course, goldfish and iPad were also in there.  I do not care.  If it keeps them quiet and happy, then all is good!

           Warm and cozy kids!

I started pushing them and immediately realized my kids weigh a lot more than they did a year ago!  Oh boy.  So much for speed work!  Oh well, I figured I just needed to keep my body moving - I had not had a run longer than three miles for quite some time.


It was a challenge.  The Bob was creaking a bit on Alex's side, and tended to pull when he leaned over.  There were the usual tense moments: I need water!  Mads won't share!  When will this end?

Not soon enough, kid!  Heh.  But we did it!  Four cold miles at a pace that was one-minute slower than race pace.  That's .... not good.  But I have some time and I am going to work hard.

   Cheeeeeese!  And hey, look - I took Mommy's water bottle!  Hahaha! (Mads was ... busy)

Very glad the kids cooperated for the most part.  And it just might have been enough incentive to go ahead and not hit snooze next time.  ;-)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Gut and the Rut

Today was my ENOUGH day.
Enough with the head cold.
Enough with the snacking.

               (Please ignore THESE)

Enough with my gut, the weight I have steadily gained throughout the triathlon season this year (and sure wasn't slowing down after it ended).

I went to the doctor this morning and she prescribed antibiotic for the sinus infection (going on two weeks).  Of course, I magically feel better and haven't had a capsule yet.  But should probably take the course regardless.  

Called my husband this afternoon and said, "as soon as you walk in the door - I'm going to the neighborhood gym and running.  Ish."

I found my trusty heart rate monitor and the cats promptly thought it was a toy - not completely surprising.  They hadn't seen it for quite some time.

Headed down to the community lodge - which looks pretty darn nice for Christmas!  That was pleasant.

Down the stairs and found the treadmill.

I loathe this treadmill.  There isn't a way to quickly change your speed without scrolling through, and I *swear* it's terribly inaccurate.  But, it sure beats running in the rain and dark with a sinus infection!

After thirty minutes, I ran about 2.5 miles in zone 2, and that is fine for me.  So glad I turned on my garmin. Ooooops.
     (Heart rate was still up for the picture)

I did it.  Enough was enough.  I have Raleigh Ironman 70.3 in six months.  A half-marathon in less than three months.  I've gained fifteen pounds since May.  Enough.

Do I recommend working out while you're really sick?  No.  But after two weeks of barely any exercising, feeling sorry for myself - it was time.  Moving a bit is good for you, and I am glad it did it.

Yep - that's some flab hanging over my pants.  But it is *my* body, I love it, and I am taking care of it again.


Monday, December 8, 2014

One Phone Call Away

Greensburg, Indiana in 1998 - I made just enough money teaching to pay for rent and utilities, food, cat food and supplies, a car payment and that was about it.  I balanced my checkbook regularly because I lived from paycheck to paycheck.  A representative from the teacher's union once talked to me about starting a 401K, and I couldn't.  I didn't have a single cent to spare.

My salary with a few years experience at a private Catholic school six years later was not much more than it was in Greensburg.  I had to live with my parents, and I waited tables on the weekends - sometimes during the week - but I was happy to be teaching again after two years in the optical industry.  Unfortunately, I had accumulated a chunk of debt (between two moves across the country, a job that didn't pay as promised, a car and apartment that were more than I really could afford - putting extras on a credit card had quickly added up) and it was either file for bankruptcy and be homeless or hang my tail between my legs and move in with my parents.  Thankfully they were gracious, accepting and non-judgmental - they took me in.  When my husband and I were married a few years later, my new job paid much more comparatively speaking and I was able to quickly take care of my debt.

I've been in the nice suburbs of Raleigh for about six years now - it's incredibly easy (and tempting) to completely block out those struggles.  To forget stressing over the checkbook my first two years out of college, to forget eating ramen in my apartment.  To forget that utterly hopeless feeling I had when I realized I could be homeless if my parents had not been willing to help me.  While some poor decisions on my part led to my struggle, some of it was beyond my control - it was simply fate.  Crappy luck.

This past Saturday evening I had to run to Wal-Mart. I know, I know - as much as I hate, and have been outspoken about avoiding the store for a number of reasons, they are beginning to carry organic items and a nice variety of vegetarian options.  Savings are important right now, so there I was walking toward the holiday decor for a few strands of Christmas lights.  There was a man and woman, probably in their early-/mid-twenties, with their daughter who looked to be around 18-months-old standing near customer service.  The man was on his cell phone and I couldn't help overhearing part of his conversation.

"But, that's not my fault.  This was a mistake on your end.  That check should have cleared.  You're the ones who processed it twice.  That's one hundred dollars and it isn't my fault.  What am I supposed to do?"

I instantly knew what their life was like.  I knew they furiously balanced their checkbook, fretting over cents - and a one hundred dollar mistake had probably left them without any money at all.  No money to buy groceries, let alone all of the Christmas gifts and decor they were staring at while the young man argued about a mistake that had left them without any money. 

It was like an icy knife stabbed me in the heart.  I remembered that feeling.  Standing in their clean, but obviously not expensive clothes, daughter in winter coat that was probably several years old, and an empty shopping cart - and the sinking reality that they had no money to fill it with groceries or decorations.

That could have been me.  That could be me if, God forbid, my husband lost his job and couldn't find another one quickly.  That could be any of us.

Some people have a large savings and year's salary in the bank to help in case of emergencies.  Congratulations to them.  Good job.  You worked hard, but the truth is you also had a bit of luck on your side.  Some people choose careers that are needed (teachers, police officers, firemen/women, social workers, occupational therapists) - knowing there is a not a glass ceiling but an opaque ceiling that will forever limit their income.  Unless they luck into a trust fund or inheritance, it's impossible to get that far ahead when your weekly paycheck barely covers life's necessities.  Vacations?  Fancy cars?  Forget it. 

And they are one sickness, one layoff away, one phone call away from slipping under the water.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Simple Gifts

To me - it's a lack of compassion for mankind and the delicate gift that is human life. It's when the "comments" say, "good shot" after someone kills a would-be robber, or when we hear the military bombed the headquarters of so-and-so. "Good job," they say.

Good job? You killed someone else. I'm not naive - I know there are true situations where you must kill or be killed. But no one should ever say, "good job."

'Good job' and 'nice shot' is for target shooting. It's for winning basketball games, for finishing a race. You say it when your child gets an "A" on a test. When your spouse gets a promotion.

Instead we say, "good job" to people when they kill someone else. People said, "justice was served."
This isn't a race thing (but racism is a part of it, absolutely), it's not political - it's a humankind thing. We don't have compassion or respect for human life.

A blogger (Swim Bike Mom - I don't want to direct link this to her, because obviously I am speaking on a controversial topic) recently blogged about setbacks, and I actually linked it last week on Facebook because I felt silly for whining about my cold. In that blog (The Art of the Setback) she said this:

"When others see you overcome obstacles, they are inspired to do the same. Pull up those bootstraps and make others say, “If she can overcome ____, then I can overcome ___.” That’s called community, and that’s how we help each other. There is no shame in admitting your setbacks, making them public. Success is lovely. But when someone does nothing but brag about their successes with an “I am awesome and I earned this” attitude… well, that is alienating to about 99% of the world... be humble. Realize that you are always one nice fall down the stairs from being crowned a Swim Bike Klutz."

If only we were more humble about our place in this world. All of the time. If only we showed compassion to everyone. All of the time.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

None of My Favorite Things

The last few weeks have been a challenge across the board.  I've been struggling since Beach 2 Battleship. 

 Even though it was just a ride for me, it was my longest ride of my life and a bit interesting because I knew a relay team needed me to do my part.  These bigger races always seem to have a let-down period that can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months (for me.  Not everyone is affected this way, I know.).  I was disappointed by the election in North Carolina.  Both of my children have struggled at school and home lately.

And I am turning 40 this Tuesday.  Lordy 40.  Mortified fortified.  Etc.

So.  The "reflection".  Well, let's see.  I spent high school enjoying the benefits of music, nerd classes, being a social defect and having permed hair.   College was pretty much the same but with beer and without permed hair. Kind of a lot of beer, though.  

My twenties.  I was briefly engaged to a man who was not very nice.  I lived in a few different places.  Struggled with finding my voice and finding my purpose.  Managed to turn 30 relatively unscathed but bruised, for sure.

Turning 30 - the event - was actually nice.  I had started teaching again, I was single.  I had learned to play poker and I felt like I was going to get a handle on life.  Then I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, stage 0, at age 32.  After the procedure to remove part of my cervix, the doctor told me if I already had children he would advise me to have a hysterectomy, just to be safe.  Instead he referred me to an oncologist that I saw every three months for testing.  A few times cells came back showing dysplasia, then tests were clean (and have been.  Fingers crossed).  That sucked.  Could have been much worse, but still sucked.  Every visit, every test, every wait for results.  For almost three years.

Then I met my now-husband.  Moved to North Carolina.  Taught at a great school, met awesome people.  Worried about the cancer/cervix thing and if we could ever have a child.  Then after our one-year anniversary - surprise!  Nine months later we had Alex.

Wanted to keep teaching.  Just didn't work.  That was heartbreaking.  I would not trade my life now for any other, but it was heartbreaking to walk away from my career.  It still kind of breaks my heart.

Lots of talks.  Alex started sleeping again.  Should we .... Well, there it is.  Moved into a bigger house, had Mads.  She's a character.  I love them both.

Started exercising a little.  Ran a half marathon.  Tried a few triathlons.  I like those.  Let's see if I can pretend to be a badass and complete 70.3 miles (in a row) of nonsense.  Will let you know how that goes next May.

Lordy lawdy look who's 40.  I once told Derek, during a "life reflection" chat, that I am no one's favorite anything.  Never was anyone's favorite teacher.  I really didn't try to be, I just tried to not suck and tried to get kids to try hard at life.  Teaching is trying.  (Those jokes also explain the "no one's favorite" thing, I know)  I never quite balanced doing that without being an asshole, so... never was anyone's fav. teach.

Never have been the kind of person people always ask to go out or hang out. I go through periods where I want to be more social and I either invite myself to hang at the fringe of activities/parties or just go to open social events.  But there aren't pictures of me at parties with people over the years.  *shrug* No one's favorite friend.

I know I am my parents' favorite daughter.  It helps I am the only one. :-) I love them so much.  They've never walked away from me.

But back to my conversation with my husband, "I am no one's favorite anything."  He didn't skip a beat, he reached out and held my hand and said, "you're my favorite."

"You're my favorite."  That was all he said out loud to me.  His eyes, his gentle hand on mine, told me a lot more.  I love you, bubs.

I have tried to change my health for the better the last few years.  I still struggle, I always will.  But I hope through triathlon and endurance athletics I can encourage someone else to see that life is what you make of it.  You just get the one shot.  Live it hard, live it furiously, live it thankfully.  Especially the thankful.

I made these two little people who call me mommy.  They're kind of ok.  They're polite, sweet, funny.  I love them.  I want to help them learn the world, to love and be kind to it all.  I'm probably not their favorite parent, but I think I'm their favorite lady-who-takes-care-of-them.

I don't play music enough, but I have made some pretty good stuff over the years, beer-eokee aside. I still teach a few awesome private students.  I love it.  That's a favorite part of *my* week.

I anger a lot of people with my politics and religion.  I furiously just want people to treat other people with compassion.  Even if that means taxes.  Even if that means putting your gun in your pants at Target.  Even if it means not using a racist word as a team name.  Even if it means accepting that other religions are ok.  Even if it means same sex marriage, even though someone told you to interpret the Bible differently, is just fine.  Even if I anger everyone I know by talking about animal rights, children refugees, the environment  - I will always stand up for those who need help.  I won't be their favorite.  To me, it's about what's right.  (To me)

If I have learned anything in 40 years, it's that I am no one's favorite (except the husband and being my folks' favorite daughter). And that's 100% fine.  I've also learned it's ok to feel sorry for yourself.  It's ok to be whiny.  It's ok to be a jerk sometimes.  It's ok to be sad and angry.  It's ok to want what other people have.  It's ok to dislike other people.

But then you MUST STOP.  After you feel the feelings, and be thankful.  Take one moment of each ungrateful hour to remember to be thankful.

Go to sleep being thankful.

Start the day being thankful.

Thankful for that moment, for that particular breath.  And then move on.

Those thankful moments - and all the things, people, memories, and ideas in them - are *my* favorite.  I hope they grow longer each day for as long as I am alive.

Happy almost-birthday to me.  Lawdy forty.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Be still, my bleeding heart

I was 23-years-old when I started teaching music in the Greensburg, Indiana schools. Right out of college, a self-proclaimed hippie who enjoyed jazz, parties, funk music and being laid back. I am only going to take a job if it falls into my lap, I said. I had entered my resume into the database hosted by Indiana University's School of Education, and GCS called me for an interview. I was offered the job on the spot.

I accepted the position, fell into a routine and did everything by the book. Had lunch in the teachers' lounge, longing to make friends. I discovered this is where the teachers complained about their students. I'm sorry, I mean they "vented their frustrations with our education system."

No, they complained about their students.  About the students' families.  About... everything.

I did, too. I complained about how the kids wouldn't listen in General Music - a required class for students who did not take chorus or band. I complained about their attitudes, behavior. I took NO BS whatsoever from my students. I was a first year teacher, the first woman band director in the history of this small, rural city of 13,000 people (at the time) and I was letting them know that I WAS THE BOSS.  DAMN IT.

Then I met Kim.

Kim's daughter was in my band class. I quickly knew Kim to be the nicest person I had ever met, and definitely one of the nicest I would ever meet. She was the librarian's assistant, and she loved each and every student. She had that sweet southern Indiana drawl, and would often sit next to students in the library, helping with their homework. I knew sometimes she actually finished their work for them. Kim was born and raised in Greensburg, married her high school sweetheart, had three kids (middle school and high school) and she knew everyone. Through conversations with Kim, one of the secretaries, and the guidance counselor - I started to meet some incredibly *nice* women. 

I started to listen to her responses, not excuses, but responses to my complaints about the students, like,  "Matt just doesn't even pay attention to anything in my class.  It's like he's asleep."

"Yeah - probably doesn't get a lot of rest with his father's illness.  They spend a lot of time working around his chemo schedule."

I started to spend more time with Kim and the secretary, having lunches out instead of in the teacher's lounge. We would sometimes eat in the cafeteria with the kids, where the counselor always had lunch.  I started to know these kids I taught. I no longer wanted to hear the teacher gossip. Not at all.

Still, I had a few "challenging" kids in one of my general music classes. One of them, Carl, was particularly difficult. He never spoke. He was a textbook passive-aggressive child. He did nothing and nothing bothered him. It frustrated me to no end. I asked the guidance counselor about him because I wanted to understand.  It was then I learned that

no one from his family, literally no one, had ever graduated from high school. 

Everyone in the family had issues with drugs. The kids were always in and out of the home, but ultimately it was as though child services just didn't know what to do with them anymore. So, if the kids showed up to school, they were considered, "ok." 

I looked at Carl one particular day, it was November-ish in 1998. His red hair was long and covered his freckled face. He was small, bone-thin - wearing a fading 'metal band' t-shirt and ripped-up jeans. Sneakers that were filthy. He sat in his chair, "Carl" was sloppily written where his paper said "Name", but nothing else was marked. I asked the kids to share answers with their neighbors at their seats. I started to talk to groups of children and I walked around, eventually I made my way over to Carl - where he sat silent, talking to no one.

Do you listen to music, I asked?


Does anyone in your family, or at your house, listen to music?

Not really.

Is there a song or a band that you could name, right now?

Silence for a moment, and a muttered "Marcy Playgroud?"

Marcy Playground was indeed a band, mostly featured at the time on the "NOW That's What I Call Music" CDs that used to advertise on television. Regardless, he knew a band, he knew of some music.

That was how I initially bonded with Carl. It was one of the questions on the paper, and he wrote down the answer, "Marcy Playground." I circled two other questions on the paper, and softly said, "just finish these two, that's all I am asking you to do today, and that will be full credit." That was the first time I really saw Carl's eyes, and perhaps a small smile.

A few weeks later the students had a different assignment. Again, I walked around the classroom and circled just a handful of questions for Carl to complete (as I did for a few other students as required by their IEPs.  Carl didn't have an IEP. I think because his parents - and the system - just didn't care anymore.).  It was time to go over the questions. I read the second question and waited for the students to raise their hands so I could call on someone.

Carl's hand slowly lifted off his desk.

I called on him and he answered the question - correctly. "That's right," I said. Class continued normally and ended. The students left for their next classes and I followed them out the door. I ran down the main hallway toward the guidance counselor's office, tears burning at my eyes. I burst into her office:  "DEB!  DEB!!!! CARL RAISED HIS HAND IN MY CLASS!" She put her hand over her mouth, made a fist pump and gave me the biggest hug. We happily cried together for a few minutes.

It was the first time in his life, at the age of 12, he had ever raised his hand in a class.


I wish I had a happy ending to this story. I don't think anyone else ever really cared about this kid, not in the classes that "mattered," at least. He was in my class for just the one semester, and while I would say hello to him in the hallway the next year - I never had him again as a student. I left Greensburg for California, eventually lost touch with my Greensburg friends (this was before Facebook). But, thanks to Google I learned that Carl, like everyone else in his family, never did graduate from high school, and two years ago was arrested with four other people - including his father - for manufacturing and selling methamphetamine. 

The saddest part of the story, was that they found the drug paraphernalia next to birthday party supplies for his little girl.

And so it goes. And so it goes.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ain't It Good To Know?

That you've got a .... someone who understands you?  A someone who enjoys you for who you are?  Someone who doesn't judge you?  Who realizes you mean well, and forgives your quirks?  A ...friend?

We all want that in life to some degree, and hopefully everyone has at least one person who meets us halfway.  Some people are lucky enough to have a collection of souls to call friends.  I wouldn't say I have a collection, but I know my husband is that person, my mother and perhaps one or two friends truly get me and accept me.  I am very lucky. 

Ever since I knew I was pregnant with A, my 4yo son, I considered the issues both my husband and I (fierce introverts) have had with communication skills and socializing beginning in elementary school (and sometimes ongoing for me).  I wanted to avoid that for our son, and decided to be proactive.

He will go to preschool and the playground everyday to get used to other kids.  I will go above and beyond to find a friend for him, someone he will enjoy being buddies with and they will enjoy their toddler years together.  Then A. was actually born and life happened.

I knew he was a bit different because he never stopped crying at daycare.  He enjoyed being held as an infant, he liked knowing someone was right nearby (he is not much of a snuggler now!).  Since his daycare didn't believe in swings, and that infants should explore the world "at their fingertips," he spent his time crying on the floor until someone held him.  Eventually I couldn't handle that anymore and pulled him out when he was five and a half months old - I was thrust into the roll as a Stay-At-Home-Mom, not a huge deal since my salary as a teacher was basically cancelled out by the cost of a premium full-time daycare.  (I could always go back and teach somewhere, right?)

A and I enrolled in a Kindermusik class, and we loved every moment - especially when we eventually got to know other babies and had little baby playdates.  A really bonded with a child right before their 2nd birthdays, but unfortunately we moved about thirty minutes away and they eventually moved back to England.  Sad face.

A is an awesome child.  (Yes, I am his mother and I am going to brag - duh).  He is very bright, he remembers tons of factoids about random places, objects, people, animals - he is truly a sponge.  He isn't very athletic (except for swimming - he does really well).  And unfortunately, he doesn't enjoy playing the way most children play.  Running around screaming, laughing, jumping up and down and being silly - he has just never been that kind of child.  As a parent - it's frustrating to bring your child to a playdate, and your child doesn't want to do the running-jumping-bouncing silliness that other children enjoy.  Instead, he would rather play an elaborate game with characters, tell the other children the pretend history of the setting, etc.  Adults say (to my face) that "he's so cool, that's so awesome how he thinks like that."  But as a parent - you just want your child to fit in.  A doesn't.  He's been left out (which doesn't bother him) and sometimes hit by other children (which does bother him) for being different/annoying/weird or however else he is perceived.  That stinks as a parent - you don't want that kind of suck for your child when you lived it yourself.

Sometimes, I would worry so much about it.  I started to worry about it this past weekend at a small BBQ with acquaintances/friends.  A few of the kids were having a grand time running around and giggling, and A wanted to play with cars (and pretend they were a car factory, and each car had a specific location it was being delivered... etc).  He watched the other kids run, and just... didn't.  At some point, he ended up in a playroom where the house-cat lives, and he and another child were gently petting and playing with the cat.  He's incredibly gentle with animals, we've taught our kids to do this from the very beginning - it's a subject I am EXTREMELY anal about since I was a pet owner for so many years before having kids.  My cats WERE my kids, and I do not want my children to be rough with animals.  The other children joined them, and two of them were particularly rough with the cat, shoving it into a closet and locking it into enclosed spaces.  A told them to stop, and continued to tell them to stop being mean to the cat and eventually tried to get help from a grown-up when they wouldn't listen.  The other gentle child corroborated this story with her mother.

I have never been more proud of my son.  He is who he is.  He is weird.  He is annoying sometimes, he can be a butt and selfish with toys.  But he stood up for a helpless creature, all on his own. 

It was that moment I just let go of my worries about his interactions with others.  He's got his stuff together in the ways the matter most to the person he is becoming.  And I gotta say - *I* like that person.  He may not want to be friends with anyone yet.  That's fine.  THAT'S FINE.  For now he has us - the people in his life who get him, who support him, who believe in him.  Someday this kid might be a great friend to another child, but for now - he can keep being a loner who plays weird games and stands up for the animals.  If he's not worried about it, neither am I.

Ain't it good to know... I believe in you?  I hope so.  I hope so, buddy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Beat the Drum Slowly, and Play the Fife Lowly

The topic: guns.  How many, what kind, where are they? All wrapped up in an American flag with apple pie on the side.

I don't really have a problem with the concept of guns.  Even as a vegetarian, I know that many people enjoy eating meat and find pleasure in hunting.  I can even appreciate that hunting is necessary - although it breaks my heart - but when I see deer carcasses along the highway each winter, it becomes obvious that hunting helps save human lives.  I don't like it, but I am a realist in that regard.  In my city of Raleigh, I have been reading internet news describing an increase in petty crimes and small burglaries.  Then, because I haven't yet embraced stabbing out my own eyes, I read the comments.  There is always one (or a thousand) that says, "Everyone needs to get a gun right now."  And seventy-eight "likes" for that comment.

The message here is, "my life is more important than yours." So much more important, in fact, that I will kill you and not be bothered by it for one second.  Am I talking about the burglar, or am I talking about the homeowner?  You really can't tell, can you?  People will often point the finger of blame toward criminals for a sincere lack of respect for human life in our country.  In my opinion, it goes much deeper than that, and it goes both ways.  It also stems from the "good guys" saying, "gimme a reason."

So people want to open carry in Target these days.  Why?  To deter crime?  No.  People want to open carry in Target for the same reason a person wants to walk around patting their fist into their other hand. "Gimme a reason."  And what is that reason, exactly?  Another gunman?  Someone stepping on your daughter's foot?  Having twelve items in the express lane?

Even more sad to me are the people who say, "go ahead and break into my house... you'll get it."  They seem to relish in the very thought of taking another person's life.  Being the "homeowner defends her property" or "mother defends her children" on the Saturday news.  By shooting someone else dead.  By taking another person's life.  No matter the justification, it seems to me they have no problem with the idea of killing another person.

I do know a few gun owners who would explain their reason for owning a weapon as "I hope having a gun would be enough to scare someone away.  I don't even want to imagine what it would be like to take someone's life.  I would only do this in an extreme situation and it would be the most awful day of my life if it came to this."  Etc.  But on-line, I often read "boom, great job," in the comments when someone kills an intruder.

So, we keep talking about this mysterious disregard for human life and of course the blame is placed on criminals.  I would argue the disregard is much bigger than this and we are playing a dangerous game of who is worthy and who is not.  *THIS* is the real problem.

Something has to give.   No one is without fault.

"We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly,
And bitterly wept as we bore him along.
For we loved our comrade, so brave, young and handsome,
We all loved our comrade, although he'd done wrong."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

But What About Your Birthday?

Looking back at my blogs over the last ten years certainly tells a tale. Mostly it shows that I always have a lot to say, even if I don't say it out loud. So why not start a new blog again...

Derek, my husband of six years and the father of our two children, and I were discussing our winter holiday plans.  (For the Christian readers:  Christmas vacation).  I suggested that perhaps this year we drive back to Indiana for Thanksgiving, where both our families live, and stay home for Christmas in our own house in North Carolina.  I started to elaborate that we could find a nice Thanksgiving buffet restaurant in Indy, invite my folks downtown - and then Derek interrupted me.

"But what about your birthday?"

I stared at him.  Looked down.  Sighed.  Responded with a dismissive wave of my hand, "eh, what about it."

I turn forty-years-old on November 25.  I never really knew what to expect about turning 40.  I do recall missing my 10-year high school reunion because I didn't feel great about my place in life at the time, and also the fact that none of my other friends were going.  A friend and I vowed to attend our 20th reunion because we would be fabulous and have had plastic surgery.  Then it was time for our 20th.  I felt neither fabulous nor had I completed any type of plastic surgery.  Perhaps something I will someday regret, but still haven't, I skipped out on that reunion, too. 

So, what about my birthday.  At first I envisioned a solo trip to Las Vegas, where I would blow through cash playing craps (badly), blackjack (it's blackjack) and poker (I don't totally suck).  I would excessively drink free rum and cokes (which I only drink in Vegas) and smoke cigarettes (even though it's been years since I've smoked).  It would be great.  Alone time in a city I never minded being alone.  Then I realized how depressing that sounded and thought, perhaps I should invite people and try to do something fun. Several months ago, a few Facebook friends replied, "I would love to go to Vegas!"  after I mentioned via Status Update that I might want a Vegas trip for my 40th birthday.  However, only one friend asked me about it recently, and we ultimately decided that perhaps a girls trip to Asheville next year would be more reasonable.

So, what about my birthday? Nothing. I am an almost-40-year-old woman who is introverted, liberal (and growing more so), has two really young children, a college education and experience in music education, knows nothing about fashion, has dabbled in triathlon for the better part of a year but doesn't look like it, can't stop sharing Gin & Tacos via Facebook (thus pissing off people), has wrinkles and a poofed-out belly, can't hold a live conversation for more than three and a half minutes without unintentionally saying something cringe-worthy, loves beer and hates meat. Pretty much your textbook definition of "the person no one wants to talk to."  I don't really have a lot of friends, not surprising.  I'm kind of an ass.

Honestly?  I'm not going to Vegas, we can't afford it with our other trips.  There won't be a party, no one would come to it - everyone has kids, naps, bedtimes, travels, serious family stuff or is tired.  Turning 40 will be like any other day.  I'm super glad to be alive and to have the chance to live to be better.  That's kind of it.  That's kind of enough.  Right?

In a weird way, I was really pissed at my husband for even asking "but what about your birthday?"  But it isn't his fault my own neurosis analyzed my entire existence in a millisecond before I waved that dismissive hand and muttered the "eh..."  It was nice of him to think about it.  *insert happy-face emojii here*