On the run with Joe

This past weekend I had the pleasure (and pain) of running 7.25 miles with a local marathon training group. This was the second time I’d joined the group, and I’m likely to return, if for nothing else than to spend a few hours with one of the pacers, a guy named Joe* who introduced himself as an alcoholic, cocaine addict and three-pack-a-day smoker a few miles into the run.

Three packs. That’s like 60 cigarettes, right? It didn’t appear that we had much in common at first, but I shared back that my parents were smokers and I was very happy when they quit. He told me that he would wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep without a couple of smokes.

I remembered how I couldn’t sleep without crying for a while first, not so many years ago.

Joe and his wife met in a drug treatment program. They each have 18 years of sobriety under their belts, and Joe insisted that tobacco was by far the most difficult vice to quit. He is 58 years old.

I quit drinking and drugging at 40, Joe said, matter of factly, as I ran by his side.

What do you say in response to a critical, personal, unexpected and heartfelt truth shared on the run?

My thoughts bubbled to the surface, yet remained unsaid. Thank you for telling me. Thank you for sharing your story. You are so much braver than me. In fact, you are one of the most amazing men I’ve met, even though I just met you twenty minutes ago. And your calves are kickass for a guy pushing 60, by the way.

Silently I wondered, How did you quit? Why did you start? And how fantastic is it that you met the love of your life (so described by Joe) who also is a recovering drug addict and an accomplished distance runner in her 50s? 

Nothing felt right.

Fortunately he just kept on talking and I kept on breathing and didn’t have to say much.

Later I reflected upon the truth that I am now 40 years old. And that Joe and I actually do have a lot in common.

I have not been as careful as I could be about what I consume and how I make decisions that impact my mind and body. I’m not an addict, at least not in the strictest sense. But I do find addictive behavior compelling, and have, for many years. It’s been said that bulimia and alcoholism are two sides of the same coin. Eating disorders are also often related to depression, a condition for which I have never been diagnosed, nor do I believe is something that I live with (fortunately). I did more than dabble in disordered eating, but that was more than fifteen years ago.

Today I almost do not recognize that young woman who was me, age 20, sometimes starving, sometimes stuffed, but you’re never completely able to leave who and how you once were.

Or are you?

I wondered more than once about chemical imbalance when I was unable to shake the sadness in the wake of my sister’s death. And I absolutely use wine and other mind-numbing hobbies (reading trashy novels, scrapbooking,  nail-biting) to shake off sadness sometimes.  I try to use better strategies, too (reading well-crafted, delightful novels, writing, running, long conversations with my incredible friends). But you know, sometimes you gotta do what works for you, and my life includes both good-for-you and less good-for-you coping mechanisms.

I never smoked cigarettes, but I understand their appeal.

Back to the run: this guy was telling me about a 50-miler trail race he finished in ten hours, and he claimed, I could have run ten more hours – it was that great!

He wasn’t bragging; he was happy. It was like running with a live over-sharer on Facebook. Weathered, but not withered, Joe was bright-eyed and unapologetically cheerful as he led us along the waterfront, across streets and beneath an early spring sun in Portland.

He described his first marathon in 2008 and how he started running at age 50. Today he is semi-retired, and he and his wife travel around running together. Over the next six weeks, they will complete three full marathons.

He went on: For years we just took and took and took. Saw how much we could take from others, on and on.

Shakes his head.

Now we just give back a little, just do what we can to make a small difference. My wife leads an annual retreat for recovering addicts. I lead a running group every week, every year. Not gonna stop. There’s a 70-something running community in Portland. I plan to be a part of it.

I can never give back as much as I took, but I can try, he said somewhat ruefully.

Are you kidding me?

He gave me something HUGE on Saturday, so much that I’m still mulling it over today. He gave me his story. His truth. While the part of the story I listened to was mostly the good stuff, he was honest about the fact that for 25 years, his life was tough and he struggled. The astonishing part is that he turned his life around. I don’t know how. I didn’t ask.

I’ll be out of town the next two Saturdays, but Joe told me that he’ll be looking for me at the group run on May 17th.

I’ll be there.

*Joe is not his real name.




It’s too early for Christmas music

My daily thoughts for NaBloPoMo ’13:

I mailed not one but TWO Christmas boxes today. On the FIFTH of NOVEMBER. Let’s say it again. I mailed two Christmas boxes on the fifth of November! It is not quite a Christmas miracle but close. I love our post office. One of the women who works there is a fellow mom to a first grader at my kid’s school. The other employees are friendly and efficient. Standing in line at the post office, I once met a man who at age 89 was mailing a package to his sister for her birthday. Another time I was assisted by a sixty-something father who had raised five grown boys. My ones were fussing and he set them straight.

Also, I confess to playing one short Christmas carol on the stereo today in the car. Just one. The rule is we wait until the day after Thanksgiving before enjoying the music of the holiday season, but I came across a CD I love and couldn’t help myself. Now I have to tuck it away to avoid temptation.

Speaking of Christmas miracles, I still want an inflatable snowman. All you haters of tacky holiday inflatables, I hear you. I do. I don’t want a Santa in a swimsuit drinking a Corona or a reindeer aiming a shotgun. I dislike inflatable animals and elves on Harleys. But a kind, smiling nine-foot-tall snowman would bring the neighborhood cheer. A good idea, no?

Thanksgiving week is around the corner. I write week because public schools are closed all week, thus extending the one-day holiday into nine actual days at home. The only things we have planned are a one-day day camp, a day full of turkey and Turkey Trots – the boys and I are all running at the Zoo this year – and a follow up 12K run across the river with a dear friend a few days later. I’m creaking around with a sore back and fatigue, but I’m getting outside and getting it done. Looking forward to a merry, magical, and healthier Christmas season!


Body parts, scrapping books and shark photography

The conversations I had with the boys today were enlightening.

This afternoon I asked our oldest what he wanted to be when he grows up. Genuinely curious about his reply, I stayed quiet while he proceeded to describe a job where he can “study sharks and observe sharks and take photos of them and make them really big”. I mentioned becoming a scientist, but he shook his head. “No, I’m more into taking pictures and then making them into a book, like one of your scrapping books.” And then – this clinched my support for his future profession – “I’ll make lots of big shark books and sell them, for like, um, twenty dollars”.  We talked a little about writers and photographers create books, sell them to Barnes & Noble, and people read them and you make some money (It’s that easy, right?).

This conversation was quite different from the one I had on the way to preschool drop off with the three-year-old. His “homework” assignment this week was for parents to ask their child about a body part and record the conversation.

Me: What is your favorite body part?

M (big smile): My belly button, and my hair.

Me, pleased, about to respond:

M: Wait! And my penis! And my bottom!

Me: Wow, you have a lot of favorite body parts.

M: Yes. I do.

Me: So why are these your favorite body parts?

M gave no response. He changed the subject, in fact. In order to provide a bit more detail for his preschool class, I will dig a little deeper into our body part convo later. I think I’ll focus on hair. :)

The boys continue to entertain, distract, challenge and amuse us on a daily basis. Daylight savings time gave us a little bedtime respite last night and an early Monday morning to eat a leisurely breakfast. As usual, one kid ate eggs (he weighs less than 35 lbs and consumed a four-yes-four egg omelette plus several pieces of turkey sausage) while the other ate waffles + sausage + fruit. I got up today at 5:30 am (devil hour for me) to join seven other women to run beneath a drizzle, drink coffee and be home by 7:15. It felt good to do something after several weeks of inconsistent movement, lots of sleep and lots and lots of work – work on the house, juggling new schedules and general life business.

I am looking forward – really forward – to the holidays. It’s cold outside, and I’ve been chilly all day but feeling something like welcome to November. Blogging daily will force me to stretch some writing muscles, and forego trying to make anything I write perfect and polished. The month brings a holiday whose themes of gratitude and family are a nice tone to set for the season. Rather than waiting to begin again, or make vows of renewal and resolution at year’s end, I intend to live the rest of 2013 mindfully and somewhat patiently as my kids stomp on bubble wrap and argue over practically everything. I hope that you fellow parents, and really – aren’t we all parents at some point? Parents to children, parents to aging parents, parents to fur-bodied and snuggly babies, and more. I wish for each of you, and especially the members of my family, a time to be mindful and relaxed as we enter this holiday season.

Here is a photo of boy # 1 a few years ago. He couldn’t have been prouder of how he trimmed the tree. I see the love and joy in his smile. I want to see that same love and joy reflected in mine. I want to continue to learn about and get to know my children, find out what appeals to them and distracts them, makes them happy or nervous or excited or full of wonder. This parenting stuff – it’s not bad at all, not bad at all.

tree trimming miles

Skinned knees sting like a mother

I fell off a treadmill a few days ago.

Fortunately it was located in my basement and not in public space.

But still.

It was embarrassing.

Dark, ugly scratches beginning to scab over now trouble both my knees.

What happened? I’d stretched to one side to adjust the music on my left arm’s miniature Ipod and lost balance somehow.

It didn’t hurt as it happened, and yet the next day I found that my knees were a mess.

And they hurt.

A lot.

So all the times I’ve told my sons after a tumble, oh it’s ok, you’re fine, and it’s ok, well… it’s not.

Splicing the delicate top skin off one’s body hurts.

Two days ago, I ran 6.45 miles in a gorgeous inner city park in Portland, Oregon. I’d been concerned about my still-stinging knees, but they were fine. I should have been more concerned about my legs! It was quite a hilly course, filled with ups and downs and loops, surrounded by tall green trees and cheerful volunteers and children (including mine!).

A beautiful morning brings the city to life.

During the run (four hilly loops in the park) I was reminded that I am so fortunate to be able to run. I walked a bit on the uphills, too, and generally I’d feel bad about that, but I didn’t this day. Walking a little was okay. I felt energetic and onward toward the finish of the Run Mama Run 10K.

I thought about the knees and ankles and lives blasted away in Boston just weeks ago and my heart sank a bit, humbled by the terrible, trying aftermath as we humans just go on and do what we know to do well and unwell and the actions that may ultimately do and undo us following a tragedy.

When we came home I gazed at the flower pictured below smiling at the sky from its shady spot in our backyard.

I carried white calla lilies on my wedding day, and these gorgeous flowers with dark green pointed leaves never fail to mesmerize me.

In 1944, Diego Rivera painted Desnudo con alcatraces (Nude with calla lilies). We have a reproduction of Rivera’s Calla Lilly Vendor in our dining room. Some people believe the calla lily represents Rivera’s lover and wife Frida Kahlo, a woman of complex talent and suffering. I’ve read almost everything there is to read about Kahlo and Rivera, and I’m not sure what the white blossom indigenous to Mexico means, but it sure was lovely to tend to while I sat gingerly on the deck, crusty knees and sweaty hair and slowing heart rate.

I thought of how Kahlo never became a mother, and how she described what it was like to wake up bleeding, having lost another gentle angel spirit, a life for only a moment or two.

I held close in my mind’s eye two young boys who one by one stole my heart, and listened to them cheering me on from the side of the road, their voices clear and joyful.

Run, Mama, Run! 

Truly I am blessed given what I have lived, loved, and lost.

It was a wonderful Mother’s Day, and the journey continues.

calla lily

Reflection on the run

I was running when I heard steps behind me. Moving a little bit to the right, I glanced quickly over my shoulder. A woman pushed a double jogger stroller in one hand and guided an energetic golden retriever in the other. She passed me brightly.

“Morning!” she smiled.

“Hi.” I panted in response as I watched her move on down the road.

After I was smoked by the mama runner, I reminded myself to stay in the moment. After all, it was mile five and I was keeping a slow but steady pace. I had no reason to begin self-judgment. Still, I caught myself looking backward at this and other less than stellar moments on the run, and then considering ways to improve in the future. Look back, look forward… it’s a pattern I find myself challenged to avoid.

I do believe that reflection is important, though, and I allowed myself to indulge in my past.

Because sometimes I just need to remember.

Have to remember.

In fact I cannot stop remembering.

I remember a sunny, chilly day in early spring. Our mother gave us sunglasses. Excited, my sister and I “sunbathed” in turtlenecks and cordury pants on a towel in the front yard. We felt so grown-up and looked so silly.

I remember when she tried out for the soccer team her freshman year of high school. I was a senior and had decided not to play that season. She eventually became captain of the varsity team, and I was so proud of her. She went on to lead varsity field hockey and basketball teams, and sport became an integral part of her life. One of the men who spoke at her memorial service was a poet, a marathon runner, and visually impaired. Together they finished a marathon and a tandem bike ride through New York City.

I remember her telling me that she was nervous about him being faster than she was on the road, and I was like, “Well, sister, you’re the guide. He can’t run faster than you can!” And he did not.

If only she could hang with my boys today. Like our youngest sister (Aunt B), they would adore her.

I remember when all three of us came home one night from various restaurants, bars, and friends’ houses and met in the kitchen for a secret sisters meeting. We poured milk into big bowls of cereal at two o’clock in the morning, giggling quietly so as to not wake up our parents.

She kept reaching into this large bag of green grapes and finally leaned back, sleepy and full of grapes.

It’s like it happened last night.

I remember when I missed her law school graduation because I couldn’t afford to fly to New York from California. At the last minute I ordered a large flower arrangement to be sent to her home, where friends and family were gathered to celebrate multiple graduates (spectacular people really, I wish I knew them better). She called immediately to thank me for the flowers, and she sounded like I’d sent her a million dollars.

The gratitude in her voice made me feel like I should really be a better sister.

I remember when she told me about getting caught by campus police after streaking the lawn with her girlfriends at the University of Virginia. I believe that she was 21 years old, but the officer called our father to report the incident. I was concerned about his reaction, but my sister just laughed. She had a blast that night.

No regrets, no fear, just confidence and love and joy in her journey.

I laugh aloud when I remember how surprised she was after we settled into a seat on a bus in the Caribbean and a stocky woman pushed her large bottom against her to scoot her over and share our seat. Two-person seats are really three-person seats on hot, loud, crowded buses in the Dominican Republic.

I remember the soft, strong, gentle peace I felt as both of us moved through a stress-induced place that ended as we figured out other ways to cope and to heal. We left those days behind us as we became more compassionate to our own selves and to eachother.

I remember how beautiful she was when I helped zip up her wedding dress. She was also a bit unusally shy. Possibly she did not recognize her own beautiful self. I’m not sure. But as we moved into the evening, her graceful “I do” and the high-spirited delight of her personality filled the air.

I cannot forget how kind she was to me on my wedding day. Less than a year after she married, she insisted on taking a video of me sitting in my childhood bedroom. Against my will, she filmed this wonderful and funny video where we are silly and happy. Later she interviewed my father, my friend Gemma, and me again on the way to the park where I promised to love and care for my husband on a breezy, sunshiney, summery, sparkly afternoon.

Sometimes it is good to spend time in reflection. Its feels especially appropriate to indulge in memory on the road.

When I came home, my sister’s spirit filled my heart.

Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla was a champion of life.

Let us all live, run, walk and move forward in our days to celebrate her life and our own.

If you are so moved, please consider participating in the  7th Annual Liz Padilla Memorial Run in Brooklyn, New York. If you are not from or close to NYC, please consider making a donation.

With much kindness, appreciation and love.


the goodness of strangers

I had moved into a quiet, lovely colonia in the city of Merida, Yucatan, where the weather goes from warm to tropical hot – a sultry, scorching white hot heat in which a fan doesn’t stand a chance. The true test of an experienced traveler is the ability to deal with local cuisine and bathrooms. For me, it’s also the ability to avoid getting lost. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born with a gene for navigation, and I can’t or won’t read a map unless it’s incredibly basic.

My host family was warm and gracious. My host mother had once danced in the Mexican Folkloric Ballet, and remained slim and elegant at age 60. She offered guidance when needed, but otherwise encouraged my independence as I explored my new community. Athough it wasn’t usual practice, when I headed out in to the neighborhood for a run, she wished me well. I insisted I would be fine, and back in 30-45 minutes.

So off I went, padding along the street of a moderately busy neighbhorhood in a city divided by a series of quadrants. Each calle, or street, had a number and a letter. This meant that Calle 16 Este, for example, had counterparts called Calle 16 Oeste, Calle 16 Sur and Calle 16 Norte. Didn’t much matter to me.

About twenty minutes into my run, I decided to head back. Naturally, I just turned around and attempted to trace my steps backward. Unaware, I left one quadrant for another, always staying on or close to Calle 16. Things began to look less and less familiar, and I recognized that feeling I’d often had before when traveling — and occasionally in my home town!

I was lost.

Yet I kept running. For nearly two hours I ran, in circles and spirals and down long dusty roads, and I studiously read every street sign, which was pointless but made me feel like I would figure it out. It was getting dark, however. Proud and a little dizzy, I hadn’t asked anyone for directions since I didn’t actually know where I lived.

I carried no money, water, or identification.

At sunset, I silently acknowledged that I needed to ask for help. I approached a woman who was emptying her car of four – no, five – children who scrambled and giggled and smiled. She looked solid and trustworthy. Glancing at me, she quickly apprised my situation.

“Donde vives?” (Where do you live?)

Painstakingly, I described my host’s abode and guessed at the numbers. She shook her head, serious.

“Súbete.” (Get in)


“You’re far from home. Quite far!”

I had no choice other than to climb into her vehicle unless I preferred to spend the night outside.

After several minutes during which five small children watched me curiously, I was dropped off directly in front of my home. I modestly thanked the woman, and her five kids, for their trouble and kindness. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to find my way home.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes

If you read the title of my post and immediately began humming Julie AndrewsMy Favorite Things, then we have that in common.

If you didn’t, add The Sound of Music to your Netflix queue without delay.

It’s Friday, I left work early, and before picking up the boys, I ran four miles in the rain. It was great.

There are a whole lot of things going on right now that aren’t so great. Some close family members are struggling with their health and well being. Financially things are tight, and I’m seriously counting down till we no longer have to pay for full time childcare. It’s grey outside (as usual). We don’t want to live on our street anymore. And a small group of men are attempting to make powerful and life-altering decisions about critical reproductive services on behalf of – yes – the women for whom they are most relevant.

Frankly, it’s quite discouraging.

But the weekend is upon us, and since I took a mini-holiday this afternoon, I’m delighted to share a few of my favorite things with you in my journey to finding joy. There is one rule to finding joy today, however. I am not permitting myself to indulge in highlighting those things that are not within my reach right now (i.e. margaritas on a warm, sandy beach; trips to New Orleans, 90 minute hot stone massage). Instead, I walked around my house and yard looking for what brings me pleasure.

Here is what I found:

A mug of steaming Stumptown Coffee is an excellent way to begin the day, and my husband is a wonderful barista.

One of my dearest friends gave me these boots last year. They are quickly becoming indispensable and I always think of her when I put them on.

It makes me feel good to feed the birds.

Last night I started reading my eldest son his very first chapter book!

Post-Valentine heart balloons still provide a burst of cheer in the living room.

Red potatoes with homegrown rosemary will taste good tonight.

My runnning shoes served me quite well this afternoon.

My son made an awesome map this week.

There are signs of spring in our backyard!

Linking up with finding joy today!

friday favorite things | finding joy