Category Archives: Here and Now

The Bracelet

Even though I have a penchant for exaggeration, I did not make up anything in the following story.  I even have a witness.

On Friday, September 16, 2011, I woke up early, kissed Fred as he walked out the door to go teach, and finished packing for my long weekend in Taos with my friend Marty.  I walked the dog, watching the sunrise.  It was a perfect day for a long drive.  The aspens were just beginning to turn in the high country; the clouds shifted constantly and with them the light on the mountains.

As much as I like a long drive, packing is not my strong suit.  Maybe because of, or in spite of, having traveled extensively, I now seem to pack like a Kardashian, minus the Louis Vuitton luggage, publicists and personal assistants.  I took enough clothing for a three-week trip that might include hiking or running in snow, rain or sweltering heat, none of which were actually planned, plus a few cowgirl chic barn dance outfits and the odd black cocktail dress.  While I no longer drink, packing for this weekend trip indicated otherwise.

Once I was on the road to Marty’s house in south Denver, a drive I used to do five days a week, the sea of traffic parted and what used to take at least 40 minutes, took only 19 and I wasn’t speeding.

Marty packed a perfect, tiny suitcase and as I opened the trunk I said, “You know, I want to wear my mom’s jewelry for the trip.”  Marty loves Indian jewelry and I know she wanted to see those bracelets as much as I did.  So after I dug around in the trunk and found Mom’s Navajo squash blossom bracelet, the one she bought in 1954 when she was 20, and her Hopi silver cuff, I slipped them on my wrists.  I always feel closer to her when I’m wearing those bracelets.

We drove out onto I-25 and Marty said, “Hey do you want to take the scenic route down 285?”  Looking at the traffic heading south down the Front Range, I said, “Sure, we’re not in a hurry,” and we headed off on Hampden.  Good conversation and the long, beautiful drive through South Park and the San Luis Valley loomed ahead.

At the base of Kenosha Pass, we were halted by construction for at least forty minutes, maybe longer.  But once we started back up again and the traffic thinned out, cresting Kenosha Pass, with the breathtaking expanse of South Park before us, made us both smile widely.  We passed fresh-cut hay rolled and ready to put up, at least five herds of antelope grazing, and red tail hawks drifted high above us.

We even forgot to put on any music because we were talking, with occasional interruptions to look at the shifting light on the mountains, the rolling rainstorms, yet another herd of antelope, and more hawks circling our journey south.  In no time we were at the junction of Highways 285 and 50, and Marty said she’d never been in downtown Salida.  It was 11:23 a.m. and I took a left towards town.  Sleepy little Salida is no more; and we could not find parking anywhere.  As we circled back away from downtown, I pulled into a side street and parked in the last spot I could find.  We stretched and noticed a small, Italian restaurant across the street.  We walked over and asked the elderly couple sitting on one of the benches outside when the restaurant opened.  “About thirty seconds,” said the woman.  Then she looked at Marty, “What an interesting ring.”  And she noticed my mother’s turquoise bracelet, “Did you know that is Navajo?”  I said I did and asked where they were from.  “Arizona,” she replied.   And with that the doors opened and we all went in.

Marty ordered her food at the cash register and sat down while I went to the restroom.  Then I ordered and, as I was walking towards Marty, I passed the elderly couple’s table.  I don’t pretend to know what prompted me to stop.  I just did.  And I asked them, “Where are you from in Arizona?”  The woman with the snowy white hair smiled and said, “Northern Arizona.”  “What part of northern Arizona?”  I said, now curious.  “Winslow and Flagstaff.”  So I said, “Did you ever know a woman named Nancy Martin?”  The woman looked at me hard and replied, “She was my best friend.”  I smiled, incredulous, and said, “I’m her daughter!”  The man with her laughed and said, “Look at her, that’s Nancy’s smile, of course!”  Turning to me he said, “You look just like her!”  My voice was gone, but then I croaked, overcome, “Oh my God!” and burst into tears.

I tried to compose myself, but that wasn’t happening.  “My name is Marie Drake, it was McHale.  Can I sit down here?”  Which I did and then I jumped back up to tell Marty I’d just met my mother’s best friend.

Their names were Lorraine and Gerry.  I sat with a thud in the extra chair at their table.  “When did you know her?”  Lorraine said, “From the time she moved to Winslow around age 10 until the time she went to the University of Arizona at Tucson.”  1944 to 1951.  Eight years.  I couldn’t control my tears.  It was like something was wrenching loose, something I didn’t even know I was holding onto.

Lorraine teared up too.  She told me her father and my grandfather, Step Martin, worked together on the railroad.  I countered, “Yes, he left the railroad when he got injured, that’s why he was called Step, you know, from the limp.”  “No, no, no”, she said, “He was fired for his drinking and he was a big drinker.  And Nancy’s mother Ruth drank too but I think they called that ‘nervousness’ back then.”

Lorraine talked and told more stories.  The heaviness in the center of my chest, the thing that formed and defined me in so many ways the morning my mother left us in the Philippines when I was ten, started to feel differently, lighter, as if I’d been doing a bunch of backbends in yoga.  Even eating Italian food for lunch, I felt lighter.  So I smiled and cried at the same time, because the world was cracking open.  Here was my mother’s best friend telling me stories about a tall, smart, well-liked girl with who was funny, had friends and dreamed big dreams.  So I listened.  For once.

Jerry said, “Your mom had all that trouble with alcohol and drugs and then the last we heard she was a ski bum.  I couldn’t understand it.  She was so smart and could have done so many different things.  You know your mom had a big crush on me in 8th and 9th grade, but she wasn’t my type, she was so tall and smart and us boys were all scared shitless of her.  Lorraine is my type.  You know Lorraine and I met again at Winslow High School’s 50th reunion of the Class of 1951 and got married in our 70s.  And Winslow High’s 60th reunion is next weekend.  Do you want to come down there and speak to all of us?  Also, I made a DVD for the reunion and Nancy is in it—and at all the reunions she is always on the Gone But Never Forgotten wall.  No one will ever forget your mother.  I’ll send you a copy.”  “Thanks” was all I could manage.  Then Gerry left for a previous commitment.

Lorraine kept talking and I started crying again, falling apart in a small Italian restaurant in Salida in front of people I didn’t know.  But I did sort of know Lorraine.  And she knew my mother when Mom was young and probably happier than most of time I knew her.  Hearing Lorraine talk about the fun they had started to round out Mom’s childhood for me.  The few stories I’d heard about childhood were not good ones.

Lorraine interrupted Gerry leaving and my blubbering, “She was my best friend.  She was a great friend.  I wish we’d stayed in touch more after her first year or so in college in Tucson.  You know she was fearless, right?  When we were sixteen, she drove me to the worst bar on Route 66, where all the Mexican knife fights happened.  She walked right in, bought a bottle of wine from the bartender and walked out.  We drove somewhere and got drunk for the first time.  God she was so smart too, you know she was valedictorian, right?”  “Yes.”  I’d become monosyllabic.

“She was already a drinker in high school,” said Lorraine.  “I’m not surprised,” I managed to say.

Marty decided to go scout art galleries while Lorraine and I sat on the bench outside the restaurant and talked for nearly an hour.  As we walked outside, she looked up at me and said, “My, aren’t you a great big girl.  How tall are you?”  Well 6’1” Lorraine.”  “Nancy was about that size wasn’t she?”  “Yes, 6 feet.”

After sitting down Lorraine said, “I can tell you love her so much.”  I nodded.  “Now didn’t you have a younger brother and sister?”  “Well, no, Mike is 3 years older and Kate is 18 months younger.”  Then I told her how proud I am of them and the families they have and the lives they’ve created.  Lorraine invited us all to come to Salida and spend time with her and with Gerry.  “You know Gerry would never say it but he won multiple awards from the Federal government and the Navajo tribe for his work with the Navajos.  He worked on the reservation for thirty years, maybe longer.  If he set his mind to it he could have been a millionaire!  But he has too big a heart.  Wasn’t your mother teaching on reservations?”  “For a while,” I respond.  “We couldn’t believe she became a ski bum.”  Silently I think about what could have been, but I feel now I was supposed to grow up how and where I grew up.  I finally feel like everything that happened, especially all the painful stuff, gives me so much in the way of experience to help other people.  Plus Mom wanted to have fun, and to impart that to us.  What better way for her to do that than to move to a drug-filled, no boundaries, ski town in the 1970s?

I was thrilled at every tiny bit of new information about my mother.  Lorraine was so generous.  I wanted to ask her everything she could remember.  It was like Mom was standing silently by, playing a loving little trick on me that day, here in the heart of the Rockies she loved.  And just when I was least expecting it, not that I could ever expect something this good.

After nearly an hour I hugged Lorraine goodbye and walked to the gallery where Marty was buying an oil painting of two deer butts.  It was a nice painting, as deer butts go.  We went by Safeway for drawing paper and while I stood in line at the Starbucks there, I saw Gerry again, who told me he was going to send me the DVD he made for the 60th Winslow High School Reunion.  Then he said, “Nancy was a queen, did you know your mother was a queen?”  I shook my head.  Was he thinking she was like a queen because she had a regal bearing I never noticed or was it just the fact of her being six feet tall?  “She was a homecoming queen at the University of Arizona down in Tucson.”  “Really?”  “Are you sure you’re thinking of the same woman?”  I’d never heard this before.  No one in the family had.  Then Gerry added, “You know the last time I saw your mother she was in graduate school at Northern Arizona University in the early 1970s and I was teaching there.  She was going through a bad divorce and told me your dad loved his planes more than he loved her.  I wish we had connected more.”  “Me too Gerry.”  For the second time in 90 minutes we hugged each other goodbye.

The next morning I woke up at 4:30 a.m., unable to sleep.  I’d been thinking about this encounter, my mother’s life, how fleeting our time is here, and how I wished I’d known this younger, happier version of her.  Sneaking out of the motel room, trying not to wake Marty in the next bed, it appeared there was nothing going on in sleepy little Taos at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday.  So I bought bad coffee at a gas station and watched the sun rise.  Then my phone buzzed with an email.   It was from Gerry.  He had attached a beautiful, two-page letter of memories of my mom, two pages that he’d written after meeting me the day before.  He wrote, “

“I want you to know the minute you told Lorraine and me that you were Nancy’s daughter it gave us such joy to reach back and capture once again, for only a short time, that persona that was your mother —a wonderful and unique example of what the crucible of Winslow has produced.”  He added, “I most often clearly see your mother that day in 1947, standing aside one of those little diners prevalent throughout the Southwest.  As I drove those many miles across the Navajo rez I entertained myself with songs that brought back fond memories of Winslow.  “Nancy with the Laughing Face,” (Sinatra’s song about his wife/daughter} was a favorite and always brought a vision to mind of your mother and for some reason, “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” from Broadway’s “Finnegan’s Rainbow” also brings her back in my heart and mind.  It was later in life that I learned your Mom was Homecoming Queen at the University of Arizona that I reevaluated my chance to have been closer to your mother.”

Well I’ve reevaluated my chance to have been closer to her too, Gerry.  What could I have done differently?  Turns out a lot.  But I wanted to grow up and find my own way.  I was exhausted by her, exhausted way before she had cancer or fell into the deep crevice of her drug addiction, the one she never did climb out of.  I’d been taking care of her for a long time in many ways.  We all had.  Parents with mental illnesses mostly don’t mean to do that to their kids, but I sure felt seared with responsibility at young age, and by my late teens I was flat burned out.  I wanted my own life.  I was growing up, which meant growing away from her.  It’s just too bad that occurred in her last years, and that neither of us knew how to talk about it.  Plus I had the epic denial of the young; I assumed we had years and years ahead of us for interesting trips and visits, long talks on the phone, and eventually living in the same area again.  But we didn’t.  And she would not have wanted me to swim around in a sea of endless recrimination, I know that.  It’s a form of self-indulgence too.  So if there ever was a time to forgive myself, it might be now.

When I arrived at my office the Tuesday after the weekend in Taos, there was a package waiting for me from Gerry and Lorraine.  In it was the DVD Gerry made for Winslow High School Class of ‘51’s Sixtieth Reunion.  I watched it right away.  There was mom in a plaid skirt and bobby socks, in Thespian Club.  And again there she was in the group photo for the staff of the student newspaper, The Meteor.  And, to my surprise, a photo of the commencement program from the spring of 1951.  It said, “Nancy Ruth Martin, Valedictorian.  Her commencement address was titled, “Onward with Democracy.”   Finally, there was a photo of her in cap and gown, the future stretching out before her.

The class of 1951 had 76 kids in it and they include whites, Hispanics, two black kids, Navajos, Hopis and mixed bloods.  Lots are gone now sixty years later and I wish Mom wasn’t one of them.  I think they’d better start having a reunion every year.

This is not a story I can tell yet without crying.  And I find each morning, whether I put on a suit or jeans, I wear my mother’s bracelets, bracelets that were on her tanned wrists through thick and thin, from the early 1950’s on.

On the drive back to Colorado, Marty said to me, “Maybe this isn’t about some sort of healing gift for you, maybe it’s about a healing gift for Lorraine and Gerry.  Maybe you’re the gift.”



Filed under Here and Now

New Habits Die Hard

I’ve subscribed to a fantastic blog, Zen Habits, by Leo Babauta.  He recommends getting up a little earlier each day, until one has enough unfettered time in the morning for exercise, writing and/or a spiritual practice.  Because he seems like a really cool guy, I decided to take his advice.  Plus I’ve been lately, as in the last few months, steeped in some dangerously ungrateful, free-floating  feelings of dissatisfaction, chronic hurriedness and Luftwaffe-strafing-take-no-prisoners-irritability.  Good times.

On my new schedule, I am showered and dressed for work, minus work shoes, by 5:45 a.m.  That way I have a leisurely 45 minutes to wallk and run with the dog.  It’s too cold to sweat and although my hair is often smashed down by a hat, it seems to make more sense, for now, for me to be ready for work before I exercise.  I tried it the other way and due to some sort of morning time warp, I found myself constantly in a hurry, trying to simply make it to work on time.  I suppose if I start running more than walking I will have to try the reverse again.

With daylight savings time I was sure I would ease into this new routine with minimal effect.  Instead of waking up a little earlier each day as Leo Babauta suggests, I naturally just set the alarm for an hour earlier and got up like I joined the military.  The ole “Buck Up” approach.  And it’s not working all that well.

But today I had a fun walk-run with the dog as the sun rose in the first November mist.  Granted I looked a little odd in a wool skirt, tights and running shoes, with a wool blazer topped off by a ball cap, but it was dark, then barely dawn.  Maybe my inner Babushka needs to come out to play.  At any rate I came home in  plenty of time to drink coffee, eat some oats cut with quinoa and a tablespoon of almond butter, and drive off to work so early I was stress-free.  But it was in my blissed out Zen state that I misplaced my cell phone, drove back home, still couldn’t find it and drove off to work, barely making it, all the while saying the F word repeatedly.  Not very Zen of me.

Now I just need to figure out how to incorporate writing into this new schedule.  Leo Babauta has advice on that too.  He is a writer who never copyrights anything he writes-not his blog posts nor his  his books.  And yet people are buying his books by the thousands, taking his seminars and signing up for his blogging bootcamps.  This is a man with, if I read the numbers correctly, over 200,000 people subscribing to his blog, Zen Habits.   I don’t understand.  And he appears to sail through all of this with what I perceive to be astounding serenity.

Back to my new habit of arising long before dawn.  It’s not working all that well because I seem to need to go to sleep around 8 p.m., which is not practical given my burgeoning holiday social schedule.  And I am fatigued much of the time, but that might be because I recently started eating about a pound of organic kale every day.  Superfoods can make you detoxify and detoxification can make you feel tired.  Then you become Super Food Girl.  While I’m only on day 4 of my delicious kale plan, I already feel better.  I am also so full of kale I don’t have an appetite for things that aren’t good for me.

My fatigue starts to set in just after 10 a.m. now that I am trying to be like Leo Babauta.  And as a 6’1″ woman, it is difficult trying to be a short, bald man from Guam.  Plus fatigue early in the day is not practical since there is an expectation by my employers that I will work at least seven hours past 10 a.m.  Maybe it will just take a few weeks to get in the swing of this new schedule and the kale munching, but I am determined to build these small changes into habits.

Also, if Super Food Girl keeps eating kale every day and getting up early, she will become an incredibly prolific writer, or at least get that damn book proposal finished and off to the very important person who was interested back in August.   So tomorrow I will rise a little earlier and write a little more.

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A Partial Bucket List

Travel Europe.  I did this while living in Paris 1983 to 1984, even going down into Morocco on an epic adventure.  I went back a few times in the years after, once for an ill-fated semi-blind date with a Mr. Wrong.  We made the best of it though, driving from Brussels to the border of then-Yugoslavia and Albania (and back), alternating between screaming at each other and nodding off in drunken stupors.  Heaven it was not.  I want to go again, this time with Mr. Right and he wants to go too.

Live in Paris. Well I did this but I want to do it again, even if it’s just part-time.  I love it there.  I am the giant Ugly American who sticks out like a circus freak among the tiny, chic women of that city.  I want to walk all over the city and sip espresso and write.  It’s not that I don’t love Paris in the springtime but I especially love it in the dark, rainy winter when there are few tourists and all the side streets seem full of mystery.

Own a dog rescue place. This makes traveling to Europe and/or living in Paris problematic.  It would also mean moving out of my townhome and possibly my town, given the municipal ordinance that limits domestic pets to 3.  But I go to the website “Big Dogs Huge Paws” at least once a week and wish I had 17 22 or so Saint Bernards to take care of.  Naturally I would outsource the dog shit cleanup.

Kayak Prince William Sound. I did this once with a nice man.  It was 1992 and I thought he might be The One but after we rafted a fly-in glacial river 100 or so miles it became pretty clear we were not all that compatible.  Also when he and his friends drank they tended to pitch forward into the campfire singeing off eyebrows and other facial hair and I tended to be the only one to pull them out of said fires.  I would like to go back there, again with Mr. Right this time, and maybe kayak again and see that amazing place.  Might skip the 100 mile rafting trip because after a few days in a dry suit romance is the only thing that is sure to evaporate.

Raft the Grand Canyon from Glen Canyon Dam to Lake Mead. I got to do this a year ago and it was amazing.  Even all of the Mormon Eagle Scout guides were wonderful.  Not a polygamist among them.  My brother, his wife and their daughter were the best part of it, oh and the incredible healing that occurred while we were completely unplugged from computers, cell phones and electricity of any kind.  Something about being deep in the great gash of Mother Earth’s holy crotch split us all wide open.  I connected there with something that moves me 12 months later and I will always love my brother Mike for taking me on that trip.  I want to go again, this time with not only them but my sister, her family and Fred.

Tell each and every family member how much I love them.  I try to do this as a matter of course as much as possible but I can always do it more.  It is the truth, even in the complexity of our dysfunction and I hope they all know that.  I will just keep saying it.

Show it too.  This is the great rub of it all isn’t it?  So I need to do the little things.  Offer to pick up my nephew when my sister is pressed for time.  Empty the dishwasher instead of plotting how to manipulate Fred into doing it.  Listen to my dad instead of plying him with solution after solution of what he should do and be doing for his knee replacement.  I am supposed to be of love and service.  That is the great launching point, and one I forget the fastest.

Run a railroad. OK, I just like the way this sounds.  I don’t really want to do it.  Seems like a big hassle and kind of a dirty job.

Run for president.  Well I did and it was a disaster.  I was drunk with power from the get-go, arbitrary and capricious, Kim Jong Il without the giant standing army and all the starving civilians.  You see, some years back I was president of my homeowner’s association.  I pulled a Sarah Palin to everyone’s relief  and bowed out after completing only 2 years of my 3-year reign of terror.  In my 16-town home community those 2 years are still known as “The Dark Time.”

Be a Rockette.  There are no 6’1″ 47-year old Rockettes except on Halloween.  I didn’t say I wanted to do high kicks at Radio City now did I?  I also understand the window of possibility regarding me doing high kicks at Radio City may have closed some time ago.  Besides, the tallest ones are shrimpy 5’9″ types.  Bastards.

Sky dive.  Fred does not like the idea.  Also when I’ve mentioned it to the Colonel he tends to raise his voice and say, “I’VE HAD TO POUR GUYS OUT OF THEIR BOOTS BECAUSE A ‘CHUTE DIDN’T OPEN SO KEEP THAT IN MIND.”  Thanks dad.

Do something in a band.  I am unable to sing except off-key and do not play an instrument although I owned castanets for a short time as a child.  Maybe being in the First Annual Crested Butte Air Guitar Contest in 1978 counts for something.  During that award-winning performance (my band was the only entry), I, as the drummer, fell backwards off the flat-bed semi truck stage nearly pulling off a Keith Moon but I didn’t die from my alcohol poisoning.  The lead singers, my sister and Brenda Bundy, were wonderful.  Our signature song was, “You Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee” which was perfect for Crested Butte at the time.

Run from Gothic to Crested Butte on the 4th of July.  I may be walking a bit of it but I will be doing this on July 4, 2010.

Run the Chicago Marathon.  I’m signed up for this 10/10/10 race.  I managed to get to only mile 18 in 2007 when the mayor and the race director called the race due to heat and over-flowing hospital emergency rooms.  Pissed me off.  I have the stupid medal but it’s like a Barry Bonds medal, with a giant asterisk from a Sharpie because I couldn’t stand having it say “26.2 miles”.  So I’m going to finish it this year.

Cook a perfect souffle at high altitude.  This sounds good too and my mother did it once, in the fall of 1972.  The chocolate souffle blew our minds but as she was lifting it out of the oven she dropped in a big pan of dirty dish water.  Her reflexes were like that of a cat, or at least a cat who wants chocolate souffle, because she snatched it out of the water, rinsed it quickly, dusted it with powdered sugar and served it up.  I remain impressed by this feat and hope to repeat it, minus the detour in the sink.

Travel through Southeast Asia.  We spent two and a half years in the Philippines and went to Thailand during that time but I was a kid so I want to go back.  Maybe skip Thailand until things calm down there.  Also they just discovered a new species of monitor lizard on the main Philippine island of Luzon, and this spotted, fruit eating creature averages 6.5 feet in length.  I’d like to see one in person.

Scuba dive.  I was certified at 12 and went with my dad and brother to the South China Sea for 3 days of diving in another epic adventure I will never forget.  Somehow I let 32 years slip by without donning tanks and a respirator so I’d like to give it a go again.  Scuba is an expensive sport though.  Also I may have to get re-certified even though I still have my PADI card.  I think equipment may have improved in the last 32 years.

Be really good at something. I know I need to be more specific here.

Write a book.  I thought I did this but all I did was get a draft on paper.  So really I’m at the very beginning of this one.

Become completely debt-free, including the mortgage.  We’re on track to have this happen in 7 or 8 years which seems unbelievable.

Not be an asshole.  I was on track to be this for a while and then I was an ass to a fellow ass on the other end of a case yesterday.  He started it, the sexist bastard.  OK, I will continue to work on this one.  I would like to point out that it’s 5:45 p.m. and I have been a non-asshole so far today.

Have excellent posture. This is getting better with yoga and also because now I know how much of a visceral reaction I get standing tall from short, sexist assholes like the one I dealt with yesterday.  So standing up straight is a weapon of choice against these misogynistic throwbacks I run across in my profession.  Have I mentioned how much I love size 11 designer heels lately?

Be accepting with the way my body looks.  I’m not there.  I don’t think I ever have been there.  I don’t know how to get there.

Live in the moment for more than a moment. Again, I’m not there.  I don’t think I ever have been there.  I don’t know how to get there.

Run Marathons on all 7 continents while I’m still continent. I just like the way that sounds.  Also it would mean a lot of interesting travel.  I am not planning on ever losing control of my urethral sphincter.

Paint something I’d like to hang on a wall.  This, like writing, requires a lot of practice, meaning more than 1 Bob Ross wet-on-wet painting class at Colorado Free University.  I hope it happens.

Win trials without second guessing myself. I win a lot but not necessarily because I’m very good, I just have good facts.  Afterwards I always feel like I suck or at least could have done a lot better.  I wonder if I’ll ever just have the easy confidence of, say, a TV litigator like Glenn Close in Damages, minus those pesky ethical problems that follow her around.

Run an ultramarathon. This is just a race that is more than 26.2 miles long.  So there are 50ks, 50-milers, 100ks and 100 milers.  I decided there’s no time like the present so I am eyeing the American River Trail 50-mile race in California in April 2011.  I will have trained for 16 months by the time it rolls around.  I have read ultras are much more mental than anything, which bodes well for me since I am a slow, somewhat shiteous runner.  I do like having that ultra goal in the back of my mind plus the race is near where my brother and his family live.  Although they don’t know it yet, I’m planning on making them crew the race for me.

Do backbends without feeling afraid. I remain mystified why opening my chest and, ultimately, my heart, in this simple yogic way, feels insurmountable and even terrifying at times.  But I will keep trying.  There are lessons there for a tall, stiff woman who sometimes hides her true heart even from herself.


Filed under Here and Now

Am I A Cougar?

That is the question haunting me today.  I’ve continued with my low heart rate training a la Dr. Phil Maffetone and 6-time Hawaiian Ironman Champion Mark Allen.   I did another Maffetone Test, a 5-miler, that showed me my aerobic capacity has improved in the last 3 weeks, if only incrementally. I had to break into a walk more often than I’d like to admit to keep my max heart rate below 133 beats per minute (bpm).

Washington Park was full of happy, shiny people laughing and jogging and playing pick up basketball and soccer.  I imagined them all living in that faboosh neighborhood and I was the imposter.  Luckily around mile 2 it occurred to me this is a public park and I get to be there as a member of the public.

Only one of my mile splits was under 16 minutes per mile, but none were as long as my last set of mile splits 3 weeks ago, where the average was 16.64 minutes per mile.  According to the good doctor Maffetone, my aerobic capacity is therefore improving.  And that makes me full of hope for the feats of endurance looming in my future.  The first one is June 19, 2010, 7 weeks from today.

So on this beautiful evening filled with beautiful, privileged, white people running around the perimeter of the park, I slowed yet again to a walk to keep my heart rate down.  I walked for 20 yards or so, looking at my Garmin often to figure out when I could break into a run again without the damn heart rate monitor alarm going off.  When I looked up I saw some sort of late 20s-early 30s Man-God running towards me with a beautiful Purina Dog Chow commercial worthy Golden Retriever running beside him.  Man-God was scantily clad and in his own iPodded world, looking as vacant as an abandoned parking lot.  He didn’t see me.  But as he ran by me, while I was still walking, my fucking heart rate monitor alarm went off!  I looked around, paranoid, like I was exiting a confessional.  But my “sin” was only that my biology took over and my heart rate jumped at the sight of a beautiful human being.  Still, I was embarrassed.  So for the rest of the run I concentrated on dogs, not people.

I drove home feeling guilty, and thinking I should tell Fred.  First though, I decided to wear the heart rate monitor into the house hoping it would off upon seeing him.  I thought that was the least I could do; to prove to myself that I am simply alive and that I notice big, handsome men, one of whom I’m lucky enough to be married to.  Fred was home when I came in the garage door and sure enough, the heart rate monitor alarm sounded.  I was really relieved to find out I’m not a horrible, cheating, cougar slut.  I’m only human.  That’s good to know.


Filed under Here and Now, Redemption, Running

Feet, Earth, Heartbeat, Breath

Tuesday I took The Maffetone Test, a test from a book by Dr. Phil Maffetone who has coached world record-breaking triathletes like Mark Allen, 6-time Hawaiian Ironman winner. The Maffetone Test involves running 5 miles, after warming up for about a mile, while keeping one’s heartbeat under a certain number in order to avoiding going anaerobic.  Keeping one’s heartbeat at or under his prescribed formula means you are working out aerobically, or with oxygen.  As one improves over time, the ability to go faster at the same heartbeats per minute improves.  For some people it can improve a lot.

Because I cannot possibly become worse at running unless I lose a limb or two, I am counting on Dr. Phil’s (Maffetone, not the blowhard on TV) formula to vastly improve my times in both short and long races.

Dr. Maffetone’s formula is this:  180 beats per minute (bpm) minus your age (me, 47) = 133 bpm.  If you’ve been injured or sick over the past year, minus another 5.  So my maximum bpm to remain within the aerobic zone as a lumbering 6’1″, 200 or so lb, 47-year-old female chasing a perhaps diminishing dream, is 128.  It is also the rate at which my body will learn to burn fat for fuel.  When one is anaerobic, one is burning carbohydrate/sugar and that diminishes muscle or something.  Let’s not forget my first semester at college I was premed but since it interfered with my drinking, something had to go.  Which is why I became a philosophy/French double major, well that and my scholarship transferred to a tiny school in Paris where I thought I might be discovered.  Therefore, buy Dr. Phil Maffetone’s books, go to his website and/or look up triathlete Mark Allen for a much more cogent explanation of maximum aerobic heart rates.

I dug my dusty Garmin 305 out of the closet and charged it.  For the first time I read the manual and set the heart rate monitor to beep at 128 bpm.  Then I strapped on the heart rate thingy and the watch part and headed out into the windy, frigid night, determined to find out if I’ve been running too fast, too slowly or, because I am so naturally gifted and intuitive, just right.

To warm up I jogged 0.8 miles towards the high school where I would test on a 1/4 mile track.  Within, oh, 20 yards of my house, the damn heart rate monitor beeped to tell me I was at 128 bpm.  I slowed to a walk and everybody calmed down.  After a minute or so I started jogging again and within about 50 yards the thing beeped again.  Surely there was some mistake, a woman of my fortitude and natural ability could not possibly be setting herself up for multiple injuries by being anaerobic in the slowest jog ever.  Which of course would mean I was also terribly out of shape.  I began to draft a nasty letter in my head to the Garmin company about their untrustworthy, gimmicky and craptastic gismos when the damn thing beeped again.  It was a good letter.

At the track I put my iPod headphones in 1 ear only and started my laps.  The wind kicked up, some trickster put Eye of the Tiger into my shuffle mix to piss me off and then things got worse from there.  About every 1/8 of a mile the beeper sounded and I slowed to a walk for a bit.  Because there was no light from the moon or a street light, I could not read my Garmin gismo and just had to go with the flow of running endless laps around the athletic field littered with lacrosse balls and other items.

About an hour into it I figured out I was moving at about a 16 minute per mile clip, much more slowly than my ego had been telling me.  The whole exercise seemed meaningless and irritating.  And I was only 4.3 miles into it, including the warm up.  So I took off my shoes and started running barefoot on the cinder track.

Barefoot running is the new thing to do unless you live in a broken glass strewn inner city, which I luckily don’t.  For about 4,000,000 years, give or take 500,000, humans have been running around barefoot.  Around the mid-1970s, shoe companies started making running shoes that had lots of padding and would encourage people to run striking their heels first instead of the balls of their feet.  Running on the balls of your feet puts about 1/3 of the force into your knees and body that running striking your heels first does.  If you don’t believe me google the articles from Science News and other sources.  Better yet, watch a Kenyan or Ethiopian runner.  They grew up running barefoot and even with shoes tend to keep their foot strike on the balls of their feet, not their heels.

After a mile or so the cinders were not much fun so I switched to the spongey, fake grass part of the field.  That felt like heaven, if heaven includes a fake lawn made out of petroleum products.  The beeper seemed to go off regularly at an 1/8 or so of a mile and kept pissing me off but my runner’s high was kicking in, even with the cold and the wind and the lack of light.  The soles of my feet were warm but not burning, alive but not screaming.  They just felt good, whether on the scratchy cinder track or the spongey plastic field.  I was feeling the cold earth and it seemed almost subversive to be out there without shoes, in the dark.

I stopped and walked home and the beeper went off when I was walking up the gentle hill towards my street.  By then I had my shoes on and I was tired.  It was after 8 p.m.  What my Maffetone Test proved was that I was wildly out of shape.  It also showed me that the pace I have been running at for 7 weeks is too fast for now.

Maffetone says that after you build up your aerobic capacity your results will flatten out and that’s when you add speed work, or anaerobic work.  He says doing anaerobic workouts for about 20 minutes twice a week is enough.  Hill work should be added then too.  So I have that to look forward to once  I leave my blistering 16 minute per mile pace in the dust.

I’m supposed to do a Maffetone Test every 3 weeks and should see improvement every time, unless I am sick or stressed or both.  Or eating the wrong foods.  Or not running enough to actually increase my aerobic capacity.  With that in mind, I remain wildly optimistic.  After all, Mark Allen, when he started training under Maffetone, was trying to break 6 minute miles in every workout.  Once he strapped on the heart rate monitor he had to slow down to 8 minute 15 second miles.  After a year of the Maffetone Method he was running 5 minute 20 second miles at the SAME heart rate he was running 8:15s a year before.  And he was also starting to win his 6 Hawaiian Ironmans.

So why wouldn’t this work for me?  I would love to break 6 hours in a marathon.  So I’m going to, by increasing my aerobic capacity per Dr. Maffetone.  I don’t know, I can find no reason why I can’t get a shitload better if I have the patience to stick it out for the first part of the training, the part where I have to readily admit I am in terrible shape.  But I’m in better shape this week than I was last week and soon I will be a fat-burning machine to boot.


Filed under Faith, Here and Now

High Class Problems

I can’t seem to get my ass in gear to complete some fairly simply assignments from my book editor. Yes I’m busier than ever with my caseload at work and now I’m training for a fall marathon three or four times a week.  The running helps me in too many ways to name and is a cure for insomnia.  Plus, please start the violins here or just play a fucking crescendo from the saddest symphony ever, I do all of the shopping and cooking at my house.  Nevermind that Fred does all the cleaning up and deals with the cat litter and trash.

I’m pretty sure if I just won the Colorado Lottery, no, it would have to be the multi-state Powerball, I could finish the rewrites of my book a lot more quickly, in between twice-weekly massages, directing a staff of nice, bright people I hired as part of my philanthropic organization, planning healthy, amazing meals with my gluten-free expert  personal chef, Pietro and writing a witty blog about achieving balance in the midst of instant, enormous wealth.

But at the moment God seems to have a different plan for me, although I keep buying lottery tickets every week.

I met with my high school counselor in the spring of 1980 near the end of my junior year.  For some reason my then-stepmother attended this session with me.  The counselor was tired, overwhelmed and did not seem nearly as delighted with me as I was.  My stepmother had an annoying habit of telling me I would not amount to much and this was my opportunity to prove to her my future was unbelievably bright.  As is often the case, things did not unfold according to my plan.

I began with a concise summation of my excellent, clearly achievable goals:  eventually I would be a full-time, best-selling writer living in a cabin outside of Crested Butte, working the winters as a ski patrolwoman to stave off cabin fever.  To achieve that, I would go to college and medical school, have a brilliant, lucrative career as a neurosurgeon and retire at about 40.  Then I would retreat to my cabin, my writing and my ski patrolling.  I added I had a Plan B, which was, if medicine didn’t suit me, I would become a lawyer, have an equally brilliant and lucrative career (I wasn’t sure what lawyers did so I didn’t elaborate), retire at 40 as planned and write those bestselling novels in my cabin outside of Crested Butte.  I noticed the counselor didn’t seem to pay attention and hurriedly glanced through my file.  He had no superlatives to toss in my direction and instead said in a tired voice,  “You should try to get into community college somewhere to get an associate’s degree in something so you won’t make minimum wage for the rest of your life.  Your grades are OK but don’t show you are particularly talented in anything, or more importantly, focused on any one area.  These disciplinary issues don’t help you at all.  Stop mouthing off.  You excel at nothing, you have no activities listed, no volunteer work and no community involvement.  Colleges are not going to be interested in you, plus, as your mother (I interrupted him to say, “Stepmother!”) said, there’s no money to pay for higher education.”  My stepmother nodded in agreement, looking relieved.  I, meanwhile, was stunned.  I figured Ivy League schools would fight over me once I applied and maybe a scholarship-laden bidding war would quickly ensue.  

As we left, my stepmother told me I would have to live at home with her and the Colonel, work full-time for minimum wage and attend community college.  She reiterated, as she had since I met her in 9th grade, that my financial salvation lay in marrying well.

When I called my real mother, who was in the middle of her cancer treatment doing the Gerson Therapy near Tecate, Mexico, she exploded, “Fuck them, that’s your father’s sexist bullshit permeating this whole bullshit scene!  Don’t listen to another word from Mary or that fucking so-called counselor!”  She made me feel instantly better and we made plans for me to come out there for the summer to help her with her 8 fresh fruit and vegetable juices per day, including raw calves’ liver juice, her laetrile, B-12 shots, organic meals of steamed veggies and brown rice and her endless coffee enemas.  She said, “Ree, this college trip will come together and don’t let the bozos get you down.”

For my senior year I took three AP courses where I got As, volunteered with at-risk kids at a YoungLife camp even though I was faking my Christian affiliation, joined French Club and about 10 other clubs and wrote incredibly bad but often-published poetry for the school’s literary magazine (it helped being a co-editor).  I mouthed off at my teachers less too.  I was wait-listed at Dartmouth and eventually got in but was about $20,000 per year short on tuition and expenses.  But then came the letter from Pacific University, the “safety” school with the nice brochure of a rolling, green campus filled with giant trees and young, happy white people, with a few Hawaiians thrown in for diversity.  A full academic scholarship with conditions, most of which I met during my years there.  So I am grateful for P.U.

Today I want to be able to write that I am grateful all the time for every little thing and all the obvious big things that have led me to this perfect moment on a beautiful Sunday morning.  But I’m trying not to flat-out lie these days.  And rumor has it the truth shall set me free.

Still, if I write a Gratitude List, I get a sliver of perspective for a few moments.  I wish I knew how to make the gratitude I feel when I look at the list last but I don’t.  That I have a really nice roof over my head, food in the larder, a good job, functioning wheels, a host of friends and family that love me, plus that wonderful husband and that I have an editor for my book escapes me too often.  My sense of entitlement can permeate everything like a cloud of pesticide fog and it is just as poisonous.

So today, at least after the U.S. kicks Canadian ass in Olympic hockey, I will do ONE thing on my book and write down a gratitude list, maybe not in that order.

And I’ll also go out and buy a few lottery tickets for Wednesday night’s drawing.



Filed under Backstory, Here and Now

Sugar, Hair Bands and Bears

Last night Fred called me while I was driving home from work and said, excitedly, “I’m walking the dog near the golf course and I see bear tracks!”

“Farquar (pet name), get the hell out of there, it’s probably really hungry if it woke up this early!”

Then, as we used to say on the radio, all I heard was dead air.  Finally, “What are you talking about, why would I be afraid?”

“Because of the bear!”

“What bear?” He said slowly in a patient, Now-Marie kind of voice.

“You said you saw bear tracks.”

“No, I said bare tracks; someone is running barefoot in the snow!”

“Oh, um, cool.  Did you see him or her?”

“No, but the tracks show feet and clearly deliniated toes, human ones that is.”

“Get out.  Hey, look closer for me, is there any pattern or design imprinted in the tracks?”


“Then those aren’t bare feet, those are Vibram Five-Finger foot glove coverings and I ordered some for my birthday, they should be here in March.”

“Well the tracks make it look like someone’s running barefoot in the snow.”

“OK, do we need anything from Whole Foods besides salad and chicken?”

Sometimes I wonder if the way Fred and I communicate is always like this.  Hit and miss, but mostly on my part.  But I think the misunderstanding could be because I quit sugar cold turkey on Sunday and I also took my coffee intake down from about 10 cups a day plus or minus a few shots of espresso to 1 or 2 cups a day without the espresso.  My 3-day headache from sugar and caffeine withdrawal is nearly gone now.  It may have been exacerbated though by my stylish head band that is constricting my cranium and causing a problem in the lobe responsible for communication.

You might be thinking I could simply choose to wear something stylish that does not attempt to painfully re-shape my cranium.  Further, because I am past the end of puberty, my epiphyseal cartilage cells stopped duplicating some time ago and the entire cartilage was, albeit slowly, replaced by bone, leaving only a thin epiphyseal line.  Thus any attempt to manipulate the now immovable bones that make up my skull, even with a very stylish but cruelly designed head band, is not only excruciating but futile.  Sort of like my running career, but I digress.

I can also simply choose not to eat things with sugar in them.  But as devoted as I am to looking stylishly professional, I do not have any withdrawal symptoms if I am on, say, vacation and choosing to not wear my fantastic professional wardrobe and accessories.  I do; however, go through severe (even for a drama queen) withdrawals when I stop eating sugar, which I decide to do every once  in a while, like on Sunday.

Nancy Appleton, Ph.D., author of Lick The Sugar Habit, (get it, get it?), states on Dr. Mercola’s website ( and don’t believe everything you read on that website because he’s always selling something, even his mostly good information), “In addition to throwing off the body’s homeostasis, excess sugar may result in a number of other significant consequences.  The following is a listing of some of sugar’s metabolic consequences from a variety of medical journals and other scientific publications.”

So here is the daunting, dare I say, slightly hysterical, list of the annoying things this Dr. Nancy Appleton states about sugar in her article:

  1. Sugar can suppress your immune system and impair your defenses against infectious disease.1,2
  2. Sugar upsets the mineral relationships in your body: causes chromium and copper deficiencies and interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium. 3,4,5,6
  3. Sugar can cause can cause a rapid rise of adrenaline, hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and crankiness in children.7,8
  4. Sugar can produce a significant rise in total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad cholesterol and a decrease in good cholesterol.9,10,11,12
  5. Sugar causes a loss of tissue elasticity and function.13
  6. Sugar feeds cancer cells and has been connected with the development of cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, biliary tract, lung, gallbladder and stomach.14,15,16,17,18,19,20
  7. Sugar can increase fasting levels of glucose and can cause reactive hypoglycemia.21,22
  8. Sugar can weaken eyesight.23
  9. Sugar can cause many problems with the gastrointestinal tract including: an acidic digestive tract, indigestion, malabsorption in patients with functional bowel disease, increased risk of Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.24,25,26,27,28
  10. Sugar can cause premature aging.29
  11. Sugar can lead to alcoholism.30
  12. Sugar can cause your saliva to become acidic, tooth decay, and periodontal disease.31,32,33
  13. Sugar contributes to obesity.34
  14. Sugar can cause autoimmune diseases such as: arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis.35,36,37
  15. Sugar greatly assists the uncontrolled growth of Candida Albicans (yeast infections)38
  16. Sugar can cause gallstones.39
  17. Sugar can cause appendicitis.40
  18. Sugar can cause hemorrhoids.41
  19. Sugar can cause varicose veins.42
  20. Sugar can elevate glucose and insulin responses in oral contraceptive users.43
  21. Sugar can contribute to osteoporosis.44
  22. Sugar can cause a decrease in your insulin sensitivity thereby causing an abnormally high insulin levels and eventually diabetes.45,46,47
  23. Sugar can lower your Vitamin E levels.48
  24. Sugar can increase your systolic blood pressure.49
  25. Sugar can cause drowsiness and decreased activity in children.50
  26. High sugar intake increases advanced glycation end products (AGEs)(Sugar molecules attaching to and thereby damaging proteins in the body).51
  27. Sugar can interfere with your absorption of protein.52
  28. Sugar causes food allergies.53
  29. Sugar can cause toxemia during pregnancy.54
  30. Sugar can contribute to eczema in children.55
  31. Sugar can cause atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.56,57
  32. Sugar can impair the structure of your DNA.58
  33. Sugar can change the structure of protein and cause a permanent alteration of the way the proteins act in your body.59,60
  34. Sugar can make your skin age by changing the structure of collagen.61
  35. Sugar can cause cataracts and nearsightedness.62,63
  36. Sugar can cause emphysema.64
  37. High sugar intake can impair the physiological homeostasis of many systems in your body.65
  38. Sugar lowers the ability of enzymes to function.66
  39. Sugar intake is higher in people with Parkinson’s disease.67
  40. Sugar can increase the size of your liver by making your liver cells divide and it can increase the amount of liver fat.68,69
  41. Sugar can increase kidney size and produce pathological changes in the kidney such as the formation of kidney stones.70,71
  42. Sugar can damage your pancreas.72
  43. Sugar can increase your body’s fluid retention.73
  44. Sugar is enemy #1 of your bowel movement.74
  45. Sugar can compromise the lining of your capillaries.75
  46. Sugar can make your tendons more brittle.76
  47. Sugar can cause headaches, including migraines.77
  48. Sugar can reduce the learning capacity, adversely affect school children’s grades and cause learning disorders.78,79
  49. Sugar can cause an increase in delta, alpha, and theta brain waves which can alter your mind’s ability to think clearly.80
  50. Sugar can cause depression.81
  51. Sugar can increase your risk of gout.82
  52. Sugar can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.83
  53. Sugar can cause hormonal imbalances such as: increasing estrogen in men, exacerbating PMS, and decreasing growth hormone.84,85,86,87
  54. Sugar can lead to dizziness.88
  55. Diets high in sugar will increase free radicals and oxidative stress.89
  56. High sucrose diets of subjects with peripheral vascular disease significantly increases platelet adhesion.90
  57. High sugar consumption of pregnant adolescents can lead to substantial decrease in gestation duration and is associated with a twofold increased risk for delivering a small-for-gestational-age (SGA) infant.91,92
  58. Sugar is an addictive substance.93
  59. Sugar can be intoxicating, similar to alcohol.94
  60. Sugar given to premature babies can affect the amount of carbon dioxide they produce.95
  61. Decrease in sugar intake can increase emotional stability.96
  62. Your body changes sugar into 2 to 5 times more fat in the bloodstream than it does starch.97
  63. The rapid absorption of sugar promotes excessive food intake in obese subjects.98
  64. Sugar can worsen the symptoms of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).99
  65. Sugar adversely affects urinary electrolyte composition.100
  66. Sugar can slow down the ability of your adrenal glands to function.101
  67. Sugar has the potential of inducing abnormal metabolic processes in a normal healthy individual and to promote chronic degenerative diseases.102
  68. I.V.s (intravenous feedings) of sugar water can cut off oxygen to your brain.103
  69. Sugar increases your risk of polio.104
  70. High sugar intake can cause epileptic seizures.105
  71. Sugar causes high blood pressure in obese people.106
  72. In intensive care units: Limiting sugar saves lives.107
  73. Sugar may induce cell death.108
  74. In juvenile rehabilitation camps, when children were put on a low sugar diet, there was a 44 percent drop in antisocial behavior.109
  75. Sugar dehydrates newborns.110
  76. Sugar can cause gum disease.111

And for you sticklers, all 111 footnotes can be found at Dr. Mercola’s website if you’re interested (I’m clearly not or I would have cut and pasted them here).

Other than those 76 things, sugar is awesome and makes stuff taste really good.  I remain a big fan, but cautiously so, like being a fan of cruel but fashionable hair bands, not the kind from the Eighties like Whitesnake, but the kind that keep your hair out of your eyes while making you look neat and professional.  So just for today, for these 24 hours, I am sugar and hair band free.

Photo below should serve to caution those who think 3 year olds and chocolate are a great mix.


Filed under Here and Now, Sheer Idiocy