Monday, September 28, 2009

Unexpected gifts and their effect

This September has been full of hard work and even more full of unexpected gifts.

Here is how it started. The first day of school, there was a card and gift in my mail box from Will's mom (Will of Poetry Out Loud fame). Just a lovely little set of desk notes and a card that said: "Thanks for everything you do. Have a wonderful year."

I thought: how beautiful is a gift that totally surprises you, something unexpected and for no occasion?

The next week, my former student Grace showed up at work to have lunch with me. She brought a little gift bag with her that had two CDs she had burned for me and some John Freida eucalyptus shampoo and conditioner. Her card said: "I hope you don't think it's weird that I bought you shampoo and conditioner. But I remember that you talked about how much you love eucalyptus in class and this reminded me of you." It is good stuff. Takes me right back to California.

The very next week I was cruising out of work early because I had a terrible migraine. I stopped in the office to find a yellow envelope stuffed in my mail box.

I took it to the car and opened it. A book. From James, whom I had taught for 3 out of his 4 high school years, now a freshman at Tulane in New Orleans.

We had both been huge fans of this amazing book, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. James went to hear the author speak and bought me another book of his,

and had it signed for me.

The next week, my friend and colleague Tori brought me a cute pair of new Merrell shoes that didn't fit her right. But they fit me right!

That was 4 unexpected gifts in 4 weeks. I started to think I was experiencing some sort of karmic payback for something.

Then this: Last Saturday, I left my house at 5:15 am in the dark and cold to meet up with my friends for our 20 miler. I was nervous and edgy.

As I was pulling out of the driveway, my headlight beams illuminated some white paper fluttering on my porch. I knew before I even got out that my friend Kim (she who loves and cares for my children) had paid a visit to my house the night before. Vintage Kimmie. How thoughtful is that? Yes, it made me cry.

Besides feeling incredibly grateful and lucky for the people in my life, and for this pleasantly surprising string of gifts, I also feel tuned into my life in a slightly different way.

I have been noticing "gifts" everywhere I look. I've been keeping track of them in my head.

Coming home to a sparkling clean house and dinner in the oven, having a student say "I love this class," having my kids spontaneously fed home-made pizza for dinner at an afternoon playdate at the Carvers, feeling energized for teaching by singing really loudly in the car on the way to work, the daily emails I exchange with my sister, hot showers, amazingly cool sleeping weather, my kids crawling under the covers with us for family snuggles.

and today, a pot of mums from a friend. For no reason.

So many good, good things, especially when I'm paying such close attention. I've been storing up ideas for unexpected gifts for the people I love.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I turned the corner

The 20 mile run loomed on my training calendar for the last 16 weeks. I talked and thought about it way too much, read articles describing how the 20 miler causes "mental anguish" and how to avoid becoming discouraged by how hard it seems.

I was also sick during the week I was supposed to run 18, so I had missed that important run, and wondered how I would possibly jump from 16 to 20.

Saturday was the big day. Pictured above are my friends Amy, Jen and Christine, all training for a marathon on the same day as mine, though we'll be running it on opposite coasts. When I started out on this 20-week training plan, I didn't know they would be doing all the same long runs as I was on the weekends, and I naively thought I could just tackle them on my own.

Facing 20 miles on my own would have been so painful. So sad. Instead, I had these friends to plan with, get psyched up with, and then run with, four moms on a mission.

We started at 6 am in the cold morning air from Christine's and had chosen to do a 10-mile loop two times, first counter clock-wise and then clock-wise. We had 2 coolers full of ice, gatorade, lunabars, lunamoons, gu's, m&ms, pretzels and bananas stashed about every 4 miles on the course.

The scene was very much what I bet people think of when they picture a fall morning in New England: golden sun, fields of grass covered in white frost, red and orange trees, smoke coming out of chimneys, fog hanging low in the valleys. We strapped our camelbacks on our backs, put on our mittens, and started out.

After a few miles, we started checking in. We all felt strong, confident and optimistic. Someone would say "How are you feeling?" And we'd say: "Awesome." "Good." "Having a runner's high moment." We ran in a pack, or in pairs, or on our own for a while. Talked about our kids, why we go to church, soccer practice, the marathon, which parts of our bodies were starting to hurt.

Toward the end, I got quiet, into the zone I needed to be in and ran the last few miles alone. At mile 17 I saw a spray-painted angel on the road, unless I was hallucinating, and thought about that for a while. At mile 18, I thought about mantras, and the two I usually go to are "Define yourself" which I stole from Deena Kastor, and "I'm running. I'm running. I'm still running." That last one really worked. I swear. It's so simple and funny, yet it absolutely helped me to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

By mile 19, I started to get giddy knowing I was going to finish strong, even though I had serious pain in my hips, lower back and both feet. I was going slowly, but I was definitely going.

When I turned the corner onto Christine's block, my body was hurting, but I was so, so happy. No "mental anguish" here.

Yes, we did.

What is left on my calendar: 3 more weeks of training, all down hill from here. Slowing down, stretching, easing into the big day.

(That was quite a long post about a training run.... HA. JUST WAIT UNTIL THE MARATHON)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Team Cousins, the day after

Sunday, we drove to visit Todd and Michelle and family at the cabin they rented for the long weekend. This is their little spot on the coast:

The kids took about half of the rocks off the beach and threw them off the dock.

Drew and Kyle, such handsome boys.

It is some kind of miracle that Reed didn't take a dive off of this dock.

Skyler showing everyone the crab claw she found.

Todd about to throw baby Jake into the ocean. Just kidding.

Our pretty moms! Can you tell they are sisters???

I have to say I'm proud of Maine for living up to its crisp, beautiful reputation for our visitors.
I'd like to think we have started a tradition of family reunions that involve a running race and lots of rich food. Where will we meet next???

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A year in the making

Exactly one year ago, I posted about running the MDI Half Marathon and said, in that post, that all my running friends should come and run this race with me next year because it was such a beautiful course.

A few days later, I got an email from Michelle, my cousin Todd's wife, who lives in Maryland.
She said that she wanted to start running, (she was not a runner at the time at all, and had a 6 month old son plus three other kids), and wanted to run the MDI Half Marathon with me next year. I immediately wrote back with my most enthusiastic if-I-can-do-this-you-can-too response, and attached the Hal Higdon 12-week training plan. She wrote back and said: "Thank you for taking me seriously! I'm in!"

And so it began. Michelle started running that very week.

Okay, then get this: as I said, Michelle is married to Todd, my cousin who is a triplet (!). The other two triplets are my cousins Tiercy and Paige. We started an email frenzy and got Tiercy and Paige interested too. Pretty soon, Todd jumped on board. The plan was made: All cousins will reunite in Maine in September and run a half marathon together!

When Sam heard the plan, he did the math quickly and realized that while we were running, there would be 12 children combined to take care of, he said: "I'll run it too!"

Soon after the plan was set, we created our own little blog and called it "Go Team Cousins" where we wrote about running, posted running plans, workouts, complained about our bad days and triumphed in our own little successes. Michelle's sister Meredith joined in too and there was much running talk, banter and bonding.

After a year of blogging, our dream of all crossing the finish line together didn't quite work out.
Paige has an injured foot and can't run, and Tiercy very understandably could not, in the end, make the trip from Utah to Maine for the race. And two weeks ago, Michelle had a sudden and very painful knee injury after successfully completing months of training. How totally unfair.

Fortunately, both Tiercy and Michelle were so ambitious about their training for this half marathon, that they were ready months early. Michelle succesfully completed her first half in May, and Tiercy blew us all out of the water in August.

So, this weekend, Michelle and Todd, with their FOUR children, drove 13 hours from Maryland for the race and for a little Maine vacation. Their mom, my Aunt Ann, flew in from Virginia too!
Because Michelle could not run due to her injury, she decided to walk the 13.1 miles instead. I'm so glad she did!

Our first night together:

The kids table

Pre-race dinner.

Getting some baby Jake love.

On race day, Maine put on her best show of September glory.

And the MDI YMCA has a playground where my mom and my Aunt Ann watched the 6 kids. It was a big job! Luckily, the playground was fenced-in and everyone was on best behavior. Here are some pics my mom took:

This is how Skyler feels about Julianna.

Check out the love-clutch she has on Julianna's jacket.

Sam and Todd were too fast to get finish line photos. I'm really bummed, because we've been told that Todd did a cartwheel over the finish line and there is no proof. They both hoped to beat 2 hours, and they did by 10 minutes. Extremely impressive.

With us in spirit, Tiercy and Paige. I believe we WILL all run a race together some day soon.

Post race meal. Todd and Michelle wanted lobsters, so we took them to this place:

the typical Mainey place with lobster buoys and photos of whales everywhere,

and of course, the fish nets hanging from the ceiling. What a nice touch.

The "Lobster Experience" they had been waiting for.

After all of our bellies were full, we headed home, sore and satisfied. I am so grateful to Todd and Michelle for making the huge trip here to do this together. We had a really terrific time.

On the way home:
Hey, wait just a minute. Exactly who ran 13 miles today?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Things that started well and ended badly.

We usually run into the Carvers at Fisher Farm on pick-up day, but I'm never so lucky as to have Maya take my finger and lead me up the hill to the animals.

And this sparkly and bright kind of day is reserved only for Septembers.

And Suzanne got to do hay-bale yoga, a nice back stretch.

And then we all headed down to the house to pick up our vegetables from the shed.

At which point Skyler, my charming and adorable daughter who has, shall we say, a difficult side to her personality, accentuated by spending her days at Kindergarten and being so good and obedient all day and then turning into a loose cannon as soon as we pick her up, spun out of control.

She had misbehaved so badly at last week's pickup (trying to throw the vegetables into our bag?!) that she was told she could not help me this week and had to stand and watch from outside the shed. She screamed and cried and made a scene. So I buckled her into the car, and the screaming got louder and louder. The other happy, organic-vegetable loving farm sharers looked at me with concern. I tried to play it off real casual: "Yep, that's my daughter. She's a screamer!"

The man in front of me, with his silent and neatly groomed 4-year old daughter, said these things to me:
"Wow. Someone needs a nap!"

"She had one," I replied.

"Wow. She's got a set of lungs on her!" and then he added:
"My daughter has only ever done that twice in her life."

"Well, God Bless America," I thought to myself.

She cried most of the way home, and I don't really know what to make of it. She understood why she was not allowed to help me get the vegetables, but she still insists on screaming at the universe about the injustice of her life and letting everyone in a one-mile radius share in her pain.

We did recover nicely that evening and had a long, pleasant chat about how she was going to "try so hard to be a better girl."

Next adventure: First soccer practice! Do you know how happy this makes me?

Showing off her shin guards:

Team meeting: (Christine, doesn't she look like McKayla???)

The girl has some mad skills.

Everything was going so well! She could really dribble, turn, stop, and pass the ball! She ran like the wind!

And then after 30 minutes, the stirrup of her shin guards had already given her a mean blister on her little foot, and I watched her messing with it and then limping, and then once she caught my eye, she started to cry, exclaimed she "couldn't even walk anymore!" and we left in the middle of practice. I carried her off the field on my back in a very teary, dramatic scene.

Here's looking forward to next week! I've already adjusted my strategy for good behavior and happy feet. We'll see if it works.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

a poetic sort of scavenger hunt in the forest

That's what they are doing.

My new Outdoor Lit class, still the brightest spot of my teaching day, has 19 happy students and one happy teacher.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tons-of-fun minus the noise and crowds

This is where I took the kids last weekend.

I was feeling achy and feverish and really hot.

And totally overstimulated by the crowds. And I complained to Suzanne like 4 times that the live music was way too loud.

And how annoying it was that the "prizes" for all the games were "self-service" so that meant that Reed had 9,000 lollipops.

And there were lots of kids pushing to get in the firetruck seat.

But I don't think Skyler and Reed noticed I was grumpy.

And then we went back to Suzanne's and sat in lawn chairs and watched the kids play on their super-sized play structure and drank gigantic iced coffees in their lovely, quiet yard.
That was much better.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fuel Delivery!

3 TONS of wood pellets for the pellet stove...

okay cold nights, you can come now.

Quick question

do you think my big boy red sox underwear look better
with skyler's boots?

or goggles?