The Races We Run

 

lk wildernessIt’s been another amazing Seattle summer with luscious sun, warm evenings and precious time outdoors. Us locals wait all year for this perfect weather, and waste no time in using it to full advantage. The gyms are empty and the trails are full of joggers, walkers, and bicyclists. Lakes are crowded with canoes, kayaks and swimmers—exercise in any form happens OUTSIDE. I spent the first two weekends of this spectacular season involved in two races; each with a unique purpose; both of which left an impression on me.

The Lake Wilderness Triathlon is an annual event hosted by my former personal trainer. She uses the event to raise money for charity and also as planned torture for anyone fit enough (or crazy enough) to join in the fun. Having experienced the thrill and pain of competing several years ago, this time I volunteered to help keep the runners on course. Rather than swim ¼ mile in Lake Wilderness, followed by a 12 mile bike ride and finishing with a 3 mile run (also known as the “sprint” distance)—I opted to wave a little orange flag and cheer on the participants. My arranged station sat less than a half mile from the finish line. As runners approached, their reaction to seeing me was as varied as their fitness and enthusiasm. Some runners were poised and steady in their stride and barely acknowledged me as they ran onward—eyes fixed on the horizon. Others looked to me for direction and guidance, feeling the strain of the race increase with each footfall and gulp of fresh air. Still others struggled forward, desperate for reassurance: “how… much… further?” I felt an amazing sense of satisfaction from cheering on the runners—knowing they were in the home stretch, empathizing with the pain each must have felt in their feet and burning lungs, excited to imagine each of them crossing the finish line.

The following weekend, I spent 24 hours walking at a high school track for our local American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Gathered for a completely different reason, I relay for life picjoined hundreds of cancer survivors, caretakers, family and friends to celebrate, remember and fight back. The event ran from 12 noon on Saturday to 12 noon on Sunday, designed to represent a day in the life of someone fighting cancer. In this race, the medals are given out to the survivors before the first lap is run. After their triumphant survivor lap, the clock starts and everyone walks, skips or runs around the track, over and over and over. The afternoon dragged on, hour after hour, as the temperature continued to climb. We rested, we drank bottle after bottle of water—motivated to carry on and just keep walking. As the daylight finally released its hold on the day, the track took on a different look lined with luminaries each dedicated and decorated for someone who faced—either survived or lost the battle with cancer. We walked into the night in silence to the stirring sounds of bagpipes. Just kept walking. Around and around and around. Some walkers stayed all night. Others left and returned with the sunrise. How much each relayer walked was as varied as the reasons for taking part. We just kept walking until the 24 hours was complete. The whole affair took on an anti-climactic feel as everyone packed up their folding chairs, coolers, tents and shade canopies. We all returned to our homes, plans for the weekend, and cool showers without any fanfare.

The analogy of life being a race is not a new idea. From the Tortoise and the Hare’s message of “slow and steady wins the race” to inspirational stories of speed and endurance from the world of sports—the concept of running your best race is common fodder for motivational messages. It’s true that our journey through life can be likened to multiple races with varied purposes and outcomes. Yet in every race we run, we find comfort, finish-linedirection and inspiration from those who guide us, push us and chart the course.

In some races we watch the clock and attempt to beat our best time—in other races, it’s the distance we travel that matters and time melts away into a blur. Some races we run for ourselves. Some we run for others. And in every race, the true reward comes with the feeling that accompanies pushing yourself beyond what you thought possible.

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From Video Stores to Food Replicators

ImageIt was hard to miss the neon yellow sign along the side of the road this afternoon:  “Blockbuster Video Store Closing.”  I resisted the urge to pop into the store for any must have DVD’s for my home library and instead began a dialog with the little voice in my head sounding a little too much like my Grandmother, recounting tales from the old days.

I remember when video stores were cool.  Seriously.  My college roommates and I shared a TV, and we felt lucky to have about 15 channels to choose from on cable.  VCR’s were

Image more money than our meager budgets would accommodate, so for movie night we’d all chip in to rent a VCR and a few movies for about $10.  The VCR’s in those days were bulky, noisy and complicated, plastered with a large sticker which read:  “Be Kind, Please Rewind.”  One year, after Christmas break, Kim returned to our apartment with a video re-winding machine saving us time when our movie nights included double features.  I felt I had officially crossed into adulthood when I purchased my first VCR.

Blockbuster… our latest dinosaur has been replaced by on-demand alternatives.  When we want to watch a movie, we can’t be bothered to pop down to the video store.  And with a few clicks, our entertainment appears on any one of a number of our screens.

We are all witnessing the rise and fall of technologies as our society continues to spin faster and faster toward the world of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.  Less than ten years ago, I watched Captain Janeway and her crew of Voyager tap on pads for reading/data storage that were no larger than my smart phone

Image

or iPad.   I remember thinking a computer on a flat surface not connected somehow to a keyboard was too far out… impossible.  Silly me.  Food replicators can’t be too far off—I can’t wait to equip my kitchen with one of those! “Computer, chicken tikka masala with jasmine rice and naan bread please.”  THAT would be a better time-saver than Kim’s video re-winding machine!

There’s no denying we live in a remarkable age with innovations designed to make our lives easier.  A world of information literally at our fingertips.  Google knows.

Perhaps we can learn a lesson from the video stores.  That it’s important to stay fresh and innovative.  To seek out new solutions to old problems.  To boldly go where no one has gone before!

“Not until the pain of the same is greater than the pain of change will you embrace change.”    —Dave Ramsey

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The Only New Year Resolution that Matters

tiggerGood-bye 2012.  Letting the old year die comes fairly easy for me this year.  The winter storms that began to swirl and pound and shatter in January 2012 carried with them fear, pain and loss.  Supporting my partner through a fight with breast cancer.  Transitioning away from a comfortable job.  The sudden loss of dear Sheila, my partner’s mother.    For several long months, the sky seemed so dark and gloomy that even my inner Tigger found it nearly impossible to cheerfully bounce.  I hoped for a break in the ferocious winds.  I prayed for clearing skies.  I believed, deep in my heart, that the sun would return and warm me from the inside out.

Miraculously, as the calendar clicked past May, summer arrived and stayed—Seattle nearly broke a record for consecutive number of days without measurable rain (48 days), and the sunny streak continued well into October.  The renewal of summer cast the darkness of winter away, as flowers, grasses, shrubs and life blossomed.  I spent my time in nourishing sunshine and long afternoons reflecting and healing, tending to our backyard garden, re-staining the deck and visiting with family and friends.  I took a two month sabbatical from my career and embraced the people in my life with all my might. I opened up and allowed my circle of friends, acquaintances and family to nourish me with their love and laughter and loyalty.  My Tigger reserves replenished, by September, I was cheerfully bouncing again.

back deck 2

The journey of 2012 reminded me of three of life’s ultimate truths:

1) We are not always in control of what happens

2) Make every moment of every day count

3) Nothing is more important than our relationships

Feeling stronger, I resolved to re-open some doors I’d left closed too long.  In November I re-connected with two of my life-long friends who I had sadly neglected for many years.  Laughter and hugs, smiles and tears as we reminisced made the time and distance melt away.  Both friends have grown into wise and magnificent women.  Both have been shaped by life’s storms and lessons and survived with strength and gratitude.  Both have opened their own doors of opportunity and embraced their life purpose.  I am blessed to call them friends.

Welcome 2013!  As I think about how to begin a New Year and continue to search for new doors of possibility and opportunity—to carve out a new path, I’m reminded of the only New Year Resolution that really matters…

Nourish and care for our relationships with each other

So that’s the sum total of what my focus will be for 2013.  To speak with kindness and love.  To seek out those life lines I’ve neglected. To open my heart to strangers and new friends.  To forgive cross words and old wounds.  To say “thank you” more.  To make time with people more important than time with gadgets and worries that don’t really matter.  To be present with my family.  With my partner.  With the universe.

Welcome New Year!2013

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Consider the Salmon

Northwest Coast

The Pacific Northwest is an amazing place to call home.  In addition to the magnificent and varied pristine beauty—from the rugged coast to the pine and lake-filled Cascades, we are also blessed with abundant natural resources.  My tap water comes from the Cedar River Watershed.  As a result of its underwater glacial springs, the Cedar River is one of the few rivers in the United States used for drinking water that doesn’t require specially fabricated filtration.  No wonder that the Cedar River is also home to Chinook, Sockeye and Coho salmon.  It’s in October that these amazing fish swim home…upstream.

Before moving to Seattle in 1998, I held little appreciation for one of our most famous residents.  Tourism feeds on this fish and people come from around the world to see

Cedar River, WA

fisherman throw salmon at the Pike Place Fish Market, visit the Ballard Locks to hope for a glimpse of a salmon climbing the ladder, or attend the annual Issaquah Salmon Days Festival.

Salmon have been a mainstay food source for both humans and many animals in these parts for eons.  According to Northwest Native Indian legend, the salmon were actually people with superhuman abilities and eternal lives. The Salmon people lived in great houses under the ocean, but since they knew that humans on land needed food, they offered themselves to the land based tribes as food by turning into salmon fish.

I’m even more intrigued by the native symbolism for this special creature.  The salmon spirit is said to signify determination, courage, passion, hard work, transformation, and intuition. When the salmon spirit visits, it seems to me she is teaching us:

  • The most valuable things in life must be fought for-even despite impossible odds!
  • To ignore pressure from others and keep swimming.
  • To follow our intuition.
  • Sometimes to reach a goal, we need to swim against the current.
  • Transformations and renewal can help propel us forward towards our next worthy dream.
  • To not ignore our roots.  To connect with our history.

For all its significance and symbols, for me, the salmon best represents returning home.  Wrapping up in the familiar.  Being at peace after struggling to survive in the ocean. Connecting with what matters and leaving the polluted water behind.  Drinking in the clear joy of life.  Home is where joy resides, and is, as Robert Louis Stevenson observed, ALL.

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Indigo Symphony

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The Honorable and Noble

“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”  — Albert Einstein

After a spectacular and nearly record-breaking summer in Seattle, it’s odd to see the bright school buses scooting around town as the children, sporting heavy backpacks, anticipate another year of learning.  What the eager little people (and the rest of us for that matter) take for granted is that before the dawn of back to school morning, their teachers have been dedicating dozens of their precious summer hours preparing, strategizing, gearing up, and creating an engaging learning environment.  This entry is dedicated to teachers—honorable and noble professionals who do so much more than drill young minds in grammar, mathematics and scientific principles.

I met my favorite teacher in the third grade.  Mrs. Parent.  I fondly remember her smile, her welcoming and cheerful classroom.  In the days way before the web allowed teachers to record grades on-line, she’d send us home each Friday with a hand written progress report, so our parents could stay informed of our scholastic success.  Next to each of the subjects, Mrs. Parent would indicate an “S” for satisfactory, an “N” for needs improvement, and an “O” for outstanding.  And whenever we received an “O”, Mrs. Parent would embellish the letter with a smiley face.  Progress reports with all “O’s” received special praise and rewards both at school and at home.  Mrs. Parent taught us how to sing.  Her 1970’s glittery electric keyboard was off limits for us, but I remember sitting on the floor and learning to sing, “I’m on the top of the world,” and, “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” and “It’s a small, small world.”  Mrs. Parent read to us.  I looked forward to story time just as much as our music lesson. Our imaginations were fed by classics like “James and the Giant Peach.” On rare rainy days, Mrs. Parent would allow some of us to stay inside during lunch—which was a coveted, by invitation only, privilege. Mrs. Parent clearly loved being a teacher.  She made learning real, engaging, and enchanting.  Decades later I remember and appreciate her influence.

In college I met my favorite professor.  Dr. Richards.  She did not embellish her classrooms in cheerful décor.  Nor did we receive weekly progress reports with smiley faces.  However, Dr. Richards amazed me with the depth and breadth of her knowledge.  She quoted Aristotle and Socrates with ease and taught me how to design an effective persuasive argument.  She pushed and challenged my academic curiosity.  I studied more fiercely and fought for every “A”.  And while Dr. Richards had many more than the two dozen students Mrs. Parent nurtured, she still made time to connect and encourage.  Indeed, Dr. Richards helped shape the direction of my career and life’s work.  Decades later, I remember and appreciate her influence.

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called “truth.”  ~Dan Rather

We hear a lot these days in the media about the decline in the quality of education.  Teaching, however, has become a very competitive profession, where many qualified and motivated teachers vie for a limited number of positions.    Teachers are pushed and pressured to mold their curriculum to include little in way of enrichment.  Teachers are asked to conform to standards, provide rubrics and measurement to help ensure “no child is left behind.”  (Or as many teachers will say: “No teacher left standing.”)   What a load of malarkey!  When I think of the great teachers in my life, I recall very little of the specific content imparted.  What I remember is their influence—the experience and wisdom they shared.  Their love for learning.  Their encouragement to not settle for good enough—but to put my best into everything.

Teachers today put up with a much different set of parameters than they did a generation ago.  Yet, these noble and honorable folk who choose to teach are the influencers of the future.  Their task is not easy.  The rewards are sometimes difficult to see on a day to day basis.  Rather than having rules about passing notes, teachers today have rules about iPods and texting.  The world is more complex.  Nevertheless, the need for a teacher’s guidance has never been more crucial.

Hail to the teachers!  May you each realize the profound and real effect you have on lives every single day you spend in your classroom. Happy back to school!

For the rest of us, when we have opportunities to show support of teachers through ballot measures, school levies or political representation, let’s vote for the resources and support to allow real, engaging, and enchanting learning.

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Unbreakable Friendship

Traveling to a foreign country—even one where English is the predominant language fills me with a mix of excitement and anxiety.  As the wheels of the jet touch down after a twelve-hour journey and an eight-hour jump ahead on the clock, I’m aware I’ve left familiar territory and will need to put on my flexible frame of mind.  The British immigration officers are friendly, the baggage claim process familiar—yet the similarities between home and this ancient isle dissipate quickly with each step I take into England.

Not only is the driver’s seat on the other side of the car, the traveling on the other side of the road causes my head to spin and I am unable to predict whether we will turn left or right as we approach intersections.  From the multi-lane motorway to an A-road (1-2 lanes each direction), until we finally turn onto a country lane (one narrow lane TOTAL, with a stone wall lining each side,) we zig and zag among beautiful green fields dotted with cows or sheep or peacocks or bales of hay.

Tea is the beverage morning, noon and night.  Tea is also the evening meal.  Squash is not a vegetable, but a concentrated juice drink mixed with room temperature water.  Ice in your glass?  Not likely.  Pubs are as plentiful as the neighborhood Starbucks at home.  You’ll find Indian Take-Away and Fish n Chip shops for fast food options.  Cravings for more American staples like: enchiladas with guacamole, pizza or a juicy cheeseburger with bacon and grilled onions will have to wait.  Sausages are bangers.  Bacon is barely cooked.  Politicians are plonkers.  And, my lucky mates who make England home are proud to be called British… and are among the most hospitable, lovely people I’ve met.

When people ask what I liked most about my excursion to England, my answer comes easily.  While the medieval churches are awe-inspiring, the country-side glorious, the grand, ornate palaces unforgettable, it’s the warm and delightful people who leave a lasting impression.

“There is no distance too far between friends, for friendship gives wings to the heart.”  -Anonymous

At the home of Heather, Ben and Domestic Don we were treated as family.  It had been a decade since I first met Heather, yet I was welcomed and enfolded with loving kindness and easy laughter.  The years and distance melted away and we simply kept calm and carried on while Domestic Don kept our wine glasses full to the brim.

One Sunday morning I attended a girlfriend reunion at a lounge near the harbor in Plymouth.  This chattering gaggle of smiling women studied at Southway Comprehensive (high school) together.  Laughing as they remembered their rascally youth, and although more than 20 years had passed since they were all together in the same room, conversation came easily. Even though I was the odd duck (and an American), I was treated just like one of the girls.

On the warmest day of the entire holiday, we met another set of friends at the front gates of Hampton Court Palace. Waiting, leaning against the brick wall, I scanned the throng of people heading toward our patch of grass, when it hit me. I didn’t know who to be looking for—as these friends, I had not met.   Cheery smiles and genuine hugs soon found me, and I spent a delightful day talking and laughing with these new friends: a couple who are transplants in London from New York and another childhood friend whose life journey took her from the seaside of the Southwest to motherhood in Kent.  We got lost together in King Henry’s garden maze.  We shared a picnic lunch, whingeing about the fact there was no ice for our lemonade.  The splendid day ended too quickly as we vowed to keep in touch and not let so many years pass before meeting up once more.

In England, wherever we roamed we were spoiled, put in the best spare rooms, asked over and over, “Yeah, you alright?,” while roast lamb dinners with gravy and all the delicious trimmings, barbeques and plenty of tea were provided for our tummies.

And the only difficult part of the trip, really, was saying good-bye, realizing that time and distance would separate us again.  Feeling unsure of when the next hello and loving hug would be.

Friendship that stands the test of time is unbreakable.  I’m always delighted when I find and re-connect with an old friend—and in the age of Facebook—the detective work required has become much easier.  Life carries each of us on a unique journey, yet the magic that comes from reminiscing with a friend from high school, or meeting a pen pal for the first time, or sharing an evening meal with a life-long friend are priceless moments.  When we lose our way, when life flares up in scary, scorching worry, or when we are bursting with joy—our friends, unbreakable lifelines, are those we turn to, and who are there, waiting with a hello and a heartfelt hug.

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”

William Shakespeare

Glossary of Terms:
Country Lane Narrow one lane road where driving is often as fast as the motorway, see also: Fear
Mates Friends
Motorway Freeway, interstate
Plonkers Bloody idiots
Tea The elixir of life, or evening meal, or occasion to have cake in the afternoon, drunk even in 90+ degree weather
Whingeing To complain or protest, especially in an annoying or persistent manner
You alright? Insert after greeting someone, closest translation: “how are you?”

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