Saying thank you for showing up

Sometimes we (and when I say “we” you know I mean “I”) feel a little out of sorts. Reasons vary, or there may be no reason at all.

The natural inclination for us (wink wink) is to go home and eat pita chips instead of going to yoga class because that seems like the only option. Anyway, who would want to be mat-to-mat with a borderline pill?

But I took the chance and I went to yoga. There were 16 people there! SIXTEEN!! My friend Yolanda was one of them, which made me happy. I also saw one of the Cindys, Mary, Angie, one of the Carols (the missing one spells her name with a K), Susan (who I just met last week), some people whose names I didn’t know, plus of course, Jill.

I did OK with balance; my downward dog wasn’t too mortifying. Most importantly, I went — and knew people there. Not all that long ago, I hardly knew a soul. By the time I left Jill’s studio, I’d forgotten all about my blahs, and smiled all the way home.

So for feeling part of something…for knowing names and the very special people who go with those names…and for simply showing up…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for not going farther

I almost talked myself out of swimming after work. Not so much because I was tired, but just…well, just because. Today was plenty busy, but just wasn’t one of my more accomplished days. The few conversations I had were short, and as I headed home, I just didn’t feel especially sunny.

Although I almost just went home, I knew I wouldn’t be sorry if I swam. So I schlepped myself into the locker room, changed into my swimsuit, windmilled my arms first forward and then backward to warm up, did a few squats, and started off. I had a distance in mind — three-quarters of a mile, which is 54 lengths — but decided I’d be fine with 48, or with 20 minutes.

So off I went, alternating six lengths of freestyle and six of just using my arms. Along about length No. 24, I thought, “Hm. Maybe I’ll go a little farther.” I kept going, and when I got to 58,  thought, “I could make it a mile.” I felt strong and knew I could do it, maybe even faster than I have lately.

But I just went two more. I’ve had plenty of times when I went longer than I had planned. So this time, I didn’t. I didn’t stop at Central Market afterward either. I just came home, mopped the floor (which probably gives me more satisfaction than it should), ate the pita chips I need to eat fewer of, and am now reheating the soup I made Sunday night.

For soup, for satisfaction, for stopping because I’d already swum far enough, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for trust

Yolanda, Mike & Liz had trust in each other they'd cross the finish line together Photo: G.J. McCarthy/DMN

Yolanda, Mike & Liz had trust in each other they’d cross the finish line…and me to tell their story Photo: G.J. McCarthy/DMN

You, we, all of us,tend to take trust for granted. That when you tell someone good night, you’ll see them in the morning. That when you start on a run, you’ll make it home safely. That when you play “timber,” you don’t have to turn around to know the person behind you will catch you when you fall. That when you share a secret, it will be kept.

I could go on and on, but quite frankly, it’s dinnertime and I”m hungry. But I did want to mention briefly the kind of trust that I and all other writers must establish with every question we ask, with every answer we write down, with every formation of words we make into the sentences which become a story.

My friend Yolanda is fiercely private. But when I asked her if I could write about her brother Mike, who lost his leg to nectotizing fasciitis last April, and whom she decided should walk a half marathon with her and their sister Liz in January — on Yolanda’s 50th birthday — she said yes. Mike said yes. Their sister Liz said yes.

It’s a tremendous responsibility, an even greater privilege to tell someone’s story, especially one that involves anguish as well as beauty, hope as well as darkness.

So to the Dimas siblings, and to everyone else who has said yes to me, and trusted me because I made them a promise I crossed my heart to keep, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for healthy skin

Runners, I’ve heard, have a higher incidence of skin cancer than a lot of other people. Yes, that’s rather vague, but saves me from having to look up the specifics of that statistic.

The reason is kind of well-duh: We’re outside a lot.

Skin cancer runs in my family. My fair-skinned younger brother has had, as he puts it, “things carved out of my chest.” My cousin had melanoma (caught early, thank God). My dad had several skin cancers; among them, a melanoma (also thankfully caught early).

I had a basal-cell carcinoma removed a year ago last October. It wasn’t that big a deal (again, thank you, Lord!) but I did need plastic surgery — a skin graft from behind my right ear, stitched in a perfect circle onto my nose where the smaller-than-a-pinprick carcinoma was removed.

Anyway, all worked out fine. I love my plastic surgeon, who is a runner, too. Most of my follow-up appointments, we’d talk about my nose for 3 minutes and about running for another 20.

All this to say, today I went to my eagle-eyed and utterly delightful dermatologist, she who had found my basil-cell problem. I actually made the appointment because my side has been itching a lot, mostly at night. My internist deemed the pale rash “nothing serious,” but didn’t know what it was.

So off I went to see Dr. Cather. She diagnosed my side-itch issue with some Latin name; “in other words, cold-weather rash,” she said. She checked the rest of my body, including my scalp, between my toes, the bottoms of my feet, my neck and, well, everywhere.

“All healthy,” she said. “Everything looks great.”

I left feeling relieved and lucky, with the itch all but forgotten. So for that; for sunscreen; for smart and personable and caring doctors, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for secrets of the sky

Sky Jan 26 14

For the first time in quite a few days, I wore no jacket when I ran, capris instead of tights, and I almost took off my gloves after a few miles. Though I donned a denim jacket to wear to church (yes, my church attire is about as fancy as most of my other outfits), by the time I walked out of the chapel, I didn’t need it.

I stopped at Starbucks, then sat on my patio drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. After yoga a few hours later, I was driving home and could hardly keep from staring at the sky. Every few hundred yards, it seemed to change, becoming just a bit more breathtaking.

As I may have mentioned once or twice or 497 times, I am a weather watcher. So I know that less than 12 hours from now, today’s and Saturday’s warm temperatures will seem like a sweet spring dream.

This is the kind of thought that makes me harken back to pioneer days, when there was no Traffic & Weather Together on the 8s, no Weather Channel, no

The Cartwrights and Rowdy Yates and those bonnet-clad women on wagon trains probably savored such warm temps thinking, “Ah, spring is here” — only to be awoken by blustery winds that all but knocked over the cattle they were herding and blew their corn pone several counties away.

My father, God bless him, had a fascination with and an inherent knowledge of clouds, of storms, of sunshine. Among his many catchphrases was this one: “Ah, honey,” he’d say, “the weather is always changing.”

We can look at the sky — at ourselves; at our lives — and see what we think will stay the same for a long time, perhaps even forever. But everything is always changing, at times in ways we’d choose; at others, leaving us a bit perplexed.

Dad for his part, could probably have looked at today’s sky, let out a big sigh of gratitude and amazement and, without even seeing the five-day forecast, remind me to enjoy today’s warmth now. I however, cannot; thus my relying on — well, you know — those chief meteorologist types, especially since my dad is no longer here to offer his observations.

So for looking to the sky, and for the secrets and the magic it holds, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for counting on the future

In a few months, the sunflowers on Mom's windowsill will be tall as she is

In a few months, the sunflowers on Mom’s windowsill will be tall as she is

I wore tights on my run today, because the morning dawned pretty briskly. But the sun was rising, making promises it would heat the air come afternoon…which it did. So I decided, after reading the announcement in our church newspaper, to call my mom and see if she wanted to help plant a community garden.

My mother is an avid gardener whose thumb is as green as — oh, whatever that winter grass is that looks like the color of a crayon. Were I to tell you the street on which she lives and say, “It’s the apartment with the flowers,” you’d find it more easily than if I had given you the street number.

I knew Mom would be working in the yard today, so I wasn’t surprised she didn’t answer the phone. The volunteer project at church started at 1 p.m. I finally reached her about 12:20.

At first, she hesitated, saying she’d worked all morning in her yard and didn’t know if she was in the mood to go plant some more. I said that was fine; whatever she wanted to do. Besides, I said, I’m almost positive this will be an ongoing project.

“Oh, let’s go,” she said.

We got to the garden site around 1:30, signed in, and were handed brand-new trowels, gloves and onion plants. The soil was really nice and sandy, so we could make inch-deep lines into which we put the onions and later, when we ran out of those, carrot seeds.

Mom and I had it easy, quite honestly. At the other end of the raised bed where we worked, other volunteers were shoveling mounds of dirt into wheelbarrows and then carting the loads to other areas. But Mom and I we could sit, or stand if we so choose, with hardly having to move any body part but our arms and wrists.

Eventually, the area where we worked will be beautiful, with raised beds for vegetables and shrubs lining the property. Right now, there’s a chain-link fence, weeds everywhere, a few portable storage units and pieces of glass here and there.

But Mom could see past all the ugly, past the crummy buildings across the street and the questionable people wandering along the sidewalks. Instead, she marveled at how this will look when it’s finished, and how she looks forward to watching the area come together.

We stayed for maybe an hour. I drove her home, to the apartment with pansies in containers and sunflowers growing in pots on her upstairs windowsill. As she walked to her front door, she stopped to admire, as she always does, the skinny trunks and seemingly dead branches — seeing not the dormancy, but the tiny, tiny buds that signify life.

So for life; for sunshine; for the promise of flowers and onions where right now there’s not much more than dirt…and of course, for her sweet mother’s optimism, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for randomly crossed paths

tomato can

If I hadn’t bought tomatoes, would my Central Market visit have been the same?

I am, first and foremost, thankful today that I didn’t lose my fingerprints to frostbite. My run was ever so Antarctic, but, thank heavens, windless and still. I layered up,  including two caps and two pairs of gloves. But good heavens, it took eons (translation: OK, maybe 10 minutes, tops) for my fingertips to defrost.

Brr. Enough about that. My day continued and my fingers thawed enough for me to type and to work. Late afternoon, after my haircut, I went to Central Market. Today was payday and thus my bigger shopping day.

The young woman who checked me out saw my canned tomatoes and asked if I’d ever tried the kind with olive oil and basil, I think. I said I’d almost picked that can up, but instead opted for the fire-roasted.

“I make the best soup, and so easy, with those tomatoes,” she told me. She heats a can of tomato sauce, two cans of the tomatoes she’d mentioned, then adds spinach and oregano. Sometimes she adds bell pepper; other times, she doesn’t.

“My mother told me how to do it,” she says. “It takes about 15 minutes and costs just about $5 for everything. Plus, it lasts about a week.”

It sounds delicious, I told her. My cart was still half-full, so we kept talking. I asked if she was in school and she said yes, that she’s studying early childhood education. For some reason, we began talking about music. She told me, kind of shyly, that she was thinking of minoring in music.

“Do you sing or do you play an instrument?” I asked.

“I sing,” she said. So do her brothers, she told me. But from what she said, I got the feeling she was the one with the more natural talent.

“You should go for that minor,” I said. “What’s keeping you?”

“I don’t like to fail,” she said. “If I started and didn’t do well, I’d be so mad at myself.”

“If it’s something you really love, and I can tell it is,” I said, “maybe you owe it to yourself to at least look into it a little.”

Thinking of our encounter now, I kind of think I should have said more. Not just about singing, but about failure. That when you’re young with that whole yellow-brick road in front of you, go ahead and take a few chances. Everyone fails; usually, way more than once. Although you may not believe it at the time, those disappointments will make what you deem to be a success — and there will be plenty in the category, too — all the more sweet.

And if you end up doing something you love AND that pays the bills, you are one very lucky person.

Not like I am a font of wisdom; not in the slightest. But talking to her made me realize that not only the young need take chances; I have a few I need to take, too.

So for that serendipitous encounter, and for an unexpected recipe; for the inhale-deeply promise of youth, and the exhaled reminder of still having choices to make, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for braving the elements


Sometimes ya gotta wear them both


I am writing this as I gear up for tomorrow, which promises to be as might-as-well pop-me-in-the-freezer as today was. Though the winds won’t threaten to knock me to the sidewalk as they did when I headed north and/or east today, the wind chill will hover in the teens.

It was cold (as in bitterly) when I left the house today. Maybe, I told myself as I started out today, because it IS so cold and windy, I’ll cut my run short a little..and yes, knowing in my heart of hearts I probably wouldn’t.

Maybe I stalled a little, but not for long. I knew what I needed to do, and that the sooner I started, the sooner I’d finish. So I went because — just because. As I ran, yeah the wind almost blew my eyelids shut. But I was thankful there was no ice and that I could hear my feet pounding because I wasn’t wearing my iPod…not that I had tossed it into the washing machine with my load of clothes or anything.

I was attired as best I could be, so what could I do but go? Besides, this is what I do. Some days are easy; some less blustery than others. Freezing temperatures make some mornings tough; heat waves, some others. And on oh so many, I feel as if I could run forever.

Today wasn’t one of those. I was happy to be finished, and, quite honestly, happy at the prospect of starting again tomorrow. And for that, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for (unexpected) stillness

After midnight, the winds will pick up. Hey, I know these things; I’m an avid hourly forecast watcher; I am addicted to Traffic & Weather Together On The 8s.

When I went out this morning to run, clad in my trusty windbreaker, hat my dad gave me etc., I was expecting wind today, too. It was my fighting companion on Tuesday, and I  figured it would be today, too.

Well, I was, I’m happy to say, wrong. The morning was still; it was starry, both of which more than trumped the not-so-biting cold. I had a beautiful run.

So for unexpected stillness, and for stars that guide my way, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for appreciating others’ prowess

I almost skipped yoga tonight, thinking  — excuse me while I stifle a snort laugh in retrospect — that, because I was tired, my mind and body would be best served by staying home.

But I got home from work in plenty of time to feed the dogs, start my dinner, get a few things ready for tomorrow…and thus, to get to yoga on time. I parked my mat next to an empty one, which was quickly occupied by a graceful woman (and, turns out, yoga instructor) I’d met at a previous class. I tried not to notice that when she did forward fold, her elbows were practically on the floor (my fingertips didn’t quite reach). She eased into downward dog like she was floating through the air.

Not that I was paying attention or anything.

About three-fourths through class, we did yet another downward dog. This time, we lifted first one leg and then the other, “high into the air,” said Jill, my soothing, challenging, enlightening, inspiring, knowledgeable instructor.

When I lifted my right leg, I felt my toes slightly scraping the floor. I happened to turn (unintentionally of course) and glanced at the woman next to me as well as — well, just about everyone else it seems — whose legs were skyward, whose bodies formed perfect 45-degree angles.

Not that I was paying attention or anything.

But maybe it was good that I was(n’t) glancing at anyone else. To be perfectly honest, I rarely do. But tonight when I did, I realized something. Instead of comparing myself to everyone else, I was admiring their abilities.

So for the prowess of others, and the maturity to admire it instead of berating myself for lacking it…The Grateful Runner says thank you.