Saying thank you for being looked after

Coffee tastes especially good when someone makes sure you get the kind you like

Coffee tastes especially good when someone makes sure you get the kind you like

I love my neighborhood Starbucks. There is something very nice about knowing the names of the baristas whose shifts coincide with your stop-by time. Having them call you by name, too, makes the visits doubly nice.

The manager, Jason, recognized me from the times I used to stop by the Preston Forest location after dropping my son at school. His memory is much better than mine; he brings up names of his former co-workers, but none ring a bell. Still, it’s nice to have that connection, that bit of shared history.

I don’t get by my Starbucks nearly as much as I’d like. My stops tend to be after a swim, which is also after yoga on Saturdays and after running and church on Sundays. I am a boring order. I look steadfastly up at the menu above the bakery items, noting the seasonal drinks as well as the tried and true.

When it’s my turn, if Jason or Susan (whose visor-wearing prowess I alternately admire and envy) is working, they’ll say, “Tall bold today, Leslie, or grande bold?”

What size, yes, my big decision.

I went in on Friday and the store was pretty busy. Jason was doing managerial things and Susan wasn’t there. But when Jason saw me, he said to the young man who was working: “Grande bold for Leslie. No room.” (As in no room for cream)

The barista (baristo?) dutifully filled the cup. As he popped a green mermaid stick into the hole on top so coffee wouldn’t slosh onto my lap as I drove home, Jason suddenly turned from what he was doing, looked at the label on the coffee urn and then at me.

“Wait!” he called. “That’s Italian Roast! You don’t like Italian Roast. I don’t like Italian Roast!”

He was right. I love dark, bold coffee…but not Italian Roast.

He told the young man, “Make her an Americano.”

I handed Jason my Starbucks card. He took it and said, “I’m only charging you for a tall bold.”

So there you have it. Something seemingly small, but also pretty big in my book. Yes, I am a big girl, one perfectly capable of looking out for myself. But sometimes…sometimes…it’s nice to know someone has my back. Or at least my taste buds.

And for the times when that happens…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for existing

My bike! Doesn't it look pretty?

My bike! Doesn’t it look pretty?

About two weeks ago — almost on a whim because I had all but forgotten I had one — I took my bike to Richardson Bike Mart for a tune-up. Three days later, they called to tell me it had needed a new chain and new tire, and it was ready to go.

Great! I thought. Then I promptly forgot all about it. But on Friday, after my evening plans fell through, I suddenly remembered my ready-to-go bike. So I put the back seats down on my little Fit, scooched my gym bag and yoga mat over to the side to make room for my bike, and drove over.

Not surprisingly (if you know me), I didn’t have the receipt. No problem, said Jack, the amazingly helpful person who asked if I needed assistance (and, to his credit, if he ever rued doing so, never let on).

So he asked my name. I said it was either under Barker or Garcia; I wasn’t sure which. He checked both, and then checked them again.

“Hmmm,” he said.

After a few more minutes, I offered to go to my car to see if the receipt was there somewhere. “If you don’t mind,” Jack said, “that would be great.”

Of course it was nowhere to be found. So back I went. He asked for my phone number, then if I had bought the bike there. I couldn’t remember. Probably, I said; I can’t imagine where else I would have bought it.

He looked. “Well, I see you bought a bike in May of 2012 and returned it.”

Oh yes, I said. My son decided he didn’t want a bike for a high-school graduation present. Jack kept looking, finding the 18-year-old bike I bought before my failed triathlon six or seven years ago. But he found no record of my mountain bike, which I only remembered was a Schwinn and blue. (It WAS a blue Schwinn, right?)

He said, “I hate to ask this, but are you sure you brought it to this location?”

“Oh, I’m sure,” I said. “I live about two miles away.”

I was started to question (which I do periodically but never quite on this level) my sanity. What if never brought it in? What if I’d never even owned that bike? What if I HAD brought it in and picked it up, but didn’t remember doing so?

So I asked, “If — and I don’t think I did this — but if I picked it up and forgot I did, would you have a record of it?”
Yes, he told me. Even if I hadn’t paid for any repair, he’d still have a record.

“Let’s look for it together,” he said.

Oh my gosh, I felt like I was in the back of Santa’s workshop. Bikes of all colors and prices and ages were everywhere, neatly lined up, ready to be picked up by people who didn’t lose their receipts.

By this time, I could hardly even remember what it looked like. But I dutifully followed Jack, and after stopping at what seemed to be every blue bike, we were empty-handed.

Finally, from somewhere he produced a yellow piece of paper that was supposed to match another yellow piece of paper on a bike. He wheeled out a blue Schwinn — but it was much nicer than mine, and newer.

I truly began to think that if I went home at that point, someone else would be living in my house. Mail in the mailbox wouldn’t have my name on it. If I rang the doorbell, the residents would say they had lived there for 20 years and had never heard of anyone with my name.

If I called my sisters or brothers or my mom, they’d swear I had the wrong number; that there had never been more than four Barker kids.

I was George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life and I think Jack knew I was about to cry.

“Let’s check the Leslies,” he said. “Sometimes people file the work orders backwards.”

He read the names out loud, shaking his head at one. I can’t remember what it was; something like “Wa-boon-ay.”

“That’s kind of odd,” he said.

He read a few more, then next thing I knew, he handed me the work order with the name, address and phone number I had filled out.

I was Leslie Wa-boon-ay! I don’t think I’ve smiled that big in — well, at least a few days. I don’t think I’d stopped short of hugging a total stranger (who by now felt like a comrade, a confidant of sorts) in — well, years.

Jack wheeled my bike — MY BIKE!! — out to the car, after first replacing the handlebar covers because he said they felt sticky. He hoisted it into my Fit, apologized, thanked me for my patience.

I apologized, thanked him for HIS patience, and flung my arm around his shoulders.

“Thank you,” I said again.

So for people like Jack who take the time to make things right…for patience…for being reminded that yes, we really DO exist…The Grateful Runner says thank you.
















Saying thank you for timing


I have such high hopes for my Sunday runs; specifically, at what hour I’ll actually begin. In my dreams, I start early and make it back home in plenty of time to at least stand a chance of arriving to church before my sister Susan does. Which for us, admittedly, isn’t when the announcements are read. It’s somewhere after the-Lord-be-with-you-and-also-with-you‘ing ends and the sermon begins.

What has been known to happen though, is that on some days I am poised to finish my run to accomplish that. Then I think, “Well, I’m making such good time, I bet I can get another half-mile (or mile) in.” So I end up being late, slipping into the chapel as the first words of the sermon are spoken.

Today, I started my run almost 15 minutes earlier than usual. I thought, “This is it! I’m going to make it!” So I happily ran, listening to my This American Life podcast and then NPR Sunday. About two miles from home, the rain started.

This is good, I thought. I’m not far from the house. I’ve run almost as far as I’d planned. The rain is not torrential. Water dripped steadily from the sky for a bit, and then the rain became more steady. I kept going (what else could i do?!), thankful I was close to the end of my run and that these were only showers: No thunder. No lightning.

Not until I was five blocks from home did a sudden bright flash fill the sky and split a cloud. A few houses later, a jolt of thunder jostled me out of my zone. I was almost home, almost home.

I shucked my shoes outside the door and went inside just as the sky dropped. I confess I didn’t go to church, which is a bit ironic considering one of the few times I could have been on time, the lousy weather probably would have made me late anyway.

So for starting my run earlier than usual, for storms that held off until I was safely at home, for timing that may be fate or luck or divine intervention, The Grateful Runner says thank you.







Saying thank you for reminders


Sometimes we all need a reminder.


My month, quite honestly, didn’t start out great. In retrospect, I’m kind of embarrassed what was getting me down. But I am going to touch on the reasons, with the confident belief that seeing my silly gripes in print will put them even more in perspective.

First, my phone. The bad news was that I washed it. The good was that it was insured. The bad was that the replacement phone didn’t work because it was reported stolen (so how could it be in my hand?). Three days, three trips to the AT&T store, a couple of calls to Apple and to AT&T, and another replacement phone later, the good news is that I am able to call and to receive calls.

Second — nah. Suffice to day my upcoming birthday was involved, and double suffice to say I continue to be reminded how blessed I am by each and every year.

But enough about my former gripes; instead, I’m here to remember my wonderful Wednesday.

It started with a note from, telling me I’m a finalist in the social fitness category. I am incredibly honored, but what makes me especially tickled is that my colleague and friend Leslie Brenner nominated me for this.

Then I spent a fulfilling and downright fun couple of hours with members of the Dallas Kiwi Club. The group — in case your mother wasn’t one — is made up of current and former American Airlines flight attendants (or, in Mom’s case, stewardesses). They meet monthly for lunch, a speaker (me!) and also raise money for such worthwhile organizations as Patriot Paws.

I do not thrive in front of a group. Public speaking, as my dad would say, is not my thing (as it was his). But I said yes to this group because of the loose Mom connection (though she isn’t a member). Plus, at another group where I spoke last month (what’s gotten INTO me?!) a woman there asked if I would. Because the first group made me feel so comfortable I said yes….and would have stayed all day if I could have.

The women (and one man) were wonderful. And I, who had written down what I’d planned to say, hardly looked at my notes and couldn’t seem to stop talking. When I told them that I tend to be pretty quiet (as my colleagues would attest), they didn’t believe me. Yes, I’m laughing right now thinking about that, as well as how we all did yoga breathing, and how I did a few squats to show them how easy incorporating fitness into everyday life is.

Part 3 of my wonderful day was going out for pizza and wine with my yoga instructor and quickly-becoming-dear-friend Jill. She knows my birthday is next week and wanted to start my celebration early.

So there you have it. My reminder that while nonworking physical objects and irritating other things do get in the way of the who and what really matter, they only stay as long as we let them. So for that, and for the burst of energy that shoves them out of my psyche and makes room for the sunshine, 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 reasons behind sleeping in


See these crazy guys? They’re why I didn’t get started earlier on my run today. On the right is my son, Charlie; on the left, his longtime friend Lee. 

So why am I blaming/crediting them? Well, last night — Charlie’s last before going back to college after Christmas break — Lee came over for dinner and to play Scrabble. Lee got to the house around 7; Charlie had been working out and arrived about 10 minutes later. We visited awhile, then I continued cooking dinner. Meanwhile, we started playing Scrabble.

Our method of playing is a bit…shall we say…unorthodox. First, we tend to know each other’s letters, mostly because we just look at them. Also, if we’re unsure of a word (and we are unsure of some doozies) we check them — fairly freely I confess — from this page. 

After dinner (during which the board remained on the table), we played another round or two. Then the boys (young men, whatever) decided they wanted to go to Braum’s. This was around 9:45 p.m.; the girl Charlie was driving back to school was due to arrive 12 hours later. And no, in case you’re wondering, Charlie’s suitcases and boxes and hanging bags were NOT all packed and waiting by the door.

So off he and Lee went to Braum’s, returning close to 11 p.m. Lee had had a milkshake; my health-conscious son, a banana split (which made me rather happy). I was so so tired; I am usually in bed and asleep by 10:30, 11 at the latest, and I hadn’t even flossed or put my PJs on.

“Guys,” I said, “I have to stop. I am so tired I’m about to cry.” (OK, then I started laughing, but I really WAS about to cry!)

We checked the letter bag, and there were only five more tiles. So we finished the game (which oh yeah, I won).

I try to start my Sunday runs by 6:20 at the absolute latest, after getting my requisite seven hours of sleep. That way, I stand a halfway decent chance of making it to church before the sermon starts. But today, because Charlie was leaving (he called the girl, by the way, and asked her to be here at 11), I knew I wouldn’t go to church. So I was able to get my seven hours in, which meant I started running at 7:20.

The day was glorious. I hadn’t needed sunglasses on my morning runs in quite awhile. Usually even by the time I get home, the sun still isn’t strong enough to merit them. But today, I wore them barely 30 minutes into my run. I had such a good run too — went farther than I did last week, and really felt as if I could have kept going.

Charlie was awake when I got home, eating his cereal while standing up reading the newspaper, as is his habit. Part two of his breakfast is a spinach/3-egg-whites-one-whole-egg/cinnamon/chili powder concoction he makes every day. I asked if he’d wait on that while I took a quick shower so we could eat together. He said sure.

After my shower and while he finished packing, I went ahead and made his omelet for him (at least till the last step). He brought the plate to the table where I was with my bowl of cereal. He said to me, “You think we have time?”

I knew just what he was talking about.

“Sure,” I said.

We set up the Scrabble board and played most of another game. I took a photo of the board and texted it to him along with his letters. The plan is for him to text back with the play he wants to make.


He may do it…or (once he gets into the campus swing of things) he may not. Either is fine with me really.

Instead, what matters is the chance to play today…and for the game, and for the guys who let me sleep in and enjoy a sunnier sky than I usually experience. And for those, and for so very much, the Grateful Runner says thank you.



Saying thank you for time


Meg Menzies of Virginia was killed by a drunk driver during a morning run on January 13. Today, January 18, runners around the world dedicated their miles to her. Rest in peace, dear Meg. Photo is from Facebook

Today, runners — probably not just runners, but everyone who could muster a few steps — were asked to dedicate their miles to Meg. Meg is Meg Menzies, a Virginia avid runner and mother of three who was killed by a drunk driver on a morning run last week. At her memorial service on Saturday, a letter her husband had written to her was read out loud:

“Every time I lace up my running shoes,” he wrote, “it will be for you.”

Today, more than 70,000 people from all over the world had pledged to do the same, joining the Meg’s Miles page on Facebook.

Some, no doubt, were marathoners and serious, always-training-for-something runners. Others, I’ll take a guess, read about her, saw sidewalks outside and shoes in their closet, and felt compelled to combine the two.

I like to think something happened while we ran or walked or cycled or hopscotched in Meg’s memory.

Something small, maybe. Or something big. Just something that reminded us of life and its blessings — of how lucky, how blessed, how privileged we are to simply be able to move and to breathe. To have one more day, one more mile, one more minute, one more moment.

Mine happened at the spot I try to run by every day, the one on the north side of a park that signals the moment I knew my father had died.

When I reach it on my runs, I look to the sky and tell him that I love him and I miss him. I blow him a kiss, and wonder — sometimes out loud, sometimes in my heart — how I must look to Dad as he looks down at me from a totally different viewpoint, and guides my way. This morning, the sky was clear; the sky the same blue — well, to be quite honest — of his eyes. My dad’s eyes (this is true) changed colors (as my sister Jeanne’s do). They could look blue and then, even a split second or a day later, green.

I’m getting off track; my apologies. Today, against that clear, Dad-blue sky was one pale white streak — a cloud perhaps, or the visible swoosh from a plane I hadn’t seen. It didn’t mar the clearness of the sky; not at all. Instead, it was a divider, mysterious and mesmerizing, between what we think we know…and that about which we have no clue.

For for that line we straddle, for the steps we take, for whatever & every bit of time we have…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for colors


I have a much easier time buying running shoes than I do other-parts-of-my-life shoes. My past few rounds of workout purchases, I’ve leaned toward shoes of the colorful variety. Such is where I started my running attire this morning — with those yellow Mizunos you see on the left.

I intended to snap a photo of what I wore because it was just so — colorful. Not matching colorful, mind you; just a rainbow melange of this shade and that shade and maybe a variety of another one. But of course by the time I thought about the photo again, my clothes were already swirling around in the washing machine and I had showered and needed to dry my hair.

But I’ll try to remember because it was such a jolly combo:

– The Mizuno yellow shoes

– Blue Feetures socks

– Black tights with a pink stripe

– A teal green Brooks top with a half zipper

– A fluorescent yellow ear band (or whatever it’s called)

Oh, and a pair of black and white striped gloves I bought at Target for a dollar a few years ago.

I glanced at my mirror reflection, rolled my eyes, smiled to myself and took off. What a(nother) glorious morning.

This time of year isn’t known for color. I ran through crunchy brown leaves that had been on a section of a certain sidewalk for at least a month. Most of the trees were bare; even though the temperature’s been holding steady in the 50s, no buds have pushed through the bark yet. I’m not complaining; not at all. This is earth’s cycle, and I’m just happy to be part of it.

The colors I wore, though, did lift my spirits — which, truth to tell, were more high than low to begin with. Still, they seemed to make more more cognizant of construction workers’ yellow vests, more appreciative of pots of purple pansies on walkways leading to sleepy houses.

And tonight, when my son picked my mom up to take her to dinner with us, she greeted first him — and later me — by exclaiming about the sunset.

“Honey,” she said (and if I added an exclamation point, believe me, it would be well placed), “did you see the clouds? They were stripes in the sky as the sun went down, colored stripes in the sky.”

I knew exactly what she meant. For that, for the colors she shared and the palette that paints this beautiful world, The Grateful Runner says thank you.