This photo was taken almost 4 years ago, and although its true that memories fade, and although you can't see my face in the picture, I'm pretty sure I was smiling. The dirt alone was enough to make a person cry, for heaven's sake, never mind the blisters, but I was grinning from ear to ear. I took this picture of my feet on the second day of the Boston 3-Day For the Cure, a 60-mile walk aimed at raising money and awareness to combat breast cancer. This was the first weekend in August, 2007 and it was 104 degrees. I don't think anyone's feet were made to sweat that much - so, yup - we got blisters - and heat rash - and sun burn. But no one that I encountered over those three days - and there were about 2,000 of us - no one, was whining. Why? Because the people of "The 3-Day" are a rising tide that inspires and lifts us all. I had never before been around that many strong, selfless, gracious and determined human beings in one place. The spirit of The 3-Day is infectious and I hope this blog will continue its spread. Maybe by talking about what I go through to fundraise and train for a 3-Day event, I can help people stay motivated and committed. I am proud to be associated with this cause. I am grateful I have the strength to walk. And I'm filled with joy that I can do it with such a great group of people. So I'll buck up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Feel free to join me. But remember; no whining allowed!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The End of Another Year

Toward the end of last year, I e-mailed an old friend that I only talk to a couple of times a year. I wanted to give her a concise update of what had been going on in my life lately. This was before I was a blogger and Facebooker. I created a list that I felt hit the highlights. She got a kick out of it and also got some good information. This year I decided to do a similar list but found that it didn't mean much without the context of the prior list. I offer them both below for your perusal and entertainment. Perhaps it will give you an opportunity to reflect on the past year and spend a few minutes savoring the moments that meant the most to you. Don't dwell on the moments when you weren't your best self - just resolve to make 2011 an even better year!

2009 Thus Far

1) My 9-year-old discovered YouTube.
2) I have a 9-year-old now.
3) Converted to Catholicism. Officially as of April 11.
4) Wondered, often, if God’s grace is so vast, that he doesn’t care whether I’m Catholic or not.
5) My Mom almost died. (Immunodeficiency; Not the Catholicism thing above - - - at least I don’t think so)
6) Signed up for photography class.
7) Flew to Tennessee for my favorite Aunt's 75th birthday party.
8) When I got back, I committed to my third 3-day, 60-mile walk (first in Boston, then DC, then Atlanta)
9) On the flight to Tennessee, my left eardrum ruptured.
10) Constructed a vertical expansion of the garage to accommodate a lift for stacking cars; yes, stacking.
11) Got a speeding ticket.
12) My auto insurance premium doubled.
13) Learned four chords on guitar. Well, five, but I really can’t finger F major properly yet.
14) Did a happy dance at realizing my Dad had surpassed his “expiration date” i.e. lived longer than at one time he thought he might.
15) Currently in process of applying for a grant to study solar thermal and photovoltaic retrofits on historic and architecturally significant buildings.
16) Registered my youngest son for kindergarten.
17) Lost my equilibrium. Literally. Subsequently there was much falling down, throwing up and passing out. Much better now though. Haven't bumped into anything at all lately.
18) Sought treatment for said equilibrium loss at an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist where I ran into the American film actor and Oscar nominated James Woods. (He was in Oliver Stone's Nixon) This was ironically not my first run-in with Mr. Woods. I previously encountered him shopping at Providence Place Mall with his elderly mother who turns out to be a giant pain in the ass and who probably best explains why poor James has had two failed marriages and has been single for the last 15 years.
19) Treatment for said equilibrium malfunction involved five different medications that, when taken together, produce exceptionally vivid dreams, including a very dirty one about my priest. Try going back to spiritual formation class after that.
20) Was forced to host a “Soupy” - making party. Didn't want to but had the best kitchen counter for the job. Apparently many Italian Americans in Rhode Island have held on to their pre-refrigeration meat-preservation traditions. We made 40 pounds. Soupy is a dry, dense sausage much like soprasetta or pepperoni. Very spicy. Cured in casings as a pair of sticks and eaten - oh never mind. But if you know anyone who needs large quantities of red pepper, latex gloves or natural meat casing material, I've got some lying around.

A Follow up to “2009 Thus Far”

1) Became the mother of a Middle Schooler.
2) My youngest son started first grade and received a record 2 “Caught Being Good” certificates in one day!!
3) Became proud, part-owner of a $300 Jeep that has cost me well over 2 grand.
4) Did some hiking at Natural Tunnel and in the White Mountains.
5) Rescued Rich and Christian in my trusty Toyota Highlander from their doomed Tuckerman’s Ravine trek at Mount Washington when the trails proved impassable.
6) Watched my parents enjoy one of their most robust years in recent memory.
7) The chief “Soupy-maker” mentioned in last year’s tribute passed away. . . .
8) Experienced none of the foul equilibrium-based problems referred to in 2009 and thus experienced none of the interesting med-related side effects.
9) In medical news, though, had surgery to eradicate a cyst on my right wrist, which has worked out fabulously. Heavy duty pain meds did produce one beautiful Opus-filled hallucination and temporarily made the "West Virginia Ninja" the funniest thing on the planet.
10) Zero flights, zero speeding tickets, zero religious conversions, zero celebrity sitings (unless you count the Governor of Rhode Island who appeared at a little league game. His grandson’s team was playing Christian’s team. He spent most of the evening waving off mosquitoes.)
11) Started a blog. Maintained the blog. Found that I enjoyed blogging.
12) Participated in my fourth Susan G Komen 3-Day for the Cure and was honored to be chosen as a flag bearer at the opening ceremony. Genuinely one of my proudest moments.
13) Convinced Grayson to be in the Christmas Pageant at Church. He was cast as an angel. Perfect.
14) Did not receive the grant I applied for last year. But -
15) Did become the boss at work when my former boss retired. Did not want to be the boss but realized I was too good at my job to NOT be the boss.
16) Designed a lovely flyer for the Cub Scout Food Drive. “Scouting For Food” is one of my favorite events and we picked up over 5,000 pounds in our Town.
17) In other altruism-related news, purchased multiple copies of the local newspaper when Christian’s picture appeared on the front page to honor his class’s leading role in a school-wide community service project.
18) Did some reading about creativity and the brain and found that my favorite definition of creativity is, “The ability to abandon the problem.”
19) Turned 42. The ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything.
20) Came to realize that I have been blessed. Trying to now figure out how to retroactively earn those blessings.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Essay on Illusions - Part III; "C" Again

An octave above or below.

Well it took me seven months, but I finally got moved into the big corner office that came with my promotion (don't be jealous, it's in the basement). A new desk accompanied it but then the question arose as to what should be done with the old one. "The old one" is a circa 1980, cheap metal, faux wood-veneered monstrosity with drawers that no longer close and little round ball feet that fall out every time it's jostled. No amount of potted plants or pretty pencil cups or fancy business card holders can conceal its tacky decrepitness. So it was determined it could be disposed of. Poor quality and deteriorated condition aside, that desk was with me through a lot of years and I thought it deserved better than some uneventful hauling away, fading out of view and out of mind with no farewell ritual to mark its transition. So I started dreaming of something a little more. . . . memorable. My initial vision was of some type of Northern-Exposure-style catapulting of it. Our family catapult isn't mammoth enough for the task and the desk is not exactly aero-dynamic. We could take it apart and fling the pieces, but where's the fun in that? The thrill would be in seeing it smashed to bits; not carefully unbolted and loaded methodically into the bucket and launched to the sky one component at a time. But then I got an offer to have it be used for target practice by the police out at the firing range. I'm still working out the details. . . . Will keep you posted.

The point is, some people who know me well have been a little taken aback at my newly voiced deconstructionist tendencies. Here I am, the preservationist; the "green" planner who encourages developers to "adaptively reuse" obsolete buildings before they consider demolishing them to start with a clean slate. I've spent the last 15 years not only making sure that things got constructed, but that they got built the right way, with as little disruption as possible to the existing landscape, infrastructure and architectural fabric. And in my personal life, I recycle everything. The kids' clothes get worn by half a dozen youngsters before they're through. Books I'll never read again go to the Free Library. The old toaster oven that browns unevenly and the ugly desk lamp go to Big Sisters and the Salvation Army gets the rest. Waste not, want not - that's how I was raised. But this thing, this vintage mid-20th century pencil-pusher's dream, this hideous desk with the crooked foot and faulty drawer - well, it has got to go. And the more shrapnel-strewn and shattered the scene, the better.

My co-workers think I'm coming unglued when I talk about this. I remind them I'm the quintessential Gemini - the Twins - the split personality. It makes more sense to them that way. I also remind them that it is the things we choose to experience along our life-path that will define us. And just this once, I'd like to choose obliteration.

"It's all going to be very controlled and limited, with professionals involved," I say, trying to sound like myself. But still, there is puzzlement among those who have shared work-space with me for all these years. They look at me like I've morphed into something unrecognizable. So the question becomes: Is the real illusion that we can ever really know another person at all? We surprise ourselves sometimes at the things we're capable of, in both good ways and bad. So it shouldn't be a shock to learn that others close to us can surprise us as well.

Maybe my entire personality is the paradox. My left brain and my right; my builder/creator and my destroyer. The contradictory parts of me are both equally pure and "true" - they are authentic and real and representative. And I believe they are both valuable. In fact, any success I've had in life is due to my meshing of the two pieces. I concede that while I continue to play an active role in building up a better world, there may occasionally be a need to tear something down. There are certainly those among us who see annihilation and invention as mutually exclusive. But I believe it's possible that more of us than care to admit it are the walking, talking, breathing dichotomy that I am. That thing that is divided in half. The person with two non-overlapping parts that appear to be in opposition to each other - yet they can comprise a singular, awe-inspiring whole.

And speaking of awe-inspiring, I referenced the old show Northern Exposure earlier. If you don't remember the show or have never seen it, I think it's still possible to see the connection here. In the relevant episode, the townspeople get together to catapult a piano out onto the Alaskan tundra. Part of the rationale behind the flinging is "to create a pure moment." That desire for a pure moment seems even more germane to today's dialogue than it was 16 years ago when they made that episode. It's ironic that with all our technological advances, we've gained the ability to be a more connected and interactive society than ever before. There are opportunities to link up and network with our fellow humans seemingly every moment of every day. But how many of those moments are pure? How many are an authentic and meaningful exchange? How many could be called real connections that penetrate below the surface? The illusion of our incessant intermingling is one that deserves to be stripped away so we can get back to really relating with one another.

In the meantime, let's take a hard look at ourselves. Some of us truly are one thing or another; distinct and constant as the day is long. Others of us are destined to don shades of gray; variable and inconsistent to the delight of some and the vexation of others. As for me, I know what I am. I don't need Dr. Phil to tell me that my whole persona is a series of square pegs and round holes. There's no smoke and mirrors in my self-assessment. I have days where I nearly choke on forms, deadlines, schedules and expectations; when I'd rather dance or draw or sing. At the same time, I know I'll be the Steady-Eddy to the end - the blissfully malcontented team-player, the reliable one, the one who's good with numbers and linear processes; the one who gets it done - regardless of how mind-numbingly tedious it might be. I'll even pat myself on the back when I'm through. Yup. I'm going to keep bringing home the bacon. And frying it up in a pan. Just don't expect me to serve it with the usual side dishes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Essay on Illusions - Part II; F#

Illusions are not just visual phenomena. They can be auditory, too, like the Tri-tone Paradox referenced in the title of this series. Also, I'm fairly certain that if we humans had more advanced sniffers and relied on our sense of smell as much as other species do, we'd experience countless varieties of olfactory illusions as well. My ten year old says every time he smells Frito's, he feels like he's on a boat. It's because when he was about three, we took the Block Island Ferry over to the island for the day and, to the best of my knowledge, that was the first time he was exposed to that corn fried deliciousness. It wasn't a snack that we kept in the house at the time, but it was available for purchase below decks on the boat. I thought the salty crunch might keep my stomach settled, so down the narrow stairs we staggered and came back up with the familiar yellow bag. Now, almost eight years later, he vaguely remembers snippets of the trip, in flashes; the stairs, the long wooden bench seats. . . . He doesn't remember eating Frito's exactly, but without fail, when he gets a whiff of them, he says he can almost feel the bounce of the heavy ferry against the waves.

It's fascinating really. I think our sense of smell, more than any other sense, has the power to evoke a far distant time or place. I, for example, cannot smell cut hay without also smelling cow manure, whether it's there or not. I guess in my childhood, there was never one around without the other close by. Now, the two smells are so linked in my mind and my memory that I genuinely cannot smell one without the other. So these days, when I take the kids on a hay-ride, the hay is usually from a farm that has no herd. The bundled straw has more than likely been nowhere near a four-legged creature bigger than a fox, but I get the whiff of sh*# just the same. This illusion, like my son's, is a trick played on our individual senses. It is an experience unique to us. No one who hasn't shared with us the past events that shape our perception would encounter the actual aroma and have the same reaction. These are one-of-a-kind fantasies over which we exert little influence.

On the other hand, auditory illusions like the tri-tone paradox, which have been studied by musicians and psychologists alike, apparently produce reactions by individuals that are similar enough to be grouped with little variation. My understanding of the paradox is that when two notes are played sequentially, separated exactly by an octave, and then the half-octave note, the tri-tone, is introduced, about half of the population hears the note as ascending in pitch and about half hear it as descending. Unlike the other illusions, it is a real paradox, in that two seemingly contradictory statements can be made and they can both nonetheless be true. From what I've read, there is a strong geographic component to how the tones are resolved in peoples' minds and ears, interestingly enough.

For me, the real question that is raised by these illusions is to what degree are our reactions to various stimuli so reflexive and involuntary that our brains are really on some sort of auto-pilot. It could be such a natural, mechanized and instinctive response that we become mindless of the stimulus itself. How many of us have caught the barber pole out of the corner of our eye and let ourselves watch the stripes travel up the cylinder, while some part of our brain clearly knows that the red, white, and blue paint is merely spinning around? At what point are we seeing or hearing or smelling or touching something authentic, yet letting ourselves be tricked into a different experience? Maybe the real illusion is the notion that we have any control at all over how we react to certain events or observations.

Although the evidence sure seems to be mounting against me, I would like to believe that most of the time, we actually choose, at least on some level, how to react to the information, stimuli, and happenings in our path. Probably many of you read the piece that Leonard Pitts wrote while he was training this year for the Washington DC 3-Day for the Cure. I enjoyed it very much and think it is relevant here. For Mr. Pitts, the "stimulus" he encountered was his mother's death from breast cancer. His chosen reaction to it was to make a commitment to walk and raise money in her honor. But for years, he let his mind play tricks on him that allowed him not to do it. The illusions were the excuses and rationales and the vague sense that he still had plenty of time and would eventually get it done. But then his wake-up call came and he was able to face his own deception. He realized he was tired of getting to places without knowing how he did. And he certainly did not want his own life to end on that disheartening note. The illusions were stripped away and enough clarity to produce action came from the understanding that, "We're all going to the same destination. The only difference is in what you choose to see along the way."

Illusions are all around us. Our eyes, ears and brains play tricks on us every day. Often it's harmless, or even interesting or entertaining. I think we should have fun with them and not take them too seriously. If Dr. Phil said you're left-brain dominant, it doesn't mean you have to become a compulsive list-maker or quit your quilting circle. And if you hear ascending pitches in the tri-tone, you don't have to move to California and forever maintain a rosy outlook. But when you reach the point of Mr. Pitts, when you realize that "life is an act of will;" at that point, you need to choose to see clearly. No illusion, no paradox, no chimera, deception, or figment of the imagination. What authentic smells, sounds, tastes, touches and sights do you choose to experience?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

An Essay on Illusions in 3 Parts

A Tri-tone Paradox For Your Eyes.

Part 1 - "C" - Middle C? Maybe. . . . . .

Apparently Dr. Phil did a show this week about personality types. I know nothing about Dr. Phil and have never seen his show. I'm not so culturally unaware that I don't know who he is or anything. Of course I've heard of him. . . . He was, like, Oprah's pool boy or something, and gave out good advice and became some sort of celebrity psychologist as a result. I'm kidding. I understand he has helped many people and I'm sure his show about personality types was interesting, but I didn't see it. What I DID see, though, was a YouTube video that he used to encourage people to watch, and it was a real teaser, designed to get your attention and make you want to tune in and find out what kind of person you really are.

The video is of a computer generated dancer spinning around and around. The question is, is she spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise. Dr. Phil then advised everyone to tune in at a later date to see what their answer revealed about their personality. I immediately suspected that it revealed absolutely nothing. But then, I am a cynical person. The fact that I put no stock in the "personality test" possibly says everything you need to know about my personality. Or does it?

I rather enjoy optical illusions. (And auditory ones, too, but that's for Part II, forthcoming.) Just for the fun of it though, not for some fundamental truth that they might reveal about my very soul or world view. There are some great ones; the Necker Cube, old or young woman, MC Escher's stuff like the ascending/descending staircase. I did a science project about them once and found, quite simply, that some people see one thing and others see something else. It seemed the differences among people's reactions could have as much to do with who they were just talking to, what time of day it was, or what they just ate as any deeply ingrained essence of their being. Of course, I was some scrawny little high schooler making these observations, not some Ph.D. with a big grant budget and access to complicated statistical computer programs and several nerdishly sexy research assistants.

Regardless, my opinion hasn't changed much. But on something of a lark, I took the "test" anyway. I sat at my computer a couple of nights ago, clicked on that little dancer image, and off she went like a whirling dervish. I immediately and without any doubt in my mind, saw her turning counter-clockwise. I decided to watch it again, just to be sure. And again, she took off in the same direction. But my 6-year-old son was playing Lego's in the floor next to me and he heard the intro again and looked up. He glanced at the screen and stated, "Clockwise." I looked down at him and said, "Which way is that?" - just to be sure he knew the difference. He took his little index finger and moved it out in front of himself and drew a circle in the air, parallel to the floor, leading out and away to the right. Then he went back to playing Lego's, not caring at all what any of this meant. I looked back at the screen and there she was, plain as day, spinning clockwise.

I panicked. It had never mattered to me whether Dr. Phil thought I might be more ruled by my left brain than my right. I had just assumed he was going to alert all the "clockwise" people that they tended to be more creative, holistic, etc. and the "counter-clockwise" people with their left brains that they tended to be more logical, linear, etc. This result was something else entirely, though. Someone who sees the dancer spin BOTH directions within the same 20 second span?! Clearly this was an indication that my brain is mush. This had to say, in no uncertain terms, that my mind is malleable; I'm impressionable and highly susceptible to suggestion. And suggestions by a 6-year-old, no less. Crap. And here I've spent the last 20 years trying to be my own woman.

Before giving in to a full-fledged meta-physical meltdown, I decided to take a deep breath. I looked back at my Lego-playing pal again and watched him put an Indiana Jones hat on a Storm Trooper and pop him into a one-of-a-kind pod racer. I smiled and thought I'd try the "test" one more time. And that dancer, tricky little tart that she is, had gone back to spinning counter-clockwise.

I turned the computer off. But I couldn't get it out of my head. Maybe there WAS something to this personality indicator, and maybe it didn't have to be what I first thought, because, well, who wants to think that about themselves?! Maybe it was something more along the lines of the traditional Dr. Phil assessment regarding what part of your brain dominates your way of thinking. I remembered taking one of those right-brain/left-brain tests one time. There were 32 questions. My answers to exactly 16 of them indicated my right brain, the creative, intuitive side, was in charge. Exactly 16 also indicated my left brain, the logical, analytical side, most impacted how I function in the world. The lack of a clearly dominant hemisphere perhaps explains my ability to see the spinning in two different directions almost at once. Then again, it might mean I'm the perfect representative of my astrological sign, Gemini, The Twins. Open-minded and able to see both sides of an argument; inconsistent in decision-making to the point of almost appearing to have a split personality. Far from seeming freaky, this is all, in fact, starting to sound pretty accurate.

OK, so maybe my response to the personality test turns out to be perfectly in line with my actual personality and maybe this Dr. Phil is more than a pool boy after all. But if, in the end, I am just a weak-minded joiner, then thank God I saw an ad for The 3-Day. From that perspective, I'm happy to be impressionable. I'll be a willing sucker for a good suggestion. "Clockwise?" - yup. "Counter-clockwise?" - that too! "Walk 60 miles?" - I'm up for that. "In possibly extreme heat or a cold rain?" - I can get on board. "Raise a whole bunch of money by pestering the bejeesus out of your friends and co-workers?" - Sounds good. "Do it all again next year?" - Count me in. "And the next?" - I'm all over it. . . . .

Friday, October 15, 2010

Family Reserve

Back in July, a couple of weeks before the Boston 3-Day, I went down to Virginia for a family reunion. I mentioned it here in an earlier blog post on July 9. I find myself thinking about it from time to time and what is striking to me now is what a big family we have! My Mom's family had eleven children in it and my Dad is one of four. My husband is one of three and both of his parents came from three-child families. As a result, I have about a zillion first cousins and my children are blessed with an enormous extended family - most of whom seem to value it and want to keep the generations in touch. We are very fortunate indeed. But then I start to do the actual math. . . . .

When a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer about 4 years ago, we looked at her like she was some sort of anomaly. This wasn't something that ran in our family - we had no history with it. I think there was a lot of scratching of heads and pointing and wondering "Why her?" What had she been exposed to? What had been the trigger? But I'm afraid the real question is not 'why her?' It's 'why just her, so far?' The disease is ubiquitous. Women in their 20's are getting it along-side women in their 60's. It's rampant. You just don't meet people anymore who haven't been affected in some way by knowing and/or loving someone who has faced this diagnosis.

The Breast Cancer incidence rate in the United States right now is about one in eight women. My current home state, Rhode Island, is a high cancer rate state. If you live here, your odds of being diagnosed with breast cancer in your lifetime are 1 in 6!

When I got home from the family reunion this summer, I made my own little family tree. A very cursory one that only included living relatives. It basically lists my parents and my husband's parents, their siblings, spouses and children and then our first cousins with their spouses and children. Then I got out my pink Hi-lighter to illuminate all the women and girls. There were 50 of us. 50. Technically, I guess that means 6 or so more of us might be fighting this fight first hand at some point. Those are suckish odds. I think of my sisters-in-law, my 11 year old niece, my 70 year old aunt. Myself. And never mind all the girlfriends we love like sisters. How many of them get stamped into the algorithm? I don't like this math. And I just want it to stop. I want my family tree to remain crisp and white with pink hi-lights. No circles or asterisks or footnotes. Nothing to indicate how the statistics took their toll. Just names of living relatives. So it has to stop.

Many of us are working very hard, in the only ways we know how, to make it stop. I really think my "flash freeze" idea that I discussed here in my October 2 post might be a way to symbolically and cathartically "make it stop." We claim a couple of moments out of the event and "freeze" them. We hold them motionless; stopped. And maybe that will carry us until it stops for real; inspire us to keep going, work harder and see that it stops for good in our lifetime.

My "flash freeze" post has received a lot of attention. People are definitely spreading the word. But I'd love to know more about what people actually think of the idea. Interesting? Worthwhile? Do-able? If you have any comments or suggestions, please share. Thanks a lot!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Frozen Grand Central

Supermarket Flashmob

World biggest Freeze Flash Mob in Paris OFFICIAL VIDEO


First of all, thanks for your patience. I had some repairs made to my wrist back in September and was out of commission from a typing perspective for a few weeks. Thanks for all the good thoughts sent my way and I hope nobody got frustrated and gave up on me completely. Because if they did, they would miss out on the following Really Good Idea. While my fingers were out of commission, the old brain kept right on working and I think I'm really on to something here - so bear with me.

If you have ever been to a Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day event, the opening ceremonies in particular, then you have heard the following speech. If you have been to more than one such event, you may have it memorized and can recite it right along with me. It is pure Jenne Fromm. It is beautifully written and, from what I have seen, always equally beautifully delivered. Jenne Fromm is the National Spokesperson for the 3-Day and she deserves the credit for inspiring my Really Good Idea. I transcribed her "opening ceremonies" speech from video of the events I have participated in and from watching others that have been posted on YouTube and I excerpted it here:

"Moments. Wonderful, lifetime moments.
Rights of passage that shape our lives.
Milestones that represent a life's journey.
A baby's first step. A wedding kiss.
Blowing out the candles on a birthday cake - or loved ones reunited.
Moments we all deserve to look forward to but
when breast cancer invades, lives are so rudely interrupted -
stealing those precious moments away.

We are here now so that in the future, we will reminisce
about reunions with those we love and not
about our memories of them.

We come together to bring all possible joy to each birthday
and to give each graduate the gift of standing with both parents.

Today we are here because you have answered the call
to do something extraordinary - and that's the remarkable thing
about this lifetime moment. It's a celebration - measured in miles -
of a shared conviction that
Everyone Deserves a Lifetime."

Wouldn't it be great if we could freeze those moments!? Those fleeting instants where everyone is healthy and happy and gathered together in joy and celebration. In reality we can't. We freeze them in snapshots and pictures in our mind where they can remain forever. But that's about all we can do. Or is it?

I don't know how many of you are familiar with the idea of a "flash-freeze." It's a public "flash-mob" type event where participants involved freeze for a given amount of time in a public space spontaneously to the surprise of everyone else around. Flashmobs started out as a sort-of performance art, I believe initially as a challenge to conformity but they have evolved over the last 5 or 10 years to take many forms. (Who's more non-conformist than a bunch of 3-dayers anyway?! Aren't we accused almost daily of being out of our minds, of taking on the impossible and drinking some sort of Kool-aid?! This should be right up our alley!)

The point of most flashmobs is essentially point-less though. They are about creating a spectacle and giving people an opportunity to step outside of their norm. Sure it can wake someone up who has been lulled to clueless slumber by their routine and remind them to change it up a bit. There's still some magic to life if you look around for it. That's a good lesson and these things are important, albeit simplistic . But I think we have the opportunity to lend some real gravity, magnitude and thoughtfulness to the basic idea.

The 3-Day Walkers and Crew already create a spectacle and wake people up wherever we go. A couple thousand pink-clad and laughing troopers stomping thru the neighborhood or handing out PB&J graham crackers has a tendency to do that. But what if we incorporated a flash freeze. If everybody along that several mile long pink column and all the support staff and crew STOPPED - mid-stride, mid stretch, mid sip of Gatorade, mid shoe-tie, mid-hug, mid-laugh, mid tear-wipe, mid-groan--- - and froze. Just for a couple of minutes. We move well beyond spectacle and awareness at that point. We become art. Yes, in some ways we already are art in that we create an emotional response wherever we go - but that's largely due to our sheer numbers and willingness to subject ourselves to the discomforts of the event to make our point and raise our money. We stir feelings of empathy and compassion from even the most detached and dispassionate of observers. But I'm talking about a whole new level of meaning here. And I think people would get it.

It feels a little "Field of Dreams" right now, I know - Like I'm saying "if we build it, they will come." But I really believe "if we do it, they will comprehend." We will all feel it when we stop - we'll be silent and standing still but we'll actually be screaming it out - "NO, we can't freeze those moments at the graduation or the baby shower or the retirement party or the wedding. But we CAN freeze this moment!" And then we'll all always have it. And so will they. The 3-Day accomplishes so much already. I think this is one more thing it could accomplish - It can give us all - literally - one more moment. One more wonderful, lifetime moment. To keep forever.

I plan to write about this more in the near future. I would like to build support for the concept. If you have never seen a flash-freeze, I invite you to check out the three video links I just posted. They are three good examples; one is from New York, one from Paris and one in a supermarket! In one of them, a little girl happens upon the seemingly spontaneous scene and you can sort of tell by her face that the experience has invigorated a sense of magic in her - a sense of embracing the out-of-the-ordinary. Reactions also seem to imbue a sort of respect for people choosing to do something abnormal. These are beautiful things. But a 3-Day type event along these lines would be even more beautiful because it would go so far beyond the surface wake-up call to create a lasting symbol of the tangible permanence of the people we love and the lasting moments with them that we will treasure forever.

I hope you like my "Really Good Idea." And I hope if you do, you will spread the word. Let's see if we can't get a 3-day flash freeze going at an event in 2011. Let's all, once again, answer the call to do something extraordinary.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Oh, stop gagging. You've all seen feet before. Some of you have had feet in far worse shape than this.

This pic was taken almost a month to the day after the 2010 Boston 3-Day for the Cure. Back in 2007, I was pretty puzzled when my feet started to peel a couple of weeks after The Big Event. Now I kind of plan on it. I've heard from several other people who experience the shedding of skin from the feet anywhere from a week to a month after they return from the 60-mile walk. There are enough of us that we've actually coined a quasi-technical term for it - The Foot Molt.

According to the Webster's New World Dictionary that sits on my computer table, it's an appropriate, if non-traditional, use of the word "molt." Except by "New" World Dictionary in this case, I think we mean "Old" since it is the circa 1980 dictionary my husband threw into a hatchback and took off for college with. The back cover is gone and the front cover is ripped but it retains the still-legible gold sticker that says, "#1 Bestseller!" It's an interesting snapshot of times gone by if you take a few minutes to flip through.

It doesn't have "exfoliant" in it, or "longneck" or "mosh pit" or some other words I would consider 80's classics, like "mullet." So it certainly wouldn't include the likes of "avatar," or "metadata," or "locavore," much less "de-friend" or the other latest additions. But it gets the job done for the basics, like "molt," which has apparently been around since the 14th century. It comes from the Latin word "mutare" which means "to change" but its specific meaning is, "to shed (skin, horns, etc.) in preparation for replacement by new growth."

As I consider the word, I think about how much I have "matured" and "changed." I was reminded of it yesterday, at the beach of all places. We staked out our usual tract of territory near Lifeguard Chair #5. It's a pretty homogeneous spot. Everybody has practically the exact same stuff - chair, blanket, umbrella, rolling cart full of sand toys, cooler. I actually sat in a chair that wasn't mine; it was just identical to mine and it belonged to a woman who was about my height and age and who had a daughter the age of my son. That's right; it's not just our stuff that looks the same - The parents all look just alike too - Every mom is either in a cover-up, long board shorts or a swim suit with skirt attached to conceal a spreading derriere. And we all have a wide-brimmed hat to protect an aging face from the sun. We all sit comfortably and chat, confident that the minute any middle-school aged kid paddles a foot too far on their boogie board, the lifeguards will be blowing their whistles.

After the kids got settled in yesterday with their cousins, I took a walk down the beach. South of Chair 4, things start to look a little different. It's a younger crowd. And leaner. And the suits are skimpy. Everyone is tan and tattooed and while they all have on big sunglasses, no one has on a hat. There are fewer children and lots more surfers. Sure there are three lifeguards posted on Chair #2, but it's much more of a free-for-all. Back when I was a newlywed, in my mid-20's and smokin' hot, having just moved to Rhode Island, this was where I spent every summer weekend. Chair #2 at Narragansett Town Beach. Back then, you could park on the street and walk down. I would just bring a book and a towel and I'd be set for the day. If you wanted to be seen, this was where you came. Everyone driving by and everyone walking on the sea wall could look down toward Chair #2 and there you would be. Without a care in the world. We ate French Fries and didn't re-apply sunscreen. The only thing we had to keep up with was the car keys as opposed to the best bucket for making sand castles, and someone's favorite swim goggles and that little baggie of Teddy Grahams for snack time.

Meanwhile, back at Chair 5, our staked out swathe of beach is hidden behind the pavilion beyond the parking lot, very close to the rest rooms and the frozen lemonade stand and there is no surfing allowed. We have a whole bag just for sunscreen, labeled by the body part it should be applied to and once every hour, we drag somebody out of the water and slather them with it. Yeah, it's different up here.

As I walked back to our spot, I thought about how those lifeguard chairs seem to mark the stages of our lives - moving up the beach; up through the years, arriving at a comfortable spot where we can sit and chat and see our children close and safe and watch the waves come up and go back out. I can see how much I have changed and matured. And I know that I have grown, too. Yes, in the spreading derriere, but also in the very best sense of the word. And if my feet or any other part of me has to molt to accommodate that, then it's OK by me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Up Side

I have enjoyed Mary Elizabeth Williams' writing over at and other places for a long time. Yesterday, her column heading read "The Upside to Cancer." You see, on Friday, August 13, she announced in her column that she had just been diagnosed with malignant melanoma and yesterday's oddly titled piece was the follow-up. I encourage everyone to read it because it's poignant and uplifting while still maintaining her trademark "don't f#@* with me" attitude. It concludes with the statement (spoiler alert for those about to check out the link) "I'm so lucky, I wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world right now."

Since her diagnosis, Ms. Williams had been so overwhelmed by the out-pouring of support that she genuinely felt like the luckiest person in the world. She had the privilege of being reminded that she has strong and enduring relationships with people that she cares about and that's what really matters. She also had the opportunity to confront the kindness of strangers head-on and feel that power. People have a way of reaching out when they know something is wrong. It is universally true as there is evidence of it every day. I have rarely met someone who will dispute it. But for some reason, many of us put on a brave face each morning and pretend there is nothing we need.

When we face something truly dire, we tend to have a small inner circle of people we share it with and count on for support. That's great. And it works most of the time. But imagine how much more support we would get if we were just honest with everyone. And imagine how many other people we could help by allowing them to see that they are not alone in whatever sickness or sorrow they face.

There is a "Like" button on Facebook for the statement, "Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle." It's so true. I am the first to admit that I have made presumptions in the past about people who appear to have it so easy, only to find out later what was really going on behind the scenes. I've realized that just because someone is perfectly put together everyday and always on time and drives a clean car and wears lipstick and earrings even to the gym, that there isn't something horrendous going on at home. They or someone they love could be sick or afflicted, or addicted or violent or on the brink of bankruptcy. The worry and concern over those things could consume every ounce of their energy and mental prowess and yet they still put on the brave, normal face for the outside world. I don't know what drives us to do this, but we all have.

A man who comes into my office for various things from time to time stopped in to chat a few weeks back. Turns out he had just started training with a group of 12 guys to participate in an endurance event to raise money for cancer research. (Small world) We got to talking about cancer in general terms and he said that he believes that "everyone has cancer." I believe that means he ascribes to the theory that we all have cells that mutate and replicate but most of the time, the bizarro cells die or our bodies fight them off before they can spread as cancer and make us sick.

I didn't discuss this with him at the time, but I assigned a second level of meaning to his comment. I equated it with the Facebook "Like" button. We are all struggling with something; we all have some burden to carry; some battle to fight or atrocity to endure. Whatever it is that is weighing you down, making you feel tired or angry, sapping your emotion and understanding, requiring you to put on your brave and normal outfit every day, that's your clump of mutated cells whether it's "cancer" or not.

A very wise friend said to me once (and you know who you are) that if we all stuffed our problems in a box and lined them up along the wall, we'd go up and pick our own. Of course that's true. When we really consider what others are facing, our situation tends to take on a new, more manageable perspective. If M.E. Williams could be perfectly healthy but be completely devoid of the countless friends and family members who are there to provide "whatever she needs," I believe her when she implies she would opt for her current situation.

I'm pretty lucky. My box is a shoe-box alongside some of you with the one the fridge was delivered in. I'd like to suggest that we consolidate some stuff into one giant box that we share. We can start by being a little more open and honest. I'm not saying that when someone asks, "How's it going?" we should all respond with "Suckish at the moment actually. . . . ." But we shouldn't be so obsessed with keeping up appearances either.

About a year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to meet the Bishop of the Diocese of Providence. As we concluded our conversation, he said to me, "Well, I'll be praying for you. And I hope you'll pray for me, too." It was a revelation for me. Just because you're a Priest or a Bishop doesn't mean you're all set with that. You still need strength and resolve and well-wishes and health and solace and all those things that all humans need. It's just not safe to ever assume that anyone is all set; that they have everything they need; that there's nothing you can do for them. Because there's almost always something you can and should do. Even if it's so simple as just being kinder than necessary.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

eat pray love walk drink pee. . . . .

With the release of the new Julia Roberts movie this weekend, I couldn't resist writing about "Eat Pray Love." I liked Elizabeth Gilbert's book; I really did. The story is a delicious adventure and you couldn't ask for a more engaging voice. And being of a certain age, I could relate to the mid-life search for meaning or, as she calls it, a relationship with the divine; the creeping need to understand yourself, your life, and your purpose and to finally feel like you have experienced all that the world has to offer.

As much as I enjoyed reading about Ms. Gilbert's far-flung adventures though, I have to point out that as many of us reach that juncture of having to figure out how to spend the second half of our lives, we choose to go a very different way.

For those of you who haven't read the book - the following is a plot summary for the up-coming movie:
"Liz Gilbert (Roberts) had everything a modern woman is supposed to dream of having - a husband, a house, a successful career - yet like so many others, she found herself lost, confused, and searching for what she really wanted in life. Newly divorced and at a crossroads, Gilbert steps out of her comfort zone, risking everything to change her life, embarking on a journey around the world that becomes a quest for self-discovery. In her travels, she discovers the true pleasure of nourishment by eating in Italy; the power of prayer in India, and, finally and unexpectedly, the inner peace and balance of true love in Bali." (Written by Sony Pictures; Captured from IMDb)

First of all, let's not ever forget about those who never get to "search for what they really want in life." There are those among us who only get to search for a way to handle what they have been dealt. What some people want most is simply to live long enough to see what the rest of it might bring. There's no quest; no need to arrive at a particular destination by a certain age; there's only the need to hope and endure. Let's not forget about them. So when some critics call Ms. Gilbert "whiny" or "narcissistic," as much as I enjoy the ride when I read about her travels and travails, I kind of agree. And when I really start to think about it, I agree a lot!! So let's break it down. . . .

I think any 3-day walker will tell you that you don't have to journey around the world to step out of your comfort zone. You don't even have to go as far as one of the 15 cities in the Continental US that hosts a 3-Day event. You only have to commit - Think about when you first decided to participate. You agreed to walk 60 miles. That was way out of your comfort zone. The first time you did a 15 or 18 mile training walk - you may never have been more than a few miles from your house, but you were probably WAY out of your comfort zone. (Much more so than a professional writer who has traveled extensively who plans a long trip and agrees to write about it, right?!)

Pleasure doesn't have to come from indulging your senses. In fact, it may be far more gratifying to let it come from having done something for someone else rather than yourself. Some of you might be familiar with the Leo Rosten quote about the purpose of life. (If you have read The Underground Guide to the Breast Cancer Walks, then I know you have seen it - that's available from the 60 Mile Men). Anyway, to paraphrase, Rosten says the purpose of life is not to be happy, but to be useful - to have it matter in the end that you lived at all. I am all for self-discovery and I believe in living an examined life. That's part of the reason why I blog. There are times when we need to sit still. But then there are times when we need to act. To stand up and make a difference. Sometimes our contribution requires us to cast aside our own desires. I personally don't have a problem with that. I suspect you don't either.

Regarding Ms. Gilbert's other discoveries, I think we probably realize already that one doesn't have to roam away to a remote Ashram to pray. If Ms. Gilbert has the luxury of spending hours at a time looking for the light of clarity, more power to her. But my hectic life has demanded that I learn to pray on the fly; in the shower, driving the car, you name it. I don't know about you, but I actually pray best in my own bed. Literally, each morning before I get out of it. Gratitude first (Thank you for another day) - then solicitation (Watch over us and keep us safe). I'm no theologian or spiritual sojourner, but I can't imagine how much more in the prayer department you really need. There is Grace at work in my life every day. Maybe I'm just fortunate to be able to see it without spending all my time looking.

As for inner peace and tranquility? Sure it can come from true love - for everyone who has found their soul mate and gets to close their eyes tonight in that bliss, know that you are blessed. But there is another kind of love that brings just as much tranquility. It's a broader, expansive, all-encompassing kind of love - the kind we should all have for each other - the kind that binds us and makes us want to be better people. Real love means feeling the hurt when others bleed and crying when others feel sorrow. It means we want to stop the pain for every one because it pains us all. Genuine compassion and empathy beats pleasure and romance hands down when it comes to changing the world.

Elizabeth Gilbert has touched many lives with her writing. She started a self-re-invention movement that has helped countless people (especially middle-aged women) define what they want their lives to mean. I'm sure it matters that she has lived and I don't want to disparage her literary achievements. But I don't want women to put on sandals and flit off to some island or start sitting criss-cross-applesauce muttering their mantra for hours on end either. I would much prefer that we keep doing what we are doing. Put one foot in front of the other. Transformation is available to everyone at this slow pace. Be kind. Don't whine. Help where you can. Be useful. Love and be loved. Stand for something. Sacrifice. Show gratitude. Recognize grace. Congratulations! You found yourself.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It's the Giggling

Yesterday, I was listening to NPR and they reported on the death of John Callahan, a man as famous for being politically incorrect as for anything else. John was a quadriplegic and his “everything is fair game” attitude got his cartoons published in the LA Times, Chicago Tribune and elsewhere. (My personal favorite showed a “Feminist Book Store” and the sign read, “There is no Humor Section.” I just think that’s funny.) Anyway, Gary Larson (The Far Side) was talking about his friend and fellow cartoonist and he said he really felt the two of them were kindred spirits. Then he said something that really resonated with me. He said, basically, “think about the times in your life when you laughed the hardest – literally with your sides splitting and tears running down your face. Sometimes you can laugh that hard with a group of people, but usually, you’ll find that if you’re laughing that hard, it’s during a moment that you’re sharing with just one other person.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to that. There are plenty of things in life that the general public won’t laugh with us about – gross, morbid, nonsensical or disturbing things - and you have to have that one other person who just gets it (whatever “it” might be). It’s refreshing to have a person who will laugh with you when everyone else would be crying (or vomiting, as the case may be, or just looking puzzled or worse, just looking away).

I have written here a lot about why I love “The 3 Day.” I love the way it lifts and inspires us and the way it benefits countless people while making us better individuals in the process. I love the way it represents all that is benevolent and productive about a “community,” whether that be a physical place or just a social fabric; we all learn from it and are elevated by it.

But now I think the thing I love most about The 3 Day is just the giggling. We manage to laugh a lot on the walks in spite of however hot we are, or wet, or blistered, or sore, or sunburned, or sweaty, or stinky. . . . . My tent-mate/team-mate/bestest-cousin-buddy and I find a lot of humor along the way. Sometimes we’re just laughing at what a hideous spectacle we’ve become. And there aren’t a lot of people we’d share that with.

This past Saturday evening in Boston, we walkers had been through a lot. We were about 43 miles in – having walked almost 22 that day and the conditions had been a little extreme. The heat was taking a toll on everyone and it had been unbearably humid as well. There had been fog, rain, blistering sun and boiling hot pavement with a lot of concrete sidewalks thrown in which are tough on your knees and shins. After dinner, everyone really just seemed to want to get some sleep.

I was in my tent with the screen open for ventilation, tending to my feet, when the two ladies staying diagonally across from us walked down the lane between the rows of jerry-rigged, tarped and trash-bagged tents. They could hear the horrendous snoring before they got all the way down the aisle and I watched as they realized it was coming from directly behind their tent. One of them said she didn’t think her ear-plugs could drown that out. They debated for a bit and ultimately decided to relocate their tent to the end of the row. I felt so bad for them I wanted to cry. Such a long day! Now probably all they wanted was to rest and they couldn’t. Here they were, moving their wet, smelly, disorganized stuff in near-darkness on feet that didn’t really want to take another step. To save time, they opted to clear out the heaviest stuff and then pick up the whole tent, some stuff still inside, and carry it to the new spot. Needless to say, the tent was unwieldy and they were struggling. I decided to see if they wanted any help; maybe I could lend a hand to these poor ladies who seemed to be in such a pickle.

When I stuck my head out, I could see that their tent had folded itself together in a way that made it look more two-dimensional than three and the stuff they left inside had congregated in the middle and was causing the bottom to drag. There didn’t seem to be an easy way to fix the drag-bulge while still supporting the sides. What a mess. The ladies themselves were less easily discerned. That’s because they were doubled over behind the tent laughing. It was that awesome kind of silent, no-longer-breathing laugh that you fall into when you’ve gone completely goofy. I love that laugh. That laugh is what The 3-Day is all about. Blistered feet met with a grin. Collapsed tent met with fits of laughter. Yup. That’s why we keep signing up. Of course Everyone Deserves a Lifetime. And of course we’re going to create a World Without Breast Cancer. But the other thing that brings us back year after year is just the giggling.

I got back into my tent. The ladies clearly didn’t need me. Nope – those two kindred spirits had each other.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Final Countdown

One week from today, people; one week from today.

A couple of things happened on Wednesday that are relevant to this adventure we are about to have next week. First, I had a mandatory conference call with Boston 3-Day for the Cure Field Coordinator, Meredith. This was for official training walk leaders who are to serve as auxiliary safety monitors for the actual walk event. Our job is to remind people not to talk on their cell phones or listen to their I-pods en route and to help watch out for signs of heat exhaustion, dehydration, etc. among the ranks. It was a good conference call because it got everybody excited and enthused for next week. Everyone involved was an experienced walker and we took some time to share stories and “take-aways” from past events and training walks.

Meredith is very passionate about her job and she always seems to have inspiration and motivation to spare even as she enters that stressful crunch-time right before her big weekend. I had noticed at the kick-off Get Started Meeting way back in March that she likes to use quotes to begin and end her meetings, conferences and trainings – to help set the tone and get everyone in the right frame of mind for what they are about to undertake. The one that she used Wednesday night that really stuck with me was, “Courage doesn’t always roar.” Granted, life has its share of moments that demand the loud kind of courage – where we must shout down the enemy (whatever/whoever that might be); fight it off with everything we have, screaming, cursing or grunting as we go. But, if you think about it, you probably see the quiet kind of courage every day. You may not even notice it – you may be too distracted by the more boisterous, faux courage; the kind that, like the Cowardly Lion, roars loudly, but doesn’t actually possess any resolute bravery. It may be in the shy kid giving a book report at school; or the firefighter who lives down the street but doesn’t talk much about his job; or the chemo patient that never takes a sick day. I would like to suggest that we all tune-in to this element over the next few days and show praise and support for quiet courage everywhere that we can. Maybe it will spread. . . .

As an aside, several of us tried to get information about the walk details from Meredith that haven’t been readily available to date (like the exact location of camp. . . .) but we were unsuccessful. The only thing I learned that I didn’t already know is that this year’s event caterer providing meals in camp will be the same caterer that served the Vancouver Olympics. So we should all expect some decent grub next weekend. Not that the food has ever been bad – and certainly in no short supply – they don’t call it “The 3-Day Buffet” for nothing!

The other thing that happened on Wednesday was quite unexpected. I was asked to be a flag-bearer at the opening ceremony of The Boston 3-Day for the Cure. I could not be more thrilled and honored about this and am really looking forward to it. I will need to go to Framingham earlier than planned on Thursday for a rehearsal, which, of course, will only add to the excitement. I look forward to writing about that – I believe I will see the 3-Day Walkers from a different perspective than I have in the past – having always been packed into the middle of them. I may actually get to see the forest through the trees this time. . . . What I’m getting at is, I do plan to keep up with this blog even after the 3-Day is over, because I think I will still have plenty of things to ruminate about, lend perspective to and just plain get off my chest (so to speak) post-event and well into the future.

So let the Final Countdown begin – I am already checking the Weather Channel web page several times a day (possible thundershowers Sunday, but that could change!) and have taped my packing list to my rolling duffle so I’m ready to start checking things off. Also, as of yesterday morning, my hair is streaked pink and will stay that way for the foreseeable future. In terms of last minute tips, I would offer the following: Dry Feet are Happy Feet; Equal amounts of water and Gatorade seem to serve most people well in the heat; Pre-hydrate! (Drink extra fluids the day before!); Advil PM is a great invention (so are Tiger Balm and ear plugs); Don’t forget your tent decorations (even if you’re not in a streamers and garlandy mood, they help you identify your spot in an ocean of pink sameness)! Finally, remember that all you really need to have a life-changing 3-Day Experience are a well-trained body and an open heart. Enjoy every minute!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who, What, When and Where

The word nostalgia is derived from two Greek words – nostos, meaning 'homecoming', and algos, meaning 'pain'.

The medical professionals who coined the word nostalgia in the late 18th century were describing a serious emotional and physical condition wherein sufferers were incapacitated by the despair of homesickness. It was a debilitating disorder and was even grounds for removal from military service if it was perceived as compromising a soldier's sense of purpose.

Today though, it simply describes wistful thoughts of earlier times and places.

I mentioned in a prior post that I recently returned from vacation. I traveled from my home in Rhode Island to the remotest corners of southwest Virginia where I grew up. My mother’s family was having a big family reunion (she was 1 of 11 kids) so I packed up my boys and headed for the mountains.

I have a lot of nostalgia for my hometown. Everything about it is different from where I live now. It gets dark a full half hour later in the Summer and there are literally thousands of lightning bugs out at dusk (compared to zero at my house). There's no iced coffee to be found. The coffee is black and strong and always hot. The tea is sweet and cold.

The pace of life at my house in Rhode Island is perpetually hectic. But when we vacation at my parents' home, the laws of physics seem to go right out the window. Velocity and speed are different functions there. A body in motion does NOT tend to stay in motion in Glade Spring, Virginia. You rest or move depending on who needs a push on the swing, how many ears of corn need to be pulled for dinner and how long the ice lasts in the drink before you have to raise yourself from the lawn chair and return to the house for a re-fill. Breakfast isn't a bowl of cereal wolfed down or a granola bar eaten in the car. Its French toast, bacon, muffins and fresh fruit every day. Lunch is pimiento cheese on toast and dinner is garden fare - with everything on the plate coming from the land you're sitting on. By contrast, in Rhode Island, the closest we get to "locally grown" is probably the Chinese take-out place that got cited a little while back for serving seagull.

Yes, I exaggerate, but only to show, in no uncertain terms, what a romantic view I have of the place where I grew up compared to every other place on earth, including the place I now call home. I definitely slip on a pair of rose-colored glasses every time I start down Interstate 81. In my head, its an idyllic world down there where time moves more slowly and everybody waves when you drive by. But on this most recent visit, the glasses came off and I think I saw clearly for the first time in a while. It happened the moment I watched pigeons fly out of the broken second story window of a formerly stately, but now derelict, turn-of-the-last-century Main Street building.

We all know that small towns across America have suffered of late, losing jobs and business to the "big box" chains first, and then to a sour economy in general. Storefronts sit empty and over time, the vacant buildings succumb to weather and wildlife. Owners lose the ability to maintain them without income and the results are devastating to the character of the place. Once grand architectural details crumble, glass cracks, paint peels, water gets in (along with stray dogs and squirrels). Pretty soon foundations start to heave, bricks break and roofs collapse. Nearly every little town I spent time in as a kid has experienced this to one degree or another. I grew up in a town of 1,200 people. There's only so much of this our country's truly small towns can take without appearing to be left for dead.

The same day I made my revelatory pigeon observation, I read a piece in TIME Magazine by humor essayist Joel Stein, expressing similarly severe nostalgia for his hometown of Edison, New Jersey. He took a serious beating from his writing peers for the piece (perhaps deservedly so) which was actually about immigration. Read it and decide for yourself here:,9171,1999416,00.html

But Mr. Stein's under-lying theme resonated with me nonetheless. It seemed to be about how "you can't go home again." The reason obviously being that "home" never continues to exist as you remember it. For example, I stared at the building where Lonnie's Market had long provided cold popsicles for a nickel on a hot day. I remembered the inside of the squatty little space clearly, even though it had been 30 years since I stepped foot in the place. There were wooden shelves and only one cash register. They had penny candy and "sewing notions." You could buy an RC Cola and a Moon Pie and stand there chatting while you ate it. God only knows what's going on inside that building now. . . In that sense, there's little that's recognizable about the Town where I grew up. So many people my age have left for lack of opportunity. I began to seriously question the sanity of a person who would feel homesick for such a depressing little place.

But another thing happened the day I watched the pigeons access their newly acquired real estate and it made me put my rosey glasses back on.

My Mom works out at "Curves" almost every day. She has always said nice things about the lady who runs the place, Robin. Robin allowed Mom to put out a cutely decorated 3-Day donation box for her patrons to help with my fundraising. I wanted to meet Robin and thank her for that so I went with Mom and the plan was, I would walk some laps around downtown to get some training miles in while she did her Curves routine. As we approached the glass entry door of the old brick building, it opened from the inside before we quite got to it. I don't remember exactly what was said, but the next thing I know, I'm pulled inside this adorable little place where everyone is all smiles and this Robin lady has both arms fully around me. And I'm hugging her back and it's the most warm and genuine hug I have ever received from a total stranger. This was no token peck (classic Rhode Island); and not a simple pat or that brief, awkward squeeze we've all gotten at one time or another from a distant relative or touchy-feely co-worker. This was the real deal. This is what makes me homesick.

There's something about these small-town, mid-Atlantic, Appalachian people. They are friendly and hospitable like all southerners. But they are also humble, respectful and self-sufficient in a way that makes them come across as a little more private and even stand-offish to outsiders. At the same time, they are strong and loyal and would gladly sacrifice selflessly for any member of their clan or community. Once they identify you as one of their own, the outpouring of affection is authentic, immediate and permanent. I don't think you get this to the same degree in places where the crowd is less home-grown and everyone is from somewhere else. You start to miss it. Its rare to be pulled in and so fully embraced by people unknown to you. This kind of acceptance and love only comes from one place; home. Whether you're in city or suburb, farm or village, coast, mountain, or tented camp in a 3-Day host community. . . . It occurs to me that the reason I'm so fond of The 3-Day may have to do with pure nostalgia. The short-lived spirit of togetherness is a trip down memory lane and it is generated by people who aren't part of your family and aren't from where you're from. You are welcomed and embraced just the same. After all, it is the event where the secret handshake is a hug.

I thought I was homesick for a certain time and place before. Now I know it's not about a "where" or a "when." It's about a who. So, for the whole of my 3-Day family, and everybody else out there, wherever you go, may the people you're with make it home.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Two Weeks Away

AAaaahhhh - I breathe a sigh of unenthused acceptance as I re-enter reality after being on vacation last week. Apologies to all who checked in here expecting to see an update that just didn't come. I had every intention of posting while I was away, but I guess I just got toooo relaxed - which isn't a bad thing. But I must say that when I got back and received the "Two-Week Training Alert" I think I had some sort of minor convulsion! Wow - time really does fly when you're having fun! So now we, the Boston Walkers, have access to all our route and cheering station information and at least a general idea of where camp is - and we have been ordered to print out our credentials next Friday and be ready to go! I am happy to report that I finally met my fund-raising minimum while I was away so I won't have that to worry about during "crunch time." Thanks to all who contributed - we couldn't do it without you!!

The photo I have included shows where I spent last week - Natural Tunnel State Park in Virginia. We did quite a bit of walking and maybe you can tell from the picture that its hilly to say the least. I went with a group of kids, ages 6 - 16 (my children and various nieces, nephews and cousins) down to the tunnel and then back up and out again. I have to admit, there was the slightest hint of a whine emanating by the end - but for the most part, the kids did great! It was a challenging hike and I am very proud of them.
I have a number of other things that I want to say about my vacation because my eyes were opened to a couple of realities that I think are both interesting and relevant. But I think I will save them for next time because there seems to be something more pressing that has come up. Some of you who follow other 3-Day blogs may have seen 3-Day Ambassador John Welsh's recent posts at his site (He is also the Dallas Energizer Keep Going Blogger) He is a proponent of an idea that originated here at "Whining Causes Blisters." Back before Fathers' Day, I wrote a piece in honor of all the men associated with The 3-Day and suggested that they collectively be named People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive." You can find the post here under the title "Thanks Guys." We are now trying to push this idea at People and are hoping others will join us. We are asking that people send letters to the editors at the magazine encouraging them to consider doing something to recognize "the men of the 3-day." I have written a letter that I would be happy to share as a template or starting place and you could add your own details - or - just copy it verbatim and "second the nomination!" If you would like to participate, please let me know and I'll help any way that I can. Letters should be sent to Thanks a lot - let's make this happen!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Climb Every Mountain

Over Father's Day weekend, my husband participated in the Mount Washington Road Race. It is a 7.6 mile climb (they call it a run but when the slope exceeds 20 percent, I think it's fair to say it's a climb) and while some people manage to finish the race running, others are happy to walk or crawl as the case may be. If you are not familiar with Mount Washington, it is the highest point in the northeast at 6,288 feet and is known for having pretty much the worst weather in the world. The highest temperature ever recorded there was only 72 degrees and the average annual snowfall is 256 inches. The strongest wind measured on the mountain exceeded 230 miles per hour and fog is reported about 300 days out of every year. The race has been around for 50 years and running it has sort of been on my husband's "bucket list" for a while. I'm glad to have it behind him, although he says he'd like to sign up again, train harder and do better. I think he's nuts and am just thrilled he completed it without injury or ailment. I keep telling him he has plenty to be proud of to have simply finished. (Any of this sound familiar?!)

Anyway, while he was off with the guys racing around the wilds of New Hampshire, I was back home in little Rhody, elevation 20, and I attempted to take the boys to the beach on Sunday. The fog rolled in so thick along the coast that the lifeguards wouldn't let children in the water because they couldn't see them well enough to keep them safe. We gave up and went home.

I went for a walk later on and realized how much I like walking in the fog. You can only see a short way ahead so the distance you still have to travel doesn't come across like this infinite, unattainable course. You're just going so far as you can see and then doing that again. Walkers who are experienced with The 3 Day are always quick to point out that it's not a death march situation. Its just a whole bunch of little walks strung together, connected by pit stops, Grab and Go's and a mid-day meal. It is sound advice to think of it that way. Anyone can do three miles. As my dad would say, "You can stand on your head and gargle peanut butter for three miles." Then you take a break; eat a banana, drink some water, stretch; and do it again. Just go to where the fog thickens and see how it looks. Take a break. Try to see what lies beyond. You can walk that far.

The motto of the Mount Washington Road Race is "Only one hill." (Not - "The whole thing is one giant, wicked intimidating big-a** MOUNTAIN that will make you puke and pant and limp!!" Just, "Only one hill." ) You can do that.

If you are having trouble training for The 3 Day because you can't find a way to crow-bar those 15 or 18 miles into your schedule, remember not to take the "60 miles" part of it so seriously. If the big number is intimidating, break it down; spread it out; carve it up. Maybe think of it as 20 three mile walks; or 12 five mile walks; whatever your most comfortable training increment is. Once you start tackling those small, measurable goals, you'll start to feel the vastness of the 60 mile gap start to close. And Mount Washington will start to look like just a hill.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Took a few days off

Sorry for the delay in blog entries but I have been away from technology for a few days. Went camping in the wilds of western Rhode Island with the cub scouts over the weekend. I take back every bad thing I've ever said about porta-potties. I was begging for one by Saturday night. The "primitive facilities" at Camp Rah Rah Aquapaug left a lot to be desired. Since there is absolutely no way to politely describe the conditions, I will leave it at that. But I will add that notwithstanding the lack of luxurious restroom accommodations, parents and kids all had a blast on the trip!

When I returned from camping and had scrubbed off all the filth and aired out all the wet gear, I fired up the computer. There in the In-Box was my virtual personal trainer e-mail from the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure indicating the 6 (yes, six!) weeks away mark! It seems a little like this year's walk has sneaked up on me. Maybe because I walked so late last year - in Atlanta in October. And this year, doing Boston, which is first in the rotation, well, it just doesn't seem like it's time yet for another walk. But it is.

I saw the 6-weeks header and thought, "Holy Cow!" And that reminded me I had promised some people photos of the "fake" cows (previously mentioned under "Cows That Don't Say Mooo") and I have delivered. I took the camera back on that walk route just as I said I would. While I was snapping shots of said cows, their owner came out, clearly curious what I was up to. Bear in mind that her inseam likely equaled my whole height and while she was wearing shorts and sneakers with a T-shirt, her lipstick was perfect. I estimated her wristwatch cost more than my car. I'm sizing her up as my polar opposite BUT - we were wearing the same hat (GO SOX), so I thought I'd give a chat a go. And now I have a new not-quite friend, but at least very polite acquaintance.

Turns out these people Love, Love, Love their fake cows. I heard all about the extensive effort they had gone to in choosing the cows, their poses and positions and their placement in relation to each other. This woman's affinity for these things was extremely genuine and she clearly felt they lend a sense of whimsy and interest to the property. She made it clear that their purchase was a design decision and their approach to the installation was comparable to deciding on architectural elements for your house; like picking a Victorian porch or a fieldstone chimney. For the owners, the cows create a certain character for the property that just generally makes them feel good about being there. Hmmmm

When I left for my walk the morning I took these photos, I felt really good about what I was wearing. I was rockin' a hot pink sport skirt that my husband could only describe as "loud." I reminded myself that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

When the Guggenheim museum was built, some people thought it was so artistically done that it would compete with the art inside; others called it a monstrosity; an eyesore. Everyone had an opinion. Some believed it to be a thing of beauty and others disagreed vehemently.

For my kids, a thing of beauty is probably best represented by the sticky brown froth bursting out of the Diet Coke bottle when they drop the Mentos in. For my husband, a thing of beauty is probably a sound more than a sight; like the motorcycle engine turning over on that first warm spring day.

I personally love that half of my wardrobe is now pink because of The 3-Day. I wear it all in part because it represents our unity and in part because I think it looks fabulous on me. But there's a movement afoot within The 3-Day community with their "Pink is so NOT my color" slogans. For them, "beautiful" will be a day when we don't all have to wear the unifying pink anymore. I think I can adjust my personal standard for beauty to accommodate that vision. Our idea of what it means can change and evolve and I will look forward to a day when I can pack up all the lovely pink things and carry them to the attic in a box marked "Sooo Last Season!" When the time comes to ditch the official "uniform," we'll all be free to do our own thing. We'll get eclectic and funky in other hues. And maybe we'll put plastic cows in our yards.

SO I have resolved to be less quick to judge and to always have that chat before I jump to any conclusions. And to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But my mom taught me another saying that seems appropriate here: "Pretty is as pretty does." So to all The 3-Day community - I don't care if you wear pink skorts or not; and you can have fake cows, garden gnomes, wind socks, ceramic frogs or those little painted kitties that look like they're climbing a tree - it doesn't matter what's in your yard (or your house or your hair or your bra, for that matter). You all look absolutely gorgeous to me.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

False What??!

OK Guilty; I admit it. But in my defense, people do it all time. It was strictly for effect, though – call it literary license. I created a false dichotomy – and would point out that we’ve all done it at some point. We assert the two opposing forces most closely associated with our values and frame of reference and pretend that nothing exists in the middle. We call out the two most extreme versions of something and offer them up as a collectively exhaustive list. That’s precisely what I did in a recent post.
In my May 21 entry, "Guilty Pleasures," I hypothesized that there are two kinds of people in the world: (1) those who embrace each day and all that it brings [they want to add value to the beauty and goodwill of our existence]; and (2) those who can’t conceive of anything bigger and better than themselves [and thus will never work to attain it].
Of course these are not the only two options. They are but bookends in a broad spectrum of types. I am the first to admit that I’m uncomfortable with shades of grey and tend to think of all people as either part of the solution or part of the problem. I know in that sense that I have fallen victim to the fallacy of false choice. "You’re either with us or against us" syndrome. Because of my black and white way of thinking, I often find myself choosing between two ideas instead of considering the infinite possibilities that lie between them. So yeah, my use of the false dichotomy may say significantly more about me as a person than the fact that I like to tie up my blog entries with a nice, neat bow at the end.
Following some serious philosophical introspection over the weekend, I concluded that my readers deserve better than my bad logic. I did some gut-wrenching soul-searching and a lot of deep thinking and finally, the light bulb went on. Revelation! I could, at last, move away from the "two kinds of people" notion. I could leave the false dichotomy behind. Because I could finally discern, thru my fuzzy, half-truth fog, that there are indeed not two kinds of people. There are, and always have been, three kinds of people in the world. There you have it! Yessirree! I told you I could move beyond the false dichotomy – I’m giving you, my readers, the new and improved False Trichotomy.

Here they are; the 3 kinds of people:
(1) People uninterested in service or the spirit of giving. They may be selfish or just self-absorbed or simply driven to distraction by the mundane. Regardless, their existence is not marked by contribution, creativity, gratitude, serenity or humility and they leave the world no better than they found it. They can be hard to identify. Many are absolute thugs living at the dark periphery as societal fringe with utter detachment from their community. Others live on your street, drive the same car as you, and haul their kids to the same athletic fields and trumpet recitals. Look out! Once you really know what you’re dealing with, avoid it like the plague because it can drain you.
(2)What I believe to be the vast majority of us. We always try to do the right thing. We give what we can where we can. We seek out like-minded companions and form communities around a shared effort to have a positive impact. We are the T-ball coaches and Scout leaders, church social committee members and 3-Day walkers. We reach out and try to connect, try to support and try to leave things generally better off when we’re done. We spend some of our time being conflicted and frustrated and sometimes we grow tired and complain. We mutter under our breath at times when we have to bake more cupcakes or cart around more kids or stay late to turn off the lights when we really want to be in bed. But we do it. And we get up the next morning and do it some more. We’re energized by the fact that we’re in it together and so we keep going. Yup; that’s most of us. Muddling thru and trying real hard to do the right thing.
(3) Then there’s these guys. What can I say? We all know a couple of them. The ones who always do the right thing and then some! Do it with a smile on their face and a song in their heart. These are the people who never seem to puzzle over what the right thing is – and when it comes time to actually do it, it’s done with a graciousness and sincerity that puts us to shame. There’s no effort involved; it’s a way of life. Compassion and generosity come so naturally to them that it’s almost supernatural. Latch on to these people. Learn from them. Emulate them. Thank them.

There you have it. The 3 kinds of people in the world! By now you know I’m kidding, of course. I’m certainly not about to go pounding all of humanity into one of the three peg-holes I’ve created. We all know "It takes all kinds" and the personality continuum is expansive. Maybe we’ve all had our moments of being each kind at some point or another. As much as I’m a recovering whiner, I still whine every now and again. But I’ve also had a couple of choice moments, especially as a parent, when I’ve been supremely selfless. We’re all a different shape, a different shade, a different degree and, in reality, I’m all for celebrating that! But right now I see a cluster of pegs, way out at the far end, waayyy out in the distance, standing together below the board. My goal is to re-form this peg - me - until it fits through their hole.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Thanks Guys!

Something in our dinky little local newspaper caught my eye yesterday. It was a picture of 28 women and one man. If the dinky little local newspaper would put their opinion pieces online, I would provide the link here, but alas, they do not. I will just have to describe it as best I can.

The 28 women were wearing brightly-colored and be-jeweled bras on the outside of their clothes and they were posed in front of a local restaurant – yes, outside, on the sidewalk. The one man in the picture was Marko, the owner-proprietor-chef at said local restaurant. And he looked pleased as punch to be in the middle of this spunky group of ladies. I have been in Marko’s a few times – he makes a foulle that is to die for; it’s a soupy, garlicy blend of chick peas and fava beans, meant to be sopped up with flat bread – good and good for you! The place is tiny and casual – you can bring your own wine and they’ll un-cork it for you and provide the glasses. It’s a friendly, homey sort of place without pretense but with excellent food.

The ladies gathered at Markos were there to raise money for one in the group who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. They, to my knowledge, are not affiliated with any formal event like The 3-day or Relay or Race for the Cure or anything; but were taking their own private steps to support their friend. Beautiful. And the reason it made the paper is because they had written a very moving, public “Thank You” note to Marko for having hosted their event. Apparently they picked the place because they liked it and not because he had any relationship with any of them. He had allowed them to over-take his place of business for a night – in all their costumed glory – and not out of personal obligation to anyone in the group – but just to be a good citizen. Which brings me to my point – it's always the men who get me. As moved as I constantly am by all my “sisters” in the 3-day family, it's always the men who get me. Pink Beard; Men With Heart; Baghdad; The Second Basemen; Convertible Thunderbird guy; the Kilts; the man in the video who says he’s walking for his wife because she can’t be there. . . . . That’s when you’re biting your lip and pulling the tissues out of your fanny pack.

Last year when I got home from the Atlanta walk, I wrote a letter to People Magazine suggesting that the “Men of the 3-Day” deserve their title of Sexiest “Men” Alive! The following is excerpted from the letter I submitted. . . . .

“I’m sure the editors of People are hard at work on the annual “Sexiest Man Alive” edition, which usually comes out around the first of December. I have a “nomination” to put forth in that regard. I assert that America’s Sexiest Man Alive is not a man, but a group of men; a group that wears feather boas, angel wings and hot pink hula skirts. But they are not transvestites, transgender, gay or “curious.” Well, some of them might be, but mainly, they are the fathers and sons, husbands, brothers and boyfriends of women affected by breast cancer. Some of them have even been diagnosed with the disease themselves and are gutsy enough to say so in public. These are the men of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, the boldest event of its kind in America. It is a 60 mile walk over three days that draws tens of thousands of participants each year and raises tens of millions of dollars for breast cancer research.

“As you can imagine, “The 3-Day” is a female dominated event, but men do come. They come as the bicycle, motorcycle and medical crews who see to the safety of the walkers; they come as the gear and tent haulers, support vehicle drivers, and the hydration team that mixes infinite gallons of Gatorade. Many of them come to walk themselves or to simply be “walker stalkers” - spectators who follow the route cheering, clapping and encouraging. In solidarity with women who have given up something of their womanhood to have their breasts altered as they fight their disease, these men give up their manhood for a weekend to wear be-dazzled bras, and pink Crocs, to wear wigs and paint their nails and trudge along among this gaggle of women. That’s hot!

“But “The Men of the 3-Day” doesn’t just include the guys “on event.” It includes the guys back home, too: the husbands, brothers and dads who support these women while they train and fundraise; who take care of the kids, rub the feet and wipe the tears. No walker could do it without them. There’s nothing sexier than empathy, generosity and sacrifice. In my opinion, they deserve more than a page in a magazine, but it would be some great recognition and well-deserved. I hope you will seriously consider this proposal.”

Happy Father’s Day All -