Thursday, December 22, 2011

The New Year!!!!

I can't believe it's almost 2012.

This year has passed by literally faster than any year of my life (at least those I was old enough to remember).

I'm not sure why, I guess probably because there was so much change and I was just so busy. I learned so much in 2011. The last couple of years have pretty much defined the person I am today.

Just a few things I've done this year:
Became a runner
Learned to scuba dive and dove with sharks
Got engaged and married
Got my masters degree
Traveled further than I've ever traveled, pretty much across the globe
Became debt-free and financially secure
Did my first presentation at a regional conference
Completed my first Triathlon...then did another one
Completed my first 5K....then did another one

Etcetera, etcetera.

I can probably think of more but it's making me tired just looking at it! It's been a wonderful year, and a year of my life I will never forget. I am so incredibly blessed. I know that God had all of this in the plans for my life, and more in 2012. I just needed to understand what he was offering to me and learn how to respect my life.

I am finally in a place where I can do his work: meaning I am aware and grateful and safe - things that can have a major difference in your daily well-being and health.

I no longer care about what people think about me, because I am confident in myself. I know that I am making the right decisions and I am comfortable with that. I do not participate in gossip, drama, or any other negativity that surrounds us. I am not so sensitive - I know how to carefully react to others and how to guard my emotions. I am careful about my actions and choices.

Looking back, there are many choices I wish I wouldn't have made, and things I wish I could re-do. For example, if I had the choice to re-do high school I would do it all completely differently. But I wasn't in a place emotionally to do it then. There are things I didn't know. I love myself and now I feel sorry for the me I was as a child and in high school. Instead of feeling embarrassed or ashamed of my actions, I feel sorry for that rebellious girl and I have compassion for her. I understand why she acted the way she did.

Now I understand how she then, later, got caught up with a rebellious young man and married him. Another choice I wish I could take back (and I did, by divorcing him), but again, I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't been through that. I am just so glad I was able to grow and learn and come out of it all (relatively) unscathed.

All the information I have now arms me with what I need to make a positive difference in the world. I know how to help my students, and I have the information I need to be a great parent someday as well. God was carrying me then, just as he has carried me through the last couple years of my life.

Thank you so much to all of my wonderful family and friends who have also surrounded me during these last few years!

Thank you to my wonderful husband, Kyle, who has given so much of himself to make me happy: Safety, comfort, friendship, laughter, and so much love.

I am so looking forward to 2012.


Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Black bird singing in the dead of night

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see

all your life

you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly

Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly

Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise,

You were only waiting for this moment to arise,

A poem from the past

I got in the way
As you took out your rage on
the walls, the futon, the floor.
What was once my cell phone is now your weapon.

"Go home," I repeated, over and over.
"This is my home," you screamed, sobbing drunkenly.
"Please stop," I cried quietly, my face rubbed into the carpet.

How surprisingly together and peaceful the room was afterward
Almost untouched,
As if no nightmare had occurred. 
Nothing but a picture askew, and pictures can be straightened

Swollen flesh, not as quickly remedied.
The mind, it never forgets.
And in my heart, a picture hangs forever askew.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lunesta for Life

Okay, so I was kidding in that title.

I am really not one of those people that thinks prescription drugs are the "magic" answer to society's problems. And to tell you the truth, I really don't like taking them, but I will if absolutely all other avenues have been exhausted.

Well, last night was that night. I caved. I took a Lunesta - for the first time in nearly two years.

And I slept like a baby. All night long.

And although I hope someday to ditch Lunesta for life, I don't regret it right now. Those of us who can't sleep know just how devastating the lack of sleep can be ... in every aspect of your life.

I go through phases with sleep. I can't explain it very well, except that it runs in my family. My family on my dad's side have similar difficulties sleeping.

It's something I've dealt with my whole life. And it comes and goes. Like a sneaky little devil interfering in my normal life cycle.

I will sleep just fine for months and then, one day, something happens. My sleep schedule gets off-kilter. And it doesn't seem to come back for a very long time.

Sometimes it's work stress, sometimes it is personal stress. Or maybe I got off schedule because I was off work or something of that nature. Sometimes I can pinpoint the reason (like one time I realized the "women's active vitamins" I bought actually had caffeine and other energy herbs in them), but other times I can't.

The only thing I can poinpoint this time is my trip to Tahiti. I took two red-eye flights - there and back - and then had to adjust to a six-hour time difference, twice. All in ten days.

Let's just say I didn't adjust very well. Three weeks later, I'm still not sleeping. It's been so long that I have had this problem, I was really surprised by it.

I try to do everything "they" say to do: No caffeine past noon, workout, keep a schedule, turn off TV's or anything else distracting in the bedroom, meditate, pray, take over the counter sleeping meds, try Melatonin, drink sleepytime tea, get up periodically to walk around, get a snack, etc. etc. My old doctor actually told me a few years ago that it's okay to take sleeping pills every night if I have to (Really? That's your cure? Tylenol PM every night?).

 My current doc is the one who gave me the Lunesta, but only a few. It's a serious drug and not meant for long-term use.

When I try to avoid the Lunesta and take Tylenol PM's, often I find myself groggy and staring at the ceiling, wide awake, jealously listening to Kyle and the dog and cat drifting away to sleep-land just fine. Next thing I know, I'm all by myself with just heavy breathing and the creaking of the house for company

I find myself laying there in the wee hours of the morning, those times when no corner of the bed is cold or comfortable enough, asking myself:

"Should I take another pill? Four hours before the alarm rings? What will feel worse when that alarm rings: one hour of sleep on one Tylenol PM, or three hours of sleep on two, or no sleep at all?"

It's a horrible thing to weigh. After several nights like that, If I'm still not sleeping, I will usually resort to a Lunesta.

When you are the only one awake that late at night, I swear every sense in your body is magnified.

I can hear every car drive by, see every little light ray from outside, and suddenly even the water softener in the basement is making deafening noises (Is it always that loud??)

It seems like someone is trying to break into the house once an hour. My mind starts to play tricks with me (Did I just hear glass cracking? Why isn't the alarm going off?) Those kind of nights I just usually get up, turn the lights on, eat a bowl of cereal and read a book or something. Funny how things feel so different with the lights on.

Inevitably, after hours of tossing and turning and getting up and back into bed again, I will end up falling asleep for a couple of hours. Before I know it, my alarm is ringing and I've had only two hours of restless sleep.

And believe me, two hours is NOT enough. Especially if it lasts consecutive days.

I wake up for work with a Tylenol PM hangover, or, feeling horrible from weird Melatonin dreams.

I start my day feeling completely moody and lethargic. Sometimes even dizzy and shaky. I get so exhausted throughout the day that I feel sick, and I think:

"Tonight's definitely the night .... I'm so tired since I didn't sleep last night, I've GOT to fall asleep tonight. The body can only take so much, right?"

Then I get in bed, and I notice my heart is beating fast and my mind is racing. My mind creeps into dark corners and dredges up things it shouldn't, the moment I start trying to relax. Sometimes I even suspect that the FEAR of not sleeping itself is enough to keep me awake again.

Nope, I soon realize ... Sleep won't grace me with its presence tonight either.

I always wonder why I have to have this particular ailment. It's such a tormenting thing to have. And people who don't have it just don't understand how tormenting it is. I think they often think it's petty - like "what's your problem? Just go to sleep."

You know those people. They are the people who can fall asleep sitting up in a chair in five seconds.

Oh how I envy those people.

You try to explain it, and they try to understand, but you can tell they really can't, if they haven't been there.

Anyway...this week has been a little better. Tonight I'm going to take a night run to see if I can wear myself out!

Wish me luck....zzzzzz

The Walk

Kyle and I went to St. Pat's park for a walk with the dog enjoy this beautiful Indian summer for a bit longer....

We had fun blowing the cotton seed plants we found, and scattering them into the wind...

And checking out the bright, colorful leaves peppered throughout dead flowers and other fall sticks and grass...

Enjoying the crisp smell of fall air, the quietness and stillness of the forest.

It was a good day.

And yet, two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Castle

Two years ago today, I was depressed, unhappy, miserable, not as efficient as I should be at work, a financial mess, lonely, 20 pounds heavier, and unfilfilled in just about all of my life's desires.

Although I no longer recognize that person, I remember that person. Most of all, I remember how I became that person.

The truth is, the main reason of my unhappiness (with some contributing factors), was that I chose to live my life with a bad person.

I made that decision. Today I can fully accept that decision, and the faulty reasoning that went with it. I had good intentions in making the decision, and with sticking with it for so long, but in all my good intentions, I forgot to look out for number one (me).

In making the decision in who you choose to accept in your life, you are looking out for yourself. You are protecting yourself and your life. You are loving yourself, something I've only recently learned how to fully do.

By letting good people into your life, you transform your own destiny. Today, I've drastically changed who I let into my life. I've found it's amazing what you can change in just two years with a couple of big decisions.

With good people in your life, you find that you don't have to worry about whether they truly care about you. They will fight for you. They will be there for you. They won't talk bad behind your back. They won't throw you under the bus. They won't lie, cheat, deceive, or hurt you, physically or emotionally. They won't make selfish decisions with no regard for you. You don't have to lose sleep at night, or double-check their whereabouts.

You don't have to worry they will lose another job and put your house into foreclosure by sleeping all day instead of looking for a new job, punching a family member while incredibly drunk, or crashing into a car with no insurance and no license, putting you into thousands of dollars of insurance debt (obviously NOT random examples).

Today, all of that is in the past. I am happy, fulfilled, joyful, grateful, in love, successful at work, financially secure, fit and healthy, and surrounded by friends and people who truly care about me. I have an amazing husband who has accepted my past and helped me to climb out of all the mess that was my life.

God is so good! It's taken me a lot of money, lawyers and time, but I am finally away from the bad influence of the past. I'm so grateful for the wisdom God gave me the past two years.

I will never go back to who I was then, and I have put plenty of safeguards in place to ensure that, the main safeguard of being careful who I accept into my life, and of carefully controlling my reactions to others' actions.

It can be harder than you think. Especially when you are one of those people that cares about ALL other people, regardless of who they are and what they've done. You have to make a logical (not emotional) conscious fact-check in your head. You have to constantly re-evaluate your choices in your acquaintances. You have to be careful.

Or, as my former therapist said: "Help your students. Help people at work. You shouldn't have to help your husband. He should help you. He should be someone you can look up to and respect, not someone that needs your help."

Think about your life as a castle with a moat that surrounds it. An impenetrable stone wall blocks invaders - a wall that only you can open and let people in.

You must protect the castle of your life.

Who will you let in your life, and who will you block?

Who is in your life right now that may be causing you problems - whether intentional or unintentional?

Did you ever think that maybe if you open the gate and let someone in that you've misjudged, that they can become a poison to your entire community, slowly morphing your surroundings until it's a scary place you no longer recognized?

I don't mean just significant others, either.

Friends can do this. Family can do this. Those most unassuming individuals who look like a pretty package outside can actually be very ugly and rotten inside.

Those people who keep coming back, even after you've evicted them. Because you let them.

See, if your life falls to ruins, you can't entirely blame another individual. You are an individual. You have choice about how you live your life, regardless of how others treat you. You have decisions. You have the ability to change and grow, regardless of others' influences.

In fact, there are signs that you can watch for, if you think your problems may be from another individual's influence. I wish someone had shown me these signs and made me evaluate my former ugly person. Maybe I'd changed things if I'd known what a huge mistake I was making.

Or maybe not. Maybe I needed to hit rock bottom to see clearly.

All I know is that now I know this: It's okay to judge people. It's okay to deny people. You can love them at a distance. You can have empathy for them. You can forgive them.

Just don't let them into your castle.

You have to take accountability for the role you played in who you let into your life. That was hard for me, because I had good intentions. But look where they got me.

I know now that I control my life. I control who is in it as well.  Learning to take control of my life and taking a poisonous person out of my life had huge positive implications in nearly every aspect of my life.

I'll never forget going to a new church not long after I'd started dating my now husband, and the sermon focusing on the "people you partner your life with." There was a list similar to the one below, and I remember looking at him from the side of my eye and thinking, "He is none of these horrible things. I've done it. I've found someone who will make my life better, not worse. I've found someone I can respect and trust."

And I married him.

Below, here are some traits that you need to watch out for. Of course, everyone makes mistakes. Repetition of these things is what is dangerous.

Evaluate the people in your life. Fire them if necessary. Just don't let them poison the community. It's never to late to kick them out.

Liars (not little white lies, repeated lies about important things)
Deception (hiding who they are, their actions, living two lives, etc.)
Abusers (physical and emotional)
Drug users
Angry people who act out in their anger
People who don't care about their personal growth
People who don't care about other people or their families
People you don't respect
People who don't make good decisions in general (financial, moral, impulsive, etc.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me :)

Today is my birthday, in case you didn't figure that out from the title. I was going through some old journals at work, and I found a hastily scribbled poem that I wrote last summer, I think sometime in June. Anyway, I really like it, and thought it would be fitting to post here on my birthday.


Just for today
I'll climb that mountain
and come down the other side
I'll leave behind that part of me that almost died

Today I'll keep going
at that steady pace
without fearing the tiger at my back
It's no longer a race

I won't run to you
or away
I won't hope secretly
that you'll ask me to stay

I'll hold myself
with my own two arms
I'll tilt my head towards God
when my heart sounds it's intruder alarm

For today,
you'll see the girl I once was,
a thousand years before
I swear, today, you'll be able to see so much more

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer of Firsts Part III - My first triathlon

I want to start off saying I really can’t describe myself as "athletic."

Yes - as an adult - I’m fit and active, and I usually work out 5/6 days out of the week, but as a youngster not so much.

I was more what you might call “artistic.” I spent my days reading and writing poetry. I gotta give it to my parents, because they sure tried. I signed up for soccer, summer swimming, basketball, and gymnastics …  hated them all with a passion, and quit them after a year, which was the minimum commitment my parents made me endure. I enjoyed biking and rode my bike everywhere as a kid, but it was leisurely - definitely not racing.

Softball was the only competitive sport I played consistently, and although I did get pretty good at it, I stopped playing after eighth grade, and based on a recent trip to the batting cages (15 years later), the magic is definitely gone.

So, to decide to do a triathlon at 30 years old was actually a big feat for me to embark upon. I'm a little more motivated as an adult. I had to learn how to properly swim, be able to run more than a mile (which really didn’t happen until about six months ago – I got up to 3 miles right before the Sunburst Races) and bike competitively for almost seven miles.

Then, I had to be able to put all of those things together and not die while doing it.

I spent about a year training just to be comfortable with it and know that I could do it. I had heard the Eagle Lake Short Sprint Triathlon on August 6th was good for beginners and smaller since it was only the 2nd annual, so I decided to do that one first to help prepare me for the Niles Super Sprint Triathlon, which Kyle and I will do together in September.

I started the day optimistic. I wasn’t nervous, just energized. We showed up way early so that I could get my station set up without feeling rushed. I also had to pick up my electronic chip, and wait in line to get the numbers written on my body. There was quite a bit of time where, as I wistfully watched the first few waves push off, I was just standing there with my swim cap on, itching to get in the water and GO.

I was doing the short sprint (200 meter swim, 6.9 mile bike and 1.4 mile run – this is a small triathlon) and the long-sprinters had to go first, so that accounts for the waiting. But that morning I thought I would be incredibly nervous, and I just wasn’t. I had prepared so much that I knew it was game time. I was ready. Mentally and physically, I felt great, and eager to get my first triathlon under my belt. I wasn’t expecting to beat anyone or make any kind of crazy time, but just feeling excited to finally do it.

Despite my eagerness (is that a word?) I made one big mistake right in the beginning that put me behind: I underestimated my swimming potential.

I had spent lunch hours at the Notre Dame Rolfs pool (which was roped lengthwise at 50 meters, or twice the length of a normal pool) doing laps over and over, in addition to swimming on the weekends at Kyle’s gym. I had made huge strides in my swimming and I was completely ready for that 200 meter swim. Yet, after hearing horror stories from others of getting pushed in the water or kicked in the face, my low swimming confidence got the best of me. I had never swum in close proximity with so many people – I don’t even like sharing my lane at the gym pool! So because of this fear, I decided to count to about 8, waiting for everyone in my wave to go first before I jumped in after them.

Big mistake.

Apparently, there were people doing the triathlon that had not prepared much for the swim. People in front of me were on their backs paddling while I was stuck behind them, not at all able to use my hard-won swimming skills. I spent so much time wading there with my head up, looking for a place that I could squeeze in and get past them, but there was none. Every time I stroked twice, I had to stop and wait for the people in front of me for a few seconds so I didn’t run into their kicking feet. Once, I tried to do a quick maneuver right to go around a lady and someone from a boat yelled at me to get back inside the buoy. (I was hardly outside it, just along the line for a second).

 Here I was, stuck behind this line of slower swimmers, and there was no way out. I watched so many people get out of the water running ahead of me, and there was nothing I could do about it. Finally, right towards the end, after I had already rounded and come back towards the beach, I was able to get around someone as the line spread out more. The swim was almost finished and I was really not even tired yet! So I got around her, and what do you know, the swim is over. I must have got maybe six or seven good consecutive strokes in during the entire swim.

I am really not a competitive person, but I had earned at least a chance at that swim. I was so incredibly pissed at myself! Here I had worked so hard all year to prepare and I couldn’t even swim. I was so much faster than the people I was stuck behind. I limited myself with my mind and I set myself up for failure. I’ll never do that again. I will start at the front - at least that way I’ve given myself a chance.

The bike was a different story. It surprised me with its level of difficulty. I expected that to be the easy-breezy part of the race. What I didn’t expect were the hills. They weren’t huge hills, but anyone who rides knows that even slight (but long) hills can seriously put a damper on your endurance. I was pushing it and passing all kinds of people, but still my legs were burning and I was short of breath. I had done 7 -13 miles with Kyle before, and we had pushed it a little, but it was more leisurely, and it usually wasn’t directly after a swim. Our rides and my time on the spin bikes at the gym really didn’t prepare me for the bike portion. Those 6.9 miles felt much longer than they were! I rounded so many cornfields and corners where I was like “Really? This isn’t done yet?” I was so glad to finally get off my bike when I got back to the transition station.

I really was excited for the run – 1.4 miles is like half of what I normally run, and it was the final leg (no pun intended) of the race. I thought it would be no problem and that my breath would settle down a little by the time I started running.

It didn’t.

This was probably because of the excess physical activity all at once. Normally my exercise-induced asthma doesn’t kick in for anything except running. This time, however, I was gasping for air by the end of the bike, so by the time I got to the run I was already out of breath, which threw me for a loop. I puffed my inhaler and took off anyway, only to find after a block I had to stop and walk for a minute to get my breathing regular. I still didn’t feel like I was breathing well enough, but counted to ten and vowed to run the rest of the way at 10.

 And I did.

Something kicked in, and even though my lungs hurt like crazy, I just kept going at a steady pace, passing quite a few people walking or running/walking.

When I saw that finish line, I kicked it in and ran as fast as I could. The announcer said on the microphone “Here comes number 264 … And she’s happy!” I was smiling big for Kyle’s camera when I hit the finish line. People were clapping and giving me high-fives. I came in at about 51 minutes, which was actually better than I expected. The third-place female in my age group did it in 42 minutes. I had estimated that I’d finish in an hour or more. So I exceeded my expectations, and with the below changes, I know I’ll do even better in my second triathlon, which I’m doing in about three weeks. I know exactly what I need to do now that I’ve been through it.

A few things I will change:

1. Quit being such a girl in the transition. You don’t need to take Advil, wash your feet, and fix your ponytail. Run in, bike out …. Look crazy, whatever. Oh, and don’t be in so much of a hurry that you put your helmet on backwards and have to stop and fix it, eating up like two minutes. Oops.

2. Swim in the front of the pack. They are short-sprinters as well and many of them first-timers. Your swimming ability is better than many of them – just watch where people are kicking.

3. Train for the bike better. Do several 10-mile jaunts with some hills where you really push it. Then 7 miles will feel easy.

4. Do more bike-->runs (outdoors, on a real bike). In my training I had done a few swim-->bikes and one swim-->bike-->Run, but not enough practice with bike-->runs. I need to figure out how to regulate my breathing for the long haul, and it may just be an endurance/practice issue.

5. To prepare for Eagle Lake, I ran through all the triathlon distances once at the gym. I did it in 45 minutes – which just goes to show how unlike real running and biking is compared to gym biking and treadmill running. The week before Niles, I will run through all the triathlon distances outdoors, so it’s more like the real thing.

And a tip for others if you are considering your first triathlon: Anyone can do this.

There were 14-year old kids doing the short sprint with their parents! Triathlon people are this amazing group of great people who come together to do something fun and healthy for a good cause. They will welcome you. I know I complained about slow swimmers, but it wasn’t their fault. It was my mistake for waiting and underestimating myself. I passed one swimmer that was on her back and panting and she still found time to say “good job” to me as I passed her. I thought it was weird, until it happened again … Another struggling biker that I passed said “great job, keep it up.”

I am going to pass on that warmth and say those kind words to others next time. This is an amazing group of people, and I was so glad to be part of that group. Plus, triathlons give you a reason for your workouts. Working out with no end goal in mind gets really boring. Having something to work towards makes it all worth it!

Kyle is already trying to get me to do the regular-length triathlon. It’s not going to happen next year, but it’s definitely in my future!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The death of graciousness

Lately I've been annoyed at the ungrateful behavior of some people around me, and I've noticed a common thread: the general decline of the niceties of cheerful, polite behavior - especially at work.

People don't say thank you anymore. Some have even taken thank you completely out of their vocabulary - or never put it in the first place.

For example, a reporter came into my community relations class last week for a Q and A, talking about how she has a colleague that hates it when people thank him for his stories.

Whaaaat? You mean you write a good piece of work, get it published, impress those involved, and you find it rude when those people thank you?

Well excuse me, but I'm sure they are just being polite. If you helped them gain publicity for something while at the same time writing a great story that people needed to know about, it is a win-win. You have helped them whether or not that was your intention. If you think that them saying "thank you" means you've done them a favor, then you are looking into this polite phrase way too much in depth. It is not rude to say thank you, and to take it personally in that way is narcissistic, at the least.

I used to be a newspaper reporter, and all the negative comments from the public got under my skin after a while. If I got a "thank you" or other positive comment from the public, I held onto it like a life-line, a rare golden nugget discovered buried in the treacherous fields of journalism. It was something that kept me going for weeks.

Did your parents teach you to say please and thank you?

Mine did. Yet my students, not so much. We have something called the "Four D's: Dreams, Decency, Dignity, and Diligence." We have to teach our students the meanings of these words in their lives because usually no one has. This year I did dignity, and I talked a lot about common niceties such as saying thank you when someone holds a door open for you or goes out of their way for you in some way.

Yes, we had to teach them that. It's a sad world we live in.

Yesterday, I was talking to a colleague that I had never met who had been assigned to coordinate a current events/government seminar with me for students at a university. After some lengthy rambling, he did put forth a couple of good ideas and agreed to do the power point for the beginning of the session. Since he was a government teacher and had more knowledge than I do on the basics of government, this took a lot of pressure off of me. All I had to do was coordinate the roundtable discussions following the power point.

So, before getting off the phone with him, I said "Thanks for your help, I appreciate it."

To which he replied, "Well, I didn't do anything, but ok."


Well I respectfully disagree. Yes, you did do something: You director assigned you to help coordinate an event you knew nothing about with a person from a different city that you had never met. You spent time working with her and coming up with ideas and then agreed to put in the work for a large part of the presentation.

Yes, you did something. And yes, you deserved to be thanked.

And if you can't accept being thanked than keep it to yourself. You are not my subordinate and I do not have the power to boss you around, therefore you are acting upon your own will to make this task much easier on me, whether you intended to or not.

And frankly, I find it most ungracious that you refuse to accept my thanks and I will remember that every time I see you.

You want to know what I think? I think people who don't say thank you, are unappreciative and ungrateful. I think they have issues. Not saying thank you is very close to being entitled. And entitlement is an even nastier thing.

So I'm going to say thank you to people whether they like it or not.

I think people who can't accept thank you from others have some sort of superiority complex.

Do you know someone who never says thank you?

Have you ever been mad at someone for saying thank you?

And that's my rant for the day.

Thank you for reading. :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer of Firsts - My First 5K Race

Five years ago, if you would have told me I’d run a 5K, I would have laughed at you. Okay, maybe not to your face, but I'd definitely be laughing inside.

Not because I wasn’t active - I’ve always loved to bike, swim, hike, etc.- but mostly because running is just one of those things I was never able to do very well.

I’ll never forget the annual impromptu mile run they would make us do in elementary school gym class. There was no training or practice, whatsoever.

It was like; “Hi kids, you’re here, now go run a mile. And don't think about stopping or we will yell at you and blow our whistles on our comfy little bench here.”

I was that kid hyperventilating in a bag and sick to my stomach the rest of the day (there were actually several of us). I just couldn’t breathe when I ran.

The thought of running thereafter tended to conjure up painful and even kind of embarrassing images for me.

As I got older and started living more actively and working out, running was still not amongst my usual workout activities. Sometimes I’d attempt to run on the treadmill for a while. I remember being so excited to do just 15 minutes on a treadmill. That was a big accomplishment.

Regardless of how much I pushed myself, eventually I always began to choke on my own breath. I would be panting for air - my lungs on fire and my chest compressed. I knew it could not be normal. My legs and body were not at all tired, but I just couldn’t get past this wall I would hit with my breathing.

You know how they tell you that when you are working out, you have a safe heart rate when you can still talk to the person next to you? Well, the breathlessness I experienced when I ran prevented me from saying so much as one word. Sometimes my face would be bright red or my fingers would get tingly. I simply felt like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Sometimes I would cough a lot when I was done and my nose would run.

Last spring, when I was recently divorced and living at my parent’s house, I was determined to pick up some new healthier habits. I got a second wind.

I thought, well I have more time on my hands, why not give it my all and see if I can finally overcome this breath thing and become a runner? I read articles about different techniques and I talked to runners.

I had always thought it would be amazing to run regularly: The changing landscape, the wind in your hair,  enjoying a sunrise or the smell of spring or fall, all while getting a great workout.

I wanted to be a runner so bad I could taste it.

I had already gained confidence by getting up to a mile on the treadmill, but I was bored staring at my parents’ basement walls. So, I thought I was prepared to take on outdoor running.

I thought wrong. I got around one block and had to stop. I also tried running around a small lake on campus where I work and could only get like a third of the way while students breezed past me with ease. I remember seeing them pass me twice and they were still not breathing hard, and there I was, a third of the way, wheezing like a dying person.

I thought; what is going on here?

I was disheartened, to say the least. I sulked back to my treadmill.

Later when spring turned into summer, I was telling my little sister about my experiences and she mentioned how she had the same problem and her doctor diagnosed her with exercise-induced asthma and gave her an inhaler.

I thought: why had I never heard of this? It sounded exactly like what was going on with me! I just thought it was my own endurance issue and never thought to get checked out at the doctor. Duh.

Fast forward a year later and I have my own Proventil inhaler that I puff before running. It definitely has helped. It doesn’t take it completely away, but it makes running bearable. I still struggle with my breath when running -- I have good and bad days. However, I’ve greatly improved from where I was a year ago.

I had a great time running on the beach in Florida in October, something I never would have been able to do before.

Now I'm to the point where I don't even bother with treadmills unless I absolutely have to for some reason, because to me it is nothing like real running. I work on a university campus and in the winter I use the tracks at the gyms here.

Most of this year I ran two miles several times a week, but I just recently got up to three miles...the week before the race, which is 3.1 miles! I guess I needed that push.

So let’s get to the event in question.

It was a humid morning in the beginning of June when Kyle and I went out to run the Sunburst 5K in South Bend. He was awesome for running slow with me for moral support - if he tried he could probably win that race.

And here’s the kicker: I forgot my inhaler. How dumb is that? The one thing I really needed to remember and I forgot it.

I was determined to complete it regardless, and I did.

My main goal was to keep a steady pace and not try and run fast and burn myself out. Inhaler or not, if I try to run really fast my breath goes haywire. I started at the 9-minute mile marker and was excited when I noticed I was passing people. Then halfway through, when we hit a hill, people all around me were stopping to walk (OK, some of them were kids, but still!)

I am not the fastest runner - especially without the inhaler - but when I saw that, I knew my training had paid off.

Kyle and I were just fine, high-fiving each other up the hill.

I could tell that many of the participants had not trained or prepared to run a 5K. I knew that all those mornings I got up early to run had finally paid off.
Even passing so many people, in the results I still ended up at a pretty slow pace of 35 minutes. Maybe I would have pushed more if I'd had my inhaler, I don't know. But I learned a lot from that experience.

I remember in the spring when I was breathless at two miles, and worried I’d never be able to get to three miles and finish the race. Now that I know I can do it, I’ll be running three miles at the minimum unless I’m having a bad day or short on time. Three miles doesn’t seem like a lot to marathoners, but coming from where I was a year ago - 15 minutes on a treadmill and breathless!? - It’s a huge accomplishment for me.

Now, I know finishing is no problem. Even without the medicine. 

Give it another year or five – who knows what I’ll be able to do?

A friend said she was running the Sunburst on her Facebook page, and a younger relative commented; “What’s a Sunburst?” You can tell she’s young.

South Bend residents tend to know what the Sunburst is since it’s been closing roads and stopping traffic since 1984. More than 7,000 people participate in its ten events which include a marathon, half-marathon, family walk, and, of course a 5 and 10K run. It was really cool to be a part of the event and I’ll definitely be going back every year.

Someday, I’ll be running the 10K :)

On a side note, have you seen this snarky Q&A page on the Sunburst website? Having directed a race myself before (a fundraiser for my job), I find it absolutely hilarious. The dog thing especially cracks me up.

How can you not laugh at that?

Summer of Firsts: My First Triathlon, will be the final part in this series. It will post the second week of August. Hopefully I can finish in two hours (without drowning, haha), since I'm taking students to see Beauty and the Beast on Broadway in Chicago that same day! Wish me luck :)

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Summer of Firsts - Scuba Dive Part 2

Scuba Dive, Part Two: Barron Lake Dive. (PS I could not find a pic that would illustrate this entry, but I think this poor dog will suffice.)

My first dive was absolutely terrifying. We'll get into that. But, first, the details of the day.

Barron Lake is a little dirty lake in Michigan that happens to have a huge dropoff, so it's a great place to practice diving. I was to do two dives that morning: the first, just swimming around and getting used to it. the second, completing some skill sets underwater.

It was 60 degrees, overcast and cold on the morning of my first dive. I had two (fitting) wetsuits though, so I actually stayed warm this time.

I felt prepared that morning as well - I had a good night's sleep, good breakfast, I was not too caffeinated, and I had brushed up on the textbook basics the night before. I may be spacey at times, but I'm not one to make the same mistakes twice.

The day started going downhill, however, when I was given a new "buddy" or dive partner. Because Kyle was just doing a re-certification, his dive plan was different than my group's.

There were six people in my group. The partner they gave me was a quiet, laid back young man who didn't seem real educated on diving. Now, I'm not going to say I was an expert, but at least I knew that my goggles needed de-fogger and how to properly put my fins on. (Even though he had gone through the same pool course I did, he seemed like he didn't know any of these kinds of basics).

He even left his tank standing up on a grassy hillside, where it could easily fall and explode (a big no-no), and wandered off to talk to someone until I went to get him and told him I had laid down his tank for him.

In the pool, Kyle had served as my buddy, and I kind of liked having a person who knew what they were doing and could refresh my memory if I forgot something. Plus, I know Kyle cares about me, so in an emergency situation I can assume he will look out for me.

This new buddy, however, I wasn't so sure about.

Since the lake was so murky, the six of us were told to hold on to each other's SPG, which has all of our dive information on it, including depth and amount of air left in your tank. Which meant that he was supposed to watch my air and signal to the instructor if it got low. This guy seemed seriously inexperienced and a little slow (everytime they would say, "get with your buddy" and do this or that, I had to lead the way, otherwise he would just kind of stand there.) Not suprisingly, I figured he would be more concerned with getting comfortable diving rather than worrying much about my air.

I admit it was probably a good learning experience for me to have new buddy and be forced to rely on my own memory, but it certainly did not do anything to soothe my nerves. It was highly unlikely we would run out of air with two short dives, but the last thing I needed was some sort of paranoid fear about my air level in the back of my mind while we were at the bottom of the lake.

To add icing on the cake, the experienced instructor that owned the dive shop and taught us our pool skills said he was training someone and she would be taking us on our dive that day so he can observe her teaching us on our first dive.

I thought, "Greeeat. Now I have an inexperienced buddy and an inexperienced instructor. I am so dead."

But no time to think. All of the sudden we were going under.

We were to dive off and down over the side of the cliff, which was a sudden dropoff into a dark, murky brown-greenish depth.

I expected to feel a little nervous. I expected to have some issues clearing my ears, and maybe some buoyancy troubles.

What I didn't expect, however, was the loss of my eyesight completely. I was blind. Have you ever played that game where you get blindfolded and someone leads you across a field? Scary, huh?

Try doing that swimming.

They told me it was going to be murky.

By "murky," I thought that meant fuzzy images, cloudy water, etc. In this case, "murky" meant blind and dark and black as a cave. I could not see my hand in front of my face.

When you are blind, how do you find your bright yellow BCD  inflation button that takes you to the top when it's time to go up? When you are blind, how do you see your instructor's hand signals or signal to your instructor if you are out of air or some other problem?

When you are blind, how do you know if you are floating right side up? (And no, I could not see the bubbles)

Hint: You don't. Somehow you just have to figure it out on your own.

I tried my best to hold onto my instructor's SPG and trust in the situation. For awhile, I thought I lost my buddy. I thought he had done something stupid, like let go, and then got disoriented and floated away from the group.

I thought, "Nice. First dive and I lose my buddy. We are supposed to watch out for each other's safety. Crap, I'm going to flunk this. What kind of buddy am I?"

Turns out he was never gone. He said he held on the whole time -- I just couldn't see him.

There were small, slight, quick moments where we were swimming and passed an area that was a little clearer, but they didn't last long. Looking back, I think those were the moments of light the helped me to keep my sanity.

Then it felt like we were stopped on the bottom, and something happened. Amazing how you can sense things without hearing or sight. Through only my sense of touch, I knew something was wrong.

I didn't know why we were stopping or why we were huddled so close, because (and I found all this out later) my instructor's fin had become lodged into the black muck, kicking up a cloud of fine black mud in the water that looked like smoke engulfing us. Except smoke blows by and this never went away. A couple of times, I felt myself floating around --- this way and that ---- sideways, etc. I completely lost my bearings.

I had to give up my worldly comforts of my sense of balance, safeness, and sight. I had to rely only on trust.

So there we were, floating in blacker-than-blackness, and stopped. There was some dizzying arrangement of hands and fins and bodies and I think we were a little tangled up. But it was obvious we were supposed to be stopping for some reason.

We were there a loooong time. It was probably only like five minutes, but it felt like eternity, because I didn't know what was going on. I thought, something must be seriously wrong for us to be just stopped here. We were supposed to be just swimming around and coming back.

A whole cornucopia of ideas flittered through my mind: Maybe my instructor had blacked out and we were all just sitting there, connected to her, waiting for her to guide us somewhere....until we all inevitably ran out of air. What a story this would be for the papers tomorrow.

Or, maybe someone was having a seizure or was out of air. Or someone was stuck on something.

I can't even remember what else crossed my mind, because I think I went to my happy place and said some prayers at that point.

I find out later that the guy connected three people away from me had almost lost his weight belt -- it had loosened and dropped around his ankles. Through just hand motions (not signals, because you couldn't see) his buddy had grabbed the instructor and showed her what was happening. It took her a while, but she re-secured the weight belt, so that is the reason we were all sitting there waiting.

When I started to feel us rising, and could actually see my instructor's face with the thumbs-up sign, I could have kissed her.

When we ascend to the surface and into the sweet, sweet air, my buddy looks at me, wide-eyed.

"I really freaked out for a minute there," he said.

For once, I agreed with him on something.

Thankfully, my second dive that day (can you believe I did it again?) was to a completely different part of the lake, and it was more clear and relatively uneventful. I could actually see things. I felt much more comfortable and even explored a little, picking things up from the bottom and completing my skill sets with ease.

After getting through that first dive, I seriously felt like I could do anything. Oh, how I long for the clear salt-water lagoons of Bora Bora!

Next week's Summer of First post: My First 5K race!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Haiku for June

Humid balmy breeze
my hair sticks to my forehead
makes me feel dizzy

Your face hot and red
calling me closer to you
we laugh and we melt

Jump in cold water
float underneath the surface
there you'll find heaven

It's the first summer
where I can recall
what it feels like to be alive

Sun rises, sun sets
Beach sands carry in the wind
My eyes close, joyful

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Summer of Firsts! Part One

Summer of firsts - Scuba Dive Certification

This is an exhilarating a summer of firsts for me. I’m trying a lot of new things in a short period of time. I have always wanted to be more active and step up my fitness, so what better time is there but now?

So far turning 30 has been the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’ve made a commitment to myself that my “next 30 years” as the song goes, are going to be so much better than the first. I  love to grow and learn new things, and I want to experience life at its fullest.

So, this summer is my first time scuba diving, my first 5K race, and my first Sprint Triathlon. There’s more, but we’ll start with those three.

I’m going to write about each one from a newcomer’s perspective. I promise, you will hear about every honest “first” experience in all its gritty detail.

Part one is about scuba diving, but I’ve split it into two parts because there is just too much to say for one blog.  Later this week I'll finish the Scuba Dive blog with part two, and then in a week or so I'll write about my first 5K, which I completed yesterday. Enjoy.

Part One of Scuba Open Water Certification: Pool skills

I decided to get certified for open water scuba diving through the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Certification offered in Granger.

So how is it that I decided to get certified to scuba dive? When Kyle and I first started dating, we were having these crazy deep discussions like new couples do, and one day he asked me “What is one thing you've always wanted to try but have never done?”

I answered, “It would be cool to scuba dive.”

He replied “I'm advanced certified. We should do that someday.”

I remember thinking he was kind of a showoff for answering like that, (Really? the one thing I want to try in this world and you are advanced certified?) but, I was secretly impressed anywho.

And so the story begins.

Nine months later, Kyle and I are planning a honeymoon to Bora Bora, and we aren’t going to miss out on some of the world’s best diving in the blue lagoons of Tahiti. In order to dive in Bora Bora, he needed to re-certify (because it’s been a few years since he dove), and I needed to get certified. So we did it together this May. The course consists of two weekends, both Saturday and Sunday, where the student has to complete certain scuba skill sets. The first weekend takes place in the pool and the second weekend consists of four actual dives in a lake or quarry.

We were lucky to have another couple learning with us on that first day, and strangely enough their wedding date was exactly the same as ours. So when we got in the pool and our instructor told us to tread water for ten minutes, the four of us chatted about our impending nuptials and honeymoons rather than dreading the tread. Before we knew it, time was up.

Next was a 200-meter swim. I have been swimming freestyle to prepare for my first sprint triathlon for about 8 months now, so I was kind of excited to be put to this test. The 200 meters (four laps in a 25-meter pool) is the exact length I will swim in the lake for my first triathlon. Although I feel comfortable swimming and have incredibly improved my freestyle skill in the last few months, when I’m in the pool I have the tendency to stop and rest when I get just a little tired. I had never pushed myself to do the whole 200 meters. Also, lately I haven’t been practicing in the pool weekly as I should be. I knew I was behind. So, being forced to swim the 200-meters-without stopping was a good thing.

Turns out I had been limiting myself by taking breaks in practice. I exceeded my expectations and did it just fine without stopping. In fact, the only thing that really irked me was that I didn’t have my swim cap and my hair kept plastering on my face when I came up to breathe. I was breathing a little heavy, but I probably could have done another couple laps, and I’m sure the immediately preceding water tread had something to do with that. It felt fantastic because I knew I could do it for the triathlon as well (and I have until August to prepare for that even more). For a girl growing up just swimming for leisure and not for sport, (and never having freestyled correctly until this year) I felt pretty accomplished. I know it will be a little harder in a choppy lake surrounded by people, but now I know I am ready and able to do it – an unexpected perk of my first day of scuba certification.

The rest of the day was kind of challenging. I was a little nervous and felt unprepared, like I should have studied the scuba book better (yes, there is a book, and homework, and a test!) I had perused it over a time period of two months, just for half-hours here and there in the evenings when I found the time (I am working towards my masters degree and work a very demanding job, so time is not exactly of the essence right now). When I got there that morning, I realized I had forgotten a lot of what I read in the beginning. I felt like too much time had elapsed since I had gone over the basics.

We just jumped into it, without any prep. People were quickly barking out commands with the equipment set-up and I couldn’t remember the different names of parts of the equipment ( BC, regulator, octopus, etc.) Also I had too much caffeine that morning and felt jittery and foggy-headed, which did not help.

After the first hour in the water my teeth were in a full-on chatter. Not a surprise as I tend to get cold easy, and we weren’t moving around much, kind of just standing in shallow water and going over instructions, maybe dipping our head in now and then to clear the water out of our mask.

The instructor then gave me a wetsuit to wear, which was nice, except it was about 3 sizes too big. I’m a size 4 pants and about 5”2 height. I’m built little. Here I am with this bulging, drooping wet suit, wearing a weight belt that was way too big for my waist but was supposed to help hold me down in the water since there were huge air pockets in the too-big wet suit. Because I kept floating up, one instructor threw an extra weight bag in one of my pockets, which kiltered me sideways a little. To say the least, I was having problems with buoyancy.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Buoyancy is one of the most important skills you can learn for scuba. When you look at pictures or videos of people scuba diving, it looks so serene, so cool. They look like streamlined fish floating effortlessly through the water with the flick of a fin. I found out quickly that it’s not really like that, at least not at first.

Scuba tanks alone can weigh 35-50 pounds, and that doesn’t include your welt belt, vest and other equipment. It’s like having a small person riding around on your back - in the water. Imagine how hard it sometimes is to swim underwater, staying upright and getting to wherever it is you are trying to go on your own. Then imagine how that might be with another person on your back. You do have a buoyancy vest that helps you float depending on how much air you put in it, (you have to fill it up at the surface so that you can stay afloat when you begin and end a dive), so that helps, and the tank is filled with air so obviously that floats as well. Regardless, having weight in unexpected places, such as your back or hips, can throw you off with the smallest current or misstep.

Flip to the right to avoid seaweed, and your tank pulls you towards the bottom. Try to sit back and put your fins on in shallow water, and your tank pulls you backward. Just imagine trying to climb up a pool ladder or boat ladder with that much weight on your back.

I have to say I did not know scuba was as physically demanding as it was. I wouldn’t have changed my mind about trying it, but it would have been nice to have a heads up. I am a pretty physically fit person – I work out at least five times a week – and yet I was very close to not being able to pick up the tank or carry the tank on my own, which is something you have to do to help your buddy gear up. My back and arms hurt for days. After all this, you have to put fins on your feet and walk backwards to get in the water. Talk about awkward!

So, all that being said, my too-large wetsuit situation did not help my balance and buoyancy situation. I felt a little dizzy too because it was so hard for me to keep my bearings in the water, floating and rotating this way and that. Luckily, I had a very patient instructor, so there were a couple skills he said to sit out because I wouldn’t be able to perform them with my out-of-whack buoyancy. Most of the other skills I was did okay, except that I had an old mask which had broken-down rubber seal. So that made it difficult to keep water out of my mask, and to clear the mask of water when it fills (that was one of our skill sets).

The first time I tried to clear my mask at the bottom of the pool (about 12 feet under) I panicked a little because I couldn’t get all the water out of the mask and it was going up my nose. It was my first time going that deep (which really isn’t deep at all) and I was a little freaked out. So, even though I had oxygen coming into my mouth, I felt like I was being suffocated with water up my nose. The instructor took my hand and led me to the surface, explaining to me that I wasn’t doing the technique exactly right. After that he had me practice it some in shallow water and I was able to do it, but you better bet the first thing Kyle and I did was go buy new masks before our next dive.

Also, we had to practice taking the regulator out of our mouth and finding our alternate air source (or octopus) and then breathe out of that. You always have an octopus attached to your tank, in case something goes wrong with your own regulator or if you need to provide breathing assistance to a buddy. However the mouthpiece sits in the water while you dive, collecting water. To use it, you have to first “purge” it of water by pressing the purge button, which uses the the air to quickly shoot the water out. You need to practice using the purge button in case you get in a situation where you are out of breath and don’t have an exhale left to clear the water on your own.

 When it was my turn to show this skill, I used the purge button as instructed, but forgot one very important step: To lift up my tongue to touch the roof of my mouth and put it as a shield between the mouthpiece and my throat – enough that I could breath the air that comes out, but at the same time prevent the excess water from shooting down my throat. I immediately felt like I was choking once again, with tons of chlorinated pool water shooting down my esophagus. It was actually probably not that much water, but it sure felt like it.

One thing I learned from that situation: It was really scary for a quick second, but I coughed into the octopus and then the next breath I took, I was just fine. It is interesting how quickly your mind goes to panic mode when faced with the notion of not being able to breathe. All bets are off, all skill sets forgotten. If you don’t learn how to control these natural panic urges, you can’t scuba dive. No matter what situation you get in, there is always a protocol and a back-up. Just because you may choke on a little water or have a little water go in your mask and up your nose, or something might feel scary for a second because you are really far underwater, that doesn’t mean you are not going to be able to breathe. By staying calm and patient and not panicking, giving it a second and thinking logically about what you need to do next (signal that you need air to your buddy, or try to blow out your nose and clear your mask again, for example) you will be able to scuba dive just fine.

It’s all about conquering your fears. And everyone is different; Kyle said he did not have any of those first-time jitters or fears that I did when he first dove (maybe that has something to do with the fact that he was a testosterone-filled 17-year old boy, I don’t know) Personally, I think I needed to go through those situations to get through a little bit of my own fear. I was determined to get certified regardless of my fears, so I felt good about being able to complete my skill sets at the end of the day.

My instructor said that he and his family have dived so many times – hundreds upon hundreds of times around the world – that they “joke” with one another by coming up behind each other and turning off the other’s air tank underwater. (yes, that's what I said).

They don’t know what’s happening until they try to take a breath and there’s no air left (you would have to be really flexible to be able to reach back and turn back on your own air valve. Probably the only way out of that situation is to swim closely to someone else and grab their octopus to breath out of, and that would take a minute or two.) Haha, funny. Not sure I’ll ever be comfortable enough to joke on that level.

After that day in the pool, though, I did feel much more confident and more prepared for the lake dive, because I knew I handled my own panic situation successfully.

I have to admit there were times laying in bed at night that I thought about that feeling of the water going up my nose and shooting down my throat, feeling that familiar racing pulse again, and wondering how I will handle that if it happens at 25 feet in a lake rather than the safer and shallower pool practice. I was a bit anxious for our lake dive the following weekend.

In next week’s blog: My experience diving in Barron Lake at 25 feet.

Conditions: Dark, murky, 60 degrees.

My first dive was terrifying. We’ll talk about that in part two.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Very Angry Bird

Last week, Kyle and I (my fiance) decided to go see the movie Pirates of the Caribbean 4 in 3D. Pretty good movie (I am a huge Johnny Depp fan), but it turned out to be a semi-bad experience.

Let me tell you why this innocent night out at the movies to see Johnny Depp act like a drunken pirate turned into a bad experience.

Kyle and I got there really early. We were on our way back from looking at a 14-person tent at Target (that's a story for another day). So we were done shopping and there was no need to return home on the other side of town before the movie.

We showed up 20 minutes early, got our snacks and, as the only people in the movie theater, commenced to pulling out our phones and doing the only thing sensible people could think of doing when faced with 20 minutes of waiting -- playing Angry Birds and laughing about one another's defeats.

We were just passing time before the movie, very innocently I might add, with our phones on silent.

First, a note about Angry Birds.

I am NOT a gamer. I really don't like games because I am usually not good at them and they make me anxious. Not on cell phones, PlayStation, or anywhere. I can totally conquer Scrabble, but hand me a Xbox controller and I'll drive off a building. But Kyle would play Angry Birds for hours, and upon a curious glance one day, I thought it looked kinda fun with the animals and all.

So I tried it.

And anyone who has tried this game knows the end of the story. I was immediately hooked and now have an insatiable need to kill monkeys in my spare time.

Does it piss me off? Yes. Especially when those spider monkeys try and climb back up the box or branch and then shake their heads like they are laughing at me.

Am I good at it? Not really. Sometimes it takes me an hour to get through one level.

Do I keep playing it anyway? Yes. I can't help myself.

So there I am, a few days a week, in my supposedly relaxing evening lull, randomly yelling at the phone and getting ready to throw it across the room, because despite my awesome slingshot skills there is still one monkey left, cowarding under cement bricks and boards and laughing at me because I'm out of birds.

Kyle and I often joke about our Angry Birds addiction. We have a phrase around the household: "Families that play Angry Birds together stay together."

But anyway. I digress.

Soon the previews started, people trickled in and the theater was about halfway full. Through my peripheral vision, I spied a weird old man sitting behind us and to our left. It was obvious he was staring in our direction. Like I usually do when weird old men stare, I ignored him.

Let me explain just a few of the top reasons I call him "weird:"

1.) He was wearing a red plaid flannel shirt that looked like it came from CVS and a hat pulled down far over his hair - hair that was strangely straight, blond, messy, and wig-like.

2.) He was VERY tan, like an orangey-brown tan, even though he was old and wrinkly. I am going to guess about 65 years old.

3.) He looked drunk. He had glazed crazy-eyes and slurred speech.

A couple of minutes later, the little Sprint ad came on the movie screen that says to please "silence your phones - no texting or talking." (It did not say "no Angry Birds-playing," although it would have been funny if it did).

The movie had not started and the lights had not dimmed yet, so we continued to play. I am one of those people that hates when people use cell phones during movies, so I was prepared to turn my phone off immediately when those credits started rolling.

Suddenly I hear grumbling from behind us to our left, something to the effect of: "These idiots don't know how to read.....blah blah, something or other....cell phones....."

Kyle did not hear it, lost in his Angry Bird oblivion.

I chose to ignore it, once again, thinking maybe this crazy surfer-hunter-wigman will shutup.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A poem for grandpa

Still Fighting

Grandpa showered us little girls in rare silver coins.

Half-dollars, Silver B. Anthony’s, maybe even Pocahontas’s,

He’d pull them out of his pocket and we’d run to him

I have hundreds now, a child’s treasure box.

I remember many things,

But mostly gathering ‘round a recliner while grandpa recited “Paul Revere’s Ride,”

gesturing boldy with his war-crippled fingers,

speaking the 130-line poem from memory.

His voice boomed and I listened wide-eyed, eating slices of frozen pizza.

I didn’t understand belfries and British muskets.

Yet every word of his poetic rhyme mesmerized this young mind,

and there kindled a love for literature and poetry.

Grandpa always dresses in his Sunday best, even sitting at home

Crisp trousers, gold rings and a sweater vest

A comb ran through his hair before a picture.

There is no a holiday, nor get-together

Without grandpa raising a glass to his family

With an Irish limerick or “ode to someone.”

Never passing up a moment to teach, humor and inspire.

When grandpa talks, it hushes my boisterous family

And although they won’t admit it,

They fear him when he approaches a game of poker,

Dropping that heavy purple cloth bag of change on the table

He is many things, my grandpa:

A man who questions the world around him,

A professor, a poet, an orator, a veteran,

but mostly the proud patriarch of his family.

Now 85 years young and married 65

We almost lost him in May

Survived two gunshot wounds in Iwo Jima and now,

A third heart attack, the heart still beating – his body refusing to let go

I bet he’s wondering “Why me?”

As famously repeated in his Iwo Jima poem.

They said he’d die, but no-

He’s on the homeland, yet fighting still

Grandpa makes a mockery of the doctor’s assumptions,

And keeps waking up in the morning.

They take his vitals and say he’ll expire soon,

But, no, they don’t know my grandpa.

He jokes with nurses, that glint still in his eyes

Says he’s given up reading for Lent,

And raises his hands in a helpless shrug when someone asks him if he’d like a beer,

Answering “I’ll try,” when I say he better be at my September wedding.

Robbed of his ears in the war and now his heart,

A valve damaged on the operating table,

Grandpa sits in a nursing home, biding away his time.

Smiling lovingly into grandma’s eyes, and writing her love notes.

My grandpa's name is William Madden. At left, is the book in which his poem was published, and the book was also named after him by the author. You can see his poem by looking inside the electronic copy on Amazon. Also, the author wrote a nice note to him on the first couple of pages.