Fast Food

One of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is that we are doing and devote our attention to eating- Luciano Pavorotti

I love food. I love to eat it.  I love to cook it.  I love to talk about it. I love feeding my friends and family.  I enjoy going to specialty food stores so I can take in the atmosphere of freshly made  organic food. I love farm stands and bakeries.  I also love shopping at my local grocery store because the prices are just right for my budget. I love trying out locally owned cafés. Their food is a passion and not a process. I do love my Starbucks too; the baristas always make my soy lattes with loyal dedication!

Food is fuel. Food is medicine. Food is a celebration. Food is love. I guess this is why I cannot understand why we as a culture treat food as an afterthought. I often wonder if we have lost the “taste” for a calm repast. I have observed people shoving food into their bodies while driving or sitting in the car. Or even standing in line! No one seems to take the time to sit and enjoy something tasty and nourishing.  And it also seems that the preparation of food is a stressful inconvenience.

I guess this has become a part of 21st century American living, hasn’t it?  Have we lost the desire to take care of ourselves by not eating healthy snacks or preparing nutritious meals?  Why are we not allowing ourselves the time to digest a wondrous and delicious delight?  How do we feed ourselves and loved ones without breaking the bank or feeling resentful because the responsibility for meal planning is not a team effort?

Too many of us lead ridiculously busy lives that are jammed packed with “must-do” activities for our children and ourselves.  Work schedules and end of the day fatigue interfere with timely and thoughtful preparation for dinners. By then “primal hunger” has kicked in and, there we are, eating out of a bag or box while we either wait for dinner to finish cooking or the take out to be delivered!

I surely have been guilty of this myself.  Just recently, I had to eat “on the run” because my evening was filled with appointments and meetings.  And a mere two nights ago, I grabbed a wrap at a sub shop with my son so we would be on time to see a lecture by a favorite author. Now, let me tell you, both meals were delicious! The former was a turkey, bacon (oh gosh, so bad!)  and avocado whole wheat sandwich from Whole Foods.  And the second was a hot pastrami sandwich. I haven’t had the latter since 1985! It was a shame, though,  that I did not take the time to sit for a bit and enjoy the whole experience.

Feeding ourselves, friends and family needs to be a holy act- a communion.  I have warm memories of my friends inviting me for dinner at times when I was too emotionally impacted to feed myself. My spirit was fed as well as my stomach. Believe it or not, today I am feeding people at three different times for three different reasons.  This morning I got a phone call from my oldest son saying that he was in an accident.  He was a passenger in a car that was traveling on a highway. Despite the fact that the car spun around 180 degrees, it managed to hit the guardrail in the breakdown lane without involving other vehicles and without any injuries!  I quickly went to pick him up, bring him home and provide a bit of sustenance to him, his girlfriend and their friend.  My youngest son’s work as an apprentice plumber is physical labor. This week he worked long hours plus an extra day today. When he called to say he was on his way home and hungry, a warm meal was waiting for him. Tonight, a dear friend will be having dinner with me. I love to cook for her!  She spent three decades cooking for her large family and misses those times with her sons.  She and I will enjoy the company of one another while having a home cooked meal and a glass of wine.

I hope dear readers that you too will continue to partake in the joys of your next meal. Eat Well. Love Well. And Be Well.

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Moving from “WE” to “I”

There you go baby, here am I. You go your way baby and I’ll go mine.
Now and forever ’til the end of time.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore~ Paul Anka

“When do you stop saying we?” my friend said to me late this summer while we were having dinner. She, like me, had been in a long term marriage with children-although she had been married for 30 years and had twice as many children as I. Essentially, she had spent half her life as one part of a unit.  She was expressing quite cogently what many of us no longer marrieds had felt at one time or another.

When at first your commitment dismantles, you feel a wide variety of emotions. The breaking apart of the “we” is at once nauseating, excruciating and outrageously surreal. Sometimes you get lost in the reverie of various scenes from your marriage that remind you that at one time you and this other person made a life together. Then, once you begin to accept that it is over, you move from loving the “we” to loving the idea of “we”.

I think that this is the part where many of us struggle the most because we live in a world of enforced coupledom. I remember the separation as a time of profound pain and grief. Yet, the first question people asked me was “Have you met someone yet?” Or, “Are you dating anyone?” I wanted to scream! As much as I knew that this person and I could no longer be together, I still longed for my family unit. Outwardly, it had the appearance of happiness and stability and success. So, no, I am not seeing anyone!

Then, of course, if you are not dating yet but your not quite ex-spouse is, you really feel like a loser. It is the ultimate in rejection once you find out that he or she has quickly moved on to another “we”.

But enough of that nonsense!  “We” can be vastly overrated. Especially when the “I” gets lost in the translation. I am absolutely certain that this happened to me over the course of my marriage. I came to believe (and still do) that as long as I was a mirror reflection of my spouse, then everything was fine. I could not ask or do anything for myself or even express myself. So, while the ending of my marriage was at first a failure to me, I began to understand that the best part of myself was about to be reborn.

In lots of ways, I had it easy. I had great a support network- girlfriends, family, my faith community, therapy. I had a terrific and rewarding job. I was in graduate school where I could hone my intellectual skills. It was in the latter that I realized once again how smart I was! Not only had I buried my emotional needs during the last part of my marriage, but I had stowed away all of my intelligence as well. My enthusiasm and energy in graduate school were legendary. I know that it was there that I began shedding the layers of the person I had become. My graduate friends were witnessing all of it and I hope that they found it enlightening and entertaining!

In other ways, though, it was quite lonely. The door had been shut on my old life. I could see the door of my new life at the other end.  But the journey back to myself was like a walk down a long, dark hallway. When graduate school was over, I spent a lot of time alone. My oldest was now in college and my youngest was spending more time with his father. Sunday afternoons were the worst. I had neither the means nor the wherewithal for the middle-aged (jeesh!) bar scene. Hey, I had had a very wild youth anyway. No need to go there again!

But being alone and at times even lonely is a good thing. You are forced to sit with yourself. The time you take to just be without the distractions of dating, drinking and drowning your sorrows in unhealthy choices is really a holy experience. I remember really figuring out what I wanted for the rest of my life AND what I didn’t want.

Then a wonderful man arrived in my life via my late mother. When we first met, I was not sure that I wanted to be in any relationship. When we corresponded and talked on the phone, I still wasn’t sure. I did like him, though. When he visited me for the first time, we spent 11 hours together talking about everything. Then I gave him my “take it or leave it” speech. He called four days later and asked if he could see me again, stating that it was the most honest conversation that he ever had with a woman. I was hooked!

So here “we” are and here “I” am too. Though we live far from each other, we both agree that we like it this way (well,mostly! ) for the time being. I like my space. I like recreating my own life here. But I also like knowing that we are both equally committed to the relationship. I am still amazed and astounded by the level of loving respect, encouragement and support that I receive from him. For me, this is the essence of intimacy. We both get to be “we” and “I” equally. I get to breathe, filling the space between so every little piece of me is seen.*

Thanks to the song, “Breathe” by Michelle Branch*

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Running is the greatest metaphor for life because you get out of it what you put into it-

Oprah Winfrey

Today my dad turns 77 and I can think of no better present than to dedicate this post to him. My father is a man of pure honesty and forthright integrity. He serves as the perfect male role model for my sons and is a beloved member of his community. As I said before, he was and always will be my best running coach. I have written a poem in two voices for him to honor his special day.  The bold words are my father’s voice and the italicized are mine.

Father and Daughter Stride by Stride

I remember putting on my first pair of running shoes at thirty-two and wondering, can I do this?

I remember you wearing a pair of beige Bermuda shorts and a white t-shirt and not looking like a runner at all, but pounding the pavement and sweating because you were working so hard

I remember feeling transformed, feeling fit, becoming more self-sufficient and confident

You were an inspiration to our family as we watched you become a better person; you were enthusiastic and charismatic

I could not have done it, however, without the support of you and most especially your mother; she was my #1 cheering section

My childhood memories are wrapped up in a large circle of friends gathering at our house for a run, some fun, and lots of delicious food and mom yelling “Come on Bennie!”

Do you remember me waking you up on those early Sunday mornings for long runs?

UGH! You used to turn on the bedroom light to wake me up! The light was as bright as a spotlight at 6 am!

But wasn’t it worth it just a little?

Well, we sure met a lot of people with a zest for life. I know that we were glad to be running with you most of the time even though we were teenagers!  I think all of us never stopped talking to each other on those long runs. We certainly laughed a lot too.

Do you remember the different places that we traveled?

The hikes in the mountains of New England were especially memorable-Mt. Washington in the cold, pouring rain and fog; Twin Mountain at the peak of fall foliage with those bright colors; crossing rivers, trying not to slip on those big, wet rocks.

Today, Kimgirl, it gives me a tremendous thrill to lace up my shoes at seventy-seven to run many miles and discuss all kinds of topics with my children and grandchildren

That makes two of us Dad

The Love Jar

Where there is great love there are always miracles –

Willa Cather

The LOVE JAR. Well, that’s what we call it, anyway. The blue and gray pottery jar with the cork lid sits on the counter near the dishwasher. “Unconditional Love” is engraved across the front. We’ve had that jar for seven years now and it has been incorporated into our family’s language. It was given to us when life as we knew it blew up. Julia’s gift brought me immediate inspiration and became a vehicle for the three of us to experience joy and laughter. When I brought it home to the boys, I told them that the jar would be a means for us to make good memories. Then we came up with an astounding idea:  “Let’s go to New York City!”  So, we devised a plan to put away as much money as possible into our “LOVE JAR”.  Both boys immediately broke open their over-sized piggy banks and poured their change into the jar. I emptied my wallet of loose coins and spare one dollar bills. My oldest son, (who worked at an after school job at the local grocery store) volunteered to contribute a portion of his paycheck to it. My youngest son agreed that anytime he received money as a gift, he would put it in the jar. Spare change from each grocery store excursion was added. We even began to find money on the ground-some in major denominations!  When we told friends about our trip to the Big Apple, they would drop money in the jar whenever they visited.

The jar was magical! When I called my aunt to ask if we could stay with her for four days (she lives in the vicinity), she said that she would be thrilled to have us. We were relieved to know that we would be staying in a safe place with someone who knew and loved us. The trip was to take place right after Christmas- just in time for the school winter break.  And we were ready! We met our savings goal and off we went.

It is difficult to put into words how it felt to be in the warm embrace of my aunt’s hospitality and generosity. Not only were we fed and sleeping in warm beds, but my aunt drove us each day to the train station and presented the three of us with rail passes for the duration. When we went into the city one last time, she handed me cash and told me that I’d better not come home with any change!  The trip was the first of our many happy new memories that we were making during that time. And it would not have been possible if not for Julia’s thoughtfulness.

Needless to say, we came home from the trip with money to spare. It resided in the LOVE JAR where it continued to be depleted and replenished over time. The jar has become a reliable resource for us. We took a second trip to the city six months later, seeing new sights and enjoying warmer weather. It helped us enjoy our “Celebration of Three” party that spring. Part of our recent weekend trip to the mountains was funded by the jar. Sometimes we use it to buy something as simple as a stamp, a gallon of milk, or a loaf of bread. To this day, friends still put money in whenever they visit.

The LOVE JAR is my family’s miracle. It was a way for the three of us to begin to heal from one of  life’s worst heartaches and become a whole family in a different way.  We take care of each other. We rely on each other. We hold one another up. We love one another unconditionally. The LOVE JAR has restored our faith in the meaning of and power in family. THANK YOU JULIA!

My Running Marriage

I always loved running…
it was something you could do by yourself,
and under your own power.
You could go in any direction,
fast or slow as you wanted,
fighting the wind if you felt like it,
seeking out new sights
just on the strength of your feet
and the courage of your lungs.
-Jesse Owens

Well, I cannot say that I have always loved running.  After all, I have been involved with the sport on various levels for forty years. And like all committed relationships, we have had our ups and downs. Because I started running when I was just eleven years old, I really didn’t know what I was getting into-much like a very young bride!  My father was  a very enthusiastic runner of five years when he encouraged my brother and I to enter the sport. I  think that he saw the positive opportunities that running had offered him and wanted the same for us. Also, the early seventies was an especially heady time for young girls and women to participate in races. The support for us was very strong despite the infamous photograph of  Jock Semple’s attempt to pull Kathryn Switzer from the Boston Marathon!

I suppose you could call the beginning phase of my running marriage the “honeymoon period.” At the time, I ran with lots of boys as there were no girl teams during my preteen years. The playing field was equal because many of us were first time runners. There was only one other girl (that I recall) who joined the group and we became fast friends. We ran together every day and the two of us would go on to join future teams as we approached our high school years. In fact, the very first running club that we joined had its own women’s team. I remember being amazed at the ages of some of the women on the team- could women over 30 or even 40 really run?  Weren’t they too old? I believe that these women were the true pioneers of the sport, having entered it later in life as  wives and mothers. Women whose own generation had little or no access to organized sports as young girls.

My teenage years were by far the most intense running period, no doubt. This is just like the first few years of a marriage, really. The honeymoon is over and it becomes time to settle in and get serious. So, I ran every day, logging in 50-70 miles per week  and participating on two teams-one at my high school and one AAU women’s team. (By then,My friend and I had gone on to join a nationally ranked women’s cross country and track and field team.) Also, about half way through high school, our town had finally allowed a separate girls team to participate in league meets. Running on both teams was exceptional-each had a unique running culture. By the time the high school team was formed, I had already gained a reputation as a serious runner, both for running with the boys and also for the fact that I completed a marathon at 14 years old!  Much was expected of me in terms of performance and leadership skills. Also, I had to get used to a different coach as my dad was (and always will be) my first and best coach.

The AAU team was a different entity altogether. There was a core group of girls who were the elite runners. They were highly talented and able to compete and consistently win on the regional and national level. (Eventually the international level as well- one of them won the first women’s Olympic Marathon). It was a privilege to be a part of the team as it allowed for opportunities to travel all over the Northeast region with a van full of like-minded girls and their very dedicated coach.  These were the days before walkmans and ipods so we would often blast music on the van’s radio; we listened to Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run), Queen and other big rock groups from that era. It was a thrill to travel to New York City and compete in the country’s first Bonne Bell 10k in Central Park. Women and girls were IT- Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” was playing loud and proud before the gun went off.  As a result of running with the team, I became a better runner because I was  running with faster women. My hard work paid off and, at 16, I was able to go with the team  to the nationals in California. Eventually, my efforts caught the eye of a college coach as well. Because I was a scholarly student as well as a devoted runner, I was given the chance to apply and subsequently be accepted to an excellent university.

And that’s when things began to shift for me. Sure, I went off to college and joined the requisite team, going to practices, running in races, eating and socializing only with runners. But it started to feel old and stale and repetitive. I was hopelessly distracted by a boy ( a runner like me, but a senior with a reputation as a bad boy) and frankly, I wanted to party on a Friday night and not get up early for practice or a race! By the time I was a sophomore, I was done competing- burned out and physically a mess. All the mileage I had put in as developing teenager had resulted in a painful, degenerative disk in my back. Looking back, as much as it spiritually pained me to leave the sport, I knew that I needed a break.

I suppose you can liken this period to a major transformation in a marriage (illness or the addition of children, for example). How do relate to one another as a result of this major alteration? At first, it was simple: very little exercise as I explored other avenues of interests and friends. Then upon graduation, I cycled a bit and walked everywhere. Still, the nagging back issue persisted to the point where I literally could not move. I have a vivid memory of trying to board a bus so I could go vote and being unable to step up. I was just 23 years old and felt 90!  Luckily, a chiropractor lived in my neighborhood and with his help, I began a very long journey to healing.

Essentially, my twenties came and went without any attention to running at all. I kept in shape by walking, riding a stationary bike and doing occasional weight lifting.  I got married and by the time I was 32, I had given birth to two babies. My back held up during the two pregnancies and subsequent births of two very big boys ( especially #2!!) Plus, I was doing aerobics regularly and pushing a carriage everywhere I went. It was at this point that my then husband encouraged me to start running again.  Coincidentally, this was the same age that my father began his running career! So, I gave it a shot- at first doing the walk/run thing and then eventually working up to Saturday morning runs with other busy moms.

My thirties were certainly the “comeback” period of running for me. I felt a renewed sense of commitment but on different terms than before. I was a grown woman who was able to make her own decisions about where, when and how far she wanted to run. Running was a choice and not the chore that it had become nearly a decade earlier. Eventually, at 38, I competed in a half-marathon. During the training, I never felt lonely and, in truth, felt a great sense of freedom and renewal during those times. I also spent time running with my father again. It was a terrific- we were both adults and our runs were filled with long conversations. I fell in love with running again!

By the time I reached 40, I was learning to balance running with the other parts of my life. When I had the opportunity to return to work full time, carving out a running schedule was a priority. My dedication to the sport was unyielding. I arose before dawn and would run despite the cold and darkness. I learned to be alert for wildlife and was awed each morning watching the sun rise as I finished the last mile. I was not the competitor that I was once was-only entering races sporadically throughout the year. Instead, running took on a different face-becoming my solace, stress reliever and saving grace.

Running in many ways was like taking medication. When my husband wanted a divorce when I was 46, running kept me steady and sane (or as sane as one could be during that upheaval!). I was also in graduate school, working and raising teenage boys at the time. Running cleared my head, organized my thoughts and made me more productive. By the time my forties ended, I had successfully completed graduate school (4.0!), gone through the divorce process, fell in love again and trained for and competed in a half-marathon!

So here I am, happily in my early fifties having caught the half-marathon bug.  The training schedule is not grueling and the race distance is just right for me.  I try to enter two races per year if I can. One of the best parts of the preparation is knowing that I will be running with the man I love. Our connection with one another has helped me to continuously strengthen my commitment to the sport. It is a heart warming feeling knowing that another person is there to support and guide you through the good days and bad days. He helps me keep it real-pushing me when I need it and helping me back off -especially when I am injured.

One thing that I have learned in this long term marriage is the value of patience. Too many times when I was young, I didn’t allow myself to think about what I was doing during races or practices. My body was in the game but not my head.
I didn’t think about how I was feeling and then when I did, I wanted to run from it.  I was tired of the effort. How many of you go through similar feelings in relationships? It is easy to throw in the towel and go on to something else. I think what I was experiencing during that time was a need for a separation. As I said earlier, it hurt me emotionally to leave. But the break was necessary in order for me to begin my journey back. It was the first step in learning to be patient with myself and with the sport. I needed to come back on my own terms in order to create a deeper and lasting relationship. Also, it is  a relationship that allows for balance. Now I supplement running with hot yoga and three days of strength training.  They enhance my practice and at times substitute for it.

Any healthy relationship is one in which you use your heart and your head. Runners do not always use the latter (or else they let it get in the way but it is the same idea). We suffer from a burning desire to move; we want to see how far our legs and feet will take us. As long as we are not running from something it’s okay. Run to please yourself. Run because you find joy in the going. Run with others. Then you’ll know that your heart is in the right place!