Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Countdown to the marathon...

Tuesday, April 1 (26 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

April Fool! My left leg is being an ass--it's an anatomical miracle, but not a particularly happy one. I've been "recovering" from what is probably an overuse injury in my thigh (gracilis, iliopsoas, piriformis, for those who need detail) for the last three or four weeks. To be more accurate, I've spent a couple of weeks in denial and a couple attempting to cooperate with recovery. I'm slower and weaker than I was a month ago, and it's completely frustrating. Two weeks ago, I ran 20 miles. Today, I set out to run 10 miles after work but only made it to seven with a combination of slow running and walking. I'm telling myself not to panic.

March 15: 20 miles done.

I'm walking/running a tricky tightrope between not getting enough rest to recover and getting too much and losing fitness. I keep declaring I will run this damn thing, but I confess to some tearful moments when I'm not sure I believe me. Some of my friends can't fathom why I'm still heading toward my goal. The runners understand, but I get that it looks crazy to others. All I can say is running has become a part of me over the last seven months. It's a relationship, and it's given me way more than I've given it. I've failed enough at relationships in the past to try something other than throwing in the towel this time around. Running and I are going through a rough patch; that's all. I'm confident we'll find a way to work through it, fall back in love again. Some of the excitement and shiny romance is admittedly a little worn of late, but these things go in waves, right? I'm holding out for the next one.


Meanwhile, I've decided to live the 26 days before the 26 miles OUT LOUD here on my blog. It's an adventure--a story I don't get to clean up after the fact or tell in the light of how it ended. Of course, I'm telling you now, it's ending with a great big shiny medal, but hey. Just you wait!

Wednesday, April 2 (25 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

An evening of rest: no running, no yoga, no swimming, no cycling, and definitely no worrying.

Tonight, I prescribe myself a three-dollar bottle of Chardonnay from the 7-11, a big bowl of Pho, some mindless Netflix, and a lot of sleep. No thinking allowed.

As my namesake famously said, "Tomorrow is another day."

Thursday, April 3 (24 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

Who knew resting would be so hard? Watched an entire 6-episode series on Netflix after work. Finally get to see a physio tomorrow. Answers please! Here's hoping she's the type that understands runners.

Friday, April 4 (23 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

Finally got to see a physio today. I turned up for my appointment in full runner gear with my DRC backpack
"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner
of thing shall be well."
 --Julian of Norwich
slung over my shoulder--didn't want to be mistaken for someone who wasn't about to run a marathon! I was a little scared that Tori, my PT, was going to tell me that running 26.2 was crazy. She may have thought it, but she kept that to herself and agreed to work with me to get me there in as good a shape as possible. Having been cleared to run if I go carefully, I went out for five miles later in the day. I'm still slow, but I'm moving, and the exercises seem to have helped. I still have some pain/discomfort, but it's less than it was, and my legs are turning over in a way that reminds me why I like running. It felt so good to be able to hit the trail at the lake again.

Saturday, April 5 (22 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

My pace group has 22 miles on the plan--the longest training run before the marathon. I'm missing it because I'm sure I can't go that far yet. Resting before a planned long run tomorrow: yoga and the DMA.

Sunday, April 6 (21 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

Persistent rain ruined my plans. I don't mind getting a bit wet, but beginning and ending a long run in a downpour? Not so much. In the end, I went to the gym for 11 miles on the elliptical and a mile of swimming. Just trying to hang onto my fitness for the race. Hope to run tomorrow...

Monday, April 7 (20 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

Physio in the morning before work. It really seems to be helping, and I feel better all the time. Left work as early as possible and headed home to change because I planned to run long tonight. I made it 21 miles in five slow but steady hours. It was rough, tough going slogging through all those miles alone, but I feel like I've won the head game and convinced myself I can do this thing. I swear running is 10% in the legs and 90% in the head and heart. The last five miles were in the dark, and a storm hit the lake with lightning crackling on the skyline and thunder that roared its approval of my progress. Only one A$$Hat in a truck tried to run me down, so I got pretty lucky tonight. There's nothing like a little fear and a good soaking to get your legs moving faster for home. I wanted to make 22 miles, but I reached my car at 21 and decided I didn't need to put myself through that extra half mile out and back just for the numbers. Stopped off on the way home for ice and beer. Anything over 15 miles is begging for an ice bath, and I don't want to take any more risks with my legs. The ice is for the joints, and the beer is for the courage to sit there, shivering.

Tuesday, April 8 (19 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

Rest day.

Wednesday, April 9 (18 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

Physio before work and yoga after. Crazily thought I could also run tonight, but a quarter mile in, I realized that was stupid and took my achey hips home. Failed at the run but succeeded in not pushing myself to injury, so there's that!

Thursday, April 10 (17 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

Planned to run tonight but got stung on the head by a bee at the community garden and then collapsed under the weight of painkillers and benadryl. Oops!

Friday, April 11 (16 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

Ran a few loops of the track at  college after my morning meeting. Seven easy miles. I don't have the speed I had before I got injured, but things are definitely improving. I could have run longer but am saving myself for what I hope will be 15 on Sunday.

I haven't seen the movie, Frozen,but the chorus of this song (below) has become my mantra as I try to let go of my time goals for the marathon that's only two weeks away now.

Just finishing a first marathon upright should be enough for someone who only started running eight months ago, but I wanted that 4:40 time so bad. At this point, coming back from injury but not quite there yet, finishing in anything under five hours would still feel pretty fantastic, but I know what I should really do is let that goal go too. Of course, knowing what I should do and actually doing it are two completely different things. Maybe if I say it to myself often enough I'll start to get it... or not. Let it go... Let it go... Let it go...

Saturday, April 12 (15 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

My pace group have 17 miles planned, but I'm taking a rest day before my long run tomorrow.

Sunday, April 13 (14 days to Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon)

Ran 14 soggy miles (one for each of the days left before Oklahoma City), the last few in a thunderstorm. I come from a family of dogged people.

...ahem! Ran out of steam for the blog (but not for the race) right about here...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

33 Days

My first Half-Marathon,
The Duel in Wichita Falls,
January 2014. Time: 2:17. Pace: 10:31.

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and the truth is I'm struggling. I got a little behind on my mileage a few weeks ago and then pushed too hard to catch up. I made the classic error of trying to squeeze in all the missed runs rather than calmly picking up where I left off. The result? A not insignificant amount of pain and more familiarity with the biology of the human thigh than I ever planned to have.

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and I'm working through injury. So far, I've tried denial, Googling, foam rolling, and a sports massage. Of the four, the sports massage has been the most effective but caused the most bruises. As one of my pace leaders only half-joked, "Never go see your gynecologist within a couple of weeks of a sports massage--he'll ask you whether you're in an abusive relationship!" Don't be fooled by the word "massage" in there: any resemblance to a gentle rub with soothing oils is a linguistic deception. The only thing to which I can compare the experience is childbirth--but without the pain killers and cups of tea.

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and I've trained too hard and come too far to turn back now. The hard-headed Yorkshire lass inside me who tells me to "grit yer teeth and run through the pain" has not been serving me too well as a sports therapist, so I'm dialing down and easing more gently back into my miles until the old iliopsoas stops screaming. Meanwhile, I'm reminding myself of how I built to my first Half Marathon not too many months ago--lots of long, slow, easy hours at sunrise and sunset, nights at the lake when nothing moved but wind on water, indeterminate wildlife in the bushes--and me. Running is easy really. It's just like life: you put down one foot, and then the other, and then another, and then another... And then you just keep doing that forever--or until the finish line, whichever comes first!

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and I've got this. Distance running, I've learned, is only a little about the iliopsoas and the road--it's mostly in the mind, and they don't make expensive shoes for that. You see, I'm not planning on running 26.2 miles really. I'm running five, and then five more, and then five more, and then five more... and then just to the next tree, the next bend in the road, the end of the song... And then, of course, the one after that...

It's 33 days to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and I'll see you at the finish line.

I run for Doctors Without Borders: click here to view the fundraising page and see the list of awesome donors. And thanks!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Boxing Day Bash--you're invited!

It's almost time for our annual Boxing Day Bash. If you're reading, you're invited. Great company, yummy food and mulled wine, laughter, music, maybe stories and poetry, maybe dancing--it turns out differently every year, but it's always lovely.

Boxing Day is traditionally the day, back in the old country, when the lords of the manor would serve the people who spent all year serving them. It's a national holiday in England, but hardly anyone remembers why. For me, it's a time to celebrate my wonderful friends!

If you can bring one thing, bring your lovely self--and a friend or partner, of course. Two things? Add something for the table. Three things? Bring something canned for the North Texas Food Bank.

Boxing Day is December 26, 8 till late, but come and go as you please. Thank you for being part of my whirled. (Pic right, with daughter Joy. Lizzy misses Boxing Day this year because she's in England visiting her gran.)


Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Scarlett is not good at PE"

"Scarlett is not good at PE."

So read the damning indictment on a high school report way back when, as my mother, still laughing, reminded me on Skype just the other day. (The English never really bought into that whole positive reinforcement for the kiddos and give 'em all a trophy American thing.) And yes, I was that girl, the one the teams fought over NOT picking and then banished to an esoteric corner of the playing field known as "Left Wing" where I paced miserably in the rain for an hour or more, twice a week, hoping for as little action as possible and generally getting it.

You see, I have a natural reaction when a ball comes flying towards me: I duck. It has always seemed the sensible course to take. Ditto people with rounders bats and hockey sticks. So high school PE was a miserable time for me before I learned to skip class and head down the woods behind the playing fields to think existential thoughts and smoke soggy Woodbines bought from the sweetshop on the corner for 5p a go.

I had not been prepared for the horrors of phys. ed. at Holmfirth High School by my mentors at Nabb where the formidable Miss Bland (who was anything but) had us run about barefoot in our knickers and vests in the school hall twice a week while she praised us from behind her lorgnettes in what I now recognize as execrable French. During a five-minute freestyle session at the beginning of each class, students would show off their individual prowess--climbing ropes, juggling, balancing on their hands, running fast around the room... It was at this time that I perfected the one physically impressive feat of my childhood: standing on one leg motionless. I believe that year's report read: "Scarlett is quite good at standing on one leg!"

All of which is just to say that this running thing I've fallen into lately has taken me by complete surprise. I began training in August, completed my first 5K in October, and two weeks ago, at the age of 47, won my first ever trophy.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I began with health and fitness goals in mind, but I've pretty much already left those dreams in the dust. Now I run because it feels a part of who I am. I run before dawn and after dark. I run in the sun and in the rain. When the thermometer shows temps below freezing, I put on a hat and run. On the good days--and there are so many!--I run for the sheer joy of it. Yes, that's me with the maniac grin, rounding the corner by the boathouse, feeling like I'm flying and caring less and less how it looks. On the hard days--and, of course, there are a few--I tell myself, "You come from a family of dogged people. Anyone can put one foot in front of the other, and then another, and then another..." The sense of accomplishment that comes from the hard runs spills over into other, more complicated parts of my life. "You can do this because you could do that," goes my internal monologue. And it helps.

Yesterday, I ran 10 miles straight--it doesn't even sound to my own ears like it can possibly be true, but there it is. My marathon training plan called for 9.4 miles, but it was so close to 10 that when my app. intoned, "You have reached your goal," I answered back, "Like hell I have!" and sped up. At the disapproving 10-mile alert, I careened off the trail into the grass and flopped onto my back to the amusement of several passers by out for a stroll at the lake.

In the month of November, I ran a total of 93.67 miles, so at this point, I would like to add an addendum to those long-ago school reports. Let the record now show:

"Scarlett is not bad at running."

Please consider a donation to my Doctors Without Borders fundraiser: 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

$13 for 13 miles: Fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders

Looking at the suffering in the Philippines and wondering what on earth you could do? 
Emergency teams from Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have been in Cebu city since Saturday. MSF is strengthening its team (currently 23) and there will be a total of 102-107 staff – including doctors, nurses, surgeons, logisticians, psychologists and water and sanitation experts – on the ground in the next few days.
(Source: https://www.msf.org/article/typhoon-haiyan-msf-working-reach-worst-affected-areas)
Please consider donating $13 for the 13 miles of the April '14 Big D Half Marathon I'm training for. Funds donated at my MSF page (see link below) go directly and immediately to Doctors Without Borders.

Friday, October 18, 2013

On graduating from the couch

Today I graduated from active.com's Couch-to-5K running program. It feels like something worth celebrating. When I started, I could barely run to the end of our road without getting winded. Last Saturday (and the Saturday before), I ran for more than five miles without a break.

I began my early morning sweat-and-stagger routine in the middle of August when the air was hot and thick like treacle. As the mornings turned cooler and the sun rose later, I learned to run with extra layers and a light at my back so pre-dawn cyclists didn't curse as they nearly collided with me in the dark.

This is the third time I've tried the program but the first time I've finished it. A hilarious but painful roller skating accident on Easter morning put paid to my initial attempt (and my figure-skating dreams) as I came hurtling over the bridge by the dog park, zooming round the corner, only to land in an ignominious heap by a group of holiday picnickers. I was in too much pain to continue running for some time after that. The second time, I abandoned the program to fly to England and be with my mum who was very sick. I guess the third time really is a charm.

When I began all this, running was just the method; the goal was to get fitter, leaner, and healthier. In the last nine weeks, I've logged 78 miles and dropped a lot of pounds, so I guess I'm well on my way to "Mission Accomplished." Along the way, though, I've fallen in love with the feel of feet pounding on pavement in the dark as the sun hits its snooze button and then rises, sometimes a little reluctantly, over the smokey lake. These days fitness is just a happy by-product of what I'm doing; I've graduated from the couch. Next week I start training for my first 10K, but this time the journey and the destination are one. This time, I'm running just to run.

October 19 Postscript
2013 Komen-Dallas Race for the Cure. My very first race: placed 410th overall, 20th in my age group, running 5K in 32 minutes, 49 seconds. Not too shabby!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On fighting the metaphor

I dashed out of work at the earliest opportunity this afternoon and headed down to the Crow Collection of Asian Art with a friend to watch visiting monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery in Tibet creating a beautiful sand mandala.

I felt a certain urgency since the exquisite artwork, which takes a painstaking week to create out of colored grains of sand, will be destroyed in just a couple of days, the sand swept up and poured into Turtle Creek, a startling and beautiful symbol of the impermanence of all things.

For a silent definition of irony, go stand there as the monks build this beautiful work of art grain by grain, calmly, unattached, knowing it won't last beyond its completion. And then notice the visitors--myself included--fighting the metaphor as we take our pictures, seeking to make the impermanent permanent...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A woman from hell and a helluva woman

"All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people's pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful."
(From Russell Brand's eloquent article in the Guardian on the passing of Maggie Thatcher)

Yep. That's what I remember.

I keep hearing retrospectives about how strong and wonderful our fearless leader was, but I remember covering the miners' and seamen's strikes as a young reporter. I remember picket lines and soup kitchens, angry rhetoric on both sides, violence, tears, stubbornness, and betrayal. Margaret Thatcher didn't just break the unions; she broke the people. A million of them never worked again.

I remember the cliché in all its ugly reality: the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and all of us got a little more selfish--even if we called it something else.

I also remember standing outside the South African embassy with protesters at a time when Nelson Mandela was still rotting in prison and Thatcher was steadfastly refusing to condemn apartheid.

A woman has died, and that's a loss for those who knew and loved her, so for the last couple of days, I've held my tongue and said sorry to the universe each time something snarky rose to mind. But I can't listen to this nonstop outpouring of flattering eulogy anymore without comment.

Does no one remember the hunger strikers that she actually allowed to starve to death? 10 of them? They had families too, but I didn't hear much about them. I only heard the Iron Lady was not for turning.

My point is not to celebrate Mrs Thatcher's death like those who are campaigning to get "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" to number 1 in the British charts. My point is to offer a little qualification to all the eulogizing, a few reminders of the way things were. Our society tends to clean up its dead and whitewash their history, and it's happening again, right before our eyes. The trouble is, if we don't allow history to be what it really is, in all its messy inconsistency, how can we learn anything from it? How can we do better next time a victorious leader offers us fast ways to climb to prosperity on the backs of the very poorest among us?

Margaret Thatcher came to power as I was turning teenage. She stayed in power long enough for her policies to be the focus of some of my work as a young journalist covering the miners' and seamen's strikes. I wasn't watching policies at play in those days. I was watching families go hungry on the picket lines, proud fathers who had been lifelong breadwinners become broken versions of their former selves--sold out both by their own leaders and their government.

It's true, as my friend John points out, that things couldn't go on as they were back in the late seventies. There was a need for more fiscal restraint in government if the country wasn't to go completely broke, and Thatcher turned a tide that likely needed turning. It wasn't popular, and it was probably, in some respects, pretty brave. But my problem with Thatcher's reign (and it was a reign) was a lot to do with the way that she did things--so harshly, so uncompromisingly, even cruelly. I wonder if some of that was possibly fallout from trying to prove herself in such a male world, even though she never admitted that was an issue.

I have been remembering back to those days of riots and strikes. I was the newest reporter on the Dover Express in the early eighties--and for a while the only woman in the entire office who was not a secretary. Some of those men put me through hell trying to find out whether I was up to the job, and it never occurred to me to complain about sexism or harassment. In those days, you just sucked it up and got on with it if you wanted to be in the game. That was the Thatcher way, and though I never saw her as a role model, I went about building my own career pretty much the same way: ask no favors, give no inch, win on merit alone. Though I was never much of a mover or shaker like Mrs T., who rose through the ranks of the Old Boys' Network with a speed and surety that angered and astonished them all, several of those men who put me through hell eventually did answer to me. The very faint parallels were certainly unconscious at the time, but I can see them today, however unwillingly.

Let's be clear: Thatcher never broke the glass ceiling for her sex, whatever the eulogizers may say, and she certainly didn't pave much of a way for the women of my generation in terms of equalizing legislation. What she did was simply refuse to acknowledge the ceiling was even there. She rose right through it like an unsmiling Mary Poppins doppelgänger on steroids, and whether you liked the Iron Lady or loathed her, you couldn't help but assume if she could do it, so could you.

Margaret Thatcher was a woman from hell and a helluva woman. She ignored terrible truths and wrought miraculous change. Though many will speculate, no one but she will ever really know what drove her. People are complicated, motives are messy, and history is an inconsistent muddle. Let's pay it--and Mrs T--the compliment of acknowledging all of it.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

All shall be well: thoughts on changing the world in 2012

On a wall in my house hangs a fading, framed newspaper clipping from 2008 with the headline, "Change has come." My friends on the political right have had a good deal of fun deriding that claim in recent months, and much as I admire my president, I'm tempted to chime in myself with "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

Just to balance the equation, it should be noted that in the closing hours of 2011, Politifact presented a report card on the Republican presidential candidates. When the big prize goes to the guy who only lies 75% of the time, it's not exactly cause for celebration.

Don't mistake me. This isn't a partisan post, and it's not about shadenfreude. The problem's systemic. Will the face of politics change any time soon? Nah. As Eddie Izzard likes to say, it "tastes of human, sir!"

And that's the problem.

I'm a deeply political animal. I care about social justice issues. I still believe the old adage that the test of a civilized society is in how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, and I still agree with Gandhi who, when asked what he thought about western civilization, replied, straight-faced, "It would be a good idea!"

But I'm stuck. I'm stuck in the widening gap between my ideals and an unsustainable deficit, between what I like to think of as humanity and our all too evident humanness. I'm stuck watching the train-wreck that occurs when Nietzsche's warning is ignored--again, and again, and again. "He who fights monsters should see to it that, in the process, he doesn't become a monster."

It doesn't work to "take arms against a sea of troubles" if, in doing so, we abandon the very things we are fighting for. The need for expediency is, perhaps, the oldest of the "old lies": we must torture in order to get the upper hand against a regime that violates human rights; we must impose a death penalty to show that killing is wrong; we must lie and cheat our way into a place of political power in order to fix the mess that other liars created.

Really? And how's that been working for us so far?

In the classroom, I'm frequently faced with knee-jerk, sound-bite answers to complicated questions. The most challenging part of my job is opening spaces where students will dare to think, truly question, crack open the door of an inner prejudice just a little to let some air and light in, so they can attempt to work out complicated responses to a complex world for themselves. Why is it so hard for them to imagine nuance? Why is it so hard for all of us?

It's easy to point the finger at the pants-on-fire politicians and to rave about how bad they are. What's harder is to admit that the politician we disagree with has shown an admirable commitment to his marriage and family, the one we love and who had a great handle on the economy treated his wife like crap, and the one whose faith--or lack of it--we can't understand might have some ideas worth considering. When we refuse a complex world of nuance, we force our politicians into playing caricatures of their true selves--and then, of course, we beat them up for giving us the government we deserve.

I'm not going to stop voting. I'm not going to stop caring. And I'm not going to stop arguing for what I believe is right anytime soon. But I begin to suspect we can only change society as we change ourselves... and that happens slowly, haltingly, sometimes with laughter, sometimes with tears, as we return to the place of integrity again and again, remember who we truly are.

I was chatting with friends the other evening about my crazy youth, when I abandoned my career and flew out to Romania after the revolution, determined to make a difference, to change the world, or at least some part of it. Who did I think I was: Batman? Mother Theresa? The greatest thing I learned was that change is slow, and incremental, and grindingly difficult.

In 2012, I'm not looking to change the world through grand gestures or partisan politics. Instead, I'm going looking for it in all my favorite places: in the middle of lakes, through the wisdom of poetry, in the laughter of friends and the colors of sky, on empty, wooded trails, and in challenging poses on my yoga mat.

From those spaces, I hope to come back to engage in my complex world with just a little more balance, just a little more integrity each time than the time before... That's how I'm going to try to change the world in 2012. It's only a practice--I make no promises.

The last word of 2011 goes to T. S. Eliot in this extract from "Little Gidding" in which he tempts us with "A condition of complete simplicity / (Costing not less than everything)." Yes, please!

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't you just want to smack their heads together?

For the first time in my life, I'm beginning to feel some sympathy for my primary school teacher Miss Bland's preferred method of solving conflicts. She would haul arguing students to the front of the class, warn them that she was going to "smack heads together in a minute," finish her lesson, and then calmly do as she had promised.

I remember one time, my adversary and I thought we could outwit her, and we "made friends" quietly and worriedly as we waited by the blackboard where Miss Bland kept her long-distance missiles (otherwise known as chalks and erasers, objects which frequently found--and left!--their mark on student foreheads).

When Miss Bland finally turned to us to mete out punishment, we told her it was all over, and we had already said sorry to each other.

"Good!" she told us, and then whacked our heads soundly together anyway, leaving a ringing in our ears that lasted all through playtime.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating the whacking of children, but I'm starting to wonder about the whacking of politicians...

Picture of Harry Reid and John Boehner:
By JIM KUHNHENN. Featured in Huffington Post article "John Boehner, Harry Reid Debt Ceiling Plans Create Stalemate In Congress."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Veggie Delight

I recently joined a local community garden and am growing my own organic leek and potato soup. Fun times watching my garden grow, working in the dirt at sundown alongside the pro's, learning about the beneficial effects of mulching, dried molasses and worm poop.

Pop by around June and the soup should be just about ready. I wonder whether the loving care lavished on each individual leek slip over the weeks and months to come will translate into taste... My mum told me recently, "You do know they won't come out looking like soup, don't you, dear?" Yes, mum!

Gardening, it seems to me, is rather like fishing or dry stone walling. It's only partly about the activity itself, and only distantly related to the end result. Mostly, it's about having a reason to be out in the open, enjoying the moments as they tick by more slowly than they do in other places...

"Garden as though you will live forever." (William Kent)

Monday, February 14, 2011

♥ Happy Valentine's Day ♥

I almost stopped my car in the middle of the road and cheered today when I heard this interview with Matthew Alexander on NPR. Alexander and his team were responsible for the capture of two major figures in the leadership of al-Qaida, one of them the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Given the rhetoric we so often hear on popular news channels, you'd be forgiven for thinking this guy would be all about the end justifying the means. But think again. The words that almost got me a ticket today: "I don't care if torture works a hundred percent of the time. I'm not going to use it because it goes against the very principles that I signed up to defend." I received some fun messages and delightful adjectives on this romantic day of days, but Alexander's was the one that made my heart sing.

"Well, I won't be one to tell you that torture never works. I've had friends who have given me examples of when torture did work, but I don't care because to me this isn't about efficacy. We have other things that work a hundred percent of the time like chemical weapons and flamethrowers. We don't use them.

"And the reason we don't use them isn't an efficacy argument, it's because it's against our morality, or because the laws of war have determined that they cause unnecessary human suffering, and we've outlawed them. And there's no exceptions to that.

"I think my big disappointment is the shift in priorities from an America that stands for principles to an America that stands for security. My oath of office, when I took it as an officer in the United States military, didn't mention security. It mentioned allegiance and defending the Constitution, which prohibited torture when we ratified the convention against torture and other provisions within the Constitution."

You can buy the book here. Thank you, Mr Alexander, you made my Valentines Day! ♥

courtesy of St. Martin's Press and via NPR.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

On cats, cars, snow, and Super Sissies

Crazy weather and football fever hit Dallas together this week. Schools and colleges were closed Tuesday through Friday as ice and later snow brought the metroplex to its knees as it was gearing up to host Sunday's Super Bowl.

The cat that lives on our porch has been having a chilly time of it. After weeks of refusing all approaches and offers of food, it condescended to accept a blanket yesterday but is otherwise unmoved. Apparently, those big macho footballers in town for the Super Bowl are not quite as hardy as SuperCat. Playing outdoors at SMU was just too much for them to face, poor things! "It's a little too cold for me," linebacker Clay Matthews said (ESPN). Oh please!

Mind you, I'm staying indoors today after yesterday's little adventure saw me skidding down a hill, bouncing off curbs, and spinning 180 degrees before sliding to a stop facing oncoming traffic--I was narrowly missed by a truck behind me that also lost control but managed to slip past me onto the sidewalk. I've about had it with automatics. This wouldn't happen with proper cars with gear sticks!

Meanwhile, anyone else have a problem with the fact that bad weather and rolling blackouts meant two hospitals lost power this week but the stadium for the Superbowl was kept at a balmy 72 degrees?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are you listening?

Enjoy your day off, but don't forget where it came from. Following a week which brought "a high volume of hypercharged rhetoric over whether hypercharged rhetoric contributed to last Saturday's shootings in Tucson, Ariz" (Linton Weeks, NPR), a reminder of Dr. King's dream seems not only appropriate but desperately needed.

"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline." Thank you for your life and legacy, Dr. King. I hope enough of us are still listening...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Can you beat this? Should you have to?

Good Lord! Can you beat that? Aldi's egg box has a Bible verse inside it. ?!?

(I'm waiting for someone to quote Matt. 11:30: "His yolk is easy..." ) Seriously, though, folks, separation of church and supermarket much?

Can you imagine the uproar if the egg boxes started preaching from the Koran, the Bhagavad Ghita, or Steven Hawking's Universe? Should there be a religion warning on the outside of the egg box? Discuss...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Go ahead: make my day!

November 2--election day--is my birthday.

For my 42nd, you gave me a new president. Thank you ♥

All I want for my 44th is Bill White in the governor's chair.

Early voting begins today--when you vote early, you can vote at any location, so click the link below and find somewhere convenient near you.

I'm feeling lucky, punks. Make my day!

Friday, July 2, 2010

How to spot a Republican

A repost from crooksandliars, Fri, 06/11/2010 - 12:50 — BaScOmBe:

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.

"She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be an Obama Democrat."

"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct. But I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."

The man smiled and responded, "You must be a Republican."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You've risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it's my fault."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

You say potato...

England and the US have been famously described as "two nations separated by a common language" (variously attributed to Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill, depending on which unreliable website you choose to believe). I think the cultural differences may actually run a little deeper than mere semantics, as I tried to explain to my friend Richard the other day on facebook.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Politics aside...

Meet Hassan Khalif Salih, Chairman of the Human Rights Network in Hawieja Province, Iraq. Hassan is one of a group of Iraqi leaders here in the US as part of the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs International Visitor Leadership Program. A group of us met at my friend Susan's house tonight to talk about grassroots civic engagement--and to eat delicious halal food and share our stories.

Coming from Great Britain, an Imperialist country with a shameful history of colonialism, I'm not a supporter of invasions in general or the 2003 one justified by those elusive (some might say imaginary) weapons of mass destruction in particular. However, as I love to tell my students, I frequently learn most from those whose positions are very different from my own. This evening I learned some very positive effects that regime change had for ordinary Iraqis.

Hassan told me that prior to the 2003 invasion, groups such as his--which exists to safeguard human rights in Iraq and to lobby on behalf of political prisoners--simply could not have existed; they would never have been allowed. After Saddam Hussein was toppled from power, hundreds of civic action groups, small and large, organized and not so organized, began to spring up everywhere as citizens discovered a new freedom to take part in grassroots activism. Hassan, who is from Hawija, a poverty-striken area in Kirkuk Province which is a source of much terrorist activity, saw an opportunity to put his lawyer's training and deep concern for human rights into action, creating the now seven-year-old Human Rights Establishment.

Hassan and his fellow guests, Bashar Al-Mandalwy, founder and manager of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, and Hamid Hussein Safar, Director of Media and General Relationships at the Wasit Electoral Commission, offered us a fascinating perspective on what regime change meant for civic engagement in Iraq. More than that, they offered us the hand of friendship.

"See you WHEN you come to Iraq," Bashar the Iraqi journalist told my daughter Joy, the politically active US high schooler. All politics aside, such friendships forged over falafel and black tea give me great hope for our world...

Friday, April 2, 2010


I think it's probably best if we all just ignore the pink splodges, although I would like to mention that considering how fast it comes off your lips and gets onto the lid of your non-fat caramel latte, Clinique lipstick has amazing stickability once washed and dried with a load of clothes.

I always knew it was a good brand. What I didn't realize was that in order to get it to stay on your lips all day, all you need to do is apply it with liberal amounts of hot soapy water and then dry it with hot air for 40 minutes till it hardens and sets.

It's a great money-saving discovery. Do it that way, and you probably only need to apply it once more for the rest of your life. Helpful hint: choose a shade you can live with--for EVER!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Prune surprise

Today, I discovered that pruning shrubs has a great deal in common with plucking eyebrows. You start small, intending just to tweak a little here, pluck a little there, tidy things up a bit, but it's so hard to know when to stop, isn't it? After you've evened up one side, the other side doesn't look quite right, so you tweak a little more here and pluck a little more there, and pretty soon you're looking altogether quite surprised!

That's all I have to say about my front yard right now except that it's probably a good job that the sun went down when it did, forcing me indoors to confront the laundry. Joy tells me, apropos of nothing, that there's a reason people aren't supposed to cut their own hair. Meanwhile, I worry about Tree Top Joe's feelings next time he passes down my street with his shears. Perhaps there's a reason he charges $40 a snip, and perhaps there's a reason I can barely tell he's been. Perhaps that's the whole point!

Monday, November 2, 2009


For my beautiful daughters and my wonderful friends on my 43rd birthday. Thank you for being. You rock my whirled. xoxoxoxo

Friday, October 9, 2009

Congratulations, Mr President!

President Barack Obama was announced Nobel Laureate for Peace today "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

"Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population." The Nobel Committee.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This morning at Bat Nha...

On my mind and in my heart today are the monks and nuns at Bat Nha who were forced out of their monastery and shoved onto trucks this morning in the pouring rain--400 young monks and nuns and 100 lay people. They are seen in the picture to the right taking part in a tea meditation ceremony in more peaceful times.

Please consider writing your representatives in Congress and asking them to send a letter of inquiry about the situation to the Vietnamese Government. It is vital that those in power in Vietnam understand that the international community is watching.

Find who to write to by scrolling down the left-hand side of this Blog and sticking your zip code in the "Hassle your reps" box. Whatever your belief or worldview, please consider giving 30 minutes to the cause of peace today. Thank you for being. xox

More on Bat Nha here: http://helpbatnha.org/

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I heard an interesting article on NPR this morning; apparently, houses of worship are risk sites for H1N1.

Holy water, offering the sign of peace, kissing the Torah, ritual washing, and sharing of prayer mats all came under scrutiny.

A Jewish Rabbi is suggesting the implementation of "Buddhist bows" at his temple. What a delightful interfaith idea. Namaste!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Teaching with Twitter

Dallas Telelearning featured an interview with yours truly this month on the subject of "Teaching with Twitter." You can read it here. Apparently, I am a social media guru. Goodness! Does that come with a hat?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

White girls running...

In my doctoral studies, we're wrestling with the interesting problem of how to be fair-minded critical thinkers. Many of us can argue a strong case about a subject on which we're knowledgeable or about which we're passionate, but to be fair minded means having the integrity not to skew the facts or give in to the temptation to select only the evidence that supports our own position. To be fair-minded also means I need to try to wear the shoes of those who offer differing views of the world from my own and to look at their ideas and data in disinterested (not to be confused with uninterested!) fashion.

This is easy to say and very difficult to do. Our perspectives are frequently so much a part of us that we don't see them. Let me offer a short story to illustrate my point.

Yesterday, I was driving in Dallas with my daughter Joy when she pointed out, "Oh look! A whole line of white girls in pony tails running!" She thought this sight was rather peculiar and funny. The world we live in is rich and diverse, and to see a group of only white girls who all looked the same was odd and somewhat amusing--they looked like a row of Barbie dolls bobbing up and down as they crossed the park.

For completeness, I should mention that Joy is a white girl who frequently wears a pony tail. What I pointed out to her was that seven years ago she would probably have said, "Oh look! A line of girls running!" The first seven years of her life were spent in a small village in Cumbria in the north of England. The population was entirely white--so white that it couldn't see the whiteness of itself.

This is parallel, to me, to those who tell me they don't have an accent or a cultural background. The truth is we all do, but when we live only with those who speak and behave like ourselves, we simply don't notice it.

Thinking with fair-mindedness, to me, begins with acknowledging my own blindness and struggling forward, hands held out, feeling for clues...

Friday, July 10, 2009

The opposite of love

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, said this: "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."

Be the change, people!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Patriotic irony

On this day of days, July 4, when as a dual British/American citizen I celebrate my country's liberation from the tyranny of (ahem!) my country, I am reflecting on the double-irony that "My Country 'tis of Thee" is sung to exactly the same tune as "God Save our Gracious Queen." Perhaps if I simply hum, I can feel whole again!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This is where I come from

This is where I come from. This is what I sometimes miss... the rough edges of the earth, the way light and shadow chase each other across the valley floor, the browns and greens of home.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Application of learning

It's good to know the things we teach in the classroom are not only understood in terms of lesson material but useful in the everyday lives of our students. I've introduced Twitter in class this summer, and it's been fun watching the Tweets roll by.

My favorite student Tweet from last night: "Now I know how to use pathos n logos to get to date many hotties."

Ha ha ha

I have created a monster!

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Did I Miss Anything?"

Did I Miss Anything?
Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren't here

by Tom Wayman
From: The Astonishing Weight of the Dead
Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Digging my friends

Only a philosophy prof. is likely to turn up unexpectedly at your door with a shovel and a trunk full of canna lilies and start digging in the front of your house--all the while expounding to your daughters on the quality of your dirt, the meaning of life, and the importance of knowing about Pablo Neruda.

Lizzy later posted on facebook, "I love my mom's friends." Yeah. Me too! All of you. Thank you for being xox

Read Liesl's blog at http://www.clottedcognition.com/ If you're a student who liked me, you're gonna love her, so take her class already! One of these days, we're gonna get that learning community together, Liesl--maybe with a service learning component involving community gardens?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Introducing Joy's Poetry Pants!

Joy added some of EAP's Bells to her poetry pants. It's a new fave. She made me read the whole thing to her immediately I staggered in from the lake. It's long, but how could I refuse when she'd vacuumed?

...in a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire...

The poetry pants fade in the wash, but Joy re-scribes them in lessons if the teacher is being dull--the more boring the lesson, the more interesting the pants. Participial phrases always produce great creativity!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"The Guest House"

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī
جلال‌الدین محمد رومی

Sunday, May 3, 2009

6 October 2001--a memory

today, a five-year-old,
with da
ncing eyes
and d
ripping hair,
shed through puddles
the edge of the muddy world
and looked on her first rainbow,

Nearly nine years ago, but it seems like yesterday--the day Lizzy saw her first rainbow. Joy, Lizzy, and I had been playing with mud and sticks down by the river. Racing up the fields to get home, Lizzy stopped and looked up. Her mouth was wide open and she was laughing. "They're REAL!" she yelled. "I didn't know they were REAL!"

Happy Birthday, my beautiful teenage daughter--13 today. Wow!xoxoxo