Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Perspective where you least expect it

I gave blood at the Red Cross donation center Tuesday, and a nearing 50 man named Kelly conducted the pre-donation run-through.

He pricked my finger to test my iron, took my temperature and my blood pressure and asked some questions.

He made small talk, too, although he seemed uncomfortable doing it. I wanted to tell him he didn't have to talk to me; I wasn't feeling all that social either.

But he saw the Runner's World magazine I'd brought with me and asked if I was a runner.

I was, I said.

So is my son, he said.

I nodded.

Where does he go to school? I asked.

Nebraska Wesleyan.

Does he like it? I said.

Kelly shrugged. "Quiet kid. Doesn't talk much."

Sadness sort of surrounded this man, but I felt like he was genuinely trying. I wondered if he liked his job.

Later, I asked how my iron level was. It was great, he said. I told him that was good because I'm a vegetarian.

"My wife was a vegetarian, too," he said.

I noticed the "was" but didn't say anything. He went on to tell me she worked in trauma at one of the hospitals here and the scenes there were what turned her off to meat.

But, he said, after they married, he convinced her to eat meat again. He smiled.

And then a few minutes later: "She died last year."


"I'm sorry," I said.

What else do you say?

So tonight I went to Wal-Mart, and the kid cashier was chatty.

I was buying Cold Duck, a kind of champagne, for Dane because Cold Duck spritzers were always Christmas tradition at his house. The kid asked me why it was called Cold Duck. I had no idea.

At his house, he said, family tradition to was to sit around and get drunk on rum and vodka.

When he was 4, he said, it was his birthday party and his grandpa was outside on the back porch drinking, though he was already drunk. The kid and his cousin, being kids, ran around and shot Grandpa with squirt guns.

Later, Grandpa got them back. He came INTO THE HOUSE with a garden hose, soaking everything. Even the birthday cake.

"He died last year," the kid told me. He was 70. But that's what you get, he said, for smoking and drinking every day of your life.

I offered something about 70 being a long life, as I plucked plastic bags from that stupid Wal-Mart spinner, wishing I'd remembered my reusable canvas ones from the car.

Then: "My step-dad died just last week."

I busied myself locating the debit card in my purse.

"He was only 35."

Heart attack.

"I'm sorry," I said.

What else do you say?

I'm fairly certain I've never had a stranger tell me about losing a loved one before, unless I was interviewing him or her for a story. Ever.

So if I believed in God, I bet I'd think this was some sort of sign.

Now, I have no idea what it means. Maybe just a strange coincidence.

Either way, I drove home to my husband and my son, healthy and reading Elmo books upstairs. I thought about Thanksgiving last week, the race I ran, the family we ate with and the others I talked to on the phone.

Everyone's healthy, fairly successful, mostly happy. That's a pretty big thing.

And I'm thankful for it, though sometimes I forget.

I'm going to work more on not forgetting.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Free to a good home

Warning, dog people: This post is about cats.

The chore I hate most is cleaning the litter box. I don't mean just scooping it out, which I do nightly and isn't really that bad. I mean actually emptying it and washing out the boxes.

I'm fairly certain I'm supposed to do this once a month or so, maybe every couple months. I hadn't done it since we moved here. That was 2 years and 4 months ago.

So I knew it was something I had to do.

I'm also on this let's-go-as-green-as-we-can kick lately, plus I'm sick of little cat litter kernels all over the basement. So I found this all-natural litter called Feline Pine, and it's not litter at all. It's little sticks of pine, apparently from a tree. It was on sale at Target, so last night I bought 20 pounds of it.

And this morning I emptied and washed the boxes and swept up the area. I wore a dust mask, and it was still like inhaling dirty clay.

I really, really hated it.

To top it all off, I had decided for some dumb, dumb reason to wear the very cool race T-shirt I got at the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, and I splattered bleach on it. So now little spots of white dance across the front of the deep blue shirt.


And here's the kicker:

When I finished cleaning up the whole dirty area downstairs and filling the boxes with a little of the pine and a little of the old (cats are smarter than you think; they know when you've changed something that matters to them, so I'm attempting to introduce the pine gradually), I at least felt productive.

But 10 minutes later, I found a gift from one of our cats on the floor downstairs, far, far away from the newly cleaned boxes. On the carpet.

So they're all up for adoption.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Night and day

The race I ran Saturday morning was about as different from the art auction I found myself at Saturday night as could be.

Saturday morning was so amazing I'm still thinking about it, two full days later.

After considerable debate (read: self-doubt), I finally decided to run this race billed as the world's largest cross country race. It's called Living History Farms and it's just outside of Des Moines. Nearly 7 miles of trail running.

Cara and I were lucky enough to go with someone who had run the race four times before. Bryan drove us straight there, took us on a warm up, patiently explained the course to us and didn't even seem mad when my wait in the porta-potty line beforehand caused us to be way too far back in the starting area. We also stayed for free at his friend's house the night before.

I had no idea beforehand how 6,800 runners -- some more serious than others - would translate on a hilly, muddy course. Turns out it doesn't work all that well. The race started, and we didn't move for at least five minutes. When we did, we shuffled and then jogged and then came to a halt again. This went on for a while, and finally we got going, only to find we were stopped again while the large crowd of runners narrowed to fit into a tunnel under a bridge.

Cara and I spent much of the race weaving in and out of people, many in costume and others who were just running much slower than we wanted to go.

When we came to the first creek, about two miles in, everyone stopped again, apparently trying to figure out the best strategy. Cara and I forged straight ahead, jumping into the chilly knee-deep water. I slipped trying to climb up the muddy embankment, and someone pushed me up from behind. Someone else was lending a hand from up above.

We ran on, plunging through more creeks, jumping over logs and piles of mulch, climbing hills and flying down them. Cara and I took turns leading until the last mile when she pushed ahead of me, up a long gradual hill. I watched her up ahead and tried to focus on catching her again throughout the last half mile or so. I couldn't quite do it, but I didn't care at all. I felt so much like I belonged at this race. And really I didn't want it to be over.

Afterward, Bryan was there waiting as I came through the finish chute. He'd had time to go to the car to fetch our jackets. We found Cara, I ditched the wet, muddy knit gloves, and we asked a stranger to take our picture. Then we ate glazed donuts without an ounce of guilt and finally decided to head for the car.

I was ready to go but not really. Like with anything I really look forward to, I couldn't believe it was already over. Running this race Saturday, feeling a part of something, was really, really cool.

Saturday night, I went with Dane to a place that I could tell he thought was really, really cool. The Bemis, an art gallery where I'd never even been, was having an auction, and this was obviously quite the social event. Waitresses carried hors deuvres on trays, and just about everyone seemed to know everyone else. Girls were wearing leopard-print dresses with gold shoes and tiny black dresses with dark eyeliner and all sorts of things in between. The men, too, were wearing all sorts of clothes. One, who people call Jesus, had the tightest jeans anybody's ever seen. There was actually a discussion about the missing bulge.

To me, most of these people seemed to be trying a little too hard. But what do I know?

Regardless, Dane was having a great time. He's way more into art than I am - just like I'm way more into running than he is -- and it was cool to see him having fun.

Here's to more days like Saturday, ones that fit like a wet, muddy glove or a pair of tight, bulgeless jeans.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Better than nothing

It's not Colorado -- not even close -- but I got several glimpses of nature Saturday.

Sandwiched in between two busy streets is a lake, likely manmade, that has a cement trail (read: sidewalk) around it. The lake is split in two by one of the busy streets. If you run around both halves, you've gone roughly seven miles.

I needed to run seven this weekend, so I headed to the lake.

I opted for the smaller half first, the three-mile half. I've always liked this side better. It's quieter there, a bit more natural, way fewer people, fewer dogs, more trees.

I noticed this time that there are a few trails that snake off into the woods (I'm stretching the definition of "woods" here, but you can't actually see to the other side, so it works, right?). I followed one almost right away, only to lose the trail 10 seconds later. So I backtracked and hit the pavement again, curving gently clockwise around the trees.

I looked up soon after and saw a small skinny snake slithering across the sidewalk, its tongue out.

A mile or so later, around another bend, I looked up to see a deer nonchalantly crossing my path. It was incredible really. A doe, she seemed to not even know she was hanging out at a manmade lake frequented by runners, bikers, roller bladers, walkers. I stopped to watch her go, into the trees on the other side of the trail.

I thought about telling the people just ahead of me, who were headed the opposite direction. If I would have pointed her out, they probably still could have seen her. But I didn't. In a split second, I decided she was my own personal deer.

My run around the small half concluded with two hawks hovering in the sky. At this point, I could see the mansion that signaled how near I was to the busy street again, how close I was to modernization, civilization.

I saw no acts of nature on the bigger, more populated half of the lake. Mostly rich west Omaha women too dressed up to actually be exercising.

But that was OK. The run was good, if long, and I'd seen the deer. That counted for a lot.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Jammy Day

Tomorrow is pajama day at daycare for Rye, but he does not want to wear them.

He wants to wear clothes, actual jeans and a construction-themed long-sleeve t-shirt, like every other day.

He likes the routine. He thrives on the routine.

But what I wouldn't give to have jammy day at work, to break the awful routine.

Come on, think of the possibilities for an entertaining day! Instead of pants that never seem to fit right, turtlenecks and boring, closed-toe winter-time shoes, we would get flannel pants with pumpkins on them and fleece socks with snowflakes. And we could wear them together, even though they don't match at all. We could wear old track t-shirts from high school and ratty sweatshirts with holes in them if we wanted.

There would potentially be no stress about getting dressed in the morning -- because you wouldn't have to!

Plus, you'd get to see everyone else in jammies. Even the bosses.

Think about that.

That would be great.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"Trick or Treating"

For weeks, Rye refused to wear the homemade car costume.

So we went to the race and the farm and the Halloween party last week with no costume. We said later that we should have made him a nametag that said "Stubborn 2-year-old."

But last night, the Halloween stars aligned, and Rye put on the costume.

I was so excited as we left the house, a tiny automobile shuffling beside me. I clutched the glow stick we'd just broken open, and Dane and I held Rye's hands.

Two houses from ours, we rang the first doorbell.

Rye was apprehensive. But he went along with it and said, "Trick or treating!" and then "Thank you."

We praised him, of course, as he carefully stuffed the chocolate bar into his neon green, scary witch basket.

And that was all it took. He was hooked on trick or treating.

"Oh, let's go to the next house," he said with enthusiasm.

His haul included a jumbo pixie stick, lots of suckers, plenty of chocolate and a bag of microwave popcorn; I'm fairly sure the popcorn -- for its novelty -- was his favorite.

He's yet to eat any more than one lone mini- Hershey's bar from his basket. But that's fine.

As we walked last night, dodging the middle-school boys dressed only in a mask or a hooded sweatshirt and the girls dressed in too-short shorts and fishnet stockings, Dane and I remembered our own trick or treating nights.

It doesn't seem that long ago.

I remember clearly going to Walgreens with my best friend's mom to buy makeup, which we used in NINTH grade (yes, a little too old, I'm sure) to turn me into a mime and her into a dead cheerleader (there is a story behind that). We stayed out for hours.

I remember staying out for hours with my childhood best friend , too, even though we had elementary school the next day. We'd walk around her neighborhood, and often her mom would drive us around after that. We always ended the night at her grandma's where I'd get my favorite thing -- homemade fudge that she gave out in a baggie filled with popcorn.

Dane said last night how he impulsively started looking down streets for porch lights, calculating how quickly we could cover them all. Old habits die hard.

Rye wasn't worried about getting to everyone, though. He fixated on the "scary house" we visited, to the point that it made me feel bad for taking him up to the door, and after awhile he said he wanted to go home and watch the Barney Halloween movie.

So we did.

Still, for nearly an hour, he got a taste of my favorite holiday, the cap to my birthday month, the best time of year.