Archive | August, 2014
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This crappy week, made better

17 Aug

Just when you think you can’t take another shred of bad news, when NPR starts pissing you off, when work leaves you feeling uncertain and confused, when facebook reminds you that you pretty much suck because you aren’t jumping at the chance to dump a bucket of icewater over your head, the universe opens and drops in more crap to make you more sad than ever. That was this week. You were there. You know what I’m talking about.

What do you do with a week like this one? Do you get under the covers and just want to die? Or do you work like mad to distract and forget?

I get lazy, mostly. If it wasn’t for upcoming stuff, namely, getting to see my brother in October in Portland for the Portland OR Marathon, I probably would have blown off most everything this week.  As it was, I was reminded of the incredible fragile nature of this planet and all of us on it, and got out to do some appreciative sightseeing of it.  On Tuesday night, Tom met me at the Kingston Train Station and we ran down in to Great Swamp.

photo courtesty trailsandwalksri.wordpress.com

This is an overgrown and vibrant, hyper-verdant management area in South Kingstown that features all kinds of interesting wildlife, including mosquitoes, and holds a history of bloodshed.  And not just by mosquitoes. It is very quiet here, and maybe a little haunted. Since my runs of late have been sluggish, it was nice to push the pace trying to keep up with Tom.

As I ran along, I thought about how good it is to run, that it helps my heavy, sad-this-week brain. I know it helps Tom’s. With the sun peeking through the clouds, spotting two great blue herons – one lifting off directly in front of us – I felt connected. Like I had a purpose. What kind of purpose? I don’t know. I wasn’t put on this earth to walk and run on it, but maybe we are all here as part-and-parcel cells of it, and sometimes, we need to connect back to Big Mama.

In stark contrast to Tuesday night’s run, Thursday night’s along Atlantic Avenue at Misquamicut Beach was an eye-opener, also featuring all kinds of interesting wildlife of an altogether different sort.  Apparently, Thursday nights are fun drunk nights at Misquamicut.  Still, we were fairly safe seeing as we were running alongside it, not stuck in some patio bar between all those muscles and Banana-Boat and tiki drinks. From afar, it always looks fun, right?

photo courtesy goingout.com

Right. So, Georgia and I ran along, and we got whistled at. Hooted at. Like, three times. Once, by a car-full of boys no older than 16. I think they were quite alarmed when they turned around and saw that we were old enough to be their mothers.

I also couldn’t help but note that if Tom had been with us, we wouldn’t be getting hooted at.

But in a way it was my fault. I was the one who said no, let’s not go through Watch Hill, where the rich pinot-grigio drunks go on Thursday night. Let’s go where the regular drunks go.

Thankfully, this section of Misquamicut lasts only (a very long) two miles, eventually crossing into quieter Weekapaug.  At the bridge, five or six teenagers acted “normal” while a police car cruised slowly by, and then proceeded to mount the railing to jump off into the breachway. It was a hot night and if I was 13, I probably would have joined them.

Up through quiet Weekapaug, the ocean in the distance. The houses are smaller than the Newport or Watch Hill mansions here. Still, stiff white shirt lawns and precise gardens, though.  Maybe they have enough for a gardener.  But there are real live dog-walking people who are maybe tourists, but long-time, several-weeks tourists.

More old family salt than New York money. Outside of a chapel on Noyes neck road, about fifty beach bicycles lay helter-skelter on the lawn. A Thursday night dinner. Folks in khaki and plaid milled about with paper plates and plastic cups.  Georgia said, “We should crash it.” I said, “We smell.” We laughed and continued on, inhaling the sweet scent of rosehip.  As we headed back to Georgia’s house, I thought once again how incredibly lucky I am to creep upon the surface of this planet.

Friday, after a half day at work feeling like I couldn’t put my head around a problem, I pulled a hookie and left early to get out to Maxwell Mays Wildlife Refuge in West Greenwich, RI, with my friend Marci.

Photo courtesy trailsandwalksri.wordpress.com

There is no jogging allowed here. So Marci and I settled for a nice long hike. We spent the first fifteen minutes chatting and catching up with each other, until we were sort of stunned into a quieter mutual meditation. This place is pretty amazing. Beautiful trails feel like somewhere else. Once again, you can throw a whole bunch of crap at us humans and then send us out in to the woods and it all gets better.

Sometimes, you want to be around people, or at least see what they are up to. On Saturday night, Tom and I decided that we wanted marinated ribeye, and THE place to get marinated ribeye in Hope Valley is Ma n Pa’s on Main Street. Their ribeyes are enough to make a grown man cry. So we decided to ride our bikes there. Being another incredibly beautiful evening, the 7 miles down there seemed too short. We extended our ride to circle by the Washington Country Fairgrounds to traffic-watch (it is unusual to see traffic around here, so WOW!) A long line of cars down route 112 with country music of various ilk coming from truck stereos. You could feel the excitement. Saturday night is the last night of the fair and people here take this shit very seriously. We have been once or twice and it was very swamp-yankee summer. So no stopping as we strung past the line of cars past the fairgrounds entrance and finally (ahhhhh…) back to quiet old roads. We then took a circuitous route along the turf farms of Switch Road back to Main Street to get our steaks and a pint of coffee ice cream, all of which got stuffed into jersey pockets for the rest of the ride home. Back at home, Tom built an “artisanal fire” and we sat looking up at the stars all night. From the back of this little blue marble in space.

No matter how cruddy the news gets, and the facebook gets, and the fighting, and the greed, and the hypocritical nastiness, it is sometimes quite comforting to me to realize that all of us come from and go back to the same stuff.  It is imperative – I would say it is our duty – to examine the home we are living on every once in awhile.

Maybe if more people got outside more often, there’d be a little less crap, and a little more love, and bad news wouldn’t hurt so much.

photo courtesy space-pictures.com

 

 

Farm life is like your life, but we get up earlier.

10 Aug

On Wednesday, August 13th, we celebrate ten years at Paradise Farm. My, how time flies. I remember that Friday the 13th that we closed. We spent a late night before at Tom’s, packing the rest of his house (except the sun porch, where we camped the last night) into a moving van. Early the next morning, we drove it, and our cars (in stages and via park and rides) to the “new” house, where the owners, Reen and Jay, were still packing. We had formed a good relationship with them (after we submitted our bid, we had lunch with them, and they hung in there – refusing other offers – while we spent the spring selling our two houses to get enough for this one.) They were headed to Florida that day, and we knew they also had to leave things until the last moment. We parked the trailer outside the new house and drove up to the multiple closings.  A few hours and a good lunch later, we drove back down and, with the help of my good friend Janet and our wonderful realtor, Bill, unloaded the trailer in less than two hours, under a threatening sky. The minute the last heavy tool came down the ramp and into the garage, the skies opened.  We cracked beers and sat in the gazebo, our first day in Paradise. And the next day, never sitting long enough to let the moss grow, we cut four 20+ foot encroaching cedars surrounding the house foundation (probably freaking the neighbors a bit – we move quickly!) and later that afternoon, got in the car to drive to North Carolina to pick up my daughter and niece from my folks’. Oh, but we were so young.

In ten years, we’ve had geese, chickens, pigeons, llamas, alpacas, dogs and cats, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, tomatoes, squash, peppers, etc. etc. on these seven acres. We’ve buried one llama and one alpaca, sold a lot of baby alpacas, and much of our herd. We’ve also buried three dogs (Spooky, a Norwegian Elkhound mix – a lovely, warm old lady; Jasmine, my mother’s black lab who came to stay; and Jimmy, the big brown galumph with the heart bursting out of his ribcage and a brain like a faded but precious postage stamp.) We’ve caught some woodchucks, and once, a fierce (but pretty – at least from the back!) Fisher Cat. And one moonlit winter night, we had a horse come barreling through the yard, hesitating under our window and huffing billows of silvery, smoke-like breaths. We had four holiday season open houses, drawing hundreds of folks from all over, with a makeshift “store” selling alpaca stuff, tours of the barn, and once, an obstacle course. We have taken alpacas to farmers’ markets, where Tom spun magic yarn and I led alpacas (followed by many, many children) around with a halter.

We wake up early. Even on weekends.

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Tom, Charlie and Coco: morning chores.

We’ve learned some things the hard way. For example, regular humans can not, and should not even attempt to, shear alpacas.

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Even though Tom did a great job. Danny looks pretty happy to be getting all that fiber off. Whew!

We learned that 20 pigeons is too many pigeons. That 18 alpacas means scooping poop twice a day, rain or shine, or snow. Even when you just got married an hour ago. Even if your husband is in the hospital with appendicitis. For a week.

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We have downsized in the past few years. Since LMB went off to Art Skool, it is rather quiet. Three alpacas (two ladies and a gentleman) and one llama and a handful of chickens make much less poop to scoop these days.  It is quieter.

Photo-0046

I think about this. We made a conscious decision to quiet things down. A hundred years ago, we would not have had that choice. We would have had to stick it out, even when we didn’t feel like it was the right thing for us, anymore. I think about this when I scoop poop on a Sunday morning. I have a choice. I go to work and this is all for fun. I don’t panic when the tomatoes come up spotty. I don’t look at the alpacas and see dollar signs. I just get up every day and say hello, and get on with things before going to work.

When I run, I pass evidence of Farms Gone By. The only reminder of the hard work, knuckle-rawing daily sculldudgery that went into sustenance farming are stone walls, cellar holes, and new pine overtaking what used to be fields. All returned to the woods.

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Will Paradise Farm look like this, some day? A hole hidden in the woods?

Who will remember this?

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People say to me sometimes “how do you do it – with school, and the farm, and the training for marathons – where do you find the time?”

Simple. We just get up really, really early.

 

 

It’s all in how you look at it…

3 Aug

I know I am a lucky monkey. I wake up grateful every day. Things that might strike others as bad to the core, my internal optimist-monkey is always compensating for with positive spin, like a C- average marketing student with an internship at Stop and Shop brand generic foods.

Seen 8/3/14 at Stop and Shop, Wyoming RI

Seen 8/3/14 at Stop and Shop, Wyoming RI

 

But true to perception, I am an optimist. A cynical optimist, but an optimist nonetheless. This is why Saturday morning, and actually a lot of mornings lately, are surprising to me, because Saturday featured an incredibly cranky me as we prepared to run our 2nd Ocean Beach 11.6 mile road race in New London, CT.

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I don’t know what’s going on with me these days. I know I am incredibly lucky. My family, for the most part, is healthy and happy. My job, although of late it has been stressful, is good and interesting. But I have been burying stuff, or making piles of it, maybe. I worry about stuff. I worry about my Mom and her having to deal with my Dad and his stolen memory, and the changes fast happening with them. I worry about my daughter and the good independence born this year that makes me so happy but also a little sad. She never had a teen rebellion. She just quietly took responsibility for herself and stopped worrying what I thought about it. This is good, and necessary, I know. This is what the optimist in me thinks, anyway. The pessimist-monkey wants to wrap her in bubble wrap until she’s 40.

Saturday I had this stuff on my mind. Every race I do, I think about my Dad anyway. He’s the one who got me in to running when I was 13. You had to do something he liked to get any time with him, since, when he wasn’t out at sea, he was only back for a couple of months. He liked being outdoors, so we six kids had limited things to choose from to be part of his time home. My brother can coax beautiful native flowers out of his postage-stamp sized Portland garden and it’s probably because he chose that aspect of my Dad’s time home – you could make decent cash weeding for my father. I was pretty garden lazy. And chore-lazy. But you had to do chores to do the fun stuff with him, so I got good at getting stuff ready to go to the dump, or raking leaves absentmindedly. I couldn’t wait for chores time to be over so we could get on to the fun stuff – a hike at the Norman Bird Sanctuary, perhaps, or walking out to Hazard’s Beach.  Even getting to go to the dump or to the hardware store was a big deal and I would wait by the door like a dog to go for the ride in the car. When I got a little older, he said he was going out for a run, and if I wanted to go, I had better hurry up. I ran and got on my terry shorts, a t-shirt, my pair of Zipps, and knee socks and off we went. I was so thrilled to be included. I was probably missing out on hanging out at the pool with my best friend or the beach with my Mom and sister, but I was going on a run, like Bruce Jenner, or Jim Fixx. Back then, I didn’t know of any female runners. I just knew I was getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that my Dad usually reserved just for himself. We ran up to the Art Association, left on Bellevue, and all the way out to Reject Beach, where we turned around to run back. It was probably only a couple of miles, but it felt very far. Along the way Dad waved to a tall man with white hair and told me, “That’s Claiborne Pell.”  There were a lot of runners on Bellevue. I felt a part of the gang. Dad showed me how to execute a sprint finish down Old Beach Road. The next year, I joined the high school track team and I did okay. I was never first, never last, and always, always did the best that lazy monkey allowed.

Lazy monkey shows up at races. This is the monkey who, despite the body being trained and fit, despite my brain being ready to race, tells me that I would much rather be home and should give up this race stuff already, since I am never going to win. And then there’s Tom in the car, saying, “are you ready to win???” and I’m like, dude, I don’t win these things. “Well, how are you ever going to win if you have an attitude like that and don’t line up at the front?” But Lazy monkey doesn’t want to line up at the front, because then she will be passed and have many more reasons why racing in the rain, even a free race, kind of just sucks. At first it does, anyway.

Thankfully, the spirit of my fellow runners was enough to turn around my crappy attitude as we stood around waiting for things to start. I looked forward to the front of the pack and caught Tom’s eye as he turned around to look for me. A lucky happenstance. The gun went off and off we all went, and I went into Run Like a Meanrat mode.  The race starts on a beach and hugs the coastline in the first mile, so it’s really hard to be all pissed off when the ocean is like, right there. Even on a rainy day. The midpack moved along like a herd of elephants. In the distance I could see Tom’s orange shirt. I decided to ignore Lazy Monkey and push it a little, maybe because I was thinking of my Dad and that was a good way to think of him. He wouldn’t like me dawdling.

Around me, I had all kinds. There were the gabbers, who talked for four miles and stayed with me, fast and young, despite my attempts to drop them, until I got a second wind and pulled far enough ahead to not hear them anymore. There was a foot slapper who stayed behind me, annoying me at first but comforting me in later miles. There was the Girl In Purple – one in every race – elusive and steady. I tracked at her heels. And then there was the compact older dude, the Dad Stand-In, who I picked to be my Dad for this run. He smelled bad but dressed like my Dad used to on runs – cotton shirt (old school!), athletic shorts, socks, and older sneakers. Surprisingly fast. I stayed with him when I lost the girl in purple.  Meantime, I pushed my pace as hard as I could. I haven’t been much on the roads and what I have done this year has not been fast, despite using a new training plan and running more miles than ever before. But I had been concentrating on trails and distance for Wakely, and my road miles were showing it.  But I didn’t let negative old Lazy-monkey get to me. I looked around and enjoyed the scenery. And even in the not as scenic parts of New London, I really was enjoying it.

Mile eight and its hill came and went, and I caught up with Amby Burfoot and a few runners running with him. He’s a talker too. I listened to him for awhile. He’s not as old as my Dad but was a big-time runner way back when and won the Boston marathon the year I was born. So that was cool. I decided to pull ahead of them and did so, effectively getting off by myself at mile 10. I felt pretty good at this point, the morning’s cloudy mood lifted, and I pulled out the stops for a sprint finish at Ocean Beach.  Three minutes slower than last year, but still a good race considering I have been negligent about road running.

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photo courtesy Sara Pearson

My Dad would have loved this race. Sure, I can call my Mom and tell her to tell him I ran another road race, but I’m not sure he’d even know what that is, or who she is referring to. I have to remember our runs from Newport now, because he doesn’t, anymore. I have to remember my runs now, for me. And isn’t it amazing that things that we do as parents that mean probably very little to us at the time mean so much to our kids? My Dad probably thought it was cute and funny that one of his kids wanted to run with him, but likely had no high hopes of me ever being a runner as an adult. I think about this when I think about my daughter, and wonder if, despite my neglect or my being missing in moments makes any difference, since she has these memories of us that mean so much to her, and help to define and guide her now that I am no longer in the role of guide. Just as my Dad, and memories of spending time with him, guide my behavior now.

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Meantime, Tom and I spent Sunday afternoon looking at old family slides of his Dad and Mom and Grandparents. Since Tom lost his Dad to Alzheimer’s it was especially poignant. I wonder which one of us will inherit this sucky gene. Anyhow, we gathered the slides to get digitized at Southtree Photo Services.  I will have to go through my box of photos and see if I can find some old slides at my parents house.

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This blog post has been all over the place, I know. But that’s what my brain has been like. Running is good and bad in that it helps you sort through a lot of shit. But it also brings back memories for me, and I am grieving for a person who is still here, but not here. There are a lot of conflicting feelings that go with that last part.

How do you deal with your nostalgia?

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