Archive for August, 2010

Look at her go! Notes on running, “jogging” strollers, and dogs

Friday, August 27th, 2010

People – specifically, fellow moms who have abandoned running…as well as jogging and walking – often ask how I do it. How have I managed to continue running consistently, without jeopardizing my career or ignoring the demands of my increasingly large family, which currently includes four children and three dogs? Following the last conversation on this theme, I gave some serious thought to what I’ve done to pull off a successful 15-year training program. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Attitude: running is way more than “just” exercise. I agree with Larry Shapiro, fellow academic and author of  Zen and the Art of Running, that running is as essential as breathing is to my living fully. I literally find not running to be painful; I swear, my muscles begin to ache as if I could actually sense them atrophying and muscle tension in my neck and shoulders turns to migraine headache. Hence, I’ve always prioritized running. A morning run – or walk on a rest day – is among the first things on my daily agenda. Period.

2. Find a running partner: get a dog. I’ve heard more than one health care professional say that the quickest way to improve your fitness is to get a dog and walk him. We got an Alaskan Malamute – Shunka Wacon – who required at least two extended exercise periods a day. We’d run in the morning, then walk again in the afternoon. Because Shunka looked like a wolf and outweighed me before he was a year old, I felt safe running anywhere, from trails in upstate New York to dimly lit streets in Southern California.

2. Nurse and run. When my eldest child, Quentin, was born, I learned very quickly that I had only a brief window of time to run (or eat or work or whatever) following each nursing session. I used to get up before Quentin was due to wake up, and then dress for running from the waist down before getting him up to nurse. Afterward, I’d tuck Quentin in bed with his dad, finish dressing, get Shunka, and go. Later, as a single mom living back at home, I’d run before Quentin woke up, but after nursing his sister, Reiley. My mother and sisters stood in as ready substitutes for dad.

3. Get a running stroller. Once I was back on my feet and living alone, the Baby Jogger was my “freedom stroller.” A gift from the kids’ dad, my first running stroller literally saved me. In order to get my run in before getting all of us ready and out the door, I had to be in my running shoes and on the street before dawn. I wouldn’t even wake the kids before strapping them into the stroller, tucking chocolate milk in sippy cups and snacks into the mesh pockets located conveniently on outer edge of each seat. Then I’d park them on the porch while I leashed the dogs (yes, I was crazy enough to get a another dog – a mutt adopted from the pound). And the five of us would be on our way.

4. Invite the kids to ride along. Not surprisingly, each of my children, in turn, became independently mobile before he or she was old enough to leave at home alone while I went running. Not a problem. They joined me on their bikes, scooters, or roller blades. When we first moved to our current hill-top home, I used to slow to a walk going uphill so that eight-year-old Quentin and six-year-old Reiley could keep up with me and Parker (in the aforementioned running stroller). I think the most cumbersome this family running team effort ever got was when my youngest sister, Terri, lived with us and joined in the run. There were mornings when we’d trade off pushing Olivia in “Bob” (I replaced the double Baby Jogger with the much lighter and more maneuverable Bob Ironman) and being pulled by Ayla (Shunka’s successor Malamute), while Quentin, Reiley, and Parker weaved in and around us on their scooters.

Most days now, it’s just the dogs – Ayla and Cooper, a quick, short-haired Vizsla who’s a better suited to Southern California’s heat than our beloved Arctic breed  – and I. All of my children except five-year-old Olivia can stay at home while I run, even if I get out after their dad leaves for work. Sometimes they don’t, though. Parker occasionally accompanies me on his bike; a couple of times a week, Reiley takes Cooper and runs with me part of the way. I’m glad they do. Of course, I appreciate the idea of simply putting on your running shoes and hitting the road; I just don’t think I enjoy it now as much as I once did.

Can Dogs Climb?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010


Vizsla's are characteristically agile and trainable, but can they climb? After proving himself to be an adept scrambler at the quarry in Fontana, CA, Cooper surveys the route up…

First Day of High School

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

schoolfront My son Quentin’s first day of “real” high school was today. After five years as a home-schooler, he rejoined the Riverside, CA public school system as a junior in North High School's International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, an advanced placement program that includes community service in addition to the completion of honors and IB coursework and a series of written exams, essays, and projects over the course of two years. North High School is one of 717  IB World Schools in the United States currently offering the IB Diploma.

The availability of the IB program at one of our local high schools is the most important reason Quentin returned to so-called real school. The IB diploma, which differs from traditional advanced placement (AP) in both structure (essays and projects as opposed to multiple choice tests) and content (emphasis on critical thinking and community engagement), is simply not an option for home-schooled students. Yet I could have been persuaded to keep Quentin at home, where he’s been able to manage 40 units each term, in addition to a challenging schedule of physical conditioning and rock-climbing practice, if only the kid had been able to balance academics and rock-climbing more consistently…without increasing levels of parental oversight and harassment.

Okay, I was loosing it. Much as I might like to just “let him climb,’ smile as he “just” passes his classes, and believe that he’ll “make his way,” I cannot let go of the idea that Quentin needs to excel in high school to increase the odds of securing both entrance to and financial support to attend the university of his choice. Just call it my contribution to his psychological baggage.

So how did it go?

In typical teen fashion, Quentin said it was “boring,” except for theater, where they played “ninja.” He was sorely disappointed that he couldn’t take fifth period (Spanish) during lunch and get out early. And Quentin could not get over the skinny jeans (”Don’t they know it’s 100+ degrees out?” he asked) and Mohawks (And someone had the nerve to look at me funny!).

Look Who Made the U.S. Women’s Bobsled Team!

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010


This summer’s visit to Colorado Springs was full of “firsts,” including a trip to the Olympic Training Center that has been 15 years in the making. As long as we were there, Terri, Olivia, and I thought we’d try out for the women’s bobsled team :) . Think we have a shot at making it?

Fisher Cats

Monday, August 16th, 2010

My daughter Reiley is back from camp, where she learned that sometimes fisher cats live under the bunks. I have to admit, I thought she was pulling my leg…or that someone was pulling hers. Fisher cats must be like snipe, right?

Wrong! Fisher cats are closely related to the American marten, which I think looks a lot like a large ferret. They dwell in forests from Canada to the northernmost parts of the United States. Reiley just did a quick bit of research on the creatures and offers the following cinquain poem:


brown, mammal

Lives under bunks.

East hare and porqupine.




Wednesday, August 11th, 2010


While I was at Lama in New Mexico, Olivia stayed with Terri and her fiance, Maz; our brother, Brian, watched Olivia while Terri worked in the morning. One morning, when Brian was feeling especially energetic, he took Olivia fishing. Although Brian did catch Olivia with fishing pole in hand, this shot is much more characteristic of her activities that morning. In case you were wondering, no, they didn’t catch anything :( .

Put the Big Rocks in First: Yeah, Right!

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Stephen Covey is most often associated with the idea of “putting the big rocks in first,” in reference to ordering life so that you are able to give adequate attention to what matters most. Whereas Covey’s story involves a successful business man, Rebecca Skeele's version features a college professor, who is tired of hearing all the excuses about incomplete assignments and complaints of ‘too much’ homework – a feeling I’m all too familiar with. She walks into her classroom one day with a large glass jar, a box of big rocks, a smaller box of pebbles, a bucket of sand, and a pitcher of water:

After explaining to the class that the day’s lesson will cover “perception,” the professor instructs the class to “please tell me when the jar is full,” as she begins to fill the glass jar to the top with large rocks. “Is the jar full?” she asks.

“Sure,” says someone in the back row, sounding a little bored at the obvious question.

The professor doesn’t respond as she picks up the box of pebbles and gingerly pours the contents into the jar, filling all the crevices around the big rocks with smaller pebbles. “Class, is the jar full now?” she asks.

“Well, OK, now the jar is full,” remarks the same back row student.

Still foregoing a response, the professor picks up the bucket of sand and slowly empties the contents into the jar. The sand easily fills all the spaces around the large rocks and small pebbles to the very top of the jar. “Now, class, is the jar full?

“No” comes a chorus of voices from the class. “No, the jar is not full.”

She smiles, and picks up the pitcher of water and carefully empties the liquid into the glass jar all the way to the top. “Class, is the jar full?“

“Yes!” her students enthusiastically respond.

Then the professor explains, “If you know what matters to you, what lights up your heart, what brings lasting joy and happiness, what is the next crucial step toward an important long range goal – do that first…and then there will time, energy, and space for everything else.” With that, she walks out of the room.

She’s right, of course. I just spent a week at a workshop that, in true “retreat” fashion, organized each day’s activities around extended communal meal times and daily spiritual practice, leaving yet more “pockets” of time to explore the the 110 acres we called “home.” In addition to participating in workshop activities – including visual arts practice, presentations and associated discussions, and course preparation – I managed to read, write, and spend time with my sons, who were with me. Moreover, I was well-rested, relaxed, and happy.

The transition back to “real life” has been excrutiating . It’s much easier to take time for delicious meals when you don’t also have to plan and prepare them, plus do the dishes. Likewise, it’s easy to get up, go for a run, followed by meditation practice and a shower before breakfast, when you don’t have to feed the dog and get the kids dressed and out the door. Less than 24 hours after leaving Lama, I’m already exhausted, facing a “to do” list that grows faster than I can cross items off. I’m afraid that sometimes you have to put the little rocks in first, which collectively edge out the big ones.


I Am Not a Bird

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010


I am participating in a retreat and workshop at the Lama Foundation in northern New Mexico. Today our art practice included creating a sculpture out of objects found in nature. I created this piece: a weaving constructed of twigs, flowers, grasses, leaves, string, and pieces of tent binding. It was inspired by a bird’s nest I once saw while out rock-climbing.

Boys in the Woods

Monday, August 2nd, 2010


Richard Louvhas argued that lack of time spent in nature is the root cause of the wild increase in behavioral problems experienced by America’s children. I’m happy to report that my son’s have been inoculated. We are spending a week at the Lama Foundation, a spiritual and sustainable community located in the Carson National Forest about 20 miles north of Taos, NM.

The Lama Foundation, founded in 1967,  is one of the United States’ oldest intentional communities and is distinguished by its commitment to support all spiritual paths. Instead of a single resident spiritual teacher, Lama’s leadership consists of about a dozen residents who are responsible for the daily operation and spiritual attunement of the community. I am here to experience life in the kind of community that might enable us to weather and even flourish in the wake of the global environmental crisis, and to participate in a workshop on contemplative practices in higher education, especially as they relate to teaching global environmental politics and related subjects.

A huge upside of this experience, for me, is the explicit inclusion of participants’ children. Although my sons were admittedly reluctant to join me, they’ve embraced the place – from vegetarian meals and daily spiritual practice to tent camping, outdoor showers, and peeing in the woods. In fact, I hardly see nine-year-old Parker, who spends his days hiking, running and playing in and around the main building, which includes a den where the kids congregate to talk, plot, play cards, and – sometimes, when someone leaves a computer behind – check their email and Facebook pages. His nearly 15-year-old brother, Quentin, has gone native – fits right in, serving the community by working in the kitchen and picking fruit, and participates now and again in the adult program.

I expect this trip to be an experience they won’t forget, and one they’ll tell their children about. I hope I’m there to hear all about it.