Monthly Archives: May 2010

Good Day, Sunshine.

Have you ever seen a happier face?

This is why

This is what happens when Brian loads the dishwasher.

This is what happens when I do it.

This is what Brian's top desk drawer looks like.

This is what mine looks like.

This is why we fit.

Run, Sarah, Run: My Quest to Run the Quiet Race

Before I go too far, I’d like to state that I have been working on one form or another of an article on running for, oh, about six months. I mean, in the grand scheme, I’ve written about running dozens of times, but somehow they never seem quite…enough. So, this is just one in what will probably continue to be a lot of musings on running…because I have lots of opinions about it. Who am I kidding? I have lots of opinions about everything.

I recently made a major decision.  I have completely abandoned running with music.

The other day, I grumpily stomped up the driveway after a long-ish run and tossed my ipod on the kitchen counter.

“How was your run?” My husband hesitantly asked.

I was sipping a glass of water and glowering.  “It was great.”

“Really.”

He didn’t believe me. I ignored him, and headed for the shower. When I emerged, clean and fresh and relaxed, we reclined on our patio and watched the spring unfold.

“I’m giving it up. I’m not running with music anymore.” I said, waiting for his incredulous response. He just shrugged.

“I figured that was coming,” he said.  I was surprised.

We proceeded to discuss this seemingly inconsequential decision at length. He commented that in my conscious migration towards simplicity over the last year led him to believe that this added complication in my running routine would eventually go the way of the dodo. Our discussion and my subsequent musings, have manifested into a bit of a personal running credo.

I have a couple of general tendencies when it comes to running.

  1. I run alone. For years, this was an absolute rule.  At first, this was a function of self-consciousness. I didn’t really want to subject anyone else to my huffing and puffing, my slow speeds, my sweatiness. But eventually, it was because I rather liked these moments alone. These days, the rule is no longer absolute.  Brian and I run together once every week or so, and have since we’ve been together. I remember when I told my family that we were “going for a run.” I’m pretty sure my sister immediately called my mother to tell her that I was indeed in love with this man. Why? Because I was running with him.
  2. I don’t really measure anything.  I do wear a watch, but mostly because I’m often squeezing in a run between classes or jobs and I don’t want to get carried away and be late.  I’m training for a half-marathon at the moment, and I’ll set general goals for myself (I will run this six miles in about an hour).  If the training plan (which I will address in a moment) calls for speed work, I’ll keep track of how fast I run a mile.  I have a general idea of what my pace is.  But beyond that, I barely keep track of mileage.
  3. Training plans. Hah.  Anyone that knows me knows that I’m not so much for plans or rules of any sort.  So, I have a training plan for the half marathon. It consists of running every other day, and once a week, a long run. Notice I say once a week—this does not indicate every Sunday or Thursday or whatever. Partly because my schedule doesn’t allow for much routine, partly because I pay attention to my body—I run the long run when it feels good to do so. I try to up my mileage on those long runs by approximately a mile a week. So, theoretically, by June 12 I’ll be running about 11 or so miles for a long run. Now. I say this tentatively. For this marathon, I’m trying to find as many hills as possible to run in preparation for the monstrosities that will inevitably be present in the Seattle Half Marathon.  Because the MKT (for those non-Columbians, this is the local, 8 mile running/biking/walking trail that starts near MU campus and intersects the Katy Trail in McBaine) is flat as a pancake, I don’t run it on my long runs, therefore finding a route that is exactly eight miles or twelve miles is more challenging. So, rather than spend too much time figuring it out, I ballpark it. I know, you’re cringing. I’m not so much into the details.

I started running because I was poor, trying to continue to exercise without a gym membership and because my head was often close to exploding.  I felt like the inside of my skull was lined with rubber and I had about fourteen bouncy-ball thoughts bouncing around incessantly in there.  Running (which, at the time, was more like walking with some light trotting interspersed) somehow coordinated those bouncy-balls into some semblance of a rhythm.  I loved the fact that I could do it anywhere—all I needed were a decent pair of shoes.

When I moved to Seattle, I began noticing a phenomenon.  One, everyone who lives in Seattle is so damn active. Good for them, I love that about Seattle. I mean, despite the rain, it’s not all that cold, weather isn’t usually all that prohibitive.  But two, all those people that were pounding the pavement had a ridiculous amount of stuff.  They had ipods, GPS thingies, heart rate monitors, fancy stopwatches on their wrists, pedometers, hydration systems. Good Lord. They had electronic devices whose purpose I’ve never been able to identify.  So much for just a good pair of shoes.  Sometimes I think “oooh, that Nike running thingie would be handy…I can hook it up to my phone and basically have a trainer and tempo music and a pedometer and it’ll tell me my route…” and then I think, oh, my gosh.  This is why I DON’T run at the gym…why would I try to replicate it outside of those four walls?

Running is supposed to keep me sane. It’s my escape, my solace.  It’s the place I flee to when the world is too much, the place that I am excited to go on a really awesomely beautiful spring or fall day.  When I am pissed off and can’t get over it, I run. When I can’t figure out how in the hell to apply Habermas to the current state of the media for the paper that’s due in five hours, I run.  When I’m listlessly wandering around the house, I run, and when I get back, I’m focused.

When I was training for my first half marathon, I did it largely without an ipod for two reasons. One, I knew that some marathons won’t allow them for safety reasons.  I’m not usually a safety-first kinda gal, but I see their point—running without one of your senses alerted could be unwise given the circumstances. Mostly, though, I wasn’t sure what the KC marathon would allow, and I decided to err on the side of caution, and train without them.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, because of a piece of advice I found in the first and best running book I’ve ever come across.  The book is called The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer, and I “borrowed” it from my roommate Marilou, oh, three years ago.  I still have it, I still read it fairly frequently.  (ML, I promise, I’ll give it back. It’s in the mail right now.)  The authors have an interesting piece of advice.

“Do something for yourself. Go for a walk—by yourself.  Leave the walkman (ok, so it’s an old book) at home. Leave the day behind and as you walk, listen.  Listen to what you’re normally too busy to hear. Nature. Your body. Your heart. The Higher Power at work in your life, if that’s your belief.  Listen to the “yeah, buts…”and ask yourself if you are going to continue to let them control you, or if it’s time that you took control of them.  Granted, running a marathon is certainly not the only way to exercise control over your life….it will change your life. That’s a promise.”

There are so many fantastic things about this book, the main one being the philosophy of “create your own reality.” Simply put, you construct your conditions. You choose your destiny, and if you chose to overcome, you will. This running manual is far more about the mentality than the physicality of a run.

They advise against running with a hidden agenda; for example, running to lose weight or micro-managing your times. Ultimately, they say, these are peripheral goals that have more to do with our own expectations for ourselves and our own levels of self confidence.   Instead of finding the simple act of running rewarding, we set ourselves up for a disappointment by placing inappropriate expectations on ourselves and the experience.  There is so much more to ponder there, to discuss. I could write a whole blog about our competitive nature as humans, our socially conditioned desire for more of everything, and how we conceal our pain and suffering—and, conversely, our joy and revelation—by acquisition of something beyond ourselves as opposed to within ourselves.  I think about this condition of human nature a lot…every time I feel like a little “retail therapy” will fix my mood, or when I think a good evening of extravagant food and drinks is necessary.  Again…this is a topic for another blog.

I’ve read countless articles about how we, and our children are more and more disconnected from nature, how caught up in our techno-brilliant world we are.  I decided it was time to stop and listen.  I’m a good talker, I’m techno-savvy, I’m a good communicator and I’m certainly a good conversationalist. I think, though, that I can use a few lessons in listening.  Not just to someone else, but to the world in general.

I’ve decided that running, for me anyway, has to be about the soul.  It is meditation. It is quietude. It’s where I center and go forward—literally.  This is not the way for everyone, and I realize that I am getting awfully close to New Age.  But I’ve found that I run the best when I listen, when I can hear the way my feet sound on the pavement, the way my breathing resonates, when I can see how my dog perks his ears at the oncoming traffic, or how that hawk has been circling, watching over me, for the last half mile.  When I stop adjusting my ipod, looking at my watch, worrying about the time I’m losing when I let my dog pee on some unsuspecting telephone pole, I feel more connected. I feel more in the world, more part of it, rather than just a blur running through it. And that’s a good thing.

Real Big Girls

The other night, Mr. Beahan and I were having dinner and talking about actresses. We were actually debating the relative merits of Gwyneth Paltrow vs. Kate Winslet. I am an avid Kate fan, Titanic notwithstanding. She is amazingly gorgeous, smart, funny, she’s a super classy dresser, and she looks like a real person, dammit.  And then Mr. Beahan uttered the following “yeah, I like Kate. I’ve always been attracted to curvy women.”  I couldn’t help myself, I chafed at the comment.  It has always been my belief that men tend to insert “curvy” when they really mean “chubby.”  This may or may not be true, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that no one says “curvy” and means “thin.”  And I look at Kate Winslet, a “curvy” woman and don’t think chubby at all, I think real and normal and amazing hips and thighs and breasts. And then I think, I’d love to have her body, but I don’t. So what does that make me? If Kate Winslet is “curvy” then I most definitely fall one step below that, which is “a little more meat on the bones” or “more to love” and definitely “chubby.”  And my brain is whirling itself into a tizzy so fast at this point, I put my fork down and check my watch to see if they gym might still be open.

I admit, I have a bit of a complex. I’m tall, I’m 5’10”. And before all of the short women out there berate me for complaining about my height, just hear me out.  I’ve always been tall, even way back when I was in grade school.  I come by it naturally, my dad’s 6’5” barefoot.  I spent my formative years being shoved in the back row of pictures, towering over everyone, including the boys, and being told that I should play basketball. As if a few extra inches would make up for my dismal lack of athleticism.

Well meaning relatives would say things like “Wow, you’ve gotten so big. And tall.” And I’d stand there, staring at them, trying to decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing. “It’s ok.  You know, all the supermodels are really tall.” They’d reassure me, which did nothing but make me more certain that my stature was at the very least, a flaw.   I spent most of my teens being pretty sure I was everything but feminine because of my size and that I’d never be truly a delight to look at because I was “a big girl.”  I’ve passed up amazing high heels because they’d make me taller than my date and prayed for the Lord Above to please God let me fall in love with someone that is bigger than me already. Thankfully, God complied and sent me Brian, who is indeed, bigger than me.

Now, let me pause a moment and just be clear about something. I am thirty years old, I am an avid runner and I love food with every fiber of my being.  When I look at those BMI chart thingies, I fall in a healthy weight range for my height and age. My brain is pretty sure no one sees me coming down the street and thinks “whoa, wide load, coming through.” I just want to be clear about that—I am not complaining about my weight.  And most days, like 95% of days,  I look in the mirror and feel mostly alright about myself. But sometimes I think, you know, I’d like to lose ten pounds, or get back in that dress I wore when I was superskinny at 25.

That’s when I remember that in order to lose that 10 pounds, I’d have to give up eating bread. And chocolate. And probably drink less.  And certainly abandon our weekly Shakespeare’s Pizza tradition. And then I inevitably decide I’d rather keep the 10 pounds.

I believe in food. I believe in what it does for us physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I believe in the  calm I feel when I’m in the kitchen chopping onions and tomatoes for fresh salsa, when I’m picking the cilantro right out of the garden or when I can smell the arugula from across the room.  I believe in the realness of it, the way an avacado feels when it’s just ripe, and the juice that oozes out of a perfectly fresh Missouri strawberry in May.

I do not believe in fake food. I am adamantly opposed to soda, particularly the diet variety. I truly believe that high fructose corn syrup will kill us all, and someday, our children will look down upon soda drinking the same way we look down on smoking.  I refuse to buy margarine or non-dairy creamer or Velveeta or fat free salad dressing. I don’t exactly know what happens in those labs that make that stuff, but I’m pretty sure it ain’t good.

You can call me a snob, that’s ok.  My friend Tracy calls me a foodie, and I wear that badge proudly.  And I certainly am human—I eat the occassional Taco Bell.  But I truly believe we are what we eat, what comes out of us (I’m speaking figuratively here, folks) is only as good as what we put in. Therefore, we have to take care of ourselves, feed ourselves only the best and we will reap the benefits.

Which is why I won’t drink SlimFast shakes to lose the extra ten and put on the size 6 dress.

But it is also what makes me so sickly sad about what we’ve done to our vision of women, of beauty and of health.  That we have constructed a society where angles are better than curves, where deprivation is preferred to pleasure and where a number (i.e., your weight on the scale, the size of the dress) is more important than how you physically feel.

I was really bummed out about this for a good solid day. Really feeling bad about this conversation—not so much what my husband said, because I know he loves the curve of a woman’s hip and if I had a dollar for every time he slapped my slightly overfed ass and marvelled, I’d be wealthy enough to hire a trainer.  I was mostly feeling bad about the fact that I, a woman secure in my womanhood, comfortable in my skin and confident in my looks, would revert to that kid who shrunk everytime she was called a big girl. It saddens me that we are raising our girls this way, so that even the strongest of us still fight that construct every single day. And we can blame men, and the media and Hollywood, but we also need to recognize our responsibility as well. We as women need to address our own bias—as aunts and grandmas and babysitters and teachers, we need to remember that every comment means something to a little girl out there.  Wouldn’t you rather your comments from one grown-up woman to a little woman-in-the-making be supporting beauty in all forms, rather than reenforcing the idea that beautiful looks one way: skinny and blonde and white?

So, the Beahans have learned a lesson from this one. Mr. Beahan will probably not jokingly remark about my “birthing hips” anymore, and I will everyday remember the amazing power of butter and cheese and really amazing chocolate and step away from the bathroom scale, and when I cuddle up with my favorite little bitty girls, I’ll tell them how beautiful they are no matter what.

Butter Battle

I’ll warn you.  I do not have children. My life consists of my school, work, school, work, work and school. And, natch, my family and friends. And, my pets. So while other people write blogs about their adorable kiddos, which I read  with gusto and chirp at the pictures, you all will have to settle for hearing about my cat and dog.  And I can’t promise I’ll keep it to a minimum, because frankly, I think they’re funny and so should you.

The latest epistle here at the Menagerie is the Butter Battle. But before I give you the details of this rather short-lived situation, let me give you a bit of background.

My cat came to me because her previous owners had adopted a Great Dane, Walter.  Walter was a sweet dog, but ultimately kind of liked using Grizzle as a chew toy, and my guess is that Griz did not so much appreciate that. So, I took her in. I was skeptical. She long haired and messy and she glowered at me. And then, a day passed and she purred like a broken record and I was in love. Griz has a few habits of note: not the least of which is that she loves paper of any sort, and will play fetch with a paper ball (only paper balls, nothing else).  Also of note: while she likes milk and tuna like most cats, she’s not particularly into people food. She does, however, lust after butter. When she sees that white butter dish on the table, IT IS ON. Everything in her world suddenly revolves around getting her furry face in that butter.

Emmett came along, much to Grizzle’s chagrin. And, ironically, he’s part Great Dane. However, he pays very little attention to her, so she lets him stay.  Emmett, like any dog in his right mind, loves any sort of people food, though he’s generally fairly polite and just stares at you uncomfortably while you’re enjoying your dinner, and then all hangdog, half-heartedly nibbles at his dog chow.

So, Emmett’s really good. He is the best trained 18 month old Labrador/Great Dane mix I’ve ever met. He’s calm, potty trained, doesn’t bark, does fairly well on a leash, knows basic commands, you know, all the important stuff. We’ve been crating him when we’re away, but he sleeps on his dog bed in our room (sans crate) at night.  He’s been so well-behaved I decided to try a little experiment.

I had an hour long interview on campus last week. I decided to let Emmett go free range.  After rushing home, sure that my house would be in shambles and my shoes in pieces, I unlocked the door to a very bouncy, happy dog, and a house just as I left it.  I went about my business.  As I was walking through my bedroom thirty minutes or so later, I found the remains of a stick of butter on my dog’s bed.

A whole stick of butter. That I’d left out for baking later.

And just above said dog bed and butter wrapper, my cat, glowering.  Below you’ll find the re-enactment of said events.

Here’s what I find particularly hilarious about this situation. One, that of all the things my dog could go after–and probably not share–it would be the one thing my cat looooooves.  If animals can talk amongst themselves, like they do in the cartoons and Disney movies, I can only imagine what that conversation must have sounded like.

Also, he took the butter to his bed. He loves his bed, but rather than devour the butter right there in the kitchen, he was patient enough to carry it to his bed where he could comfortably recline and dine.  Awesome.

Summer Reading Kick Off

Here’s the stack of books I’m planning to read this summer:

I tell you this because if you’re planning on following this blog, you’re probably about to start hearing about this monstrosity of a stack.  As in, today.  As in, I’m going to tell you what I added, subtracted, disliked, fawned over…probably mostly fawned over, because I’m an cautious optimist at heart.

And, the optimist in me wants to share with you:

Again, the classic case of the cautious optimist. As you can tell by my bookmarker (aside from the fact that I am a student, and therefore have the abhorrent habit of needing a pen while I’m reading, even for pleasure), I am not finished with this one. I’m not even halfway through. And yet, she’s a woman by my own heart: she loves food and loves to write, writes through pleasure and pain and she’s damn funny.  So far, I highly recommend. Also, I’ve been reading her blog and it’s as charming as the book, so I’m pretty sure I’ll keep liking her.

Part cookbook, part memoir, Molly writes about her love affair with food, her hilariously likable family, and especially, her father.  The recipes are quite good, according to my mother, who recommended this book to me, but made me buy my own copy because she couldn’t part with hers. She has been whipping up a new one every weekend, and while she is equally possessive about her concoctions, she regales me with tales of the recipes on our weekly walks.  You’ll have to take Gwenie’s word for it on the tastiness, but trust me, Molly has a wry sense of humor laced delicately with sarcasm.

I always love to read memoir-y type books by people who I genuinely want to be friends with–enjoy!

Lights Up

I’m back.  I’m sitting at my little dining room table, surrounded by piles upon piles of books, a couple candles.  Ella and Amos and Bruce are on the playlist.  The first peonies’ scent hang in the room like a light mist.  The dog, on command, sits on his bed and folds his massive brown paws under him, grunting in pleasure.  This is the end of Sarah and Emmett’s Day O’ Fun, which consisted of nature walks and book buying, wine sipping and bone-shaped dog treats. It’s a celebration of many things, not the least of which is shutting the door on yet another semester.

Pause to refill glass

And so I sit, contentedly nibbling on cheese, absently patting the cat as she weaves her way through the chair legs so as to avoid the dog’s interested stare.  And I’m pondering…I have space to ponder yet again.

Every semester I do the same thing. I mark the closure of yet another four months of intense learning with a self-congratulatory treat.  These days, I spend an exorbitant amount of money on books–after all, for three glorious months, I will have the time and space to read and relish whatever I want. This blog is the mark of another celebration–for three months, and shortly, forever, it marks having the space in my brain to think about things. The things I want to think about, not those dictated by someone older and smarter.

To be honest, it feels kinda strange to celebrate this way.  It’s not been my M.O. A couple of years ago, celebrating anything –and I do mean anything, birthdays, holidays, last days, break-ups, first dates, hook-ups, hell, Tuesdays–meant a booth full of friends, raucous laughter, loud music, a little innocent flirting, a cloud of smoke and a bucket of beers.  I still love LOVE all of those things, but my thirty-year old brain requires a little more moderation than my twenty-five year old brain, as much as I hate to admit it.  And so, I’ve come to savor quiet moments like this one, where I can reflect and consider, or, stare blankly without any thought whatsoever.

I have spent most of the last thirty years in fifth gear–running just about as many RPMs as my little four cylinder brain could handle. Not too long ago, for a number of reasons, I clutched and coasted.  These days I tool along in third. This, mind you, shocks my husband who sometimes bemoans my constant whirling and can’t fathom what high-energy Sarah might have looked like.

Really, though, my philosophy seemed to be that the more you did the more successful of a person I was. And by successful, I mean virtuous, likable, productive, intelligent–all the goodies.  So slowing down, saying no–not only was it the equivalent of quitting, but it was like accepting that I was less good.  And then I did it anyway, and I found something better than good, it was real.  When I stopped running, I found temperance.

I can hear more, because I listen. I can see more because I look.  I see and hear and smell and taste more of the world in general when I give it the time.  The ambiguities and general murkiness suddenly focus in stark relief–not in a good vs. bad, or ugly vs. pretty way. I suddenly see the differences in real and counterfeit, authentic and contrived.

This started when my dad had cancer, mainly because the sweet things were sweeter and the painful things more painful.  Some days a hello from a stranger would make me feel like the world loved me, and others a missed phone call became devastating. But feeling these things, allowing them to pierce the armor, sometimes simultaneously, made life richer and more worth living through. Throughout Dad’s illness and slow recovery, and rebirth as a new man, those moments of trueness are what kept us afloat.  For me personally, I have found an inner strength I didn’t know I had, realized a confidence that I always thought I was faking, an assertiveness that demanded respect and a tenderness that, if not for it’s truth, would be pure cheese.

And so, this blog.  Simply put, I’ll share those real things, those things that make me grin, throw back my head and laugh.  The things that are so perfectly sweet that the pluck a little string deep in your gut.  Things that are so funny in their amazing realness, that you couldn’t make them up. Just as real and true as the world made it.

So, to kick it off. Today, I’m enjoying a few hours without conversation, without engagement.  I’m letting my closet introvert out to play, and she is rolling around basking in the silence.  And yet, the wind is roaring outside, my dog is snoring, my cat is cautiously purring and Miles Davis is weaving his way into the silence.

Stay Tuned.