Saturday, October 31, 2015

Wiping Out

Over time, I’ve had my share of wipeouts on the road, one or two of them fairly dramatic, most affecting my dignity more than my body parts. It’s easy to feel like an idiot when you come crashing to the ground for no apparent reason. “What was I thinking? Why didn’t I see that tree root? I should have been able to catch myself.”

Wipeouts are sudden, take us by surprise, cannot be predicted or anticipated and are humbling. I think it’s fair to say that wipeouts are universal. We all suffer them, whether or not we choose to hit the road running. We can say to ourselves, “I’m going to watch it. That’s never going to happen to me again.” We can say it, think it, resolve not be so careless and unaware, but good luck.  There are no guarantees. It will probably happen again.

My most interesting crash and burn occurred at the eleven-mile-mark at the Duke City Half Marathon in Albuquerque, New Mexico a few years ago. Most of the course was on a dirt path beside a river, a surface that was kind to my recovering Achilles tendon. But the last couple of miles were on pavement and my theory is that the added impact of the hard surface was a big factor in my fall, splat, face down causing a gash in my right elbow. I was limping a little, nursing that tendon and probably not picking up my feet the way I should have been. Oh yes, there were lots of spectators who showed their concern, then watched me get up and resume running.

I was way too close to the finish line to quit. There was a good bit of blood dripping from my elbow, but there was no pain right then, least not at the wound site. At the finish line, (I still managed to win my age group.) they cleaned me up at the medical tent and my friend took me off to get stitches and an antibiotic. I healed up fast. Elbow scars are insignificant.

I have tripped over tree roots running alone in the Maine woods where the ground is soft. I was glad there was no one to see me fall flat.

Running along Mountain Avenue in downtown Fort Collins one day, I was admiring myself in a plate glass window and actually saw the beginning of my descent onto the pavement. That one hurt, but I jumped up immediately and continued to run, hoping against hope that no one had seen my performance.

One year I experienced a series of four or five falls, nearly all of them in trail run areas where the ground is rough. I was beginning to wonder if this was a permanent condition, but for whatever reason, I moved beyond that phase.

I don’t hesitate to go out for a run when the roads are icy or snow-covered, but I proceed with care. I’ve learned the hard way to take turns slowly and to avoid getting the least bit off balance causing me to swerve. That, I’ve discovered, is when a slip or fall is most likely.

Avoiding wipeouts is impossible. We might as well savor those that make good stories.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A visit from Liz

The next best thing to flying off to the southwest tip of Australia to visit a cousin is to have that cousin come and visit you.

That’s what happened to me this week. Liz Marshall and I had never met.  I was hazy enough about just who she was to turn to a family tree to place her.  I discovered that our grandparents were siblings, making us second cousins. Those grandparents were numbers three and six among the ten children in the Eve family.

Both Liz and I grew up in England. We probably played together as kids. I left for the U.S. at age 10 and she ventured to Australia after completing nurses’ training in England. She married and had three children and has lived in Albany, a town of 30,000 five hours south of Perth, ever since. She took time out from a visit to her son and his wife, who live in New York, to check out this Colorado cousin.

I’m so glad she did. It was as if we’d known each forever. We pored over my parents’ photo album and found a picture of Liz’s mother who, I learned, was a bridesmaid for my mother.

We managed to pack quite a bit into three days from a luncheon and book review where she met more than a dozen friends of mine to a high school soccer game. We made a quick trip up the hill to Estes Park and experienced a slightly harrowing ride home through massive road construction. We took a couple of early morning walks around the local park and downtown. We drove to Horsetooth Reservoir for a view of Fort Collins.

The places we went didn’t matter so much. What did matter was our talk. We barely scratched the surface of all we had to catch up on. We discovered that not only are we both Elizabeths, both our mothers were named Elizabeth as well. They were the best of friends. Liz remembers looking forward to “care” packages from my mother in the U.S. during the lean years following World War II in England. A package of Betty Crocker Devils Food Cake Mix stands out in her memory as a real treat.

Wednesday night we ate burritos with a few friends and family, and Thursday morning early, Liz was on her way. I feel blessed to have connected with a cousin that I only vaguely knew I had. Maybe one day I’ll show up on her doorstep because we still have a long way to go to catch up for the last half century or so.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Living the international life

I wrote this 17 years ago. Kurt and his family, which now includes Brenna, born in 2005, live in Tokyo. Thank goodness for Face Time!

Last night I got an email from my son, Kurt, who lives in Singapore with his wife and two young sons. The subject line read “stuff” and that’s just what the note was all about. Everyday stuff.

His trip to Korea had been cancelled meaning that he could have a couple more weeks with his newborn son before resuming the corporate travel circuit. A friend had given Kurt $50, asking that he give the money to three-year-old Drogin who was to take it to the toy store to buy a gift for his newborn brother, Cougar. “I’m going to get a big present for me and something small for Cougar,” Drogin announced. Sure enough, Dro added to his growing collection of train cars and then bought Cougar a Snoopy rattle. So it is with three-year-olds.

I know that I would not have heard all this good everyday “stuff” if I hadn’t gone to Singapore a few weeks ago. Kurt has lived out of the U.S. for ten years, and although I’ve seen him once a year most years, it has been glimpses sandwiched between business appointments and attempts to keep up with high school and college friends.

When he first “went international,” I remember his describing a conversation he had with an ex-pat friend. “It’s a huge trade-off,” the friend told him. “As the years go by, you realize more and more what you give up when you live in another country.”
The years have gone by and now Kurt knows first-hand the truth of his friend’s words.

Time and dollars make Singapore a tough place to visit. The days I spent there were filled with everyday “stuff” and some tourist stuff to. Kurt took a week off and together we took Drogin to the zoo, the bird park and to Sentosa Island, Singapore’s answer to Disneyland. We rode a tandem bike to the coast through traffic I was pleased I did not have to navigate. My job was to keep Drogin’s sleepy, helmeted head from flopping about as he snoozed in the child seat.

We visited Drogin’s pre-school on the grounds of an elegant country club. We wlked the beach an got drenched in a tropical rainstorm. We touched the warmth of the Indian Ocean.

And we ate: Brunch at the American Club on Mother’s Day; fresh fish Chinese style in a marina restaurant that seated 1,000 people; fresh fish Japanese style in downtown Singapore, and fish sandwiches at McDonald’s.

We went for a run with Dro in the baby jogger in “suburban” Singapore near home. “Does anyone live in the country?” I asked.

“This is the country,” Kurt replied. They have a side yard with grass an a papaya tree, and there is a small park in front of their townhouse. That’s s rural as it gets in Singapore.

I watched Kurt and Drogin dance together to Cheeseburger in Paradise in the living room and hit golf balls in their yard. I observed a morning ritual as Drogin, dressed in his school uniform, sat on the front porch railing waiting for his bus, eating grapes peeled for him by their maid.

Now I know how the Kurt James family lives. I know what and when they eat; how they deal with the year-round heat and humidity, and the pluses and minuses of having live-in help. I know their South African neighbors and I’m familiar with the local “wet” (produce) market where their maid shops every day.

Kurt has always been a person of few words. When he was in high school and came home, he liked to talk. I struggled to stay awake when he appeared at our bedroom door to check in and invariably launch into an in-depth conversation of what was going on in his life. I forced myself to listen, knowing that these were precious, infrequent moments.

He didn’t say much in the warm, moist semi-darkness of early morning when he delivered me to he Singapore airport. Neither could I. But we didn’t need words to know the importance of the week we’d spent together and what we’d both been missing and would miss some more in the months and years ahead.

In a week, we had re-established a relationship that had been in danger of deteriorating, not because we didn’t care, but because we had been too far apart for too long. Now I get emails and I hear about “stuff” and I think we won’t let as much time go by until we make time to play together again.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cheap Thrills

In search of the perfect backpack to schlep a week's worth of necessities to New York City on a plane, I began my hunt at the Goodwill Store in my hometown, Fort Collins, Colorado. The store had recently moved from mid-town, close to the low income district, south to an affluent area. The new store was bigger, brighter, cleaner, with wider aisles, a better selection of items, and much less convenient for the most likely customers.
    Nevertheless, I went, with minimal expectations of finding the backpack I needed. Imagine my surprise when, up from the heap of duffels, soft-sided luggage and assorted carrying bags there emerged a good-as-new Eddie Bauer backpack that had it all. Navy, with a few touches of a lighter blue, just the color combo I would have chosen, this pack had a roomy main compartment with little pockets for a pen, credit cards, a comb, glasses and keys, a little see-through net pocket, another with a flap, a spacious outside zippered pocket and another with a velcro closing, two elasticized water bottle holders, and a convenient carrying handle. The price tag said: $2.99.
    Hardly able to believe my good fortune, I figured I could treat myself to a quick look at a very long row of women's pants, containing everything from shorts to jeans and all lengths in-between. There I discovered a pair of beige capris that were surely made for me. A perfect fit, they sported four roomy pockets and little elastic tighteners on the legs which added a fashion touch and the ability to loosen or tighten the pants at the calf. These were marked $4.99. Given that it was Monday, a 15 percent off day for seniors, my total for the backpack and pants, with tax, came to $7.15. 
    Before I began to experiment with how much I could cram into my new backpack, I checked the pockets of my new pants, one at a time, prior to throwing them into the wash. One, two, three pockets. No errant tissues or gum wrappers, but delving into pocket number four, I came up with a dollar bill tightly wadded around what turned out to be a ten dollar bill.
    Besides my new backpack and the new pants, which ended up making the trip to New York with me as well, I had an extra $3.85 to show for my shopping excursion.
     The New York City trip was a thrill--but not cheap. My shopping trip was cheap, and at the same time, a thrill for the recycling, reusing, frugal part of me.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Visitors from the Ukraine

The first time Dilya and Kolya Storozhenko applied for a visa to come to the U.S. to see their daughter and meet her American husband of six years, their request was refused by the American Embassy in the Ukraine. No reason given. But the next time they applied, they left the office clutching visas valid for ten years, no reason given. They lost no time making plans to visit their only child Sasha, now 25.

After a little over two weeks in the U.S., the Storozhenkos have taken “probably a million” photos, according to Sasha, and they know what they like to eat best. Burritos morning, noon and night for Kolya and anything served up at Chipotle’s for Dilya.

What has surprised them most about their daughter’s adopted homeland? “The openness and the friendliness of the people,” Dilya says without hesitation. And the landscape, they agree,  that is so different from their surroundings at home that they have nothing to compare it with.

In the last two weeks they’ve visited Steamboat Springs, Grand Canyon, Arches and Mesa Verde national parks in a whirlwind trip by car. “We were on a schedule, “ Sasha explained. “It was hard to tear them away from photographing one place in order to move on to the next.”

In Cheyenne they visited American relatives and had the distinctively non-tourist experience of traversing a muddy path to see a large herd of goats busily consuming a field of weeds surrounding Cheyenne’s Veterans Hospital. They’re from Kharkov, a city of three million, where goats don’t hire out to provide a chemical-free method of destroying weeds.

At the dinner table, Dilya made a worried little face when the full force of the hot sauce she’d been game to try, attacked her taste buds. But she didn’t say a word. In fact, the pair said very few words, restricted by their lack of English skills. Kolya managed a big smile and a “very tasty” after he’d consumed a dinner of beef brisket, salad and homemade rolls. It’s surprising how much can be conveyed with gestures and smiles and how quickly and easily friendships can begin to form, seemingly by instinct.

Tuesday night they’re coming to my house for dinner unaccompanied by their daughter/ translator who will be away on a business trip. We’ll be forced to depend on the Google translator device on a smart phone if we really need to clarify something. The rest of the time we’ll smile and gesture and do the best we can.

No matter. I have no doubt we’ll have a great time.