Monday, January 17, 2022

It Keeps You Runnin'...

 Not gonna lie, the runner in me ran far, far away a few years ago. 

There's all kinds of reasons--I bought a home, changed neighborhoods. Work is busy. Different responsibilities. Mom got sick, Mom died. Grief is weird. They're not excuses, just reasons that my running fell by the wayside and then just kind of stayed there, like a discarded Gu wrapper on a race course.

Over the last few years, I've made efforts, but there's more obstacles--pandemic teaching, more duties at school keeping me there later (too dark to run safely), and still not feeling totally comfortable running in my neighborhood.*

*This is less about the possibility of being messed with by weirdos and more about the way I've seen people drive around here. Stop signs seem to be a suggestion.

Something needed to give.

So a few weeks ago, I found myself running (ha!) a bunch of errands before going to an Aqua Yoga class*, one of which was going to Fleet Feet to stock up on Gu for my pre-workout nutrition on days I do early workouts with Kay. 

*You should try it--it's yoga, but in the water, where I'm about ten times more flexible than I am on land.

As I walked inside, I had a sudden thought--I should check out their training programs. I know they have all kinds of running groups, and surely there's one for someone like me. I asked the guy who rang up my purchase where a lapsed runner might start from scratch, and he showed me a really great option: the Limitless group. 

It's an 8-week program designed to get someone from nothing to a 5K or 10K. Sort of like Couch to 5K, but I've paid for it, and there are actual human beings showing interest in my progress. It's a group, too, so you find yourself cheering others on and sharing in that satisfaction of getting out there and getting it done.

We meet on Sunday mornings for our longer run, and on Tuesday evenings for speed intervals. Yesterday was my second long run day, and--come on, you know this isn't easy, right?

The good news is, my legs feel great. All that strength training with Kay is working. It's my lungs that are on fire when I run these days. I know it will get easier the more I get out there--with consistency!!--but for right now, I sound like a steam engine. Yesterday, I was literally grunting to myself to keep going. 

But I'm doing it. I'm finding a new consistency and I'm enjoying it. I have missed running, and the clear head it brings. I've missed having that camaraderie with other runners and the inner competitiveness I use to spur myself on.* Most especially, I've missed how I feel after the run, as my heart rate slows and my breathing returns to normal. The endorphins are real, and they are great.

*"How is she faster than me? I'm just gonna have to catch up. Oooh! She's walking now. I'm gonna keep running so I can pass her..." 

Our end goal is the Shamrock'n 5K in March--I've run this one before, and it's counterpart, the Shamrock'n Half. It's a fun race, everyone decked out in green. It will be my first race in at least three years, I think. 

So onwards, my trusty Mizunos. We have work to do.

Image of the shadow of my head and arms, raised in a V for victory.
Back when I was running in Lincoln regularly.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Casa Meg, Five Years

 If you had told me, five years ago today, as I unlocked the door to a small condo for the first time, that I'd come to love this little home, I might have laughed. 

By this point in the proceedings, I'd had my share of anxiety and minor panic attacks about becoming a homeowner, especially this particular home. I knew going in that it needed a lot of love, and after a month of escrow and the act of signing over the entirety of my savings account to make this place mine, I was having...not buyer's remorse, but definite feelings of, "What the hell am I doing?!"

You know the story by now. The place was a mess. In five years I have:

  • Scrubbed years' of hard water stains and dirt away
  • Cleaned guinea pig poops out of various corners
  • Scooped heaps of crap and petrified food bits out from underneath the stove
  • Re-painted every wall (with some professional help)
  • Had the floors replaced
  • Replaced the oven/stove (DOA and also filthy)

    All of the above BEFORE I could even move in. Then...
    • Replaced the dishwasher (died after a year)
    • Replaced the refrigerator (died about two or so years in?)
    • Replaced the washer and dryer (washer died this year, dryer was probably close)
    • Had a ton of straw cleaned out of the dryer vent (Dude: "Bird nest?!" Me: "No, guinea pigs.")
    • Replaced the faucet on the kitchen sink (really fun when it broke and sprayed water across the kitchen)
    • Had a microwave installed over the stove (replacing a very ugly/stained stove hood that never worked) 
    • Had the kitchen counters and sink resurfaced to fix massive chips.
    • Had one new toilet installed (the other is coming soon)
    • Had my bedroom closet professionally done by California Closets
    • Same for the laundry closet
    • Fixed or had fixed myriad plumbing and A/C issues (I will likely replace the A/C in another year)

    Things on my current wish list:
    • Resurface the counters/sinks in both bathrooms (same process as the kitchen)
    • Have all cabinets, doors, and door frames sanded/painted
    • Replace A/C unit for newer, more efficient model (current is 20 years old)
    • Replace the second toilet
    • Replace sink hardware in both bathrooms

    But as it stands, Casa Meg, as it was christened five years ago today, is not too shabby. Most important, it's HOME. I walk in the door and know that it is my haven. I have comfy furniture, a pretty garden, and two sweet cats waiting for me. 

    Morning in Casa Meg--my window faces south
    so it's well-lit, but not sunshine-in-the-face.

    I have a piano in my dining nook. And a cat. 

    Getting the counters resurfaced this 
    year was the BEST. They look so nice

    The guest room/craft room/gym/office is pretty
    busy but it gets its many jobs done. A lot of
    Zoom teaching went down in here last year.

    I love the layout, where the bedrooms are on
    opposite sides of the house. My bedroom and
    bath are behind the kitchen. (Hi Popcorn!)

    Tons of comfy pillows and pretty colors. I love
    my bed and bedroom.

    Of course, home is best experienced from the
    comfort of the sofa, wrapped in your favorite
    blanket with a cup of tea.

    A favorite addition--a vintage chair that was
    my maternal grandmother's, and a stool that 
    Dad's uncle Matt made for Mom and Dad 
    as a wedding gift. Mom would love that I have
    made them my own.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2021

    And Just Like That...

     Seventeen years have flown by.


    Seventeen years ago today, I started a blog. I was about to embark on the Biggest Adventure Yet in my life, a year teaching in England. I look back now and I wouldn't change a thing.

    In the years since, I have continued to find adventures everywhere--big and small. I'm not so great at blogging them anymore, in this age of rapid-fire social media. I rather miss it, though.

    Also just like that...five years fly by. Tomorrow marks five years since I was handed the keys to a needs-a-lotta-love condo and embarked on the wild journey of making it livable and then making it HOME. I'll post tomorrow some pictures of Casa Meg in its current state. I did a very intense clean last night and all day today (I mean, I vacuumed the balcony, that's dedication). It's looking good.

    And if I'm going to comment on passing time, well, here I am, about to start my seventh year at the same school (a record for me). I'm busy making sure my plans are up-to-date and ready. I taught summer school this year, so I had some time to organize my classroom and move a few things around. The prospect of having no Zoom learning this year is a very lovely thought.

    More to come. I have house pics to take.

    Sunday, December 27, 2020

    Moments of 2020

     Each year, I'm fond of sharing the moments that made a year special, or at least, memorable. Then 2020 happened. 

    Still, I want to share some of the moments of this year--it was, generally, quite stressful and a bit of a shitshow, but there were good moments in there. And kittens. There were kittens.

    A Moment Before the Chaos

    The park across the street from my condo complex is small, but lovely. There are a lot of grand old oak trees, and I often wonder what they would say if they could talk. 

    In January, I took this picture while out for a walk. The words "COVID-19" and "coronavirus" were not on our collective radars yet, and I had some good adventures to look forward to in 2020. 

    A Moment of Team Spirit
    I've been a fan of the San Francisco 49ers since childhood; I have many fond memories of watching games with Mom and Aaron. The 2019 season found the team that was projected to go 3-13 for the season flipping that to 13-3, and a trip to the Super Bowl.

    I nearly drove my poor students bananas sharing my joy about the Niners in our morning Good Things. But damn, what a team! Mom would have loved cheering with me, and I can just see the looks we would have thrown each other every time the TV crews closed in on Jimmy Garrapolo's very handsome face. 

    It is still fun to watch the 49ers, but I'm not gonna lie, I always miss Mom a little. 

    The One Travel Moment of the Year

    If I had known what I learned a mere few days later about COVID-19, I might have cancelled my March weekend in Seattle. But I took the chance, and thankfully, all was well.

    I was there, of course, to see Keane, my favorite band, reunited after a six- or seven-year hiatus. Hiatus? Heh, they basically broke up. To see them come back together, record a new album, and tour again, was a joy for so many fans. To get a chance to see them live again was incredible.

    Also incredible was seeing Seattle again after many years. The removal of the waterfront viaduct is a vast improvement to a beautiful waterfront. Seattle remains a lovely city, with great culture, food, and entertainment. Though it was a bit rainy and cold, I enjoyed a long wander before the show.

    A Few Keane Moments

    When Tom, Tim, Richard, and Jesse took the stage in Seattle, my heart was nearly bursting with joy. Surrounded on both sides by Keane friends, right up front at the barrier near Tim's keyboards, I was ready to sing along with every damn word. And sing I did. 

    Live music is a joyful experience, and so much of what makes us human. And when you have followed a group for so long, it's extra-special. Before the show, I had a message from Richard (drummer) on Twitter. "My drum tech has something for you after the show." 

    I figured it would be drum sticks. Richard is known for giving them out sometimes, and just the fact that he thought to give me anything was special. So imagine my surprise when the gift was an enormous bass drum head signed by the whole band, personalized to me. 

    For all that, the best moment was simply seeing all four Keane guys together, having fun doing this for the first time in a long time. As they waved to the crowd after the encore, Richard happened to look over to my general area. I grinned and gave a huge wave. He saw me and waved back. 

    A Moment of Confusion...and Then A Lot More of Those

    When I came back from Seattle, I had a pretty gnarly sinus infection. It had started before I left, with an allergy attack thanks to some early-blooming pear trees near the room where we had parent-teacher conferences. 

    I took a couple of sick days to recover, and came back to the very real possibility that we would have to close our campus and go to distance learning. Then, on Friday the 13th, it happened. In an afternoon teacher's meeting, our boss got a phone call from the district office. She stepped out of the room to take it. When she returned, she gave us the news. 

    It was supposed to be temporary. We had to come in for a couple of days the following week to help pass out Chromebooks to any students who came to get them, and to get our own materials to take home. I hastily shoved a bunch of papers and art supplies in one of my sturdy grocery bags, and took my work laptop home to set up in my office here. 

    On Tuesday (St. Patrick's Day), I took a picture of my desk, figuring I'd be back to it in a few weeks' time. We had three weeks of distance learning, then a week of Spring Break. We'd come back, good as new, safe from the virus.

    It didn't work that way. What followed was one of the strangest and most challenging years of my teaching career. How do you teach music online? Art is surprisingly easy, but music--my specialty--is damn difficult to teach via Zoom.

    Factor in the fear and confusion of my young charges, and their sadness at being away from their friends, and it made everything harder. Hearing 8th graders admit they're just depressed by the whole situation and finding it hard to find joy in anything is heartbreaking. 

    A Moment of Laughter

    Early in our 2020-21 school year, my 8th graders, after admitting they were having a hard time feeling happy about anything, needed a reason to laugh. I decided to do something a bit silly, which would also teach them some theater skills.

    So Ms. Cooper took a break for a day, and her Theater classes on Zoom were taught, instead, by Margaret Deane...the most famous actress you've never heard of. Wearing bright red lipstick and the most awesomely ridiculous sunglasses you've ever seen, she had a propensity for dramatic hand gestures and an accent a lot like Moira Rose from Schitt's Creek.

    There were giggles. They tried to get me to break character. Ms. Cooper, I informed them, was relaxing on the couch in the other room, reading a book and drinking tea. "I think she has a cat on her lap, too." Meanwhile, Margaret Deane had acting tips for the 8th graders. 

    I felt like I turned a corner with my 8th graders that day. My willingness to act like a complete dork to teach them something, but also to cheer them a bit, seemed to resonate. I had a decent enough relationship with these kids anyway--I've known them since they were in 3rd grade--but after that, I felt like there was even more trust. 

    A Moment of Disappointment...Followed By Kittens

    By May, it was apparent that my plans for June--a return to England, complete with a Keane gig, two West End plays (Hamilton, Sunday in the Park With George)--were not going to happen. Needless to say, I was really sad to have to cancel that one, but I do have vouchers on Expedia to take the trip again when it's safe to do so. 

    What's a lady to do? Faced with two months of summer vacation and no way to travel anywhere, I did the next-best thing.

    I brought home three kittens.

    One day after filling out an online application to foster, Animal Outreach of the Mother Lode called me. They were desperate for fosters. "Can you come today and pick up some babies?" They didn't need to ask twice.

    I arrived to find a cat carrier with three itty-bitty ginger babies--all girls. Oh, my God. 

    On the drive home, I decided that I would honor my cancelled England trip by giving the babies names of famous English Ladies. And so, Lizzie (for the Queen), Aggie (for Agatha Christie), and Jane (Jane Austen) came to stay for two months. Two months of absolute chaos in my 2nd bedroom, and two months of adorableness. 

    From the start, they were sweet. Jane had a habit of climbing my shirt to nuzzle in my neck. Aggie was a wild woman. Lizzie, a big eater and sassy-pants. They all had soft poos to start, and needed baths, which didn't exactly make them happy, but it did make them smell a lot better. The picture of Aggie wrapped in a clean rag, looking at me like she's ready to murder me, will forever be a favorite. She was less than one pound, but she had attitude for days, that one.

    So my second bedroom/office became Kitten Central. I bought a big enclosure (the kind you can use for a dog in a yard to keep them in one place) and used that until they--well, Aggie--learned how to climb out of it. 

    I spent a lot of time sweeping and mopping that one bedroom, and also just sitting there laughing at the antics of my English Ladies. They had two modes: TurboDrive, and Fast Asleep. They learned how to get into the window sill from the guest bed, they chased the Swiffer every time I used it (which was often). They ate like cats twice their size, wrestled with gusto, and purred like little Harley Davidsons. 

    Of course, I fell in love, but I always knew I cannot be a foster fail. My boys are enough for me, and fostering is a temporary situation, one I can only do when I'm not working. And the boys' reaction? Utter curiosity. They never seemed upset, only extremely curious about the new smells coming from behind a closed door that had always previously been open to them. 

    I kept everyone separate for a couple of weeks, to ensure the girls wouldn't give the boys anything, or that my enormous 13-pound dudes wouldn't hurt the babies. 

    Finally, I was able to let everyone integrate, but I always supervised. The babies had a few play times each day where they had run of my living room, and Archie and Popcorn proved to be the sweetest and gentlest of uncles. They played with the girls so carefully, and groomed them...when the girls sat still long enough. There was no hissing or posturing, only curiosity and good-natured playing. 

    I had two months of adorable, hilarious moments with my English Ladies. In late July, I tearfully returned them to the AO shelter. I don't know who adopted them, but I know they were all adopted quickly. Of course it was hard to say goodbye, but I'm so proud of what I was able to do for them in their time in my home. We overcame soft poos, a couple of eye infections, and they learned how to Cat. After starting life on a farm, in a situation with a lot of cats that needed help, these babies got their best possible outcome. 

    There is nothing like kittens.

    Aggie, the day after being spayed, didn't let that
    slow her down from getting halfway up my screen
    when I had my back turned. 

    Lizzie and the most adorable little BLEP.

    Technically, you're supposed to keep kittens quiet
    the day after they've had spay surgery. Like Aggie
    on the screen, Jane laughed at that. 

    My last look at my girls, each about tripled in size
    from the day I brought them home. I was already 
    crying, but also so proud...and ready to deep clean
    their room.

    The Moments In Between

    I take a lot of pictures of my life; I always have. So, as I went through the pictures of this year, I realized that I document so many of the moments, big and small. Like the first frog of the year. I was starting to think my "phrogs" (as Dad calls them) wouldn't be visiting my garden this year, until one evening, I went out to water, and found one watching me. My neighbors likely heard me half-shouting, "Oh, hello!! I'm so happy to see you!!" Well, what can I say. My frogs make me happy.

    In July, Dad and I visited Mom on her birthday. Dad had told me, "I'll bring flowers," and indeed, he bought a dozen red roses, Mom's favorite. I still cry when I visit the cemetery; there's something so strange--still--about her being gone. As I type this, I'm realizing today is two-and-a-half years. Time flies.

    I miss her, and think about her all the time, but the memories are good. I wear her rings and when I get anxious or stressed, I find myself playing with them to comfort myself. She is always with me.

    This year, I learned the joys of kayaking, going out on Lake Natoma with Sarah, her daughter Julia, and her father, Mike. It didn't take long for me to figure out how to steer, and though I was sore for a few days after, I happily spent four hours out there, paddling along. I can't wait to do more come spring time, when the weather warms up--we were supposed to go again, but Sarah had to quarantine after being exposed to COVID at work. We made plans one last time, and guessed it. I got exposed to COVID at work and had to quarantine. By then the weather was turning.

    In August, I turned 42 in my most solitary birthday celebration ever. I was at school that afternoon, handing out materials for my classes, but otherwise, I spent much of my birthday on my own, with a tiny cake. I even bought candles. I also completed a bloody ridiculous workout assigned to me by Kay, my British trainer who is all at once one of the sweetest people ever, and the worst. Forty-two Burpees? Unhappy Meg. Oh, and yeah, I'm training again. I met Kay on the Regal Princess, when I took one of his fitness classes and we bonded over fitness-nerd talk and my love of his home country. ("Where in England are you from? I once lived in Essex for a year...") We kept in touch via Instagram, and this summer, I figured, what the hell. I need to train again. 

    I counted the days 'til Election Day, and voted early-but-not-fraudulently by mail, for, well, of course for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Voting this year was bigger than ever for me, and it's always been something I've been proud of. Turning in my ballot at my local grocery store was a moment of pride for me. Election Day was fairly calm, because I knew it would be a few days before we knew. The following Saturday, when Biden/Harris came out on top, was euphoric. I was on my spin bike when I saw the news, and the texting and rapid-fire posts on social media commenced. 

    I'll end this post with a few pictures that don't need whole paragraphs. I'm surprisingly calm, considering the stress of this year. I pay attention to the news cycle, and the news cycle this year was depressing as hell. 

    Here's hoping that next year, my 2021 Moments post is full of more adventures, less chaos. I wish you all a Happy New Year.

    I bought a new Christmas tree this year, a foot 
    taller than my old one. I'm going to have to replace
    my smaller "travel tree" with something larger soon.
    It's running out of space.

    I got one trip to the coast in this crazy year. I did
    some walking, wore a bandana over my face around
    other people, and avoided the beaches. It was just
    good to see the Pacific.

    You have no idea how awful it is to see a child
    running at you, arms wide, so happy to see you, 
    and you have to say, "Don't hug me!!!" I felt like
    an asshole.

    'Nuff said.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2020

    The Liberation of Mr. Ducky

     Yesterday, I left the house to run some errands, swinging first by the dumpster area to dispose of some garbage. I was greeted there by a large stuffed ducky, looking quite woebegone.

    Sometimes people leave items they don't need/want anymore by the dumpsters, in the hopes someone will want them. While I love ducks, I hardly need a very large stuffed ducky and 'tis the season to be wary of all germs everywhere. 

    But I snapped this picture, because there was something rather moving and poetic about this abandoned duck. I captioned it "Poor little trash duck," uploaded it to Instagram and Facebook, and was off to run some errands.

    When I arrived home, I did my usual early-evening routine of showering and putting on a fresh nightie, before relaxing on the sofa with some dinner. I checked in on Facebook and found a few reactions to the trash duck--mostly dismay that he was left behind.

    And one, from my friend Dani: "OMG"

    "It's Mr. Ducky!!!"

    When I asked her what she was talking about, she posted a picture of an identical stuffed duck, only this one much more well-loved and covered in years and years of dirt from the child it belonged to--her now 17-year-old son, Jace.

    "I've been looking all over for another one!"

    Suddenly, I realized a trip to the dumpster in my nightie was probably in my immediate future.

    Our mutual friend Shae stepped in, telling me I really ought to save this poor, woebegone trash duck (my words, not hers). Dani demurred, "Oh, it's okay, really..."

    I knew what must be done. I threw on my ratty old sneakers and sauntered past my next door neighbor in my Hawaiian-print nightie, down the stairs, to the dumpster. As luck would have it, Mr. Ducky was still there. Someone had adjusted him to look a little less depressed.

    I grabbed him by his little head feathers and schlepped him back upstairs, once again passing my bemused next-door neighbor as she brought her groceries up the stairs. 

    "This is what I do for my friends," was all I said.

    I posted the second two pictures to Instagram, tagging Dani in them and sending them off to Facebook, where she reacted with hearts and admitted to having some tears in her eyes. 

    What followed, however, is what truly amazed me. While I was feeling a bit sarcastic about "liberating" the "trash duck," it turns out a lot of people I'm friends with on Facebook were reacting to that first picture with the sad reaction button. And once I posted that Mr. Ducky was currently sitting on my washing machine in a plastic bag, waiting to be shipped to his new home in Georgia, these same people started commenting how happy they were to see me rescue him. 

    (Note: Dani plans to thoroughly wash him.)

    Shae remarked that the person who left him there was likely hoping he'd find the perfect home...and it seems he has, or will, as soon as I procure a box and send him Dani's way.

    All of this has served to remind me that this year, this wacky, wild, what-the-hell-next year of 2020, has left all of us feeling a bit like Mr. Ducky in that first picture. Alone, and perhaps a bit woebegone. Last week, I got to attend a real, in-person (socially distanced) meeting at school and when asked if I had a Good Thing to share, I half-shouted, "It's just so NICE to be around REAL PEOPLE!!!" The isolation and fear I have lived with since March is a lot...and I know it's a lot for all of us.

    So Mr. Ducky gets a second shot at love, and my good deed made a lot of people smile and even shed a few happy tears. Not too shabby for a trash duck.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2020


     Well, then. What about 42?

    42 was the jersey number for Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play in American Major League Baseball. The number is now retired, and only worn on Jackie Robinson Day.

    It is, apparently, the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything" in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I have not read.

    It is the atomic number of molybdenum. 

    It is the angle rounded to whole degrees of the arc of a rainbow.

    And it is my age, as of today.

    This is my second birthday without my mom, and the first birthday I've ever been unable to receive a hug, even from my dad. I will have no party or special dinners out with friends because of the pandemic. I'm not feeling sorry for myself, but it is quite strange. 

    There you have it--forty-two trips around the ole Sun, and here I am, wiser...ish, and still acting about my shoe size. I'll celebrate tonight with a small treat for myself and a cuddle with my cats, and get up before dawn tomorrow to work out on Zoom with K the Brit, my latest trainer, before suiting up for an online meeting with my students. 

    Here's to another year, Wild and Absolutely True!

    Sunday, July 19, 2020

    A Walk in the Park

    I'm a few weeks in with my new trainer, Kay the Brit, and he's got me working very hard. I have five workouts a week assigned by him (two with him via Skype), and two active recovery days, Wednesday and Sunday.

    Last weekend, I decided to take my Sunday morning walk at a park near me that I had driven by many times, along Dry Creek. It ended up being lovely walking a dirt trail by a winding creek. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to explore another nearby park this weekend.

    Gibson Ranch County Park is only a few miles down the road from my neighborhood, and it promised more of Dry Creek, as well as horses to look at. So this morning, I set off early.

    The park is lovely--open and well-maintained, with a large pond and all kinds of animals, wild and domestic. After visiting all of this, I set off on one of the dirt trails along Dry Creek, and thoroughly enjoyed myself wandering along with little company except the occasional fellow walker, a couple of people on horseback, and people fishing in the creek below me. Mostly, I just heard birds.

    I unplugged from my music andenjoyed the early day sun, the movement of my body, and most of all, the peace.

    Of course I had to take some pictures.

    I didn't see any turtles around the pond this time.

    The one on the left is a donkey. 

    Paid me no mind.

    The cutest pony.

    Canada geese

    Ducks and squirrels. 

    I came across a fallen tree
    I felt the branches of it looking at me
    --Keane, "Somewhere Only We Know"

    You can just make out a quite large bird of prey (some type
    of raptor) on a rock in the middle of the creek.

    A couple of miles out, I found a small path that wound down to an actual beach--sand and everything. The beach itself was tiny, and situated in the most beautiful little place. I stayed there for several minutes, listening to birds, watching minnows dart around in the creek. A couple of butterflies searched the bushes near me. I snapped the picture above and thought, as I always do, just how much I love California.

    After this, I turned to trek back to my car, and then back into the busy streets of my community. I'll definitely go back to Gibson Ranch again.