The Yard

For the first time in 10 years, I’m living in a new house. When we moved in last fall, I didn’t pay that much attention to the yard. I noticed that there were trees and grass, but I don’t remember seeing any plants or flowers. Since it was October, most of the vegetation was probably dead or dying. And I wasn’t thinking about the yard; we bought the house for its amazing location, its slightly bigger size and its second bathroom.

So I’ve been pleasantly surprised this spring to witness the re-emergence of gardens in our yard. All sorts of bushes are appearing. And the leaves on the trees are flowering. We even have a pussy willow tree!

Close-up on blooming pussy willow tree. Photo by Room 34
Close-up on blooming pussy willow tree. Photo by Room 34

The gardens, on the boulevard and in the back, front and both sides of our house, are a mystery to me. I know so little about plants and flowers and I have difficulty retaining any information that I’ve encountered. I have uttered, “Is that a weed?” and “Should I pull it or keep it?” a lot this past month. But, even though I sometimes feel overwhelmed and intimidated, I’m delighted to watch these unfamiliar plants grow and to speculate on what they will become as the summer progresses. Will they flower? Are they a weed that will take over? Do they stay all summer? Will they attract butterflies? Will the bunnies devour them?

Sometime soon I hope to craft a digital story about our yard. I envision it as a follow-up to a story about (not) gardening in the yard of my old house:

My 4th Runniversary

Update: I posted an edited version of this story, with voice-over, on Cowbird. Read/listen to it here.

Yesterday marked my fourth year of running. There are so many reasons to celebrate this 4th runniversary: I’m feeling fit and healthy and finally, after two decades of primarily exercising my brain, I’m exercising my body, joyfully using the ridiculous amount of energy that I seem to have. I’ve found a passion that I can share with my husband STA and model for my kids. And, I’m doing something that I know my mom, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2009, would be so proud of and delighted by. She always admired and enjoyed how physical and strong I was as a kid.

While these are all great reasons to celebrate, they aren’t the main reason I celebrated my four years of running yesterday. I celebrated because my ability to run regularly these four years for 30 minutes or more without injury, has enabled me to train for and race in triathlons.

I’ve wanted to do triathlons for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching the Kona Ironman on NBC Sports. I recently found many of these broadcasts on Youtube. Sweet. I didn’t think I’d ever do one myself; the distances were too great and I was mostly a swimmer. But I recall being deeply inspired by the athletes. And somewhere, buried deep within me, I harbored fantasies of doing a triathlon. Probably not an Ironman, but a triathlon of some distance.

After graduating from college and moving out to California in 1996, I bought a book on training for a triathlon. As I read through it, focusing my attention on the running section, I convinced myself that I wouldn’t ever be able to do one. People with crunchy/creaky knees like mine can’t run a 5K, the distance that is required in a sprint triathlon.

Bad knees run in my family. After being on cross country for a few years in high school, my older sister had to have knee surgery and I assumed that, with my knees, I would suffer a similar fate if I tried to run seriously. Whenever I walked up or down stairs, my knees would crunch, almost as if to signal a warning, “Crunch! Don’t even try running! Crunch! You’ll get an injury. Crunch! It will be too painful.”

Throughout my late teens, twenties and early thirties, I thought, and probably said, “I’d like to do triathlons. I’m a good swimmer and I can bike. But I can’t run.” I never questioned the validity of this statement, even though I had run occasionally over the years, for swim team or on my own at the local health club, without any problems.

On June 2nd, 2011, when I tried running again for the first time in decades, I was still haunted by the belief that I could never be a runner. But, I was 37 and I needed to run. I was just beginning to come out of agonizing grief over my mom’s death and was struggling to deal with the end of my academic career. I had to do something deeply physical, not just because my body was falling apart (I had gained weight, was experiencing mysterious back pains and often felt an odd numbness in my feet), but because I wanted to use my energy in joyful and productive ways. And since my husband STA, the self-proclaimed non-athlete, wanted us to try a Couch to 5K app, I decided to give running another chance. I think he knew that I needed to run and that I wouldn’t or couldn’t unless he did it too.

My first run wasn’t pretty, but it felt good to be active again. And, I loved talking with STA about it afterwards. I slowly (very slowly) built up endurance. I struggled with minor pains and an increased sense of vulnerability as the running worked my body—my bones, joints, muscles—in new ways. That first year I was so protective of my knees. “Watch the knees!” I’d yell frantically as my kids, 8 and 5 at the time, ran around me in the living room. I could only imagine ice skating, something I had just started to enjoy again as an adult, with horror. “I can’t ice skate,” I declared. “What if I fall down and hurt my knee?”

But, aside from one tortuous week about two months into my running, when my knee hurt so much that couldn’t run, my body, especially my knees, were okay. I could actually run! And I did, with increased joy and passion.

In my first two years of running, I wasn’t thinking about triathlons at all. Even though there were two big triathlons at my local lake and an indoor tri series at my local gym, I was too focused on running to consider training for anything else.


Every so often I’d think about triathlons. I’d remember how much I’d always wanted to do one. I’d think about signing up for an indoor triathlon at the local YWCA. But, I wouldn’t. I’d think about signing up for an outdoor triathlon at Lake Nokomis. But, I wouldn’t.

Then, one day in early July of 2013, I decided to swim across Lake Nokomis. Once a week, on Tuesdays that year, you could swim across the lake, 600 yards, as many times as you wanted for two hours. I almost didn’t go. But, after some convincing from my ten year old son, I went. I loved it. Shortly after that, I signed up for my first triathlon in August, 2013: the Women’s YWCA Triathlon at Lake Nokomis. It was amazing. That winter I competed in all 4 indoor triathlons at the YWCA. Then, in 2014, I swam all summer and trained for and raced in the YWCA tri again.

This summer, I’m ready to train for and compete in at least three triathlons. I have a new bike and I bought my first wet suit. Slowly, I’m getting serious. I even have a long term goal: to race in the half-Iron in St. George, Utah for my 50th birthday (June, 2024).

Me on June 2, 2015. At Lake Nokomis, trying out my first ever wetsuit in the freezing (60 degrees?) water.

I love swimming. I love running. I’m learning to love biking. I feel so much joy (some pain too!) and pride as I train for and compete in the triathlons that I always wanted to do, but never thought I could. This joy would never have been possible if I hadn’t taken those first running steps 4 years ago on June 2, 2011.

So, to honor this accomplishment I did what I love doing yesterday. I swam, biked and ran. What a great day!

note: I want to put this story about triathlons beside my past stories about running:

Tell Me What to Think About…

My 9 year old daughter (RJP) has trouble at bedtime. She thinks and worries too much. She’s afraid she won’t ever get to sleep. Almost every night she asks me, often with panic in her voice, “Mom, tell me what to think about….” I used to tell her to try not thinking. It’s worked for me. About 10 years ago I realized that the worst thing that I could do when I wake up in the middle of the night, which happens all the time, was to think. My thinking invariably led to anxiety as I worried about all of the things that I wasn’t doing or that I should have done. Now, to stop me from thinking, I do multiplication tables in my head. I find 7s to be the best at getting me to empty my mind. To help RJP, we bought a mindfulness book for kids: Sitting Still Like a Frog. She (RJP) liked it, but was too distracted by the saliva in the woman’s voice in the accompanying cd to keep listening to it.

After the failed attempt to get RJP to stop thinking, I tried to come up with imaginative responses to her request to tell her what to think about. These usually involved her lying on a cloud and taking it to her favorite places, like Utah or Lake Superior, or new places, like DC or California. Her cloud almost always stayed in the U.S. because thinking about flying over the ocean created too much anxiety for her.

I must admit, I’m not very good at telling her these stories. As someone who has increasing difficulty sleeping—I don’t have trouble getting to sleep; I have trouble staying asleep, I’m too tired to imagine new places for her to go at night. How do other parents do it? I don’t know. All I know is that STA and I are currently failing. As I write this post, I remember that we did have a successful period last year when I read the entire Little House on the Prairie series to her and 4 of the Birchbark House books. I miss reading those books. 


But I’m not ready to give up yet. And now that summer is almost here, just 3 days away!, I’m willing to try something new. Today I picked up a picture book from the library, Tell Me What to Dream About (I first read about it on Brain Pickings). Tonight I hope to read it to RJP and maybe, if I can come up with a simple-enough plan, this summer we can create (with text and pictures) our own story/stories about what to dream about…

Will this be another failed experiment? Possibly. But, I like trying and I’m always looking for ways to do collaborative storytelling with RJP…

update, 6.4.15: I read the book to RJP last night. She enjoyed it. I’m hopeful that we can create our own book with illustrations soon.

Binge Reading: On trying to engage while consuming (too?) many stories

I love going to the library and checking out books. My local library is great; it was renovated a few years back so it’s fun to hang out in. When I used to visit it, I would browse the shelves, looking for new books to try. But lately I’ve been requesting books from all over the metro area that I’ve read about online. Many of these books are popular and I end up on long waiting lists.

I used to be intimidated my these long lists. 250 people ahead of me? Sorry, but I don’t want to read the book that much. Now I don’t care. If I like a book, I request it, figuring that I will get it within 4 or 5 months. Sometimes it takes several months and sometimes (I can’t quite figure out the math?) it arrives within a week or two. It’s fun to get books sooner, but sometimes, more often recently, all of the books that I request come in at the same time.

Like right now.

Currently, I’m (somewhat) frantically reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinchwhich is a hefty 750+ pages and is due in 6 days. I need to finish it soon so that I can start Michael Booth’s The Almost Nearly Perfect Peoplewhich I requested about 6 months ago after hearing about it on MPR. It’s due in 10 days. Both of these books still have long waiting lists and cannot be renewed. Actually, after writing that last sentence and first posting this entry, I realized that I could renew Tartt’s book. However, I’m immersed in it and don’t want to put it down, so I need to finish it before starting my next book.

In addition to those two books, I’m still trying to finish up Rez Life, which is awesome and illuminating, and start about 4 other books. And, if that weren’t enough, I just picked up 5 more books today, including Bad Feminist (Roxanne Gay), March (Geraldine Brooks), Ongoingness (Sarah Manguso), and Running with the Pack (Mark Rowlands).

Yikes. Maybe I should stop requesting so many books?! Or, maybe I should stop writing and get back to reading.

Here are the books that I have checked out:

books checked out

And, here’s what I’ve requested:

library books requested