I ran 13.1 miles on Tuesday.  After a ten mile run in my minimalist Merrill Barefoot shoes, I wasn’t sure my calves could handle a long run (I was in my old, now-very-clunky-feeling sneakers) so I set out with an indeterminate goal, but a hope for the 13.1. My calves and hip hurt (more on the hip later), so I was almost a full minute mile slower than usual, but I did it.

It’s hard to believe I’m halfway there. I spent a good amount of time smiling and patting myself on the back, but somewhere deep inside a voice murmured…

But are you ready to do that twice?

Yes, I pushed myself as far as I felt my body could take it, I feel a huge accomplishment running a half-marathon, but that’s just it. I’m halfway there.  A long summer of hot, lazy days and travel and fun.  I’m worried about being able to be focused, stay motivated, and keep pushing myself.  But there I am…halfway to go.

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It’s been a long time.

I’ve wanted to return, I’ve wished I’d returned many times, but inertia has always won. But when I told my students “I write” I realized that unless you count short emails and facebook updates, I certainly don’t write. I need to write more, so I’m back.

In the time I’ve been away, I joined roller derby, fell in love with roller derby, gave my heart to roller derby, then sadly retired from roller derby.

In the time I’ve been away, I’ve been diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis, my diagnosis reading “She has evolving, significant functional limitations and is at high risk for total disability unless aggressive treatment is initiated.” I carry around a copy of that. A reminder that without my agressive treatment, that has included two types of chemotherapy and daily maxing out the FDA standard of anti-inflammatories, I am at high risk for ‘total disability.’

In the time I’ve been away, I’ve lost another tooth. Had knee surgery. Given up gluten. Gone on a juice fast.

In the time I’ve been away, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve watched dozens of Patriots games. I’ve lost many pounds and gained many pounds. I’ve noticed more gray hair standing upright at attention, waiting to be counted.

In the time I’ve been away, we’ve build an addition, moved into the addition, sighed that we’ll never fully complete the addition.

So much has happened, and not one event chronicled in words. But now, I’ll try. Now I’ll truthfully say I write.

Hello,

I have never done anything like this, so please excuse me if I ramble and bumble along as I try.

I have always felt very lucky to never have had cancer affect my life. I saw ads, heard heartbreaking stories, but of all the affliction life brings us, cancer never seemed to be one of them. I was wrong.

In the spring of 2008 my cousin, Leigh, was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer and told she would only have three months. With two children under 5, she refused to accept her prognosis and fought to enroll in a clinical trial at MD Andersen in Houston, the same center that treated Lance Armstrong.

It wasn’t easy. A portacath was installed in her chest as the chemo was too powerful for her arm veins. In the first two weeks of treatment she lost 12 pounds, most of her hair and her voice. Exhaustion, nausea and infection were ever-present. Still, she fought on.

Despite early success with the trial and other subsequent protocols, Leigh lost her battle with cancer this past September. Due to the ongoing research on cancer treatment Leigh was able to give another year-and-a-half to her children. During her battle I was able to visit with her and her family, and I and saw tremendous support from her family, friends, doctors, nurses, and hospice staff. I was touched by the kindness, knowledge and compassion she received from everyone on her treatment team.

It is thoughts of Leigh and her family that prompted me to sign up for Tri for a Cure, a triathlon in Maine that is devoted to raising money for cancer research and treatment. The minimum fundraising goal for each athlete is $250, but since Leigh fought far beyond any minimum, I am aiming to raise $1000. Please consider making a donation to cancer research and treatment using the link below. If everyone gave just $10 I would reach my goal, and hopefully others like Leigh will be given a chance.

Link to donate

Thank you for your time.

Sarah
Leigh and Tess

Two days ago I woke up to the news that Air France flight 447 had gone missing over the Atlantic. Like most, my reaction was immediate, visceral. How tragic, how scary, how nightmarish for all involved.

Then the announcer said we’d get constant updates throughout the morning. As the day unfolded, all media was saturated with news. There was little news, but news sources went into great detail about every aspect of the tragedy, combing through every scrap of information, racing to be the first to report anything new, no matter how mundane.

I feel terrible sadness for the victims and families, but — to be blunt–why is this such news? Nearly 150,000 people in this world die each day, why must we such attention and grief be given to these select few?

It made me think. Over 6,000 people die of AIDS in Africa each day. What would happen if these deaths were treated to the same amount of coverage? What if reporters stopped in their tracks like they did two days ago, and sought out answers not to why a plane — one plane out of hundreds–dropped from the sky, but to why this disease kills so many. What if we got a detailed analysis with constant updates in progress from professionals on this epidemic? What if pictures of the victims and interviews from the victim’s families were splashed all over the front pages of blogs, websites, and newspapers? What if we as a community collectively mourned those losses?

The flight was a terrible tragedy. But I just don’t understand the unbalanced coverage, and why we beat our breasts for these lives, but still largely ignore the deaths of so many others.

A big thank you to Potential and Expectations for helping to rouse me from an unplanned hiatus. March is the hardest month of the school year and I haven’t been on the internets much lately; even my facebook and twitter updates are suffering.

What are your middle names?
Mine is Hart – it’s my mother’s maiden name. Shall I post my social security number whilst I’m at it? I love love love my middle name and wish it could have been my last name instead of the bulky mispronounced one I was given. Veri-husband has no middle name. I’m desperate to give him one. I like Chet.

How long have you been together?
This August it will be seven years — married just over five. I feel like I’ve been married for a minute and I feel like I’ve been married forever. When I told my mom in January we were about to celebrate our fifth anniversary she was adamant I was wrong. Even though the date is on my wedding ring.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?
Close to three months. But we saw each other every day and almost every night in those three months.

Who asked whom out?
Well, therein lies the debate. We’d been flirty for awhile, and one night we went to see a band. I was super tired and at one point said I was going to go home. He said, “Okay,” meaning we were going to go…to my home. I hadn’t meant it that way, but I didn’t correct him. He says I invited him over. I say I was just tired and wanted to go to sleep. It’s an old story that will probably be debated forever.

How old are each of you?
We are both in our early-ish 30s – we were born a week apart.

Whose siblings do you see the most?
By default, his. I have no siblings.

Which situation is the hardest on you as a couple?
Hmmm…am I choosing between situations? I guess needing downtime. I need more downtime, heck I need a LOT of downtime. And my work demands more of my time and I have a lot more hobbies that suck up my time.

Did you go to the same school?
No.

Are you from the same home town?
No – different countries.

Who is smarter?
He thinks I am because I did better in school, but he is. And he has a LOT more common sense. I don’t know how I navigated the world before him.

Who is the most sensitive?
I’m more sensitive about others, and he is more sensitive toward others.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
This changes…we’ll pick a place and eat there for awhile. There’s a fabulous brunch place called Artemisia, a good happy hour place called Local 188, though sadly our favorite place of all time, a French-Canadian restaurant called Uffa! Sadly closed.

Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?
Um…other than UK to US…I guess…Ohio. We’ve planned a million longer trips, though.

Who has the craziest exes?
Him.

Who has the worst temper?
Me. He hardly has a temper.

Who does the cooking?
Veri-husband is a brunch-savant. Experimental, great presentation, and always stunningly delectable. Dinner..he has a few staples, but I’m alway seeking new dishes and tend to cook more.

Who is the neat-freak?
Neither. I like things tidy, but I tend to be lazy. He is very neat in his personal appearance and cleans the kitchen every night, but he tends to not ‘see’ dirt or mess. I don’t think he did any chores growing up.

Who is more stubborn?
I *seem* to be, but he can sometimes grab ahold of something and dig his teeth into it.

Who hogs the bed?
Neither? Probably me a little bit.

Who wakes up earlier?
I do. I’m not an early person, per se, but when I wake up I’m awake. He’s someone who needs a lot of sleep.

Where was your first date?

Erm…we were friends, friends with benefits and then a couple. Hard to say when each of those transitions happened. After the ambiguous night of who asked who out, we went out to brunch the next day. But he didn’t eat anything because his stomach was sore. I took it as a sign that it was over before it began. But he really does have a sensitive stomach!

Who is more jealous?
I don’t think he is, so neither of us. He’s a good antidote to all my insecurities.

How long did it take to get serious?
Let’s see, we first hooked up in late August and by January I’d quite my job, broken my lease, and moved across the Atlantic to be with him. So, pretty quickly.

Who eats more?
He does. A LOT more. Traditional hollow leg.

Who does the laundry?
He does. All of it all the time.

Who’s better with the computer?
Oh, God. I am certain I’d be stuck in the late 90s if I wasn’t married to him. Instead we have a very tech-y home. I’m in awe with what these little boxes do, though I can’t explain any of it.

Who drives when you are together?
He can get car sick, so he usually does. We share a car so that means essentially I have a personal chauffeur. When it’s warm (like a foot or less of snow on the ground) he rides his scooter and I have to dust off my license.

My blog-reading has also fallen off lately, so I’ll only tag one person — another person who could use a blog update: Confessions of a Bumblebee.

Two months ago…
Veri-husband: I’ve just joined twitter.
Me: We’re all going to be glued to giant screens soon.

One month ago…
Veri-husband: (reading his twitter updates). Stephen Frye has touched down in California.
Me: Who cares what mundane things people do all day?

Two weeks ago:
Veri-husband: It’s amazing, Frye had only 600 followers when I joined, but now it’s in the thousands.
Me: Thousands of losers you mean. (Hums “In the Year 2525″)

Earlier this week:
internet forum I visit: Does anyone Twitter?
Me: No, I draw the line with mindless internet updates with facebook.

Today:
My first twitter update: Looking for people to follow.

Check out the mundane details of my life

Recently, when meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in awhile, I’m asked this question. It’s never been a hard question for me, I’ve always been moving somewhere, getting a job, going on a trip, starting something new.

But lately not much has been ‘up’. Veri-husband and I have just been getting on getting on. We have a house we love, good jobs that keep us busy but make us happy, and we’ve been cutting back on spending so trips have been off the table.

Sometimes I feel like I should be doing more. Have I become complacent? Boring? Dare I say…settled?

But instead of looking for the next adventure, the next set of plans to talk about to friends, I’m working on being happy with exactly where I am.

I recently finished reading Light Comes Through by Dzigar Kongtrul, and he talks about the westerners dependence on the next thing bringing them happiness. As soon as I do, buy, eat something, I’m already looking for what’s next, convincing myself that it’s the next thing that will bring me fulfillment and happiness. And it does, but it fades almost as soon as it’s consumed, and immediately my mind begins to wander to the next.

These days I’ve been focusing on just enjoying what is around me. Walking my dogs, sitting in a patch of sunlight eating lunch, playing scrabble with my husband. It’s not always easy, and I get pangs of longing when I hear of others’ adventures and ups and downs, but there is something nice in just being steady.

Last October one of my front teeth came loose. I wasn’t my real tooth, but a post and crown, and the post had deteriorated. As is typical with dentists, I was told that I would need an expensive and painful extraction/implant to solve the problem. I didn’t like the idea, but accepted it. What I couldn’t accept was my dentist’s smug pronouncement that if the loose tooth came out whilst I waited for my surgery, I would have to go without a front tooth until my appointment.

“But I’m a teacher,” I cried. I can’t talk properly without a front tooth. My dentist held firm. If the tooth came out, I would be spending my days with a gaping whole in the front of my smile.

My bad luck didn’t end there. It was the end of the year, and the oral surgeon was jammed with people trying to get in before their deductibles renewed in January. The nearest appointment was six weeks away.

In that time I lost sleep, I fretted. I stopped biting into anything, and in the end stopped chewing entirely on the side where my loose tooth resided. Every time the tooth moved I froze and checked to see if it was still there. The second I woke up each morning I quickly ran my tongue across my teeth, making sure my sleep-grinding hadn’t knocked it out. The day they took the mold of my upper jaw for the surgery–a gummy mixture that had to be set and pried off– I sat shaking in the chair, tears in my eyes as I feared having to go weeks without the tooth.

It wasn’t just about the impaired talking I pleaded with my dentist about. I’ve seen myself without this tooth and it’s frightening. My whole face changes, leaving me looking…well…hickish. Uneducated. Freaky. My worry and sleeplessness was simple vanity. I felt I’d be looked at differently and judged unfairly without a front tooth.

The day of the surgery I had to leave the surgeon’s office and walk toothless across the road to my dentist’s office to have my partial denture fitted. Veri-husband dutifully sat in the waiting room during the surgery, and when I came out after the extraction, I tried to keep my numb and swollen lips closed over the gape. Though my husband has proven so many times that not matter how I looked, he would still love me for me — I foolishly didn’t want him to see me toothless. The denture was fitted and my fears were *finally* over.

Back at school I was talking to a parent who was born deaf and runs a sign-language activity. By ‘talk’ I mean me flailing my arms around trying to remember the few signs I know, and her gamely reading my lips. She asked about how I was healing, and I tried to explain to her that I was fine, but the denture was giving me trouble. I had trouble getting across the word, “denture” largely because I don’t think it’s a word she was looking for me to use. And then, without thinking, I popped the denture out to show her it…and my gaped smiled. Just like that, I showed her the very thing I’d been vainly trying to hide – from everyone, including my husband.

The only explanation I can think of is that, compared to her daily struggles, a hole in the middle of my mouth is nothing. Compared to her constant battle to understand be understood, which I watch her do with endless patience, grace, and humor, I didn’t fear judgment or disgust. Just acceptance.

I woke up weepy today. When NPR told the story of a 105 year-old woman who made the trek to Washington to watch the inauguration because she needed to see a lifetime of struggle culminate in the first black president sworn into office. Who wouldn’t get teary as she told tales from her life and her feelings about today?

I’d avoided coverage for most of the weeks leading up to the inauguration. I didn’t want to hear every tidbit of it coming together, the choices, the controversies, the analysis. I just wanted to watch it.

I don’t know why I felt weepy. As a white person, racism has never touched my life. I haven’t fought for civil rights, I haven’t seen overt racism, I haven’t any stories to share that make this day particularly special to me.

But as an American, I feel haunted by our past. I feel ashamed the the forefathers whom I celebrate so often on holidays in in history books, welcomed slavery and racism, or turned a blind eye to the struggles of so many of those fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’m proud of my country – I really am — but I know its proud history is marred by violence and prejudice. I may not have seen or been a part of it, but I can’t deny it’s part of the nation’s identity, my identity.

So when I watched the first black man sworn in as president of the United States, I felt a breath of what that 105 year-old woman felt. Progress.

When I was in fifth grade I was one of the first girls in my class to get a ‘big girl hair cut’. I chopped off my waist-long hair, got layers and (and this was the eighties, mind) got a perm. I shed my ‘girl’ look entered my pre-teen years. I felt mature and — sassy– flicking my curls all around.

One of the delights of teaching middle school is watching this transformation in my young, female students. In sixth grade most come in with long locks that serve little more than putting in different ponytails, braids, and perhaps try out different bands and barrettes. But for the most part the hair is forgotten, scrunched up and forgotten as soon as the morning brushing is over.

Then the day when one girl comes in with short hair. Comments by fellow students and teachers help them with that feeling like they’ve transitioned, passes a sort of benchmark in their lives. Soon each new week brings a new bob, though just as my perm was the style of the 80s, bangs are the fashion of today, the way to say ‘I’m not a kid’ anymore.

Part of me is sad. Once you have hair you style or think about, you’ve taken a step down a road of overpriced products, too much time in the bathroom in the morning, and suddenly looking at yourself and determining if you are ‘pretty’ or not. But I know that in those days after ‘the cut’ – it’s wonderfully exhilarating and freeing.

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