Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Year in Review

These are some of the highlights. 

Deep, deep crying jags.
They’ve been infrequent, but I’m learning how to allow myself to cry when the need to emote presents itself. I’m learning to access and allow my emotions.

Hike up to Mt. Mitchell
A hike up the Black Crest Trail to Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern U.S. 

Backpacking Trips!
I went backpacking in the Smokies twice and the Grayson Highlands. I hiked all around the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, too.

Getting beyond the heartache of the late 2010 breakup with Trevor and knowing it’s all for the best.

Reading and doing the work of Calling in the One with my book club friends Julie and Jen. 

Plus, discovering Marianne Williamson’s A Woman’s Worth and Geneen Roth's Women Food & God. 

The Groove Method certification in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and my return to Harrisonburg over my birthday weekend to lead one of my first Groove classes for The Summit, the nation’s first women’s hiking and backpacking conference. 

Groove and dance, in general!

Women’s Drum & Dance Weekend in Asheville!

Presentation at UNCA on Hiking Through History

Lots of rewarding long runs and good races!

            My favorites:
  • Greer ½ marathon
  • Cooper River Bridge Run
  • and the 15K in DC in early Dec.

ATC Family program research, manual, and training

The series of yoga classes I got at Lighten Up through Groupon.

20 Push-ups daily (well, for a while anyway)

New music

Friendships with Sylvia, Audra, Amanda, Marge, Elizabeth, Marcus, Ian, Tracy, Jo, Andrea, and distant friends who I talk to as if no time has passed at all.

Hikes with my niece & nephew
For a while we took hikes every other Wednesday. 

Getting dressed up and feeling beautiful.

Feeling healthy.

The excitement of dates!

Halloween costuming!

Photo shoot with Marge & Fred
I realized I really can get my photo made without blinking. Tip: say "crazy eyes" before you snap the photo. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Standing on the Edge

I’m standing in my own way now. Blocking the thoughts that are in me. Standing in the way of free formed thought, luscious flowing words from my fingers. Standing on and squashing heart-felt ideas on freedom, beauty, bodies, love. Here I stand
Stand on it all
Stand atop,
Stuff it in. Cram it in the already too small container.
Contain all that can’t be contained
I say “no more! Let me out”
Let me scream out goodness.
Let me yell my “O”
Let me hollar till they hear me on distant seas. 
Let me say “Oh, Yes” and “My greatness” this and “My greatness” that
Let me pronounce the words of holiness within myself.
Let me call in to myself the power to let myself live fully.
Embolden fearless movement
Embrace the what if’s and
How would it feel, if
And what in the world is going on in there anyway?, but only long enough to notice
Then, a forgetting, a letting go, a lack of specific focus on who might care
Or what someone might think, because do you know what?
I’ve cared for far too long about what people think. I’ve cared far too much about muffling my words, my heart, my song, and my spirit for the consideration of others – that they might be uncomfortable by it. That it might be too much for them. That they might get too much and turn away.
I quieted it.
No longer.
Live without restriction.
Life in borders and unbound creativity
Fluidity in motion
Kindness to myself
And the offering of permission to others to do unto themselves
With kind eyes,
Gentle touch
Sweet words “I love you”
I love you
I love you
You’re the world to me. You are goodness
This world embodied in this frame.
Cannot be wrong
This world in this breath is enough
Enough for words to step out of me

Here, when we stand on the edge of our comfort, we can let go of needing to control, needing to be right, fearing what others might think. We can come into our largeness.

Here, when we dance on the edge of our beings, we reach something greater – a letting go, a giving in, a softness to ourselves/the movement/the mind.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Groove News

I have been offering Groove with Leanna classes in Asheville since July of this year. Here's a look at past Asheville Groove Newsletters:

You can sign up to receive the Asheville Groove Newsletter in your email using the link below. I generally send it out about once per month. Subscribe to our newsletter

Other updates about Groove, health, and upcoming events can be found at Like the page to stay up-to-date.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The "Yes" Experience

I’ve been thinking about the wisdom of saying “yes” in life. In accepting invitations to new experiences or activities, we enrich ourselves.  We cultivate shared memories with friends. We stretch what we know or what we think we know by trying new things. We step out of what is comfortable sometimes to simply place trust in ourselves, in the activity, in the experience.

I spent the last week saying yes. I said yes to playing disc golf though I still have so much to learn. I said yes to a spur-of-the-moment backpacking trip. I said yes to climbing a rickety fire tower in high winds to watch the sun rise. I said yes to dinner with friends. Each of these opportunities opened me in new and different ways.

I see how Groove can parallel this lesson. By giving participants the basic movement then asking them to consider other possibilities, they get the chance to say “yes” in deciding if they want to move their bodies in a certain way. While you always have the option to abstain from a creative alternative, what happens if you just say "yes"?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jean Jacket: A Reflection on Adolescence

Unkempt hair cut by my mother.
A dark jean jacket I felt lucky to have received
After all, I had wanted one for Christmas.
But not like this. Not dark blue.
Not like the sky on a night with no moon and no stars.
I wanted stone-washed, pale
bleached, almost white.
I rubbed it on the brick hearth to create the stone washed look
but it didn’t help, so it stayed
hidden in my closet – a gift
I wanted to be thankful for but felt
too ashamed to wear.

(This was a brief exercise as part of the mentor training for the Climbing Toward Confidence program. The facilitator read a passage from My Sisters’ Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out and asked us to reflect on our own adolescence.)

What's your story of adolescence? 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Just Do It

I am reading and writing from Natalie Goldberg’s book Wild Mind. It’s the “just do it” approach. Just jump in. Just go for it. Just Live! Just say yes. Just concede. Just embrace. Just surrender. Just accept that what comes from the inkwell of this hard plastic pen is precisely what is supposed to come. Just believe you are right and perfect. Just believe for these few minutes that your words have value and purpose. Just trust your inner knowing. Trust the mind. Trust the wild paths of words our writing can take us on, the same way our minds wander on a run. Don’t stop moving. Don’t give up. Applied to so much in life, it’s the “just experience” model that might just work. It’s how we adapt to our surroundings.

(I melt from the sofa to the floor and drape myself over the coffee table. Torso now resting on the round glass top, arms heavy and supported, head nests in a cradle of my left arm, my right hand moves nimbly now on lined paper.)

How do you tweak your form when running? How do you lift your heel? How do you time your breath? How do you say “I’ll take this as it comes?” How do you stop criticizing and let it flow in a way that is without what’s “right” but is loving, forgiving, and sweet to the core?

It’s the “just dance” philosophy, too. Just let yourself find how you want to move to the music right now. Just let go of mental constraints that define good and bad, or what is appropriate. Let go the needing to be right.

Writing practice, without judgment, without my editor, gets around the contrived. Writing practice, like meditation, will release me to a place of authenticity. It says “heya, just go with the flow. Just try.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Helping Women Believe They Can Dream

It's just days following news of Jennifer Pharr Davis' speed hike of the Appalachian Trail - breaking both the men's and women's world record. She covered the 2,180-mile distance in 46 days and 11 hours.

It's an impressive feat. I'm awed by this woman's determination in fulfillment of her dreams.

It was just weeks after she started out on her journey that I attended a conference exclusively for women about hiking and backpacking. The Summit was a first-of-its-kind event meant to invoke inspiration and confidence in women to undertake their big dreams, especially in the outdoors. The event offered the expected workshops related to nutrition, gear and trails, but it also offered an unexpected and refreshing twist – nature appreciation and taking it slow.

I attended a session focused on nature appreciation and spiritual connection in which the presenter encouraged all of us to “saunter reverently,” a message I have really taken to heart.

I spoke with the Anna Huthmaker the event organizer and founder of Trail Dames, a hiking club for women of a curvy nature, to learn more about her vision for women as hikers and why taking it slow fosters dreams as much breaking records.

Wow, so it’s a big deal that The Summit is going to be in Colorado next year.

Virginia worked out so why not Colorado? There are lots of women hikers out there. We have ten chapters already, and I’m talking to someone in Seattle and someone in California [about starting chapters there].

I don’t want The Summit to be for just Trail Dames. I want it to be for all women. There are a lot of women out there who don’t identify as Dames. Trail Dames is the host.

At the end of the summit you asked what attendees find when they are on a trail in the woods – what it gives them. What does being on a trail do for you?

Being on a trail allows me to be the kind of women I want to be. I wanted to be a woman who does these kinds of things. So every time I’m on a trail I’m closer to being that woman.

Is that what influenced you to start this organization?

Not really. I don’t know why I started it. I know when the idea was formed. I was on the A.T. and this other hiker said I really really belonged. It hit home, this idea that if I belong – so does any other kind of woman. I don’t mind being the poster girl for the non-traditional type hiker I will bring others with me.

There’s an emphasis on the Trail Dames website and at the conference on taking it slow. What accounts for that?

There were two things that hit me when I started encouraging women to hike. Historically they tended to hike with their husbands. Those hikes tended to be goal oriented. I wanted to encourage them to relax and not [feel that they] have to race through it. The second thing is that I want them to enjoy what they are doing. I don’t want them stressed out about being fast enough and good enough. A lot of that was my own baggage, but it fit with other women. Then they can find their own pace. It might turn out to be fast, but they arrive at it naturally – rather than forcing it.

Can you talk a little bit about the support and community of the Dames?

That is what women do best. We are caretakers. When someone next to us bursts out crying in frustration, we care for them. If we take a woman who is unsure, nervous, not sure she can [hike], or [doubts] that she belongs there then you surround her by women who encourage her that she can. It instantly creates this bond that is deep and profound.

At the conference – I made this joke about [singing] Kumbaya, but we could have. We support each other, and people are brave enough to share their dreams with other women. We tend to want to stand up and help each other.

I want to clarify something. I love men. I love everything about them. In no way am I trying to disparage them or keep them away from us. For three years I did bring your man hikes. They didn’t go over so well, so then I hosted “bring Anna a man” hikes.

How would you characterize your hike leadership style?

On a trail, I’m at the back. My biggest goal is that no woman feels like she’s too slow or holding anyone back. [As hike leader] I give out directions; I realize we’re all adults.

Why do you do that?

Because that’s what I felt when I first started hiking. That’s the worst feeling in the world if you’re already overweight and feeling like you don’t belong out there. So it’s meant to prevent that.

In the back we laugh the most. That’s where the best stories happen. The woman at the back is achieving the most when she’s climbing the mountain. The one in the very back who is older or less fit, when she reaches the top, that’s when the real magic happens. I love the feeling like I helped that happened.

What do you hope women who attended The Summit gained from the experience?

I hope they gained the belief that they can really dream big and go for it. There’s nothing in the world you can’t do – if you want to hike the Inca trail, hike the Grand Canyon, go to New Zealand, it’s really just a plane ticket, and a believe ‘I think I can do that.’

If I can make them believe that they belong on the trail. If The Summit can help them believe that they belong on the trail

At the conference at one point you said women are taking over the trails of the U.S. Can you talk more about that?

When I said women are taking over the trails of this country I meant that as empowering statement. As far as I’m concerned, my experience is 100% true.

I’m just trying to make other women to feel proud to be out there. I want them to remember that they’ve accomplished something. It’s a big deal to get out there and climb that mountain. [I want to] promote sense of community, a sense of purpose.

Can you talk a little bit about the awards from The Summit?

That for me was a function of looking toward the future. For the Spirit of the Trail Dames I wanted different chapters to have the opportunity to recognize people. The idea is that the national award will become more coveted. I wanted there to be weight to the event, an importance to it. I don’t want it to be just a bunch of people at a campground.

The Spirit of the Dames award is the chance to recognize someone who never gets recognition. I get recognition, hike leaders get recognition, head dames get recognition. It’s for regular folks.

Before I started throwing out “we’re the only hiking conference for women” I did a lot of research. [I wanted the national awards to] showcase women in excellence in the outdoors. It needs to be celebrated. It really does. What I’m hoping that we get more and more nominations – even among people I’m not aware of. They deserve that recognition and to raise awareness.

What, in your mind, is the mainstream perception about the culture of hiking?

The first thing you think of is someone who is really fit. We think of granola types who are very comfortable in the outdoors. When I started hiking all the books I read and most of what I did was Appalachian Trail based so the community was fairly extreme. I was hanging out with people who did long distance hiking so that became my idea of the norm. I don’t think that’s an impression among other non-hikers. Most other women I run into don’t know A.T. People do assume you have to be fit.

When I ask what are they worried about people talk about needing the right gear or needing to already be fit. You don’t have to be that way to hike. Hiking is just walking on the dirt.

How is Trail Dames challenging this? How does Trail Dames fit into the culture of hiking?

Hikers don’t put such narrow definitions on hiking. People accept everyone else. We put our own limitations on it. People who are out there all the time, I don’t think they care who else is there as long as you’re being respectful.

Here’s the cool thing. Look at you, an extremely experienced A.T. and PCT hiker. The only difference between you and some Dames is that at some point you believed you can do it, and you went out and did it.

I’m trying to take women and say you can do that if you want - inspiring the confidence. A lot of women who come to Trail Dames [hiking] it’s never occurred to them. They’ve got great lives and hiking never occurred to them. It’s putting the option of having a goal of hiking in front of them. Big girls never believe they can do this.

It’s kind of waking up their mind to the idea “ hey, come try this.” They blossom trail wise. They were blossoming otherwise it their lives, too. We just opened the door to this one aspect for them.

They’re identifying as Trail Dames. They’re identifying as this thing.

Let’s talk numbers. How many members and how many chapters do you have?

Nationally there are about 2000. There are seven chapters are on the website – three that started a few weeks ago. Four more made commitments on the week of The Summit.

Technically we have 14 chapters, but ten for sure are hiking. We’re getting ready to have Ohio, Maine, and second Virginia Chapter, in Charlottesville.

Is Trail Dames a bridge for members to other things?

It will depend on the members. When I talk about people coming for a season –it’s a bridge to another part of their life. We have people who join us then become more serious hikers. They leave to more extensive hiking. They go on to riding horses, kayaking, or writing a book. It depends on the member. If it’s a bridge –that’s great too.

Is there anything I haven’t asked?

It’s helping women believe they can dream. Women are identifying as Trail Dames. To me it’s really important to truly give women on the fringes an opportunity. I want to make sure it’s still accessible to everyone – 300 lbs, 70 or blind. There is nothing else accessible for them. Whether they fit my definition of Trail Dame or not, they’ve all come. As long as it doesn’t push out unfit women. It really is for all women.

What are the distances for Trail Dames hikes?

We have a regular Trail Dames hikes that are 3.5 to 5 miles long. Those are very poplar. We have dynamic hikes beyond that can be 10 miles long. They can be strenuous. We offer both equally so there’s a place for everyone. I’ve asked the other chapters to stay in those parameters. Anyone can do 3.5 miles even if I have to hold her hand, even if it takes 4.5 hours.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gear Review: REI XT 75

So I bought this backpack at the REI in San Diego roughly 70 miles in to a PCT hike last year. The Granite Gear pack I had was a perpetual pain in my shoulder. OUCH! I tried on TONS of packs at REI and used my actual backpacking gear that I had with me to do all my testing. In the end I settled on this pack for comfort. I absolutely refuse to be uncomfortable while backpacking. The sales fella recommended selecting for comfort over looks - which in this case is a big deal - this pack looks like a house - it's HUGE and I don't have big or bulky gear. As a long distance backpacker I tend to have smaller, lighter stuff, but the lightweight backpacks are dreadfully uncomfortable. So, I bought the pack that will always fit a smorgasbord.

The sales guy made an impassioned pitch about how REI staff had recommended to the pack designers that there be a side access zipper to the body of the pack. I wish they hadn't. For one, the zipper is located under the compression straps which makes it difficult to even use when the pack is packed & cinched. Secondly, I always line my backpack with a trash compactor bag because it's the best way to waterproof (and there's never a need for a pack cover this way). Once the pack has the vapor barrier of the trash compactor bag both the zippered access to the "sleeping bag compartment" and the full-length side access zipper are pretty much dead weight that I can’t jettison.

Speaking of the sleeping bag compartment: Have you seen it? It’s HUGE! REI doesn’t even sell sleeping bags that could completely fill that space, do they? I undo the divider between the sleeping bag space and the rest of the pack so I have a continuous cylinder to fill up.

Now that gripe is done I’ll give some shout outs to the real strengths of the pack. The extension collar is ample, and I like the way it nests inside the outer closure. I love the four-way stretch pouch on the front of the pack that has the two zippered pockets attached to it. That pouch is handy and designed in a way that stuff doesn’t escape. I have mixed feelings about the twin zippered pockets on the front. I like the organizational aspect of them, but the curve in one of the zipper’s path has failed me where the teeth have separated from the rest of the zipper fabric. I toy with whether or not I actually need or want these pockets on the front.

The pocket on the hipbelt is handy. As someone who didn’t use a water bladder and tube for 1,000 miles on the PCT I hiked I really really appreciated the water bottle pockets on this pack. I could actually load and unload my water bottles from the pockets while hiking without getting assistance from others. J The adjustable tension on the pockets, their angle, and their girth are big pluses.

This pack easily carried the large bear canister I had with me through the Sierras. I could even lay it down rather than having to carry it vertically the way a number of smaller, lighter packs require.

I’ve tried a number of women’s specific packs but they rarely feel good on my shoulders. Either my shoulders are broad or pack designers are making packs for a mini-me type female standard. In either event it is hard as hell to get a salesperson to even let you try on a men’s pack much less sell you one. In this regard this pack has a descent span between the shoulder straps so it’s not creeping up my neck and giving me aches. I prefer to carry any load on my hips and this pack allows me to opt to do that or to transfer and distribute between my shoulders and hips.

I guess that’s my overall impression of this pack. As much as I’d love to see things improved or changed with this pack ultimately it is a great pack. It’s comfortable. I can cinch it down to fit my load. It’s made of durable material. My head doesn’t hit the back of the pack (yay!) leading me to jut my head forward.

Personally, I wish that the width of the pack was narrower. While I have wide shoulders and womanly hips, my middle isn’t too big and when I swing my arms they don’t clear the pack. So, in short (after all that!) this would be a dream pack if it lost the side access zipper, the sleeping bag compartment zipper, were narrower, and if the twin pockets on the outside didn’t have a curve in the zipper function.

Oh, and PS – one last piece of important information – my load. Fully loaded with five days of food my pack weighed in at 32 lbs. (which includes the 4.5 lbs of this pack – without the top pouch that I’ve never carried).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Trails: To Be or Not to Be

Trails on the ground give me hope. They point me in a direction. When I’m on a trail, I’m on a path to a destination. But, the common wisdom among hikers is that it’s not the destination that matters as much as the journey. It’s walking that has allowed me to expand my calm through a sort of meditative state, stand face to face with wildlife, read the weather, learn the trees, and breathe deeply to take in the sweeping views. I gain the perspective of time ticked out in birdsong rather than cell phone rings. For the time it takes me to tap out this entry on my computer, I certainly could have walked a mile, perhaps three.

Trails in the wilderness hearken back to a slower time. Trails help us look back to see things the way they might have been.

This is in part what National Scenic and Historic Trails have to offer – a step back in time as we move along their paths. That is what I find exciting. The path provides the avenue through which we can connect people to these places and their history.

Congress has designated nineteen National Historic Trails since 1978. All to often though they are trails in name only.

While there are efforts being made to interpret specific sites along the route, the route itself is an anomaly. As an example, people can visit some of the Spanish missions along the route of the 1774-1776 Anza Trail route between Culiacan Rosales, Mexico and San Francisco. Today there are but brief sections of the Trail that can be retraced.

Similarly, the historic trade routes from Santa Fe to Los Angeles, now the Old Spanish Trail lights upon paths used by American Indians, fur and livestock traders, soldiers and merchants, but its interpretation and visitation is largely at road waysides and museums. Organizations and Federal partners are focused on verifying the historical importance and site-specific significance rather than laying a path that resembles or retraces the route itself.

These trails are largely a memory. They are history recorded in journals. They are debris buried in the earth over time. They are wayside exhibits of arduous journeys. These are but illusive examples of what life was like. A path that connects the significant points for present-day travelers makes it real.

There’s conflicting interest in establishing on the ground trails. Some advocate that the history of the trails is the most important aspect. These people feel that there need not be a trail on the ground for the history of the line to be shared with people. You don’t have to walk the Trail of Tears to know its history, and yet how much more powerful it would be if you could.

We can retell stories. But, we can retrace the trail, literally or figuratively, if a semblance of it was on the ground. That experience of five miles, twenty-five miles, or 1,200 miles speaks volumes to the hardship of travelers on this way. It speaks volumes of extremes in heat and cold. It brings the history into an experiential plane where we can imagine how our ancestors felt. When we have an experience like that, that place becomes our place. It becomes as much our story to protect as it is the role of archeologists and historians to protect.

I see value to both preservation and recreation. Preserving the ancient sites along the original routes for their archeological significance is important, but so is bringing people to a trail in the middle of a desert to capture the truth of travelers in this place. It gives people the opportunity to connect to the landscape, to the history, and even to the scenic beauty found along historic trails.

In 2002, the Overmountain Victory Trail had 16 miles of the 300 mile route on the ground. This year they have 76 miles of trail. Actualizing the re-creation of the trail allows for the connection to it. It makes reinactors walking from Abingdon, Virginia to King's Mountain, South Carolina realistic in their retelling. It makes the challenging journey over the Roan Highlands a rewarding experience for those who follow in the footsteps of our Revolutionary forefathers as they topped the highest elevation on their journey, and marked the third day of their quest to find and defeat the British loyalists. The act of walking the trail brings the story to life for anyone who follows it so that they can relive the hardships, revel in the beauty along the way, and celebrate their arrival at the destination.

Establishing the literal trail is also a means of providing a corridor of protection to the historic route and an awareness of its importance within the surrounding communities so that if threatened it will be heralded as a valuable asset. Or, if the opportunity arises to acquire private property for the protection of the route, the awareness of what this trail could be drives the call for funding and support for its purchase.

It’s also a dutiful way to give back to nature by establishing a swath of land for use by wildlife within a protected corridor. The wild lives on the path were significant to the people before us and are as meaningful for us today. Since we no longer depend on them for our survival we marvel at their survival, their adaptation and their role in our natural world – that helps us develop a deeper, wondrous connection with this place.

Far from being complete, the Overmountain Victory Historic Trail gives me hope for the actualization of historic trails on the ground. For that matter, so does the Old Spanish Trail, the Anza Trail, and El Camino Real de los Tejas.

What to you believe? Are historic trails meant to be trails in name only? Is the absence of a physical trail necessary for historic resource preservation? Does having an on-trail experience enhance your connection with a place? What perspective do you gain from trails?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Going Away Party

I moved away from my North Carolina home at the end of 2009. I left for the west, bound for my own love story in British Columbia with a man I thought was “the one.”

The fact that my friends threw me a romance-themed party didn’t seem as fitting at the time as it does now. After all, I was leaving in pursuit of love and romance.

At the time, it just seemed funny and topical. I had just given away hundreds of romance novels, but the gift did not stick. It came back to me so that I was forced to give them away again. The gist of the party was (per my friends who planned it) not only to see me off but also to give attendees romance novels as party favors.

The Saga of the Romance Novels

After my mom passed away, the cleaning began. I took on the sorting, the organizing and the purging. If not because I felt the most capable of my family members (and I am) but for fear that anyone else might be careless and discard something I valued. If any item seemed less than important to me but might have meaning to someone else it was my plan to vet the discard through the family committee before chucking it.

When I unearthed boxes and boxes and boxes of romance novels, I knew no one would miss them. They went first, and without me asking a soul.

I loaded them in my trunk and delivered them to the person I knew had a secret passion for romance novels; it was a “habit” she picked up courtesy of time spent on the middle school swim team. She received them with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning – opening boxes, giggling at the cover art, and browsing back covers. Despite talking smack about the content and the themes (Scottish Highland settings, the young bride, paranormal, and Westerns) the tremor in her voice exposed her elation with the gift. And, I felt proud. There’s nothing better than giving someone something they love, and she clearly loves romance novels.

Her girlfriend was less than pleased with the gift. And this I understand. Because when your loved one slips into a trance – an open-eyed comma where she appears alive to the world but can not be pulled into the moment of here-and-now – you begin to hate that thing that drives the distraction. You hate that book. You hate the fantasy your loved one is living. You hate being second-class to fictional characters. And so, Megan made Elizabeth return the books to me.

It was the best possible scenario. Megan got her girlfriend back. Elizabeth didn’t have to witness the books being “disposed of” unceremoniously at Goodwill before she finished with them, and they reasoned that I now had “party favors” to give my other friends who came to my going away party which was now dubbed a romantic affair.

They made an invitation to the party, complete with picture of a shirtless man with He-Man upper-body strength in an embrace with a woman, her shoulder exposed where her burgundy dress sleeve had slipped off. Her comment bubble reads: “Tapas, Darling, Not topless.” That is how the theme of my party was born.

My friends only ended up taking a third of the party favors I had available. (I’m pretty sure Elizabeth left with three parting gifts.) I schlepped the remaining ones to the used bookstore and was able to sell half of them there, gaining a $17 credit to Mr. K’s. The rest, the final third – undesired by friends and the used bookstore – were welcomed into the open arms of the collection bin at Goodwill. Good riddance.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Romance: Truth or Fiction

“My mom writes romance novels.”

Do you know how hard that is to say when you are in your early 20s?

People conjure up the hot and steamy sex scenes, and immediately you know they are thinking about you, your mom, and sex!

I often got asked if I read her work. Early on I had to answer yes. I had been trying to support her and provide feedback.

But I was not her ideal audience. I knew nothing about romance novels. I had never read any.

And, by the way, never read anything she wrote that made me do more than blush a bit.

As her confidence in her writing grew so did her connections to other romance writers. She developed a network of authors, editors, critics, and friends. They took over the role of supporting her in ways I had done as she just started out.

But, I heard story lines and character sketches, and knew when the plot took a new twist. I heard when she had a fresh idea for a new paranormal romance set in England. And I loved that she was writing. I was also glad she wasn’t reading the damned things as much. I gloried in the fact that she was using her creative energy; she’s a visual artist, too.

And if I swap between using present tense and past, it is because I do not know if she is here or not. She died in 2008. But I still feel her with me, and so sometimes it is hard to pull away enough to say “she was a visual artist” especially when I live in a museum filled with her vision. Landscapes of coasts and countryside. Birds, flowers, family portraits. A series examining the Civil War. Creation. A textile print. A sculpture of dancers.

Now I have an idea to share in her work, her vision and her creative energy. It's an idea to un-do the romance. Not to shatter her work but to shift its composition. A partnership between me, my mother, and our words.

What do you think of romance novels? Are the cliché? Formulaic? Dastardly? Uplifting? Do they offer truth or a saga?

Friday, April 22, 2011

What do you call it?

The centering that follows intense physical exertion can be gained by any means – Tae Bo, running, hiking, dancing, yoga. But the thing is, there’s no right or wrong way to reach the centering. One is not better than the other. One is not more pure than the others.

When I am glowing after a sweaty night of Contra dancing in a hall cramped with bodies, it’s as much the peace that follows the exertion as it is specifically the dance, the music or the communion with others.

By pushing myself physically, it releases the clamp on my own judgment of myself. For a brief, few minutes I’ve reached a quiet and accepting place. I am kind to myself and grateful for the world around me.

It’s the runner’s high, the yogi’s open heart, the hiker’s bliss, and the dancer’s glow. It can be called many things and reached in many ways.
I call it welcome.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Two Glasses of Water and a Run

I haven't run since the Greer Half-Marathon on April 9, and I figured that I'd best take advantage of the sun this afternoon since I thought I heard a forecast for rain.

I downed two glasses of water, grabbed my camera and set out to capture sights that caught my eye.

From Run 2011, Apr20
I ran in to this guy at the top of my driveway.

From Run 2011, Apr20
The dogwoods in bloom I encountered on my way down my road lit up the dark curve in the road.

From Run 2011, Apr20
I thought I glimpsed a squirrel in the tree at first, but it didn't move enough. Upon a closer look, I saw it was a kitty in a pine.

From Run 2011, Apr20
The pastoral residents I most frequently talk to on my runs.

From Run 2011, Apr20
Pink dogwoods!

From Run 2011, Apr20
Main Street Mars Hill and Mars Hill Baptist Church.

From Run 2011, Apr20
I recently discovered this road and added it to my running route. It's beautiful along these Fields of Hope - an initiative by Mars Hill Baptist Church to organize volunteers to grow food for hungry people in Western North Carolina. In 2009 they harvested 42,000 pounds of vegetables!

From Run 2011, Apr20
Near the end of my run I was tired and struggling, but I was lucky to be coming off steep hill from Bailey on to Bruce Rd. when I spotted a brigade of young men from Mars Hill college running toward me. With about a half-mile to go and knowing they might continue on Bruce instead of turn on Bailey, I kept up my pace and pushed towards my "finish line" at my road. They overtook me in front of Carr's farm, but for a little while, at least, I was in the lead. I even got a "good job, girl" from the least shy of the group.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Moment of Clarity

This space around me
but outside it moves the wind chimes
clink, ting, ting, ting
and here I am out of the elements
Here I am “protected” and “safe”
Here I am shielded from Nature’s
true grit.
Here I am anesthetized
Here I am
Blue chair
Black pen

Here I am khaki, quick dry pants
Here I am pulling the power of Ganesh from
my shirt into my heart
Here I am filling pages
with words I may never review again
Here I am breathing solidly
without difficulty
Here I am healthy, strong
Here I am with straight hair
Here I am against the clock
Here I am searcher of truth
Here I am divine feminine
Here I am goddess, queen
Here I am fabulous and lucky
Here I am adorable
Here I am ready to love and be loved
Here I am forgiving
Here I am sharp – brain and style
(as Papaw Bud would say Sharp Chicken)
Here I am blue eyes and freckles
Here I am painted toenails
Here I am full of mango, yogurt, granola
and coffee
Here I am content for this moment
Here I am smiling
Here I am thoughtful
Here I am checking the time to
end on a high note. While it is still
natural to know who I am and where I am right now.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cooper River Bridge Run 10K

I ran this race almost ten years ago. Then, the race went over one of the two rickety bridges that spanned the river before this modern, sturdy, concrete bridge replaced it. The old bridge swayed with the movement of all the bodies. And we swayed with it, moved in concert by the shudder of the structure. With only 14,000 runners in the 2002 race, it felt different from the run this year.

It was smaller and more humble then. This year, with over 40,000 participants, it was a rumble. Staged in waves, the masses of humans were released in five-minute increments least there be accidents of fast runners trampling walkers. Even still, as we took off, as we gained the crest of the bridge, as we careened down the other side, and swept the off ramp toward the flat straight-aways in town, it felt like I was in a herd – an animalistic drive toward something greater. It was as if I were in a spring migration with my fellow animals – going, pushing, toward an instinctual purpose that my rational mind could never grasp.

Fast, furious. Elbows flying. Labored, gasping breaths. Parents holding hands of children. Words of encouragement among friends. Exasperation as running slowed to walking, as the excitement and exuberance of the starting line energy waned in inverse proportion to the angle of the road. I saw this. I heard this. I felt grand. I felt part of something bigger than myself. I felt the tightness in my calves at the start. I felt the energy building in my stomach. I felt the power in my movements shift into an openness that allowed my resistance to fade into a more fluid movement of my body. I bobbed. I weaved. I dodged in and among runners and walkers like race car drivers (or animals in migration) might do. I threaded between friends, took inside corners (along with everyone else, it seems), and barely gave a thought to water stations.

Even at the end of the race it was crowded. I wonder if I’ve ever crossed the finish line with 20 others at the same time. In that way, it was not at all an individual’s run. It was a group experience. It was a communal exercise in how we feel when we push our bodies, exert our energy, breath fresh air, live outside the box of our homes, our televisions, and our computers.

In the chaos of the finish area, the animal instincts continued. We were on to foraging and grazing – seeking out the copious amounts of fresh fruit, water, ice cream, and pulled pork sandwiches. That’s right…pulled pork sandwiches!!! (ugh, I couldn’t even stomach the thought of that after the race and I love my pork…) The bustle of the run morphed into the bustle of post-race survival – the fulfillment of those basic needs, food and water.

These were some of the musings that kept me occupied during and after the race. I finished in record time – 57:40 – my personal best in a crowded race that both irritated and excited me.

This Saturday I’ll run 13 miles with 291 others for the Greer Earth Day Half-Marathon. It’s a far cry from the 40,000 in Charleston. I look forward as I look back, to humble beginnings, and hope for as good a run.