Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I want to learn to take in the suffering of the world, and still enjoy a cookie.

That was the answer provided by a student of Buddhism when he was asked why he would travel to France and study with Thich Nhat Hanh at the Plum Village Monastery, giving up the comfort of his quarters for a rustic space where he was made to wash dishes and chop wood.

With so much suffering in the news, I wonder how we do that. How do we look on the faces of broken parents, children in pain, families forever changed, and still enjoy a cookie?

We are all woven together in interconnectedness. This life and imminent death are strands of a web in which we all exist, together, with a single breath. If we wish to make the journey in peace, we must radiate peace to our children. We must hold them close, and open our hearts to those left behind.

Peace is not an empty platitude. It's not an ideal or an objective, or a political agenda. It is a practice of everyday life. We must walk peace in our choices - the words we speak, the things we choose to bring in to our home and the way in which we listen to one another.

The national media is consumed with the task of blaming. Is it a question of gun access? Cultural violence? Masculinity's representation in society? Insidious references that stigmatize the mentally ill and improperly correlate autism with violence, aloofness with insanity, an inability to read social cues with a lack of empathy. And while the pointing of fingers may or may not be important, may or may not elude to the questions needing answered for the sake of creating good public policy, blame is rarely much more than cathartic. At the end of the day, we are left to wonder  how any of us (meaning the murderer) could get so far removed from love, from sympathy, from compassion, from basic common sense and decency that they could coldly and mechanically take life from other people in such a callous, unconscious and destructive way.

In moving forward, we must be both realists and optimists. Suffering has a place in the world. It is inevitable. At the same time, we must recognize the possibility of alleviating that suffering and see the opportunities to create peace in our own lives and in our home. The intentions to be kind, compassionate, helpful, happy, and liberated are among the most beautiful qualities we have as humans. Our thoughts, words, and deeds of empathy, love and caring are the needed counter-forces to hatred, violence, and despair. Our own efforts to find inner peace, our example to our children, can be an important force of wholesome change for people who don’t know of that possibility.

If there is light in the soul,
There will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person,
There will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house,
There will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
There will be peace in the world.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, A serious misfortune of my life has arrived. I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died.

My mother.
When I woke up it was about two in the morning and I felt very strongly as though I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

When someone dies, you realize how many of your memories are history revised. I remember so many things about my mother and, as I have grown, the context of those memories has changed. My mother was kind and gentle. She was awkward in public, but I liked that about her. She loved her children deeply, and she was wrapped in the possibility of the people she was raising.

She was also lonely and sad. Somewhere in her history or her mind, there was a pull so strong that she was always a little bit apart from the rest of the world. She could never grab hold of that thing, discard it, push it aside and rise anew. As she aged, she was buried under the weight of that burden until, at last, she was bathed in hopelessness.

It will be two years tomorrow since my mother officially died. But she was gone long before then...

I don't know when my mother was diagnosed with diabetes. Like so much of her history, her health was a tightly guarded secret and, like all things hidden, the mystery of it served her. For years, she alleged that she was dying of congestive heart failure. Her body was swollen, and fluid would literally seep from under her skin, through her pores, puncturing the taught flesh of her legs and stomach. Her feet were cracked. Her breathing labored. She kept us all waiting in suspense, believing that any measure to help her would be undertaken in vain. The end was always just around the corner, because she was hopelessly dying.

That's me, in my father's arms.
But so are we all.

She sat in the living room, waiting for finality, for more than 15 years.

All that time, I had no idea that the actual source of her ailments was, simply, uncontrolled blood sugar. My mother had been obese her whole life over. She was often embarrassed and ashamed of her weight, like so many women. And, at times, she tried desperately to lose that weight....only to gain it back, and acquire a bit more shame along the journey. She gave up. She proclaimed that she would "rather eat well than be thin," and settled on a diet high in refined carbohydrates, fast food, processed food. She abandon the exercise bike in the kitchen, quit taking her afternoon walks, and slowed to an existence so sedentary that, one year, she stopped even walking up the stairs. Instead, the living room became the sum total of her world.

She checked her blood sugar sporadically at best, and administered insulin irregularly and infrequently until, one afternoon, I called to check on her. She'd been battling a harmless virus for weeks, and was sinking further into illness. That afternoon, she was barely lucid. I called my sister in a panic and, together, we tore the moulding from the doorways of my parents home as we wheeled her body to an ambulance. Moments later, her body in septic shock and her mind deluded, she became combative an irate. She punched and hit, kicked and shouted. My sister and I held her down as doctors inserted a picc line in to her unanesthetized neck as my father waited behind the curtain, hearing her scream.

I spent the next 30 days watching her liver and kidneys fail, holding her hands to keep the doctors from putting her in restraints, and waiting as she had waited all those years...

For her to die.

It turns out that every failed organ in her body had been the victim of uncontrolled diabetes. Her heart failure was due to Diabetic Cardiomyopathy. So, too, her chronic kidney disease. She could have, at any moment, chosen a different end...yet, it wasn't until those last days that she found a desire to live on. The tragedy of her life and death was perhaps that bit: That her will to survive, to get better, came only in the moments preceding her inevitable passing.

Checking my blood sugar
at 4:00am before heading
to the gym
My children remember her. They miss her. They ask about her...wonder if she remembers them. Her life here goes on, she just isn't available to see it.

When I speak about diabetes, I don't often tell the story of my mother. After all, those of us with diabetes hear her story all the time. Every time I disclose my diabetes diagnosis, I hear of the uncle who went blind or the grandfather who lost his toes, or the aunt in renal failure. Of course, that is part of the diabetes story...

But I'd rather tell the other side of the tale - the side marked by possibility, by good health, by limitless opportunity. I'd rather race my bike and eat good food and laugh with my kids. When I am asked if my mother would be proud of my advocacy from the seat of my bike, I answer an honest "no." She wouldn't understand it in the least. In fact, she bitterly babysat my children once while I was at a race, only to remind me that she "never did that sort of thing" when we were young.
But I also know that she was proud of me, the person I became and the mother I am to Henry and Midori. I know she loved me all too much, and I trust she knew that her love was multiplied and returned. There are people here who miss her deeply, who wish sadly for her, who think of her often. My mother's life and her death have made me more compassionate to the struggles of those with Type 2 diabetes, who try and try again, and who never quite make it work. We all have our failings. We all die in every moment.

 I also know that the story of her life and death has its place in the context of my own disease and my management of it. I promised my husband, as I watched her gasp for breath and pound her fists in the air, that I would never do that to our son and daughter. It's not really about fear or inspiration. It's about finding your way in the darkness of diagnosis, to a spot where you can live fully without the weight of disruption from disease. I wish, often, that we'd found that space together.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

That's my daughter...and two dead fish.
You see, I was shopping the Thai Basil at Whole Foods when I looked to my right, and saw my daughter walk to the fish counter, stare at the selection, and then courageously order two whole trout. The guy behind the counter advised her to ask her mother. She was adamant.
I don't need to ask her. She's good with it. All good here. Now, please wrap my fish in that paper, and I will cook them.
I frowned, and walked over to her.
What are you ordering? I asked, a bit exasperated.
She looked sternly in my direction, placed her hands on her hips, and replied, I'm getting some fish. That kind. She points to the glass case, and two shiny fish, awash in ice, glistening under the lights. Oh, please, mama! Please. I just want to have fish. Can't we? Yes, yes we can. They are lovely and right here. Right here. He'll put them in paper, and we can bake them!
Honestly, I haven't any notion of how she came to this. I'm not entirely certain my daughter has ever eaten fish, and certainly she's never prepared one. Still, her beaming face...the stare of the man holding the brown butcher paper behind the counter...and the fish with their glassy looking eyes...
I relented. Okay. Okay. But I've not cooked a fish in more than ten years. I'm not even sure I'd know how any longer...
She clasped her hands together, and gleefully ordered the man to get her fish. Those two, right there! We'll take them. And don't worry, mama, I will know what to do.
I was not reassured. Nor was I assuaged to hear the man behind the counter affirm that she'd made a good choice. They are well priced and quite fresh. She knows her fish.

My delighted daughter took her two wrapped fish, and walked through Whole Foods with them nestled in her arms. She told every person she met that she was having fish for supper. I'm making fish tonight. I'm going to eat these two beautiful fish for my dinner!
The thing I perhaps love best about my daughter is that brand of confidence. She is fearless, determined. She knows what she wants, and she isn't afraid to assert herself to get it. That is why I, a dedicated vegan who isn't even wholly convinced that a person should eat fish for any reason at all, is massaging garlic and olive oil into the flesh of a dead trout. It wasn't her enthusiasm to try something new, or her sales job to obtain it. It was that the decision was made without me. I was merely a passenger to her adventure.
The balance of parenting can be found in embracing the moment, even in the context of the mundane: dinner, shopping. My daughter knows that her voice matters, and had I pushed forward with my preference, I would have squashed some part of that independence.
So, here I am. A vegan. Baking fish. I hope she likes it. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
- Andre Gide

The other day, my daughter and I went for a walk before picking up her brother from school. It was an unusually warm day, so I figured we'd stroll down to a small lake nearby.

Along the way, my daughter found some sand beneath an oak tree, and she promptly sat down. I kept trying to cajole her to keep walking, just a bit further, so she could see the water in the distance. She wasn't having it.

I like it here. I don't want to keep walking. I like this sand. I'm not moving!

I knew she'd have a better time near the lake. I could see what she couldn't. I knew that the mountains and the water and the colors of the trees were more than she could even imagine, sitting in a small patch of sand under the oak. If only she were willing to walk a bit further...

And here we are, all of us, sitting under that metaphorical tree. We can only see this small patch of life and the world. We can't always know what is up ahead, if we persist just a little bit longer, go just a little bit further.

I've been so frustrated lately with my training. I never feel like I am where I want to be, and then I've had weeks of light efforts, thanks to injury.

I find myself sitting under the oak tree, thinking maybe I should just stay in this spot. It would be so much easier. 

Then, I remind myself that, perhaps, if I walk just a little further, things will be greater than I can imagine, and that someone might just have a bigger, better vision up ahead.

Looking forward to 2013 with Team Novo Nordisk.

Monday, November 26, 2012

After my tongue-in-cheek Turkey Day lament, I thought I would post something that speaks to authentic gratitude...mostly because my Thanksgiving turned out to be a pretty amazing 24 hours, during which I was reminded of all the things for which I am, indeed, thankful.

Josh Korda of Dharmapunx NYC did a modern riff on the traditional Theravadan Buddhist reflection. Thanks, Josh, for the modernity of your words.

Incalculable are those forced to toil without end, and who are driven by hunger and want.
I have enough to sustain my body and time to give it rest.

My day began at 4:30 in the morning, when I felt a gentle nudge on my shoulder. My four year old daughter was standing next to the bed, and whispered, I can't sleep. I sent her back to her room. "It's too early. I need some rest. We've got a busy day." And then I heard her, tossing about from the other side of the house...and I remembered that feeling as a child, of waiting awake in the dark for the sounds of movement, the loneliness of being alert in a house where everyone else was dormant, and I was moved out of bed. I crept back to her room, watched as she peered at me in relief, and I took her tiny hands. I slipped her coat off the hook on the wall, and grabbed her snow boots. Where are we going?

The only thing open on Thanksgiving Day at this hour of the morning is a doughnut shop down on Main Street, a few blocks from our home. I sipped a cup of bitter coffee while she ate a vegan chocolate cake doughnut with orange and brown sprinkles, and downed a cup of apple juice. She was delighted.

As we left, I ran ahead to open the car door for my daughter, cradling a doughnut for her brother. I turned just in time to see her spin around, and wave to a homeless man, counting change to buy a cup of coffee as he walked in to the warmth of the doughnut shop. He looked back at her tiny, beaming face. He smiled gently, came back through the door, and said, You have a Happy Thanksgiving, Sweet Pea. She nodded and wished him well in return.

Countless are those are born without physical or mental health.
I have been born with all limbs and faculties complete.

I went home, threw on my bibs and a workout shirt, and headed to Breakaway for my morning training ride. Pyramid intervals with Zach. I was about to earn my pecan pie. I changed in to my spinning shoes, and checked my blood sugar one last time. The guy next to me glanced over, seeing my bibs and meter. You must ride for Team Type 1? He unzipped his jersey to reveal a medical alert medallion. I've been diabetic for 34 years, with no complications. I blame it on the bike. No more racing, but I still ride five days a week. You guys are awesome. What you do? It's amazing.

We sat alongside one another and rode out a brutal session in the studio. 

Many are those who live in lands of strife and conflict, and who are deprived of security and safety.
I am living in a place where there is peace.

I turned on NPR on the way home, and listened as The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee stated that former CIA Director David Petraeus had agreed to testify to Congress about the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. And then, I remembered the sadness of this picture, both because this young woman was living in the middle of such violence and, more importantly, because she felt the sting of judgement for a faith misunderstood by many. I wished that I could reach out to her and assure her that no thinking American would assume otherwise.

Without number are those who live in regions where the light of the truth does not shine and its message is not heard above the racket of doctrines that cause suffering.
I have heard the good teachings.

I enjoyed the rest of the night in the company of my family. My daughter rode her bike with her beloved Great Aunt, and I sat and had a glass of wine with my father, who I don't see nearly often enough. My son lost a loose tooth, much to his delight. My Uncle laughed and told stories about me as a young child. In the warmth of that kitchen, in the sanctuary of family, my children played and giggled and chased the dog.

I saw that scores of people were waiting in the cold. Not for food or clean water or a much needed place to sleep. They were waiting for doors to open at Best Buy and Target and Wal-Mart. They were caught in the net of consumerism, in the idea that "more is always better," and that there is always something else a person requires to be content. I was glad to know have more than enough. I was glad that my husband and I belong to a faith that rejects those notions, and that we have refused to impart those values to our children. Instead, we retreated to our tiny, minimalist home and read stories, curled up on the old sofa with a warm cup of tea.

Truly precious and great are the blessings I enjoy.
Here I contemplate on my good fortune and the good of others.
To repay these gifts, I will use my efforts to overcome the obstacles of hatred, greed and delusion.

Afterward, I settled in with my husband, and watched this documentary. I had wanted to see it earlier in the week, but hadn't found the time. Thanksgiving was, perhaps, the perfect night to watch the film, which follows several young children and their families, and documents their lives as they struggle to survive in extreme poverty. If you've not seen it, you should.

I live in abundance. I have a lovely home of my choosing. I have beautiful children and a caring family. Our pantry is filled with good foods that nourish their body and spirit, as opposed to dead foods...or nothing at all. We are raising our kids in a place of peace, and with all the resources a child might require. My son, had he been born a world away or in a family without the same means, might never have spoken a word...might have been relegated to an institution. Instead, he is getting an education and has a college fund. My daughter might have died from a seizure. Instead, she has access to quality health care. I might not have been granted access to the tools I need to manage my diabetes. I might be blind, or in renal failure, or deceased. Instead, I get to race my bike.

The things we most need are not the things for which so many line up. Namaste.

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Thanksgiving." It sounds like the kind of totally awesome holiday that I could get behind. It's supposed to be all warm and do-goody and filled with gratitude for the stuff we already have (before Black Friday, when Americans go buy all the other stuff they don't have and totally covet). But here's the thing....

Thanksgiving was founded when the Pilgrims stole the Native American lands, and called it "sharing." That's actually a lot like how Midori shares. She takes what she wants, and then tells you that you can have it back later....when she's ready. So it's kind of sharing. And, to be fair, the whites did share smallpox, so that's something.

That aside, Thanksgiving used to be a good excuse for Americans to gorge on all kinds of high calorie, refined carbs and sugared desserts...but now, the excuse is called "Monday." Or "Tuesday." Or "Wednesday." You get my drift.

I should throw in my vegan card here, too. I don't even eat most of the Thanksgiving fare. That's probably a good thing, because the Thanksgiving bird is really little more than a ticking time bomb of disease, if you believe all the Department of Ag stats on salmonella. Basically, you can either cook the thing until it resembles a charcoal briquette, or you can risk your life while trying to avoid making eye contact with your drunk uncle eyeing the gravy boat on your side of the table. Or you can go drink a bunch of beer in your backyard, and throw the turkey into a deep fat fryer, and take your house and friends along with your meal.

I usually make some sort of extravagant vegan thingy that no one save me will eat, and call it "Happy Feasting" while I watch my carnivorous family pick at the carcass of some genetically altered fowl. Super awesome.

But worse than being vegan is being diabetic. Not only is there the whole carb-heavy meal thing, which wreaks havoc on blood sugar, but there is the added weirdness of going through the diabetic paces with extended family. I am pretty open about having diabetes. I don't hide when I test or when I inject...but I also don't think that entitles people to comment. The general public, however, and my extended family, totally disagree.

I get it. It seems innocuous to inquire about how long a person has been diabetic, or what a day with diabetes looks like, or how many shots are required, or what a person "can" or "cannot eat." But it is invasive. Do you really think that I don't get asked these kinds of questions all. the. time.?? Is it so hard to believe that someone might not want to discuss their entire health history over cornbread stuffing and cranberry sauce?

This also beckons to the diabetic food police, who think nothing of dropping the judgemental, Is it really a good idea for you to eat that? These people usually fall into one of two groups: 1) Folks with bad nutritional habits of their own who have no understanding of basic metabolic processes and will heap gobs of carb-filled taters on your plate while admonishing you for even thinking about a piece of pie, and 2) Those family members with an axe to grind, and find this a handy way to pester under the guise of "seeming helpful." They are the same people who will note that you've "put on a few pounds," or ask you about the last round of layoffs at your company's home office.

The whole thing is irksome, and my only real goal is to survive. And get home. And then eat something I actually cold cereal, which I never get because it is really super bad for my blood sugar. But it works on Thanksgiving to offset the delayed low from all the booze I will need to consume to keep from tripping out.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

“We are nothing more than the sum of our memories and experiences...”
Michael Scott, The Sorceress

When people start talking "experiences," they generally mean that you got stuck with something you never really wanted, and are now in the position of making the best of the otherwise unfortunate situation. It's really a question of belief on the part of the individual, and whether a person chooses to take an experience and create a meaning that disempowers them, or whether they decide to use that same event as an offering to others.
Today is World Diabetes Day. It's a campaign that draws attention to the global diabetes community, and celebrates the experiences of the 285 million people all over the world impacted by some form of the disease - the people who never wanted to be living with diabetes, facing its risks and complications, waking each day with finger sticks and hypos and carb counting and an endless array of doctor visits and trips to the pharmacy and, yes, confronting the fears and the unknowns of a life blunted with the impact of this condition. All those moments when I have been caught in the net of low blood sugar, and wondered if I would be beckoned back...if I would have a seizure...if I would suddenly have to rely on someone else for help. 
Diabetes has changed the way I see the world. At the time of my diagnosis, I was faced with an overwhelming litany of details, all of which were designed to keep me healthy, and to keep me alive. More importantly, the force of this disease has made me want to prove that I can do anything. Accomplish anything.
The first time I gave myself a shot of insulin, I was sitting on an exam table covered in white paper. "Now, you know not to go home and get on your bike, right?" admonished my doctor. I smiled. Shut the door behind me as I walked out of his office. I drove home, and I got on my bike. I rode 50 miles, all alone, frightened the whole time. More important than the fear of going too low on a solitary road, however, was the unabridged terror of having someone tell me that I couldn't do something, and the notion of having a limitation suddenly thrust upon me.
I was driven, in those early days, by fear. 
Now, all these years later, I know I can do anything. I've run marathons and climbed mountains and raced some of the toughest events in the country with diabetes at my side. Fear is no longer part of the equation. My experience with diabetes has allowed me to tap untouched strengths and talents, and to let those once hidden gifts rise to the surface. So much of who we could be remains idle within us, shackled by our beliefs until something - some experience - sets free those attributes. We can either be prisoners to our fear and those things we never wished to happen, or we can use those elements to set free our true potential.
Diabetes was a visitor I never wanted, but it has given me armor plating to go into the world, share my experience with others, and find the unbound courage to push forward.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I post this knowing FULL WELL that it is going to tick off scads of teachers, many of whom are my close personal friends. And I know that scores of others have tired of political posts most generally. For this reason, actually, I've carefully avoided making mention of presidential debates and candidate rivalries, voter preferance or disdain for political positions. But the truth is that the policy initiatives which get far less play are often the ones most impactful. Everyone argues about who should be president. Few even read the ballot initiatives until they get in the voting booth.

So here goes.

Those who know me, know that there are few things I value more than quality education. My own kids have gotten the very best educational experiences we can afford them...well, actually, we might not even be able to afford it. Their early childhood educations were spendy, indeed. So you'd think that I'd be all over giving money to public schools, right?


Here's the deal: Schools don't actually need more money. Under-performing schools don't benefit from cash. Here's an example:

The Oakland Unified School District had a budget of $602 million for the 2008-2009 school year, according to Katy Murphy, an education reporter with the Oakland Tribune. That budget meant that the district spent an average of $16,270 per student. That's a lot of money. But then, CA residents passed a bond initiative, giving the school even more money. $77M more. Of 707 eighth- and ninth-graders who took the California Standard test for general math: 1 percent tested advanced, 5 percent tested proficient and 94 percent failed by testing below grade level. Of 2,506 ninth- and 10th-grade students who took the California Standards test in algebra: 0 percent tested advanced, 3 percent tested proficient and 97 percent failed the test.

How can this be? How can a district have that kind of money in hand, and still fail 94% of kids?

Because, simply, money has nothing to do with educational quality.

The idea that schools are under-fnded is the stuff of mythology. Over the last four decades, public education spending has increased rapidly in the United States. According to the Department of Education, public schools spent, on average, $12,922 per pupil in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available. Adjusting for inflation, that's more than double the $6,402 per student that public schools spent in 1975.
Despite that doubling of funds, however, just about every measure of educational outcomes has remained stagnant since 1975. Student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—the only consistently observed measure of student math and reading achievement over the period—have remained relatively flat since the mid-1970s. High school graduation rates haven't budged much over the last 40 years, either.

You also have to look at the cost of educating children in private schools, where per-pupil funding is MUCH lower. Private schools, which generally report much higher graduation rates and demonstrate improved performance on standardized tests, do it for an average of $6780 per kid.

"But what about teacher pay?" you ask. This is another area where data matters more than anecdote.

Recent research undertaken at both the Heritage Foundation and The American Enterprise Foundation have shown that public school teachers receive salaries about on par with private sector workers who score the same on the SAT and other standardized tests of cognitive skill. But fringe benefits — in particular, generous vacation time, pensions and retiree health plans — push total compensation for teachers roughly 50 percent above private sector levels.

I know, I know. Conservative think tanks. Maybe we should look for a less biased report?

The Manhatten Institute did it's own study, and found that teachers make, on average, $34.06 an hour. That was better than 61% of the other occupations the researchers examined, including architects, psychologists, chemists, mechanical engineers, economists, and journalists. Let us remember, too, that thanks to a tenure system, many of these folks have guaranteed employment and benefits. In an uncertain economy, that is a perk no one can deny.

But here's the big, BIG, BIGGEST issue with the bond (3B): 40% of the funds go to 16% of the population. That's right. Nearly half of the funds are set aside for Charter Schools. Let's look at what that means in the St. Vrain Valley School District:
  • It means that your tax dollars are going to pay for schools like Aspen Ridge in Erie. This is a school that so mismanaged its dollars that the School board president, John Creighton, told the school's representatives that their budget amounted to nothing more than "garbage." It's a million dollars of taxpayer dollars that quite frankly aren't being managed, Creighton said. In fact, the school's checking account ledger shows it is spending $45,000 per month with no income. Imagine if that were a business!
  • It means you are paying for St. Vrain Community Montessori, which gives priority enrollment to families who pay for costly private preschool. If you can't afford three years of private Montessori education? You will be placed on a waitlist for the public school while other parents buy access. That is, so long as your child's first language is english, and your child has no special needs or learning disabilities. (These students are excluded from enrolling.) Tuition-free public education? Not really.
The list goes on...I will not. Suffice it to say, however, that there are some real problems with the public education system, and none of them can be best remedied with more money. So, I'm voting "no." Actually, I already did. I voted last Thursday. I thought of my friends as I cast my disappointed they would be...but I also thought of the taxpayer and the students, and I decided I would rather cast a vote for them.

Friday, November 2, 2012

No remarks on my ugly feet or weirdly long toes. You're supposed to be checking the bulge on the outer side of my ankle.
Those are the peroneal tendons. I never knew I had them until they slipped out of place. Now, with every step, I get this popping and snapping sound accompanied by a good dose of pain. About 50% of the time, Peroneal Tendon Subluxation requires a surgical solution. Let us not dwell on that, however, since I'm crossing fingers and tendons that I can just ride this out with some RICE and a little Motrin. The real issue, of course, is that I had to bail on my weekend 26.2 and I won't be seeing pavement from the seat of a bike anytime soon, either. I am to "avoid any and all weight-bearing activities for the next three weeks."
Of course, I'm not about to skip three full weeks of working out. Not only is it bad for my fitness and my mood, it's also really bad for my blood sugar. I took a couple of extra rest days this week, only to find that I was going through insulin like water.
And, speaking of water...
Yup. The pool. For the moment, swimming is the only option.
Let me preface this by saying that I am an abysmal swimmer. It's actually the reason I no longer do triathlons. I am all flailing appendages, slapping in to random lappers in the pool as I stare at Band-Aids and clumps of hair floating in the water below me.
But there I was, yesterday morning, at the soul-crushing hour of 5:00, trying to propel myself through chilly chlorinated water. At this time of day, it's pretty much me and the geriatric crowd, many of whom are superior swimmers. So, there I am, irritated and unhappy and trying to do my workout while an elderly woman with pale, varicosey legs dangling out of a skirted one-piece hands my ass to me. As if being beaten by the equivalent of Betty White with a swim cap and flippers is not bad enough, I have no idea how my blood sugars respond to this sort of exercise, so I had to keep hopping out of the water and checking myself.
With every stroke, I reminded myself that I have THREE MORE WEEKS of this before me. That I'm missing a marathon to do THIS. That my fitness on land is waning pathetically while I am stuck at sea with the Golden Girls.
But here's the thing... We don't always get to choose our circumstance.
November is diabetes awareness month. Training, like diabetes, is all about making adjustments. When you are injured, you have to take a circumstance that sucks, make adjustments, and get the job done. A lot of people are diagnosed with diabetes, and decide to throw in the towel on their health most generally. Likewise, a lot of mediocre athletes get sidelined by injuries and decide to stop training, let go of their base, and start again when they like the situation presented them. I'd rather control those things I am able, and perform at my personal best. That means looking at the big picture, committing to a plan, and moving forward...even if it is a slow breaststroke to the other side of the ice cold pool.
And, like all challenges, there is a silver lining. I've learned a lot about my body since I became a diabetic. I've gotten more in touch with what I eat, how I perform, what I need to do to stay healthy. I've become more compassionate to others, and I've been given the opportunity to talk with young people discouraged by a diabetes diagnosis, and to give them a little of my own optimism about having the disease.
Similarly, all this time in the water is working new muscle groups, and probably increasing my fitness more generally. I woke up with sore shoulders and tight abdominal muscles this morning, which is a sure sign that I'm getting in a good deal of needed conditioning. Still, I can't wait to lace up my running shoes in December.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I met my friend, Lauren, for coffee on the morning of November 1st, and listened patiently as she lamented about the “poorly reared children” who visited her home the night prior, ringing the doorbell in search of Halloween candy. “They didn’t even say ‘thank you.’ Half of them just reached in to the bowl and took a handful of stuff, even after I said go ahead and take one piece. What is wrong with these kids? Who raised those kids?”

My answer? Me. I raised them.
It was just before my son’s fifth birthday. He was dressed in a bright red dragon costume of his sister’s choosing. She was a pink poodle. At first, neither child understood the purpose of Halloween, and it took some cajoling to get the kids to walk up the first set of steps and ring the neighbor’s doorbell. An elderly woman appeared, holding a trove of candy in a bowl with a giant moving claw. My daughter recoiled in horror. Henry grimaced, then walked past it…past the woman…through the front door…and plopped down on her sofa. He stared at the evening news on the TV. “Uhhh…he’s new at this,” I offered, as I raced toward him.

House number two was no better. Knowing he would bolt through the door, I kept a firm grip on his hand. This time, a youngish woman with a baby in her arms came to the door with a bowl of DOTS. “Take one.” Henry grabbed a fistful of boxes, and settled down on the porch steps, tearing open one box after another and pounding them down his gullet. Again, I apologized. Profusely.

At this point, Dennis was skeptical. “Maybe we should just call it quits?”
Midori began wailing. “Trick or treat! Trick or treat.” I nodded, and said, “A few more houses. He’ll get the idea. He just has to try a few times.”
And so the night went on. One well-intended homeowner after another demanded a “trick-or-treat” from our son in exchange for his candy. A bewildered Henry would scream angrily, and grab for the bowl. When advised to say “thank you,” he would simply stare off in another direction. After this scene repeated itself over and over yet again, Midori took it upon herself to tell everyone her brother was hearing impaired. “He’s stone deaf. Never said a word.”
Finally, I countered, “Midori, your brother is NOT deaf. He can hear.”
“I know, Mom.  But what am I gonna do? Explain the whole thing? I can’t be at EVERY door that long. It’s just easier to say he’s deaf. Henry, tell people you’re deaf, okay?”
Moments later, Henry tired of his costume on the stoop of an older couple just down the block from our home, and so he simply stripped naked much to the horror of several onlookers.
See, Halloween is different when you are different. Asking a child with autism to choose one piece of candy out of a giant bowl is simply overwhelming. What looks like swimming across a kiddie pool is, to him, as if he were asked to breaststroke the ocean.

Our daughter had better social manners, but she struggled with fine motor skills. For her, grabbing a single small piece of candy from a giant bowl was not merely difficult, it was impossible.  Trust me when I tell you that I tried to contain her fistfuls, but children are part ninja…and I had one hand on the escape artist waiting to take up residence on a stranger’s couch…
Henry couldn’t, at that time, speak much at all. The tit-for-tat, “say ‘trick or treat’ for this piece of candy” routine was an insurmountable obstacle for our son. All he knew was that someone was holding candy out to him, but refusing to actually give it over…and then, he’d communicate his frustration with a high pitched wail, or he’d lash out with an angry fist and a jerk of the knee. He couldn’t thank the person for proffering the candy when they finally relented.

He was smothered by the crowds, the sounds, the darkness, and the frightening images of Halloween. He was itchy in his costume, which exacerbated his sensory problems. He was confused, unsure what to do, and frustrated. But he wanted to do what other kids were doing, he wanted to go to school and tell his peers that he, too, had gone trick-or-treating. He was trying so hard, and so were we all.

I told Lauren the story. I explained it in the way that only a mother who has felt the sting of judgment -who has risked embarrassment and ugliness so as to give her child the opportunity to experience the same things that hundreds of other kids experience without question or challenge – can explain.
Sometimes, what seems like “bad behavior” is disability in disguise. So, as scores of children come to your door and ring your bell, find your extra dispensation of grace. Open that door without judgment. Reserve your thoughts of “good” or “bad” parenting, “proper” or “improper” conduct and, instead, see that children (like the rest of us) come in all conditions, with all sorts of stories and all manner of ability and disability.

Monday, October 29, 2012

'Science is imagination in a straitjacket.’
American physicist Richard Feynman


As a young person, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So often, children are asked What do you wish to be when you grow up, and my only answer was contented.

My parents were both well educated and had high standards when it came to schooling and the pursuit of a career but, in their own lives, neither was particularly successful. I was raised in the extremes of privilege and then in poverty, and neither seemed to much matter in terms of my happiness.
It was by pure accident that I found my way to science. I like a good story. I’ve always been a dedicated bibliophile, and I have done my share of writing. Science is much like the process of authoring a work, except that in the context of the sciences, we are constrained by all the things we know to be true, and we have the facts and the tools to dissect the story we are trying to tell.

I also like to travel but, on the earth, there is no landscape we have not yet discovered. There are, however, an endless numbers of new things to learn about the world and the way it works…the way our bodies work. In that regard, too, science takes us in to the foray of the unknown.
My work in microbiology and genetics became my life when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes usually happens because a person doesn’t have enough of the hormone insulin, which is the only hormone capable of lowering blood sugar concentration after a meal. Every time you eat a Mars bar or Hershey bar, your blood sugar will begin to rise and that insulin will call to your cells, depart the pancreas, and cause the blood sugar to be lowered. It’s a beautifully orchestrated event that comes together like the tiny pieces of a little jigsaw puzzle.

I spent a long time after my diagnosis interested in the mystery of how that insulin begins to rise, and what makes it know to beckon the cells. It’s actually a fascinating event. A single protein acts like a tiny hole in the cell membrane, and when this little pore opens up, it allows ions to pass through it. Those ions are an electric current, and their movements based on that single protein triggers a series of events that determine whether or not insulin is secreted, and in what amount. Proteins, amino acids, are the stuff of bone and tissue and life itself.

In the same way, the miracle of exogenous insulin is no less impressive than the wonder of that protein, the current of electricity that ignites the body’s insulin, or the processes by which those mechanisms fail. In 1922, Dr. Frederick Banting could never have imagined how drops from a vial would translate into millions of lives saved.
Each time I hold an insulin pen or pump in my hand, I remember that I am holding life itself.
My friend Chris Scully ( posted about the realization that the whole of her health was contained in a tiny insulin vial, and the reaction from others with diabetes ranged from the frightened, “I try not to think about it,” to the fascinated, “Isn’t it amazing that once upon a time, this simple serum didn’t exist?”
Today, there are scores of dedicated scientists researching newer insulin technologies, closed loop systems, the artificial pancreas and, yes, a cure for diabetes. There are fundraisers and parents who work, tirelessly, to advocate for new treatment applications and, in the process, refuse to allow diabetes to become “someone else’s problem.”

Most importantly, there are 350 million of us living with diabetes, finding the strength to do all over again for another year.
As we head into November and Diabetes Awareness Month, I want to pay my gratitude to all those who work to keep me alive, to make my life better, to let me ride my bike and run a marathon and to enable me to see my children grow up. Thanks for all you do.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I used to avoid disclosing to anyone that our family was vegan. Ever. My reasoning was two-fold: 1) Vegans have a reputation for being dogmatic missionaries, who will try and convert any person in earshot to the total rejection of all animal proteins; and 2) I didn't want to answer the litany of absurd questions sure to follow my disclosure.

To the first point: Do I wish everyone were vegan? Maybe. Do I have the desire to try and solicit from others a commitment to a vegan lifestyle? No. Food habit is a very personal choice, and while I obviously believe that a diet of plant foods is most ethical, most environmentally sound and most healthful, I also accept that there are other eating habits which might be moral, environmentally sustainable and generally healthy. Most importantly, however, I understand that demanding everyone become a vegan is a gross over-simplification of culinary habit, and is bound to be irksome to those who don't wish to adopt the lifestyle.

I do, however, believe in being honest. This beckons back to the second point, about being roped into the vegan Q&A session sure to follow any discussion of a diet without meat and dairy. From the ridiculous, "How do you get enough protein?" to the forgivable, "Why are you vegan?" I answer with the truth as it relates to my system of belief. This, of course, hearkens back to animal abuses and factory farms, e.coli and contaminated groundwater, heart disease and cancer and diabetes. Those reasons can seem like an indictment of another's food selections or an effort at a vegan conversion - that there is some veiled attempt at guilting meat-eaters into shunning animal products - but that is more a reflection on the person making the inquiry in the first place, which is to say that those who feel some smack of invisible judgement do so because they are disquieted by their own personal decisions. There is, simply, no "right" answer to many of the questions posed, and all interrogations are really headed toward defensiveness from both parties.

My least favorite bit of lunacy is the question regarding fairness to my children. I'm often asked if being vegan isn't somehow unjust to Henry and Midori, who don't get to eat meat, who are having our beliefs "forced upon them," and who are "missing out" on a cultural norm.

And so, again, I can answer honestly. I can observe that all parenting is really rooted in the instruction of the adult's belief system and world view, that we don't give our kids the freedom to choose in all circumstances and especially not with regard to food (or else we'd have piles of kids eating cake for supper), that my children are healthy and certainly well-nourished, and that omnivorous parents are not giving their kids the option of, say, going raw, either. I can turn the question around: If a vegan is "forcing beliefs" on their children when they teach them to respect animals, then isn't a non-vegan "forcing beliefs" on their children when they teach them to exploit animals?

But really, I've learned that people who ask "why" or assert to want to know about the impact of a vegan diet on our kids are not really asking at all. Sure, sure, there exists a small segment of the population with a desire to transition away from a diet of animal protein and toward a more plant-based eating habit, and they may have some legit inquiries. But the overwhelming majority of people who ask about vegan living are really in the "vegans are nuts" camp, trying to elicit debate or make a point about vegetarian diets more generally. Veganism is a rational choice that most people are capable of making. Or not making. The point, however, is that quibbling over vegan versus not rarely creates change on either end of the spectrum.

So, I used to go through life just bringing vegan fare to potlucks, politely turning down non-vegan foods when offered, and generally steering clear of any vegan chatter. At some point, I realized that this was both inconvenient and disingenuous. It made lunch meetings with colleagues a challenge, and it meant leaving many a dinner party with an empty belly. As my kids have gotten older, they've started doing their own explaining with a kind of candor that makes it necessary for me to, at times, elaborate on our diet. Now, I'm good with it. I tell people right away that we are vegan when it is relevant, and I am quick to offer help in menu planning or to bring food if the occasion necessitates it. And when I get those questions? I'm still honest. I still tell the truth. I'm still polite. But I am also aware - aware that the questions are not always as innocuous as they might initially appear, and that there is no objective answer satisfactory to the context of the question.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I woke up the other day to FREEZING Colorado temperatures, looked down at the empty bowl which once held my sticky toffee pudding cake, and thought to myself, "Sweet fancy Moses, this is the off-season!" You know the feeling: You just want to go into hibernation after logging into Training Peaks and seeing the stats from the last month or two...and then, all of a sudden, that one hour recovery spin at an easy heart rate feels like a two and a half hour threshold sufferfest.  This is the time of year when, historically, I loosen up on my training and my diet...and my belt. Sometime around early March, I fly into a panic, start hitting the bike with some serious intention and drop a good seven or eight pounds.
Well, not this year.

I'm firmly committed to keeping myself in good order through the winter months. No more sticky toffee pudding. No more excuses.

So, I hearken back to distance running as a winter staple. Running is awesome because it is 1) cheap, 2) efficient & 3) does not require me to be confined indoors, to the gym. I don't actually like to run. I do it because I really believe it is the best all-over conditioning and because it nicely elevates my heart rate and burns a crap load (actual measurement) of calories very quickly. In a typical week, I get in about 25-30 miles on foot. For my runner friends, that's mere change. For my cyclist buddies, that's a lot of time spent pounding the pavement.

Anyway, I run a least by any matrix that counts. So, I was a little shady on registering for a 5k. On a typical morning, I run at least six or seven miles. The thought of PAYING to run a race a mere three miles in length seemed, well, silly. My friend and sometimes running partner Allison talked me into it: "Short distances rock because all the sudden you realize how FAST you are relative to everyone else." I was dubious, mostly because I am NOT fast. (It's actually the earth's fault that I'm slow. Don't believe me?

But, well, ok.

I registered for the Race for the Cure in Denver, despite having some real issues with Komen. (That's a topic for another day.) Mostly, I chose it for the 1-mile kids race, which meant the tots could come along and I wouldn't have to hear about my dereliction of motherly duties at the finish line.

The plan: I get up Sunday morning early enough to eat my oatmeal and bolus my insulin so that I have little on board when I run, pick up my packet at 6:15, make it to the start line before 7:00 so I don't get screwed with a lousy start position, and prove Allison right. Then, I wander through the expo for an hour before heading to the one-mile start line with Dennis and the kids.

Ever read this?

Sometimes you just have one of those days where you set out to do something and the forces combine to eff up your ess so that you have the worst day imaginable as one thing after another goes wrong. Yesterday was one of those days for me.

For starters, I started feeling sick on Saturday night thanks to my two kids and their snotty little noses. So sick, that I finally hit the Nyquil. Like, a lot of it. So much, that I dozed off without setting my alarm. In my drug-induced Nyquil stupor, I awoke at 6:18. I threw back the covers and did the reasonable thing - I started screaming at Dennis: "Jesus effing Christ, why didn't you set a freaking alarm?! What the f%$ am I supposed to do now?? Get the fricking kids and get in the damn car!!"

Dennis, still half asleep (thank God, because he might not really remember this tirade), suggested that I just go without him and the kids, and they would meet me for the start of the one mile race hours later. So, I grabbed a Warrior Bar that tasted like a vitamin and smelled like cat pee (seriously, those things are God-awful), and ran to the car. Of course, my windows were freaking FROZEN because it was 20 degrees outside and dark as night, so I wasted another ten minutes scraping those.

I was pulling into the parking lot and checking my blood sugar at the same time, all the while focused on the line at packet pick up. I glanced down at my meter, and saw the following string of digits: 379. Fricking cold. Anytime I get even the slightest bit sick, my blood sugar goes through the roof. So, I give myself a couple units to come back down to earth...but, of course, I don't generally like to shoot up before I run. On the one hand, it's only a 5k. On the other hand, I don't really want to go low doing a 5k. So, I made the decision to take a late start time.

Late starts suck because it means running through a sea of slower people and throwing elbows all the way to the front so that I can get a good pace, taking out a couple moms with strollers so that I don't get stuck behind the race walkers. Still, I felt like this was the best that the universe had conspired to offer.

The bright note? I ran into my buddy, Danny, who just got a slot on the United Health Care Pro Cycling Team. He was leading out the races, and he positioned me nicely toward the front. (Thanks, Dan.) I still had a bunch of chicks in pink standing before me, but at least I wasn't behind the stroller women.

I stood there freezing for the next half an hour, until the start. I know, I know. I don't like people who bitch about the weather, either. Generally, I feel like worrying about Mother Nature making things difficult means you need to harden up. It’s not your tempo runs or your weekly mileage or your chia seeds or your stupid toe shoes (I was wearing mine, and yes, Miranda Fort, I love them) that will get you across the finish line. It’s your willingness to do whatever you gotta do. And, you know, it's three miles. Everyone has to deal with the weather on race day...but 20 degrees is frickin' cold.

Once I was running, I did warm up and I ended up having a great race despite all the ridiculousness of the morning. I managed a 8:12 pace, which was surprising because my first split was terrible - approaching nine minutes. (Probably because I wasn't willing to stab the pack of women jogging in one long, solid, horizontal line directly in front of me, making it impossible for me to pass.)

I crossed the finish line, hugged my kids, told my husband I was sorry for the string of bad names I called him earlier in the day. I then called him a whole other string of bad names as I was dashing frantically with he and the kids to the start line of the one mile race. My late start left only minutes between the two races, and we had to make it a good half mile from where we were standing. Dennis was taking his time.  Henry was screaming and crying about the cold the entire way. "Go INSIDE. Inside. It's so cold. I hate this. I hate you. I HATE YOU." Midori was busy watching Andy the Armadillo.

Running with kids is both a chore and an adventure. My son is like some kind of kamikaze ninja on a race course, so trying to keep up with him means yelling a lot of "I'm sorry's" to the unsuspecting people mowed down by my boy, and getting a lot of evil glances in return. My daughter really just wants to run a bit and look around at scenery and chat with other people...many of whom don't want to know about the time her brother decapitated her dolly and filled her belly with water and threw it at the neighbor boy riding his bike. Given that, running with the kids requires a "man-to-man defense" in our family. Even though Dennis has not been medically cleared to run, I told him he had no choice.

I ran with Henry who, true to form, was the third kid across the line. Once he was actually running, he forgot about the cold and was pleased to be faster than everyone else. Midori and Dennis finished a few minutes behind us. My daughter was all smiles as she crossed the line.

In all, it wasn't a bad day. Not the race I had planned, but good enough to earn a nice finish and, as promised, remind me that I am fast. Faster than I remember.