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.