Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cheering for the Last Finisher

Read a single entry of an individual blogger, and you get a recap of one day, one project, one vacation....

Read a year or two's worth of entries in chronological order, and you get a window into a life.

Several months ago, someone shared a blog called "Runs for Cookies" with me, and even though I have never been significantly overweight, I was immediately drawn in by the voice of Katie, who lost 100 pounds and developed a love for running in the process.

Katie's blog features a weekly Motivational Monday post, with reader-submitted stories about races run and medals won--often by people who never believed they could walk a block, let alone run a marathon.

Today, I followed a link to the blog of one of Katie's Monday successes--another Katie who writes a blog called "Forty, Fit and Fabulous?"

I ended up reading all of this other Katie's entries, just as I had with runsforcookies Katie, and her posts from 2011 to early 2015 tell a story of pain and despair, determination and success, a story that develops not linearly but in the roller-coaster fashion experienced by so many people who battle obesity.

But reading these entries also opened my eyes to a runners' world subculture that I have largely ignored--the back of the pack.

I have always been active but didn't begin running until I was in my late 40s. When I did, I was one of those lucky people who was successful almost immediately. I won my age group in my first 5K and spent the next several years running away from a bad marriage and toward recognition as one of Delaware's top age-group runners.

I'm pretty sure I never deliberately snubbed any of the back-of-the-pack runners, but I also didn't give much thought to the people whose age-group place was 23 out of 24 or 49 out of 50, let alone to that very last person to cross the finish line.

It wasn't until I read Katie #2's blog that I learned some people actually decide whether or not to enter a race based on whether they can cover the distance before the course closes.

There was one time a few years ago that I actually paid attention to the guy finishing last. It was a July 4th 5K that I had talked Doug into walking. I finished running the 3.1 miles and waited for Doug to come across the line about 20 minutes later. It was an out-and-back course, and we had both seen a very obese man walking out as we were coming back. We both wondered whether he would even be able to complete the entire distance, given his weight and the extreme heat and humidity of a Delaware summer, so we got some water and waited at the finish line.

An hour had gone by when we saw him coming down the street. Everyone began to cheer for him as he finished and sat down on the curb to recover.  Someone got him some water, and we all waited to make sure he was OK before we left--waving to him and calling out, "good job."

After reading Katie #2's blog, I realized that I want to do more of that.  It's great to finish in the top 10 or 20 percent of the field, and at 62, I'm pretty proud that I can still do that.

But the people in the bottom 10 or 20 percent have lots to be proud of too--maybe more than I do because they've worked so hard just to get there.

Thanks, Katie and Katie, for helping me see that there's more to the weekend 5K than just the awards for the top finishers. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Commitments Versus Resolutions

I know, I know, I haven't written anything here for two months. I guess I could come up with a good excuse like "I've been too busy living my life to stop and take the time to document it."

And that would be kind of true.

But now it's New Years Day, and it seems like a good day to write a new post.

Which sounds like a New Years resolution....

I haven't made any of those in a long time--not since I stopped being a binge eater who resolved every New Years Day to stop bingeing.

And now, I'm not sure I believe in resolutions any more.

Earlier this week, I read a great column by a young guy who owns a local gym. Instead of resolutions, he said, we should make commitments. Commitments are more positive, and they sound less like we're at war with the darker side of ourselves.

So this year, I'm committed to doing things outside my comfort zone.

I started today.  It's cold here in Delaware, and it would have been pretty easy to just stay in and enjoy the warm house after my early-morning run was done. But today was "First Day, First Hike" at parks across the country, so I decided to brave the cold and take Jodie to a nearby park for a hike this afternoon.

We both had an awesome time. We hiked more than three miles across fields and through the woods, and she got to spend great doggie time off the leash. We even took a short break for a selfie:

Even though yesterday was still 2014, I actually stepped outside my comfort zone then too.  For years, my friend Mark has been bugging me to join him and a bunch of other University people for a loosely organized run on New Years Eve morning. "Wring Out the Old, Ring in the New" has been going for 16 years now, with mostly men. Yesterday, I finally caved in and joined a group of 24, including 11 women, for the 4.67-mile VERY HILLY run.  Will I do it again? I don't know, but at least now I've done it once. Doug joined us to take pictures, including this great group shot before we started (I'm in the middle in aqua and black):

And to be honest, my commitment to stepping outside my comfort zone actually got started in November. Late in October, I got an email from a member of the running club that I used to belong to, inviting me to participate in the USATF National Club Cross-Championship at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on December 13 (12-13-14). My first instinct was to say no. I haven't been running much, and the idea of a cross-country run less than 2 weeks before Christmas didn't hold much appeal. And the practical side of me thought about the entry fees and the time involved just to run a 6K (about 3.7 miles).

But then I thought about some more and realized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete at the national level less than 100 miles from home. So I said yes and started training.

We encountered some logistical challenges when we found out that our friends Martin and Jenn would be holding their annual Christmas party that same night, but we worked them out. I took the club bus to Lehigh, and Martin and Doug came up to cheer me on and bring me home after the race so we could attend the party.

I had two goals--to finish in the top 10 of my age group and to break 30 minutes for the 6K. I finished 9th, with a time of 29:16 and came home with a good feeling and memories that I never would have had if I had just stayed home and run 3.7 miles here.

And Doug got some nice photos to commemorate the day.

Waiting to start:

Trying to keep warm while I'm waiting to start:

And we're off:



And how often do you have the opportunity to wear your age group on your back?

Happy New Year!

Monday, November 3, 2014

It's a Dog's World

We just got back from a fabulous week in Duck, N.C. Hosted by our dear friends Martin and Jenn, this annual vacation has become a wonderful October tradition that includes Jenn's son Steven and his wife Lauren, as well as various other guests each year. We see beautiful sunsets, cook a ton of food, eat too much (including dozens of Duck Donuts), take a lot of pictures, watch World Series games, carve pumpkins, don masks and act silly, and, best of all, laugh a lot.

But this year's trip, while it included all of the usual favorites mentioned above, added a new element--three dogs: Charlie and Cooper, Jack Russell terriers who are just under two years old, and Jodie, our four-year-old yellow Lab. Charlie belongs to Martin and Jenn, and his littermate Cooper belongs to Steve and Lauren.




Initially, we had some reservations about the dynamics of this trio, but they ended up surprising us with how good they were and teaching us some lessons along the way.

Cooper and Charlie get together often when their families exchange pet-sitting services, but Jodie is an "only dog." We worried that she would be overwhelmed by the terriers' energy, but she adored all the attention they gave her (even Cooper's over-zealous romantic moves), and when she had had too much of their wrestling, she simply exerted a heavy paw or flipped them away with her big blocky head. She never growled or got mad. Several times, she took Charlie's entire head in her mouth, but she didn't clamp down.

Lesson: Invite new people into your life and don't make assumptions based on looks or stereotypes about how they'll fit in. And always be gentle.


The dogs not only entertained us in the house but also brought us together in new ways.  Lauren and I took several long walks together with the three dogs, and one day, all six dog owners went to the beach together so we could watch the dogs play and take pictures of them.

The dogs definitely added responsibilities that we wouldn't have had without them, but they also brought us a lot of pleasure:

Lesson: Like other people, dogs complicate our lives, but they also enrich our lives. Without them, we'd be pretty lonely, and they're worth the effort it takes to include them in our lives and get along with them.


We don't let Jodie beg at the table, and we don't feed her from our plates. We kept our rules pretty well in place on vacation, but her kibble was supplemented with some pretty tasty leftovers, including bacon, eggs, and London broil.  "Aunt Jennie" also brought along quite an assortment of treats that were dispensed throughout the day, including special dog sandwich cookies served as dessert:

Lesson: Everyone eats too much on vacation--we just have to be a little more active to burn it off. And there's always next week....


Jodie also got me out to explore places I've never been, even though we've been to OBX almost a dozen times. One morning, we saw this amazing piebald deer in a wooded lot next to a house:

And we passed this cute little house called "Quacker Box":

Without Jodie, I probably would have just run three or four miles on the boardwalk or on the path around the neighborhood across the street from where we were staying.

Lesson: Don't get in a rut. Explore.


At home, Jodie goes for a four-mile walk with either me or Doug every morning. Then she comes home and sleeps for several hours.  At OBX, she got back from her morning walk, and her little boyfriends were waiting for her, although sometimes they managed to play by themselves:

But she didn't have a chance to nap until she got home. On our first day back, she rested all day in front of the fireplace.

Lesson: Sometimes you need another vacation to recover from your vacation.


As we were packing the car and getting ready to leave on Saturday, Jodie finally got tired of following us in and out of the house. She laid down in the driveway with kind of a sad look.

Lesson: Even the best vacations have to come to an end.

Note: I am indebted to Doug Baker and Steve Foley for most of the photos in this post.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Blogging: What's it all About?

The long hiatus between my last two posts left me thinking about what this blog means to me and why I write it.

I started it almost three years ago because Doug and I live in a really cool 1939 Sears kit house, and I wanted to document some of the projects we were doing to "make it ours." But by the time I launched the blog, most of the major projects, including a complete attic renovation, were done. And even though Doug is a professional photographer, we had neglected to take any before or during pictures of the renovation. Yeah, that was dumb....

But six months after I started Tales from a Sears House, we bought a dilapidated beach shack that was the stuff before-and-after dreams are made of. Over the next two years, most of my posts chronicled all of the blood, sweat, and tears we shed as we brought a modified 60-year-old trailer back to life.

But this isn't just a DIY blog. It's kind of a life blog, where I've mourned the loss of an old friend and a 19-year-old cat, celebrated the adoption of a rescued yellow Labrador from Taiwan, and chronicled many of our thrifting and dumpster diving adventures. I've also thrown in some tales of 5Ks, holiday celebrations, friends' retirements, and annual vacations to the Outer Banks with dear friends.

Although I hope people enjoy this blog, I don't have a lot of followers--I don't promote the blog anywhere, and I don't advertise or have any sponsors. My most-popular post ever--my dog-proof cat feeding station--has just under 4,000 page views. Lots of bloggers get that many hits and more in a day.

But that's OK, because I'm really writing it for myself. Looking back at old entries provides me with a window into my own past.

Thinking about this blog also makes me think about what appeals to me in the ones I follow.

Some of them are starting to bore me. I'm kind of tired of seeing chevron patterns on everything, numbers on chairs, and all-white kitchens. How many years will it take before those things are as dated as the golden oak cabinets, wallpaper borders, and ceramic tile countertops of the 1990s?

My three favorite blogs are totally different from each other, but I realized that the common thread for me is that they're all interesting people.

Katie (runsforcookies.com) is a 30-something mom of two boys in Michigan who lost more than 100 pounds after she started running. Katie is honest and inspirational, and I'd love to meet her and go for a run with her (as long as she agreed to limit the distance to four miles or less).

Daniel (Manhattan Nest) is a 20-something guy living with his partner and two rescued dogs in an old house in Kingston, NY. Daniel has an amazing amount of respect for historic structures, and he's intrepid when it come to tackling jobs he's never done before--and being candid about the results. If I lived closer to him, I'd offer to get my hands dirty helping him clean up and paint the second old house he just bought so it wouldn't get demolished.

Rita (This (sorta) Old Life), who is closer to my age (but still younger) is working hard to make a meaningful life with a blended family in a 1970s split-level house in Oregon. Rita and I have become Facebook friends, and I'd love to sit with her over a cup of tea in a little cafe and talk about books or family or just...life.

OK, enough rambling. Since I'm once again short on photos, I'll throw one in (it would have been two if I'd been smart enough to take a before picture).

Here's the story: The two dwarf Alberta spruces that anchored our front steps were half dead, and Doug and I were debating about what to do about them. Although we have lots of skills between the two of us, gardening is not one of them. But I was sick of looking at those two ugly trees, so last weekend, Doug got out his chain saw, and 10 minutes later, they were in the back of his pickup truck ready to go to the green recycling center.

I then made two "shopping trips"--one to Home Depot for a few mums and one to our backyard for a bench, a kid's metal chair, and a metal panel salvaged from a friend's pergola that got destroyed in a storm this summer.

Here's the new look, with Jodie playing "where's Waldo" inside:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Missing in Action

Wow, I just looked at the date of my last post, and it's been almost two months.

What happened?

Well, I guess what it comes down to is that for the past few months, we have been living the dream instead of creating it.

After almost two years of rehabbing our little Kitts cottage, we have finally had the chance to sit back and enjoy it. And share it with friends.

And we've been so busy doing, that we haven't even taken many pictures. In August, our friends Martin and Jenn brought their dogs and spent the afternoon with us. We cooked burgers and had a wonderful picnic on our screened porch and then walked on the beach.

A couple of weeks later, my friend Gilda and her boyfriend Steve came for the day. It was Labor Day weekend, and Steve couldn't believe that there could possibly be a beach in Delaware that wasn't wall-to-wall bodies on the last official summer weekend. But at Kitts, it was business as usual, just us and the gulls and the little shorebirds.

Last Saturday, I had a girls' afternoon with Jenn and another friend, Pam. With no guys there, we ditched the meat and had cheese, crackers, apples, grapes, deviled eggs, potato salad, cookies and pound cake. And of course another walk on the beach, which yielded another float for my ever-growing collection.

But no pictures of any of these outings, which have all been great fun. Doug and I love that others want to share our little jewel with us. We actually gave Gilda and Steve a set of keys so they can come down and enjoy the place by themselves when we're not there.  They already took advantage of it and came when Doug and I were in Annapolis for my son's wedding two weeks ago.

So I apologize for the lack of pix, but I've just been having too much fun to remember to get my phone out and capture all of these moments.

But I'll end with a couple of casual shots from the wedding:

The setting:

Me and Alex a few hours before:

Me and Christine at the wedding:

Me, Christine, and Brian getting the flowers ready for the tables:

Ashleigh and her mom:

The beautiful couple and their "baby," Honey:

Life is good.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Our Kitts Cabana

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, yeah, I stole that lead from Snoopy and others who went before him, but it really WAS dark and stormy last night, so I spent a couple of lazy hours on my iPad randomly cruising around the Internet.

For some reason, something triggered a memory of my days as a kid growing up at the Jersey shore. We actually lived about 10 miles inland from the beach, and we belonged to a club called Tradewinds in Sea Bright.

I decided to google Tradewinds just to see if it was still there, and I ended up learning all kinds of interesting things about not only that club but also the whole phenomenon of beach clubs in Monmouth County.

It turns out that Tradewinds was demolished in 2002 and replaced by some ugly but pricey housing. And I found a blogger who has an amazing collection of old photos from Tradewinds. One of her entries includes this photo taken right before the club closed. I think it was deliberately done in B&W to preserve the old-timey feeling of the place.

But what really captured my attention was the whole concept of beach clubs. The town of Sea Bright got itself in some trouble in the early 2000s when tax revenues were used to replenish the beaches at private clubs.

And that leads to the whole question of who do the beaches belong to?

Many have referred to the wall in the photo below as the Great Wall of Sea Bright. It was built to protect homes on the narrow peninsula from the ocean, but it ended up having a very exclusionary effect making people feel they weren't welcome unless they were part of a private club:

The approach to our beach at Kitts Hummock looks a lot friendlier.

I don't think anyone should be allowed to own beaches--they should belong to all of us.

I also stumbled on the "cabana phenomenon" at these beach clubs. Although we didn't have one at Tradewinds, I remember now that you could rent a cabana for the season, and the blogger I mentioned above has some vintage photos of her family in their cabana.

The Sea Bright beach clubs that haven't been razed to make way for expensive condos still have the cabana option, so just for the heck of it, I clicked on the pricing schedule for one of them.

What an eye-opener.

At one of the more exclusive clubs, seasonal rental of a cabana can run more than $25,000.

People equip them with kitchens and lighting, bathrooms and furniture, and there's quite a social life around these little "houses," with Sunday dinners cooked inside and served up poolside.

People hold on to them for decades, and many of the clubs have four-year waiting lists.

It's a way of life for many of New Jersey's wealthy families, but it's not a way of life I can relate to.

Our little place may be humble, but it's all ours, and it costs us only about $2500 a year to maintain--and that includes water, sewer, cable, electricity, internet, and taxes.

We can go there any time we want and stay as long as we want.

Our furry friends are welcome too, even when their behavior isn't the best:

And dogs are welcome on the beach to run free with us as we enjoy the sand and the water:

Last night's virtual tour back to my childhood at the beach was fun because those times laid the foundation for the beach lover that I am today. I learned to swim in the outdoor saltwater pool at Tradewinds, and that's where I got up the courage to jump off the high dive when I was nine. Just once...

But I'll take our little cabana at Kitts Hummock over a fancy one in Sea Bright any day.

It's a pretty cozy little place: