Monday, May 11, 2015

Horseshoe Crabs

The horseshoe crabs are back.

And so am I.

But my disappearance and reappearance, unlike that of the horseshoe crabs which is driven by an annual biological cycle millions of years old, was driven by an unrelentingly bitter cold winter, by spending my days in a lifeless office with no windows to let life shine in, and, probably most of all, by a chaotic workplace with a leader whose priorities shift daily.

All of these things combined left me feeling uninspired.

Yes, we went to Virginia Beach and had a good time. I raised more than $500 for a charity, Preston's March for Energy, that buys customized bikes for kids with special needs. I won my age group in a time that I never dreamed I could run for 5 miles.

Yes, we finished some projects--a new heater and water heater at the beach house, and a rehab of this cute little cart that someone gave us:

But I felt like I had nothing to say about anything that mattered.

Then, a week ago, I was fortunate enough to start a new job, and it changed my whole outlook on life. It's really my old job that's new again--I moved back to the College of Engineering, which I left five years ago to work in another college. Now, I'm back there, and I feel inspired and creative and whole again.

This weekend, when I took Jodie out to the beach at high tide,  thinking she could swim, I was amazed to see thousands of horseshoe crabs at the shoreline. They come every year, but somehow, the cycle continues to amaze me.

And even though I usually spend all my time on our beach walking, this Saturday, I took the time to just sit and enjoy it with my beautiful dog:

Sometimes our beach is really sandy, but this weekend, it was covered with rocks and pebbles as far as I could see:

The beach is always a little different every time I go out there, but sometimes it's more different than others.

Life is kind of like that too, but it's easy to forget that we have the power to change it ourselves if we work hard enough.

Doug, I apologize for bringing home negative energy every night for the past six months. I'm pretty sure the old Diane is finally back.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Running for Special Bikes

Meet Preston.

 He's 16 and has mitochondrial disease, which leaves him with low muscle tone and developmental delays. When he was 13, he received the gift of an adapted bike, which gave him a freedom of movement he had never had before.

His parents were so grateful for the donation that they decided to "pay it forward" by raising money so more kids with special needs could have bikes, and Preston's March for Energy was born.

I met Preston and his parents, Deb and Steve Buenaga, late in 2014, when a group of us at work did a Movement Challenge to raise money for their charity. Our entry fees in the contest added up to enough to buy a bike for another child, which we presented on campus right before Christmas:

At the presentation, I was chatting with Deb about our common interest in running, and I told her that I had just signed up to run the Shamrock 8K in Virgina Beach in March. I was puzzled because I had seen a reference to Preston's March for Energy on the race website, and Virginia Beach is a good four hours away from northern Delaware, where the charity is headquartered.

It turns out that Deb's sister is half of J&A Racing, which is the event coordinator for the Shamrock race weekend.

I decided right then that I wanted to do the 8K as a fundraiser. With my birthday in February, I could direct anyone who would normally give me a gift to donate instead. What does a 63-year-old need anyway?

My goal is to raise $500, and I'm almost there, but of course, more would be better!

So if any of my loyal readers would like to donate, here's my fundraising page.

Preston's March for Energy is truly helping kids' dreams come true.....

And thanks in advance if you decide to donate!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Story of Your Life

My apologies to Five for Fighting for stealing their song title for this post, but it was the first song I heard while I was running on the treadmill this morning and thinking about the life of a very special person who was laid to rest yesterday.

Nicholas Robert Kukich was born on January 8, 1916, and he died on January 25, 2015. He lived for 99 years and 17 days.

He was my kids' grandfather, my ex-husband's father, and my father-in-law for more than 30 years.

But I could never bring myself to call him my "ex-father-in-law."

After Nick Jr. and I divorced and both of us remarried, I stayed in touch with his parents, Rose and Nick Sr., by then better known as "Deda" because that's what his grandkids called him. Doug and I occasionally visited them, especially around the holidays to bring them a tin of Christmas cookies.

At Deda's funeral yesterday, his oldest son, Bob, talked about his parents' 67-year marriage, which can best be described as loving but contentious.  The two of them could--and did--argue about anything. On one of our last visits to see them in their own home several years ago, we were chatting in the kitchen when Deda, at that point about 93 years old, disappeared. Rose immediately got annoyed.

"Damn it," she said, "he's always doing that--people come to visit and he just walks away."

Five minutes later, Deda came up from the basement, bearing a bottle of his homemade wine for us.

No one left Deda's house without a gift--tomatoes and zucchini from his garden, a dog-eared book, a bottle of wine.  Supplies for a building project. Cherries from a tree in his back yard, where Deda fought an annual battle with the birds for the tart fruit that made wonderful pies.

Deda was born in a coal mining town in Ohio and grew up during the Great Depression. With just an eighth-grade education, the military was his ticket out of poverty, and he became a hero in World War II as a member of the OSS.

Deda was a reluctant hero, always believing that his lack of an education disqualified him from being put on a pedestal. But he educated himself, reading and studying philosophy, history, religion.... And, as Bob said at the funeral, there wasn't anything the man couldn't fix.

Deda also never forgot what it meant to be poor. When he and Rose purchased their first house in Delaware in 1957, he was determined to burn the mortgage as quickly as he could. It took five years of working extra shifts and eating baloney sandwiches, but by 1962, they owned the house free and clear. They ended up living there for 55 years.

Shortly after moving to Delaware, Deda noticed that there wasn't much for kids to do in their community. But instead of complaining, he got busy and started a Little League program in Claymont. He organized, raised money, cut grass, coached, and did whatever it took to make the league successful.

Decades later, when my two young athletes started playing sports, Deda and Rose were always there on the sidelines cheering them on. From baseball and soccer to lacrosse and field hockey, they sat in the bleachers, ate hot dogs from the concession stand, and bought gift wrap and candles for fundraisers. Christine even credits Deda with her lifelong love of soccer--she was a reluctant recruit at the age of six, but her interest perked up considerably when Deda started paying her for goals scored.

Christine's current savings account is still a little fatter than it would have been without Deda. When the kids were small, he gave them a dollar each time he saw them. Later in life, when he came into some unexpected government compensation for his war injuries, he gave the kids a raise too--the singles turned into twenties.

Yesterday, the man who took in refugees, gave away tomatoes, cheered for his grandkids, and made candles for his church was laid to rest with a military ceremony. There wasn't a dry eye in the room when the flag from his coffin was carefully folded and handed to his widow.

And my eyes weren't dry this morning, when the second song Pandora Radio served up for me was the late Hawaiian singer Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo╩╗ole's medley of "What a Wonderful World" and "Over the Rainbow."

Rest in peace, Deda.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Old Red

We spent last weekend in Baltimore with our kids and finally got a chance to visit a couple of the salvage yards that are so plentiful in Baltimore.

First, we went to Second Chance, which is absolutely huge and has everything from furniture, paintings, and rugs to hardware, lighting, doors, windows, cabinets, appliances, and church pews. Even the walls are decorated with vintage materials like tin ceiling tiles, fence pickets, and shutters:

Then we moved on to Housewerks, which is smaller but has lots of the rusty, "sweaty" stuff Doug loves, like gears and wheels and industrial carts. This is the yard outside, while the building is small but jammed with more inside:

We noticed a stairway going down but weren't sure whether it was open to customers so Ashleigh asked. The guy said, "Sure, it's a mess, but you can go down."

He was right about the mess:

But there was buried treasure down there. At the top right of the photo above, you can see the side of a tall, narrow, white cabinet. Ashleigh and I both spotted the front at the same time:

I was in love. I've been looking for something more vintage for our kitchen for awhile to replace a newer hutch in our kitchen that we bought when we first moved into our house. I didn't hate it, but it wasn't old....

Alex worked a deal with the guy by "bundling" the cabinet with some marble tiles that he wanted. We came back on Sunday morning to pick it up and wrestled it into our Honda CR-V. I didn't take a picture, but our poor Lab, Jodie, was pretty squished on the hour-long ride home!

The cabinet was sturdy and in good shape but in need of some cleaning and some paint. 

Although the door handles and drawer pulls were legitimately red (Bakelite), what we thought were original red hinges turned out to be embossed metal that had been painted red. We removed the paint by simmering the hardware in water mixed with a few tablespoons of dish soap for about an hour. They went from this:

to this:

We bought some paint to match our kitchen cabinets, and by Monday night, the piece was painted and ready to be installed. But first, I changed my mind about where it would go, so some more furniture rearranging was in order (in addition to moving a bookcase from our extra bedroom to the basement and moving the new kitchen hutch--minus its doors--to the bedroom, where it's now serving as a bookcase).

Here is our freshly painted vintage cabinet in its new home, filled with vintage Pyrex and other kitchen items:

I am so happy to have rescued this little cabinet from the Housewerks basement and brought it back to life for our 1930s kitchen.

And one of the best things about this purchase is that it will always bring back memories of a really fun weekend in Baltimore with the kids.

Finally, a special thanks to Doug, not only for the photos, but also for helping me wrestle furniture and doing "just one more thing" on Monday so that I could get the entire project finished.

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.