Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Run, Ya Turkey

Pie. I plan to eat a lot of pie this week.

Then maybe I'll start running again. Apparently this 38-year-old body of mine has plateaued with its current yoga/walking regimen. I need to ramp things up if I want to see improvements. Running seems to be the only option.

I actually don't like running very much. While sometimes the actual process of running feels good, light and free, most times it feels labor-intensive. No matter how loose I keep my body and how much I breathe, I am always measuring the distance back to my house. Been doing that since I ran distance for my high school track team. But once I've finished my run, cooled down and had several glasses of water, I feel awesome. And that's why I used to run.

Well, that, and the fact that I was running away from myself.

My ex-husband, then regular ol' husband, used to tease me: "You're running from yourself!" If only he knew how right he was when he said that as I limbered up on the front steps of my old house before taking off for a sprint around the neighborhood. My time running was spent letting my thoughts crash like waves while I pounded pavement, beet-red and sweaty.  I didn't know what to do with myself back then. So much was going on in my head, heart and home, and part of the process of figuring out the next step was simply to run through it--physically, mentally. Until I couldn't run anymore.

And then I really couldn't run anymore. My marriage was over. I was working full-time again. My morning routine of a run before my husband left for work was a thing of the past. Instead, I was feeding the dog and getting two kids and myself ready for the day, driving to daycare and then heading to my dull office job downtown until 5pm. Every day. I was no longer running from myself. I was running the routine. But I was good at it.

A few years later, when Ian and I bought a house together, and I embarked on Marriage #2, I once again had the support I needed to jump out the door for a run in the morning. But what I lacked was the ambition. I didn't feel the need to run. But I took it up again, briefly, when my friend Pat lay dying in the hospital. It was a primal need to run then. Maybe as it was in my first marriage. A primal need to run and run and run until I could accept the reality I would come home to: That people die. Relationships die. But that life goes on.

So in some ways, considering my historic motivations, it's a good thing that I've not felt inclined to run so much in recent years. But I miss it--not the actual running, but that feeling afterward. Runner's high? I don't know. More like a sustained level of mental clarity, especially when I was running at least four times a week. I felt good all over. And I could eat whatever the hell I wanted and not gain a pound.

I'm not expecting the latter from a new running routine. Back then, I had two small children who I shifted from one hip to the other all day, and one who still nursed. There were more reasons than running that helped me stay fit. Extreme stress in my marriage had something to do with it, too. I'll just be happy if I can manage a couple of miles a few times a week and see a few of these unwanted pounds come off. I don't need to lose a lot of weight; for that I'm grateful. But I'd sure like to shed a little bit of this muffin top. That's not going to happen if I maintain the status quo.

So that's the plan. I'm feeling pretty confident that I can sustain a new running routine that is strictly for myself, rather than because I'm afraid my brain will burst into flames if I don't go for a run. Those days are over (right?). So I'll have the pie. (Hell, I make the pie, and it's awesome. So I will absolutely eat the pie.) And I'll raise a glass this Thanksgiving to my life--this wonderful life I've created. A shell of my life cracked open six years ago, and nothing has been the same since. It is a beautiful thing. I have two wonderful, handsome and brilliant sons. A great husband. A wacky, loving family. Amazing friends. A nurturing neighborhood filled with good people. My mother. My siblings. My grandmother. My dogs. My teacher certification program and the new friends I've made there. My two legs that have carried me this far and will carry me through whatever comes next. Life is good. It's never guaranteed. It is way up and way down and way up again. And I'm grateful for every minute of it.

Happy Thanksgiving, all y'all.

And have pity on me when you see me huffing and puffing out there November 25th.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Want Your Email Address

I promise not to abuse it. Or share it. Or stalk you with it.

But soon this page will be private and by invitation only, and I can only invite you to read my blog if I have your email address.

As a soon-to-be-teacher, this privacy step is a must. I can't have my students hopping on my blog and knowing all my business. Ditto for potential employers/districts. To that end, I also just 86'd the few minor friends I had on Facebook. There were only a few of them, and they were all children of friends. With the exception of my still-minor brother, they're all gone. Even if they're not in a district in which I anticipate working, they're gone because they should be gone. Teachers should not be friends with minors on FB. The End.

So if you're still interested in reading this, send me an email (you can do that through this blog thing). No one has to know you read this shlock! Your little secret is between you and me! ;) Or, if I'm already friends with you on FB (and therefore, in real life, since I'm really not friends with anyone on FB who I don't actually know), then send me a message there. I'll need your email address to invite you into my World of Blog.

To the many, many, many FB friends who read my blog and who comment on my blog post links on FB--I thank you. If you want to read more, just let me know. Otherwise, I'll just drivel away on my own. I"m good at that.

Or you can just start reading The Bloggess. She's way better, anyway. I heart her.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Each His Own

DeStefano won. He'll now serve his 10th term as Mayor of New Haven. But yesterday, my boys and I did our part to promote Jeffrey Kerekes at the polls. Although the turnout was strong in favor of Kerekes, eventually it wasn't enough to unseat the greasy DeStefano machine. But early in the morning, we were hopeful.

At 7AM the boys wheeled their red Radio Flyer wagon up the hill to our local voting station. The wagon boasted a Kerekes for Mayor sign. Inside the wagon was a blanket, some Halloween candy, a few drinks, and the kids' DS's. My boys were totally prepared to spend time working for Democracy.

The first half hour or so, the kids sat in the wagon playing Kirby and Super Mario and chowing on Tootsie Rolls (breakfast of champions!). After a while, though, Nolan hopped up to join me. My little shadow. My snuggle buddy. The tough guy who loves to be by mom's side. He asked for some palm cards and handed them to some cranky adults, and he wondered why the current mayor was still the mayor after 18 years.

"That's as long as Aunt Grace has been alive!" he marveled.

Oh honey, I know.

There were a few other Kerekes volunteers working this particular poll, while about 20 yards down the sidewalk a growing throng of men gathered in support of DeStefano. The first one I noticed was a New Haven firefighter--let's call him....Rich--who (along with 19 other firemen) sued the city of New Haven when their lieutenant exams were tossed out by the mayor on the basis that no minorities passed the exam. The suit went all the way up to the Supreme Court, and this guy and his 19 compadres won. The city must now pay them millions. (If you're so inclined, the 20 even have their own website about their case: http://www.newhaven20.com/).

So, to summarize: Twenty firefighters sued the city for millions and won. Now the city has to pay them. And yesterday, some of those 20 were campaigning on behalf of the mayor that they sued.

Stomach turning yet? This is local politics at its best.

Being a local girl, I have several childhood classmates who are now New Haven firefighters. Some of them--guys who don't even live in New Haven--showed up to campaign yesterday. Smile wide, eyelashes batty, I shouted down the sidewalk: "You guys are bringing in reinforcements from East Haven?"

They looked surprised that I said anything. I just kept smiling.

"East Haven. Milford. Wherever. Whatever it takes," Rich jabbed back.

A few minutes later, newly clad in a bright yellow "New Haven Firefighters for DeStefano" t-shirt, Rich walked over to me and put out his hand, introducing himself. I nodded, introduced myself, and then told him I knew exactly who he was. I explained that I once dated one of his "brothers", now deceased. He became very solemn and said he was sorry for my loss. Twice. Then he used that as a springboard to discuss "his" incumbent versus "my" candidate.

"So then you understand how imporant the department is, especially if you have children." The implication was that Kerekes wants to shutter some firehouses (not true), and that DeStefano would never let that happen (don't count on it).

I blinked and stared at him for a few beats before answering him. "I know how important the department is. I've had to call twice for my older son's anaphylaxis."

"Great. So you understand."

"Not great. And I understand that I called 911, not DeStefano."

He nodded and held up a t-shirt, then turned to my boys. "Hey, kids. You guys want a New Haven firefighters shirt?"

Sean chomped away on gum, bleep-blooping his way through Kirby, and didn't even look up. "Nah," he said.

Nolan was standing next to me, Tootsie Pop in his mouth.

"You want a firefirghters shirt?" Rich asked Nolan.

"You mean a 'Firefighters for DeStefano' shirt," I corrected him.

Nolan shook his head no.

Just then, my friend Mike, also a New Haven firefighter, pulled his car up along the sidewalk. His son, who is very close with my boys, was in the backseat. The boys ran to talk to him, while Rich and I took turns talking to Mike. As he and I were chatting about plans to get the boys together that afternoon, I heard Rich asking Nolan again if he wanted a shirt. I turned around, and did my best to sound good-natured when I said, "Don't you go behind my back to offer him that shirt again!"

Then I looked at Nolan and softened. "Seriously, honey, do you want the shirt? If you want the shirt, you can absolutely have it. It doesn't matter who Mommy is voting for. You can take it if you want."

He raised his eyebrows, lollipop firmly in place, and again shook his head no again.

Rich figured he would try one more time. "If you don't take the shirt, I won't let you climb on the firetruck next time I see you."

That did it. The kid was tired of this nonsense. Nolan shrugged, popped the Tootsie Pop out of his mouth with a loud smack, and said, "I've already been on lots of fire trucks."

Rich looked at me. Then he looked back at Nolan.

"Nolan right?"

Nolan nodded, pop back in his mouth.

"How old are you?"

"Seven," he slurped through his lollipop.

Rich introduced himself, shook his hand, and walked away.

Nolan looked up at me and smiled. That smile I know so well. It's a lot like my smile. I know I was beaming it right back at him.

I might be worried about the current state of affairs. But I'm pretty confident the next generation will be able to handle whatever comes its way.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

When I was 10 years old, I wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan. I had just watched the movie The Day After, and I was scared that our world was going to be destroyed in a nuclear war. A few months later, I received a letter from the White House, stamped with the signature of a presidential secretary and assuring me that President Reagan was doing all he could to keep America safe and free. It didn't make me feel any better.

Twenty-eight years later I am writing to you, President Obama, because I am once again scared. I do not feel safe. And the enemy is not staring us down from the other end of an A-bomb. The enemy is right here, in our Corporate American Government.

While I know that I should not equate financial security with emotional security, there is no escaping the fact that, as a parent, I must be financially secure in order to provide for my family. It is not just about me. It is about my two children. It is about their security. I can give them all the love in the world, but what if I can't give them a roof over their heads?

I am gainfully employed, fortunately. As is my husband and my ex-husband. So we have three parents contributing to my children's security. But it's not enough.

I live in New Haven, CT, where the mill rate for the 2010 grand list is 43.9. I pay in excess of $7,000 a year in property taxes, and that doesn't include my car taxes, which amount to more than $1,200 annually for our household. My house is worth $40k less than what I paid for it just three years ago. And I haven't had more than a 25-cent raise at my corporate office manager job in the past four years, because for a while there we had a wage freeze. And then, well, we just had corporate greed. I am not paid enough to fully meet the cost of living for southern Connecticut. Despite two paychecks and a child support check, my husband and I barely squeak by every month. Our bills are paid in full and on time, however. As a result, we have precious little reserves for an emergency. Vacations and special purchases (a new appliance, or a necessary household repair) are usually not an option.

Yet I know we are fortunate that we have this much when compared to the less fortunate in our country and around the world. But this isn't all we have.

We also have foreclosure. While our house has a solid mortgage with no lates, my husband's previous home, a multifamily which he kept with the intention of renting and eventually selling at a profit some day, became an albatross. We had a situation with one tenant who did not pay his share for a while, and boom! It didn't take much to end up on the slippery slope toward foreclosure. In an effort to stave off foreclosure, my husband listed the house for sale and eventually accepted an offer that would put him in a short sale situation. But GMAC, the mortgage company, gave my husband big balls--I can use this term with you, can't I, Mr. President? I mean, we're speaking frankly here--over the short sale, and instead forced the home into foreclosure. After a year the buyers are still hanging on, waiting for the bank to finish its foreclosure proceedings.

At least we hope they're hanging on. They might not be, now that the vacant three-family house in New Haven has been broken into on more than one occasion. Stained-glass windows have been stolen, as have two refrigerators. In fact, someone even removed the "For Sale" sign from the front of the house and put up a bogus "For Rent" sign with a number to call. My husband called the number, and sure enough some guy offered to meet him at the house--his house--and to show him an apartment for rent (and presumably swindle him out of deposit money). Instead, my husband chose to meet one of New Haven's finest at the house, who told him that he had very little recourse as far as pressing charges was concerned. What's more, the cop marveled that more--radiators, piping--hadn't been stolen from the house.

The cop also muttered a lot of profanities about New Haven. I can't blame him, though. It's not like the NHPD has had good leadership in the past decade. Add to that 29 homicides this year, and you've got disillusioned people on every corner of this city, in blue or not.

So tonight, my husband will be putting new, expensive locks on the doors of the foreclosed house, in the hopes of deterring any more break-ins. After all, he is still liable for the property. But the truth is, if people want to break in, they'll break in. When he lived there years ago, his dog was stolen from the back yard and his car was stolen from the driveway. No one is living there now, so it's open season on the place.

Despite the foreclosure, we are still the lucky ones. Many people have lost homes to foreclosure, and they didn't have another home to fall back on like we do. My husband basically lost an investment property, but the damage the situation has done to his credit and our financial security is immense.

What a slap in the face to a good American. My husband worked as a bartender for 13 years, and in all of that time he claimed his earnings and filed taxes, rather than cheat the system. Last year, he was picked to serve on the jury in a notorious murder trial in New Haven. What's more, he was picked to be foreman during the penalty phase, in which the ultimate sentence was death. My husband is a good man. An honest man. A hard worker. As repayment, he gets his balls broken by the bank, and he has his credit ruined.

And yet, I  know we'll be okay. While I don't have much of a future at my current job, at least I have a job. And beyond that, I'm currently enrolled in a teacher certification program with the plan to begin teaching English (7-12) next fall--hopefully in a New Haven high school. Of course, I'll have to take a pay cut when I leave my current job to teach. Despite the fact that my current paycheck is barely enough to make ends meet, first year teachers' paychecks are even less. But I want to teach. I want to make a difference. I want to work with the youth of our city.

With all of our resources, my husband and I still find ourselves struggling. So I am scared, very scared, for the rest of my fellow Americans (and their families) who are less fortunate. And that is why I am writing to you today. What can you do to help us and millions of others who are far worse off than we are?

We are the working poor. We are the 99%, Mr. President.



Friday, November 4, 2011


Last Saturday's drive home from school was horrendous in the snow. I am no a skittish driver. Quite the opposite. Yet I can honestly say it was a white-knuckle ride. I had to drop down to at most 35mph just to make a lane change without fishtailing, because there was so much icy build-up between the lanes. It was tricky, steady going. I kept my eyes wide open, had the Clash's Super Black Market Clash to keep me company, and gave everyone plenty of space to spin out. While most people drove safely, the highway definitely had its share of lunkheads--like the guys in the F250s who went into the ditch on the median because they thought their trucks could defy the ice. Ding dong!

I was happy to get home safely Saturday, jump into my yoga pants, light a fire, and curl up on the couch. But I'm just as happy to head back out on the highway in a couple of hours and trek back up to class. This past week a few things came up that really illustrated just how committed I am to this program and just how much I want to teach for the sake of teaching. Yes, I'll be very happy to make the transition out of this job. But more than anything, I want to teach. The schedule is tiring at times, though, and I'm definitely looking forward to falling back and gaining an hour this weekend.

But it will be dark when I head out for my early evening walks with the dog. The last few weeks, I've enjoyed rounding the corner near my house just in time to hear the Coast Guard bugler sound First Call during Evening Colors. I've been lucky to catch a glimpse of the flag being lowered against the backdrop of a great sunset. (All sunsets are great on our side of town.) Sean and his scout troop were able to participate in an Evening Colors ceremony this past spring, in the rain, and it was a moving experience. And some nights, especially in the summer, the bugle's call can be heard from our front porch just as the sun dips out of view. But seeing it--and hearing it--when I least expect it always gives me goosebumps. No matter how bad our economy is, no matter how jaded fellow New Haveners are, and no matter how bleak the global economic forecasts might be, I'm still very happy to be an American. And eventually, I'll proudly lead the Pledge of Allegience for my homeroom.

Of course, I won't have a choice. By contrast, though, the students can choose whether or not to say it.

I love that about this country, too.