Run On Thoughts And Other Stuff

Since I mention run on thoughts in my title, I thought I might include a wild-eyed self-portrait taken in the wee hours on July 4th just before leaving to run what’s billed as ‘The largest 10K in the world.’ Truth told there has been a distinct lack of picture taking in my life over the last few months along with my barely here online presence so this photo is one of only a few recent ones I can share with you.

Both shortages are atypical behavior for me and as you might expect there are a series of reasons why I’ve neglected my normal routines. I’ve had to develop some new ones that have tested me in ways I would like to have avoided, but provided some unexpected lessons along the way. I guess I might have to begrudgingly add that some of these lessens have turned out to be ‘gifts’ in my continued journey.

I’ll be saying more over the next few days, but I’m short on time and long on errands today. My friend David has gone off to Italy and left me the kind use of his car while he’s away so I’m running around taking care of a list that seems to grow longer rather than shorter even as I cross things off as completed.

David, along with my well-traveled friend Carla, have both saved me from a no-car existence (another chapter in the story) while I’ve been here, graciously offering their cars for me to drive more than a few times while they been away this summer.

I also wanted to thank you for all of your kind comments and support on my last post. I am over the moon to have this long stay in my other ‘home’ coming to an end. It’s funny how a wait of few weeks can feel like it will take forever to get here, but also like it’s too short a time to get all the last-minute little things done before I go. I’ve been in the US since April 22 and will mark about 3.5 months away from John when I board the plane to return.

Before now, seven weeks had been our longest separation occurring in 2008 during our first year together. Thank goodness for the internet and Skype. At least we’ve been able to talk a few times a day and send each other things through email. I can’t imagine if we’d only had regular mail to depend on to stay connected. I wonder how couples do this over and over when forced to due to jobs and other circumstances. Thankfully mine will soon be at an end.

I’ll be back to share more later … I’ve got to run on now and cross a bit more off my list.

Life Lessons In An After School Art Class

When you’re known for always having a camera in your hand, you sometimes get requests to snap a few photos at different events. When it’s possible, I like to say yes. Last week I spent a few hours at an after school art class for our local primary school. My friend Tina went back to school a few years ago to get a degree in art and offered to share some of what she’s been learning.

She’s talked a bit about teaching when she graduates and volunteered to teach a multi-week program for any child in the school who wanted to attend. Around 22 of the 32 students who attend the primary school took advantage of the opportunity and Tina had a mix of ages to work with from 4-11. Their work will be displayed at a local venue later this week giving the children a chance to be in art show open to the community.

I almost always learn something myself when I photograph events like these and I was reminded of a few simple life lessons while photographing the class and even helping a time or two when needed.

I wanted to share a few of the almost 150 images I snapped last week and I’ve intentionally chosen those that did not show the children’s faces directly. You can click to enlarge any with the exception of the second to the last one as a child’s face is slightly visible. I included that one only so you might see one of Tina while she was teaching and it had the least amount of little faces looking up in it.

Things to remember as we grow older.

Concentration and focus are required when doing your best work.

I took a series of photos of this child and she never looked up from her work. What drew me in was the way she had the tip of her tongue out which is something I have always done when concentrating on a task. I wonder how many of my readers do this too.

Help one another when you see someone struggling.

In this instance, an older girl of about ten or eleven saw a younger boy who said he was four, having trouble putting his book of artwork together. She helped him with his before working on her own and was finishing hers up alone when the others at her table had moved on to something else.

The red or blue test, sometimes having fewer choices makes choosing less stressful.

When I saw the two primary colors that the children could choose from to make their prints, I thought of how much easier a decision can be if the choice is limited to an either “this or that” decision. I may try narrowing the field the next time I get stuck.

Know your limitations and how to ask for help.

Tina could have pulled this off by herself, but the quality of the experience would not have been as nice for her or the children. She had fabulous help from a local artist friend and mom to a boy in the school. (He’s one of my very favorite children to talk with and a total sweetie!)

Controlling the situation when speaking to a large group.

Deliver your message in a calm manner acting as if you expect people will want to hear what you have to say even if the situation feels overwhelming. It’s difficult for people to continue to be rude and disrespectful if you refuse to join them there. Model the behavior you want others to emulate.

Share your gifts with others.

We all have something that makes us special, a gift that is uniquely ours. You may not know what your gift is or you may be someone who discounts their contribution. Take a moment to think of three things that you like about what you do or who you are. Leave it in a comment if you feel brave so it will be here if you ever forget.

Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Remember what it’s like to view the world with fresh eyes and the enthusiasm of a child. If you’ve dreamed of doing something, try it and don’t stop because it isn’t perfect right from the beginning. And if you’re going to use the work of others to dismiss your own, make it a level field.

Go back to their early work when they were new at whatever they do now that you wish you could do as well, and see what their work looked like in the beginning. I’ve done this and it’s a wonderful way to remind ourselves that no one begins anything at an expert level. Stop comparing and get busy. Don’t die without trying to create the life you dream of living.

Working in community has its own gifts.

Once we get past our insecurities over whose work is better, we can enjoy the support that comes in connecting with people who share common interests. We can mentor and be mentored once we find our place. Begin today if you’ve been putting it off, ask someone for directions if you need help or offer some if you sense someone hanging about the edges unsure of which way to go.

Celebrate your achievements.

I took this photograph of Tina last year during the opening night of her college art show. She had several pieces entered and this one was my favorite. It was fun to be there to share the excitement and see her work in a more formal setting than her studio space at home and I’m pleased that she is wrapping up her art class with a similar experience for the children who participated. I’m planning on going and taking a few photos for a little write-up for our parish magazine. I may not be writing for some of the ” big ” magazines I’d like to, but putting it out there for others will likely make a young artist smile.

Day Seven – The Larger Life Lesson In Teaching My Daughter How To Spit

Elizabeth & Miranda - 1993

Life lessons from spitting … if you’re someone who actually reads my blog titles, you’re likely thinking, ” What in the world could she mean by that! ” Let me begin by saying that I am afraid I have not been the most conventional of mothers over the last (almost) 23 years that I’ve had the good fortune to mother my daughter Miranda.

Teaching my six-year old daughter how to spit might look like page from a ” Bad Mothers R Us ” book unless you consider as Paul Harvey used to say,  ” … the rest of the story.”

Joining the army at eighteen opened my eyes to many things. Despite having lived in different states on the east and west coasts of the US while growing up, I was shockingly naive to the differences in cultures and habits in the mix of people I worked and served with in the military community.

As enlisted soldiers we all had our different reasons for swearing to protect and defend, some of which were very personal and not easily shared. I quickly became known for asking what some considered to be too many questions as I was always more interested in the part of the story that people were less likely to want to reveal. I knew my own reasons for joining were more complex than the snappy answer I would toss out when asked what made me want to become a soldier and I wanted to know their real motivation as well.

Adjusting to a world dominated by men and too much testosterone was difficult for me right from the beginning. Being the sixth female in a unit that had only recently begun to allow women a place in its ranks, I found myself challenged on a daily basis by the men in my platoon as to my worthiness and my ability to compete beside them as a soldier. When you are part of a team that might be called on to protect each other in battle, the expectations can become a bit more fiercely defined. Things you would not have considered important can be magnified and your performance evaluated in even the smallest areas.

Although I was good at many things in the military, some of my obvious deficiencies were cracks in the carefully constructed armor I tried to create in order to keep the jokes and disrespectful comments to a minimum. I did not want to be one of the boys, but neither did I want to be considered one of the girls. Being female in the military in the late 70s and early 80s was a burden for most of the women I knew who served then and one way to keep harassment at bay was to stand out only in the best ways.

While I excelled in most areas, my physical readiness was clearly a weakness. Lacking in the ability to run as far or as fast as I should have during our morning PT runs, I was usually at the back of the platoon and frequently would end up by the side of the road with a tubby guy who never could complete a run without falling out of formation either.

After taking a lot of grief for my ” wussiness,” I set a goal to get past the barriers that were mostly in my head when it came to running and within six months went from struggling over morning runs with my unit to completing my first marathon, a race of 26 miles that taught me that I really could do what I had once considered impossible.

What I did not do well during all of my training runs was something that embarrassed me despite my achievements as I piled on the miles leading up to my big race. What special skill did I lack you say … you know what’s coming here don’t you? I was miserable at spitting. I’m sure many of you are thinking … spitting, really Elizabeth!

That said, I need to paint a picture for you. Imagine you are running in formation moving along at a fast clip, you are singing whatever awful cadence is being sung by the folks you are running with and you are hanging tough, not falling to the back, but right there with the men who’ve previously made fun of your weakness. So you’re singing and running and looking strong and suddenly, a bug flies inside your mouth hitting the back of your throat so hard you cough instinctively and move to spit it out.

Having been taught that spitting is nasty and ill-mannered, you are totally lacking in practice so you end up spitting so poorly that you either spit in a way that it slides down your own chin or worse, you spit directly on the guy running next to you.

In one motion you undo months of hard-earned respect in less time then it takes to clear your throat. Suddenly, all the things you were taught that ” ladies do not do ” begins to look more like holes in your education rather than lessons for living in the real world.

In an ideal world, women wouldn’t have to be one of the boys to be valued nor would we need to be perfect ” ladies ” to be respected. In an ideal world we could be ourselves and spit when necessary instead of swallowing that bug or choking back something we really wanted to say.

Growing up as I did set my feet on a less conventional path, but I recognized fairly early the balance needed to live within the rules of polite society and how and when to break those same rules.

In the photograph above you can see a mother and daughter acting silly putting on our best monster faces for the camera. We had just finished our lesson in spitting … a sort of how to, where to, and where not to spit primer that was really more of life lesson than she could have known at six.

I remember explaining to her that spitting was a skill that required a mix of precision, timing, and discretion and thought then as I do now that some of the best things we can teach our children are the lessons that deal with self-care rather than group acceptance. I mean after all if the guy next you wouldn’t swallow the bug, why should you?