Gnarly at nine!

Dear Goose:

Today you are nine. When I was looking for a word to use in the title of this letter, I wanted a word that worked with your age, but I needed a word that describes you. Gnarly works so well. You are gnarly – you’re excellent, wonderful, cool, superb, marvelous… and you have also embraced your gnarly California side. You love the beach, the ocean, the sun, and the pool. You have become the quintessential California girl at heart.

You continued to thrive this year, even though you weren’t always sure that California was the right place for you. You have a great group of friends, a passion for adventure, a love of the sports that drive you, and a desire to keep learning every day. School is still your happy place. Even though you grumble about going some mornings, you are doing so well. I can’t wait to see where your love of math and science takes you.

This year was the year that you got fierce. You are fierce and driven when you run, moving to the front of the pack and leaving your mom in the dust. You are fierce and focussed when you spar, especially with opponents who challenge you. It shows in how your sparring has evolved. It thrills me to see you so devoted to your Karate and your running, to watch you improve with all your hard work and dedication.

As much as you are my mini-me, this year has also shown us how you are so like your dad as well. I love that you think like him, that you see the world like I do, that you share his sense of humour (even the bathroom humour). I think that you have taken the best qualities from each of us, and packaged them up in one dynamic girl.

Happy birthday, my sweet girl! All my love,

A year of Goose
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Crying for good reasons

After I made sure that Woo was going to be OK, I got angry at the guy who it caused his accident, angry at people that just don’t care about those around them, angry at the state of humanity. We are trying to raise our little people to care how they treat other people, to be good people. Incidents like this make it much harder, and sometimes they just make me want to throw in the towel. I didn’t give up, but I didn’t feel great.

Luckily I’m surrounded by good people. After I posted Woo’s picture online, he and I received tons of messages commiseration and support. People shared our upset at what it happened to him, and just wanted to make sure that he was OK. There was not one judgemental comment, even though I was worried there would be some (it is the internet, after all). Many people offered helpful advice about how to get him up and riding again. Reading these messages helped us both.

The day after the accident I encouraged him to go to jujitsu class. He didn’t want to, scared that he would be hurt; that something would happen to make his injuries worse. I assured him that we would talk to his coach to ensure that he didn’t do anything that would make his s injuries worse. Still uncertain, he went. His coach was only concerned with Woo. He was shocked at the injuries to his ear and neck, which were quite swollen and bruised at this point, and was surprised to hear that Woo had been wearing a helmet.  Coach assured Woo that none of the class would do any exercises that involve the head area, so that Woo wouldn’t be singled out. He did warn the class of Woo’s injuries, but used it as an example to commend him for bravely coming to class.

He walked out of the class confidently, no longer afraid of being hurt. When he went back the next day, his coach commented again on how lucky he was that he had not been more severely injured. He then let us know that he had used Woo’s accident as an example in all of his classes, letting all his students (the children and the adults) know just how important bike helmets are to preventing injury.  He went on to say that he’d talked to his children and their friends about it on the way to school that morning, and was going to continue to tell people about Woo’s close call, in the hopes that he could convince more people to use helmets (very few riders use helmets in California, and almost none of the children we see do).

In order to get him riding again, I brought Woo’s bike back for repair to the shop we bought it at. There was quite a bit of damage; both front shocks had broken off, the metal on the front fork had actually cracked, and one of the shifter/brake levers was twisted and cracked.  We figured that they might find more damage we couldn’t see and that this repair would be quite costly.  When I explained to the guys in the shop what it happened they were amazed and happy to hear that Woo was OK, but upset at the driver’s behaviour and shocked at the damage to his bike. Knowing that we had just bought the bike there months earlier, and that Woo was upset that his new bike was so damaged, they told me that they would repair it for only the cost of the parts – they were throwing in their labour and the cost of the tune up that it needed.

Overwhelmed by all the good that has come out of Woo’s accident I started to cry right then. They didn’t quite know what to do, so I let them know they were happy tears, and we all laughed. Each person, each kindness has built me back up.  My faith in humanity has been firmly restored.

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Strangers will make your children cry

It’s been a tough week for my faith in humanity.  It started out at the water park this weekend, when several adults accused three girls of cutting in line for one of the rides.  The girls maintained that they had been in line the entire time, but the two groups of adults kept insisting they’d cut. I assumed that they hadn’t seen the girls, as most of the accusers were behind us, the girls in front.  One group of adults then jumped in front of the girls to get ahead in line, while the others just kept insisting that the girls line up again.  We just let the girls go when it was their turn, but I didn’t realize that they were crying until Woo told me at the end of the ride.  Then I got mad.  These were children, trying to have fun at a WATER PARK, you know, a magical wonderland for children.

Then Monday, Woo came home upset.  He’d been biking home, and a car honked at him when he stopped at a stop sign.  Woo is a very conscientious cyclist.  He has researched the rules of the road, and has been taught by both parents to respect them.  He does, without fail, so I reassured him that he’d done no wrong, and should continue to stop at stop signs.  I’ve also been honked at for stopping at stop signs when I am driving my car, so I knew how puzzling this could be.

This afternoon, I was making an appointment for Goose and missed a call from Woo.  It was followed shortly after by an urgent text from Willy, asking that I “call now!!” I hung up on the doctor and called back.  He reported that Woo had been in an accident, and that he needed to be picked up.  I flew out of the house and drove to the spot on Woo’s route home (the long route that he takes because it is through the neighbourhood and less busy, the route we’d thought would be more safe).

When I arrived, he was standing at the side of the road talking on the phone with his dad.  A neighbour* was standing beside him, keeping him company and keeping him calm.  Woo’s bike was laying on the road, in pieces.  I grabbed him in a hug and he started crying.  He was bleeding and bruised and scared.

Woo explained what happened, as best he could.  He’d been riding on the road, about 1.5m from the curb.  He heard the car come up behind him, and started moving closer to the curb when the driver honked at him, startling him.  He looked at the car to see what the driver wanted and veered off into a brick mailbox. Hard.  He didn’t understand why he’d been honked at, when he was doing nothing wrong.

To the driver of that car, the thing I don’t get, is how do you not stop?  Woo is a clearly a child, in his school uniform, with his backpack on his back. He crashed his bike AS YOU WERE PASSING HIM.  There is no situation where I would ever drive away from a cyclist who had crashed, especially not a child. As much as I am relieved that Woo is mostly OK, I am so angry at this driver. You have to be a special kind of horrible to keep driving. Now I am angry and scared that there are people out there who care so much about where they are going, or what they are doing, that they trample all over children (both literally and figuratively).

*I am so grateful to the neighbour who stayed with Woo while he waited for me.  He was the bright spot in an otherwise terrible event*

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Woo’s bike, in pieces


Some of Woo’s wounds




When the littles first started school in Canada, there was an incident at their school that stayed with me for a long time. It started out as a normal day, save for the fact that Woo was home sick. I took him to the grocery store to pick up some medicine, and on the way home we drove by the school. In front of it were a dozen police cars and several firetrucks. Terrified I drove through our neighbourhood to the emergency pick up location, as I knew Goose was likely there and scared.

As I walked from my car, I passed two moms that I knew from the yard. The look on my face showed my terror, and they reassured me that everything was OK. I quickly found Goose’s class. Her teacher was sitting with three crying children on her lap, trying to calm them all, when she was really not calm herself. I grabbed Goose and headed home. Later that day we learned that a man had entered the school with a “gun”, pulled the fire alarm, and locked himself in the principal’s office. No one was harmed and the gun actually a toy. It seemed that this man really only wanted help for himself, and his was an attempt to access it.

Life slowly returned to normal in the school, but every time I heard sirens in the neighbourhood, my heart rate increased and I thought about the littles. My mind always went to the school, and if the sirens meant that they weren’t safe. I reacted like this for a long long time, and I know other parents from the school did as well.

The week after we moved to California, there was a wildfire. We found out about it because we heard many, many sirens. They went on for 10 to 15 minutes, going past our house to the south. Realizing something was up, I looked out the back windows and saw the smoke over the mountains that are behind us. I didn’t know how big the fire was or how close it was to us but the news that I found on Twitter indicated that it was big and growing fast. I let the littles know about the fire, and I told them they should be prepared to go if we had to. The fire wasn’t very close, but I’ve had friends have had to evacuate from wildfires, and they never got a lot of notice. The fire burned for a couple weeks, and never really threatened our house, but we did have smoky air and ash falling on our house for several days.

After that, anytime we heard a siren in the neighbourhood the littles would ask if I thought that was a car accident or if it was because of the bad drivers here that we were hearing sirens. I thought it was a strange reaction and downplayed the sirens, reminding them that emergency services respond when 911 is called, that sirens don’t always mean that there’s been an accident or someone is been hurt, or that it’s a fire. It wasn’t until we had a repeat of the fire response; many, many sirens, all going through the neighbourhood.  It was another fire, and this time when we could see from our house. As soon as the littles discovered the flames, they packed up everything precious that they own. It wasn’t a bad response given that we could see the fire, but the frantic way they went about it told me that they were really afraid.

That fire was extinguished quickly. It was a grass fire that didn’t get very big, and only destroyed an empty shed. It was just our misfortune that we could see it from our house. Since that fire, they have gone back to asking about the cause of the periodic sirens that we hear, and I have realized that they ask and attribute the sirens to other causes because they need to know that it’s not a fire. I know how the sirens can be triggering for them, and that in time they’ll get over this fear. Until then I’ll continue to reassure them that not all sirens mean emergencies and that not all emergencies are going to affect us. Hopefully it will help them to be a little less afraid.

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Like any good Canadian, I am going to talk about the weather. Not in the climate change / big picture kinda way, although every sane person knows that it is a thing and most certainly not fake news. This is especially relevant with the horrible storms that are destroying lives in the southern US and Caribbean, but we’ll save that for another day.

Up until six years ago, I had lived my entire life in Ottawa. Every year, the summer was hot and humid, the fall somewhere between gloriously sunny and abysmally rainy, the winter cold cold cold and snowy, and the spring nonexistent. I was pretty tolerant of it having never known anything different. Then we moved to India. While the vast majority of India can be very hot and humid in the summers and actually quite cool in the winters, Bangalore, for the year we were there, was perfect every day. It was sunny and warm but also very dry, and the monsoon missed us in 2012 so it actually only rained five times when we were there. The hottest days were hot but they only lasted for about two weeks. We were spoiled, and coming back to Canada was a big adjustment.

Our first year in California has been marked by extremes. Before we moved, Willy told me that it never rains in California, and that the summers are hot, but not too hot. He lied, and I delighted in calling him out on it. This past winter was the rainiest year in forever for California. It rained every day for 10 weeks, wiping out seven years of drought. It was also colder than expected. We had frost on multiple mornings, even though I’ve been told that it might only happened one or two days in the winter. Everyone that I met told me “oh, it’s never like this.”

When the rains ended in early April, California came to life. The wildflowers were amazing, and everything that had been brown became green. It was quite beautiful, but only lasted for about three weeks. Apparently three weeks of hot sunny weather with no rain is all it takes for everything it was green to become brown again.

It hasn’t really rained here since April, and everything shows it. The relentless heat has certainly been a factor. Where we live in South San Jose the high temperature has been at least 35°C since the beginning of June. There was a week before we went to Canada where the temperature hovered around 45° for three or four days. People keep telling me that it is never this hot for this long, but the summers are usually warm but not like this. This whole summer has made me glad that we ended up at the house with a pool, despite the fact that the water right now is almost too hot for swimming.

This past week has been the most extreme yet. Temperatures all over the Bay area have been setting records. The city of San Francisco record of the hottest high temperature ever on Friday. Life in our little valley was uncomfortable and gross. The temperature peaked at 48°C on Saturday, which with something I never thought I’d see. In fact I told the kids that the weather they experienced in June was the hottest they would ever feel. As they delighted in pointing out I was wrong. I guess the California weather has made a liar out of me too.

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School days

The lils very first exposure to formal schooling was at a small primary school in India. Woo entered the equivalent of junior kindergarten, and Goose into a pre-K. It was a very formal setting, especially in contrast to the small, home-based day care they had just left behind in Canada. Woo dove in right away, but Goose struggled. She loved the school, her teachers, the learning, and the structure, but she hated leaving her mama every day. I watched and worried, and it faded in time. Over the course of the year, she continued to hate goodbyes, staying with me for as long as she could, quite often clinging to me. She was a quiet and shy girl who had a great deal of difficulty breaking in with other children.

Things got easier when we returned to Canada. The lils hated the play-based curriculum in Ontario, but they adjusted. We were lucky to have a small school with great teachers and many friends, so they were quickly comfortable. Goose still put up a fight when leaving me in the mornings, which led to a routine where she would hover near me in the yard. She would leave my side to play with friends as long as I was within sight and I gave her the appropriate number of hugs and kisses right before she went into the school.

The fall before we came to California, Goose made great strides towards independence. She would happily run to her friends when we arrived in the schoolyard, shedding her previous hesitation. Then we up and moved. The adjustment in California has been difficult. We assumed that the lils would be in the same school but there was no room for him in her school, and for her in his. Grudgingly, they started last year in different schools. Not what we wanted, not what they wanted.

The first months were rocky at times, the lils not able to break into existing friend groups, dealing with new curriculum and teaching styles, and mostly just missing the comfort of their school at home. Woo came around first, largely because his teacher was excellent and he made a couple of really good friends. He ultimately decided that he wanted to stay at the new school, even though it was far from home and a space had opened up Goose’s school. We were happy and made it work.

Goose’s adjustment took a long time. She had an excellent teacher but she was somewhat afraid of her for the first few months. The other children were nice enough, but it took a really long time for her to find her tribe. School drop-offs were where this was most evident. Goose didn’t want to leave my side until the bell rang, and always looks sad when I left. It wasn’t until the final few weeks of school that she found her people. I knew it was all going to be OK when she came home from school one day talking about the new friends that she ate lunch with. In her own words, they were like her, shy and quiet. I’m not sure anything was ever said in this group during lunches or recess, but she was delighted to have found them. On the second last day of school we arrived in the yard and she freely left my side to go with one of her new friends. I almost cried, because I knew she was happy.

Over the summer she saw some of these new friends, and was delighted to learn that three of them would be in her class this year. We arrived on the first day and she greeted them as excitedly as they greeted her. She went into her new classroom with no hesitation, and didn’t even glance back to make sure I was still there. On the second day she left me in the yard to wander and chat with one of her friends. I let out a small sigh of relief, knowing that it was gonna be OK. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of time.

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The baby book

When Woo was born, I chronicled almost everything he did for the first year of his life. It was very specific at first; his sleep, his diaper changes, his feedings… This was mostly because he was my first and I didn’t know what I was doing, and I wanted to make sure that I knew what I’d done and what he done.  I quickly saw that most of these notes could be transcribed into a “baby book”, that of course he would want when he was older*. Over time I refined what I recorded and actually included milestones that were noteworthy: the teeth, the words, the steps…

I made a conscious decision to stop at his first birthday.  While I continue to record some developments on the photos I was posting online, one year seemed like the appropriate snapshot to pass on in his baby book. When Goose was born, I recorded her milestones for exactly two days.

It was harder the second time. As much as Goose’s transition into our house was smooth, I just didn’t have the time to record EVERYTHING.  I made a halfhearted attempt by scribbling cryptic notes on whatever scraps of paper were on hand, but they were never transferred to her book, and more often than not lost or recycled as grocery lists. I give up entirely after about a month.

This blog, and my desire to chronicle our California adventure have become my second child’s baby book. I really wanted to record our stories, much like I did with our stories from India. It even seemed to start off well, but dropped off quickly.  Right now I have a pile of cryptic notes reminding me of stories to tell, several half written tales, and one or two completed posts that I just never published.

Then we had rats move in, and I realized that there are some stories that need to be told, that we are going to want to remember (and my memory is already failing me). It’s far too late for Goosie’s baby book, but it’s not for our current adventure. I hope it lasts more than two entries this time.

*while I still have the notebook that I used, these never actually made it into a “baby book”.

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Not prepared

In the last decade or so, we have lived in four homes, in three different countries. Every place, every city, every home is different. Each has its own quirks and unique features, and sometimes those come in the form of uninvited guests.  We have had them in every place that we’ve lived. Some of been amazing and added to our lives in ways we never anticipated.

Minerva, the stray who chose us

One of the many Geckos in our house in India.  The lils felt they took care of them.

Two of the foxes that come to our yard in the spring

For the most part the rest have been a giant pain.  We have lived with centipedes, mice, carpenter ants, spider families, and cockroaches. All of these caused me varying degrees of discomfort, but eventually have left me curious and appreciative of how each lives and encroaches on our lives. Each infestation was eventually dealt with, allowing us to resume our “guest” free existence.

When we decide to move to San Jose, I considered the types of pest that we may encounter. I wanted to be prepared. Cockroaches were given; all hot climates have them, but after the giants we faced in Bangalore, I knew that I could handle them.  Same for ants and termites, as we’d dealt with them too.  I even thought we might see a scorpion or two, as they do live in the area. We’ve been lucky so far.  All of the cockroaches have been outside, the ants tiny and easily controlled, and no scorpions yet, though we did see a tarantula!

On Sunday our luck changed. We came home from the market to discover that a plum had been eaten on the kitchen counter. I suspected a gecko or lizard might be the culprit, as I’ve heard that they do this, and have seen gecko poop in the house. I tidied up and didn’t think about it again, until that night, after the lils were in bed. I heard a thump followed by the sound of something rolling in the kitchen and knew a little hadn’t snuck by me, so I sat paralyzed by the questions running through my head.  Had the gecko return for more snack? How big was the gecko, if it was pushing fruit off the counter? Did I want to know?

I gathered my nerve and went into the kitchen to pick up the mangled tomato off the floor. Convincing myself that it was possible it had just rolled out of the bowl and gotten crushed on landing, I made sure all of the other fruit was placed in bowls so that it would not fall out.  Twenty minutes later I heard the same thump and roll sounds, repeated three times in quick succession. Something was up. This time I found three nectarines, each one with a chunk missing. I posted a picture on Facebook stating that I hoped it was a gecko or lizard.

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At this point, a local friend pointed out that fruit rats were known for “sampling” fruit but not eating it, and that our community has a large population of these rats.  I mentally dismissed the suggestion, because I could not accept that there might be a rat in my house.

Time moved slowly and I started to worry that she was right. I sat in the entrance to the kitchen, hypersensitive to any little sound or movement, wanting to see what was eating my fruit. I heard it before I saw it. The noise became a shadow under the counter, climbing the chair. When I came into the light, it was clear we had a rat. No one told me that we might have rats in the house. I was not prepared for this. I held my breath and stood up, not knowing what I was going to do.  In an instant it disappeared back into the dark.

I am terrified of rats. Not in the quaint stand up on a chair and yell “eek” kinda way. In the “I’ve been traumatized by working in a building that had many rats, huge city rats” kinda way.  I kept seeing them alive, and then later discovering their corpses. There were many and it was horrible. It got to the point where I had to go to therapy to stop thinking of them and continue to go in to work. Sunday those feelings came flooding back, and I have spent the past two days on the verge of tears on many occasions, with a horrible pain in my stomach that only goes away during the brief times that we have left the house.

With Willy away, I had to call in professionals. The exterminator came today and left a pile of traps. One rat is dead, and he thinks he’s found where they’re coming in. I hope so this is the end. I need this to be over quickly. I need my house to be free of rats.

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Comedy of errors

One of the areas that I have struggled with during our transition to California life has been around martial arts for the lils.  We were spoiled in Ottawa to have found fantastic Dojos where our lils were treated really well.  They were minutes from our house, located on the same street, and the classes were at the same time.  It was perfect. Replacing perfect is hard.  I have not found anything for Woo, and, after a few false starts, Goose has only recently found her stride and really embraced her new Dojo.

She is happy there, and that is all that really matters. There are some logistical challenges for me, though  It’s much farther from our house, and many of the classes are over our dinner time.  It’s made me become a lot more creative in my meal planning. Sometimes that creativity means that their meals are KD, hastily thrown together sandwiches,  or  take out. Tonight was to be one of those nights where we took out. There is a pizza place that I’ve been wanting to try three doors down from Goose’s Dojo. As we pulled arrived for her class tonight, I called in our order, to be picked up just as her class ended. Miraculously I remembered to pick up the pizzas after her class and we wandered down to the restaurant.  When I told the guy at the counter my name and what I was therefore he said “but she’s already picked up her pizzas!”

I tried to explain that they were my pizzas and I was standing right in front of him waiting for them, but he just said the pizzas had been picked up. There was no effort made to apologize and there is no offer of making new pizzas, so Goose and I walked out and started driving home.  I knew we needed a quick meal and I had nothing in the fridge, so I called Willy and send him to the local Taqueria to pick up some burritos for us. He tried to suggest that I order and wait for new pizzas, but I was steaming mad at this point, and refused.

When Goose and I were moments from our house, my phone rang.  It was the pizza place calling, so I answered to see what they would say. They apologized for selling my dinner to someone else and offered to remake the pizzas at fifty per cent off. I was ticked and wanted none of it. I told them that I was 15 minutes away from them and I wasn’t interested.

We continued home and arrived to the front door locked, as Willy and Woo were still out saving dinner.  I figured that Willy had not locked the patio doors, he never does.  I wandered into the backyard, but sure enough, he was thorough – this time.  By the time I return to the front step, Goose was sitting down reading her book. I grabbed mine and said “Thank goodness we have our books, eh?”  When I open my book, I realized I was two pages from the end.

The boys arrived about 10 minutes later, and we hurried inside to eat. Woo was performing in a school play tonight so time was a bit of an issue. We all dove into our burritos, but quickly noticed that they were bland, that the tortillas were not very fresh, and the toppings not very good.  Realizing that our second dinner choice was actually worse than having our pizzas sold out from under us, we agreed that the Taqueria was officially off the list.  As is the never tried, never will try pizza place.

I think that is the first time we have ever banned two restaurants over one meal.  I hope it’s the last.

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Not convinced

I have never made a secret of the fact that I am not a fan of running. I see no joy in running, and never have. Some running, like running around the bases, has a purpose and brings me great joy, as does running and playing with the lils. Running for the sake of running has always seemed like torture.

My little girl, however, loves to run. She runs for play, she runs to race, she runs to get there faster, and she runs because it is fun for her. Willy and I recognized this early on, and in the last year or so, have tried to convince her that she might enjoy doing some organized running, where she can learn how to run properly. It is clear that this is not something I can teach her.

While she has resisted up until now, I recently signed her up for a program called “Girls on the Run”, without consulting her. Organized out of her school, the program seeks to give girls in her age group both the training that they will need to run a 5K, and some tools to help build their confidence. It is a perfect fit for our running but shy and anxious Goose. Although she was dead set against it at first, we managed to convince her to try.

We are two weeks into the program, and she is so happy. She comes home smiling and hot, but excited to tell us about her progress. She has started running every day at recess, but knows her limits and doesn’t push them. She is eagerly anticipating the 5k that marks the end of the program in May, and can almost run 5K without stopping already. She needs an adult to run that 5K with her and is over the moon excited that that adult is me.

That is correct, I have signed up to run a 5K with her. To ensure that I survive this, I started the couch to 5K program. Friends who have tried it and succeeded rave about it, including those who didn’t like running to begin with. I have some doubts that I can complete the program, but I am determined to finish it for Goose. I want to do this with her, and I want her to know that sometimes doing the things we like* is hard, and it is worth it to push through.

To help me get through this, I convinced Woo to join me in the training. I want some company while I plodded on, and Goose can’t always run with me. He is not a runner, but keen to try. So we run around the block together, and we run/walk and talk and try to get through it. The first day of the week is the hardest, but each subsequent run is a little bit easier. The plan is still daunting to me, and sometimes I am not sure that it will be enough for me to do the race with her.

Last night I read Goose’s training plan, that she had left on the table. It said that one of the keys to her success was running with her family. That gave me the extra push for today. Even if she wasn’t running with me, she could know that I was running. Training so that I might be able to keep up with her.

I got out of bed this AM in the almost light of pre-dawn. Goose isn’t running today, and Woo chose the warmth of his bed. I resisted that temptation and headed out the door. One foot in front of the other, I walked and ran for thirty-one minutes. Today, I successfully completed my run without having to take breaks, and without turning into a tomato from the heat. It was a good run by those standards, but it still wasn’t a pleasant run.

I don’t know that running will ever be enjoyable for me, but I am open to that possibility. When I returned home, I started the day, pausing only for a well-earned slice of breakfast-cake. THAT was enjoyable.

(*please note that the thing I like here is succeeding with Goose, not running. In case I wasn’t clear on that)

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