Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mile Marker: Finding Fairy Music

Monotropa Uniflora
Since I was a child, I have retreated to the woods to restore myself.  Yet, in those surroundings, I find it impossible to complete a straight run, as the distractions of numerous sights and sounds require pause and close examination.  A few days ago, an escape to the woods placed me directly in the path of an unusual "ghost plant," also known as "Indian Pipes." However, I'm convinced these names are misnomers.  This enchanting beauty seemed more like the instrument of wood fairies.  I could imagine tiny wings fluttering against the delicate white bells, luring the lilt of soft chimes to mingle high among rustling leaves, where human ears mistake the melody for bird song.

Sometimes, it's better to travel without earbuds.  It's beneficial to avoid that familiar compulsion to finish the distance at a rapid pace.   Stop to look for something splendid, something scarce.  Tip your ears to the breeze.   You just might hear the music of fairies.

Here's to the next mile!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mile Marker: Just One Good Thing

As I slogged along my last mile, the discomfort of a fugitive pebble in my shoe required that I stop to remove it.  I sat on a step near the sidewalk, holding one shoe in my hand, when my eye caught the striking beauty of a single lily swaying in the gentle morning breeze.  Its silky magenta petals burst outward from a brilliant yellow center, and the entire bloom contrasted against underlying textures, woven of muddled earth and sharp green leaves.  Quickly, as the breeze ebbed, even before returning my foot to my shoe, I tried to capture the image.

Equipped only with an inexpensive cell phone camera and my own lack of ability as a photographer, I made an effort to keep the reflections of the morning sun at bay. Admittedly, the resulting image was very bad. I even managed to capture a bit of my own socked foot in the upper right corner.  But, I needed that photograph. It was my one good thing for the day.

Once home, I experimented with a picture-imaging tool, cropping here, tweaking there, and found that the resulting watercolor-type image became appealing enough to serve as the wallpaper on my laptop.  It is a simple reminder: as we plod along our varied paths in life, any distance carries the risk of discovering that a pebble has found its way underfoot. Stop to dislodge it, then pay close attention.  Every painful pebble is accompanied by an opportunity to find just one good thing.  Perhaps that one good thing lies nearby. Perhaps it lies within you.  Tweak it, minimize the imperfections.  Work with it until it makes you smile.

Get moving.  It's time to find just one good thing for today.  Here's to the next mile!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mile Marker: Wardrobe Malfunction

Blame it on the diabetes dragon. Apparently, I slogged around for a couple of years in the midst of a wardrobe malfunction.  I say "apparently," but it wasn't at all apparent to me. I attributed most of the changes in my body to age, stress, and . . . age! I didn't realize that I should have been getting even more exercise, making even better choices about every single bite of food I stuck in my mouth, and extracting blood from my fingers with a needle several times a day. I thought I was being pretty judicious because, after all, I already was battling heart disease. But, my wardrobe was all wrong. I should have had different accessories, with awareness being the most important one.

If you are vaguely like my brother, Tony, or me before our diagnoses, you've never given a fleeting thought to being diabetic. But, did you know that there is a precursor to the disease -- a red flag -- to the development of type 2, called "prediabetes"? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a fact sheet in 2011 that calculates an astounding 30% of the U.S. population over age 20, about 79 million of us, is prediabetic. Just as I was oblivious to this condition, a large portion of those affected have no knowledge of it. That's only a smidgen of the bad news. Statistics reveal that such ignorance about one's prediabetic state is very dangerous.

Prediabetes is a condition in which individuals have blood glucose levels higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Unchecked, this condition can lead you straight down a path to healthcare hell.

In its National Diabetes Prevention Program, the CDC reports, "If you have prediabetes, you are 5 to 15 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people with normal blood glucose (blood sugar) levels."

And, once that prediabetic condition crosses the threshold into diabetes, you'll be much poorer, because medical expenses will DOUBLE. Take a gander at the picture above. It represents about $100 worth of undesirable accessories that probably wouldn't have been necessary, had I known about my prediabeties. To boot, those accessories constantly need to be replenished in an effort to avoid the following complications:
  • heart disease;
  • stroke;
  • nervous system disease;
  • blindness;
  • kidney disease and dialysis;
  • amputation; and
  • twice the risk of death as a non-diabetic of the same age group.
Now, if that isn't enough to throw you at your doctor's feet to beg for a simple diagnostic test, you might want to try the American Diabetes Association's online risk test. "It's fast. It's free. It's easy." Click here and follow the directions -- especially if you get to the part that says, "Talk to your doctor to see if additional testing is needed."

The good news about prediabetes is that with just a couple of new accessories -- awareness and effort -- most people can STOP its progression and avoid walking blindly into the type 2 diabetes brick wall.

My new wardrobe accessories and I are heading out the door to STOP diabetes in the I Run Against Diabetes event. Why are YOU waiting? Here's to the next mile!

P.S. Nick, Missy, AJ, Mark and Avis -- I'm giving you "that look"!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Shoes of Humility and Honor -- Tony

Tony, at the U.S. Naval Academy
"Humility makes great men twice honorable." -- Benjamin Franklin

A mirror is a mysterious and deceptive thing. Bearing in mind Ben Franklin's observation, it would seem that humility prevents great and honorable men from having a clear view of the mirror's display.

Folklore and movies often depict the terrifying consequences of a single glance into a mirror.  Alice was plagued with Jabberwocks, Snow White was stalked by the Wicked Queen, and Frodo was hunted by the Eye of Sauron. Fictitious mirrors can foretell the destruction of individuals or entire societies.  They even have the power to capture the spirits of the departed, impeding their abilities to float along to a more peaceful realm.  But, in reality, mirrors are powerful, too.

Some of us examine every detail of ourselves, right down to individual pores, as we primp and priss, trying to disguise what nature did not perfect. Many of us avoid looking into a mirror at all costs, except for the minimum necessary. In particular, we dislike full-length reflections; that is, those that reveal who is standing in our shoes.

One thing is certain about mirrors. Each of us sees something different, even when we are examining the same image. Take my brother, Tony, for example, who is pictured above as a young man. When I look at his whole reflection, I see shoes occupied by an honorable man, gifted with intelligence, humor and immense courage. A single glance at his [still] enormous brown eyes reveals an uncommon depth of wisdom and compassion. Likely, he is uncomfortable with my description of his attributes, because he does not see the same reflection I see. His humility forbids it.

As with other first-born siblings, Tony always traveled in shoes that compelled him to over-achieve. The eldest of five children, he was a recipient of the Student Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) as a senior in high school. He was appointed to the United States Naval Academy, and later served his country for several years as a Navy Seal in southeast Asia. Yet, he does not boast about these outstanding accomplishments.

Even when considering his experiences as a Seal, Tony minimizes his own remarkable character. He recalls being with his partner for one harrowing covert operation.  Instead of attributing his fortitude in such dire circumstances to his own resolute nature, Tony credits his father.
It was a kind of an epiphany about the wisdom of some things my father had tried to teach me and the way he had tried to prepare me for life.

So, there we were, lying in six-foot high, thick, tough grass. It was raining and we were soaked from above and from the soggy ground beneath. Neither of us had eaten since the night before, we’d been too busy in circumstances that just did not allow a meal break. Neither of us had eaten a hot meal since before we deployed for this particular mission; and that had been more than a week before. Critters (I’m not sure what kind, other than they were probably quite unpleasant) were crawling on and over us. On top of it all, folks that wanted to do us harm (even unto death) were walking within 10 feet of us, looking for us.

At that point, I just had to put my face in the dirt to keep from laughing aloud. I was shaking with suppressed laughter. My partner gently grasped my ankle as if to say, “Are you alright? Please be quiet.” I’m sure he thought the stress had caused me to lose it completely.
Later, when "the bad guys gave up" looking for them, Tony explained his loss of composure to his comrade.
I was remembering something my old man told me. He was a f---ing prophet. He told me one time, when I was whining about some disciplinary action he’d taken, that I was going to be standing in a hole with mud to my ankles. Rain would be running down my back and I would be soaked and cold. I would not have eaten at all for a couple of days and not had any hot food for weeks. People all around would be trying to kill me. My friends would be complaining about how terrible things were. I’d be able to laugh and say, "You ought’a had to live for eighteen years with my old man!”
Ultimately, Tony lost his combat partner, whom he characterized as "the other half of me." The experience defies description.  Adjectives such as "horrid" and "tragic" are inadequate.  Then came the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates affects 30% of Vietnam-era veterans.

However, even someone who survived combat is susceptible to powerful psychological and emotional impacts when diagnosed with a chronic disease. Twenty years ago, at the age of 40, the news of Tony's type II diabetes forever altered the direction he would travel.  Like other newly-diagnosed patients, he had to confront the implications of a serious and frightening illness. As author Tracey Wilson writes in her article entitled The Emotional Impact of Diabetes, "It is totally life changing for those diagnosed. Eating becomes literally a matter of life and death . . . [this] is not just merely staying alive - it's trying to stay alive without ending up blind, on kidney dialysis, with severe nerve damage, or amputation, just to name a few." The National Institutes of Health also report that "Patients with chronic conditions often have to adjust their aspirations, lifestyle, and employment. Many grieve about their predicament before adjusting to it."

It is no surprise, then, that Tony's initial reaction to his diabetes mirrored those described above.  He grieved his previous lifestyle, and was forced to trudge a road littered with uncertainty.
The first and most dramatic thing I remember about being diagnosed as a diabetic was, "Holy crap! I have an incurable disease." It actually made me sit down and think about what that meant to me. I hated it. The very idea made me angry. In fact, it enraged me. I had already been through two years in Southeast Asia as a Navy Seal; been wounded; fought with and pretty much beat down PTSD – and then, there was this.

I have come to know myself well enough to know that kind of rage in me really means that I am afraid . . . I was afraid of what having an incurable disease meant for me in terms of lifestyle change. What long-term impact would it have on my family; my ability to work; my ability to enjoy my life?
In Tony's case, diabetes is thought to be a possible result of long-term exposure to Agent Orange, which contains the toxic chemical dioxin. As if the impact to his own health wasn't enough to bear, Tony also had good reason to agonize over the health of his then-young son. Grave conditions, some of which are known at birth, some of which are unknown until later in life, are among the lengthy list of associated disorders in offspring of veterans who served in the Vietnam theater, all discussed in Betty Mekdeci's article posted on The Vietnam Veterans of America website.

How does Tony explain his ability to stride past the adversity of diabetes and persevere with courage? In true form, he first credits his wife, Joan. "She's helped me alot. I love her so much," he told me once.  Then,  his unfailing wit compells him to add, "You ought’a had to live for eighteen years with my old man!"

It seems to me that Ben Franklin's wisdom is worth repeating. "Humility makes great men twice honorable." When Tony looks into the mirror, he does not see who is standing in his shoes.  But, others do. Certainly, I do. I will be borrowing the shoes of a great man.  I already know I cannot fill them, but, I'll proudly sling his tired, old boots over my shoulder and carry them for the next few miles. They will remind me that when the next step feels too difficult, when the road seems long, it's important to focus on honor and humility. In fact, I'll carry them twice.

Here's to the next mile!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mile Marker: $15.00 Card Giveaway!

NOTE:  All four Amazon gift cards have been claimed!  I hope you'll sign up for the Inaugural Virtual Challenge anyway.  Keep watching for the next giveaway designed to increase awareness of and STOP diabetes!
It's time for the first of several giveaways designed to STOP diabetes! 

One simple way to prevent the onset of type II diabetes is to get more exercise. And, this inaugural "virtual challenge" is a great opportunity to get started with that goal!  All you have to do is go to the site and register to participate. Then run or walk, alone or with a group, anytime between June 21 and June 24, 2013. The cost is $10, plus a $3.25 processing fee, for a total of $13.25.  You'll receive a T-shirt and a medal, along with the satisfaction that comes with reaching a goal.  The registration deadline is growing short, so hurry!

But, how would you also like a chance to receive one of four $15.00 gift cards?  That means you'll be totally reimbursed for the cost of registration, plus $1.75! That's right -- it's so important to me that you get out and WALK to prevent diabetes, I'll pay four people to do it!

 Follow these directions carefully. 
  • Email me at with a brief, positive comment about a person you know who has diabetes (first names only, please).  In return, I'll email you with my fax number and a special identifier to write on your registration receipt.
  • Click here and register via for the Inaugural Virtual Challenge.
  • Print out a copy of your Registration Receipt, write the special identifier on it, and fax it to me.  (Feel free to block out any other identifying information on the receipt.  I just need to know you've registered.)
The first four people who complete the directions will receive a $15.00 gift card via email to spend at!

My diabetes and I already have registered.  What's stopping YOU?

Here's to the next mile!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Mile Marker: On the Road Again

If I can do this, YOU can do this! The American Diabetes Association wants to increase awareness through fitness.  Run, walk, or crawl, as they say, anytime between June 21 through June 24, 2013. Select your own distance -- 5K (3.1 miles), 10K, or 13.1. Go alone or with a group. You have FOUR days to complete your distance.  Get the whole family out for fun and fitness' sake. Just DO it!

This event is pure genius! Failure is not possible, unless you do nothing. Click here and navigate to the "Registration" tab to sign up for a modest fee of $13.25. The fee covers the cost of your entry, netting you a T-shirt and a medal. And, participant bibs can be printed right from the website. When the event is complete, participants simply submit their completion times via the site's Contact page. VoilĂ ! Your medal arrives through the mail.

There are about three weeks left to prepare for this event. Need to increase your mileage or quicken your pace? The time to start is now. I'm registered. I have borrowed an incredible pair of shoes to describe for you soon. But for now, my recent heart attack and I are walking out the door.

What's stopping YOU?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Dragon's Gift

Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth . . . Tame the dragon and the gift is yours. -- Noela Evans

I hate dragons. When I started writing this post, I did not know that 2012 was the Chinese "Year of the Dragon." (You can say THAT again.) Truly, I mean no disrespect to people who believe that dragons are a good thing. But, I hate dragons. The fact is, I've hated dragons since my earliest memory, when the first terrifying encounter happened at about the age of three. I don't know how it found me in my sleep, but I awoke and it was crouching quietly at the foot of the bed, snake-eyes glaring, silvery-green scales reflecting broken rays of moonlight in the dark. Then the darned thing lurched at me, clawing, scraping the skin right off my legs. So it was, with my last post at the end of 2011, when my dragon came back to visit. It stole my pen, it seems, as I found it very difficult to write anything remotely inspiring. But, worse, it managed to steal my shoes.

This dragon was persistent. It stalked me at every turn for over a year, closer to two years, spewing embers on the path beneath my feet. There was constant anxiety related to my tiny little grandson's illness. And, there was guilt, profound guilt, at being located too far from his parents (my son and his wife) to help them in a significant way. Then, my husband underwent an extended hospitalization. We fell on hard times and came treacherously close to losing our home. Also, in November of 2011, my children's father, my first husband of twenty-five years, died suddenly. Aside from my own grief (and yes, people do grieve over former spouses), I felt entirely helpless to comfort my own children as they worked through the immense pain of that tragedy. Eventually, I also began to feel ill, but the source of my discomfort eluded me. And, as often is the case for people, the most miniscule event in comparison to all else was the one that precipitated surrender -- an injury to my left knee. Running, the coping mechanism that works best for me, became impossible when I fell UP a concrete step and popped my knee cap into a place it didn't belong. As I wallowed there on the steps, cradling my painful knee, the dragon snatched the shoes right off my feet.

Months and months passed. That scaly, overgrown lizard situated itself right in front of me, snorting, snickering, blowing its repulsive breath in my face. It teased me, trophying my tattered shoes just out of my reach. Despite rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE), despite muscle strengthening designed to re-align the knee cap, it simply didn't heal well enough to get back on the road. I meandered aimlessly and shoeless, burying myself in what I had decided were well-deserved doses of pity and skepticism. Lurking, laughing, the dragon gloated over my pitiful mindset.

It didn't try to eat me or slay me; no, this dragon was very cunning. Instead, it cast a spell, transforming me into one of its own. Two of my toes started pinching up into sharp points at the center of the nail bed -- like a dragon's claw, it seemed to me. My skin began to turn scaly and coarse. My eyes were so dry, it felt as if the pupils were trying to morph into snake-like vertical slits. I thought I might actually breathe fire from being parched all the time, and I'd gulp water in huge quantities, in futile attempts to quench the heat. I experienced fleeting episodes of pressure in my chest, overwhelming fatigue, tingling in my legs, and a laundry list of other complaints, all too vague in my mind to discuss with my doctor. Besides, how in the world would I ever explain the dragon?

But, on February 10, 2013, my nemesis grew impatient with my gradual transformation. The dragon drew its sword and stabbed at me, right at the middle of my chest. I resisted, kicking and screaming, flailing at it with my fists, poking at those hideous, glowing snake eyes. I beat the nasty thing into retreat, and when I did, I had managed to survive a real-life "widow-maker" of a heart attack, coupled with a new diagnosis of type II diabetes. (The diabetes, it turns out, was a more formidable opponent than any dragon, and the cause of all those dragon-like symptoms.)

Now, when one so regularly attracts a dragon's fury and lives to tell the tale, there is cause for self-examination -- lots of it. Which brings me to the belly of this blog; that is, to tell the stories of ordinary people who face adversity with courage and grace. Battling my dragon has forced me to admit that I have never been guilty of handling adversity with grace -- not once, not even for a second. Although I imagine myself being graceful on those occasions, I rarely seem to pull it off. And, that's exactly why I started this blog in the first place. I hoped to observe the courageous examples of others who achieve what I cannot, to learn from them, to honor them, and to attempt to retrace their footsteps. What I have failed to recognize in this effort is that a number of such people in my life, siblings, children, cousins, friends -- people whom I have known and loved for many years, have shoes that are worth borrowing. The dragon has been tamed for now, and as Noela Evans observed, it left behind a gift. The gift is the recognition that it isn't necessary to search across the globe for extraordinary examples of character and principle. Instead, those examples have been with me all along, marked by the shoe prints of people whom I know and love, whose remarkable stories are worth the telling.

So, as I used to say in the days before the dragon, "Here's to the next mile!" I'll be traveling now, trying out shoes from the dragon's gift. Hmmm...which pair to choose?