3 things from a 5K

 

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Remember a few months ago I wrote about signing myself up for a 5K run … No? Well, here is a reminder. Anyway, I completed the race and figured out a few things along the way.

  1. Cute Shoes Matter.
  2. Having a Buddy Helps.
  3. My Time is Good Enough.

In other words, I wore an old pair of sneakers because I was afraid to buy new ones just before a race. Bad move. I got a blister from my old (supposedly broken in) shoes. They just were not the right ones for this road run. I now have a new pair of adorable shoes that are much more comfortable.

I also convinced a friend to sign up for the run too. It was more fun to have someone to run with, and someone to help you keep a steadier pace. Also great to have a brunch buddy who is also sweaty for after the run!

Last thing, the run was chip-timed. I spent more time than I should admit looking up finish results from years past. Checking finish times for ladies in my age group against my own pace. I should not have done this. Sure you don’t want to sign up for a race that only caters to professional runners if you are a newbie, but this was a Saturday morning charity race. Next time I will worry more about beating my own pace and letting the other numbers go.

Confronting my Writing Consternation

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Yesterday I scooped up my laptop, grabbed a floppy sun hat and headed for the roof deck of my building. This was the day!I was going to start outlining the story that’s been percolating for a few weeks. I found a deck chair in the shade, facing the river, where I kicked off my shoes, opened my laptop, created a new doc and… nothing.

What is my problem? I was an English major in college, so I’m able to string a few words together. I even took creative writing courses! I wrote articles for my school newspaper, so I’m not afraid to have people read the words I’ve written. I also have a job that requires quite a bit of writing. So why is it that when I turn to story or essay writing I choke?

Instead of writing chapter one, I sat on my roof, watching the sky fade grey and contemplating this conundrum. And my conclusions are this … my writer’s block is fear based. Writing an article or drafting a document at work allows me to hide behind form, convention, and facts. The information is prescribed, I just need to make it flow. However, fiction is a wide open space waiting to be cultivated into anything. And that is where the problems starts and also the questions… Do I have a right to tell a story like this? Does this character seem to resemble my friend? Will people assume this is how I actually feel about said issues, when it is really just a character’s perspective? Is the plot too subtle? Too boring? Too poorly written?

Somehow in the last few years I’ve lost my writing nerve. It may take a bit of work, but my writing will turn out pretty boring unless I start taking a few risks.

So here’s hoping I get it back.

 

From Litter to Climate Change ~ We have to Care to Help

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The other day, a balmy Sunday afternoon, I witnessed a child commit a crime. He was about nine years old, walking his bike down the sidewalk, and struggling to open a candy bar. He paused momentarily, outside the shop window where I stood, and succeeded in freeing the chocolate. Then, casually, oh so casually, he dropped the wrapper on the ground and walked away.

I was stunned.

Growing up, littering was akin to larceny in my household. You just did not throw trash on the ground. Ever. However, when it comes to sullying our surroundings, humans are pretty fickle bunch. Even in our increasingly environmentally conscious world, littering is commonplace. While not a glamorous infraction (just ask Arlo Guthrie), it does have serious implications – environmental, aesthetic and budgetary. According to Keep America Beautiful, Inc., cleanup for litter in the United States costs nearly $11.5 billion every year. Just to put that amount in context, a Forbes contributor estimated that Brazil spent $11 billion on World Cup preparations. It costs the equivalent of one World Cup, every year, just to keep American streets free of cigarette butts, plastic bags and soda cans. That is a lot of litter.

Much of litter cleanup costs are born by businesses, but we are increasingly relying on volunteers and litter remediation efforts. Several large cities are advocating changes and new attitudes in the management of litter. These efforts include both public service initiatives to motivate, and harsher penalties to deter. Back in 2009 Philadelphia replaced many of its traditional city trash receptacles with large solar compactor cans. The UnlitterUs campaign for cleaner streets also pushes businesses, schools and individuals to form litter-free zones in area communities. Last year Chicago increased littering penalties, making the infraction worth a $1,500 fine with possible vehicle impoundment. It is enough to give the most hardened litterbug pause.

These clean-up campaigns appear to be making some headway, but a critical question is why we have such a considerable litter problem at all? The National Waste & Recycling Association reports that, while studies show most people considering littering to be wrong, 81% of observed instances of littering are intentional. The organization attributes this to a lack of “personal responsibility” and “belief that someone else will pick up after them.” Clearly when it comes to litter, the adage, you break it you buy it, does not apply.

Perhaps this mentality is indicative of our collective attitude toward other environmental issues. Instead of creating a joint feeling of responsibility for the environment, green issues in our nation cause a political fracas. We debate whether or not effects on the climate are actually real. We debate whether or not people cause them. We start to agree that maybe they are, and maybe we do … but then start to debate the merits of doing anything about it. Where is our feeling of responsibility? According to the EPA, America falls behind only China when it comes to generating carbon emissions. Yet, there has been no clear national stance on the major climate issues facing our country and the world. Until now.

Recently, climate and environmental issues were brought to the national stage like never before, by the White House’s Climate Action Plan. The President’s announcement is important on two fronts. First, it acknowledges America’s contribution to the damage being wrought upon our planet. Second, it recognizes that no one else will deal with our environmental messes. With this plan, the administration is essentially saying that, although America does contribute vastly to the pollution that is littering our planet and wreaking havoc on the climate, we are not going to sit around hoping that someone else will eventually come along to clean things up.

There is much debate about the future environmental, economic and health related consequences of the fledgling plan. The results will depend on how states decide to reach the new goals. A lot of groups are throwing around a lot of statistics, and it may be a while before we know if any of these numbers are valid. What we do know now, however, is that our nation has taken a major step. And the President is not stopping at climate change. This week he announced that protection will be extended to additional thousands of square miles of ocean in the south central Pacific. This expands an area of protection established by President George W. Bush, under the Antiquities Act. Although the area is not currently threatened from an environmental standpoint, this pre-emptive measure shows foresight and care for the planet of tomorrow, not just the convenience of today.

Recent headlines promise a shift in mindset toward environmental issues. It is becoming a national dialogue and, importantly, being worked into current policy and future planning for our country. That nine-year old litterbug has already learned that dropping trash on the street feels like it has zero consequences. When he bikes past the same corner a few days later, the wrapper appears to be gone. But it is still out there somewhere, floating down a creek, or wrapped around stalks of meadow grasses. Until recently it has been too easy to think of planet pollution in the same way. Hopefully, the recent realizations about climate change have awoken our country to this concept, that any pollution we put out into the world has lasting ramifications.

Because who else will clean up after us?

Fish Tacos for Tuesday

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Tuesday is a tricky dinner day.  Since it falls in the awkward beginning-middle of the week, my criteria is usually 1) What is quick? 2) What is easy? 3) What did I buy over the weekend that needs to be used up asap? This week I had vegetables, fish and a spring in my step because the weather has been so deliciously warm.  I was inspired to make something summery and something that my husband would love. (I usually save the more interesting, flavorful exciting complicated dishes for weekends, and do old standbys during the week, but this Tuesday I was up for a new dish).  What do you make with pepper, mango, avocados and fish? Fish Tacos!

This is a great recipe for people who don’t like measuring. In fact, I won’t give you any measurements at all, just estimates, and trust me, it will still turn out great!

Take one Mango and one Avocado and chop into small pieces. Add juice of a Lime, a splash of Olive Oil, dash of Salt, dash of Black Pepper, sprinkle of Red Pepper Flakes.  Dice 1/2 a Red Onion and 1/2 a Red Bell Pepper. Salsa done!

Next take the Fish (mahi mahi, pollock, or tilapia all would work) and cut into 1 inch cubes. Roll in Corn Meal and pan fry in olive oil about 5-7 minutes, until flaky.  You can add some pepper or other spices to the fish for a bit of kick if you like.

Then just slap it all together in a taco shell, with maybe some lettuce for crunch and it will taste great. This will definitely go into my dinner repertoire as a crowd (crowd of two, at least) pleaser! Yay Tuesday!

Coffee Shop Office

What is the best environment for doing work? Do you prefer the staid silence of the library, the beeping-ringing-rushing of an office, the coziness of your own home?  Everyone has an atmosphere that promotes the intersection of their own concentration and creativity.
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For me it’s a coffee shop.  When I focus on a project, I enjoy action around me, but not involving me.  There is music, there are people.  Being at a coffee shop makes me feel like I’m connected to the world, not locked away all day in a room with my computer.  Yet, I can still convert all the music and chatter into background noise while I write or plan or organize.

Obviously I’m not the first person to discover the creative power of the coffee shop.  Visit a cafe on any given day, and it is usually full of readers, writers or students with laptops and books scattered over the table tops. Coffee shops and cafes also have a historical presence as homes of great thinkers and literary scholars.

My love of coffee shops began while living in Edinburgh.  I began to study at a coffee shop, the Elephant House, on the George IV bridge.  The same cafe known for where J.K. Rowling wrote the first books of a certain popular series about british wizards.  Sitting at a table in the back room, overlooking the Edinburgh castle and graveyard below, I can certainly see how she was inspired!

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Here are some of my favorite coffee shops in Philly:

  • Chapterhouse – 9th & Bainbridge
  • L’Aube – 17th & Wallace
  • Ray’s Cafe – 9th & Cherry
  • Cafe Ole – 3rd & Quarry

Strangers on a Train Platform

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It was a smallish  train station, toward the end of the line.  The station ticket booth was locked, a handwritten “closed” sign hung askew on the coffee shop adjacent, and all the lights, save for the one on the platform, were off.  I was waiting on the end of a bench, as close to the overhead illumination as possible, fiddling with my phone. Moments later a woman in her mid-twenties, dressed in a chic wool skirt suit, struggled toward the bench I had claimed, dragging a suitcase and several large handbags.  She plopped the associated purses onto the bench, one unzipped with a laptop peeking out.  I smiled the awkward smile with averted eyes of two strangers all alone in a public place, in the dark.  She had now marked the other end of my bench as her territory, but didn’t sit, and was nervously stepping foot to foot on her compressed kitten heels.  She began looking around at the surrounding dark parking lot, with the exaggerated searching eyes that were supposed to alert me to the fact that she was looking for something, before she approached to ask assistance.  It is a little dance that people do when they need help, but no one knows them, and they want to ask without appearing forward/threatening/bothersome.

Finally, she turned to me and said, “I don’t know you at all, but I need to run to the bank across the street, can you watch my stuff?”  Being asked to watched a stranger’s belongings instills a certain kind of panic. What if something happens to the stuff while I’m watching it? What if she doesn’t come back before the train arrives? What if there is something sinister about her adorable matching luggage? But in the end, she was already running toward the ATM before I could even answer.

Late twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings belong to an odd in-between generation when it comes to trust of the public. We have parents who reminisce about the days when you could leave your house unlocked, your car keys on the driver’s seat of whatever was parked in your driveway and everyone knew everyone on the same street.  However, these are the same parents who taught you about ‘stranger danger’ and never, ever to talk to people you don’t know, no matter how cute their puppy. (Although, much of this advice applied when I was a child.)  It certainly is true that things have changed a great deal, and continue to change, when it comes to trusting people you encounter. There are reasons for this, of course, and the reminders about suspicious activity from train station posters, and radio ads about numbers you can text to report issues, have a very real purpose.

However, in these everyday situations, where you are thrust together with a stranger, how are you to react? Personally I would never leave my belongings with some lady on a bench in the dark, but there are times when the kindness of strangers must be relied upon. We also have to meet strangers every day if we ever want to have friends, date, or make career connections.  There are whole events dedicated to ‘networking’ … just a fancy way to say ‘meeting strangers with similar interests or valuable experiences to share.’ As the world grows more global, our need to interact with strangers will increase, while our view that it is safe to do so apparently decreases. What a strange paradox.

When the fashionable stranger returned from her trek to the bank we boarded the train together, chatting in the last car.  We discovered that we grew up in the same area, we were in the same field of work, and she had attended the same school as my sister. She seemed relieved to learn this information, even though the opportunity to abscond with her belongings was long since passed. Standing at the exit with her cumbersome bags, as the train pulled into her stop, she waved goodbye in a friendly way and that was it.

 

 

5 Years of Technology in 5 Minutes – my first smart phone

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Until a week ago, this was my phone.*

I’ve had this phone for five years, and it doesn’t connect to the internet, it doesn’t have email, it doesn’t do group texts and the photos it takes appear the size of a postage stamp before they become blurry.  But back when I got this phone, before smart phones were everywhere, I liked it.  It did everything I thought a phone needed to do; call and text.

Fast forward half a decade and smart phones are the norm. Call it invention being the mother of necessity, but it began to feel like not having a smart phone was actually having repercussions on my abilities to socialize and work.  Someone would send me an email and I would get it four hours later when I was back at the office.  If I was heading out to a meeting I quickly did a map search of the location so I could find my way there. My friends would make dinner plans by having a lengthy text battle in group message format to ascertain the where’s, the when’s and the who’s.  My strategy for this one was to wait out blank message after blank message until the torrent subsided and I could ask one friend where we were meeting.  It’s like everyone else was Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson, while I was still saying “Hey guys, what’s so wrong with the telegraph?”

So, after months (maybe years) of going month to month on my little Neon, I decided it was probably about time to update myself.  I went to the (insert cell phone carrier name here) store in the mall.  Why not buy online you say?  Well, because it took me until 2014 to get a smart phone - do I seem like the kind of girl who can jump right to the online ordering and registering of my new technology?! Anyways, I went to the store. The salesman was friendly, although he did call his fellow salesmen over to look at my phone, like I was on an episode of Antiques Road Show. “Larry come over here, she has one of the old green neon LG’s. I haven’t seen one of these in ages!”

It is a great jump to go from the technology of five or so years ago, to today.  The greatest leaps for me are the gps and the messaging.  Every app that I download wants to know my location.  If I’m buying shoes online, does the internet really need to know that I’m across town at a coffee shop and not in my apartment?  However, getting places is much easier with a little voice from the passenger seat prompting  “turn left in 900 feet.”  I can check the news whenever I want, my calendar sends updates to my email – these are all new things for me! But as for candy crush … I just don’t get it.

I was not fighting the new phone for any sentimental reason or because I don’t like technology  in general (to the contrary, everything else I have is pretty up to date), it just seemed silly to get rid of a phone that worked.  The problem is that what works in 2009 may not work in 2014, simply because everyone has moved forward in their communication methods.  The new technology becomes part of how we relate to each other. It is not only about being able to group message all my friends a photo of my cat at once.  It’s about communicating in a timely manner.  Years ago, someone sent you a letter and it travelled by mail to your door. Then you read it, wrote a reply and it travelled back to your friend or colleague.  With email and laptops that exchange was collapsed into a few hours. Now, the expected return time on a message or email is much shorter, given that you can receive an email anywhere.  I’m not saying that you have to respond to all communications right away, just that I’m happy I now have the option.

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*I know that having any phone is a privilege that I am afforded because I live in a country with cell reception, I have a good job, and I can afford it.  This post is not about having an expensive phone as a marker of status, it is about older cell phone technology vs. smart phones, and where that places you in a cell phone culture growing ever more accustomed to having a bazillion apps in your pocket at all times.