Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part Two

Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part Two

When I begin to see warning signs of Driven overload — like the fire and the running sickness — I ignore them.

It’s okay, I told my girls when the smoke alarm first went off last Wednesday. Probably just the home protection system battery going. So, I finished getting dressed and then went downstairs to a house full of smoke and potholders in literal flames on my stovetop.

Two fire trucks did arrive (photo above courtesy of my neighbor Robin) around the same time my mother-in-law did for dinner/babysitting. (Not my best mom moment, though the fire fighters said my roast chicken looked — and smelled — excellent. But, to be clear: I don’t condone setting fires just to get compliments from men in uniform.)

As for the running, I’m training for the Pittsburgh half marathon in two weeks, and I’ve been steadily increasing my mileage by one mile a week. Sunday’s 10-miler was precisely what my training schedule called for. Yet the day was about 20 degrees warmer than the weather I’ve been used to running in, and the sun beat down mercilessly.

I already knew I should aim for a 10-minute mile pace since it was such a long run, but I decided that would take forever, so why not aim for a sprightly 8:40 or 8:50 pace to move things along? (This is pretty fast for me, so you speedy ladies don’t laugh.) At about 8 miles, I was ready to be done; oddly enough, I felt no specific knee, back, or ankle-ache — it was almost more like a dull organ ache.

(Mom, if you’re reading, it was really just my knee. Seriously.)

I am used to running long, and feeling crappy afterward, but when the dull, flu-like ache continued through the rest of the afternoon and evening and the following day, I began to Google things like “overtraining.” While my symptoms don’t fit those of overtraining and I’m starting to feel better, I am scaling way back this week, taking several days totally off and then playing it by ear.

In light of my recent Driven demi-disasters, I’m taking a different tack than usual. Rather than broadly assuming I’m just doing too much in every area of life and trying too hard — and using it as an excuse to eat chocolate and buy expensive coffees and read novels — I’m viewing this is a wake-up-and-smell-the-Discipline call.

I’m going to pray for consistent (i.e., Disciplined) healthy habits: reasonable exercise, smart food and rest choices, adequate time for prayer, bible reading, and reflection.

I’m taking this as a chance to become more Disciplined (which, I’m learning, is as much about the “no,” or “not as much” as it is the “yes”), rather than collapse into a post-Driven heap of self-indulgence that I can only pull myself out of by becoming Driven toward a new goal.

I’m praying for Discipline as a lifestyle, not a punishment; for Driven as the occasional occupational hazard of a recovering perfectionist — the exception, not the norm.

This year, I’m running 13.1 hilly miles through the city of Pittsburgh for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation. My daughter has been battling Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDM) – a rare systemic autoimmune disease that affect 2-3 children per million — since 2012, including more than 16 hospital overnights for IV infusions of steroids and immunoglobulin treatments. I am designating all the funds I raise to the department that treats her — rheumatology — an often underfunded and little-known specialty.

If you’d like to consider sponsoring me for the half-marathon and helping support pediatric rheumatology, you can donate here.










Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part One

Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part One

Within the past week, I have set a small kitchen fire and run 10 miles so hard, I was sick for more than a day afterward.

It’s caused me to look hard at the two D-words that give me the most trouble in life: Driven and Disciplined.

I am Driven, but I am rarely Disciplined.

At first glance, I think of a Driven person as a successful person, a go-getter, competitive — I already like her. She’s like me.

She runs fast. Her house is immaculate. She’s a discerning consumer with impeccable taste. She writes books. She repurposes things in chalk-paint and always has two kinds of wine — red and white — and a dessert every time I go to her house. (These, by the way, are each characteristics of different Type A friends of mine — not a description of one person.)

But, I find the Driven synonym list in Webster’s a bit disconcerting: “besetting, compulsive, impulsive, obsessive.” Driven isn’t all wine and roses.

On the other hand, Disciplined people fascinate me — though we don’t have much in common. I view their rules and routines with a sort of detached, envious amazement. They don’t just train for a temporary goal; they espouse a lifestyle, almost a raison d’être, if you will.

Take my husband — once he decided he was going to be a runner, he has run consistently for the past seven years. He runs two half-marathons a year, and works out (whether running or weights or both) at least three days a week. Always. (With the exception of a week or here or there due to a vacation or getting sick.) I, on the other hand, have run in erratic fits and starts my entire life, ranging from sprinting in high-school track to half-marathons — and everything in between.

You see, I’m Driven for the temporary goal but not Disciplined for the long haul.

This is why I am always sporting a mohawk (short hair + sleep = vertical hair), wearing PJs, and wielding a egg-covered spatula at 8:40 a.m., while my similarly clad five-year-old is watching Leap Frog Letter Factory when we both need to leave for preschool in 5 minutes.

Driven and undisciplined gets me up at 6:40 a.m. to read and journal and pray, and I read and journal and pray — but I think that if a half hour is good, than an hour is better, so I end up waking my girls late, not having time to eat or get dressed.

I start out my day caffeine-jittery, starving and snappy as I try to flat-iron hair, give fashion advice, dole out vitamins — all while getting dressed, washing my face, and attending to my unruly hair.

I sail through at least part of every day underprepared and overfrazzled, trying to fit in just one more thing. I cling to my to-do list like the line to the life-preserver that will keep me from sinking under the sea of family and school obligations. I constantly check on the scrolling list in my head — write-car-rider-notes, renew prescription, pack Caroline’s track bag, mail taxes, prep salad ahead for dinner, email school nurse, make return at TJ Maxx –

but forget the simple but beautiful disciplines of a life well-lived — breathe, turn your face to the sun, smile, pray.


Join me tomorrow for Part Two?


A Poem: Summer Self

I wouldn’t recognize you today,
all blossomy and damp,
light as a gauzy sundress.
You casually crush green
beneath bare, stained toes,
snip herbs for dinner,
bouquet hosta or lilies.

You’ve forgotten me,
hoarding wan daylight,
wiping puddles of salted snow-melt,
brewing bones.
You wouldn’t remember how to use fleece and wool
to staunch the cold
that bleeds through everything.

You smell of sunscreen and clover
as you step into twilight,
your yard aglow,
dewy blades vibrating full
of summer night sound.

(It’s difficult to think of you
without judging your thoughtless naiveté,
scarcely believing autumn was gathering
and winter would fall down hard.)

But now that spring buds in fits and starts,
I find I am a helpless creature,
soft, white, shrunken,
covered still
with layer upon layer of winter armor.

So I recall you now gladly
for what you can teach –
how I might once again
receive warmth,
expand forth,
turn my face grateful to the sun.


Zoo Church

Zoo Church

I shouldn’t be here. It doesn’t seem right. I keep expecting someone to show up and ask me what I’m doing. Or tell me to leave.

Yet, the urge to explore pulls me on. I walk down the hill, under the tunnel, full of anticipation.

How often do you happen upon an empty urban zoo?

The Snow Leopard yawns from a rock high in its enclosure, long, soft tail flicking, huge paws like oversized furry mittens. A few feet further up the path, I see a tiger, its vivid markings all the more striking in the dull light and drab surroundings of a snowless Pittsburgh winter day. Across the way, the winsome Red Panda is curled asleep with its back toward me, and I want nothing more than to stroke its auburn fur.

Photo courtesy Caroline May

Photo courtesy Caroline May

Animal-viewing is often better in the cold, and this day in early February is perfect. It’s cool at mid-forties but not too cold, as I shoulder my heavy bag of books and walk. I’d planned to be sitting on indoor-outdoor carpeting with a dozen or so other parents, swiping at iPhones or shuffling pages while our kids took their classes.

You see, the zoo is closed to the public — only those signed up for prescheduled events/classes can enter — yet the friendly girl at check-in told us parents we can roam.

A few others opt to wander. There’s the guy with the huge telephoto lens clicking away. The couple. The other mom shouldering her bag of books too. And me.

{There are also a handful of zookeepers. And, of course, a veritable menagerie of animals.}

And, I think: We are the ones who’ve chosen to play.

We are the ones who hear the little voice telling us you should not be here, but we go on anyway.

We keep our distance, allowing each other this precious time and space and quiet. Today, this is how we do zoo. No heat. No crowds. No kids. No agenda. Just us and God’s spectacular creation.

The majestic lion pair recline on their favorite rock, but the nearby giraffes, the ostrich, the rhino, and the springboks must be somewhere inside.

I can see the flamingos in a glass enclosure — something like a greenhouse, only for growing tropical salmon-shaded birds, rather than plants.

Photo courtesy Caroline May

Photo courtesy Caroline May

I tentatively try the doors at the Stinky Monkey House {a.k.a., the “Tropical Forest”}; they are open, and the house is relatively odor-free. I ogle Ring-tailed Lemurs, White-faced Sakis, and Black Howler Monkeys. I’m drawn by their intelligent, wizened old-man faces and the fluid, effortless way they navigate the limbs and vines around them.

I stop at the capacious gorilla enclosure and am fascinated by the intelligent face of the large female in repose on a trunk a few feet from the glass. I am held by her unwavering gaze and when her baby ambles around her, I am all the more enthralled.

{If you are wondering whether anyone has ever told me not to stare down a full-grown Western Lowland Gorilla, the answer is No. Further, if you know how wise it is to stare down a gorilla, however benign your intentions, you won’t be surprised by what happens next. She jumps swiftly and directly at me and hits the glass. Hard. I instinctively cover my head and duck. Message received. Heart pounding, I exit.}

Now, I see the construction and wind around it, past the safari overlooks emptied of warm-weather residents, past the bear enclosures all bare — with the exception of the lone black bear, a scruff of fuzz in a huge golden-straw pile.


We missed church today, and I can’t help thinking of this as playful worship, right here, right now. I can’t help feeling this calm, focused, and uncomplicated joy. I can’t help praising Him for these diverse, awe-inspiring, adorable, lethal, colorful, scaled, furred, striped, spotted, and sleek creatures that inhabit the earth with us.

I’m used to worship full of Sunday hymns to sing and daily Scripture passages to read and bedtime prayers to say. But getting into the fresh air of woods or mountain or off-season zoo brings me close to God with a startling and crisp clarity that blows the cobwebs right off my spirituality and hits the heart of me.

magenta jellyfish

I count my blessings in thumbnail-sized jellyfish lit in glowing magenta, slippery sea lions splashing playful, whiskered Amur leopard hisses, and leathery elephant ears large enough to wrap a grown man whole. My body courses with amazement at the myriad colors, textures, and shapes.

I don’t do the worship as much as it does me. I don’t think it; rather, it sings through my bones.

When the class is over, I collect my daughters. My oldest’s eyes are shining. Can we explore?

And, we walk worship all over again.