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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Perfect Day and Paper Flowers


Many people around the world are mourning Lou Reed, whose seminal work with Velvet Underground transformed the way many people played and heard music. He had a huge impact on our culture, largely because he dared to look life differently. In some ways he was perpetually an angry teenager, looking at the world sideways through a cracked lens and spitting out poetic lyrics about the ugliest, darkest parts of human relationships and existence. For that reason, I can’t listen to his music for long but I totally admire his writing, his music, his artistic daring and accomplishments.

Later in life, Reed took up mellow hobbies like tai chi and photography. He lent his song Perfect Day to the BBC and its Children in Need charity, married Laurie Anderson and settled into his role as one of rock’s coolest godfathers. His spunk remained, however, as The Guardian reported back in June after his liver transplant. Today, the tributes are rolling in from around the world across the Internet.

Here in Virginia, the tears are rolling for Gabriella Miller, a little girl with a heart big enough for the whole world. Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at the age of 9, she chose to spend her precious time on earth smashing walnuts and raising awareness about childhood cancers. It wasn’t enough that the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted her three wishes (a trip to Paris, becoming an author and graduating from college). Gabriella wanted other children to have their wishes fulfilled too. She embarked on a campaign to gather letters to Santa, deliver them to Macy’s and thus raise $1 per letter. Her quest succeeded far beyond expectations.

Despite her indomitable spirit, Gabriella did not win her fight against cancer. As she entered hospice, a new campaign began, this time collecting paper flowers. These flowers will be shared at her memorial and then delivered to the families of other children fighting cancer, their caregivers, nurses and doctors, as well as scientists, policy makers and advocates for better cancer treatments and cures. I learned about Gabriella from my Team in Training teammates who plan to contribute flowers. People are sending paper flowers to Leesburg from all over the world (see below for details). Roberto and I had paper flowers at our wedding, so there’s an emotional connection here that I didn’t anticipate.

(November 10 Update: Over 1,000 people attended her memorial and 35,000 paper flowers have been delivered around the region to pharmacies, hospitals and even the National Institutes of Health).

Gabriella and Lou are an odd pair, and they probably don’t have much in common besides leaving this world within hours of each other. Yet their zest for life can inspire us to live fully and transform our world. We don’t all have to be rock stars and inspirational leaders. We just have to recognize the power of paper flowers and a perfect day…



How to Stay Warm Without Your Husband


I was not made for winter. Though I love being from Chicago, I don’t miss the blizzards, subzero temperatures and icy windstorms at all. Northern Virginia is a nice balance for me and my Californian husband. He gets the change of seasons, and I get a winter that is half as long as those of my youth and practically balmy since it only takes two minutes to layer up for a trip outside instead of twenty. I’ve really enjoyed the temperate weather here.

Until now.

20131025-154953.jpgIt’s been a very brisk autumn, and the freeze warnings seem to be arriving extremely early. Apparently Mother Nature has confused October with December and Northern Virginia with Illinois.

Ok, maybe not. It actually snowed already back by my parents, though it was just a dusting of flurries and not quite enough to send the kids home from school early. The Capital Weather Gang has a very beautiful explanation of why we’re facing this widespread cold snap, but intellectual knowledge does not warm my feet.

And tonight, neither does Roberto. He’s far away at a conference which means that fighting the cold is an entirely cuddle-free adventure this weekend. I pretty much count on frequent snuggles to shake me out of my shivers. Let’s hope these strategies help:

  • Turning on a heating pad to warm up the bed
  • Wearing his socks
  • Programming our brand new coffeemaker to make that first cup before I even get out of bed.
  • Wearing his robe
  • Setting the thermostat to 75

Any other ideas??

A Prayer in Every Step


The Capital Crescent Trail near Fletcher’s Cove

Today I walked 6 miles at an average pace of 15:17 and it felt great, especially after the challenges of the past two weeks.  When we started this quest, I was a little overwhelmed. Now I’m completely high (and yes, a little sore).

Here’s a poem inspired by my experience with Team in Training…

A  Prayer in Every Step

Our footsteps are a chorus
on the road to peace

Listen, they say:
We can do this together

Our hearts drum
with anticipation
propelling us forward
when our legs grow weary

Excuses live in our minds
but they can not
carry us home.

Instead, we say a prayer
with every step
join hands and
journey through the night.


Like it? Share it!  And support TeamBacalski! Thanks for all the love…


Wednesday’s Child: A Wild and Crazy Birth Story

Sharon and Tom were among the first people we befriended in Virginia, and they have a wonderful story about the arrival of their third child…

The Day We First Met

Today’s story comes from our friend Sharon at Finding Vanilla Octopus. Sharon is a stay-at-home mom and referee to three babies, all under the age of 3. She tries to cram in blogging time as best she can in the midst of the chaos, for love of writing and the opportunity to share her amateur photography attempts. The story she is sharing with us today is, well, just what the title says: wild and crazy. And, so as not to give away the wildness and craziness of it, we’ll just hop right into it . . .

They say that every pregnancy and birth experience is unique, and I’ve definitely found that to be true, but the birth of my third child, Amelia, differed from the ones before in ways that I could never have predicted or imagined. As with my second, I experienced pre-term contractions throughout the end of…

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Garlic Lime No Tomato Tacos

Ok, actually this recipe is more of a skillet mash but the title sounds good, doesn’t it?

Here’s the super easy ingredient run down:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 pound ground meat, chopped chicken or canned fish
    I can’t wait to try this with salmon or tuna.
  • 3 tablespoons garlic
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 can mostly drained black beans – or pinto beans, or kidney beans. Basically any beans you have in the cupboard.

You will also want to have on hand some cooked rice, tortilla chips, or your favorite taco shells as well as whatever toppings you like.

Seven simple steps:

  1. Warm the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Sauté the onions for three to five minutes.
  3. Add the meat, garlic and lime juice.
  4. Mix meat, onion and spices well.
  5. Cook for five minutes, stirring as needed.
  6. Combine beans with mixture in skillet.
  7. Let simmer until meat is cooked thoroughly and beans are nicely warmed, about five to seven minutes.

20131013-123735.jpgNow you’re ready to serve this delicious mash over rice, in tacos, or with your favorite chips. Pasta might even be a fun variation.

That’s all it takes — some measuring, a little chopping and about fifteen or twenty minutes of cooking.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it can serve as a base for a meal with family members who have differing taste preferences. Just let each person add fun toppings like cheese, salsa, hummus, guacamole or hot sauce and everyone will be happy and well-fed.

Some Days, You Just Take What Comes


This picture perfectly sums up today’s training session. Roberto hit another personal best, but his warm down routine required ice packs on both legs and some time on our foam roller. I got pulled off the trail by our coach because I was nearly doubled over with menstrual cramps. Though I was disappointed not to finish, I’m grateful that she made that call because it was the right and smart thing to do (especially considering that I’m still not fully upright despite copious drugs and liquids). My body seems to be foiling my ambitions and that’s frustrating.

Yet I wouldn’t trade today for anything. This beautiful autumn day is a great day to be alive and count blessings. I’m inspired by the families who join Team in Training in memory of a loved one, and millions of blood cancer survivors who are with us today because of treatments that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society pioneered. There’s still much work to do… Learn more and donate at Team Bacalski.

One Rant and Two Screenshots that Capture the Day


There’s so much to celebrate today — it’s the feast day of the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, it’s the first day of October, a generally lovely month. I had a great day at work and my handsome, smart, amazing husband keeps making me laugh and sending me lovely links to encourage my writerly aspirations.

And yet, there’s a burning anger in my heart.

The two pictures above illustrate the frustration many Americans feel. Some people will be upset about the picture on the left, some will be furious about the picture on the right, and just about everyone is disgusted with the state of politics and discourse our country. The country itself is pretty fine, I must say. We often forget how fortunate we are that we can even have fake filibusters and ridiculous Twitter fights (and flirts) about government funding. Our wonderful republic is so strong that every once in a while we act like a failed state just because we can. It’s great that a few legislators see the hypocrisy of the current situation and generously promise to donate their own salary to charity but most Americans actually need their paychecks, and federal employees can’t feed their kids with an IOU.

As someone who has been denied health insurance on the individual market, I understand the impetus behind the Affordable Care Act. It’s imperfect, but it’s the law. Viable alternatives have not been offered, and many people like certain aspects of it that have already gone into effect. Some people even think the crazy employer-based health care system we have will eventually fade away, just like rotary phones.

A lot of people don’t like the individual mandate because, well, it’s a mandate. We Americans will not be told what to do for any reason that does not involve a free T-shirt. We are just too special, too exceptional, and too proud. Any bossiness from the federal government is an infringement on our individual rights, except of course for those food safety rules, air traffic controllers and those other random essential services that save our lives.

tychay / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

In 2012, Republicans promised to repeal Obamacare if they won. They lost. Yet a number of politicians seem to have a problem with math. Perhaps their public schools were underfunded, or maybe they just believe it’s magic. Because that’s really the only way the 65,899,660 votes that Obama got could possibly be less than Romney’s 60,932,152.

Even in the House, Democrats won over one million more votes than Republicans, who maintained control due to the way districts are drawn. The word “control” might be a little strong for what actually happens in their caucus because no one seems to be able to restrain those members who still think Obamacare can be stopped after 42 failed repeal attempts and one Supreme Court ruling.

Apparently we now have a number of politicians who confuse making headlines with actually governing or counting votes. So the votes the American people do not count, and the votes of their own party also seem to vary depending on the day of the week. It’s easy to understand why so many people don’t believe in our government when the people running it send 800,000 people on furlough because they are afraid of a website.

Seriously. That’s what happened today. The health care exchanges opened, and the moon fell out of the sky. And NASA was closed so nobody can send a rocket to catch it before it crashed into earth, which is how you know that I’m writing this from an alternate universe.

I can joke now, but really, there’s a burning anger in my heart.

There’s a lot to be said about the benefits of checks and balances, but I don’t think this is a shining moment for democracy. The world is watching with confusion and bewilderment while the federal government shuts down even as one of our most famous and beautiful national parks celebrates its birthday. Yosemite must be closed not because it’s a luxury we can’t afford, but because health insurance became available, affordable, and mandatory for everyone.

I’m not usually prone to rant on this blog, but topic for day two of the Days of Deepening Friendship writing retreat is about emotion and that opened the floodgates. I definitely need to take note of the advice to utilize my support system and transition out of emotional intensity. Writing out what I feel helps a lot. I love this paragraph:

But here’s the grand part: emotions will help you tap such deep, wonderful stuff as you’re writing. If you’re going through an ordinary day and experience anger or sadness or bliss or curiosity—you can follow that emotion down through layers of your experience and memory and find all sorts of scenes, stories, and concepts attached to those emotions.

Earlier, Vinita Hampton Wright described the emotional work that artists do as spending time in the “cellar of the soul.” That’s the perfect image for how I feel right now; I know I will eventually write, walk and talk my way upstairs and into the light but for the moment I am down in the basement, sorting through the detritus of American stupidity and exceptionalism, letting this burning anger in my heart feed my thirst for justice.

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