Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's lively and beautiful in Sophie's World

I've been so busy lately, I don't even know where to start. On Thursday, I emceed an event called Live Red. Promoting women taking care of their hearts. I heard some really interesting facts about how much fat there is in Kentucky Fried Chicken.

This picture with the Cooking Cardiologist taht has the hunter gatherer in the background reminded me of a something Pat Perry said while on Coleen's birthday run.
"My family only eats wild game-- which incidentally, Pat shoots with a bow and arrow. Think about what the animals you eat,eat-- and if it's corn and feed (which is often reconstituted cow by-products--gross) it's not going to be good for you."

My co-emcee Lou was super cool, and told me all about the wonders of being single at 50!

Here's my heart healthy meal.

Saturday morning I emceed a local 5k. The weather was beautiful.

And I was presented with my first ever Sophia Spencer BOBBLE HEAD. I was ecstatic. Sometimes the little things in life are the best.

My gorgeous friend and co-worker Stephanie came along. She shot some video, ran with me and even won a Medal!! At the race, I got to talk to a 75 year old who'd run the Boston Marathon. (which I ran this past April)

He ran the 5k in a respectable at any age time of about 26 minutes and change. But he wanted to talk about politics.

"Hey did you see the debate last night?"
"Oh I didn't. My friend Clare had a friend visiting from Europe. We all sat talking about jazz, installation art, chamber music, prisms, photography and Indian Philosophy. I call it Sophie's World-- and it's beautiful."

" Sounds fascinating-- and you didn't miss much in the debates. You should hold onto those great moments with friends."
"Thanks. I'm fortunate that they happen most days and weekends." More and more, I realize my day-dream world is meshing with real life.

Clare's friend Hayden, tuned up this instrument that a little stick bug was enjoying. We all had such fascinating conversation about different musical processes and programs. Clare made a delicious vegetarian tart, and we drank red wine and my favorite selection of fine cheeses.

Conversation moved from Alexander technique to the unique intricacies of dealing with opera singers. If you think runners are nuts about their training and bodies-- try going out to dinner with your local opera diva.

"Oh excuse me-- do you have Perrier? And could I have a special dressing? Still, I'll have the cheese soup and extra large steak and potatoes so I can keep up my enormous figure." Don't even ask about their accomodation needs.

But the majority of the conversation was in the lightness, brightness and color. Out of the beige world. Clare has just moved out of suburban darkness and drab, into a beautiful house full of color, wood floors, character and inspiration. It was the perfect venue.

Enlightenment comes if you're open to it and courageous enough to pursue it--even if it means breaking the mold of convention. I am blessed with so much creative, artistic beauty in my life.

Oh and-- even with all this going on-- I managed to run 63 miles this week. A new Sophie Record. Most of it at Clinton Lake, where my mind, body and spirit united, along with some memorable phone photo ops. The best pictures are the ones you can only get if you can run at least 10 miles on a rocky rooty trail! Art imitating life. A very, very good life.

On an odd side note: the Salmon Flats salad at In-gre-dient in Lawrence is incredible.


Recently I was referred to as an "Angel." Sounds nice huh? It was. However, I don't think the author of the comment meant one of the frilly Halloween or Christmas Angels. And not the dark angel either. Defintely not dark.

It's not the first time I've been called this. My friend Emma sent me a passionate, heartfelt card a few years ago. We were great friends in State College, PA. She's glamorous, tall, insightful, and as is often the case with women of those qualities, beaten down and misunderstood. But not by me. Her card read "you are an angle (she misspelled it-- I hope I'm an "acute" one instead of "obtuse.") sent into my life to enrich it.

It was such an honor to watch her grow, think and learn to love. That angel Sophia was a sweeter guardian type. That was what was needed. A warm hand, a kind thought, experience of being older. Encouragement. Validation, and unconditional love. Even when I wasn't confused and knew what would happen, I let her stumble and fall and find her own way. When she reached out her hand, mine was always there. Emma, you are my sister.

The new Sophia angel is a warrior. Because that is what is needed. Fierce in love. Courageous. Focussed. Powerful and strong. Enough for 2. I have had to practice fighting, endure countless battles of emotional tests. And each time something comes up, it's easier and easier. This angel learns. She wasn't strong enough before. But that has changed.

I will watch the stumbles, and the falls of confusion. Over and over. But my light is bright. And these arms are oh so strong. All my enegy harnessed and ready.

I will drag you out of the beige, colorless darkness. But not until you ask.

This is what the author of the comment meant.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


My brother is visiting again. This time so we can play some concerts with my mom. One raised 5 thousand dollars for the Topeka Symphony-- the other raised the bar for performances for local children.

The time with my family has really been great-- especially compared to the last visit when I was all sad and grumpy. Enough was enough. I duct taped up my shattered heart-- slapped a little mud on for texture and viola!! Family fun time.

Well sort of. My mom's not too much into fun, although she did go for her second ever pedicure. The first was on the prior visit.

I made sure I did a long run (15 miles) with the MudBabes on Friday. We billed it as the "nooner/hookie" run. Lots of fun. Part of the fun was a slide into mile 9. Another home run, earning a score of 10 from Superhero mudbabe Debbie Webster (Webbie) . Dirt from my shins to my chin with no major injury. There was even dirt in my nostrils. And my mouth.
"Hey -- take my picture-- this is awesome!! Look dirty mud everywhere!"
Ample chatting is part of the MudBabe movement. Since I was mid-sentence when I fell, I took in quite a bit. Oh that's a leaf she's pointing at.

Still, Mizuno Mudbabe Kelley Johnson joined us and said my trail running is vastly improved. As my brother would say: "Outside validation is sooo important."

My arms were pretty sore on Saturday. Actually everthing was sore, including an odd spot at the small of my back. Strange since I fell forward into the mud. Fortunately it didn't affect my violin playing too much. In fact, it might have made it a little better.

I was really anxious about the Sunday concert. I haven't performed a solo concert like this in 12 years. My brother was there to play some duets with me-- but for one selection it was me and the piano (my mom). The duct taped heart shined through. I played with power, heart, soul and lots of passion.
I drove my mom home after the concert.
" You sure didn't sound like you haven't been practicing regularly for 12 years."
There were a few seeds in the musical lemonade, but like a couple rocks and roots on a trail, it just added flavor. After the concert I popped over to the station to anchor. A 2 sport day for the mind. Phew. I felt stretched.

The real star is my brother. He played like a classical rock star. Power, accuracy, intelligence and color. He peppered the intimate performance in a Symphony Patron's house with humor as he introduced our selections, and played with true inspiration. I'll admit, as I was turning pages for my mom, I was so proud I teared up. He was playing his own composition. It was hard-- and incredible.

"This world class composer is my brother."

The same brother who patched up my house.

His friend Summer Jones came in from San Diego for the concert. She added some zip to Casa Spencer where she stayed on the fine accomodations of my spare room and an air mattress. Summer got a math degree in between stints as a dancer with the Rockettes and now works as a choreographer in San Diego.

"Philip said you played wonderfully."
Wow. My super talented brother told Summer I played well. He told me too, but I wasn't sure if it was real until I found out he told someone else.

Shucks. She's sad in this picture, because the trip was too short. Don't worry Summer.. you'll be seeing me again sooon.

Not much time to breathe though-- concert number two is looming. Taking kids to a new level is time and talent consuming. And as multi-talented as I am, I needed a lot of help to make my brother's vision come through on this one. I got us into doing the concert and the payback came from Philip when he told me I was going to have to sing. While I'm pretty confident about my narration skils-- singing is another world.. but I was up for the job.

He wrote a song with piano trio accompanyment to a poem called "The Perfect Pig." The pig doesn't like itself, so the other animals offer up their best features. Since it was written in 2004, the pig doesn't get a tube of lipstick.

Philip wanted an actor or dancer to dress as a pig-- and then put on other costumes to represent the other animals on top. Favor number 1. My friend Clare gets her friend Ric Averill who is uber theater/music/children's everything guru, to pony up some costumes. Philip did the rest.

We need a page turner. A local retired heart surgeon who also plays the piano helps with that, and recorded the show, and is let my mom practice on his outstanding Steinway all week. Incidentally, he also hosted concert number one. Thank you Dr. Paul Kindling.

Meanwhile, I've taken my mom away from her job teaching French and piano at Luther College for a week to accompany us. Thank you mom.

Oh and the actor. Yikes-- who to ask. I start calling around. No luck. No luck anywhere.
Then Craig Gold our morning meteorologist shows up to pick up some tickets to the Royals, I got from an old friend in KC. He's perfect. And says he'll do it!

Nancy at the library has helped with everything along the way. Thanks Nancy.
I have a video camera, so I'm all set there-- but I could use some editing. I'll tackle that later--

Finally we needed an audience. Thanks to my neighbors on Pembroke Lane, my trail running buddies and all the folks who saw the concert promoted on KTKA.

It sure seemed like everyone enjoyed our musical offering.. Craig was adorable as the pig-- prancing around in an assortment of costumes-- and afterwards I let the kids try on the pig/fish/stag/ elephant etc parts. Now that was cute.

Most of all, I loved to see their faces-- entranced at watching the violin's bow-- or seeing a new picture that went with the animal sounds the violin represented. Grow little keepers of new experiences. Grow.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reporting on Flight 93.. thoughts

I was packing to head out to my first “real” job in news in Johnstown, PA. I’d worked for 2 years as an anchor in West Virginia, but the station didn’t have live shots and was very small. In fact, we still used a paper teleprompter. This was a job with a real newsroom and live capabilities. I was excited to be in the field working as a reporter. Little did I know what field it would be.

While at the hairdresser in my hometown of Decorah, IA, I heard the news of the crash on the radio. But without pictures it was hard to understand what was going on.

By the time I came home, what had happened was all too clear. Two towers turned to rubble. My father was on the phone with my brother who lives in New York. He’d called to say he was ok.

An hour and a half later a plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I’d never heard of the town. A map on television it was 24 miles from Johnstown, PA. My station, WJAC, was first on the scene.

When I reported for duty the next Monday, the small newsroom of reporters, photographers and producers were exhausted. 3 reporters had covered the crash non-stop for 6 days and they desperately needed sleep.

“Sophia, we’re going to work the crap out of you for the next week or so. We’ve got to give the others a break.”

I put on a pair of comfortable shoes, pinned a flag on my lapel and jumped right in.

Live shot at noon? Yes.

Live shot at 5? Yes.

Different story at 5:30? Yes.

More at 6? Yes.

Overtime until 11? Yes.

I was honored to say, “I’m live where the offensive for the war on terror began—as 33 passengers and 7 crew members on flight 93 stormed the cockpit where terrorists were trying to take-over the plane.”

Keep in mind the plane disintegrated, along with everthing in it. For months they found stray parts in trees and bushes across the lush Somerset County countryside.

This work was hard. It was emotional.

“Today the Coroner tells me, he’s identified four

passengers by dental remains.”

Those were the first ID’s of 40. The coroner worked tirelessly to make those ID’s and give the families some peace. Each family took what was found and had their funerals.

But the site where the plane crashed is like a sacred burial ground for the heroes. The people who live in Somerset county embraced those families, and are good stewards of the memorial. In all the sadness there is about 9-11, this is the one place where there is the most healing. Because the heroes were

fighters. You will never see a protest at near the hallowed ground of Flight 93.

Instead, you will see little homemade flags and angels.

Next time you’re on an airplane, look around you. I often think about those 33 passengers when I’m sitting on a plane. Who would you be? I hope I’d be a hero—or at least sit by one.

For some twist of fate the passengers on Flight 93 were an incredible bunch of people. I was fortunate to meet some of their surviving relatives.

Richard Guadagno was a longtime employee of the Fish and Wildlife Service. An environmentalist with a generous heart. Look over at his picture. Don't you wish you'd gotten to know him? I do. I met his parents at the first meeting about a memorial. They were warm and sweet and deeply hurt, but still shared their story with me. They told me what a charming and caring person their son was. They told me that their daughter went to clean out Richard’s apartment “just in case,” there were things they shouldn’t see. She called later to tell them there wasn’t anything they couldn’t have seen. They miss him so much.

Jason Dahl was the Captain of Flight 93. His sister-in-law told me that he flew her to visit her husband (his brother) once when they were dating. Jason flew her out there so his brother could see her in her “pretty new dress.”

On the second anniversary of the Flight 93 crash, I was assigned to a tree planting. Many family members were there. I went to talk to a woman in a United uniform, assuming she was a friend of one of the staff. Her story was not what I expected.

“I’m Mark Bingham’s aunt. He was flying on my sky-pass.”

My heart went out to her. All Americans have survival guilt, but hers is enormous.

What can we do?

Continue to fight.

And to remember.

Read more about all the heroes here:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Divorcing Pavement

I've been running a lot lately on the trails. Some might call it a binge. But I don't like that word. It seems so undisciplined and unhealthy. Like binge drinking and binge eating. And I have binged on running before.
June: While the 50 miles a week I was pounding out may have seemed disciplined, I was headed right out my front door on pavement. Not just any pavement either. Hard unforgiving concrete. The whole experience makes me sad. First you notice a hip injury, then even your heart hurts as heat and exhaust fumes fill you up instead of warmth and nature. The worst part? The trails at the Governor's Mansion were only 2 miles away. Why didn't I just get in my car and drive over? Or ride my bike?

Sometimes the answers are so close in life-- yet we just can't grasp them.

Moving forward, I've decided I prefer the word "gorge." Much more positive. The word holds so much more passion and good will. Even topographically. While running on a trail, have you ever come up to a beautiful "Binge?" Nope. But there are many glorious gorges. And let's face it the word sounds like gorgeous.

So I'm gorging on trail running. I'll admit when I first started running with the Nerds it was more of a social outlet. I couldn't quite part with the rhythm and speed of the streets. And it's odd. How could someone with my passion and flare like training that's so boring? Easy answer. I just hadn't grown up enough. I've only been running since 2004, and sometimes it takes a while to figure things out. I was confused.

Over and over my friend Kelley would beg me please to get off the streets. She was afraid I was going to hurt myself. She knows me well and knows I like to overtrain. But like leading the horse to water, you can't make it drink. For the longest time, I just wasn't understanding. I would run the trails on the weekends with my Nerds and Mudbabes, but it was pavement all week. Everyone was telling me--"choose the trails," but I needed to learn it for myself.

It was so convenient to just pop out the door and pound the pavement.

But it wasn't just the convenience.. I wasn't sold. I convinced myself I wasn't taking the easy road because I was still running hard on the pavement. Hard enough to finish well at Boston. And I still had trouble getting my rhythm on the trails. I was afraid of falling. Often running the trails, I lost ambition and would just trot along slowly. No attempts at getting faster.

However, I liked the people. And I really liked the mud. I was just confused.

Some history: In December 2007, I got off the trail at Wyco during the chili run and happily returned to the pavement, but felt like a quitter. I was lost. Deep down I felt I was a trail runner, I just couldn't let go of the speed and ease. But you pay for that choice with chronic injuries.

August: I make a choice. I want to run. Not just today. Not just tomorrow. But forever. And I want to run far. 30-40-50-100 miles. I want to run in the woods with reckless abandon. I want to dance by the light of the moon and take an ad- hoc shower after a 10 mile run with my best friend. I come to terms with the summer insects. After creepy dreams of ticks, I overcome my fears and just pick-em off. And put me out front of the group. There is no spider web I won't run through. NOTHING scares me.

And The Governor's Mansion is still only 2 miles away.

I love those trails but hadn't run them since March 21st. Now I was ready to go back.

Trails on Mondays.
Trails on Tuesdays.
Hill repeats on Wednesday.
More, More, More, on Thursday.
Hills on Friday? Sure.
Run Lawrence in the morning and Hillsdale in the evening? Yes.
Race on Saturday. Count on it!
Trails everywhere, everyday. 50- 60 miles a week.

Sure, it costs me time since it takes longer to run those 50-60 miles on a trail. And it costs me money in gas to get to the longer trails. But it's worth it. Despite all those miles, my body feels great and it's rock solid. As for time and money? It's worth it too. Because good health and happiness are the most important things in life. I am sold. Sold on life. Sold on running trails. GORGE. I'm divorcing pavement.

I feel a little bad that I carried this -- well hard to say it-- love of running pavement all these months of being the Original Mudbabe. But now I close my eyes and I see these perfect formations of rocks and roots-- and I kind of get all giddy. I want to see how fast I can get around them....

So it returns. The need for speed. Can I find it on the trails?

Trail Race on Saturday: Well the extra practice combined with the destroy or die hill repeat regimen worked.

I ran solid 10 minute miles at a race at Clinton over the weekend. I darted ahead of the lady in front of me on the last half mile because it was... you guessed it.. uphill. I came in second for the ladies and made my best friend and myself proud. Considering I got hit by the ragweed and ran 14 miles the day before, I'm good with it.

And I do love being competetive. I'll get faster-- just you watch.

But this story isn't about being competetive. It's about seeing that sometimes the rocky, rooty tough choice is the right choice. It's about seeing what you want and overcoming confusion. It's also about allowing yourself to be confused, and working through it-- not just in your head, but by doing it. It's about loving two things, but moving forward even if it's not socially acceptable. And it's about making a choice -- even if you loved what you let go. If the reason you loved something is because it's convenient and easy, it's not true discipline. And that's unhealthy... so get on the trail!

Muddy Hugs,

Thursday, September 4, 2008


My brother just visited me for 2 weeks and it was really great. Once he realized I like to wash my muddy trail running shoes in the dishwasher, we got along just fine.
"Ew.. I guess I'll wash them by hand."
Great guy. Not only does he tolerate my peculiar (although effective) habits, he does dishes too.
He was there to paint my living room and patch up the house. At least that's what it looked like to the neighbors. Really he was there because my heart was broken. Patching the house and doing the landscaping were his way of showing love and support.

And it was HOT in Topeka.
He dug up daylilies which are nearly impossible to kill.
"I am lion, hear me roar!"
He had a huge bulb that looked like the trunk of a small tree in his hands. A former daylily from the area by the side of the house. That strip is now cheerfully spread with easy to manage red chip bark.
I need low maintainance when it comes to gardening.
"I can't beleive the Republicans think the Mexicans are taking jobs from Americans. No
American in their right mind would suffer through this work like a Mexican day laborer."
That is unless they love their sister.

I started to feel better.
Then my heart shattered. The pieces went everywhere and my brother didn't know what to do.
So he picked up the one nearest him.

And one by one my beautiful friends stepped up.
Stephanie, you were first and by design most constant. Listening with reckless abandon. Meeting me each day to work out, even when I didn't show up. You gave me hugs at work. You ran with me at 11 o'clock at night when my brain was about to explode. Most important you make me proud. Because you're running and growing as a woman. You put hope on your piece, and honesty.

Amy: You live in Hong Kong. Yet your love and strenth cross oceans. You took the time to compile a CD of songs to inspire me and to remind me of all the wonderful times we've had together. Your taste is truly ecclectic, from Chinese folk song to Poppie Pop music. Many would see yours as a dream life. A husband you love, two beautiful children and homes around the world. But when you see me, it's clear and you tell me so I know it's true... I am YOUR inspiration. And it's an honor. Thank you for asking for training programs and never giving up on your dream of being a distance running. Your piece holds my inspiration and it feels very loved.

Karen: You were there when my heart broke. You hugged me. You smiled and said how pretty I looked in my cute little dress. And all I could do was cry. But I had to go to work. One week later you sent me a card via snail mail. Since no one uses that anymore, it was special. You made your little piece special.

Laurel: Your insight in honest and pure. You paint a picture of truth. You also help me with my overcommittments which helps me get through each day. Like designing a program.
Your talents are so underestimated and it makes me happy to know that I understand you better than so many people. The little peice of my heart that you are nurturing right now is probably the strongest, and it's because of you. One day I hope to pay you back. Your piece has found it's ambition again.

Kelley: your piece is unique. You talk to it about work. You run with it. You listen and worry you aren't responding as you should. But all it needs is your special kind of love. Your love is so similar to what it lost, it makes you wonderful. Irreplacable. Don't be mistaken. You are nuturing and understanding too. I feel your spirit always. Your piece is oddly connected to the one I lost. So it's going to take a little more time to heal. But you are patient, and let the peice think out of the box. So it just might be ok.

Coleen: Your anger, not directed at me, is sincere. And oddly it gives me power. I know I can trust you because you say what you feel, not what you think I want to hear. You are always supportive, and lend an important perspective to a very difficult piece of my heart. And when I can barely run-- and gasp for breath on a rocky rooty trail, your hand extends to me. I make it through. I make it through. Your piece is stubborn. But you are working to train it.

Clare: Like a mother ship you keep me on course. When I stray in the wrong direction, you steer me home to what really matters. Crickets, a ceiling fan and the sweet soaring sounds of playing my violin. When I'm hurting and just can't put it into words. You can always explain why. Thank you for bringing me out of the crazy part of my head and imbedding me in what is deep and strong. You've painted your little peice with maps and charts to help it find it's way home.

Cindy: You are 100% fun. You've got your little peice of heart doing cartwheels. Bopping around the Power and Light district, dancing by the moonlight--or in a crazy bar, and meeting lots and lots of new and exciting friends. Gasp. I don't have to think about anything but having fun when I'm with you, and right now that's so important. What's peculiar, is that you say I'm YOUR most fun friend. hmmm.

Debbie: I saved you for last. You may be holding more than one piece. You listened. You suggested. You encouraged me to call the therapist over and over. And when I went, he suggested and encouraged me in the same ways you did. You may not be a professional, but your insight is incredible. Almost scary that someone can see as clearly as you do. You see reality. Not through rose colored glasses, but sharp 20/20 vision. When I am afraid, you give me strength. And you are relentless in your love, nurturing and encouragment. It is only a small percentage of women who are what you are. You are my hero and the Superhero MudBabe. The peices you hold.... are starting to beat again.

10 Beautiful girlfriends who love me for who I am and one incredible brother.
I am blessed. Truly.

Healing is a long process, even when the peices are all together. But not unlike my brother.. I too am a lion. Hear me Roar!

Muddy hugs