Hqb3pRing around the rosies,
pocket full of posies,
Ashes, ashes,
we all fall down.

The delightful children’s chorus, one nearly all Americans learn as youth, has an insidious underlying meaning. Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the associations — the song dates back to the London Plague of 1665. (Well, some say it does. Others dispute this claim, tying the song to childish courtship games and pagan history.) I’m not here to argue for either case; rather, I am amused by the fact that something so appealing on the surface can actually mean something so somber. Continue reading

the man next door

shutterstock_103496906_copy_712_711The crazy guy next door moved out. Well, actually, he got evicted. I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with his personal hygiene — the man never showered. His clothes were always dirty, too, and, despite his friendly demeanor, he couldn’t hold a conversation to save his life.

“I see you exercise a lot,” he’d say, exuberantly. “I exercise a lot, too. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

“I saw you running the other day,” he’d say the next day. “I exercise, too. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

And the next day. “Is that your bike? That’s a nice bike. I have a bike, too, but the tires are rotted. But I exercise a lot. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

And so on and so forth. I used to try to respond to his comments. To his, “I see you exercise a lot,” I’d say, “Oh, I try!” Or, “Well, I’m training for a triathlon, so . . .” But the conversations never went anywhere; they always ended the same. Continue reading

to help a stranger

Broken-down-car-drawing-in-inkShe came at me from across the busy street. I was sitting in my car with the door open, enjoying the breeze, listening to the rustling of the trees, preparing for my upcoming tutoring session. I watched her cross — alone and carrying nothing — and thought it odd, but I looked away. I didn’t expect her to stop.

“E-excuse me? Miss?”

I looked over. The girl appeared to be about my age and was wearing faded jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. Her reddish hair was pulled into an oily ponytail at the nape of her neck. “Uh, hi,” I said.

“Can you give me a ride?”

Umm . . . I looked at the clock in my dashboard. 5:45. “Where do you need to go? I have to be somewhere in 15 minutes.”

“My car broke down,” the girl hurried to explain. “It’s not far. My friend’s house. It’s about 5 minutes from here, off Rheem Boulevard.” She looked near tears.

Umm . . . “Uh, sure,” I said. What else could I say? “Yeah, I can do that.” I looked down at the textbooks and papers strewn across my lap and passenger seat beside me. My half eaten salad from Whole Foods sat atop the dash. “Hang on just a sec.” I grabbed the textbooks and salad container and tossed them in the back seat. The papers I gathered into a pile on my lap. “Come on in.”

The girl climbed in. As she did, I noticed — she had a faint odor, like stale sweat and body odor. I had to fight not to wrinkle my nose.

“Okay, so I’m not actually from around here,” I told her. Which was true. I travel nearly 160 miles round-trip once a week to tutor *Sophie right now. “Where are we going again?”

“Rheem Boulevard. It’s that way.” She pointed to a road on our left.

“Okay.” I turned on the car and began driving in the direction of her finger. She didn’t say anything else as we went, and the silence felt awkward; I used it as an opportunity to introduce myself. “I’m Jessica,” I said.

“I’m Stacy.”

“Nice to meet you, Stacy. I’m sorry about your car. So . . . You just left it there?”


“Do you not have a cell phone or anything?”

“No. I mean, yes, but my cell phone is dead, and I don’t have any money.”

“Oh . . .” I was at a loss. Stacy seemed prone to lapse into silence between my attempts at conversation. But then she surprised me.

“You’d think people in Moraga would be nice, but they’re really not,” she said. I assumed she was talking about her car. I waited for her to say more, but . . . nothing. I understood what she meant, though. Upon my first visit in Moraga, as I’d watched Mercedes Benzs and BMWs drive through its hilly terrain, I’d felt a strong impression that these people were, if not selfish, very self-absorbed. No one made eye contact, and there was an intense “keeping up with the Joneses” type feel throughout the town. Thankfully Sophie’s family was an exception.

“I know what you mean,” I said after a moment. I looked at the clock. 5:50. Were we close? I didn’t want to be late . . . Then it occurred to me: Had I been foolish? After all, I knew nothing about this girl. Could I trust her? I glanced at her through the corner of my eye, but her face was blank; I could detect nothing. “Are we getting close?” I asked finally.

“Yes, it’s coming up soon. It’s going to be up here on the left. It’s . . . right there.” She pointed to a cul-de-sac twenty yards ahead.

“Gotcha.” I turned on my blinker and turned left at the street. “Now where?”

“Umm . . . It’s right there.” I did a U-turn and parked in front of the house she’d indicated. “Well, here we are.”

“Thanks so much,” she told me as she got out the car.

“Hey, no problem,” I told her. “Good luck with your c–,” but she was already shutting the door and walking towards the front door.

Well, that was interesting.

As I drove away — I now had five minutes to get to Sophie’s — I thought about my concerns on the drive over, and how sad it was that I even had to worry about whether or not helping a stranger was the right thing. I knew for certain I wouldn’t have helped Stacy if she’d been a man. Was that because it really wasn’t safe to help a man, or . . .? Or was it something else?

It’s a strange world we live in, but I, for one, want to be kind, helpful, and generous whenever possible, no matter what the risk or ultimate return.

*name changed
Image credit: Leah Whisenant

blog design, and other things


Blog design is a lot of work!

So, among other things, I’ve been contemplating updating the look of my blog. The other day Jon found an article about a guy my same age who’s been traveling the world since 2006. Apparently he started out teaching (like I did) but soon took a different path to make money: he started a blog and then, later, a digital media company. Jon wondered why I couldn’t make money with my blog (after all, who doesn’t want to make money doing something they love?), and I told him, “That guy isn’t just writing for the love of writing. He’s a ‘tech entrepreneur,’ and I don’t have a clue how to do that!”

But the discussion did spur something inside me. No, I don’t plan to start begging readers for donations. (I know bloggers who’ve done that. It isn’t pretty.) And I don’t hope to have advertisements spattered all over my blog any time soon. (In fact, I hope the opposite.) But it wouldn’t hurt me to start posting more and make my blog more of a priority. If I’m planning to apply for graduate school this fall (which I am), I’m going to need more writing clips to send in, anyway.  My blog is a good way to do that.

But what I wondered from you is — I’ve had the same “look” for my blog pretty much all along. Do you think an updated design is needed? Or . . . One thing I really don’t like about WordPress right now is that it’s not letting me preview my site in a new template before sending it “live.” Talk about annoying for a perfectionist like me. I want to be able to customize everything to my liking before presenting it to the public, but, right now, I can’t find a way to do that. Any tips? Thoughts? Advice?



when it’s all said and done

JessicaI am SO glad I don’t have to get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning and race 70.3 miles.

So glad.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not glad I did last week’s race. It didn’t go as planned — didn’t go well at all, actually — but it did go, and it was a learning experience. I am ashamed to say I didn’t complete the run. There were a lot of factors aimed against me — a late swim start and a 30-minute flat tire among them — but, ultimately, the failure was my own. I wasn’t as strong as I needed to be, and it hurt me.

Almost comically, before the race, the editor at the Windsor Times asked me to write an article about my experience. He would publish it in the paper; I would be in the news. Oh boy. I was excited by the prospect initially, but then . . . Really? I had to write about the race that I failed?

Below is the *article I sent him. You’ll notice I left out the race’s ending entirely. I just couldn’t admit to the world that I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t admit that I wasn’t strong.

Funny that I feel comfortable sharing that here, with you.


A day in the life of a Vineman


Finally! Almost time to swim.

4:30 a.m. came early. Ugh. Was it really time to get up already? I stumbled out of bed and gathered my things. Water bottles, electrolyte tablets, Bonk Breakers, goggles, running shoes, helmet, etc.—it’s amazing how much stuff you need for a triathlon. I’d made breakfast the night before—a nutrition shake and two scrambled eggs. In my previous event, the Monte Rio Olympic Distance Triathlon, I’d skipped breakfast and ended up “bonking” halfway through the race. That was not something I wanted to repeat.

The drive to Guerneville was smoother than expected. With approximately 2,300 athletes competing in the 25th Ironman Vineman 70.3, I’d been warned that traffic on River Road could be bad. But, as the twinkling stars dissipated and the sun’s rays began streaking orange into navy skies in the distance, the stream of taillights before me kept moving. There was no stop-and-go anywhere.

The race was starting at Johnson’s Beach. My boyfriend Jon and I parked our car about a half-mile away on Highway 116 and rode our bikes in. Jon wasn’t participating but had come to to cheer me on. All along River Road and on Guerneville Bridge I saw people jogging and stretching and completing various other pre-race rituals. I started to get nervous. I hadn’t been planning to warm up. Should I? But, I needed to save my energy for the race!

To be honest, I trained a lot for the cycling and running portion of this event but not as much for the swim. I was also unsure about nutrition. It takes a lot of calories to fuel an athlete through a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. This was my first half Ironman, and, without the experience of years, I wasn’t sure how to fuel or what to expect. I was about to find out.


In line at the transition area, 6:30 a.m. Some swimmers had already started. My swim wave wasn’t until 8:42.

There were athletes everywhere and a buzz of excitement at Johnson’s Beach. At the gate I dismounted and got in line for the transition area. I needed to set up my bike and bike needs so that, after the swim, the switch to my bike would be easy. As I waited, I watched other waves of swimmers take off. “Honk!” went the air horn, and then the next group of swimmers moved in. I, unfortunately, was in the very last swim wave at 8:42 a.m. It was almost 7 a.m. now.

And so I waited and waited. Why had I gotten up at 4:30 again? My bike was now ready, my arms and legs marked, my wetsuit on, and . . . Finally, “Women 30-34.” I was in!

The rest of the race is a blur, honestly. The Vineman 70.3 course takes participants up and down the Russian River, through four different grape growing regions—the Russian River, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and Chalk Hill—and then around Windsor High School. It is advertised as one of the most beautiful courses in the world, and, as many who raced Sunday would attest, it lives up to its name. We had incredibly good weather on Sunday, too, which made a big difference for me. Eighty degrees is a lot more bearable than 90. The only unfortunate thing was that I got a flat tire on the bike ride and, in changing out my tube, lost all of the carbon dioxide out of my CO2 cartridge. I’d only brought one, so I then had to wait for 30 minutes for the sag wagon to come help me. What a delay!

All in all, participating in Vineman was a great experience, one I hope to do again next year. There is nothing like the thumbs up or “Way to go!” from a fellow athlete when you’re plugging along on the field, and Sonoma County is truly a beautiful place to race. If I learned anything, though, it’s to spend more time training for the swim—I was shaky when I got out of the water—and to bring an extra CO2 cartridge!

*To read the article in the paper, click here: A day in the life of a Vineman


The Russian River where the swim took place.


meant to be



Thanks for writing that very nice article about us three new administratoris in Geyserville. It is always nice to see positive press in the newspapers, or at least a balance. You write very well–clear, concise, and not a lot of fluff. So, thank you again and let us know if you need anything else down the road.

It’s comments like these that tell me I’m right: I was meant to be a writer. No, not a reporter. A writer.

The article this man mentions is located here. It’s an assignment I got as a freelancer at a local paper here in Santa Rosa. It’s a position I got after being rejected yet again for a full-time reporting job. It’s an opportunity to produce clips and, hopefully, make (more) connections.

My half Ironman was this past Sunday. It didn’t go as planned. I will write more soon, but, in the meantime, thank you–all of you–for your encouragement over these past few years.




will she ever . . .

post again? write again? rhyme again?

Stay tuned for a long-overdue answer.

In the meantime . . .

Is this guy for real? What does he think he’s accomplishing? I mean, really. Go get a job. Or something. Anything. Go feed the homeless, maybe. I dunno. But I’ll bet that that’s what Jesus would want you to do. Not . . . this.