Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

There's been a few steps of beautiful inlaid wood, but plenty patches of worn carpet and wood so thin it threatened to collapse beneath me. Some were basked in sunshine; others, not so much. There were times (OK, much of 2007...and 2006.. and maybe 2005) when I would spontaneously start crying while my mind wandered when I was driving. There were times I feared I would never get a "real job," and times I wished I were still in college.

But these times ain't so desperate.

I've dropped some of the baggage. I've made plans. I'm not there yet, but I've gone up a few steps. (In fact, I walked 44 miles in three days. Lots of steps...) I've finally found the right pace of vaguely knowing where I'm going, but not putting too much pressure on myself. I still stress about the details, but I would say my staircase is starting to spiral. And the carpet is starting feel thicker.

So, I don't need to make resolutions. I know where's I am and have a good idea of where's I'm going. And that's enough. When I finds it kinder hard, I'll just keep climbing.
I've hemmed. I've hawed. Walking in the Washington, D.C. 3-Day took months of preparation - but it helped me get in better shape, introduced me to some amazing women, and challenged me to try things I normally wouldn't try. Oh, and I raised $2,300 in a horrid, horrid economy to help advance breast cancer research, give cancer patients access to treatments they otherwise couldn't afford and raise awareness.

Do it again?

Sorry, after some careful considerations: Not this year.

I walked in 2007 in Chicago, crewed in 2008 in Chicago, and obviously walked this year in Washington, D.C. Some of the other Ms. America Tatas have dedicated themselves to walking in San Diego in 2010, but I need a break from traveling, training and WHATEVER IT WAS THAT CAUSED THOSE BLISTERS. (Despite the 3-Day medic's advice, I haven't yet been to see a podiatrist. But if I walk again, I will.)

So, I'll be crewing in Chicago in August. I hope there will be a costume involved. Perhaps driving a sweep van or working at a Grab 'N' Go.

And I'll continue to blog about the 3-Day and babble about it to anyone who shows a remote interest. (Consider yourself warned.)

(If you're a 3-peater and on the fence about what to do in 2010, read a few of the comments on this old post. I know a lot of walkers find creative ways to raise the money year after year, while others are inspired to lead training walks, crew, and otherwise support those who keep walking.)
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The first ones stirred about 4:30. They wanted a cigarette break and a cup of coffee, which was strong and peppered with wayward grounds. About 18 shapeless figures slept on pads in the church basement, a lattice divider sectioning off an area for women.

In the kitchen, one volunteer commented on the age of the stove and range as he piled chopped potatoes, onion and margarine into a skillet. The second volunteer arranged two pounds of bacon on baking sheets wrapped with aluminum foil, not realizing the bacon strips would bake together in the oven. They would make eggs to order (most seemed to like them over-easy) and let the "guests" arrange their plates with bacon, potatoes and toast.

This church is part of a network of area churches that take turns hosting homeless men, women and children throughout the winter months. The guests get dinner, a place to sleep, a place to shower (in some locations) and breakfast. They need to be out the door by 7 a.m. with a sack lunch in hand.

The volunteers are broken into three shifts a night, and most only work one night a month. But the general rhythm of repetition held the schedule together. (That, and the typed instructions hanging, laminated, on the cupboard door.)

A regular guest popped into the kitchen, announced he'd help out this morning, took inventory of the sack lunches, set out some cream and sugar for the coffee and popped out as quickly as he popped in. The first volunteer set the steaming potatoes on a table outside the kitchen pass-through and took his first egg orders from still-groggy guests. The second volunteer tackled some dishes left in the sink and dug around for stuff to put on toast: real salted butter, grape jelly and - upon one guest's request - Miracle Whip.

The bits of conversation that wafted from the dining area into the kitchen seemed akin to what you'd expect at a church lock-in, a train station waiting room before the morning rush, or perhaps a campground picnic area. Some were groggy. Some were joking. One asked another to rinse out an empty orange juice jug and fill it with water he could take with him that day. Some wished others Merry Christmas.

It wasn't obvious if any suffered from mental illness. It wasn't obvious if they had been homeless for a day or for years. It wasn't obvious if any had criminal records. It wasn't obvious how many exemplified or disproved the stereotypes of the homeless, but I'd be willing to bet money both sides of that coin were represented.

But I can tell you, this volunteer (the one who baked the bacon into a crumbly mass, the one who wouldn't have been confident cooking eggs for 18) was kinda sad she was distracted when they passed out the Christmas bags -- lunch bags decorated by school kids and filled with candy, microwave popcorn, toothbrushes and other goodies.

Sometimes there's no need to ask questions when the details are fuzzy. The gifts - breakfast and candy - seemed small in light of what I assume is a daily struggle to get by. But sometimes, it's enough to give when there's a need.

It was a good way to start Christmas Eve.

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... unless I was so pretty no one cared that I couldn't cook :)

To recap the last three days: I baked three loaves of pumpkin bread on Friday. BlackJack got one - sadly, not the one that caved in while it was cooling because I took it out of the oven too early. But I didn't find any mushy, unbaked spots in the third one when I dissected it. And one out of three ain't bad, right?

Yesterday, I did two loaves of a new eggnog break recipe I found online. No drama there, other than the fact that I've never eaten anything like that before, so I have no idea if anyone will like it. I made two loaves of gingerbread, and both split down the middle when I was taking them out of the pan. I guess in a way, I now have four loaves of gingerbread. (Sigh).

Just now, I may or may not have burned another batch of pumpkin bread. It smells burny -- not so burny that the smoke detectors went off, but definitely not a spicey kinda smell normally associated with pumpkin bread. We shall see.

Now, it's time for a batch of homemade dog treats. Pretty sure those will go quickly even if they're a little brown ...

Who wudda thought that something like this:

would come in a bag like this:

I was the LUCKY person that got the INFAMOUS wreath at my book club's white elephant exchange. Surprisingly enough, no one chose to "steal" this from me over opening an unwrapped white elephant.
Really, I do. But honestly, if it were, I would have WON that competition hands down in the past two years. Gold medals all the way. Like, Michael Phelps before those unfortunate photos surfaced.

In 2007, I made this family history book using Ancestry.com, that left the whole family quietly reading for about 20 minutes on Christmas Day. If you've met my family, you know that we are all so over-opinionated and busy that it's rare for at least one of us not to be talking about something. (Or explaining to someone why they are wrong.)

And, last year, I got Kiva gift certificates for my immediate family, which meant my dad and Sasha were searching for deserving poor people to loan their money to within minutes of opening their presents. I seem to have remembered wrapping them creatively, too. How DID Sasha get that paper out of the wine bottle? Hmm... don't remember.

Anyhoo, I have to warn you, this year will be a disappointment. I got nothin' left. No great purchases or wrapping ideas.

Seriously, I was considering purchasing turducken dog food for the animals in the family, but I think my mini-obsession with turducken likely will dissipate by Christmas. So that probably won't happen. Peabody doesn't strike me as a dog who will reward the bearer of turducken. And Ozzie strikes me as a dog who will reward anyone who looks at him. And, clearly, BlackJack likes secure in his knowledge that he's the most important being in this townhouse and, I suspect, will love me regardless of how many baths I subject him to. So, really, what's the point?

So family, someone else is going to have to step up to the plate. I'll wrap something. There will be bows. Perhaps some recycled gift wrap.

But it won't be amazing. Barely worth a thank-you card, I'm sure.

Sorry, I thought it best to warn you in advance :)
After I went on and on about how I fixed my toilet, the darned thing stopped working again. I hadn't actually fixed it at all.

And I just didn't really know what to do, so I just used the downstairs powder-room and pretended the problem didn't exist.

Until last week. When I meandered through a different big box store, found a part that looked exactly like my (non)flapper, and disassembled my toilet tank. I consulted my dad and sent him a few pictures of a particularly hard-to-unscrew part before pounding the thing with a screwdriver and hammer and breaking it. Which was OK, because the nice, new part just slid right in. And now, my toilet flushes and I don't have to risk my life stumbling down the stairs, half asleep, to find the powder room at 3 a.m.

Luxury, I know.

Moral of this story? Don't be afraid to bribe, cajole, or pout until someone else takes care of these things for you. Because they are a HUGE pain.
I'm sure anyone interested can read his mom's announcement on his Care Page themselves, but to repost:

After a long battle with Stage IV Neruorblastoma cancer, Monday morning at 8:02 AM, Noah Biorkman passed away at his home in South Lyon, Michigan.

Scott and I, along with our families, would like to thank everyone for the continued support over the past few years during Noah’s illness. As most of you know, Noah has received more than one million Christmas cards over the past few weeks. The outpouring of love and compassion has been remarkable and we are extremely grateful. We are now asking for everyone please respect our privacy during this very difficult time. The funeral services will be for family only. We are asking that instead of sending cards and flowers to Scott and me; please make a donation in Noah’s name to either of the organizations below. With your donation, Noah’s legacy will live on for many years to come, if not forever.

Thank you so much for your support and love.

The Biorkman Family

Please send donations to the following:

Department of Pediatrics and Oncology
University of Michigan
1500 East Medical Center Drive
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-5718
Checks payable to: The University of Michigan – Noah’s Pediatric Oncology Fund


Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan
230 Huron View Blvd.
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103
Checks payable to: Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan – Memo: Noah Biorkman

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Not too early to think about fundraising for next year? Or -- gasp?!? - are you still struggling to make this year's minimum?

I haven't ever done this, but it's my favorite fundraising idea of all time (which I lifted from a 3-Day newsletter months ago):

Fundraising Tip: My favorite fundraiser is a holiday fundraiser. I send out Santa Claus letters to children or adults for five dollars each. This is an easy fundraiser and usually a big monRemove Formatting from selectioney maker.

Here is what you do: You send out a letter to everyone you know explaining what you are doing. You include a form letter with the information you need from them that will be included in the letter from Santa. Information like child’s name, teacher’s name, gift they would like, best friend’s name, etc. Have them complete a form for each child. They send the forms back to you along with $5.00 per letter.

As the holidays get closer you then complete the Santa letters and send them to the children. All the supplies you need are paper, envelopes, stamps, and a computer to type the letters on. I have had great success year after year with this fundraiser. If you know a lot of kids who are around 5-7 years old and losing teeth, you could also write letters from the tooth fairy.

Once upon a time, I read Julie & Julia by Julie Powell.

And couldn't get into it. It was a gift, but I couldn't get past the first 50 pages. Don't get me wrong - I appreciate incremental concepts like cooking a different Julia Child recipe each day just to kick-start your life. I suspect it was a great and popular blog, especially among cooking enthusiasts, but reading it in book form -- boring!

(sorry to everyone who loved it. but it was boring. blah, blah, blah, my life sucks, but I'm writing a whole book about it. blah.)

I blamed the blog-to-book conversion.

Then, I read the first quarter of Doreen Orion's Queen of the Road. I couldn't get into that either. I was blaming this on the fact that the author - a grown woman and psychiatrist - constantly referred to herself as a "Long Island princess" and talked about how her husband did everything for her. And THEN, she made reference to updating her blog. And I blamed that -- I'm sure enough people commented and complimented her on her blog that it didn't seem weird and forced when she first proclaimed utter uselessness in day-to-day survival and then tried to moralize about the Greater Meaning she and her husband found traveling in a converted bus ... but as I said, I couldn't get into the book.

And THEN, my roommate let me borrow Diablo Cody's Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, which she wrote after chronicling said year in the life of an unlikely stripper on a blog. And let's just pause and consider her name. If you chose a pen name like Diablo Cody, you have to be an awesome writer, right? (Note to self: Be cool enough to one day warrant a pen name.)

And, according to Wikipedia (which, I know is evil but use anyway), she wrote the screenplay to Juno and Jennifer's Body.

So, that information alone should be enough to disprove my blog-to-book blahness curse. (And to prove it, you should read the book, if you can handle 212 pages mostly about stripping.)

BUT, Bri from Girls Guide to Homelessness just got a book deal! Let's recap: She had a job, lost it, became homeless, lived in a truck and camper she inherited after her father committed suicide, fell in love with another homeless blogger (who is originally from Scotland), had some weird impound problem with said camper that cost her $80 a night, landed an internship with Elle... and I'm sure I'm missing stuff. But I suspect her book will be awesome. And it sounds like the advance will get her into stable housing!

(And no, despite my meager attempts at blogging, I have no intention of writing a memoir. Unless something really, really awesome happens in the next 5 years. and then, by no means whatsoever, will the phrase "True Confessions of a ..." be in the title. the phrase overused. and usually, from what I can tell, does not involve anything that can honestly be categorized as a confession.)
So, don't laugh, but I'm pretty sure dieting makes me dumb.

As in, I found myself asking the same person the same question multiple times in the same day. She was nice about it, but that happened a few days after my mind was so numb seven hours into work that I wasn't confident I could spell my own name correctly. (Thankfully, I did. And everyone else's name, too. But that was sheer luck.)

I got better vitamins. I filled out my daily food log (yeah, using a purple marker didn't make THAT any less boring). And you may remember how excited I was when I lost a few pounds.

But the excitement is over. And my stomach churned almost ALL the time. And I felt weird when I worked out. And, you know, working out is my main form of stress relief (I still love 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer listening to a lot of Nickelback and a little country. I'm weird, I know.) Oh, and on a even more disturbing level, I found myself craving eggs scrambled with onion, tofu and portobello mushrooms. Who craves tofu? Someone who is only eating 1,200 calories a day. Or 1,400, when they cheat.

So, yeah, I gave up on NutriSystem.

I'll still probably eat the food intermittently with other food since I paid for it and all, and it's PROBABLY wrong to donate it to a food pantry. I can say I've gotten the point about portion control (which McDonald's and Wendy's and most other fast food chains have missed), but I'm going to have to survive on healthy food from the grocery story.

And a FEW carbs.
So, I totally forgot about this. But when I was in D.C., I found myself in Union Station as they were setting up the "Art of Can" exhibit. And I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it took me a few days before I realized the sculptures are made from Red Bull cans.


I missed seeing it once it was fully set up, but you can see more things from the exhibit (and much better pics) here.
... when I got an e-mail that there was an "Urgent Update" on Noah's Care Page.

Whew, it was good news. The family has gotten so many Christmas cards that Noah's mom doesn't have any more room, so she's redirecting mail to Noah's dad's house. 80,000 pieces of mail Monday alone.

Don't you just kind of love people, sometimes? It's so easy to be rude to random strangers you see on a daily basis, but people will rally around a sick kid with an easy wish without a second thought. :)

I'm guilty on both counts, though.

In the spirit of spreading awareness, here's a little bit of info about Neuroblastoma, which is a cancer that develops from nerve tissue in children and infants. The cause is unknown. About 1 in 100,000 children get it, and it's slightly more common in boys.
How do you sugar-coat crappy?

Not like, “Oh, that dress/haircut/pound-o-make-up looks great on you” when it actually doesn’t. But those times when someone looks you dead in the eye and announces: “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

And you holy-hope it is, because it looks and sounds horrendous. And you’re kinda glad it didn’t happen to you.

I thought about that recently reading this blog, The Hungry Little Caterpillar (which I love, and am still reading through). The author (a 3-Dayer) remembers being annoyed when people trotted out the ole “if there’s anything I can do...” when they learned her mother had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of that. Because who know? Maybe the receiver has some deep need that isn’t obvious to me.

Seriously, if someone told me they needed me to pick up dinner/toiletries/random-movies-to-keep-the-kids-occupied because the only way they could deal with bad news was to stare at the wall, comatose, I would. And I wouldn’t urge them to stop staring at the wall until Day Three or so.

But it never seems to come to that.

Sometimes I mutter the obvious: “This must be a hard time for you,” or “That’s really sad.”

A few times, I’ve replied to “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” with “Well, I’d hope so. This is pretty bad. But it looks like you have a lot of good people supporting you.”

Who knows if they hated me afterward? I deal with most unpleasant topics with (sometimes ill-advised) humor and hope it doesn’t shock the socks off the receiver. In reality, I am probably the least of their problems.

I never really seem to verbal-vomit my take on the truth, though.

I usually hope those in deep pain/fear/uncertainty realize that it’s not going to go away in a few weeks; it will be more like several months or a year. I hope they realize the goal of any coping mechanisms shouldn’t be to make the pain/fear/uncertainty go away, but to make living with the it more bearable. So that one day, they’ll wake up and not recognize the pain, but a new, scarred reality.

But I just keep that to myself.

Because who wants to hear that?

(You can find tips on responding to someone who has received bad health news here.)
So, out from the clatter of Facebook status updates about jogging, getting kids dressed, hating to go to work, I learned about Noah Scott Biorkman.

He’s five, and he’s dying of Neuroblastoma. The Little Man was diagnosed in February 2007, and it went into remission about six months later, only to relapse in September 2008. Apparently, the cancer continued to spread, and the doctors told his family that he won’t be with them much longer.

A Google search pointed me to a “Care Page” that Noah’s mom seems to be updating.

She said Noah was eating a corndog with his dad recently, and Noah commented that he was sad that he wouldn’t get to do that anymore when he dies. Dad understandably panicked when he heard this and told Noah that he needed to hang on until Christmas. He promised to buy the little guy every Transformer he doesn’t have if he made it until Christmas.

Then, the family rethought this promise, and the pressure it might put on their little guy, according to the Care Page. So they decided to bring Noah Christmas early. As in, this weekend.

They started asking friends, and those friends asked friends, and then radio stations and Facebook got a hold of it - and Noah is being flooded with Christmas cards.

Yesterday, the mailman brought them 64 cards and a package. And people have offered Christmas Carolers, Santas, and snow. (Apparently, they turned down the snow delivery.)

On Friday, Santa is going to bring Noah the rest of the cards from the post office not -- in a sleigh, but in a firetruck with a police escort. And on Sunday, his whole family will come over for a special celebration.

It’s not too late to mail cards to Michigan for Friday’s special delivery, right? If you want to get in on the fun, you can mail cards to:

(I assume the family hopes to one day regain their privacy after the outpouring of compassion and Christmas cards, so I removed the address Saturday - after Santa was scheduled to deliver ton of cards. Leave a message on the Care Page if you want to contact the family.)

Are you skeptical that this is one of those Internet scams? Don’t feel like a bad person; I asked the same thing - supposedly Noah’s mom is a friend of a coworker of a friend of a girl I went to high school with ... if I followed Facebook chatter correctly.

But never fear, Snopes is on it. And you can read the Care Page here. You’ll have to sign up for a log-in, but it’s pretty painless.
I really used to like Jon and Kate Plus Eight. I’d watch and make little mental notes of things to do when I become a mom: ice cream for lunch once a summer, making pots and pots of homemade soup in a single day and freezing it, special alone time for each kid with each parent, avid couponing.

OK, yeah, the avid couponing probably never would have happened...

:: TLC sigh ::

Kate’s interview by NBC on TLC was a downer. How quickly her blessings became cursed. And altogether typical.

We all know the mother who takes charge and sometimes berates her husband. We all know the father who somehow feels justified partying while his wife works hard. In a world that places such an emphasis on feminine form and appearance, it’s frustrating to see a mother in the spotlight be criticized for obviously caring how she looks.

Blah. Perhaps the show was more realistic than anyone planned.
Last Sunday, I was sitting at a table at a random craft fair trying to peddle my mom's cute purses-made-from-hardcover-books in an effort to cover some of my 3-Day travel costs. I had some other random crafts available, too, and a jar for donations to pass onto some of my 3-Day teammates who hadn't reached their minimums yet.

It was a crappy craft show. Few customers. I was chatting with the cranky old lady at the booth next to me. (Before you think I'm mean, please know she called herself a cranky old lady as she recounted a long conversation she had with someone at the telephone company about ways to reduce her bill. That was after she listed all her family members who had died in the last five years and discussed how her doctor wanted to put her on anti-depressants but she thought it wasn't worth the bother.)

Anyway, out of the blue, a TRUE cranky old lady looked at my 3-Day materials and told me breast cancer awareness makes her MAD.

Not mad like "It's horrible people are suffering." But mad like "Why is everyone rallying around pink things when there are plenty of other horrible cancers out there? Like lung cancer. And colon cancer." She told me she though breast cancer awareness was insulting to those battling other types of cancer.

I briefly considered offering her a pink ribbon temporary tattoo.

But I just smiled. And she went away, leaving a dozen retorts bubbling inside my head. Such as "You're RIGHT. Raising money for cancer research also insults the homeless, the socially marginalized, and abused animals. Best not do any charity work whatsoever than to try to help a few people." Or "Look, lady. Breast cancer slogans are cute and perky. Like, save second base. What kind of lung cancer slogan or prostate cancer slogan do you realistically think can go on a button?"

And then I wondered if cancers are similar enough that research for one type of cancer also can be applied to another type. I did a little googling, but didn't really find an answer. Does anyone know?

I did stumble across a cancer statistics report from the American Cancer Society. It has a nice little chart estimating the types of cancers that will be diagnosed and cause death this year, divided by gender.

New cases in men: Prostate (25%), lung and bronchial (15%), colon and rectum (10%), urinary bladder (7%), melanoma of the skin (5%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (5%), kidney and renal pelvis (5%), Leukemia (3%), oral cavity (3%), pancreas (3%).

New cases in women: Breast cancer (27%), lung and bronchial (14%), colon and rectum (10%), uterine corpus (6%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (4%), melanoma of the skin (4%), thyroid ($4), kidney and renal pelvis (3%), ovary (3%), pancreas (3%).

Interestingly enough, the report estimated that 192,370 new cases of breast cancer would be diagnosed in woman and 192,280 new cases of prostate cancer would be diagnosed in men this year. Pretty close to the same amount.

The American Cancer Society has several Web pages dedicated to prostate cancer here. And, it suggests men with an average risk of that type of cancer discuss having annual screenings with their doctor at age 50. Those with higher risk factors, such as prostate cancer running in their family, should start having those discussions at age 40.
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So, maybe it's time to admit that my relationship with online dating is on the rocks.

I met a guy and had a six-month relationship, met a guy who filed for divorce the day of our first date, met a cool guy with whom I had absolutely no spark, and went on my fair share of first dates that were not followed by second dates.

Dates have included riding in a tractor, a bonfire and tossing rocks over the Illinois-Wisconsin border, a dinner of appetizers, and a guy who, over pasta, explained how he used to have an anger management problem. (Seriously. He said that on a first date. And described how he threw stuff all over at one of his high school athletic events, which, admittedly, was 12 years or so before that.)

I thought it would be cool to meet a wider swath of people than I meet in my day-to-day interactions, especially since my day-to-day interactions have been generally limited to five square miles in the past year or so.

But "putting myself out there" is starting to feel a lot like trying to sell myself. You know, finding the best picture, a good slogan, the right words to describe who I am without sounding like a crazy person.

The whole thing can seem kind of contrived. I recently had a guy who had e-mailed me once ask for my phone number so he could see if we had chemistry. Apparently, over the phone. As if a phone conversation with a complete stranger could accurately reveal any chemistry that might be there.

:: dating sigh ::

Maybe the problem is the economy: Fewer people are participating in paid online dating services or willing to spend hard-earned dollars on women they met through a profile. Maybe I've already clicked through all the single men in McHenry County. Maybe I'm way less attractive than I thought I was. I really don't know...

Sorry, guys, I am who I am. I frequently say the wrong thing and joke about dark/sad/depressing things that actually aren't funny. I have a lot going on, but I'm usually the quiet one in a group. I am horribly non-photogenic. My work is draining enough that my "hobbies" revolve around reading, working out, my dog, and random charity work. I love "Desperate Housewives" and bad reality TV, and I'm not really a sports fan. I do think I'm smart, funny, gainfully employed, and caring, but really, that's about that. I'm not sure how that stacks up next to the other four women in your "Daily 5," but the concept of a "Daily 5" is even kind of starting to annoy me.

What's more, most people have a somewhat limited understanding of their own personality and an even more limited ability to explain it on an online profile (me included). So, I'm sure some people who described themselves as "a normal guy with a good job just looking for a cool girl to make things complete" thought they were being honest. But really, who's normal? And how doesn't that translate to boring?

So, yeah, match.com, I think it's time for you and I to take a break from each other.

It's not you. It's me.
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So, I would say the problem started with Oreo-cookie shakes. I'd pick up one on my way home from walking in the park, conveniently ignoring that they have more calories than I would have burned walking for an hour or so.

Then, there was McDonald's iced coffee. Delicious. The perfect way to wake up in the morning. 270 calories.

And then, my laziness encouraged me to get a McSkillet breakfast burrito as long as I was going through the drive-thru. 610 calories, and no need to cook. Or buy breakfast food.

And, yes, I gained about five pounds. It was annoying. So, I promised myself I'd make a serious effort to lose weight when I got done with the 3-Day. And let me tell you, losing weigh is just as annoying as gaining weight. Maybe more.

I'm trying Nutrisystem. I guess you can say I'm a fan of the Glycemic index, although I have no idea what it is. I think they pump you full of protein and fiber and figure that will be enough to keep you from eating massive amounts of bad carbs. This afternoon, I ate something called BBQ soy crisps (they're kinda like rice cakes) as a snack. And let me tell you, I was hungry enough that I didn't think it was that weird.

But after I work out, I crave carbs. Pasta. Like mac and cheese. Or Ramen noodles.

As of this morning, though, I've lost five pounds. And this little black jacket thing that I wore all the time without buttoning it can now be buttoned. And looks totally cute.

If I do say so myself :)
I recently got an e-mail from Jen, who walks in the Tampa 3-Day, about how many blessings cancer has given her. Yes, you read the right. She's 32, has fought breast cancer twice and believes cancer has blessed her ...

"It was the best gift I have ever been given. I woke up to life!" she wrote. "I went through so many medical procedures and live day in and out with the anxiety of whether the disease will return, but I LIVE! Let me focus on my LIFE by telling you what breast cancer gave me!"

She was diagnosed the week she turned 25 and then again when she was 27. She opened her heart to adoption after her second diagnosis led to a hysterectomy, and now has two sons, Kaleb and Chase.

She also found the 3 Day after her second diagnosis - after her family found it first. She said her family walked in Tampa as she was finishing up treatment for her recurrence, so she went to closing ceremonies. When she got home, she signed up to walk the following year, and this year is her third event. She calls it the three most inspiring, uplifting days of the year.

"I can't explain the feelings that kind of take over my heart, my soul, when taking part in the event," she wrote. "I tell people the only way they are going to understand is to experience it themselves. There is no way to justify just how good you can feel about what you are doing in the this life, than to get involved in charity work."

I can second that. It's hard to explain the 3-Day to someone who hasn't been to it. And even then, sometimes you actually have to DO IT to understand the dedication and emotion you see at the opening and closing ceremonies. I remember wondering how so many people could be so touched by slogans and seemingly unrealistic goals (walking 60 miles to end breast cancer? probably going to take more than a walk to do that, ladies) but before long, I realized that the 3-Day is about so much more than 3 days of walking.

For example, one can't change the facts that they had breast cancer and that it could return, but they can decide how they are going to live the life they have. Thanks for your e-mail, Jen. I love your attitude, and hope my life can always be as full as yours seems to be :)

To share your own motivational stories, e-mail me at jillianduch@hotmail.com
Only 1 percent of breast cancers happen in men - but that amounts to about 2,000 cases in the United States a year. You can read a story from Today about a husband and wife who are both battling breast cancer here.

Apparently, the husband thought he had pulled a muscle when he went to the doctor and ultimately was diagnosed with breast cancer...

Moral of this story?

Men should feel up their own breasts every once in awhile, too. ;)
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The e-mail is tempting: $35 off the $90 registration fee if I sign up soon for another Breast Cancer 3-Day.

But my bank account is so sad right now. Depressed even. Like, more than the state of the national economy.

I enjoyed myself in Washington, D.C., but weirdly enough, fundraising takes money, training takes money, dinners with the team take money, martinis with the team take money... And now there ain't that much left for other things.

Not that I have much room to complain. I saw it coming, and I loved the trip. But can I really sign up for another event right now? I just don't know...

I've toyed with other ways to stay involved. Crewing. Adopting a first-year walker to help with fundraising. Cheering.

But I don't think I can dedicate all the time it takes to train and raise $2,300 again right now. That's a big commitment - which I recognize and appreciate - but I don't think I can hit up the same (wonderful and supportive) friends and family for another donation right after they gave so generously last year.

So, 3-Dayers, how do you manage to stay involved year after year?

P.S. If you want to comment, you now can without having some sort of log in. I changed the settings, so go ahead and share your opinion. :)
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I unearthed my late teens and early 20s in my garage this evening. It wasn't pretty.

Some might call me a late bloomer...

Anyway, my mom's been forcing me to take back all the crap I left with her during the various times I've moved out. And that crap had ended up in my garage. I popped open one box that was too heavy for me to lift without risking back injury and found a little time capsule into my past:

~ Stacks of papers from past jobs that included examples of my writing that I must have thought was good at some point, but now seems rather wordy. As in ledes that last more than 40 words. Without a hint of a nut graf in the next 20 grafs or so.

~Bizarrely suggestive cards that I think I bought and never sent to a long-distance boyfriend. You know, romantic things. Like a card with a picture of a screw on the front and "... well?" on the inside. And a card with a light bulb that lights up like a heart and says on the inside "you turn me on." (Yes, I am cringing right now even typing this ...)

~ Postcards from Europe that I bought when I didn't believe in taking photographs and now can only guess at the significance of the monuments depicted.

~ Pictures of the girls I shared a house with in Georgetown that summer I interned at USA Today (or as they liked to call themselves, USAT.) Yes, five girls from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, a historic home, one full bathroom and only window air conditioning units. It's the reality TV show too sticky for MTV.

~ An Associated Press article about Hoopeston (where I had my first adult job) running an ad in the Wall Street Journal advertising a free five-story building (yes, free) in downtown Hoopeston to a company that could provide local jobs. The article indicated there had been about a dozen responses. I don't remember what happened to the Willdon building, but I remember arguing with several people that it was, indeed, spelled Willdon and NOT Wildon. As it was named for the developer's two sons. Will and Don.

~ Old assignments from Journ350. Including one first-person piece in which I claimed my father told me I had journalism in my blood. Even better is the typed notes from the instructor that are written in journalism shorthand -- the precursor to tween text speak. No LOLs, but plenty of wod, shud, etc.

~ A King James Bible. Which I spent about 20 minutes trying to read many moons ago before going NIV.

~ My quote book from Mrs. Nenadic's Senior Seminar literature class. We apparently read a lot of Thoreau, but I don't remember if I totally fell in love with him then, or in college. At any rate, my handwriting was much smaller and neater in high school.

How can one give this stuff up?

Some was easy - I tossed the Bible (sorry, God!), the gaudy cards, and the old newspapers, but the rest went right back in the box and right back next to the Christmas decorations. Give me another five to ten years, and I'm sure I'll be even more amused by it :)
... for Ms. America Tatas! In case you missed my last 10 blog entries, I had an AMAZING time in Washington, D.C. Ms America Tatas presented 60 walkers in the Breast Cancer 3-Day and have raised more than $155,000.

But there still are a few teammates who have yet to meet their minimum fundraising goal. That means that whatever they don't raise the rest of the fund by Nov. 11, it will be charged to their credit card. So, if you have a few extra dollars lying around that could make a good tax write-off, consider donating directly to Natalie Sinanan here, Dana Humble here, or Crystal Halbert here.

OR, invest in some of my handmade notecards. Each pack is $10, half of which will be donated to one of these three lovely ladies. To order, simply e-mail me at jillianduch@hotmail. com telling me what you want and where to send it. You can either send me a check or pay via Paypal.

You give such great support - One set of five
Featuring a little rhinestone and a lacy bra

Save the Tatas - One set of six
Paper flowers adhered with little silver pins.

Let's find a cure - One set of 9
Yes, that's a pic of me when I was little :)

Fight like a girl! - Two sets of five.

Red pears - Two sets of five

Purple pears - One set of eight

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I was scanning profiles on an online dating site this morning (while I was waiting for laundry to get done -- not a complete waste of time) when I ran across an attractive and allegedly well-educated man, screenname of Nomorecraziezplz, who wrote this:

Alright, here's the rundown. Since I've been on this website I've met:

A) someone who cried ten minutes into the first date because the table next to us ordered calimari and the squid is the "smartest animal in the sea."

B) Someone who just moved out of her boyfriends place a week before and found out he was on match, and therefore decided she would join match to get back at him.

C) Someone whose engagement of 3 years had ended a month before and proceeded to go catatonic when she had an attack of nostalgia mid date. I had to snap my fingers loudly to get her to come back to reality.

D) Someone who after the second date decided "we needed to talk" and told me how upset she was I hadn't introduced her to my friends and all the reasons why I would die alone if I didn't date her. She proceeded to hide a ring on my bookshelf and called two weeks later because we "had to meet for coffee or dinner to get her ring back." I mailed it to her.

E) Someone who gave me an ultimatum after 3 dates that if I didn't commit then and there, we should never speak again. When I said maybe taking it slow would be better I was rewarded with a series of emails and text messages explaining, again, how I would die alone. (Note: On July 17th, this particular crazy texted me from an unknown number to tell me that she was in my neighborhood and she "just wanted to remind me how I missed out on something special".)

F) Someone who is "tired of celebrities dating her just so she can be arm candy at all the events they go to."

G) Someone who wore open toed shoes and enthusiastically pointed out that she had two toes on each foot that were, in fact, stuck together.

H) Someone who told me 5 minutes into the first date that she just got done having an affair with a married man. But it was okay, because it was "something she had always wanted to do." She was 23.

And of course I) Someone who auctioned herself off on ebay to be the high bidder's date to the Super Bowl. Obviously, part of the package was that he had to provide the tickets, airfare, and hotel room.

This just in. J) Someone who gained 11 pounds and only joined the dating site because she wanted the self esteem boost of knowing guys still thought she had a nice body. Ironically, she took down all the pictures that showed anything other than her head and shoulders because she was "tired of guys commenting on her boobs and asking her to send them naked pictures."

And my most recent disaster....K) Someone who, at the age of 25 thought it was appropriate to have a relationship with a 19 year old. Well, I should say 20. He turned 20 while they were together. For his 20th birthday she got him.....yes, a fake ID.

Something for the rest of us to think about when we get depressed about our romantic lives. My biggest dating disasters have involved people with no conversation skills and that guy who filed for divorce the day of our first date. But I'll tell you that story later :)
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... doesn't mean we're good at communication.

So, apparently my roommate (also a journalist) covered a late-night meeting the first evening I returned from vacation/that VERY long walk. I went to bed about 11 p.m.; she got home about 2:30 a.m.

And then the fire alarm went off.

I awoke to loud, loud beeping and her unusually high-pitched voice shouting: "Sorry! I'm sorry!"

And I was all "I need more information. Are you sorry because you set off the alarm, or because you set the house on fire?"

And I had to walk all the way downstairs to discover: No fire. Just food.

Good, good.
So, just when I think that paying $144 to park at O'Hare International Airport will be the biggest shock of my recent traveling experience, my car started making all sorts of noise. On I-90. Two miles from my exit.

A flat tire. And not just a little flat. BlackJack started barking from his crate in the back seat.

So, I did what I do whenever I don't know what to do. I called my mother, who suggests calling 9-1-1 or a tow-truck. Neither sound particularly pleasant. So I called my roommate, who informed me she was working. More than 45 minutes away. I dug for my insurance card on the off-chance I had decided road-side assistance was worth paying for and then forgot about it.

I couldn't find the current insurance card, just old ones from a company I no longer use. Can't imagine they'd be willing to help.

Luckily, by this time, a state trooper stopped, but he needed to see my driver's license before calling a Nice Man to change the tire. I looked in my purse. No license. I looked on the front-passenger floor (where much stuff had accumulated during the ride home from my parent's). No license.

I explained to the trooper that the last time I had seen my license was when I boarded the plane Sunday. And then I put it in my jeans pocket. Different jeans from those I was wearing.

He kindly explained that he couldn't help me unless he saw my license. So I hauled my suitcase out and opened it ON THE SIDE OF THE INTERSTATE. Luckily, those jeans were on top. Unluckily, so were a bra and underwear. I figured a 20-something woman digging through her dirty laundry on the side of the interstate couldn't be the weirdest thing this man had seen in the last week - he was a state police trooper, after all - but the look he gave me didn't do much to confirm that. No driver's license in any of the jeans pockets.

So, I asked if he could recommend a tow company to call if I couldn't find my driver's license. He asked if I had a credit card or something to pay the tow truck driver with. I opened the car and reached for my phone and credit card -- and hallelujah, my driver's license was in cup holder, right next to the credit card and phone.

The trooper didn't crack a smile when I presented it to him. Now that the worries had passed, I kind of thought the whole thing was funny.

So, it took all of 20 minutes for a Nice Man in a maintenance truck to come and put my spare tire on for me. I dropped BlackJack off at home and took off for the tire store. The Boss Man there didn't think it weird that I had no idea how old my tires were or what kind/size they were and sent an employee out to get the info and my old tire.

The Tire Guy took one look at the old tire in the trunk and said "We can't fix that." With a straight face.

Finally, a man with a sense of humor!

All in all, I walked 44 miles in 3 days. I did the full 20-mile route the first day, about 10 miles on the second day, and 13.5 miles on the last day. The second day, the blisters and foot aches associated with feet pounding the pavement did me in, and on the third day, we took a sweep van because we wanted to make sure we were going to finish in time for the team pic.

(OK, OK, the pain influenced the decisions on the third day, too :))

But, given the iffy-nature of 3-day measuring, I'm willing to claim that adds up to 44 miles. Which is 5 more miles than I was able to walk in the Chicago 2007 walk.

Here's visual proof I made it to closing ceremonies. The Washington, D.C. walk included 2,300 walkers and raised $5.2 million, according to 3-Day staffers.

Here's three of the four ladies I walked with on Day 3. We were slow, so Mandy (center) dubbed us the Ms. America Tatas Turtles.

Mandy and I at the closing ceremony. It was held on the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial, so (obv.) you could see the Washington Monument in the background.

(Almost) all of the Ms. America Tatas.

Walking is so much more fun with visual stimulation. As seen in this pic, which I expect will soon grace the cover of GQ, an orange T-shirt and pink tutu is definitely the most appropriate attire for directing traffic at a breast cancer walk:

I walked past this woman not too far after opening ceremonies, when they passed out pink Energizer bunny ears. (Energizer is a sponsor.)

Cute slogan, right?

Boobie beanies! I might be willing to learn how to crochet just to make these...

Another great outfit for a route crew member:

Hehe. We saw several of these signs, but trust me, if you spend more than a few minutes near the route, you don't need an orange sign to tell you many people are walking...

So, today started with an entertaining conversation with a man who stuck needles into my blisters and ended with ice and elevation.

It wasn't really as bad as all that. But I was a little disappointed in myself that I didn't walk more than 10 miles of the 21.5 slated today for the Washington, D.C. Breast Cancer 3-Day. I have been training and fundraising for this forever, right? Shouldn't I actually DO it?!

I had a healthy sense of humor about my huge blisters (like, WAY bigger than a quarter) on the bottom of my feet and took a close-up pic of them as the nice medic volunteer informed me that they would have to be popped. (Of course, I thought, it really HURTS to walk on them. And there's not really a way to avoid walking on the bottom of your feet.


He put these little gel skin-on-skin things over the lanced blisters and moleskin on top of that. And then he lectured me (nicely) on how one should not just assume their feet hurt simply because they have walked more than 15 miles and should remove their socks to check for developing blisters at every stop. Obviously, I had not done that yesterday.

Me: Oops.
Him: And you know, if you plan to keep walking, you should really see a podiatrist when you get home.
Random woman: The route is closing in 5 minutes so if you don't start walking by then, we're going to have to put you on a bus to lunch.
Him: We're almost done here. Give me your foot, honey, and I'll put your sock on for you ... I bet you've never had a man do that for you.
Me: No.
Him: Well, I'm old enough to be your father.

And because he looked like he was AT LEAST that old, I didn't really say anything while I put my shoes. It wasn't until about 4 miles later, when it was sprinkling and all the foot aches from yesterday came back and I begged Aleve off a random woman that I realized I should have asked him why I needed to see a podiatrist.

Is my foot somehow deformed from walking? I bought nice shoes and had a nice salesman suggest a good fit for me, but I suppose something could be wrong with my shoes since I have gradually worked up some serious callouses and yet, still get random blisters. And I did shove my feet into cute but relatively narrow shoes for years before admitting that I have wide feet. Perhaps I've already walked myself into a painful bunion problem...

:: Walker's sigh. ::

Anyway, walking hurt. So my awesome walking buddy and I took a sweep van to the next stop, rested our feet for a bit and took off again. And the tootsies started hurting again within a mile. So we took another van to another stop. And I began to get a little discouraged that Aleve wasn't doing more.

And then I couldn't focus on being discouraged because just plain walking hurt. And everyone seemed to be doing it faster, which meant we were constantly being passed, which only made walking on uneven and slanting sidewalks more painful. My muscles didn't hurt, and I felt perfectly hydrated, but my feet - the blisters and just the skeletal structure of my feet - hurt.

After mild grumbling for a few miles, I admitted to myself that I was at the point that 1) the pain was not going to subside to an ignorable level; 2) persisting to walk would benefit nothing, least of all my chances of walking well tomorrow (the last day); and 3) I had, in fact, walked all 20 miles the previous day, something I had never done before.

So I decided to get on the big bus and give up for the day.

It's a little sad when you see so many people who are keeping a swift walking pace or seem content to walk through the pain --- I walked by a woman yesterday with a walking cast. Yes, a normal she-injured-her-leg-before-the-walk-so-they-put-her-in-a-cast cast. The cast was pink, and she was very cheery. Around 4:30 p.m. today, I was not so cheery.

But now that I've sat in a glorious massage chair for two five-minute intervals and put some ice on my feet, I've decided to accept that I'm walking for myself. Fundraising was something I did MOSTLY for others; blogging about the 3-Day was PARTIALLY something I did for others. But the training and walking these three days is really for me.

I wanted to push myself a little, meet some interesting new people, and see Washington, D.C. from a different perspective. And there is little point to doing it past my pain thresh-hold, however low I might think that is when I get discouraged. So, I got on the bus, gave myself time to recuperate, and plan to go at it again tomorrow.

Happy feet in the massager at camp:


So, I believe the official count is 63 teammates and $155,120 raised for breast cancer research, education and other programs. Faced with those numbers, what can you do? If you're Cari (our team captain), you drink pink martinis, pass you tiaras and necklaces and remind everyone to be ready for the bus at 5:45 a.m.

Here are a few pics from our team party Thursday, which was the night before the walk started. (I've tried to avoid pics that prove I'm so NOT photogenic, but those are hard to avoid :))

Here are the six breast-cancer survivors on the team:

Three of my fabulous fellow-walkers:

The three men who walked on the team. The gentleman in the center surprised his girlfriend on her birthday (which was only a few weeks ago) by telling her he had raised all the money so he could walk with her. The gentleman on the right was walking in yet another walk with his wife. (I forget how many they said they had done, but she is celebrating her 5th years as a breast-cancer survivor.)

Cari spent so much time (and, I suspect, money) keeping the team organized and fun. Her husband sent her daughter a little message for her to read at the team party, essentially saying he knew how important the walk was and how much time she has dedicated selflessly to others. I think she was touched. :)

... these people, too, apparently try to eek out a living.

I spotted these folks on the walk from Union Station to the National Mall, so I imagine there are many more stunning examples of homelessness in Washington, D.C.

I know homelessness exists everywhere and might be more visible in urban centers, but I found it a bit disheartening that well-dressed people who appeared to be on their way to work at Capitol Hill walked past this every morning.

Good, Congress, work on reforming health care. Debate troop levels in Afghanistan. But how many times do we all walk past a little human tragedy, a very real problem, and proceed as if it weren't there at all?

Note to readers: Sorry to flood the few loyal blog readers I have with pics from my vacation. I've been thinking a bit about what I want this blog to be after the 3-Day is over, and I haven't really decided. But one of my goals all along was to create an easy record-of-life for my memories. You know, so when I'm old and decrepit (or maybe 6 months from now) and I want to remember that weird art I saw at that one place in D.C., I can. So, um, yeah, don't read it if you aren't interested.

Sol Lewitt
1962, painted wood

The air currents in the building make this mobile move very slowly or very, very slowly. When I was there, it was barely moving at all.

Le Tournesol (The Sunflower)
Edward Stiechen
c. 1920, tempera and oil on canvas

Swamp Maple (4:30)
Alex Katz
1968, oil on linen

Art to order. The artist, rather than actually painting this, wrote detailed instructions and sent assistants to actually create it right on the museum wall -- more like an architect or design engineer than what we traditionally think of as an artist.

But it appears the museum gave credit to the "assistants," too.

I never realized there was this sculpture garden directly west of the National Art Gallery's West Building on the mall -- but there is, and it has a beautiful fountain in the middle that is used for ice skating in the winter. There are 17 sculptures in the garden, but here are my three favorites:

House I, by Roy Lichtensetin, 1996ish
This plays with perspective. From this side, the three main pieces really angle back and the chimney protrudes above the flat panels, but the whole thing looks 3D.

Girls, by Magdalena Abakanowicz, 1992.
Morbid. These headless figures of children "refers to an account the artist heard as a child in Poland during World War II about a group of children who froze to death as they were transported in cattle cars from Poland to Germany as part of the "arianization" process," according to the garden's brochure.

Thinker on a Rock, by Barry Flanagan, 1997.
Apparently a play on Rodin's Thinker (1880). To me, it also looks like a hare is riding a very roughly sculpted tortoise - like in the story of the tortoise in the hare. But maybe that's just me.


The Smithsonian offers a great one-hour "introductory" tour where they tell you all the background of about 10 paintings. Here are my favorite:

Ginevra de' Benci, c.1474/1478

Leonardo da Vinci

Likely an engagement portrait (to a wealthy man at least twice her age), this features a juniper tree. The Italian word for juniper is "ginepro", which is perhaps a pun on her first name. It is also a Italian Renaissance symbol for chastity. According to Wikipedia, the museum paid $5 million for it in 1967. It's oil on wood, and the only da Vinci in the Western Hemisphere.

This is the back of the portrait's wooden panel. VIRTUTEM FORMA DECORAT means Beauty adorns virtue. It sounds to me like this painting was sent to her future husband to assure him she would indeed be a great trophy wife...

Further evidence that money doesn't by happiness. This is Lorenzo de' Medici, who escaped assassination in 1478. Wax portrait statutes of him were placed in churches throughout Florence to celebrate his survival and may have been used as models for this terracotta bust. But he certainly doesn't LOOK to thrilled to be alive, does he?

The Alba Madonna, c. 1510 by Raphael
Painted in the Medicis' favorite circular format, this painting shows Mary looking on as John the Baptist (center) hands baby Jesus a cross, symbolizing Jesus' acceptance of his ultimate sacrifice. The tour guide emphasized how both the scenery and the background are very natural (in contrast to earlier work that I didn't like enough to attempt to photograph).

Lucretia, by Rembrandt van Rijn, oil on Canvas, 1664
Apparently this captures the moment just before Lucretia kills herself to restore her and her family's honor following her rape. She's selected some of her finest clothing for the moment.
Here's the tale, as told by davidrumsy.com: According to the Roman historian Livy, Lucretia, the wife of a Roman nobleman, was known for her virtue and loyalty. Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the ruling tyrant, raped her while her husband was away. The next day Lucretia told her husband and father what had happened and, in their presence, took her own life, choosing death over dishonor.

Madam Monet with her son, Claude Monet

Self portrait, 1889, Vincent van Gogh

Painted after he voluntarily entered an asylum and suffered a breakdown there.