i am a runner

November 22nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

45 laps.

9 laps to a mile.

5 miles.

7, 357 steps. about.

my shoes have holes where my heel rubs against the back and now it’s just sock on plastic. the laces used to be hard to tie and now i can pull them tight, double knot them and still have giant bunny ears flopping over the sides.

it never used to be this way. running. this horrible act that gets you no where. accomplishes nothing. running for the sake of running. silliness.

the track is at the college gym. i get in for free because of my wife. when it’s raining, or the temperature drops below fifty fahrenheit and my breathing becomes troublesome i go there. i flash my badge at whoever is looking and take the steps one at a time to the track – delaying the pain.

sports are a reason to run. basketball. baseball. football. even neighborhood games like hotbox or free the bunch. these things justify the act of running. running just to run. what is the purpose?

they painted the SRC (sports and recreation center) orange with navy accents to match the school colors. i’m not sure who signed off on it, but they should be fired. it takes a glorious facility and makes it chinsy. a word that should never be associated with my alma mater. inside, where they hide the track, it is now familiar.

my wife insists on punishing herself most mornings. she wakes up early and she does this running thing. when i started my beer hobby she insisted that i work out in some capacity. the easiest and cheapest form of exercise is running for running’s sake. as depressing as it is, i started.

there’s a sign on the railing that borders the interior of the track – a giant oval cutout over looking three different basketball courts that are used not just for basketball, but indoor baseball practice, lacrosse, and a rock climbing wall – that points that day’s direction. there are people already in flow. i pull the jacket off, double check my armband, and merge into oncoming traffic. i have no counter and rely on my memory. with each step i mentally say the words. lap one. one. one. one. one.

my first mile after not having a gym class in years was brutal. thank the maker i didn’t record it. eventually it got easier, and i tacked on distance. winter came and i went to the SRC with a friend. we upped our distance to 2 miles running and went almost daily. then to three. all in the name of my beer hobby.

the first two miles go quickly. a phrase i never dreamed i could say. two miles. quickly? still, 18 laps later i feel good and i have time. all the time. i decide 4 is my new target, pending lap 28 – a lap that causes a mental block. there’s something in me that needs this, though. today, i need 4. i need 36 laps. 36 defined ovals that just require a mindless foot in front of the other. i can do this. i’m doing this.

three is my sweet spot. i’m still slow, but three is where i live. on a bad day it takes 30 minutes. on a good day, under 27. reliable timing. not too much of an inconvenience. the outside route is now familiar and i know how to pace myself. 27 laps when indoor running is required is enough to avoid insanity. three. i like three. three is enough to feel like i’ve worked out, but few enough that i’m not a runner. i’m enabling a hobby. three is good.

i started running around 11:00am, having woken at 6:30. i knocked out a list of tasks, including a delightful americano, but forgot the part about food. this works to my advantage as lap 28 comes and goes. no cramping. legs are fine. breath is good. 36 will come quickly. i entertain the thought of 5 miles. 5 would be good. haven’t run 5 in a long time.

a friend convinced me to a to do a 10 mile race. i agreed, and i trained. i roped Dad and the whole family into it. the only way i’d finish. as a family event i maintained that i was not a runner. this is a family event. bonding.

lap 36. my mind blanks. there’s nothing left to think. just the numbers. 3. 6. 3. 6. right, 3. left, 6. i’ve zoned out the podcast squawking in my ears without realizing it. i stare ahead, footfall after footfall, and dream of lap 45.

when we trained, i dreamt of chocolate milk. always chocolate milk. a giant cold glass of it. smooth and rich. maybe i’d have a second glass? i’d probably need a second glass. each footfall brought that glass closer. training – running – sucks.

at 40 these young goons enter the track. they’re younger and they’re quicker and that is the most annoying. they lap me. i scowl. 5 laps to go. nothing i can do.

after the race, i kept at it. habit forming and what not. i reverted back to three because three is my sweet spot, and then if i’m only running 3 miles 4 – 5 times a week, i’m not a runner.

lap 45 is my favorite lap. it’s the final lap. all the energy left in my legs is let loose. my legs are long and i use them. i push my strides longer and i feel lighter. i pass the three goons as i round my final ninth of a mile. the air changes around me as i pick up speed all i see is the end. let me get to the end.

it’s time i own up to it.

i am a runner.

that tastes like skunk mixed with a lysol baby wipes. bleh. i am a runner? disgusting. the trouble is…

it’s true.

i rearrange my schedule to get runs in. in the summer, when i can run outside, i run 7 days a week. in the winter, it goes down to 5-6 because of the track’s availability but that’s still a lot of days. a lot of miles. a lot of running. when my personal plans interfere, i rearrange my work schedule to get the miles in. to get the laps in. to get running in.

it’s despicable, really. a terrible drug. there’s this idea of a runner’s high floating around runner’s circles. there’s no high with running. if there was, maybe i wouldn’t feel so sick at the thought of it. it’s torture, really. each stride makes me hate myself a little bit more, but i need it like i need to breath. i have to get it in. i can’t miss days. i need the running. if someone would like to have an intervention, i’d gladly allow it. please, take this running from me.

i finished the 45th lap and started walking to cool down. i caught myself wondering if i can fit a run in between 2-4, the open track hours on sundays, tomorrow. foolishness. too much going on. still, it’d be good to get it in.

uffda. i am a runner.

because the cold isn’t that bad

November 12th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

i can see my breath. it puffs out in a heavy cloud that fights gravity.

my coat is zipped tighter, and my mittens are out of hibernation trapping the heat and making my fingers sweaty. the air is damp and works its way through my layers. past the overcoat, between my neck and sweatshirt and down my spine. it nips at my ankles because i refuse to not wear ankle socks.

it isn’t cold yet. it’s preparing, but right now it awakens. the darkness boasts dreams of the sleepless variety, and endless possibilities. a world devoid of color opens up the lines for the imagination to color in. the chill pulls the synapses into focus and everything seems more alive.

there’s an endless silence, as if the world quits when the daylight goes. you hear the chatter. the ones saying ooooo daddy! it’s cold! and here we go again. as they shimmy out the office doors taking longer strides hoping to escape the wind before it works its way between their scarves and under their hats. i’m no better. my strides elongate and i walk tense. every muscle pulled tight as if this will help trap the heat. to some degree it must work as it is instinctual.

at night, though, it’s different. at night i step outside and there’s a calm. a hush. there’s that empty masterpiece waiting to be penned, waiting to be painted, waiting to be discovered. it floats out there. out in the darkness and in the vapors and the mists. it floats in with each inhale and takes shape with each exhale. it encourages action. a push in the pants to not sit still. to strive for more. to do something.

so i do something. i walk a little faster. i find a keyboard more often.i finish the books in my endless stack of to reads 

i find a home inside a sweatshirt and deep inside slippers, and when i’m done with the doing, i find refuge in a blanket and a beverage. there is nothing quite so cozy as the warmth inside, while the world outside slips below freezing. and when you’re there, in that perfect position cocooned inside all the layers and the fabric soft against your skin, you slip away into the best of sleeps. into the sleeps that hold you close, never wanting to let you go because all is as it should be.

mornings with oma

November 1st, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

memory transforms through the passing of time. it takes what was and morphs it into clips and snapshots that are lodged in some lobe, taking shape when we hear a name, or see a place, or a smell waffs into our nose.

sometimes there are too many. sometimes you hear a name and your brain overloads and it pushes that energy out in a salty mix and you can only sit and let it happen.

Oma and Opa. always Oma and Opa.

we visited them in Canada and for 22 years that was the only time i’d ever been out of the country. Oma and Opa had a Fievel stuffed animal and we kids scoured the house for it as soon as we finished welcome hugs. in my memory i always won, despite what my sister and brother might say. we took turns sleeping with Fievel each night we were there.

she always had salt and vinegar chips. not the kind you get here, but Old Dutch. they came in boxes of 2 bags. maybe it was like Costco, or maybe that’s just the way the Canucks do things. there was also coffee crisp. i was doomed to love coffee from the age of 7 or some such. we would freeze them and then we would savor them.

i was always one of the first ones up, and i get that from Dad who gets it from Oma and Opa. she would be up at 5 brewing a pot of coffee. in later years, when they moved to Minnesota to be near their kids and grandkids, i would stay with them. i slept on a cot in Opa’s office next to their bedroom. hearing her stir, i’d wait a few minutes then give in, slipping down stairs to Oma at the kitchen table with her coffee and a piece of toast. toast and homemade raspberry jam. always raspberry jam.

she stopped making it maybe 10 years ago. i came home from college and visited them before they moved into their retirement home, and she had a smile on her face – the one that meant she had a surprise waiting. basement freezer, she said, her eyes with a sparkle of mischief. i ran to the basement and popped the freezer and like a lighthouse it stood: the last jar of raspberry jam. she found it when she was cleaning out the freezer and she saved it. she always saved things for grandkids. she always took care of us.

we’re Siewerts. german in origin and there’s always been a weird struggle with the word love. i remember calling Oma for her birthday one year in college and saying that i loved her, and she didn’t know quite what to do with it. for her love was something done not said. it was raspberry jam, and homemade strudel or crapes. it was a puzzle book that we worked on together, or the late nights of doing puzzles. it was being there for Christmas with stockings for each of her grandkids.

near the end i’m not sure that i said it enough. i couldn’t do anything for her. i couldn’t do the dishes after a meal, or refill her water pitcher in the fridge. there was no lawn to mow, or cookies to bake alongside her. there was only the words. i love you. so we went and we sat with her and we said i love you. Opa still did things. he fed her, and wet her lips with a little sponge. he talked to her and he loved her so much. he loved her so very much.

dad and i visited a few months ago. she was in a separate part of the retirement home where she had 24/7 care. she was still up and sitting then, in a wheelchair. i saw her and my heart shattered. i held her hand and i cried. it came out of nowhere, but i knew she wasn’t my Oma anymore. not the one that took care of me and held me. i cried because even then i knew we were losing something so precious. now she’s really gone, and i miss her.

i will always miss her.


October 3rd, 2014 § 4 comments § permalink

it is october and muggy. the air is thick and catches in your throat and nostrils when i walk outside. there’s a promise of rain that’s afraid to deliver.

air conditioning has been switched off because autumn came early, or so i thought, and i’m reliant on the windows to provide air flow.  i returned from the united kingdom on wednesday and my body begs for sleep before i want to let it. i’m afraid my wife will get too cold if i open up all the windows overnight, so i just pull the one in our bedroom, figuring she can close it when she returns for the night. her days are filled with work she loves, and her nights are filled with her passion. sometimes i envy her go ability. an ability that takes her sleep deprived body from event to event. from memory to memory. she lives a poetic life that i constantly try to interrupt with moments of rest.

i pop a pill to keep me asleep all night. a jet lag recovery tactic that usually works. the fan blows the air in from the window over my body and the manufactured waves crash over my eyes as i drift away into a river of dreams i’ll never remember.

at 5:00, i wake. about two hours from my normal routine. there’s the perfect patter of rain outside my window and i savor the sound. kristin sleeps as if the world is turned off. i toss and turn hoping to grab an extra hour of sleep, but it is no use. my body thinks it’s 11am and i’ve wasted the day already. i kiss her sleeping beauty face and slide out of bed. the world awaits.

coffee is a different word in Europe. it means espresso and care, most of the time. it also means instant poison at other times and i haven’t quite understood that dichotomy. the early morning and the espresso beans from a trip to kansas city and the espresso machine from my mom and dad gives me time to make coffee as  Europe defines it this morning. a treat i may have to turn into habit.

i crack the windows and let the rain wake me up before the aroma of coffee will take me to a lake, a dock, and a sunrise from my youth. the memories of smells and moments forever intertwined. a stream of consciousness out of my  control.

it is in this setting. the world dark. the sky crying tears of sadness for the end of summer, and tears of joy for the coming winter slumber, and coffee hot enough to burn even my father’s tongue that i find time to type. time to remind myself of my passion. time to find myself, my God, and my peace.

it is Friday, and the weekend is off to a great start. i hope yours will do the same.


i am the frito bandito

September 3rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

my dad built our basement.

he hung clear plastic in front of the door to prevent dust and icky things from getting upstairs. i don’t remember when he finished, but it was after i shared a bedroom with my siblings, and before they gave me their old waterbed.

when i was older he redid the bathroom. it could be that the eighth of an inch thick carpeting and outdated counter tops didn’t help our resale value, or perhaps he was just bored. either way, he decided tile was in order, and that he could do it himself.

he rented a tile cutter from Ace Hardware, back when it was in a strip mall, before it moved opposite the Walmart nobody wanted into a bigger space with easier accessibility. this was when they let the boy scouts set up a tent and sell hot dogs for a dollar. we would go to Ace for this or that, get hot dogs, and then walk across the strip mall to Von Hansen’s Meats and gorge ourselves on beef jerky. Dad would out eat me, though not for lack of trying.

when he decided to tile the bathroom, he crouched on his knees a lot. i would sit on the couch just outside the bathroom watching TV, going in to check on him every once in a while. why are you doing that? what does that do? are you sure that’s straight? you missed a spot? over there, Dad. 

i was too little to be helpful, or rather too large. in the clouds that make up that memory, all i see is a giant on his knees in faded jeans and an old shirt hunched over a floor. there was no room for my help.

it was probably somewhere in the third quarter of the Timberwolves game when it started. a deep voice belting over the screeching tennis shoes:


he sang it like it was his Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd, only he learned it from a Fritos commercial and it had no life giving ability. over and over he belted. adding a couplet here and there just to mix it up. usually the added lines were about the problem the project presented. sometimes it would be about the tile cutter not cutting straight, or clean. mostly, though, it was just about a frito bandito. aye. yai. yai. yai.

when my wife and i moved into our first home, i immediately identified the projects. the first was an outdated banister, then the lack of doors in the basement hallway, and then perhaps the most exciting project: a deck. i grew up with decks. i – perhaps mistakenly – remember helping dad build a deck in the first home i knew. a little boy with a Donald Duck t-shirt on and yellow shorts he refused to let mom wash hammering away at a nail bigger than his hand. a deck. a place for the grill and summer eating. a place to sit and dream. to enjoy the outdoors. a place to relax and forget about life’s worries and to-do lists. a deck.

it took us two years. first i had to rip out the apparatus the previous owner built around a massive ant-infested stump. in doing so, i learned no permit was ever attained, nor was the platform up to code. then, we removed the stump and thankfully our ant problem. my wife made me hire people to do this, although i still believe i could have done it with enough elbow grease and determination.

finally came the summer where we had the budget, and the time. friends gathered and helped me with parts. digging holes, clearing dirt, laying the foundation, and finally the planks. there were days, though, when i was alone. when the task at hand required no help and just needed to get done. one of those days was installing the chicken wire around the foundation to prevent critters from burrowing under the deck, dying, and stinking up the yard and house.

as i cut and stapled chicken wire it came out of my mouth like an old hymn. the top of the deck is only 15 inches off the ground, and i am the six foot giant my dad is, hunched over a project, tedium taking over my brain. a podcast squawked in my ears and still it flowed from my lips.


i sang it three or four times before i realized i was singing it. unroll the chicken wire. i am. cut the chicken wire off. the frito. staple the wire to the boards. BANDITO! cut off the excess wire. aiy, yai, yai, yai!

the rhythm of the tune, and the teaching’s of my father all rolled up into a moment of instinct. a moment where motions superseded thought. a moment like many other moments where time spent with dad, learning from dad, just happened.

when it dawned on me what was happening, i smiled like the Joker. if my neighbors were outside instead of inside hiding from the threatening rain they may have marked me psycho. i am the Frito Bandito.

my grandpa doesn’t strike me as one to sing songs while working, but i’ve been known to be wrong. i don’t know if Dad learned it from Grandpa in the same way that i learned it from Dad, but if he did, it takes some of the crazy out of the nonsensical singing. it unites a line of Siewerts together in labor song. determination, and simple want-to overcoming the tedium. a helping hand whether the hand is in another country, or another state, it reaches out of the song to encourage us to carry on and to remind us that the reward at the end of the project is a bag of Fritos.

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