Monday, March 30, 2009

An afternoon with Balto, an otter and two little girls

Elise walking up a stairway at a local park

I am lucky. Both of my girls love nature. So we spent time this last weekend hiking in the muddy NE Ohio woods and visiting Balto (and some other creatures) at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Elise and her daddy, along with two crazy dogs

Many may (or may not) know that Balto only led the last 53 miles of the famous 1925 diphtheria serum run that saved the lives of many people in Nome, Alaska. Togo, another dog who ran in the serum run, did most of the work, but got little credit. Sadly, after publicity of the serum run died down, Balto's owner, musher Gunnar Kaasen, sold him and the rest of the team to a traveling "dog and pony show" before Balto ended up at the Cleveland zoo where he spent the rest of his days. This is how Balto came to rest in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Seems like a sad end for such a heroic and strong animal who did so much to help people.

Here is a video I shot of a movie at the museum commemorating Balto and the Serum Run that became the foundation for the Iditarod every year. The happy looks on the dogs' faces are familiar, despite this footage being more than 80 years old.

Here are some other pictures from the day:

Sophie, future musher, and Balto

Sophie playing with Mr. Potato Head at the new forensic science exhibit

Sophie and a bear statue outside the museum

The favorite activity of the day was seeing raccoons and the otter exhibits at the museum.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ain't no mud on me!

This time of year, there's nothin' but mud! Some images from today's run...
Jim Wellert's Princess

"There are Striders on the road"

My pup, Ruffian (front, white) and Jim's Dexter

Of course, my boys: Jack (left) and Yeti (right)

click below for a video from today's run

Friday, March 27, 2009

For Today

Today, I awoke to a message from a friend. It said, "Just for today, I will dismiss my negative judgements of others, instead concentrate on appreciating the wonderful nature of all."

This is certainly difficult sometimes, isn't it? We think we know. We truly believe that our advice or criticisms or judgements about someone else are earnest and for their own good. We are wrapped in our own heads so much that we think we know things enough to pass judgements. We may be wrapped in our negativity so much that it clouds our thinking, skews our view. We forget that our judgements usually do no good - that there is only one judge.

And, it's hard to not retaliate when we feel misjudged. And fact it, we are always judged by someone or thing: creditors, employers, family, coworkers, by things...mere things like the car we drive, the clothes we wear, or the language we speak.

I had the pleasure of viewing an amazing slideshow of photographs last night that celebrate the diversity of our country and its people. The link to this site is here

I admire so much the work of these photographers, especially David Eustace and Richard Renaldi

Take a minute and watch the slideshows (linked to the photographer's name).

For today, do not pass negative judgement on others. Celebrate.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Karaoke at Frank's Place

Frank's Place in Akron

Yesterday was a special day. Not just because it was Chris's birthday.

Yesterday, we went out without the kids!

One of the beautiful things about being a freelance writer and working for myself is I can be with my kids. Elise attends preschool only twice a week for half day. I am home to pick Sophie up from school. I spend lots of time with the kids.

Lots of time.

So, when I have an occasion to escape for an evening, I jump on it. And Chris's birthday seemed like just the opportunity.

We connected with our friend, Tina, Chris's friend from high school for an evening out: first, to watch a performance of a choir directed by Chris and Tina's former director when they were in Madrigals. It was at Westminster Presbyterian Church, and I was distracted by the constantly-changing colors from the setting sun in the stained glass windows.

Then, we hit Frank's Place.

Frank's Place is a little piece of Akron, a dive, for all intents and purposes. It's small and quaint, decorated with Christmas lights throughout the entire year. There's a juke box, and on Sunday nights, karaoke.

A wall decorated with a taste of Akron at Frank's Place

For Tina and Chris, this was just the ticket after an evening remembering their days in Madrigals.

After catching up for awhile over a couple beers, they hit the microphone.

Tina singing, karaoke dude smiles for the shutter bug

Tina belts out "Big Horse and the Cherry Tree"

Then it was Chris's turn, "Blackbird" by the Beatles.

Happy Birthday, Chris!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A trip to the Wellert's

Jack and Ruffian awaiting the chance to run

Nights like this I can't sleep. Thoughts whirl around in my head: mostly of my passions, my dogs, my kids, sadness that these cool days are almost at an end, excitement thinking about pulling out the kayak soon, excitement from today's run.

There's a new musher in town. A couple weeks ago, my friend, Joann Fortier, told me about a guy who lives five minutes away from me buying Tak, one of her dogs.

You may remember Tak from when I watched the Fortier's kennel.

She loves to howl, but is very shy.

Today, I had a chance to meet this new musher, Rodney, who has just gotten into dogs and is brand new to the sport. I drove to his house and, after loading up his new dogs, including Tak, we made the 20 minute trek to the kennel of Jim and Lori Wellert.

Jim and Lori hanging out in Al Hardman's cabin during the Seney 300

Jim has been mushing for quite a few years and, most recently, finished successfully in the Seney 300 and the U.P. 200, completing his Iditarod qualifiers totaling 500 miles on the runners. He hopes to run the Iditarod and the Stage Stop, Wyoming's famous stage race, in the upcoming few years. Jim and Lori were kind enough to invite Rodney and me to their kennel for some fun in the mud with the dogs.

These pictures are not the greatest as I forgot my camera - something I am rarely without! I took these with my phone.

But here is the team with Tak, first white dog from the rear, and my 10 month old Ruffian, second white dog from the rear also from the Fortier kennel.

We had a blast, and Rodney was infected with the excitment and simple joy this sport brings.

Thanks to the Wellert's for spending the morning with us.

The days in between


This happens every year at this time. Days start getting warmer. People rejoice at daylight savings time and vernal equinox. But the dogs and I mope at the rise in temperature, panting in the muddy spring thaw, dirty and bored. It gets warmer - half of this week it was in the low 70's here. Everything we've looked forward to for six months is done.


These are what I call the days in between: too hot to run dogs, but still too cool to drag the kayak into the water.

During this time, I resume training at the gym, making the daily, regimented trek to the track, where I run in circles for over an hour around a neatly-lined lane. I chalk up over five miles. It keeps me sane. But even this is boring.

During this time, I also spend a lot of time reconvening with nature in a more relaxed way. The pace slows down.

I reconnect with my family. And I am grateful for them - realize how much I have missed them during the hectic winter season.

One look in my closet reveals how much I've missed my "professional" clothes too. My sweatshirts now have frequent flier miles, my mud boots, an "easy pass."

This week, I literally dusted off a few blazers and pairs of pumps to attend a couple important events - one in particular for the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, one of my clients. Rubbing elbows with this town's elite isn't something I typically do. Drinking chardonnay at a VIP reception, I felt out of place, but simultaneously fascinated.

At the end of the day, I'm still that sweatshirt-and-jeans kinda girl.

Tomorrow, I'll be attending my kind of soirée: running dogs in the early, crisp the mud, with my mud boots on at Jim and Lori Wellert's.

Stay tuned...and keep your tail up.

Keep on keeping on

Some days, it's hard to hang on. It seems so cold and isolated out there. Hanging on takes every bit of strength. The trail is rough, and letting go means giving up.

Some days, the snow is so deep, and the dogs are tired from slogging through and breaking trail. It's hard to think of keeping on. Or even getting up.

Some days, life is like running dogs on a rough patch of trail. One beautiful thing about running dogs is, when you're on a good trail with lots of twists and turns, there's no time to think. There is no choice but to be in the moment, right then, on every twist and turn with the team. No time for regrets or worry about the future. And if you tumble or slip up, well then there's definitely not time for regret or worry - you hang on with every bit of strength you can muster and get dragged - sometimes through stifflingly cold snow or a wet puddle. And, let's face it: it sucks. It sucks more than anything you can think of in that particular moment.

And right when you think you can't possibly keep on keeping on, somewhere deep down comes a strength you didn't know you had and you hang on, pull up, pedal up hills. And the resistance builds muscle. And the muscle makes the next struggle seem easier. And before you know it, you're yarhooing down a hill, sighing with relief and beaming with pride that you made it!

We are all struggling in our own ways. Many I know struggle right now, whether financially, or personally. I struggle too. But one thing I find distinctly American is our tenacity, resiliance, and strength - our ability to proudly, fiercely endure despite challenges, to persevere despite adversity.

This week, a job fair in Cleveland brought 5,000 people seeking work! They stood in a line that wrapped around the building for hours in the cold, hoping to find a decent paying job and a fresh start. A local janitorial job brought 800 applicants!

Many are down trodden, without work. Hard times have come to the midwest, and much of this country.

But I am proud of a people who will stand in the cold for a job and a chance to make an honest living and a fresh start. The trail is tough, but we must hang on. Our time will come.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Good friends of days past

When I was in graduate school, I met someone who would become a close friend, John Bullock.

We were both completing our Master of Arts degrees in the English department under Bob Pope at the University of Akron. We had similar tastes in literature so, ended up in many of the same classes together, becoming quite close over those years of reading James Joyce, Willa Cather, and Chaucer. Our friendship evolved to many an afternoon spent between classes in the student center, he, rolling his own cigarettes (smoking was allowed indoors everywhere back then) and I nursing a beer over good conversation. His thick English accent was home to me, as my grandfather was English.

"Perhaps I am your grandfather," he quipped one day sarcastically. Even his subtle sense of humor and use of sarcasm was familiar.

Then, in 1998, I strayed from my graduate program, taking a summer job with the National Audubon Society in Dubois, Wyoming that ended up leading to a two-year long detour to handle for Frank Teasley in Jackson Hole. I fell in love with the landscape and the easy pace of life in the west, and of course, the dogs. John and I fell out of touch. He moved to the University of Virginia to complete a Master of Fine Arts degree. We rarely spoke, except for an occasional phone call. Yet, he was still familiar.

Eventually I came back to Ohio, and recently, have started to reconnect with good friends of days past - especially Bob Pope, my former thesis advisor. And I learned last spring that John had published his first novel, Making Faces. He and I spoke on the phone for the first time in years last June.

I was slightly nervous talking to him again that first time. But after one or two minutes listening to his quick English accent, I fell at ease and smiled silently on the phone. Though we've both had our trials and hardships in life, he was still the same John, the cadence of his voice still light and soft spoken, with his subtle humor and quick laugh.

John paid the University of Akron a visit this week - the first time in 10 years - to promote his novel.

Entertaining questions after the reading

He is still the same, still familiar. Seeing him behind the podium reading from his novel, I felt proud of him, and so happy for his successes. He is now part-time faculty in the English department at Ohio University and managing editor for the New Ohio Review.

Our paths digressed and took totally different routes, but the people and the places of those years formed a solid foundation to help me become who I am. And I am so grateful for those people.

Here are more photos from the reading and visit with John:

Our thesis advisor, Bob Pope, listens intently as John reads from his novel, Making Faces

After the reading, some current (and former, myself) English department folks headed out for some drinks and catching up

John talks shop, English department style: pensively, over a pint of Bass

Congratulations, John!

Monday, March 2, 2009

When life gives lemons...

grind them up and feed them to the dogs.

Er, uh...yea, something like that.

After the Jack Pine, a small crowd of people gathered around the truck while I was feeding the team to ask questions. Why are the dogs bootied? What are the reasons some people drop a dog in a race? What are you feeding?

I had written about this in the beginning of the season, but because of all the questions, I thought it might be worth revisiting.

The picture above is the meat I give my dogs: a concoction from our local butcher of scraps of all variety of meats (fatty parts of beef and liver mostly), frozen conveniently in pre-cut, one lb. blocks. Each day, they get one of these blocks, plus a sizable portion of high-protein (42 protein/24 fat) kibble, psyllium and a dash of corn oil mixed in with lukewarm water to form a delectable doggy gruel the group slurps up on a dime. They each also get 400 mg vitamin E, in pill form, and the older dogs, a dose of glucosamine.

Sled dogs eat like champs. They eat better than most people. And I, like a lot of mushers, read the ingredients of bags of kibble with a scrupulous eye.

One of the first questions most mushers will ask when thinking of buying a dog from another musher is, "is he a good eater?" There aren't a lot of picky eaters in this population (referring to not only dogs, but most mushers I know as well). A good sled dog eats almost anything and does it gratefully and with lightening speed.

Like mushers :-)

In other news...

Sophie at her audition for an elite school for performing and fine arts on Wednesday

This is my girl. The quintessential Sophie in true form. This picture, snapped five minutes before she auditioned for a spot in an elite school in our area, captures Sophie perfectly. Laid back, easy going, free-spirited.

Consider this. To prepare for this audition, she had to memorize two monologues of two minutes in length each, prepare a portfolio with two letters of recommendation from teachers/coaches, be prepared for an improvisation and a short interview on why she wants to study acting.

And yet, look at her. So calm. So poised. I am so proud of her grace and her talent.

We find out whether she's accepted on the third week of March.

Good luck, Sophie.

And keep your feet on the runners, and don't let go. Don't ever let go.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Photos from the sidelines

It's hard when you're the photographer, but then you're the one on the runners.

I stood on the sidelines until the wee hours for both the U.P. 200 and the Midnight Run snapping photos of teams as they passed by through the night.

So when it was my turn to race Saturday morning, I had resigned myself to the fact that there would be no photos of my team. This is the problem when you're the photographer: no pics of yourself typically.

But then, I saw a man along the sidelines as I was coming into town along the shoreway of Lake Superior....and, could it be, he was snapping pictures of teams! I yelled out, "hey, look me up and send me a copy would you," thinking I'd probably never see that photo.

Today, I received an email from that man! He writes:

"Dear Mrs. Miller,

I am trying to find who wore bib #13 at the Jackpine 30 this past weekend in the UP. I had taken a photo of the musher as she was crossing a bridge near the finish line and she had asked me to forward her a copy of that pic. I believe the person was you ... Congratulations on the race and I look forward to seeing you and your brethren (I don’t think “sistren” is a word, but you know what I mean!) at next years events!

A fan of mushing,
Aladino Mandoli"

And here is the awesome photo Aladino took.

Look how the leaders, Star and Tefa, are in perfect stride together!

Thank you so much to my new friend Aladino, aka "Dino"

Here is his web site with a gallery of more of his impressive work.