Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Sunday in the Park, and then, Supper

Today started out rather questionably. Due to time constraints, my weekend run was moved from Saturday to Sunday (today). But I was feeling some discomfort in my left knee, so I eased up on the pace a bit. That got me through the first eight or so miles, but I was eventually forced to walk. And soon even walking was too much for me, so for the first time I had to call my wife to come pick me up. Fortunately I was only a couple of miles from the house.

I think some of the power intervals I've been doing on my bike had something to do with the knee problems. Tomorrow's cycling workout is going to be a lot more low-impact.

Still, I didn't let that spoil our other plans for the day. I recently got a one-year National Parks pass from my work, and I'd been anxious to put it to use. So we had been planning to go up to Rocky Mountain National Park to do some sledding at Hidden Valley. My kids had never been sledding before, so it would be a great adventure.

We had lunch at the Estes Park Brewery, which is quickly becoming our go-to eatery in EP. My sister and family introduced us to the place when they were staying at a near-by cabin. Despite its beer-centric nature, it is really quite family-friendly and has proven plenty low-key each time I've been. We didn't have any beer this time, but the food, while not gourmet, is good enough to stand on its own.

After lunch we hit the slopes for a little while. My 5-year-old daughter gets intimidated by new things that she perceives as dangerous. She recently rode a horse for the first time, and was terrified. But afterward she couldn't stop talking about how great it was. Sledding turned out to be the same way. Fortunately it was my wife, instead of me, who forced her onto the sled the first time.

It only took one run down the hill for her to be convinced that sledding was a lot of fun. She was less convinced, later, when I told her that every good sled outing should include at least one crash. Maybe that's just because the crashes were my fault, and her mother always got them down the hill safely. I'm not sure she trusts me.

My 15-month-old son did pretty well with the sledding also, though he was much more noncommittal in his response. Luckily I didn't crash with him.

It's hard for little ones to keep warm, no matter how much you bundle them up. So we kept the outing short. But we're looking forward to using that Parks pass as much as we can in the coming year.

After we got home, my wife had to run out to the grocery store while I got started making supper. I've been reducing my meat consumption lately, and I'd already had two servings of meat for the day (turkey meatloaf after my run, and a bison burger for lunch), so we planned to have a vegetarian supper. There were roasted root vegetables (beets, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, and onions); a tabbouleh-inspired quinoa dish; and sauteed beet greens.

It all turned out really well, if I do say so myself. There are too many really good cooking blogs out there for me to want to compete, but I was really surprised by how good the beet greens turned out, so I'm going to present the recipe here. The strategy was based on recent efforts of sauteeing chard and kale.


  • 1 or 2 tablespoons of canola or olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 or so cups of coarsely chopped beet greens, stalks removed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Put the oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add onions and cook for a few minutes, until they become tender and translucent. Add mushrooms and garlic, and continue cooking for a couple of more minutes. Add vegetable broth and bring to a low boil. Stir in the greens, add a few sprinkles of salt & pepper, and cover. Reduce heat and simmer until the broth is mostly reduced - perhaps 20 minutes.

I'd never had beet greens before, but one taste was enough to convince me that it should become part of our regular menu. And it's packed with vitamins A and C with a good bit of calcium and iron. Even my wife, who doesn't usually go for cooked greens, wanted a second helping.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

You go, Guy!

Today Guy Fessenden, of, completed his 100th marathon in 140 days across the U.S.A. to raise awareness of, and funds for, mental illnesses. Actually, I haven't seen any confirmation online, but I have no doubt that he reached the Santa Monica pier this afternoon as planned. His daughter Suzanne was diagnosed with schizophrenia 12 years ago, and he is determined to do whatever he can to improve the lot in life for her and others like her.

I wish I could have been with him and everyone else who came out to run that last mile of the Journey. My thoughts were with them as I went out for my run this morning. It actually helped motivate me to hit a personal record of 13.3 miles in 1:39:20.

One of the points Guy drives home is that we need to end the stigma of mental illness. Things cannot get better if nobody is willing to talk about it. Schizophrenia is more often the punchline of a stupid joke than a topic of serious conversation. That needs to change.

To that end, I would like to make a departure from the normal topic of this blog and talk about the worst day of my life. I wish this story wasn't so much about me, but I can't know or convey what things were like for the person in the story who really mattered.

It was December of 2001. It was only a couple of days before I was going to be taking time off from work to go visit my family at my sister's house. My parents and brother were back in the States from Germany, and so the whole family would be there. I was finally going to get to introduce my girlfriend, C, to the rest of them.

I was so excited, I was feeling on top of the world as I sat there at my desk at work, counting down the hours. When the phone rang, I saw the Alabama area code on the caller ID and was certain that it was someone in my family calling, perhaps to verify our travel plans, or maybe just to say how they were equally anxious for us to be there. I answered with a cheerful "Hello?"

It wasn't anyone from my family. It was the local police department telling me that I needed to call home.

My little brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia a year or two previous. He had gone through a lot growing up, and when my dad got an assignment in Germany, my brother moved with my parents, hoping to get away from a bad scene and unhealthy circle of friends. But it was too late. All of the drugs had done their work on whatever underlying proclivity had been lying dormant in him, and he started exhibiting obvious symptoms soon after they moved.

He suffered unimaginable torment. Voices in his head constantly berated him and wore away at his will to live. After a couple of suicide attempts, he was sent to a hospital in London for a brief period. He had been such a bright, fearless kid, and I was certain that despite his troubled teenage years, he had great things in store for him. So it was really difficult to know that he was in such pain, and I was so many thousands of miles away. He was 20 years old, and was planning to stay in Alabama when my parents went back overseas after the holidays.

When I called home on that December afternoon, my dad answered the phone. He was so distraught, he didn't even recognize my voice. After I told him it was me, the conversation was very short.

Dad: "It's your brother."

Me: "Did he..."

Dad: "Yes."

Me: "Oh Fuck!"

Dad: "He shot himself."

Me: "I'll be there as soon as I can."

When I hung up, everybody around me in the office was looking at me. I told my supervisor that I had to leave, and walked out the door. On the drive home, I called one of my oldest, best friends. Her family had gone through precisely the same thing in the mid 1990s. I felt bad for dumping that on her, and I wasn't really in any shape to drive, let alone talk on the phone at the same time. But she had to know.

I got home and told C that we had to go. I pulled out a suitcase and just started dumping things in it. Somehow she managed to make sure we were reasonably prepared for a 1300-mile drive, funeral, and a trip to Michigan the following week; and we were out the door in, I could swear, 15 minutes. After dropping off a house key with my other oldest, best friend, we hit the road and drove straight through the night, arriving at my sister's house the next day in a state of complete emotional and physical exhaustion. The days that followed were full of tears which, after these 10 years since, never feel too far away.

Anyway, there we have it. No more stigma. Mental illness is a serious problem, and there are entirely too many stories just like my brother's, and like mine, but most of them are never widely told. There are others who survive, but their quality of life is nothing like it should be. Things have to get better.

The day my brother died was the worst day of my life, by far. But it's impact has been kind of unexpected. After that, I determined that I was going to lead a more positive life and focus more on the good and beautiful things around me. I wanted to be a better person. And I wanted to make the lives of those around me better as well.

One of the few direct approaches I've found to try to help in the fight against mental illness is to support NARSAD - the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression. It's a non-profit which helps fund research in hopes that we can understand the problem better, improve the quality of life for those who suffer, and maybe some day find a cure.