April Stories


 Inside cover of The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

In April, I read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life alongside a collection of essays by Joan Didion. Most days, I woke up with a writer shivering inside a flimsy cabin on Haro Strait and went to bed beside a writer waiting with suspicious Haight-Ashbury hippies.

I finished The Writing Life last week, pushing the book into the library receptacle as if sliding a friend’s hand-written journal under her door, and I hope to never finish the Didion book.

I read them at the moment when my husband lost his job (one of 130 employees laid off and sent home) and lost his dog (a fifteen-year-old English Cocker Spaniel who never recovered from surgery). I read them for the sixth month of rain in Vancouver, putting dents into my training plans and anti-depression armor. I also read them as I start writing projects with new goals, topics and formats.

It’s an intense time with loud exhales and quiet lunches, so Dillard and Didion are ideal companions. Reading them promises a moment in the shadows of wise and precise observers. They go slowly, appreciating the meaning or detail that amount to a day. Their words never speed into a reckless sentence, never cut off other ideas or turn without a signal. There are no hashtags. I don’t scroll.

Their printed words pull and follow each other in an orderly way, simultaneously paving and driving a road through the massive pile-ups of a typical day. Their licenses are faded, leathery from decades of work;  I am the only person to care if my learner’s permit blows away.  I sit in the backseat, studying their beautifully constructed sentences and paragraphs, trying to keep up with their tempos and themes, looking out to see mailboxes at the edge of gravel driveways, dogwood branches stretched over dark ditches, and two boys who stop running as we drive by before accelerating onto the freeway.

Yes, we tell stories in order to live. We also read in order to live.

7 Emotions for the 10k Sun Run


2017 Sun Run results

I joined 41,923 fellow participants in the 33rd annual Vancouver Sun Run this past weekend.
Since running the Sun Run five (or six, maybe seven) years ago, I had forgotten how the event can generate almost as many emotions as the number of kilometers clicked through the city:
Happiness:  I loved seeing people of all ages and fitness having fun plus the dad hauling ass with the baby jogger. I hope the kid was strapped in.
Sympathy: The race can be a heart breaker. A friend who had been carefully training through a year of physical injuries was walking to the start line when the pain suddenly flared up. The friend turned back to go home for ice and Tylenol.
Admiration: The Sun Run welcomes a large number of people with incredible stories related to their running lives. I spoke with a middle-aged woman who is motivated to eat healthier and lose weight since she started running last year. She was stoked after shaving five minutes off her 1:00+ time from the 2016 Sun Run. I also was impressed by my husband completing the race four minutes faster than me even with a bum knee.
Disappointment: I missed my goal time by two minutes.
Satisfaction: I enjoyed a solid three miles of “perfect” pacing and HR.
Frustration: In open water swims, even though I am a confident swimmer, I hang to the back or side of the mass start and advance along the fringes, giving up a direct route to circumvent the chaos.  Something similar happens for running races; I register for the time category one level slower than my goal time. So, instead of running with folks closer to my actual speed and maintaining momentum, I expend energy and lose time by dodging people. I also get angry at the slower runners, then I get angry at myself for thinking like a jerk, and then I get angry for not putting myself in a more appropriate group and then…
Calmness: Running is worth the hurting muscles and doubting thoughts at the moment your breath, arms, legs, and mind click into one organism moving forward. There were two times Sunday – along Beach Avenue and Sixth Avenue – when I dipped into that zone, and I floated above my legs and the crowd and Vancouver.
Next up is the BMO half marathon followed by IRONMAN 70.3 Victoria four weeks later.

This Week’s Triathlon Good Things


Three things from the week making me a better triathlete:

1) Wednesday Night’s Disappointing Swim

This is the time of year to establish a baseline for swimming, and at Wednesday night’s session, Pacific Spirit Triathlon Club swim coach Liz gave us 5 x 200’s to determine an average for future pacing. She instructed us to push ourselves to a sustainable, hard pace, but I didn’t. I was too conservative. I hung back. I wimped out. My average does not reflect what I can do. I was frustrated with my performance, but in the past two days, that frustration has turned to determination in pushing myself to my true limit in the future.

2) Sleeping Late

Instead of leaving my bed at the typical 5:00 a.m., I stayed under the covers for an extra hour several mornings this week to accommodate a tired body and mind on the fritz. I blame increased training, a lingering cold, and the rain.  With recent articles describing the physical and mental benefits of adequate shut-eye, I enjoyed the 60 minutes of sleep without guilt.

3) Vancouver Running Festival

This fall’s inaugural Vancouver Running Festival sounds fun. The event, more than a simple replacement of the canceled Rock-n-Roll Vancouver races, will feature several running races through the city, an expo, and perhaps more important, an organized effort to promote Vancouver as a thriving running town. From October 20th to 22nd, the full spectrum of local running – clubs, teams, pros, amateurs, events, services, vendors, histories – will be on display. If the multi-day format inspires a similar triathlon or multisport festival, that’d be cool too.

8:08 a.m.



8:08 a.m.

That’s when the sun rose this morning over Vancouver.

Eight hours and nineteen minutes later at 4:28 p.m., the sun will set for the third time in 2017, starting an evening that will last fifteen hours and forty minutes.

I learn this from an app on my smartphone. It lets me click through a calendar to find out when the sun will outlast the moon; minute by minute, I tap out a year growing lighter, promising daily good things, like golden dawns and outdoor pools, to stretch those sunny days.

That is not a prediction, but a certainty. Earth will keep its promise of light following dark following light.

The gift of one new bright moment out of 1,440 minutes in a day has never felt so promising.


Checking The Right Box For A Nonprofit Job Search

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Last week, I withdrew my name from consideration for an amazing job with an amazing nonprofit.

I was one of the two top candidates vying for a new leadership role that promised to expand my skills in management, communications, and fundraising. The organization appealed to me for a number of reasons:

  • Small budget and minimal staff with large impact
  • Secured funding for the next stage of its infrastructure growth
  • A solid reputation thanks to two decades of reliably good work
  • An involved board openly discussing healthy board and executive director roles

The part-time position would satisfy my desire to simultaneously engage with the local nonprofit community and develop my freelance writing services. I also liked the flexibility it offered by working remotely and at a co-working space with other community organizations and social enterprises.

The good vibes continued during the interview with the executive director and board members. Right questions were asked, and my responses were confident and articulate. The interview was becoming a conversation that explained what assets I offer and how I would apply them.

But then a question was posed, and I suddenly had the unbalanced sensation of driving a car with a flat tire down a long, never-ending highway.

“What is your experience working with the (fill in the blank) community served by our org?”

It was such a basic and appropriate question for anyone serious about working with the organization. Attracted to the job responsibilities of the position, I thought about the organizational mission and its served community more as contextual information when writing the cover letter and preparing for the interview. Its tools of film, video, and other digital media hit the right buttons in mind, and the responsibilities would advance my nonprofit professional career.

However, I had no experience working with its targeted community and there was no belly-burning passion for doing that.

My response to the question was as clunky as the three-tire car veering off the road.

The holy grail for many of us working in the nonprofit field is the job that advances our career and synchs our personal values with the employer’s mission.  Without the intrinsic motivation of working towards the success of the nonprofit, we know the difficulty of staying engaged and enthusiastic in a field notorious for low compensation and high burnout.

Especially in a small organization, the love of mission can sustain and elevate the performance of dedicated staff.

Conversely, I believe that a skilled employee can appreciate the organizational mission over time. Similar to learning and expanding professional skills on the job, understanding and advocating for the nonprofit mission is possible for someone who first takes a position to advance their career.

I also recognize the importance of an employer finding the right fit in employee values and skills for the organization and its ideal culture. Locating, interviewing, coaching, and learning from nonprofit talent are key responsibilities for organizational leaders. Some of my biggest hiring and managing lessons came from not taking adequate time to understand and acknowledge the real motivation of potential employees for their application; one more 15-minute telephone call could have prevented months of uncertainty.

Ultimately, the applicant must be aware of which box they are checking off in the job search and its impact on their performance and tenure.

I left the interview feeling ok, but through the afternoon, I accepted that the numerous assets I offered could not compensate for my one glaring deficit.

When the executive director kindly followed up about next steps, I thanked her and the board for their consideration. I then explained how my lack of personal connection to the mission would be a problem. I regretted taking her time and that of the interview panel.

In our conversation, we agreed that there may be future opportunities for engaging with the organization, but for now, I believed I needed more mission love and fewer job skills.

What do you think about my decision? When researching nonprofits for employment, how do you balance your personal connection to the mission of the organization with its professional responsibilities?

Another Thanksgiving


Being a U.S. citizen living in Canada with my Mexican husband means that our months overflow with holidays.

Last month, I celebrated Thanksgiving with the rest of Canada. Today I follow on social media the United States as it progresses from Turkey Trotting-Macy’s Day Parade viewing-baking-asking for cooking help on Facebook-traveling-eating-filtering Instagram posts-watching movies-watching football-eating-resting-drinking to sleeping. On Saturday, husband and I will have our own Thanksgiving dinner since we are going to his office’s winter holiday party tonight.

I love that my current life provides these opportunities to learn about and experience new national and cultural holidays. It also requires me to coherently explain U.S. holidays and their customs to my inquisitive husband.

I still am looking for a good rationale to justify marshmallows on Thanksgiving sweet potatoes other than they are sweet and gooey.

Though it’s a regular day in Canada, my cultural DNA motivates me to think about the many people and things I am grateful for this past year, and two activities come to mind.

I relied on writing (personal and professional) and running to keep me strong and optimistic while adjusting to this new life of freelance writing, marriage, and immigration. I am grateful for how the two activities combined into a single tonic for my mind and body that often felt queasy from all of the changes.

I also am grateful for how running lets me be a better writer or at least provides the excuse to take a break. Nick Ripatrazone beautifully writes about the link between writing and running in his recent piece for The Atlantic. It’s a terrific, encouraging read with many profiles of and quotes by authors who run. The piece itself is like a long run along Vancouver’s seawall with sudden, stunning views:

“Through running, writers deepen their ability to focus on a single, engrossing task and enter a new state of mind entirely—word after word, mile after mile.”

“Why do writers so often love to run? Running affords the freedom of distance, coupled with the literary appeal of solitude. There’s a meditative cadence to the union of measured breaths and metered strides.”

-Nick Ripatrazone, Why Writers Run

I am grateful to celebrate Thanksgiving every day I open my laptop and pull on my running shoes.

My Aunt Is A Kiwi

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My aunt Linda arrives in New Zealand today for a two-week trip with a high-school friend.

Linda has always been a role model. She received a Ph.D. in political science from a major research and had a successful 38-year career as a professor at another university. During her tenure, my aunt established the university’s women’s study program; served as department chairman and associate provost; and educated more than 5,000 students.

Linda’s willingness to travel is one of the many things I admire about her. Growing up, I loved hearing about the foods ate and towns visited while in Germany, England, and France. She and her son/my cousin spent a summer vacation driving around Nova Scotia. She was present at the end of East Germany and the reunification of Germany. Linda has gone on an African safari, cruised the Egyptian Nile, and ate paella in Spain.

The photo below is of a mural in the town square of San Jose del Cabo in Mexico where  she and I spent a week together last year.


According to Linda, she has visited 24 countries and yet never seems to take them for granted. The numerous trips have given her a respectful perspective towards the places visited, applying  her academic research skills to understand the cultures, peoples, and politics of the new places.

I think I understand that. Growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, though decades apart, we were motivated to cross borders to experience something new.

When international travel was impossible for me, I was happy to see the United States, feeling more secure in my cross-country adventures knowing Linda had just spent a month across the Atlantic. In college, I chose internships in Atlanta, Washington, DC, Chicago, and New York City. I endured two years in chilly Boston and then drove across the top of this country to the freshness of Seattle where I lived for 16 years. My career there with a regional nonprofit kept my travel tank full by traveling throughout the Northwest.  Now I am living just three hours north in Vancouver, BC, with plans to use this as the base for international travel with my husband.

Linda travels the world and brings the invaluable gift of inspiration back.  We chat on the phone (or all too infrequently in person) about her trips. Her journeys travel through my eyes and ears, up to my brain, down to my heart, and makes my feet move forward. I can’t wait to hear about this trip.