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Every now and then you meet someone who makes an impression on your life. Someone who, through their integrity, hard work, selfless achievements, and personal sacrifices, is, simply put, a hero. I was fortunate enough to meet such a person recently, although I didn’t fully realize the scope and quality of her heroism until the other night.

I met Molly Thorpe for the first time several weeks ago when Alan and I volunteered at the Run for Ike 5k. When I met Molly, I was mostly impressed that she had managed to put the event together in three weeks, involving the community, the police, and the city government as sponsors, supporters, and volunteers. It was impressive, but not heroic. I also knew that she coached young students to run in many events, including training for, participating in, and hopefully finishing the Los Angeles Marathon. Again, impressive, worthwhile, but not necessarily heroic.

All that was before I attended the annual award banquet for the Palm Springs Marathon Runners and finally recognized just what a hero Molly is.

First, a little history of the Palm Springs Marathon Runners. The program has just finished it’s fifth year. Molly was inspired to start the Marathon Runners after reading an article in Runner’s World Magazine about ‘Students Run LA,’ a similar program, which focused on taking ‘at risk’ students and training with them to run the Los Angeles Marathon. Molly embraced the idea, partly because she was a runner and a teacher and loved the idea of changing students lives through running.

Over the years, 75 students have participated in the Palm Springs Marathon Runners program. Of those, 30 completed enough smaller events to qualify to run the marathon, and 27 of those completed the 26.2 mile race. Along the way, the children learn about commitment, dedication, friendship, goal setting, hard work, and accomplishment, just to name a few of the benefits. To date, each participant is either still in school, or has graduated from high school. Some have gone on to college. And these were troubled kids, some of whom had been expelled from school, who, had they not found this program could have ended up being written off by the standard school system.

While I was preparing to write this post, I sent Molly an email asking about the history of the Palm Springs Marathon Runners. She quickly replied and asked me to spread the word about the program. To do so, I added a new page to this blog and copied Molly’s entire email, which gives a lot more information about the program. To read it, click here.

When we arrived at the banquet, we mingled for a while, then following the seating charts were seated at table #2, along with some friends of ours. Greg Klein, co-owner of KleinClark Sports, who produces many of the running events in the Coachella Valley, and helped the PS Marathon Runners’ program by offering discounted race entries. Cherie Gruenfeld, who has completed numerous ironman distance triathlons and has written a book on how to train for the event. Cherie introduced Molly and her kids to multisport, and they added a triathlon to their training program. Jim Franklin, who at 81  still competes in many running events and enjoys sharing his experiences (and the road) with the young people in the marathon program.

Our friends, Jim Franklin, Greg Klein, and Cherie Gruenfeld were seated at our table.

After we had all taken our seats, Molly introduced herself, talked a little about the program, then introduced the people sitting at table #1, who included her husband, Jay, some family and close friends. Then her teacher side came out, and she had her runners introduce the rest of the guests.

We were shown a video of the runners participating in this year’s events, then Molly, again channeling her inner teacher, called upon her students to stand before the crowd to tell about their experiences.

This was when I realized that I was in the presence of a hero. As child after child stood before us, they all, some haltingly, some confidently, spoke about their experience becoming marathon runners. They talked about the challenges they faced, the accomplishment they felt, the confidence they gained, all through participating in the Marathon Runners program.  Most of all, though, what came through during their speeches was the love and respect for the woman who, in reality, had saved them. It was Molly’s guidance, dedication, hard work, and love that enabled them to learn that they could succeed.

Ironman Cherie Gruenfeld gave all the kids a signed copy of her book, "Become an Ironman."

The rest of the evening went quickly. We were fed (I was able to make a nice vegan tostada salad!), many awards were handed out (Molly really knows how to put together an awards banquet!),  The last part of the evening was dedicated to the Run for Ike. Ike was the Palm Springs K-9 who was killed in the line of duty last month. The proceeds from the race will be used to purchase and train a new K-9 officer for the police force.  Amazingly, $15,130.25 was raised! Palm Springs police officers Lt. Fallon and K-9 Sgt. Cabrera were there to receive the check. Sgt. Cabrera brought tears to my eyes as he choked up himself describing the loss that the entire force felt with the death of Ike.

I love being called "Ikes Angels!"

What really touched me about the whole experience was this: This dedicated woman put together this program from scratch. She worked with the community to raise money to fund the Marathon Runners. She has dedicated her life to these children. She is, of course, out there running right along side them, both in training and in the marathon. She stands behind these kids, fights for them, and when all is said, she loves them. Molly Thorpe, not only are you a hero to your kids, you are my new hero too.

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Sunday was Mother’s Day, and it started off in the best possible way. I slept in. Seriously, I don’t get to do that very often. Between working most days at 5:30 (yes, that is AM), trying to beat the desert heat, or just getting an early start on the day, my alarm clock generally goes off somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00. So my big deal was no alarm clock and I slept all they way until about 5:30. Woot!

After my coffee, I figured I’d be a good mother and take my furry kids for a run. They love it so much, but sometimes when time is short they miss out on their run. So I took them for a two mile run. The video below is from a different day, but it gives you an idea of how much we all enjoy our run.

Next up..a bike ride with my husband. I am so happy that Alan is finally recovered from his bike crash. Yes, it’s great that he feels good and can get back to training, but, to be honest (and totally selfish), I am much more committed to my training when my training partner is healthy. In any case, we had a nice 35 mile ride with almost perfect weather.
Our timing was so spot on..with high winds forecast and of course, Mother’s Day plans, we chose to cut the ride short, arriving home just as the winds kicked up. The shorter ride allowed me time to have a short nap (oh, yeah!) before getting dressed for the actual “Mother’s Day” part of the day.

We were meeting my youngest son, David, at my favorite restaurant for lunch. Native Foods, is, of course, the only vegan restaurant in the desert, but even if there were competition, it would stand out above the others.

I needed to try their Mother’s Day special. As quoted from the Native Foods Facebook page:

Oh yes, I needed that. I encouraged my son to order the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger, something I always suggest for first-timers, non-vegans (or anyone who is hungry). Alan had the Chicken Run Ranch Burger, which was the daily special and came with a side. My entree was wonderful. Why doesn’t my tofu scramble taste like that?
We had an extra treat during this visit. Chef Tanya was in the house and kindly stopped by the table to chat and let me pose with her! She is always so nice whenever we see her at Native Foods and seems to love to get out and talk with her customers. She suggested I post the photo on Facebook (which I did–Twitter too!).

That's my little boy!

Following my advice…
David gave me, you guessed it, a new cast iron pan for Mother’s Day. I always feel the direct request works pretty well. Nathan, my oldest, and my future daughter-in-law, Sarah, sent flowers.  Very nice.
This post has been a bit of a ramble, but it was obviously an event filled day. After lunch, I resumed being “Debbie” instead of “Mom.” We did a little shopping, then headed home. I did want to mention dinner (since it is in my post title). I made Vegan Mexican Pizza. Follow the link for the recipe, but I did make a slight change. I didn’t have any of the Vegan Queso, so I made my own. I took about a half cup of Daiya Cheddar, added an eighth cup of almond milk and an equal amount of fresh salsa and popped it in the microwave until the cheese melted. Perfect!

I sprinkled some cilantro on top and served with a chopped salad.

Really an excellent day.

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>Running with the Dogs

>I recently wrote that I wanted to run like a dog. I really have tried to keep that concept in mind as I head out for my runs, to run for the joy of running. Sunday I had a 10 miler on the schedule. With Alan still on the injured list, that would have meant running by myself. I actually love running alone sometimes, but other times it is better to have company. This time the company had four legs.

It ended up like this:  I headed out early with my two big dogs, Penny and Sassy. They are the “regulars,” in shape and ready to go. We ran five miles together. They even got to got into the trails near our house, which they love, but don’t often get the chance to do (because we usually run in the dark). When I arrived home with two tired, but happy dogs, I noticed that the two little dogs, Lily and Olivia, really looked like they would love to go on a run too.

So, I hooked them up and off we went. They are not quite the trained runners that Penny and Sassy are, and they are not in as good shape, so we just ran one mile. They loved it!  Being little dogs, they like to bark at each person, car, and other dog in sight, so it was an interesting run for me.

When we got home, I noticed that my 10 year old, blind Heeler, Sidney, was acting like he’d love to go for a run too. So off we went. He’s not really a runner, so we just managed about a half mile, but we both enjoyed it. Of course, I couldn’t leave Goldie out of the loop, could I? She is a “challenged athlete,” with a compressed disk, so she has some balance problems and her back legs don’t always coordinate with the front, but, man, she can still run! We ran another half mile together. (If you’re lost about which dog is which, read here (Penny Sassy, Goldie, Sydney), here (Olivia), and here (Lily).

If you’ve been doing the math, you know that by now I had seven miles in the books. That meant I only had three more to do, which I managed, although lonesome, to finish alone.

Running with my dogs just reinforces my feeling about their attitude about running. It didn’t matter that Sidney was blind, or Goldie is handicapped. They just love to run.

So do I.

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>Whenever someone writes about the feeling of joy in running, they might use terms like ‘run like the wind,’ or when they’re talking about running fast, they may say ‘run like a thoroughbred.’  I’ve decided that my new running goal will be to run like a dog.

I know what I’m talking about. I run with two of my dogs a couple days a week. They never say “no, I’m tired, I didn’t get enough sleep,” or “no, my back (hip, head, foot) aches, or “no, it’s too cold (or hot),” or “no, I just don’t feel like running today.” They never say no. Of course, they’re dogs and they can’t talk, but you know what I mean.

Dog are enthusiastic about running. When my Dalmatian, Penny, sees me put on my running shoes she gets excited. Both she and Sassy follow me closely as I get ready to run (to make sure I don’t sneak out without them). They both smile when they run. Their ears flop. Their tails wag.

Dogs have endless energy. I’m sure if it was extremely hot, or if I ran very long distances, my dogs would get tired, but for what I’m currently running they can just go and go and go. Back when I was training for marathons, I had a dog who I’d regularly take on 10-12 mile runs, once 17 miles (that was an accident, but she was fine, in fact she loved it). These days, my dogs and I run up to five or six miles (but Penny always wants to got farther).

Dogs are fast. Faster than me anyway, and I’m the only one keeping track. Actually, that’s the only problem that I have when I run with my dogs. They want to run faster than I can.

Dogs take extreme pleasure and satisfaction from the simple act of running. They don’t worry about how fast or slow, how long or short, whether they can beat that shepherd from down the street. They just want to run.

Sassy is extremely happy with her running accomplishments.

Penny always has a smile like this after her run.

I want to run like a dog. See my tail wag.

Last weekend I ran both Saturday and Sunday, something I don’t usually do. But, it was cold and rainy, which was enough in my current mindset to keep me from riding my bike. On Saturday, I ran four miles with Penny and Sassy, including a loop of the trails south of our house. They love, love, love to run up there (as do I), but we seldom do because we are usually running in the dark. So it was a treat.

It was very cold on Saturday as we ran across a ridge that cuts through that trails area. The rain was light but the wind was chilling. Altogether a perfect day for running.  Ask my dogs.

On Sunday, it wasn’t raining but still very cold. As much as I love running with my dogs, I do sometimes need to run without them. I did take them out for a mile, but then headed out alone to run another six. I went up into the trails area again. I noticed something I’d missed the day before in the rain. The wildflowers are starting to bloom! It will be beautiful in a couple weeks when the whole area should be covered in color, but I did snap a few shots:

Not much Verbena yet. I had to look hard and get low to get this shot.

So my new mantra is “what would my dogs do?” The answer is simple. They would run.

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>I’m a little sad today. It is good news, actually. The dogs that we rescued the day before Thanksgiving have been returned to their “parents.” They stayed at our house for almost a week, though, and it is impossible not to start to love them in that amount of time. So I’m sad. Here’s the story:

Last Wednesday (the 24th) was a huge day. So much to do, I took a half day off from work to do it. The day before the Turkey Trot (the 5k race we put on in Palm Desert), there were many last minute preparations to attend to, including picking up the U-Haul truck we use to carry tables, chairs, cones, sound system, etc. for the race. Also on the agenda was shopping for Thanksgiving and hopefully getting a few things prepped. I wanted to do some last minute cleaning before my family arrived. And, finally, I had promised to sit with my grandsons while their mother did her Thanksgiving shopping. Since I had prevailed upon her to host not only Alan and myself for dinner, but my sons, my niece, and my future daughter-in-law, it was the least I could do.

As soon as I got home from work, Alan and I left to pick up the truck. It was about noon and while we were waiting for the truck to be brought to us, two little dogs wandered up. No collars (of course). At first we thought that they were the “U-Haul dogs,” that someone brought to work with them. So we asked. No such luck.

They were very friendly, relatively clean and groomed dogs. A poodle and a Maltese. They weren’t scared at all, in fact, they came right up to us. When we put them down though, they seemed to be heading right toward Highway 111, which is always loaded with traffic. No way could we let that happen.

So I brought them over to my car. I tried to give them some water, but they didn’t seem to be thirsty. So, what to do? Well, if you’ve read this blog and if you know me (and Alan especially) you know that I put those two little dogs in my car (Alan took the truck and headed on to pick up stuff). There was a neighborhood behind the U-Haul place where I hoped I’d find someone who would recognize the dogs.

First off, I climb into the car and both dogs crawl up on my lap. Cute, but that’s not going to happen. I moved them to the passenger seat, where they promptly lay down and cuddled together. I’m thinking, “Please, please, let me find their owners. I’ve got so much to do today!”

I drove around the neighborhood, which looked like government-assistance apartments (which did not take pets according to someone I spoke to), plus some single family homes farther back in the area. I asked the few people I saw, but no one claimed to recognize the dogs.

Now what? I wasn’t going to take them to the shelter, no way, no how. So I took them with me. First off, I needed a couple leashes and collars. I went back to my house, left the dogs in the car while I went in to grab two leashes (and endured my dogs sniffing me up and down–I’m sure they figured out the whole story). I had a couple choke chains that we don’t use, but they were huge. Next stop: Walgreens, where I bought two collars. Yeah, well….

I was heading over to my daughter-in-laws for grandkid-duty, so I brought the dogs along with me. I needed something to call them so I named the poodle (who was an apricot color) Peaches and the Maltese, Misty. The boys were, of course, happy to see the dogs. And Misty and Peaches were very well behaved. They walked well on their leashes, seemed to be house broken. They wanted to sit on my lap, pretty much all the time.

I ended up spending the rest of the day there. I had brought some of my dog food with me when I stopped at my house, but the dogs didn’t seem interested in my vegetarian chow offering. When I finally left about 7:00, I knew I wasn’t going to accomplish of what I intended, but I did stop by Henry’s to pick up some vegan marshmallows (necessary for my sweet potato casserole, in my humble opinion). I was afraid they’d be closed on Thanksgiving, and that is not an item you will find at your neighborhood Ralph’s.

Next came the doggy introductions. It was 7:30, we were tired, stressed, and cold. We usually do the “neutral turf” intro, bring the dogs outside, one by one, to meet the newcomers. Not this time. Alan carried one, I carried the other. We walked into the house, holding them above the fray until our dogs had calmed down somewhat. Actually, it went very well. A few growls, a few snaps, a few “what, again?” looks, but our dogs seemed to welcome Peaches and Misty into their pack. They even allowed them to join us on the bed that night, Peaches sleeping on my pillow, Misty cuddled up against my side.

Thanksgiving dawns very early in our household. Alan is up at 2:00 am, so he can be out setting up the race course by 3:00. I’m up at 3:30 so I can be there by 5:00. In spite of the apparently welcoming attitude of our dogs, I was a little concerned about leaving the new ones at home, so, along with the registration materials, prizes, medals, and other miscellany, I loaded up Peaches and Misty and headed over to El Paseo for the Turkey Trot.

Here I will give thanks to the daughter of one our our volunteers. When they arrived, I told Maya that the most important job of the day was to care for Misty and Peaches during the race. While I whipped around working the race, Maya and the dogs played, walked, and bonded. By the time the race was over, she was wishing she could take them home and I think they were wishing the same thing.

Over the course of the next several days, the dogs merged into our pack. We changed their names to Molly (formerly Misty) and Dolly (formerly Peaches). They still slept on my pillow. They learned to use the doggy door. Our morning walk was quite a sight to see. I had to work on Friday, then Saturday we were so exhausted that we accomplished nothing. Sunday, however, we finally made up some posters with pictures and headed back to the Indio neighborhood where we had found the dogs.

Monday went by with no word. We discussed what we were going to do if no one called. As Alan said, six dogs is one thing, but eight dogs sounds like you are a little crazy. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, we got the call. The man had left the dogs with his mother for just a little while. His wife was furious. His children were heartbroken. We believed that this was true because we knew how sweet and loving his dogs were. He came over right away to pick them up, received a stern lecture about collars and tags from Alan (you know, if they had tags you would have had then back in 15 minutes!). I gave them the collars that I had purchased. They were very happy to see their people, but I think I saw a little wistful look from Molly.

We know we did the right thing, both rescuing the dogs, then returning them to their home, but we still have this little sad feeling inside.

Most of our friends, even those who know us well, wonder why we would go so far out of our way to rescue stray dogs. I guess the only answer is, “It’s what we do.” And, it’s who we are:  We Call Him the Dog Rescuer, Olivia. Lily or Here We Go Again, Our Pet Family.

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>Penny the Trash Dog

>This is a video of Penny, our Dalmatian. We used to call her “Perfect Penny,” because she was our Alpha and took such good care of our pack. She really is wonderful, but in recent months has developed the habit of digging into the trash. After retuning home a few times to coffee grounds hell, we made a few changes: We take out all the “wet” trash every night, and when that failed to keep her at bay, we decided to stored the trash cans in the bathroom when we left the house.

Still, if we forgot to close the door, or even sometimes in the middle of the night, the former Miss Perfect thought it was amusing to knock over the trash can. I may be anthropomorphizing here, but I know that she knows that it was wrong. She looks guilty, she acts guilty, then she goes and does it again (any dog trainers with ideas, please pop in now).

So, is desperation, we taped a mouse trap to the top of the trash can. We put a paper towel over the top (so it wouldn’t actually hurt her), and waited. Alan came home the other day and found the trap had snapped (Penny had then dug into the other trash can, since we only had one trap–don’t ever believe people who say Dalmatians aren’t smart). Since that time, she seems to be leaving the trash alone. Alan walked past the bathroom today and saw that Penny was eying the trash. He thought she was planning to get into it, but soon realized something else was happening. Turn up the volume and watch the video.

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>Shhhhh…Don’t say the title too loudly. I’m not sure I’m ready.

Just kidding. I’ve actually been a Grandma since I was 38 years old (19 + 19, right). I have a lovely granddaughter, who unfortunately lives in Omaha with her mother. That is a story, but for another day.

This story is about two wonderful, five year old twin boys who we just discovered less than three months ago, Alan’s grandsons.

Alan with Dane and Cash

Alan and I were invited to stay over at Lisa and Kelly’s place in Huntington Beach this past weekend. Kelly was playing in a golf tournament in Burbank, and Lisa hoped to stay over the last night with him.  The funny thing is, Lisa kept thanking us for doing them a favor by staying with the boys.  Are you kidding?  We were so happy and excited to have a chance to stay and take care of them we were beside ourselves. Fortunately, our cross country schedule opened up and we jumped at the opportunity.

We were supposed to get there early enough to see the boys play in their soccer game last Saturday, but with one thing and another, we didn’t arrive until just as the game was finishing up. Four word: cat poop/dog vomit. We were bringing our two littlest dogs, Lily and Olivia, along, and wouldn’t you know it. As we were leaving, Olivia managed to step in some cat poop, get it on me, and we both had to get washed up (and I had to change).  Lily, who seems generally to be more comfortable in the car, got car sick (twice!).  Nothing like blaming your lateness on your dogs who can’t defend themselves! It was too bad that we were late. Cash had scored the first two goals (with assists from Dane).

The Tidal Waves–sorry we missed their game.

We all headed over to the house, where Lisa headed up to pack and get ready to go. Alan, I, and the boys took a walk to pick up a sandwich. That was a bit of an adventure (and we’d only just started this twin-sitting!). Our dogs just aren’t used to all that action on Main Street in Huntington Beach. People, bikes, skateboards, other dogs, all jammed on the sidewalks; all this had Lily and Olivia, um, very excited. Lily, all eight pounds of her, was ready to tackle every cruiser bike that rolled by. They eventually settled down, though, and we had a nice walk and lunch.

They were a lot more excited than this, but I didn’t take a picture.

When we got back to the house, Lisa had left, and we were on our own with Cash and Dane.  They love playing with the dogs (and vice versa), so a lot of energy was expended running through the house. We spent some time reading and just enjoying spending time with them. Lisa had stocked up on lots of veggies, so we stayed home for dinner while I cooked up some whole wheat pasta, zucchini and yellow squash, garlic, peppers and artichoke hearts. It was really good, and, we decided, a whole lot easier than going out to dinner.

The next morning, Alan and I did our run in shifts. He ran first, while I fixed breakfast for the boys. I ran next, four miles along the beach. It was cool and foggy and wonderful. While I was running, Alan bravely took both boys and both dogs and headed out for a run with them. I frequently run with two of our big dogs, but for Lily and Olivia this was a new experience. They all ran to the pier and back, maybe a little over a half mile. Fortunately, they all made it back in one piece.

One of only two pictures I took all weekend, believe it or not. Bad, Bad, Blogger!

 The boys had a birthday party to go to, so we got them bathed dressed and they were picked up by a friend’s mom. Ah, rest time for the grown ups. Kind of, anyway, we headed out for a walk around town, had a smoothie, and got home only about 10 minutes before the boys. Guess all this parenting stuff is kind of like riding a bike.

This picture I took with my phone was so bad I didn’t even tweet or facebook it. But here it is, proof we were there.

 Lisa and Kelly arrived home a little later, again full of thanks (really, really, not necessary). We chatted for a little while, then we left for home. Oh, the best part? While the boys had starting calling Alan “Grandpa” a few weeks ago, they’d seemed at a loss as to what to call me. They didn’t seem quite ready to commit. So the best part was, as I was leaving, I got to hear, “Bye, Grandma!”

You know what? It doesn’t make you feel old at all. It just feels great.

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