Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cranberry Sauce

So, today many of my friends have written about what they are thankful for.  I didn't get a chance to post anything yet today.  So, as I am home now after a day that included three dog walks, one 5K race, two 2+ hour drives, and an extended family dinner in Pennsylvania, I will take the time to write about what I am thankful for while I listen to Alice's Restaurant.  

And, it occurred to me that I could tell my story of what I am thankful for through cranberry sauce.  Homemade cranberry sauce (with fresh, whole berries) has become a family tradition for many meals.  We make it for Thanksgiving and take it to the extended family gathering in Pennsylvania each year.  We usually serve it with latkes on the day we buy our Christmas tree (an odd family tradition).  And we often serve cranberry sauce with our Christmas Eve dinner.  We also use it as a topping for vanilla (or even chocolate) ice cream if we have a lot of leftovers.

With that digression, let me continue with the story of why I think that cranberry sauce can symbolize all that I am thankful for.

First, being such an important part of the family Thanksgiving experience, I am thankful for all the people in my extended family.  There are many different personalities.  Many different life stories.  None are perfect.  But all are stories of people I have known for many years.  And I care about them all.  And they all care about me.  And today was a wonderful opportunity to speak with my oldest cousin on my father's side whom I have not had a chance to have a half hour conversation with in a while.  She was inquisitive about the tattoo I already have and the idea that I have for a second (whether I ever get it or not).  She was inquisitive about the meaning of saints lives--what each symbolizes and what the meaning is.  And it was just eye opening to hear about what was going on in her life and the lives of her children.  And no matter how different our lives have been in terms of so many things (but not everything) other than having parents who are siblings, we are actually pretty close and have the opportunity to continue to share as our lives moves forward.  And that is a beautiful thing. Which I hope to continue to do with that cousin, other cousins, and the rest of the extended family.

Second, cranberry sauce is red.  The blood that flows through my heart is red.  And the heart is what is used to represent love.  The love that I have for my wife of 23 1/2 years is strong.  And the life we lead is not perfect (is anyone's?) but our marriage has been and continues to be long and strong.  And I am looking forward to many more years.

Third, love is not just romantic.  Love is also for the rest of my immediate family.  And my three sons are pretty amazing.  The oldest with his talent for and focus on music.  The middle one with his wide variety of interests--art, animals, gardening, singing, and many other things.  The youngest one with his interest in sports and food.  Three very different children.  Each one amazing.  I am thankful that Sherry and I can find and provide a wonderful and diverse set of opportunities for the boys and thankful for how they take up the opportunities we provide.  

Fourth, while love is often thought of in narrow terms of romance and family, there is also a term in Greek for the love that is felt among friends. And this year, several of my friendships have deepened in important ways.  One of the best examples was just las night. With my family's kitchen remodel ongoing,  I needed a way to bake and cook for our contribution to the family Thanksgiving dinner I mentioned several paragraphs ago.  So, one of my running friends was willing to have me and my son come over to make scones and cranberry sauce.  It was an adventure in cooking and baking that included a very long time to make cranberry sauce (given that we were making a triple recipe), setting off the kitchen smoke alarm (scones placed too close to the edge of the flat stone baking pan that resulted in some dripping onto the bottom of the oven that caused smoke), and introducing my friend to cranberry sauce in the first place.  

With cranberry sauce, I mentioned that it is red like blood flowing through my heart.  A lot flows through my heart while I run.  And my running is something that is important to me.  And I am blessed to be able to run and share my running with others.  And I am thankful for that.

And finally, while the cranberry sauce is being prepared, the cranberries burst.  The bursting is a sign of the fullness of the cranberries.  And the fullness reminds me of the abundance in my life.  I am thankful for the many things I have in abundance. People who care about me.  People who care about my family.  Working for a great university for almost two decades house.  Cooking and baking.  A salary.  Pets.  Opportunities to mentor. 

So, the cranberries remind me of family directly, are red like the blood that joins family, blood flows through the heart (and cranberries are heart healthy) and that is a reminder of multiple concepts of love, blood is needed for running, and bursting cranberries are a sign of abundance.  What more could I ask for?  I have a great life with lots to be thankful for.  And I hope that I demonstrate my thankfulness not just on Thanksgiving but every day. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Weird Dream

I don'f often have vivid dreams.  Last night I had one that running friends will realize the unlikelihood of it actually happening.  Makes me think about the "meaning" to the degree that dreams have meaning.  

I was at some international track and field competition running the anchor leg of a 4x400 relay.  (For my non-running friends on most tracks that is a run that is one lap for each runner.)  I got the baton with a big lead and managed to hang on for the victory against someone who was supposed to be very fast.  People I know from today including hockey parents were there to greet me at the finish where we went into a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Yes, I still love my track workouts.  I always have.  And, I presume, I always will.  But I couldn't even make the 4x400 team for the Penn Relays in high school 28 years ago.  The 400 was never a great event for me.  The only event I was ever really even all that good at was the 1600 meeter run.  And I can't tell you why my brain would want to highlight a relay race for a distance shorter than I was ever any good at.

As I write this, I can throw something out there as an idea for interpreting my dream.  It did represent a win against the odds at a race I aspired to get into (everyone wanted to run at the Penn Relays back in the day).  And I needed some help from my fellow athletes to participate in the win--being give such a big lead.  So, perhaps it does go along with my current running goals.  Working with a little help from my friends toward a goal that many say is against all odds--the Comrades run next year.  Some 56 miles.  Completely the opposite end in terms of distance.  But needing help from my friends in what may be perhaps even more important ways--like the endless training miles.  Especially in a week in which I had just run with others four times in one week (with runs of four different paces at 7, 6, 5, and 1 miles) for the first time in a VERY long time.

What about the hockey parents?  Not entirely sure.  But we did watch our kids play a heck of a game yesterday.  Despite losing 7-2 they played a MUCH BETTER game against a team that had beaten them 9-0 in the opening game of the season.  And, among other things, they played together better as a team--again reflecting the importance of friends in achieving goals.

If anyone has any other ideas on what this might mean given my crazy connecting-the-dots mind, I'm open to suggestions.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


It has been six weeks since my last marathon.  And five weeks since the last time I ran 20 miles.  The 20 miler caused me more problems than any run since I had recovered from the Philadelphia Rock 'n' Roll Hal Marathon in 2010.  The first week after the fateful 20, I ran less than 4 miles.  The second week after the 20, I ran a little further but it was still less than 8.  Then, in the last three weeks, I have run 24, 26, and 28 miles with long runs of 6, 8, and 10.  That is a reminder of how I had to build when I first became a marathon runner, although that process of building was even slower.  Nevertheless, it was (and continues to be) a good reminder of the need for humility and patience.

As I look ahead, the only race on my calendar before Comrades is the Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving Day.  The goal of that day will be to help my ten year old get his course best.  Don't expect him to have his best race ever on the hilly course, but it would be great to bring him under 30 minutes for our Thanksgiving tradition.

When all was said and done, I am focused on strength, flexibility, lower miles (for me 30 total is lower) and less distance on the longest run of the week for a while.  Next week, I'll go back up to 30 and maybe a half marathon distance.  Then, I'll take five weeks to build back to 40 miles and maybe do 15 for my long before the end of the year.

The other thing that is so different for me is the fact that I ran all four runs (7, 6, 5, and 10) with others.  Four different running partners.  Four very different experiences.  A surprise track workout.  A just plain fast six.  A wonderfully easy 5.  And then 10 at a pace that is faster than I need to run but which helped my partner have her last long run before a marathon next weekend.

Running is doing such different things for me in my life.  New lessons.  New emphases.  It is always interesting to see how it continues to evolve in my life.

As the fall marathon season closes for my fellow runners and I am not five years since my first marathon, it will be interesting to see what the next half decade brings for me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Did You Rehearse That?

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to the Dean's Alumni Advisory Board at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.  What I realized was how much, in the nearly three years I have held my position as Vice Dean for Education, my capacity to hold the position has evolved.  One would expect it to evolve, of course, but I received a very clear signal last Friday.

In what way?

Well, I was asked to give a presentation focusing on our academic programs, an exercise the school had done looking at the relationship between our mission and our curriculum, and an update on the school's process of obtaining AACSB accreditation.  

I proceeded through my presentation.  I talked about our MBA programs.  I discussed our specialized MS programs.  I talked about our move toward online programs.  I talked about our small undergraduate program.  I moved on to our exercise and the results that we found that most courses do bring our mission into the curriculum.  And then I finished discussing the continuing process of moving toward accreditation.

I was asked a few questions about resources and timing.  I answered them

I had one page of notes that focused only on the middle of the three topics.  Even those I rarely referred to.

I noticed that my presentation style had completely changed.  Three years ago, everything was rushed.  As I focused on getting all the information out, I tended to loose focus and hurry.  

Last Friday, I was able to be clear.  I took my time.  I told a story with links from one area to the next.  I was comfortable with what I needed to know.  I was comfortable with what I knew.  And apparently, it showed as someone asked me, "Did you rehearse that?"  

I was totally flattered.  I had not.  I have simply become comfortable with my position, with my change in career from the Bloomberg School of Public Health to the Carey Business School, and with the fact that I am asked to represent it.  

That was the second day in a row that I was totally flattered.  

I am grateful for the recognition.

I use that to inspire me to work even harder to help the organization of which I am a part and the individuals with whom I have the good fortune to have in my life on a daily basis.

What inspires you?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Highest Compliment

So, I received what I count as one of the biggest compliments I have ever received last night.  I was at the annual gala event for Back on My Feet, Baltimore.  It it referred to as a bash.  People come in suits and other non-casual clothing but with running shoes.  It's a fun time.  

I've only been to two of the seven that Back on My Feet, Baltimore has had but the director (and now executive director) was the same person at both.  She is a running mentor.  She has become a dear friend.  And she was a former part-time MPH student whom I advised.

Last night, I was able to compare her presentations at the event to how she had presented several years back.  Several years ago she was great.  But she spoke at an incredibly fast pace.  Last night her poise, serenity, and sense of presence had matured incredibly since the last time I saw her present.  It was wonderful for someone who had been her academic advisor and one of her many mentors on the professional development side see that maturation process in action.

Afterwards, I mentioned it to be her and her husband.  She thanked me.  That provided an uplifting feeling.  But what made me stop and catch my breath was when her husband thanked me and told me what a difference he knew I'd made in her development.  Sure, I've had an occasional parent tell me at a graduation ceremony about how I made a difference for a doctoral student in their dissertation or something like that. But to have someone, eighteen months after the student graduated, point out that they could see how I made a difference for the student during the time I worked with the student (which was three years in the part-time program) was truly an incredible, delightful, and overwhelming experience.  Then he went on to say something to the effect that I had probably had a bigger influence on most of my students than I would ever realize.

Maybe I have.  Perhaps someday I'll hear that.  Perhaps it will remain unsaid until a retirement celebration or memorial service someday.  Perhaps the thoughts will remain in the hearts and minds of those I've advised.  In fact, I'd have no problem with that outcome.  Because I know that I have done the best I can for each student in that type of position.  And that is all anyone can ever ask of me.

But to have even one person point it out made it more real.  And made my hopeful that my difference in the world will not be confined just to those I touch directly.  But that it may make a difference to many people separated from me by one or two or three connections.  

And that is not to get big headed about it.  Just to recognize it. Be thankful for it.  And go on doing the best I can for each person with whom I interact in the amazing life with which I have been blessed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Today, I had a fun exchange with an alumna of the MBA program at the Carey Business School.  We had been talking about giving and mentoring.  The discussion about giving led to references to three specific Bible verses.  Then, I mentioned my history of blogging about Bible verses and finding meaning in how the Bible verses relate to my running race times and bib numbers.  My former student wrote back sharing a note about Hebrews 12:1-2 (a common verse for runners to focus on):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
The key is that when I saw the Hebrews 12:1-2, I immediately thought of a run in the fall of 2011. The run was the beginning of my shift from running with groups from one of the local running stores to running more and more with people from Back on My Feet.

The run at a local, East Baltimore high school track was done early in the morning in September 2011, as a final time trial before the taper for the Baltimore Running Festival that year.  I had expected to run it with the Charm City Run training group in the evening but there was a dinner at the home of the Dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health that evening that I planned to attend.  So, I got two friends to run with me.  One a student from Ireland. The other who was an MPH advisee of mine and is now the local Executive Director of Back on My Feet.  That run was to get me my fastest time in a two mile time trial up to that point,  In fact, we ran a 12:12 that morning.  (Easy to relate to 12:1-2.)

That began a whole series of runs at the Dunbar track.  Over time, I got to know several of the other runners.  And one of the runners has become one of my closest training partners over the four years since.  What is most interesting is that the training partner and the alumna I had started the online conversation with are two people whom I have invited to attend the next United Way breakfast featuring a speaker telling his story in his own words.

So, in my ongoing effort to find connections in life, it was amazing to find someone who was a runner, who was familiar with important Bible verses (even if she had never necessarily tried to relate them to her numbers or times), and whose suggestion of a Bible verse that is relevant to runners brought back a wonderful memory with a roundabout connection to someone that the alumna will meet soon.  An amazing circle in my life.  More connections to help me make sense of my life.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Give What You Need Most

Yesterday in the Catholic church there were two readings focusing on widows giving.  In one case, the widow was asked to have faith that after preparing s small cake for one of the prophets that she and her son would have enough flour and oil and they did for a year.  The second was a woman who gave just two coins at the temple and Jesus described her as giving more than anyone else that day.  The priest interpreted the combination of two Bible readings (Old Testament and Gospel) as providing insight that we should give what we most need. 

That is an interesting concept as sometimes we don’t have any of what we most need so that would basically be impossible.  But there are times when we have a little of what we need and we are just thinking we need more.  The idea is that in cases like that giving away at least some of what I have can help to generate more.  Life is not a zero sum game.  Some of that is faith. Some of that is the reality of what happens when people come together with good intentions and pool resources.  And sharing is the start of pooling to make something better.

Yes, the story of the widow and the flour and jug of oil is a miracle by any definition.  But I think that it is a lot more than just miracles.  It is about the way life can work if we trust.  It is about how things happen if there is a positive attitude.

I really like the concept that when we give away a little of what we have little of we can turn it into more.  I think of the following.  Not money.  But many other things that matter to me.  

More love.
More mentoring.
More networking.
More connections.
More spirituality.
More happiness.
More encouragement.
More friendship.

More goodness.