What I Learned From the Girl in Last Place

My daughter ran for her high school cross-country team for three years. Up until that point my only experience with sports involved watching my kids play traditional "team" sports like soccer, baseball, basketball, etc. I'd sit on the sidelines cheering obnoxiously for my child's team and shouting much-appreciated suggestions to the referees.

It wasn’t until I attended my daughter's first cross-country meet, however, that I witnessed true team spirit and discovered an interesting metaphor between a cross-country runner and my writing life. And it was all because of the girl in last place.

In case you're unfamiliar with cross-country races, they’re 5K races that are run…well, across country. Through woods, over fields, up hills, down hills, in the pouring rain, under the beating sun, occasionally even through snowstorms. These runners are relentless. They are powerful. They are awe-inspiring.

During that first race, runners flew by the waiting crowds at different points along the route. I was surprised then delighted by the reactions of the spectators. EVERY parent of EVERY team cheered for EVERY runner. It was such a refreshing change from the usual "Hurrah my team," "Boo your team" and stay on your side of the 50-yd. line please.

Eventually, spectators converged along either side of the finish line. Amid cheers, the top runners sprinted past, followed by clusters of mid-level runners and finally the slower runners straggled in. Several minutes passed and figuring the race was over, I went to find my daughter. Then I heard someone say, "I see her. Here she comes." Curious, I squeezed back into the crowd and squinted up the trail. Sure enough, one lone runner topped the hill in the distance. Coming in dead last, she continued her run at a slow, rhythmic pace.

She entered that final stretch and the crowd--which hadn't moved--went wild. Whistles, cheers and thunderous applause followed in her wake. I felt ridiculous tears well up in my eyes. I didn't even know this girl. But the sense of accomplishment that shone from her face as she crossed that finish line was like the glow of a candle flame filling a once darkened room.

Later, I asked my daughter about the girl and learned that she was a much-loved team member who almost always came in last place. This girl's single-minded goal was to finish every race and achieve her personal best, no matter what anybody else did.

I tried to imagine what that must be like. To stand ready at the starting line of a race and know you will not win. That you will most likely lose, and lose big. Yet to show up race after race and run anyway. And finish. Despite what the scorebook says, the girl in last place is the true winner. And I use her philosophy as inspiration in my writing life.

I'm just finishing up the first draft of my first attempt at writing a novel on my own. And I now realize that writing my novel is much like running a cross-country race. (For one thing, it's much harder than it looked from the sidelines!) And I used to think that crossing the finish line meant getting it published. (Still something I plan to do!) But I take joy in the simple process of creating. And I take great pride in finishing this first draft. Many of my writer friends may have started running the race after me and yet are far ahead of me on the trail, but I hold the image of that girl in my mind. No matter what anybody else is doing, I will continue to run my own race, continue striving for my personal best. I will finish. And when I do, I win.

Image by: Dru Bloomfield

Quote of the Week

"Failure really isn't terrible if you can say to yourself, hey, I know I'm gonna be successful at what I want to do someday. Failure doesn't become a big hang-up then because it's only temporary. If failure is absolute, then it would be a disaster, but as long as it's only temporary you can just go and achieve almost anything."

~ Jerry Della Femina ~

Image by: dam

Then And Now

I attended my 30th high school reunion a few weeks back and although I was a little apprehensive, I ended up having a blast! My hubs was such a good sport. (Yes, I dragged him along!) He never looked bored and only started hinting about leaving around 11:00 p.m. Of course, I successfully dragged out our departure until 11:45 p.m., but he humored me.

Something I think that enhanced the entire event was that one member of my graduating class took it upon himself to create a Facebook group several months before the big weekend. My classmates were all able to reconnect online beforehand, which was cool. We learned where everybody had ended up, and what sorts of careers we’d all grown up to achieve. Who had kids, no kids… grandkids!! (Talk about freakin’ me out!) When we finally met in real life, our conversations were all that much richer and more in-depth. By the end of the night, my face and jaw ached from laughing and talking so much.

Attending this monumental event has caused me to reflect on those ol' high school days. And since I’m in the midst of witnessing the high school (and college) days of my own kids, I noted some interesting similarities and differences between high school "then and now."

One thing that hasn’t changed much is fashion. I’m not talking about how the 80's leg warmers/leggings look has come full circle, but rather the whole lookalike thing. When I was in high school, we all pretty much dressed alike. Or tried to. Heaven forbid we weren’t wearing the right jeans, or our hair wasn’t feathered into Farrah-Fawcett-like fluffiness. High schoolers today are still doing that. Not the Farrah Fawcett thing, but the matching hair and clothing styles. Even the radical fringe tries to look like the rest of the radical fringe. I wonder if this all ties into a budding need to feel accepted?

In some cool ways, however, high school has evolved from my era. One significant difference I’ve noticed is in the clique thing. Now hang on, I know cliques still exist! But they’ve kind of morphed somewhat—in a good way.

After discussing this topic with some friends, I know not everyone will be able to relate to this, but where I grew up, clique lines were rarely crossed. There was no way a jock would’ve participated in marching band. Or that a band kid could be elected Homecoming King. Only the drama kids did drama, and nerds could never be “cool.” And while we were aware of the students with special needs, there weren’t many opportunities for interaction.

At the reunion, I met some great people I'd graduated with but had never formally met before. These were people I recognized from the old high school hallways, but our paths hadn't really crossed. This was because there wasn’t any real overlap of cliques. But there is now. At least at my teens’ high school, which is equally as large as the one I attended. Today, there is a melding of cliques and groups and I think it’s awesome.

Last spring I attended our local high school musical, Fame, where I listened to the melodic solos of a varsity soccer player who had a main part. I watched a non-jock, non-band choir kid get elected Homecoming King, and I was brought to tears by the student body's thunderous whoops and applause during the graduation ceremony, as their fellow special needs classmates went up to receive their diplomas.

Some members of my Class of '80 had to wait 30 years to get to know people from different cliques and friend groups, but now it happens all the time. How great is that?! Sure, there’s negative stuff influencing our teens today. But there’s good stuff too. Just wanted to point some of it out.

Image by:  Conspirator

The Great White Hunter: Part II

(In case you missed the first part of this exciting story, click here!) Now, our saga continues...

In the morning, Chris found the trap unsprung and the bait right where he'd left it.

"That's weird," he said, descending the ladder. "We need to call CC-guy back."

CC-guy returned and poked around a bit. "Well, I don’t see anything," he reported. "She must be hiding. By the way, the trap you have up there is a squirrel trap. It’s way too small for a raccoon."

"Are you kidding me?" I looked accusingly at my Great White Hunter who once again refused to meet my eyes.

"Nope. And another thing, since the mother raccoon has no way to escape don’t confront her in the attic. Cornered raccoons get very vicious. She’ll go right for your throat."

I gulped. "What about the new gaping hole? She can escape through that, right?"

CC-guy just smiled condescendingly then scrounged around in his truck, handing me a container of yucky-looking brown stuff. "Here’s some raccoon bait. It’s irresistible to them. Just smear it on some marshmallows and I guarantee you’ll catch her."

"Thanks," I said weakly and watched him drive off. I wondered again what exactly I’d written him that BIG check for.

Chris borrowed a large trap from our brother-in-law and purchased another one. He set them all in our tiny attic loaded with marshmallows and raccoon bait.

"Three traps?" I said.

"Just making sure I catch her," my Great White Hunter replied.

The following morning, he returned from his daily attic investigation looking grim. "Still unsprung. Plus, I left one marshmallow out in the open and it's gone.”

I grasped him by the shirt collar with both hands, yanking his face within inches of mine. You’re FEEDING her now! Are you crazy?”

He gently disentangled my fingers. “Calm down. Now, I need to go finish packing for my business trip. Let me know what happens." (Okay, he didn't actually say it like this, but that's what it felt like!)

He called me the following day for a report. "Anything happen?"

Now folks, here’s where I draw the line. I'm all for marriage being an equal partnership and everything, except when it comes to stuff like hunting coons in my attic. There was NO WAY I was going up there to investigate whether the marshmallow-munching killer raccoon was still running loose. Nor was I sending my one-and-only son up there either.

I had raccoon nightmares for two days straight. When the Great White Hunter returned, up into the attic he went.

I waited below, wringing my hands until he descended the ladder.


"I have a confession to make," he said.


"I’m not exactly sure that first marshmallow was eaten."


My Great White Hunter went on to explain that he’d merely tossed the first marshmallow up there and thought it had been eaten but it was now possible he’d been mistaken.

"Why do you say that?"

"Um…because I put a second marshmallow out in the open and it’s still there, hard as a rock. And all the traps are untouched."

I growled low and went for his throat, but he dodged nimbly out of my reach.

Hmph! Guess there was nobody else home after all. Apparently, the sounds we'd heard were just the mother trying to find her way back in to her babies, but to no avail.

I felt a little bad for her, but please. She had the whole outside to play in! Why did she have to come into our attic?

I trailed after my hero. "Well, can you at least close up the new hole you created so we don't get bats in the attic now?"

"Why? It's perfect timing. They’ll be all settled in to add atmosphere for Halloween.”

I growled again. But he just rolled his eyes and laughed. Then did as I requested.

Yeesh. Finally, we can get back life as it was before the invasion of the killer raccoons.

Image by: andrusdevelopment

Quote of the Week

Photograph © Holly Bowne

There are no mistakes.
The events we bring upon ourselves,
no matter how unpleasant,
are necessary in order to learn
what we need to learn;
whatever steps we take,
they're necessary to reach the places
we've chosen to go.

~ Richard Bach ~

The Great White Hunter: Part I

I've shared stories before about how strange things seem to happen when my hubs is out of town. There was my “Take That, You Low-life Virus” post. And the time I was rescued by Louie da Plumber. So naturally, I’ve come to expect (dread?) those times when hubs announces another business trip.

Recently when he was gone, I was awakened during the night by the sounds of somebody breaking into our house. At least that's what I thought. I shot up in bed. Frozen. Listening, as loud thumps and scratches reverberated directly overhead. After several torturous minutes the sounds subsided. When no killer entered my room, I eventually fell back asleep.

In the bright morning light I thought I’d imagined it all till my son Joshua greeted me with, “Did you hear that thing in the attic last night?”

Great. Apparently some THING had moved into our attic.

Chris returned the next day and I initially forgot to mention it. But that night, the sounds started up. I shoved him awake. “Do you hear that?” I hissed. He mumbled something, turned over and immediately fell back asleep.

"Wake up!” I shoved again.

He mumbled some more but was dead to the world while I lay frozen once again. Listening.

The next morning, I went to rouse Joshua for church only to find rumpled bedclothes but no kid.

"SOMEBODY STOLE JOSH!!!" I shrieked from the top of the stairs.

"No they didn't," came a sleepy reply from down the hall.

I flung open the guest room door to find Josh comfortably tucked into the guest bed.

"What are you doing in here?" I demanded.

"That THING in the attic was thumping so loud last night I couldn't sleep,” he yawned. “I thought it was going to come through the ceiling so I came in here."

"Chris!" I bellowed.

"I heard," he said, suddenly at my side.

He and Josh spent the entire afternoon on our roof, and when they came down Chris looked quite satisfied with himself.

"I figured out how whatever it was got in," he said. “And I’ve completely sealed it up. Nothing else is getting in there."

"My hero!" I cried hugging him. That night, we all went to bed feeling safe and secure. Until around 1:00 a.m. when the sounds started up again. Chris groaned.

"Forget this!" we heard Josh grumble in the darkness as he stumbled his way down the hall to the guest room.

The next day we called in the critter control experts. CC-guy showed up and within an hour he discovered two baby raccoons hidden away in our attic.

He removed them, then handed us a BIG bill commenting, “I see your roof is completely sealed up now so nothing else can get in. Or out.”

"Out?" I said as I handed him a BIG check.

"Well, it's normally best to wait until you're certain all the critters are gone before sealing everything up and making repairs.

"What?!" I looked accusingly at my hero who refused to meet my eyes. “What else could be up there?"

"Well, the mother. But don’t worry,” CC-guy said soothingly. “I didn’t see any sign of her. I'm sure you're fine." He hopped into his CC-mobile and issued a final suggestion. “Unfortunately, you’re outside our trap zone. But to be extra safe, you could put a live trap up there.” Then he was gone.

(Outside their trap zone? What about the BIG check I’d just written!)

Chris immediately bought a live trap, baiting it with some delicious peanut butter and cracker sandwiches.

This is good, I thought.

Then he proceeded to rip away the siding underneath our eave, leaving a big gaping hole.

This is bad, I thought.

"What are you doing?!"

"I'm leaving an escape route for the mother raccoon in case she’s up there."

"Do you seriously think she’s going to attempt to exit that hole and plunge 50 feet to her death?"


"Doesn’t that hole make a perfect spot for bats to fly in now?"

"Nah, I doubt it."

I didn’t. And I was seriously considering throttling my hero.

At precisely 1:00 a.m. that night we heard the sounds again.

"Aarrrgghhhh!" I buried my head under my pillow and Chris sighed loudly. We heard Joshua stomp his way to the guest room. I had raccoon nightmares all night.

(Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of "The Great White Hunter.")
Image by: MacJewell

Quote of the Week

Photograph © Holly Bowne

If I lose the light of the sun,
I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light.
If I lose paper and ink,
I will write in blood on forgotten walls.
I will write always.
I will capture nights all over the world
and bring them to you.

~Henry Rollins ~

Summer Sabbath

Photograph © Holly Bowne

I have a confession to make. I haven't been the most productive writer (or blogger) this summer. (Yeah, yeah, you've all probably picked up on that last part!) I completed a few corporate writing projects and added a couple of new articles to my published repertoire but for the most part, my writing production slowed W-A-Y down.

I didn't plan for this to happen. And I’ve read loads of stuff about how freelance writers should take advantage of summertime. While everyone else is slacking off, we should hit the green grass running, cranking up our writing production as much as possible. But I just haven’t been able to do it. I know I should feel guilty about this, but honestly the more I've thought about it the less guilty I've felt.

Maybe it’s because I got worn down from all the end-of-the-school-year graduation stuff that surrounded my daughter. Maybe it was the sudden realization that our days with her were numbered. Maybe it was a compilation of all the stress we've endured between job insecurity and health concerns over family and friends. Or…maybe I'm just rationalizing here.

But this year, instead of spending long hours at my computer, I've allowed myself to revel in the slower, languid pace that summer brings with it. I've basked in golden mornings of bird song and dreamy days of sunshine. I've hiked and biked through lush green woods. Taken time to appreciate the soft rustle of weeping willow branches as they swayed overhead. Enjoyed vivid Lake Michigan sunsets, the whimsical dance of the fireflies at twilight and the endless beauty of starlit, moonlit nights.

Instead of pushing myself to drum up new work and generate article ideas, I’ve focused my working hours on personal writing projects like my novel and covering stories about topics for which I have a passion. And let me tell you, it's felt great. This summer has re-energized my passion for writing and reminded me why I decided to become a freelance writer in the first place.

I think we all get so busy with work, taking care of our families and rushing to errands and appointments we forget we all need times in our lives to just sit still. Stop moving at the hyper speed of light required during the rest of the year. Take time to breathe in the heady scent of nearby blossoms and fresh-mown grass and appreciate all those whose lives intersect with ours--recognizing that they are really what makes life worth living.

Hard work is good. But slowing down is good too. And breaks from our "To Do" list are good. So you know what, I refuse to feel guilty! It's all good. Summer is the Sabbath of the year. So go enjoy the rest of your Summer Sabbath.

(Now, just for fun and because I really like this song...)

Fireflies by Owl City