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smaller coyoteI am over my worry allotment for this month. It’s not without some very good justifications. My mother, Tina died suddenly at the age of 86 in April and just like that all of the older generation that I knew is gone. There are still relatives out there but we haven’t traded even a Christmas card in too many years to count. I have a feeling that to my son’s generation of twenty-something’s I am now firmly in that older generation anyway.

Feeling out of kilter from the loss of a parent, no matter the age is normal. The grief comes in mostly small bits and pieces and creeps up on me. Things that I can usually roll with, like a snarky comment from a coworker get under my skin more easily these days.

It’s odd what has left a hole in the routine of my day.

In the last months of my mother’s life we were mostly talking about television and weather, which was fine with me. It was about the connection, no matter how momentary. My son, Louie who’s 25 does the same thing with me when he calls to tell me about the overturned car on Clarke Street or the coyote he just rode by on his bike. I call it the news of the day and having someone who will take those calls every time reminds us we’re tethered to the world. No matter what happens there’s someone who cares.

However, there comes a point when something reminds us that it’s all very temporary and for a moment I’ve lost my footing. When that happens there are ripe opportunities for change in some very different directions.

I could have done some serial dialing and lamented to everyone who would listen that I had lost my connection to something important. There would have been some sense of kinship for a moment but in the end I would have felt worse.

The other obvious choice to me was to make changes based on what I really wanted to be doing in the first place. The phrase that keeps running through my mind is to run my own race. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a terminal cancer survivor of just four years and three years over my expiration date and counting. No doctor can explain it, which is fine.

Surviving a terminal diagnosis should have been enough for me to really be bold and make some daring changes and it did to a point. I started eating right and exercising more and lost 86 pounds. That’s noteworthy but for the most part I was grateful to have my old routine back.

But then my mother died, quietly in her sleep and there was no one in my life who I could call and comment on the rain without an awkward pause.

One of my mother’s last comments to me though was odd because we had ventured into newer territory. She asked me how the crowd-sourcing was going for the new thriller. I was raising funds from family and friends to venture out into self-publishing for the first time in 20 years with the fourth book. She said, “You’ll be fine. That’ll be easy for you, no problem.”

I’ve been coasting ever since on that off-handed confidence my mother gave to me about my ability to not only write but market a book. Every decision I’ve made since that moment and in particular, since April has come with this other idea. In the end, what will be left are the people I love and the things I’ve created.

Traditionally, I’ve wanted to gather a lot of professional opinions and sift through all of them to discern what would be the next move. There have been very mixed results.

The new thriller, The List, the first in the Wallis Jones series is coming out in November and it’s been easier to make decisions about what to do next without all of the normal hand-wringing. There’s a speaking tour in the works to benefit some readers’ local charities and we’ve been busy contacting book clubs with offers. There’s more clarity and even more fun this time. After all, as my son said, “let’s get clear about two things, it’s just a book and you’re still alive.” The news of the day. More adventures to follow. Tweet me @MarthaRandolph and let me know what changes you’ve been making in your life. Sign up for special offers for The List and announcements for upcoming events!

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Picture by Dru Bloomfield

Tonight was another run with the Triathlon Group and Mo Wills, and it was as if that first run last week never took place. I was still the last one by at least half a lap and everyone else was on one regimen and I was on another running routine but my attitude had adjusted itself.

Fortunately, I was smart enough to call only one running friend of mine last week to rant about how unfair life can be. I didn’t use those words exactly but it’s what I meant. She listened patiently, found a break in one of my sentences and made some suggestions about how to address the issues. It short-circuited my rant and got me back on track, which is why I called her in the first place.

And, on the last lap when they time everyone – lo and behold, I had moved up from a 14 minute mile to a 12 minute mile. Imagine that, if I stick to something I might get better. Going to call it an early evening tonight.

Tomorrow, the bike awaits and a six mile ride with the group. Talk to you later.

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America is doing a better job at raising children than you may realize (Photo by Teddy-rised)

Let’s spread some good news around this week. Summer is just about over and we could all use a little something to cheer. There is actually something in America that we’re doing well these days and with less taxpayer money. However, very few voters are aware its still happening.

Imagine that in the age of the internet and Twitter and a desperate need for good news but its true.

Well, here it is. Our country is sending more children who grow up at U.S. orphanages to college than from the general population, significantly more children. Yes, orphanages still exist in the U.S. but are now known as residential education facilities or REF’s due to the myths surrounding the term orphanage.

As usual, we keep better track of our cars than we do the 600,000 children in need of a loving home but the individual homes see each child as a family member, of course, and 80 percent of the kids head off to higher learning.

Just so we can get past the images of Annie that just popped in your head let’s set the record straight right up front. A U.S. orphanage resembles an upscale boarding school with all the amenities. They have a staff that generally devotes their entire career and their life to the children who come through their doors. Lil’ Orphan Annie landed in a group home, which is vastly different and fictional by the way.

Now, here’s another statistic from the well respected Pew Report on the U.S. foster care system. If that same child were to end up in foster care in our country they’d have less than a 50 percent chance of graduating from high school and an increased likelihood of having periods of homelessness and unemployment in their lifetime. The factors surrounding the child’s background are the same so it’s not the child who is failing; it’s the system.

One more fun fact to really spell it out. The Pew Report also found that a child who ends up in an Illinois children’s home from social services has been on average through 9 foster care placements. That means that nine families said we can’t handle this kid and the child packed up everything they owned and headed off to yet another stranger’s house. In Virginia the average was found to be five. Talk about potential abandonment issues. There aren’t many adults who could handle that much change with any grace or without losing hope.  [click to continue…]

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Chicago skyline

There are plenty of great places to live in America with enough variety in culture, size, and every other demographic that it’s possible for everyone to find their niche, no excuses. Jack Kerouac even made it a unique American rite of passage to hit the road and find yourself while testing out a few different locations. Maybe even test the patience of a few locals.

But, despite what pop culture would lead the rest of us to believe most of us stay glued to one spot for years with only our gaze headed just over the horizon.

I know this gig really well because I lived it out for decades. My feet were firmly planted in Richmond, Virginia, which is a great place to live by the way, but my head was stuck in a northerly direction. Right there is enough for all of the southern readers to wonder where my upbringing has gone wrong, but hear me out.

No matter how much I loved the people I was hanging around with, which I did, or found enough interesting things to do, ditto, Richmond never felt like home. No matter how many years went by every time I joined a group or signed up for a gym membership in the back of my mind I’d wonder if it was worth really getting involved. After all, I wasn’t planning on staying, and yet I didn’t take any action to be somewhere else.

So, when I finally moved to New York City in the summer of 2007 it felt like I’d been unleashed. I drove a U-Haul truck all night singing a bad rendition of the Mary Tyler Moore show’s theme song. Things would really change now. Look out world.

That’s not exactly what happened. At first, everything felt absolutely perfect. It was everything I expected and then some. Dated someone with a sailboat for an entire summer and got to sail around the island over and over again. Watched the 4th of July fireworks from a corner penthouse on the Upper East Side while talking to two birders about the variety in Central Park. Managed to not say hello and gush all over Nate Berkus, Oprah’s interior design guru who was standing by himself on an empty Soho sidewalk. Pushed my way onto the crowded number six subway and took shallow breaths while trying not to brush up against very sweaty arms. Check, check, check and check. That’s just the short list. [click to continue…]

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Cancer Zero & Martha One

In October of 2009 Dr. Jeffrey Wayne at Northwestern said there was a good possibility that I was looking at just one more year of life. I remember him quickly flipping through a notebook that his nurse, Jennifer had put together for me that showed the various stages I would probably be going through shortly.

I was looking in the general direction of the notebook but I was making a point not to really look at any of it. My brain was stuck back on that part of ‘most likely one more year’ and I was thinking about how fast a year spins past.

My son, Louie, who was 21 at the time, was sitting right next to me. We had recently reconnected on a day-to-day basis in August when I moved from NYC to Chicago where he lives.

My whole body was shaking on such a small scale it felt like a deep hum and I don’t know if it was visible on the outside but I couldn’t be sure of any of my movements.

Louie took one look at me just after Dr. Wayne and his nurse left the small, windowless room and said, “You weren’t listening. He said there was hope.” I could feel part of me instantly relax and not because I was able to grasp that concept just yet. I could see in my son’s face a determination to believe in something better.

We say that someone, Cowboyed Up in the South and he had done a great job at it. I knew in that moment that no mattered what happened he’d be okay.

The day of the surgery he had my iPhone and when I got it back it was filled with gun apps so not everything had changed. It gave me a good laugh even while just coming out of the sedation. I left them there for months and yes, it was partially because I didn’t know how to get rid of them. [click to continue…]

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Me in my Kigo shoes just outside of my back door on my way to run.

This has been the summer of running, so far. I’ve passed a couple of milestones, which makes me feel like I have a shot at actually getting somewhere this time.

The big one is my consistency has been up there without being rigid. There was a big thunderstorm rumbling through Chicago yesterday and I didn’t try to be a human lightning rod or feel terrible the entire day because I missed a morning run.

The second one is that I can now run a little distance without feeling like I ought to walk for a minute. Frankly, this is where all of those reality shows on weight loss that I’ve watched finally pay off for me. I would quit sooner but I’ve seen what that looks like and how much farther someone can go, so I keep running just a little bit longer.

I get it. It’s one more place that my will is trying to get me to go sit down.

Running is hard work. The hardest part is getting myself out the door on a consistent basis. It’s not that there’s something else I’d rather be doing.

I’d prefer not to find out that I can’t do something on a grand scale. Then I get to keep the idea that I could if I just tried to run or to write or to save money. There’s a list of things we all keep in the back of our minds of things we want to do.

It’s that immediate response we give whenever someone says, ‘What are your dreams?’

We know immediately the top three and if we’re given a few minutes we can pull out another five and start sorting them into big dream, little dream. [click to continue…]

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